Monday, May 21, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 21, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, at least 73 people died in Iraq last week from violence (Sunday the 13th through Saturday the 19th), the political crisis continues in Iraq, there's a ruling out of England that states some notes on a phone call between Bully Boy Bush and Tony Blair right before the start of the Iraq War may be released, veterans protest in Chicago, victims of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison attempt to be heard in the US courts, and more. 
On this week's  Law and Disorder Radio, a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week (today on WBAI, Law and Disorder was a three hour live broadcast due to fund raising, we're dealing with the recorded program here), hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights).  At the top of the show they discussed the issue of an Abu Ghraib abuse lawsuit.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, we have a bit of good news.  A federal appeals court has revived two lawsuits by former Iraqi detainees claiming that civilian interrogators and translators actually participated in their torture at Abu Ghraib prison.  You'll remember Titan Corporation which is now called L-3 Services and Nakhla International were sued by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Michael Smith:  On behalf of a number of people who are tortured -- I think seventy some.  The case was thrown out but then revived.  Appellate court said we just need more information before we can make a decision so let's not light the candles yet.  But this was a good development considering the Fourth Circuit isn't the most renowned in democratic liberties circles.
Heidi Boghosian:  And I think the point that we should be happy for is that it will allow the cases to go forward in the lower courts and allow the stories from the detainees can be made public.  Hopefully, some modicum of justice will result.
Michael Smith:  I totally agree. Anytime you can shine the spotlight of public opinion on these practices it's a win for the good guys.
The Center for Constitutional Rights presents a timeline and we'll note their description of the case:
Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla was brought against L-3 Services Inc. (formerly Titan Corporation) and CACI International Inc., the U.S. government contractors at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq, as well as former contractor Adel Nakhla. CACI International Inc. has since been dismissed as a Defendant in the case. The complaint alleges that L-3 Services and Adel Nakhla, a former translator employed by L-3 Services, directed and participated in torture and other illegal conduct  at prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The suit, brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and federal question jurisdiction, charges Defendants with violations of U.S. and international law including torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; war crimes; assault and battery; sexual assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring and supervision; and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Further, attached to most of these charges are counts of civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting. Through this action, Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.
Among the heinous acts to which the 72 Plaintiffs were subjected at the hands of the Defendants and certain government co-conspirators were: rape and threats of rape and other forms of sexual assault; electric shocks; repeated beatings, including beatings with chains, boots and other objects; prolonged hanging from limbs; forced nudity; hooding; isolated detention; being urinated on and otherwise humiliated; and being prevented from praying and otherwise abiding by their religious practices.
The named Plaintiff, Wissam Abdullateef Sa'eed Al-Quraishi, a 37-year-old married father of three, was hung on a pole for seven days at the infamous Abu Ghraib "hard site" and subjected to beatings, forced nudity, electrical shocks, humiliating treatment, mock executions and other forms of torture during his incarceration at the prison.
Another Plaintiff, Mr. Al-Janabi, was repeatedly and gravely tortured at Abu Ghraib prison. Mr. Al-Janabi was subjected to various modes of torture, including having his eyes almost clawed out, being stripped naked and threatened with rape, being hung upside down until he lost consciousness, and being deprived of sleep for extended periods of time. Like the other Plaintiffs, Mr. Al-Janabi was released after enduring over ten months of torture and other abuse without being charged with any crime.
They also offer audio of the arguments made before the Fourth Circuit (presided over by Chief Judge William Traxler)  en banc panel.  We'll note three minutes of what those insisting what happened can't be heard in a US court.  The DC based Steptoe & Johnson LLP's J. William Koegel Jr., representing CACI, spoke first so we'll note him.
J. William Koegel Jr:  I'm Bill Koegel, your Honor, and together with my partner John O'Connor, represent CACI, the company retained by the United States [Government] to assist the US military brigade in conducting interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the context of the Iraq War.  Today we ask the Court to reverse the unprecedented decision of the district court allowing aliens detained as enemies by the military on the battlefield in Iraq to pursue state law tort claims relating to their interrogations at Abu Ghraib.  There are three separate but, in this context, inextricably intertwined legal doctrines that support reversal. This Court has jurisdiction to reach each of those issues and it should do so because delaying review until the entry of a final judgment is going to imperil the significant federal interests that are at stake in this action.  I'm going to first address jurisdiction with respect to immunity and pre-emption, then turn my attention to jurisdiction with regards to the political question doctrine because there's an independent basis for this court's appellate jurisdiction in that respect.  The immunity and the pre-emption issues in this case are opposite sides of the same coin.  Both turn on a determination of whether the compelling federal interests in the prosecution of war as reflected both in the Constitution and in the Combatant Activities Exception to the federal court claims act set forth a federal policy that precludes the application of the state tort law employed by the plaintiffs here.  If the Court considers the tests for derivative absolute immunity as articulated in Mangold [v. Analytic Servs. Inc], it's easy to see how the resolution of that issue necessarily decides the battlefield pre-emption issue before the Court. We believe that the Court in deciding the immunity issue must by definition decide the battlefield pre-emption issue. Under the Mangold test, the Court looks first to the function being performed by the defendant and asks whether the function being performed by the government if performed by a government official would leave to the United States immune and, if so, whether the benefits of immunizing that function outweigh the costs?  This requires the Courts to examine the federal interest in the function.  Here the interrogation of detainees in a war zone. We submit and we believe the United States [Government] agrees that there is a compelling federal interest in conducting interrogations on the battlefield free from the interference of state tort law.
As disclosed before, I know Susan Burke of Burke PLCC.  She's one of the attorneys representing the Iraqis.  We'll note three minutes from her as well. 
Susan Burke: May it please the Court, my name is Susan Burke, representing with my counsel the torture victims. I'd like to just add a few points further to what my colleague has said about Judge Wilkinson's concern about discovery. What you're dealing with here is the defendants claim that they're entitled to go on a fishing expedition into government files in order to find some sort of justification for their illegal acts.  As a practical litigation matter they already had to have in hand whatever justification they had when they did it.  So therefore we would support, along with the United States, limitations on such kind of a fishing expeditions.
Justice Dennis Shedd:  But you assert, you assert there's a conspiracy with the military.
Susan Burke:  Yes, we do, your Honor.
Justice Dennis Shedd:  So why would they -- wouldn't they want to have a lot of discovery with a lot of  military to prove you're wrong on that point?
Susan Burke:  The reality is and if you look at the Saleh [v. Titan Corp] litigation itself, 18 months of discovery with no harm to the federal interests.  The United States Government as well as the District Court obviously are both well equipped to make sure that any of these interests that begin to intrude on the national interests of security are brought up by certification here.
Justice Dennis Shedd: When you go back, when you go back for discovery and the question is the scope of discovery and the question of we need to consider in how much discovery will or won't be limited, we have to think about the interests of the government in these combatant activities for contractors, you will say that is an issue we have to think about in the scope of discovery or you will say there is no such interest? 
Susan Burke:  Well we will say there is an interest of the federal government in ensuring that discovery does not burden the federal interest and if you look at what courts have done -- you can look, for example, at the United States --
Justice Dennis Shedd:  And you would then acknowledge the combatant activities? Whether you call that an interest or an immunity, you would acknowledge if the Court wanted to focus on that and do something to protect that interest you would say we do acknowledge that interest exists in the dynamic?
Susan Burke:  Your honor the United States Government has identified a series of interests all of which we acknowledge exists.  The paramount interest obviously is in preventing torture and that is why it is critical to go back for  discovery so that you don't inadvertently immunize private contractors who broke the law and who --
Justice Dennis Shedd:  But then --
Susan Burke:  -- should not enjoy any immunity.
Justice Dennis Shedd:  What's the answer to my question? If in discovery the question of do we need to protect the -- The government doesn't want to call it combatant activities but it's akin to that, it's that.  When that issues is raised and the court asks you what must be done to protect that interest if anything you will say there is an interest that needs to be protected?
Susan Burke:  Yes, your honor.
Justice Dennis Shedd:  Okay.
Susan Burke:  We would agree there is an interest that needs to be protected and the United States has several tools at its disposal -- state secrets and other tools to make sure that interest it is protected.
Justice Dennis Shedd:  But you -- but you would then acknowledge that there is a combatant activities interest?
Susan Burke:  No, your Honor.  What we would acknowledge is there is a -- as in all cases, there is a federal interest in making sure that classified information, information harmful to national security does not inadvertently come out through litigation.
There were other attorneys arguing.  Many of the justices ask questions and, if you're able to stream and benefit from streaming (meaning no computer issues and no hearing issues effect you), you should stream the whole thing.
Moving to Iraq where the government spends freely on everything but basic services for the people.  Jim Michaels (USA Today) reports, "The United States has agreed to sell unarmed surveillance drones to Iraq's navy as part of an effort to help protect that nation's oil exports amid growing tensions in the Persian Gulf and to strengthen U.S.-Iraqi ties." Just what Iraqis need to further endanger them.  'But they're unarmed!'  They're machines that give a false sense of infallibility.  Dropping back to Thursday's snapshot:
Today Mike Mount (CNN) reports that the attack decisions were based on "video surveillance provided by a U.S. drone"  and "The airstrike also raises questions on how U.S. partners use information given to them by U.S. drones."  Remember that as the government presses to distribute drones throughout the US.  35 people dead as a result of that 'intel.'
Drones didn't protect the 35 or reveal that they weren't 'terrorists.'  They were killed.  Based on 'intel' provided by a drone.  Meanwhile RIA Novosti notes, "Baghdad experts have discovered serious defects in the armored vehicles Ukraine has manufactored for Iraq, Ukraine's Segondya daily reported on Monday."
Trend AZ notes, "Six Iraqi policemen were killed on Monday in three separate gun and bomb attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul." AP repeats that as well and then tosses in their usual nonsense about violence being down overall.  Of course, it helps to pimp that lie when you (a) use 2006 and 2007 as your benchmark (the most violent years of the Iraq War) and (b) when you refuse to full report violence.  For example, AFP notes that in addition to the attacks on police, a bombing outside Mosul claimed the life of Sheikh Rashid Zeidan, 3 Falluja roadside bombings left 1 person dead and two more injured, a Dujail home invasion resulted in the murder of "an old woman," a Ramadi car bombing left five people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured and a Baquba roadside bombing left three Iraqi soldiers injured.
And don't tell AP -- mainly because it's in no hurry to share the violence with anyone -- but Iraq Body Count adds up 73 people killed in Iraq violence last week alone -- last week alone.  Sunday:  15, Monday: 11, Tuesday: 11, Wednesday: 14, Thursday: 5, Friday: 10 and Saturday: 7.  Add it up (check my math) and the total should be 73. 
In other news, as the deadline Moqtada al-Sadr announced last week for Nouri al-Maliki to implement the Erbil Agreement and the 18-point plan proposed by Moqtada al-Sadr gets closer, Nouri thought yesterday he could defuse the crisis by calling for a Baghdad meet-up.  Alsumaria reports that today, while attending the International Conference on Human Trafficking in Sulaymaniya, KRG Vice President Kosrat Rasul dismissed Nouri's call for a meet-up with no preconditions.  And Rasul notes that the meetings that have been taking place, which State of Law dismisses and attacks as a 'conspiracy,' are, in fact, part of the democratic process.

Saturday, Moqtada al-Sadr hosted another such meeting at his Najaf home and attendees including Iraqiya, the Kurdistan Alliance and the National Alliance.  Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports that Moqtada has told his followers that this was a meeting to preserve democracy and that State of Law elements decided not to attend while Nouri was not invited.  Outside of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim remains the closest thing to a public supporter Nouri has. He tells Al Mada that the Sadrist bloc is part of the National Alliance but it cannot speak for the alliance itself.  He also tsk-tsks what he sees as "extortion language" in some of the comments.  The remarks about Moqtada not speaking for the entire National Alliance was already made by Nouri's State of Law.  Al Rafidayn reports that here.  But your underlings defending you in the press cares very little weight or influence.

Ammar al-Hakim, like a prince, was born into his current role.  He became leader of ISCI after his father died.  Dar Addustour notes that he just won re-election to his post of presidency.  That outcome was never in doubt.  And that might be why al-Hakim can repeat the comments urged on him without too much fear of being toppled.  But possibly al-Hakim should worry more about schisms and factions which are growing in the party he presides over? Al Mada has Talabani repeating his call for dialogue.

Among the things Nouri doesn't want on the agenda is the status of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  Shortly after the bulk of US forces left in December, Nouri swore out an arrest warrant for the vice president who was in the KRG and remained there until April.  He is currently in Turkey.  The 'trial' against him started and with Nouri's Baghdad judges holding a press conference in February to declare Tareq al-Hashemi guilty, no one in their right mind would take what has gone in as fair or impartial.  AFP reports that his attorneys finally had enough yesterday and walked out:

"We decided to withdraw from the case as the appeals commission did not review the appeals we presented to it," Muayad al-Izzi, the head of Hashemi's defence team, told reporters, referring to their attempts to have the case heard in a special tribunal rather than the Central Criminal Court of Iraq.
The CCCI, which held the fourth hearing on the case on Sunday, responded by appointing two new lawyers to replace those who withdrew.

Press TV adds:

Hashemi said in a statement issued on his website on May 17 that he was considering the withdrawal of his lawyers from the case due to "legal violations" including a refusal to transfer his trial to another court and his lawyers not being permitted to meet with the accused members of his staff or witnesses individually.
Strategy Page notes, "The trial for some of the bodyguards of Sunni Arab vice president Tariq al Hashimi, and the missing Hashimi himself, for the murder of six judges has hit a snag as the judge refused to allow defense lawyers to present evidence that might exonerate Hashimi. As a result of that ruling, and several others that hurt the defense, the lawyers walked out. It does appear that the Hashimi trial is more for show than an effort to determine true guilt or innocence."
In England the 1984 Data Protection Act set up the Information Rights Tribunal.: "A panel composed of the Tribunal Judge and two other non-legal members, all appointed by the Lord Chancellor, hears appeals at venues across the United Kingdom.  The oral hearings are open to the public."  The Telegraph of London reports today that the Tribunal has ordered the Foreign and Commonwealth Office "to disclose parts of a note detailing a conversation between the two leaders [Tony Blair and George W. Bush] on March 12 2003.  Mr Blair and Mr Bush are believed to have used the call to discuss a TV interview given by then-French president Jacques Chirac two days earlier about ongoing talks on Iraq at the United Nations."  Andy McSmith (Independent of London) quotes from the ruling, "The circumstances surrounding a decision by a UK government to go to war with another country is always likely to be of very significant public interest, even more so with the consequences of this war."  Jane Croft and James Blitz (Financial Times of London) quote an unnamed person with the Foreign Office sounding as if it will appeal ("We will want to study the terms of the judgment more closely over the coming days.").  Why does it matter?  For a number of reasons including the historical record. It could also be the last word as to whether or not there was an attempt to intentionally misread the position of France.  February 2, 2010, former Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short offered testimony to the Iraq Inquiry. From that day's snapshot:
MP Clare Short: I noticed that Lord Goldsmith [in his testimony to the Inquiry] said he was excluded from lots of meetings. That is a form of pressure. Exclusion is a form of pressure. Then, that he was -- it was suggested to him that he go to the United States to get advice about the legal position. Now we have got the Bush administration, with very low respect for international law. It seems the most extraordinary place in the world to go and get advice about international law.  To talk to Jeremy Greenstock, who -- I'm surprised by his advice. I think to interpret 1441 to say you have got to come back to the Security Council for an assessment of whether Saddam Hussein is complying, but there shouldn't be a decision in the Security Council, is extraordinarily Jesuitical. I have never understood it before, and I think that's nonsense, and it wasn't the understanding of the French and so on, because I saw the French Ambassador later. So I think all that was leaning on, sending him to America, excluding him and then including him, and I noticed the chief legal adviser in the Foreign Office said in his evidence that he had sent something and Number 10 wrote, "Why is this in writing?" I think that speaks volumes about the way they were closing down normal communication systems in Whitehall.
To Tony Blair's assertion that he had to give up on chasing down a second resolution because the French said they would not approve one, Short called that "a deliberate lie" and explained that a decision was made -- as it had been in the US (she reminded everyone of the "freedom fries") -- to blame the French and use that deceit as an excuse to avoid a second resolution.  She notes the French position was not "never" on a second resolution but "not now" while inspections were ongoing. 
In the US, actions took place and continue to take place in Chicago where the NATO Summit is taking place.  Debra Sweet (World Can't Wait) explains, "Yesterday in Chicago we took to the streets for humanity and the planet! Watch video.  As Obama met with Afghan president Karzai and told the wlard that 'hard days are ahead in Afghanistan' we gathered with thousands in downtown Chicago in opposition to the war criminals meeting." .  We'll note those involving Iraq.  Mary Wisniewski (Reuters) reports, "Nearly 50 U.S. military veterans at an anti-NATO rally in Chicago threw their service medals into the street on Sunday, an action they said symbolized their rejection of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Francine Knowles and Sandra Guy report on the action for the Chicago Sun-Times.    Knowles and Guy note, "Speaking on behalf of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, which organized the protest, he and others called upon NATO to bring about the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, full benefits for returning service members, including mental health care; and reparations for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan."  China's press managed to cover it.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports:

Afghanistan and Iraq veterans from across the United States converged in Chicago on Sunday for a historic day of action against NATO, which is expected to culminate with at least 40 Global War on Terror veterans returning their war medals to NATO generals.
The action followed a press conference which began at 9 a.m. local time, marking the first national gathering of veterans protesting NATO, which will open the two-day summit on Sunday afternoon.
"We will march to NATO's front door to return our medals, hand in hand with our Afghan brothers and sisters, to tell the world's military leaders and NATO's generals that our solidarity is stronger than their wars," Aaron Hughes, organizer of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), said at a press conference held in the Grant Park in downtown Chicago. "We will make our message of justice, healing, and solidarity heard around the world."

One of the participants was Iraq War veteran Steven Acheson who told Miranda Leitsinger (MSNBC) before the action, "I feel like this is a really good way for me to kind of, not clear my conscience, but just make a step in the direction of healing and kind of reconciling with the Afghan people and the Iraq people. and let them know that we're standing by their side and we're not standing with NATO anymore. We don't agree with the policies that are driving these wars."  Again, that was before the action. 
This morning on the 3-hour live broadcast of  Law and Disorder Radio  on  WBAI, CODEPINK's Medea Benjamin who was in Chicago.  She noted:
The march yesterday was amazing with many thousands of people out on the streets and the vets doing a very moving, symbolic throwing in of their medals yesterday at the end of the march and dedicating each one to things like the children of Afghanistan and Iraq who might not have parents anymore and saying they're sorry to the Iraqi and Afghan people. That was very moving.  And then last night there were continuing marches throughout the streets and yesterday a very moving march to the house of [Chicago Mayor] Rahm Emanual led by people from the mental health community who are suffering from the lack of health care and the closing of clinics and sitting down in the street -- hundred of people -- in front of Rahm Emanual's house.  And then we -- CODEPINK -- led a group that went to the consulates of the Canadians and the British and the Germans.  And there were several great demonstrations outside of Obama's headquarters.  So every day had something going on.  Sorry it was hard to follow but, boy, it was very active here.