Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, February 7, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, another US helicopter is shot down in Iraq, Ehren Watada's court-martial is on day three, the Iranian government levels accusations at the US government, and Melanie McPherson receives a sentence of three years.
Starting with Ehren Watada who became the first officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq in June of last year and now is the subject of a court-martial at Fort Lewis where, if convicted of all charges, faces up to four years in prison.  L.A. Chung (San Jose Mercury News) reports on the people going to Tacoma, Washington to show their support for Watada such as Rose Takamoto who states, "I think it's really important" and "It's something that needs to be discussed while noting her disappointment in "local coverage from media outlets like the Mercury News, until this week."  Though some of the press accounts tell a different story, Tuesday's proceedings were a huge boost for Watada.  So it may come as little surprise that Reuters is reporting that Judge Toilet (Lt. Col. John Head) declared today that the trial could end in a mistrial -- which would result in another court-martial or, as many see it, a "do over" for the prosecution.
So let's review Tuesday's proceedings.  Yesterday on  The KPFA Evening News, co-anchor Sandra Lupien discussed the proceedings with Aaron Glantz.  (A section of this was played today on KPFA's The Morning Show.)  Lupein noted that after selecting the seven officers to serve on the jury/military panel on Monday, the prosecution argued their case Tuesday and "who were its witnesses and what were their arguments?"

Aaron Glantz: The prosecution had 3 witnesses. It did not go as well as the prosecution would have liked. Lt. Col Bruce Antonia, who was the prosection's star witness, as Lt. Watada's commander, said that nothing tangibly bad happened from Lt. Watada's refusal to go to [Iraq] and that it  did not inspire others in his unit to also refuse to go or to speak out against the war.  And, while that may not be comforting to supporters of Lt. Watada who want to see him make a big impact, it cuts against the prosecution's case that his conduct was unbecoming an officer and a gentleman because it inspired deviant behavior amongst other troops.                                  
Another thing that did not go well for the prosecution today was that their own witnesses clearly showed that Lt. Watada tried other methods of expressing . .  . [his opposition] to the Iraq war, internally within the military before coming forward to speak to the public.  For example he proffered his resignation which was not accepted , he offered to go to Afghanistan  instead of Iraq.  Now Lt. Col. James, who is one of the higher ranking officials at Fort Lewis, testified that, as service members, we don't have the opportunity to choose where we go and that's why his desire to go to Afghanistan was turned down but Lt. Col. James also said that when Lt. Watada came to him to discuss his opposition to the Iraq war he did not enage him a moral debate which it was discussed by many other peopl in the role of a commanding officer in the US military.

Lupien asked what was expected for the third day of the court-martial (today).
Aaron Glantz: Well one of the interesting things is that Lt. Watada is the star witness for both the defense and the prosecution.  Before the human witnesses came to testify for the prosectution, they played tapes of Lt. Watada himself speaking where he said the war was  illegal and immoral.  In particular they played a speech that he gave at the Veterans for Peace annual convention last year where he said. [. . .]  Now this speech was played  by the prosectuion, tomorrow the defense will call Lt. Watada as their star witness in order to explain why it is that he said this. [. . .]  The defense had hoped to call a number of witness who could speak to the morality and ethics of the war and the judge in the case, Col. Head, refused to allow that into the courtroom saying it was irrelevant so, as a result. the defense is only calling Watada himself  and a captain who was one of Lt. Watada's superiors.
In response to Lupien's question of whether Glatnz was expecting the trial to conclude on Thursady, he responded, "Obviously it depends upon how long this jury of US army officers takes to reach their decision -- and then we'll see the sentencing phase -- and of course that's where the defense is really looking because they do believe that he will be found guilty, at the very least, of missing movement, refusing to go to Iraq.  It's less clear whether he'll be found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.  But, in any case, that's where they really hope to make their case. So his attorneys have already said that they will appeal whatever comes out of it."
In the report, Glantz quoted from the speech Ehren Watada gave at the Veterans for Peace conference in Seattle last August, hitting some of the key points.  We'll emphasize this section of the speech (from Darh Jamail's transcription at Truthout):
The Constitution is no mere document - neither is it old, out-dated, or irrelevant. It is the embodiment of all that Americans hold dear: truth, justice, and equality for all. It is the formula for a government of the people and by the people. It is a government that is transparent and accountable to whom they serve. It dictates a system of checks and balances and separation of powers to prevent the evil that is tyranny.       
As strong as the Constitution is, it is not foolproof. It does not fully take into account the frailty of human nature. Profit, greed, and hunger for power can corrupt individuals as much as they can corrupt institutions. The founders of the Constitution could not have imagined how money would infect our political system. Neither could they believe a standing army would be used for profit and manifest destiny. Like any common dictatorship, soldiers would be ordered to commit acts of such heinous nature as to be deemed most ungentlemanly and unbecoming that of a free country.                  
The American soldier is not a mercenary. He or she does not simply fight wars for payment. Indeed, the state of the American soldier is worse than that of a mercenary. For a soldier-for-hire can walk away if they are disgusted by their employer's actions. Instead, especially when it comes to war, American soldiers become indentured servants whether they volunteer out of patriotism or are drafted through economic desperation. Does it matter what the soldier believes is morally right? If this is a war of necessity, why force men and women to fight? When it comes to a war of ideology, the lines between right and wrong are blurred. How tragic it is when the term Catch-22 defines the modern American military.
Aside from the reality of indentured servitude, the American soldier in theory is much nobler. Soldier or officer, when we swear our oath it is first and foremost to the Constitution and its protectorate, the people. If soldiers realized this war is contrary to what the Constitution extols - if they stood up and threw their weapons down -- no President could ever initiate a war of choice again.             
Geoffrey Millard is reporting on the proceedings for TruthoutMillard asked Bill Simpich, civil rights attorney, about Atonia's testimony on Tuesday and Simpich offered this evaluation, "The prosecution asked too many questions, by the time it was over the prosecution witness had become a defense witness because the field was wide open, the defense was able to ask nuanced questions, it told the story clearly to the jury."
As Glantz and Simpich both point out, the prosecution didn't make the case they wanted on Tuesday before resting.  Mike Barber (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) reports that Judge Toilet had to order the prosecution "to rephrase a question that strayed close to that prohibited subject" -- the illegality of the war -- "ordering 'move on!'"  Ha Bernton (Seattle Times) notes the pathetic nature of the prosecution's witnesses which seemed less bothered with Watada's actions and more upset that he went public.  Watada began attempting to work the matter out privately in January.  His unit deployed in June, the same month his stand became public.  Apparently, they wanted Watada to stay silent while they (his commanders) did nothing.
Speaking with Glantz yesterday, Aura Bogado (anchor Free Speech Radio News) asked about the restrictions being placed on the media?
Glantz: This court-martial is taking place on Fort Lewis which is a US army installation, where the Stryker Brigade is headquartered, and we've been told that we're free to watch the proceedings and they've been very generous they've set up a media overflow room to deal with the tremendous number of members of the press that are here.  They have also allowed a number of the public and Ehren Watada supporters to come.  But members of the media are actually forbidden from talking to Watada's supporters while we're on base.  We're also forbidden from talking to the Lt. himself, his legal team, or his family, and actually we're even escorted to by military escort to lunch when they have their lunch break and we're escotred to a seperate restaurant on base from where the members of the public, many of Watada's supporters, are escorted. 
Free Speech Radio News also noted this from Eric Seitz, Ehren Watada's civilian attorney:
"This is a young man who went through a process where he tried to avoid a confrontation with the army.  He went to them in good faith on numerous ocassions and offered to resign his commission, offered to go to Afghanistan, offered to do a number of different things, so that we would not find ourselves in a situation where had had to disobey an order.  That was not something he wanted to do.  I'm going to tell them that he has always acted with sincerity and integritey.  He has always impressed everybody with whom he's met or spoken as to the basis of his beliefs. He has not gone out of his way or at any time encouraged the counsel other people to do an act or to take any action other than to decide for themselves what they're conscienceses require and to follow the dictate of their own consciences."
In addition to a lousy day for the prosecution on Tuesday, AFP notes that Ehren Watada has received support from Desmond Tutu ("I admire your courageous and moral stand.  In Christian tradition, ethics insist on the absolute primacy of obeying one's conscience.  It is categorical imperative."), Susan Sarandon ("If the definition of a patriot is one who loves and defends his country then Ehren Watada is truly a patriot for his refusal to serve in a war that is harming the people of Iraq and increasing the threat of harm to Americans.") and Amnesty International.  Amnesty International's statement of support for Watada opens:  "Pending the February 5 trial of Ehren Watada, who faces a possible four-year prison sentence for his refusal to participate in the Iraq war, Amnesty International stated that a guilty verdict would be a violation of internationally recognized human rights"  Also David Strum (Baltimore Messenger) reports that Ralph Nader voiced his support: "'This is a criminal war.  This is an unconstitutional war,' he said.  Watada has every right to invoke the Nuremburg principles of World War II in refusing to go to Iraq, he added." 
As Aaron Glantz (OneWorld) reminds, Judge Toilet (aka John Head) has refused to allow the Nuremberg defense to be argued: "The fourth of the Nuremberg Principles states that superior orders are not a defense to the commission of an illegal act, meaning soldiers who commit a war crime after 'just following orders' are as culpable as their superiors."  While the prosecution fizzles out, it's no surprise that Judge Toilet is suddenly announcing the possibility of a mistrial.  AP headlines their coverage "Fort Lewis judge threatens mistrial in Watada's court martial."  Mike Barber (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) notes that Judge Toilet's debating over the a stipulation agreed to by Watada prevented Watada from testifying and might mean the charges he faces increase.  The stipulation was  Watada's agreement to affirm the reports published and broadcast about him in order that reporters wouldn't be asked to testify in his case.  There's confusion about what exactly is in question regarding the stipulation.  Aaron Glantz may address that this evening on The KPFA Evening News (6:00 to 7:00 pm, PST).
Watada is a part of a movement of resistance with the military that includes others such as Agustin Aguayo (whose court-martial is currently set to begin on March 6th), Kyle Snyder, Darrell Anderson, Ivan Brobeck, Ricky Clousing, Aidan Delgado, Mark Wilkerson, Joshua Key, Camilo Meija, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Jeremy Hinzman, Corey Glass, Patrick Hart, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell and Kevin Benderman. In total, thirty-eight US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.
Information on war resistance within the military can be found at Center on Conscience & War, The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline, and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters.
We marched against a war, long ago,          
wondering if it would make a difference.         
Now we march again, in conscience, knowing,          
We cannot allow this lie to go unchallenged.          
-- Sebastian Eggert, "Compression," Poets Against The War, p. 63
Wednesday night a US helicopter was shot down in Iraq.  AFP notes: "Between January 20 and February 2, four US choppers including a private aircraft crashed in Iraq, killing 20 people."  Yesterday made it four US military helicopters (the "private" refers to a Blackwater's helicopter that was shot down on January 22nd -- with the fighting being outsourced some may want to count that as a military helicopter). Rob Watson (BBC) reports, "This time it was a CH-46 Sea Knight which came down near Baghdad" and raises two issues: "First, are there any indications that the insurgents in Iraq have decided to step up attacks on US aircraft?  Second, have they developed new techniques or acquired new equipment to make any attacks more successful?"  While the US military flacks play dumb and fall back on the usual stall tactics ("We're investigating"), eye witnesses are already telling what they saw.  Kim Gamel (AP) reports that an unnamed "Iraqi air force officer" states the helicopter was shot down and that eye witnesses back that up as well -- such as Mohammad al-Janabi: "The helicopter was flying and passed over us, then we heard the firing of a missile.  The helicopter, then turned into a ball of fire.  It flew in a circle twice, then it went down."  Stephen Farrell (Times of London) quotes eye witness Ali Thmir: "The helicopter was heading to Habaniya base west of Fallujah but it was hit by a missile and we could see it when it was blown up and how its parts flew through the air." Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) quotes eye witness Ahmed Said, "I stopped the car and I saw the chopper was on fire and pivioting in the air."  CBS News' Lara Logan noted eye "witnesses said a helicopter had gone down in a field in the Sheik-Amir area northwest of Baghdad, sending smoke rising from the scene."  Dean Yates (Reuters) reports, "All seven crew members and passengers aboard a U.S. Marine helicopter were killed when it came down near Baghdad on Wednesday".
Today, the US military announced: "One Marine assigned to Multi-National Force - West died Feb. 6 from wounds sustained due to enemy actions while operating in Al Anbar Province."  Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) notes that the total number of US troops killed in the illegal war thus far is "at least 3,111".  AP reports that a roadside bomb in Diwaniya killed one Polish soldier today and left three others wounded.
On Sunday, Iraqis in military uniforms kidnapped an Iranian diplomat.  Robert H. Reid (AP) reported that those involved were thought to be with "the Iraqi Special Operations Command, an elit unit under the direct superfivision of the U.S. military."  The diplomat is Jalal Sharafi and Lara Logan (CBS) reported that the Iranian media "blamed the U.S." for the kidnapping. Stephen Farrell (Times of London) quotes the Foreign Ministry spokesperson for Iran, Muhammad Ali Hosseini, stating: "Iran holds American forces in Iraq responsible for the safety and life of the Iranian diplomat."  The kidnapping comes one month after US stormed a consulate and arrested six Iranians and at a time when Bully Boy continues to offer his gut as proof that Iran is up to no good in Iraq -- a gut that even his own circle looks skeptically at.  In a piece the Times of London identifies as "Comment," Stephen Farrell shares his reasons for doubting that the Iraqi government was involved: "Mr al-Maliki is caught in a very delicate position between the competing agends of Iran and America, the regional and world superpowers.  His government has repeatedly stated that both allies of Baghdad and they must not play out their differences on Iraqi soil.  It would be a huge mistake to inflame the already tense relations between Tehran and Washington."
Reuters notes a roadside bomb in Baghdad wounded four police officers and left one dead, while, not far from Suwayra, a woman was killed by a roadside bomb (two other people were wounded), and, in Falluja, a mortar attack left four dead.  The US military announced three children died and "12 other residents" were wounded in Mzerat from a mortar attack.
Kim Gamel (AP) reports that 3 security guards "at the government-funded Iraqi Media Network" were shot dead in Baghdad while "a female government official" was shot dead in Mosul.  CBS and AP say the number of security guards shot to death reached four.
Reuters reports 33 corpses were discovered "around Baghdad," and the corpses of an Iraqi soldier was discovered in Shirqat (also noted is 30 corpses discovered in Baghdad on Tuesday, three in Mahmudiya and two in Yusufiya).
But good news!  The cracked up 'crackdown' in Baghdad has a new tactic.  Along with the barbed wire, CBS and AP report that a new tactic is being utilized: Billboards!  They site several and we'll note two, a crying man (who didn't run to authorities) with the message, "I should have done the right thing" and another that reads: "Be a hero and report suspicious behavior."  No word on what might be done to grafitti artists should they 'improve' on the billboards.  CBS and AP also report on the general consensus of Baghdad residents about the prospects of the latest version of the crackdown and Hashem al-Moussawi may speak for many when he says, "Nothing will work, it's too late."  No word on whether the US military intends to make that a billboard slogan.
Finally, Melanie McPherson entered a plea of guilty in her AWOL case Monday.  AP reports that she "faces up to a year in prison after a military judge's ruling, which superseded McPherson's guilty plea to a lesser charge of going absent without leave." AP reports that Melanie McPherson "was sentenced to three months in military prison" and that she "was also reduced in rank to private and will receive a bad-conduct discharge after her prison term."  Melanie McPherson is not a war resister.  She self-checked out last July (turned herself in September) not because she was being sent to Iraq -- when she was called up from the reserves, she reported to Fort Bliss -- but because she was being sent to Iraq to do something she hadn't been trained in and wouldn't be trained in before her impending departure. McPherson's story isn't an oddity, it happens far too often and, while the military may feel 'good' about pushing her around, it's past time the American people started asking why troops were being deployed without the proper training?  McPherson, to repeat, was not opposed to deploying to Iraq -- her problem was being expected to do things she had no training for.   As Melanie McPherson herself said:
The decisions I have made are not only for my benefit, but also for the fair and better treatment of soldiers coming up who will face similarly difficult situations. We are regarded as the best military in the world. I believe we should make it better and safer for those that serve our nation. They absolutely deserve it.

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