Monday, April 30, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the SIGIR releases a major report on Iraq, Tareq al-Hashemi's now being charged with the murder of six judges (among 300 charges against him), Saturday saw a big meet-up in Erbil that Nouri wasn't invited to, Bradley Manning's semi-secret trial gets some media attention, and more.
Starting in the US with Bradley Manning. Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Since then the court-martial has been scheduled to begin September 21st. Recent weeks have seen a flurry of pre-court-martial hearings.
Heidi Boghosian: We continue our updates on the Bradley Manning trial. Senior staff attorney Shane Kadidal from the Center for Constitutional Rights recently returned from one of the hearings in Fort Meade, Maryland. Welcome, Shane to Law & Disorder.
Shane Kadidal: Thanks for having me, Michael.
Michael Smith: You know, Heidi and I, were down at the Mumia demonstration in Washington, DC yesterday. We took the train down from New York. We're sitting on the train, passing the Fort Meade exit on the train, you were sitting in that courtroom, in that semi-secret trial of Bradley Manning. And we thought about, 'Well we'll get to talk to you today about what's going on in that semi-secret trial? And what do you think's at stake?
Heidi Boghosian: [laughing] Are you allowed to talk about this, Shane?
Shane Kadidal: [Laughing.] We are. It was funny sitting there to contrast, for instance, to Guantanamo occasionally classified hearings and every word of what's said in there is presumed classified until you get told otherwise. It wasn't like that, but it was odd in other ways.
Michael Smith: Well it's odd because it's not like you can't say what you want to say but because you don't have access to the court pleadings, you don't have access to the off-the-record discussions with the judge, you don't have access to court orders so a lot of this trial is a secret trial which I always thought to be against the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Shane Kadidal: Right. It's interesting to note two things about that. You know, first of all, people think about this First Amendment right to access to judicial proceedings being about basic Democratic values. It's good to have government in the sunshine just as a philosophical principle. But that's not what the Supreme Court says about it. What they said about that very clearly in a number of cases in the late seventies and the early eighties, you know, openness actually helps the truth finding function of trials. It gives a disincentive to witnesses to commit perjury. It lets new witnesses come out of the woodwork and so forth. By having the factual basis for legal ruling sort of exposed to the light of day and having the legal arguments exposed as well, it means that the court is less likely to make mistakes. And that makes a difference when it comes down to accuracy. And you can imagine how this might play out in a case like Manning's where an awful lot is riding, for instance, on the testimony of a supposedly quite drugged out and unreliable informer whose name actually happens to be redacted from the few public documents that we do have. So that's one point, that openness helps the accuracy of judicial proceedings -- and it's especially important in cases like this. The other is sort of a meta-point about media coverage. While I was down there, there were only about two or three reporters that came out of the media room during the breaks and sort of milled about and talked to us which I think was a little bit shocking giving the significance of this case. You know, supposedly the largest set of leaks in American history, a set of leaks where the documents dominated news coverage globally for a good year-and-a-half. And yet there are only two or three reporters there. And I think it shows that when the government manages to choke off the flow of interesting detail about a case by redacting it out of documents or not releasing documents or holding proceedings off the public record, that is almost more effective at diminishing press coverage of an issue than completely barring the press from the courtroom as happens in classified hearings. Because completely barring the press piques the press interest but simply blacking out all the colorful detail or the stuff that kind of makes a story interesting just results in boring coverage and eventually people sort of give up. And I think that might be what's happening here.
Heidi Boghosian: Well, Shane, since the media wasn't there, can you give us a sort of nutshell version of what happened?
Shane Kadidal: You know, at the Tuesday hearing which I was at, one of the first issues up actually was around our letter to the court -- CCR's letter demanding that the court release its own orders including the protective order that governs what can be sealed off from public access and what can be released and what should be redacted. So the court's own orders, then all the government's motions and the government's responses to the defense's motions. And then a third subject which is an awful lot of the argument happens in what are called 802 conferences where the parties can agree to discuss anything in chambers and the public never has any sense of the legal arguments that are made or the conclusions that happen which is kind of different from a lot of public access issues because it means both parties can collude to keep something out of the public sight. A little different from the usual situation where it's usually the government trying to keep something out.
Michael Smith. Especially in a shocking case like this with, for example, one of the things that Manning was allegedly accused of releasing was a 39 minute video called The Collateral Murder Video where you've got US soldiers in a helicopter murdering two Reuters journalists and then seriously injuring two children. It's all on video. It's a War Crime. They're trying to cover this up in this semi-secret trial. It's really shocking. I remember the famous Judge Damon Keith saying, "Democracy dies behind closed doors." So what do you think your chances are of prying open those doors?
Shane Kadidal: Well I think maybe on appeal they'll be good. But what we learned on Tuesday was that this judge [Col Denise Lind] doesn't really want to hear it. So the first thing she said was, 'You know, the Center of Constitutional Rights has sent a lawyer down here and asked for permission to address the court and asked for all this release including making all of these documents public and that motion which is essentially a motion to intervene -- is denied.
Michael Smith: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press which I think is 45 press organizations did the same thing which is the same thing you guys did at the CCR
Shane Kadidal: Right. They wrote some letters as well. And, you know, the letters kind of the court had disappeared into a black hole so we sent a second letter to the defense council so that he could kind of read it out in open court. The judge revealed yesterday that she had, in fact, received both letters, which I guess was good news. But the bottom line is this allows to go up the chain to the two courts of appeals in the military system that stand above this judge and demand that we get immediate public access to these documents. And it was a First Amendment case so I was very clear that being deprived of public access to judicial proceedings even for a short period of time is irreparable injury and that kind of principle goes back to the Pentagon Papers case really.
Heidi Boghosian: What did Michael Ratner say in his piece last week in the Guardian?
Shane Kadidal: A terrific piece which is worth reading. But, you know, a couple of things. First that Manning's revelations including that the Collateral Murder video you know really were made in the face of military lies about what had actually happened. You know, the military's initial response was that there was no question that that gunfight involved a hostile force when it turned out that two children and a bunch of journalists were among the people who were shot. But I think that the bigger picture, I think it's ironic that the government's heavy handed approach -- as Michael said in his piece -- really only serves to emphasize the motivations for whistle blowing of the sort that Bradley Manning is now accused of. It's this kind of blanket approach on the part of the government to secrecy that forces people to reveal things by going outside the letter of the law.
Michael Smith: Shane Kadidal, who is the senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights has been down at Fort Meade, Maryland on behalf of the center at the Bradley Manning trial. We'll keep checking in on you, Shane. Good luck with your appeal.
Ann Wright spent most of her life in government service. In the army, she rose to the rank of Colonel. In 1987, she went to work for the US State Dept and she continued serving there until her March 19, 2003 resignation, the day before the Iraq War started and she resigned in protest of that war. At The Daily Progress, Wright pens an article on Bradley:
I recently inadvertently and fortuitously ended up at a meeting with a U.S. State Department-sponsored group of young professionals from the Middle East who were brought to the United States to learn more about our country. I mentioned that I was attending the hearings for the alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning.
The reaction of the group was stunning. Immediately hands for questions went up. The questions began with a comment: Without WikiLeaks, I would never have learned what my own governments was doing, its complicity in secret prisons and torture, in extraordinary rendition, in cooperation in the U.S. wars in the region. WikiLeaks exposed what our politicians and elected officials are doing. Without WikiLeaks, we would never have known!
And that is what Bradley Manning's trial is all about and what the charges against six other government employees who face espionage allegations for providing information the government classified to protect its own wrongdoings -- to silence other potential government whistleblowers.
As of April 3, 2012, DoS reported that 12,755 personnel supported the U.S. Mission in Iraq, down about 8% from the previous quarter. Current staffing comprises 1,369 civilian government employees and 11,386 contractors. In February, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides said that DoS will continue to reduce the number of contractors over the coming months in an attempt to "right size" Embassy operations.
As currently constituted, the U.S. reconstruction programd evotes the preponderance of its financial resources to providing equipment, services, and advice to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) manages U.S. security assistance to the Government of Iraq (GOI), OSC-I is staffed by 145 U.S. military personnel, 9 Department of Defense (DoD) civilians, and 4,912 contractors. DoS's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) administers the Police Development Program (PDP) whose 86 advisors mentor senior police officials at the Ministry of Interior (MOI).
Eli Lake (Daily Beast) notes, "A 2012 audit conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and released to the public on Monday found that 76 percent of the battalion commanders surveyed believed at least some of the CERP funds had been lost to fraud and corruption." There's so much in the report. We'll note more of it tomorrow. Right now we'll note page 59 demonstrates how the US government repeatedly subsidizes the weapons industry. The US government thinks Iraq needs weapons. For some reason -- despite having billions in oil money -- the US government seems to feel they need to 'assist' -- provide US government welfare -- to weapon makers. So $2.54 billion will be spent, by the US government, on weapons for the government of Iraq. Some of the sales are pending and the US tab right now is 'only' $968.4 million. It's really something to read the report and find that, among other US agencies, Homeland Security remains in Iraq. Remember, there was a drawdown, there was no withdrawal.
G.W. Schulz (Center For Investigative Reporting) reports, "California continues to lead the nation in fatal sacrifices made to the conflicts, according to an analysis of the most recent Defense Department data available. The figures, which include both hostile and non-hostile casualties, cover three major operations across the two wars: Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn."
Over the weekend, a major meet-up took place in Erbil. Before we get to that, let's recap the political crisis. Only instead of me doing it, let's refer to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released April 2012: Quarterly Report To Congress. And, please note, the Erbil Agreement is in November 2010 -- not December. It's implemented in November. It's briefly implemented. (Refer to the November 11, 2010 snapshot about Parliament meeting finally and the agreement that allowed it to.)
Along with the serious threat posed by terrorism, an array of interlocking governance and economic issues endanger the health of the Iraqi state. Foremost among them is the lack of reconciliation among the many political blocs, which stems from disputes over the March 2010 Council of Representatives (CoR) election and its unsettled aftermath. The so-called "Erbil Agreement," reached in December 2010, ostensibly crafted a road map for resolving these disputes, though the map has not been followed. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki thus sits atop a fractious coalition government wracked by internecine rivalries.
Last December's events, including the Prime Minister's attempt to oust Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq and the Higher Judicial Council's (HJC) issuance of a warrant for the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, continued to cause turmoil this quarter. Al-Mutlaq did not attend Council of Ministers (CoM) meetings (and called the Prime Minister a "dictoator"), while al-Hashimi remained outside the effective jurisdiction of the HJC, primarily in the Kurdistan Region. Al-Mutlaq and and al-Hashimi are both Sunni members of the al-Iraqiya political bloc, a heterogeneous union of political parties dominated by Sunni interests. In early April, efforts by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and CoR Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi to convene a national reconciliation conference to address the issues dividing the government foundered, and the April 5 meeting was abruptly canceled. The disputing factions have yet to agree on a new date.
Vice President al-Hashimi's decision to seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region aggravated an increasinly troubled relationship between the GOI and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This dispute was also worsened by ExxonMobil's decision to pursue contracts with the KRG, despite GOI threats to exclude the company from further operations under its contract for work in southern provinces. The GOI appears to have sidestepped the issue for the moment, announcing that ExxonMboil had "frozen" its dealings with the KRG. But the relationship between the centeral government in Baghdad and the KRG remains tense with the flames recently fanned by the KRG's April 1 shutdown of all oil exports leaving its territory in retaliation for the GOI allegedly withholding about $1.5 billion from the KRG.
Iraq's political strife continued in mid-April with the arrest on the corruption charges of Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). Al-Haidari, who previously clashed with the Prime Minister after the 2010 CoR elections, stands accused of improperly using state funds. Members of al-Iraqiya, the Kurdistan Alliance, and the Sadrist Trend immediately questioned the arrest. The IHEC is responsible for administering Iraqi elections, including the upcoming provincial elections in 2013 and CoR elections in 2004.
Saturday, Al Mada reported on that day's big political meet-up in Erbil. Among those attending were Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Ayad Allawi (head of Iraqiya) and Speaker of Parliamen Osama al-Najaifi. Alsumaria reported on the meet-up and publishes a photo of the meet-up -- Moqtada al-Sadr is seated between Talabani and Allawi. The consensus was that there must be a national partnership and that the Erbil Agreement must be implemented.
This wasn't at all surprising. They and others have been calling for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented for months and months. Nouri al-Maliki is the one who agreed to the agreement and then trashed it when he got what he wanted out of it.
Lara Jakes (AP) called the meet-up a "mini summit" and feels that the participation of a wide range of groups -- including Shi'ites -- "underscored the growing impatience with the Shiite prime minister." Dar Addustour quoted from a press release noting the Erbil Agreement and the power-sharing and that the participants stress the need for things to be done logically (that may be "scientifically," I think it's logically), fairly and that the needs of the Iraqi people are paramount, they must be served and there should be no disruption of services.
The paper also notes that Ammar al-Hakim (head of the Islamic Supreme Countil of Iraq) was not present. And it notes various reasons for that. One common trait is he was not invited. Why he was not invited is in dispute. One explanation is that al-Hakim is seen as too close to Nouri, another given is that his stand is known and that those present were calling for possible solutions and debating their potential.
Alsumaria noted that there's also a call to implement Moqtada's 18 points. That's apparently on the same level of importance as returning to the Erbil Agreement. Moqtada's 18 points were presented Thursday in Erbil. There's been talk of them in the press; however, there's not any publication of the 18 points themselves. They have been said to support the Erbil Agreement, they're supposed to guarantee judicial independence and be good for Iraqis but that's from statements made on Moqtada's behalf and not from anyone working with the 18 points. Here's AP reporting on the 18 points on Thursday:
On Thursday, Moqtada Al Sadr offered an 18-point plan to solve the Iraq crisis, mostly through dialogue and political inclusiveness. The plan calls for having good relations with neighbouring nations, but to not let them meddle in Iraq's affairs. That appeared to be a reference to Iran, which is close to Nouri Al Maliki's Shiite-dominated government. In a nod to Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, Al Sadr said Iraq's oil must be used for the benefit of Iraq's people, "and no individual has the right to control it without participation from others".
Al Rafidayn noted that the Saturday meeting was closed-door and took place at the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. That's the political party Talabani heads. They also note that the meeting lasted three hours. Also Al Rafidayn notes that Ibrahim al-Jaafari (leader of the National Alliance) declared Friday that Iraq needs to hold a national conference and needs to do so next month, the first week. The previous deadline Nouri was working with came from Massoud Barzani. The KRG will hold provincial elections in September and Barzani's made clear that if the political crisis isn't solved by then the issue of what the KRG does next can go on the ballot. al-Jaafari just moved the deadline up and moved it up signficantly.
Like Ayad Allawi, Ibrahim al-Jaafari has held the post Nouri al-Maliki currently does, prime minister of Iraq. In fact, Ibrahim was the choice of Iraqi MPs in 2005 and 2006. The US refused to allow al-Jaafari to be named prime minister again and insisted that their pet Nouri be named.
Today's big news was Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. The political crisis was already well in effect when December 2011 rolled around. The press rarely gets that fact correct. When December 2011 rolls around you see Iraqiya announce a boycott of the council and the Parliament, that's in the December 16th snapshot and again in a December 17th entry . Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya but he's not in the news at that point. Later, we'll learn that Nouri -- just returned from DC where he met with Barack Obama -- has ordered tanks to surround the homes of high ranking members of Iraqiya. December 18th is when al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are pulled from a Baghdad flight to the KRG but then allowed to reboard the plane. December 19th is when the arrest warrant is issued for Tareq al-Hashemi by Nouri al-Maliki who claims the vice president is a 'terrorist.' .
al-Hashemi was already in the KRG when the arrest warrant was issued. He did not "flee" there. He remained there with the approval of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani until April when he left the country on a diplomatic mission. Nouri and his flunkies insisted that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey hand him over. None did. They also insisted that INTERPOL arrest him when he was in each of the three countries. INTERPOL cannot take part in political arrests, it's against their charter. They have to look impartial, per charter.
Alsumaria notes that May 3rd is when the Baghdad court intends to officially try al-Hashemi. "Officially"? Baghdad judges held a press conference in Februrary insisting al-Hashemi was guilty of the charges. Having insisted that publicly -- in violation of the Iraqi Constitution -- they now want to have a trial? The Baghdad courts are controlled by Nouri and a joke. Al Rafidayn notes that al-Hashemi is still in Turkey and that the trial will take place in absentia. Alsumaria reports that al-Hashemi and his bodyguards are now also charged with the murders of 6 judges. Still having not learned what a joke they are on the national stage, the Baghdad judges sent their spokesperson Abdelsatter Bayraqdar out to make a statement about how "confessions were obtained on them, including the assassination of six judges, mostly from Baghdad." The judicail system is corrupt and ignorant in Iraq. They have confused the role of the judge with the prosecution and their actions betray their country's Constitution. They should all be immediately removed from office. They won't be, but they should be.
Al Sabaah notes that there are 300 charges in all, according to the spokesperson, and that there will be 73 defendants on trial and, in addition to being accused of murdering judges, al-Hashemi and his bodyguards are also being accused of mudering military officers. Dar Addustour reports rumors that al-Hashemi will be stripped of his office prior to the start of the trial.