Saturday, February 22, 2014

Truth is truth

At Information Clearing House, Judge Andrew Napolitano asks, "Is the President a dictator?  Why the unconscionable silence?" and he offers this supporting evidence:

The president has used drones to kill Americans, but claims he has done so lawfully because he complied with secret rules that he crafted.
Under the Constitution, if the president wants someone dead, he must afford the person due process or ask Congress to declare war on the country housing the person. No worries, he says — he has followed the secret rules that he wrote to govern himself when deciding whom to kill.
The president's agents now acknowledge that they spy on all of us all the time, including members of the judiciary and Congress. This, too, was done pursuant to a secret presidential directive, secretly approved by judges acting as clerks and not under the Constitution, and by a dozen members of Congress sworn to secrecy. No law authorized this, and the president won't discuss it meaningfully, except to condemn its revelation.
And in a series of salvos that hit home, the president has modified the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) 29 times, by changing its various dates of effectiveness for some but not for others, by changing the meanings of terms for some but not for others, and even by diluting the signature obligation we all have to obtain the platinum insurance policies it commands for some and not for others. He has done all of this on his own, with no input from Congress. He has even threatened to veto any congressional effort to enact into law the very changes he alone has made.

The Judge is a Fox News analyst which means little girls like Bob Somerby squeal and prance around holding up their skirts like a mouse ran across the floor.

But I really don't care if he's Republican or Democrat.

I care if he can support his statements.

And he can.  And he does.

Senator Rand Paul's a Republican and he's calling out the illegal spying:

 February 22, 2014 "Information Clearing House - "The Guardian" - Director of Intelligence James Clapper now says the National Security Agency (NSA) should have been more open about the fact that they were spying on all Americans.
I'm glad he said this. But there is no excuse for lying in the first place.
When Senator Ron Wyden (a Democrat from Oregon) asked Director Clapper during an intelligence hearing in March of last year if the NSA was collecting the data of millions of Americans, the director lied under oath and denied the charge.
When new revelations disproved this last June, Clapper then said the NSA had to keep the metadata collection program a secret for national security purposes.
Now says Clapper:
Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11 – which is the genesis of the 215 program – and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it's going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn't have had the problem we had.
The United States needs intelligence gathering, the ability to obtain and keep secrets, spying on foreign powers and genuine threats and all the other tools nations use to protect their security. No one is disputing this.
But Clapper is being somewhat disingenuous here. Part of the reason our government does some things behind Americans' backs is not for security, but because certain activities, if known, would outrage the public.

I'm a Democrat but I'm not a Kool Aid drinker. 

What I called Bully Boy Bush out for is what I call out Barack for.

That should be true of us all -- regardless of which party we stand for.

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

Friday, February 21, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's assault on Anbar continues, the US continues to waste billions in Iraq, Nouri needs vigilantes, and much more.

As Al-Monitor's Amal Sakr pointed out earlier this month, over 9.5 million Iraqis -- out of 34.7 million -- "are living below the poverty line." Iraq's chief thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's on year eight, the end of his second term, and he's done so very little to help improve the Iraqi economy or create jobs.

That's all changing, however.

This week, Nouri introduced a new jobs program.

And if he can get people to carry around video camera or use their cell phones to film, he can create even more jobs by turning the whole thing into a television program.

He could make a programming bloc of it, pairing it with the forced confessions which already air on Iraqi TV.

The program could be called Who Wants To Be A Vigilante?

In a country marked by poverty, Nouri's grand idea?

Vigilante justice -- which is more justice than the country currently has, granted.

Al-Shorfa reports Nouri's attempting to turn the country into bounty hunters.  Kill a 'terrorist' and you'll get 20 million dinars (that sounds better in Iraqi currency, in US dollars it's $17,172.53) and 30 million dinars ($25,758.80) if they capture the 'terrorist' alive.

Anyone else bothered by this?

Apparently not.

White House hasn't said a word.

So if you are an Iraqi in Iraq and you have someone you dislike, grab your gun, find them and shoot.

All you have to do is claim the person was a 'terrorist.'

You might get a reward.

But certainly you won't get prison because Nouri's not doing 'Most Wanted.'  No, he's not providing a list of ten people for you to hunt down.

He's leaving it up to you to determine who is and who isn't a 'terrorist.'

And, hey, mistakes get made.

So you kill an innocent person or two.

Again, is anyone else bothered by this?

Vigilante justice in Iraq.

There are thousands of people on death row in Iraq right now -- at least 50 are foreign nationals from other countries.  There have been repeated cries for a moratorium.  These are ignored.

And Iraqis are encouraged to embrace and cheer on executions.

Into this environment, you want to turn the country into vigilantes?

At what point is the US government going to assist the Iraqi government with supporting rule of law?

Those of us who had to sit through those awful 2011 Congressional hearings where the State Dept offered one tight-lipped official after another -- who could never explain what the billions they were getting for Iraq were going to be spent on -- well know, the State Dept was going to work on so many issues.  Rule of law was one.  Women's rights was another.

They boasted loudly -- in generalities.

Well, as  Human Rights Watch recent report entitled (PDF format warning) "'NO ONE IS SAFE: Abuses of Women in Iraq's Criminal Justice System" proves, the State Dept clearly failed at attempts to improve the lives of women or the rule of law.

Fiscal Year 2012 is the most recent year USAID has posted numbers for.  In FY2012, USAID spent $13.5 million of US tax payer dollars -- spent them in Iraq on strenghtening what?

The rule of law and human rights.

The big ticket item for that year?  $148.4 million -- US tax payer money -- was spent in Iraq on "Democracy and Governance."

Talk about money wasted.  Sadly, it's not refundable.

The State Dept never gets asked about any of those problems.

It's hard to tell if the US press is just an enabler or a co-conspirator.

At any rate, it was just weeks ago that Nouri made the same appeal but without cash.

There was no embrace of it so now Nouri's tossing money and hoping that will put over the plan.

The plan, please note, that reveals what a total failure Nouri al-Maliki is.

With all the weapons provided by the US and other foreign governments, with all the 'intelligence' the US military is currently providing Nouri, with command of the Iraqi forces, the unconstitutional Tigris Operation Command, SWAT, the federal police and so much more, he still can't defeat the people he's defined as the 'enemy' (the ones others call Iraqis).

Mike Phipps (BRussells Tribunal) observes:

The pernicious narrative, peddled by the Iraqi Government and picked up in the mainstream media, that Al-Qaeda had taken over Fallujah, was a long way from the truth. But it helped to secure an immediate delivery of arms to the Iraqi regime from its US puppeteers to help quell the protests in Anbar.
For protests is what they are. They began over a year ago, demanding the freeing of tens of thousands of detainees held without charge by the security forces. Brutal torture and rape - regardless of gender - are widespread in Iraq’s jails. Last year alone, the state executed 169 people, putting it third in the league behind China and Iran.
The Iraqi Government’s accusation of an external Al-Qaeda takeover was made to justify a ferocious siege and bombardment of the Fallujah and Ramadi.  As Iraqi activist Haifa Zangana has pointed out, “Al-Maliki selectively chooses not to mention the regime's own militias: Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Iraqi Hezbollah, the Badr brigades, factions of the Mahdi army and the Mokhtar army. The latter's leader has bragged on Baghdadiya TV, about their responsibility for several attacks. No investigation has been done and no one was arrested. There is also hardly any mention of the Iraqi Special Forces inherited from the occupation, especially trained by Colonel James Steele under US ambassador John Negroponte and attached now directly to al-Maliki's office. Above all, there is no mention of the plethora of foreign-led special operation agents, private security contractors, and organised networks of professional killers, some of whom, many Iraqis believe, are protected by the regime, in the shadow of the US' biggest embassy in the world, in the fortified green zone in Baghdad.”
Government shelling of the towns in Anbar Province has been intense. Human Rights Watch has accused the regime of “indiscriminate mortar fire in civilian neighbourhoods” and “killing its own citizens unlawfully”. Hundreds of people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced.
The Pentagon is considering following up its arms shipments with the deployment of more troops in the region to train Iraqi forces. This would be fitting, given the atrocities the US military inflicted on this unhappy country along with a deliberate sectarian set of state institutions. It is almost ten years since the first round of collective punishment was inflicted on Fallujah - by US forces.
The 2004 bombardment was a war crime. NGO's and medical workers estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 mostly civilians were killed. In addition, 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines, and up to 200,000 residents were forced to flee.
Months later, the US admitted that it had used white phosphorous as a battlefield weapon in the assault on Fallujah. A documentary on the Italian RAI channel showed images of bodies recovered afterwards, which it said proved the incendiary, similar in effect to napalm, had been used against men, women and children who were burned to the bone. Unconfirmed reports suggest the Iraqi regime is using similar munitions this time around.

Xinhua reports that Nouri's forces are boasting that they've retaken Sulaiman Bek and killed 48 rebels.  That might pass for 'success' to the extreme stupid.  But those paying attention to the seven-week-plus operation Nouri's launched -- a campaign of terror on Anbar -- are fully aware that, when the Anbar assault was launched weeks ago, Sulaiman Bek was controlled by the Iraqi government.  And those paying attention are also aware that Sulaiman Bek is not in Anbar Province, it's in Salahuddin Province.

In other words, Nouri's assault on Anbar can seen as causing Nouri's government to lose control of Sulaiman Bek and exposing the utter weakness of Nouri's leadership.

Those really paying attention are probably also remembering that five days ago, February 17th, Nouri's forces were boasting that they'd retaken Sulaiman Bek.

Maybe this time their boasts are accurate?


AFP observes:

Authorities have tried everything from wide-ranging operations against militants and offers of training and jobs for tribesmen who fight for the government, to restricting vehicle use in the capital.

But nothing has yet succeeded [. . .]

But nothing has yet succeeded.

The Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweets:

The USAF is contracting to build a base at Balad for Iraq's F-16s

So much wasted money.  The only money well spent is done by humantiarain organizations.  For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross has done a great deal:

What ICRC did in Iraq in January 2014

  • More than 4,000 households involving some 26,000 people, displaced as a result of the recent violence in Al-Anbar province, received food and basic household necessities;
  • Water tanks were distributed to improve access to drinking water for nearly 700 people in Al Rahhaliya who fled their homes escaping violence in Al-Anbar province;
  • Some 35,000 patients benefited from medical treatment provided in 13 ICRC-supported primary health-care centres;
  • Al-Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad received on-site support from an ICRC surgeon in order to improve its emergency services capacity;
  • More than 2,200 patients received care at ten ICRC-supported and one ICRC-operated physical rehabilitation centres.

  • Meanwhile Isabel Coles and Jane Bair (Reuters) report that, despite claimes from Hussain al-Shahristani (Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy) earlier this week, the Kurds have not reached any agreement with Baghdad regarding exporting oil.  KRG spokesperson Safeen Dizayee is quoted stating, "Absolutely we have not reached any agreement to export oil via SOMO.  The dialogue and discussions are still under way."

    Nouri's failures are many.  He's attempting to coherce the Kurds on the oil by using the 2014 budget as a club.

    That's right, it is February of 2014 and Iraq's still not passed a budget.

    It only gets worse.

    Kitabat reports Nouri made noises this week about the budget and specifically about a possible 35 billion deficit.

    How does Iraq have a deficit?

    They bring in tens of billions each month in oil revenues and Nouri spends none of that on the people -- 8 years he's been prime minister and potable water (drinkable water) is still an aspiration in Iraq not a fact and he's also failed to deliver on electricity as well.  In fact, USAID announced this week they'll be working on electricity.  That's more US tax dollars going to Iraq.  Iraqi News reports:, "The USAID in Iraq assured its cooperation with the Ministry of Electricity to provide an uninterrupted supply of the electric power to Iraq."

    For years, the US government wasted US tax dollars on the Sahwa until Senator Barbara Boxer wisely pointed out, in April 2008, that the Iraqi government not only should be footing the bill for their own security costs but also that they had the money to spend.

    April 8, 2008, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing and then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen David Petraeus offered testimony.  Senator Barbara Boxer raised the issue of the "Awakening" Council and how "you are asking us for millions more to pay off the militias and, by the way, I have an article here that says Maliki recently told a London paper that he was concerned about half of them".  Boxer noted that the US was spending $182 million each year ($18 million a month) to "Awakening" Council members and "why don't we ask the Iraqis to pay the entire cost of that program"?

    And why isn't Nouri asked to pay for the cost of fixing the electricity?  Why are the US tax payers getting stuck with this bill?

    35 billion dollar deficit?

    Well Nouri's only son has no job and driving those fancy sports cars in England requires money for gas and registration and, yes, purchase of those vehicles.  And the manor in the London countryside that Nouri's son-in-law just purchased this month?  That also costs money.

    Nouri can't steal all the money he and his worthless family need -- steal it from the Iraqi people -- without creating a deficit.

    Iraq has a surplus of oil, corruption and deaths.

  • Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count notes 666 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

    National Iraqi News Agency reports one Iraqi soldier was injured by a sniper in Yathrib, a Saadiya battle left 1 rebel dead, Dijlah Operations Command announced they had killed 48 suspects, Babil security states they killed 7 suspects in Aliskandariyah and Jorfisskhar, and an al-Zab bombing left one child injured.

    That's 56 dead and two people injured which takes the death toll for the month thus far to over 700.

    We'll close with this:

    Press Release by office of Struan Stevenson,
    President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq,
    19th February 2014

    For Immediate Release - 19th February 2014
    A high-level conference involving some of the most prominent political and religious leaders in Iraq, was held in the European Parliament, Brussels, on Wednesday 19th February. Organised and chaired by Struan Stevenson, MEP, President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq, the conference focused on human rights in Iraq and featured speeches from Sheik Dr Rafe Al Refaei - Grand Mufti of Iraq, Saleem Abdullah Al-Jabori - Chair of the HR Committee in the Council of Representatives, Haidar Mulla - Member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir - KRG Head of Department of Foreign Relations, Yonadam Kanna - Chair of the Labour and Social Affairs Committee in the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Kamel Zozo - Syriac Assyrian Chaldean Movement,  Elisabetta Zamparutti - 'Hands Off Cain' NGO,  Btrus Sliwa - Head of the KRG's Independent Human Rights Board, Dr Abdul- Razzaq Rahim al- Shemmeri- Spokesman for the Herak Delegation from Al Anbar Governorate, Dr Sabah Al-Mukhtar - President of the Arab Lawyers Union, UK, Dr Mohammad Taha Hamdoon, Spokesman of the Popular Movement in Iraq, Dr Moneir Hashm Al-Aobyde, Spokesman for the Movement of Baghdad and many others. The eminent speakers were welcomed by Dr. Charles Tannock MEP, Foreign Affairs Spokesman for the ECR Group.

    Many Iraqi guests had travelled to Brussels to participate in the conference, which follows the publication of a highly critical report on Iraq by the European Parliament's Directorate-General for External Policies - entitled "Iraq's deadly spiral towards a civil war". A resolution condemning the on-going violence and abuse of human rights in Iraq is also under preparation in the European Parliament and will be debated in Strasbourg next Wednesday, 26th February. The draft resolution refers repeatedly to the damning report on the abuse of women in Iraq published recently by Human Rights Watch.

    Speaking after the Conference, Struan Stevenson MEP said:     

    "Last November, I was in Iraq. I met with many leading politicians, religious leaders and with courageous men and women who had led popular uprisings and protests in Al Anbar and 6 provinces of Iraq and in many Iraqi cities. The message from all of them was identical. They told me that lawlessness, terrorism, corruption and the systematic abuse of human rights are each a daily feature of life in Iraq. They told me that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is rapidly becoming another Saddam Hussein and that modern Iraq is a dust bowl of violence and bloodshed. More than 9,500 people died last year in bomb attacks and assassinations in an increasingly ugly insurgency that threatens to take the country back to the civil war that erupted from 2006-2008. Over 1000 have died already this year.

    "It was these same people, people from different ethnic backgrounds, from different faiths and creeds, but who share a desire to see freedom, democracy, justice and peace restored to their country, who urged me to organise today’s conference, so that they could come to the European Parliament and reveal the truth about Iraq to the West. I am deeply grateful to them and thank them for the expense, effort and courage they have expended to come here today.

    "They told us in graphic detail how Maliki is using the Iraqi military in a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Sunni population of Ramadi and Fallujah, aided and abetted by a generous supply of missiles, rockets, drones and other weaponry from the US, which he uses to slaughter his own people, on the pretext that they are terrorists. The US has even decided to sell and rent Maliki Apache helicopters which he will use to massacre men, women and children in Al Anbar. It is an outrage.

    "I am also appalled at the treatment of the 3000 refugees in Camp Liberty who are incarcerated in prison-like conditions and where the Iraqis are even restricting supplies of food and preventing emptying of sewage tanks, causing the camp to flood with polluted sewerage water and risking health. These defenceless people have been repeatedly attacked by Maliki's forces, including the horrific massacre of 52 of their colleagues in Camp Ashraf last September, when 7 hostages were seized, 6 of whom are women and nothing has been heard from them since. The limp-wristed response from the west has simply encouraged further atrocities of this kind.

    "It is time the West woke up to the tragedy of Iraq. It was the US and the UK - George W. Bush and Tony Blair - who invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam, declaring: "Mission accomplished". They boasted that they had left behind "a functioning democracy", when in fact they left behind a basket case. It was the US who colluded with Iran to return Maliki to power after the last election, even although he had lost that election by 2 seats. Now, in breach of the Erbil Agreement, Maliki has retained control over the Defence, Intelligence and Interior Ministries in his own office and he has even created new, independent security 6 intelligence organisation that is answerable only to him, giving him despotic powers.

    "There is still time for the West to reassert its authority and make amends for its disastrous intervention in Iraq. The UN, US and EU must tell Maliki that his whirlwind of bloodshed, violence, corruption and abuse will no longer be tolerated. Unless there are free and fair elections on 30th April that can restore a semblance of democracy to Iraq and provide the beleaguered people of that country with a non-sectarian, secular government, committed to the restoration of the rule of law and respect for human rights, then the economic umbilical cord to the West must be severed."

    In his address to the conference Dr Rafe Al Refaei - the Grand Mufti of Iraq, said: "Maliki is following a heinous policy of indiscriminate bombings of innocent people. The people of Al-Anbar did not start the war. We did everything to reach a peaceful settlement. Maliki forces attacked the peaceful rallies. They have bombarded the houses of innocent people. My own brother was killed last week in the bombardment and was not from al Qaeda or from Daesh.   When Maliki launched his so-called war against terrorists in the desert in Anbar province not a single combatant of al Qaeda was killed. The only people killed were innocent shepherds.  What is happening in Fallujah is genocide. 1000 civilians have been injured. Events in Iraq have taken a very dangerous turn. It could lead to a civil war in which all Iraqi people will lose. The European Parliament should deal with this matter. We've been handed on a golden platter to the Iranian govt."

    Saleem Abdullah Al-Jabori - Chair of the HR Committee in the Council of Representatives said: "We called on the international community to come to our rescue, but we were faced with just talk and no action. Now Iraqi women's tears have dried up. We're sick of unfulfilled promises. But all of this has not put an end to bloodshed in Iraq. All of the violations are serious, all are important. They are issues of international governance and international law. We Iraqis are the ones who suffer. Investigators use torture to obtain confessions. We need to adopt legislation that will put a stop to violations of prisoners. A person can be detained for years on false accusations. But HR violations will not lead to the eradication of terrorism. Our committee has managed to get many women released from prison. Iraq is rich in diversity, but the killing still goes on. There are around 10 car bombs every day. The Iraqi media should be given more freedom to report the truth. Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in al Anbar Province. A generation has lost all of its rights."

    Haidar Mulla - Member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives said: "Mr Stevenson has increased the influence of the EU in Iraq and in particular, he has increased the importance of HR. We had hoped that Iraq would become a democracy after the fall of the previous regime. But our HR record is not something we should be proud of. Our task is difficult and complex. We have to pave the way for a culture that respects HR. Until now GoI did not implement article 19 on HR. This is not a gift to the people. It is their right.  Currently there is a ratio of one military personnel to 27 civilians and even so we cannot live peacefully. We have a political crisis and we have to deal with it politically."

    Btrus Sliwa - Head of the Independent KRG Human Rights Board said: "The Ministry of HR was abolished in 2009 because it was being politically influenced. The government set up an independent board not linked to any political body. There is a high rate of domestic violence against women in parts of Kurdistan which we have legislated to stop. There are also now an estimated 200,000 IDPs in Kurdistan as well as over 200,000 refugees from Syria."

    Dr Abdul-Razzaq Rahim Al Shemmeri - speaker for the Herak Delegation from the al-Anbar Governorate said: "This is my first time in the EU and I have come to bring the true voice of Anbar to the European Parliament. Why do you turn a blind eye to the Shia militias who slaughter our people? The Sunni movement entered the conflict through the demonstrations and sit-ins which started in 2012. But it was clear from the start that there was no political will to deal with the demonstrators in a peaceful way. Maliki's army invaded the places where the demonstrators were gathering. The crimes being committed there are similar to Bosnia, Herzegovina. Anti-terrorist forces were sent by the GoI in 2013 to arrest leaders of the so-called terrorist movement in Anbar under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Maliki resorted to threatening us, stating it was a rebellion under influence of foreign forces. He told his forces to finish us off before we finished him off!"

    Dr Sabah al-Mukhtar - UN Permanent Representative, Arab lawyers Union, said: "Sending foreign troops to spread democracy turns the concept upside down. HR abuses occur in every country, but Iraq has a unique situation. Maliki abuses all of the human rights of all of the people, all of the time. Iraq is also bottom of the transparency international list of corrupt states, behind even Somalia and Sudan. Why did the Americans liberate Iraq and then hand it over to the mullahs in Iran?

    Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir - KRG Head of Department of Foreign Relations, said: "HR is not a privilege. It is a basic right. We care about HR because as Kurds we have a long experience of suffering. Our democracy is in its infancy. No-one can claim they are perfect. Respect for HR is what we care about in Kurdistan. We have a culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. This has led to prosperity for the people and an economic boom. Diversity is the source of our strength. We have also provided shelter for IDPs and refugees. The KRG also focused on women and children to address issues that empower and protect them. Women must be part of society and properly protected in all walks of life. Unlike  the federal government in Baghdad, we have always welcomed UN HR reports. As Kurds we will not accept the status of 2nd class citizens. We'd like to see all of Iraq become like Kurdistan."

    Kamel Zozo, representing the Syriac Assyrian Chaldean Movement said: "Iraq is a country for all of us. As Christians we've been there since the creation of Iraq. Now we are filled with bitterness and sadness when we see what has happened to the ethnic minorities. The system of government in Iraq is now a despotic one. Christians are doomed to extinction. This is the land of our fathers and forefathers and yet we are being driven from it. We must enact necessary laws to give us protection. Plans to change the demography of Nineveh and other regions are directly targeting the Christian community. We are being pushed into an unknown future.  Can I request that EP pays attention to the minorities in Iraq."

    Elisabetta Zamparutti - Italian politician in the Radical Movement and Treasurer of "Hands off Cain" NGO, said:  "Executions began again after a suspension in August 2005.  Over 600 people have been executed since then, 117 last year alone. Iraq is now 3rd behind China and Iran for the number of executions it carries out. There are wooden gallows working overtime in the old intelligence HQ building in Baghdad, where Saddam was hanged. No records of these executions are kept. The justice system in Iraq is broken. Those executed are not represented properly. Evidence taken from secret informants cannot be challenged in court. We need to reflect on the situation in Iraq today."

    Struan Stevenson MEP
    President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq