Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Bradley Manning -- with no conviction -- spends 2 years behind bars, Iraq's historic sites are at risk, Nouri's targeting Iraqiya again, War Criminal Tony Blair gets called out, and more.
Starting in the US where Bradley Manning's court-martial is scheduled to begin September 21st. 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. Bradley has yet to enter a plea and has neither affirmed that he is the leaker nor denied it.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, you told us a bit about the trial of Bradley Manning and I understand that CCR is going to be involved on a different level with the case.
Michael Ratner: Well CCR has been involved in some ways with Bradley Manning for a long time. We represent WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and I and other CCR attorneys have been going to the Bradley Manning hearings down at Fort Meade as I've reported on this radio show. One of the outrageous things about the hearing is that even documents that are not classified are not given to the public, are not given to the media. There's no way to get any of the court orders that the judge actually makes. You know, such things as pre-trial publicity. There's no way to get any of the motions. Although, now, some defense motions are up. But government motions are not there, government responses are not there. There's no transcript of the proceeding that we can get. There's one made but no one has access to it of the media or public. You sit in the court and you can't understand what's going on because you can't read any of the papers. So we now at the Center have for a number of months been trying to insist to the court that these are public filings, Bradley Mannings been denied his right to a public trial and the media and the citizenry is being denied their right to a public trial which is a key part of ensuring that justice is done fairly.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, are the documents being withheld in the name of national security? And also, is there precedent for this?
Michael Ratner: This is a court-martial. They apparently have different rules that they like to apply about letting the public know about what's going on. Every court-martial is essentially an ad-hoc tribunal. They're set up for the specific purpose of whomever they're going to try. They don't even have a clerk's office or a docket. And the judge has not said she's withholding because of national security. She's simply not giving the documents. No court orders. No motions -- particularly of the government's. None of the replies or briefs. And no transcripts. And there's also a lot of off-the-record hearings that we have no access to. So this, unfortunately, seems to be a matter of course. But here you are, in the most important court-martial probably in the century, conceivably, and the public and the media are not getting the materials.
Heidi Boghosian: There's an irony in this given that Manning is on trial for the very reason that he made documents public and, in his hearings, things are being withheld.
Michael Ratner: Yes. In fact, you could argue that the entire proceeding is a justification for what Bradley Manning allegedly did, that this entire country is going down some huge secrecy drain even with documents that the judge doesn't even claim are national security documents and they're not giving them to us. So what we did a few weeks ago is we filed some letters with the judge saying we want access. The Reporters Committee on Free Press filed a letter with 47 major newspapers saying we want access. Everything has been denied. So now we are going to the next level of the military appeals, it's called the Court of Military Appeals, and then we go to the Court of the Armed Forces and then, presumably, into federal court. I expect to win the case.
Though he's never been found guilty of anything, he remains behind bars and the Constitutional guarantee of a speedy and fair trial becomes even more of a joke.
Today marks two years of imprisonment of Private Bradley Manning. Two years ouf of his 24 years is a long time in military prison. His treatment has been highly controversial, every step of the way.
Following every bit of information available during the first few months of his ordeal made it clear that the US government was going to use Manning as a warning to anyone else who might feel compelled to report on war crimes, or any other crimes they witness from withing the system. Blow the whistle, goes the warning, and you will be buried alive by the state, shredded by the same secrecy machine a whistleblower would try to expose.
Two years now. And this is under Barack Obama. He had no respect for the Constitution. People deluded themselves. The Voice of Russia sees little hope of Bradley getting a fair shake:
All of the facts so far do not point to the possibility that Manning will be given the opportunity to receive a fair trial. He was the chosen scapegoat for what the US characterized as a historic intelligence failure, something conspiracy theorists say was an orchestrated release to tie up the intelligence agencies of the world with disinformation and to serve as the spark to ignite the color revolutions of the Arab spring. According to experts these two things were the only real tangible effects of the release of the information that was attributed to Manning.
[. . .]
The answer is clear, it is not in the interests of the government to assist in the Manning's defense, if he is found innocent and the huge house of cards that has been built up around him comes crashing down many officials at all levels will have to face the piper and while the foxes are guarding the chicken coop assisting someone they accuse is not something that can ever be expected, no matter how much lip service is paid to innocence before guilty.
Suzannah Hills (Daily Mail) reports that Lawley-Wakelin appeared on James O'Brien's LBC radio program today You go through the metal detectors, any member of the public can actually go in, and I tried to get in through the front entrance of the Leveson inquiry but was evicted as I don't have any press accreditation. But I figured out there must be a back way in as Lord Leveson himself must have one. When I got there I was surprised to find out that there was no security at all and in fact the door to the court was wide open in the same way that Lord Leveson himself would have got in there." The Telgraph of London quotes Leveson telling the inquiry today, "Yesterday morning a man by the name of David Lawley-Wakelin interrupted and disrupted the proceedings of this Inquiry for purposes of his own. I directed that an inquiry should take place and it has now been completed. Appropriate measures to prevent any risk of repetition have been taken." Lawley-Wakelin appeared on Press TV (link is video and transcript) today and was asked if War Criminal Blair would ever appear before the Hague?
Lawley-Wakelin: You know, whether he ever gets to court that's another thing. Taking on the American government, Bush and Blair and the British government it's just an enormous thing. There are lots of websites where you can join petitions to get Blair indicated for war crimes and perhaps one day we can hope that he will be taken down to the Hague but it's a long road and we can only hope that it will happen. There is plenty of evidence to point towards it. The sad thing is that the Chilcot Inquiry [so named after its chairman Sir John Chilcot] over here in England which is known as the Iraq Inquiry won't be looking into any criminal activity, they'll only be making inquiry into what went wrong in the decision-making by the politicians and the government and putting guidelines towards that but they won't be looking at all the money that washed around at the time and that Blair is still making.
In Iraq, the political crisis continues. In March 2010, parliamentary elections were held. Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second to Iraiqya (led by Ayad Allawi). That should have meant Allawi had first crack at attempting to form a coalition government. But Nouri didn't want anyone else to be prime minister and because he had the US government's backing as well as the Iranian government's, he was able to bring the country to a standstill. Political Stalemate I is the eight months that followed the March 2010 elections where Nouri refused to allow any governance to take place.
In November 2010, the US government brokers an agreement. Because they're in charge of the agreement, the US ensures that Nouri al-Maliki will have a second term as prime minister. To get the other political blocs to sign off on it concessions were made such as an independent national security commission would be created and Allawi would head that. All of the blocs got various promises -- in writing -- to get them to sign off on the agreement. Nouri signed it, everyone signed it. And Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get his second term as prime minister. But once he had that, he trashed the agreement. He refused to honor it.
And because there is no honor among thiefs and liars, the White House pretended they hadn't spent the summer of 2010 coming up with an agreement and as if they hadn't made promises to Iraq's political blocs. In Iraq, the White House's name is mud because they are known liars who deceived intentionally and went back on their word.
Last summer, the Kurds began publicly demanding that Nouri implement the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr quickly joined the call. Political Stalemate II is the ongoing political crisis.
Throughout, Nouri has targeted Iraqiya. Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) notes the present crisis is rooted in the 2010 elections but traces it back even further to the creation of Iraq in the the early part of the 20th century. He observes of today's conflict:
Iraq's political atmosphere was never devoid of dangerous tensions, but after the downfall of the Baathist regime, it has entered a new phase that is threatening to destroy the foundations of democracy. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is at the centre of these developments, and has been targeted by many. He has clashed with fugitive vice-president Tareq Al Hashemi, deputy prime minister Saleh Al Mutlaq, chairman of Al Iraqiya bloc Eyad Allawi, president of the Kurdish province Masoud Barzani and Sadrist leader Muqtada Al Sadr. Al Maliki is probably having problems with those in his own Al Dawa party. It is difficult to see Al Maliki emerging unscathed from these conflicts as all these forces are closing in on him in a joint attempt to get him out of office. Playing on the interests of the US and those of regional powers, which served him well in recent years, will not ensure Al Maliki's political survival, as finding a substitute is not very difficult.
Last week, Nouri found another member of Iraqiya to target. Laith al-Dulaimi is a member of the Baghdad provincial council as well as Iraqiya. Nouri ordered his arrest and al-Dulaimi states he has been torturted. Torture is common in Iraq, especially when securing 'confessions.' Just last week Nouri's forces tortured four Russian Bikers. RIA Novosti reports that the bikers -- Maxim Ignatyev, Oleg Kapkayev, Oleg Maximov and Alexander Vardanyants -- returned home yesterday. The four were biking through the region when Nouri's forces seized them, accused them of being spies and tortured them. RIA Novosti notes that the arrest sparked great furor including protests in Russia and promises from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that the bikers would be released. The Moscow Times adds:
The bikers were then detained by a military patrol outside Baghdad on May 20 and jailed at an Iraqi military base, where they were beaten and threatened, Vardanyants said. "There was little to be happy about," he said. "They beat us and threatened us, and the beatings had various levels of severity."
The four were imprisoned for approximately five days. The Voice of Russia states that "they were subjected to physical and psychological pressure." Again, that's common at the hands of Nouri's forces. Dar Addustour reported Monday that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is calling for al-Dulaimi's release. Al Rafidayn notes that Talabani is rightly dismissing the 'confession' that was videotaped and is now being played to the press by Nouri's goons. Remember last time when they were showing forced confessions and the world condemned them for it? That was only months ago. And Nouri's little flunky spokesperson then declared -- lying through his teeth -- that the 'confessions' (against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi) weren't intended to be played for the public and were only for the court. Iraq's been airing so-called 'confessions' for years now. It's become 'reality' TV in Iraq. Will anyone note that Nouri couldn't even go six months without circulating 'confessions' after swearing, just last winter, that he knew it was a violation of the Constitution to air them?
How much of a stir has al-Dulaimi's arrest and alleged torture created? Alsumaria reports the Ministry of the Interior -- over the forces that are said to have tortured him -- is insisting it will conduct a full investigation into these claims.
The arrest is drawing so much attention that Alsumaria reports even Nouri is now saying that there needs to be an investigation into the way al-Dulaimi was treated and also into the charges against him. Kitabat predicted Sunday that this would turn into a major scandal and they were correct. Kitabat notes that human rights activists are decrying the treatment of al-Dulaimi.
Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya, the Kurdish Alliance, Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and others will meet in Erbil to address the political crisis, the Erbil Agreement and whether or not to go forward with a vote of no-confidence. This follows the April 28th Erbil meeting (which did not include ISCI) and the Ma 18th meet-up at Moqtada's Najaf home. Meanwhile, ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim's beginning to feel the heat from standing so closely to Nouri al-Maliki. Al Rafidayn reported yesterday that al-Hakim was attempting to create some space publicly between himself and Nouri and declaring it was not his role to mediate on Nouri's behalf with Moqtada al-Sadr or anyone else. He made these comments, as Dar Addustour also notes, at a press conference with Moqtada.
Turning to the never-ending violence, Express News Service reports, "The last rites of the two Indians who died in an explosion on the Syria-Iraq border on Sunday took place in Iraq on Tuesday. Abbas Manaswala of Pune and Insiya Zakir Kothawala of Nagpur, both from the Dawoodi Bohra community, were among a group of Indian pilgrims travelling to the holy city of Karbala in Iraq by bus when the blash killed them." Lebanon's Daily Star reports, "The surviving Lebanese pilgrims whose bus was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq last week arrived in Lebanon Sunday night. The National News Agency reported that among those who arrived at Beirut airport were nine people who were wounded by the bomb, which killed three Shiite pilgrims near Ramadi, a city west of Baghdad." While the Lebanese survivors returned home on Sunday, AP reports that a Saqlawiyah roadside bombing hit a bus carrying Pakistani pilgrims and left 24 of them injured. AFP reports 3 of the injured are children.
Last week Aseel Kami (Reuters) reported on the State Board of Heritage and Antiquities' Mariam Omran Musa who is suing Iraq's Ministry of Oil over a pipline through Babylon which threatens the existence of the historical Hanging Gardens. Musa declared, "Oil and antiquities are both national wealth, but I have an opinion: when the oil is gone, we will still have antiquities." The Travel Channel notes that the Hanging Gardens were considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. RT adds:
The magnificent gardens allegedly built for a king's homesick wife in the 6th century BC were one of the Ancient World's seven wonders. Some historians doubt they existed, but they were described in many written sources and were said to have been destroyed by earthquakes. The remains of the ancient city of Babylon are situated near present-day Al Hillah in Iraq's Babylon Province south of Baghdad. The country has long been trying to get UNESCO to add the site to its World Heritage list, but chances appear to be fading away as authorities plan to lay an oil pipeline there. Iraq's Oil Ministry plans to extend a strategic route to export oil through six provinces at the center and south of the country.Two pipelines carrying oil products and liquid gas from Basra in the south to Baghdad were built under the ancient site in the late 1970s and early 80s.
"The pipeline crosses the perimeter of the archaeological site but outside the walls, beneath the so-called outer city," said Véronique Dauge, chief of the Arab States Unit at the Unesco World Heritage Centre. "But even if it doesn't cross the centre of the ancient city, it is in an area that has never been excavated." The site covers approximately 850 hectares, most of which is virgin territory for archaeologists. A spokesman from the Iraqi oil ministry quoted by AFP reported that the land dug up revealed no archaeological remains.
"No one can say right now if the oil pipeline has caused damage," said Lisa Ackerman, executive vice-president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), a New York-based foundation for preserving architectural heritage, who works on the site with the Iraqi authorities. "But I think it's very likely that it crosses sensitive archaeological zones."
Meanwhile AFP reports, "Teams of Iraqi archaeologists have discussed 40 ancient sites in the country's south from the Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian periods, an Iraqi antiquities offical said on Monday." And hopefully the fate of those sites will be better than the currently threatened Hanging Gardens or other threatened sites in Iraq. Mohamad Ali Harissi (Middle East Online) reports that historical sites discovered near Najaf's airport -- including "the remains of the celebrated ancient Christian city of Hira" -- are at risk, "unexplored and unkempt," due to a lack of excavation funding. One of the people who led historical digs upon the discovery and in 2009 and 2010 is Shakir Abdulzahra Jabari who states, "The area has historical importance, because it is rich in antiquities, including especially the remains of churches, abbeys and palaces. But now the antiquities have been neglected for a year, and they do not receive any attention, despite the fact that many Western countries are interested in Hira's history as the main gateway of Christianity into Iraq."
Obama has overseen a huge leap in the use of pilotless drones by the U.S. military and CIA to kill people in a growing number of countries. When Obama took office, the war by drones was confined to Pakistan, where Bush had authorized 44 strikes over the previous five years. Under Obama, there have been 260 drone strikes in Pakistan alone as of early 2012 -- almost six times the number ordered by Bush. Obama has expanded the drone war, including to Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Iran. The drones are deployed from dozens of secret facilities in the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia -- with the operational hubs within the U.S., thousands of miles away from where the drones actually kill people. While the whole drone program is veiled in secrecy, Obama defended it by saying that the drone attacks are "precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates" and that "drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties." This is either an outright lie, or a cold-blooded expression of utter disregard for human lives, especially in a Third World country. According to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in England this February, "since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners." Obama is now expanding the war in Yemen with loosened-up rules on drone strikes. According to the Washington Post, the "new authority approved by President Obama ... allows the CIA and the military to fire even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known...." This can only mean more civilians murdered in what Obama calls "precision strikes."
Deportations -- the War on Immigrants
The Gestapo-like targeting of immigrants within the U.S. and the intense militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border started before Obama --but he has escalated this offensive to new levels. Statistics released last October revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had deported almost 400,000 people in fiscal year 2011 --the highest number of deportations in a single year since ICE was formed 10 years ago. More than a million people -- mostly Latinos --have been forced out of the U.S. since Obama became president. A key part of Obama's anti-immigrant offensive is a federal program called Secure Communities, under which local police send the fingerprints of every person they arrest to the Department of Homeland Security. Secure Communities has expanded to about 1,600 local police forces, and Obama plans to spread it to all local jurisdictions by 2013. Those suspected of being undocumented are sent to ICE detention centers. There is a network of 250 such detention centers around the country. Exposés about these ICE prisons have revealed widespread brutality, sexual abuse, and racist treatment against vulnerable detainees who have no access to lawyers or other help.