Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Starting with Blackwater.  Yesterday five mercenaries for Blackwater Worldwide surrendered themselves to authorities as a result of grand jury indictments for the September 17, 2007 slaughter that resulted in at least 17 Iraqis being killed in Baghdad.   CBS and AP (link has text and video) ask Iraqis for their reactions to the news.  Mohammed Latif states, "I think it is a move in the right direction to make the security company employees realize that they are no longer above the law and they should stop behaving like cowboys on the streets of Baghdad."  Rasim Hussein offers, "This indictment is not enough because there are still dozens of criminal security company employees on the loose in Iraq."  Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) also reports on Iraqi reaction to the news and quotes Hosham Abdel Kader stating, "It's about time they pay for their crimes.  I recoil, I freeze when I see those mercenaries on the street."  US Attorney General Jeffrey Taylor declared yesterday that "we are duty-bound to hold them accountable, as no one is above the law, even when our country is engaged in war."  The Dallas Morning News uses that statement to editorialize, "Iraqis have waited far too long to hear these words from the U.S. government.  Nevertheless, Iraqi government should cautions its people not to have high expectations. Security contractors at the time of the shooting fell under no clear legal authority.  Since they were operating on foreign territory, U.S. law did not necessarily apply to them." The San Francisco Chronicle notes, "The incident became a flash point in many different ways. It proved to be a fantastic recruiting tool for insurgents. It enraged the Iraqi government, which lobbied unsuccessfully for the right to try the guards in Iraq. . . . And here in the United States, the case sparked discussion of why the war depended so much on private firms in the first place. One guard - perhaps sensing the scope of the reaction to the incident - already has pleaded guilty to killing at least one Iraqi, in exchange for a reduced sentence. The other five are facing 35 counts and at least 30 years."
Meanwhile Mike Doyle (McClatchy Newspapers) explores the primary (evolving) law that would apply and notes, "The Blackwater contract was with the State Department. The five indicted Blackwater guards were part of a Tactical Response Team called Raven 23; the killings in question occurred when Raven 23 responded to the detonation of an improvised explosive device near another Blackwater team guarding, apparently, a State Department employee. Who was this employee, and what was his or her function? Would protecting, say, an agricultural attache amount to 'supporting the mission' of the Pentagon?" Pamela Manson (Salt Lake Tribune) reports that the attorneys for the five are publicly maintaining that there is no case and that all "will be cleared."  Dan Slater (Wall St. Journal) argues a recent case holds the key to the fate of the five, "Remember Jose Luis Nazario? He was the former Marine who was charged, under the MEJA, with voluntary manslaughter for allegedly killing unarmed Iraqis. In August, a jury in Riverside, Calif., acquitted Nazario. As today's WSJ report about Blackwater notes, prosecutors in the Nazario case faced jury skepticism. After the not-guilty verdict, jurors hugged Nazario and said they didn't feel they 'had any business' judging combat conduct."  A great deal will ride on the testimony of Jeremy P. Ridgeway who copped a plea bargain.  Ginger Thompson and James Risen (New York Times) report he "described how he and the other guards used automatic rifles and grenade launchers to fire on cars, houses, a traffic officer and a girls' school." Ridgeway, Josh Meyer (Los Angeles Times) notes, was "the turret gunner in the last vehicle had a panoramic view, has provided invormation that strongly indictes the shootings were unprovoked, authroities said."  At the International Herald Tribune, Ginger Thompson explains, "Ridgeway said in the court documents unsealed Monday that the episode in Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, started when the guards opened fire on a white Kia sedan 'that posed no threat to the convoy'."
How does photo-journalist Ibrahim Jassam pose any threat?  Answer: He doesn't.  But he's imprisoned by the US military in Iraq. The December 1st snapshot noted that the the Central Criminal Court of Iraq ruled Ibrahim must be freed.   But Reuters reports this morning that the US military is refusing to release Ibrahim and stating they will continue holidng "him into 2009".

US Major Neal Fisher is quoted stating that the court order means when Ibrahim is released, "he will be able to out-process without having to go through the courts as other detainees in his threat classification will have to do." Fisher sees no conflict in that and his earlier statement to Reuters that, "Though we appreciate the decision of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in the Jassam case, their decision does not negate the intelligence information that currently lists him as a threat to Iraq security and stability." Golly Major Neil, if the US has 'evidence' and 'reason' to hold Ibrahim then surely it would be 'dangerous' to out-process him automatically at some point in 2009, right? All these oodles and oodles of info would need to be turned over to an Iraqi court, right? That is the argument for not releasing him after all: 'The Iraqi court doesn't know what we know.'

But if you make that argument (and mean it), you don't turn around and say, 'When we're done with him, we'll follow the court's order and release him quicker than other prisoners who will still need to go before a court.'  You can't have it both ways. Either the US knows information justifying Ibrahim being held or it doesn't. If it does, then surely such information would not just need to be turned over to an Iraqi court, it would also require a new trial.  The fact that Major Neal doesn't see it that way goes to how weak the US case against Ibrahim is. David Schlesing (News Editor-in-Chief at Reuters) is quoted stating, "I am disappointed he has not been released in accordance with the court order."
Turning to the issue of Iraqi women, we'll start with women in general.  Women's eNews runs a really bad article that they make even worse by attempting to put one over on their readers.  Nadira Artyk's "Muslim Feminists Confront a World of Obstacles" has a dateline of 12-9-08 and it avoids ever noting dates for the conference.  That conference took place in October. It ran from October 24 through October 27.  Click here for better coverage from the BBC.  Instead of rushing to post it, Women's eNews should have taken a moment to think, "Hmmm?  Who is ignored in this article?"  Or are they unaware that Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban was at the conference?  Seems like Nadira -- two months after the conference -- should have included something on that, right? Shaaban spoke on the conference's opening day and considering her position with regards to Iraqi refugees fleeing to Syria and considering the employment (I'm referring to prostitution) that so many female refugees have to resort to, one would think there was something of a little more value than the grand standing moments of Nadira's friends.  Isabel S. Murray (Dartmouth Free Press) reported on the same conference (in October, she reported) and stated the Qur'an forbids polygamy.  A good time to note that polygamy remains an issue in Iraq.  This from MADRE:
We demand the repeal of polygamous marriages and all other discriminatory laws against women in Kurdistan.  
On October 27, 2008, legislation allowing polygamous marriages was passed in a parliamentary session in Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan. This legislation is part of a constitutional draft proposing to replace the old family status law, in use since 1958.  It was changed partially, under Saddam Hussein, to subjugate women's rights further.  
After the fall of Saddam's regime in 2003, a new constitution was written and passed in Iraq. This constitution was solely based on Islamic Sharia Law and openly stated its support for gender apartheid against women.  We clearly see that the proposed constitution for the Kurdish region is no better than the Iraqi one.  In fact, it is just a smaller version. 
The current family status law was reactionary enough -- being purely based on discrimination against women and their treatment in society as second class citizens--but now the Kurdish Regional Government wants to change it further, and not for the better.
Women in Kurdistan have been subjected to all kinds of violence and discrimination throughout their history. Under Saddam's regime, they endured all kinds of hardship, torture and abuse.  They have fared no better under the current Kurdish rule.  "Honour killings", female genital mutilation, forced marriages, bullying women to commit suicide and the denial of civil and individual rights have been the main characteristics for almost the past two decades.  
The approval of this current legislation will assist in the oppression of women and lead to a huge increase in violence against women.  This is a historical mistake. We hold the Kurdish parliament and its government responsible for the violations of women's rights in this region, due to these discriminatory laws.     
Therefore, we call upon every concerned organisation and individual to support us in this campaign to repeal this law.  We also call for unconditional equal rights, freedom and equality for women in Kurdistan to be enshrined in law.  
Yours Truly,   

 - Yanar Mohammed: President of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, Iraq

 - Houzan Mahmoud: Representative of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, UK  

 - Vivian Stromberg: MADRE, USA  

 - Maria Hagberg: President of Network Against Honour Crimes, Sweden     

 - Rega Svensson: Head of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, Sweden   

 - Joe Tougas: Journalist, Human Rights Activist, USA   

 - Jennifer Kemp: Women's Rights Activist, USA    

 - Maryam Namazie: Spokesperson for Equal Rights Now, Iran       

 - Joanne Payton: International Campaign against Honour Killings     

 - Thomas Unterrainer: Nottingham 

 - Sam Azad: Socialist campaigner  

 - Ingrid Ternert: Representative of the Peace Movement, Germany 
 - Ruth Appleton: Co-ordinator Sant√© Refugee Mental Health Access Project  

 - Anna-Lisa: Sweden 

 - Aase Fosshaug: Sweden  
But why listen to MADRE, they are concerned with human rights and the Women's eNews' story explains to us just how 'passe' human rights is.  (Human rights is passe -- and a subthread of the conference, so is feminism -- which also gets left out of the article.) MADRE sent out the above in November.