Thursday, November 17, 2011

Maybe he'll autograph them





Camp Ashraf is one of the worst reported subjects in the US press. We do get articles so slanted that even a paper's public editor calls out the slant (against the residents of Camp Ashraf) and we get hurled insults at Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and others for speaking out on behalf of the residents. But very little attention is given to the issue of their support. A US military official used the New York Times to smear Clark and Dean and suggest that they have sold their voices out to the highest bidders. US House Rep Bob Filner has not been paid on behalf of anyone to speak out for the residents of Camp Ashraf (a number of family members of the residents live in California, including in Bob Filner's district). You don't read about that. You don't read about hearings on topic or Congressional statements. This week, Camp Ashraf, yet again, came up in a Committee hearing. We're going to note the remarks. But first, let's provide some background on Camp Ashraf.
Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."
"The status of the residents at Camp Ashraf from the Iranian dissident group MEK remains unresolved," Senator Carl Levin declared Tuesday. "As the December 2011 deadline approaches, the administration needs to remain vigilant that the government of Iraq lives up to its commitments to provide for the safety of the Camp Ashraf residents until a resolution of their status can be reached. We need to make it clear to the government of Iraq that there cannot be a repeat of the deadly confrontation began last April by Iraqi security forces against Camp Ashraf residents."
He was speaking Tuesday morning at the Senate Armed Services Comittee hearing while delivering his opening remarks as Chair of the Committee. Senator John McCain is Ranking Member on the Committee. The first panel the Committee heard testimony from was composed of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsy. Camp Ashraf came up in Chair Levin's opening remarks and it came up later during the first panel.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Do you think -- do you think the people in Camp Ashraf, do you think they're going to get killed? What's going to happen to them?
General Martin Dempsey: The, uh, as you know, Senator, the State Department is leading an effort to ensure that -- work with the Iraqi government ---
Senator Lindsey Graham: Can you tell the people back here that the likelihood of their friends and family being killed has gone up greatly if there are no American forces up there policing the problem?
General Martin Dempsey: I won't say anything to those people because I'm not involved in the outcome.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Fair enough.
In what was now the second round, John McCain went on to laugh with Leon Panetta and to thank him for appearing before the Comittee and putting up with pointed questions. He brought up a request that Panetta had made to him and Senator Graham (formally, in a letter) and noted they were working on that issue (defense funding). We're not going to excerpt that but since so much was made of the first round of questioning between Panetta and McCain, we will note that both laughed with one another in an exchange in the second round. (The hysterical gossip corps portrayed McCain being testy as new or novel and may have left many with images of poor Leon struggling for the vapors. Neither person was harmed by the exchange in the first round nor appeared to hold a grudge or ill will towards the other.) Near the end of his second round, McCain did bring up the issue of Camp Ashraf.
Ranking Member John McCain: Could I just say finally on the Camp Ashraf issue, I know the Secretary of Defense -- I mean, Secretary of State is addressing this issue, but it is American troops that are protecting them now. I hope that you can give us some idea of what disposition is going to be because I think it's -- I think it's very clear that the lives of these people are at risk and I thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: I appreciate that.
Chair Carl Levin: Well, just on that, to turn it into a question -- and, maybe, General, this needs to be addressed to you too -- what -- There's obviously a greater risk to folks there unless the Iraqis keep a commitment. What's going to be done to make sure, to the best of our ability, that they keep that committment and what about the question of removing them from the list of -- not them, the organization from the terrorist list?
General Martin Dempsey: Well, Senator --
Senator Carl Levin: We're all concerned about this --
General Martin Dempsey: And we share your concern. [General] Lloyd Austin shares your concern. And I know that Ambassador Jeffreys shares the concern and there is no -- we're not sparing any diplomatic effort to encourage the Iraqis to do what we think is right in this regard to ensure the protection of those folks in Camp Ashraf. But right now, actually, the Iraqi security forces guard Camp Ashraf with our advisory and assistance group with them. And so the concern, when we do leave that capacity, is a real one. And But I actually think we've got to put the pressure on the Iraqi government diplomatically to have the outcome that we think is correct.
Senator Carl Levin: Just assure them if you would that there's a real strong feeling around here that if they -- if they violate a committment to protect those people -- assuming that they're still there and that they haven't been removed from the terrorist list so that they can find other locations -- that if they violate that committment to us, that is going to have a severely negative impact on the relationship with the -- I think I can speak here -- the Congress although I'm reluctant to ever say this. I think there's a lot of concern in the Congress about it and this will, I believe, in my opinion, will severely negatively impact their relationship with the Congress. Let me leave it at that.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Senator, I want to assure you that Ambassador Jeffrey has made that point loud and clear, loud and clear the Iraqis.
Senator Carl Levin: Senator Lieberman?
Senator Joe Lieberman: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And add my voice and I think you can speak for Congress members of both parties in both houses in expressing our concern about the safety of the people in Camp Ashraf.
Our gossip corps masquerading as a press corps missed that too, didn't they? The Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee declared that if the Iraqi government did not keep their promise to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf -- residents that the Iraqi forces have already twice attacked -- there would be serious damage to the government of Iraq's relationship with the US Congress.
Sounds like a headline to me. In fact, sounds like a first page, opening segment of the evening news type story. And that's before you factor in the remarks of the others or the consensus that Levin did speak for Congress in his remarks. Yes, independent Joe Lieberman did agree with Democrat Carl Levin who agreed with Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain but there were other Democrats present (Ben Nelson, Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen) and other Republicans present (Jeff Sessions). No one lodged an objection. It would appear that the US Congress -- at least the Senate -- pretty much universally (if not fully) backs the protection of Camp Ashraf residents. That's a story you really don't get. But news outlets can make time and will make time to run stories implying that Howard Dean and Wesley Clark are only concerned with the protection of Camp Ashraf residents because they've been 'bought' and that no one would care about these people unless they were being paid to. The implication being not only that Dean and Clark are 'on the take' but also that the residents of Camp Ashraf are so low on the human chain or so digusting or so whatever that no one in their right mind could ever think these people were worthy of defending. That's a really ugly thing to suggest about Dean and Clark and it's extremely ugly and phobic to suggest that of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
If you need an example of this ugliness, you can refer to Josh Rogin's Foreign Policy piece. Tonight or at Third on Sunday, I plan to write about how people get hearings so wrong. You can find part of the answer in Josh Rogin's quote from Carl Levin. Yes, Levin did declare what Rogin quotes him stating -- but that's all Rogin quotes him stating and misses the exchange that we've quoted above. That's because like a lot of 'reporting' on this hearing, people didn't bother to attend the actual hearing. But we'll save that for tonight or I'll take it over to Third on Sunday.
Gary Feuerberg (Epoch Times) reports, "The Ashraf residents fear that they will be sent back to Iran, where they were an opposition group, and could be executed. Three Iranians visiting their sons in the camp, upon returning home, were each executed in Dec. 2010 - Jan. 2011. In the last few days, Iraqi troops in larger numbers have been outside the gates, awakening the residents early in the morning with taunts broadcast through loud speakers. The residents remember April 8 this year, when this kind of harassment was a prelude to the Iraqi military firing on unarmed residents, killing 36 and wounding scores that outside observers called a massacre." Outside observers include US Senator John Kerry who termed that assault a "massacre." British MP David Amess writes at the Independent of London's Foreign Desk blog:
At Camp Ashraf in Iraq, 3,400 residents are encircled. Loud speakers have been placed around the town's perimeter as part of a campaign of psychological intimidation. They blast out insults and threats in the early hours of the morning. The aggressors, Iraqi forces, are taking orders from the Iranian regime. They want Camp Ashraf cleared out and shut down because the residents are members of the People's Mohjahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), the main Iranian opposition group.
No-one is allowed out of the Camp to receive medical attention. Foreign observers, including Euro MPs, US congressmen and journalists, are not allowed to enter. In the latest sign that the siege is tightening, Ashraf's fuel supplied have been cut off. There have been no gasoline deliveries for almost a year, and very little diesel fuel and kerosene. Now that temperatures are dropping, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered an end to deliveries of coal and wood.

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