Friday, August 14, 2009

Nouri attacks the press, press fights back

Friday!!!! A great day as always but every day's a Friday when you're on vacation!!! :D

This really has turned out to be, personally, a great summer. Politically? The cult of St. Barack is slowly awakening but not fast enough. Maybe next summer.

Free Speech Radio News' "Iraqi journalists protest proposed restrictions on freedom of expression" is a strong report on the protest today:

Iraqi writers and media workers demonstrated in Baghdad today against proposed legislation they say would allow the government to censor the media and ban certain websites. Proponents of the legislation say it establishes a number of specific protections for media workers, but press freedom groups argue the rules could allow the government to silence outlets that publish or broadcast controversial material.
FSRN spoke to an Iraqi reporter by cell phone today for some on-the-ground perspective about press freedoms. In order to speak freely, the journalist asked to only be identified as Mohammed. He has worked with foreign media since 2003. Mohammed says intimidation and insecurity are part of the job.
"Intimidation has always been part of the process...and working for foreign media can easily get me death by many armed groups, either for political or simply for money reasons, financial reasons."
Since the 2003 invasion, Iraq has been by far the world's deadliest country for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the deaths of 190 journalists and media workers since March 2003. While the level of violence has decreased in the past couple of years, Mohammed says the level of overall security is still less than what it was before the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"We have a saying in Iraq that people who've experienced death will be happy to only have a fever. It's much easier than death. So right now, we're happy with the fever we have."
Mohammad began working in media as a translator for reporters in 2003. He says that even though Iraqi reporters are often careful not to cross certain lines on sentive issues of sectarianism and corruption, that the press is able to be far more critical of government now than under Saddam.
"We've suffered a lot due to the invasion. We managed to gain only one thing; which is freedom of expression...and I don't know if it's worth it or not at all. However, it's very sad to see this unique gain being lost gradually as our freedom of expression is decreased or gets oppressed gradually."
Mohammed is a reporter working with Western media in Iraq. He spoke to FSRN by cell phone and under condition of anonymity.

C.I. will probably note that on Monday. She covers the protest in the snapshot but FSRN hadn't aired yet. I think it's really telling that this has to take place. I think it goes to how there are no freedoms in Iraq despite all the hype and how Nouri is just another Saddam.

And, to give credit, last month and this month C.I. has led in the US on the issue of the Iraqi government attacks on the press.

C.I. has covered things that US outlets wouldn't. And caught a lot of flack for it including from drive-bys who thought, "You're lying! There's no link!" Well if no one's covering it, how can she link to it?

But the story was important so C.I. just pressed on through. This week a press organization started issuing press releases and all that C.I. was talking about, all those things that the press wasn't covering, were in thos statements.

And it's a lot worse than most people know. Even with what we know. Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, August 14, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military releases some suicide data, journalist protest in Iraq, Iraqi women get some press attention, and more.

Starting with US military suicides which are increasing by the DoD's own figures. The
June figures for the army were released July 9th and they were "no confirmed suicides and nine potential suicides." Yesterday, the Defense Department released the July figures and noted that "four of the nine potential suicides [for June] have been confirmed and five remain under investigation." For July they are investigating eight possible suicides. They also state, "There have been 96 reported active-duty Army suicides during the period Jan. 1, 2009 - July 31, 2009. Of these, 62 have been confirmed, and 34 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 79 suicides among active-duty soldiers. During July 2009, among reserve component soldiers not an active duty, there were four potential suicides. During the period Jan. 1, 2009 -- July 31, 2009, among that same group, there have been 17 confirmed suicides and 28 potential suicides; the potential suicides are currently under investigation to determine the manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 32 suicides among reserve soldiers not on active duty."

Independent journalist
Dahr Jamail (at CounterCurrents) observes, "Soldiers are returning from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan destroyed mentally, spiritually, and psychologically, to a general population that is, mostly, willfully ignorant of the occupations and the soldiers participating in them. Troops face a Department of Veterans Affairs that is either unwilling or unable to help them with their physical and psychological wounds and they are left to fend for themselves. It is a perfect storm of denial, neglect, violence, rage, suffering, and death." Dahr's latest book was released last month month and is The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. July 31st on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, a caller, Pamela, phoned to discuss a family member in the service who took his own life:

Yes. Good morning, how are you? Thank you for taking my call. I am responding to a comment I heard earlier and it really just like shot me in my heart. And the comment was that the suicide rates [in the US military] are skyrocketing and how this has to be addressed. And I literally like I said stopped dead in my tracks. I . . . lost my brother in service due to suicide. He was home on a leave and, uh, about to be, pardon me, to go back and to serve and, uh, was, uh -- the difficulty in getting the mental health services I believe that he needed -- I mean he was married with two children -- was most, most difficult and delayed and a long wait and this and that. And then the unfathomable happened and, uh, when I, uh, at times decided to share how he died rather than just say he died in the war and I would say he died by suicide the remark I would hear unfortunately was, "Oh my goodness, he didn't die a hero then." And-and I continually hear this and I guess I want to make a statement that how someone dies, um, should not be -- that -- that is not a definition of how they lived their lives. And here was a good man who gave and did so much for the community and yet because of how he died -- which you know is a mental illness health related, etc. etc. -- he is now being defined as -- not -- as a zero. And not being defined. And I think you know this-this suicide issue is getting way out of control and for every person that dies by suicide there are at least six to ten people that are horribly effected as well to the point where their mental health also, uh, you know, begins to fall apart and the whole mental health, how to get help, starts all over again. And I should say that the support groups for those that lose a loved one by suicide are now separated from regular grief groups and while attending one and sharing how my loved one died, people were going around the room, people said to me, "Oh my God, why is she here?" I've been asked to leave meetings because -- grief support meetings -- because of how my brother died and I don't think that's fair or correct or right and, um, so the issue goes far beyond the pain of losing a loved one and is extremely complicated. And, um, I wanted to share all that. And if ever anybody hears of someone that dies of a suicide please just say "I'm sorry for your loss" and ask about the person. And don't say anything cruel or unkind because, again, how one lives their entire life for 38 years should not be defined by a, you know, a irrational moment that effects -- that became a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

A caller named Mary also explained some of the stressors she sees (she's married to a service member) on that program (and there's transcripts of both calls in the
July 31st snapshot). Moving to today's broadcast of The Diane Rehm Show. The second hour found Diane discussing the international news with Aljazaeera's Abderrahim Foukara, CNN's Elise Labott and McClatchy Newspapers' Warren P. Strobel. We'll come in on the Iran section where Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal -- the three American citizens being held by Iran -- come up.

Diane Rehm: And Elise what is the fate of the Newsweek journalist who strayed apparently into Iran?

Elise Labott: Well you have a couple of detainees. You have a Newsweek journalist,
Maziar Bahari, whose been working in Iran, who's been licensed by the Iranian government to work and whose coverage frankly of the regime hasn't been all that critical and he's been caught up in this post-election crisis. He's-he's one of forty -- more than forty journalists that are being tried as part of hundreds of opposition leaders -- some of the most well respected people of the country like Shirin Ebadi, noted Nobel laureate. And there's been a large campaign by Newsweek to-to free him. And then you have three American hikers --

Diane Rehm: Hikers. Right.

Elise Labott: Three American hikers that were hiking in northern Iraq in the Kurdish area in the mountains and it seems as if they strayed into uh, strayed into Iran and were detained by the authorities. And after a kind of week or so of no news whatsoever, the Iranians finally confirmed that they do have them, they are in custody, there's been no consular access, no visits to them at all. What US officials are saying is it's prob -- they don't think that Iran is irrational in these situations and that eventually it will probably shake out like it did in 2007 when Iran picked up these three British -- several British soldiers, held them, milked them for all they were worth and then when the costs -- international outrage and costs of them were too high, they had this ceremony and let them go. So they kind of think that after these hikers, they find out that they've satisfied themselves that they really didn't pose any risks -- the Iraqi government now is getting involved saying, 'They were really just guests of our country and they strayed in, please let them go' -- that eventually, as they did with Roxana Saberi journalist, they will let them go.

Warren P. Strobel: Yeah I think that's probably the case You did have one sort of hardline -- I think it was a member of Parliament, I hope I'm not wrong on that -- say --

Elise Labott: No, it was a member of Parliament, yeah.

Warren P. Strobel: -- that the only reason these three people could have strayed across the border is because they are part of a Western plot to keep things unhinged in Iran. But by and large, I think Elise is probably right that they will be released.

Elise Labott: They just couldn't --

Warren P. Strobel: The costs are too high.

Elise Labott: -- have done it at a worse time. I mean there should be some sort of a warning on your passport not to go into these countries.

Diane Rehm: Yes, you bet. You bet.

Abderrahim Foukara: Yes, I mean regardless of this ball being kicked back and forth between the Iranian government and the United States government as to the nature of what actually happened when those hikers went into Iranian territory, I mean in these situations you inevitably have a new card to play if you're the Iranian government when it comes to negotiations. It just puts one added step on the road to negotiations between the Iranian government and the US government instead of cutting straight to the chase and talking about pressure regarding the nuclear issue, now the US government has this extra hurdle of the three hikers to actually clear before they can talk about any other substance.

Diane Rehm: And speaking of hurdles a new wave of violence in Iraq this week, Warren Strobel?

Warren P. Strobel: Yes, indeed. I think yesterday there was two suicide bombings in the Mosul area targeted against an ethnic minority -- religious minority called the Yazzidis, 21 people killed. That's the latest on a string of these ever since US combat troops left the cities June 30th.

Diane Rehm: So since last Friday, we've had 150 people killed.

Warren P. Strobel: It's, it's a lot. And it's -- though actually, you talk to American commanders they think -- they predicted even worse once -- in other words, it's terrible, I'm not trying to minimize it in any sense of the word but there was a concern that there would be an even larger wave of violence.

Diane Rehm: So how is the Iraqi security handling this?

Warren P. Strobel: You know they -- they're doing better. You had this
memo from the American colonel (Timothy Reese) that was published in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago saying the Iraqi security forces were just barely good enough and it's time for us to leave. Iraq is still very unstable and the big concern now is the fault line between the Kurdish areas and the Arab areas and the concern about a full scale ethnic conflict there which we have not seen yet, thank God, but it's a possibility.

Elise Labott: And also there-there, as Warren said, there really trying to fuel an already existing tension between the Arab and the Kurdish government in the north but also up until recently when we've seen these bombings in the north the bombing campaign has really been directed at the Shia and to -- and the bombings have just been horrific, they've been on food lines, you know, school buses, hospitals, funerals, really aimed at the Shia and trying to drag them back into a sectarian war. And the Shia by and large have been very patient. Their spiritual leaders like Grand Ayatollah Sistani have uh told them listen 'No retaliation, renounce violence' and this -- by and large they've been patient but I think people are waiting to see how long that patience will last and whether we'll see the militias come again.

It's really interesting how the media continues to congratulate the Shi'ite dominant population on not publicly going on a violence tear. I don't recall, do you, when the Iraqi Christians have been under attack -- pick any time, it never ends -- any congratulations to them for not responding with violence. What a sad media which repeatedly strokes the Shi'ites as so wonderful for not breaking the law. The same media, it should be noted, which treated the genocide as a civil war. One group controlled the Iraqi government, the Shias. One group had all the power, the Shias. But back then, 2007, it was a civil war -- they covered up for what the dominant group was doing to eradicate a minority. Now they praise that same group for 'restraint.' And what's so amazing is that Elise got close to reality for a moment and then decided to walk it back, "And also there-there, as Warren said, there really trying to fuel an already existing tension between the Arab and the Kurdish government in the north but also up until recently when we've seen these bombings in the north the bombing campaign has really been directed at the Shia". As everyone has yet again rushed to stroke and fawn over the dominant population in Iraq, no one's considered what's going on. Disputed areas erupt in violence? Disputed areas under Kurdish control?

This could very well be a Shi'ite effort to destabalize the area in order to weaken any claim the Kurds may have on the territory. We saw that before. Repeatedly. We saw it with the attacks on Iraqi Christians from the summer of 2008 through November 2008. And we saw, if we paid attention, that the ones blamed originally were the Kurdish peshmerga. The Shi'ites started a whisper campaign that the always-eager-to-please press ran with. But the peshmerga wasn't responsible for the attacks nor would it ever make sense for them to be responsible for the attacks on Iraqi Christians. It was the Shi'ites in that region with indicators that they were being fed/fueled from elsewhere in Iraq.

The Yazidis are not Shi'ite. If they were Shi'ite, they'd be part of the dominant culture and not a minority. More importantly, as per usual, the press can only see the big attacks. There have been attacks for the last two weeks. And those attacks have included attacks, again, on Iraqi Christians in that region. It's interesting how the press only seems to give a damn when the victims are Shia. It's interesting that they then pretend they give a damn because of the violence when the reality appears to be that Shia thugs controlling the government get press appeasement. Out of fear? I have no idea. I only know that Shia thugs have conducted genocide and not been called out by our allegedly free press and now when violence is being conducted in nothern Iraq against Yazidis, Iraqi Christians, Kurds and a host of others, the press can only see Shi'ite victims. It's very strange and very telling. Notice how
Mayada Al Askari (Gulf News) covers the hundreds of deaths: "Kurdish villages, with mixed populations of Sunnis and Shiites, were targeted heavily. Nearly 3,000 kilogrammes of explosives went off near a small coffee shop in the forgotten village of Khazna, where poor labourers were killed." And the Shia are not monolythic. Frequently here we refer to the Shi'ite thugs (or the Sunni ones). We're referring to the government and militias. (Which are often the same thing for the Shi'ites.) And within the Shi'ite thug grouping, you have various divisions that can and do go to war with one another. A point that the Western media forgets as it renders the division it's helped to create (Shia v. Sunni) as a hard line that easily divides and which finds only one of two groupings.

Last Friday, Abderrahim Foukara hosted a discussion on the United States exiting Iraq on Aljazeera's Inside Iraq (link is video). The panelists were Thomas E. Ricks, Rend al-Rahim and Scott Carpenter. Rahim is an Iraqi and an American and she was the US ambassador to Iraq immediately after the Iraq War. Rahim was a very loyal supporter of George W. Bush and she got in some attacks on Joe Biden. Not a surprise. Rahim was among the exiles agitating for the illegal war. Long gone are the days when she could sit with Laura Bush at State of the Union addresses. Carpenter is with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Abderrahim Foukara: Tom, is President Obama in a pickle now having promised that -- during his campaign -- that he would end the war and withdraw US military forces from that country at a time when, on the ground, the situation seems to be somewhat deteriorating?

Thomas E. Ricks: I think it is deteriorating. I think security will worsen throughout this year and probably into next year. The fewer American troops you have, the less influence you have. The American troops have been pulled out of the easier parts first. Later, when the troop numbers start coming down -- they really haven't come down much at all, we're really at the same level the Bush administration had for most of the last six years -- when you start pulling troops out of the difficult areas that are less secure or where Iraqi forces are considered less reliable, I think you're going to see even more violence, more of an unraveling of the security situation.

Ricks went on to note that Barack "threw out a major campaign promise," noting that Barack promised to take a brigade of troops out a month from the time he took office and "if that were the case, he would have taken out 40,000 troops already. He hasn't. So he's thrown away a major promise and he's paid no political cost for that." Of Barack's alleged 'withdrawal' plan (it's not withdrawal and it's George W. Bush's plan), Ricks it wasn't the first one he'd covered, it was "the sixth one."

What will happen in the near future in Iraq?
Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) notes one development, "The 1920 Revolution Brigades issued a statement on Thursday in response to a Babylon and Beyond blog item last month about two meetings in Istanbul, Turkey, last spring between U.S. officials and a coalition of Sunni insurgent groups in Istanbul. In the group's statement Thursday, the 1920 Revolution Brigades said that it had not participated in the Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance's talks with the Americans and described the previous blog post as 'mistaken'." They feel their goal is to expell the foreign forces (US) from Iraq.

Today on
Aljazeera's Inside Iraq devotes the program to the status of Iraqi women. The program misidentifies Zainab Salbi's organization. She is not with Women to Women (a health organization for women). She is with Women for Women.

Zainab Salbi: I would say when it comes to the marginalized population -- and it is a huge percentage of the population -- this can be generalized. I was in other provinces, for example. Interviewing women in Karbala and Najaf and Hilla, the gist of it is what they're saying. They're saying, "America gave us freedom but took away from us security. And if we have to choose between freedom and security, we would choose security." But then the question became when I asked them about the freedom they're-they're talking about. Can you criticize Moqtada al-Sadr? Can you criticize [Abdul Aziz] al-Hakim? No. Can you criticize militia so-and-so? No. And so eventually that -- even that freedom shrank back into the old patterns of behavior. We're afraid of saying anything. So that's very much actually and not only with the marginalized population. I would say still very much among the whole population. There is still a level of fear. Both from the backgrounnd, the history of the country. Remember this is only seven years ago people were very scared of Saddam Hussein's regime but also because this is a real fact: Militias as well as governments are taking revenge and this is a fact that people are afraid of expressing their political opinions because they don't know what's going to happen to them.

Abderrahim Foukara: Well obviously a lot of people were afraid of expressing their opinions even after Saddam Hussein, to what extent do they feel marginalized today post-2003 and how does that compare with this situation prior to 2003?

Zainab Salbi: So let me ask -- answer it this way, Saddam Hussein's regime, or Saddam Hussein's time, gave and took away from Iraqi women, gave them massive campaign of illiteracy [C.I. note, she means a literacy campaign] for example, education access was very much promoted among women, promotion in the public sector as working women very much was promoted particularly in the seventies and the eighties. Took away from them the sense of security in a government controlled way in other words any woman was vulnerable to government torture or rape or whatever but it was what I call a vertical violence by the government against the population. Took away from them many other issues for example multiple marriages were encouraged by Saddam particularly the nineties. Took away from them mobility to travel the country without a companion. So it gave and it took away.

Asked what most surprised her in her visits and interviews with Iraqi women, Zainab Salbi responded, "They are very strong."

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a bombing outside Falluja which claimed 1 life, a bombing outside Baquba which left three Iraqi soldiers wounded and a Mosul mortar attack which injured three police officers.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 merchant shot dead in Mosul (had "received threats by phone few days ago").

From the physical violence to attacks on the Iraqi press. Yesterday, Billie noted a story written up in the Dallas Morning News' "
Update: War report" which is an AP item about the $87,000 judgment against Al-Sharqiya by Iraqi 'courts' which, the item says, was "falsely reporting that orders had been issued to arrest ex-detainees released by the United States." I haven't read the verdict -- has anyone? I know AP hasn't. And I know that's not AP's understanding of the verdict or wasn't yesterday. I think, in squashing things into news briefs, something got lost. The case was over an Iraqi official speaking on the record to the TV station for their report. They quoted him. In addition, they spoke with other officials who did not go on the record. One such official's statements were wrongly -- according to the TV station -- credited to the one who went on the record. The lawsuit was over that issue: Who made the statement with the official who went on the record stating he had not done so (the TV station admitted that) and stating his name had been defamed by the broadcast. The court was not being aske to rule on the report itself. Nor was the court in the position to. The verdict is yet another assault on journalistic freedom in Iraq. And the sum is outrageous for a country that repeatedly tries to scrap their meager rations programs for citizens and thinks a few hundred dollars given to the (small number) of returnees should be enough to tide them over for a full year. Today the International Press Institute released the following:

Just days after the Iraqi government published a draft law that appears to pave the way for government interference in the media, a 100 million Iraqi dinar (€60,000) fine levied on Wednesday against Iraqi satellite broadcaster Al-Sharqiya for "misquoting" a top military spokesperson is another ominous signal that press freedom in Iraq is deteriorating, the International Press Institute (IPI) warned on Friday. An Iraqi court ordered the fine against Al-Sharqiya for slander, according to media reports, following a complaint filed in April by Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi military's main spokesperson in Baghdad. Al-Moussawi claimed that the broadcaster misrepresented him by quoting him as stating that ex-detainees released by the United States would be rearrested by Iraqi authorities. The major-general claims to have said only that ex-detainee files would be reviewed as part of an investigation into complicity in recent bombings. The court decision comes amid growing fears of an increase in state pressure on the media in Iraq. On 31 July, the Iraqi government presented a draft law ostensibly aimed at protecting journalists, but containing as well worrying provisions that could have a negative impact on media freedom. Vague wording in the draft prohibiting journalists from "compromising the security and stability of the country" could be used to stifle criticism, and the right to protect sources is annulled if "the law requires the source to be revealed." The bill also stipulates that freedom of the press can be suspended if a publication threatens citizens or makes "provocative or aggressive statements." Local Iraqi media freedom organisations, such as the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), have expressed concern over the draft law, which they see as "the beginning of the imposition of restrictions on journalists, as well as the government's reorganising control over information." "Whatever this law gives in the left hand it seizes back with the right," Ziad al Ajili, JFO manager, told IPI. "Best for us as journalists is to have the right of access to information, and laws guaranteeing freedom of expression, not laws surrounding us with any kind of restriction." IPI Deputy Director Michael Kudlak warned Iraq against taking a step backwards by restricting media freedoms.
"We again urge Iraq's judiciary and legislature to be mindful of the vital role played by media freedom while nurturing democracy," he said. "Legislation that pushes journalists into self-censorship is a step backwards, not forwards. At this stage, it appears as though the Iraq government is taking a step backwards." IPI's latest warning came as Iraqis including journalists, writers and booksellers demonstrated in Baghdad on Friday against what they allege is state censorship.

Today in Baghdad, thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets carrying banners and protesting. BBC has video
here. Aljazeera explains they were protesting "against government censorship and intimidation" and notes a threatened law suit, "Jalal Eddin Saghir, a leader of the SIIC, has threatened to sue Ahmed Abdul-Hussein, a journalist with the state-run Al-Sabah newspaper, for suggesting that the party could have staged the robbery to raise money for national elections in January 2010." The SIIC, returning to our earlier conversation, would be "thugs." AFP notes journalist Emad al-Khafaji speaking at the demonstration, "Journalists and media workers have lost 247 of their colleagues over the past six years because of attacks and violations. The participants in this demonstration have confirmed they will not back down in the face of intimidation and threats."

British citizen Danny Fitzsimons is facing a trial in Iraq and could be sentenced to death. He served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He is
accused of being the shooter in a Sunday Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons spoke to the BBC (link has video) and noted that they are not asking for Danny to 'walk.' They stated that he has to take responsibility. But they want a fair trial and do not believe that is possible in Iraq. His legal defense team doesn't believe he can get a fair trial either stating today that the British military's presence in Iraq during the war means that Fitzsimons will be used as scapegoat. Haroon Siddique (Guardian) spoke with the family and reports on Danny's PTSD and reports, "His borther Michael said Fitzsimons would cray as he told of finding a child's head in Kosovo, picking up bits of his friend's brain in Iraq, and the faces of enemies he had killed in combat." Terri Judd (Independent of London) quotes Danny's father Eric stating that his son is a victim in the shooting as well, "We do feel very, very sorry for these two men and their families. But Daniel is also a victim." Liz Fitzsimons, Danny's step-mother, has made similar remarks and noted the pain those two families are going through is immense and natural and their own efforts, the Fitzsimons' efforts, are not about preventing accountability for Danny but about getting him to stand trial in a country (England) that has a working legal system as opposed to Iraq which does not.
In the US
Zachary Abrahamson and Eamon Javers (Politico) report: "He may be presiding over two wars and facing a terror threat at home and abroad, but you'd hardly know it from listening to President Barack Obama speak.Obama has uttered more than a half-million words in public since taking office Jan. 20 -- and a POLITICO analysis of nearly every word in this vast public record shows that domestic topics dominate, so much so that Obama sounds more like a peacetime president than a commander in chief with more than 100,000 troops in the field." Yes, Barack has avoided Iraq in his speeches, the reporters are correct. Guess what though? The press has avoided it too. Following a March press conference, Steve Padilla (Los Angeles Times) pointed out that 13 reporters asked Barack questions and Iraq "Never came up. Isn't there a war going on?" The the New York Times' live blogged that press conference:

Helene Cooper 9:01 p.m. I'm still slackjawed over the shocking lack of national security issues raised. This is a new world we're living in, after seven years of Al Qaeda, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard to imagine a Bush press conference focusing so singularly on the economy, but then, these are clearly different times.Jeff Zeleny 9:00 p.m. The second prime-time press conference for Mr. Obama is in the books. Thirteen questions, but not one about Iraq or Afghanistan. That would have been impossible to imagine during his presidential campaign. So what's the headline? "Hang on Americans, We'll Get Through This."
The Washington Post live blogged as well (Ben Pershing, Alec MacGillis, Glenn Kessler, Frank Ahrens and Michael Fletcher live blogged for the Post).

TV notes.
NOW on PBS rebroadcasts a show from March of this year on what happens to your health care if you lose your job? You can go on COBRA . . . if you can afford it. (A community member writes in today's gina & krista round-robin about paying approximately $250 a month and now, to get COBRA, she'll have to pay over $750 a month -- and you have to decide in the very brief window of time.) The program examines Las Vegas where "the only public hospital" closed the doors on "cancer patients and pregnant women". On Washington Week, Gwen sits around the table with Michael Duffy (Time magazine), Janet Hook (Los Angeles Times), James Kitfield (National Journal) and Janine Zacharia (Bloomberg News). Bonnie Erbe and her guestsEleanor Holmes Norton, Melinda Henneberger, Leslie Sanchez and Sabrina Schaeffer explore population growth on this week's edition of PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, all four PBS shows begin airing tonight on many PBS stations. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
Coming Up On 60 Minutes
Michael Vick The former pro quarterback speaks in his first interview since he admitted to participating in the illegal dogfighting that resulted in a prison sentence and his suspension from the NFL. James Brown is the correspondent. Watch Video
America's New Air Force Increasingly, the U.S. military is relying on un-manned, often armed aircraft to track and destroy the enemy - sometimes controlled from bases thousands of miles away from the battlefront. Lara Logan reports. Watch Video
Coldplay The British rock group that has taken its place among the most popular bands in the world gives 60 Minutes a rare look inside its world that includes a candid interview with frontman Chris Martin. Steve Kroft reports. Watch Video
60 Minutes Sunday, Aug. 16, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

dahr jamail
nprthe diane rehm show

60 minutescbs newspbsto the contrarybonnie erbenow on pbs

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kenneth J. Theisen, Sandra Bullock, animal rights

Thursday! Almost the weekend. First off, shrimp rolls. Sushi shrimp rolls. They were in the fridge for me. :D I thanked C.I.'s housekeeper but she said C.I. made them for me. I have no idea when C.I. had the time but thank you, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!! I love sushi. I'd never had shrimp in it though. It's great. Those were wonderful and there were only 24 slices (I think that was four rolls) so of course I couldn't share. :D I'm sorry I love sushi.

In other news, Animal Hater Dave Zirin can sleep easy tonight: Michael Vick's been signed by the Eagles. Kind of funny isn't it? The Eagles. You'd assume they'd give a damn about animals. But animals don't matter to Dave Zirin and hopefully animal rights activists will grasp that. Dave Zirin's attitude was Vick was in prison for two years so no harm, no foul. Except of course for those dogs. They got abused but, hey, they're just dogs, right? Who the hell cares about a bunch of dogs?

I do. I know a lot of my readers do. I know that for my generation, animal rights is a huge issue. And it's only going to get bigger. So I don't assume that Michael Vick's going to have an easy ride.

Got a question though, does anyone know where Dave Zirin stood on John Rocker? I mean, John Rocker didn't break the law. He's a racist and a homophobe and a sexist and that's why he got kicked off the Braves. But I'm sure that didn't bother Dave Zirin because John Rocker didn't break any laws. So Dave must have been cheering Rocker when he ended up on the Texas Rangers, right?

Michael Vick matters to Dave Zirin. Animals don't.

Two years is more than enough time, according to Dave Zirin, to make up for the abuse of those animals.

Not in the world I live in.

This is from Kenneth J. Theisen's "Obama’s Administration Attempts to Cover-Up Torture Details:"

The Obama administration is currently engaged in an international cover-up of the Bush regime’s abusive treatment of Binyam Mohamed. Binyam was one of the thousands of prisoners taken in the so-called “war on terror” during the Bush years in power. He also became a victim of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Now the Obama administration is engaged in courts in London, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. to keep the public from knowing the full extent of the Bush administration crimes against this man and others like him.
Binyam was arrested in 2002 in Pakistan while attempting to fly to the United Kingdom (UK). He became a “ghost prisoner” of the CIA. He entered the ghost prison system run by U.S. intelligence agencies and was held in prisons in Pakistan, Morocco, and Afghanistan. While being held in Morocco, intelligence interrogators used scalpels or razor blades to repeatedly cut his penis and chest. In the CIA-run prison in Afghanistan, Binyam was beaten and hung from a pole.
On September 19, 2004 he was taken from Bagram’s U.S. Air Force base to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay where his abuse continued. After suffering years of abuse at the hands of his U.S. captors, all charges against him were eventually dropped. He was released and arrived in the UK in February of 2009. But since then Binyam Mohamed has fought back against the U.S. torture state in the courts.
He joined four others in a lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan, a San Jose, California subsidiary of the Boeing Co., for its role in arranging extraordinary rendition flights for the CIA. (To learn more about the case, see

Okay, now movies. In Third's "The Proposal as a feminist statement," we talk about Sandra Bullock's The Proposal which is a movie I loved. It's really funny and you should make a point to see it if you haven't already. Stan's planning to write about the movie Friday night so be sure to check out his site.

I thought I'd grab some numbers from

Weekend Chart Record

% Change
Per Theater
Total Gross


So this weekend, it passed $154 million in domestic tickets. Worldwide it's made $248,284,098 (that counts domestic box office). It's her biggest hit domestically and only Speed beats it internationally (domestic for Speed was $122 million, globally it was $283.) [Note, I'm only talking live action films, not animated.] The movie just opened in England three weeks ago and there are other countries it hasn't made it to so it should be able to beat Speed. It needs forty million more and Miss Congeniality 2 only made $40 million in the US but made $50 million overseas. (I saw the first one, I didn't see the second one.) So it shouldn't be a problem for it to add some more dollars. (I believe it has opened up in Australia. If I'm remembering right, community member Skip saw it and loved it.)

So that's great for the summer, great for Sandra Bullock, great for comedy fans and great for actresses because Sandra has steered this film. She produced it. She stars in it. And it is a huge hit despite a lot of people thinking it would only make $60 million in the US.

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

Thursday, August 13, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US State Dept blows off Camp Ashraf, Danny Fitzsimmons legal team states they fear their client will be scapegoated if tried in Iraq, US and Iraqi officials try to lie (again) to the world, and more.

Today two bombers launched an assault outside of Mosul.
Jamal al-Badrani Yara Bayoumy and Tim Pearce (Reuters) report that they "detonated vests packed with explosives" at a Sinjar cafe. Iran's Press TV describes it as "a popular coffee shop in an outdoor market". BBC News counts 21 dead and thrity injured and notes a curfew has been imposed on Sinjar. Al Jazeera states the village's "inhabitants are from the minority Yazidi sect". CNN reminds the Yazidis were targeted in August 2007 when over "400 people died and at least 300 were injured" from "suicide truck bombers". Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains the official word: The bombings are an attempt to decrease confidence in Nouri al-Maliki prior to the elections currently scheduled for January. We're all supposed to buy that crap when the only thing more amazing is that US and Iraqi officials manage to say it with a straight face.
Point of fact for the Iraqi officials and US officials, we're not as stupid as you think we are. You do not start assaults in August to influence elections in January. Especially not in Iraq. If you want to influence elections scheduled for January, you start no sooner than the end of November and you do that, as anyone who knows one damn thing about revolutions or rebellions, because to start sooner is to risk being caught and derailed. So starting in August risks the entire operation being shut down in October and giving the impression that Nouri's god-like. "Oh look, we had bombings, but Nouri, bless Nouri, he stopped them! I'm voting for Nouri!!!!" You don't do it and everyone knows that. The United Nations did not come out six months ahead of the elections held at the start of this year and state violence is going to start spiking! No. They waited until the immediate time before which is roughly six to eight weeks ahead of an election. That's whn you can influence an election with violence and not have to worry that you'll be caught and your entire operation shut down before the campaigning even begins.
What's the reason for the violence? No one knows at this point. But apparently they've exhausted phoney targets to blame so now they're pretending to be interested in "why." What may be happening, what MAY be happening, is that we may be seeing dry runs, tests for areas of weakness prior to a wave of violence intended to influence elections. That's a possibility especially since the targets largely remain out of Baghdad. (Baghdad is seeing and has seen violence. Including some mass fatalities from bombings; however, the bulk of the most recent of the deadliest attacks have been outside of Baghdad. Some -- though apparently not all -- the Bremer walls in Baghdad are supposed to be coming down and that could be another reason for not attacking Baghdad as heavily. Wait until those walls come down to launch a spectacular attack.) The resistance could be attempting to locate soft spots, weak ones, and measuring response time with the hopes of attacking the most vulnerable areas immediately prior to the elections. That's just a possibility and it could be 100% wrong. No one knows. But it makes no sense for a 'wave of violence proves Nouri's unable to secure the country' to be launched in August if elections are taking place in January.

In other reported violence today,
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad roadside bombings which clained 1 life and left eight people injured, 1 bicycle bombing which claimed 2 lives and left thirteen injured, four home bombings in Mosul, a Baquba suicide bomber who took his/her own life (no one else reported dead or injured).

Adam Ashton and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report, "Tempers are cool in Iraq despite a string of bombings that's killed more than 125 people in the past two weeks, fueling hopes that the attacks won't trigger retalitory killings, at least for now." See that's what real reporters can do. As opposed to Rod Norland's "Shiites in Iraq Show Restraint as Sunnis Keep Attacking" (New York Times) which apparently operates under the belief "Real Journalists Take Sides and Hand Out Gold Stars." As Elaine noted Tuesday night of Nordland's article, "Now here's reality, 2006 the genocide began and the New York Times didn't tell you about it. They underplayed it. It continued through 2007. They covered it a little better but didn't use 'ethnic cleansing,' let alone genocide. But catch any of those reporters when they're giving their speeches in this country and listen as they explain to you that ethnic cleansing took place. They just won't put that in the paper. Tomorrow Rod Norland and the paper attack Sunnis. The same Sunnis they refused to defend during the genocide." Equally true is that the New York Times is saying, "Good Shi'ite thugs armed by Nouri" (that's who is being congratulated by the paper, not the average Shi'ite in Iraq) "for not responding." How the hell does Rod Nordland know what's going on? Mass graves turn up in a month is he going to retract? Hell no, they never do. He doesn't know what the hell is going on but anyone reading that garbage this morning grasps that the paper trying to re-sell the illegal war is in bed with Nouri.
Shane Bauer (Mother Jones) offers some reality on the leaders of Sahwa aka "Awakenings" aka "Sons Of Iraq". The US military created insta-sheiks, tossing around CERP funds:

Eifan is a beneficiary of what some American personnel call the "make-a-sheikh" program, a semiofficial, little discussed policy that since late 2006 has bankrolled Sunni sheikhs who are, in theory, committed to defending American interests in Iraq. The program was a major part of the Awakening, which the Pentagon has touted as a turning point in reducing violence and creating the conditions for an American withdrawal. It was also a reinstitution of a strategy started by
Saddam Hussein, who picked out tribal leaders he could manipulate through patronage schemes. The US military didn't give the sheikhs straight-up bribes, which would have raised eyebrows in Washington. Instead, it handed out reconstruction contracts. Sometimes issued at three or four times market value, the contracts have been the grease in the wheels of the Awakening in Anbar--the almost entirely Sunni province in western Iraq where Fallujah is located.
The US military has never admitted to arming militias in Iraq--or giving anything more than $350 a month to Anbari tribesmen to fight alongside Americans against Sunni resistance groups and Al Qaeda. But reconstruction payments, sometimes handed out in shrink-wrapped bundles of $100 bills, have left plenty of extra for the sheikhs to "help themselves as far as security goes," as one Marine officer describes it, or "buy guns," as Eifan's uncle, Sheikh Talib Hasnawi, puts it.
[. . .]
Most of these kinds of projects are funded through the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which allows batallion commanders to hand out reconstruction contracts worth up to $500,000 without approval from their superiors or Washington. CERP was founded in 2003 by then-Coalition Provisional Authority head
Paul Bremer, who took its initial funding from a pool of seized Iraqi assets. Over the next five years, the program disbursed more than $3.5 billion in American taxpayer dollars. A Pentagon manual called "Money as a Weapon System" broadly defines CERP's purpose as providing "urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction." The guideline has been interpreted liberally: CERP recently funded the development of a $33 million Baghdad International Airport "Economic Zone" with two hotels, a remodeled VIP wing, and a $900,000 mural depicting an "economic theme."
CERP regulations explicitly prohibit the use of cash for giving goods, services, or funds to armed groups, including "civil defense forces" and "infrastructure protection forces"--Pentagonspeak for militias. But Sam Parker, an Iraq programs officer at the United States Institute of Peace, says it's "no real secret" among the military in Iraq that CERP contracts are inflated to pay off sheikhs and their armies. Austin Long, an analyst with the Rand Corporation who has been studying the Awakening, says it is not unusual for contracts to go to sheikhs who, like Eifan, had little or no construction experience before the 2003 invasion. "Contracts are inflated because they are only secondarily about the goods and services received," explains Parker. "It's very problematic. You are rewarding the guys with the guns."
Shane Bauer is one of the three Americans currently in Iran. Sara Shourd and Joshua Fattal are the other two. They allegedly were hiking in northern Iraq and allegedly wandered into Iran.
New England Cable News (link has text and TV) notes that the three have been moved to Tehran. The three were discussed on the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, last Friday (noted in that day's snapshot):

Diane Rehm: And what about the three Americans who were arrested for apparently crossing the border from Iraq into Iran, Nancy?

Nancy Youssef: That's right, that's right. These are three hikers in Iraq in Kurdistan who somehow crossed the border and we learned this week and again there's a question of what their fate is and what-what --

Diane Rehm: But they were warned. That's what bothers me. They were warned by Iraqis that they were getting close to the border.

James Kitfield: Can we -- can we put out an all points bulletin now: "Please American hikers don't go into the Kurdistan mountains near the border with Iran because that's not helpful. It's not helpful to you and it's not helpful to our diplomacy with Iran."?

Susan Glasser: And it's not helpful to Iraq which is so trying to change its image and saying that this is a place you can come to and this is a safe place and trying to revamp it's image and, um, this does not help it.

Diane Rehm: So what happens next or is there some ongoing communication, Susan?

Susan Glasser: Well, I think, unlike in dealing with North Korea, there is a much more established, you know, track record of Americans being able to engage with Iran through back channels. Europeans, of course, several countries actually have relations with Iran. So, you know, there's a much more filled out relationship that's ongoing even in times of stress than with North Korea for example. One question and I didn't see what the follow up was, I think these hikers actually were still being kept in Iranian Kurdistan which probably bodes well for their fate. You know, if they're trucked all the way to Tehran --

Diane Rehm: I see.

Susan Glasser: -- and they're put on trial as spies and that sort of thing, then they're going to -- you might need another President Clinton mission at that point to get them out. If it remains at that level, I think you're dealing with something, once the Iranians verify these do indeed seem to be semi-clueless students who were language students in the region in Syria, at least, a couple of them were. So perhaps they can still be handled at the level of clueless interlopers.

James Kitfield: History suggest they'll use them as pawns in whatever game in whatever diplomatic game they decide to play with us and eventually let them go. What-what I will say about this is interesting to me right now is that the clocks that are ticking on the Iran issue are almost out of sync. We -- Obama has set for next month, as a deadline for Iran to-to-to respond to his offer of engagement. A lot of people are saying we should have a tactical policy because you don't want to be engaging with a regime that's lost significant legitimacy because of these elections. On the other hand, the Israelis who are trying to sort of push them to peace negotiations are saying "You have got to at least put a deadline on your dealings with Iran and your sanctions because we think they're going to get the bomb sometime in the next year to sixteen months." So it's very difficult right now this-this problem, these internal problems with Iran, although interesting have really sort of skewed the diplomatic schedule that Obama has set for Iran and it's difficult to know how you put it back in sync.

By Susan Glasser's judgment last Friday, if they were moved to Tehran, things changed. They have now been moved to Tehran.

Will the US be moving out Iraq anytime soon? Over 130,000 US troops remain in Iraq, still more than were in Iraq at the start of 2007.
T.J. Buonomo (Foreign Policy In Focus) explores the potential possibilities:

Under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), President Barack Obama is currently bound to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. Three
factors, however, make it probable that the president will attempt to renegotiate the terms of the agreement as it approaches its conclusion: Iraqi security forces will continue to be logistically dependent on the U.S. military. The United States will be increasingly dependent on oil from Iraq and the wider region. And the American left will be unable to exert significant electoral pressure on the legislative or executive branch, given the U.S. foreign policy establishment's calculation of the strategic consequences of a complete withdrawal.
Given their continued dependency on the U.S. government and despite their resentment of the occupation, Iraqi leaders might be inclined to agree to a SOFA extension. This would likely entail, at a minimum, continued close air support and logistical assistance to Iraqi Security Forces, as well as a continued advisory mission within the Iraqi defense and interior ministries. It would probably also include continued access to airfields in Iraq to serve as a deterrent against Iran. The Senate would not likely require ratification of a SOFA extension, given its prior decision to accept the Bush administration's claim that the SOFA isn't a treaty and therefore doesn't require Senate approval. A less conspicuous U.S. military mission of perhaps fewer than 50,000 troops would also generate less public opposition, thereby reducing pressure on the Senate to exercise such oversight.

The US military needs to withdraw from Iraq immediately. They remain on the ground while Nouri insults them publicly and while they are sitting ducks, easily picked off targets. The illegal war should never have started and there is no reason to keep them on the ground in Iraq to prop up Nouri's puppet government. They did not sign up to be targets on a shooting range. They signed up willing to defend the United States which, for the record, has not been attacked by Iraq. They are of little to use to anyone in Iraq as is demonstrated by recent events at Camp Ashraf. At the US State Dept today, the issue of Camp Ashraf was raised. July 28th, Nouri al-Maliki launched an assault on the camp despite promising the US earlier this year that he would take no such action. Human rights activists and lawyers have called for the US and the United Nations to step in. "Obviously as we have said many times," declared assistant spokesperson Philip Crowley, "we regret the -- uh, what happened at Camp Ashraf and the loss of life and injury that occurred even as we understand the government of Iraq desiring to extend it's sovereignty into that camp. Uh. We're still in conversations, you know, through [US] Embassy Baghdad, you know, with the Iraqis, and we hope that the-the interests of, uh, the people of the camp will be respected and, uh, that conversation continues. [. . .] Well, obviously we have, uh, a relationship with Iraq. It is moving towards, you know, you know, from a military dominant relationship to a-a partnership. We're in dialogue with Iraq on a variety of issues. Human rights is one of them. Uh. We have, uh, you know, have understandings with Iraq about how the people in this camp will be treated We are continuing to pay attention to that and this is -- this is one among many issues on which we will continue to have significant dialogue with our Iraqi counterparts." Asked if it were true, as the MEK states, that the US had gone back on promises to support them, Crowley responded, "Well there's an inherent contradiction in that this was an attempt for the Iraqis to establish, I think, a police station in the camp and bring, uh, officials into the camp which we completely understand. It is -- it is, we had a small contingent of-of forces nearby. It was not necessarily their purpose to protect these people. We have received assurances from Iraq that, uh, that they will respect, uh, this particular group, uh, and-and their rights, uh, and we continue that dialogue. But as I said yesterday, uh, it is regrettable that in trying to do something that was understandable, it was not executed well, uh, and I think that the Iraqis understand that as well. This is not an issue that we're, you know, we're ignoring. We remain in active discussion with Iraq about Camp Ashraf and will continue to, uh, talk to them and to focus on this issue but it is this is fundamentally about Iraq and it's ability to govern its own countries and the people who are within its soverign boundaries."

Asked after that non-answer if the US had made promises to Camp Ashraf regarding their safety, Crowley hemmed and hawwed through, "I-I-I, we-we received assurances that they would be well treated and we understand that what happend, uh, you know, was a mistake --". He got a few more almost sentences in before he was stopped and asked whether or not he could answer the question regarding whether the US promised residents of Camp Ashraf anything. He will get back with the answer for that.

The US did make promises and that includes the current administration. The response to the assault is not coming from the US State Dept, the US State Dept is not 'over' Iraq. But that's no excuse for the nonsense Crowley spewed in the press conference today.
Girish Gupta (Guardian) reports that the London protests in support of the residents of Camp Ashraf include a hunger strike and Fatemeh Khezrie is "seriously ill" and on day 17 of her hunger strike, "After seven days with neither food nor water, Khezrie was taken to St Mary's hospital where doctors put her on a fluid drip, but she removed it and returned to the embassy on hunger strike. However, yesterday she announced that despite her deteriorating health she would stop taking fluids again as she feels the British and US governments, as well as the media, are taking no notice." We'll again note this press release from US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents:

In a news briefing today at the National Press Club, international and U.S. lawyers of residents of Camp Ashraf presented documents of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Iraqi government during the July 28 attack on Camp Ashraf. They also made public the agreements signed between the U.S. government and every resident of the Camp Ashraf for their protection. Camp Ashraf is home to members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Its residents had signed an agreement with the Multi-National Force-Iraq in 2004, according to which the US agreed to protect them until their final disposition. "The official U.S. government response to the events at Ashraf is that all issues concerning the Camp are now matters for the Iraqis to determine, as an exercise of their sovereignty. But that is a red herring: no one contests the sovereignty of the State of Iraq over Ashraf. Sovereignty does not provide an excuse for violating the human rights of the residents. Nor does it justify inaction on the part of the United States," said Steven Schneebaum, Counsel for U.S. families of Ashraf residents. He stressed: "The U.S. was the recipient of binding commitments by the Government of Iraq to treat the Ashraf residents humanely, and we know that has not happened. Moreover, it was the United States with whom each person at Ashraf reached agreement that protection would be provided until final decisions about their disposition have been made. And the United States remains bound also by principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law that make standing by during an armed attack on defenseless civilians unacceptable, and that impose an obligation to intervene to save innocent lives." Francois Serres, Executive Director of the International Committee of Jurists in Defense of Ashraf, which represents 8,500 lawyers and jurists in Europe and North America, added, "This [assault] is a manifest of crime against humanity by the Iraqi forces, attacking, with US-supplied weapons and armored vehicles, unarmed residents of Ashraf. The Iraqi government cannot be trusted in protecting the residents of Ashraf. The U.S. must undertake efforts to protect them until international protection is afforded to the residents." "We will pursue this matter before the International Criminal Court and courts in France and Belgium. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is fully responsible for these atrocities and he will be held to account," he added. Zahra Amanpour, a human rights activist with the U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents also spoke at the news briefing. Ms. Amanpour, whose aunt is in Ashraf, said: "Why are the Department of State and the White House stone-walling us, the families of Camp Ashraf residents? Thirty-five people have been on a hunger strike outside the White House for 13 days, and we still don't have any reply by the administration."

The US military can't protect the residents of Camp Ashraf. They are allowing the assualts to continue by being present and we all need to grasp that. It's the point Joe Biden was making in April 2008 when he was a US Senator and not the vice president of the United States. His point was that their very presence means they are taking sides (Nouri's) in a civil war. I think it's ethnic cleansing and not a civil war, but whatever. By being on the ground, they continue to shore up Nouri's puppet and illegitmate government. Nouri only returned to Iraq, after decades out of the country, once the US invaded. Like so many 'leaders' (installed by the US), he doesn't represent Iraq, he's not the average Iraqi. He's an exile who was too cowardly to fight for his own country but more than willing to drag the US into an illegal war. As
Mike pointed out last night, "In Iraq, AFP reports that there is a bill that's won approval from Nouri's cabinet which would mean that the president of Iraq, the prime minister, speaker of parliament, their underlings and ministers and commanders would have to be Iraqi citizens and only Iraqi citizens. No more dual citizenship. That would eliminate many. Has Nouri denounced his dual citizenship?" The first ambassador Iraq had to the US was, of course, someone who also held US citizenship. We'll address her tomorrow. But the point is that the puppet government is largely staffed with these exiles. Now if you buy that Iraqis lived in brutality prior to the invasion, you need to ask why they would want to be represented by a bunch of cowards who fled the country, by bunch of chickens who didn't have the guts to stay and fight? And you need to ask yourself if you'd tolerate that? You probably wouldn't. The puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki is an illegitmate one and that's why he's forever making 'consoldiation' attempts that are nothing but empty promises prior to an election. (As demonstrated by his campaign promises last January.)

"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory --
Propaganda -- piss on 'em
There's a war zone inside me --
I can feel things exploding --
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
[. . .]
"They want you -- they need you --
They train you to kill --
To be a pin on some map --
Some vicarious thrill --
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of -- the beat of black wings"
-- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by
Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.

Danny Fitzsimons is facing a trial in Iraq and could be sentenced to death. He served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He is
accused of being the shooter in a Sunday Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons spoke to the BBC (link has video) and noted that they are not asking for Danny to 'walk.' They stated that he has to take responsibility. But they want a fair trial and do not believe that is possible in Iraq. His legal defense team doesn't believe he can get a fair trial either stating today that the British military's presence in Iraq during the war means that Fitzsimons will be used as scapegoat. We'll come back to his legal team but first Deborah Haynes and Richard Ford (Times of London) report on Danny Fitzsimon's legal problems prior to going to Iraq (going apparently last week):Last November Mr Fitzsimons was given a one-year suspended sentence for robbery and possessing prohibited ammunition, the Crown Prosecution Service said. The Greater Manchester Probation Service said that it was conducting a review to establish whether the quality of supervision he was given met the required standard. Early findings indicate that he had complied with the terms of his supervision, which required him to report to his probation officer every two weeks. His last appointment was at the end of July and he is understood not to have voiced his plan to accept the security job in Iraq, which would have meant breaking the terms of his supervision. That could have resulted in Mr Fitzsimons being brought to court. He was due to return to court in Bolton on August 24 for sentencing over a public order offence.Danny's mother, father and step-mother have been very clear about their belief that he was suffering from PTSD. The article explains how the arrest should have raised some flags. The arrest may or may not stem from PSTD but it does not appear he was receiving treatment for that condition and it does appear treatment was needed.If he's already on probation, that's another reason to move the case to England because he appears to have potentially broken the rules of his probation. The Guardian of Manchester has a podcast titled Guardian Daily podcast. We've linked to it before. Today Jon Dennis speaks with John Tipple who is part of Danny Fitzsimon's legal team.John Tipple: We would need to go back a long way if we were going to remedy the situation as it is in Iraq today, wouldn't we? Because this has been an illegal war and the mess that that's left behind it is incredible. And the very idea that a British subject would get any kind of justice out there -- especially given our client's history with the British armed forces -- is also incredible. We do not trust the Iraqi authorities and we want to see our client back in the UK instead tried here so he can answer to his peers.Jon Dennis: But nevertheless, the very serious offenses that Mr. Fitsimons is accused of did happen on Iraqi soil. Shouldn't they have the right to try a suspect under their own system?John Tipple: Well we challenge whether it is a viable system in any case. But "no" would be my answer to that. Since 1861 there's been a statute in this country that makes provisions to try people here. And we have established a legal system in this country by serious effort and by making sure that the law is as sound as possible. None of that process has taken place in Iraq. It's in this country that the law has been tested and it's in this country that Daniel should be tried.Jon Dennis: You've spoken to Mr. Fitzsimons. What's his mood at the moment?John Tipple: As you might imagine, he's a very concerned and somewhat confused man. He's being processed and that process is not only intimidating, as you might imagine, because he clearly knows the consequences. Everybody saw Saddah Hussein strung up and the farce that that was and for those of us who do not believe in hanging or capital punishment looking at what goes on Iraq is aberrant.Jon Dennis: What sort of assistance are you getting from the security company that employed Mr. Fitzsimons?John Tipple: I can tell you that I consider that that company has a duty of care. And if they look past their corporate image than they should show humanity and a duty of care to Daniel Fitzsimons and they should facilitate his defense including the case that we've made to the request that we've made to them directly which is to be flown out of Baghdad today because clearly my client is in a state of confusion and he's getting legal advice from who knows and what qualifications these people have? We need to get professionals out there to help him properly. Jon Dennis: Does-does Mr. Fitzsimons' family believe that he was in a fit mental state to take what must have been a very stressful job working for a security company in Baghdad ?John Tipple: When Daniel Fitzsimons was in the Parachute Regiment is when he was damaged there through effectively Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and he-he clearly had that when he was in the British Army.Jon Dennis: And so you think that possibly not, that possibly he wasn't in a fit mental state really to take such a stressful job?John Tipple: I think that is a serious question that you have asked there and I think the answer to it is according to the information that's before me is no he's not.Jon Dennis: Are you getting much assistance or any assistance from the British Foreign Office in your attempts to get him tried in the UK?John Tipple: I'm getting -- I am actually having some very good contact with the Foreign Office and I've expressed my concerns to them and they have concerns themselves But we've handed over to the Iraqi authorities -- whoever they are and whatever credibility they may have It certainly is not a satisfactory situation. But they've handed over to them and this is a consequence of the whole debacle of the Iraqi War. And our client is going to be used as a scapegoat. That is our real fear: that he gets -- he gets treated because of the hatred that the British army and British forces in general have clearly earned themselves.

Turning to the US, the Wartime Contracting Commission held two hearings this week. Yawn. I'm not going into DC for their crap. They're a do-nothing commission.
Free Speech Radio News covered them yesterday:

Matt Pearson: As military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed since 2001 the need for military translators has increased And as government spending for translation services has increased so too has competition among intelligence corporations to receive government contracts. Pratap Chaterjee, author and managing editor of the watchdog group
CorpWatch, says the rapid growth and the need for translators has created problems.

Pratap Chaterjee: The United States employs upwards of 10,000 translators in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay today and this is something that has, you know, grown, expanded considerably over the last seven years starting in 2001. Originally they had one tiny little contract for a company called BTG to provide a dozen or so translators in Kuwait. Now this is over 10,000 people, the military needs a lot of translators and so they say we'll take as many as you can get and because they themselves, as they have admitted in this testimony, had no expertise. Nobody at INSCOM Intelligence and Security Command, speaks Arabic or Dari Pashto. So they'd relied heavily on these translators, these companies like Titan and L3 to bring in the translators.

Matt Pearson: In 2006 a company called Global Linguist Solutions of GLS took over the government linguist contract for $4.6 billion and has been the primary contractor ever since. They have retained L3, the previous contractor, as a sub-contractor for the hiring and development of translators in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two corporations are at the center of the Wartime Commission investigation this week with so much government money going towards GLS the commissioners on Wednesday pried for answers regarding waste, incompetence and in some cases minor fraud.

Charles Tiefer: This contract and the tax payer became a cash cow. So the great big juicy steak the two companies were cutting thick slabs out of this cash cow. Poor taxpayer.

Matt Pearson: That was Charles Tiefer one of the commissioners and a professor of law at the University of Baltimore. He and the other seven members of the commission grilled the executives from GLS and L3 for explanations on certain expenditures in the face of salary cuts for translators.

Charles Tiefer: $5 million in spending that was overspent because of private housing for vendor management and administrative personnel, private 3-bedroom apartments for individual employees, an isolated incident of a contractor with deployed dependents at government expense, automobile densities of 1:1 ratio for management personnel, loss productivity due to less than expedient translative linguists into Iraq. Is that what your experience got us?

Matt Pearson: Some observers say that GLS could provide translators for the war efforts without subcontracting L3 and others. In 2006 and 2007, L3 protested the rewarding of the contract [to] GLS on three separate occasions eventually getting a $1 billion subcontract from GLS as a concession. The GLS executive says they would not have awarded L3 with a subcontract if they had not protested on multiple occasions. Still Tom Miller representing L3 at the hearing said the company provides much needed expertise to the staffing of translators in the Middle East

Tom Miller: By becoming a part of the GLS team we became a part of their management we grafted onto them our experience our lessons learned, you know, our abilities and then we didn't stop at that we literally handed over proprietary intellectual property because that was the best thing for the contract. You're looking for an altruistic sort of action on the part of an American corporation? There it is right there. Because we had a greater concern about the performance of this contract we wanted it to go very well.

Matt Pearson: The commission will release a report this year based on its findings from these hearings and research. Matt Pearson, Free Speech Radio News in Washington.

I'm not wasting my time own that 'commission.' If FRSN covers it or someone else worth noting, we'll cover it that way. But I've already set through their faux hearings. The commission is a joke and we've covered that here before. We gave it a chance until it's first hearing. We attended that hearing, see the
February 2nd snapshot, and Kat rightly ripped it apart in June when we learned at a House hearing that the commission was going to start setting some goals. Start setting some goals? It's a two year commission. It's mandated to issue an interim report (it has and that was a joke) this year and then a full report next. And yet, in June, they're working on defining goals? It's a joke because of the commissioners: one commissioner was announcing less than 4 months ago that he was $300,000 in debt (doesn't scream confidence to the American people) and of course you have the lovely Dov S. Zakheim, PNAC signers, George W. Bush's foreign policy tutor in 1999 and 2000 and went to work for the Defense Dept under Bush. Now the commission is supposed to be investigating contracting abuses? Hmm. Dov was the Defense Dept's chief financial officer. Conflict of interest much? You'll get more information (not to mention honesty) in Pratap Chetterjee's article written Tuesday than in both days of the commission's 'hearings'.

Independent journalist
David Bacon wonders "Can Labor Get Out Of This Mess?" (In These Times):For anyone who loves the labor movement, it's not unreasonable today to ask whether we've lost our way. California's huge healthcare local is in trusteeship, its leading organizing drive in a shambles. SEIU's international is at war with its own members, and now with UNITE HERE, whose merger of garment and hotel workers is unraveling.In 1995, following the upsurge that elected John Sweeney president of the AFL-CIO, the service and hotel workers seemed two of the unions best able to organize new members. Their high profile campaigns, like Justice for Janitors and Hotel Workers Rising, were held out as models. Today they're in jeopardy.This conflict has endangered our high hopes for labor law reform, and beyond that for an economic recovery with real jobs programs, fair trade instead of free trade, universal health care, and immigration reform that gives workers rights instead of raids. The ability of unions to grow in size and political power is on the line.Bacon is the author most recently of latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) a wonderful book and an award winning one, having just received the C.L.R. James Award. He recently discussed the book at Against The Current.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Iraq and music

Hump day, hump day. But when you're on vacation, it's all good! :D Okay, let me do a bit of serious news first.

In Iraq, AFP reports that there is a bill that's won approval from Nouri's cabinet which would mean that the president of Iraq, the prime minister, speaker of parliament, their underlings and ministers and commanders would have to be Iraqi citizens and only Iraqi citizens. No more dual citizenship. That would eliminate many. Has Nouri denounced his dual citizenship?

That should have been a law from the very beginning. I know C.I. will address this tomorrow (in part because I had nothing serious and asked for help and C.I. said, 'AFP has a story about . . .') so I'll just point out that if the law had been in place in 2003, Iraq would have real leadership.

Now, do you have a favorite musical artist?

My all time favorite would be the Mamas and the Papas and then the Beatles and then . . . But of groups that are still together and solo musical acts, my favorite is probably Dashboard Confessional. And I really hope the next album is one I just fall in love with immediately. (If not, Ben Harper gets my top spot.) I like a lot of different acts. Carly Simon's got an album due out this year and I'm excited about that and I can't wait to hear it. Starbucks is distributing this one so I'll be there the day it comes out to grab it. And Carly would make my top ten favorites in a heartbeat. My favorite song by her is "We Just Got Here" and Jess is probably the only person I know who might also say that. She has so many great songs but that one just grabs me and I either get "What song?" or "Oh, yeah, that's good." No, "We Just Got Here" is not a good song, it's a great song.

I did not think I was a big Barbra Streisand fan or even one. I liked her movies but her music? Not so much. Then a number of people got heavily into her and I started hearing some stuff that was not at all like what I expected of her. I would rank her first albums as her best (The Second Barbra Streisand Album is the best one she's got, in my opinion) and then her early seventies albums. Rebecca is a huge fan of Barbra Streisand's. That's probably her all time favorite singer.

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Rebecca is so excited about that album that she's getting me excited about it. :D I'm sure it'll be a great album and I'm happy to highlight it because she'd do the same for me and I have never, ever seen her so excited about music -- not even when we went to a concert (we've gone to five concerts together). She opened the e-mail and screamed. Elaine thought something had happened to her grandmother. It was the above thing in her e-mail.

And she already knew that the album was coming.

But she's that much of a Barbra fan.

I'll buy a copy when it comes out.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Geneva Conventions should be in the news, Iraqi refugees struggle in Syria, the US and around the globe, Danny Fitzsimons' attorneys advocate for moving his trial from Iraq to England, and more.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.
Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, marked the occassion with a speech noting the importance then and now of the Geneva Conventions. We'll note this section on International Humanitarian Law which applies to many regions including Iraq:

So what are some of the ongoing challenges to IHL? The first relates to the conduct of hostilities. I referred earlier to the changing nature of armed conflict and the increasingly blurred lines between combatants and civilians. Civilians have progressively become more involved in activities closely related to actual combat. At the same time, combatants do not always clearly distinguish themselves from civilians, neither wearing uniforms nor openly carrying arms. They mingle with the civilian population. Civilians are also used as human shields. To add to the confusion, in some conflicts, traditional military functions have been outsourced to private contractors or other civilians working for State armed forces or for organised armed groups. These trends are, if anything, likely to increase in the years ahead. The result of this, in a nutshell, is that civilians are more likely to be targeted – either mistakenly or arbitrarily. Military personnel are also at increased risk: since they cannot properly identify their adversary, they are vulnerable to attack by individuals who to all appearances are civilians. IHL stipulates that those involved in fighting must make a basic distinction between combatants on the one hand, who may lawfully be attacked, and civilians on the other hand, who are protected against attack unless and for such time as they directly participate in hostilities. The problem is that neither the Geneva Conventions nor their Additional Protocols spell out what precisely constitutes "direct participation in hostilities". To put it bluntly, this lack of clarity has been costing lives. This is simply unjustifiable. In an effort to help remedy this situation, the ICRC worked for six years with a group of more than 50 international legal experts from military, academic, governmental and non-governmental backgrounds. The end result of this long and intense process, published just two months ago, was a substantial guidance document. This document serves to shed light firstly on who is considered a civilian for the purpose of conducting hostilities, what conduct amounts to direct participation in hostilities, and which particular rules and principles govern the loss of civilian protection against direct attack. Without changing existing law, the
ICRC's Interpretative Guidance document provides our recommendations on how IHL relating to the notion of direct participation in hostilities should be interpreted in contemporary armed conflict. It constitutes much more than an academic exercise. The aim is that these recommendations will enjoy practical application where it matters, in the midst of armed conflict, and better protect the victims of those conflicts. Direct participation in hostilities is not the only concept relating to the conduct of hostilities that could benefit from further clarification. Differences exist over the interpretation of other key notions such as "military objective", the "principle of proportionality" and "precaution". The debate has been prompted in part by the growing number of military operations conducted in densely populated urban areas, often using heavy or highly explosive weapons, which have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations. The media images of death, injury and destruction -- of terrible suffering -- in such situations of conflict in different parts of the world are surely all too familiar to everyone here today. Another key issue here is the increasingly asymmetric nature of modern armed conflicts. Differences between belligerents, especially in terms of technological and military capacities have become ever more pronounced. Compliance with the rules of IHL may be perceived as beneficial to one side of the conflict only, while detrimental to the other. At worst, a militarily weak party -- faced with a much more powerful opponent -- will contravene fundamental rules of IHL in an attempt to even out the imbalance. If one side repeatedly breaks the rules, there is a risk that the situation quickly deteriorates into a free-for-all. Such a downward spiral would defy the fundamental purpose of IHL -- to alleviate suffering in times of war. We must explore every avenue to prevent this from happening. I would also like to briefly address the humanitarian and legal challenges related to the protection of internally displaced people. In terms of numbers, this is perhaps one of the most daunting humanitarian challenges arising in armed conflicts around the world today, from Colombia to Sri Lanka and from Pakistan to Sudan. This problem not only affects the many millions of IDPs, but also countless host families and resident communities.
Violations of IHL are the most common causes of internal displacement in armed conflict. Preventing violations is therefore, logically, the best means of preventing displacement from occurring in the first place. On the other hand, people are sometimes forcibly prevented from fleeing when they wish to do so. During displacement, IDPs are often exposed to further abuses and have wide-ranging subsistence needs. Even when IDPs want to return to their place of origin, or settle elsewhere, they are often faced with obstacles. Their property may have been destroyed or taken by others, the land might be occupied or unusable after the hostilities, or returnees may fear reprisals if they return. As part of the civilian population, IDPs are protected as civilians in armed conflicts. If parties to conflicts respected the basic rules of IHL, much of the displacement and suffering caused to IDPs could be prevented. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of IHL concerning displacement that could be clarified or improved. These include in particular questions of freedom of movement, the need to preserve family unity, the prohibition of forced return or forced resettlement, and the right to voluntary return.

The Iraq War has created the largest humanitarian crisis. No number fudging necessary, the largest.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the at risk population residing in Iraq to be 3,140,345. That includes the 2,647,251 Internally Displaced Persons and the 230,000 Stateless Persons (such as the Palestinians trapped on Iraq's border with Syria). Outside of Iraq, the at risk Iraqi population is 4,797,979 which includes the 1,903,519 external refugees. These at risk populations are at risk due to the Iraq War. Syria and Jordan continue to house the largest numbers of Iraqi refugees. The most recent estimates (January 2009 -- and based on registration which a number of refugees avoid for various reasons) places 1,200,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, 450,000 in Jordan, 150,000 in Gulf States, 58,000 in Iran, 50,000 in Lebanon, 40,000 in Egypt and 7,000 in Turkey.

In all those numbers, it's easy to lose track of the individuals.
Philip Jacobson (Huffington Post) reports on Iraqi refugee Ahlam Ahmed Mahmoud's journey. She was featured in Deborah Campbell's 2008 "Exodus: Where will Iraq go next?" (Harper's Magazine) which found her in Syria assisting other Iraqis. Campbell was visiting her in May of 2008 when Mahmoud was rounded up by Syrian police, told she would have to spy for Syira on journalists, refused to do so and locked away in a prison for over five months. After finally being release, Mahmoud arrived in Chicago and Iraqi refugees who had made it to the United States (a very small number -- Western nations have done an appalling job in granting asylum to Iraqi refugees) expected that the "fixer" Mahmoud would again be able to assist them and help them navigate the complicated and confusing system. Mahmoud attempted to beg off but ended up starting Iraqi Mutual Aid Society with Beth Ann Toupin. That's the bare bones of her story, Philip Jacobson sketches it out in detail (and with skill) so make the time to read his article. Last month, Mary Owen (Chicago Tribune) reported that Chicago's Edgewater and Rogers Park house approximately 3,000 Iraqis.

Meanwhile the
New York Times continues to INSULTINGLY describe Mudhafer al-Husaini as "a former translator with" the paper. This attitude is why the bulk of stringers the paper had early on, hated, HATED, the paper. It's why most of them moved as quickly as possible to work for other outlets. And at other outlets, they got bylines a lot quicker. But Muhafer al-Husaini got bylines (slowly) at the New York Times and it's a little insulting to readers of the paper and a lot insulting to the work Mudhafer al-Husaini did. In June of 2008, Alissa J. Rubin and Mudhafer al-Husaini wrote "Baghdad Blast Kills Four Americans," January of this year Sam Dagher and Mudhafer al-Husaini wrote "Bomber at Iraqi Shrine Kills 40, Including 16 Iranian Pilgrims," November of last year Katherine Zoepf and Mudhafer al-Husaini make the front page with their "Militants Turn to Small Bombs in Iraq Attacks" -- we can go and on. I know bylines -- even if the paper doesn't. And bylines aren't given out of kindness. Anyone who thinks that doesn't grasp the egos on most reporters. Mudhafer al-Husaini earned his many bylines. He is a journalist. Don't insult him by referring to him as a translator. (Nothing wrong with being a translator. I have many friends who are. But, at the paper, he was a 'media worker' who became a journalist. Give him his earned credit for being a journalist.) Mudhafar al-Husseini was granted asylum in the US and he reports on the last months at the Committee to Protect Journalists:

I now live in Tucson , Arizona , a quiet city and a good place to start over and get a wider view of America . I am one of many Iraqis who have come to Tucson . When I talk to fellow Iraqi immigrants, they are also surprised to find such a quiet city in America , but most say that this city is a good fit for them. There are others who are not satisfied with it, and I think that is because they're jobless, which is the same problem in many parts of the U.S. now.
I was astonished by several things I never imagined about life in America . Life is very serious and practical here, and people don't have much time to talk on the street, in markets, or even in public places. It seems everyone is busy with his or her own business and daily concerns. Sometimes I feel that it's good this way, and other times I hate it because in Baghdad you would never feel alone or neglected. People in Baghdad would stay up late and forget about their long workday by hanging out with friends or going out. The day would go until midnight, or even beyond. Many things have changed since the invasion, and the deterioration of the security situation has kept most Iraqis indoors.
I was also surprised that most Americans know nothing about the reality of the war in Iraq . I sometimes find it hard to explain, because Iraq is a complicated place. I think it's the history, the civilization, and the old sand of that country that makes it harder than others to be understood. These aspects were not considered at all before the war. You have to study Iraqi history well and get to know the culture more before dealing with the people on a long-term basis.

This afternoon
Kirk Semple (New York Times) reports on Iraqi refugees in the US and finds in New York what is going on across the country -- Iraqi refugees struggle to find work, depend on assistance to pay bills and worry about the meager government benefits running out (which they do -- they run out very quickly). Uday al-Ghanimi and his wife and their three children live in New York and all but Uday speak of a desire to go back to Iraq. Lumping "special visas" and those granted asylum, Semple is reporting that the US has only taken in 45,000 Iraqi refugees since the start of the illegal war. For context, that's 5,000 less than Lebanon is currently officially housing. That's shameful -- both due to the riches of the United States (yes, even in this economic crisis) and for the US government's responsibility in starting the illegal war.

Not all Iraqi refugees are Christians but they make a large percentage of the refugee population (especially considering their percentage in the overall Iraqi population).
AINA reports US House Rep Jan Schakowsky has released an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the issue of Iraq's refugees. The [PDF format warning] August 7th letter reads:

I am writing to you today to urge you to develop a comprehensive strategy for the protection of ethno-religious minorities in Iraq. As you are aware, Iraqi minorities continue to face persistent persecution and danger. In particular, I am extremely concerned about the ongoing ethno-religious cleansing of Iraq's Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christian community.
Iraqi Christians have faced relentless persecution, threats, and violence since the commencement of United States operations in Iraq, and the danger has accelerated dramatically since 2004. In fact, 2008 represented one of the most devastating years for Iraqi ethno-religious minorities, especially the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians. Because of the ongoing crisis facing minority groups, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has now formally designated Iraq a 'Country of Particular Concern.'
Despite this ongoing crisis, the United States has consistently failed to develop a comprehensive policy to address this serious situation. However, I believe that we now have an opportunity to encourage widespread recognition of this crisis and work together to find a solution. Any successful diplomatic policy must consider security, development, and governance dimensions, and must recognize the centrality of the Nineveh Plains to the future of these people. It must also include the full implementation of Article 125 of the Iraqi constitution.
I strongly urge you to develop a meaningful policy outlining concrete steps that the U.S. can take towards a sustainable solution. As you begin this process, I would encourage you to meet with representatives of the Assyrian community to discuss the situation.

Please note that Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, has been designated as the point person on Iraq. This designation came about after Barack's unannounced go to on the region proved to be a failure. (That person was not Hillary. Hillary was never the point-person on Iraq.) Nineveh was in the news on
Monday with the twin truck bombings attacking the Shabak community. Article 125 of Iraq's Constitution deals with local administration [PDF format warning, click here] and states, "This Constitution shall guarantee the administrative, political, cultural and educational rights of the variou snationalities, such as Turkomen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and all other constituents, and this shall be regulated by law." Meanwhile Stockholm News notes Sveriges Radio reporting "Christian Iraqi refugees have been sent back to Iraq. This has raised upset reactions both from within Sweden and from foreign human rights experts." In Syria, Susan Irvine (Financial Times of London) reports on Iraqi refugees, "Besma didn't rush to tell me about Iraq and the war, and I was reticent to ask. But over time she told me about the early days of 'shock and awe'. Communications were down, and the area where her mother lived was being heavily bombed. Besma persuaded a neighbor to drive her through Baghdad -- an incredibly dangerous journey -- to check on her. They got as far as the river, but the bridges were blown up. She told me about the first time she looked out of her window and saw Americans 'coming down the street in their big Hummers as if they owned the place'. She told me how her brother was murdered in the sectarian violence that followed. Her mother -- 'thanks be to God' -- was unharmed."

At the end of last month, the UNHCR issued a report entitled "
Surviving in the city" focusing on cities in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and dealing with the needs of "large populations of urban refugees." Among the problems faced, "the majority of Iraqis do not have any immediate prospect of finding a solution to their plight. Most of them consider that current conditions in Iraq prevent them from repatriating, while a significant number state that they have no intention of returning there under any circumstances." From page 49 (report is not PDF format, for any thinking that detail was forgotten):

A Jordanian scholar who was interviewed in the course of this review commented that "the decision to flee from your own country is always easier to make than the decision to return." This observation is certainly supported by the case of the Iraqi refugees, many of whom left their homes at short notice, threatened by escalating violence in their homeland and the very real threat that they would be targeted for attack because of their religious identity, their profession or their relative prosperity.
At the time of their sudden departure, the refugees hoped that the crisis would not persist very long, and that withing a reasonable amount of time they would be able to return to Iraq, reclaim their property and resume their previous life. But as time has passed, those expectations have faded and the refugees are left with few choices with regard to their future.
The majority do not want to repatriate now or in the near future. Only some of the refugees can expect to be admitted to a third country by means of resettlement. And those who remain in their countries of asylum have no opportunity to benefit from the solution of local integration have very limited prospect for self-reliance and are confronted with the prospect of a steady decline in their standard of living. In the words of an elderly refugee man living in the Syrian city of Aleppo "when we left Iraq, we simply didn't know that we would end up like this."

Today the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released their [PDF format warning] 2nd Quarter report "
Humanitarian Funding Update" which shows huge shortfalls for all countries in terms of the monies needed for assistance. For Iraq, the UN was calling for $650 million and has seen $276 million in contributions this year leading to a shortfall of $374 million.

In Iraq today,
Chelsea J. Carter (AP) reports 67 US service members have been confirmed as having swine flu and when these cases are combined with Iraqi cases, you have 96 confirmed cases. Please note that the Iraqi tally is probably much higher. The health care system has broken down and the Health Ministry is not eager to count accurately after Nouri and his underlings began blaming US service members for the swine flu outbreak in Iraq. (The same swine flu outbreak that is global.) Also grasp that the World Health Organization's Iraq country Office issued an invitation to bid on H1N1 detection kits -- that's swine flu and swine flu is what it's known as -- July 12th. And when did the bidding process end? July 26th. So there's a shortage currently on swine flu detection kits in Iraq. They're short on swine flu tests but, Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) report, they can bet on the horses. No word on whether the OTB allows people to bet on violence but violence continued in Iraq today.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people wounded, a Baaj grenade attack which claimed the life of 1 father, 1 guard, 2 sons who were police officers, 1 "little boy" as well as wounding three more people, a suicide car bombing in Ramadi which claimed the lives of the driver and 1 police officer and left two more police officers and a civilian wounded, and a Kirkuk car bombing which claimed the lives of 3 police officers and left four more wounded. Reuters notes a Mahmudiya roadside bombing which left three people wounded and a Kirkuk roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five more injured.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Iraqi police officer Brig Gen Abdulhameed Khalaf Asfoor was shot dead as he returned from a funeral in Mosul. Reuters notes 1 "old man" was shot dead in Mosul and an armed clash in Ramadi in which one police officer was injured and 2 suspects were shot dead.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 people kidnapped since Monday, two were released by kidnappers, a third was rescued by police and no word on the fourth.

"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory --
Propaganda -- piss on 'em
There's a war zone inside me --
I can feel things exploding --
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
[. . .]
"They want you -- they need you --
They train you to kill --
To be a pin on some map --
Some vicarious thrill --
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of -- the beat of black wings"
-- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by
Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.

Neil Syson (The Sun) reports, "An ex-paratrooper accused of murdering two workmates in Baghdad could face the noose within WEEKS." He's referring to Danny Fitzsimons who served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as Iraq. He is accused of being the shooter in a Sunday Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons spoke to the BBC (link has video) and noted that they are not asking for Danny to 'walk.' They stated that he has to take responsibility. But they want a fair trial and do not believe that is possible in Iraq. Amnesty International issued the following yesterday:Responding to reports that a British employee of a security company working in Iraq may face a death sentence, Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said: 'It's right that private military and security company employees like Danny Fitzsimons are not placed above the law when they're working in places like Iraq and it's right that the Iraqi authorities are set to investigate this very serious incident. 'However, as with all capital cases, Amnesty would strenuously oppose the application of the death penalty if applied to Mr Fitzsimons in this case.'Iraq has a dreadful record of unfair capital trials and at least 34 people were hanged in the country last year alone. 'The important thing now is that if Danny Fitzsimons is put on trial he is allowed a fair trial process without resort to the cruelty of a death sentence.' Last year 34 criminals were hanged in Iraq. Private security guard Fitzsimons, employed by UK firm ArmorGroup, would be the first Westerner on trial since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Steven Morris (Guardian) reports Danny's attorneys do not believe that he will receive a fair trail in Iraq with Trevor Linn fearful Danny will be "made an example of". Scotland's The Herald offers background on the two deceased contractors: Paul McGuigan served in the British military before becoming a contractor, his wife is pregnant, Darren Hoare had served in Australia's Air Force before becoming a contractor.

The International Press Institute issued "
As Threat of Violence Still Looms Large over the Media in Iraq, another Menace Emerges in Form of Draft Law to 'Protect' Journalists" yesterday:Iraq Still the Most Dangerous Country in the World for ReportersAs U.S. troops continue to hand power over to Iraqi authorities in Iraq, IPI calls on the Iraqi government to protect press freedom in the country. Iraq remains the most dangerous country in the world for journalists – who now face a new threat in the form of a draft law published in Iraq on Friday 31 July, according to news reports. Ostensibly designed to 'safeguard' journalists' rights, the draft law does contain some provisions that should help protect journalists in Iraq. It equates an attack on a reporter to an attack on a government employee, and maintains that journalists cannot be pressured into publishing material that is incompatible with their beliefs, opinions or conscience. However, the draft legislation also contains worrying provisions that could have a negative impact on media freedom. For example, vague wording prohibiting journalists from "compromising the security and stability of the country" may be used to stifle valid criticism. Such words are reminiscent of legislation in place in a host of countries with poor records on media freedom which broadly and unfairly interpret terms like 'compromising security' to snuff out and punish virtually any form of criticism of government and state interests. The draft law also contains a dispiriting message on the protection of sources, which would be guaranteed unless "the law requires the source to be revealed" -- in other words there is no guaranteed protection for sources. The bill also stipulates that freedom of the press can be suspended if a publication threatens citizens or makes "provocative or aggressive statements" -- again, a vaguely worded phrase leaving much room for interpretation. "While we welcome the positive aspects of this draft law, we call on the Iraqi parliament to remove those sections that could hinder media freedom in the country," said Michael Kudlak, IPI Deputy Director. "A free and unfettered press is one of the most vital elements in any fledgling democracy, so Iraqi politicians must ensure that the media is free to work with the minimum restraint."In recent years, Iraq has been one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with at least 169 journalists killed in the line of duty over the last seven years, according to IPI's figures -- many of them Iraqis murdered in the sectarian violence that has ravaged the country. On Friday 7 August, Iraqi journalists expressed fear at again being targeted, following a fiery sermon by a prominent Shiite cleric, Jalal Eddin Saghir, allegedly inciting violence against a journalist. Eddin Saghar had apparently taken issue with the journalist linking his political party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, to a July bank robbery in Baghdad.

Edward Cody (Washington Post) reports on yesterday's press conference in Paris where supporters of the residents of Camp Ashraf (under assault since July 28th) declared the US and the United Nations were shirking their responsibilities. Cody quotes French jurist Francois Serres stating, "We must underline that the responsiblity of the United States in this matter, moral as well as leagl, is overwhelming." The US did leave the residents to believe they would be safe (which is what Nouri led the US to believe). Under Geneva, 60th anniversary today, remember, the US and the United Nations have a responsibility to those residents -- both in terms of their safety and in terms of preventing their forced deportation to Iran.

McClatchy's Mike Tharp vows the Iraq War is the last war he will cover and he offers ten lessons he's learned -- we'll note this one, "Lesson No. 3 is that few of those leaders will ever have to pay the price of their folly. The 4,300-plus American dead, 31,000-plus American wounded, hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis have paid the cost. But not the McNamaras or the Bundys or the Cheneys or the Wolfowitzes or the Johnsons or Nixons or Bushes. They get medals and money. The ones who made the ultimate sacrifice get lost in the pages of history. Five of their names are carved in granite at Courthouse Park in Merced."

And Ms. magazine notes, "Join Ms. in celebrating Gloria Steinem's 75th birthday.
As Gloria turns 75,
Ms. is providing supporters an opportunity to wish her a happy birthday in the magazine. That's right. Ms. will print the names of supporters who want to celebrate with Gloria this extraordinary landmark -- not only of years, but of her amazing achievements for women. To participate, we are asking you to make a special gift of $75 - or $15 - or $150 - or whatever multiple of $75 you can afford, to not only celebrate Gloria's birthday but to keep her legacy of Ms. strong for future generations. Whatever the size of your contribution, we will make sure your name is printed in Ms. wishing Gloria happy birthday." This will be in an entry tomorrow morning in greater length but we can squeeze that snippet into the snapshot right now. Trina did a wonderful job explaining how Congress and the White House are attempting to sell a plan that doesn't exist. Make a point to read her. Bob Somerby tackles Melissa Harris Lacewell today (I feel dirty just saying her name -- Lie Face) and Stan tackled her last night while Betty tried to go over the facts for those who seem immune to them and Marcia and Ruth also offered press critiques. (As did Elaine. We commented this morning but I just don't have it in me to deal with Rod Nordland and the Times nonsense this afternoon.) Finally, from ETAN:

August 12 - Members of the U.S.-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) will gather in Timor-Leste later this month to
commemorate the tenth anniversary of the country's historic vote for independence. "In Dili we will demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the Timorese people," said John M. Miller, ETAN's National Coordinator. "We will join with Timorese and international activists to look back at the East Timorese struggle for independence and to evaluate the new nation's course since those momentous events. We will explore with our Timorese friends how we can best support Timor-Leste in the future." "We will also strongly reaffirm our commitment to justice and accountability for the years of crimes against humanity committed by Indonesia with U.S. government backing," he added. "Our goal is to return home with a deeper understanding of today's Timor and a strengthened commitment and concrete plans for ongoing ties with the people of the still struggling nation," added Pam Sexton a member of ETAN's Executive Committee who has been living in Timor-Leste during the past year. "The anniversary should not serve only as platform for self-congratulatory speeches by the international community and politicians" said Charles Scheiner, an ETAN co-founder. "The United Nations and its members need to clearly understand the impact of their failure to help the Timorese people from Indonesian's invasion in 1975 through 1998. International support since then needs to be made more effective and responsive to Timorese needs," added Scheiner works with La'o Hamutuk, a local organization founded soon after the independence vote to monitor international institutions and foster grassroots participation in decision-making. Contact ETAN to arrange interviews from Timor-Leste. Background Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and illegally occupied the territory until October 1999, with backing from the United States and other powers. On August 30, 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-organized referendum. Following the vote, Indonesian security forces and their militia laid waste to the territory, capping nearly two and half decades of brutal occupation with the destruction of 75% of the buildings and infrastructure. Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) estimates that up to 184,000 Timorese people were killed as a result of the occupation. Timor-Leste became independent in May 2002. ETAN was a major participant in the International Federation for East Timor's Observer Project, one of the largest international observer missions for the vote in 1999. ETAN members also served as observers with church and parliamentary delegations. ETAN was formed in 1991 to advocate for self-determination for the occupied country. The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. ETAN recently won the John Rumbiak Human Rights Defenders Award. For more information, see ETAN's web site: .

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