Saturday, March 23, 2013

Yep, worse than Nixon

Why aren’t more people angry about what they see as Obama’s aversion to press freedom?

Weekend.  Hope everyone's having a good one.  Susan Armitage (CJR) interviews the chief counsel for the New York Times' James Goodale:

Why aren’t more people angry about what they see as Obama’s aversion to press freedom?

They don’t believe it. I actually have talked to two investigative reporters who are household names, and I said, “Do you realize what’s happening to you if this goes forward?” And I talk, I get no response, and the subject shifts to other parts of the book. No one seems to care.

So you think that if John McCain or Mitt Romney were the president and doing this, there would be a different response?

We’d be screaming and yelling and the journalists would be going crazy. And that doesn’t speak well of journalists. 

He is worse than Nixon.

We've said that here forever.

And people don't want to admit the truth which isn't helping any.

Bill Clinton was president when I was a little kid.  And I knew him as a smiling guy.

Bully Boy Bush was the first one in the White House when I was old enough to pay attention.  He was a crook and so is Barack.

And what I've seen in the two of them is that they both have fans, crazed fans.  They're not public servants.  They're not held accountable.

And that's not really even their fault.

That's our fault.

We need to grow the hell up.

And until we do our country is screwed.

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

Friday, March 22, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, State of Law's image as a gutter gossip means they continue to spread rumors, a government official resigns, we look at Bradley Manning's importance, we note a group of people who were right about the Iraq War but haven't been recognized for being right this week, and more.

Thursday, National Iraqi News Agency notes,  a village near Tikrit was the site of a mass arrest -- 11 people for 'terrorism.'  And Baghdad today saw a mass arrest -- 21 'terrorists.'  (Alsumaria notes the Ministry of Interior insists it was a mass arrest of just 19.)  This is among the things that has resulted in protesters in the streets of Iraq since December.  The mass arrests lead to many innocent people being pulled from their lives, pulled from their families, pulled from their friends -- and where are they?  They disappear into the Iraqi 'justice' system where they wait to be charged -- and may be in jails for months or years without being charged despite the Constitutional requirements.  These people rounded up as 'terrorists'?  This includes Larry al-Jones's mother, sister, brother, daughter, grandfather because Nouri's forces couldn't locate Larry.  They don't think any of the family members had anything to do with it but they suspect Larry, can't find Larry, and citing Article IV, they arrest family members suspected of nothing.

This helps fuel the protests in Iraq, these mass arrests.  Human Rights Watch's Erin Evers observed earlier this week:

In recent months, the government has announced broad reforms in response to weekly mass demonstrations in majority Sunni provinces. These demonstrations began in December, after the arrest of Sunni Finance Minister Rafi al-Essawi’s bodyguards. Early on protesters demanded the release of prisoners — especially female prisoners, who have been held illegally for long periods of time — and reform of Article 4 of the Anti-Terror Law.
Over the last several weeks in Baghdad, I’ve spoken with more than 30 women who are in detention or were recently released, along with lawyers and families of detainees, researching allegations of torture in Iraqi detention facilities.
People told me over and over about random arrests, torture during interrogation and prolonged detention in unofficial facilities. They said corruption was rife among Interior Ministry officials, that there was collusion between officials and judges, and that trials lacked the most basic due process protections.
Detainees repeatedly told me the government uses the broad provisions of Article 4 to detain people without arrest warrants in detention centers overseen by security forces that answer to the Interior and Defense Ministries, or directly to the Prime Minister’s Office.
I asked officials I met about promises to release detainees and about the broader problems with the criminal justice system. By the government’s own admission, some detainees have been held illegally for months — even years.
There is little evidence, though, that the government is carrying out the pledged reforms, or that the reforms target illegal arrests, coerced interrogations and arbitrary detentions.

It's Friday and the protests continue in Iraq.  Above is a screen snap of Iraqi Spring MC's video of Falluja todayAlsumaria reports tens of thousands turned out in Falluja and they may have that wrong -- looking at the photo with the article, it's hard to believe that's not even more people than "tens of thousands."  It is a huge crowd.  And they honored the victims of Tuesday's violence (over 50 dead from Baghdad bombings alone, many more left wounded) by planting olive seelings on the sides of the highway and reading verses from the Koran.  All Iraq News reported this morning that protesters in Anbar Province (Falluja and Ramadi are in Anbar) have been fired upon.  In another report (still not identifying the locale other than Anbar), they quote Shaikh Hamid al-Hayes declaring, "Many demonstrators were injured" and we'll end his quote there.  All Iraq News is not the source for the reports, it's the Iraqiya Satellite Channel which is not connected to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya slate but is connected to Nouri, it's his megaphone, it's state TV.    They may be reporting of the infiltrators in Ramadi.  Social media's noted them earlier this morning.  Alsumaria has a report here.  Ramadi protesters found infiltrators attempting to start violence (like the ones who set fire to cars last week) and (as they did last week) captured them and turned them over to authorities.   There have been no reports, however, of any shots fired in this episode.  So either the TV station is inflating the event or else another incident has taken place in Anbar.   Alsumaria posted a report where Ramadi spokesperson Sayad Lafi states that there has been no shots fired at the protest and that the number handed over to authorities (of infiltrators) was four.  Rumors continued throughout the day.  All Iraq News reports the false rumor that Ali Hatim al-Suleiman, Saeed al-Lafi and Iraqiya MP Ahmed al-Alwani were kicked out of the Ramadi protest.  This left Sheikh Ali Hatim al-Sulayman to explain -- from the Ramadi protest -- to NINA that neither he nor Sa'eed al-Lafee (also spelled Sayad Lafi) were kicked out of Ramadia's protest. All Iraq News also reported on the false rumor that al-Lafi was injured at the protests. And al-Lafi tells Alusmaria that there were no gun shots in the Ramadi protest.

What were all these false rumors about?

Sheikh Rafi al-Rifa'e explains to NINA, "The government and its influential militias in Anbar spread rumors and carry out acts of subversion to infringe the protestors, but due to the braveness and awareness of the protest's coordination committees contained such plans and uncovered the conspiracy."

The crowd turning out in Adamiyah Baghdad today.   National Iraqi News Agency speaks with Anbar activist Ahmed al-Alwani who explains "two delegations arrived this morning [in Baghdad] in support of their fellow who continue demonstrations and sit-ins since about three months in Anbar province, demanding the central government to meet their legitimate demands through resitituion of their usurped human rights."

Protesters also turned out in Mosul, in Kirkuk, in Baquba, in Baiji and in Ramadi and Samarra.  Samarra protesters saw one of their own targeted.  Iraqi Spring MC reports that Prime Minister and thug Nouri al-Maliki's forces have raided the home of Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamdoun.  In addition, Nouri's forces have arrested activist Mohammed Sabawi in Mosul.

Kitabat reports today on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call for Nouri to show restraint when dealing with the protesters and for an investigation to be launched into the killing of protesters.

National Iraqi News Agency quotes Ramadi activist Mohammad Fayyad stating, "Thousands of protesters and citizens went to sit-in square in Albfarraj area north of the city of Ramadi, juxtaposed to the International Highway and to sit-in Square east of the city of Fallujah for Friday prayers." Morning prayers came before the protests.  NINA notes, "Preacher of Friday prayers in Samarra Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamdoun held in his sermon, the commander in chief of the armed forces, Nouri al-Maliki responsible for the recent security breaches in Baghdad and other provinces, accusing the government of being 'insulting people and shed blood of protesters and raping women,' he said."  Alsumaria notes that Friday prayers in Kufa included a call for Nouri to step down and for the National Alliance (Shi'ite political slate) to put forward someone to be prime minister in Nouri's place. To that, NINA adds that Kufa's Sheikh Zia Shawki continued his sermon by explaining the past "7 years under the rule of al-Maliki, the security in Iraq was fragile and economy was shaking, adding that al-Maliki did not achieve anything for Iraq."  NINA also reports, "The Imam of Najaf's Friday Prayer, Sadruldeen al-Qubanchi, said that recent explosions in Baghdad intend to send a message to the world that Iraq is unstable and its experience has failed" and he said that all provinces must be able to vote in the elections.  (Nouri has most recently banned Nineveh and Anbar from voting.) In addition, Al Mada reports that clergy in Karbala and Nineveh also criticized Nouri today.  Al Mada notes the big news there may be have come in Karbala where the representative authorized to speak for the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called out the security system and called for change.

At the protests, Al Mada reports many speakers in various provinces spoke out against the bombings and noting Nouri's failures in providing security and they called for Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya to work together to save the country.  In Ramadi, Sheikh Muhannad al-Hiti called for the government to stop procrastinating and start meeting the demands of the protesters.  Samarra's Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamadoun decried the beating, humiliation and rape that take place in Iraqi prisons.

At the March 1st protest in Ramadi, Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi announced his resignation.  At the March 8th protests, Minister of Agriculture Ezz al-Din al-Dawla announced his resignation.  All Iraq News reports that Deputy Governor of Nineveh, Faisal Ajill al-Yawar, announced his resignation today "in solidarity with the demonstrators in the province."  NINA adds he also said he was resigning because the government was "not fulfilling their [the protesters] legitimate demands that they have been demanding for the last three months."

The editorial board of the Washington Post offers this take today on Iraq:

Iraq remains plagued by the sectarianism that now pervades the Middle East. Following a democratic election in 2010, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, formed a coalition government with parties representing Kurds and secular Sunnis. But he has since driven the Sunni vice president into exile, while the Sunni finance minister and Kurdish foreign minister no longer visit Baghdad, much less carry out their duties. Sunnis in western Iraq are growing increasingly restless, while the remnants of al-Qaeda continue attacks against Shiite targets in Baghdad. Tensions are also growing between Mr. Maliki and the autonomous region of Kurdistan, with both sides deploying military forces near territories claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds.

In Syria, Moahmmed Saeed Bouti was assassinated by a bombing which left over 40 people dead and over 80 people injured.  He was the President of the Federation of Scientists.  The assassination led various Iraqi leaders to make statements noting the death: movement leader and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Scholars Association, and Ahmed Chalabi.

Alsumaria reports a roadside bombing outside Mosul has left two Iraqi soldiers injured.  AP reports that Sahwa leader Hussein Muslah and two of his sons were shot dead outside Dujail this morning.  NINA notes 2 truck drivers were shot dead in Baghdad, a Tikrit sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, and an armed attack on a police officer's Tikrit house left him, his wife and their two children dead plus ten more people injured.

February 28, Bradley Manning told a military court:

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.

For years now, Bradley has been assumed to be behind the biggest government leak of this century and possibly of the last century.  Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor." 

February 28, Bradley stood up and publicly declared he had released the documents.

The documents had an immediate impact and they've had an ongoing impact.  At the start of this month, the BBC Arabic and the Guardian's James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq  began airing --  you can stream online.  (If you can't stream or if you need closed captioning so the stream will not help you, Ava and I covered the documentary March 10th with "TV: The War Crimes Documentary.")  This week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), the topic of counter-insurgency was addressed with journalist Patrick Farrelly who was part of the  BBC Arabic and the Guardian newspaper investigative team behind the recent documentary entitled, here comes that link again, James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq

Patrick Farrelly:  He's retired not part of the administration.  But Col James Coffman is, he is a US army colonel and he reports directly to General [David] Petraeus in the army chain of command.  Steele is a consultant or an advisor but Coffman actually is in the chain of command. So therefore when this paramilitary  force, when they need money or they need equipment or whatever, Coffman is the guy who takes it upstairs to Petraeus and Petraeus is the one who provides the money, provides the weapons, provides whatever.  So these guys are in these detention centers, you have this torture going on and the torture is widespread.  And this is where Bradley Manning comes in.  'Cause I know you guys have been talking about him.  Part of the WikiLeaks discovery in terms of the War Logs which was released by Bradly Manning to WikiLeaks shows this entire pattern of US soldiers coming across these detention centers or working with these detention centers because they're involved with these special police commandos, they're providing them with guys to interrogate, they're taking guys from them for further interrogation.  And what they're seeing is --  consistently,  they're giving reports of seeing torture, of seeing abuse.  The Guardian went through these War Logs and started looking at this stuff and started seeing patterns of hundreds and hundreds of reports by US soldiers on the ground of this going on and that's really what actually launched the inquiry and that's what brought us to Col James Steele and Col James Coffman and actually General David Petraeus.

Michael Ratner: It's interesting, Patrick, because these are what they call the Iraq War Logs which Bradley Manning talks about when he made his guilty plea the other day as to why he wanted to reveal them because they were revealing all of this criminality really and the counter-insurgency and which he didn't like.  Now can you give us a sense of two things.  One is, why didn't any of this come out before?  I mean these War Logs have been out for a couple of years now and, secondly, what kind of torture is described?

Patrick Farrelly:  I mean the interesting thing for me about the War Logs is that an enormous amount was made of WikiLeaks and an enormous amount was made of these to stuff that the Times and the Guardian, El Pais and the other newspapers actually brought to light.  But I have to say that from that point onwards, the ball was dropped in many ways in the sense of like journalists really getting into the detail of what these things reveal and actually following them up.  And I think this documentary the Guardian and BBC Arabic produced is an example of the kind of material which actually lies within these and which journalists actually should be taking up.  But going back to the issue of these special police commandos, their existence was well known.  General David Petreaus was interviewed by this very find Frontline documentary called The Gangs of Iraq that Martin Smith made for PBS Frontline in which he interviews General Petraeus.  Petraeus is very proud of these, he's very proud of the commandos but the way that it was being posed in terms of our understanding of the situation was that after Petraeus left Iraq in September of 2005 -- he'd been there since June  2004 dealing with setting up this new police force.  It's only really after that, according to them that these abuses happened -- when these Shia political parties really took over and when these Shia militias started getting into great.  In other words it's another one of these situation swhere the US army and the US government sets up these police commandos which the locals invariably corrupt at a certain point and then because they don't have the same standards as we do start abusing people and start torturing people.  What this investigation has found is that from the very, very beginning, Col James Steele and Col James Coffman who answer to Petraeus and who answer to Rumsfeld had, you know, worked with these guys in these detention centers and were witnesses to and knew this stuff was going on because you've got to -- It's a production line because these young men come in, they were tortured --

Michael Ratner: How were they tortured?

Patrick Farrelly:  They were tortured by the worst kind of methods.  I mean these people were being hung up, off ceilings.  These people were having like, you know, their nails pulled out with pliers, it was waterboarding.  It was every concievable kind of torture that you can think of.

Michael Smith: And how do we know that?  That's in the documents?

Heidi Boghosian: Is it documented?

Patrick Farrelly: Because we  had a very important invidiual spoke to the Guardian about the US involvement for the first time.  He's a man by the name of General Muntadher al-Samari and he had been a general in -- he's a Sunni -- and he had been a general in Saddam's regime.  And when the United States came in, he -- actually along with a number of other Sunnis took the United States at their word that they were going to frame and bring about a pretty regular democratic society so they actually became involved with helping the United States actually put together this police force.  So Muntadher was there.  He worked for the Ministery of the Interior, he worked for the police, he worked directly with Steele and he worked with Coffman.  He'd meet Coffman, he had meetings with Petraeus.

Michael Ratner:  How many people were tortured?  Ten?  A hundred?  A thousand?

Patrick Farrelly:  We don't have exact numbers but I think we're talking tens of thousands of people were actually brought in.  You're dealing with, for example, if you take the ancient city of Samarra -- a very, very important city in terms of the religion and the culture and the history of that area -- which was also a place where there was enormous opposition to the occupation.  They went in there.  They turned the city library into a torture center.  They turfed everything out that was there and there was all these books, all these manuscripts and they turned it into a torture center.  They would then go out at night -- they were there for months on end in the fall and winter of 2004.  They would go out with trucks at night.  They would pull in hundreds of people who were then being processed.  This went on for months.  So I mean the numbers in that place alone run into the thousands.  And there was a network of approximately 14 of these centers that we were aware of throughout Iraq.  So this was a fairly -- this was a large scale operation which produced a lot of results.  I mean that's one thing that we have to be sure of, this was a thing which terrorized Sunni community.  There was no two ways, it was incredibly effective in terms of scaring the living daylights out of people because this force that they put on the ground and which started to work was a feared force.  If they're right in your neighborhood in their Dodge trucks because this was one thing these guys were very, very happy with because  Petraeus gave them 150 Dodge trucks.  They were then provided with other American pick up trucks.  I know in this country, it's a great thing to see if you're out there in the farmlands but if you are living in a Sunni neighborhood and you saw one of these trucks arriving, this was not a good thing. 

Heidi Boghosian: Well the result was a mass intimidation.

Patrick Farrelly:  It was a mass intimidation but it was also the case that they tortured people into giving up -- You  know, one of the American soldiers that we interviewed for this said, "You know, people just gave up everybody.  They just gave up their relatives, their friends."  It just became this interrogation and torture mill which no doubt produced a lot of information --

Michael Ratner: You know individuals do -- It's not so clear, people'll do anything to stop torture.  They'll give false names.  They'll do all kinds of things.  But like in Algeria in 1954, the French did mass torturing in Aljeers and as a result, they could cross the people enough so that they knew which information was correct or not, they had thousands of people tortured and that's what this sounds like.

Michael Smith: And they did it also in Vietnam around the same time.  The Green Berets were involved in Vietnam and in fact, it was the Green Berets, Michael and I did a book [Who Killed Che? How The CIA Got Away With Murder], who were brought into Bolivia to train the Bolivian troops, they eventually captured Che Guevara  so this streak in American history of Green Berets, Special Forces, torture, goes all the way back over a half a century.

Patrick Farrelly:  lI mean, for lack of better term, for empire, people like James Steele are very important.

Michael Ratner:  Explain that a little.

Patrick Farrelly:  In the sense that if you go -- You know empires tend to roam into other people's countries.  It's like living next door to a war lord.  It's never -- they're never good neighbors. But when they go in and they run into local opposition and quite often it's-it's-it's what they call assymetrical warfare, it's guerrilla warfare, it's a so-called irregular uprising, guys like James Steele are need in order to-to deal with people like that and that was his speciality.  There is another longterm consequence I just want to deal with for a moment in terms of Iraq which is that as this force became more and more part of the Shia militias, a certain point, this force with 90% members of the Badr brigades 90% Mehdi army who went into Sunni neighborhoods and caused great, great slaughter.

That's the third excerpt of that segment we've done this week.  If we'd had more space and more time this week, it would have all been excerpted.  It's the only serious interview we're apparently going to get in the US.  Don't bring up the nonsense from the Goody Whore today who couldn't even say "counter-insurgency" (Ava and I plan to tackle the Goody Whore Sunday).  The Michaels and Heidi spoke to their guests about actual issues.  I don't think there was a finer moment for radio last week than Law and Disorder Radio.  Bradley's facing some serious charges.  If we want people to understand how serious he took what he discovered, we're going to have to be able to talk about what he discovered.  Heidi and the Michaels were up to the task.

The training of the death squads, the counter-insurgency, it still goes on.  Human Rights Watch pointed out earlier this week:

New information emerged as recently as early March 2013 indicating that the US government is pursuing a policy of engagement with Iraqi security forces accused of responsibility for torture and other abuses, with little if any consideration of accountability for those abuses. A Wall Street Journal report said that the CIA is “ramping up support” to the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) to “better fight Al-Qaeda affiliates.”

“If correct, the report that the US intends to support the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service underscores the poor US record on addressing allegations of abuses by Iraqi security forces,” Whitson said. “The CTS, though accused of committing serious abuses against detainees, worked closely with US Special Forces before the US troop withdrawal in 2011.”

Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Wach) notes of Iraq:

Worse, the CIA is reportedly building up its assistance to an elite anti-terrorism unit that reports directly to al-Maliki’s office and has been synonymous with the torture, abuse and “disappearance” of detainees. Nothing the United States could say to encourage greater respect for human rights is likely to counter such a direct manifestation of indifference. After 10 years, Washington should have learned that it cannot improve a government’s human rights conduct when it joins that government in demonstrating indifference to basic rights. At minimum, continuing security assistance should be conditioned on respect for these rights that are so lacking in today’s Iraq.

That's not five years ago, that's Iraq today.  Bradley's work matters because it has historical implications but because it also explains what is taking place in Iraq today.

Bradley's an Iraq War veteran.  All week long, as Iraq's has gotten bits of attention from the Big Media and even the small, some veterans were ignored.

Lot of talk about being right.  Lot of bragging and back patting.

But what most of us did wasn't all that.  The Dixie Chicks?  Yeah, a sacrifice followed that.  But most of us could speak out without any great suffering.

Iraq War veteran Joshua Key?

Joshua Key served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Kim  Rivera served in Iraq.  She returned to the United States and she couldn't go back.  She couldn't return to the illegal war.

James Burmeister served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Kyle Snyder served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Darrell Anderson served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Guess what?

Those are only a few of the names.  All of the above went to Canada and sought asylum.  Darrell and James came back to the US.  Kim -- like Robin Long -- was forced out of Canada.  Joshua and Kyle remain in Canada -- along with others including the first Iraq War resister to publicly attempt to be granted asylum in Canada:  Jeremy Hinzman.

Where is the outlet that will say that they were right?

They were right.  And their actions helped awaken the country.  Others who resisted and remained in the US like Kevin Benderman, Camilo Mejia and Stephen Funk were right too.  Where's their pat on the back.

All of these people who showed the courage to say no to an illegal war helped awaken the country.

Lt. Ehren Watada is the only officer who publicly resisted going to the illegal war.  So let's applaud his courage and drop back to the October 2, 2009 snapshot to remember his story:

This afternoon Fort Lewis's Media Relations department announced that Ehren Watada had completed his out processing and was discharged from the US military. We're going to stay with this topic for a bit because (a) it is important and (b) it is historical.  1st Lt Watada was the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.  As Ann noted last night, "there are people who have no idea what a brave thing he did."  Ehren Watada was informed he would be deploying to Iraq in June 2005.  He had not given much thought to Iraq.  To prepare for the deployment, his superior advised him to study up on the war so that he could answer any questions that might come up from those serving under him.  He started researching the basics about the country itself, topography and geography and continuing through the history up to the current war.  He came across the Downing Street Memos which exposed that the 'intelligence' for the Iraq War was fixed.  He was now firmly convinced that the Iraq War was illegal and immoral.  From eager to serve in Iraq to realizing he'd be violating his oath to the Constitution, Ehren was now confronted with a decision.  He could keep his mouth shut and just do as he was told.  Or he could take a stand which would risk the wrath of the military as well as a portion of the public.
Ehren's mother, Carolyn Ho, has explained what happened next many times as she's spoken to raise awareness of her son's case.  WBAI's Law and Disorder shared one of her talks on their January 22, 2007 broadcast. Carolyn Ho explained it was the new year, January 2006, and her son called her.  He explained that he had something to tell her, he'd decided decided he wouldn't deploy to Iraq when the time came.  She was very upset and asked him if he understood what might result from his decision?  Ehren told her that he had no choide, he'd taken an oath to the Constitution, this was what he had to do and he was going to inform his superiors. 
Ehren didn't hesitate to inform his superiors.  This was in January 2006.  They at first attempted to change his mind.  He could not be budged.  So they stated they wanted to work something out.  They brainstormed together.  Ehren came up with ideas including, he could deploy to the Afghanistan War instead, he could resign (his service contract expired in December 2006).  His superiors appeared to be eager to consider every possibility; however, they were just attempting to stall.  They appear to have thought that if they put him off and put him off, when the day to deploy came, he'd just shrug his shoulders and deploy.
They did not know Ehren.  June 7, 2006 ("the day before his 28th birthday," Carolyn Ho likes to remind), Ehren went public with his refusal to deploy. Jake Armstrong (Pasadena Weekly) notes Ehren stated to participate in the Iraq War would be participating in war crimes.
In August 2006, an Article 32 hearing was held. Watada's defense called three witnesses, Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois' College of Law, Champagne; Denis Halliday, the former Assistant Secretary General of the UN; and retired Colonel Ann Wright. These three witnesses addressed the issue of the war, it's legality, and the responsibilities of a service member to disobey any order that they believed was unlawful. The testimony was necessary because Watada's refusing to participate in the illegal war due to the fact that he feels it is (a) illegal and (b) immoral. Many weeks and weeks later, the finding was released: the military would proceed with a court-martial.

On Monday, February 5, 2007, Watada's court-martial began. It continued on Tuesday when the prosecution argued their case. Wednesday, Watada was to take the stand in his semi-defense. Judge Toilet (John Head) presided and when the prosecution was losing, Toilet decided to flush the lost by declaring a mistrial over defense objection in his attempt to give the prosecution a do-over. Head was insisting then that a court-martial would begin against Watada in a few weeks when no court-martial could begin.

January 4, 2007, Head oversaw a pre-trial hearing. Head also oversaw a stipulation that the prosecution prepared and Watada signed. Head waived the stipulation through. Then the court-martial begins and Ehren's clearly winning. The prosecution's own military witnesses are becoming a problem for the prosecution. It's Wednesday and Watada's finally going to take the stand. Head suddenly starts insisting there's a problem with the stipulation. Watada states he has no problem with it. Well the prosecution has a problem with it and may move to a mistrial, Judge Toilet declares.

The prosecution prepared the stipulation and they're confused by Head's actions but state they're not calling for a mistrial or lodging an objection. That's on the record. Head then keeps pushing for a mistrial and the prosecution finally gets that Head is attempting to give them a do-over, at which point, they call for a mistrial.

The case has already started. Witnesses have been heard from. Double-jeopardy has attached. The defense isn't calling for a mistrial and Head rules a mistrial over defense objection and attempts to immediately schedule a new trial. Bob Chapman (Global Research) observes, "With little fanfare the Army at Fort Lewis, Wash., accepted the resignation of the 1966 Kalari High School graduate, and he will be discharged the first week in October."

He deserves applause.  Ehren became a part of a movement of resistance within the military and let's note the names of others we have covered:  Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Justin Colby, Camilo Mejia, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson,  Kyle Snyder , Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Joshua Key, Ricky Clousing, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia,  Patrick Hart, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Brad McCall, Rodney Watson, Chuck Wiley and Kevin Benderman.

War resisters were public and they were underground. Those who went public shared important details of how they came to see the Iraq War as illegal. 

Mark Larabee's "Soldiers still go over the hill even in an all-volunteer Army" (The Oregonian) was the first to tell James Burmeister's story and, in doing so, broke the news of the kill teams (broke the news domestically) July 16, 2007.  Dee Knight's "Army court-martials resister for blowing whistle on 'bait-and-kill'" (Workers World) detailed what Burmeister experienced as well:

Private First Class James Burmeister faces a Special Court Martial at Fort Knox on July 16. The charges are AWOL and desertion. He returned to Fort Knox voluntarily in March, after living 10 months in Canada with his spouse and infant child. He refused redeployment to Iraq while on leave in May 2007.

In most such cases at Fort Knox, the Army has in recent years quietly dismissed the resister with a less than honorable discharge "for the good of the military." This time it's different. The brass "offered" Burmeister a year in military prison and a dishonorable discharge if he agreed to plead guilty.
Burmeister refused the offer. His father, Erich, says the Army is making an example of James for denouncing a secret "bait-and-switch" program he was forced to participate in while in Iraq. In media interviews last year in Canada, James described the program as a war crime he was forced to commit. Shortly afterward, the program's details came out in the Washington Post.
"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," the Post quoted Capt. Matthew Didier, leader of an elite sniper scout platoon. "We would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual."
The Post reported that "Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program ... raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items. ... 'You might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back,' Fidell said." (Sept. 24, 2007)
James had asked to be classified as a conscientious objector following his training in Germany, but his request was ignored by his commander. Instead, he became a machine gunner. "Our unit’s job seemed to be more about targeting a largely innocent civilian population or deliberately attracting confrontation," he wrote in his deposition seeking asylum in Canada. "These citizens were almost always unarmed. In some cases the Iraqi victims looked to me like they were children." (Eugene Weekly, May 22)
In Iraq, Burmeister had been knocked unconscious and his face filled with shrapnel when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. The shrapnel wounds left him with a traumatic brain injury, and he suffers from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His parents insist that he urgently needs medical and psychological help, not jail time.
His parents have waged an unceasing struggle for the Army to release him. They called on their representative, Peter DeFazio, to launch a congressional inquiry into James’s case, but have so far heard nothing. James' mother, Helen Burmeister, flew to Fort Knox in June, with help from anti-war ex-Colonel Ann Wright. Helen spoke directly to the base commander there, demanding that her son be discharged in lieu of a court martial. She then joined supporters from Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Vets Against the War demonstrating outside.
People who stood up -- publicly like the above or privately -- in the military deserve a round of applause, deserve some praise.  The Iraq War wasn't a "dumb" war, the term is "illegal."

law and disorder radio
michael s. smith
heidi boghosian
michael ratner

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Praise for MarketPlace

Thursday.  Almost the weekend.  Remember, no Nikita tomorrow night.  New episodes return next Friday and we get them new straight through to the end of the season.

Kai Ryssdal (MarketPlace) covered Iraq Wednesday in a brief commentary.  My mom is a fan of MarketPlace because she see it as a show that tries to be honest.  There are times when it's in conflict with the chatter NPR offers, for example.  And when MarketPlace is doing facts, they do tend to get to the truth.

So here's how Kai's commentary opened:

The United States has officially been out of Iraq for about 15 months. But there are still thousands of American soldiers stationed in the country today, ten years after the first full day of war. All those people, along with thousands of reconstruction projects and programs that we left behind.

That's more truth than you got all week on CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC and PBS combined.

That's why my mom likes the show.  No one else is going to talk about the troops still in Iraq.  But it's a fact so it will get noted on MarketPlace.

Now if you want to know what's going on Iraq, you've got the snapshots.  Always.  C.I. does a great job.  But you've also got a really great article by Dahr Jamail which opens:

Heba al-Shamary (name changed for security reasons) was released last week from an Iraqi prison where she spent the last four years.
"I was tortured and raped repeatedly by the Iraqi security forces," she told Al Jazeera. "I want to tell the world what I and other Iraqi women in prison have had to go through these last years. It has been a hell."
Heba was charged with terrorism, a fate faced by many Iraqis who are detained by security forces.
"I now want to explain to people what is occurring in the prisons that [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and his gangs are running," Heba added. "I was raped over and over again, I was kicked and beaten and insulted and spit upon."
Heba's story, horrific as it is, unfortunately is but one example of what a recent report from Amnesty International refers to as "a grim cycle of human rights abuses" in Iraq today.
The report, "Iraq: Still paying a high price after a decade of abuses", exposes a long chronology of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees committed by Iraqi security forces, as well as by foreign troops, in the wake of the US-led 2003 invasion.

I'm glad Dahr's covered the Amnesty report.  When it came out, only C.I. was covering it (beside wire services).  She did four snapshots on it.  It's an important report so I'm glad Dahr Jamail's covering it in the article.

It's also really important that what's happening to Iraqi women and girls is known.  Until this month, the only reporter to cover it in a US outlet was Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor).

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, journalists from around the world reflect on Iraq, Nouri comes up with a new reason to postpone elections in Anbar and Nineveh: Fraud!, Martin Kobler notes the protesters, Ayad Allawi pens a column, and more.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  As I think we all know, it's now ten years since the US went to war in Iraq, and Afghanistan before that, and what we have learned in  a variety of ways is that the cost of those wars have been very, very high.  They were high not just in the loss -- the tragic loss -- of life that we've experienced, not just in terms of  those who've come home without arms or legs or eyesight or hearing problems but also in terms of what we call the "invisible wounds of war" which are quite as real as any other kinds of wounds.  And those wounds include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury -- TBI and all of the symptoms associated with those very serious illnesses.  Further, and tragically, it includes the serious problem of suicide.  We are losing about 22 veterans every single day as a result of suicide -- that's more than 8,000 veterans a year.  And while suicide is a major, major problem in the United States as a whole for our civilian population, it is a terrible, terrible tragedy for the veterans' community and something that we must address.  And let me preface my remarks by saying what I think everybody understands the issues that we are dealing with today are very, very tough issues and if anyone had any magic solution to the problems of mental illness in general, trust me, we would have heard about that a long, long time ago.  So this is a tough issue.  And we're going to do our best today to figure out where we are in terms of the needs of our veterans and where we are going to go forward.

Yesterday morning, Senator Bernie Sanders, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the issue of timely access to high quality care.  In yesterday's snapshot, we noted Senator Patty Murray's remarks via a press release.  Senator Patty Murray is now the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and she was previously the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  In the snapshot, I noted that there wasn't room to cover it that day and indicated it might go into Friday's.  E-mails mean we put it in today and we start with.  (We will grab the topic of Bradley Manning tomorrow.)  Tonight at her site, Kat will cover Ranking Member Richard Burr, Wally will go over to Rebecca's site to cover Senator Richard Blumenthal and money and Ava will be at Trina's site covering a point three senators stressed as well a witness.  She's going to criticize a witness, I stand with her on that.  I think we all do (Kat and Wally are nodding as I dictate this). And all that coverage is a result of the e-mails -- the large number of e-mails -- asking that the hearing be covered.

The first panel was made up of Team Rubicon's Jacob Wood, Vermont Veterans Outreach Program's Andre Wing, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors' Kim Ruocco, National Alliance on Mental Illness' Veterans and Military Council Chair Kenny Allred and Give an Hour's Barbara Van Dahlen.  The second panel was the Army's Col Rebecca Porter with the Office of the Surgeon General and VA's Robert Petzel accompanied by Janet Kemp, Sonja Batten and William Busby.

We'll cover two rounds of questioning from Chair Sanders.  First up, from panel one, he wanted the witnesses to talk about their experiences and how you break through a culture of silence.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  I think all of you have indicated that peer supported efforts of veterans talking to veterans is enormously important, that occasionally we have to go outside the box with, I think one of you said not everyone is alike and different individuals will respond to different approaches  So let me just start off -- Let me just start off with you, Dr. Van Dahlen, in terms of how the VA, which we all know is a huge bureaucracy -- there's no ifs-ands-or-buts about that, how do we we enable them to become more flexible to reach out, to find community based groups, peer support groups that are out there.  How do we do that?

Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen:   Uhm, thank you.  What we find in communities -- and I know this from my work with several of my colleagues at the VA -- the desire often in the individual is there to work in the collaborative way but they're unclear whether they're allowed to.  And so one of the things that I would like to suggest is that we literally work on what are the messages at each of the local -- every VA, whether it's a hospital center, whether it's a vets center, they will know and have access to the community.  And so what we should do, and I think it would be pretty easy to do, is determine what gets in the way, as we've done, of having regular community, and others have done, gatherings where the VA serves as the convener and the catalyst, what stops that from happening?  So that people begin talking to each other, they know then that if my organization can't serve that need, TAPS can do it or NAMI can do it.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Right.

Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen:  That's what needs to happen.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Okay, let me ask this.  One of the cultural issues that we are struggling with -- the military is struggling with, the VA -- is the culture -- "the stigma" I think is what Col Allred used am I real mean if I have an emotional, mental problem?  We understand that if I lost an arm and a leg, I go and I get treatment.  How do we deal with a culture that says from a military perspective, "There's something not quite manly about you if you have PTSD or you have TBI"?  How do we deal with that?  Mr. Wood, do you want to respond to that?

Jacob Wood:  It's very challenging and it's not a problem we're going to solve over night. As a Marine sniper, I was part of one of the more elite units in the military and certainly one that carries that stigma very heavily.  We don't often seek counseling.  If you do seek counseling, like Clay actually did after being wounded in Iraq before being redeployed to Afghanistan, you're often seen as a weaker link and that's a stigma we have to fight absolutely.  I myself have gone to seek mental health counseling since getting out of the military.  I've worked with the VA and there make the connection that net initiative to provide a video testimonial to that.  I think what it does require regular convenings as Dr. Van Dahlen mentioned where veterans can get together.  And we need to get veterans together in their home towns.  We need to get Marines together with soldiers together with Airmen together with sailors in Omaha, Nebraska, in Davenport, Iowa, in Oakland, California, where they can talk and share their experiences after transitioning out of the military. 

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Good.  Okay, thank you.  Andre, if you could, in Vermont, we're a very, very rural state.  We sent a lot of National Guards people to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Tell me about the peer-to-peer effort.  Is it important -- just as Mr. Woods was saying -- that veterans who've been through that experience reach out to other veterans?  And how do we do that?

Andre Wing:  Thanks, Senator.  As you know, my team has -- we have ten folks on my team, we're all combat veterans.  So we've all had struggles with integration issues, we've all had struggles transitioning back to civilian life.  I think in our state, with the National Guard, it's not as severe a stigma as it is on, maybe, an active duty base.  Only because -- I hear on this panel that we've talked about community partnerships and we've really forged those ahead in the state of Vermont with different initiatives that we've stated.  We have a Director of Psychological Health that works directly for the National Guard on the Air side and the Army side.  That stigma, I think, is more on the military side.  But as far as the peer-to-peer goes, we -- as you know, we got out, we meet the folks, we get --

Chair Bernie Sanders:  You knock on doors.

Andre Wing:  We knock on doors.  And as I said, we have our feet under the kitchen table.  And I know that the President's got a new initiative of 800 peer support folks going out there but I think you heard this: The common denominator is the peer-to-peer.  It's very, very important because we can talk.  The other thing too that's important is we have the military culture.  So we can -- I can go into AHS [Agency of Human Services] with the field directors and tell them, "Hey, this is how maybe you need to approach some of these veterans, as an example."

Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare is a documentary made by Susan Froemke and Matthew Heinemen.  CNN began airing it last week.  Earlier this month, they noted, "CNN has acquired the U.S. television broadcast rights for the award-winning documentary, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.  The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and received honors at the 2012 Silverdocs, Full Frame, and other prominent festivals.  The two-hour feature-length film was produced and directed by Matthew Heineman and Academy Award-nominee Susan Froemke and distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate.  It will debut on CNN/U.S. on Sunday, March 10 at 8:00pm and air again at 11:00pm Eastern." You can click here to stream two brief clips from the documentary and also to read an article about it.  This is the CNN program that gets referenced in this exchange from the second panel.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  One of the, I think, recurring themes that we heard in the previous testimony is that every soldier is different, every problem is different and that we've got to think a little bit outside of the box and I think Senator Boozman raised that issue.  Talk a little bit of out of the box therapies, talk a little bit about complimentary medicine.  There was a piece, I don't know if you saw it, John, on CNN the other day, they were about over-medication which is a real, real issue and some of the over-medicated were then moved to acupuncture, for example, as pain relief which apparently, in what we saw in CNN at least, worked pretty well. To what degree is the VA looking at complimentary medicine -- acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy?  Talk about that and the second issue, Senator Boozman raised that as well, you know, what we're dealing with our real life problems and life is complicated.  And it is not necessarily just dispensing some medicine.  It's certainly not filling out pages and pages of forms which would drive me, among other people, quite nuts if I needed help.  And I want to talk to you about how we break through that old bureaucracy but things like, Senator Boozman mentioned, playing golf.  If four veterans spend an afternoon out playing golf and feeling good about each other and talking and come back feeling a little bit better about themselves -- or they go trout fishing or they go camping together, those are real improvements which may mean a lot more to the veterans than getting some more medication.  So the question is to what degree are we thinking outside the box to make people feel better about themselves in whatever way?  And, by the way, Senator Bozeman, where we have to be careful of when we make these recommendations is not to see front page stories that "VA Pays For Golf Outings On The Part Of Veterans!"  That's a very easy target for the media.

Senator John Boozman: No, I agree totally.  That's why I was asking if they had some evidence based as to what's working.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Yeah, but that's the question I want to throw out, if you can answer it. 

Dr. Robert Petzel:  Uh, uh thank you.  Both.  Uh, let me first drill -- deal -- with a little bit of the out-of-the-box.  Uhm,  We partner with a tremendous number of organizations around the country.  Uhm, Give An Hour is an example of psychotherapy.  The professional golf association and the local professional golf association have programs in virtually every city that we have a medical center that provide the opportunity for handicapped people to play golf.  And we have a -- We actually sponsor a blinded golf tournament, uhm, that, uh, occurs every year in Iowa City.   Uhm, there are many more examples of recreational activity.  Horseback riding,  kayaking -- where individual veterans and service organizations have put together these non-profits that provide these opportunities.  We're looking for them everywhere we can find them  Whether or not they're enough and whether we're using it enough is an open question but we are very much open to those opportunities.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  I want to get back again to the issue that Senator Boozman appropriately raised and that is over-medication and perhaps other ways to deal with pain and other distress.

Dr. Robert Petzel:  Ev -- I -- Again, let me deal first with opiates -- which is the most dangerous in my mind of our -- of our over medication issues.  We've got a three pronged approach -- process -- where you begin with the least invasive, least dangerous, least risky things to manage chronic pain and this is being done at all of our medical centers.  And that may include acupuncture.  We provide acupuncture at the vast majority of our medical centers.  And then, progressively, more complicated things such as rehabilitation, etc.  And eventually, when you're not able to manage the pain in any other way, it's opiates.  And then there are very careful protocols about how that prescribing should be done.  Second step in that is that we have just, uh, begun producing a computer program that provides to the medical centers a listing of patients who are taking an unusually large number of opiates and prescribers who are prescribing an unusually large number.  And that's transmitted back to medical center, a person is responsible for tracking that down at the medical center and seeing what the issues are.  And the third thing is that we are participating now in the state reporting of, uh -- of, uh, opiates.  That's very important because some of our patients are getting prescriptions outside of the VA and we need to be able to bring that data together so we fully understand the extent of the problem.  So we'll be giving them our data and we'll be able to have access to the state-wide data

This was one of Sander's first solo-chairings.  I believe it was his second.  (If it was his third, I've missed a hearing.)  He won high marks for bringing up this topic and for trying to nail the witness down.  As Sanders rightly notes, what works for one person may not for another.  We have noted that here many times and the reason being because veterans note it to me.  They have often spoken of the fact that the Congress seems to hung up on fixing things with pills as opposed to other treatments or approaches.  So Chair Bernie Sanders was the crowd pleaser among veterans attending this hearing and there were other moments in the hearing that were noted but all seven I spoke to made a point to signal out his questions from the second panel above.   Each Committee Chair brings their own strengths to the position and, right now, it appears Sanders has discovered one of his already.

The US Ambassador to Iraq is Stephen Beecroft.  He oversees the US mission in Iraq which has slashed its staff of 16,000 by a little over 500.  AP reports Beecroft says that number will be about half by December 2013.  Jason Ditz ( offers, "The money just isn’t there, and neither is the appetite to put that sort of effort into Iraq after years of waste. Instead, the enormous embassy will be a mostly empty reminder of the disastrous adventure into Iraq."  That could be correct.  I was honestly hoping Ditz was hearing what I was hearing from the State Dept.  I've already noted that Secretary of State John Kerry deserves some credit for this.  I'll throw out what I've been told by several at the State Dept. This isn't about money.  This is about concern for the diplomatic staff and the concern stems from what's going on right now on the ground and from the fact that the administration suddenly realizes that Nouri al-Maliki repeatedly tells them "yes" but doesn't follow up.  Such as when it's conveyed to him that he must stop attacking the protesters.  And Nouri is in complete agreement.  And then his forces go on to attack the protesters in Mosul.  This is happening repeatedly with a wide variety of areas.  What I'm told is that Kerry (with backing from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel) made clear that those working for the State Dept must be safe.  Is that Benghazi on his mind?  I don't know.  I would guess it is more likely how he grew up.  He's spoken of his being raised overseas with his diplomat father many times, of his trip in Germany, around the Berlin Wall to East Germany, and of how with that one, his father stressed afterwards that it wasn't a smart move and went over safety basics.  I think its just part of his character due to his parents.  (A very good part.)  But that's what I'm hearing.  I'd love for it to be a money issue.  That would mean everyone was coming out.  But what I was told is that they're trying to get down to a level that they feel can be easily protected.  That may not be accurate.  That may be office gossip that turned into a game of telephone.  But I've been told that repeatedly by friends with the State Dept.  And I did note that Hagel is said to have backed up Kerry on that.  I'm not a fan of Hagel's.  If what I'm being told is correct, that was a solid move by Hagel for which he deserves credit.

Let's turn to media.  Walter Pincus (Washington Post), in his review of the ten years, emphasizes, "What many forget is that Iraq and Afghanistan also mark the first U.S. wars in which a president, first Bush and now President Obama, has not sought a war tax. The result: nearly $2 trillion in war expenditures put on the nation’s credit card."  Donald Kirk (World Tribune) recalls his time in Iraq reporting for the magazine Institutional Investor and for CBS News Radio:

My other impression was how incredibly dangerous it was. I don’t think I knew how dangerous. At the sound of explosions near my hotel, I rushed to the scene as if I were back in Saigon during the Vietnam War, when you were a whole lot safer.
Foolishly, in retrospect, I thought nothing of going down darkened streets in search of a guy who, after his guards ushered me through about three gates, gave me a tremendous briefing in his elaborate apartment. I had to enter the central bank by a back gate through a barbed-wire fence, guarded by a nervous guy with an AK-47. One guy whom I interviewed hefted an Uzi on his desk. Another had me picked up in his own armored car with two guards and a driver.
Donald Kirk was an unembedded journalist -- meaning he was not 'stationed' with a branch of the military.  Sometimes when he was reporting for CBS News Radio, he had a bodyguard and possibly one in a car trailing them.  With the magazine, he was on his own. 

A great deal of on the ground reporting was done by Iraqis.   Today Michele Martin (NPR's Tell Me More -- link is audio and there will be transcript at link by tomorrow if not tonight) speaks with former New York Times correspondent Abdulrazzaq al-Saiedi.  He is an Iraqi who became a journalist after the war started.  "For me, this is really important that we're telling the truth and that we describe the scene as it is -- for good or for bad."  He arrived on the scene in Falluja, March 31, 2004, of the 4 American contractors who were killed (burned) and then hung in the air. 

Abdulrazzaq al-Saiedi:  I saw 2 bodies were completley burned, were hung and there's 2 just on the ground.  And the two on the ground -- There's children there, and one of the -- one of the kids, I think he was ten or like eleven years old, and he was kicking one of the bodies and he kept saying this is Pacha, Pacha.  And Pacha is an Iraqi meal made of the head of the sheep. And that for me, I said this is like too much.  I-I-I can't stand it.  But also at the same time I have my camera with me but I was so scared if I would take pictures maybe this mob -- They were so excited and mostly teenager, children.  And there was no policemen, no American soldiers.  No any.  None.  And then they look at me because I think maybe they ask themselves who is this?  And then I find myself with people there, staring at me.  And I know with one war, I could be the fifth body.  And then they look at me and I pretend I'm excited, you know, with -- with this.  And then I decide to leave.  So I left.  But I left with a story.

He wrote about this for last Sunday's New York Times Magazine in a feature article entitled "The Unwilling Witness."  When we list the toll of journalists in the Iraq War, we don't buy into the 'media assistant' or anything else.  And stringer is really insulting for what a lot of them do.  So if you worked in media in Iraq, my view is you were a journalist and you earned that title -- good journalist or bad journalist -- so we always use one total.  So while the Committee to Protect Journalists counts 139 journalists and 51 media workers killed in Iraq since the start of the war, we would call that 190 journalists killed.  That's only one number and, in 2012, we noted that CPJ was missing deaths as they happened.  As 2012 came to end Yang Lina (Xinhua) noted 5 had died in 2012 and 373 had died since the start of the Iraq War.  For years now, we've noted that Xinhua is much better on the ground in Iraq than many outlets. (Robert Fisk says the Telegraph of London is the best in Iraq when it comes to covering British intel.)

On the topic of Xinhua, Pang Lei (Economic Observer) notes that Xinhua is thought to be the first wire service, back in 2003, to report that the war had started.  Jamal Hashim was the reporter in Baghdad who "phoned Xinhua's Middle East Bureau from Baghdad at 5.33am (local time) on the morning of March 20, 2003 after he first heard air raid sirens blaring and then raced to the roof of his building and heard the sounds of explosions from the city. [. . .] Xinhua was elated to have beat out the other wire services in breaking one of the biggest stories of the decade and they feted their new star reporter. Hashim was officially offered a reporting position with Xinhua (he continues to file stories from Iraq for Xinhua), awarded $1,000 and invited to Beiijng to meet with the head of the news agency and receive two of their highest honors. "

In this NBC News video from earlier this week, you can see AP's Kimberly Dozier and NBC News' Mike Taibbi and Kerry Sanders reflect on covering Iraq.  Kimberly Dozier was among the journalists injured while covering the Iraq War.  Jill Carroll, Richard Butler, Marie Jeanne Ion, Sorin Dumitru Miscoci, Ovidiu Ohanesian, Florence Aubenas, Paul Taggart, John Martinkus, Stephen Farrell, Jeffrey Gettleman and Giuliana Sgrena are among the many journalists who were kidnapped while covering Iraq and were released alive.  Others, such as Fakher Haider, Abdulrazak Hashim Ayal and Jamal al-Zubaidi, were kidnapped and killed.  The dead also includes ITV's Terry Lloyd and his interpreter Hussein Oman who were killed by US forces.  ITV News notes March 22nd is the tenth anniversary of Lloyd's killing -- which a British inquest found to be an unlawful killing.  His daughter Chelsey Lloyd is part of a documentary retracing her father's death and you can stream a preview of the documentary here here.

As Ann noted last night, Sara Flounders (Workers World via Global Research) has a critique of the selling of the war that the US media took part in:
The corporate media in the U.S. play a powerful role in preparation for imperialist war. They play an even more insidious role in rewriting the history of U.S. wars and obstructing the purpose of U.S. wars.
They are totally intertwined with U.S. military, oil and banking corporations. In every war, this enormously powerful institution known as the ‘fourth estate’ attempts, as the public relations arm of corporate dominance, to justify imperialist plunder and overwhelm all dissent.
The corporate media’s reminiscences and evaluations this week of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which began March 19, 2003, are a stark reminder of their criminal complicity in the war.
In the many articles there is barely any mention of the hundreds of news stories that totally saturated the media for months leading to the Pentagon onslaught. The news coverage in 2003 was wholly unsubstantiated, with wild fabrications of Iraqi secret ”weapons of mass destruction,” ominous nuclear threats, germ warfare programs, purchases of yellow cake uranium, nerve gas labs and the racist demonization of Saddam Hussein as the greatest threat to humanity. All of this is now glossed over and forgotten.

Another media critique is from Anthony DiMaggio (CounterPunch) who points out:
I won’t fault the New York Times for pointing out the stupefying incompetence of the Bush administration in its post-invasion occupation.  I do take the paper to task, however, for its complete unwillingness to recognize the real reasons why the American public opposed the Iraq war.  Those reasons have to do with moral and substantive rejection of the application of U.S. imperial power abroad.  This reality has scarcely been recognized by academics, journalists, political leaders, or even professional polling organizations (pollsters generally rely on political officials and the media to set the agenda for the types of questions they will ask).
Sadly, I have not seen a single polling question asked in the last ten years that measured whether Americans thought the war in Iraq was imperialist or not.  The question of whether the war was a “well-intentioned mistake” or “fundamentally wrong and immoral” has never appeared once in the national discourse when it comes to public opinion surveys.   Polls that might have questioned whether the U.S. invaded Iraq primarily for its massive oil reserves seldom materialized because the answers would have been too damning to report in a country where the political discussion revolved around whether the war was just and necessary or a noble mistake.

One media critique that I'm not seeing any of the American journalists make is one about Nouri al-Maliki who long ago declared war on the media.  In December alone, he shut down two broadcast outlets (three if you factor in that one of the TV channels also had a radio station).  He's repeatedly used his armed forces to prevent journalists from access to news sites.  In 2006, he was doing that with regards to bombings.  He didn't want photos of the victims emerging because that might underscore how violent things actually were in Iraq.  Today, he resorts to it to keep reporters away from the ongoing protests. 

That may be an improvement from 2011 when he had reporters who covered the protests kidnapped and tortured.  February 28, 2011, Kelley McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and text) reported on what happened to Hadi al-Mahdi, activist and journalist, after a morning of covering the protests when he stopped to have lunch.

MCEVERS: Hadi al Mahdi runs a popular radio show that's long been critical of the government. He recently encouraged his 6,000 Facebook followers to protest against corruption. A few days ago, he was eating lunch with other journalists when soldiers pulled up, blindfolded them, and whisked them away. Mahdi was beaten in the leg, eyes, and head. A soldier tried to get him to admit he was being paid to topple the regime.
Mr. AL MAHDI: (Through translator) I replied, I told the guy who was investigating me, I'm pretty sure that your brother is unemployed, and the street in your area is unpaved, and you know that this political regime is a very corrupt one.
MCEVERS: Mahdi was later put in a room with what he says were about 200 detainees, some of them journalists and intellectuals, many of them young protesters.
Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) I started hearing voices of other people. So, for instance, one guy was crying, another was saying, where's my brother? And a third one was saying, for the sake of god, help me.
MCEVERS: Mahdi was shown lists of names and asked to reveal people's addresses. He was forced to sign documents while blindfolded. Eventually he was released.
Mahdi says the experience was worse than the times he was detained under Saddam Hussein. He says the regime that's taken Saddam's place is no improvement on the past. This, he says, should serve as a cautionary tale for other Arab countries trying to oust their dictators.
Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) They toppled the regime, but they brought the worst - they brought a bunch of thieves, thugs, killers, and corrupt people, stealers.

As I've noted before, I exchanged e-mails with Hadi al-Mahdi.  He wrote to (kindly) correct me on a few things and to steer me to some other resources for a topic.  He doesn't do his radio show anymore.  He was assassinated on September 8, 2011.  From that day's snapshot:

Madhi had filed a complained with the courts against the Iraqi security forces, noting that they had now warrant and that they kidnapped him in broad daylight and that they beat him.  Mohamed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds, "Hadi al-Mehdi was inside his apartment on Abu Nawas street in central Baghdad when gunmen shot him twice with silencer-equipped pistols, said the ministry official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media."  Mazin Yahya (AP) notes that in addition to calling for improvements in the basic services (electricity, water and sanitation), on his radio program, Hadi al-Mehdi also used Facebook to get the word out on the Friday protests in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.

Despite international outcry, no effort was made to find his killer/s.  I firmly believe Nouri al-Maliki was behind that attack.  I believe he was behind the hacking of the Iraqi news sites Al Mada and Kitabat and there's no question that he's attempted to use the military to intimidate Al Mada's Chair and editor Fakhri Karim.  That's the reality of what happens to Iraqi journalists in Nouri's Iraq.  Al Mada's Adnan Hussein noted in a February column for England's New Statesman:

Ultimately, al-Maliki and his Dawa Party have managed to create a new kind of dictatorship. This is a curse not only to the Sunnis, or the Kurds, or the swaths of Shias, but to the country as a whole.
As an editor and columnist of al-Mada, a critical, oppositional newspaper in Iraq, I am given considerable editorial freedom, and there is certainly no shortage of subjects to cover. I am, however, concerned about the freedom of the press.
Fortunately, a draft anti-media law has now been reversed, much to the relief of my colleagues and peers. Journalism is a dangerous business, and yet the level of hazards is hardly higher than the tension about the car bombs and assassinations that continue to plague the people of Iraq.

Moving over to poetry . . .

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn't notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.

That's from Dunya Mikhail's poem "I Was In A Hurry."  Renee Montagne (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) spoke with the Iraqi who left the country back in the 90s and Mikhail read two of her poems. That was today.  Wednesday?   Fars News Agency reports that yesterday "Iraq marked the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion [. . .] a day after a spate of deadly bombings and gun attacks left over 60 people dead."  Zab Mustefa (Pakistan's Express Tribune) offers:

When I ask Iraqis if their country is better off since foreign troops touched the ground, opinions are varied. But a vast proportion agree that Iraq is now worse than it has ever been.
A corrupt puppet in office (Nour al-Maliki), that discriminates against Sunni Muslims, further poverty and sectarian violence at its peak has crumbled the country and proven costly to America, which spent over $800,000 billion so far.
For me, one of the most saddening things about Iraq is the post-war effect. Fallujah was at the centre of the US and UK military campaign and now, more than half of the babies conceived after the foreign invasion are born with deformed and missing limbs, brain damage, tumours and heart defects.

Today United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative to Iraq addressed the UN Security Council.  We'll try to fit it in tomorrow.  He noted "UNAMI urges the Government to respond to those popular demands which can be addressed in the short term, and to do so immediately. Other demands will require more time for a response."  But for months, Nouri has brushed them aside when not attacking them outright.  Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya is calling for a session of the Council of Ministers to hear the protesters' demands and figure a way to implement them.   Today Iraqi Spring MC has posted in the last 14 hours about military equipment being moved from Baghdad to Anbar Province. Thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared Tuesday that Anbar and Nineveh Province will not be voting April 20th when provincial elections are held.  He's decreed that it's too violent there and he made that decree on the day over 60 deaths took place in Baghdad Province.  But he's not attempting to halt the vote there.

Many see the move as an effort to punish the protesters in the two provinces.  Equally true, he probably doesn't want to see the success of political rivals at the polls in those two provinces.

Nouri and his State of Law goons can never get the message straight.  Today, MP Salman al-Moussawi sets the hymnal aside and sings off tone.  National Iraqi News Agency reports al-Moussawi is stating that the elections in the two provinces were postponed "to stop the fraud in the elections."  So on Tuesday, the world is told it's due to violence.  On Thursday, the world is told it's due to fear of fraud.  

 Aswat al-Iraq notes Nouri has decreed they are postponed for six months.

United Nations Secretrary-General Ban Ki-Moon has a Special Envoy in Iraq, Martin Kobler.  As noted yesterdaythe UN quotes Kobler declaring today, "There is no democracy without elections.  The citizens of these provinces are looking forward to these elections with great hope.  They should not be disappointed." And now, according to State of Law's latest switch-around, they're being postponed due to fear of fraud.  It'll be interesting to hear the UN's response to that.

In the March 2010 parliamentary elections, Nouri al-Maliki cried fraud and stomped his feet.  He wasn't happy to come in second place.  He demanded a recount.  There was no fraud, he came in second.  State of Law has a real problem dealing with election results. First place Iraqiya is headed by Ayad Allawi who has a nationally syndicated column in the US via Project Syndicate:

Iraq’s last general election, in 2010, brought hope of recovery in the form of a power-sharing agreement among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds, which was supposed to ensure that the country did not revert to dictatorship. Iraqiya, which I lead, was the largest electoral bloc to emerge from that vote. But, despite our status, we agreed to give up the leadership position afforded by the Constitution in the belief that power-sharing and respect for the rights of all Iraqis is the only formula for governing the country democratically. These hopes, however, soon vanished, as Iraq’s two-term prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, subsequently reneged on the agreement.
Today, the very human rights that were guaranteed by the constitution are being violated, with a politicized judiciary routinely abused and manipulated in order to justify the prime minister’s actions. Instead of keeping the Maliki government in check, the courts facilitate its quest for ever-greater power.
Making matters worse for ordinary Iraqis, public services have deteriorated to a dismal level, and unemployment is rising sharply, despite public expenditure in excess of $500 billion over the seven years of Maliki’s rule. Sectarianism and racism have become a regular feature of the political landscape. Corruption is rampant, and Baghdad is now considered one of the world’s worst places to live.
If Iraq continues along its current disastrous path, mayhem and civil war will be the inevitable outcome, with dire consequences for the entire region. Yet Iraqis continue to hope for a better future.

Yesterday, Alsumaria reported that Iraqiya MP Nahida Daini said that postponing the elections for the reasons given would be caving into violence.  She'll need to amend that statement to postpoing the elections out of fear of fraud is giving into fraud.  Alsumaria reports today that the Sadr bloc has called Nouri's move "illegal and unconstitutional."  The Sadr bloc MP Ali al-Timimi is quoted by All Iraq News stating that the UN has refused the postponement and that this "came after the visit of the Deputy UNSG's Special Representative for Iraq, Georgi Posten, to the Ahrar bloc and giving them a document which asserted that."  Alsumaria notes Anbar Province Sahwa leader Abu Rhisha is also calling out the decision to postpone elections.

Meanwhile Nouri's declaring that this week's bombings (he means Tuesday in Baghdad -- the Green Zone was in trouble, so Nouri cares) are the result of people -- "officials and parliamentarians" -- calling for sectarianism.  Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya and the Sadr bloc are calling for Nouri and other security leaders to appear before Parliament and answer questions about the bombings.  Nouri would be appearing as commander and chief as well as the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of National Security.  Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."  That remains true today.  Nouri's ignored the Constitution and refused to nominate people for the three posts and let Parliament confirm or shoot them down.  If Parliament confirmed them -- this is confusing in the US, I know -- Nouri would lose control of the Ministry.  The head of the ministry, once confirmed, cannot be removed unless Parliament votes to remove them.  Nouri can't fire a minister.  The minister is in charge of the ministry budget and the ministry's mission.  It's not like in the US with the White House's Cabinet.

How easy is to get Parliament to 'fire' someone?  For over two years now, Nouri's tried to get them to fire Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  They have refused.  He remains Vice President.

On Tareq al-Hashemi and other issues, Zvi Bar'el (Haaretz) offers this look at Iraq today:

On the surface, it would appear that there is a division of power among the Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish segments of the population, and the justice system seems to be functioning adequately.
However, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is ruling Iraq like a dictator. He recently used massive force to suppress protest rallies by Sunni Muslims in the western province of Anbar. Demonstrators were arrested, some of whom simply “vanished.” Torture and physical abuse are still part of the routine followed by the security forces.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is Sunni, fled the country after al-Maliki had a warrant issued for his arrest over involvement in terrorist activity. Cabinet ministers and members of parliament live in houses protected by high walls; they have personal security guards whose services they pay for themselves because they do not rely on the security services provided by the state.

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth observes at CNN:

Arrests occur routinely without warrants. Thousands of people are held without charge with no end in sight, sometimes in unofficial detention facilities. Torture during interrogation is common. People brought to trial are often convicted through coerced confessions and secret informant testimony. Corruption is reportedly rife in the Interior Ministry, and collusion between officials and judges is said to be common. Judges typically close their eyes to evidence of torture, and due process at trial is rare. Executions are skyrocketing – 129 in 2012 compared with 62 the prior year – with few details available about the identity of those condemned or the charges against them. The government justifies many arrests in the name of fighting “terrorism,” but the common denominator among those caught up in this system of injustice is perceived opposition to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Rather than build a broad political coalition, al-Maliki has used repression to address political threats.

The violence continues today.  National Iraqi News Agency notes that a Mosul roadside bombing has claimed the life of 1 Iraqi military officer and left three soldiers injured, a Tirkit bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead and two wounded, 1 person was shot dead in Baquba,  and 1 farmer has been shot dead in Diyala Province.  Through Wednesday, Iraq Body Count counts 306 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.