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128 posts categorized "Iraq"

April 12, 2008

U.S. still holds photographer Bilal Hussein, despite release order

U.S. authorities in Iraq continue to detain AP photojournalist Bilal Hussein, despite an order by an Iraqi court to release him immediately under the provisions of an amnesty law.

The Pentagon says it needs more time to study the matter.

January 19, 2008

NYT identifies Blackwater shooter

The New York times has identified the primary suspect in a federal investigation into the Blackwater massacre at Nissour square, one Paul Slough formerly of the Texas National Guard:

Through a review of case documents and interviews in Texas and Washington, The New York Times identified the gunner as Mr. Slough, a former infantry soldier who joined Blackwater Worldwide after his dreams of joining the Army Special Forces were quashed by recurring problems from an old football injury.

His story offers a rare look at the men employed by the impenetrable private security company with the highest rate of shootings in Iraq. Military officials and executives of other contracting companies have long complained that Blackwater hired younger, financially struggling recruits; encouraged a shoot-first culture, and then used the company’s deep political connections with the Bush administration to shield its guards from punishment when they killed innocent people. [NYT]

Slough was a member of a Blackwater convoy that killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nissour Square on September 16, 2007. Slough and his colleagues claim that the convoy was under attack, but neither military nor civilian investigators are buying their story.

December 12, 2007

Blackwater's State Department liaison resigns

The head of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Kevin Barry, has stepped down.  Barry was the liaison between State and Blackwater.

December 10, 2007

KBR employee says she was gang raped by coworkers and detained in Iraq

Brian Ross and Justin Rood have broken an explosive story of rape and false imprisonment in the Green Zone that raises questions about the contractor Halliburton/KBR, the US government, and the military.

A 22-year-old former Halliburton/KBR employee says she was gang-raped by her coworkers and imprisoned by the company in a shipping container. According to papers filed in a lawsuit against KBR and its former parent company Halliburton, the victim was only released from the container after intevention by the US State Department.

KBR issued a statement that the US authorities called off the company's internal investigation. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who helped get his constituent out of the shipping container, says that the State and Justice Departments are stonewalling his investigation.   

KBR has mysteriously "lost" the rape kit after receiving in from US military doctors.

No criminal charges have been laid and KBR wants the civil suit heard in closed-door arbitration.

HT: Eric

Religious vigillantes killed 40 women in Basra

Juan Cole points to a horrifying news item about religious vigilantes in Basra suspected of murdering at least 40 women in the past year:

BAGHDAD (AP) — Religious vigilantes have killed at least 40 women this year in the southern Iraqi city of Basra because of how they dressed, their mutilated bodies found with notes warning against "violating Islamic teachings," the police chief said Sunday.

Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf blamed sectarian groups that he said were trying to impose a strict interpretation of Islam. They dispatch patrols of motorbikes or unlicensed cars with tinted windows to accost women not wearing traditional dress and head scarves, he added.

"The women of Basra are being horrifically murdered and then dumped in the garbage with notes saying they were killed for un-Islamic behavior," Khalaf told The Associated Press. He said men with Western clothes or haircuts are also attacked in Basra, an oil-rich city some 30 miles from the Iranian border and 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

"Those who are behind these atrocities are organized gangs who work under cover of religion, pretending to spread the instructions of Islam, but they are far from this religion," Khalaf said.

"Your makeup and your decision to forgo the headscarf will bring you death," according to the red graffiti proliferating in certain districts.

Notes are found affixed to the mutilated bodies that explain why the victim was targeted. Stated motives include alleged adultery and violations of "Islamic teachings."

The authorities estimate that the true death toll exceeds the 40 murders reported so far. Many families are too afraid to come forward, they say.   

December 09, 2007

Blackwater, Cofer Black, and Mitt Romney

Did you know that Blackwater's chief spook, Cofer Black, advises Mitt Romney on terrorism?

Jeremy Scahill has the details in his latest reported piece on Blackwater, plus the latest on Blackwater's expanding navy and air force.

December 03, 2007

The AAA and engagement with the military

Anthropologist, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Last week, I spent a couple of days at the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC. I went for the unveiling of a much-anticipated report on anthropology and the military. I came away feeling like the committee took the easy way out.

The report focused primarily on relatively non-controversial kinds of engagement, such as studying the military, teaching in the military university system, and providing academic input to military leaders on very broad questions like the definition of "culture." In fairness, these relatively straightforward forms of engagement are far more common than exotic HTS-type assignments. Still, what the membership and the media really wanted to talk about were the hard cases like the fledgling Human Terrain System (HTS).

HTS embeds anthropologists and other social scientists on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the short term, Human Terrain Teams provide direct social science support to a brigade commander. However, the ultimate goal of the project is to create a continuously updated map of the "human terrain" that will be available to any government agency that wants to see it, including intelligence agencies. 

HTS has no internal ethical review board. Any American university-based academic who wanted to go live with tribes in Iraq and call it anthropological research would have to submit a detailed research proposal for ethics approval. In HTS, there are no controls over what kind of information these social scientists can gather, or how it must be safeguarded to protect the informants.

The Executive Board of the AAA issued a preemptive statement of disapproval prior to the ad hoc committee's report, in large part because a major New York Times article had thrust HTS into the spotlight.

I can't fault the ad hoc committee for not addressing HTS in more detail. They began their investigation with a much broader mandate two years ago when AAA members noticed that the national security sector was stepping up its efforts to woo anthropologists. HTS didn't even exist when the ad hoc committee got started.

Even so, the report still reads like a cop out. It's not as if the really difficult issues are new. Anthropology has had a long and uncomfortable relationship with the military since the inception of the discipline.

The proponents of HTS see themselves as humanistic mavericks who just want to help the military learn more about culture. They hope that increased cultural understanding will make the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan less violent and more effective. The official line is that a Human Terrain Team reduced "kinetic operations" (the application of military force) by 60-70% in one brigade's territory in Afghanistan. It's hard to know what to make of this statistic without a lot more data, which the military isn't at liberty to share. Correlation isn't necessarily causation.

But let's assume that HTS really is helping the US military apply force more effectively, with less collateral damage. It's still not clear that HTS or, any other program that provides direct operational support to a combat brigade in wartime, is compatible with AAA's code of anthropological ethics.

I discuss some of the ethical dilemmas raised by HTS in greater detail here.

The bottom line is that, according to the the Code, anthropologists doing field work are supposed to put the welfare of their subject population first.  It comes down to the basic moral principle that you shouldn't use people. As a social science that studies real people's everyday lives, anthropology has walk a fine line between exploration and exploitation.

There's a general consensus that it's not right to ingratiate yourself with a group, learn from them, and turn that knowledge against them. Applying anthropological expertise to help kill some of the members of the population under study is not easy to reconcile with the field anthropologists' responsibility to avoid harm to his or her informants.

Some HTS proponents claim that they don't do targeting--that may be true of their operations so far, but there are no rules to ensure that won't happen in the future.

Now, one might argue that anthropological ethics need to be revised in order to balance the well-being subjects with some greater national interest, or a larger duty to minimize harm to innocents. That's certainly the approach the some HTS spokespeople use.

However, I didn't hear anyone at the AAA arguing that the code of ethics needed to be radically revised to accommodate embeds. The debate was couched in terms of what the code already allows. I agreed with the participants who complained that the report, and the "Empire Speaks Back" panel discussion that followed the unveiling of the report were too focused on the kinds of cooperation that might be allowed, and too hesitant to address what might be out of bounds, and why.

November 28, 2007

Free Bilal Hussein

Bleak news for imprisoned Iraqi journalist Bilal Hussein:

No one knows when Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein will have his day in court. It could be tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or any other day.
The lack of a schedule is a telling detail of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, or CCCI, where Hussein's case will be heard.
Hussein, an Iraqi who has been held by the U.S. military as a security detainee since April 2006, will be brought before the court in Baghdad and accused of terrorist activity, the military says.
People familiar with the CCCI describe a crowded system where cases are decided quickly by judges who toil under constant threats.
Already, elements of the court system are working against Hussein. Hussein and his lawyer will probably not see the charges against him until a hearing where they are expected to present a defense.
What's more, even if the court acquits Hussein or dismisses his case, the U.S. military says it has the right to keep him in prison. [E&P/PDN]

It was announced last week that Hussein would face unspecified terror-related charges in Iraq's justice system. The free press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on US authorities to maintain tranparency, now that they have finally publicly charged Hussein after more than a year-and-a-half of detention.

The authorities won't say exactly why they're holding Hussein, nor have they produced any evidence against him. Hussein told his lawyer that he was arrested after he invited two men into his home after an explosion rocked his neighborhood.

Photo District News thinks that a concerted propaganda campaign by right wing blogs may have been a factor in Hussein's arrest. The 36-year-old AP stringer had been bombarded with unsubstantiated accusations of faking his graphic war photographs and collaborating with insurgents:

Last week, The Jawa Report said a military source e-mailed to thank the blog for helping in the case against Bilal Hussein. The source told the blog he was an investigator at Abu Ghraib prison who recognized Hussein (who was held there for a time) as the much-criticized AP photographer, and notified his superiors. [PDN]

It's entirely possible that Hussein, as a journalist, had connections with insurgent groups. That was his job. To hear the right wing blogs, being embedded with our side is a great and glorious adventure. According to the author of the Jawa Report, being embedded with their side is a crime.

In an e-mail interview, the blogger known as Rusty (who refused to give any details identifying himself) told PDN why he initially thought Hussein's work was so suspicious. He said Hussein was producing photographs of two particular insurgent groups in Fallujah, the Army of Ansar al Sunnah and Tawid wal Jihad, or al-Qeada in Iraq.

"The groups, at the time, routinely murdered any one they believed to be a 'collaborater' or 'spy'. It was also when any foreigner they found they held hostage and then beheaded," the blogger wrote. "Yet Hussein was given free access."

Asked if he stood by his posts that implied Hussein should be killed, the blogger answered, "Ha, no. Not in the sense that I wish him dead. I don't believe in the death penalty. But I do believe in the killing of enemy combatants during actual battle. And propagandists are enemy combatants and should be treated as such." [PDN]

Hussein's attorney told investigators from the AP that his client was blindfolded for 9 days, offered a chance to become a paid mole inside the news organization, and told by an interrogator that his photographs were a threat.

Military Reporters and Editors delivered an open letter of protest to Pentagon on Hussein's behalf today. MRE declares Hussein's imprisonment "contrary to every notion of justice, fair play and the U.S. Constitution, which every member of America's military swears to uphold and defend."

The Digital Journalist is asking readers to email the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to protest the detention of Bilal Hussein. Click through for email addresses of all committee members.

News of our deaths greatly exaggerated, say Iraqi journalist's family

Voice of Iraq reported on Monday that gunmen in Eastern Baghdad slaughtered 11 relatives of an Iraqi journalist over the weekend.

I blogged the story as fact, so a major correction is in order.

It turns out that the alleged victims are very much alive, and very angry at the family member who reported that they had been murdered en masse:

BAGHDAD (AFP) — The angry family of an Iraqi journalist went on local television on Wednesday to blast him for claiming they had been massacred three days ago by Shiite militiamen in Baghdad.

"We are still alive. Thank God!" the sister of the journalist said, before bursting into tears.

The journalist, Dia al-Kawwaz, had said she was among the 11 family members slaughtered by militamen on Sunday in his home in Baghdad's northern Al-Shaab neighbourhood.

Al-Hurrah television paraded the relatives of Kawwaz, clearly alive -- and clearly angry.

"No one attacked us ... militias or special forces. Nobody stormed our home. He even organised a condolence meeting to mourn our deaths. But we are alive. We are ashamed that he is our brother," said the sister, wearing a green dress and headscarf. [AFP]

Nobody knows why the journalist reported his family dead and held a wake for them.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) adds a further surreal twist to this story: The journalist in question later wrote that his non-dead family had been "pressured to deny the facts."

This bizarre scam should not be allowed to overshadow the fact that violence against journalists is a very real problem in Iraq. Since the US invasion, 206 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq and 14 have been kidnapped. Two media workers are still missing. The most recent victim was 27-year-old reporter Shehab Mohammed al-Hitti, whose body was discovered in northern Baghdad on Oct. 27th.  

November 27, 2007

Luis Montalvan on NPR's Morning Edition 11/28/07

Veteran and outspoken Iraq war critic, Luis Montalvan will be on NPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday morning.

ME airs weekdays at 5AM on 93.9 FM and 6AM on AM 820 in New York.

Listen on demand to the latest Morning Edition stories.

Here's the interview: Army Captains Critique War