Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 29, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Bully Boy bores the nation with more lies, Dems blow the chance to respond, Blackwater cries 'malpractice!' and more.
Starting with war resistance.  Camilo Mejia is the first Iraq veteran to resist the illegal war.  Yesterday, an interview with him was rebroadcast on KPFK.  The station did have broadcasting problems yesterday and over the weekend.  However, you can go to the KPFK archives or to Uprising Radio to hear the archived broadcast of Sonali Kolhatkar's interview with Mejia.
Camilo Mejia: Military justice is an oxymoron to me.  I don't think the two words combine very well.  The conviction rate in the military court room is 98 to 99%.  So it's just basically a means for the military to enforce discipline and to punish dissent and disobedeince -- regardless of whether that disobedience is justified or not.  And disobedience in the military is actually a duty when it's in response to an unlawful order which is the case of the entire war  in Iraq which is illegitamate by international law standards.  In the particular case of my trial we were basically denied basic guarantees, you know, that the law is supposed to afford a defendent.  The vast majority of our witnesses were not allowed to testify.  My reasons for not wanting to go back to Iraq were not allowed to reach the jury.  My claims of war crimes were not allowed to reach the jury. My conscientious objector form was not allowed to reach the jury during the deliberations or the actual trial.   And there was a lot of prejudice against me.  I remember that the first day of the trial they had barricaded the entire block that the courthouse was in and they had working dogs sniffing around the courthouse  and they had both military and civilian police officers patrolling the area.  So the atmosphere was of them trying this incredibly dangerous, evil person. 
Sonali Kolhatkar: Even though you turned yourself in.
Camilo Mejia: Even though I turned myself in and the basis of my defense was conscitious objection and non-violence.  But the response on their part was to treat me as if I was some kind of like maximum security evil monster.  So there was a lot of prejudice and a lot of violations of the law.  Eventually, I think the military tried me politically, not legally, and they just sort of made a statement with my case that they would not tolerate dissent in the ranks and that they would not allow  conscientious objection as a way out of this illegal war. 
Sonali Kolhatkar: What is your current immigration status as well as your current military status?  And, also, how much time did you serve in prison?
Camilo Mejia: Well my immigration status hasn't changed.  I'm still a resident and that has been effected at all by
Sonali Kolhatkar: You never applied for citizenship?
Camilo Mejia: No, I never applied for citizenship.  And my status with the military is that I'm on appellate leave because we are appealing the conviction.  So I'm not really, for  all practical purposes, I'm really not in the military anymore.  I'm not wearing a uniform or training or reporting to any officers.  And I was given a sentence of twelve months but I only served about nine -- a little bit less than nine -- because of good conduct, because I didn't get into any major problems in jail so I got out three months earlier. 
Sonali Kolhatkar: And were you basically discharged with -- dishonorably discharged?
Camilo Mejia: No.  My sentence was twelve months of incarciration in army jail, demotion to private from staff sergeant and a bad conduct discharge plus forfieture of my pay. . . .  But the bad conduct discharge is not final until appeals are over. So we're appealing that and that means that I'm still in the military, I still have an i.d.  I mean I don't get paid or anything but I'm still in the system.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Now is it important for you to be honorably discharged?
Camilo Mejia: It's important to set a precedent for people to have the right to apply as conscientious objectors and  to bring to military courts the reasons why they don't want to participate in a war that they perceive as illegal and immoral.  And I think that if war crimes are being committed we need to prosecute those who are committing those crimes beginning at the very top.  Because of that I do think that it's important to get that honorable discharge -- not because I think there is honor in the actual discharge but I think it's a fight worth fighting.
Mejia reads from his book  Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia during the interview.
Some war resisters attempt to seek asylum in Canada.  Kathy Rumleski (London Free Press) reported on 20-year-old Josh Randall on Sunday who served in Iraq and elected to self-checkout and go to Canada.  Like Brandon Hughey and Kimberly Rivera (two other war resisters in Canada), Josh Randall hails from Texas and was a medic.  In Iraq, Randall's experiences included raiding a house where a young girl was left wounded "from explosive splinters" (from the US bombing the front door) and he was told he couldn't treat her, that she'd be fine at the local hospital.  Similar incidents repeated and then came a US soldier who asked Randall "Why?" as he was dying.  That was the final in a series of incidents that led Randall to decide to leave the military and go to Canada.  He spoke with war resister Linjamin Mull on Saturday as part of the actions to lobby the Canadian Parliament to grant safe haven to war resisters.
You can still make your voice heard and three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pm@pm.gc.ca -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara 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, at least fifty 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. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).

In 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently.
Over three days in January, these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. They called it the Winter Soldier investigation, after Thomas Paine's famous admonishing of the "summer soldier" who shirks his duty during difficult times. In a time of war and lies, the veterans who gathered in Detroit knew it was their duty to tell the truth.
Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into increasingly bloody occupations. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once again, our country needs Winter Soldiers.
In March of 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because yours is a story that every American needs to hear.

March 13th through 16th are the dates for the Winter Soldier Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Dee Knight (Workers World) notes, "IVAW wants as many people as possible to attend the event. It is planning to provide live broadcasting of the sessions for those who cannot hear the testimony firsthand. 'We have been inspired by the tremendous support the movement has shown us,' IVAW says. 'We believe the success of Winter Soldier will ultimately depend on the support of our allies and the hard work of our members'."
Starting with the United States.  Last night Bully Boy gave his State of the Union speech.  Prior to the speech, the Pentagon noted that they needed $70 billion more dollars.  With Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi behind him, Bully Boy delivered a lot of nonsense.  Sadly, many Congressional members (from both parties) applauded or chuckled.  It's not funny, it's not cute.  And Nancy and Dick's smiles and whispers to one another may have demonstrated more than anything else why there has been no impeachment of the Bully Boy.  Maura Reynolds and James Gerstenzang (Los Angeles Times) observe this of the Iraq section, "He offered no new details about plans for troop withdrawals.  The administration is awaiting a new assessment from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, scheduled for March.  Bush also did not mention what has been widely cited as the major failure of the surge: the failure of the Iraqi government to take major steps toward national reconciliation."  After he finished his blah-blah-blah the Democratic Party proved that nothing is as a weak as Democrat trying to be a Republican.  See Kat's "Cowardly Kathleen Sebelius throws in the towel" and Rebecca's "kathleen sebelius is a dumb ass" a and note that, unlike Katrina vanden Heuvel, they didn't repeat any media myths to make their point.  As KvH repeatedly makes the same mistake over and over, you have to wonder whether the magazine's editor (and publisher) bothers to read the magazine's own editorials?  Ava and I will tackle that nonsense this weekend at The Third Estate Sunday Review.  Today press secretary for the Pentagon, Geoff Morrell, noted Bully Boy's speech -- lied that Bully Boy was asking "Congress to fully fund our troops" (the bulk of the money goes to military contractors to waste on weapons research) and declared, "We are still $102 billion short of the money requested and necessary".  Well quit begging, cut out some of the pork in your budget.  He also gave lip service to the wounded.  People would be better served ignoring that nonsense and listening to the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show where guests Dr. Barbara Romberg, journalist Kristin Henderson, Dr. Stephen Xenakis, columnist and author Tanya Biank and Karie Darga of Military Spouse Legacy Association.
Diane Rehm: I just have to say how outrageous that we send these young men and women into harms way  and then, when they come back emotionally or physically injured, somehow we can't find the money to heal them.  It's outrageous, just outrageous.
While the Democratic Party wasted their chance at a response last night (on that KvH was right), John Edwards, who is still in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, issued the following statement after Bully Boy's nonsense:
"The president tonight renewed his call for an economic recovery plan. But the plan he and Congress have offered leaves out tens of millions of Americans who need help the most. This plan would take months to have any impact, and the people I meet everyday on the campaign trail do not have months to wait. These people are hurting now and need this help now. Over the past seven years, typical workers' paychecks have failed to keep up with inflation, millions of families are facing the loss of their homes to foreclosures, health insurance premiums have doubled, and families are spending $1,000 more a year on gasoline. The State of the Union may be interesting political theater, but until we find bold solutions to the challenges facing the country, we will be stuck with the same old small, Washington answers.
"And in the chamber of the House of Representatives where the president speaks, even though this Congress stopped listening to him a while ago, they will still applaud and cheer him. The truth is that Washington is out of touch with what's happening across the country. Between now and January of 2009, Democrats must stand up to this president, stand up for what's right, so he does not continue to forget about the middle class in this country."
Turning to Iraq, Ned Parker and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) report that yesterday the Iraqi Parliament met but they still haven't approved the 2008 budget and, in fact, "postponed a vote on" it.  Still no vote.  January 2008 is almost over.  Possibly in 2010, a 2008 budget will be passed and Bully Boy can claim 'victory'?  In other news, Reuters notes that over "600 people demonstrated in Abu Ghraib district on Baghdad's western outskirts against detentions by the Iraqi army in the area, police said."  Meanwhile Andrew Gray (Reuters) reports an ongoing investigation into "allegations of misconduct against [US] soldiers over the deaths of several detainees in Baghdad last year" citing Paul Boyce (military spokesperson) who states the time frame is the "spring or summer of 2007 in the southern Rashid district of the Iraqi capital".  This comes as the US military continues to attempt to sell the belief of 'detainees' (they're prisoners) and 'justice.'  On Sunday, Rear Admiral Greg Smith gave a briefing that looked back on last week and included this, "On Thursday, many who had failed to live up to the rule of law were given a nce chance.  In a ceremony at a coalition detention facility in Baghdad, 100 men . . . Sunni and Shi'a . . . were reintegrated back into their neighborhoods.  After passing through a rigorous review board examination, determinations were made that these Iraqis were ready to become contributing citizens.  Each of their cases was individually considered.  Each of them made a pledge before an Iraqi judge . . . swearing to live peacefully from that day forward."  From that day foward?  Translation, the prisons are overcrowded and even sitting up 'tent cities' doesn't allow the US the space needed to continue to imprison people forever so we're thinning the ranks a little.  Just a little.  Smith bragged that 785 had been released for all of January.  Last week, Omar Al-Faris (Canada's Jihad Unspun) reported "the US intends to build the giant prison in Anbar province that will facilitate thousands of Iraqi prisoners currently behind held in Camp Bucca in Basra, at Saddam International Airport in Baghdad, and at Susa in Sulaymaniya in northern Iraq. . . . International human rights organizations have estimated that there are about 35,000 Iraqi prisoners in US jails in Iraq, most of them at Camp Bucca near Basra but all the major US-run detention facilities in the country are said to be nearing capacity as the US continues to hold Muslims illegally and without recourse." Gulf Daily News noted "thousands of detainees" at the end of last month and that "More than 26,000 detainees are held in two US prisons and thousands more in Iraqi-run detention centres."  That number would include the 220 children IRIN noted in October -- the ones they are denied permission to meet with.  Last month the Committee for Women's and Children's Affairs in the Iraqi Parliament issued a call for the release of female prisoners.  A recent report from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (PDF format warning) entitled "Human Rights Report" covered the time period of April 1st through June 30th of this year expressed grave concerns about "continuing expansion of the detainee population," "absence of timely processing of detainees' cases"  and, among other things, to remind: "There is no separation between human rights and international humanitarian law in Security Council Resolutions adopted under Chapter VII.  In fact, the leading resolutions on Iraq, such as Resolution 1546 of June 2004, cite in the preamble: 'Affirming the importance of the rule of law, national reconciliation, respect for human rights including the rights of women, fundamental freedoms, and democracy'.  This arguably applies to all forces operating in Iraq. The letter from the Government of Iraq attached to SC res. 1723 also states that 'The forces that make up MNF will remain committed to acting consistently with their obligations and rights under international law, including the law of armed conflict.'  International law includes human rights law."  Constructing prisons has been the 'answer' non-stop.  It was the answer in 2004, in 2005 and on through today.  How many prisons does one country need?  IRIN noted in October of last year that "child prisoners between 13 and 17 are being accused of supporting insurgent and militias."  But the 'answer' is always construct more prisons.
Construction is the topic James Glanz (New York Times) again explores  via the report issued yesterday by Stuart W. Bowen Jr.'s office, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which has "examined nearly 200 Parsons construction projects contained in 11 major 'job orders' paid for in a huge rebuilding contract.  There were also three other nonconstruction orders.  The total cost of the work to the United States was $365 million.  The new report finds that 8 of 11 rebuilding orders were terminated by the United States before they were completed, for reasons including weak contract oversight, unrealistic schedules, a failure to report problems in a timely fashion and poor supervision by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the contracts."  James Glanz has owned this story throughout the illegal war and possibly the finest piece he's written on the subject of reconstruction in Iraq that also focuses on Parsons appeared in September of 2006 and is entitled "Congress Is Told of Failures of Rebuilding Work in Iraq."  (Today's story is not given enough the space needed to tell the story as it needs to be told.)
Turning to some of the violence reported today . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing wounded six civilians and four Iraqi soldiers, another Baghdad bombing left three police officers and five civilians wounded, while a third Baghdad bombing left three people wounded and a Baghdad mortar attack wounded two people.  Dropping back to yesterday, Reuters notes that the attacks on officials continue with a "tribal leader" Abbas Jassim al-Dulaimi being targeted (and killed) via a bomb planted in his car.
Reuters notes a man was shot dead in Iskandariya, 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul (with two more injured) and, in continued attacks on officials, there was an armed attack on "a local governor" in Sulaiman Pek today.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Mqudadiyah was the location for a discovery of "9 unidentified bodies by the road and also found 10 mutilated bodies some way away at noon today."  Paul Tait (Reuters) adds, " Police said some of the nine complete bodies were partially decomposed while others had been killed more recently. The bodies were all handcuffed and blindfolded and had bullet wounds, police and hospital officials said.
The 10 heads found nearby were all also blindfolded, some with bullet wounds, said Ahmed Fouad, the chief of the morgue in Baquba hospital. Baquba is the provincial capital of ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala."
Turning to the topic of the mercenary corportation Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill (at Common Dreams) reports on the latest:
Last week in Currituck County, N.C., Superior Court Judge Russell Duke presided over the final step in securing the first criminal conviction stemming from the deadly actions of Blackwater Worldwide, the Bush administration's favorite mercenary company. Lest you think you missed some earth-shifting, breaking news, hold on a moment. The "criminals" in question were not the armed thugs who gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded more than 20 others in Baghdad's Nisour Square last September. They were seven nonviolent activists who had the audacity to stage a demonstration at the gates of Blackwater's 7,000-acre private military base in North Carolina to protest the actions of mercenaries acting with impunity -- and apparent immunity -- in their names and those of every American.
Meanwhile Robert O'Harrow Jr. (Washington Post) reports that Blackwater's latest attempt to avoid answering the families of the four Blackwater employees killed in Falluja in 2004 is to file charges against Wiley Rein -- Blackwater's own counsel -- claiming that they (Blackwater) are the victims of legal malpractice.

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