Thursday, December 18, 2008


Muntathar al Zaidi is the journalist who threw his shoes at the Bully Boy of the United States on Sunday and has been imprisoned since.  Jenan Hussein and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) report on today's actions in support of Muntathar which included, "Students raised their shoes and threw rocks at American soldiers, who reportedly opened fire above the crowd. Protesters said that indirect fire wounded one student, Zaid Salih. U.S. forces haven't confirmed the account."  Demonstrations have been taking place throughout Iraq since Monday demanding the release of the journalist and they continued today when, AP reported this morning, Muntadar was expected to see his case taken to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq today where it would be determined whether or not futher judicial review is needed, with some calling for him to be charged "with insulting a foreign leader, a charge that carries a maximum of 2 years imprisonment or a small fine." 
Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed (New York Times) explained that "Iraqi criminal lawyers not involved in the case say there are several possible charges he could face, including initiating an aggressive act against the head of a foreign state on an official visit, with a potential punishment of seven years in prison.  A less severe charge, insulting the leader of a foreign nation, carries a sentence of up to two years in prison or a fine of 200 Iraqi dinars, about 17 cents. A third possible crime, simple aggression, is punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine."  Catherine Philp (Times of London) reports on a new development, "The brother of Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who secured his place in infamy with his outburst at the President's press conference in Baghdad, claimed that the Shia journalist had been so badly beaten in custody that police were unable to produce him in court.
Mr al-Zeidi's family were told that a court hearing had been held in his jail cell instead and that they would not be allowed to see him for at least another eight days."  Dargham al-Zeidi is quoted stating, "That means my brother was severely beaten and they fear that his appearance could trigger anger at the court."  BBC quotes Muntadhar's brother Uday al-Zeidi stating, "We waited until 10 in the morning but Muntadar did not show up.  Upon inquiring as to his whereabouts, we were told that the interrogating judge had gone to see him, something that contradicts the measures followed in all international laws in general."
While Dana Perino, speaking for the White House Tuesday, has made clear the White House's position ("So we hold no hard feelings about it, and we've really moved on"), the US State Dept continues to appear caught off guard.  Monday spokesperson Robert Wood declared, "I mean, look at how President Bush was received overall by Prime Minister Maliki and others in the Iraqi government. I think it says a lot."  Today, Wood continued to spin when asked if the US was taking a position on the case, "That's -- look -- this all happened in the context of Iraq's democracy and that will be a decision for the Iraqis as to whether or not this person is charged. . . . But look, Iraq's a democracy, these type of things happen in a democracy and that's all I can say about it." Challenged that he was avoiding the issue, Wood responded, "I'm not ducking anything.  It's an Iraqi matter so it should be left to the Iraqis to deal with."  Wood is ducking everything including skirting the issue of anyone facing the Iraqi judicial system.  On Monday Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Representative to Iraq was sounding alarms regarding the Iraqi judicial system.  Kim Gamel (AP) reported, "Concern is currently focused on the beleaguered Iraqi judicial system, with the United Nations warning in a recent human rights report about overcrowding and 'grave human rights violations' of detainees in Iraqi custody."  Also this week Human Rights Watch issued a report on Iraq's Central Crimal Court -  the court Muntadar went before today.  Reuters noted of the report, "They also received ineffectual legal counsel and judges frequently relied on testimony from secret informants or confessions likely to have been extracted under torture or duress, the New York-based group said in a report. Impartial administration of justice for all Iraqis was supposed to be a hallmark of the country's break with the abuses of the Saddam Hussein era and help heal sectarian divides after years of horrific violence, it said." 
The Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond noted the growing cry to relase Muntadar including "A Sunni lawmaker, Noureldeen Hiyali, held a news conference to defend Zaidi, saying the reporter had cracked after more than five years of war as seen through the close-up angle of a reporter." Jenan Hussein and Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) offer, "Zaidi's employer, the Baghdadiya satellite channel, hasn't criticized its reporter. To the contrary, it's resisted a call for an apology to the government and called for Zaidi's unconditional release."  CBS and AP note international actions today included: "In Pakistan, demonstrators held a candlelight vigil outside the U.S. Consulate in Lahore on Wednesday, carrying photographs of al-Zeidi and hand-painted signs saying things like 'Hush, Hush Bush. We Hate You.' And on a road in Karachi, a man painted "10" inside a large outline of a foot, with an arrow pointing to 'BUSH' --- a reference to Bush's joke about the shoe's size. At a small rally outside the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, the head of a civil servant union displayed a pair of shoes he said he intends to send to al-Zeidi as a show of support."  In Iraq, Catherine Philp (Times of London) explains, "Anger at Mr al-Zeidi's treatment erupted none the less, hijacking a legislative session in Parliament, provoking stand-up rows and prompting the resignation of the assembly's notoriously hot-tempered Speaker."  She then quotes Mahmoud al-Mashhadani stating, "I have no honour leading this parliament and I announce my resignation."  Al Jazeera observes that Muntadhar was one of several issues causing the uproar: "Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, Iraq's parliament speaker, has threatened to resign following house arguments concerning the presence of foreign troops and the imprisonment of a local journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush."
Bobby Ghosh (Time magazine) offers this evaluation, "Still, al-Zaidi may have done Bush a favor. In an ABC News interview the next day, the President conceded for the first time that al-Qaeda had no presence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion, adding, "So what?" In another news cycle, this admission would have dominated the headlines: that after the debunking of Bush's original excuse for war--Saddam's weapons of mass destruction--his argument that Iraq was a crucial nexus in the global war on terrorism also held no water. Thanks to al-Zaidi, nobody heard the other shoe drop."  And while that puts the Bully Boy into perspective, Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) explains that the folk hero journalist may be sparking a movement as the non-stop closing of a bridge in Baghdad is not merely tolerated today:

Around 12:30 p.m. several vehicles loaded with Iraqi soldiers accompanying two or three buses stopped in mid square and tried to close it (like every day) but drivers refused to obey. We are tired of closed roads.    
The horns of tens of cars were loud. Angry drivers yelled at soldiers. Not even when the soldiers brandished their rifles at the cars would the drivers stop. There were shots in the air, but the vehicles continued on. The military saw, for the first time I think, mass anger for blocking roads.    
I have been in this square almost every day for the last four years, on the way to one official function or another, and nothing like this has ever happened. This time, the soldiers were forced to park their vehicles in a way that allowed civilian cars to pass.
Which brings us back to Robert Wood and his remarks on behalf of the State Dept.  The US State Dept has repeatedly demonstrated it grasps very little.  That is how Moqtada al-Sadr found renewed status in February of this year.  If the State Dept wants to risk the transformation of a folk hero into a martyr,  then they should continue to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.
[. . .]
In non-Iraq news, independent journalist  David Bacon latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) and it has created a stir.  Laura Carlsen reviews the book at Foreign Policy in Focus:
The immediate challenge is to build a broad-based movement to pass a fair and humane reform that grants all workers and their families equal rights and protections under the law.    
David Bacon's book, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Immigration and Criminalizes Immigrants provides essential tools to envision and fight for this reform. For that reason, Michele Wucker's biased interpretation and portrayal of the book does this budding movement a disservice.    
There are two fundamental differences of opinion between Wucker and Bacon that must come to the forefront of the debate on how to frame this reform.    
The first question is the bad apples one - whether the numerous cases of employer abuse of undocumented workers and guestworkers that Bacon describes are anomalies or corporate labor strategies for reducing costs and increasing profits.   
Wucker states that Bacon chronicles the misdeeds of "bad-apple employers" while giving short shrift to "employers who would hire workers with papers if the system provided a way to do so" and that Bacon's "cut-and-dried labor-good, corporate-bad message doesn't leave room for such subtleties."     
The problem isn't one of subtleties - it's a question of how we analyze the real forces opposing legalization for migrant workers and what kind of strategies we build based on that. Bacon's book is devoted to documenting the structural aspects of the use of visa and undocumented workers in the United States and how that has become a major strategy for competition and profits in the age of globalization. He describes a series of corporate-led policies and practices - trade agreements that displace workers in their countries of origin, the criminalization of work, the definition of people as illegal, and the use of migrant labor to erode labor rights - that create a system of abuse. After reading the skilled combination of history, personal testimonies, statistics and logically constructed arguments, it's difficult to see this system as anything less than a widespread corporate strategy based on fundamentally unfair practices.  
Immigration Myths Debunked  
Bacon debunks several myths of the immigration debate that have led to dead-ends. One is that employers would hire native workers if they could. Bacon cites many statistical studies showing that the increase in migrant labor has been accompanied by an increase in unemployment among certain sectors of U.S. workers, especially black workers. The reason is not that migrants do work U.S. workers won't do. It's that employers have actively replaced organized workers and workers with exercisable rights with the more easily manipulated migrant workforce.
The same link will take you to Mary Bauer's review and Michele Wucker.  Meanwhile last night's community posts explored Peanuts, Stan's "The Invisible Franklin," Mike's "Charlie Brown stinks at baseball," Rebecca's "i always identified with sally brown," Marcia's "The Outing of Charlie Brown," Betty's "Franklin and Violet," Ruth's "A Jewish perspective," Trina's "Peanuts in the Kitchen," Elaine's "Snoopy and Woodstock," and Kat's "Charles Shultz' women."  Cedric's "Park Avenue Prisoner Edwin Schlossberg " and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! EDWIN SCHLOSSBERG, PRISONER OF PARK AVENUE!" (joint-post) went up this morning.