Speakers and Musicians at the Gates of Fort Benning, Georgia November 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Torture.
Tags: Ann Wright, anti-war, fort benning, human rights, Latin America, political protest, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, School of the Americas, soa, torture, torture survivors
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America’s Drones Are Homeward Bound July 17, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
Tags: Ann Wright, congress, drone, drone caucus, drone missiles, drone surveillance, Homeland Security, kill list, presidential assassination
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Americans have been protesting and getting arrested at U.S. drone bases and research institutions for years, and some members of Congress are starting to respond to the pressure.
But it’s not that drones are being used to extrajudicially execute people, including Americans, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia that has U.S. lawmakers concerned. Rather it’s the possible and probable violation of Americans’ privacy in the United States by unlawful drone surveillance that has caught the attention of legislators.
Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., says “there is distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government. It’s raising alarm with the American public.” Based on those discussions, Landry has placed a provision in a defense spending bill that would prohibit information gathered by drones without a warrant from being used as evidence in court.
Two other legislators, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced identical bills to bar any government agency from using a drone without a warrant to “gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a regulation.”
No one in Congress, however, has introduced legislation requiring the government to provide to a neutral judge evidence of a criminal act committed by a person to be targeted for assassination by a drone, or allowing such a person the right to defend himself against the U.S. government’s allegations.
Under President Obama’s signature national security policy, being a young male in the tribal region of Pakistan is often sufficient evidence to warrant execution. The kill committee members from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense act as the prosecution, judge and jury for “low-level” targets. The president, consulting his “kill list,” makes the decision on “high-value” targets, including American citizens.
Weaponizing Drones in the United States
Acknowledging that drones have killed people in other countries, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., placed a provision in another bill that would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from arming its drones. (Homeland Security operates surveillance drones on the borders with Mexico and Canada.)
Holt may wish to extend the prohibition against arming drones to local law enforcement. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas used a Homeland Security grant to purchase a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone that can be equipped with a 40 mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun. When the sheriff’s office announced that the drone would be used by the county’s SWAT team, a spokesman said there were no plans to arm it but left open the possibility that deputies might decide to adapt the drone to fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
The Drone Caucus Wants to Open Civilian Airspace
Getting their legislation passed by their colleagues in Congress will be an uphill battle for the above-mentioned lawmakers concerned about privacy and the need for search warrants.
As a result of intense lobbying by the drone industry, headed by two of the biggest manufacturers, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, Congress formed the Unmanned Systems Caucus that now has 60 members. The group’s website states that its mission is “to educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems; and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.”
The drone caucus successfully passed legislation this year that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to identify six places across the country by 2013 that will be used for testing how to safely fly drones in the same area as traditional planes. The regulator has until Sept. 30, 2015, to formulate a plan to integrate up to 30,000 drones into U.S. airspace.
The dedication of activists and the modest efforts of a few concerned members of Congress have so far failed to halt the flight of drones from the battlefield to our homeland.
Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” (www.voicesofconscience.com)
Gaza, Here We Come to Break the Siege May 24, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: Ann Wright, egypt, egyptian government, ehud barak, free gaza, gaza, gaza blockade, gaza massacre, gaza siege, humanitarian aid, israel, israel apartheid, israeli government, israeli navy, rachel corrie, roger hollander
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I am honored to be a part of the latest international citizen effort to break the Israeli and Egyptian governments’ siege of Gaza. This week, hundreds of persons from 20 countries will challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in an eight ship flotilla.
An international coalition composed of Free Gaza Movement, European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, the Malaysian humanitarian organization Perdana and the Turkish non-governmental organization Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH) is sending three cargo ships and five passenger vessels to Gaza from Ireland, Greece and Turkey.While the citizens mobilize, their governments are receiving intense diplomatic pressure from the Israeli government. On Monday, May 17, 2010, Naor Gilon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy director general, told the ambassadors of Greece, Ireland, Turkey, and Sweden that the attempt to break Israel’s blockage Gaza ” is a provocation and a breach of Israeli law,” and that “Israel has no intention of allowing the flotilla to enter Gaza,” according to a ministry statement.
Arabic-language news station Al-Hurra reported that “about half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation that was approved by the cabinet” and that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation. Israel will prevent the boats from reaching Gaza “at any price,” an Israeli security source told the Ma’an news agency.
Three ships are leaving Turkey, including a 600 person passenger ship and two cargo ships filled with humanitarian supplies such as medical equipment, pre-fabricated homes and construction supplies to rebuild housing for 50,000 persons destroyed in the 22 day Israeli attack on Gaza in December, 2008 and January, 2009. The passenger ship left Istanbul on May 22 to a tremendous send-off from thousands of supporters!
Two ships will depart the Athens, Greece port of Piraeus and two more ships will depart from the Greek island of Crete. The cargo ship Rachel Corrie, purchased by Perdana, the Malaysian humanitarian organization, loaded with medical supplies and cement, is on its way from Ireland and will meet up with the flotilla off the coast of Gaza. The ship is named for activist Rachel Corrie who was run over and killed by the Israeli military driver of a huge Caterpillar bulldozer that was knocking down homes of Palestinian families in Rafah, Gaza in March, 2003.
I am in Athens, Greece to assist in the briefings for passengers and crew on the two ships departing from Piraeus and then will fly to Crete to board a Free Gaza ship to sail to Gaza.
Free Gaza has attempted to sail 8 ships into the Gaza port in the past two years. Five ships have gotten into Gaza and three have been forced back by the Israeli navy including one ship that was rammed and almost sunk by an Israeli patrol boat.
An incredible amount of work is taking place in the port of Gaza. Workers are digging out the area along the pier in anticipation of the arrival of the cargo ships. No cargo ships have been unloaded in Gaza in 43 years since the port was closed by the Israelis after the 1967 war.
As the flotilla leaves Greece and heads across the Mediterranean to Gaza, please follow the historic flotilla by a live-feed link that will broadcast live footage of this historic voyage.
Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” (www.voicesofconscience.com)
Torture: An Author and a Resister May 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda, ali soufan, alyssa peterson, alyssa peterson suicide, Ann Wright, bush administration, CIA torture, enhanced interrogation, eric holder, fbi interrogator, geoffrey miller, Guantanamo, impeach bybee, jay bybee, jose padilla, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, military commissions, mohamed al-qahtani, Mormon, mukasey, office of legal counsel, olc, roger hollander, sleep deprivation, susan crawford, torture, torture techniques, waterboarding
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The funeral for Army Spc. Alyssa Peterson, Glagstaff, Arizona. (Photo: Jill Torrance / Getty Images)
www.truthout.org, May 1, 2009
As a Bush administration political appointee Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, Jay Bybee, a Mormon, wrote one of four torture memos released last month. Bybee’s August 1, 2002, 20-page memorandum laid out in excruciating detail the interrogation techniques he was authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use on al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah.
Bybee authorized ten “enhanced interrogation techniques” to encourage Abu Zubaydah to disclose “crucial information regarding terrorist networks in the United States or in Saudi Arabia and information regarding plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against US interests overseas.” The torture techniques authorized were (1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress position, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box and (10) waterboarding.
The current Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder has stated that waterboarding is torture, while the previous Attorney General Judge Mukasey refused to comment on whether waterboarding is torture.
From recently released CIA documents, we know the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times.
But, we know that from March through June, 2002, according to FBI interrogator Ali Soufan in an op-ed to The New York Times on April 23, 2009, FBI interrogators had already gotten “actionable intelligence” from Zubaydah using traditional, nontorturing interrogation techniques, including that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of 9/11 and that Jose Padilla was planning to be a “dirty bomber.”
Ninety of the 92 interrogation videotapes the CIA admits it destroyed were interrogations of Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah’s British attorney Brent Mickum, in the most detailed account the public has had of Zubaydah’s life, states that after all the waterboarding and other torture methods used, the CIA finally recognized Zubaydah was not the senior al-Qaeda leader they had portrayed him to be. According to Mickum, the military commissions at Guantanamo are now “airbrushing” his name from the charge sheets of other Guantanamo prisoners. Mickum reveals Zubaydah was severely wounded in Afghanistan in 1992 while fighting communist insurgents after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. He has two pieces of shrapnel in his head, which have affected his memory to the extent that “he cannot remember his mother’s name or face.” Mickum states that Zubaydah was shot and severely wounded when he was picked up in Pakistan. His life was saved by a John Hopkins surgeon flown to the region. After being saved from death, he was almost tortured to death by CIA operatives. Mickum says that Zubaydah is a stateless Palestinian with no country to argue on his behalf and a United States government now embarrassed at being caught in its own illegal conduct.
We know that combinations of the other nine techniques authorized by Jay Bybee can be classified as torture, as the Convening Authority of the Military Commissions at Guantanamo Susan Crawford declared when she dismissed the charges against Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, in January, 2009, in the last days of the Bush administration.
Crawford said that for 160 days al-Qahtani’s only contact was with the interrogators and that 48 of 54 consecutive days he was subjected to 18- to 20-hour interrogations. He was strip searched and had to stand naked in front of a female agent. Al-Qahtani was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation and was told that his mother and sister were whores. With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks.” He was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus. The interrogations were so severe that twice al-Qahtani had to be hospitalized at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which, in extreme cases, can lead to heart failure and death. At one point, al-Qahtani’s heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the interrogation records showed.
The torture techniques Jay Bybee authorized in 2002 migrated to Iraq in 2003. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller traveled to Iraq from Guantanamo to demonstrate to soldiers in Iraq the techniques the military and CIA were using in Guantanamo.
In September 2003, another Mormon, a woman soldier, US Army Spc. Alyssa Peterson, said she refused to use the interrogation techniques that Bybee had authorized on Iraqi prisoners. An Arabic linguist with the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division at Tal Afar base, Iraq, 27-year-old Peterson, refused to take part in interrogations in the “cage” where Iraqis were stripped naked in front of female soldiers, mocked and their manhood degraded and burned with cigarettes, among other things. Three days later, on September 15, 2003, Peterson was found dead of a gunshot wound at Tal Afar base. The Army has classified her death as suicide.
Jay Bybee, in thanks for his being the loyal soldier to the Bush administration’s policies of torture, was nominated and confirmed by the US Senate as a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he sits to this day in his lifetime appointment. Jay Bybee, an author of torture, reportedly has a placard in his home for his children that reads, “We don’t hurt each other.”
Alyssa Peterson, for saying no to torture, is dead, perhaps by her own hand.
To help Army Spc. Alyssa Peterson rest in peace, I say we should demand accountability from our officials and IMPEACH the torture judge, Jay Bybee.
Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army Reserves veteran who retired as a colonel. She was a US diplomat, who served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somali, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Mongolia and Afghanistan, where she helped reopen the US Embassy in December 2001. She has traveled to Gaza twice in the past three months and will make her third trip in May 2009. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”
283 Bases, 170,000 Pieces of Equipment, 140,000 Troops, and an Army of Mercenaries: The Logistical Nightmare in Iraq March 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Ann Wright, Blackwater, department of defense, dod, eric leaver, Iraq, iraq combat forces, iraq contractors, iraq drinking water, iraq legal system, iraq logistics, Iraq mercenaries, Iraq occupation, iraq prisoners, iraq private contractors, Iraq torture, iraq us bases, iraq us troops, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, iraqis, jeremy scahill, military budget, military spending, obama administration, obama military, Pentagon, roger hollander, SOFA, status of forces, us embassy baghdad, war resisters league
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Why you’ll be paying for the occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not.
With last week’s announced escalation of the war in Afghanistan, including an Iraq-like “surge” replete with 4,000 more U.S. troops and a sizable increase in private contractors, President Barack Obama blew the lid off of any lingering perceptions that he somehow represents a significant change in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy.
In the meantime, more reports have emerged that bolster suspicions that Obama’s Iraq policy is but a downsized version of Bush’s and that a total withdrawal of U.S. forces is not on the horizon.
In the latest episode of Occupation Rebranded, it was revealed that the administration intends to reclassify some combat forces as “advisory and assistance brigades.” While Obama’s administration is officially shunning the use of the term “global war on terror,” the labels du jour, unfortunately, seem to be the biggest changes we will see for some time.
Underscoring this point is a report just released by the War Resisters League, which for decades has closely monitored the military budget, revealing how many tax dollars are actually going to the war machine. The WRL puts out its famous pie chart annually just before tax time as a reminder of what we are doing exactly when we file our returns. Noting that 51 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, the WRL said it does “not expect the military percentage to change much” under Obama.
While Obama — and public attention — shifted foreign policy focus last week to Afghanistan, lost in the media blitz was another important report that examines how taxpayers will continue to pay for the Iraq occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not. This report, released in March by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, provides a sobering look at Obama’s “massive and expensive” Iraq plan, identifying several crucial questions that have yet to be addressed.
Whether or not the Obama administration actually intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in numbers large enough to claim to be “ending the war” as many believe, this kind of official review of the U.S. reality in Iraq — and the congressional oversight to which Obama will (or will not) be subjected in the coming months — bears intense scrutiny.
First, there’s the money. “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs, GAO has seen from previous operations … that costs could rise in the near term,” according to the 56-page report, which is titled “Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight.”
In addition to the massive funds required to move tens of thousands of troops, the GAO points out that the Army estimates “it would cost $12 billion to $13 billion a year for at least two years after the operation ends to repair, replace and rebuild the equipment used in Iraq.”
The cost of closing U.S. bases will also “likely be significant;” even after military units leave Iraq, the Pentagon will need to invest in training and equipment to return these units to levels capable of performing “full spectrum operations.” (The GAO report does not even mention the costs of providing much-needed medical and mental health services to veterans.)
The Obama administration is likely to portray the costs of “withdrawing” from Iraq as a painful necessity made inevitable by the Bush administration. But there are already calls for Obama to not allocate any new funds for such an operation. Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a veteran diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul after Sept. 11 (and, while in the military, worked on plans for an Iraq invasion), says, “Everyone in the Department of Defense — military and civilian — knows well the expense of going to war and the expense of bringing troops back to the United States.
“DOD has plenty of money to withdraw equipment and personnel and no doubt has had monies specifically for that purpose built into its budgets for years. The Congress should not provide additional funding for withdrawal, but instead require DOD to use existing allocations.”
In fact, the GAO characterizes the Pentagon’s monthly reports on financial obligations under the global war on terrorism as being of “questionable reliability,” adding that it “found numerous problems with DOD’s processes for recording and reporting its war-related costs.”
“Without transparent and accurate cost information,” the GAO warns, “Congress and DOD will not have reliable information on how much the war is costing, sufficient details on how appropriated funds are spent, or the reliable historical data needed to develop and provide oversight of future funding needs.”
Dollars aside, the new GAO report report raises serious questions about how Obama will handle key challenges that will ultimately determine Iraq’s future and the extent of the U.S. presence in the country. Among the questions the Obama administration has yet to answer: How to dismantle or hand over the 283 U.S. installations in Iraq (including more than 50 large military bases); What to do with the 160,000-plus private U.S. contractors in Iraq; Who will provide security for the massive — and likely expanding — army of diplomats deployed in the country at the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad?
Iraqis Could Vote the U.S. Out: Would Obama Listen?
Obama, of course, has always said that his Iraq policy is not set in stone and that he will adjust it according to “conditions on the ground” — a sweeping disclaimer that could mean a 180-degree shift on a dime.
The GAO report acknowledges that under the Status of Forces Agreement, Iraq and the U.S. can “extend the draw-down time frame” if necessary, adding, “Either government can unilaterally terminate the security agreement by providing 12 months advance notice.” In the absence of clearly identified conditions for the stability of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, one scenario that could result in Obama extending the U.S. occupation is if the Washington-backed Baghdad regime is threatened by an uprising.
Statistics presented by the GAO are worth considering: “[T]he number of Iraqi army and police forces nearly doubled from about 320,000 in January 2007 to just over 600,000 in October 2008. However, according to the Department of Defense, over the same period, the number of Iraqi army units capable of conducting operations independently remained at about 10 percent of total units.”
Iraq is scheduled to have a national referendum on the SOFA this summer, and the GAO report notes that “the Iraqi government has said it would abide by the results.” This means that if Iraqis reject it, “U.S. forces would have to leave Iraq by as early as July 2010.” At this point, it seems impossible to imagine Obama having all U.S. forces out of Iraq a year from now — and certainly not his residual force of up to 50,000 troops. The GAO report suggests that Congress ask the Obama administration, “What are the U.S. contingency plans in the event that Iraqis vote against the security agreement in July 2009?”
More broadly, the GAO asks, “To what extent will the United States attempt to renegotiate provisions of the security agreement if security conditions deteriorate or other conditions are deemed insufficient to draw down responsibly?”
These questions will prove crucial in determining the sincerity of Obama’s campaign pledge to end the war.
Will the U.S. Walk Away From its 283 Bases in Iraq?
In a dramatic understatement, the GAO notes that the U.S. “has an extensive basing footprint in Iraq. … Closing or handing over U.S. installations in Iraq will be time consuming and costly.” With no fewer than 283 such installations throughout Iraq — 51 large bases and 232 smaller bases — the Obama administration has not said how it will approach this formidable task.
This is no minor detail. “According to U.S. Army officials, experience has shown that it takes one to two months to close the smallest platoon — or company – size installations, which contain between 16 and 200 combat soldiers or Marines.”
However, the U.S. “has never closed large, complex installations — such as Balad Air Force Base, which contains about 24,000 inhabitants and has matured over five years. U.S. Army officials estimate it could take longer than 18 months to close a base of that size.” Obama should explain clearly how he intends to dismantle these bases or to what forces he is going to give control over them.
It is very hard to imagine that the U.S. will simply walk away from large bases it spent years building. So, will they be turned over to Iraq? If so, to whom? What guarantee is there that they would not be used as operating bases for death squads? Will some be destroyed? What about the environmental impact?
In addition to the bases, the GAO reveals that, as of of March 2008, “the United States had in place about 170,000 pieces of equipment worth about $16.5 billion that would need to be removed from Iraq.” Erik Leaver, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, says,”An example of a tough question: What to do with MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles]?”
“The MRAPs are so heavy, transport back to the U.S., plus the rehab charges may make it cost-effective to actually destroy them,” says Leaver. “Plus, if you need to move 120,000 soldiers in a rapid time frame, do you even have the space to bring them back if you take the MRAPs?”
Then there are the facilities in Iraq currently being run by U.S. contractors. According to the GAO, Defense Contract Management Agency officials estimate “there is at least $3.5 billion worth of contractor-managed government-owned property in Iraq.”
Troops Withdrawal, Contractor Surge?
Despite his much-celebrated troop withdrawal announcement, Obama has said nothing publicly about what he intends to do with the 163,000 “security contractors” deployed in Iraq, whose ranks outnumber U.S. troops. This is most likely because, as the GAO reports, there is no plan.
“From late 2007 through July 2008, planning for the redeployment of U.S. forces did not include a theaterwide plan for redeploying contractors,” the GAO report reveals.
In fact, the GAO raises the prospect that Obama will actually increase reliance on private contractors — including armed contractors like those who work for Blackwater — particularly given the Obama administration’s stated intention to increase diplomatic and reconstruction work in Iraq, which will create a greater need for “diplomatic security.”
According to the GAO, the State Department spent about $1.1 billion from 2006 to 2008 on 1,400 private security contractors in Iraq. As of January 2009, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (the main employer of Blackwater and other armed contractors responsible for guarding U.S. diplomats and occupation officials), has already experienced a drastic increase in workload.
“State’s reliance on contractors may increase as the department currently depends on DOD to provide some services,” says the GAO, citing the examples of Bosnia and Kosovo, where “contractors assumed responsibility for certain support functions that had been previously performed by military personnel.”
Of course, executives at private security companies have long suggested that a U.S. military draw down could mean a greater role for private forces in Iraq.
“To what extent does State have contingency plans in place if Embassy Baghdad is unable to decrease its reliance on U.S. civilian government personnel over the next 5 years?” asks the GAO report.
The report also addresses question of accountability for contractors, noting that they are no longer officially immune from prosecution under Iraq’s legal system. Indeed, after the suspension of the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 and the signing of the SOFA, contractors are now ostensibly bound by Iraqi law — but not one has been prosecuted in Iraq for any crime, and it seems doubtful that any U.S. president would allow this to happen.
According to the GAO, “a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee is working to establish procedures and guidelines for exercising Iraqi jurisdiction for private contractors operating in Iraq, including those covered by the security agreement.” In other words, believe it when it happens.
No More Bailouts Until Iraq Has Clean Drinking Water
The GAO report is a pretty dry read, but seasoned observers of the Iraq occupation might find humor in one of the report’s graphs. It maps the drastic decline in the number of nations participating in the Iraq occupation, the so-called coalition of the willing, from 2004 to the present.
“As of March 2009, only three coalition partners remain in Iraq — Australia, Romania and the United Kingdom,” the GAO reports, illustrating the point with a sharp, steep slope. “These coalition partners have an agreement with Iraq to remove their troops by July 2009. At that time, the United States will be the sole remaining nation with troops stationed in Iraq.”
Another important figure included in the report that is anything but humorous — and rarely talked about — is the huge number of people imprisoned or detained by the U.S. in Iraq: 15,000. Many of these prisoners are being held without charge or access to due process. Under existing agreements between Iraq and the U.S., they are slated to either be turned over to Iraq’s legal system or released.
Interestingly, the GAO report does raise concerns about the dismal shape of Iraq’s legal system, citing a December 2008 Human Rights Watch report that “concluded Iraq’s central criminal court ‘seriously’ failed to meet international standards of due process and fair trials.” The GAO cites “concerns that detainees in Iraqi custody may be tortured or mistreated because Iraqi officials often rely on coerced confessions instead of physical evidence, particularly in criminal cases.”
It is telling that the GAO raised this concern in a section about the prospect of U.S. contractors being stripped of immunity and subjected to the Iraqi justice system, not Iraqis handed over to the Baghdad regime by the U.S. Regarding the fate of the Iraqi prisoners, the GAO report dryly notes, “many implementing details for this process must be resolved.”
Perhaps the saddest portion of the GAO report relates to what should be done to address the massive suffering in Iraq and what the U.S. responsibility should be for paying for the tremendous devastation of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure over the past 20 years.
Just take the issue of water. As of now, according to the report, “many Iraqis are without water or have access to water that puts them at risk of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, as evidenced by outbreaks in 2007 and 2008. According to the United Nations, only 40 percent of children have reliable access to safe drinking water; with water-treatment plants operating at only 17 percent capacity, large volumes of untreated waste are discharged into Iraq’s waterways. The health risks associated with a lack of access to potable water and proper sewage treatment are compounded by the shortage of medical professionals in Iraq’s health care system.”
According to the World Bank, it would cost $14.4 billion to rebuild the Iraqi public works and water system. In other words, about five weeks of the overall cost of the U.S. occupation.
Instead of discussing U.S. reparations or restitution, as groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War have demanded, the report asks the Obama administration what more the Iraqi government can do to fund reconstruction projects. “We’ve just spent $700 billion to bail out Wall Street,” says IPS’ Erik Leaver. “While the report notes that the U.S. spent $9.5 billion and Iraq budgeted for $17.2 billion for reconstruction of a war torn society. The scale of what we’ve done on the civilian end is absurd.”
Before one more cent is spent on bailing out corrupt corporations that destroyed the U.S. economy, Iraqis should have clean drinking water. After all, it was the illegal U.S. wars that took it from them in the first place. And that is not logic based on lies.
Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalistwho reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Canadian Speaks Out for Palestinians March 26, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: alice walker, Amnesty International, Ann Wright, antonia zerbisias, caged rat syndrome, Canada, canadian protest, code pink, egypt tunnels, gaza, george galloway, hamas, human rights, human rights activists, kim elliott, medea benjamin, Middle East, Palestinians, rabble.ca, red crescent, roger hollander, sandra ruch, Stephen Harper
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Published on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 by The Toronto Star
Kim Elliott speaks in tones so soft that it’s sometimes tough to hear her.
But she uses her voice effectively, making her more courageous than many other Canadians who shout a good game about human rights and freedom of expression, but who slink away when it comes to talking the talk about Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
That despite the awful allegations about Israeli army actions that started to dribble out last week: children being used as human shields, civilians being shot for not instantly obeying commands, units buying T-shirts depicting pregnant Palestinian women with targets on their bellies.
Elliott not only speaks out but, as the publisher of the online magazine Rabble.ca, walks the walk.
This month, she went all the way to and around Gaza where she, along with 59 other (mostly women) peace and human rights activists, entered at the invitation of the United Nations.
“There was this doctor we met who told us of `caged rats syndrome,’” she tells me. “It’s like putting a bunch of rats in a cage and seeing what happens. It’s limiting their movement and packing them in really densely so they turn on each other. They want to get out but can’t. Anger just boils over.”
Among her fellow sojourners are five Canadians, including Sandra Ruch, one of the Jewish women who occupied Toronto’s Israeli consulate in January in protest of the invasion, as well as American author Alice Walker (The Color Purple) and Code Pink leaders Medea Benjamin and (former colonel and diplomat) Ann Wright, whose peace activism in the U.S. led to their being barred from entering Canada in 2007.
(On a side note: never in my life had I been ashamed of my country until the Stephen Harper government began to transform it into NeoConada. Last week’s banning of British MP George Galloway for unspecified security reasons was just the last straw.)
The group had freedom to tour at will, Elliott insists. “We didn’t have anything to do with Hamas other than that they stamped our passports. We wandered around by ourselves all night. We were safe because, as we’d heard, Hamas had so cracked down on the gangs that had started to take over.”
Elliott, whose interest in the Palestinians began long ago and who has visited the Middle East many times, went to Gaza so she could bear witness to the effect of the attack and Israel’s long-running siege, which strangles the movement of food, medical supplies and other necessities into Gaza.
Which is why there are tunnels from Egypt.
The media emphasize that the tunnels are used to smuggle rockets and weapons into Gaza – true – but everything from zoo animals to seedlings also move underground. Just this week, Egypt seized 560 sheep that were being herded through.
“The inhumanity of the border is, oddly enough, what left the most striking impression – more than the incredible destruction of homes,” Elliott explains. “The Red Crescent Society said they need at least about 1,000 trucks a day to go through every day to properly sustain the people. On average since the siege, it’s about 100 trucks. Some days, there are none. Most of what is feeding the people is going through the tunnels.”
So, with all the injustices around the world, why focus on Palestinians?
“I got my human rights background at Amnesty International and, up until very recently, they wouldn’t touch this issue, in Canada especially. People felt so threatened!” she says.
“So, not only were the Palestinians suffering enormous human rights abuses…but the focus of the media in disenfranchising them and the way people are attacked for working this issue motivated me.”
Anniversary of My Dissent March 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, afghansitan war, Ann Wright, anti-war, bush administration, civil liberties, Colin Powell, democracy, Guantanamo, Iraq, Iraq war, patriot act, peace, peace activist, roger hollander, saddam hussein, wmds
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Published on Thursday, March 19, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
From Three Decades as a Colonel and Diplomat to Six Years as a Peace Activist
It was six years ago today that I resigned from the Bush administration and the U.S. diplomatic corps in opposition to the war on Iraq. I remember the day so well. I woke up about 2 in the morning.
Like so many mornings in the past months, I could not sleep through the night. I was very worried and upset hearing the comments out of Washington, that we, the U.S. government, were being forced into taking military action against Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi government.
I, like so many US diplomats and US citizens, were wondering, why must the United States attack Iraq right now. Should we not wait and hear the results of the United Nations weapons inspectors on whether there was a weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq? How could we take military action without the agreement of the members states of the United Nations Security Council? When President Bush launched “shock and awe” on Baghdad on the morning of March 19 (Mongolia time) and March 18 in the U.S., I decided I was not going to continue working in the Department of State.
Upon arriving at the Embassy, I asked our communications officer to send my letter of resignation from the United States government to my boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell. I expected to join quickly the two other U.S. Federal employees whom had resigned (both were also U.S. diplomats.)
Several minutes later, the communications officer came back to my office and said “Ms. Wright, I read your telegram to the Secretary of State and I wish that you would reconsider your resignation. I don’t agree either with the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq, but I’m not going to resign. I haven’t yet sent your telegram to Washington and wish you would not resign!”
I told the Communications officer that I appreciated very much what she felt, but I needed her to send my resignation telegram. She went back to her office visibly disturbed. 15 minutes later, I called her and asked: “Have you sent my telegram?” She answered, “No, I was hoping you would reconsider.”
I told her of my appreciation of her concerns about my resignation, and repeated my request/order that she send the resignation telegram to Washington. A few minutes later, she brought me my copy of the telegram that she sent to Washington announcing my resignation from the Federal government.
As the telegram went to Washington, I forwarded emails to friends in U.S. diplomatic missions around the world explaining why I felt I must resign in opposition to the Bush administration’s war on Iraq. Within hours, I received over 400 emails in support and not one email in opposition to my decision.
One week later I left Mongolia. It took that long for packing materials to be brought from China into Mongolia as there were no household packing/moving companies in Mongolia.
Now, six years later, many have asked whether I have had any regrets about resignation from the U.S. government.
I must stay that, honestly, my only regret has been that so many people who felt the same way that I did, did not resign too. For me, my resignation freed me to speak freely about my concerns of the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties under the Patriot Act.
I cannot image working the past 6 years in the Bush administration and I fully intend to the Bush administration accountable for what it has done.
Since that fateful day, March 19, 2003, I have worked for peace in Iraq and have travelled for peace in other parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and Gaza.
After six years of no longer working for the United States government, I have no regrets. I have met and become a part of a strong movement within the United States that works for peace in the United States and in countries throughout the world-Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and Gaza.
As I was honored to serve my country by working within our government for over 35 years, I am now honored to be serving my country by actively and visibly confronting our government, demanding peace and justice and accountability for actions of government officials. Challenging government policies that are harmful, much less illegal, is a responsibility for us as citizens.
There are many ways to serve one’s country. I fully believe challenging policies that one feels are harmful to our nation is service, not treason.
So, six years after my resignation, I am proud to have resigned and value so much the new friends I have made, as well as the old friends from the past.
I will continue working for peace and justice every day.
Tags: Ann Wright, codepink, gaza, gaza blockade, gaza bombing, gaza child casualties, gaza tunnels, gaza women, gaza women casualties, international womens day, israeli military attack gaza, iwd, roger hollander, unwra, white phosphorus
Would women in Gaza really celebrate International Women’s Day?” was the question members of our 58 person delegation from United States, Canada, Pakistan, France, Australia, Egypt, Dubai and Turkey asked as we travelled from Cairo to the Gaza border.
In less than three weeks, the delegates had responded to an appeal by Codepink: Women for Peace to join an international delegation to try to go into Gaza at the invitation of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency of Gaza (UNWRA).
Women of Gaza have so little to celebrate.
Women of Gaza were subjected to the 22 day Israeli military attack on Gaza that killed over 1400, including 192 women and over 400 children, and wounded more than 5,000 Palestinians. Women of Gaza waving white flags were killed by Israeli snipers. Women of Gaza standing at kitchen windows were blown apart by Israeli bombs made in the United States. Women of Gaza died in the streets when Israeli soldiers refused to allow emergency medical personnel to help them to hospitals. Women of Gaza watched the bodies of their children melt from white phosphorus wounds. Women of Gaza held their dying children in their arms. Women of Gaza found the bodies of the husbands and children in the rubble of their homes. Women of Gaza now wait for their wounded children to return from hospitals in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Women of Gaza live in tents because their homes were destroyed in the bombings. Women of Gaza hold children who have nightmares about the bombings they have endured. Women of Gaza wake up from their nightmares about their lives in Gaza.
Women of Gaza have endured 18 months of the blockade of Gaza. Because of the blockade, women of Gaza are prevented from leaving Gaza. Because of the blockade, women of Gaza feed their families from food smuggled through tunnels. Because of the blockade, women of Gaza wait for glass to repair the windows in their homes. Because of the blockade, women of Gaza live with minimum electricity in the home because damaged power plants cannot be repaired. Because of the blockade, women of Gaza cook cannot get cooking gas and cook with wood. Because of the blockade, communication with the rest of the world is difficult.
Our delegation on March 8, International Women’s Day, while visiting with over 1000 women in 13 different community development centers throughout Gaza, found that women of Gaza do celebrate.
The women of Gaza celebrate – their determination to survive.
But the women of Gaza wonder why women of the world are silent about the Israeli military attacks on them and the 18 month blockade of their country.
And that is why we were there– in Gaza, on International Women’s Day, to stand in solidarity with the women of Gaza.
We Will Not Be Silent!
Tags: Ann Wright, anti-war, black women, black youth, cheney, david love, George Bush, haliburton, Iraq, Iraq war, krb, laverna johnson, military contractor iraq, military rape, military sexual harassment, muhammad ali, racism, roger hollander, violence against women, war profiteers
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Have you heard the story about LaVena Johnson?
LaVena Johnson, a high school honor student, decided to enlist in the Army to pay for college. On July 19, 2005, after serving eight weeks in Iraq, she was killed, eight days short of her 20th birthday.
Pvt. Johnson — she was posthumously promoted to private first class — was found dead on a military base in Balad, Iraq, in a tent belonging to military contractor KBR, a spinoff and former subsidiary of Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company. She was the first woman from Missouri to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The U.S. Army officially ruled her death a suicide, saying she shot herself in the head, case closed. But this is where the story begins.
Johnson’s family knew something was wrong. They had talked to her on the phone a few days earlier, and she was in a great mood as usual, and was planning to come home for the holidays, earlier than expected.
Questions were raised when Johnson’s family viewed her body. There were suspicious bruises, and while the military claimed that this right-handed soldier had shot herself in the head with an M-16 rifle, the gunshot wound was on the left side of her head.
But the truth began to make itself known when the family received the autopsy report and photos they had requested under the Freedom of Information Act:
The 5-foot tall, 100-pound woman had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, probably a weapon. Her nose had been broken, and her teeth knocked back. There were bruises, teeth marks and scratches on the upper part of her body. Her back and right hand had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. Her genital area was bruised and lacerated, and lye had been poured into her vagina. The debris found on her suggested her body had been dragged.
And despite all this mutilation, she was fully clothed when her body was found in the tent, with a blood trail leading to the tent.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Army has refused to investigate. Through an online petition, ColorofChange.org demanded an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Johnson’s story is really several stories in one, and is about more than an individual Black woman who was raped and killed by her fellow soldiers. African Americans have fought in every war since the Revolutionary War, and often their country has been a far more formidable foe to them than the so-called enemy they were told to fight.
Often, youth of color, lacking opportunities at home and in need of money, look to the military as a career option and a way to pay for school. But in light of all the death and destruction of the unjust and immoral war in Iraq, fewer of them took the bait this time, and opposition to the war among Black youth has posed a challenge for Army recruiters.
Perhaps these young people were channeling war resisters of a prior generation, such as Muhammad Ali, who once said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. … They never called me nigger.” That war was devastating to poor communities of all races, and the black community in particular, as their young men came home in the thousands in body bags, or maimed, traumatized, as dope fiends or completely insane.
It was this “cruel manipulation of the poor,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, one that united people of different races “in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.”
Forty years later, we find ourselves in another unjust and senseless war. This “home invasion” of Iraq, as Philadelphia veteran journalist Reggie Bryant aptly characterized it. And Johnson is a symbol of this war, as a casualty who risks being swept under the rug.
We may never know how many crimes have been hidden in Iraq. War is good for that sort of thing and little else, concealing the rapes, murders, shooting of children, bombing and pillaging of homes, the money stealing, and other crimes that are committed — including the crime that is war itself. People are taught to kill like animals, to dehumanize and humiliate others.
But the case of Johnson raises yet another issue: Violence against women is a problem in the U.S. military, and other slayings and suspicious deaths similar to Johnson’s are being classified as suicides. And Johnson is not the only woman to die a suspicious death on the Balad military base.
Retired Army Reserve Col. Ann Wright said 1 in 3 women who join the military will be raped or sexually assaulted by servicemen. Of the 94 military women who died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom, 36 died from injuries unrelated to combat. While a number of them were ruled as suicides and homicides, 15 deaths remain that smell suspicious. For example, eight women from Fort Hood, Texas, died of “non-combat-related injuries” at Camp Taji, three of whom were raped before their deaths. Camp Taji is an Army base about 10 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Also, a number of female employees of Halliburton/KBR have been sexually harassed, assaulted and gang raped in Iraq. Their employment contract calls for such cases to be decided through arbitration rather than in a court of law. Halliburton and KBR, these war profiteers awash with money, even wanted one alleged rape victim to pay for their costs to defend themselves in arbitration. Lord have mercy …
It is clear that under President George W. Bush, no friend of justice, the cases of these brutalized and slain women could not see the light of day. But we are living in a new time, so it seems, and perhaps now is the time that the family of LaVena Johnson, and all those other nameless women killed by the military, will find the justice they deserve.
Can Gaza Be Rebuilt Through Tunnels? February 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Ann Wright, ceasefire, egypt, fatah, fayyad, gaza, gaza border, gaza tunnels, gilad schalit, hamas, hamas rockets, israel, occupation, olmert, Palestine, prisoner exchange, roger hollander, War Crimes
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The Blockade Continues—No Supplies, No Rebuilding
How do you rebuild 5,000 homes, businesses and government buildings when the only way supplies come into the prison called Gaza is through tunnels. Will the steel I-beams for roofs bend 90 degrees to go through the tunnels from Egypt? Will the tons of cement, lumber, roofing materials, nails, dry wall and paint be hauled by hand, load after load, 70 feet underground, through a tunnel 500 to 900 feet long and then pulled up a 70 foot hole and put into waiting truck in Gaza?
The gates to Gaza slammed shut again on Thursday, February 5, the day our three person group departed Gaza, having been allowed in for only 48 hours. The Egyptian government closed the border crossing into Gaza continuing the sixteen month international blockade and siege. The crossing had been briefly open to allow medical and humanitarian supplies into Gaza following the devastating 22 day attack by the Israeli military. The attacks killed 1330 Palestinians and injured over 5,500. The Israeli government said the attacks were to punish Hamas and other groups for firing unguided rockets into Israeli, rockets that over the past two years have killed about 25 Israelis. Most international observers have called the Israeli response to the rocket attacks disproportionate and collective punishment, elements of war crimes.
Today, seventeen days after the gates swung closed on Gaza, they remain firmly locked. Ceasefire talks in Cairo between the Israeli government and Hamas are stalled. Opening the border with Egypt is a contentious point in the ceasefire negotiations.
For the people of Gaza, rebuilding their homes, businesses, factories is on hold. Over 5,000 homes and apartment buildings were destroyed and hundreds of government buildings, including the Parliament building, were smashed. Building supplies, cement, wood, nails, glass will have to be brought in from outside Gaza. Two cement factories in northern Gaza were completely destroyed by Israeli bombs. Prime Minister Olmert’s spokesperson Mark Regev said reconstruction supplies like steel and cement can be used by Hamas to build more bunkers and rockets. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090218/wl_nm/us_palestinians_israel_5
Dissension in the Palestinian ranks between Fatah and Hamas continues, even after the brutal Israeli attack on Gaza. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants aid (perhaps as high as $2 billion) for rebuilding Gaza to be sent directly to each homeowner in Gaza, allowing donors to avoid the elected Hamas government. The U.S., Israeli and other countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, and do not want international aid in Gaza administered by Hamas, even though the people of Gaza elected the Hamas government. On March 2, an international donor conference will be held in Egypt to discuss the costs of rebuilding Gaza. (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090218/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_palestinians_rebuilding_gaza_2)
Who Profits from War and Occupation?
Building supplies will have to be brought from outside Gaza. Israel controls 90 percent of the land borders to Gaza-the northern and eastern borders and 100 percent of the ocean on the west side of Gaza. Egypt controls the southern border with Gaza.
The Israelis who bombed Gaza will be the primary financial beneficiaries of the rebuilding of Gaza. They bombed it and now will sell construction materials to rebuild what they have bombed, exactly like the United States has done in Iraq. Egyptians too will benefit financially from the reconstruction-high priced small construction materials that will fit into the tunnels are no doubt have been transiting through the tunnels for the past 6 weeks. Israeli women had created a website detailing who profits from occupation (http://www.whoprofits.org/)
No doubt a second website is under construction that will track which Israeli, Egyptian and American companies will benefit from the bombing of Gaza
Prisoner Exchanges as a Part of the Ceasefire
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his security cabinet said this week that no border crossings will be open until the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit is returned to Israel. Schalit was captured by Hamas in 2006 in an Israeli cross border raid into Gaza. Hamas has demanded the release of up to 1,400 Palestinian soldiers in exchange for Shalit
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas “had no objection” to Shalit’s release if Israel would release 1,400 of 11,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including Parliamentarians elected in Gaza in 2006. In the past, Israel has agreed to exchanges of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners for a few captured troops or their bodies. But Israeli and Palestinian officials had not agreed where the released prisoners would be sent after the swap. Israeli wants the prisoners expelled out of the country and Hamas wants them returned to their homes in Gaza or the West Bank. (http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090218/wl_nm/us_palestinians_israel_5)
“Open the Borders” International Delegation to Gaza
On March 5, I will be part of a 30-member international delegation that will travel to the Gaza border with Egypt in solidarity with the women of Gaza for International Women’s Day. Israeli women will be at the Israeli border crossing into Gaza. Groups all over the world will join in with pressure on the Israeli, Egyptian and American governments to open the border to Gaza and let the people of Gaza rebuild their lives. For more information about the international delegation, see http://www.codepinkalert.org/article.php?id=4675