Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Drone War

The weekend!!!!!  :D

Boo on the news.  Let's start with Free Speech Radio News's report on the latest in Barack's Drone War:

Today the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights challenged the US drone killings of three American citizens.  The groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nasser Al-Aulaqi, whose son Anwar and grandson Abdulrahman were killed in two separate strikes.  Another plaintiff is Sarah Khan, whose son Samir was also killed in one of the attacks.  FSRN’s Ben King reports from the capital.
The lawsuit argues that the men’s constitutional rights were violated when they were killed in drone strikes in Yemen in 2011.  Abdulrahman was 16 years old at the time.  His grandfather describes him as a typical teenager who “watched ‘The Simpsons,’ listened to Snoop Dogg, read ‘Harry Potter’ and had a Facebook page with many friends.” Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta is the latest in a series of lawsuits and FOIA requests that seek answers and accountability for the CIA’s targeted killing program.  Today, lawyers from the ACLU argued that the court needs to protect the constitutional rights of the victims, especially the right to due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.  The ACLU’s Brett Kaufman warned the case could set a dangerous precedent:
“I think today’s argument really brings into stark relief the consequences of the government’s position as to whether it may be brought into court when it violates the rights of its citizens.  The government’s argument boils down to ‘trust us’ when national security is involved.”

District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer will review the case and issue a decision as to whether to government can be put on trial for the killings, although it’s unclear when a decision will come.  Ben King, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Justin Dolittle (CounterPunch) examines the way the New York Times' coverage of Barack's Drone War and concludes:

We might consider how the New York Times would discuss drones and sovereignty if the roles of aggressor and victim were played by different states. Suppose, for example, that the Iranian government were engaged in a drone campaign against the United States, one that that raged for several years and ended the lives of hundreds of American men, women, and children. “Anonymous Iranian officials” were whispering to the Times that, in fact, the U.S. government privately consents to these strikes, even though U.S. leaders were on record vehemently denouncing the drone campaign and demanding its immediate cessation. Please consider what a New York Times report on an Iranian drone strike that killed sixteen Americans would look like.
No one could possibly say with a straight face that, under such circumstances, the paper would continue to hedge on the illegality of the strikes, saying only that they “are portrayed in the United States as a violation of its sovereignty.” This highly convenient, cautious tone would be dismissed, and the Iranians would be doubtless portrayed as lawless thugs. Because to the New York Times, and to virtually all other establishment media outlets in this country, global norms and the constraints of international law only apply to other countries, not to the U.S.
It’s nationalism disguised as journalism.

That's exactly right.  And part of the reason why the outrage isn't greater.

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

Friday, July 19, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, a mosque is bombed in Iraq, both the State Dept and the US Embassy in Baghdad issue statements, the mosque is in Diyala Province -- remember Wednesday's warnings on the violence in Diyala,the Iraq refugee crisis has not ended,  Jimmy Carter's statements on Ed Snowden make news, Bradley Manning's judge refuses to dismiss some charges, reporter James Risen remains caught up in Barack's war on whistle-blowers, and much more.

Good for US State Dept spokesperson Marie Harf who did something unheard of today.

Happy Friday.  Welcome to the daily briefing.  I have something to read at the top, and then happy to open it up to your questions.  The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist bombing inside a mosque today in Diyala province in Iraq.  Attacks against innocent people are reprehensible.  That this attack occurred in a place of worship and during the Holy Month of Ramadan is especially despicable and cowardly and exposes the nature of those perpetrating these attacks.  Our condolences go out to the victims of these attacks and their families.

That is how she opened today's press briefing.  This was not in response to a question, that is how she opened.  Good for Harf, good for the US State Dept.  The Congress is giving them billions for Iraq, they need to be noting the country in some manner regularly. 

While the State Dept was front and center on the bombing, Nouri's forces were otherwise occupied. 
Iraqi Spring MC reports that Nouri's SWAT forces spent the morning forcing Baquba stores to close. Maybe if they had been focused on doing actual work and not terrorizing shop owners,  Iraqi Spring MC wouldn't have been reporting the Abu Bakr Mosque in Diyala's Wajihiya district was bombed?  This morning,  Reuters counted 20 dead and NINA counted at least 60 injured.  It's not as though Nouri's SWAT forces contributed nothing however, Iraqi Spring MC notes that they are preventing concerned Iraqis from making blood donations to help the victims of the bombing.

Yang Lina (Xinhua) reports, "The attack occurred around midday when dozens of worshippers were observing the Friday weekly Muslim prayer at the mosque of Abu Bakr al-Sideeq, in the town of Wajihiyah, northeast of the provincial capital city of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, a provincial police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.Steve Nolan (Daily Mail) adds, "The blast went off on the left side of the mosque, which was filled with men and children, as worshippers were kneeling during prayers, said 30-year-old Mohammed Faleh, who was praying inside."  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) notes, "The bomb had been hidden under a podium from which an imam was speaking in the mosque, located in al-Wajihiya in the largely Sunni province of Diyala, said police officials in the nearby provincial capital of Baquba."  KUNA reports there were two bombings -- the one Tawfeeq has noted and a suicide bomber who detonated outside as people were rushing out.  BBC News notes a suicide bomber as well as does All Iraq News.  So does  Mustafa al-Tuwaijri (AFP) who quotes Omar Mundhir (whose leg was injured in the attack) stating, "I was sitting near the main entrance of the mosque when a huge explosion happened. I was sitting near the imam and the mosque was full of dozens of people when a big explosion happened, and the place went completely dark."

Prensa Latina observes, "The explosion took place in Wajihiya city, Diyala province, with a population of Sunni majority, and came after a series of attacks which have taken the lives of 460 people so far this month, according to official figures."  Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) adds, "AP television footage of the aftermath showed the interior of the mosque near the bomb site charred black and shrapnel damage peppering the walls."  AP counts 27 dead.  EFE notes that, among the many wounded, "27 are in grave condition." 

If only someone had seen Diyala as a hotbed, maybe Nouri's forces could have done an actual job.  But alas, no one saw a problem in Diyala . . . Oh, wait.  From Wednesday's snapshot:


NINA reports, "Speaker Osama Najafi called for holding a public hearing on Thursday in parliament in order to deter violators and terrorists in Diyala province and easing tensions to overcome the crisis and stop the forced displacement of citizens in a number of areas of the province."  Alsumaria adds that the Free Patriotic Movement is joining the call as explained by their leader Massoud Zangana who states that the citizens of Diyala are in need of help.

The hearing was held.  At the Parliament's website, they note 236 MPs attended, a number of issues were addressed and, with regards to Diyala Province, they commissioned a group to work on the issue with Nouri's office overseeing the security forces in Diyala Province.  That didn't work out well for anyone today.

The US Embassy in Baghdad issued the following:

The United States Condemns Diyala Mosque Bombing

July 19, 2013
The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist bombing inside a mosque today in Diyala province. Attacks against innocent people are reprehensible. That this attack occurred in a place of worship and during the holy month of Ramadan is especially despicable and cowardly and exposes the nature of those perpetrating these attacks. Our condolences go out to the victims of these attacks and their families.

The mosque bombing wasn't Iraq's only violence today.  NINA reports a Tikrit bombing left 2 soldiers dead and another injured, a western Baghdad bombing claimed 1 life and left another person injured, a Falluja home invasion left a woman and her two daughters injured, a Falluja motorcycle drive-by left one police officer and one Iraqi citizen injured, a suicide bomber to the south of Mosul blew himself up and left one police officer injured, and a Hilla suicide bomber claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five worshipers en route to the Al Mustafa shrine injuredAlsumaria adds 1 corpse was discovered in Ramadi (gunshot wounds to head and chest).  All Iraq News notes that a Mosul suicide bomber left Colonel Ahmed Abbas injured.

Neither the violence nor the holy month has prevented the ongoing protests.  Iraqi Spring Media notes protests took place in Baghdad and in Falluja, in Maysan Province, Mosul and in Jalawla.  These protests have been ongoing since December 21st.

The never ending violence also means that the refugee crisis continues.   Thursday on WAMU's The Kojo Nnamdii Show, his guests were Rajiv Chandrasekaran ("senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post"), Omar Fekeiki ("former Washington Post correspondent. He's currently an assignment editor at Radio Sawa"), Naseer Nouri ("a former Washington Post correspondent. He is also the co-founder of Refugee Roadmap, which is a program of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project."),  Jonathan Katz ("a journalist and author of the book "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." He worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011").

Kojo Nnamdi:  The other men joining us today were intimately involved in that work. Starting with you, Rajiv, how did you come to meet Omar and Naseer, and what kind of work did they do for you in The Washington Post in Iraq?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran:   You know, in places like Baghdad, in the earliest days of the U.S. occupation, it's not so easy to go and find capable, talented fixers and interpreters. You know, there are no newspapers you can post want ads in. There's no, you know, online career boards. So it was pure luck and good fortune that led me to both of them. Omar was walking next to the Palestine Hotel when he spotted a Western woman struggling to converse with a group of Iraqis.  Turns out that that woman was a Washington Post correspondent, a colleague of mine. He stepped up to help her. She was so impressed. She brought him to me and said, you should meet this young man, and I hired him. Naseer was a friend of another individual who was working for us. Naseer spent many years as an engineering director at Iraqi Airways. I mean, this is a guy who fixes planes, but Iraqi Airways wasn't flying in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion.  He needed a job. He spoke English. And even though he didn't have a journalism background, nor did Omar, they possessed the necessary curiosity, the English skills and the resourcefulness to be my essential, you know, partners in this. You know, put simply, Kojo, I couldn't have written the stories that I wrote from Baghdad for The Washington Post if not for gentlemen like Omar and Naseer.  They were our essential partners in this endeavor. It wasn't just interpreting conversations. It was helping us to find stories. It was talking our way through checkpoints. It was getting access to government officials. It was opening our eyes to the world, and it was, on multiple occasions -- and I'm sure we'll get a chance to talk about this -- saving our lives, keeping us out of danger.

Kojo Nnamdi:  Omar, you -- your father was a journalist in Iraq, and you have been an English major. So you spoke English. You've never actually spoken with an American before you met Rajiv's colleague, Mary Beth Sheridan, but that's how you started that conversation. But you and Naseer both end up working with Rajiv for The Washington Post almost by accident.

Omar Fekeiki:  Not almost. Entirely by accident. It was -- in my -- I've never thought in my life I'll be a journalist, although I come from a family of writers, journalists...

Kojo Nnamdi:  Your father was a journalist.

Omar Fekeiki:  My father was -- headed the foreign desk at the Iraqi News Agency until the late '70s. But just in my head, what I have learned under Saddam, journalists were not free to write about real stories. They were mouthpieces for the government, or I -- to be fair, I have to say, for the most part, I wasn't interested in being a mouthpiece for anyone. But when I got the chance to translate for The Washington Post reporters, I just realized I was fascinated by the fact that whatever I translated the day before appeared exactly the same on -- in the newspaper the day after. It was my fascination with conveying the true story, of voicing out people's problems to the outside world, then to the readers everywhere, that really got me interested in journalism, and I've never worked in any field since then.

Kojo Nnamdii:  Naseer, in your case, you apparently thought the best thing that you could do with a newspaper was clean windows. Nevertheless, you had gone to school in Tulsa, Okla., and were working in Iraq, but still had yourself a great deal of contempt for newspapers. What drew you in?

Naseer Nouri:  All my life was aviation, even my hobby. I'm a member of the national aerobatic team of flying. All my life was on the air, never on the ground. And journalism -- and I never wrote. I never read newspaper before. I hate reading the newspaper. But the minute that I met Rajiv in his office in Baghdad when he was establishing his office and recruiting the people to work there, I saw in his eyes what he want to do here. I thought this guy, he is here to write the history of my country, and I wanted to be there to share this guy writing the history of my country. First, it's an honor to do that. Second, I wanted to be sure that this history will be written the right way. So I wanted to be there to be sure to give him the right stories, and this is how I started.

 There would have been little western Iraq reporting without the Iraqis who helped western journalists.  In the July 8th snapshot, we noted the New American Foundation's June panel on Iraq featuring Chandrasekaran, Iraqi journalist Ahmed Fadaam, NYT's Michael Kamble and McClatchy's Hannah Allam.

Hannah Allam:  A pet issue of mine is the special immigrant visa, the SIV.   Uhm, you know, Congress has approved since 2008, 25,000 special immigrant visas for Iraqis for Iraqi translators who worked with media, who worked with military.  These were our eyes and ears on the ground.   How many have they issued to date?  Like 4600.  And the program expires in September unless Congress extends it.  So that is something forward looking to take from this because, you know, you still have people -- We were just talking about a mutual friend of ours in Baghdad who sat out that first round because he believed that things would improve and he could stay and he could work as a journalist and 'I'm Shia, this is my government, I voted for these guys, this is my community, I'm fairly safe.  Uhm, my sect is in power, what's there to fear?'  And, here we go again, I just got the news that he too has applied for this -- for this resettlement option.  And to me, that's the greatest tragedy personally of this.  We thought, 'Okay, one day our bureaus will shutter and we'll all go home and the American public's attention will shift elsewhere -- as it has -- but at least we'll leave this legacy of a, you know, of a d -- of a free press, a probing press, an independent press and all but one, two, maybe three?, of our original eight team person staff -- the ones that are still alive, uhm, have -- have, uh, fled.  And they're in Sweden, they're in Ukraine, they're in Atlanta and Massachusettes, DC.  So that's  -- You know, we haven't left that legacy even. And we were a bureau that really took pains to -- You know we would -- in between on slow days -- we would talk about journalism and they would, you know, they had their own blog, Inside Iraq, uhm, they would report, shoot, do all of their own stories and, you know, we really promoted that.  And to what end?  None of it exists  anymore.

As we noted July 8th, Hannah Allam's concern hasn't translated into coverage on her part of even a Tweet.  She's yet to Tweet Kojo's Thursday broadcast (we're covering it tonight because I wanted to give her 24 hours in case she was a slow Tweeter) or Rajiv's article we'll be noting in a moment.  Back to Kojo's show:

Kojo Nnamdi:  Rajiv, interesting is in the fact that after, oh, about a decade or so, what made you feel that it was important to capture the stories of the people who worked with you in the Baghdad bureau of The Washington Post?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Well, a couple of months ago, I was asked to write a 10-year anniversary piece of the invasion of Iraq, and I didn't want to do the predictable thing, going to Iraq and doing sort of a (word?) the government and the legacy of all the billions upon billions of dollars we wasted there and the cost in lives.  I had this amazing relationship and a relationship that I should note I allowed, in some cases, to become detached. Naseer and Omar lived in the D.C. area. I stayed in touch with them, but many others who worked in the bureau have resettled in other parts of America -- Portland, Oregon, San Diego, Phoenix, Toledo, Ohio. And I really...

Kojo Nnamdi:   You guys had 75 people at the first party you have that...

Rajiv Chandrasekaran:  Yeah. That was family members...

Kojo Nnamdi:  I know.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran:   ...but we had a lot of people. In fact, one of the editors, senior editors of The Post -- I had a big poster that's blown up in my office -- admonished me, when I came back from Baghdad, not to show it to our publisher because, you know, I was employing...

Kojo Nnamdi:  Is this how you're spending our money?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran:   ...I was employing more people, he was joking, than we did in one of our printing plants. But as I turn my attention to the Afghan War, Kojo, focus on other issues, I didn't stay in touch with a lot of my former Iraqi colleagues, who worked -- who'd come to this country. And I wanted to know how they were doing. Were they thriving? Were they flailing? What was their experience like? And so I set out a couple months ago to track most of them down. And I spent a lot of time with them.  And the result is the 9,000-word piece that will take up the entire Sunday Outlook section on Sunday. And it really is an effort to trace their lives from Iraq to this country and to understand how these individuals who had such great hopes in 2003 at this party that we talked about in November '03. They're all smiling in this great group photo because they thought Americans were going to deliver them a brighter future in Iraq. They were going to rebuild their country, their lives after years of economic sanctions and strife in their country, and dictatorship would somehow, you know, magically improve. And what they have discovered is they faced those years of threats for working for us, they served bravely. But that they're hopes of rebuilding really are now taking place in America. It's not America rebuilding Iraq, it's Iraqis rebuilding their lives in America.

The article Rajiv and Kojo were discussing is "At great risk, they helped The Post cover Iraq. Now, they're remaking their lives in America."  The article is probably the best thing you're going to read in an American newspaper this month.  Here's an excerpt.

Naseer started in the bureau as an interpreter. He tagged along with Post correspondents, facilitating conversations with anyone who couldn’t speak English. After a few months, he became a fixer: He came to us with ideas for stories and set up interviews with Iraq’s new political and religious leaders. By the spring of 2004, we had made him a special correspondent. He would go out on his own to report stories, which we edited and published under his byline.

In April 2006, militants abducted Naseer’s 14-year-old nephew, Noor. When the kidnappers called, Noor’s father offered to pay whatever they wanted. “Use the money for his funeral,” he was told. “We’re going to kill him so his uncle learns to stop working for the Americans.”

The next morning, Noor asked his captors to use the toilet. From the bathroom, he spotted a back door and dashed to it. As he scaled the compound wall, he saw a pickup truck in the rear courtyard filled with bodies, partially covered with a plastic sheet. Once he returned home, his father kept him inside the family house for 18 months.

Naseer, who didn’t want to lock up his three teenage daughters, beseeched my successor, Ellen Knickmeyer, for assistance. She agreed to help relocate his family to Jordan, where Naseer’s son, Saif, who had worked as a driver for the bureau, was training to become a pilot. But the family could not readily obtain Jordanian residency permits. A year later, a U.N. agency referred them for resettlement in the United States.

Naseer, his wife and their four children arrived at Reagan National Airport in May 2008. As they embraced a small welcoming committee of Post staffers — one of them, former Baghdad correspondent Jon Finer, wore an Iraqi national soccer team jersey — Naseer walked up to me and proclaimed, “It’s great to be back in America.”

The illegal war created the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948.  Even Syria's problems have not created the 4.6 million that had accumulated by 2008.  And the refugee crisis has continued to grow.  Largely ignored by the world's media, the flow of Iraqis out of Iraq has continued.  Dropping back to the June 5th snapshot:

"The world has forgotten us.  The west has forgotten us.  Even the UNHCR, they have forgotten us," an Iraqi refugee tells the BBC.  The violence is having many effects including restarting the flow of external refugees.  Matthew Woodcraft (BBC World Service -- link is audio) reports on this development and I've deleted the names of two Iraqi males.  Excerpt.

Matthew Woodcraft: ____ explained how he was new to Amman having decided to make the move from his home city of Baghdad to seek refuge in Jordan just a few weeks ago. "Iraq, she is beautiful," ____ said before exhaling a plume of smoke as he rolled the dice across the board.  "Well, she was," he added, "but we cannot be there anymore.  The religions, it's dangerous. More men arrived sounding lively, with shouts of "Salam alaikum, habibi" -- "hello, my good man" -- and handshakes all around.  Amman is witnessing a new wave of Iraqi refugees as the almost daily bombings across Iraq become ever more bloody.  As the click-clack of dice on wood continued, I spoke with **** one of the organizers of the backgammon evening, in a room away from the other men.  I asked him about the new influx of Iraqis.  This initially jocular man grew serious as he explained, "There are many who are still coming and they cannot work.  They live hand to mouth," he said. going on to tell me how the new arrivals are fleeing with little and in desperate need of help.

In Jordan, Iraqi refugees cannot legally work.  I'm not comfortable identifying by name refugees when it could prevent employment.  Were this a brief story, it would be one thing.  But the Iraqi refugees who fled to Jordan during the ethnic cleansing that began in 2006 have largely not returned.  That's also true in Syria where you're far more likely to find Iraqi Kurds returning than Iraqi Sunni or Shia.

Deutsche Welle notes Iraqi refguees that just arrived in Hanover, Germany this week:

They fled violence in their home country and are now hopeful of finding a better future in Germany. Some 100 Iraqi refugees have arrived in Hannover as part of a plan to house 900 Iraqi refugees in the country.
Maria tightly clutches her teddy bear. The little girl bravely smiles at the cameras and new faces before her. For her new life in Germany, she wants only one thing. Time to play.
"It's about the security and future for my children," says Maria's father when asked by journalists about his hopes for his family in Germany. In Iraq, the Al-Samari family didn't see any future anymore.
"It's because we are Christians and are persecuted," he explains. So he, his wife and two children fled. First to Turkey, then to Germany.
The situation is similar for many of the other refugees who on Tuesday (16.07.2013) arrived at the Hannover airport. Ninety-percent of them are Christians. And almost half of them, children.

Lucy Nalpathanchil (Your Public Media -- link is text and audio) reports:

Some veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are closely watching the immigration reform bill as it moves to the U.S Senate for a vote.  As WNPR’s Lucy Nalpathanchil reports, the bill calls on extending a visa program for the people servicemembers often relied upon while in combat.
Timothy Coon is a full-time instructor at the State Police Academy. He also splits his time serving in the U.S Army Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2006, he was deployed to Baquba Iraq and was away from his family for a full year.
 "I literally had a phone call from my daughter's fifth grade science teacher concerning the science project while there was machine gunfire going off over our heads. The Sunnis and Shias from either side of the village were shooting at each other and we were in the middle."
Coon was assigned to a Military Transition Team whose mission was to train an Iraqi Army Unit. He had help from Iraqis like Falah Abdullatif. Abdullatif had been a Colonel in the Iraqi Air Force but after the war started, he had few options to support his family so he became a translator for the U.S Army. Coon and Abdullatif quickly became friends because they had a lot in common. They were the same age, both had lengthy careers in the military and their kids were often on their minds.
Coon: “From then on out, spent a lot of evenings sitting with him in his room talking about the day and everything in it." Lucy:  So he quickly became a battle buddy? Coon:"Sure did he became a battle buddy to everybody on the team.”

For the record, Hannah Allam has not reported on this topic and has not Tweeted on it.  She claims it's very important to her.  But not important enough for her to write about or even compose a simple Tweet on.

Back to today's US State Dept press briefing conducted by spokesperson Marie Harf:

QUESTION:  Okay.  And also, the Latin American media is reporting out about a call that Secretary Kerry had with the Foreign Minister in Venezuela.

MS. HARF:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  And they are saying that he was sort of – I think they were using the word "threatened," threatened him with – okay, if they don’t give up Snowden, well, we’ll do this.  So what’s your reaction to that?

MS. HARF:  Well, while we don’t normally comment on private diplomatic communications, in this case, this characterization of their conversation is completely false.  The Secretary made no reference in his conversation with the Foreign Minister as to what our response would be if Venezuela were to assist Mr. Snowden or receive him.  Instead, Secretary Kerry conveyed to the Foreign Minister that Mr. Snowden is accused of serious criminal offenses and should be returned to the United States to face those charges if he were to come into Venezuelan jurisdiction.  Should Venezuela assist Mr. Snowden or receive him, we will consider what the appropriate response should be at that time.

QUESTION:  The media reports were pretty detailed, though.  I mean, it – maybe it wasn’t characterized as a threat, so to speak, but I mean, they were saying things like, well, maybe we can curtail some sales of gasoline to Venezuela or maybe we can expand the list of narco traffickers from the Treasury Department, or --

MS. HARF:  Again --

QUESTION:  -- I mean, it’s pretty specific.

MS. HARF:  -- I’ve seen those reports.  Again, the Secretary made no reference in his conversation as to what our response would be if Venezuela were to assist Mr. Snowden, I’m categorical in saying.


MS. HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Can you clarify, the Kremlin today said it’s unaware of any plans for Snowden to seek Russian citizenship.  Have you got – and then the Interfax agency actually said that Snowden’s request for Russian citizen will be processed, from a Kremlin spokesman.  Do we know what the status is?  Has the U.S. followed up?  Has the Ambassador spoken to them?

MS. HARF:  I don’t have any update for you on Mr. Snowden’s status on those reports other than to say that we continue to have diplomatic conversations about our position on Mr. Snowden.  That hasn’t changed.  But I don’t have any update on those reports for you.

If, like many, you're confused what the difference isbetween NPR and the US State Dept is, the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show didn't help you.  Her panelists were David Ignatius (Washington Post), Indira Lakshmanan (Bloomberg News) and Bruce Auster (NPR).   Excerpt.

Diane Rhem:  Indira, let's start with Russia, where Edward Snowden has asked for temporary asylum this week. What's the latest? 

Indira Laskhmanan:  Well, the latest is that Vladimir Putin has been put in the embarrassing situation, one I guess he's been in before but of having to make two contradictory statements to the press. On the one hand saying we are not going to allow the Snowden affair to interfere with U.S. - Russian relations and bilateral relations are far more important than any case of the spy agencies. And at the same time saying, we're not going to be pushed around by the United States. And we're not going to bow to the U.S. because we have our sovereignty. It's an obvious reference to how the U.S. forced and pressured other countries to force down, Evo Morales, the Bolivian president's plane when he was flying across Europe to search it in case Edward Snowden was on board since Bolivia's offered Snowden asylum.  So I think where we are right now the White House is trying to send out a signal that it is ready and very prepared to cancel the Obama Summit with Vladimir Putin planned for next month or planned for September if this situation is not resolved before then. 

Diane Rehm:  And, David, what has President Putin said about Mr. Snowden? 

David Ignatius:   Well, he made a fascinating set of comments. At one point he said, "We're prepared to let Mr. Snowden stay here so long as he doesn't harm the interests of the United States." And then said, "That sounds funny coming from me," Putin being an ex-KGB officer himself. You have the feeling, at least I have the feeling that now that Snowden is in Moscow the Russians almost certainly have found a way to get access to the very secret material that he has. I mean, surely Mr. Snowden's had to go to the bathroom for the last two weeks.  That they've got the stuff and they'll make whatever use they want to and I suppose in their interests it's probably better to keep it less decimated now rather than more. 

Diane Rehm:  Bruce? 

Bruce Auster: Yes, that's a really interesting point. Earlier in the week Glen Greenwald who's the journalist who's reported a number of these stories and has been in contact with Edward Snowden, said that Snowden has thousands of documents, not just the ones that we've all seen publically that have been released.  But that he has thousands of others that are essentially the architecture of how the NSA programs work. So the question then becomes, does Snowden have control over the documents in his possessions? The Russians could conceivably just coerce him into handing them over. But there have been reports that there are four laptops that he has in his possession. So over three weeks in this airport it's entirely plausible that A, the Russians get physical access to that computer which would then get them say, his hard drive. Then what they have to do is break the encryption and cyber experts, people who understand computers will argue that it is entirely possible even if the encryption is very good, that those documents could be read.  And so from the perspective of U.S. intelligence services you have to assume that those thousands of documents are in the possession of the Russian security services. 

Diane Rehm: How big a threat are those documents to not only the National Security of the United States but our relations with every other country in the world? 

Bruce Auster:  Yes, there's two issues there. One is we don't know what they are but to the extent the description of them is providing the blueprints for how the NSA actually goes about implementing these programs. That would be, you can imagine, enormously valuable to another security service.  The other question is the sort of geo-political impact of all of these revelations. Putting aside whether the Russians get what's left on his laptop, Even the revelations that we've seen so far have so complicated relationships. There were leaks about cyber attacks against China that were leaked on the eve of a president's summit with the Chinese president.  We see the European nations basically discovering they've been spied upon. So geo-politically there are enormous impacts or at least complications from these revelations. 

Diane Rehm:  David?

David Ignatius:  Well, in this NSA bag of tricks that Snowden brought with him are secrets that are among the most precious the United States has. The question always is when the magician been revealed and how he does his tricks can he still do them and do you want him to do them?  And we are now in a debate in this country over the surveillance and civil liberties. There's no question to me as somebody looking at intelligence that the ability to listen all over the world often in cooperation most security services but not always, is an immensely valuable foreign policy tool for the United States. Much more important than anything the CIA does. 

Diane Rehm:   So the question becomes, has not only Russia but indeed perhaps even China already stolen Snowden's files, Indira? 

No, what the question becomes is how do stupid people get on the air?

What world are these idiots living in?  Yes, it's been White House and State Dept spin as the week wound down that 'Dear Heavens the foreigners could learn all of our secrets!!!!!"  (Despite the fact that foreign governments generally already know the secrets.)  And if Diane can't advance administration spin, she apparently has no reason to go on air these days.

But the reality is that Ed Snowden is tech savy -- and not a pundit on The Diane Rehm Show.

On his hard drive?

I'm surprised Diane didn't ponder the safety of the 'floppy discs.'  It would have made as much sense.  Any information Ed has is either on a hidden flash drive or, more likely, has been uploaded to a secure cloud (and I can guess which cloud immediately).

The segment goes on and on and we could quote it but I'm getting sick of the pompous voices.  So I'll instead just note that at no point are the revelations addressed and at no point is anyone voicing  concern for Ed.  NPR remains the previously unknown north wing of the White House.  What a sad day for journalism.

Hours before the program aired live, Alfred James (Guardian Express) reported that NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden's actions were on the radar of a former US president:

“America no longer has a functioning democracy,” said former President Jimmy Carter. The former President was criticizing the NSA program exposed by Edward Snowden. He made his remarks discussing the intelligence service, and condemning its actions. 
Edward Snowden’s revelations are proving useful, said Carter, because “they inform the public.” 
Mr. Carter’s remarks were made in Atlanta, while speaking before the ‘Atlantic Bridge,’ a non-profit organization to enhance relations between the United States and Germany.
Were you doing a public affairs program on Friday and feeling the need to note Ed Snowden, surely part of the story would be that a former US president was noting that Ed's revelations were informing the public.  Der Spiegel first reported on the remarks:

Der ehemalige US-Präsident Jimmy Carter hat im Nachgang des NSA-Spähskandals das amerikanische politische System heftig kritisiert. "Amerika hat derzeit keine funktionierende Demokratie", sagte Carter am Dienstag bei einer Veranstaltung der "Atlantik-Brücke" in Atlanta.

Narayn Lakshman (The Hindu) sounds a cautionary note, reminding that Der Spiegel is the source everyone is working from at this point and no other outlet has offered reporting from Atlanta on the remarks.  Also offering support to Ed?  The head of the ACLU.    Chad Abraham (Aspen Daily News) reports the ACLU's Anthony Romero remarked on Snowden at the Aspen Security Forum:

“I’ve been watching this whole debate about Edward Snowden,” Romero said. “I think he did this country a service ... by [jump-starting] a debate that was anemic, that was left to government officials where people did not understand fully what was happening.”

There is now a vigorous public debate, six lawsuits about the NSA program have been filed, and Congress is holding hearings about the issue, he said.

Diane and her panel were interested in that either.  How very telling. Who would have thought, prior to Barack becoming president, that Dianne, of all people, would turn her back on whistle-blowing?  Decisions like that do have consequences and maybe we're seeing them right now?

Congressional Quarterly's John M. Donnelly Tweeted the latest on New York Times' reporter James Risen:

  1. Dissenting judge in Risen case: "Common sense tells us the value of the reporter's privilege to journalism is one of the highest order."
  2. NYT reporter James Risen will address threats to whistleblowers in brief remarks at annual awards dinner Aug 6 in DC.
  1. Court says NYT reporter James Risen has no reporters privilege to protect confidential source. The ruling:

What's going on?  James Risen has been ordered by the government (which now includes the Fourth US Circuit of Appeals) to answer as to whether or not the CIA's Jeffrey Sterling was his source for reports Risen filed?  Jeffrey Sterling is among the many whistle-blowers Barack Obama has attempted to destroy and imprison.   Sterling was charged in 2010 by Barack and cronies with violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

It's amazing how paranoid Barack Obama is -- is there any reason for these crackdowns other than paranoia.   That's what's led to Bradley Manning's three year imprisonment although he still has never been found guilty of anything.

Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released  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 28th, Bradley admitted he leaked to WikiLeaks.  And why.

Bradley Manning:   In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.

Had the US government shown the same concern, Bradley wouldn't have had to step up.  Instead, they gladly supported Nouri al-Maliki in torture and that's what Brad's exposures really prove.  This took place under Barack Obama's administration.  When the dots are connected, it's obvious what the White House has so feared for so long.  Brad's in the midst of his court-martial.

Dorian Merina (Free Speech Radio News) reported yesterday,  "Today the military judge in the court martial of Army Private Bradley Manning denied a request from his defense to dismiss some of the most serious charges, including the “aiding the enemy” charge that could carry a sentence of life in prison. Manning faces 22 charges in connection with leaking military documents to the anti-secrecy group, Wikileaks. Manning has said that he leaked the documents in order to 'spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.' The severity of the charge of aiding the enemy could have implications for future government whistleblowers or those seeking to bring information to the public."  Thomas L. Knapp (CounterPunch) weighs in today:

I’m shocked — shocked! — that Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge who ruled in February that Bradley Manning could be tried on  various charges even after being held prior to arraignment for more than five times the absolute longest time specified in the US Armed Forces’ “speedy trial” rules, has now also ruled that Manning can be convicted of aiding an enemy that does not exist.
Yes, you read that right: There’s only an “enemy” to aid, in any legal sense, if the United States is at war, a state created by a congressional declaration. There’s been no such declaration since World War II.
Lind had only one legal duty as judge in this case: To dismiss all charges due to the government’s failure to meet the “speedy trial” deadline. If the United States was, as John Adams put it, “a government of laws, not of men,” that’s exactly what she would have done.

Turning to England where there's news of an inquiry into Iraq.  Wednesday, the UK's Iraq Inquiry posted the following:

The Inquiry has today published an update on its progress that Sir John Chilcot sent to the Prime Minister on Monday 15 July.
As the letter explains, the Inquiry has made significant progress with writing its report.  It has begun a dialogue with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, about material the Inquiry wishes to include in its report covering discussions in Cabinet and Cabinet Committees, Mr Blair's notes to President Bush, and records of discussions between Mr Blair and Mr Brown and Presidents Bush and Obama.
The Inquiry has concluded that it will  be in a position to begin the process of writing to individuals that may be criticised at the end of the month, with letters containing the provisional criticisms to follow at the end of October.  That will be a confidential process.
The Inquiry's final report will be submitted to the Prime Minister as soon as possible after that process is complete and any representations received from individuals have been considered.
The Prime Minister replied to Sir John's letter on 17 July.

The Iraq Inquiry began held public hearings from November 24, 2009 to February 2, 2011 as it attempted to explore how the UK ended up in the Iraq War.  John Chilcot is the Chair of the inquiry. A report was expected some time ago. Of the Blair-Bush letters, The Week notes:

The letters between Blair and President George W Bush were written in 2002 and are believed to show that Blair was offering to support America if Bush decided to attack Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein long before the Cabinet or the Commons gave their assent to the war. And long before the sexed-up report on Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction and phoney intelligence were found to give the invasion a legal fig-leaf.
Chilcot is still battling to stop the correspondence being kept secret

 Christopher Hope (Telegraph of London) adds, "Sir John also wishes to highlight previously unknown correspondence between Mr Blair and Gordon Brown and other communications with US presidents. The Prime Minister said Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, was aiding the inquiry on releasing this information."


the washington post
rajiv chandrasekaran
dahr jamail



 qassim abdul-zahra

Thursday, July 18, 2013

NSA spying never ends

Thursday.  This morning Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Lemon On The Lot" went up.

the lemon on the lot

Usually we have to wait until Sunday for a comic from Isaiah at The Common Ills.  This came about because he'd already done his community newsletters comic and this came to him  when he read Cedric's "Has he got a deal for you!" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! SMILING BARRY HAS THE BEST PRICES!" this morning.

Moving over to the NSA spying scandal,  Eric London and Joseph Kishore (WSWS) report:

The testimony concerns the agency’s ability to access phone and Internet records seized from the major telecommunications companies. The first revelation from Edward Snowden concerned this program, exposing the fact that Verizon and other telecommunications companies are handing over to the government detailed “metadata” of phone communications of all their customers. This allows the government to construct social and political networks for nearly every individual.
Another program, revealed later in June, has allowed the government to collect similar records on Internet usage, including, according to a Guardian report, “the accounts to which Americans sent emails and from which they received emails” as well as “the Internet protocol addressees (IP) used by people inside the United States when sending emails—information which can reflect their physical location.” The Obama administration claims to have ended this program in 2011.
While these phone and Internet records were effectively collected on all Americans, the NSA claimed it looked at the records only of individuals who were “two degrees of separation” from a target of investigation. That is, they looked at the records of all individuals who communicated with a target, or who communicated with someone who communicated with a target.
In testimony on Wednesday, however, Inglis said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “has also given permission to do not just first hop analysis, meaning what numbers are in contact with that selector, but to then from those numbers go out two or three hops,” Inglis said. 

The spying never ends, the revelations never stop, at what point do we get Congress to act for us and not for others?

We really need to be applying pressure on Congress.  It's time to do away with the Patriot Act and time to demand sun shine on the actions of the US government.

But, hell, we can't even pull it together enough to call Barack out for sending US troops back into Iraq.  It's all so depressing.

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the President of Iran visits Iraq, Baghdad residents have trouble getting into their own neighborhoods, the effects of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden are still being felt,  and more.

Starting with NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden who remains in Russia.  Kasie Hunt and Kelly O'Donnell (NBC News) report US Senator Lindsey Graham "has told NBC News that the United States should consider boycotting the upcoming Winter Games if Russian President Vladimir Putin grants leaker Edward Snowden asylum -- a suggestion that a top U.S. Olympic official quickly rejected." First off, Putin has no say in temporary asylum.  The process involves one ministry only.  As we noted Tuesday, "Putin wouldn't have a formal voice in temporary asylum.  In fact, he should have no role in the decision.  Again, that's per State Dept friend, however, that's how the process is supposed to work and government processes don't always work as they are supposed to."  The temporary process also moves quickly.  As from Graham's suggestion?

Stupidest thing in the world.  Unless he's trying to get kicked out of the Senate.  In 1980, the US boycotted the summer Olympics in Moscow.  Jimmy Carter was President of the United States then.  The decision was costly in so many ways.  First off, US citizens have been training for four years.  Second off, this politicizes the Olympics which are not supposed to be politicized.  Third, do you realize how much money is at play right now?  NBC suits will not be forgiving (NBC is carrying the Winter Olympics).  That's a ton of ad revenue at stake and they've got nothing currently to plug into the schedule if the US doesn't compete.  (And if the US doesn't compete, they could still air the Olympics but the US ratings would be in the toilet.)

Again, if Graham's trying to retire from the Senate, this is the way to do it.  He will be publicly vilified for weeks should this take place.  Chris Moody (Yahoo News) reports US House Speaker John Boehner has responded, stating, "Listen, I love Sen. Graham.  We've been close friends for 20 years. But I think he's dead wrong.  Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can't find a place to call home?"

Traitor?  A traitor would be someone, for example, in Congress who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then worked to secretly destroy the Bill of Rights.  That would qualify as a traitor.  Ed Snowden?  Nope.  But Boehner's remarks put him in the same camp as the editor of The Moscow Times' Michael Bohm.   In other words, Boehner's talking like the Kremlin.  How strange it must be for his home district.

Roger Runnigen (Bloomberg News) reports the White House's stomping feet and pity party may mean that a September summit with Putin is called off, "Canceling the Putin meeting, announced in June, would deal a blow to administration efforts to bolster already strained relations with Russia and would be a direct challenge to the Russian’s prestige on the world stage."  Whether the meeting is on or off isn't the only thing the White House is staying silent on.  Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reports:

The Obama administration is refusing to say whether it will seek to renew a court order that permits the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records on millions of Verizon customers when it at the end of this week.
Officials declined to discuss what action they intend to take about the order at the center of the current surveillance scandal, which formally expires at 5pm Friday.

Yesterday  PBS' The NewsHour (link is video, audio and text) featured a debate on the topic between whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey

DANIEL ELLSBERG, former State Department official: Pardon me, but listening to that just now, I have to smile at the thought that our friends will be very upset about the thought that Snowden had exposed that we were spying on them, which he has done.
I must say, I think a lot of them would be envious of our capability. I think Russia and China would be envious of our capability, the NSA capabilities. It's exactly what they want in countries that aren't exactly democratic.
My concern is that the very existence of this kind of capability chills free speech in a disastrous way. I cannot see how there can be investigative reporting of the national security community, when the identity, the location, the metadata, and really the contents of every communication between a journalist and every source, every journalist, every source, is known to the executive branch, especially one that has been prosecuting twice as many journalist -- sources as any president before.
Moreover, my even larger concern is, I don't see how democracy can survive when one branch, the executive branch, has all the personal communications of every member of Congress, and every judge, every member of the judiciary, as well as the press, the fourth estate that I have just been describing.
I don't see how the blackmail capability that's involved there can be -- will not be abused, as it has happened in the past, including to me, by the way, and to other -- and to journalists.
 Without that freedom to investigative or bring checks and balances, we won't have a real democracy. That's my concern.
But Snowden's whistle-blowing is having an impact on Americans.  Mark Clayton (Christian Science Monitor) reports:

Roughly 70 lawsuits have been filed since 2005 alleging that secret US surveillance programs violated someone's constitutional rights, but federal judges have dismissed most of the cases before the merits of the charges were ever heard, these experts say. In particular, plaintiffs have stumbled over the challenge of gaining legal standing to even bring suit against the government, primarily because they could not identify the secret surveillance program that they claimed had harmed them.
But fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, who in June divulged to reporters top-secret documents about two US surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA), may have provided a way to get around that hurdle, constitutional lawyers say. Since the Snowden leak (and US officials' subsequent confirmation that the documents are real), at least five lawsuits have been filed, the latest on Tuesday, alleging that the NSA program to track all Americans' telephone records violates the US Constitution.

Ed Snowden's whistle-blowing had made a real impact.  Yesterday's House Judiciary Committee hearing would not have taken place without those revelations.  Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte asked near the start of the hearing, "Why not simply have told the American people that we're engaging in this type of activity in terms of gathering the information?"

Asking a simple question, it turns out, is much easier than getting an answer. Ali Watkins (McClatchy Newspapers) reports: US House Rep Jerrold Nadler stating,  "The fact that a secret court unaccountable to public knowledge of what it’s doing . . . may join you in misusing or abusing the statutes is of no comfort whatsoever.  So to tell me you go to the FISA court is irrelevant."

The hearing was on the spying and the FISA court.   The first panel was made up of DoJ's James Cole, NSA's John C. Inglis, Office of Director of National Intelligence's Robert S. Litt and the FBI's Stephanie Douglas.  The second panel was Steptoe & Johnson, LLP's Stewart Baker, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and CNSS' Kate Martin.  We covered it in yesterday's snapshot, Kat covered it in "FISA rulings," Wally covered it in "Proof that we should be thanking Ed Snowden (Wally)" and Ava covered it in "House Judiciary Committee hearing."

Ranking Member John Conyers attempted to get some straight answers.

Ranking Member John Conyers:  If only relevant conversations can be secured under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, then why on earth would we find now that we are collecting the names of everybody in the United States of America who made any calls for the last 6 years or more?

Stephanie Douglas:  Sir, we're not collecting names.  215 only collects phone numbers, the time and date of the phone call and the duration of the phone call.

Ranking Member John Conyers:  Well how do you consider that to be relevant to anything if there is only collecting the names.  I mean, look, if this is an innocent pastime we just do to keep busy or for some other reason why on earth would be collecting just the numbers of everybody in the United States of America for at least six years?

Stephanie Douglas:  I can speak to the, uhm, applications against investigations and, in this case for 216, it would be specific to counterterrorism investigations, uhm, that information enables us to, uh, search against connections to other, uh, if there's a communication between a US-based phone number and a phone number that is overseas related to terrorism. And I know that Mr. Inglis explained to you the reasonable articula -- articulable suspicion standard by which we have to search against those phone numbers.

Ranking Member John Conyers: Well here-here we're faced with the fundamental problem in this hearing.  We're not questioning access, we're talking about the collection in the first instance. In the first instance when you collect the phone numbers of everybody in the United States for over six years, there wasn't anything relevant in those conversations.  Now you have them.  What I've been getting out of all of this is that they may -- "This access may become valuable, Mr. Ranking Member, and so that's why we do it this way." But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else.  You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned.  And that is, in my view, the problem.  And of course to further document the first question that the Chairman of this Committee asked -- is why didn't we just tell everybody about it -- is because the American people would be totally outraged -- as they are getting now as they become familiar with this -- that every phone number that they've ever called is already a matter of record.  And we skip over whether the collection was a Fourth Amendment violation, we just say that the access proved, in one case or two, that it was very important and that's why we did it this way.

The witnesses' non-answers and rationalizing was frustrating throughout the hearing.   James Risen (New York Times) observes:

While administration officials defended the surveillance during the hearing, several lawmakers said that the data collection was unsustainable, and that Congress would move to either revoke the legislative authorization for the bulk collection now or at least refuse to renew it when it expires in 2015. Mr. [James] Sensenbrenner interrupted James Cole, a deputy attorney general, to say, “Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed.”

Last night, Ava noted the disrespect shown the Committee by the witnesses on the first panel.  She wrote about how the Committee members were talked down to and she's correct.  The witnesses were not respectful and they behaved as if they owned the House.  Sari Horwitz and William Branigin (Washington Post) report, "The sharp and sometimes angry questioning stood in stark contrast to the tone of hearings on the surveillance programs by congressional intelligence committees in recent weeks."

In the House (as in the Senate), during rounds of questioning, each member of the Committee is limited to a set time.  (It's five minutes in the House.)  Conyers' time had expired and he wrapped up -- or thought he had when he was interrupted.

Ranking Member John Conyers: This is unsustainable, it's outrageous and must be stopped immediately.  

John Inglis:  Sir, if I may compliment the answer Ms. Douglas gave, uh, with respect to the question of relevance, of course it must be legally relevant and it must therefore have operational relevance.  I'd like to address the operational relevance and then defer to my colleagues.

Ranking Member John Conyers:  Well you don't -- Wait a minute.  We're handling this discussion.  I, uh, I asked her.  Maybe somebody else can do it.  But my time has expired.  And I appreciate you're volunteering to help out here but it's clear to me that we have a very serious violation of the law in which the Judiciary Committee deliberately put in the issue of relevance.  And now you're going to help me out and defer to somebody else?

John Inglis:  No, sir, I meant to actually provide additional information. I'd be happy to take the question for the record if time is not allowing that.

 Ranking Member John Conyers: Well in all fairness -- 

Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte: Without exception, the gentleman is recognized for an additional minute to allow another member of the panel to answer the question if he so chooses.

Ranking Member John Conyers:  No, I don't so choose.  I'm satisfied exactly with what I've gotten from the witness I asked the question to.

Former US Senator Gordon Humphrey wrote POLITIO about Ed Snowden, "Respectfully, I say to Sweden, ‘\'America has done wrong in this instance. Stand up to her. Grant Edward Snowden asylum. You will do the people of the United States a great favor to resist their government in this matter and at this moment.."

Earlier today,  Fu Peng (Xinhua) reports, "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left for Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Thursday for talks on subject of mutual interest, semi-official ISNA news agency reported."  AFP's Ammar Karim Tweeted:

  1. We met four inspections dogs before reach to press conference of outgoing President Ahmedinejad who visit today
  2. Four times the journalists who invited to cover the visit of Iranian Ahmadinejad under hot sun which passed over 50 degrees

Prensa Latina notes, "The president's agenda includes interviews with Vice President of the host country, Khuder al Khuzaie, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, reported IRNA news official agency." Al-Manar explains Ahmadinejad was greeted on the red carpet by Shi'ite Vice President of Iraq Khudayr al-Khuzaie.  AFP reports, "The Iranian president was invited by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, but will be hosted by Khuzaie, as Talabani is abroad for medical treatment."  Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.  Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.

Adam Schreck (AP) points out, "Ahmadinejad is just weeks away from handing over power to president-elect Hasan Rouhani, who is expected to be sworn in in early August."  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports:

Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Iraq's capital Baghdad on Thursday afternoon, said "The Iran-Iraq relation is outstanding and exceptional, which is significant for spreading progress in the region."
"We believe that if the Iranian and Iraqi peoples put their potential together in one path, they would lead the way to solutions to the problems in the region," he said in a briefing after talks with Iraqi Vice President Khudair al-Khuzaie.

NINA reports Ahmadinejad also met with Nouri al-Maliki:

A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Media Bureau quoted Maliki saying during the meeting that Iraq seeks to develop its relations with all countries of the world, especially its neighbors, "We continue to overcome the old burden, on both regional and international levels."
Maliki added, "Iraq supports peaceful solutions to all of the area's problems; in its relations, it adopts open door policy, based on mutual respect and interests." He pointed out that long borders with Iran require more cooperation in all fields.

The Iranian leader's visit was planned in advance but kept secret.  Prensa Latina explains, "Days ago an Iraqi official source refuted versions about the visit, apparently for security reasons due to the attacks and terrorist attacks especially against areas in which the majority Shiite community lives."

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 480 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month. Monday, AKE's John Drake noted the increase in violence:

  1. The last time I recorded so many weekly deaths was August 2007. My figures are not definitive or final but this needs investigation.
  2. By my count at least 290 people were killed and 499 injured in violence last week. I'd like to know what figures other people have.

Last night, Elaine noted the lack of coverage on the violence from the US press, "The US press helped the US government unleash all the hell that has followed in Iraq.  How dare they think they can walk away."

The violence continues today.  All Iraq News reports a battle in Anbar Province left 2 Iraqi soldiers and 3 rebels dead, 4 police officers were killed and twelve people injured when "police patrols in Aitha village" (near Tikrit) were attacked, 1 Ministry of Oil employee was shot dead in Mosul and his nephew was left injured, and a Mosul bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier while leaving another injured. Alsumaria adds that, south of Tikrit, a farmer was shot dead and when police arrived to investigate a bomb went off  and they were shot at resulting in four of them being injured.  AFP reports it was 2 farmers (husband and wife) killed in the attack (by a bomb, not gunfire) and they note a Wajihiyah bombing claimed the lives of 3 "young men." Alsumaria notes a Tuz Khurmatu bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, that gunmen stormed a Kirkuk home and killed 1 woman, and a Kirkuk bombing injured one civilian.  That's 18 reported deaths and 19 reported injured.

Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports one result of the ongoing violence:

Increased violence in Iraq recently has seen new security measures in Baghdad. Now locals cannot enter a neighbourhood unless they live there and can prove it. Some locals say they will stop visiting relatives elsewhere and politicians suggest it’s a violation of human rights.

Escalating violence in Iraq has seen increased security measures instituted in the capital Baghdad. Today locals are not always able to move freely from one area to another. To enter neighbourhoods that are not necessarily their own, they have to show a special card verifying their place of residency, be accompanied by someone from that neighbourhood with such a card or take an oath at a security checkpoint promising that this is indeed where they live and that they are not a terrorist.

It has gotten to the stage now where locals have started making fun of the procedures. One oft-told joke is about the “indulgence” that must be granted before anyone can get into their own home. Indulgences were given out by the Catholic Church to parishioners if a sin had been forgiven.

Joking aside, many people in Baghdad believe the new security measures are only adding to the conflict, causing further divisions between various sections of the city and fuelling feelings of sectarian conflict.

We'll come back to the violence in a moment.  Right now, we'll note this Tweet from the Washington Post's Liz Sly:

Really?  The way they 'improved' Iraq?  Don't pin that on Bully Boy Bush.  Not only did numerous Dems vote for authorization of war but Barack's had five years as president to 'help' Iraq and all he's done is nullify the will of the people (by insisting Nouri get a second term as prime minister after the Iraqi people said no.  Iraq is in shambles and what the State Dept does there, spending billions, is kept from the American people either due to indifference or secrecy.  Jason Ditz ( noted Kerry yesterday:

The Obama Administration’s refusal to characterize Egypt’s military takeover as a “coup” even though that’s what the word coup actually means continued today, with Secretary of State John Kerry seeming to praise the junta for its action.
 “You had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence, and you now have a constitutional process proceeding forward very rapidly,” insisted Kerry, warning against a “rush to judgment.”

So a coup is now a good thing?  These are the values the State Dept and White House want to espouse?

John Glazer ( notes reports that US President Barack Obama was warned against arming the so-called 'rebels' in Syria, that White House lawyers told him it would be illegal.  Glaser points out, "First, this is a case in point for anyone who wonders whether the federal government is guided by the rule of law or operates on the basis of perceived interests. As can be consistently demonstrated throughout U.S. history, even if it’s illegal, the Executive Branch (which has usurped essentially all of the governments war-making powers) will still do it if they want to."

Meanwhile Defense Industry Daily notes the remarks of Lt Gen Robert Calsen (formerly in charge of the Office of Security Cooperation - Iraq -- as of Wednesday, he's now in charge of West Point) to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction:

“We have 479 separate FMS [DID: Foreign Military Sale, where a branch of the US armed forces acts as Iraq's project and contracting agent] cases valued at $14.8 billion: 166 are pending cases valued at $2.3 billion, 152 are active Iraqi-funded cases valued at $11 billion, and 161 are closed cases valued at $1.5 billion. Of the closed cases, 85 were funded with $750 million from the Iraq Security Forces Fund (U.S. money) and 76 were Iraqi-funded cases valued at $750 million. We currently have 73 cases in development. OSC-I continues to push the total-package approach, which is equipment, training, maintenance, and sustainment for each case. We have FMF [US-funded Foreign Military Financing]… at $850 million, with $566 million obligated and $284 million still available.”
DID has covered ongoing and planned requests for F-16 fighters, C-130J medium aerial transports, and M1 tanks, among others. These American buys have been accompanied by multi-billion deals for Ukrainian transport aircraft and armored personnel carriers, and for Russian attack helicopters and point defense anti-aircraft units. According to Lt.-Gen. Caslen, There’s more to come for the Americans [. . .]

Where others see misfortune and mourning, the defense industry sees potential profit.  Al Mada reports that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense has put out a request for members of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army to help them in locating lost weapons and lost weapons contracts. Nouri's government has spent the last 7 years demonizing these people but now they want their help.  Why?  Again, the profit motive.  Iraq, out of Chapter VII (but now in Chapter VI), is eager to see that contracts were enforced fairly and that any monies owed the former government be quickly paid to the current one.  Weapons also figure into where Iraq stands on Syria, it turns out.  John Hudson (Foreign Policy) reports:

 For months, the Obama administration has tried and failed to persuade Iraq to block flights over its territory from Iran to Syria -- a corridor the U.S. believes is sustaining Syria's military advantage over the rebels. Though U.S. officials insist Iranian flyovers present a critical lifeline for the Assad regime, Iraqi officials say they can't stop Iran's military airlift: Iraqi air defenses are too weak. Now, Iraq's newly-minted ambassador to the U.S. has a plan to bridge the diplomatic impasse: Help me help you.
In an interview on Wednesday, Ambassador Lukman Faily said he's busy trying to convince U.S. officials that if they agree to bolster Iraqi air defenses, it will improve Iraq's ability to halt weapons coming from Iran. "We don't have full control of our airspace because we don't have an Integrated Air Defense System in place and this is why I'm talking with Capitol Hill, I'm talking with the State Department and the [Pentagon] because we already have a request for an Integrated Air Defense System plus Apache helicopters which total $10 billion," he told The Cable. "It's beneficial for the United States."

We'll note Rajiv Chandrasekarn's important article for the Washington Post tomorrow.  We'll also note that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Lemon On The Lot" went up.




jason ditz
john glaser