Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Buried 9/11 Numbers

The 9-11 Victims Compensation Fund made awards to 1,400 FDNY employees. But almost twice that number have filed affidavits of their 9-11 service in case they develop or die from an illness stemming from their time at the site (FDNY)

Preparing for a higher 9/11 toll, the Village Voice reports:
New York can no longer breathe easy about the fate of people who responded to Ground Zero—not after the case of Detective James Zadroga, the high-profile workers comp fight of former deputy mayor Rudy Washington, or the study finding that first responders on 9-11 typically absorbed about 12 years' worth of lung damage in a single, bad day. None of this is surprising to the men and women who raced to the towers and have been struggling for months or years to catch their breath, literally. Nor is the risk of WTC illness news to city and state officials, who haggled at length over a law that grants Ground Zero rescuers a presumptive line-of-duty disability if they come down with certain illnesses. That measure was signed last year.

But the Zadroga case and others like it have upped the stakes, because people aren't just getting sick. Now, they are dying. And when they die, their families will not be able to collect disability payments for as long as they would have if the death had been in the line of duty.

That's why public employee unions are pressing for another presumptive bill, this one covering death benefits. The assembly version sponsored by Speaker Sheldon Silver (A11255) and its Senate counterpart by Sen. Martin Golden (S7885-A) are "intended to rectify this inequity, so these brave men and women facing a grim medical prognosis, need not worry about the financial future and security of their loved ones and dependents," according to the bills' write-up.

The proposed law would cover "uniformed personnel who participated within one year of the terrorist attack, in rescue, recovery, clean-up and related activity at or near ground zero, worked at the Fresh Kills Land Fill, worked at the New York morgue or the temporary morgue on pier locations on the west side of Manhattan, or manned barges between the west side of Manhattan and the Fresh Kills Land Fill." It would apply to people who "registered within the time period specified in such law, or would have met the criteria if not already retired on an accidental disability."

The Bloomberg administration opposed the presumptive disability bill because of the costs it could impose on the city, estimated at around $50 million a year. The deaths benefits bill would add to those costs. But the exact price tag of either measure is a mystery. The city's Independent Budget Office hopes to generate a projection, but IBO chief of staff Doug Turetsky tells the Voice, "At this point, we haven't got the data to do that." The effect of the Ground Zero diseases on thousands of rescuers is a great unknown. Nobody can predict how many will suffer or succumb, or when.

Already, thousands have filed affidavits attesting to their WTC-related service. So far, 2,596 active and retired members have filed Ground Zero affidavits with the FDNY pension fund; 2,870 with the Police Pension Fund; and 973 with NYCERS. Ostensibly, those affidavits are for potential future disability filings under last year's presumptive law. But some first responders who already have line-of-duty disability benefits might be filing in anticipation of the death benefit that will adhere should the Silver/Golden measures become law.

Many 9-11 rescuers have no choice but to make these kinds of calculations. They were forced out of work years before they thought they would leave, and could face either a prolonged retirement or a premature death. Some are wrestling with difficult decisions over how to structure their pensions, trying to balance their current need for income against the possibility that they will die early and leave families behind. Complicating the picture is that while some first responders received payouts from the federal Victims Compensation Fund, others did not. The VCF, for example, didn't cover people whose primary ailment was post-traumatic stress disorder.

The fund is closed. But symptoms of other underlying illnesses are only now emerging. Nearly five years after 9-11, in bronchioles and bloodstreams, the attack continues.

The 10,000th Haditha

Ted Rall writes:
Months after Time magazine reported that U.S. Marines had carried out a My Lai-style massacre of at least two dozen innocent Iraqi civilians, the average "support our troops" American is waking up and smelling the butchery.
As usual, the U.S. government tried to cover up the mass murder--it initially claimed that the victims were blown up by an insurgent IED. But, as Time reported in March, the "civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children." As at My Lai, the bloodlust was not easily sated. "The raids took five hours and left at least 23 people dead."

Jane and Joe Sixpack are shocked. Congressional Democrats are calling for an investigation and, for once, will probably get one. Political analysts worry that the Haditha massacre could hurt U.S. propaganda efforts even more than the infamous photos of torture at its Abu Ghraib concentration camp.

So far reaction to Haditha has been the reverse of what you might expect. Republicans and other pro-war types are running around like it's the end of the world. Meanwhile the streets of Arab capitals, recently ablaze over the Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy, are quiet.

The reason is simple: For Iraqis, American atrocities are old news, dating back to the invasion in March 2003 and a full decade earlier. (U.S. planes dropped so many bombs on Iraqi schools, hospitals and power plants during the 1990s that they ran out of targets.) So are the boulevards of New York, San Francisco and other cities where hundreds of thousands of American lefties once marched against the invasion of Iraq.

"As the war in Iraq rages on," CBS News' Dotty Lynch asks, "Where are the young people this time around? Where are the campuses? Where are the new Tom Haydens and Sam Browns and where are the Noam Chomskys, William Sloane Coffins and Daniel Berrigans?" Well, Chomsky's still around. Over a million young Americans, many of them college students, protested Iraq. They certainly had allies in the media. (Hi.)

But The System is even less responsive to protest now than it was during Vietnam. State-run media made fun of antiwar activists as tattooed neo-hippies, called them treasonous and refused airtime to Administration critics. When is the last time a hard-hitting opponent of the Iraq war showed his or her face on national TV? Those of us who raised our voices against this war from the start, having fruitlessly complained about stories of battlefield abuse reported by the European media, are suffering from marginalization fatigue.

Meanwhile, in the "new" Iraq, Abdel Salam al-Qubaisy of Iraq's Sunni Muslim Scholars Association says, U.S. massacres of civilians occur routinely. "The American soldier has become an expert in killing," he shrugs. Like many Iraqis, Baghdad shopkeeper Mohammed Jawdaat says that U.S. troops have never shown respect for the lives of Iraqi civilians. "Six months ago," remembers Jawdaat, "a car pulled out of a street towards an American convoy and a soldier just opened fire. The driver was shot in the head. There were no warning shots and the Americans didn't even stop."

Abd Mohammed Falah, a Ramadi attorney, says: "U.S. forces have committed more crimes against the Iraqi people than appears in the media. The U.S. defense secretary and his generals should be sent to court instead of two or three soldiers who will be scapegoats."

Newspapers don't bother to report when the sun rises in the east nor do they assign reporters to cover when dogs bite men. Likewise, says Baghdad newspaper boy Imad Mohammed, Iraqi newspapers haven't mentioned Haditha. Same-old, same-old massacres of Iraqis by American forces are no longer news: "The Americans see a Muslim go into a mosque and just assume he is a terrorist. They either arrest him or blow it up."

Rami Khouri, editor at The Daily Star in Lebanon tells NPR that Haditha is "not a huge story [in the Middle East]. It's getting a lot of coverage in the United States, obviously, but most people in the Arab world are against what the United States did in Iraq...They say look, this was a catastrophe from the beginning and they're not surprised that this is happening. They kind of take it in stride because everything the United States is doing in Iraq is seen as morally and politically unacceptable."

Most of the world's population--including virtually every Muslim and about a third Americans--always believed that the war against Iraq was a genocidal attempt to intimidate the Muslim world and extort its oil at gunpoint. They don't see a difference between Haditha and the thousands of other Iraqis killed by U.S. forces since 2003. Because the entire exercise was morally bankrupt from the outset, sold and perpetuated with countless lies, all of the 200,000-plus civilians and Iraqi soldiers who have died--whether by bomb or by bullet--were effectively murdered by the U.S. military.

Haditha, where two dozen were executed, was merely the 10,000th Haditha.

The morality-come-latelies still don't understand that nothing good will ever come out of the U.S. war against Iraq. Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that massacres of civilians by U.S. soldiers do "not happen very frequently, so there's no way to say historically why something like this might have happened." Actually, similar incidents have taken place in every war, including World War II. Pace's statement is either a dazzling display of ahistorical ignorance or a bald-faced lie--take your pick. Pace adds that if some of his men committed an atrocity at Haditha, they "have not performed their duty the way that 99.9 percent of their fellow Marines have."

That's not what the Iraqis say.

Officers Not Targeted in Haditha Probe

The whitewashing of Haditha has begun:
Pentagon investigations into the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians are focused on about a dozen enlisted Marines and do not target their commanding officers, the lawyer for one of the officers said Tuesday.
The investigations of up to two dozen killings and whether Marines covered them up are focused on the troops who were in a four-vehicle convoy hit by a roadside bomb last Nov. 19 in the western Iraqi city of Haditha, attorney Paul Hackett said.

The highest-ranking Marine targeted by the investigations is a staff sergeant who led the convoy, said Hackett, a Marine reservist and Iraqi war veteran who last year narrowly lost a special election for a U.S. House seat in Ohio.

The troops are from Kilo Company, part of Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. Hackett represents Capt. James Kimber, one of three battalion officers relieved of command last month.

"My purpose is to separate his name from the alleged war crimes that took place," Hackett said. "He's not under investigation for anything related to what has played out in the press."

Kimber, who was nominated for a Bronze Star for valor in Haditha, was relieved of command because his subordinates used profanity, removed sunglasses and criticized the performance of Iraqi security services during an interview with Britain's Sky News TV, according to Hackett.

The Pentagon has named two others who were relieved of command: Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion's commander, and Capt. Lucas McConnell, who commanded Kilo Company. Hackett does not represent either man but said neither was present for the shootings and he believes neither man is a target of the investigations.

No investigation into the cover-up and who ordered it.

Aberrant or Endemic?:
It may be tempting for U.S. forces to disassociate themselves from the massacre—to depict the men of Kilo Company as overzealous renegades; to designate scapegoats and prosecute them mercilessly. But when Briones and others were sent into Haditha they photographed and tagged each body, before dumping them unceremoniously, and without explanation, in front of an Iraqi hospital. A record of the incident was made, and, it would appear, covered up. Moreover, when the New York Times visited Camp Pendleton, CA, where Kilo Company is based, they were reminded that above all Marines are subject to the chain of command. “You just can't go clearing houses without the permission of higher-ups,” one said.

Like the torture, rapes and killings at Abu Ghraib (and that continue in CIA secret prisons around the world), the crime is in the disclosure. And only the lowliest and fewest of those involved suffer the consequences.
Iraq's prime minister says the alleged killings of civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha in November were not justified.

In London, Nouri Al-Maliki told the BBC that international troops in Iraq need to be more careful.

That's a pretty tepid reaction from the leader of a "free sovereign nation" who the U.S. claims is "not occupied." I don't think the "puppet" Al-Maliki has much of a future as leader of the Iraq people.

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"'Hadithas' Happen Every Day in Iraq"

On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman asked journalists stationed in Iraq what the reaction of the Iraqi people is to the current inquiries and interest in the U.S. about the massacre at Haditha seven months ago:
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist based for more than eight months in Iraq. Your response to this latest news?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, two responses really. First is that this type of situation, like Haditha, is happening on almost a daily basis on one level or another in Iraq, whether it's civilian cars being shot up at U.S. checkpoints and families being killed or, on the other hand, to the level of, for example, the second siege of Fallujah, where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed, which I think qualifies as a massacre, as well. But even that number hasn't gotten the attention that this Haditha story has.

And the other really aspect of that, I think is important to note on this, is the media coverage, again, surrounding what has happened around Haditha simply because Time magazine covered it, and thank heavens that they did, but this has gotten so much media coverage, and in comparison, so many of these types of incidents are happening every single week in Iraq. And I think that's astounding and important for people to remember, as well.

Today's Haditha:U.S. Troops Kill Pregnant Woman in Iraq:
U.S. forces killed two Iraqi women (one of them about to give birth) when the troops shot at a car that failed to stop at an observation post in a city north of Baghdad, Iraqi officials and relatives said Wednesday. Nabiha Nisaif Jassim, 35, was being raced to the maternity hospital in Samarra by her brother when the shooting occurred Tuesday.

Jassim, the mother of two children, and her 57-year-old cousin, Saliha Mohammed Hassan, were killed by the U.S. forces, according to police Capt. Laith Mohammed and witnesses.

Mother-in-law Rabia Mohammed Hussein grieves the loss of Nabiya Nassayef, 35, who was pregnant and her cousin who were both killed as they were driving to a maternity hospital in Samarra, Iraq Tuesday, May 30, 2006, according to Iraqi police. When asked if they knew about the incident, the U.S. military had no immediate comment.

The U.S. military said coalition troops fired at a car after it entered a clearly marked prohibited area near an observation post but failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory warnings.

"Shots were fired to disable the vehicle," the military said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. "Coalition forces later received reports from Iraqi police that two women had died from gunshot wounds ... and one of the females may have been pregnant."

Jassim's brother, who was wounded by broken glass, said he did not see any warnings as he sped his sister to the hospital. Her husband was waiting for her there.

"I was driving my car at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped," he said. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here. They have no regard for our lives."

He said doctors tried but failed to save the baby after his sister was brought to the hospital.

It's over. It's time, long past the time, for Americans to leave Iraq.

The Iraqis will NEVER trust us, as well they shouldn't. We can never make amends. Can even the most resolute of Bush's supporters say that if they were Iraqis they would trust American soldiers? If you were in an Iraqi's place, wouldn't YOU pick up a weapon to protect yourself and your family when you saw American soldiers barging into your home?

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In Egypt, Online Dissent Is a Fast Track to Prison

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his son and heir apparent, Gamal. Gamal met secretly with Dick Cheney earlier this month. Egypt did not report Gamal Mubarak's trip to Washington.

Bloggers Held Under Egypt's Emergency Laws:
Just over a year ago, Alaa Seif al-Islam was one of a growing number of Egyptian bloggers who recounted their lives online, published poetry, provided Web tips, helped private aid agencies use the Internet and stayed out of politics.

But on May 25, 2005, Seif al-Islam witnessed the beating of women at a pro-democracy rally in central Cairo by supporters of the ruling National Democratic Party. He was then roughed up by police, who confiscated the laptop computer ever at his hand.

After that, Seif al-Islam's blog turned to politics. It began not only to describe the troubles of Egypt under its authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, but also described acts of repression and became a vehicle for organizing public protests.

On May 7, Seif al-Islam took part in a downtown sit-in to show support for two judges whose jobs are threatened because they denounced electoral fraud during parliamentary elections in November.

Police with sticks broke up the protest and trucked dozens of demonstrators, including Seif al-Islam, to jail, where he remains.

At least six bloggers are among about 300 protesters jailed during the past month's suppression of demonstrations. The bloggers, supporters say, were singled out by police, who pointed them out before agents rushed in to hustle them away. In the view of some human rights observers, the Egyptian government has begun to note political activity online and is taking steps to rein it in.

"Blogging was a new but growing phenomenon. The government is monitoring, and it doesn't like" what it sees, said Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

The legal status of the jailed bloggers and other detainees distresses their relatives and friends: Under Egypt's emergency laws, which have been in place for 25 years, the bloggers can be jailed indefinitely. A special court reviews such detentions only every 15 days. Some prisoners held under emergency laws have been jailed for more than a decade.

Among the charges lodged against Seif al-Islam is insulting Mubarak, who has been Egypt's president for a quarter-century.

"Today it hit me; I am really in prison," Seif al-Islam wrote in letter that his wife, Manal Hassan, posted on their Web site,, on May 10. "I'm not sure how I feel.

Egypt is a leading recipient of U.S. economic and military aid. Egypt accepts annual U.S. aid worth nearly 2 billion U.S. dollars. Since 1979, Egypt has received more than 60 billion dollars, including 34 billion dollars in foreign military financing credits to buy U.S. materials and services.

Congress, our tax dollars, and foreign aid to Egypt for 2007.

$60 billion later, more evidence of failed conservative-U.S./Bush policy. But not for wont of trying. Over the decades, members of Congress have tried to tie aid to democratic reforms, but always meet resistance and failure because of alliances formed to keep oil/gas flowing cheaply to the U.S.

“Democracy Drive By America Meets Reality in Egypt,” by Neil King of the WSJ, is about the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and implementation of the program in Egypt. It includes details about the push and pull that occurred on Capitol Hill, and between the US and Egyptian governments, over the distribution of MEPI money in Egypt.
One result was that a large share of the MEPI program’s grants initially went to governments that didn’t resist the effort. Nearly two-thirds of the $103 million spent through mid-2004 went to projects that directly benefited Arab government agencies or helped train existing government officials, a Brookings Institution study last fall found. It said the U.S. spent $6 million to modernize Morocco’s trade ministry, for instance, and $2.3 million to improve regulatory systems in nations such as Oman and Saudi Arabia. The program was often “subsidizing Arab governments’ attempts to build a kinder, gentler autocracy,” the study asserted.

Washington at first didn’t intend to apply the program in Egypt, since that country was already such a big recipient of American aid. For Egypt, instead of putting MEPI to work, the State Department just told USAID to place more emphasis on matters related to how government functions. What resulted was a new six-year spending plan that aimed to put 16% of Egypt’s annual aid packages into governance work, up from 11%.

The projects — heavy on judicial reform, media training and women’s empowerment — weren’t designed to stir up much dust. And by longstanding agreement, all would have pre-approval of the Mubarak government.

But two U.S. senators pushed the administration, in October 2003, to become more active in trying to seed democratic change in Egypt. Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky proposed giving $2 million to Egypt’s Ibn Khaldun Center, founded by sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who holds U.S. citizenship. The Mubarak government had ransacked the center in 2000 and arrested its founder. He then spent nearly three years in jail on charges of defaming the state and taking money illegally from European donors, before being acquitted.

To drive their point home, the senators wanted money for the center to come straight from the $575 million in U.S. economic aid that Egypt was set to receive in fiscal 2004. This would help show “that an important front in the war on terrorism includes the pursuit of freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights in countries throughout the Middle East,” Sen. McConnell said in a Senate speech.

Egypt’s government protested strenuously. It appealed to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and its diplomats in Washington descended on the State Department and Capitol Hill. Egypt said the senators’ move would undermine a decades-long precedent under which aid was funneled through the Cairo government.

The State Department took Egypt’s side and sought to dilute offending language in the bill, according to Senate staff aides. After weeks of squabbling, Congress and the administration reached a compromise: The U.S. would give about $1 million to pro-democracy Egyptian groups, including the Ibn Khaldun Center, but only a small portion would come from the preexisting aid program.

Sens. Leahy and McConnell later tried to tie Egypt’s future aid to progress on political reform. Egypt again raised a fuss, the State Department again took its side, and the provision vanished.

Still, the senators’ push forced a shift in the Washington-Cairo aid discussion. U.S. diplomats in Cairo sat down with Egyptian officials in late 2003 for the first of more than a dozen meetings to hash out the details of how a revamped U.S. aid strategy would work. “They were very difficult discussions,” says Marwan Badr, from Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation. He says his side laid down several stipulations, which the U.S. ultimately accepted: that all activities funded by U.S. grants must be legal; that Cairo must be notified of any grants in advance; and that the U.S. would give money only to groups registered with the Egyptian government.

Agreeing to the last point was no small concession. Egyptian law lets the state monitor all activities of registered groups. It can shut down any that run afoul of government wishes.

Mr. Badr says Egypt put up a fuss simply because of “the principle: You are taking money from our bilateral program and giving it to someone else.”
By last fall, the U.S. embassy in Cairo was looking for groups to apply for pro-democracy grants. It phoned some potential recipients, word spread, and nearly 30 groups came forward, with proposed projects. By February, the embassy had picked six to fund.

The State Department originally wanted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to award the grants in an outdoor ceremony during her visit to Cairo in early March. But in an unusually provocative U.S. move, she ended up canceling the trip — to protest Egypt’s jailing of an opposition party chief.

The U.S. then held the signing deep inside its diplomatic compound. Ambassador David Welch stepped softly in announcing the grants. “This is entirely consistent with Egyptian law, and the Egypt government is fully informed of all aspects of it,” he said.

The announcement caused a ruckus nonetheless, in large part because about $400,000 was going to the Ibn Khaldun Center, long a major irritant to the Mubarak government.

If it isn't one repressive regime in the Middle East, it's another (usually the Saudi Royals). None of them, NOT ONE ARAB NATION in the Middle East is a legitimate ally of the U.S., or interested in democratic government for their people. Not that the U.S. is either, and with our current President, we may just destroy our democracy as we've destroyed others around the world.

We've got to get off of oil and onto sustainable and renewable energy.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sound of Dog's 'Laugh' Calms Other Pooches

Researchers: Canine Laugh Is Long, Loud, Panting Sound:
Researchers at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service in Washington state say sometimes a bark is just a bark — but a long, loud panting sound has real meaning.

They say the long, loud pant is the sound of a dog laughing, and it has a direct impact on the behavior of other dogs.
"What we found is that it had a calming or soothing effect on the dogs," said Patricia Simonet, an animal behaviorist in Spokane who has studied everything from hamster culture to elephant self-recognition. "Now, we actually really weren't expecting that."

Nancy Hill, director of Spokane County Animal Protection, admits she was skeptical at first that this noise would affect the other dogs.

"I thought: Laughing dogs?" Hill said. "A sound that we're gonna isolate and play in the shelter? I was a real skeptic … until we played the recording here at the shelter."

When they played the sound of a dog panting over the loudspeaker, the gaggle of dogs at the shelter kept right on barking. But when they played the dog version of laughing, all 15 barking dogs went quiet within about a minute.

"It was a night-and-day difference," Hill said. "It was absolutely phenomenal."

Officials say it works every time, and researchers across the country are taking note.

"The laughing sound that they make is something that was not even considered a vocalization until this study was done," Simonet said.

Those who study dog behavior have varying opinions about exactly what Patricia Simonet's "dog laughing" sound really is. What they do agree on, however, is that to other dogs, it is at least a sound worth keeping quiet to listen to.

So how do you make a dog laugh?

Apparently it doesn't take much.

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Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up?

Democracy Now! reports:
An internal military investigation has found that U.S. marines killed as many as 24 Iraqis - including women and children - in the city of Haditha last November and then tried to cover it up. We speak with an attorney and researcher at Human Rights Watch, an independent journalist who spent months unembedded in Iraq and we go to Baghdad to speak with the bureau chief for Knight Ridder.

Last November, a roadside bomb struck a Humvee carrying US troops in the western Iraqi town of Haditha. The bomb killed one marine and injured two others. The next day, the Marines said in a statement that 15 Iraqi civilians died in the initial blast. They said that after the explosion, gunmen attacked the US convoy with small arms fire, prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents. But eyewitnesses contradicted this account. They said the men, women and children were killed when marines burst into their houses after the blast and shot them dead in their nightclothes. Early this year, a videotape of the aftermath of the incident, showing the bodies of women and children, was obtained by Time magazine. The video verified the eyewitness accounts and prompted an investigation by the military. There are now 2 investigations - one into the encounter itself and another into whether it was the subject of a cover-up by the military.

Last week, the Pentagon concluded one of its investigations. Members of Congress who were briefed said that at least some members of the Marine unit may be charged with murder, which carries the death penalty.

Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi, spokesman of the Muslim Clerics Association spoke at news conference in Baghdad on Sunday:
Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi: "The situation has reached a level when the U.S. soldier becomes a professional killer, who kills with premeditation and deliberation. This should be among war crimes and the ones who should be put on trial are the U.S. commanders and not the U.S. soldier because the commanders are the ones who instruct those (soldiers) and justify their acts as it happened in Abu Ghraib's scandal."

One of the reporters who broke the Haditha story, Aparisim Ghosh, joined us in our firehouse studio in March. He is the chief international correspondent for Time Magazine. He spoke about his article titled "One Morning in Haditha."
Aparisim Ghosh, excerpt of Democracy Now interview, March 21st, 2006. [Click for full interview]

On Saturday, the Marines released their first official statement about the Haditha events. It reads in part, All Marines are trained in the Law of Armed Conflict and our core values of honor, courage and commitment. We take allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and are committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations. We also pride ourselves on holding our Marines to the highest levels of accountability and standards. The Marines in Iraq are focused on their mission. They are working hard on doing the right thing in a complex and dangerous environment. It is important to remember that the vast majority of Marines today perform magnificently on and off the battlefield. Tens of thousands have served honorably and with courage in Iraq and Afghanistan."

We invited a representative from the Military to be on the program but they declined our request.
* Nancy Youssef, Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder.
* Dahr Jamail, independent journalist who was based for a time in Baghdad. He was one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq at the time. Dahr publishes his reports on a blog called
* John Sifton, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

A few days after the Haditha story broke, the military launched another investigation into the killing of Iraqi civilians by American troops. In March, the Knight Ridder news agency obtained an Iraqi police report accusing U.S forces of of murdering 11 civilians by rounding them up them up into one room of a house near the city of Balad and shooting them. The US military stated that only four civilians were killed in the raid and that they came under fire while trying to capture an al-Qaeda suspect.

The reporter who broke the story for Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield, was interviewed by Democracy Now.
Matthew Schofield, excerpt of Democracy Now interview, March 23rd, 2006. [Click for full interview]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Abdul Salam Al-Kabaissi, spokesperson for the Muslim Clerics Association, speaking at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.
ABDUL SALAM AL-KUBAISSI: [translated] The situation has reached a level when the U.S. soldier becomes a professional killer, who kills with premeditation and deliberation. This should be among war crimes, and the ones who should be put on trial are the U.S. commanders and not the U.S. soldier, because the commanders are the ones who instruct those (soldiers) and justify their acts as it happened in Abu Ghraib's scandal.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Abdul Salam Al-Kubaissi speaking on Sunday. One of the reporters who first broke the Haditha story, Aparisim Ghosh, joined us in our Firehouse studio in March. He's the chief international correspondent for Time magazine. We wanted to go back to replay a clip of Aparisim from that day. I began by asking him to tell us about his story in Time called "One Morning in Haditha."
APARISIM GHOSH: Haditha is a small town northwest of Baghdad, a very, very dangerous place. It’s in the heart of what’s known as the Sunni Triangle, and Marines and soldiers who operate in that area are under constant threat. On the morning of the 19th of November, a four-Humvee patrol going through town was hit by an I.E.D., an improvised explosive device, which sheered off the front of one of the Humvees, killed one of the soldiers inside. What happens next is a matter of some debate, as you pointed out. Initially the Marines claimed that a total of 23 people were killed on the spot, 15 of them innocent civilians, all of whom the Marines said were killed by the I.E.D., and eight of them, enemy combatants who were shot by the Marines.

AMY GOODMAN: In addition to the 15?

APARISIM GHOSH: In addition to the 15. We looked into this case, and the more we dug, the more we thought that something didn't quite add up. And when we finally got our hands on this videotape, it became very clear to us that these people could not have been killed outdoors by an explosive device. They were killed in their homes in their night clothes. The night clothes are significant, because Iraqi women and children, especially, are very, very unlikely to go outdoors wearing their night clothes. It is a very conservative society.

When we first approached the Marines with this evidence, they responded in quite a hostile fashion. They accused us of buying into enemy propaganda. That aroused our suspicions even further, because it seemed to be excessively hostile on their part. And we dug even more. We spoke to witnesses. We spoke to survivors of this incident. And then we became quite convinced that these people were killed by the Marines. What is left to be seen is whether they were killed in the course of the Marine operation as collateral damage or by accident, or whether the Marines went on a rampage after one of their own had been killed and killed these people in revenge.

AMY GOODMAN: You are very graphic in the piece, “One Morning in Haditha.” Describe what the survivors say happened when the U.S. military went into the nearby houses around where the roadside bomb had exploded.

APARISIM GHOSH: Well, the survivors claimed -- let me back up a little bit. The Marines claim that they received small arms fire from nearby homes and that they responded to this fire, they shot back, and then they went into the homes to try and flush out the bad guys, the terrorists who were in there. It’s clear from the video that those homes don't have any bullet marks outside, which would suggest that there was very little, if any, shooting by the Marines at the facades of these homes. But there are lots of signs of bullets inside.

The victims told us that the Marines came in and they killed everybody inside. In one house they threw a grenade into a kitchen. That set off a propane tank and nearly destroyed the kitchen and killed several people in that home. The scenes that were described by the survivors and the witnesses were incredibly bloody and very graphic. But they are, unfortunately, very commonplace in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Inside, you talked to -- you have the description of a nine-year-old girl.


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about her and her family and what she says happened.

APARISIM GHOSH: Well, she was indoors with her family when the explosion took place. The explosion was loud enough to wake everybody up in the neighborhood.

AMY GOODMAN: The bomb that killed the Marine.

APARISIM GHOSH: The first explosion, yes. And she says when she heard gunshots – of course, she's a child, she was frightened. When the Marines stormed towards their home, her grandfather slipped into the next room, as is, apparently, was his custom to pray, to reach out for the family Koran and pray to God that this crisis would pass. On this occasion, the Marines came into the home. They entered the room where the grandfather was, and other members of the family, and killed him.

AMY GOODMAN: And she was left alive.

APARISIM GHOSH: She survived, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And her little brother.

APARISIM GHOSH: And her brother was injured by a piece of -- either by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel, we're not sure.

AMY GOODMAN: But her parents, her mother, her father, her grandparents --

APARISIM GHOSH: Her parents, her grandparents, I believe her uncle, were also killed

AMY GOODMAN: And then, another house.

APARISIM GHOSH: Four houses in all, involving a total of -- indoors, total of 19 people, and four people outside.

AMY GOODMAN: Aparisim Bobby Ghosh on Democracy Now!, March 23 of this year. On Saturday, the Marines released their first official statement about the Haditha killings. It read in part, quote, “All Marines are trained in the Law of Armed Conflict and our core values of honor, courage and commitment. We take allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and are committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations. We also pride ourselves on holding our Marines to the highest levels of accountability and standards. The Marines in Iraq are focused on their mission. They are working hard on doing the right thing in a complex and dangerous environment. It is important to remember that the vast majority of Marines today perform magnificently on and off the battlefield. Tens of thousands have served honorably and with courage in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Again, those, the words of the U.S. military. We invited a representative of the Pentagon to be on the program. They declined our request.

We're joined now in studio by John Sifton, an attorney and researcher at Human Rights Watch, where he focuses on Afghanistan, Iraq and military and counterterrorism issues. We're joined been the telephone by Nancy Youssef. She’s the Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder. And we're joined on the phone from the Bay Area of California by independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who has written a piece for called “Countless My Lai Massacres in Iraq.” He spent more than eight months in Iraq. Nancy Youssef, what is the response in Iraq right now? I mean, this actually, the Haditha killings, took place in November. What is the response of Iraqis to the renewed interest in this?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Surprisingly quiet. I think there is a feeling here that there are a lot of people being killed every day in this country, whether it be by U.S. forces or by militias or by gangs. And it hasn't sort of gained a sort of energy or anger that you're hearing in the U.S. On the contrary, it's been quite quiet. The Parliament met the day before yesterday and did not even mention this case.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist based for more than eight months in Iraq. Your response to this latest news?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, two responses really. First is that this type of situation, like Haditha, is happening on almost a daily basis on one level or another in Iraq, whether it's civilian cars being shot up at U.S. checkpoints and families being killed or, on the other hand, to the level of, for example, the second siege of Fallujah, where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed, which I think qualifies as a massacre, as well. But even that number hasn't gotten the attention that this Haditha story has.

And the other really aspect of that, I think is important to note on this, is the media coverage, again, surrounding what has happened around Haditha simply because Time magazine covered it, and thank heavens that they did, but this has gotten so much media coverage, and in comparison, so many of these types of incidents are happening every single week in Iraq. And I think that's astounding and important for people to remember, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to break. When we come back, I'll ask John Sifton of Human Rights Watch about these military investigations that are taking place.


AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to talk about the case of Haditha and other killings in Iraq, our guests are John Sifton. He is the researcher at Human Rights Watch here in New York. Nancy Youssef is Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder, speaking us to from Baghdad. And Dahr Jamail, longtime independent journalist, spent eight months in Iraq and has done a piece for truthout on the number of killings that occur around Iraq. John Sifton, the U.S. military investigations of this, can you explain what they are, if they are reliable?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, after Time magazine published their account, the Navy Criminal Investigative Service did open an investigation, and it is on going. And in fact, what we know now --

AMY GOODMAN: But even that took some work.

JOHN SIFTON: Yeah. It took a lot of work for Time magazine to convince the Navy commanders to order that investigation. But once it took place, it actually did find a lot of disturbing things, and the new information we have is in large part due to that investigation. The second investigation, which is much more important in some respects, is the investigation into the possibility that officers lied about the incident when it occurred, tried to cover it up. The question isn't “Did a lie take place?” because definitely the first accounts of the incident were erroneous and appear to be falsified. The question is how high up the chain of command those lies went.

AMY GOODMAN: And again, the first reports being that there was a roadside bomb that killed a Marine and killed all these people. That's what they originally said.

JOHN SIFTON: Yeah. The initial Marine communique on November 20 was entirely false. It was an account about an I.E.D. killing 15 civilians. And the hospital staff later told Time, you know, these were gunshots. There were a lot of holes in that report. It essentially fell apart under the scrutiny of Time magazine's reporting. And that's what started the investigation in March. The problem now is the second investigation, I don't think a lot of people realize how serious that is, because as your earlier commentator said, there’s a lot of incidents in Iraq every day, so we shouldn't be just focused on Haditha. We should be focused on the credibility of the Marines and also the possibility that all kinds of incidents take place which don't get reported and don't get investigated.

AMY GOODMAN: And the second investigation, who is conducting it?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, it's not within the Marines. You know, there are different parts of the military. There is the Army Criminal Investigative Division, there’s the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. So this has been taken outside of the Marines, which is a good thing. I mean, the thing is sometimes these criminal investigators can do a very good job, if they are allowed to. And that's the question facing the military: are they going to let this investigation really run an independent course? There’s a lot of problems with the military justice system in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think it's time for Congress to start considering whether it needs reform. It’s just not independent enough.

AMY GOODMAN: And this Lance Corporal Roel Ryan Briones, who told the Los Angeles Times he was not involved with killings but took photographs and helped remove the dead bodies and said, "They range from little babies to adult males and females."

JOHN SIFTON: Well, if these allegations are true, then this is clearly a war crime. I mean, we're not talking about a firefight or an ambiguous situation where we might wonder if the Marines made a justifiable mistake. This appears, from the allegations made by witnesses, to be murder and a war crime.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another story of killings that took place right about the same time, the exposing of the killings, as the Haditha massacre. A few days after that story broke, the military launched another investigation into the killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops. In March, Knight Ridder news agency obtained an Iraqi police report accusing U.S. forces of murdering eleven civilians by rounding them up in a room of a house near the city of Balad and shooting them. The U.S. military stated only four civilians were killed in the raid and that they came under fire while trying to capture an al-Qaeda suspect. The reporter who broke the story for Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield, was interviewed by Democracy Now! in March. Here is an excerpt of that interview.

MATTHEW SCHOFIELD: There are two accounts. There’s a U.S. military account, and then there’s an Iraqi police account of what happened.

As you know, the U.S. military account is that after showing up and getting into a shootout to get into this house, the house collapsed during the shootout. People were killed either in the shootout or by the collapsing house. They left. They found four bodies and left. They found this suspect. They arrested him. And that's pretty much that story.

The other story is that the house was standing when the U.S. troops went in. They were herded into one room -- eleven people herded into one room, executed. U.S. troops then blew up the house and left.

We were talking with the police officer who was first on the scene earlier today. He explained the scene of arriving. He said they waited until U.S. troops had left the area and it was safe to go in. When they arrived at the house, it was in rubble. I don't know if you've seen the photos of the remains of the house, but there was very little standing. He said they expected to find bodies under the rubble. Instead, what they found was in one room of the house, in one corner of one room, there was a single man who had been shot in the head. Directly across the room from him against the other wall were ten people, ranging from his 75-year-old mother-in-law to a six-month-old child, also several three-year-olds -- a couple three-year-olds, a couple five-year-olds, and four other -- three other women.

Lined up, they were covered, and they had all been shot. According to the doctor we talked to today, they had all been shot in the head, in the chest. A number of -- you know, generally, some of them were shot several times. The doctor said it's very difficult to determine exactly what kind of caliber gun they were shot with. He said the entry wounds were generally small and round, the exit wounds were generally very large. But they were lined up along one wall. There was a blanket over the top of them, and they were under the rubble, so when the police arrived, and residents came to help them start digging in, they came across the blankets.

They came across the blankets. They picked the blankets up. They say, at that point, that the hands were handcuffed in front of the Iraqis. They had been handcuffed and shot. And the Iraqi assumption is that they were shot in front of the man across the room. They came to be facing each other. There is nothing to corroborate that. The U.S. is now investigating this matter, along with the Haditha matter. That's kind of where we stand right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, can you respond to your colleague at Knight Ridder, Matthew Schofield’s report of what happened in Balad?

NANCY YOUSSEF: The name of the town is Ishaqi, and we have inquired about that report, and frankly the people in that town are fearful to talk about it and have told us to go to the Americans and that their findings are that Americans' version of things is correct and that they're very hesitant now to talk about that case. And so, we're very aggressively trying to find out why that is and what the status of the U.S. investigation is.

AMY GOODMAN: John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, we're reading now in the papers -- this is months after the expose of a massacre in Haditha, and this was in Balad, the latest story that we've seen -- that when reporters, news organizations like the New York Times will send someone in, say they're an Iraqis historian, but they won't identify them for fear of them being attacked. Can you talk about the significance of the second report that was exposed at the same time as the first?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, there have been a lot of reports. It’s difficult to keep track of them, especially when a lot of things are going on all over the world. And that's why the institutional issues are so important. I mean, we can talk about the Haditha incident or the Balad incident and about what evidence is out there, but at the end of the day what concerns us as a human rights group is whether the military has the capacity to self-report about abuses and investigate them properly. And it's looking like it simply doesn't. The question is whether the military needs to reform itself, whether Congress needs to consider reforms to the criminal justice system. Otherwise, the only way you're ever going to hear about these things is when we're lucky enough to have good reporters go in and interview. They can't be everywhere at once. They can't be all over Iraq in every village and every town.

AMY GOODMAN: On Memorial Day, the Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, says charges will be brought against U.S. Marines if an investigation into the alleged killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians uncovers wrongdoing. Major General Pace also said he still doesn't know why it's taken nearly three months for the Pentagon to find out about the November 19th incident in the town of Haditha, in which up to 24 civilians were killed.

JOHN SIFTON: It's not as though the military can't investigate when it wants to. I mean, when things happen like in Italy when a fighter jet hit a gondola, ski gondola, and knocked it down, a very quick investigation, court-martial happened. Canadian soldiers in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan, very quick investigation and court-martial. It's just a question of will, political will. And often the military is lacking in this regard. So that's why we're proposing for the military to have an independent prosecutor's office, as opposed to this current system which is entirely at the whim of commanders.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, I'm reading a report from Reuters, and it says, “A U.S. Defense official said Friday, Marines could face criminal charges, possibly including murder, in what would be the worst case of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.” Following up on the theme of your piece in truthout, can you respond to that?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, it's very clear, actually, that willful killing, like everything that we've been talking about this morning, is considered a war crime under even the U.S. War Crimes Act. And people who commit these crimes, particularly when the victim dies, it's punishable not just by life in prison, but the death penalty. And this, of course, goes for the people who committed the act, the people who helped cover it up, on up the chain of command logically to the people who set up this whole situation to begin with, including the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of Defense and other people in the administration. And I think that that's what we need to keep in mind, that we're talking about war crimes and atrocities on the level of the My Lai Massacre and I think even comparable to things that were done during, you know, that we had the Nuremberg trials for. And this is what people need to be held responsible for, and again, as it was mentioned earlier, not just the people who committed the act, but the people who set up the entire -- all of the conditions that made all of these things possible.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned, Dahr, Fallujah before. And I would say most people in the United States have perhaps heard of it as a city. But why do you think it needs to be investigated to the extent that we're beginning to see with Haditha right now?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, it needs to be investigated because there is irrefutable evidence that war crimes have been committed there. I saw with my own eyes during the April 2004 siege, where I sat in a clinic and watched men and women and young kids brought in, all saying they had been shot by snipers, when Marines pushed into the city, couldn't take the city, so they set up snipers on rooftops and just started a turkey shoot, which was exactly how it was described by one of the soldiers I ran into when I was leaving that city.

Watching a ten-year-old boy die in front of my face, because he was shot by Marines, other war crimes reported heavily. And that was just from the April siege when 736 people were killed, and then the November siege where between 4,000 and 6,000 people were killed. Indiscriminate bombings, snipers, war crimes being committed on the ground by hand, by U.S. Marines, as well, during that siege. And all of these are, of course, gross breeches of the Geneva Conventions. They are war crimes. And there is photographic evidence. There is video evidence. Doctors there to this day will talk to you about what happened. And there is absolutely no reason why all of these shouldn’t be investigated, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: John Sifton is a person who has been researching these human rights issues for a long time. What does it take to break through? It obviously isn't the case itself, a massacre or murders. As you said, this is happening regularly. What does it take?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, in this case, we saw that Time magazine ran a story, there was an investigation, but then pretty much everybody forgot about it. And luckily, Representatives John Murtha brought it up a week or so ago, and that rekindled interest in the story, and so now some new facts are coming out. But, again, we can't rely on press reports and pressure from the press, although it helps, to get accountability. Ultimately there are institutional problems in the military that need to be addressed. But otherwise we're just going to see case after case getting covered up or forgotten.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, you're in Baghdad. The response of Iraqi politicians who could pick this up now?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it's actually been quite silent. There was an initial sort of outpouring from Sunni politicians after Times report and our report, but now there is not. There is this effort to say that we're a coalition government, that we represent everyone. One Iraqi politician told me, “I don't want to talk about it, because I'm afraid I'll be viewed as sectarian. There are so many incidents of injustice, and if I only talk about one and I’m neglecting the others, then I could be labeled as sectarian.”

I wanted to go back to a point earlier about the investigation. I think one thing to keep in mind is that it is very hard now to get Iraqis to talk to military investigators. The people in Haditha told us they don't want to talk to the investigators. They don't want soldiers in their house. They don't want to -- [inaudible] they're not sure there’s any real resolution to it. And I think that's one of the reasons it's so hard to get these sort of investigations completed. The people tell us they don't want to participate. They don't see the benefit in it.

AMY GOODMAN: They see the same people, for example, in Haditha, who came into their homes, the U.S. military, as the ones who are now coming to ask them about it? Are they afraid of being identified as, for example, eyewitnesses that could be used against the military?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, I'll tell you, it’s like -- when we went to Haditha, we talked to the uncle of one of the families in which everybody was killed but a 13-year-old girl, and he started to tell his story. And in the middle of his story, he paused and looked up at us and said, “Please don't let me say anything that will get me killed by the Americans. My family can't take it anymore.” And I think that says it all. I mean, there is a fear to talk about it. There is a fear to challenge the soldiers, particularly after what they've -- if you were directly involved -- what they've gone through.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef is Knight Ridder Bureau Chief in Baghdad. Can you tell us the story that this man told you?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Sure. As was mentioned, there were several houses involved that the Marines entered, and this man is the uncle of one of the men, and his house is next door. And basically what happened was the Marines went in and, according to his niece who’s thirteen and who survived, her father went to the door to try to open it, and they heard the commotion, and they shot her father. And the father had separated -- had put the women and children in a separate bedroom. Her mother was recovering from surgery. She was lying in a hospital. Her sisters were surrounding their mother in the arms of their mother, and she said the Marines came in. They shouted something in English. They didn't know how to respond. The shooting started. She fainted. And when she woke up, her family was dead. Everybody was dead.

And all she heard was her three-year-old brother moaning in pain. He was the only one still alive. And she said to him, “Mohammed, get up. Let's go to uncle's house.” And he said, “I can't.” And so, she took him and she held him in her arms, and he was bleeding profusely. And she said she held him until he died.

And she called over to her uncle's house next door. Her uncle heard all the commotion inside; of course, didn't know exactly what was happening. They kept trying to get to the house to help his family, and he was stopped by soldiers, he said. And this went on for several hours. And he never knew what happened until his niece showed up at the door and said, “Mohammed, my three-year-old brother, and the family are dead.” And he took his niece, and his wife and him, they cleaned her up. They took her and they fled, and they have never been back to their house.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, speaking to us from Baghdad, the Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder, went into Haditha to investigate the story. John Sifton, is Human Rights Watch coming out with a report on this?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, we're still working on it, but Nancy pointed out the difficulties in doing this research. Our new approach, which we've been doing over the last year because of the security problems in Iraq, is to interview veterans themselves. And surprisingly, U.S. troops are very engaged to talk about what they've seen in Iraq. A lot of people don't commit abuses. They witness abuses, though, and they want to talk about them. And we've been using that testimony to piece together facts about what’s going on. I mean, don't get the wrong idea. There are people out there who see these things and are horrified and report them up the chain of command. And then nothing happens.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, there are the eyewitnesses, the victims.

JOHN SIFTON: Yes. I mean, you have witness testimony on the victims’ side, but also, you know, other Marines, other soldiers who see what’s going on and are horrified and want to talk about it. And some of them talk to us. Some of them talk to military investigators. And when -- we piece together things that way, too. It’s extraordinarily difficult, but it is feasible.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch; also Nancy Youssef, Baghdad Bureau Chief in Iraq right now, of Knight Ridder; and Dahr Jamail, independent journalist based in Baghdad, one of the only independent unembedded journalists in Iraq at the time. He publishes his reports at the blog,

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The Iraq You Won't See on the News

Images of Iraq dominate our TV news bulletins every night but in this film, Channel4 news presenter Jon Snow, questions whether these reports are sugar-coating the bloody reality of war under the US-led occupation.

Iraq: The Hidden Story shows the footage used by TV news broadcasts, and compares it with the devastatingly powerful uncensored footage of the aftermath of the carnage that is becoming a part of the fabric of life in Iraq.

Prod/Dir: Christian Trumble; Exec Prod: Stephen Phelps; Prod Co: Zenith Entertainment Ltd - 2006

Runtime 49 Minutes

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Wouldn't You Love to Get Corporate Money Out of Politics?

The citizens of Humboldt County in Northern California are working on it.

David Cobb writes:
Something profoundly important is happening in the shadows of the redwoods of Northern California. On June 6, voters in Humboldt County will have the opportunity to vote on an historic initiative -- the Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy.
If passed, this ordinance (known locally as Measure T) will prohibit non-local corporations from making political contributions in Humboldt County elections. This alone would make the ordinance worthy of support amongst progressives. But this ordinance goes so much deeper.

The official ballot language includes a direct challenge to the ridiculous notion that a corporation is a "person" with vested constitutional rights. Specifically, the ordinance provides that "only natural human persons possess civil and political rights, and corporations are creations of state law and possess no legitimate civil or political rights."

There is the additional assertion that "courts have illegitimately defined corporations as 'persons' and this doctrine illegitimately denies the people of Humboldt County the ability to exercise our fundamental political rights." And to add teeth, the initiative provides that "no corporation shall be entitled to claim corporate constitutional rights or protections in an effort to overturn this law."

Talk about a community standing up for itself!

Just how did such a direct and unambiguous challenge to the wealthy elite and their control of elections ever make it to the ballot box? By use of one of the great success stories of the first populist uprising -- the citizen's initiative process.

Proponents of the effort contend that large corporations are exerting undue influence on their local political campaigns. Like virtually every community in the United States, they have solid evidence for their claim. In 1999, the Wal-Mart Corporation paid for a ballot initiative to overturn portions of the area's zoning laws and then spent $250,000 on the campaign. In 2003, Maxxam Corporation invested $300,000 to fund a campaign to recall newly-elected District Attorney Paul Gallegos after he filed fraud charges against the company. It is worth noting that these two examples of corporate election bullying used paid petitioners to try to hijack the citizen's initiative process.

In stark contrast, the Measure T effort has been an all-volunteer effort of ordinary people who are coming together to address a very real problem (outside corporate money trying to buy elections), while simultaneously building a citizen's movement to challenge the ability of corporations to claim constitutional rights.

Another exciting aspect of the campaign is just how broad and diverse it is. The local Democratic Party and the local Green Party have both formally endorsed the effort, and leaders of both parties are working arm-in-arm during the campaign. Every major organized labor union in the county has joined with the Sierra Club, the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom and others in supporting the campaign.

Stated simply, the entire spectrum of the peace, social justice, environmental movements are working together in Humboldt County. They are modeling the kind of respectful unity that progressives so often talk about, but so rarely manage to accomplish. And they are engaged in a concrete campaign that is strategically designed to change the rules of the game so that future progressive victories will be easier.

It is important to understand that this proactive effort did not spring up out of thin air. It is a direct result of years of old-fashioned community organizing and educating by Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC). DUHC educates citizens regarding the role that corporations have played in an illegitimate seizure of our authority to govern ourselves, and they design and implement grassroots strategies that exercise democratic power over corporations and governments. They are seeking to create a truly democratic society by provoking a non-violent popular uprising against corporate rule in Humboldt County that can serve as a model for other communities across the United States.

Just like the populists of the agrarian movement of the late 19th century, these folks understand that genuine mass movements cannot be top-down driven. The formation of a mass movement that can achieve political viability must proceed from the ground up. And the battles must be waged in our local communities.

If you want to learn more about the effort, or want some help in replicating this in your area, give them a call at 707-444-0407 or check it out online.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Wading Through Bush's Friday Trash Dump

WESTWING, Season 1, "Take Out the Trash Day":

DONNA: What's 'Take Out the Trash Day'?

JOSH: Friday.

DONNA: I mean what is it?

JOSH: Any stories we have to give the press that we're not wild about we give all in a lump on Friday.

DONNA: Why do you do it in a lump?

JOSH: Instead of one at a time?

DONNA: I'd think you'd want to spread them out.

JOSH: They've got X column inches to fill, right? They're gonna fill them no matter what.


JOSH: So if we give them one story, that story's X column inches.

DONNA: And if we give them 5 stories...

JOSH: They're a fifth the size.

DONNA: Why do you do it on Friday?

JOSH: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

DONNA: You guys are real populists, aren't you?

Bush Asks Judges to Toss NSA Lawsuits:
The Bush administration has asked federal judges in New York and Michigan to dismiss a pair of lawsuits against the National Security Agency's (NSA) domestic eavesdropping program, saying litigating them would jeopardize state secrets.

In papers filed late Friday, Justice Department lawyers said it would be impossible to defend the legality of the spying program without disclosing classified information that could be of value to suspected terrorists.

The administration laid out some supporting arguments in classified memos filed under seal.

The government's two lawsuits brought over the National Security Agency's motion involves two cases challenging an NSA program that allows investigators to eavesdrop on Americans who communicate with people outside the country who are suspected of terrorist ties.

The first suit [complaint, PDF], brought in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights in January on its own behalf and on behalf of CCR attorneys and legal staff representing clients who fit the government's criteria for targeting, asks the federal courts to block the program as an abuse of presidential power without judicial approval or statutory authorization in breach of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Article II of the US Constitution, and the First and Fourth Amendments.

The second suit [complaint, PDF] brought in Michigan by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of journalists, scholars, attorneys and national nonprofit organizations similarly having "a well-founded belief that their communications are being intercepted by the NSA" also charges that the NSA program violates the First and Fourth Amendments.

Shayana Khadidl, a staff attorney on the CCR litigation, responded to the dismissal motion by saying:
The Bush Administration is trying to crush a very strong case against domestic spying without any evidence or argument. This is a mysterious and undemocratic request, since the administration says the reason the court is being asked to drop the case is a secret. I think it's a clear choice: can the President tell the courts which cases they can rule on? If so, the courts will never be able to hold the President accountable for breaking the law.

The government motion was made in immediate response to CCR's own motion for summary judgment in the case, filed March 9. CCR's own response to the government motion has not been filed, but is expected to emphasize that its evidence on the illegality of the spying program is based on public evidence, not secret documents, and that even if the government is correct in saying that a public trial could disclose state secrets, alternatives exist in the form of closed proceedings or requiring filings to be made under seal.

Earlier this month, the DOJ successfully persuaded a federal judge in the al-Masri CIA rendition case to dismiss an ACLU suit on similar state secrets grounds. The US Supreme Court established the state secrets privilege in the 1953 case of United States v. Reynolds. The government invoked the privilege in only four cases between 1953 and 1976, but it was invoked by the Bush administration 23 times in the four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and has been invoked at least five times in the past year.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Where Exactly Does the Buck Stop These Days?

George W. Bush, with approval ratings in the low 30s, compared himself with Harry S. Truman in a speech on Saturday to West Point graduates.

Just two days earlier, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a rare joint news conference at the White House to point to victories in Iraq, admitting (according to headlines and news reports all across the U.S.) to "regrets and misinterpretation by others in a war that has grown far bloodier and more protracted than either had expected":
Q: Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?

BUSH: Sounds like kind of a familiar refrain here.

Saying, bring it on; kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know. Wanted, dead or alive; that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted. And so I learned from that.

This is not an apology.

Bush's regret is how others "misinterpretted" his words. Their bad, not his. How many ways can "And there's an old poster out West, I recall, that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'" be interpretted? Bush thinks that it's his language that has been the failure of his Presidency, and not his decisions and policies. If he wasn't so crass, if he could speak pretty ("like my good friend Tony here"), we would all love him and his war and what he's doing to the country and the world.

Transcript and Video of the Bush-Blair press conference. [50:04]
BUSH: And, you know, I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time.

And it's _ unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice. They have been given a fair trial and tried and convicted.

Not hardly. Extreme renditions, CIA secret prisons, torture, murder, illegal wiretapping of Americans, it all continues under this President. His "mistake" was in it getting discovered.

In his speech to West Point cadets, Bush's:
....parallels with Truman underscored White House efforts to minimize the public opinion effect of day-to-day setbacks and couch the effort in broad historic terms that might help soothe discontent as Republicans seek to retain power despite an already bruising campaign year.

Many surveys show that the Iraq War, along with high gasoline prices and ethics scandals, could lead to widespread GOP losses in Congress, potentially strangling any hope for Bush to enact his agenda during his last two years in office.

The president listed what he said were similarities between the Truman-era birth of the Cold War and his own decisions to invade Iraq."

Neither one of them, neither Bush nor Blair, has taken responsibility for the bad decisions that are tearing the world apart and turning democracy on its ear. Bush and Blair remain on the same course, refusing to alter their policies.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Thinning the Herd

CNET is reporting that in a private meeting with industry representatives held on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller (along with other senior members of the Justice Department) urged telecommunications officials to record their customers' Internet activities. They told Internet service providers that they should retain subscriber information and network data for two years, according to two sources familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The closed-door meeting at the Justice Department, which Gonzales had requested, according to the sources, comes as the idea of legally mandated data retention has become popular on Capitol Hill and inside the Bush administration. Supporters of the idea say it will help prosecutions of child pornography because in many cases, logs are deleted during the routine course of business.

In a speech last month at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Gonzales said that Internet providers must retain records for a "reasonable amount of time."

"I will reach out personally to the CEOs of the leading service providers and to other industry leaders," Gonzales said. "Record retention by Internet service providers consistent with the legitimate privacy rights of Americans is an issue that must be addressed."

Until Gonzales' speech, the Bush administration had generally opposed laws requiring data retention, saying it had "serious reservations" about them. But after the European Parliament last December approved such a requirement for Internet, telephone and voice over Internet Protocol providers, top administration officials began talking about the practice more favorably.

During Friday's meeting, Justice Department officials passed around pixellated (that is, slightly obscured) photographs of child pornography to emphasize the lurid nature of the crimes police are trying to prevent, according to one source.

A Justice Department spokesman familiar with the administration's stand on data retention was in meetings on Friday and unavailable for comment, a department representative said.

Privacy advocates have been alarmed by the idea of legally mandated data retention, saying that, while child exploitation may be the justification today, those records would be available in all kinds of criminal and civil suits--including terrorism, tax evasion, drug, and even divorce cases.

It was not immediately clear what Gonzales and Mueller meant by suggesting that network data be retained. One possibility is requiring Internet providers to record the Internet addresses their customers are temporarily assigned. A more extensive mandate would require companies to keep track of e-mail messages sent, Web pages visited and perhaps even instant-messaging correspondents.

'Preservation' vs. 'retention'
Two proposals to mandate data retention have surfaced in the U.S. Congress. One, backed by Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, says that any Internet service that "enables users to access content" must permanently retain records that would permit police to identify each user. The records could only be discarded at least one year after the user's account was closed.

The other was drafted by aides to Wisconsin Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a close ally of President Bush. Sensenbrenner said through a spokesman last week, though, that his proposal is on hold because "our committee's agenda is tremendously overcrowded already."

At the moment, Internet service providers typically discard any log file that's no longer required for business reasons such as network monitoring, fraud prevention or billing disputes. Companies do, however, alter that general rule when contacted by police performing an investigation--a practice called data preservation.

A 1996 federal law called the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act regulates data preservation. It requires Internet providers to retain any "record" in their possession for 90 days "upon the request of a governmental entity."

Because Internet addresses remain a relatively scarce commodity, ISPs tend to allocate them to customers from a pool based on whether a computer is in use at the time. (Two standard techniques used are the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet.)

In addition, Internet providers are required by another federal law to report child pornography sightings to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is in turn charged with forwarding that report to the appropriate police agency.

When adopting its data retention rules, the European Parliament approved U.K.-backed requirements, saying that communications providers in its 25 member countries--several of which had enacted their own data retention laws already--must retain customer data for a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years.

The Europe-wide requirement applies to a wide variety of "traffic" and "location" data, including the identities of the customers' correspondents; the date, time and duration of phone calls, voice over Internet Protocol calls or e-mail messages; and the location of the device used for the communications. But the "content" of the communications is not supposed to be retained. The rules are expected to take effect in 2008.

Who's next?

As laudable as protecting the children is, I don't for a moment believe that this is what is motivating the Bush administration. If Bush was at all sincere about ending the exploitation and abuse of children, he would be addressing the conditions that create pedophilia and child abuse.

The cause of pedophilia isn't unknown. Bush could change all of his policies and overturn the last six years of legislation that he's forced through Congress and onto all of us if this was a sincere effort. If this administration, or Congress, was serious about dealing with the problem, sentencing laws would be changed. Because there is no CURE, only TREATMENT. The success of the treatment depends on the motivation of the offender. The greater the stress, the greater the likelihood of recidivism. And who isn't stressed to the max after six years of these Republicans?

The real purpose of the Gonzalez-Mueller directive is to get the secret and invasive NSA surveillance programs into place and accepted for use against all American citizens by law enforcement. To compound the problem, we can't even get Democrats to stand up against this Fascist regime. It's a clever ploy, I'll hand them that. But legitimate, no.

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