Saturday, December 15, 2012

I Hate The War

An Iraq War veteran has been left rotting in a Mexican prison for four months.  Patricia Mazzei (Miami Herald via Lake Wylie Pilot) reports:

When the mother of a military veteran arrested and detained in a dangerous foreign jail called her congresswoman’s office two weeks ago asking for help, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she had a hard time believing former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar was in prison for carrying a six-decade-old shotgun into Mexico.
“We said, ‘Surely she must be exaggerating,’ ” recalled Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.
She wasn’t. Olivia Hammar’s son had been in a state prison in Matamoros, along the Mexican border, for nearly four months.

Jon Hammar and a friend traveled into Mexico in an RV.  He had a sixty-year-old rifle.  At the US checkpoint, he showed the rifle and Customs told him to fill out a form (which he did) and that that was all he needed to do.  He drove on through the checkpoint and ended up at a Mexican checkpoint where the gun was supposedly illegal (an inch too short --- which may or may not be an accurate measurement of the gun).  His friend was released since Hammar made clear he was the gun owner.  That was August, since then he has remained in a Mexican prison.

This should be a nightmare for many people.  For Mexico?  Lynn Brezosky (San Antonio Express) explains, "A group representing more than 14,000 businessmen in northern Mexico is pleading for the release of Marine Corps veteran Jon Hammar, warning his “unfair” imprisonment for carrying an antique shotgun on his way to a surfing vacation will further devastate an already struggling tourism market."  The US?  Richard Boyden (Black Hills Today) argues the White House is ignoring the Iraq War veteran,  "A real friend of America would admit to their wrongs and make things right. Not to do so is the deliberate and intentional act of an enemy and therefore they should be dealt with as such for the sake of this Marine. President Obama needs to decide who's side he is on."

Ginger e-mailed about Jon Hammar and why we weren't covering him?  I e-mailed back, "Give me some idea of what we're talking about?"  She did.   I asked her if I could use her as an example and she said yes.

There are more things going on than we can cover.  There are two hearings last week that I wanted to include but there wasn't room.  We haven't covered the electoral issues that have been taking place in Iraq.  I was thinking we could do that today.  But I start returning calls and start going through Arabic media -- US media ignores Iraq nearly completely -- and it's another day of turmoil in Iraq.  So we won't be picking up anything in the other entry.

Along with things I know about, there are hundreds more I don't.

If a visitor e-mails like Ginger did, they'll be blown off.  I have other things to do.  Ginger's a community member and was e-mailing the private account.  So I e-mailed her back to ask who she was talking about and she explained he was a veteran who'd been in a Mexican prison for four months and the US government was ignoring him.  I wrote back, "Okay, let me look at some articles and we'll note him."  The name "Jon Hammar" meant nothing to me because I hadn't heard a thing about him.  I was surprised (pleasantly) that two major papers had covered him (Miami Herald and San Antonio Express).  He does have an important story.  I'll try to work it into a snapshot this coming week.  But if you're e-mailing, as many visitors do, asking, "Why aren't you covering ___?"  You need to explain what you're talking about.  I appreciate that you're keeping your e-mail short but if I have no details and I don't know what you're talking about.  If a visitor e-mails about a topic we're not covering on purpose, I'll usually note that in the morning entries: 'We're not interested in ___ because it's for show or . . .'  That sort of thing.  If I anticipate that there will be questions about a topic, I may include it as well like in Monday's snapshot:

Today Nouri pretended to care about Palestinians. I'm not in the mood to cover his propaganda. He has been prime minister for over six years now. And Palestinians in Iraq were herded into camps, really unprotected from the elements and treated worse than animals. (Here and here for more on the topic.) When they've managed to leave those camps, it has not been pretty. Just a few months ago, Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada) was reporting on one group of Palestinian refugees. In an attempt to muster some regional support for his iffy position, Nouri wanted to grandstand on the back of Palestinians after being behind their mistreatment in Iraq for over six years now.

If there had been time, we would have noted an Iraq Times article Wednesday on Nouri's crocodile tears on this issue.  I also hoped that we'd be able to include Human Rights Watch's statement they issued Thursday:

(Baghdad) – Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of torture and unfair trials of Palestinians in Iraqi prisons. A recently concluded conference in Baghdad attended by the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed concerns about Palestinians held in Israeli jails, but did not examine allegations of serious abuses against Palestinians in Iraqi custody.

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, opened the Baghdad conference on December 11, 2012, declaring support for “the rights of the Palestinian prisoners who languish in Israeli occupation jails,” and stated that Iraq “is determined to be at the forefront of the efforts advocating peoples’ rights and freedoms.” Neither he nor other Iraqi officials commented on prisoners’ and family members’ allegations that Iraqi courts convicted two Palestinians based on coerced confessions that the men recanted in court, Human Rights Watch said. One of the men received a death sentence and has been transferred to a prison where the Ministry of Justice usually carries out executions.

“Prime Minister al-Maliki’s claim to support Palestinian prisoners is brutally ironic given Iraq’s record of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in its own prisons, including Palestinians held there,” saidJoe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The prime minister should order an immediate investigation into the Palestinians’ credible claims of torture and unfair trials and cancel any plans to execute them.”

Ahmad Amer Abd al-Qadir Mohammed, 30, a Palestinian born in Iraq, was sentenced to death in May 2011. The Rusafa Criminal Court verdict said that Iraqi security forces arrested Mohammad on July 21, 2006, in the al-Zayouna district of Baghdad. The first time his family received news of his whereabouts, they said, was over a year later, when a police officer contacted the family, informed them that Mohammad was in prison, and demanded US$200 to allow them to speak to him.

Mohammad’s family visited him at a detention center in the Baladiyat district of Baghdad in August 2007. They told Human Rights Watch that they were horrified to see him in what one family member said was “very bad shape.” His body bore “marks of torture,” including visible scars from burns. Mohammad told his family that his interrogators had drilled through his left hand, broken his right foot, poured scalding hot tea on his body, and put salt on his burns. To end the torture, Mohammad confessed that he was a member of an armed group that intended to plant explosives.

Baghdad’s Rusafa Criminal Court sentenced Mohammad to death following a trial that led to allegations of serious violations of his right to a fair trial. The defense lawyers said that witnesses gave conflicting testimony. Mohammad withdrew his confession in court, stating that it had been coerced with torture, and the court took note of a forensic medical report by the Ministry of Health documenting scars on his body consistent with torture.

The court convicted Mohammad based on his withdrawn confession, however, according to court documents Human Rights Watch obtained. In October, he was transferred to a prison in Camp Justice, notorious for its death row. He remains there awaiting a decision on his lawyers’ petition for a retrial alleging flagrant irregularities in his case.

Iraqi authorities should suspend the death sentence and conduct a full and independent investigation into Mohammad’s allegations of torture, Human Rights Watch said.

Mahmoud Mohammad Kamal Ahmad, a 30-year-old Iraq-born Palestinian, also was convicted based on a recanted confession. Sources close to Ahmad told Human Rights Watch that he was initially detained on March 17, 2007, when he presented a fake ID at a police checkpoint in the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict. Ahmad has told these sources that interrogators tortured him “in many ways” for six months to force him to “admit to killing Iraq troops and raping Iraqi women.” His interrogators broke his leg, dislocated his shoulder, broke some of his teeth, and threatened to kill his mother and sister, he said.

Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a medical examination by the Ministry of Health’s Forensic Medical Institute conducted on August 10, 2008, more than a year after his arrest and initial interrogation. The report documents scars on various parts of his body, including “scars on his right eyebrow, nose and chin area, right elbow, left thumb, right palm and penis” that were older than six months.

Ahmad confessed to membership in the armed group Tanthim al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidain, to having planted explosives in 2006, and to killing Americans. At his trial, he recanted his confession, claiming that it was obtained under torture. The prosecution did not provide any other evidence against him.

The court convicted Ahmad on December 15, 2009, apparently solely on the basis of his recanted confession. On February 22, 2010, the public prosecutor submitted an objection to the verdict, stating that the evidence against Ahmad was insufficient and demanding his release. Ahmad’s own “confession” stated that he had participated in terrorist acts in February, March, and October 2006 – which the prosecutor said was impossible since he had been detained from January 25, 2005 until June 25, 2006, at Camp Bucca Prison. Nevertheless, the Court of Cassation upheld the verdict.

Relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Iraqi jails have repeatedly called on Palestinian Authority representatives to intervene on behalf of their relatives in Iraq. Human Rights Watch has been unable to verify whether Palestinian authorities have requested to visit Mohammad or Ahmad in their respective detention centers in Iraq, or to arrange adequate legal representation for them.

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by Iraq in 1963, consular officers or their authorized representatives “shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody, or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation.”

“The ‘Conference on International Solidarity with Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Occupation Jails’ is a perfect opportunity for Palestinian Authority representatives to fulfill their obligation to their citizens to help protect them in jails in Iraq, and anything less would be pure hypocrisy,” Stork said. “Iraqi and Palestinian authorities alike need to live up to their promises.”

I had thought that it would be difficult to do the Iraq snapshots when the US media withdrew from Iraq.  That's really not been the case.  There are things I'd like to put in the snapshot but we run out of room.  So I try to hit what I can.  In addition to what I am aware of, there are so many more stories and issues I'm not.  So if there's an issue like with Jon Hammar that you feel needs to be covered -- do an e-mail but explain why.  I had no idea who Ginger meant when she asked about Jon Hammar.  Hopefully, many people were already aware that he's been in a Mexican prison since August and that the US government is apparently doing nothing about it.

It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)

The number of US service members the Dept of Defense states died in the Iraq War is [PDF format warning] 4488.

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