Friday, September 28, 2012

Can't nail down the numbers, won't talk about the why

Thursday saw an attack on a Tirkit prison.  In yesterday's snapshot, I noted that the numbers were fluid and they should be consistent by today. I can be wrong and often am and, goodness, was I wrong in hoping for consistency and clarity come Friday.

The numbers continue to vary and most outlets are naming the officials providing them. For example,  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) cites Raed Ibrahim ("health official") for a death toll of 10 prison guards and 2 prisoners with thirty-two injured and cites politician Qutaiba al-Jubouri as the source of 81 prisoners escaping with 36 of them being captured after escape. UPI states this morning that 14 died in the assault and, citing Salaheddin Province Governor Ahmed Abdallah al-Jabouri said 33 escaped prisoners had been captured.  Tang Danlu (Xinhua) offers 15 dead and forty-five injured and the source is the police who also state 200 prisoners escaped and that 81 remain at large.  Hassan Obeidi (AFP) notes, "A hospital official in Tikrit, the ancesestral home of now-executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, said 13 police were killed and 34 wounded in the violence."

While unable to nail down the numbers -- and you can blame officials as much as the press -- the day after the attack, they also struggle with reality.  From yesterday's snapshot:

If you skip the English language media, what's not confusing is why it happened and why it was able to happen.   Alsumaria reports that there are approximately 900 inmates in the prison and that many have death sentences.  Alsumaria does even more than that.  It notes the recent prison violence throughout the country and ties it into the death sentences.  These aren't just happening at random, this is about the many people being sentenced to death -- a fact the English language press either doesn't know or doesn't think people need to know.
When prisoners escape, as some have, without being caught, it makes a lot of sense when you grasp that they are seen as persecuted.  They're not the deadly evil suddenly let loose and roaming through a town that's going to cause people to pick up the phones and call the authorities.  These are people that many Iraqis feel didn't get a fair trial or received an unduly harsh sentence.  The refusal for this part of the story to be reported goes a long way towards explaining the confusion over what's been taking place in Iraq for months with these increased attacks on prisons.
Already the English-language press is obsessed with the Islamic State of Iraq -- a violent group that may be responsible.  And they may be. July 22nd, the Islamic State of Iraq released an audio recording announcing a new campaign of violence entitled Breaking The Walls which would include prison breaks and killing "judges and investigators and their guards."  (They also threatened to attack America on US soil.)  They've had great success since then in launching deadly attacks.  And one of the reasons for their success is Nouri al-Maliki.  The Islamic State of Iraq is using violence which appalls many Iraqis but for reasons that a number of Iraqis can identify with. 
Nouri created this.  Nouri's the reason it thrives.  Again, the English-speaking press has ignored it but there have been mass arrests all month.  Alsumaria reports 17 arrested today for 'terrorism' just south of Baghdad, another 17 arrested in Nineveh Province and another 44 in Kirkuk -- while in Diyala Province, the federal forces are said to be out of control but they insist that they have not seized control of residential areas and that they are not putting up barriers as part of their security measures or 'security measures.'  Mass arrests create a climate in which the Islamic State of Iraq's actions can garner sympathy.  You may be lucky and it didn't happen to anyone in your family but, down the street, it happened to one of your neighbors and the thing about mass arrests is that they (rightly) create distrust in the government.  And they create sympathy for responses like the Islamic State of Iraq.   You see and overhear plotting and planning, in a stable society you might call the police.  In Nouri's Iraq, you instead understand the motives and you may not take part in violence yourself but your attitude is you're not going to stop it.

Though some of the above and other English language reports this morning will tell you that the escapees included "terrorists," only Duraid Adnan and an unnamed stringer in Tikrit (New York Times) note  the death penalty aspect by quoting Tikrit's head of security, Muhammad Hassan, stating, "They were sentenced to death, so they were ready to do anything to escape."

The death penalty aspect is not a minor issue.  It's what fuels support for the attacks on prisons in Iraq.

Let's go to numbers.  US Census Bureaus says the US population is 311.5 million.  Iraq's population is about one-tenth of that.  (28 to 31 million is the usual estimate -- they haven't had a census since the middle-stages of Saddam Hussein's rule; the CIA estimates its 31.1. million while the World Bank goes for 32.9 million).  So with Iraq being one-tenth of the population, let's now look at the execution rates because both countries ignorantly continue to use the death penalty.

Doug Craig ( reported at the start of this month that there were 27 executions in the US so far this year.  That's 27 too many and you can be sure the number will be much greater by the end of the year.  Iraq, by contrast, has executed at least 96 people so far this year with another 200 scheduled for execution.

With one-tenth of the population the US has, they've already executed over three times as many people this year.  At the end of last month, Human Rights Watch noted of Iraq's executions:

Authorities said that all had been convicted on charges “related to terrorism,” but provided little information about what crimes they had committed. Human Rights Watch has previously documented the prevalence of unfair trials and torture in detention, particularly in national security and terrorism-related cases. “There is no doubt that Iraq still has a serious terrorism problem, but it also has a huge problem with torture and unfair trials,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The lack of transparency around these convictions and executions, in a country where confessions that may have been coerced are often the only evidence against a person, makes it crucial for Iraq to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions.”

Reported mass arrests in Iraq yesterday -- this excludes escaped prisoners recaptured -- stood at 78.  In a country where mass arrests take place daily, where the arrested (some innocent, some guilty) disappear into a system that makes it impossible for most families to find their loved ones, where the judicial system is a joke, where even get a trial make take years, you've created an environment where people can feel sympathetic to the Islamic State of Iraq's actions. 

The press didn't address this.  Again.

You know what this ignorance results in?

The current conflict between the PKK and the government of Turkey. 

That ongoing conflict that has lasted years is not hard to untangle the roots of but no one wants to note that anymore than right now people want to point out that Nouri's actually helping to fuel armed resistance to his rule. 

As Susan Sontag rightly observed for The New Yorker after the 9-11 attacks, "Let's by all means grieve together.  But let's not be stupid together.  A few shreds of historical awareness might help us to understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen."

I find it very stupid for supposed reports on the prison attack to refuse to note the prisoners awaiting the death penalty.  I find it very stupid for supposed reports on the prison attack to refuse to note that -- yet again -- that amnesty bill that was going to be a breeze back in 2008 didn't get voted into law by the Parliament yesterday.

I find it very stupid for reporters to churn out, "Tikrit prison attack!  We think it was the Islamic State of Iraq.  We won't tell you details or the why."

Nouri's government has announced they plan to execute 200 more people this year and AP noted this week that there have been "867 death sentences since 2004, with most of them still on death row."

Another point to make about English language coverage?  Most skip the number of prisoners dead our injured.  Dar Addustour notes 5 prisoners were killed and fifteen were left injured.

The following community sites -- plus Susan's On the Edge, Adam Kokesh, FPIF, Dissident Voice, Cindy Sheehan, Tavis Smiley,, The World Can't Wait and Jody Watley --  updated last night and this morning:

In  the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
Contact: Matt McAlvanah
(202) 224-2834
Mystery Republican Blocks Cost Of Living Adjustment for Disabled Veterans
Secret Republican hold on bill could prevent more money in disability benefits from going to millions of veterans
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee, announced that an as yet unnamed Senate Republican has blocked a traditionally non-controversial bill that would provide over 3.9 million veterans and their survivors with a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for the benefits they receive. The COLA increase, which is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living, was brought to the Senate floor by Senator Murray last Thursday. The bill was cleared by all Senate Democrats but was blocked by at least one Senate Republican that has not come forward to claim responsibility.
"This is stunning" said Senator Murray. "Particularly because we still don't have any indication why someone would block a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans and their surviving spouses, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. This adjustment for our disabled veterans is hard earned and well deserved. My hope is that whichever Senator has decided to hold up this bill will at least come forward to own up to it. That way we can move forward to overcome their oppositions and get our veterans the support they need."
The Veterans COLA will affect several important benefits, including veterans' disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. The COLA rate will match the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients and is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct

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