Monday, October 08, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 8, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths, Watada's court-martial will not beging tomorrow, Blackwater . . . and the mainstream press that loves them (or, in the case of the New York Times, lusts after them), and more.
Starting with war resistance.  Tomorrow Ehren Watada was set to face his second court-martial.  As Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) noted today, "A judge in Washington state has granted an emergency stay to postpone the second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada".  In June of 2006, Watada became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.  In February of this year, a court-martial was held and, over defense objection, Judge Toilet (aka John Head) declared a mistrial.  As Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, pointed out, double-jeopardy had attached the case.  To attempt to court-martial Watada again would be in violation of the Constitution.  In what Hal Bernton (Seattle Times) reports as "a rare, last-minute move, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle on Friday put Watada's Tuesday court-martial on hold.  In the weeks ahead, Settle will decide whether ths second trial should proceed, or be quashed as a violation of the officer's constitutional rights that protect against double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crime."   Tomas Alex Tizon (Los Angeles Times) notes the belief of some that there is a "pssobility that he might cancel the military trial altogether" and quotes James Lobsenz, one of Watada's two civilian attorneys, stating, "If we win the next part, we win."  Mike Barber (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) explains, "Settle was careful to point out that 'the issues raised by the petition for habeas corpus bear no relation to the charges or defenses in the petitioner's (Watada's) court-martial proceedings.' Settle was a military lawyer in the Army in the 1970s and was recently appointed to the federal bench by President Bush.
Quoting case law, Settle wrote, 'The irreparable harm suffered by being put to a trial a second time in violation of the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment stems not just from being subjected to double punishment but also from undergoing a second trial proceeding'."  Currently, the court-martial is stayed until at least October 26th.
In news of other war resister, Canadian radio reported Saturday that the mayor of Nelson -- where Robin Long was arrested this week and where Kyle Snyder was arrested in February -- is openly bragging that the final report on an investigation into the police department and police chief Dan Maluta's illegal arrest of Synder is not only complete, but he's had it for a week and hasn't bothered to read it. Repeating: The mayor, John Dooley, charged with oversight has had the report on the investigation and does not see the point in 'rushing' to read it. He brags that he has carried it around in his briefcase "all week" -- which does explain how the Nelson police, under Maluta, have been able to conduct themselves as they have.
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.
Turning to the subject of the mercenaries at Blackwater USA.  Jeremy Scahill (Guardian of London via Common Dreams) observes, "A pattern is emerging from the Congressional investigation into Blackwater: the state department urging the company to pay what amounts to hush money to victims' families while facilitating the return of contractors involved in deadly incidents for which not a single one has faced prosecution."  The relationship between the US State Department and Blackwater is one of repeated cover ups.  On Saturday, John M. Broder (New York Times) got all excited on a new 'answer' -- the State Department would by utilizing "its own personnel as monitors on all Blackwater security convoys in and around Baghdad" and by placing "video cameras in Blackwater armored vehicles to produce a record of all operations". Friday NPR's Jackie Northam (All Things Considered) discussed the so-called measures with  -- after noting that Rice's recordings "apply only to Blackwater and only in Baghdad" -- Peter W. Singer (Brookings boy) who said that most already had recording devices, questioned "embedding' a State Department monitor with a private contractor doing government work" (a monitor who  will "be making somewhere between 3 to 500 dollars less a day than the people that he or she is supposed to be chaperoning") and sees the measures as "very small, and they don't deal with the fundamental issue".  CNN reported over the weekend that the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Henry Waxman, sent another letter to US Secretary of State Condi Rice regarding the State Dept's refusal to stop stonewalling Congress over the issue of Blackwater and CNN noted that Andrew Moonen (Blackwater gun for hire who shot the bodyguard of Iraq's vice-president -- allegedly while Moonen was drunk -- in December 2006) was working, in Kuwait, for a US Defense Dept contractor weeks later.   For those who have forgotten, last week -- in Tuesday's hearing -- Blackwater CEO, Erik Prince, told Congress that Moonen (unnamed in the hearing) was stripped of his security clearance before being hustled out of Iraq.  If Moonen was stripped of his security clearance, how is it that the DoD and their contractor didn't know that?  If he was stripped of his security clearance and still made it back over to the region without it, how many other contractor employees are not in compliance with the basic guidelines?
Paul von Zielbauer (New York Times) reports that the Iraqi government has finalized their investigation and "found that employees of the American security company Blackwater USA shot unprovoked at Iraqi civilians at a downtown traffic circle three weeks ago, an episode that killed 17 people and wounded more than 20 others, a government spokesman said Sunday"  quoting Ali al-Dabbagh who also declares that Blackwater's vehicles were not "even hit by a stone" before Blackwater initiated the slaughter of Iraqi civilians.  James Glanz and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) add, "Those conclusions contradict Blackwater's original statement on the shooting, which said that a convoy operated by the company's guards 'acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack.' The Iraqi findings are also at odds with initial assertions by the State Department that the convoy had received small-arms fire."  Which again goes the issue that the US State Dept has repeatedly provided cover and falsehoods in order to protect Blackwater.  AP reports, "Iraqi authorities want the U.S. government to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months and pay $8 million in compensation to each of the families of 17 people killed when the firm's guards sprayed a traffic circle with heavy maching gun fire last month."
Naomi Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism and she uses the book and the research for her article "Disaster Capitalism: The new economy of catastrophe" (October's Harper's magazine, pp. 47 -- 58).  this is from the article (page 48):
Everywhere in Iraq, the wildly divergent values assigned to different categories of people are on crude display.   Westerners and their Iraqi colleagues have checkpoints at the entrances to their streets, blast walls in front of their houses, body armor, and private security guards on call at all hours.  They travel the country in menacing armored convoys, with mercenaries pointing guns out the windows as they follow their prime directive to "protect the principal."  With every move they broadcast the same unapologetic message: We are the chosen, our lives are infinitely more precious than yours.  Middle-class Iraqis, meanwhile, cling to the next rung down the ladder: they can afford to buy protection from local militias, they are able to ransom a family member held by kidnappers, they may ultimately escape to a life of poverty in Jordan.  But the vast majority of Iraqis have no protection at all.  They walk the streets exposed to any possible ravaging, with nothing between them and the next car bomb but a thin layer of fabric.  In Iraq, the lucky get Kevlar; the rest get prayer beads.
That's pretty clear.  Except to the mainstream.  Over the weekend on PBS' Washington Week (or Washington Weak) Linda Robinson of US News and World Reports decided to chat and chew the topic with star Gwen:
Linda Robinson:  Well Blackwater has about 800 people who are primarily providing bodyguard service to the embassy personnel.  And there are about, well there are some thousands of other contractors doing this exact kind of job.  So they're moving around the city in convoys and they apply very aggressive tactics in general.  There are some who are alleging that Blackwater in particular uses much more aggressive tactics.  But let's just set the stage a little bit.  Very, very violent city.  You're driving around, bombs are going off, at any unpredicted time.  So what happens is these convoy drivers uses a tactic: they throw things at people, they sound their horns their sirens if you don't get out of the way they will shoot.  So Iraqi drivers generally pull over as soon as they see a convoy.  The problem is SUVs cannot readily be identified often from a distance --
Gwen Ifill: Yeah, how do you know it's a convoy?  How do you know it's not the military?  How do you know -- tell the difference?
That's the problem.  Washington Weak tells you that's the problem.  For the record, Robinson informs Gwen that it's very obvious when it's the military and it's only confusing when it comes to civilian contractors.  So the question is, were Linda Robinson or Gwen to be walking to their cars at the start of the day and a car came zooming through with those in it throwing things at them, would they see that as a problem?  Should Jon Stewart attempt to find out for The Daily Show?  In fact, it shouldn't even be a surprise.  Gwen and Robinson should volunteer for it to prove what good sports they are.  After ten to fifteen minutes of drive-bys where water bottles are hurled at them (the mildest object usually cited in press reports) from speeding cars, let's see their smiling, bruised (possibly bloodied?) faces and find out whether they now think that "the problem" includes a great deal more than being able to tell if a convoy is approaching?  What's really appalling is Robinson admits to being selective in her report explaining that's why she "set up" because, apparently, reporters are not supposed to show any sympathy for the civilian populations they are allegedly covering but instead are supposed to be act as a p.r. hack for multi-billion dollar corporations.  And the chat and chew only got worse as it was wondered if this was all just sour grapes due to Blackwater's "success"?
Last week, the Financial Times of London editorialized: "But privatising war is, in reality, financially, politically and militarily very expensive. The lawlessness of some of these outfits has stained America's reputation and stirred up rage against its troops. Blackwater, which has earned nearly $1bn from the Department of State for protecting its officials, is notoriously trigger-happy: opening fire first in 163 out of 195 shooting incidents since 2005, according to a report by Congress. A Blackwater employee killed a bodyguard of Adel Abdel Mahdi, an Iraqi vice-president Washington favours as a possible prime minister, in an argument last Christmas."  Yet our Weak Washington gas bags couldn't explore the topic and, besides, Robinson vouched that the illegal war couldn't continue without mercenaries so they are needed.  (Naturally, whether the illegal war 'needed' also went unaddressed on programming 'brought to you by viewers like you'.)
And in "Get them a subscription to Young Miss already!" news, James Risen (New York Times) decided to follow in the foot steps of John M. Broder (Times of New York) and Peter Spiegel (Times of Los Angeles) by going public with his crush on Blackwater CEO Erik Prince in today's New York Times.  Little Jimmy explains what puts the "rise" in Risen and it's, "Erik D. Prince, the crew-cut, square-jawed founder of Blackwater USA".  Apparently Details doesn't provide facial types?  Prince is not square-jawed, he has a pointy chin and his facial type is a triangle (an inverted triangle).  Over fifty is a bit late in life to begin learning facial types but if it's suddenly important to Risen, someone quickly get him a subscription to Young Miss -- where he may also learn that Prince does not have a "crew-cut."  Those little wisps and bangs and the dip do not qualify for a crew-cut.  Astronaut Alan Shepard (link goes to Life magazine 1961 cover) had a crew-cut.  If Risen can be pulled away from his day-drooling, the differences can be explained to him and possibly it can also be explained to him that he's supposed to be a reporter for a daily paper, not a fanzine?  For any wondering, yes, this is how criminal Ollie North was elevated and protected by the press during Iran-Contra, with fan scribbles (Risen's first sentence) and nonsense.
In some of today's reported violence . . .
BBC reports 13 dead from a truck bombing in Samarra and notes "four explosions near" the Polish "embassy" in Baghdad that claimed 2 lives (five injured). Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a mortar attack on the Green Zone, a mortar attack on "the buildings of the former general security agency in Baladiyat," a Baghdad car bombing "near the Technology University" claimed 4 lives (ten injured) and a Tikrit car bombing that claimed 2 lives (4 police officers wounded).  Reuters notes a Hawija roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 police officer (two more injured),
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 7 corpses discovered in Baghdad.
Today the US military announced: "A Marine assigned to Multi-National Force-West died Oct. 8 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province."  And they announced, "An MNC-I Soldier died of wounds suffered during combat operations in the vicinity of Bayji Oct. 5."  Last week, the UK Ministry of Defence announced the death of Alexis Roberts who "died as a result of an improvised explosive device just after 0800 hrs local time.  The Battalion was returning to their base in Kandahar after taking part in Op PALK WAHEL when the incident occurred."  The illegal war has now officially claimed the lives of 3815 US service members and 170 UK forces (ICCC).
Yesterday on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,  Blitzer spoke with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani who tried to act as if he was making a promise ("In next year . . . In the spring of the next year, I think.") that US troops could be reduced but when pressed by Blitzer, Talabani begged off ("Well I cannot decide the number") and then Talabani revealed that he was for dividing Iraq up into three sections.  Not a surprise. He's always been for that.  However, the Iraqi people are not for it.  (Talabani is a Kurd and the Kurdish region wants to break off.)  AP explains: "Hundreds of Iraqi refugees staged a sit-in in Damascus yesterday to protest against a recent nonbinding US Senate resolution that encourages splitting Iraq along ethnic and religious lines. Carrying Iraqi flags, about 400 protesters gathered in the al-Sayda Zeinab district. 'No for occupation and no for division,' read a placard carried by one refugee. 'Dividing Iraq is the start for dividing all countries in the region,' read another."  We'll skip the nonsense of yet another peace accord between warring Shi'ite parties.  In the real world, Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) reports that, though "the U.S. military strategy in Iraq has sought to reduce violence so that politicians could bring about national reconciliation, but several top Iraqi leaders say they have lost faith in that broad goal" and quotes Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih explaining that he doesn't believe in reconciliation, "To me, it is a very inaccurate term.  This is a struggle about power."  Which does sum up what is going on Iraq and the US arms various sets of thugs while the civilians repeatedly suffer or flee the country.  And, no, there is no 'progress,' there is no improvement.  But the US has played one group off another from the beginning.  Puppet of the occupation, Nouri al-Maliki, is bothered that the US trains and arms Sunnis but it wasn't a concern to him when the Sunnis were being terrorized by Shias.  In a matter of months, they'll flip again.  The civil war was imposed from outside.
Turning to England.  Last Tuesday, Chris Bambery (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reported, "Tony Benn and Labour national executive member Walter Wolfgang are set to defy the law and lead a banned anti-war march down Whitehall to parliament next Monday -- the day Gordon Brown has promised to deliver a statement on Britain's presence in occupied Iraq."  Bambery noted Brian Eno stating the ban was created to keep the issue of the wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) out of public sight and quoted Benn declaring, "I will be marching.  It is entirely up to the police and government what they do."  Today is Monday and they did not back down.  The Socialist Worker reports, "With just an hour to go the metropolitan police told organizers of today's Not One More Death Protest that it would not be banned from marching to parliament.  There was a sense of jubiliation, pride and determination as over 5,000 protesters set out down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square, on the Stop The War Coalition (StWC) demonstration.  Students and pensioners joined trade unionists and peace activists.  All were convinced that StWC's refusal to accept the ban and the size of the turnout had forced the authorities' hand.  'It's been a bad couple of days for Gordon Brown,' joke one pensioner as the march went past Downing Street."  Fred Attewill (Guardian of London) notes, "One of the organisers, Lindsey German, said the authorities and MPs had underestimated the determination of the anti-war movement.  She said her message to the government was that it would 'never draw a line under this war until you bring all our troops home.  And we don't want the troops brought home just so they can be sent to Afghanistan or the Iranian border.  We want a permanent break with George Bush's murderous, imperialistic policies."  Brian Eno (in a column at CounterPunch) notes, "Our leaders would undoubtedly be happy if we 'moved on' from Iraq.  They don't want to talk about it any more: it was a dreadful blunder, and reflects little credit on any of them.  Presumably this is why the question has hardly been debated in parliament.  Although the majority of the public were always against the war, this was not reflected by their elected representatives."  Meanwhile, BBC reports that Gordon Brown (UK Prime Minister) has announced British forces in Iraq will fall to 2,500 -- from the current 5,550 -- by this spring.  Stephen Fidler (Financial Times of London) quotes an unnamed UK official stating this is Brown's "progressive glide path" out of Iraq.  Philippe Naughton (Times of London) also quotes unnamed "senior officials" one of whom says a full withdrawal might be possible: "Certainly at this stage there is no guarantee that they are going to be there beyond the end of 2008.  The policy will be made in the spring."  The Guardian of London provides a blow by blow of the entire speech and exchange such as this: "Mr Brown is asked about Alan Greenspan's comment that the Iraq war was 'all about oil' and whether he will be discussing the issue with the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve."
Finally, lifelong peace activist Susan Blake died last week.  Green Party activist Kimberly Wilder offers a moving tribute entitled "Susan June Blake" where she notes: "Many of the causes Susan supported are listed on the fairly recent, bright, multi-colored PeaceSmiths banner that she hung at each coffeehouse. But, a smattering of causes Susan worked for would include: peace, anti-militarism, human rights, labor rights, the environment, anti-death penalty, ballot access (she included local politicians at candidate events, but also write-in candidates and third party candidates), immigration rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, holistic medicine, vegetarianism, independent media, intellectual freedom, and dignity and justice for all. The PeaceSmiths banner proclaims: 'We're Pro Humanity'."  Wilder calls Susan Blake "the force behind PeaceSmiths" which is a United for Peace & Justice member group.  Yesterday, Wilder remembered her friend with a poem and a photo tribute entitled "A moment for Susan Blake."  Carl MacGowan (Newsday) notes, "For more than 30 years, Blake fought the Shoreham nuclear power plant and protested wars from Vietnam to Iraq through the Amityville activist group PeaceSmiths. Blake organized coffeehouse concerts and discussion forums on topics such as environmental issues and affordable housing."  Susan Blake was fifty-four-years-old.

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