Saturday, March 23, 2013

Differences (Iraq)

I would recommend you listen (or read, there's a transcript) the report Kelly McEvers  and Isra al Rubeie did for All Things Considered.  Here's the introduction to the report:

On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, NPR is catching up with some of the people we encountered during the war. In 2006, at the height of the violence, we brought you the story of a woman who performed the Muslim ritual of washing and preparing the dead for burial. Kelly McEvers has this update on Um Abbas, who is now living in southern Iraq.
What's interesting about this story, and about many of the stories we did from Iraq during the most violent years, is how we got the story.
Back in 2006, hundreds of people were dying every day. Anti-American sentiment was high. Many times, Western journalists didn't go out unless they were embedded with the U.S. military. To talk to Iraqis, journalists often had to rely on Iraqi colleagues.
For the story seven years ago, Isra' did all the legwork. She remembers first meeting the body washer, Um Abbas:
"She was reading the newspaper, and I asked her what are you reading. And she said, 'Oh about the benefits to the health of apples.' She seemed a very life-loving person — she still wanted a better life although she lived in the midst of death," Isra' says.

I found it very interesting and thought about how many bodies she must see and how she copes.  I remember hearing about the people in the military who had to care for the corpses of the fallen and how stressful and unnerving that could be -- even flying home with them.

I don't know why the difference.  Maybe it has to do with dying in your own country?  Maybe there's something twice as sad/scary about having to take a body back home. 

I don't know.

But I found it very interesting, this Iraqi women who will not be leaving Iraq and who is coping in the midst of an ongoing war zone.

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

Friday, March 22, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, State of Law's image as a gutter gossip means they continue to spread rumors, a government official resigns, we look at Bradley Manning's importance, we note a group of people who were right about the Iraq War but haven't been recognized for being right this week, and more.

Thursday, National Iraqi News Agency notes,  a village near Tikrit was the site of a mass arrest -- 11 people for 'terrorism.'  And Baghdad today saw a mass arrest -- 21 'terrorists.'  (Alsumaria notes the Ministry of Interior insists it was a mass arrest of just 19.)  This is among the things that has resulted in protesters in the streets of Iraq since December.  The mass arrests lead to many innocent people being pulled from their lives, pulled from their families, pulled from their friends -- and where are they?  They disappear into the Iraqi 'justice' system where they wait to be charged -- and may be in jails for months or years without being charged despite the Constitutional requirements.  These people rounded up as 'terrorists'?  This includes Larry al-Jones's mother, sister, brother, daughter, grandfather because Nouri's forces couldn't locate Larry.  They don't think any of the family members had anything to do with it but they suspect Larry, can't find Larry, and citing Article IV, they arrest family members suspected of nothing.

This helps fuel the protests in Iraq, these mass arrests.  Human Rights Watch's Erin Evers observed earlier this week:

In recent months, the government has announced broad reforms in response to weekly mass demonstrations in majority Sunni provinces. These demonstrations began in December, after the arrest of Sunni Finance Minister Rafi al-Essawi’s bodyguards. Early on protesters demanded the release of prisoners — especially female prisoners, who have been held illegally for long periods of time — and reform of Article 4 of the Anti-Terror Law.
Over the last several weeks in Baghdad, I’ve spoken with more than 30 women who are in detention or were recently released, along with lawyers and families of detainees, researching allegations of torture in Iraqi detention facilities.
People told me over and over about random arrests, torture during interrogation and prolonged detention in unofficial facilities. They said corruption was rife among Interior Ministry officials, that there was collusion between officials and judges, and that trials lacked the most basic due process protections.
Detainees repeatedly told me the government uses the broad provisions of Article 4 to detain people without arrest warrants in detention centers overseen by security forces that answer to the Interior and Defense Ministries, or directly to the Prime Minister’s Office.
I asked officials I met about promises to release detainees and about the broader problems with the criminal justice system. By the government’s own admission, some detainees have been held illegally for months — even years.
There is little evidence, though, that the government is carrying out the pledged reforms, or that the reforms target illegal arrests, coerced interrogations and arbitrary detentions.

It's Friday and the protests continue in Iraq.  Above is a screen snap of Iraqi Spring MC's video of Falluja todayAlsumaria reports tens of thousands turned out in Falluja and they may have that wrong -- looking at the photo with the article, it's hard to believe that's not even more people than "tens of thousands."  It is a huge crowd.  And they honored the victims of Tuesday's violence (over 50 dead from Baghdad bombings alone, many more left wounded) by planting olive seelings on the sides of the highway and reading verses from the Koran.  All Iraq News reported this morning that protesters in Anbar Province (Falluja and Ramadi are in Anbar) have been fired upon.  In another report (still not identifying the locale other than Anbar), they quote Shaikh Hamid al-Hayes declaring, "Many demonstrators were injured" and we'll end his quote there.  All Iraq News is not the source for the reports, it's the Iraqiya Satellite Channel which is not connected to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya slate but is connected to Nouri, it's his megaphone, it's state TV.    They may be reporting of the infiltrators in Ramadi.  Social media's noted them earlier this morning.  Alsumaria has a report here.  Ramadi protesters found infiltrators attempting to start violence (like the ones who set fire to cars last week) and (as they did last week) captured them and turned them over to authorities.   There have been no reports, however, of any shots fired in this episode.  So either the TV station is inflating the event or else another incident has taken place in Anbar.   Alsumaria posted a report where Ramadi spokesperson Sayad Lafi states that there has been no shots fired at the protest and that the number handed over to authorities (of infiltrators) was four.  Rumors continued throughout the day.  All Iraq News reports the false rumor that Ali Hatim al-Suleiman, Saeed al-Lafi and Iraqiya MP Ahmed al-Alwani were kicked out of the Ramadi protest.  This left Sheikh Ali Hatim al-Sulayman to explain -- from the Ramadi protest -- to NINA that neither he nor Sa'eed al-Lafee (also spelled Sayad Lafi) were kicked out of Ramadia's protest. All Iraq News also reported on the false rumor that al-Lafi was injured at the protests. And al-Lafi tells Alusmaria that there were no gun shots in the Ramadi protest.

What were all these false rumors about?

Sheikh Rafi al-Rifa'e explains to NINA, "The government and its influential militias in Anbar spread rumors and carry out acts of subversion to infringe the protestors, but due to the braveness and awareness of the protest's coordination committees contained such plans and uncovered the conspiracy."

The crowd turning out in Adamiyah Baghdad today.   National Iraqi News Agency speaks with Anbar activist Ahmed al-Alwani who explains "two delegations arrived this morning [in Baghdad] in support of their fellow who continue demonstrations and sit-ins since about three months in Anbar province, demanding the central government to meet their legitimate demands through resitituion of their usurped human rights."

Protesters also turned out in Mosul, in Kirkuk, in Baquba, in Baiji and in Ramadi and Samarra.  Samarra protesters saw one of their own targeted.  Iraqi Spring MC reports that Prime Minister and thug Nouri al-Maliki's forces have raided the home of Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamdoun.  In addition, Nouri's forces have arrested activist Mohammed Sabawi in Mosul.

Kitabat reports today on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call for Nouri to show restraint when dealing with the protesters and for an investigation to be launched into the killing of protesters.

National Iraqi News Agency quotes Ramadi activist Mohammad Fayyad stating, "Thousands of protesters and citizens went to sit-in square in Albfarraj area north of the city of Ramadi, juxtaposed to the International Highway and to sit-in Square east of the city of Fallujah for Friday prayers." Morning prayers came before the protests.  NINA notes, "Preacher of Friday prayers in Samarra Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamdoun held in his sermon, the commander in chief of the armed forces, Nouri al-Maliki responsible for the recent security breaches in Baghdad and other provinces, accusing the government of being 'insulting people and shed blood of protesters and raping women,' he said."  Alsumaria notes that Friday prayers in Kufa included a call for Nouri to step down and for the National Alliance (Shi'ite political slate) to put forward someone to be prime minister in Nouri's place. To that, NINA adds that Kufa's Sheikh Zia Shawki continued his sermon by explaining the past "7 years under the rule of al-Maliki, the security in Iraq was fragile and economy was shaking, adding that al-Maliki did not achieve anything for Iraq."  NINA also reports, "The Imam of Najaf's Friday Prayer, Sadruldeen al-Qubanchi, said that recent explosions in Baghdad intend to send a message to the world that Iraq is unstable and its experience has failed" and he said that all provinces must be able to vote in the elections.  (Nouri has most recently banned Nineveh and Anbar from voting.) In addition, Al Mada reports that clergy in Karbala and Nineveh also criticized Nouri today.  Al Mada notes the big news there may be have come in Karbala where the representative authorized to speak for the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called out the security system and called for change.

At the protests, Al Mada reports many speakers in various provinces spoke out against the bombings and noting Nouri's failures in providing security and they called for Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya to work together to save the country.  In Ramadi, Sheikh Muhannad al-Hiti called for the government to stop procrastinating and start meeting the demands of the protesters.  Samarra's Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamadoun decried the beating, humiliation and rape that take place in Iraqi prisons.

At the March 1st protest in Ramadi, Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi announced his resignation.  At the March 8th protests, Minister of Agriculture Ezz al-Din al-Dawla announced his resignation.  All Iraq News reports that Deputy Governor of Nineveh, Faisal Ajill al-Yawar, announced his resignation today "in solidarity with the demonstrators in the province."  NINA adds he also said he was resigning because the government was "not fulfilling their [the protesters] legitimate demands that they have been demanding for the last three months."

The editorial board of the Washington Post offers this take today on Iraq:

Iraq remains plagued by the sectarianism that now pervades the Middle East. Following a democratic election in 2010, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, formed a coalition government with parties representing Kurds and secular Sunnis. But he has since driven the Sunni vice president into exile, while the Sunni finance minister and Kurdish foreign minister no longer visit Baghdad, much less carry out their duties. Sunnis in western Iraq are growing increasingly restless, while the remnants of al-Qaeda continue attacks against Shiite targets in Baghdad. Tensions are also growing between Mr. Maliki and the autonomous region of Kurdistan, with both sides deploying military forces near territories claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds.

In Syria, Moahmmed Saeed Bouti was assassinated by a bombing which left over 40 people dead and over 80 people injured.  He was the President of the Federation of Scientists.  The assassination led various Iraqi leaders to make statements noting the death: movement leader and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Scholars Association, and Ahmed Chalabi.

Alsumaria reports a roadside bombing outside Mosul has left two Iraqi soldiers injured.  AP reports that Sahwa leader Hussein Muslah and two of his sons were shot dead outside Dujail this morning.  NINA notes 2 truck drivers were shot dead in Baghdad, a Tikrit sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, and an armed attack on a police officer's Tikrit house left him, his wife and their two children dead plus ten more people injured.

February 28, Bradley Manning told a military court:

I felt we were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and hatred on both sides. I began to become depressed at the situation we found ourselves mired in year after year. In attempting counterinsurgency operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists.  I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralized.

For years now, Bradley has been assumed to be behind the biggest government leak of this century and possibly of the last century.  Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor." 

February 28, Bradley stood up and publicly declared he had released the documents.

The documents had an immediate impact and they've had an ongoing impact.  At the start of this month, the BBC Arabic and the Guardian's James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq  began airing --  you can stream online.  (If you can't stream or if you need closed captioning so the stream will not help you, Ava and I covered the documentary March 10th with "TV: The War Crimes Documentary.")  This week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), the topic of counter-insurgency was addressed with journalist Patrick Farrelly who was part of the  BBC Arabic and the Guardian newspaper investigative team behind the recent documentary entitled, here comes that link again, James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq

Patrick Farrelly:  He's retired not part of the administration.  But Col James Coffman is, he is a US army colonel and he reports directly to General [David] Petraeus in the army chain of command.  Steele is a consultant or an advisor but Coffman actually is in the chain of command. So therefore when this paramilitary  force, when they need money or they need equipment or whatever, Coffman is the guy who takes it upstairs to Petraeus and Petraeus is the one who provides the money, provides the weapons, provides whatever.  So these guys are in these detention centers, you have this torture going on and the torture is widespread.  And this is where Bradley Manning comes in.  'Cause I know you guys have been talking about him.  Part of the WikiLeaks discovery in terms of the War Logs which was released by Bradly Manning to WikiLeaks shows this entire pattern of US soldiers coming across these detention centers or working with these detention centers because they're involved with these special police commandos, they're providing them with guys to interrogate, they're taking guys from them for further interrogation.  And what they're seeing is --  consistently,  they're giving reports of seeing torture, of seeing abuse.  The Guardian went through these War Logs and started looking at this stuff and started seeing patterns of hundreds and hundreds of reports by US soldiers on the ground of this going on and that's really what actually launched the inquiry and that's what brought us to Col James Steele and Col James Coffman and actually General David Petraeus.

Michael Ratner: It's interesting, Patrick, because these are what they call the Iraq War Logs which Bradley Manning talks about when he made his guilty plea the other day as to why he wanted to reveal them because they were revealing all of this criminality really and the counter-insurgency and which he didn't like.  Now can you give us a sense of two things.  One is, why didn't any of this come out before?  I mean these War Logs have been out for a couple of years now and, secondly, what kind of torture is described?

Patrick Farrelly:  I mean the interesting thing for me about the War Logs is that an enormous amount was made of WikiLeaks and an enormous amount was made of these to stuff that the Times and the Guardian, El Pais and the other newspapers actually brought to light.  But I have to say that from that point onwards, the ball was dropped in many ways in the sense of like journalists really getting into the detail of what these things reveal and actually following them up.  And I think this documentary the Guardian and BBC Arabic produced is an example of the kind of material which actually lies within these and which journalists actually should be taking up.  But going back to the issue of these special police commandos, their existence was well known.  General David Petreaus was interviewed by this very find Frontline documentary called The Gangs of Iraq that Martin Smith made for PBS Frontline in which he interviews General Petraeus.  Petraeus is very proud of these, he's very proud of the commandos but the way that it was being posed in terms of our understanding of the situation was that after Petraeus left Iraq in September of 2005 -- he'd been there since June  2004 dealing with setting up this new police force.  It's only really after that, according to them that these abuses happened -- when these Shia political parties really took over and when these Shia militias started getting into great.  In other words it's another one of these situation swhere the US army and the US government sets up these police commandos which the locals invariably corrupt at a certain point and then because they don't have the same standards as we do start abusing people and start torturing people.  What this investigation has found is that from the very, very beginning, Col James Steele and Col James Coffman who answer to Petraeus and who answer to Rumsfeld had, you know, worked with these guys in these detention centers and were witnesses to and knew this stuff was going on because you've got to -- It's a production line because these young men come in, they were tortured --

Michael Ratner: How were they tortured?

Patrick Farrelly:  They were tortured by the worst kind of methods.  I mean these people were being hung up, off ceilings.  These people were having like, you know, their nails pulled out with pliers, it was waterboarding.  It was every concievable kind of torture that you can think of.

Michael Smith: And how do we know that?  That's in the documents?

Heidi Boghosian: Is it documented?

Patrick Farrelly: Because we  had a very important invidiual spoke to the Guardian about the US involvement for the first time.  He's a man by the name of General Muntadher al-Samari and he had been a general in -- he's a Sunni -- and he had been a general in Saddam's regime.  And when the United States came in, he -- actually along with a number of other Sunnis took the United States at their word that they were going to frame and bring about a pretty regular democratic society so they actually became involved with helping the United States actually put together this police force.  So Muntadher was there.  He worked for the Ministery of the Interior, he worked for the police, he worked directly with Steele and he worked with Coffman.  He'd meet Coffman, he had meetings with Petraeus.

Michael Ratner:  How many people were tortured?  Ten?  A hundred?  A thousand?

Patrick Farrelly:  We don't have exact numbers but I think we're talking tens of thousands of people were actually brought in.  You're dealing with, for example, if you take the ancient city of Samarra -- a very, very important city in terms of the religion and the culture and the history of that area -- which was also a place where there was enormous opposition to the occupation.  They went in there.  They turned the city library into a torture center.  They turfed everything out that was there and there was all these books, all these manuscripts and they turned it into a torture center.  They would then go out at night -- they were there for months on end in the fall and winter of 2004.  They would go out with trucks at night.  They would pull in hundreds of people who were then being processed.  This went on for months.  So I mean the numbers in that place alone run into the thousands.  And there was a network of approximately 14 of these centers that we were aware of throughout Iraq.  So this was a fairly -- this was a large scale operation which produced a lot of results.  I mean that's one thing that we have to be sure of, this was a thing which terrorized Sunni community.  There was no two ways, it was incredibly effective in terms of scaring the living daylights out of people because this force that they put on the ground and which started to work was a feared force.  If they're right in your neighborhood in their Dodge trucks because this was one thing these guys were very, very happy with because  Petraeus gave them 150 Dodge trucks.  They were then provided with other American pick up trucks.  I know in this country, it's a great thing to see if you're out there in the farmlands but if you are living in a Sunni neighborhood and you saw one of these trucks arriving, this was not a good thing. 

Heidi Boghosian: Well the result was a mass intimidation.

Patrick Farrelly:  It was a mass intimidation but it was also the case that they tortured people into giving up -- You  know, one of the American soldiers that we interviewed for this said, "You know, people just gave up everybody.  They just gave up their relatives, their friends."  It just became this interrogation and torture mill which no doubt produced a lot of information --

Michael Ratner: You know individuals do -- It's not so clear, people'll do anything to stop torture.  They'll give false names.  They'll do all kinds of things.  But like in Algeria in 1954, the French did mass torturing in Aljeers and as a result, they could cross the people enough so that they knew which information was correct or not, they had thousands of people tortured and that's what this sounds like.

Michael Smith: And they did it also in Vietnam around the same time.  The Green Berets were involved in Vietnam and in fact, it was the Green Berets, Michael and I did a book [Who Killed Che? How The CIA Got Away With Murder], who were brought into Bolivia to train the Bolivian troops, they eventually captured Che Guevara  so this streak in American history of Green Berets, Special Forces, torture, goes all the way back over a half a century.

Patrick Farrelly:  lI mean, for lack of better term, for empire, people like James Steele are very important.

Michael Ratner:  Explain that a little.

Patrick Farrelly:  In the sense that if you go -- You know empires tend to roam into other people's countries.  It's like living next door to a war lord.  It's never -- they're never good neighbors. But when they go in and they run into local opposition and quite often it's-it's-it's what they call assymetrical warfare, it's guerrilla warfare, it's a so-called irregular uprising, guys like James Steele are need in order to-to deal with people like that and that was his speciality.  There is another longterm consequence I just want to deal with for a moment in terms of Iraq which is that as this force became more and more part of the Shia militias, a certain point, this force with 90% members of the Badr brigades 90% Mehdi army who went into Sunni neighborhoods and caused great, great slaughter.

That's the third excerpt of that segment we've done this week.  If we'd had more space and more time this week, it would have all been excerpted.  It's the only serious interview we're apparently going to get in the US.  Don't bring up the nonsense from the Goody Whore today who couldn't even say "counter-insurgency" (Ava and I plan to tackle the Goody Whore Sunday).  The Michaels and Heidi spoke to their guests about actual issues.  I don't think there was a finer moment for radio last week than Law and Disorder Radio.  Bradley's facing some serious charges.  If we want people to understand how serious he took what he discovered, we're going to have to be able to talk about what he discovered.  Heidi and the Michaels were up to the task.

The training of the death squads, the counter-insurgency, it still goes on.  Human Rights Watch pointed out earlier this week:

New information emerged as recently as early March 2013 indicating that the US government is pursuing a policy of engagement with Iraqi security forces accused of responsibility for torture and other abuses, with little if any consideration of accountability for those abuses. A Wall Street Journal report said that the CIA is “ramping up support” to the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) to “better fight Al-Qaeda affiliates.”

“If correct, the report that the US intends to support the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service underscores the poor US record on addressing allegations of abuses by Iraqi security forces,” Whitson said. “The CTS, though accused of committing serious abuses against detainees, worked closely with US Special Forces before the US troop withdrawal in 2011.”

Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Wach) notes of Iraq:

Worse, the CIA is reportedly building up its assistance to an elite anti-terrorism unit that reports directly to al-Maliki’s office and has been synonymous with the torture, abuse and “disappearance” of detainees. Nothing the United States could say to encourage greater respect for human rights is likely to counter such a direct manifestation of indifference. After 10 years, Washington should have learned that it cannot improve a government’s human rights conduct when it joins that government in demonstrating indifference to basic rights. At minimum, continuing security assistance should be conditioned on respect for these rights that are so lacking in today’s Iraq.

That's not five years ago, that's Iraq today.  Bradley's work matters because it has historical implications but because it also explains what is taking place in Iraq today.

Bradley's an Iraq War veteran.  All week long, as Iraq's has gotten bits of attention from the Big Media and even the small, some veterans were ignored.

Lot of talk about being right.  Lot of bragging and back patting.

But what most of us did wasn't all that.  The Dixie Chicks?  Yeah, a sacrifice followed that.  But most of us could speak out without any great suffering.

Iraq War veteran Joshua Key?

Joshua Key served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Kim  Rivera served in Iraq.  She returned to the United States and she couldn't go back.  She couldn't return to the illegal war.

James Burmeister served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Kyle Snyder served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Darrell Anderson served in Iraq.  He returned to the United States and he couldn't go back.  He couldn't return to the illegal war.

Guess what?

Those are only a few of the names.  All of the above went to Canada and sought asylum.  Darrell and James came back to the US.  Kim -- like Robin Long -- was forced out of Canada.  Joshua and Kyle remain in Canada -- along with others including the first Iraq War resister to publicly attempt to be granted asylum in Canada:  Jeremy Hinzman.

Where is the outlet that will say that they were right?

They were right.  And their actions helped awaken the country.  Others who resisted and remained in the US like Kevin Benderman, Camilo Mejia and Stephen Funk were right too.  Where's their pat on the back.

All of these people who showed the courage to say no to an illegal war helped awaken the country.

Lt. Ehren Watada is the only officer who publicly resisted going to the illegal war.  So let's applaud his courage and drop back to the October 2, 2009 snapshot to remember his story:

This afternoon Fort Lewis's Media Relations department announced that Ehren Watada had completed his out processing and was discharged from the US military. We're going to stay with this topic for a bit because (a) it is important and (b) it is historical.  1st Lt Watada was the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.  As Ann noted last night, "there are people who have no idea what a brave thing he did."  Ehren Watada was informed he would be deploying to Iraq in June 2005.  He had not given much thought to Iraq.  To prepare for the deployment, his superior advised him to study up on the war so that he could answer any questions that might come up from those serving under him.  He started researching the basics about the country itself, topography and geography and continuing through the history up to the current war.  He came across the Downing Street Memos which exposed that the 'intelligence' for the Iraq War was fixed.  He was now firmly convinced that the Iraq War was illegal and immoral.  From eager to serve in Iraq to realizing he'd be violating his oath to the Constitution, Ehren was now confronted with a decision.  He could keep his mouth shut and just do as he was told.  Or he could take a stand which would risk the wrath of the military as well as a portion of the public.
Ehren's mother, Carolyn Ho, has explained what happened next many times as she's spoken to raise awareness of her son's case.  WBAI's Law and Disorder shared one of her talks on their January 22, 2007 broadcast. Carolyn Ho explained it was the new year, January 2006, and her son called her.  He explained that he had something to tell her, he'd decided decided he wouldn't deploy to Iraq when the time came.  She was very upset and asked him if he understood what might result from his decision?  Ehren told her that he had no choide, he'd taken an oath to the Constitution, this was what he had to do and he was going to inform his superiors. 
Ehren didn't hesitate to inform his superiors.  This was in January 2006.  They at first attempted to change his mind.  He could not be budged.  So they stated they wanted to work something out.  They brainstormed together.  Ehren came up with ideas including, he could deploy to the Afghanistan War instead, he could resign (his service contract expired in December 2006).  His superiors appeared to be eager to consider every possibility; however, they were just attempting to stall.  They appear to have thought that if they put him off and put him off, when the day to deploy came, he'd just shrug his shoulders and deploy.
They did not know Ehren.  June 7, 2006 ("the day before his 28th birthday," Carolyn Ho likes to remind), Ehren went public with his refusal to deploy. Jake Armstrong (Pasadena Weekly) notes Ehren stated to participate in the Iraq War would be participating in war crimes.
In August 2006, an Article 32 hearing was held. Watada's defense called three witnesses, Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois' College of Law, Champagne; Denis Halliday, the former Assistant Secretary General of the UN; and retired Colonel Ann Wright. These three witnesses addressed the issue of the war, it's legality, and the responsibilities of a service member to disobey any order that they believed was unlawful. The testimony was necessary because Watada's refusing to participate in the illegal war due to the fact that he feels it is (a) illegal and (b) immoral. Many weeks and weeks later, the finding was released: the military would proceed with a court-martial.

On Monday, February 5, 2007, Watada's court-martial began. It continued on Tuesday when the prosecution argued their case. Wednesday, Watada was to take the stand in his semi-defense. Judge Toilet (John Head) presided and when the prosecution was losing, Toilet decided to flush the lost by declaring a mistrial over defense objection in his attempt to give the prosecution a do-over. Head was insisting then that a court-martial would begin against Watada in a few weeks when no court-martial could begin.

January 4, 2007, Head oversaw a pre-trial hearing. Head also oversaw a stipulation that the prosecution prepared and Watada signed. Head waived the stipulation through. Then the court-martial begins and Ehren's clearly winning. The prosecution's own military witnesses are becoming a problem for the prosecution. It's Wednesday and Watada's finally going to take the stand. Head suddenly starts insisting there's a problem with the stipulation. Watada states he has no problem with it. Well the prosecution has a problem with it and may move to a mistrial, Judge Toilet declares.

The prosecution prepared the stipulation and they're confused by Head's actions but state they're not calling for a mistrial or lodging an objection. That's on the record. Head then keeps pushing for a mistrial and the prosecution finally gets that Head is attempting to give them a do-over, at which point, they call for a mistrial.

The case has already started. Witnesses have been heard from. Double-jeopardy has attached. The defense isn't calling for a mistrial and Head rules a mistrial over defense objection and attempts to immediately schedule a new trial. Bob Chapman (Global Research) observes, "With little fanfare the Army at Fort Lewis, Wash., accepted the resignation of the 1966 Kalari High School graduate, and he will be discharged the first week in October."

He deserves applause.  Ehren became a part of a movement of resistance within the military and let's note the names of others we have covered:  Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Justin Colby, Camilo Mejia, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson,  Kyle Snyder , Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Joshua Key, Ricky Clousing, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia,  Patrick Hart, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Brad McCall, Rodney Watson, Chuck Wiley and Kevin Benderman.

War resisters were public and they were underground. Those who went public shared important details of how they came to see the Iraq War as illegal. 

Mark Larabee's "Soldiers still go over the hill even in an all-volunteer Army" (The Oregonian) was the first to tell James Burmeister's story and, in doing so, broke the news of the kill teams (broke the news domestically) July 16, 2007.  Dee Knight's "Army court-martials resister for blowing whistle on 'bait-and-kill'" (Workers World) detailed what Burmeister experienced as well:

Private First Class James Burmeister faces a Special Court Martial at Fort Knox on July 16. The charges are AWOL and desertion. He returned to Fort Knox voluntarily in March, after living 10 months in Canada with his spouse and infant child. He refused redeployment to Iraq while on leave in May 2007.

In most such cases at Fort Knox, the Army has in recent years quietly dismissed the resister with a less than honorable discharge "for the good of the military." This time it's different. The brass "offered" Burmeister a year in military prison and a dishonorable discharge if he agreed to plead guilty.
Burmeister refused the offer. His father, Erich, says the Army is making an example of James for denouncing a secret "bait-and-switch" program he was forced to participate in while in Iraq. In media interviews last year in Canada, James described the program as a war crime he was forced to commit. Shortly afterward, the program's details came out in the Washington Post.
"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," the Post quoted Capt. Matthew Didier, leader of an elite sniper scout platoon. "We would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual."
The Post reported that "Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program ... raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items. ... 'You might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back,' Fidell said." (Sept. 24, 2007)
James had asked to be classified as a conscientious objector following his training in Germany, but his request was ignored by his commander. Instead, he became a machine gunner. "Our unit’s job seemed to be more about targeting a largely innocent civilian population or deliberately attracting confrontation," he wrote in his deposition seeking asylum in Canada. "These citizens were almost always unarmed. In some cases the Iraqi victims looked to me like they were children." (Eugene Weekly, May 22)
In Iraq, Burmeister had been knocked unconscious and his face filled with shrapnel when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. The shrapnel wounds left him with a traumatic brain injury, and he suffers from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His parents insist that he urgently needs medical and psychological help, not jail time.
His parents have waged an unceasing struggle for the Army to release him. They called on their representative, Peter DeFazio, to launch a congressional inquiry into James’s case, but have so far heard nothing. James' mother, Helen Burmeister, flew to Fort Knox in June, with help from anti-war ex-Colonel Ann Wright. Helen spoke directly to the base commander there, demanding that her son be discharged in lieu of a court martial. She then joined supporters from Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Vets Against the War demonstrating outside.
People who stood up -- publicly like the above or privately -- in the military deserve a round of applause, deserve some praise.  The Iraq War wasn't a "dumb" war, the term is "illegal."

law and disorder radio
michael s. smith
heidi boghosian
michael ratner

1 comment:

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