<\body> Stories in America: March 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

American Soldier: "We Were Torturing People For No Reason"

Here's another disturbing must read from former interrogator and torturer Tony Lagouranis. I'm sure the liberal media will tell his story soon:
Tony Lagouranis is a 37-year-old bouncer at a bar in Chicago's Humboldt Park. He is also a former torturer. That was how he was described in an email promoting a panel discussion, "24: Torture Televised," hosted by the NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security in New York on March 21. And he doesn't shy away from the description.

As a specialist in a military intelligence battalion, Lagouranis interrogated prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Al Asad Airfield, and other places in Iraq from January through December 2004. Coercive techniques, including the use of military dogs, waterboarding, and prolonged stress positions, were employed on the detainees, he says. Prisoners held at Al Asad Airfield, which is located approximately 110 miles northwest of Baghdad, were shackled and hung from an upright bed frame "welded to the wall" in a room in an airplane hanger, he told me in a phone interview after the NYU event. When he was having problems getting information from a detainee, he recalls, the other interrogators said, "Chain him up on the bed frame and then he'll talk to you." (Lagouranis says he didn't participate directly in hangings from the frames.)

The results of the hangings, shacklings, and prolonged stress positions -- sometimes for hours -- were devastating. "You take a healthy guy and you turn him into a cripple -- at least for a period of time," Lagouranis tells me. "I don't care what Alberto Gonzales says. That's torture."Tony Lagouranis is a 37-year-old bouncer at a bar in Chicago's Humboldt Park. He is also a former torturer. That was how he was described in an email promoting a panel discussion, "24: Torture Televised," hosted by the NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security in New York on March 21. And he doesn't shy away from the description.

As a specialist in a military intelligence battalion, Lagouranis interrogated prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Al Asad Airfield, and other places in Iraq from January through December 2004. Coercive techniques, including the use of military dogs, waterboarding, and prolonged stress positions, were employed on the detainees, he says. Prisoners held at Al Asad Airfield, which is located approximately 110 miles northwest of Baghdad, were shackled and hung from an upright bed frame "welded to the wall" in a room in an airplane hanger, he told me in a phone interview after the NYU event. When he was having problems getting information from a detainee, he recalls, the other interrogators said, "Chain him up on the bed frame and then he'll talk to you." (Lagouranis says he didn't participate directly in hangings from the frames.)

The results of the hangings, shacklings, and prolonged stress positions -- sometimes for hours -- were devastating. "You take a healthy guy and you turn him into a cripple -- at least for a period of time," Lagouranis tells me. "I don't care what Alberto Gonzales says. That's torture."

Friday, March 30, 2007

America's Richest 300,000 Make As Much as the Bottom 150 Million

The facts show that the Bush administration's economic policies are greatly widening the gap between the rich and the poor. This is an editorial from TomPaine.com:
University of California at Berkeley professor Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Picketty of the Paris School of Economics released two studies this week, one looking at income and another looking at tax policy. The bottom line: Under Bush, the rich aren’t just getting richer. They’re making a killing.

How much so? As The New York Times reported Thursday, the nation’s richest 300,000 Americans make as much money as the bottom 150 million. Calculations based on 2005 tax data, the latest available, average incomes for people among the bottom 90 percent of Americans that year declined 0.6 percent, while the incomes of those in the top 10 percent increased about 14 percent.

And that is not just a one-year blip. Since 1970, based on data posted on Saez’ website, while the annual average wage, adjusted for inflation, increased 15.2 percent between 1970 and 2005, the average wage for the nation’s top 100 CEOs in that period increased a whopping 2,193 percent.

Meanwhile, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released a study based on the research of Saez and Picketty that shows the extent to which the wealthiest Americans benefited greatly from conservative tax policy while the pocketbooks of average Americans remain significantly unchanged. “Large reductions in tax progressivity since the 1960s took place primarily during two periods: the Reagan presidency in the 1980s and the Bush administration in the early 2000s,” Piketty and Saez say in the Center’s study.

In fact, the wealthier the individual, the greater the magnitude of the tax benefit: The average tax rate declined by a larger amount for households in the top one hundredth of 1 percent of the income scale (where incomes in 2004 averaged about $15 million) than for households in the top tenth of 1 percent (where incomes averaged above $3.7 million) or for households in the top 1 percent (where incomes averaged about $850,000).

“During a period in which economic forces have been generating increased pre-tax inequality, changes in the tax system have exacerbated rather than mitigated the widening of the income gap,” the Center concludes.

Opposition to the War Growing Among Troops

Reported by Sarah Olson:
“I joined the Army to go to war, and now I’m fighting to get out,” says Pfc. Ryan Follan, laughing nervously. He quickly becomes serious. “Some of the causes are good, but I don’t think the war is for the right reasons.” Follan laughs again, and there’s a long pause. “I’m deploying in a month, actually. I’m not a big fan of it, honestly.” Private Follan is standing in a Taco Bell parking lot just outside Fort Stewart in Savannah, Georgia. Each day, soldiers gather for lunch at fast food restaurants like this one. On this particular day, the soldiers at Fort Stewart have visitors.

Last week, a convoy of approximately 20 veterans riding in converted school buses left Fayetteville, North Carolina. They were sponsored by Veterans for Peace, armed with literature and headed for New Orleans, where they are spending this week rebuilding houses in the Ninth Ward. On the way, the group stopped at military bases throughout the South. Their goal? They were passing out copies of the Appeal for Redress, GI rights information, and copies of the videos “Ground Truth” and “Sir! No Sir!”

Veterans for Peace members say they’re not trying to pressure GIs to resist war. They want to educate soldiers about their rights. They know from experience that the military frowns on dissent and doesn’t go out of its way to educate soldiers regarding constitutionally protected ways to express their opinions on issues like war and peace. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, soldiers do indeed have rights to express political dissent.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bush Tells Jokes, Troops Have Hellish Nightmares

"A year ago my approval rating was in the 30s, my nominee for the Supreme Court had just withdrawn, and my vice president had shot someone. Ah, those were the good ol' days."
-George W. Bush cracking jokes as troops continue to die and live in hell
“Imagine you’re home in bed, sound asleep, then you wake up and hear glass breaking in your children’s room.

“Now imagine feeling that way for a year.”

The waking nightmare has followed Fort Carson Sgt. Christopher Cain and more than 1,500 other local soldiers home from Iraq.

Most of the mental health problems faced by homecoming troops are mild, Fort Carson officials say. Up to a third report a little sleeplessness here or paranoia there, the post’s top doctor said. These symptoms will disappear after a month or so at home for all but a few.

But a growing number of cases are more severe, like Cain’s. Nearly 600 Fort Carson soldiers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder last year, up from 102 cases in 2003 when soldiers started returning from their first tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the fourth straight year with a significant increase in the number of soldiers being diagnosed with PTSD.

With symptoms that range from hyperawareness to angry outbursts, PTSD is an anxiety reaction to traumatic events, which Iraq brings by the truckload. It plagues up to 10 percent of soldiers returning from war.

Now the military is discovering a new problem. Substantial numbers of troops are showing lingering signs of traumatic brain injuries suffered in Iraq, mainly concussions caused by roadside bombs.

All this can add up to some scary side effects.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

From Baghdad in 2004

This was written in 2004 by Farnaz Fassihi, a Wall Stret Journal reporter. She sent this to her friends via email. Sadly, things have not changed.
Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sexual Assault in the Military

Monday, March 26, 2007

Marines are at War, America is Shopping

I can't wait to see how the anti-tax crowd responds to this:
Says one retired general: "Marines are at war, America is at the mall."
With few exceptions, the conspicuous absence of the social elite – including celebrities, the upper class, and children of politicians – in the military creates the impression that this war isn't worth fighting, says Charles Moskos, noted military sociologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "This is the no-sacrifice war."

But if it's not possible to enlist, some say the next best thing is money.

Enter Sen. Joseph Lieberman (news, bio, voting record), the independent from Connecticut, who last Thursday proposed a new tax to raise money for troops. The "Support Our Troops Tax" would raise $50 billion per year over the next five years to pay for defense and veterans benefits and services. The proposal, coming in the form of an amendment to the fiscal 2008 budget, is what Senator Lieberman calls the need for a "shared sacrifice."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Military Support for GOP is in Free Fall

How could anyone support an administration who neglects its own soldiers?

By Bonnie Erbe:
"Pardon my tardiness. While searching online for interesting political tidbits, I came across a two-month-old story of towering significance that received a paltry amount of media exposure. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that the Military Times's annual poll of active-duty service members found support among them for the Republican Party is dropping significantly. So significantly, in fact, that the 30-year trend of "Republicanization" of the military has reversed and is in a free fall."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Another Dead Soldier Who Didn't Believe in Bush's War

As a kid growing up on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Christopher Brevard dreamed of military glory. As an adult, he spent the last months of his life fighting a war he didn't believe in.

In e-mails to his family, the Army paratrooper, a father of two who considered himself a patriot, talked about what he saw as the futility of military operations in Iraq. He worried about the chronic exhaustion of the soldiers he led and felt U.S. troops were dying overseas for no good reason.

"He said, 'Mom, I would lay my life down in a heartbeat fighting for America. But if I lose my life over here, I will not feel like I died for my country," said the soldier's mother, Michele Brevard, 51.

On Friday, she received word that her 31-year-old son had been felled by a homemade bomb in Baghdad.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Military Families React to Iraq Supplemental Bill

We did a show about the details of and politics behind this bill on Wednesday. Listen here.

“What we have just witnessed is a true failure of leadership. People across this nation voted in November for an end to the war, not for Congress to provide President Bush with the funds to continue it. Our loved ones were first betrayed when they were sent off to fight a war based on lies. The U.S. House of Representatives has betrayed them one again by abandoning them to this unjustifiable war.”
-Nancy Lessin, a co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, whose step-son served with the Marines in Iraq in spring, 2003

“The House leadership apparently thinks that 1,500 more U.S. troops and countless Iraqi children, women and men are expendable because that is the price of this bill that will extend the war until the end of August, 2008 and beyond. Congress has passed a bill that is rich in rhetoric about strict readiness requirements and a firm troop withdrawal deadline, but that allows President Bush to waive those readiness requirements and to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq beyond the already unacceptable ‘deadline’ of August, 2008. This bill reads more like a 2008 election strategy, than a serious effort by the House leadership to bring the war to an end.”
-Charley Richardson, also a co-founder of Military Families Speak Out

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sex Assault Reports in U.S. Military Up 24 Percent

"Studies show that sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in society."
-Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman

The question is, will action be taken?
Reports of sexual assaults involving members of the US military increased by 24 percent in 2006 over the previous year, the Pentagon reported Wednesday.

In an annual report to Congress, the Pentagon said the increase may have been due to a change in the military's policy, allowing victims to report alleged assaults confidentially.

"There were 2,947 total reports of alleged sexual assault cases involving members of the armed forces," the report said.

"Reports increased by 24 percent from 2005, which may reflect victims' increased confidence in the reporting structure," it said.

But the report said the extent to which the new policy encouraged more service members to report sexual assaults was not clear since 2006 was the first full year it was in effect.

In total, 756 reports of sexual assaults were made confidentially in 2006 compared to 435 the previous year.

Criminal investigations were completed on 2,277 sexual assault reports and commanders took action in 780 cases. There were 292 court martials, most of them from cases reported in 2005, the report said.

Betrayed: The Iraqis Who Trusted America the Most

Journalist George Packer is out with an article in the New Yorker about the Iraqis who gave up everything to help the Americans in Iraq. They now fear for their lives and the U.S. has refused to help.

Packer was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross this morning.
Millions of Iraqis, spanning the country’s religious and ethnic spectrum welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the mostly young me and women who embraced America’s project so enthusiastically that they wer prepared to risk their lives for it may constitute Iraq’s smallest minority. I cam across them in every city: the young man in Mosul who loved Metallica an signed up to be a translator at a U.S. Army base; the DVD salesman in Naja whose plans to study medicine were crushed by Baath Party favoritism, and wh offered his services to the first American Humvee that entered his city. They ha learned English from American movies and music, and from listening secretly t the BBC. Before the war, their only chance at a normal life was to flee th country—a nearly impossible feat. Their future in Saddam’s Iraq was, as th Metallica fan in Mosul put it, “a one-way road leading to nothing.” I thought o them as oddballs, like misunderstood high-school students whose isolation end when they go off to college. In a similar way, the four years of the war create intense friendships, but they were forged through collective disappointment. Th arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid tha in the lives of these Iraqis. America’s failure to understand, trust, and protect it closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Troops Encounter Mold, Leaky Roofs, Even Bats

The Veterans Affairs' vast network of 1,400 health clinics and hospitals is beset by maintenance problems such as mold, leaking roofs and even a colony of bats, an internal review says. The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, is the first major review of the facilities conducted since the disclosure of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dreaming of Operation Iraqi Freedom

March 19, 2007 | One-year-old Shams was brought to the National Iraqi Assistance Center with her uncle to seek plastic surgery in the US. Her mother was killed in the blast that burned her face. (Photo: Eros Hoagland / The New York Times)
Here is a short rundown of some of what George Bush's war and occupation has wrought:

Nowhere on Earth is there a worse refugee crisis than in Iraq today. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some two million Iraqis have fled their country and are now scattered from Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran to London and Paris. (Almost none have made it to the United States, which has done nothing to address the refugee crisis it created.) Another 1.9 million are estimated to be internally displaced persons, driven from their homes and neighborhoods by the U.S. occupation and the vicious civil war it has sparked. Add those figures up - and they're getting worse by the day - and you have close to 16% of the Iraqi population uprooted. Add the dead to the displaced, and that figure rises to nearly one in five Iraqis. Let that sink in for a moment.

Basic foods and necessities, which even Saddam Hussein's brutal regime managed to provide, are now increasingly beyond the reach of ordinary Iraqis, thanks to soaring inflation unleashed by the occupation's destruction of the already shaky Iraqi economy, cuts to state subsidies encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the disruption of the oil industry. Prices of vegetables, eggs, tea, cooking and heating oil, gasoline, and electricity have skyrocketed. Unemployment is regularly estimated at somewhere between 50-70%. One measure of the impact of all this has been a significant rise in child malnutrition, registered by the United Nations and other organizations. Not surprisingly, access to safe water and regular electricity remain well below pre-invasion levels, which were already disastrous after more than a decade of comprehensive sanctions against, and periodic bombing of, a country staggered by a catastrophic war with Iran in the 1980s and the First Gulf War.

In an ongoing crisis, in which hundred of thousands of Iraqis have already died, the last few months have proved some of the bloodiest on record. In October alone, more than six thousand civilians were killed in Iraq, most in Baghdad, where thousands of additional U.S. troops had been sent in August (in the first official Bush administration "surge") with the claim that they would restore order and stability in the city. In the end, they only fueled more violence. These figures - and they are generally considered undercounts - are more than double the 2005 rate. Other things have more or less doubled in the last years, including, to name just two, the number of daily attacks on U.S. troops and the overall number of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded. United Nations special investigator Manfred Nowak also notes that torture "is totally out of hand" in Iraq. "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein."

Troops in Iraq Want Out

Bush wants these troops to be "patient."
Their commanders had cautioned that their second one-year tour due to end in October could be prolonged while US President George W Bush later warned troops it was too soon to "pack up and go home".

The expletives during the four-hour night patrol turned the air in the Humvee, already thick with cigarette smoke, a dark shade of blue.

"We just want to get out of here as soon as possible," said one vehicle commander in one of his few printable comments.

"It's because the Iraqi army is so scared that we have to come here to die," he added, asking not to be named.

"Ninety-five per cent of Iraqis are good but five per cent are bad. But the 95 per cent are too weak to stand up to the five per cent."

"Bush should send all the Death Row prisoners here and they can be killed fighting the terrorists. We've had enough," said another soldier, as the Humvee accelerated past a roadside car in case it exploded.

Another soldier said: "Bush can come fight here. He can take my $1,000 a month and I'll go home".

Monday, March 19, 2007

Regrets from the Man Who Brought Down Saddam

His hands were bleeding and his eyes filled with tears as, four years ago, he slammed a sledgehammer into the tiled plinth that held a 20ft bronze statue of Saddam Hussein. Then Kadhim al-Jubouri spoke of his joy at being the leader of the crowd that toppled the statue in Baghdad's Firdous Square. Now, he is filled with nothing but regret.

The moment became symbolic across the world as it signalled the fall of the dictator. Wearing a black vest, Mr al-Jubouri, an Iraqi weightlifting champion, pounded through the concrete in an attempt to smash the statue and all it meant to him. Now, on the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, he says: "I really regret bringing down the statue. The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day."

The weightlifter had also been a mechanic and had felt the full weight of Saddam's regime when he was sent to Abu Ghraib prison by the Iraqi leader's son, Uday, after complaining that he had not been paid for fixing his motorcycle.
He explained: "There were lots of people from my tribe who were also put in prison or hanged. It became my dream ever since I saw them building that statue to one day topple it."

Yet he now says he would prefer to be living under Saddam than under US occupation. He said: "The devil you know [is] better than the devil you don't. We no longer know friend from foe. The situation is becoming more dangerous. It's not getting better at all. People are poor and the prices are going higher and higher."

Saddam, he says, "was like Stalin. But the occupation is proving to be worse".

According to an opinion poll of 5,000 Iraqis carried out over the past month, 49% say they are better off now than under Saddam, and 26% say life was better under Saddam. More than one in four said they had had a close relative murdered in the past three years.

Death Threats Sent to Women in Iraq: We Will Kill You

Don't be fooled by all the bad news. This is freedom on the march:
Last week, Houzan Mahmoud, the international representative of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (a partner organization of MADRE), opened her e-mail and found a message from Ansar al-Islam, a notoriously brutal Sunni jihadist group. The message read simply, “We will kill you by the middle of March.” Houzan is an outspoken Iraqi feminist. The 34-year-old journalist and women’s rights activist believes that hope for Iraq’s future depends on building a society based on secular democracy and human rights. For this, she has been condemned to death.

Houzan is hardly alone in this regard. Since the United States invaded Iraq, women there have endured a wave of death threats, assassinations, abductions, public beatings, targeted sexual assaults and public hangings. Much of this violence is systematic – directed by both Sunni and Shi’ite Islamist militias that mushroomed across Iraq after the United States toppled the mostly secular Ba’ath regime. We’ve heard about the brutality of the Sunnibased groups, but much less about the Shi’ite militias that are the armed wings of the political parties that the United States boosted into power. Their aim is to establish an Islamist theocracy and their social vision requires the subjugation of women and the elimination of anyone with a competing vision for Iraq’s future.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Women's War

Sara Corbett is out with a piece in today's New York Times magazine about women serving in the military and the impact PTSD and sexual harassment has had on them. Over 160,000 women have been deployed to Iraq over the past five years. Corbett talked about the piece on our Friday media roundtable. This is a must read.
Many female soldiers have lived through the terrible violence of the war in Iraq. Others have experienced sexual assault — or worse, a combination of the two. They have found themselves struggling to cope with their lives.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Christians Arrested Outside the White House

Christians in an anti-war procession from the National Cathedral to the White House. Thousands of people were expected to converge on the center of the US capital Saturday and march on the Pentagon as part of a series of demonstrations marking the fourth anniversary of the increasingly unpopular Iraq war, organizers said(AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

This is the kind of freedom the current president is spreading around the world.
Dozens of demonstrators, many of them Christian peace activists, were arrested outside the White House late last night and early this morning as part of a protest against the war in Iraq.

About 11:30 p.m., police began handcuffing the first of about 100 protesters who had assembled on the White House sidewalk to pray in a planned act of civil disobedience.

Participants, whom the cathedral staff numbered at 2,825, heard speakers including Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004.

"I am here tonight as a witness to the true cost of war," she said, "the betrayal and madness that is the war in Iraq."

"We lay before God the sorrow that lives in all of us because of the war," she said.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Accountability in Contracting Act

H.R. 1362 - The Accountability in Contracting Act
Under the Bush Administration, spending on no-bid contracts has more than doubled and the Administration has hidden contractor overcharges from Congress, international auditors, and the public, impeding oversight and diminishing accountability. This bill changes federal acquisition law to require agencies to limit the use of abuse-prone contracts, to increase transparency and accountability in federal contracting, and to protect the integrity of the acquisition workforce. The bill limits the duration of no-bid contracts awarded in emergencies to eight months, requires large federal agencies to develop and implement a plan to minimize the use of noncompetitive contracts, requires an agency to prepare a public letter explaining why it awarded a no-bid contract, requires that contract overcharges more than $1 million be disclosed to Congress, mandates that agencies devote at least an additional 1% of their procurement budgets to contract oversight, planning and administration, and closes the revolving door, requiring that former federal procurement officers wait one year before seeking employment at a lobbying or contracting firm.
Learn more from the Oversight committee>>
Click here to read the bill >>

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Iraq Women Silenced

"The advance of freedom in the greater Middle East has given new rights and new hopes to women. And America will do its part to continue the spread of liberty."
-Current President, March 12, 2004
Normally not the subject of news stories, Iraqi women made headlines in three sensational stories last month. First there was the Sunni woman who accused Iraqi police officers of raping her. Since most of the Iraqi police are Shia, the issue became a sectarian row, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki firing a top Sunni official who had the audacity to say the rape charge should be investigated.

In the same month, a woman suicide bomber killed more than 41 people at a college in Baghdad, one of the largest attacks by a woman suicide bomber since the war began. And finally, there is the ongoing story of four women who face the death penalty in Iraq, at least one of whom could be executed any day now. Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have questioned these women’s trials for their lack of transparency and fairness, as well as a potential absence of legal representation.

Rapes, bombings, death sentences, and a discriminatory legal system; it is one of the unspoken facts of militarism that women often become the spoils of war. The Iraq war has been a disaster in many ways, but none so extreme as what it’s done to Iraqi women.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Col. Who Committed Suicide Leaves Note for Commanders

This is a MUST READ article:
Col. Ted Westhusing, a West Point scholar, put a bullet in his head in Iraq after reporting widespread corruption. His suicide note -- complaining about human rights abuses and other crimes -- was addressed to his two commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus, now leader of the U.S. "surge" effort in Iraq. It urged them to "Reevaluate yourselves....You are not what you think you are and I know it."

”In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.”

His death followed quickly. "He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," one official recounted. Westhusing said that "he had not come over to Iraq for this." After a three-month inquiry, investigators declared Westhusing's death a suicide.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why Do You Hate the Troops?

Bush Vows...

to...fill in the blank.

Kroger: No Refusing Morning-After Pill

"We believe that medication is a private patient matter. Our role as a pharmacy operator is to furnish medication in accordance with the doctor's prescription or as requested by a patient."
-Meghan Glynn, a Kroger spokeswoman

First Openly Nontheistic Member of Congress

I wonder if others will feel "safe" enough to step forward. This is from the Secular Coalition for America:
There is only one member of Congress who is on record as not holding a god-belief.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a member of Congress since 1973, acknowledged his nontheism in response to an inquiry by the Secular Coalition for America. Rep. Stark is a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is Chair of the Health Subcommittee.

Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, the Coalition's research reveals that Rep. Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of the Congress. Recent polls show that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.

Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, attributes these attitudes to the demonization of people who don't believe in God. "The truth is," says Silverman, "the vast majority of us follow the Golden Rule and are as likely to be good citizens, just like Rep. Stark with over 30 years of exemplary public service. The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."

The VA Took Two Years to Diagnose Brain Injury

The Bush administration could easily take care of this ongoing problem, but it would rather send more men and women to their deaths, continue awarding multi-billion dollar contracts to their friends, and give tax cuts to the wealthy. Just today, Cheney accused Democrats of undermining the troops. This is insane. At least the national media has woken up:
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Hardys both enlisted in the Army. Gina was stationed in Germany.

After Warren became a U.S. citizen, he was sent to Iraq.

A few months into his tour, his armored vehicle rolled over a bomb and the explosion whipped Hardy violently around inside.

He said a witness who took a picture of him "said we went 10 feet up in the air."

Hardy blacked out, but military doctors didn't screen him for head injury. They checked his knees and sent him back into the fight two days later.

"I knew something was wrong," he said. "I was always banging my head into obstacles. And it's like my memory of what's around me wasn't keeping the information."

It wasn't until two years after his injury that doctors at the Veterans Administration finally diagnosed Hardy with traumatic brain injury.

Guantanamo Detainees Grow Gardens

This is surreal. So they're allowed to grow flowers after they're tortured? Be sure to see "The Road to Guantanamo."
A select group of detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been allowed to plant gardens for the first time, a military spokesman said.

Prisoners in Camp 4, which holds the “most compliant” detainees, started growing tomatoes several weeks ago in concrete soil-filled planters, Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand said.

The military allowed the gardens — and provided plastic gardening tools, watering cans and seeds — at the request of lawyers for detainees, Durand said Friday in an e-mail response to questions about the activity.

Gardening is intended to “provide intellectual stimulation,” to prisoners, he said, comparing it to the military’s detainee library and literacy programs in Arabic and Pashto.

Camp 4 holds about 35 detainees, who are allowed to congregate with each other, spend 12-14 hours a day outside, eat communally and live in barracks-style housing.

U.S. Invasion Has Killed 655,000 Iraqis

A woman grieves in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Iraq, Monday, March 12, 2007, during a funeral procession of victims of Sunday's suicide car bomb attack. A suicide car bomber barreled into a flatbed truck packed with Shiite pilgrims on their way back from Karbala Sunday, killing at least 32 people, police said. (AP Photo/Adil al-Khazali)

In case you forgot:
A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

"We're very confident with the results," said Gilbert Burnham, a Johns Hopkins physician and epidemiologist.

Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years, called the survey method "tried and true," and added that "this is the best estimate of mortality we have."

This viewed was echoed by Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights Watch in New York, who said, "We have no reason to question the findings or the accuracy" of the survey.

"I expect that people will be surprised by these figures," she said. "I think it is very important that, rather than questioning them, people realize there is very, very little reliable data coming out of Iraq."

The survey was conducted between May 20 and July 10 by eight Iraqi physicians organized through Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. They visited 1,849 randomly selected households that had an average of seven members each. One person in each household was asked about deaths in the 14 months before the invasion and in the period after.

Women's Equality

On today's (Monday's) radio show, I'll be joined by Lis Wiehl, author of "The 51% Minority: How Women Are Still Not Equal And What You Can Do About It," and Ruth Rosen, author of "The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America."

Check out Ruth Rosen's latestly article, "The Care Crisis," in the latest issue of the Nation.

Here are a few sobering stats about women:

*For every 10 men in executive positions in this country, there is only one woman.

*In the history of our country, 98 percent of our senators have been men.

*76 percent of the federal judges in the U.S. are male.

*During his years as a legal adviser to President Reagan, chief justice John Roberts opposed legal and legislative attempts to strengthen women’s rights, questioning “whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good” and disparaging “the purported gender gap.

*Despite the growing number of discrimination complaints, the administration chopped the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s budget by $9 million and demanded it reduce its caseload.

*According to the International Labor Organization, more than 120 countries currently have laws providing paid maternity leave, and a 2004 Harvard Univ report showed that, out of 168 countries studied, the U.S. is one of just five that does not offer some form of paid maternity leave.

*Age discrimination claims by women increased 39% in the last decade, while claims by men dropped 24 percent.

*Domestic violence is the single biggest threat of injury to women in America, more than heart attacks, cancer, strokes, car wrecks, muggings, and rapes combined. Every day in the U.S., an average of four women die as a result of domestic violence

*According to the DOJ, an estimated 2 million wives are beaten by their husbands each year, an average of one every 16 seconds.

*1 million teenage girls become pregnant every year. 78% of those pregnancies are unintended.

*80 percent of schools that currently teach sexuality education are promoting abstinence as the preferred or only option for adolescents.

*Only 15 percent of large group plans cover all five of the most common methods of birth control. In 1998, two months after Viagra entered the market, a Business and Health report found that insurers were paying for Viagra three times a often as they paid for oral contraceptives. This lack of coverage results in women of reproductive age spending approximately 68 percent more than men in out of pocket health care costs.

*26 states have introduced bills allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions. Eight are considering the implement “conscience clauses” to protect pharmacists to refuse.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bush Sends Injured Troops to Iraq

"This is not right," said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. "This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers," he said angrily. "If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight."

As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

One female soldier with psychiatric issues and a spine problem has been in the Army for nearly 20 years. "My [health] is deteriorating," she said over dinner at a restaurant near Fort Benning. "My spine is separating. I can't carry gear." Her medical records include the note "unable to deploy overseas." Her status was also reviewed on Feb. 15. And she has been ordered to Iraq this week.

Republican Senator on Bush Impeachment

"The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore. Before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends on how this goes."
-Republican Senator Chuck Hagel

Saturday, March 10, 2007

General: Conservatives Are the 'Worst Thing That's Happened' to the U.S. Military

Check out the video posted at Think Progress. Americans are sick of the lies and the deaths. Imagine how Gen. Eaton must feel. Unlike the people who started this war, Gen. Eaton's kids are actually serving:
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004, appeared last night on HBO’s Bill Maher Show.

“We are in the midst of recovering right now from a constitutional crisis where you had the executive trump the other branches of government,” Eaton said. “Thank god” Congress changed hands in November, he said, giving us “a chance to unsort and figure out how to get out from under this.”

Eaton lamented that so many service members believe that conservatives “are good for the military.” “That is rarely the case. And we have got to get a message through to every soldier, every family member, every friend of soldier,” that the Bush administration and its allies in Congress have “absolutely been the worst thing that’s happened to the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps.”

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Making of a 'Militant' Feminist

The Nation is running articles written anonymously by feminists (they didn't call themselves feminists) in the 1920s. These are fun to read. Many of them could've been written today:
A profound horror of the woman's life filled me. Nothing terrified me so much as the thought of marriage and child-bearing. Marriages seemed to me, at least so far as women were concerned, the cruelest of traps. Yet most women married and all seemed to want to marry. Those who remained single often changed into something more repellent than those charmless drudges. I made all kinds of resolutions against matrimony. All the time, though, I was helplessly asking myself, how was I going to fight it--when I so loved companionship?

One way, I decided, was not to let myself get caught in any of those pretty meshes which threaten young womanhood. I made a vow that I would never sew, embroider, crochet, knit--especially would I never learn to cook. I made a vow that if those things had to be done, I would earn the money to pay for them. I married, but I kept my vow. I have always paid for them. Even in a young marriage, when income was very limited, I went without clothes to keep a maid. And although I happen to be extremely domestic in that I must have a home and much prefer to stay in it, I have always managed that the work of that home should be done by someone else, and that my clothes should be made outside it.

Through all this spiritual turmoil there had been developing within me a desire to write. And during all these years, I was making a tentative experiment with the august business of reflecting the life about me. Ultimately my first short story was accepted; more short stories; a book; more books. Except for three or four years, my mature life has been economically independent. I hope be be economically independent the rest of my days. When I look back on my fifty-odd years of life on this planet, I wonder what was the real inception of my desire to stand alone--fighting ancestry; liberal influences; discussion-ridden youth? Perhaps it was those Sunday dinners!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Photos from International Women's Day

Filipino women shout slogans as they are blocked by riot police near the Presidential Palace in Manila during a rally Thursday, March 8, 2007 to celebrate International Women's Day. Thousands of women march through the streets of Manila to denounce the recently signed Anti-Tterror Law by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which allegedly will be 'a tool to further justify and aggravate the culture of impunity in the country.' (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Activists of Workers Women's Association chant slogans during a rally to mark International Women's Day, Thursday, March 8, 2007 in Lahore, Pakistan. Thousands of women demonstrated in nation-wide rallies on International Women's Day, demanding freedom, equal rights and an end to discriminatory laws in this Muslim nation. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Palestinian women scuffle with an Israeli border police officer during a women's demonstration at the Kalandia checkpoint on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Ramallah Thursday, March 8, 2007. The protest was organized by Israeli and Palestinian women on the occasion of the International Women's Day. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

A member of a Croatian women's group argue with a policeman who stopped their march to mark International Women's Day in Zagreb March 8, 2007. REUTERS/Nikola Solic (CROATIA)

Women carry their baskets during a match at the climax of the International Women's Day celebration at Mnazi Mmoja grounds in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, March 8, 2007. REUTERS/Emmanuel Kwitema (TANZANIA)

Activists take part in a rally to mark International Women's Day in Islamabad March 8 2007. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Backdropped by a section of Israel 's separation barrier, Palestinian women hold Palestinian flags as they march to take part in a women's demonstration at the Kalandia checkpoint on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Ramallah Thursday, March 8, 2007. The protest was organized by Israeli and Palestinian women on the occasion of the International Women's Day. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Abused women wear black masks as they protest during a rally to mark International Women's Day at Madrid's Puerta del Sol March 8, 2007. REUTERS/Sergio Perez (SPAIN)

Women walk down a street during a procession for International Women's Day in Goma. Thousands of women have rallied at a protest against unpunished sexual assaults in the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo to mark International Women's Day.(AFP/File/Lionel Healing)

Women applauds during the International Women's Day celebration at La Moneda government palace in Santiago, Thursday, March 8, 2007. Michelle Bachelet, Chile's first female president, celebrated Women's Day by assuring that politics has changed for good as she nears the one-year mark of a term that has brought new opportunities for her countrywomen.(AP Photo/Santiago Llanquin)

Afghan women pray during a ceremony marking the International Women's Day in Kapisa province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, March 8, 2007. Perhaps nowhere else in the world do women more desperately need a day to celebrate their existence, but the reality of millions of women in this war-torn country is bleak. Roughly two out of five Afghan marriages are forced, while 45 percent of women are married by the age of 18, says the country's Ministry of Women's Affairs. (AP Photo/ Musadeq Sadeq)

Gang-rape victim Mukhtaran Mai, who has become a symbol of courage for women, expressed dissatisfaction over women's rights in Pakistan as the country marks International Women's Day.(AFP/Rizwan Tabassum)

Sudanese women attend a conference for International Women's Day in Khartoum. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used International Women's Day on Thursday to highlight what she called "rampant" sexual violence against women in Sudan's Darfur region.(AFP/Isam al-Haj)

Women shout slogans protesting for women's rights in front of the government palace during celebrations for International Women's Day in Lima March 8, 2007. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil (PERU)

A blindfolded woman takes part in a march by thousands through the streets of Oaxaca to mark International Women's Day March 8, 2007. Members of the APPO (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca) and teachers unions joined the demonstration. REUTERS/Str (MEXICO)

Mayan women take part in an International Women's Day march in Guatemala City March 8, 2007. REUTERS/Daniel LeClair (GUATEMALA)

Andean women weave at a park before a rally to mark the International Women's Day in Cuzco, Peru, Thursday, March 8, 2007. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)

A Sri Lankan woman takes part in a protest action asking the government to bring an end to ongoing abductions and aribitary killings to mark International Women's Day in Colombo. Top UN officials led global calls to end violence against women and girls Thursday as they marked International Women's Day.(AFP/Sanka Vidanagama)

Women demonstrate to commemorate Women's day in the Taksim neighborhood of Istanbul. Top UN officials led global calls to end violence against women and girls Thursday as they marked International Women's Day.(AFP/Hocine Zaourar)

Women dance in the street during a procession to celebrate the International Women's Day, in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Top UN officials led global calls to end violence against women and girls Thursday as they marked International Women's Day.(AFP/Lionel Healing)

Indian women take part in a protest demanding up to 33 percent reservation for women in parliament and also the upliftment of women's rights, in New Delhi. Top UN officials led global calls to end violence against women and girls Thursday as they marked International Women's Day.(AFP/Manan Vatsyayana)

Thousand of women and members of social organizations take part in a march to mark International Women's Day in Mexico City March 8, 2007. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar (MEXICO)

Women march in downtown streets during celebrations for International Woman's Day in Lima, March 8,2007. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil (PERU)

Female Troops Fear Male Troops

I've been waiting for the troop healthcare story to explode. Now I'm waiting for the sexual assault story to gain traction.

When you have time, please read this interview about sexual harassment and rape in the military. Yes, it is true: Women aren't going to the bathroom at night because they fear they will be raped.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Professor Helen Benedict, also to Sergeant Eli Painted Crow. And we’re also joined on the phone by Specialist Mickiela Montoya, deployed to Iraq with the National Guard in 2005. Thanks very much for joining us.

SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your own experience in Iraq?

SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Well, it sounded really familiar to, similar to the experiences that you explained. I didn’t know that it was that climate at the time. I kind of just got used to it and dealt with it and tried to figure out a way around the restroom issue.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you figure out your way around going to the bathroom?

SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: I would still drink the three liters of water usually every day, but I would -- a lot of the females were, like, cutting off the tops of the bottles and in the middle of the night peeing in that and waiting ’til the morning to dump it out, so that we would prevent having to wake up in the middle of the night and go out in the dark, because it’s so dark at night.

AMY GOODMAN: You carried a knife with you?

SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Yeah, and I would carry a knife with me later on.

AMY GOODMAN: For what purpose?

SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Just to feel safe, because, I mean, you can’t -- I don’t know. I don’t know, I just felt safer that way.

AMY GOODMAN: Safe from the Iraqis?

SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: No, safe from the other soldiers. I never intended on using the knife for an Iraqi. I had my M-16 for that. But my knife, I always just kept it for another soldier, because any time I would have any type of strong sexual harassment words spoken, I just mainly felt a little bit more secure, and it was visible, too, to the other soldiers.

AMY GOODMAN: Did anything specifically happen to you?

SPC. MICKIELA MONTOYA: Yeah. That’s why I would carry the knife. I remember it was really late, and over there they don’t have electricity, so we run off generators, and if you scream or if you were to yell for help or anything like that, nobody could hear you, because you’re not going to shoot a comrade, because these are your supposed battle buddies. So I would just use the knife as, I guess, a scare tactic, and it worked for me, because after that I never really had a problem.

"Indian Country" in Iraq

How nice.
AMY GOODMAN: You said that in the military they refer to Iraq as "Indian country"?

SGT. ELI PAINTED CROW: Well, they referred to -- what they said in the briefing, they called enemy territory "Indian country." And I'm standing there, just listening to this briefing, and I'm just in shock that after all this time, after so many Natives have served and are serving and are dying, that we are still the enemy, even if we're wearing the same uniform. That was very shocking for me to hear.

Welcome to Latin America, Mr. Bush

Greenpeace activists wearing masks of US President George W. Bush (L) and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attend a protest in Sao Paulo. Bush is due in Brazil Thursday on the first leg of a Latin American tour to promote democracy and free trade, amid protests around the region and a counter-trip by arch foe Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.(AFP/Evaristo Sa)

A Sao Paulo's military police agent hits a demonstrator during a protest against the visit of US President George W. Bush, in the main avenue of the Brazil's economic capital. Bush arrived in Brazil's financial and industrial capital Thursday at start of a five-country Latin American swing aimed at bolstering democracy and free trade, an AFP correspondent said.(AFP/Antonio Scorza)

Brazilian Policemen beat a protester during a march against U.S. President George W. Bush in Sao Paulo, Thursday, March 8, 2007. Bush will visit Brazil March 8-9. (AP Photo/Maurilio Cheli)

Members of FUCVAM, an Uruguayan organization that helps the needy solve housing problems, wear T-shirts with portraits of U.S. President George W. Bush and the words 'Get out of Latin America, mass murderer' at the start of a 180 km (111 miles) protest march to the city of Colonia, where Bush and his Uruguayan counterpart Tabare Vazquez will spend a day together on Saturday, in Montevideo March 6, 2007. REUTERS/Andres Stapff (URUGUAY)

A woman walks pass a graffiti that reads 'Get out Bush' in Sao Paulo, Wednesday, March 7, 2007. US President George W. Bush heads to Latin America Thursday to sell his message of democracy, free trade and cooperation with Washington, and to fight the growing sway of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.( (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazilian students paint slogans against US President George W. Bush near a recently defaced electoral campaign poster of Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Bush heads to Latin America Thursday to sell his message of democracy, free trade and cooperation with Washington, and to fight the growing sway of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.(AFP/Mauricio Lima)

Students in Bogota, Colombia, burn a US flag 07 March 2007 during a demonstration against the upcoming visit of US President George W. Bush to Bogota. Bush left Thursday for a tour of Latin America and a week of meetings aimed at promoting democracy and free trade.(AFP/File/Rodrigo Arangua)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Wider Shame of Walter Reed

Funny, the war cheerleaders must have forgotten about Walter Reed and the soldiers they so lovingly support at last week's conservative love fest, which was attended by thousands of young Republicans. Hmm...where were the military recruiters?

This is from the New York Times editors:
"It is impossible not to feel fury at the shameful neglect of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed’s outpatient facilities, just a few miles from an oblivious and neglectful White House. There is plenty of blame to go around. But the fundamental responsibility rests with the president and his former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who stubbornly insisted on going to war without sufficient resources — and then sought to hide the costs of their disastrous mistakes from the American public."

What Happens When an Iraq Vet Returns Home?

"He'd been back for almost two months, but he was still checking to see where his weapon was every time he got in a vehicle. He drove aggressively, talked aggressively, and sometimes I could swear that he was breathing aggressively. This was not the man I married, this hard-eyed, hyper-vigilant stranger who spent his nights watching the dozens of DVDs that he got from soldiers he served with in Iraq. He couldn't sleep, and missed the adrenaline surge of constant, imminent danger. The amateur videos of combat eased the ache of withdrawal from war, but did nothing to heal my soldier's heart."
-Stacy Bannerman, author of "When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind"

4.5 Million Iraqi Children Undernourished

From IRIN:
Apart from dodging bombs and bullets in their schools and neighbourhoods, children in Iraq are suffering from worryingly high levels of malnourishment, according to specialists.

Poverty and insecurity are said to be the main causes of the children's deteriorating diets. Despite efforts by NGOs and the Iraqi government, violence and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people are making it very difficult for monthly food rations to reach those families that need them most.

"We are displaced and have to change our place [because of spreading sectarian violence] every month, making it difficult for us to get our food rations. As a result, our children are constantly ill and are malnourished because we don't have enough money to afford good food," said Samira Abdel-Kareem, a mother-of-three who was forced to flee her Yarmouk neighbourhood of Baghdad to the outskirts of the city.

"I lost a child three months ago because of malnutrition. He was only two years old. I don't want to lose my other three children and hope someone can help us overcome this problem," she added.

According to the United Nations Children's Agency (UNICEF), about one in 10 children under five in Iraq are underweight and one in five are short for their age. This means that some 4.5 million children in the country are under-nourished.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

U.S. Foreign Policy Hinders Human Rights Work Worldwide

From Amnesty International:
In response to the Department of State’s release today of its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Amnesty International said that while the reports recognize the plight of human rights defenders around the world, they fail to acknowledge that U.S. foreign policy may have exacerbated conditions for many of these brave individuals. In the name of national security, the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye to many instances of abuse by countries cited by the State Department for appalling human rights records.

“Today’s reports provide useful data that should be factored into foreign policy decisions,” said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA executive director. “However, if the Bush administration persists in allowing other considerations to trump human rights concerns, the real-world impact of these reports will be greatly diminished.”

“There are many countries listed in these reports that have questionable human rights records, including Turkey, India, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia,” said Cox. “The United States can, in its capacity as a major donor, provide the leadership to help end abuse around the globe. However, for meaningful change to occur, the Bush administration must not only give lip service to condemn the abuses, but also must refuse to conduct business as usual with repressive governments.

“While Amnesty International welcomes the reports’ emphasis on accountability, until the United States changes its own policies of holding detainees indefinitely, in secret prisons and without basic rights, it cannot credibly be viewed as a world human rights leader,” added Cox. “Human rights abuses must not be hidden behind a façade of national security rhetoric.”

Amnesty International and others have reported that the United States is believed to have transferred, “rendered” or “disappeared” more than one hundred detainees in the war on terror to countries that the report cites for torture or ill-treatment of detainees. Some detainees are believed to be held in a labyrinth of secret prisons around the globe run by the United States government in collusion with regimes that have problematic human rights records.

152 Journalists Killed in Iraq

An Iraqi journalist kidnapped last month was found dead in Baghdad, bringing to 152 the number of media murdered in Iraq, the group Reporters Without Borders says.

The bullet-riddled body of Jamal al-Zubaidi was found on Saturday in Amil south-east of the capital, the nonprofit group said in a statement.

Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy in Iraq

"It is a good thing that the Iraqi people are now receiving aid, instead of suffering under sanctions. And it is a good thing that the men and women across the Middle East, looking to Iraq, are getting a glimpse of what life in a free country can be like."
-George W. Bush, March 19, 2004

This is from a newly released report from human rights group MADRE called Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the U.S. War on Iraq. It looks at the incidence, causes, and legalization of gender-based violence in Iraq since the U.S. invasion.
Amidst the chaos and violence of US-occupied Iraq, the significance of widespread gender-based violence has been largely overlooked. Yet, Iraqi women are enduring unprecedented levels of assault in the public sphere, "honor killings," torture in detention, and other forms of gender-based violence. Women are not only being targeted because they are members of the civilian population. Women—in particular those who are perceived to pose a challenge to the political project of their attackers—have increasingly been targeted because they are women. This report documents the use of gender-based violence by Iraqi Islamists, brought to power by the US overthrow of Iraq's secular Ba'ath regime, and highlights the role of the United States in fomenting the human rights crisis confronting Iraqi women today. Some key points include:

Imposing Theocracy through Gender-Based Violence

Under US occupation, Iraqi women have endured a wave of gender-based violence, including widespread abductions, public beatings, death threats, sexual assaults, "honor killings," domestic abuse, torture in detention, beheadings, shootings, and public hangings. Much of this violence is systematic—directed by the Islamist militias that mushroomed across Iraq after the US toppled the mostly secular Ba'ath regime.

Like religious fundamentalists in the US and elsewhere, Iraq's Islamists see the subordination of women as a top priority—both a microcosm and a precondition of the social order they wish to establish. As in Iran, Algeria, and Afghanistan, a campaign of violence against women was the first salvo in the Islamists' war to establish a theocracy in Iraq.

First They Came for the Women

Attacks on women began within weeks of the US invasion in 2003. US authorities did nothing to stop the violence, and soon the attacks spread. Within a year, Islamists were killing Iraqi artists, intellectuals, professionals, ethnic and religious minorities, lesbians and gays—indeed, anyone whom the Islamists perceived as a threat to their agenda. Women, who are seen as the carriers of group identity, have remained in the cross-hairs of Iraq's warring sectarian militias. Iraqi women's organizations report that militias "are taking revenge on each other by raping women," and targeting Christian women with rape and assassination as part of a broader attack on that community.

Iraq's War on Women: Made in the USA

Women have been systematically attacked by theocratic militias on both sides of the sectarian divide, but the most widespread violence has been committed by the Shiite militias affiliated with the US-backed government—the Badr Brigade and Mahdi Army. These groups have waged their campaign of terror against women with weapons, training, and money provided by the US under a policy called the "Salvador Option."

Gender War, Civil War

Neither the mainstream press, the alternative media, nor the anti-war movement has identified the connections between the attack on Iraqi women and the spiraling violence that has culminated in civil war. But violence against women is not incidental to Iraq's mounting civilian death toll and civil war—it is a key to understanding the wider crisis. Indeed, the twin crises plaguing Iraqi civilians—gender based violence and civil war—are deeply intertwined. For example, in the legal arena, the same provisions of the US-brokered constitution that codify gender discrimination (Articles 39 and 41) also lay the groundwork for sectarian violence: these articles establish separate laws on the basis of sex and religious affiliation.

Democracy and Women's Rights: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Although most assaults on women occur in public, violence against Iraqi women continues to be perceived mainly as a "private" or family matter, somehow outside the realm of "politics." Moreover, the characterization of violence against Iraqi women as "cultural" in nature deemphasizes the ways that such violence is used as a means toward political ends and obscures the role of the United States in fomenting gender-based violence.

Contrary to its rhetoric and its legal obligations under the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the Bush Administration has refused to protect women's human rights in Iraq. In fact, it has decisively traded women's rights for cooperation from the Islamists whom it boosted to power.

A re-telling of the Iraq War from the perspective of Iraqi women illuminates the strong links between women's human rights and democratic rights in general and the Bush Administration's clear contempt for both.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Dead American Soldiers Left Behind 1,954 Children

"What did my husband die for? I don't believe what we're doing over there helps our country."
-Ursula Pirtle

From the AP:
Of the 3,350 Americans who died in Iraq and Afghanistan through early January, 1,586 of them, 47.3 percent, were married. Those fallen warriors left behind 1,954 children, according to the Pentagon's Manpower Data Center. More recent deaths have pushed that figure past 2,000.

Compared to the heavily draftee combat troops of the Vietnam war, today's volunteer fighting force is older, more reliant on National Guard and Reserve citizen-soldiers, and more likely to be married.

And more so than their Vietnam counterparts, the new generation of bereaved spouses has been vocal, on their bases, at congressional hearings, in pressing for more compassionate, effective support.

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office examined some of the issues troubling bereaved families. It said support services were inconsistent and advised the Defense Department to improve its oversight.

"Most survivors don't know what they're entitled to, and that's a big deal," said the GAO's Derek Stewart. "There should be one place that survivors could go and, in one sitting, have an individual spell out all the services and entitlements coming your way."

Addressing some of the concerns, the Defense Department updated its guide to survivors' benefits, which have increased substantially since the Iraq war began. The so-called "death gratuity" for next of kin has climbed from $6,000 to $100,000; military life insurance payments have risen from $250,000 to $400,000.

Iraq Vets Speak at Vermont Impeachment Bush Event

Adrian Kinney worked in the Army reserve for 10 years as an Arabic linguist. She served in Baghdad.

This story is from the Bennington Banner:
"Four years ago, our sources were giving us false information," said Kinney. "They wanted anything that they could show you to make you believe that Iraq was evil. And any one of us who questioned the veracity of the intelligence was accused of turning our backs on our mission and the military."

Kinney spoke of her work at a veterans hospital and how the number of soldiers they see has grown exponentially in the past year because the Department of Defense can't keep up with the demand for space.

She also said that "what's happening at Walter Reed is not new, and it happens everywhere."

Last Friday, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey unexpectedly stepped down after reports of substandard conditions for wounded U.S. soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center outpatient facility led to a public outcry.

Howard presented the audience with a speech against the war in Iraq, starting with the treatment he claims he received from a supervising officer when he gave out humanitarian rations to impoverished Iraqi children.

"The First Sergeant in my unit put an M-16 in my face and said, 'I dare you to give out those rations,'" said Howard. "They later ordered us to bury all our humanitarian rations," he added.

Howard also decried the lack of protection U.S. soldiers in Iraq are given, describing how soldiers during his tour of duty were routinely sent to battle without body armor and drove around in Humvees with canvas doors, "that you could poke a pencil through," Howard said.

A grim picture of the desperate conditions in Iraq was presented by Howard, conditions caused in large part, in his opinion, by the U.S. "The hospitals are now morgues, sewage is running in the streets ... all of the basic human services are in ruins," said Howard.

Despite facing angry supporters of the war at the Statehouse on Friday after saying that the U.S. was killing women and children, Howard praised the citizens who had expressed their beliefs so strongly.

"I wish everyone was as angry as they are now that I'm saying these things," said Howard. "This is the truth and it's ugly, but you have to hear it because it's being done in your name. 655,000 Iraqi people have died. That's the entire population of Vermont," Howard said. "Now can we start to conceptualize this number?" He stressed that Americans could not continue to separate the country of Iraq from its people.

"There is no way you can go to war against a country and not go to war with the people of that country," said Howard. If the U.S. truly cared about the well-being of the Iraqi people, he argued, the military would leave Iraq.

"That country will never be stabilized until we leave," said Howard.