If you missed it, at a Texas college today, 14 people were left wounded. Damn guns! Oh, wait. Not guns. They were stabbed. CBS News reports, "A student went on a building-to-building stabbing attack at a Texas community college Tuesday, wounding at least 14 people -- many in the face and next -- before being subdued and arrested, authorities and witnesses said." That link is video and text, by the way and it's Lone Star Community College System in Cypress, Texas.
We've got a cultural problem in the US, not "a gun problem." We've got a culture that, right at the top, disrespects humans and sends drones to kill at weddings and funerals. The '00s were nothing but two long wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) where human life was disrespected and taken in the millions.
The gun violence or the knife violence you see today? It's an echo of the violence the government has launched against the world -- the normalization of that violence.
Why don't you try addressing that?
In other raise an eyebrow news, AP reports, "Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, keep pushing for stricter gun laws as they continue to own weapons for recreational purposes, including the same type of gun used in the January 2011 shooting rampage that left Giffords wounded." I'm never surprised when members of Congress or former members own guns -- they're so quick to send the US military into danger, it doesn't surprise me at all that they would preach gun control with their mouths while stocking up on guns in their homes.
I don't own a gun. I don't see the need to. But I'm over six foot tall so it's not like I get jumped. I don't look down on someone for owning a gun. But I don't believe the problem is guns or knives. I believe the problem is the tone set at the top of this country, from the White House, with who ever occupies it, stating that some human life matters but some doesn't. And that allows us to be a country that plays God and it freaks out people who already have issues. It's a culture of violence we're breeding.
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Jane Arraf files a highly disappointing and misleading report for Al Jazeera today. It opens.
Jane Arraf: Ten years after Baghdad fell to US forces, the anniversary is just another work day where there would have been portraits for only Saddam Hussein, there are posters for upcoming elections. The fall of Saddam's statue in central Baghdad signaled that his regime was finished. Iraqis joined US Marines in bringing the statue down.
Let's stop here there before she embarrasses herself further and let's deal first with the statue. If you hear that crap about the statue on a US network, you tell yourself, "Media Whore." And know that they're not going to tell the truth even all this time later. But apparently Al Jazeera is as cowed as everyone else. Shame on them, shame on Jane.
The truth is now well known. A friend who was with CBS News has always credited Jan Ackerman (Post-Gazette) with accidentally "approaching" the story when covering US Army Reserve Cpl Michael Rega Jr. April 11, 2003 -- two days after the staged take-down of the statue:
Now Rega is in Baghdad, with the 303rd Psychological Operations Company (Tactical) waging the information war and trying to convince the Iraqis that the American presence in their country is a good thing.
Yesterday, an Associated Press photo of Rega being kissed on the cheek by an Iraqi man appeared on television Web sites and in newspapers across the country, indicating he's on track with his mission.
And that propaganda photo that AP distributed? Taken by Jerome Delay who's now working for AP and the US government in Africa (currently trying to stir war on Mali). Don't mistake him for a reporter, he's not. Jerome Delay also took the 'news' photos of the Saddam statue for AP. His propaganda is everywhere.
July 3, 2004, the Los Angeles Times ran David Zucchino's "Army Stage-Managed Fall of Hussein Statue:"
As the Iraqi regime was collapsing on April 9, 2003, Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, site of an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. It was a Marine colonel -- not joyous Iraqi civilians, as was widely assumed from the TV images -- who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said. And it was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.
After the colonel -- who was not named in the report -- selected the statue as a "target of opportunity," the psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a unit member.
The same day Jon Elmer (New Standard) noted that "Marines brought in cheering Iraqi children in order to make the scene appear authentic, the study said. Allegations that the event was staged were made in April of last year, mostly by opponents of the war, but were ignored or ridiculed by the US government and most visible media outlets." Click here for peace activist Nevill Watson (April 17, 2003) telling Australia's SBS TV it was a rent-a-crowd. August 4, 2003, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber would offer "How To Sell A War" (In These Times):
The problem is that the images of toppling statues and exulting Iraqis, to which American audiences were repeatedly exposed, obscured a larger reality. A Reuters long-shot photo of Firdos Square showed that it was nearly empty, ringed by U.S. tanks and marines who had moved in to seal off the square before admitting the Iraqis. A BBC photo sequence of the statue’s toppling also showed a sparse crowd of approximately 200 people–much smaller than the demonstrations only nine days later, when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad calling for U.S.-led forces to leave the city. Los Angeles Times reporter John Daniszewski, who was on the scene to witness the statue’s fall, caught an aspect of the day’s events that the other reporters missed. Most Iraqis were indeed glad to see Saddam go, he wrote, but he spoke near the scene with Iraqi businessman Jarrir Abdel-Kerim, who warned that Americans should not be deceived by the images they were seeing.
Please note, Sheldon and John wrote that before the Psy-Ops report was issued. That's the report the Los Angeles Times broke the news on and SourceWatch quotes from the report:
On Point, a US army report on lessons learned from the war, notes that it was a Marine colonel, not Iraqi civilians, who decided to topple the statue. "We moved our [tactical PSYOP team] TPT vehicle forward and started to run around seeing what they needed us to do to facilitate their mission," states a U.S. military officer involved in the operation. "There was a large media circus at this location (I guess the Palestine Hotel was a media center at the time), almost as many reporters as there were Iraqis, as the hotel was right adjacent to the Al-Firdos Square. The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down." The pyschological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, packed the scene with Iraqi children, and stepped in to readjust the props when one of the soldiers draped an American flag over the statue. "God bless them, but we were thinking from PSYOP school that this was just bad news," the officer reported. "We didn't want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, 'No, we want an Iraqi flag!' So I said 'No problem, somebody get me an Iraqi flag.' " 
After the military report was released in 2004 and David Zucchino reported on it, Janine Jackson (FAIR) noted an interesting press move:
Today, the elite media strategy appears to be to pretend they always knew the event was a U.S. military exercise. The July 3 New York Times, for example, refers to the square where "American marines toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein." But it's worth looking back to recall just how much was made of this purportedly spontaneous event, likened by some to the fall of the Berlin Wall. AP's April 10, 2003 headline: "Iraqis topple statue of Saddam and celebrate the fall of Baghdad." The L.A. Times, in the editorial "New Day in Ancient Land," explained it as the work of "Iraqi mobs." The Chicago Tribune likewise described "a crowd of hundreds of Iraqis assisted by U.S. marines" and opined, "This was the day the fog of war lifted. And the whole world could see the truth." Well, as it turns out, not exactly.
On the topic of the statue? For those who whine that Ava and I were too hard on poor little Peter Maas when we wrote about James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq in our "TV: The War Crimes Documentary," Maas has a little history with the fall of the statue as well. Got a real problem with the truth as Peter Hart pointed out for FAIR in 2011. Know reality and know what happened. Peter Maas' dishonesty was actually planned as a parenthetical but let's talk about what really happened that day. Jane Arraf remembers, right? She just never tells you what happened that day.
Two friends of mine were at the Palestine Hotel that day. That's where most US and foreign journalists were. Jane could probably give you a list of who was there. The Pys-Ops operation worked so well because the US press was so overyjoyed to see the US military.
The part of this 'statue' story they don't tell you is that everyone had left Baghdad -- security wise -- before US troops came in. They like to play big and brave but I had two friends in the Palestine Hotel and they were scared. Most of the journalists there were. See Big Bad Saddam Hussein was protecting them. And then everyone of his forces were fleeing -- all gone by April 8th. There was no real concern about the safety of the Iraqis in Baghdad -- not among journalists at the Palestine Hotel. No, the concern there was who would protect them. And they shouted support for US Marines who pulled up April 9th at the Palestine Hotel. The manufactured joy in that day's photos of Saddam's statue being pulled down is said to have been nothing compared to the outpouring of slavish devotion by the journalists when the Marines pulled up. The same unit that pulled up would move quickly to the square where the statue would be pulled down by the US military shortly after.
That's what the press doesn't tell you and it's key to understanding how that moment was sold. Not by accident, not by the press misunderstanding what was going on. But by their doing exactly what they were told to by the US Marines and doing it out of gratitude that someone was present to protect them. Some were especially timid rabbits that day because the US military had fired on the hotel the day before. (See CPJ's report here.) Was that all part of softening up the press?
Who knows but someone should Jane Arraf why she continues to lie about that moment? Someone should ask why, after a Psy-Ops operation is exposed, people continue to treat as real? And especially why at Al Jazeera. Now we should note Jane made her name at CNN. December 3, 2004, FAIR issued a press advisory entitled "The Return of PSYOPS: Military's media manipulation demans more investigation" -- CNN had again 'fallen' for propaganda (this time on Falluja) and 'reported' it leading FAIR to remind:
CNN 's history of voluntary cooperation with PSYOPS troops is also worth considering. In March 2000, FAIR and international news organizations revealed that CNN had allowed military propaganda specialists from an Army PSYOPS unit to work as interns in the news division of its Atlanta headquarters.
As FAIR reported at the time (3/27/00), some PSYOPS officers were eager to find ways to use media power to their advantage. One officer explained at a PSYOPS conference that the military needed to find ways to "gain control" over commercial news satellites to help bring down an "informational cone of silence" over regions where special operations were taking place.
And a 1996 unofficial strategy paper written by an Army officer and published by the U.S. Naval War College ("Military Operations in the CNN World: Using the Media as a Force Multiplier") urged military commanders to find ways to "leverage the vast resources of the fourth estate" for the purposes of "communicating the [mission's] objective and endstate, boosting friendly morale, executing more effective psychological operations, playing a major role in deception of the enemy, and enhancing intelligence collection."
So is Al Jazeera refusing to allow reports to note that the pulling down of Saddam Hussein's statue was a PSY-OPS operation or is Jane's CNN training? Ten years later, when you can't tell the damn truth, people have a right to ask that question and, more than that, they have a right to have the question answered.
It matters and it matters because of so much that Jane Arraf's not telling. That PSY-OPS operation? It was used as an 'end marker.' Battles were going -- in Baghdad -- and the news media ignored it to report on the statue. From History Commons:
While the iconic Firdos Square photo op dominates US news broadcasts (see April 9, 2003), the fighting throughout Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq goes almost unreported. CNN’s Paula Zahn makes a passing reference to “total anarchy” in Baghdad; CNN reporter Martin Savidge and CBS reporter Byron Pitts give brief oral reports on the fighting, but no film is shown to American viewers. The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media will later note: “Despite the fact that fighting continued literally blocks from Firdos Square, apparently no camera crews were dispatched to capture those images. According to CNN and FNC [Fox News Channel], in other words, the war ended with the collapse of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square.” After that, the Journal will conclude, “the battlefield itself disappeared”; author and media critic Frank Rich will note that war coverage dropped “precipitously on every network, broadcast and cable alike.” War footage will drop 76 percent on Fox and 73 percent on CNN.
That PSY-OPS operation was really more about tricking US eyes than Iraqi eyes.
It is not a minor point and when, ten years after it happened, nine years after a US military report exposed it as a PSY-OPS operation, a journalist wants to talk about that moment, that damn well better be honest.
Let's fall back to yesterday's Flashpoints (KPFA).
Dennis Bernstein: A decade after US forces sealed their victory over Iraq by tearing down the statue of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis continue to flee their country adding to the estimated 4 million displaced by the war and occupation. The Progressive magazine has a report on the largest community of Iraqi refugees in the United States who fled as a result of the US war and occupation. Joining us to talk about that report is Arun Gupta, he is the author [of "Little Baghdad, California"] and he's a widely published journalist. You can see his stuff all over the place, in The Progressive, Truth Out, In These Times, the Guardian. It is good to have you with us on Flashpoints.
Arun Gupta: Great to be with you today, Dennis.
Dennis Bernstein: Okay, well we -- Even as we covered that war and the unfolding of that war, we saw that first tens-of-thousands, then hundreds-of-thousands, then millions of Iraqis were, in fact, displaced internally and then fled the country. You write about a situation in southern California where many are. I'm hoping that you can just set the scene, outline the situation. What's happening down there? Paint a picture and who it is that's struggling there near the US southern border?
Arun Gupta: Well this is actually a really fascinating story of how I really found the story. So in March of 2012, an Iraqi-American woman, Shaima Alwadi, is murdered in her home in El Cajon, California. She's beaten to the point of death and later dies in a hospital. A note is left next to her body that says, "Go back to your country, you terrorist." I wasn't too far away at the time, so I thought I would go down there and check out the story because it became this international sensation of this potential hate crime, murder in southern California.
I'm not including Arun's comments about El Cajon. Sorry. We didn't fall for the crap last year. From March 26, 2012:
One visitor has been lobbying in the public e-mail account repeatedly since Saturday morning for us to include the death of Shaima Alawadi. No, thank you. In this morning's four e-mails, the visitors argues that surely the Iraqi press must be covering the woman's death. They are. Here for Al Mada. They're also covering that Omar Sharif's grandson "admits" he's gay and half-Jewish. We're not going to be devoting space to that story either. For those who don't know, the woman is an Iraqi-American who came to the US in the early 90s. She was beaten and she's died. That's what's known. The coverage is a bunch of items that are speculation. And inflated outrage. It allows people to pretend they care about an issue, these momentary topics that flare up every few months. But they don't really have much to do with news. To be clear, her death is tragic, unfortunate and all too common for women in the US and around the world. However, nothing is known. When we covered the Iraqi woman run down in the US, killed by her own father, there were eye witnesses and that was a story the media didn't want to touch. This isn't any such story. The media has portrayed it as 'killed by an outsider who hates foreigners' and that is easy to cover, no real risk to anyone and allows everyone to mount their soapboxes. I'm sure there's already a Facebook outrage page for the woman, there are not, however, any real facts about who killed her or why.
For the record, the woman's husband was charged in the murder of his wife. He is charged with killing his wife. If you can't say that, I don't know why you're talking about. Most women in the United States who are murdered are murdered by someone they know. Most women in the US who are victims of violence are the victims of violence from someone who they have been or are involved with. Why is it so many of us on the left have such a problem talking seriously about the terrorism from supposed loved ones? If you're not getting the point, when this murder was falsely portrayed as a hate crime, the left media was all over it, Workers World was all over it, everyone was all over it. The minute the police charged the husband? Everyone walked away. It's not a 'personal issue.' It's murder and if her death mattered when it might have been a hate crime, it matters when she died as a result of domestic terrorism. (I'm not using the gentile term "domestic abuse." I'm sick of terms that lie.) I think on the left we need to real hard look at ourselves.
Arun Gupta: But when I get there, I realize, wait a minute, there's this enormous Iraqi community here about half-an-hour east of San Diego -- in kind of the foothills of these mountains, in semi-arid, desert-like landscape and upon being further researched, I find there's something like over 30,000 Iraqi-Americans and I'm like, "How did 30,000 Iraqis wind up in the desert of southern California?" [. . .] A lot of the people I was talking to told me "this is really a Chaldean community here." Now Chaldeans are the oldest Christian sect in the world. They are -- they're actually Roman Catholics. Catholiscm has something like 22 different rites -- Chaldeans are one of them. And they are a community that has been about a million-strong in Iraq. The former vice president under Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, he was a Christian -- Chaldean Christian. And they've really suffered a lot from the war. They've been persecuted a lot because of their beliefs but a also because a lot of them are wealthy, they were entrepreneurs, business owners. They were the ones who could have alcohol stores in Iraq so a lot of them would be kidnapped for extortion, you know, for ransom and that sort of thing. And hundreds of thousands of Chaldeans have fled Iraq since the 2003 war began.
Let's get into some of the refugees and their stories. At the end of last month, Ben Bergman did a report on this topic -- Iraqi Americans in El Cajon -- for NPR's Morning Edition (link is text and audio):
BERGMAN: Rida Hamida is a social worker at Access California who helps arriving Iraqis.
HAMIDA: They come to the airport, there's thousands of people walking around, nobody knows their name. They're lost. They're frustrated. They don't know the language.
BERGMAN: Hamida says Iraqis are reluctant to talk about their struggles because they don't want to appear ungrateful. Refugees get health care and cash assistance from the county, about $300 a month. But after eight months, the checks stop coming. Ready or not, Hamida has to convince them to find a job, even though the work almost always pales in comparison to whatever they were doing in Iraq.
HAMIDA: They actually have a Ph.D. and were the principal of a school of 2,000 students. And I'm trying to help them take an entry-level position as a customer service representative just to survive.
HANNA GAZNAKH: (Foreign language spoken)
BERGMAN: Hanna Gaznakh says he left his job as a radiologist in Iraq to settle in Anaheim with his son and wife two months ago.
H. GAZNAKH: Because the war in Iraq, security, this not good.
BERGMAN: At 63, he doesn't think he'll find any job, let alone be a radiologist again. But he hopes his son, who's dealt with PTSD, will find a better life here.
This is from Gupta's article for The Progressive:
It’s not hard to understand why. Farah Muhsin, who came to San Rafael, California, in 2008 to study political science, says her family decamped to Syria in May 2003 after her mother, a journalist in Iraq, appeared on "death lists issued by the Badr Brigade and the Da'wa Party."
"If you go to Iraq today, they say America has destroyed our country and allowed criminals and warlords to become politicians, take control of our government and imprison and torture thousands of people," Muhsin says. "As harsh and cruel was life under Saddam Hussein, it was much better than today."
Arun Gupta told Dennis Bernstein the unemployment rate was over 60% for Iraqi-Americans in that area.
Arun Gupta: The refugees are given a little money to set them up but basically it's only enough money to rent an apartment, pay the security [deposit], get the utilities hooked up. So they get donated furniture. The Chaldean community, there are two Chaldean Churches there, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help people furnish their apartments. But at the same time, and I talked to social workers at four separate agencies, and I was told by pretty much all of them that there's just a systematic wage theft going on. So the Chaldean community is very entreprenureal. It owns hundreds of stores throughout the area. And certainly not everyone is doing this, we don't want to paint a broad brush, but there are all these allegations that people work in grocery stores and they're hired and told, "I'll pay you $150 a week." This is for like a 50 hour work week. Or a common tactic I heard separately from three different social workers is that owners of a business, say a car wash, will hire someone and say, "Well the first month, you'll be a trainee. You need to learn the job so you're going to be an unpaid trainee for one month and then at the end of the month, we'll put you on the payroll." Well what happens is they work for one month for no wage and then they're let go and then the owner just hires someone else as a trainee. And they don't know the system, they don't know the laws, the enforcement is very weak.
FYI, if you're in training at a car wash or whatever in the US, you're supposed to be paid and you're supposed to be paid at least minimum wage which is $7.25 an hour nationally. Leaving aside groups such as those who get tips, in California there is a state law which makes the minimum wage $8 an hour (San Francisco has its own minimum wage law of $10.24 an hour). (Employees who get tips must, when their tips are factored in, be making at least minimum wage. If not, the employer is supposed to increase the pay so that minimum wage is reached.)
Along with California and Michigan, another asylum state has been Massachusetts. Asma Khalid (WBUR -- link is audio and text) reported today on the Iraqi-Americans who have come to Massachusetts:
Take Anas al-Hamdani. His life in America hasn’t been easy. But he’s safe, and he says that counts for a lot when you know how it feels to be kidnapped, beaten up by insurgents, and stuffed into a trunk.
Shortly after he landed in Massachusetts, al-Hamdani found a job washing dishes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. But he lives in Lynn.
“Every morning, I wake up 5 in the morning, and bus, bus, two buses, and two trains,” he says, explaining his daily commute.
As al-Hamdani goes into a back room at MIT to grab some milk, he starts speaking in a stream of consciousness. He says he needs to go to school, change his life and try to become more than “just a dishwasher.”
That’s where Iman Shati, an Iraqi refugee herself, can help. Life used to be grand for Shati — a three-car garage, a garden, a spacious house in Baghdad. Then the bombs started falling.
Five years later, she moved to Massachusetts with her family. Her son, who was an engineer in Iraq, took a kitchen job to pay the rent. She quickly realized he was not an anomaly. Many Iraqi refugees are highly educated — doctors, lawyers, engineers.
“For the community, when they came here, there was a lot of problems,” Shati says. “They struggle to find work. The money is not enough to pay the rent, to pay the utilities.”
So Shati created the Iraqi and Arab Community Association in Lynn. The city has become a local hub for Iraqi refugees.
As noted in yesterday's snapshot, "Thug Nouri al-Maliki signed his name to a column the Washington Post runs in tomorrow's paper." Poor US State Dept -- they got push back today on the claim that Nouri wrote it -- the press was even laughing at the spokesperson's denials in today's press briefing.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Yes. Patrick, today marks the 10th anniversary for the fall of Baghdad, and here we are 10 years later, the city is divided, it’s basically ethnically cleansed, has no services, no security, bombings everywhere. Could you reflect on the past 10 years and what kind of lessons could be drawn, let’s say, as we look into what might happen in Iran and Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, Said, we talked about this last month when we were at the 10-year mark from the beginning of the war, and I’ll just say that we’ll leave the retrospective to historians.
Here’s where we are now. We have a Strategic Framework Agreement with the Iraqis that governs our relationship, and it’s a wide and broad relationship that includes cooperation on economic, political, cultural, and a number of areas. And so we continue to be engaged with our Iraqi partners, and there’s still many complex challenges, but we’ll continue to engage with our partners on the path forward.
QUESTION: Today, in his article in The Washington Post, his op-ed, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki suggests that you are on solid grounds, your alliance is really very strong and solid, and there is tremendous potential for partnership and business. Do you agree with him? Do you concur that relations are excellent with Iraq?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we read his op-ed with great interest and we share his commitment and that of the vast majority of Iraqis to a strong bilateral relationship as outlined in the Strategic Framework Agreement.
QUESTION: Mr. Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region in Iraq was quoted yesterday as saying that relation with Maliki has reached the non-return point (inaudible) something big coming on. Are you in touch with the Kurd and Maliki with respect to their deteriorating relationship between --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, one of the focuses of our diplomacy is trying to improve that relationship and make sure that Iraqis of all different stripes and affiliations are working through the political process and improving their collaboration, working together through the political process. And so that is a focus of our diplomacy.
QUESTION: But are you concerned about what he’s saying, the point of no return?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve made very clear that we think that these issues need to be continued to work through in a diplomatic way in the political sphere, and we’ll continue to do what we can through our mission and from here in Washington to help facilitate an improvement in those relations.
Samir, you’ve been – or was it Michel? You’ve been patient.
QUESTION: Yeah. In his op-ed, Prime Minister Maliki has said that the United States has not lost Iraq; instead, in Iraq the United States has found a partner of our shared strategic concerns and our common efforts on energy, economics, and peace and democracy. Do you agree with that?
MR. VENTRELL: We do. It was a good op-ed and it had – yes, this is a very --
QUESTION: How much of it was written by the Embassy? (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: No, this was the Prime Minister’s signature.
QUESTION: Oh, there was no – the U.S. Government had no input into Mr. – into Prime Minister Maliki’s op-ed which extols the wonderful virtues of everything that has happened since the (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: We were not involved in his op-ed --
MR. VENTRELL: -- at all, and it very much was his expression.
QUESTION: It was just a coincidence that he – you guys agree on absolutely everything?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’ll let the – the Iraqi side can clarify their message, but I think it was very much here, 10 years later, a way for the Iraqi Government and Iraqi people to make clear that there’s still very important collaboration going on between our two countries. And we want to see that continue, so we’re positively encouraged by it.
QUESTION: But why do you think he said that the United States has not lost Iraq?
MR. VENTRELL: I think what the Prime Minister is trying to do is really emphasize how important the Strategic Framework Agreement is and the cooperation we can have on all these issues going forward.
QUESTION: Do you believe --
MR. VENTRELL: Said, one more.
QUESTION: -- Mr. Maliki is not listening to anyone? I mean, look at the executions. The death penalty is just getting out of – I mean, out of control in Iraq. In the last week alone, something like 10 people were executed, and there are dozens more that are just waiting in line. Do you raise, at least, this issue with them?
MR. VENTRELL: Which specific issue? What was the question in there, Said?
QUESTION: The issue of the death penalty and executions. And basically, there are – many of them, they are only guilty of belonging to this sect or that sect.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to look into seeing what contacts we may have raised human rights concerns.
Patrick Ventrell's title is Acting Deputy Spokesperson. And he's not sure if the executions have been raised with the Iraqis? Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations have condemned these executions. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked for a moratorium on these executions and a State Dept spokesperson is unaware of whether or not the State Dept's raised the issue with the Iraqi government?
Today Amnesty International released a new report [PDF format warning] " Death Sentences and Executions in 2012" which finds the five countries executing the most people are China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The report notes there were at least 129 executions in Iraq last year. From the report:
A stark rise in executions was reported in Iraq, making it the country with the third highest number of executions in the world and with the biggest rise in confirmed executions from 2011. At least 129 people were executed, almost twice the known total for 2011 (at least 68) and the highest figure since 2005. Executions were often carried out in batches, with up to 34 in a single day. At least five women were executed, and at least two were sentenced to death. Amnesty International recorded at least 81 new death sentences in total, but the real figure is possibly in the hundreds. According to government statistics, death sentences numbered between 250 and 600 in each of the previous five years. Most death sentences were imposed for terrorism-related offences, others for murder. All death sentences are automatically reviewed by Iraq's Court of Cassation, and then need to be ratified by the presidency before an execution can be carried out. Hundreds of people remained on death row with ratified death sentences; they could be executed at any time.
Abid Hamid Mahmoud, Saddam Hussain's presidential secretary and bodyguard, was executed by hanging on 7 June. He had been sentenced to death in 2010 by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) together with Tariq Aziz, the former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and Sadoun Sahkir, the former Interior Minister. All three were convicted of participating in the crackdown on opposition political activitsts under Saddam Hussain. Tariq Aziz and Sadoun Shakir remain at risk of imminent execution. On 16 December, Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, now in exile in Turkey, and his son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan, were sentenced to death in absentia for possession and use of weapons. These were their fifth respective death sentences in 2012, with the others imposed for terrorism-related offences.
Many trials of those sentenced to death failed to meet international standards for fair trials, including the use of "confessions" obtained under torture and other ill-treatment. Defendants described how they suffered systematic torture while in detention, including being beaten with cables, burned on the face with cigarettes, and given electric shocks to the hands, wrists, fingers, ankles and feet, or were left in a room with water on the floor while an electric current was applied to the water. But courts continued to include "confessions", even if formally withdrawn, as part of the evidence when handing down a sentence. Some Iraqi television stations broadcast these self-incriminating "confessions" before the opening of a trial.
Four Iraqi men, Nabhan 'Adel Hamdi, Mu'ad Muhammad 'Abed, 'Amer Ahmad Kassar and Shakir Mahmoud 'Anad, were sentenced to death on 3 December, for membership of an armed group and involvement in terrorism-related offences, after an unfair trail in Anbar, western Iraq. They were reported to have been tortured after their arrest, while being held incommunicado for several weeks at the Directorate of Counter-Crime in Rmadi, the capital of Anbar province. Their "confessions" were then broadcast on local television channel, al-Anbar, on 24 and 25 April. When brought to trial, they told the Anbar Criminal Court that they had been forced under torture to "confess." Witness testimony from fellow detainees and photographs of some of the men's injuries supported their allegations. The medical examination of one of the men also revealed burns and other injuries consistent with torture. No investigation into their torture allegations is known to have been held.
But the State Dept's Patrick Ventrell isn't sure if any talks about the executions have taken place? Remember that the next time the White House wants to gab about concern for human rights.
Mass arrests continue -- despite the protests -- and you can't have mass executions without mass arrests. NINA reports that in Kirkuk alone, 47 were taken in as part of a mass arrest. Alsumaria reports that MP Nahida Daini is calling out the mass arrests in Diyala Province, the lack of stated reasons behind the arrests and that they appear to be an effort to prevent people from participating in the upcoming elections (April 20th). Daini is a member of Iraqiya and she knows about violence -- in February 2012, her brother was kidnapped and discovered dead in Tikrit days later. Violence being reported today? National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 contractor was shot dead in Hilla late last night, 1 Oil Ministry employee was shot dead today in Mosul, .an armed Ramadi attack left one police officer injured, and a Haweejah attempted assassination by bombing of Sahwa Commander Brigadier Khalaf al-Jubouri left two bystanders injured (the commander wasn't harmed). All Iraq News adds that 2 police officers were kidnapped while an Anbar Province bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured.
Friday's snapshot noted many explosive remarks. Nouri, for example, stated he was going to form a majority government and that he was going to call for early elections. The US State Dept's Pervert for the Middle East Brett McGurk announced that the answer for Iraq was a majority government. Brett, of course, didn't get to be US Ambassador to Iraq. Though he wanted to be. Really, really wanted to be. Didn't get it. No. That point was driven home to him this week. Dar Addustour reports the US Embassy in Baghdad is walking back Brett's remarks, insisting he mispoke and/or was mistranslated. Looks like for now Stephen Beecroft remains the US Ambassador to Iraq and Brett's going to have to answer to him. Again, Brett wanted to be ambassador. But he's not.
In other political news out of Iraq, All Iraq news reports that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, issued a statement today declaring that the Iraqi people -- and the Kurds in particular -- will not allow a dictatorship to return. Jalal remains in Germany, recovering from a December stroke. Dar Addustour reports that efforts are underway to make KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani President of Iraq. Still on the political, from the April 2nd snapshot, "Alsumaria reports that Salah al-Obeidi, spokesperson for the Sadr bloc, declared today that pressure is being put upon police and military recruits to get them to vote for Nouri's State of Law slate." Al Rafidayn reports today that Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has also called out the efforts to pressure police and army to vote for a specific list of candidate (Al Rafidayn notes that al-Hakim avoided naming the list in question).
Henry Kissinger's name is in the breeze today: War Crimes. National Iraqi News Agency reports, "Iraqiya Hurra coalition demanded the government to sue the United States in international courts and claim compensation for material and moral damage in Iraq throughout the occupation years." While Ahram Online notes:
Leading Muslim Brotherhood figure Essam El-Erian on Tuesday accused opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, along with several world leaders, of facilitating the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and demanded their prosecution by an international court. El-Erian, vice chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, accused former British prime minister Tony Blair, former US state secretary Colin Powell and former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi of having been instrumental to the US invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq ten years ago.
"Defendants should also include the one [ElBaradei] who covered up for the scandal... without saying one honest word that could have saved Iraq from invasion," El-Erian asserted.
"The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its men, including ElBaradei, who served as agency director for 12 years, should be tried," he said.
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