Saturday, August 22, 2009

Those drug rumors






July 28th, Nouri al-Maliki ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf -- a camp in Baghdad where dissident Iranians (labeled terrorists by the US government) live. The assault has been called out by Amnesty International and the ICRC (among others). It's also received little attention from 'alternative' media. Last week Tanya Snyder (Free Speech Radio News) reported on Camp Ashraf and among those she interviewed for the report were the International Committee of the Red Cross' Bernard Barrett who explained, "In particular concern is the whole principle of nonrefulment which basically means that a person cannot be forced to go back to a country where they have grounded or serious fears of persecution or ill treatment because of the ethnicity or political beliefs or religion or whatever." Ron Jacobs (at CounterPunch) notes the silence and explains the support in the US on the part of neocons before adding:

This attack and its aftermath is not about the PMOI's all too apparent coziness with elements of the neoconservative establishment in the United States. It is about a human rights violation by Washington's client government in Iraq. This is also not the recent elections in Iran and whether or not they were fair. It is about a group of dissidents who appear to be somewhat isolated from their natural constituency while also being surrounded by well-armed US and Iraqi military with instructions to keep them penned where they are.
It is wrong that the members of the PMOI were attacked by forces of the Maliki government in Baghdad on July 28 and 29, 2009 while US forces looked on. It is the right thing to expose this action and to ask that it not be repeated. The attack exists as a human rights violation in a country that is a vast ocean of human rights violations, many of them the result of the US invasion. It should be condemned. Yet, for some reason, the PMOI is asking one of the greatest human rights violators in Iraq and elsewhere around the world--the US government--to protect them.

As Ron knows but doesn't say (it's a brief article), the ties that bind many neocons is their Socialist roots. They were the Scoop Jackson Socialists, the ones who, in 1972, refused to endorse George McGovern because they believed in continuing the war on Vietnam ('we can't pull out!' they said sounding like socialists at a think tank today that's in the 'center'). (And that's when they split with the group that went on to become Democratic Socialists for America -- Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Carl Davidson, etc. who were the left wing and non-neocon Socialists.) The Scoop Jackson Socialists moved over to the State Dept under Ronald Reagan and Reagan really was their complete embrace of the Republican Party. The residents of Camp Ashraf have Marxist roots and if support from neocons is noted, it should be noted that they not only share contempt for the current leadership in Iran, but also because they hail from similar political pasts.

Today the US military announced that Staff Sgt Enoch Chatman, Staff Sgt Bob Clements, Sgt Jarrett Taylor and Spc Daniel Weber are all "charged with cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates . . . The four Soliders are alleged to have treated Soldiers within their platoon inappropriately." CNN states they are accused of "cruelty and maltreatment of four subordinates in Iraq after a suicide investigation brought to light alleged wrongdoing, the military said Friday." Michelle Tan (Army Times via USA Today) reports, "The alleged mistreatment consisted of verbal abuse, physical punishment and ridicule of the subordinate soldiers, Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesman for Multi-National Division-South wrote in an e-mail to Army Times."

"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 Green Zone incident this month 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. Martin Chulov (Guardian) provides an interview with Danny Fitzsimons where the contractor explains he is blurry on the details of the night of the shooting and states, "I have sat here trying to think through the whys and the wherefores. I see Paul and Darren's faces every night before I sleep and every morning when I wake up. The only two people who can tell me what happened that night are both dead. All I know is that it went really, really bad, really quickly." Oliver August (Times of London) report that attorneys John Tipple and Nick Wrack believe they have found grounds (in Iraqi law -- dating back to 1930) for allowing Danny to be tried in England -- the dead are not Iraqis (one is British, one is Australian) so a transfer to country of origin is possible.

Turning to the United States, next week a demonstration against the illegal and ongoing wars:

Next week, Cindy Sheehan will join other like-minded peace activists to have a presence near the expensive resort on Martha's Vineyard where President Obama will be vacationing the week of August 23-30.
From her home in California, Ms. Sheehan released this statement:
"There are several things that we wish to accomplish with this protest on Martha's Vineyard. First of all, no good social or economic change will come about with the continuation or escalation of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We simply can't afford to continue this tragically expensive foreign policy.
Secondly, we as a movement need to continue calling for an immediate end to the occupations even when there is a Democrat in the Oval Office. There is still no Noble Cause no matter how we examine the policies.
Thirdly, the body bags aren't taking a vacation and as the US led violence surges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so are the needless deaths on every side.
And, finally, if the right-wing can force the government to drop any kind of public option or government supported health care, then we need to exert the same kind of pressure to force a speedy end to the occupations."
Cindy Sheehan will arrive on the Vineyard on Tuesday, August 25th. For more information, or to request an interview with Cindy Sheehan please contact:
Laurie Dobson 604-8988 or Bruce Marshall 767-6079
Related, Charlie Gibson has embarrassed himself again. No, he didn't fall asleep on live TV. No, he didn't get caught lying to Gore Vidal (in the midst of an interview on Timothy McVeigh when Charlie didn't like what Gore was saying) that the satellite signal was going out. No, he didn't step into a job held by a man who'd been injured reporting in Iraq and by a woman who was being 'eased out' for the 'crime' of pregnancy. He didn't walk around an eatery with toilet paper on his shoe either (that happened at the start of the month). No, this time he just shot off his big, uninformed mouth. Conservative Byron York (Washington Examiner) reports that Morning Chat Charlie went on the radio yesterday and declared "Enough already" about Cindy's planned protest at Martha's Vineyard. I'm not aware of Charlie owning property there (I do) so I'm really not aware of why he feels the need to weigh in? It's not as if he's the voice of the Vineyard and from calls I've had, most are at worst curious. I'm referring to the people who own. Not the hangers on who rush out this time of year to play "Look at me!" Possibly including Charlie and surely including Barack and Michelle. As someone who owns property there and wouldn't be caught dead there at this time of year due to the influx of outside posers, I'd say the "Enough already" needs to go to them and not to Cindy Sheehan who's neither posing or pretending but utilizing her First Amendment political free speech. York notes Cindy Sheehan's "Enough Already" (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox): "Enough already?" Hmmm…I don't know Charlie Gibson and I don't pay any attention to his career, but I seem to agree with him on this one: "Enough already." Enough with the killing, torturing, wounding and profiting off of the backs of our troops and off of the lives of the people of Iraq-Af-Pak: as our brothers and sisters in Latin America say: "Basta!" Somehow, I don't think that this is what Charlie Gibson meant, though. I am sure that he just wants me to go away like most of the rest of the anti-war movement has done under the Obama presidency. One of the things I hear quite often from people from all over the political spectrum is: "Why don't you just go away, you've had your 15 minutes of fame."Yes, that's exactly what I thought as soon as I heard that my son was killed in the US's illegal and immoral war in Iraq: "this is a perfect opportunity to get my 15 minutes of fame." Actually, after I slowly recovered from the shock and horror, the pain always remains, I thought that I had to do everything I can to end this nightmare so other mothers/families wouldn't have to go through what I was going through and what I am going through.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Comeback madness






Sinan Saleheddin (AP) notes yesterday's Baghdad bombings resulted in the deaths of "at least 101 people and wounded more than 500." A death toll like that -- even half that -- would generally result in some reporting on your TV screens. That wasn't the case. Commercial broadcast networks? NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, of all the commercial network evening news shows, stood alone in offering a report on the bombings.
Lester Holt: This is one of the bloodiest days in a long time in Iraq. It's certainly the most violent since US forces withdrew from Iraqi cities in June. Multiple bombings killed at least 95 people in Baghdad and wounded more than 500. A major test for Iraq's security forces and for US policy. We get more now from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. Mick, good evening. Jim Miklaszewski: Good evening, Lester. US officials are already blaming al Qaeda for today's bombings in an effort to stir up sectarian violence but whos ever responsible, today's bloody and blatant bombings raise serious questions about Iraq's ability to take over its own defense. Six powerful bombs rocked Baghdad within minutes in one of the deadliest days of the entire Iraq War. One blast shook up a meeting of tribal leaders. As smoke filled the room, the speaker called it terrorism. The carnage began with a suicide car bombing at Iraq's Finance Ministry at about eleven this morning. Only three minutes later, a massive truck bomb exploded outside the Foreign Ministry. Then over the next ten minutes four separate bombs tore through Baghdad in a highly coordinated attack. The Foreign Ministry took the most devastating hit -- two tons of explosives shredded the front of the building, killing at least 59 Iraqis. The wounded flocked to Baghdad hospitals. This man said one explosion threw his car into the air. The attacks come less than two months after American combat forces withdrew from Baghdad in an agreement with Iraq's government. Iraqi forces were supposed to take over security operations, but after today's bombings, NBC News producer Ghazi Balkiz says the Iraqis admit they failed in their mission.

Ghazi Balkiz: In a surprising statement tonight, the Iraqi Defense Ministry admitted that the attacks were the result of Iraqi forces negligence and said that they should take most of the blame for the security breach.

Jim Miklaszewski: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could ask the US forces to return to the cities but that would be political suicide and it's unlikely American combat forces would step back into the middle of an Iraqi sectarian war.

Ret General Barry McCaffrey : The last time we went in to take Baghdad, we had several thousand killed and wounded. We won't do it again. We shouldn't do it again.

Jim Miklaszewski: And despite today's attacks and a recent spike in overall violence, US military and Pentagon officials say they still intend to withdraw all US combat forces on schedule. According to one senior official, it's time for the Iraqis to step up and take over ready or not. Lester.

Lester Holt: Jim Miklaszewski, tonight at the Pentagon, thank you.

One of the deadliest days of the entire Iraq War and instead of covering that, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric spent nine minutes on the passing of CBS News' Don Hewitt. 'Once upon' a noted passing at a network resulted in the final thirty seconds with a title card showing the date of birth and date of death. Last night, CBS short changed the news and wallowed in an attempt to turn a private tragedy into world news. On non-commercial broadcast TV, PBS, The NewsHour spoke with Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) about the bombings in Baghdad (link has text, audio and video option).

RAY SUAREZ: Jane Arraf, welcome to the program. You were in the part of Baghdad targeted by these attacks. Tell us what you saw.

JANE ARRAF: Well, it was mostly what I heard, first of all. I was going to the U.N., which was commemorating the sixth anniversary of the bombing of U.N. headquarters, when there was a huge explosion, which turned out to be a mortar, landing fairly close to the U.N. building. And then the blast, this huge blast that was part of a wave of explosions that rocked Baghdad in what really is the biggest security challenge, perhaps, to the Iraqi government in some time, and certainly a challenge to Iraqi security forces' ability to secure the city. Now, the biggest one was outside the Foreign Ministry, where a truck packed with an estimated ton of explosives detonated. There was another bomb shortly after near the Finance Ministry that collapsed part of an overpass. Now, these are some of the most heavily defended buildings in Baghdad. Iraqi authorities say that they confiscated a third truck packed with explosives and showed that on television, big, red plastic barrels filled with explosive material. All in all, it's seen as a test, and a test that Iraqi security forces have failed today.

RAY SUAREZ: Who is the Iraqi government blaming for this explosion? Who would have an interest in committing this kind of crime?

JANE ARRAF: Well, that's the problem in Iraq. Pretty much everyone has an interest, but this specifically, the Iraqi government is saying it's Sunni insurgents and former Saddam loyalists, a strange sort of mix. But it does have the hallmarks of al-Qaida. I went to the site later this afternoon to see what the wreckage looked like and talked to some of the survivors, and it was a huge bomb that actually did look quite a bit like -- the remnants did look like that bombing six years ago.It was a truck that managed to get close enough and packed with enough explosives that it did tremendous damage. The big ones are normally thought to be al-Qaida, the big suicide bombs, sophisticated attacks, coordinated attacks, and that's who's being blamed for this one today, being blamed, as well, on the streets. A lot of Iraqis think this is either al-Qaida or ex-Baathists, although some of them persist in believing it's the Americans.

If the US just had two broadcast networks, it would have been a pretty good night for US news thanks to NBC and PBS. CBS tossed online Sheila MacVicar's report features CBS News' Mohammed Khalil stating, "Just like the days of the war. You could see dead people in cars still burning. Very awful." At one minute and 23 seconds, more time was spent on 'memories' of Don Hewitt than on reporting deadly violence. On 'memories'. That's not counting the lengthy opening report. That' just trotting out Andy Rooney and others to offer their thoughts on Don's passing. Anyone with half a brain knows you do not make the death of one of your own behind the camera people -- natural causes death -- the LEAD story on your evening broadcast. Anyone with half a brain knows that in 22 minutes newscast, you do not spend 9 minutes on the death of one of your own. 1 minute and 23 seconds is how long Sheila MacVicar's report is. They couldn't spare more time because they devoted 9 minutes to Don Hewitt and, please note, the first person to scream the loudest over that would have been Don Hewitt.
***ADDED: The above has been altered at a friend (at CBS's request). A friend at CBS News states Sheila MacVicar's report did air on the East and Central time zone's CBS Evening News. If so, one minute and 23 seconds were spent on Iraq and over nine minutes on Don. Almost everyone I know is on vacation so I'm going by one person and only one person stating the report aired. It is not on the Evening News I Tivo-ed. I don't do corrections in snapshots, the policy is the next day. I'm doing this because "I'm swearing to you, we had that report" is what I was told. Normally, I would want more than one person stating that. It also doesn't explain why one person at CBS gave me the time Sheila MacVicar's report was dumped online but I can't get ahold of him right now. Because "I'm swearing," I'll take the word of one and change the above. **********
101 deaths and over 570 injured from violence versus the natural causes death of one name not known outside the news industry? Which was news? If you picked "B," you're an embarrassment and may have a bright future in TV news -- at least on CBS and ABC.
Ernesto Londono and Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) report a despondent, 54-year-old man sat outside the Foreign Ministry, eyeing, wondering about his two sons whom he couldn't be reach by phone and who "worked at the ministry," his two sons of whom he says, "They've disappeared." That is a story. That is news. News is Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspaper) quoting Um Khatab asking, "Where are the police? I lost a brother, and they are sitting in their cars with air conditioning?" News is Adam Ashton informing, "Her cries of mourning reverberated in the street while teams of police officers sifted through the site, making their way past burnt-out cars and scorched pavement." Jane Arraf (Global Post) reports, "After the active nightmare of the bombing, by evening the street had the feel of a bad dream -- amid the groups of curious young men, a ministry employee wlaked with blood seeping through the bandage on his head. An anguished mother stumbling over her shoes asked everyoen if they'd seen her missing daughter." It shouldn't be difficult to grasp the heartache and loss of over 100 unexpected deaths due to violence. It shouldn't be but apparently at the once upon a time Tiffany network, it is.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Barack's busy planning his latest TV special








Today the US military announced: "FORWARD OPERATING BASE ECHO, Iraq -- A Multi-National Division - South Soldier was killed in action August 19. Release of the identity of the Soldier is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin." When ICCC updates, that will make the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war 4332.

"The windows of the Foregin Ministry shattered," Harry Haydon (The Sun) quotes a Foreign Ministry worker stating, "slaughtering the people inside." "Dozens of people were killed inside by shards of flying glass," adds UK's Channel 4 News (link has text and video) which identifies the woman as "Asia." Once again, violence swept through Baghdad on a massive scale -- such a massive scale that 'worst violence since US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities' was bandied about as if it were new and hadn't been used repeatedly in the last weeks. "All these things landed on top of me. These terrorists. Many innocent people were killed," surivor Samira Hachem, who'd been in her apartment, tells Ernesto Londono (Washington Post). Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) notes the website of the political party of Jalal Talabani (president of Iraq) reported multiple Baghdad bombings (not "immediately clear how many bombs were detonated or where") with multiple deaths and hundreds injured: "The finance, foreign, health, education, and housing ministries were all targeted, the PUK said, without indicating which blasts caused casualties. State-owned Iraqiya television broadcast footage of the capital showing plumes of gray smoke rising over rooftops." Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports that the bombings, "at least six attacks," began at 10:30 a.m. in the morning "within minutes of each other, the largest being the one outside the Foreign Ministry". Chulov's report is text and video and that's from the video. The Economist offers, "BAGHDAD has not seen a day as violent as Wednesday August 19th for a long while. At ten in the morning, simultaneous car bombs and rocket attacks struck half a dozen ministries and the cabinet office. A lorry exploded beside the foreign ministry, destroying it and leaving a large crater outside. Nearby high-rise apartment buildings were also set ablaze. A bomb smuggled into the education ministry narrowly failed to kill the minister in his office, according to Iraqi television reports, and a mortar just missed the home of the environment minister. Rockets fell across the heavily fortified green zone, destroying parts of the parliament building and damaging a neighbouring hotel a few minutes before the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was expected to visit." CNN notes the targeting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance. Liz Sly and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) agree those were "the main targets," note mortar attacks and quote eye witness Gaith Abdulla stating, "I saw people killed and wounded on the ground and many cars were ablaze. The security forces started shooting and were firing randomly. Then another massive explosion shook the whole place." ITN (link has text and video) describes the area around the Foreign Ministry, "The site was a twisted heap of smouldering cars as firefighters fought to put out the blaze." The video shows the Parliament building -- Parliament is not in session -- during the bombings as windows/panels shook and fell and dust flew in the air. Deborah Haynes (Times of London) observes, "By targeting the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry, the bombers have sent a clear signal that they are able to strike at the heart of the Government. . . . Today's bloodshed will raise questions about President Obama's strategy to pull US forces out of Iraqi cities several weeks ago leaving domestic security forces in control." Natalia Antelava (BBC News) offers this analysis, "These are unusual attacks -- in the last few weeks, we have seen explosions in Baghdad but these attacks occured in some of the supposedly safest neighbourhoods of the city. For many people, these attacks confirm their worst fears over the withdrawal of US troops from cities across Iraq at the end of June and handing over of the security situation to Iraqi forces. A lot of people before the withdrawal were saying they were very fearful that attacks would rise." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) sums up, "At the stie of the deadliest Baghdad bombing in 18 months, Iraqi faith that their security forces could protect them lay shattered in the wreckage." Caroline Alexander reports, "It's too early to know whether the Baghdad assualts will prompt a change in U.S. tactics, and Iraqi officials haven't requested assistance under the security pact, said U.S. Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a spokesman for the Pentagon."

"Everybody on the street was going crazy. Everybody was just trying to get to their cars, just trying to get home -- and that's what I did," Mustapha Muhie told the BBC. BBC News offers a photo essay filled with plumes of smoke, showing the huge crater left by one bombing, the cranes used to check the Foreign Ministry for any people who might be alive and trapped in the building. Some outlets are saying car bombs, some are saying truck bombs. Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) goes with truck bombings and quotes Katheem Hanoon who was selling snacks and water by the ministry before "[s]he was buried under her goods and shelves after the bombing": "What security? Where is it? Is it borther killing brother, son killing father?" Sam Dagher (New York Times) informs, "The bombs crippled the downtown area, closed highways and two main bridges over the Tigris River and clogged hospitals with wounded."

Al Jazeera puts the death toll at 95 and the number wounded at 500 and quotes Iraqi Mar Gen Qassim Atta stating the Foreign Ministry was targeted by a truck bombing. Caroline Alexander also notes 95 dead but 563 injured and credits the count to AFP which got the numbers from the Interior Ministry. Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) adds, "Government ministry workers, journalists and security guards were among the dead." Jenny Booth (Times of London) offers a timeline of attacks in the last two years and August 10th saw 51 deaths (Mosul and Baghdad). Jane Arraf explains, "The ministry, surrounded by high concrete walls on a busy street, was near a checkpoint that had been dismantled earlier this year. As attacks in Baghdad have decreased, Iraqi authorities eager to show improvement in security and make the city livable again have started removing concrete walls and security checkpoints." Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) reports on the attitudes regarding the removal of (some) walls and quotes teacher Adel Hameed stating, "I feel like something heavy removed from my chest when they remove the walls, but I still feel in pain that my country had to pay very large amounts of money for those gray slabs to slice our city into Shiite and Suni enclaves."

Oliver August (Times of London) reminds, "Today is the sixth anniversary of a truck bombing that hit the United Nations compound in Baghdad, killing 22 people including special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello." The link includes Sky News' video and you can see what looks like hundreds of burned out cars, some still aflame, and attempts to hose them down. Some were clearly parked (in a parking lot), others were on the road and apparently in motion when the explosions took place. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) explains, "Television footage showed cars smashed by falling concrete slabs and streets full of rubble and glass." August quotes a guest at the Rasheed Hotel stating, "The windows were blown out and the doors were taken out, even the door frames went. If I had been in my room at the time I would have been seriously injured or worse. Everything is locked down now. Nobody can move anywhere, nobody is getting in or out. Even our security team cannot move." The eye witness is identified as "John Tipple, a UK solicitor". Not noted is that Tipple is one of Danny Fitzsimons' attorneys -- the British contractor who could face trial in Iraq and face the death penalty. Tipple is in Iraq attempting to have Danny Fitzsimons' case transferred to England.AFP reports that Nouri al-Maliki has ordered a review of "security measures". Ahmed Rasheed, Khalid al-Ansary, Michael Christie, Mohammed Abbas and Tim Pearce (Reuters) report that Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi ("Baghdad's security spokesman") stated, "The operation shows negligence, and is considered a security breach for which Iraqi forces must take most of the blame." In the aftermath, a number showed up to compete for crazy. Chris Hill, US Ambassador to Iraq, denounced an undefined "they" as "psychopaths." Chip Cummins (Wall St. Journal) notes, "Iraqi security officials initially blamed Baathist loyalists and operatives associated with al Qaeda for the series of attacks, but provided no evidence for that claim. No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attacks." Apologies to Chip Cummins who was wrongly billed as "Chip Cummings" yesterday and that was my error. KUNA traces the swirling accusations identifying the head of "Baghdad security operations" as the first to accuse and to accuse "Baathis non-believer alliance". But crazy ass Jalal Talabani -- who so disgraced himself in the last years that his party performed miserably in the July Kurdistan elections -- may have won the prize for crazy (a padded cell) by insisting the bombings were the actions of a new polyblend: al Qaeda in Iraq and Ba'athists. KUNA quotes him stating, "Terrorist criminals from Al-Qaeda and Saddamists carried out Wednesday a number of criminal acts which targeted civil communities and government establishments." Now anyone could be responsible, anyone. But when you're going to toss around accusations with no proof, you might try making them plausible. And while al Qaeda in Iraq and Ba'athists teaming up could happen, it's not really the most realistic charge to instantly make. For one thing, Ba'athists are what? Secular. Anyone accuse al Qaeda in Iraq -- or al Qaeda anywhere -- of being secular? Nope. Never. Jalal hasn't looked so crazy since his trip to the US to unplug his arteries was followed by a major pig out which led to his collapsing in a Chicago bookstore. Someone might want to advise him that when he's no longer president of Iraq, he's probably not going to be flown in to the US every couple of months for the equivalent of cholesterol-lipo. Ben Lando (Time magazine) notes of the assertion of an al Qaeda and Ba'athist blend, "It is hard to asses that claim at the moment."

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The slow awakening





This is Iraqi Mustafa sharing his story:

There is a hmam [bath] in Basra that gays frequent. I entered, but I was very careful how I looked and acted. I took a shower, and then this man approached me. He started talking about the situation in Iraq: how people should be more open, accept changes and change with them. He was very clever in his questions!
He asked if I watched satellite TV. I said yes. He asked if I watched the European channels. I denied that I did. He said, "The Internet is a good thing; it is good that it came to our country." He asked what websites I visited. I just said, various ones. He asked if I went to porn sites. I denied it. Then he asked if I used Manjam [a personals site popular among gay men]. He was very smart: that website is only known among the gays, I thought. When he said that, I trusted him; I admitted it.
He smiled for a couple of minutes, a very neutral, slick smile, just looking at me. Then he grabbed me by the hair and started beating me, shouting, "You are gays." That was how he said it: gays. He dragged me out of the shower; I begged him to let me put my clothes on, and he let me dress, but then he dragged me onto the street, shouting "You sodomite!" [Enta luti].
People gathered around us while he was hitting me, and tried to interfere. They said, "How do you know he is a sodomite? Did you see him practicing liwat?" The man said, "I have my own ways of find out!" I was begging them to help, and while they were trying to reason with him, I took advantage of the confusion and ran away. We were on a narrow, winding street; I must have run 300 meters before I reached a shop where they sell rope. I shouted dakhilak [a cry for asylum]. The owner let me hide in his shop.
He put me in the cellar, but even there I could hear the man shouting, "Where is he?" and other voices joining him. Two hours later, the owner told me he had to close the shop. He said the man was from the Mahdi Army and the militia was searching for me up and down the street. I pleaded with him to let me stay overnight, and so he shuttered the shop up and let me hide there. In the morning, after dawn prayer, he came and said it was safe and I ran away.

Mustafa is among the Iraqis sharing his story in a Human Rights Watch report entitled "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq." For the 67-page report [PDF format warning] click here. We noted the report yesterday and we're noting it again today. It is news. Iraq's LGBT community is being targeted. And, with that it, all people who don't fit some theocratic thug's stereotype of what a man or a woman is. They're being terrorized and this is taking place while US troops are on the ground which really underscores that US troops need to leave Iraq. When they can't even provide protection to the at risk population, there's no reason for them to remain in the country. Human Rights Watch's report notes that the Kurdistan Regional Government does everything they can to publicly black out discussions of same-sex issues. In terms of the KRG, that's it from the report. The gangs are Shi'ites, militias. Allowed to operate and terrorize by Nouri's security forces who look the other way even as the bodies pile up. In April 2008, Mashal was kidnapped in Baghdad. He tells HRW, "There was a police patrol right next to my store when they kidnapped me; they saw everything that was happening, but they didn't intervene. Everyone believes the police [in the area] are under the control of the Mahdi Army." Nouri's security forces and Interior Ministry are accused of blackmailing gays on top of everything ("And gay men are especially easy for them to blackmail," says an Iraqi military officer). The report notes, "One young man told us a story in which official corruption and brutality intertwine. In early 2009, as the broader militia campaign was getting underway. Ministry of Interior officers kidnapped and tortured him in a murderous shakedown, to extort money because they knew he worked with an LGBT organization abroad. He paid and escaped. He says he saw the bodies of five men killed because they could not pay." Nuri was stopped by the police, a bag pulled over his head, beaten and pulled into a car which desposited him at the Interior Ministry:

Once we got there, I heard them talking on a walkie-talkie: they were telling people from the intelligence service what had happened.
They put me in a room, a regular room, took the bag off my head, and there I was with five other gay men. I didn't know them previously, but I found out we had mutual friends. They gave their female names but not their real names. Gay men in Iraq are very cautious that way.
Then two hours later, they separated us and put each in a room. After they separated us, I didn't know anything about the fate of the other five men. And then a police officer dame and said, "Do you know where you are? You are in the interrogation wing of the Ministry of Interior." He told me, 'If you have ten thousand US dollars, we will let you go."
I said I didn't have that kind of money.
The next day at 10 a.m., they cuffed by hands behind my back. Then they tied a rope around my legs, and they hung me upside down from a hook in the ceiling, from morning till sunset. I passed out. I was stripped down to my underwear while I was hung upside down. They cut me down that night, but they gave me no water or food.

In the United States, we were outraged, appalled and disgusted by the events of October 12, 1998. That was when Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered. He was beaten, tortured and left to die tied to a fence. It was outrageous and inhumane. And Matthew Shepard's brutal death galvanized the country into action and out of apathy on the issue. In Iraq today, there are multiple Matthew Shepards, targeted because they are gay or thought to be gay, targeted, threatened, beaten, murdered. And the White House has not condemned it and the United Nations has not condemned it and just attempting to get press coverage of the issue is like moving a mountain.

Steve Inskeep (NPR) observes, "The report is painful to read. It begins with the words of an Iraqi man describing the abduction, murder, and mutiliation of his partner -- and it's not clear from the description if the three-events happened in that order. Like many HRW reports it appears to be based on the specific detailed accounts of survivors and eyewitnesses. Homosexuality in Iraq is so thoroughly submerged that according to the report there is not even a commonly accepted term for it, no Iraqi equivalent of 'gay.' Nevertheless it has become a major focus for Iraqi militiamen, who have waged a 'killing campaign' to eliminate what some consider a social disease brought by the American army." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) adds, "Among the tortures described to Human Rights Watch researchers by gays and doctors is the practice of injecting glue into men's anuses. Human Rights Watch says that according to the gays its researchers interviewed, the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, 'bears primary responsibility and launched the killing in early 2009'." CBC speaks with HRW's Tom Porteous who states, "One theory is in order to maintain relevance and to gain publicity, they are now taking it upon themselves to run a campaign to -- in the words of some preachers and some media commentators -- cleanse the country of depravity, which again is bieng interpreted as being brought in by the foreign invasion and occupation." Neal Broveman (The Advocate) covers the report and how "Iraqi officials allegedly knew about the murders but have done little to stop future killings." Dalila Mahdwai (Lebanon's Daily Star) explains, "Although the violence is mainly concentrated in the Iraqi capital, abuse has also been recorded in other the cities of Basra, Kirkuk and Najaf, Moumneh said. 'Murders are committed with impunity, admonitory in intent, with corpses dumped in garbage or hung as warnings on the street,' the report said." Free Speech Radio News points out, "Homosexuality is not illegal in Iraq, and according to HRW, the militia action spurred by the Mahdi Army violates the tenets of legality, proof, and privacy enshrined in Sharia law as well." Mark Memmott (NPR) includes HRW's call for Nouri al-Maliki's government to condenm the assaults while Alsumaria notes, "Iraq authorities have done nothing to stop the killing, Human Rights Watch said calling on Iraq's government to act urgently to rein in militia abuses, punish the perpetrators, and stop a new resurgence of violence that threatens all Iraqis' safety."

It matters. So does the Iraq War -- although to some it's past tense "so did." Conservative Byron York (Washington Examiner) observes:

Remember the anti-war movement? Not too long ago, the Democratic party's most loyal voters passionately opposed the war in Iraq. Democratic presidential candidates argued over who would withdraw American troops the quickest. Netroots activists regularly denounced President George W. Bush, and sometimes the U.S. military ("General Betray Us"). Cindy Sheehan, the woman whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, became a heroine when she led protests at Bush's Texas ranch.
That was then. Now, even though the United States still has roughly 130,000 troops in Iraq, and is quickly escalating the war in Afghanistan -- 68,000 troops there by the end of this year, and possibly more in 2010 -- anti-war voices on the Left have fallen silent.

He explains that at Netroots Nation (Daily Toilet Scrubbers Unite!), Stan Greenberg polled and the dead last issue for the Cult of St. Barack was "working to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan." Byron York's not pointing out anything that we haven't pointed out community wide; however, it's worth noting that the right-wing is now laughing at the hypocrisy of the so-called left. As they should. (York also notes Cindy Sheehan will be at Martha's Vineyard next week to protest during Barack's vacation there.) Byron York offers more honesty than 'from the left' Brian Katulis who writes at American Progress that the SOFA creates "an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces on a three-year timeline" -- it does no such thing. What a load of crap and what a way to flaunt ignorance. No link to trash (or government propaganda -- US Institute of Peace). I'm real damn sorry that little Katulis felt the need to talk about something he knows nothing about but for those who actually have signed contracts -- and for those of us who have been able to legally break those contracts -- we're damn well aware of what a contract does and doesn't do. The SOFA replaced the UN mandate for the occupation. The US didn't want to renew it because the US government already wasn't living up to legal obligations under it. Nouri didn't want to renew it because under the UN mandate he had less ability to manuever. The SOFA was a way to continue the Iraq War. It was not about ending it. It is a three year treaty and, at the end of it, it can be extended. That's why Nouri floated that idea on his DC visit last month. If you've never signed a contract and/or you have no background in contract law, maybe it's time you just found something else to talk about it because you only embarrass yourself as you attempt to misinform others.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Barry flaunts his inner Reagan






Today Celebrity in Cheif Barry O! spoke to the VFW and made comments such as this: "When communism cast its shadow across so much of the globe, you stood vigilant in a long Cold War -- from an airlift in Berlin to mountains of Korea to the jungles of Vietnam." If your mouth just dropped open at the stunning historical ignorance of that single sentence, grasp that Barry O is whomever he thinks audiences want. He never means one damn word. That's the most frightening thing about him. George W. Bush's Iraq 'plan' was 'we'll stand down as they stand up' and Barry revealed the same 'strategy'. He also noted, "But as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq War will end." Yeah, we'll see. Barry O didn't argue "Trust me!" with comments about how he's working to ensure that troops in Iraq get more: "and for all those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, including our National Guard and Reserve, more of the protective gear and armored vehicles that save lives." Uh, excuse me, he's been president for seven months. If US troops in Iraq (or Afghanistan, but this is the Iraq snapshot) need "more of the protective gear and armored vehicles that save lives," as commander in chief, he should have ensured that they received it. Don't tell us what you're going to do. You've been president for seven months, it's time you have accomplishments to point to and if you're saying US troops are at risk because they lack "protective gear and armored vehicles," and you haven't already taken care of this? He brags about how its in his (proposed) budget and how he's not hiding the costs of the wars. On the latter, he means that he's not doing supplementals. As Bette Davis tells Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, "But you are, Blanche, you are." The night of June 16th, the US House voted on his War Supplemental (and passed it): 226 members (221 Democrats, 5 Republicans) voted for it, 202 members (32 Democrats, 170 Republicans) voted against it. June 18th the US Senate voted for it (91 voted for it, five -- Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders, Jim DeMint, Mike Enzi and Tom Coburn -- voted against it.) Barack should remember that because June 24th he signed the $106 billion War Supplemental. So he's telling the American people in August that the US troops in Iraq do not have the equipment they need and in June he was signing a multi-billion dollar supplemental and not taking care of the troops in that?

Cindy Sheehan (Cindy's Soapbox) observed last week:

There has been no significant removal of troops from Iraq and there has been a very significant increase of troops to Af-Pak, with the unfortunate commensurate increase in casualties on all sides, yet there is very little movement in the "movement." McCain would be doing the exact same thing that Obama is doing in Iraq-Af-Pak: the EXACT same thing. There is no difference between what Obama is doing and what McCain would be doing, except Obama has a (D) behind his name. The profound difference to us here in the grassroots would be that if McCain were president, faux-gressives would still be up in arms about the wars and, even though our protests wouldn't change McCain's mind, at least we could retain our moral high-ground, that has been sold out to the Democrats for absolutely nothing in return.

Cindy's not sitting still. Barack vacations on Martha's Vineyard from Sunday through the 30th and Cindy will be there:

From her home in California, Ms. Sheehan released this statement:
"There are several things that we wish to accomplish with this protest on Martha's Vineyard. First of all, no good social or economic change will come about with the continuation or escalation of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We simply can't afford to continue this tragically expensive foreign policy.
Secondly, we as a movement need to continue calling for an immediate end to the occupations even when there is a Democrat in the Oval Office. There is still no Noble Cause no matter how we examine the policies.
Thirdly, the body bags aren't taking a vacation and as the US led violence surges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so are the needless deaths on every side.
And, finally, if the right-wing can force the government to drop any kind of public option or government supported health care, then we need to exert the same kind of pressure to force a speedy end to the occupations."
Cindy Sheehan will arrive on the Vineyard on Tuesday, August 25th.

Late last night Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reported Human Rights Watch would be releasing a report today on the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community: "Although the scope of the problem remains unclear, hundreds of gay men may have been killed this year in predominantly Shiite Muslim areas, the report's authors said, basing their conclusion on interviews with gay Iraqi men, hospital officials and an unnamed United Nations official in Baghdad." The Austin-American Statesman (compiling various wire reports) noted, "The campaign has been largely blamed on Shiite extremists who target behavior deemed un-Islamic, beating and even killing women for not wearing veils and bombing liquor stores." B-b-but, the New York Times told us the Shi'ite militias are standing down! And that they're lovely! Why, they're not just lovely, they're de-lovely! Imagine the New York Times ever being wrong about Iraq -- it's one for Ripley's. This morning the BBC added, "The report says members of the Mehdi Army militia group is spearheading the campaign, but police are also accused even though homosexuality is legal. Witnesses say vigilante groups break into homes and pick people up in the street, interrogating them to extract the names of other potential victims, before murdering them." CNN notes, "Interviews with doctors indicate hundreds of men had been killed, but the exact number was unclear because of the stigma associated with homosexuality in Iraq, the New York-based watchdog group said in its report." BBC correspondent Natalia Antelava interviewed gay men in Baghdad who report that no attempts are made by security forces to stop the assaults against them.The Human Rights Watch report is entitled "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq." For the 67-page report [PDF format warning] click here. The report opens with Hamid relating how his partner was murdered: It was late one night in early April, and they came to take my partner at his parents' home. Four armed men barged into the house, masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name; they insulted him and took him in front of his parents. All that, I heard about later from his family. He was found in the neighborhood the day after. They had thrown his corpse in the garbage. His genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out.Since then, I've been unable to speak properly. I feel as if my life is pointless now. I don't have friends other than those you see; for years it has just been my boyfriend and myself in that little bubble, by ourselves. I have no family now -- I cannot go back to them. I have a death warrant on me. I feel the best thing to do is just to kill myself. In Iraq, murderers and thieves are respected more than gay people. Their measuring rod to judge people is who they have sex with. It is not by their conscience, it is not by their conduct or their values, it is who they have sex with. The cheapest thing in Iraq is a human being, a human life. It is cheaper than an animal, than a pair of used-up batteries you buy on the street. Especially people like us. His partner of ten years is murdered and he has to live in fear, hide his own grief and hide who he is. And this is the country the US 'liberated'. Human Rights Watch's report notes that most of the Iraqis interviewed self-label as "gay" but the murderers would "describe the victims and excuse the killings with a potpourri of words and justifications, identifying those they abominate in shifting ways -- suggesting how concerns about an Iraq where men are no longer masculine drive the death squads, as much as fears of sexual 'sin.' 'Puppies,' a vilifying slang term of apparently recent vintage, implies that the men are immature as well as inhuman. Both the media and sermons in mosques warn of a wave of effeminacy among Iraqi men, and execrate the 'third sex'.'' The report also notes that while "gay" may be a new term in Iraq, homosexuals and lesbians are not new to Iraq ("always existed in Iraqi society, as in all societies"). HRW also notes that the hatred towards "'feminized' men reveals only hatred of women."

Tariq shares with HRW:

At the end of March, I started to hear from friends that the Mahdi Army was killing gays. The newspapers also reported there was an increase in the "third sex" in Iraq, also known as "puppies" [jarawi]. Then on April 4, I found out that two of my gay friends, Mohammed and Mazen, had been killed. I think those were their names; within a gay group, gays rarely give out their real names. We were friends, we met in cafes or chatted on the Internet, andone day they just disappeared.
A few days later, I met the brother of one of them and he told me they were killed. They were kidnapped on the street and then their bodies were found near a mosque, with signs of torture. One was 18, one was 19.
A couple of days after that, on April 6 or 7, I was in my parents' house, and someone threw a letter at the door. I didn't see who. Inside the envelope was a bullet. It had brown blood on it, and the letter said, "What are you still here for? Are you ready to die?"
I think those two were tortured into giving my name, because two days after I learned they were killed I got this threat. ... I spoke by phone to a friend of mine yesterday night: he is also gay but he's very masculine and no one knows about him. He said, "Get out if you can and save yourself. They are killing gays left and right."
I said, "Who is doing it?" He said, "Everyone knows. Who do you think? The Mahdi Army."
The report traces how militias originated from the security vacuum created by the US invasion. The Madhi 'Army' billed itself as the protector of society and "an agent of social cleansing." An unnamed journalist floats the idea that the Mahdi militia is now targeting LGBTs because "[g]etting rid of the Sunnis and the Americans is less important". Mashal was kidnapped by the Mahdi militia and he's quoted explaining:It was about 4 p.m. and four men came inside the shop. They lingered and when I tried to get them to leave, they pulled out guns. They had three cars -- one a black Daewoo -- and they put me in one and covered my eyes.
It was the Mahdi Army -- they are the ones who operate in the area. The place they took me to wasn't far away: it was very close to a mosque or actually in the courtyard, because I could hear the call to prayer very clearly. When they hauled me out of the car they beat me until I fell unconscious. Late the next day, they came to me and said, "We know you are gay, we know you're farakhji" [a derogatory term used in Iraq for men who have sex with men]. They pulled out a list of names and started reading them: you know these perverts, you know X and Y and Z. They gave the first name and the neighborhood where he lived. I knew four who were still alive. One they had already killed. They had killed my friend Waleed in February, before I was kidnapped. He was walking down a big street between Hayy Ur and al Shaab [in northeast Baghdad near Sadr City] at dusk. I asked Waleed's brother about it later, and he told me, "Waleed was slaughtered in the street. Don't ask more." I am sure he was killed because he was gay. He was walking with a bunch of straight friends, and he was killed, not them: he was the one they targeted. He was the first name on the list they read me. There were many more names I didn't know. I admitted knowing those four, but I said it was only because they were customers in my shop. They interrogated me for three hours that night. They kept me blindfolded and gagged, and when they wanted me to speak, they took out the gag. They demanded I give them names of other gays. At night they got a broomstick, and they used it to rape me. After that, they negotiated a ransom. They asked my family for $50,000 USD.My brothers sold my shop, my car, everything I had to put together half that. When they let me go they said, "We have our sources, and we know exactly what you do. If you step outside your house, you are dead." I never left the house for more than a month, until I fled Baghdad. One of the people whose names they read to me ran away from Baghdad, with his parents. Two others I know are just hiding in their houses. A few don't answer their phones and I don't know what has happened to them. This is targeting of a population and it goes on while US service members are on the ground in Iraq but the US White House, State Dept and Embassy in Baghdad do nothing -- despite requests from US House Reps Jared Polis, Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank, among others. And the problem includes Iraqi forces (and, I say, Nouri). The report explains: Iraqi police and security forces have done little to investigate or halt the killings. Authorities have announced no arrests or prosecutions; it is unlikely that any have occurred. While the government has made well-publicized attempts since 2006 to purge key ministries of officials with militia ties, including the Ministry of Interior, many Iraqis doubt both its sincerity and its success. Most disturbingly, Human Rights Watch heard accounts of police complicity in abuse -- ranging from harassing "effeminate" men at checkpoints, to possible abduction and extrajudicial killing. As the targeting has taken place, the Iraqi government has refused to call it out. The report points out, "Iraq's leaders must be defenders of all its people. The Iraqi state must desist from silence, and fully and immediately investigate the murder and torture of people targeted because they do not correspond to norms of 'masculinity,' or are suspected of homosexual conduct." Following the murders, the police look the other way. The murders are not punished, the killings are not investigated: "The brutality of the killings, the proliferation of mutilated corpses discarded in the trash, not only conveys the power of the killers and dispensability of the victims, but makes the dead a savage example. Bodies castrated, broken, tortured -- becomes billboards, on which punishment is less imposed than inscribed." The report makes recommendations for many bodies but here are the recommendations for the Iraqi government: • Investigate all reports of militia or other violence against people targeted because they do not correspond to norms of "masculinity," or are suspected of homosexual conduct, and appropriately punish those found responsible; • Publicly and expressly condemn all such violence; • Investigate whether ties continue between the Ministry of Interior and militias that have operated in the past as quasi-independent security forces under the Ministry's protection, including the Mahdi Army; • Investigate all claims of abuse by police or security forces, including abuses against people because they do not correspond to norms of "masculinity," or are suspected of homosexual conduct, and appropriately punish those found responsible; • Investigate and prosecute all Ministry of Interior officials involved in death squad killings or other unlawful acts, including torture, assault, and extortion; • Properly vet and train all police, security forces, and criminal justice officials, ensuring that this entails training in human rights inclusive of issues of sexual orientation and gender expression and identity, and establish effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms;• Take all appropriate measures to end torture, disappearances, summary killings, and other abuses, including abuses based on sexual orientation and gender expression and identity; • Repeal article 128 of the Criminal Code, which identifies "The commission of an offence with honorable motives" as a "mitigating excuse"; • Examine vague articles of the Criminal Code, including paragraphs 401, 402, 501, 502, and 200(2), that could justify arbitrary arrest or harassment of people due to their sexual orientation or gender expression and identity, or could be used to prevent civil society from addressing unpopular or stigmatized issues; repeal or modify them if necessary, or otherwise ensure that they are not applied in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner contrary to international human rights law; • Create and support an independent National Human Rights Commission; • Support the development of domestic independent human rights non-governmentalorganizations with the capacity to monitor the full range of human rights violations, and ensure that they can operate without state harassment or interference; • Train all criminal-justice authorities in effective responses to gender-based violence against women and men; • Promote gender equality by embodying in legislation explicit guarantees for women's equal rights to marriage, within marriage, at the dissolution of marriage, and in inheritance.A large number of the LGBT community is fleeing or has fled Iraq and HRW calls on foreign governments to assist with this segment of the Iraqi refugee population. They note Jordan, Turkey and Syria -- three countries that house the majority of Iraq's external refugees -- are not countries where LGBTs are likely to feel welcomed.

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