Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, October 2, 2007. Chaos and violence continue, war resister Robin Long is arrested by the same creeps who pulled the stunt earlier with Kyle Snyder, Blackwater's Erik Prince testifies to Congress, the UK announces a drawdown, the US Congress (Democratically led) keeps buying into the illegal war, and more.

Starting with war resistance. Robin Long was arrested yesterday. War resister Long went to Canada in June 2005. He applied for refugee status. Like everyone who has applied thus far, Long was denied. The New Democratic Party of Canada issues a statement "calling on the [prime minister Stephen] Harper government to reexamine their decision to deport Long and allow him to stay in Canada." It's noted that Long "lives in Canada with his Canadian partner Renee and their young son." So the Canadian government has arrested Long, intending to deport him and thereby split up a family. Olivia Chow points to "a recent poll taken in Ontario [which] showed that almost two thirds of Ontarians believe that Canada should allow war resisters to stay in Canada." The War Resisters Support Campaign notes that the poll was "conducted by phone from June 5 to 11, 2007" and that "close to two thirds of Ontarians favour letting US Iraq War resisters settle in Canada" and that polling was "conducted by the national research firm Strategic Communications Inc". Shirley Douglas (who worked her butt of during Vietnam and is as dedicated today) is quoted declaring, "This poll shows that the Canadian tradition of welcoming Americans who dissent from the policies of war is still important to us. The Canadian government should move now to make it possible for the war resisters to settle in this country, as so many did during the Vietnam War." The Christian Radical notes that Nelson was "arrested by the Nelson B.C. Police who intend to take him to Vancouver and hand him over to the US authorities at the border nearby. He was seized as he walked along a street. He is now detained in the local jail. Robin was not allowed to receive visits from friends; however he was able to call his spouse. She says that he is calm and hopeful that he will soon be released." The is the same Nelson B.C. Police that arrested Kyle Snyder on the orders of the US military -- in direct violation of Canadian soveriegnty. In the US, Gregory Levey (Salon) becomes the first at a US news outlet to cover that and he is also the last because it's just too much work for independent media apparently. Now a similar thing has happened to Robin Long. Exactly when the hell does independent media in the United States intend to do its damn job? The Christian Radical notes: "The War Resisters Support Campaign is urging all our friends and supporters to CALL THE NELSON POLICE AT 250-354-3919 AND TELL THEM TO RELEASE ROBIN LONG. We urge you as well to contact your local Member of Parliament and ask her or him to help release Robin."

Along with Kyle Snyder being arrested in a similar stunt (on his wedding day), the US military itself crossed over into Canada and posed as Canadian police officers -- harassing Winnie Ng at her home and demanding to know where war resister Joshua Key was. As independent media in this country -- including the "Nobody owns The Nation" useless piece of crap -- has refused to cover this story, the US has grown ever more bold about issuing orders to lackeys in Canada who aren't concerned with upholding Canadian law, just with being suck ups to the United States.

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes James Stepp, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Carla Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko,Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, forty-one US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters.

Blackwater USA. Today, Erik Prince -- CEO of the mercenary company -- popped into Congress for a hearing on the issue of private security in Iraq held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chaired by Rep Henry Waxman. Prince fidgeted throughout, used the phrase "I don't know" repeatedly, showed his disdain for Congress by frequently rolling his eyes, smirking and, when Rep Peter Welch was questioning him, combined the two with an extended head turn to the right and away from Welch. With his disain on full display, the obvious question for committee members to ask him about his physical presentation. No one did. A lot of representatives wasted time. Rep Diane Watson was the best example of wasted time on the Democratic side and Prince's nonstop smirks during that exchange may have been warranted as Watson went on and on (about topics that had nothing to do with Blackwater such as the MoveOn ad and Rush Limbaugh) only to suddenly declare "And so my question to you" before going back to yammering on. Was there a point to her remarks? It was the embarrassment from the Democratic side as she seemd determined to deliver a free association monologue. Each time she would use the term "question," Prince would lead forward, open his mouth, then close it because Watson wasn't interested in an answer and wasn't interested in getting to a question. What was her point? Who knows with lines like "You are providing a service." At one point, around the fourth or fifth time Prince had leaned in to answer only to grasp she wasn't yielding, he looked around as if he was about to laugh. Across America -- to the left, to the right, to the center -- many others may have been laughing as well.

On the Republican side? They win as ensemble, too many did far too much for just one to be singled out. Top honors within the ensemble go to Lynn Westmoreland who wasted everyone's time by putting on his glasses and reading his remarks from prepared text. If you can write down everything ahead of time, don't even show up, just fax your prepared remarks to the media. And that was honestly a problem for most. Those who didn't so obviously read from their prepared remarks for their entire allotted time also didn't appear to listen too closely. That was true regardless of political party. Democrats John Sarbanes and Peter Welch deserve (positive) notice for questions and comments that demonstrated they were aware of what had been asked as well as what had been asked but not answered. Bruce Braley (Democrats) also deserves credit for not wasting his allotted time with a bunch of sop but instead tearing away at the issue of the laws that would or would not govern Blackwater in Iraq -- tearing away at the topic and refusing to let go. Noting the Blackwater employee -- allegedly drunk, who shot dead an Iraqi bodyguard on Christmas Eve 2006 (the committee agreed not to ask about the September 16th incident where Blackwater slaughtered at least 11 innocent Iraqis at the request of the Justice Department) and what passed for 'punishment' --Braley pointed out the message to take away was, "If I screw up . . . the worst that's going to happen is I have to give up a window seat for an aisle seat."

Braley was referring to the fact that Blackwater didn't discipline him. Prince repeatedly -- throughout the hearing -- would immediately go to flogging, insisting (over and over) "We can't flog". The inablity to flog appears to be a big issue with Prince. Prince explained (at several points) that -- though they couldn't flog -- what Blackwater did with the employee was pull his plane ticket, withheld the employee's paycheck and the employee's bonus. Prince -- falling back on the flogging -- declared that Blackwater did all they could. Withholding earned wages is supposed to be against the law so it's a shame no one asked Prince what law Blackwater was operating under when they made that decision. A bonus can be given or taken away and any dispute over it can be handled by the courts but earned wages are earned wages and companies do not have the right to withhold them.

What Price left out was that the employee didn't just leave. He was proud that the employee's security clearance was pulled. But he failed to show the public his pride over the fact that Blackwater hustled the employee out of Iraq before any serious questions could be asked. Price -- noting he watches crime shows on TV -- begged off ruling whether it was murder, homicide or manslaughter but didn't quibble that, in fact, it was a crime. That being the case, why an employee who had committed a serious crime was being whisked out of Iraq is a question he should have been asked repeatedly.

The point Braley was making was US service members -- in the same situation -- would be facing a court-martial but all the Blackwater employee basically lost was a window seat on the trip home. Throughout it at all, regardless of any question other than about his time in the US Navy Seals, Prince repeatedly fell back on "I don't know." On violence, on whether Chilean thugs who worked for Pinochet were now working for Blackwater (Jan Schakowsky brought that issue up and hit hard repeatedly on the human rights issue), what the make up of the Blackwater force in Iraq was, etc.: "I don't know." It was left to Chris Murphy (after many had left the hearing -- press and committee members) to state the obvious, "Certainly as CEO you can tell us what your profit has been?" No, he couldn't.

But he could indicate that he believes Blackwater employees are destroying Blackwater equipment intentionally. That probably wasn't his intent but he declared, to Murphy, that "Our helicopters get fragged." "Frag" is internal not external. If the Blackwater helicopters are being "fragged" then the "fragging" would have to be done by a Blackwater worker. Listening to Prince go on and on about Blackwater's "costs" . . . What costs? That's a serious question. Replacing a helicopter? Well talk to anyone in the trucking industry or the delivery industry and they'll tell you equipment's replaced all the time. But the point was driven home best when Jan Schakowsky was asking (repeatedly) how Blackwater checks out their employees. According to Prince, they basically just run Social Security numbers. So Glory, Glory Private Business . . . as it still depends upon all the tools of the federal government. As Henry Waxman noted in his opening statement, "Over the past 25 years, a sophisticated campaign has been waged to privatize government services. The theory is that corporations can deliver government services better and at a lower cost than government can. Over the last six years, this theory has been put into practice. The result is that privatization has exploded. For every taxpayer dollar spent on federal programs, over 40 cents now goes to private contractors. Our government now outsources even the oversight of the outsourcing. At home, core government functions -- like tax collection and emergency response -- have been contracted out. Abroad companies like Halliburton and Blackwater have made billions performing tasks that used to be done by our nation's military forces. What's been missing is a serious evaluation of whether the promises of privatizing are actually realized." Instead of addressing the reality, Prince elected to play like he didn't know, couldn't recall and to invent fantasies. Such as when he wanted to tale the tale of his proudest moment of life. Picture it, if you could, because he couldn't. A man, an officer, unnamed, but this is the most vivid moment of Prince's life, right? So the officer tells him that all the troops serving under him know that if they get into trouble in Iraq, call Blackwater first. A lie and an obvious one. But if Prince wants to stick by it, then the US military might want to address policy with those serving because troops do NOT first call mercenaries when they are in need of help. In fact, to do so is a violation of the chain of command.

House Rep and 2008 presidential Democratic hopeful Dennis Kucinich attempted to seriously address the issue of the contracts Blackwater has been awarded by the federal government. He raised serious issues (including the huge increase Blackwater sees each year -- $48 million in 2004, $500 million last year). Prince told Kucinich these weren't "no bid" contracts, that Kucinich misunderstood. He fell back on that repeatedly allowing him to avoid Kucinich's questions. Then, after several other members had their turn at questioning, Prince wanted to clarify the record, turns out some of those contracts he was declaring weren't no-bid, were no-bid contracts.

It was very similar to his appalling response to US service members being scapegoated for the actions of Blackwater: "I don't believe that false story lasted in the media for more than a few hours." But when you're attempting to hustle someone out of the country, every hour counts. And what's a lie to Blackwater? Prince did the same thing with Kucinich's questions. He lied. Then, after he'd eaten up the time on the clock, he would clarify his statements on the no-bid contracts. In fairness, if Prince is the idiot he pretended for the committee, then his lawyer assisted him because his attorney (seated to the left of him) was advising him throughout. But that is Blackwater for you. Lying doesn't matter if they correct it . . . after they've gotten what they wanted whether it's time to whisk an employee out of the country or to run down the clock on questions.

He smirked when the e-mail on the shooting was read, when "At least the ID of the shooter will take the heat off us" was read into the record. The heat was off Blackwater and it was placed on the US service members. But Prince thinks it's fine because it -- the lie -- was just out there for "a few hours." At another point, Prince would declare (of this same incident), "Look, I'm not going to make any apologies." No, he wasn't going to. And that he hasn't been forced to goes to how little accountability there is. Which is why he could also declare, "I believe we acted appropriately at all times."

If there was a more appalling moment than that -- to hear a CEO responsible for a company where an employee killed someone (they were focusing on the one death) declare he had no apologies to make -- it was when Mike Turner elected to whine about all the sympathy being shown. Why, he insisted, no one was even noting al-Qaeda. The issue wasn't al-Qaeda. The issue was a US company (of mercenaries) are harming Iraqi civlians (specific instances cited), not facing any punishment for it and it's the US service members that get blamed for it and have to deal with the further hostilities. But Turner -- who appeared genuinely stupid -- couldn't grasp that and let his whine continue to declare that the focus on Iraqi civilians killed by Blackwater bothered him because "I think it crosses the line between our team and their team." Fortunately for Turner, there were other moments that people will probably zoom in on.

Such as Lynn Westmoreland's crack-pot theories about a menace (Red?) in cahoots with trial attorneys across the nation. Thankfully, Westmoreland assured the country that this unnamed menace was not serving in the legislative branch ("There is a party not in Congress . . .").

Less concerned about finger pointing within the halls of Congress, Darrell Issa attempted to paint the entire motive for the hearing as partisan, insisting that the hearing was being held because Blackwater has given so much money to Republicans. Erik Prince rejected that, noting, "Blackwater is not a partisan company." It flew over Issa's head. "I think you're exactly right!" Issa crowed, ignoring what Prince had just stated, and insisting this was an attempting to turn it into a partisan issue. Henry Waxman rightly pointed out, "The only one who's done that is you."

Christopher Shays, before all but falling to his knees to praise the military, declared, "I was a conscientious objector. I was in the Peace Corp!"

As noted earlier, the September 16th slaughter was taken 'off the table'. Demetri Sevastopulo (Financial Times of London) reports that the FBI's plans to open an investigation into the incident ("last month shot and killed 11 Iraqi civilians") and "send a team to Iraq to assist a State department investigation." There are plenty of witnesses for them to talk to. Jomana Karadsheh and Alan Duke (CNN) report that the Iraqi police officer operating in the square asserts Blackwater "became terrorists" and that "they entered the square, throwing water bottles at the Iraqi police posted there and driving in the wrong direction." The police officer explains, "I saw parts of the woman's head flying in front of me, blow up and then her entire body was charred. What do you expect my reaction to be? Are they protecting the country? No. If I had a weapon I would have shot at them."

After Eric Prince completed his testimony, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard from US ambassadors David M. Satterfiled, Richard J. Griffin and William H. Moser. This aspect of the hearing was much shorter than Prince's and that may be due to the fact that even the most basic questions from US Representatives were met with obstruction from the three employees of the State Department. As Jan Schakowsky declared during her questionign, "I have heard all of that." One typical exchange went Q: "Are you refusing to answer" A: "I'm not able to confirm the details."


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer (five more wounded), while 5 other Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 2 lives (twelve wounded). Reuters notes a Khalis bomber killed himself as well 4 civilians "outside a police station" (one woman and one child were among the four dead) and a Jalawla roadside bombing left eleven injured. KUNA reports 6 dead with ten more injured in an Al-Khalis car bombing.


Reuters notes "a businessman and his son" were shot dead in Wihda while "primary school teacher Alaa al-Zubaidi" was shot dead in Suwayra, one person was shot dead in Hilla, an armed struggle in Abbasi claimed 2 lives


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 9 corpses were discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes 2 corpses discovered outside Kirkuk.

Meanwhile, Mark Deen and Kitty Donaldson (Bloomberg News) report, "Prime Minister Gordon Brown, preparing for a possible election in the U.K., said he plans to pull 1,000 troops out of Iraq by the end of this year. The withdrawal would leave about 4,250 U.K. soldiers stationed near the city of Basra and put Iraqi forces in charge of day-to-day security across the south of the country." AFP notes, "In policy terms, Brown has so far shown little divergence from Blair on Iraq, although he has accepted the issue has been politically 'divisive' and that 'mistakes' were made in the post-war planning and reconstruction."

Meanwhile, Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) notes, "The Democratic-led Senate has voted to authorize spending another $150 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate passed the spending measure by a 92 to 3 vote. Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma voted against the war spending. While the Senate bill authorizes the money to be spent, it does not guarantee it. President Bush will have to wait until Congress passes a separate appropriations bill before war funds are transferred to military coffers." On Bill Moyers Journal (last Friday in most markets and available online A/V and transcript) the issue of the financial costs of the illegal war were addressed:

BILL MOYERS: You said the other day to someone that we think we can fight the war in Iraq without paying for it.

JOHN BOGLE: Well, we borrow the money to fight the Iraq War by some estimates and they're not absurd estimates is running now towards a $1 trillion. We could be doing what the British empire did. We could be bankrupting ourselves in the long run. And--

BILL MOYERS: You see us as an empire?

JOHN BOGLE: Well, of course it's an empire. We reach all over the world. We thought of ourselves in many, many respects as the policemen of the world. God knows we know we're the policemen of the Middle East. And there are those say, even from Alan Greenspan on up or down, that oil is the root of that. I mean, these are great societal questions. Protecting oil, which is in turn polluting the atmosphere.
We have problems as a society. And we don't have to surrender to them. But, we have to have a little introspection about where we are in America today. We've go to think through these things. We've got to develop a political system that is not driven by money. I mean, these are societal problems for us that don't have any easy answers.
But you don't have to be an economist to know that a great deal of or a minimum in our economy is coming from borrowed money. People are spending at a higher rate than they're earning, and we're starting to pay a price for that now. Particularly in the mortgage side. But, eventually, that could easily spread and people won't be able to do that anymore. You can't keep spending money you don't have. It gets a lot of it, you know, and it wasn't that many years ago -- maybe a couple of generations ago -- that if you wanted something, you saved for it. And when you completed saving for it, you bought it. Imagine that. And that wasn't so bad. But, now, we know that we can have the instant gratification and pay for it with interest payments, of course, over time, which is not an unfair way to do it. We're going to pay a big price for the excessive debt we've accumulated in this society both in the public side and the private side.
And it's no secret that this lack of savings in our economy -- just about zero -- is putting us at the mercy of foreign countries. China owns -- I don't know the exact number -- but, let me say about 25 percent of our federal debt. China does. What happens when they start to buy our corporations with all those extra dollars they've got there? I mean, I think that's very-- these problems are long term, are very much worrisome and very much intractable.

And, finally, tomorrow is an anniversary. As Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign reminds: "Five years ago tomorrow (Wednesday, October 3), Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to deliver an impassioned, point-by-point refutation of the Bush Administration's arguments seeking passage of the Iraq War Resolution. For days leading up to that moment, Kucinich also widely circulated his own independently conducted analysis of the 'intelligence' that the Administration had presented to Congress in support of the resolution. Eight days later, despite the warnings of Kucinich and 132 other members of the House whom he had managed to persuade to oppose this prelude to war, the majority of the House and the majority of the Senate gave the President the war powers he sought. Among those supporting the 'Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002' were Senators Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden, all of whom spoke forcefully in favor of the President's strategy -- all four of whom are now Democratic Presidential candidates. All four subsequently approved additional measures for supplemental appropriations to fund the war, as did Democratic Senator Barack Obama after he was elected to the Senate in 2004. Now, five years after they approved a war that should never have been authorized in the first place, those same Democrats are scrambling to explain, excuse, or defend their votes. At the same time, the foremost among them are refusing to pledge an end to the war, admitting that it may extend well beyond 2013. Kucinich, the only Democratic candidate for President who voted against the original war authorization and every war-appropriation since, has recently raised loud warnings, in the Congress and in public statements, that House-approved and Senate-approve measures targeted towards Iran are 'dangerously and frighteningly similar' to those anti-Iraq resolutions approved five years ago." PDF warning: here for the independent analysis, here for the floor speech.

[C.I. note: Typos fixed. Original can be found here.]