Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 11, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, a commander steps down, the Senate explores where the money goes in Iraq and more.
Starting with war resistance.  In June 2006, Ehren Watada, became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to the Iraq War.  He has stated it is an illegal war.  He finished his service contract in December of 2006; however, the US military refuses to discharge him hoping that they can circumvent the US Constitution's ban on double-jeopardy and court-martial him again (the first court-martial ended in a mistrial -- over defense objections). UCLA's Asian American Studies Center Press's Amerasia Journal  has a special edition entitled "World, War, Watada."  From the AASC's press release:
"Amerasia Journal is the first and only national scholarly journal to gather, interpret, and present, from varying perspectives, the ideas and voices of Asian Americans themselves on the case of Lt. Ehren Watada and the war," writes editor and UCLA professor Russell C. Leong. In this issue, Asian Americans and South Asian Americans take stands against racial, ethnic, and religious profiling and the curtailment of their civil, cultural, and political rights. Scholars and researchers also contribute pieces that bridge the "ivory tower" of the university with the realities of war, globalization, and national identity in the twenty-first century.                  
This volume examines the multiple dimensions of the Lieutenant Watada case, connecting Watada to the history of Asian American resistance to injustice. From a legal perspective, Prof. Eric K. Yamamoto and Ashley Kaho'omino'aka Kaiao Obrey of the University of Hawai'i law school view Lieutenant Watada's stand as part of a "long line of resistance" within the broader context of World War II Japanese American internee draft resistance and executive branch abuses of American civil liberties in the name of national security. They also discuss the applications of the Nuremberg Principles to the Watada case.           
This issue also includes letters by Mits Koshiyama, Paul Tsuneishi, and testimony prepared for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in July 30, 1981 by his father, Satoru Tsuneishi. Koshiyama, a Heart Mountain World War II draft resister, ends his personal letter to Lt. Ehren Watada, as follows: "Do what your conscience tells you what to do. We got punished by a prejudiced court but in the end, we prevailed."             
Other contributors include writer Frank Chin, constitutional lawyer Mari Matsuda, and the Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress September 11 Committee.         
You can order it online by clicking here.
And turning to Canada, you can help US war resisters in that country -- help online as well.   They  were dealt a serious set-back when the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey. Today, Canada's Parliament remaining the best hope for safe harbor war resisters have, you can make your voice heard by the Canadian parliament which has the ability to pass legislation to grant war resisters the right to remain in Canada. 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. That is the sort of thing that should receive attention but instead it's ignored.

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, 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).

Meanwhile IVAW has a DC action this month:

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.
Click here to sign a statement of support for Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan

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'." IVAW's co-chair Adam Kokesh will, of course, be participating and he explains why at his site, "But out of a strong sense of duty, some of us are trying to put our experiences to use for a good cause. Some of us couldn't live with ourselves if weren't doing everything we could to bring our brothers and sisters home as soon as possible. The environment may be unking, but that is why I will be testifying to shooting at civilians as a result of changing Rules of Engagement, abuse of detainees, and desecration of Iraqi bodies. It won't be easy but it must be done. Some of the stories are things that are difficult to admit that I was a part of, but if one more veteran realizes that they are not alone because of my testimony it will be worth it." The hearings will be broadcast throughout at the Iraq Veterans Against the War home page an on KPFA March 14th and 16th with Aimee Allison (co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None) and Aaron Glantz hosting and the KPFA live stream will also be available at Glantz' War Comes Home.
The message has been sent in Iraq, US Senator Patrick Leahy explained, that "anything goes -- just put it on the American tax payers' credit card."  Leahy was speaking this morning at the Senate Appropriations Committee in their hearing to "Examine Waste, Fraud, and Abuse of American Tax Dollars in Iraq" -- a hearing that Senator Byron Dorgan declared was "the tip of the iceberg" and "ought to be the first of a dozen or two dozen hearings." 
Appearing before the committee were David Walker (Comptroller General of the US), Claude Kicklighter (Defense Department Inspector General) and Stuart Bowen (Special Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction).
Citing the US infrastructure that needs rebuilding, repair, etc., Leahy stated that $44 billion had been spent in the "five years after we invaded Iraq" and he wanted to know of the witnesses whether they believed "there are effective" tools "in place today to prevent the loss and theft of American funds and Iraqi funds?" David Walker declared "no" and immediately moved the conversation to the topic of "we have a deficit" but Iraq is making money from their oil revenues.  Leahy stated that $50 billion is what Iraq is expected to take in this year in oil revenues.  Walker didn't dispute the estimate but instead explained that money the puppet government in Iraq budgets for reconstruction is not spend (Walker cited only 10% of it had been spent in the most recent examination) and that "it's not being spent for various reasons."  Leahy asked Kicklighter, "Could they be doing more?"  Kicklighter replied, "I think they are beginning to do more."  Stuart Bowen's opinion was that the means to prevent the loss and theft of monies has gotten better but his "biggest concern on the control front is the issue of direct contracting with Iraqi firms.  Those are Iraqi firms executing projects involving US funds so I continue to raise questions on that."
Bowen feels its gotten better "My biggest concern on the control front is the issue of direct contracting" with Iraqis.  "Those are Iraqi firms executing projects involving US funds so I continue to raise questions on that."  His concerns on that, he'd explain under later questioning from Senator Dianne Feinstein, is that the the money goes to Iraqi companies: "These are US dollars and they're paying a company that we have limited input into and oversight of" and, as Feinstein noted, there are rumors that a healthy chunk of the money is paid to militias.  With both Leahy and Feinstein, Bowen felt more was happening.  Feinstein wanted something more concrete and asked, "Is is sufficient today?  You're sort of skirting around my question.  So is the answer you don't know?  Is it no?  What is the answer?"  He didn't know but promised "our reviews that will be out this spring will provide specific details."
Has anyone been accountable for the theft or loss of US funds, Lehy wanted to know?  Bowen answered, "There haven't been any to speak of." Leahy pinned him down that this was about prosecution, not incidents and Bowen clarified he was speaking of  "no prosecutions" and went on to explain a case that was dismissed last week because witnesses did not show up leading Leahy to state that "they won't police their own corruption."
After a brief discussion of the Iraqi oil revenue (which Bowen placed at "closer to sixty" billion dollars for this year), Senator Patty Murray yieled her time to Senator Byron Dorgan who promised that when the officials were done answering the Senate, the second panel would have a great deal to say. It didn't really work out that way, but we'll get back to it.
Senator Dianne Feinstein mentioned the reports that US troops in Iraq have become ill from unsafe water supplied by KBR and that KBR was offshroing to avoid paying taxes, into Medicaid and into the Social Security trust.  Feinstein wanted to know, "Is that true or false?  Whoever wants to answer it."
Kicklighter grabbed "the water question" and stated that issue had been "brought to our attention by Senator Dorgan" but that he didn't "know the answer to the other question." Bowen offered words but no answer.  Feinstein noted that is what was reported and that the "true or false is the answer".  Bowen stated he didn't know.  Feinstein responded, "Well it seems to me that is something you ought to look at. . . . It seems to me the very least they can do is pay taxes. . . . It's believed that the Pentagon knew KBR has exploited this loophole since at least 2004 -- is this true or false?"
No one knew the answer.  There were promises of getting back later with the information.  Bowen returned to the oil program (which wasn't any part of Feinstein's question) and stayed with that, "The fact is corruption has afflicted the oil program.  It continues to be a problem."
David Walker wanted to add that there were "two posts of money -- there's US tax payer money and there's Iraqi money."  He stated that Iraqi money had disappeared, "That was Iraqi money.  Those funds were the responsibility of US citizens and so, even though they were Iraqi funds," the US should have had the responsibility of protecting the money, "we were responsible" for that duty.
What about right now, Feinstein wanted to know, what about today?  No answer was supplied to her as to whether the protections are there.  "Is it sufficient today?  You're sort of skirting around my question.  So is the answer you don't know?  Is it 'no'?  What is the answer?"  Bowen stated that they didn't know but that "our reviews that will be out this wpring will provide specific details."
That was the first half of the hearing (Bowen agreed with Leahy that a law against War profiteering was needed).  The second half was supposed to be mind blowing. 
Indeed, it started strongly.  "Corruption in Iraq today is rampant," Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi (former member of the Iraqi commission on public integrity) in his opening statement.  He went on to explain that while he was in Iraq investigating corruption "my staff and their relatives have been kidnapped" and worse.  He gave an example of how one of his staffers lost their eighty-year-old father who was kidnapped and his corpse discovered after a power drill had been used on him "to drill" holes.  Flashing a photo of another victim of violence at the committee, al-Radhi declared of it, "Justice loses and corruption wins!"
Dorgan had explained to the first panel that al-Rahdi would be detailing how corruption was allowing US tax dollars to pay for the killing of US soldiers by being channeled to resistance fighters.
That would have been interesting.  al-Radhi offered nothing on that.  With the build up Dorgan gave him and al-Radhi's outrage during the opening statements, it seemed like there was promise but there wasn't and as soon as Leahy grasped that, he quickly bailed on the hearing turning it over to Dorgan.
What was the problem?  There are several.  First, al-Radhi cannot return to Iraq and is attempting to be granted status by the US State Department so how much he was ever going to testify to in an open hearing was always in question.  Second, he delivered his own opening statement but then hid behind a translator for questions.  It was hiding.  Third, lousy translator.
Slumped over, looking bored, the translator wasn't 'visually exciting' so rule out the TV industry having any interest in what was said regardless.  In terms of print media?  The woman's skills were bad.  They were really, really bad.
She will interject that she mistranslated at one point and state al-Radhi was referring to "the Ministry of Defense in Iraq actually."  Was he?  Defense Department would be the source of US funds.  Substituting "Ministry of Defense" changes the answer (and Dorgan's question was if it was true that this was $18 billion of US monies).  The woman seemed to have a problem with Arabic.  Dorgan's talk about the revelations that would be forthcoming when al-Radhi testified went up in smoke the moment al-Radhi stopped speaking in English and everyone became dependent upon this really bad translator.  In the midst of a line of questioning (by Dorgan) about US officials' knowledge of the corruption, al-Radhi's translation will go off into how he received a check (a story he'd already testified to) that had nothing to do with US officials or US knowledge. 
As the hearing wound down, Dorgan would note two things.  First, that he "hopes that one day the US State Dept will do what it should do for a man of your integrity" and grant asylum.  However, I do believe Dorgan could sponsor an amendment just on al-Radhi if he was concerned about this issue.  Second, he noted, "This committee room is full when apportion money but there seems to be less concern for oversight on how it is spent."
The House Armed Service's Air and Land Forces subcommittee also met today and they were discussing money as well this morning and their first panel included the Defense Department's John Young (Under Secretary of Defense fo Acquistion, Technology and Logistics) and the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Sullivan (Director for Acquisition and Sourcing Management).  Sullivan declared that "the F22 is too expensive and the joint strike fighter is struggling through development  . . . struggling with the design of that aircraft" due to the decision to prioritize to one thing and letting everything else fall by the wayside.  Young disagreed and stated, "I believe these were valid and pragmiatic choices.  People criticize it, but it's a more balanced program."  Sullivan disagreed and noted a recent meeting he had with Lockhead Martin, a briefing on the issue of risk reduction.  He noted Lockheed believed they had a plan but "we've seen this movie before."
US House Rep Neil Abercrombie, chairing the hearing, asked, "What about the idea that you stop where you are? . . . What if the laws of physics aren't working the way you'd like it to?  We've already had two tests where it didn't work.  I'm told you're goign to add covering or something, but what if it isn't working?"  Young disagreed, insisting  "the aircraft will eventually be able to perform."  Sullivan stated that there were 5,000 test flight performances as part of the program but that 800 was taken out and "as I've said, we've seen this movie before."  So why is money being wasted on a plane that cannot perform?  (Because the biggest consumer of the national budget is always the pork to the war industries.) 
Another comittee that kind of met today was the US House's Foreign Affair's subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia with the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight.  Kind-of?  They took a break early on and are still on it as I dictate this.  In his opening remarks Rep Gary Ackerman would note, "Almost a year ago, the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee held a hearing on the Iraqi refugee crisis and we learned several disturbing things.  We learned that the administration was doing next to nothing to assist those Iraqis who put their lives in jeopardy in order to assist the United States in our efforts in Iraq.  Not only wasn't the administration helping them, they didn't even know how many Iraqis actually worked for us, so they naturally had no idea how many people needed our help.  We learned that the administration was woefully unprepared to process refugees referred to us by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  We learned that it took up to five months to process a refugee referral.  We learned that the United States had the capacity to process merely a few hundred refugees a month but wasn't working anywhere near even that limited community.  We learned that we were telling Iraqis seeking our assitance and protection to fleee to a safe place -- like Syria -- because we weren't processing at risk populations in Iraq."
In prepared remarks Gregory Gottlieb of the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance explained the situation for the 2.5 million internally displaced Iraqis noting that access to food had dramatically throughout the continued Iraq War with "nearly 96% of all Iraqis" obtaining their food via Iraq's public distribution system but that figure declined to 22 percent for Iraq's internal refugees  in 2007 with 60% of Iraqis stating they were. 
Of external Iraqi refugees, Rep Bill Delahunt observed that "they cannot return" because "the conditions do not exist for their return" -- "the conditions of the secetarian cleaning" throughout five year of war are "why they can't go home." Delahunt spoke of the ill will this is creating for the longterm and how the US State Department has admitted ("this is their language") that "hostility towards the United States makes achieving our policy goals far more difficult."  Along with holding the State Dept accountable, Delahunt wanted to know, "Where's the Iraqi government on this issue?  They've agreed to contribute $25 million to the budget.  That's embarrassing.  That's embarrassing."  He further noted that this minor sum only was offered after extreme pressure was put on the Iraiq (puppet) government "and we're talking about reconcilation?  Movement?  And a nation?"
Before the break, Jeff Fortenberry spoke to the issue of Iraq's religious minorities and noted that there were a number of Yazidis in his home state (Nebraska) which is one of the reasons he's been following the issue closely.  At his website, Fortenberry is quoted stating, "I was very pleased that the Committee held this hearing, as it gave me an opportunity to address the plight of Iraq's religious minorities, including the Yezidis, as well as Baha'is, Christians and Jews.  These communities appear to be disproportionaly vulnerable to persecution by terrorist organizations and criminal elements in Iraq.  They are struggling to survive and retain cherished traditions that have long enriched the historical tapestry of  Iraq."  Fortenberry noted the "violence against innocent civilians" and included the kidnapping of Archbishop Faraj Rahho. The Archbishop was kidnapped February 29th in Mosul.  Monday, John Pontifex (Aid to the Church in Need) explained that fears were growing over the kidnapping as the kidnappers continue to state their monetary demands but refuse to allow the Archbishop to speak to the Church and that they have raised their ransom demands from $2 million to $3 million.
Staying with violence, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, 8 US service members died in Iraq yesterday. Joshua Partlow (Washington Post) explains that 5 died in Baghdad and 3 in Diyala Province -- all from bombings. [Also see Alexandra Zavis' report for the Los Angeles Times).] The deaths brought the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 3983.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
CNN reports 16 dead from a roadside bombing as a "bus traveled between Najaf and Basra". Deborah Haynes (Times of London) states they were "mourners travelling to Basra" and that "Eighteen people were also injured, including women and children. . . . The passengers had been returning from mourning rites for a dead relative in Najaf". Paul Tait (Reuters) quotes survivor Rahman Shaker explaining, "I saw my wife covered in blood and took her out fo the bus.  There were bodies covered in bloody blankets and people screaming."
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing that wounded an Iraqi soldier, a Yousifiyah bombing that claimed 1 life ("Awakening" council member) and wounded eight more people, a Kirkuk bombing that wounded a police officer (and on Monday night four police officers were wounded in two Kirkuk bombings), an "Awakening" council member was targeted by a bombing but escaped harm however another attack (car bombing) on "Awakening" council members outside Tikrit reulted in 3 of their deaths with eight people injured.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an armed Baghdad attack (on a "uveniles prison") that left three police officers and three prisoners wounded and that allowed five prisoners to escape, an armed clash in Mosul that claimed the lives of 4 police officers, 4 battling the police officers and 2 civilian bystanders and an armed clash in Wasit that claimed 8 lives. Meanwhile Paul Tait (Reuters) reports there are two competing stories about what happened in armed clash in Kut -- the US military version and the Iraqi military version (the truth having lost out long ago) --  with the US military claiming they stumbled upon an attack in progress and aided Iraqi forces while the Iraqi military states they were attempting to arrest someone and that led to a battle at which point the US military assisted. Of interest is who they were trying to arrest "a Medhi Army leader" -- Moqtada al-Sadr renewed his cease-fire/truce over the objections of many of his followers and one reason they were objecting to a renewal was that they felt they were under attack and targeted. 
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 5 corpses discovered in Baghdad and 20 corpses were discovered outside Samarra.
Meanwhile, Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) reports CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon "stepped down Tuesday, weeks after telling a magazine reporter that he was the key person stopping an overzelaous Bush administration from going to war."  Reuters quotes from a resignation letter: "The current embarrassing situation and public perception of differences between my views and administration policy and the distraction this causes from the mission make this the right thing to do."  Andrew Gray and David Morgan (Reuters) cite the Esquire article, state that "Fallon cooperated with the author during the article's preparation but strongly criticized the story after it appeared" and that US Secretary of Defense Robert "Gates said the perception that Fallon was at odds with the administration was not linked just to the article."
Finally in US political campaign news, Peter Canellos (Boston Globe) notes that Samantha Power's recent revelation (to the BBC and while she was still US Senator Barack Obama's senior foreign policy advisor) that Obama's pledge to pull US combat troops out of Iraq -- if elected president -- within 16 months of being sworn in as president wasn't really a pledge raises questions:
The first is the obvious one: whether he truly intends to follow through on what he's been saying. For most of the campaign, Obama has gotten good mileage out of the idea that he says what he believes while Clinton's plans are hedged to allow for extra maneuverability. But in Obama's effort to stay to Clinton's left on Iraq and NAFTA, he may have gone further than he wanted, or could deliver.
When Clinton, during the Ohio debate, promised to opt out of the trade deal if Canada and Mexico didn't agree to changes, Obama quickly agreed. He later referred to using "the hammer of potential opt-out" to enhance environmental and labor requirements in NAFTA.
Obama may well believe that, and he may intend to stick with his timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq no matter what happens. But if so, he needs to make sure that all his advisers remain with the program.

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