Thursday, March 07, 2013

Barack and labor

Thursday, almost the weekend.  It was pizza night and I don't know if I ate too much or what but I'm about to fall over.  I used to wait at Elaine's office until group was over.  (She has her veterans group on Thursday night.)  Now that we have our daughter, I'm here at home with our daughter and she's in bed shortly before Elaine gets here.  But I'm about to get into bed myself.  I'm sleepy.

I will take a second to note Shamus Cooke who has a piece demonstrating he's on to Barack

Obama has continued this rightwards trajectory, while portraying himself brilliantly as the “lesser evil” compared with the more honest anti-union rhetoric of the Republicans. He fulfilled none of his promises to labor in 2008, and essentially ignored all labor issues in his 2012 campaign. Labor leaders misinterpreted Obama as playing “hard to get,” when in fact the Democratic Party had already moved on.
To prove his fidelity to his new crush, Wall Street, Obama has made it a pet project to target the most powerful union in the country — the teachers’ union — for destruction. Obama’s innocent-sounding Race to the Top education reform is in actuality an anti-union dismembering of public education, with its promotion of charter schools and its mass closings of public high schools that Obama labels as “failing.” Bush, Jr.’s anti-union No Child Left Behind looks innocent compared to Obama’s education “reform.”
In fact, Obama has overseen the worst environment for organized labor since Ronald Reagan. But the problem is bigger than Obama. It’s the entire Democratic Party. For example, Democratic governors across the United States continue to work in tandem with Republicans in weakening public employee unions — the last bastion of real strength in the labor movement.
The Democrats have chosen to blame labor unions for the economic crisis and the consequent budget deficits affecting the states. These deficits have been used to attack the wages, health care, and pensions of public employees on a state-by-state basis, fundamentally weakening these unions while skewing the labor market in favor of the employers.

So think about that and I'm going to sleep.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, March 7, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, exploding phone charges leave 10 children injured, the American press decides to ignore reports of War Crimes, the Pentagon shows a little interest, however, International Women's Day is tomorrow, Nouri celebrates it today by attacking various groups verbally, and more.

Tomorrow (March 8th) is International Women's Day


This year's theme is "Gaining Momentum."  Alsumaria reports that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and chief thug of Iraq, gave a speech today in honor of International Women's Day at the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad.  Whatever the intent, the speech wasn't about Iraqi women.  He denounced the protesters (protests have been going on since December calling out his leadership, among other things).  He denounced the Parliament (dubbing ti "complacent") and he verbally attacked neighbors, pointing to Arab Spring countries and insisting that Iraq didn't want to end up suffering as those countries were -- in his words --  ""  "suffering now as wives, mothers, sisters, girls, workers, home makers" -- they suffer as the country suffers.  One woman they write of saw her husband killed in the sectarian violence, saw her daughter killed in a bombing and now, despite advanced age and illness, she is left to raise her grandchildren. Attorney Dina Abdel al-Ghafir speaks of the brutality and injustice Iraqi women face and notes that some of it is due to what has been put on the books and what is tolerated such as the so-called 'honor' killings -- where a woman is killed for actions that supposedly disgraced the family.

That's Nouri's idea of giving a speech to note the occasion of International Women's Day.

Mahmoud Raouf and Inez Tareq (Al Mada -- Tareq took the photo for the story) report Iraqi women suffer "as wives, mothers, sisters, girls, workers, home makers" -- they suffer as the country suffers.  One woman they write of saw her husband killed in the sectarian violence, saw her daughter killed in a bombing and now, despite advanced age and illness, she is left to raise her grandchildren. Attorney Dina Abdel al-Ghafir speaks of the brutality and injustice Iraqi women face and notes that some of it is due to what has been put on the books and what is tolerated such as the so-called 'honor' killings -- where a woman is killed for actions that supposedly disgraced the family.

At the end of last month, Haifa Zangana (Guardian) wrote about the state of Iraqi women:

The plight of women detainees was the starting point for the mass protests that have spread through many Iraqi provinces since 25 December 2012. Their treatment by the security forces has been a bleeding wound – and one shrouded in secrecy, especially since 2003. Women have been routinely detained as hostages – a tactic to force their male loved ones to surrender to security forces, or confess to crimes ascribed to them. Banners and placards carried by hundreds of thousands of protesters portray images of women behind bars pleading for justice.

[. . .]

No wonder, ten years after the invasion, the Iraqi authorities are accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of "violating with impunity the rights of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens, especially women and detainees". HRW's account is echoed by a report by the Iraqi parliament's own human rights and women, family and children's committees, which found that there are 1,030 women detainees suffering from widespread abuse, including threats of rape.
Responding to these findings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to "arrest those members of parliament who had discussed the violence against women detainees". Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has acknowledged that there are 13,000 prisoners in custody accused of terror offences, but he only mentioned women detainees in passing:
"We transferred all women prisoners to prisons in their home provinces."
Al-Shahristani's statement is one in a long list of contradictory and misleading statements by the regime's most senior officials – from al-Maliki speaking of "not more than a handful of women terrorists", to his contradictory promise that he will pardon all "women detainees who have been arrested without a judicial order or in lieu of a crime committed by some of their male relatives". That assurance was followed by parading nine women, cloaked in black from head to toe, on the official state TV channel, al-Iraqiya, as a gesture of the regime's "good will".
Protesters and Iraqi human rights organizations estimate that there are as many as 5,000 female detainees. The truth is leaking out, drip by drip. A few weeks ago, 168 women detainees were released and there were promises of another 32 waiting to be released. No one accused of torture, rape or abuse has yet been brought to justice.

On HUFFPOST LIVE yesterday, Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani spoke with four guests: Yifat Susskind of MADRE, UK human rights lawyer Jessica Crosi, Meeting Resistance director Steve Connors (he and Molly Bingham directed the documentary) and Rudaw correspondent Namo Abdulla.  Modarressy-Tehrani noted Haifa's piece for the Guardian and attempted to address many topics covered in the article.  Excerpt.

Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani:  I mean supposedly when al-Maliki came in, he installed a Women's Affairs Minister, Abithal Alzidi.  But she seems to actually be sort of the worst of all when it comes to sort of pushing forward for greater women's rights in Iraq.

Namo Abdulla:  I agree on that point, Caroline.  And I thank you so much for having this show at this time.  It's very timely.  Actually, two days ago, we just had a report issued by the Kurdish [Regional] Government about violence against women in that region.  I mean, it's very difficult to get statistics about the rate of violence happening against women in Iraq but in Kurdistan which is [safer? -- feed cuts out] you can get it.  Because that region is also considered to be more socially progressive, I think we have multiply that by two or more to get an accurate picture of how Iraq looks like for women.   But the government [KRG], it's a government body so it also may not publish -- [phone ringing] sorry -- so this is a government body and it says

[. . . we're editing out the phone issue -- it was Steve Connors' cell phone.]

Naom Abdulla:  This government agency says that only in 2012, 3375 cases of sexual harassment have been filed to this government agency.  That's more than 10 cases a day.   And it also says that 47 people have been murdered.  43 women committed suicide.  Most of them burned themselves to death.  Only in four provinces of Iraq which is the safest part of Iraq.  So basically this is the situation there.  And, uh, I wanted to go back to Jessica.  Jessica raised the point, she said that I don't think under Saddam Hussein there was any human rights.  And we all agree, of course, Saddam Hussein was an evil, right?  He was probably one of the worst evils in the history of human beings.  But objectively speaking, women had more rights before 2003 or before 1991 than after 2003.  And I was recently looking at some historical records, Caroline, which is very interesting and they really astonished me.  I want to share it with you.  For example, UNESCO says as of 1987, 75% of Iraqi women were literate, they could read and write.  By 2001, this number dropped to less than 25%

Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani:  I mean that and itself, I think, it's a -- it's a really stark point and I think it just shows how people who were against the war, this is exactly the sort of thing that they were talking about.   (A) Whether or not we had jurisdiction to go there in the first place, which is a whole other conversation.  But (B) the notion of having no plan, a lack of a robust plan for afterwards.  And, in fact, I want to sort of bring you in here now and just ask when it comes to this situation for Iraqi women specifically, you know, who's to blame?  David Wood on HuffPost wrote this piece, "Iraq Reconstruction Cost U.S. $60 Billion, Left Behind Corruption And Waste."  And given what we've just been talking about, would you agree?

Yifat Susskind: Yeah, absolutely.  I mean, there's no question that the US bears tremendous culpability for  -- no exxageration to say -- the destruction of an entire country.  And I think everyone recognizes that the invasion itself was in violation of the UN Charter, completely that the occupation was illegal and, even as an occupier, the US did not meet it's obligations under international law.  For example, to protect Steve's translator from the types of abuses that she faced so quickly after the invasion, right?  As the occupying power, you're responsible to protect everyone's human rights in the territory that you occupy.  We know that in real life that rarely occurs.  But the difference here is that the US went to war in Iraq and waged this occupation under the banner of human rights --

Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani:  Right.  Exactly.

Yifat Susskind:  -- and under the banner of making the situation better for people suffering under the regime of Saddam Hussein and in particular for women

Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani:  Well that's, that's --

Yifat Susskind:  -- and I think that that's --

Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani:  Sorry to interrupt but that's one of the things, obviously, with this Human Rights Watch report, one of the things that they were specifically talking about were the female detainees.  And it's something that we've sort of skirted around -- and the conversation  I wanted to get to right now.  You know, women have routinely been detained as hostages and the protesters in Iraqi human rights organization estimate that there are as many as 5,000 female detainees in Iraq at the moment and these are women who have been taken hostage when their sons, their husbands, their uncles, the male members of their family who are considered by the government to be terrorists are not able to be found for whatever reason.  And obviously we had the breaking story today from the Guardian about the Pentagon's link to Iraqi torture centers with Col  James Steele sort of being very much at the helm of that.  So is this a case of we went in and now they are basically practicing what we were preaching?  You know, detention, torture seemingly was common place if you read -- if you read the Guardian article.  So, you know, what do you think to that?  Did we just sort of tee this up for female detention to just be happening now?

Yifat Susskind:   Well we didn't just tee this up.  I mean, this is US policy that's being carried forward by the Iraqi government.  It's a -- The Iraqi government, of course, bears responsibility for its actions today but, you know, the Guardian article -- which is presented as an exclusive, as though this is just coming out -- is information that MADRE and other human rights organizations reported on.  We reported on it specifically from the perspective of Iraqi women in 2006 and 2007.  And it was a policy known as the Salvador option, this decision by Steele and [then Gen David] Petraeus and others who were involved -- Steele in particular -- in the US-sponsored wars in Central America -- to use those same tactics of arming and training and funding very repressive militias to carry forward the work of the United States on the ground in those countries and to do that in Iraq by arming and training the Shia militias that, from a human rights perspective, really weren't very different, certainly from their social vision and social agenda for Iraq, not so different from the Sunni militias that were the resistance or the terrorists or whatever your perspective may be.  Politically, they were different in that they were willing to cooperate with the United States and, therefore, they received the support -- regardless of the fact that, yes, they were implicated in torture, in assassinations.  The political parties affiliated with these militias which controlled the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health.  You know, one of the reasons why we don't have statistics about gender-based violence as you were talking about earlier is because -- and this is not the only reason because this is a problem in many places -- but one of the reasons is that the Ministry of Health has been controlled for a long time by these same, repressive political forces --

Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani:  Right.

Yifat Susskind:  -- such that, you know, women -- to try to get statistics in Baghdad of women who are murdered by their families, go into the Baghdad morgue and make friends with mortuary workers and talk to them about, "Well how many women's bodies that were unclaimed were brought in today?" And making efforts to extrapolate figures that way because there really are no statistics out there, as you were saying, and the violence is, according to women there, epidemic in a way that wasn't the case even under the very brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.

The Guardian report being noted above is the one written by Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane, Chavala Madlena and Teresa Smith and here's an excerpt

The allegations made by US and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, implicate US advisers for the first time in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse.
Coffman reported to Petraeus and described himself in an interview with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes as Petraeus's "eyes and ears out on the ground" in Iraq.

The report is getting plenty of coverage around the world.  For example, The Voice of Russia notes, "General David Petraeus, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and other high-ranking US colonels were linked to sectarian police commando units in Iraq that operated secret detention and torture centers to get information from insurgents, according a new 15-month investigation published by the Guardian and BBC Arabic."  Iran's Press TV notes this morning, "Sectarian commando units, operating under direct supervision of American Special Forces veterans, who were involved in the so-called US counter-insurgency efforts against opponents of some of the most brutal Washington-backed dictatorships in Central America, 'conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war,' The Guardian reports Thursday." Gulf News explains, "One of the American figures implemented is Colonel James Steele, who was taked with organising Iraqi paramilitaries in an attempt to quell Sunni insurgency. Membership was drawn from Shiite militias like the Badr brigades, the former military arm of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which was tied to the clerical Al Hakim family.  A second official implicated in the investigation was Colonel James H Coffman, who worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding."   Prensa Latina emphasizes, "Al Samari recalled a specific case in which a 14-year-old child was tied to one of the columns of a book store, with his head between the legs. His body was completely blue, due to the bruises out of the beating he was given, Samari said."  India's leading newspaper, The Hindu, runs a syndicated version of the Guardian article.  Turkey's Hurriyet covers it here. We could go on and on.

The story has the attention of the world's media . . . except in the United States.  As noted this morning, broadcast network TV watchers in the US weren't informed of the story by what passes for news programs in the country -- not on  CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, not on  ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, not on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and not on PBS' The NewsHour.

But let's not pretend that it's just broadcast networks.  At The Nation's website, six articles are given heavy play at the top with and 22 more ones are played out on the site's 'front page.'   28 articles and not one is about the revelations of the Guardian's report.  The Progressive can't find time or space for it either.

A US blackout on the article appears to exist leaving many Americans unaware of what happened.  For instance, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) offers today:

If there were any lingering doubts about whether the former US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, should be indicted before a criminal court, evidence that he asked a veteran of American dirty wars in central America to help set up vicious sectarian militias in Iraq should end them once and for all.
A Guardian investigation reports that Colonel James Steele, a special forces veteran, was nominated by Rumsfeld to help organise paramilitaries to quell a growing Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Steele reported directly to Rumsfeld. The paramilitary groups were drawn from Shia militia and set up detention centres where Iraqis were tortured.

If most Americans hear that there was a call to hold Rumsfeld accountable, they wouldn't know what this was over.  B-b-but surely Last Journalist Standing Amy Goodman devoted significant time to the issue, right?

Here is Goody's coverage in full:

The Guardian of London has revealed new details on the Bush administration’s support for sectarian militias in its bid to defeat the Iraqi resistance after the 2003 invasion. The Guardian reports a key U.S. Army colonel behind the effort, James Steele, had firsthand knowledge of brutal torture carried out by Iraqi surrogates but did nothing to stop it. Speaking to The Guardian, an Iraqi general said Steele was unfazed when the torture of a young prisoner interrupted his lunch.
Munthader al-Samari: "One of the detainees was screaming. By chance, James Steele was there outside washing his hands. He opened the door and saw the detainee. He was hanging by his legs upside down. James Steele didn’t react at all when he saw this man. It was just normal. He closed the door and came back to his seat in the advisers room."
Steele served as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s liaison with Iraq’s Special Police Commandos. His stint in Iraq came 20 years after overseeing the U.S. special operations forces that trained government death squads in El Salvador.

That's the tenth out of twelve headlinesDemocracy Now! is an hour long and that's all Goody could spare,  There was a film to promote and other things passed off as 'news' on Goody's government-backed 'report.'

But remember, Goody cares about Bradley Manning --she says.  But she won't cover these revelations -- that Bradley's responsible for.    Deutsche Presse-Agentur points out:

The report said Steele was previously involved in El Salvador as head of a U.S. team of special military advisers that trained units of the Central American country's security forces in counterinsurgency.
The impact of the U.S. backing of the paramilitary forces was that it unleashed a sectarian militia that terrorized the Sunni community and helped stoke a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The Guardian/BBC Arabic investigation was sparked by the release of classified U.S. military logs on the website WikiLeaks. Those documents, released by Private Bradley Manning, detailed hundreds of incidents where U.S. soldiers came across tortured detainees in a network of detention centers run by the police commandos across Iraq.

Bradley's court-martial is supposed to start in June.  Victoria A. Bronworth (The Advocate) weighs in noting:

What many legal scholars have questioned as Manning approaches the end of his third year in detention is why he was charged under the Espionage Act at all—a rarity in American jurisprudence. President Obama has revived the Espionage Act and has prosecuted more people under it than every other president combined since the 1917 law was enacted. Among those prosecuted by Obama was John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent who exposed water-boarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques.
President Obama, who pledged as a candidate to protect whistle blowers because they were both courageous and patriotic, has cracked down hard on whistle blowers. Manning in particular has suffered under Obama’s enforcement; he has been treated more like the enemy combatants in Guantanamo than an American citizen and soldier.
Manning has been denied many elements of due process throughout his detention and preparation for trial. During the period of solitary confinement even Red Cross International, which petitioned to check on his well-being, was denied access to him, as were several Democratic members of Congress who asked to see him. The documents related to his trial have been kept secret, even though they should be a matter of public record. Manning has been described as depressed and for a significant period of time was on suicide watch.
Except for the Nobel Peace Prize nomination, Manning seems to be a forgotten American hero.

The Washington Blade notes, "Pink News reported a group of Icelandic parliamentarians, the Pirates of the EU, members of the Swedish Pirate Party and a former Tunisian government minister nominated Bradley Manning."
As Betty pointed out last night, Barack could call off the hounds at any time and she also offered, "I really think if he got the Nobel Peace Prize this year it would put a lot of pressure on Barack to pardon him or drop the case altogether."   Brandon Muncy (Daily Athenaeum) explains what's going on this way:

Imagine spending more than 1,000 days and nights imprisoned, mostly in solitary confinement.
Imagine that most of the human contact you had was with the individuals who stripped you naked at night and did not return your clothes until the next morning.
Imagine you had not even been convicted of a crime, yet these were the conditions you faced every day and night for nearly three years while you awaited trial.
Imagine that the so-called "crimes" you committed were for simply telling people the truth about their government.
This has been the reality for Bradley Manning, the man who recently pleaded guilty to 10-22 criminal counts levied against him in the investigation of the WikiLeaks scandal, as he awaits his day in court, tentatively scheduled for June 2013.

Here's another imagine: Imagine you were the one who discovered the way the Iraqis were being treated -- after Saddam Hussein had been driven from power.  Imagine these were your words:

I felt we were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and hatred on both sides. I began to become depressed at the situation we found ourselves mired in year after year. In attempting counterinsurgency operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists.  I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralized.

Would you have stayed silent?  Or would you have leaked?

Those were Bradley's words last Thursday to the military court.  He wanted the public to know.  At what time is appreciation for that shown by supporters who will actually take the time to address the very offenses which took place in Iraq and so shocked Bradley that he would risk himself to get the word out on what had been done and was being done?

Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane, Chavala Madlena, Teresa Smith, Ben Ferguson, Patrick Farrelly, Guy Grandjean, Josh Strauss, Roisin Glynn, Irene Basque, Marcus Morgan, Jake Zervudachi and Joshua Boswell (Guardian) note:

The investigation was sparked over a year ago by millions of classified US military documents dumped onto the internet and their mysterious references to US soldiers ordered to ignore torture. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a 20-year sentence, accused of leaking military secrets.
Steele's contribution was pivotal. He was the covert US figure behind the intelligence gathering of the new commando units. The aim: to halt a nascent Sunni insurgency in its tracks by extracting information from detainees.
It was a role made for Steele. The veteran had made his name in El Salvador almost 20 years earlier as head of a US group of special forces advisers who were training and funding the Salvadoran military to fight the FNLM guerrilla insurgency. These government units developed a fearsome international reputation for their death squad activities. Steele's own biography describes his work there as the "training of the best counterinsurgency force" in El Salvador.
Of his El Salvador experience in 1986, Steele told Dr Max Manwaring, the author of El Salvador at War: An Oral History: "When I arrived here there was a tendency to focus on technical indicators … but in an insurgency the focus has to be on human aspects. That means getting people to talk to you."
But the arming of one side of the conflict by the US hastened the country's descent into a civil war in which 75,000 people died and 1 million out of a population of 6 million became refugees.

Though the US press ignored the big news yesterday, the Defense Dept did catch it.  Ewen MacAskill and Mona Mahmood (Guardian) report, "The Pentagon is investigating allegations linking the US military to human rights abuses in Iraq by police commando units who operated a network of detention and torture centres."  Ben Emmerson (Guardian) observes today, "The investigation by the Guardian and the BBC into direct Pentagon involvement in the systematic torture of Sunni insurgents in Iraq is a bloody reminder of the catastrophe that the 2003 invasion wreaked on the people of Iraq. It also a key reason behind the decade of sectarian violence the war has left in its wake."

Last night, Trina noted that the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Luis Sacko had been named Iraq's new Patriarch.  She offered, "I hope this is the start of a better time for them [Iraqi Christians] and that the attacks are in the past.  October 31, 2010 was the worst attack when Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked and over 50 worshipers were killed.   But that was only the most infamous attack.  Like other religious minorities in Iraq, the Christian population has just been targeted over and over.  The Jewish population?  You can count it on one hand and have fingers left over.  The Jewish population has been run out of the country.  I want the Iraqi Christians to be safe so I will not say, "I hope they are not run out of their own country."  I would prefer that to them being killed in Iraq."  Aid to the Church in Need notes today that Sako has already had to issue a call for Iraqis not to flee the country.

Violence?  Saturday, March 2nd included this news, "All Iraq News reports [. . .]  that Baghdad is warning that there is a new weapon, explosive mobile phone chargers."   Today All Iraq News reports today that ten children (ages ten to twelve)  were injured by "improvised explosive charges of cell phones" in Baghdad -- nine lost fingers and one was left with a face injury.  The phone charges are left -- with bombs in them -- on the streets.  Children pick them up and, as they're touched, they explode.

Alsumaria reports an armed attack in Kirkuk has claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured,  and a Mosul car bombing left three soldiers injured.  National Iraqi News Agency adds another Kirkuk attack left 2 Sahwa dead and a third injured,  a Mosul home invasion in which 1 Iraqi soldier was killed and his wife was left injured, a home invasion of an officer with the Baquba Sahwa left the officer dead, a Baquba roadside bombing left two police officers injured, an armed attack on a Baghdad police station left 1 police officer dead and three civilians wounded,  that 1 police officers corpse was found in Tirkit, and 5 corpses were found in Hilla (like the corpse in Tirkit, the Hilla corpses were of people shot dead).

the washington blade
democracy now
amy goodman