I did not.
When I was in second grade, my best friend was Philip. He had moved in and was my friend because he was a very cute boy. So I went out of my way to get to know him. And he was a very cool kid. He was also the first person I ever met who was Baha'i. We were good friends until he moved away at the end of fourth grade when his father was transferred to another location.
So reading Mamouri's report, I thought about Philip and his parents.
Anyway, they are a minority in Iraq, the Baha'i. As are Christians. Like the Christians, the Baha'i are targeted (like every minority religion in Iraq). Mamouri writes:
Ever since its establishment, the Baha'i religion has been facing pressure and persecution in the Middle East at large, and in Iraq in particular. Many of its followers have been killed and its holy sites destroyed. Baha'is have been subjected to investigations and persecution during different periods. A number of provocative writings have been produced against Baha'is, supporting violence against them. They have been accused of a variety of charges, ranging from undermining religion to preaching atheism, pornography and being the fruit of colonialism and Zionism, and the list goes on.
There are no official statistics on Baha'is in Iraq, and their exact number remains unknown due to adherents' fear of revealing their identities. Al-Monitor's correspondent met with a number of Baha'is in Baghdad and Sulaimaniyah in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. However, none of those interviewed gave statistics on their numbers, due to their dispersion as a result of the intense fear of being oppressed by both the authorities and ordinary citizens. However, Baha'is in Sulaimaniyah feel safer and have greater stability than their brothers in Baghdad, although they abstain from openly practicing their faith for the above-mentioned reasons.
During the royal era, however, Baha'is managed to officially declare their identity. The Iraqi Baha'i community was founded in 1931, the first central Baha'i forum was established in 1936 in the al-Sa'doun region and they have possessed a cemetery in the New Baghdad district since 1952 known as the "eternal garden." The Iraqi government registered the Baha'i religion in the 1957 census.
Restrictions on Baha'is started to gradually spread following the fall of the monarchy, until the repression reached its peak during the reign of the Baath regime. The regime issued a set of decisions against Baha'is in 1970, and published them in the Official Gazette of Iraq. Under these decisions, the Baha'i religion was officially banned and Baha'is were deprived of all their property and forbidden from registering their religion in civil records. Furthermore, they were ordered to delete references to the Baha'i faith from existing records and replace them with one of the three officially recognized Abrahamic religions. Subsequently, a large number of adherents were imprisoned and many Baha'i political and religious followers were sentenced to death in the late 1970s.
The above risks led Baha'is to either completely close themselves off or emigrate from Iraq. Despite the openness that followed the fall of deposed president Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, Baha'is in Iraq are still hiding, living in fear of declaring their social identity and preferring not to practice their religion in public.
That is so sad and things are so bad for the Baha'i in Iraq today. Proof positive that the illegal war produced nothing of value.
"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Today that State Dept Tweeted:
Good for the State Dept and good for John Kerry. That said, the above does not erase The Drone War, the illegal war on Libya and assorted other actions of the US government in the last few years. Nor does it erase Kerry's problem with regards to taking his oral promises regarding women's rights and failing to follow them (see Ava's "Secretary Kerry doesn't really support women's rights"). I know John Kerry, I like him (I like Tereasa as well and have strong admiration for her). In 2003, there was no question that John would get my support and I have no regrets for that. I also happen to agree 100% with what Ava wrote.
My point here is that there are contradictions. The US government can take needed actions. It can also do highly destructive things (actions which destroy lives). NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden is in Russia and that's supposed to be suspect -- especially now that he has temporary asylum -- and supposed to discredit him in some way.
On Democracy Now! today (link is text, video and audio), Amy Goodman spoke with US House Reps John Conyers and Thomas Massie regarding the ongoing spying and the disclosures of the spying that whistle-blower Ed Snowden made. Excerpt.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Massie, what are your thoughts about Russia granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who really started this ball rolling by revealing what—what the intelligence officials of this country, from Keith Alexander to James Clapper, have long denied, but now admitted they weren’t telling the truth about, that the U.S. is spying on American citizens?
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: Well, clearly his disclosures have changed the course of human history, really. And I think his initial disclosures were a service to our country, because now we’re having this conversation. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I can’t speak for Mr. Snowden’s actions now. He’s basically a person looking out for his own life at this point. But what he did initially was a service to our country. We need to facilitate a way for whistleblowers to do that in a better fashion. And I don’t think our current whistleblower laws would have provided for him to do what he’s done in a better fashion, so I’d like to see some reform there, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Russia was right to grant him temporary asylum?
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I’m not going to comment on what Russia should have done with Mr. Snowden.
AMY GOODMAN: But do you feel that Mr. Snowden did the right thing?
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I think initially he did. And now, it would be hard for me to fault his actions at this point. He’s a person who fears for his life, and so, you know, he’s doing what he can, I think, to stay alive at this point.
Those were some strong statements that Massie made -- and good for him for making them at a time when too many in Congress are either silent or else attacking Ed. He's right that Ed's choices are limited at this point.
But the point I want to make, as elements of the US press repeatedly attempt to churn up outrage, is that the Russian government's record does not make Russia evil. Whatever country you live in, hopefully you're able to turn your head from one side to the other and see people you are glad to know. People are not their governments. Governments frequently lie to the people, mislead them, ignore them. That's true in the US, that's true in Russia, it's true pretty much everywhere.
The Russian government's actions? In some ways, the government of Russia is worse than the US. If you look at the domestic actions of both, Russia's efforts at censorship and targeting its LGBT community are appalling. But over one million Iraqis have not died in the last ten years as a result of the Russian government. The State Dept does an annual report and its honest if you think it's fair for the US government to finger point at other countries while failing to examine itself in the same way.
Russia's a wonderful country with many wonderful people. The government is flawed (as are all governments) and has some outrageous and criminal behaviors -- as does the US government. Ed Snowden's options are limited -- as a direct result of shameful actions on the part of the US government. He did not intend to stay in Russia, it was to be a stop on the way to somewhere else. He now has a one year, temporary asylum. His taking that fortunate offer does not make him suspect.
Amnesty International made this point very strongly (far better than I have above) in a statement yesterday:
Russia's decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum is a positive development and should allow governments and civil society to focus on the sweeping nature and unlawfulness of the US government’s surveillance programmes.
“The drama of the five weeks since Snowden’s arrival in Russia has distracted attention from the key issue: how the ever-burgeoning security apparatus in the US has used secret courts to undertake massive, sweeping and systematic invasions into the right to privacy of people living in the USA,”said Widney Brown, senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
“Let’s not lose sight of why Snowden was forced to seek asylum in Russia. Once he disclosed the full scope of the US government’s actions, they cancelled his passport and called him a criminal.
“Freedom of expression – a fundamental human right – protects speech that reveals credible evidence of unlawful government action. Under both international law and the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, the US government’s actions are unlawful.”
With regard to Snowden’s temporary asylum status, the organization is concerned that he has been told that he should not disclose any further information that could harm the USA.
“Everybody has the right to seek asylum. That right can’t be contingent on a promise not to speak out or disclose information on a matter of public concern,” said Widney Brown.
“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure that his rights are respected. He should be allowed to travel freely, including outside of Russia, if he wishes.”
“The US government has been more intent on persecuting Edward Snowden than in addressing or even owning up to its flagrant breaches of international law. It is time that the USA desists from its deplorable attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s efforts to seek asylum now or in the future.”
Prensa Latina reports on Snowden's attorney Anatoli Kucherena, "Although at first moment Kucherena announced that Snowden would stay in this country and could apply for temporary residence and then citizenship, he now admits that his client will decide that in the future. He himself will announce it, he said." With the knowledge that Ed is (at least) temporarily safe, that he has found a place to live, and that he has at least one job offer, let's turn to his revelations and the US government's response.
Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting. At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work. Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora. US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing." Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans." The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported, was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe." The spin included statements from Barack himself. Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move." Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about." Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights." Former US President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial." Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson explains, "Intelligence officials in the Obama administration and their allies on Capitol Hill paint the fugitive analyst as nothing but a traitor who wants to harm the United States. Many of those same officials grudgingly acknowledge, however, that public debate about the NSA’s domestic snooping is now unavoidable."
The more Barack attempted to defend the spying, the more ridiculous he came off. Mike Masnick (TechDirt) reviewed Barack's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show and observed of the 'explanations' offered, "None of that actually explains why this program is necessary. If there's a phone number that the NSA or the FBI gets that is of interest, then they should be able to get a warrant or a court order and request information on that number from the telcos. None of that means they should be able to hoover up everything." As US House Rep John Conyers noted, "But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else. You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned." Barack couldn't deal with that reality but did insist, in the middle of June, that this was an opportunity for "a national conversation." He's always calling for that because, when it doesn't happen, he can blame the nation. It's so much easier to call for "a national conversation" than for he himself to get honest with the American people. And if Barack really believes this has kicked off "a national conversation" then demonizing Ed Snowden is a really strange way to say "thank you."
The revelations continue. Wednesday, Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) reported:
A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.
Amy Goodman covered the report:
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper revealed details about another secret NSA program called XKeyscore, based on leaked documents provided by Snowden. XKeyscore allows analysts to search, with no prior authorization, through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals. According to a slide presentation provided to The Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden, XKeyscore gives NSA analysts real-time access to, quote, "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet." In its own training materials, the NSA calls XKeyscore its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the Internet. While the program is supposed to target overseas Internet users, The Guardian reports XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even Americans for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant. Edward Snowden first hinted at the program during an interview with The Guardian in June.
EDWARD SNOWDEN: Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian published its exposé on Wednesday morning just minutes before the Senate Intelligence Committee opened an oversight hearing on the NSA’s surveillance programs.
And Ed was right. Thomas R. Eddlem (New American) points out:
The XKeyscore was discussed on today's first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- link is audio and transcript):
CBS News and Slate's John Dickerson: The president said he welcomes a conversation. He doesn't welcome a conversation. But this is the conversation that's now taking place. And then the other big development was a new set of documents that were released about another program...
Diane Rehm: Called the XKeyscore.
John Dickerson: XKeyscore. And that is a basic scraping of the Internet for overseas or so, the administration claims, that basically captures people's conversations, email, basically everything that you can do online.
Wall St. Journal's Jerry Seib: I think what you got a sense of at that Senate hearing and then in the aftermath of it was a feeling that's -- which is a bipartisan feeling, to some extent at least, that the NSA took a program that Congress actually wanted to happen and legally authorize it. It wrote the law that allows the program to happen but then stretched it out of proportion to what the lawmakers intended. And there is now some pushback developing, which is -- but it's difficult because most people in Congress, and this is also bipartisan, actually want the program to continue. They just think the fencing around it ought to be a little sturdier, and that, I think, is something that you're gonna hear discussed. I don't think anybody wants to eliminate it. I think they wanna bring it more under control.
If Seib's speaking of the ridiculous Senate Judiciary Comittee and it's cowardly members, he's correct, they don't want to eliminate it. They don't want to protect the Constitution. As Trina observed early this morning:
It's a good column [Dave Lindorff's] but what it actually reminded me of was the Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that C.I. reported on "Iraq snapshot," Wally's "THIS JUST IN! RUSS FEINGOLD WHERE ARE YOU NOW!" and Cedric's "Punchline: US Senate," Ava's ""Blumenthal disappoints (Ava)," Wally's ""Leahy and Feinstein are disgraces," Ann's ""The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing" and Kat's "The Constitution has been shredded." Read their reports. The Committee didn't want to address how outrageous it was that spying was going on, they wanted to put a few limits on the spying so it could continue. It was disgusting.
But they are not the only members of Congress and Seib should damn well know that the Amash - Conyers amendment came very close to passing last week -- an amendment that would have indeed ended it. Diane would do her listeners a world of good if she'd pay attention to what her guests say and correct them.
I'm about to do the unthinkable again. When the Bradley Manning story first got attention in 2010, one journalist lied and whored more than any other. That would be The General's Best Friend, yes, Nancy Youssef.
But Youssef's with McClatchy so we must never call her out. E-mails could not believe anyone from McClatchy would get called out. McClathy is a mediocre outlet that doesn't do anything that great. Their reputation is built around the work of Knight Ridder from right before the Iraq War. That was Knight Ridder, that was not McClatchy. Knight Ridder went under and, in a tag sale, McClatchy purchased it. That's all they did, bought Knight Ridder in 2006. And since being bought, the chain's become an embarrassment.
Nancy pronounced Bradley guilty from the start. She's still lying about him. Here she is from the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show today:
Diane Rehm: And his father [Ed Snowden's father Lou Snowden] has said he's going to visit him in Russia. He, his father said he doesn't want him to return to the United States, Nancy?
Nancy Youssef: That's right and he also made a distinction between his son and Bradley Manning because of the verdict that came against the former private for leaking documents to Wiki leaks. He was sentenced to as many as 136 years in prison and so he's trying to make a distinction between his son and Bradley Manning and he has come out and said that while, as an American, he's retired from the Coast Guard, that he was saddened by this.
I'm sorry, what did she just say?
And it's not corrected.
Bradley Manning's sentencing continues. It has not wrapped up. Click here for Kevin Gostola's coverage of today's arguments made to Lind in the ongoing sentencing portion. Arguments being made by the prosecution and the defense and the military judge, Colonel Denis Lind, has yet to sentence Brad to anything. Nancy Youssef is an embarrassment and her conduct throughout on Brad has been appalling. Today, she went on live radio and announced that Brad had been sentenced when no such thing has yet to take place.
When journalists can't get their facts right, they need to close their mouths. And grown ups need to hold them accountable.
If you want to see who's been telling the truth, Thomas R. Eddlem (New American) points out, it's been Ed Snowden and not the government:
With the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reporter Glenn Greenwald, there seem to be only two possibilities regarding claims by House Permanent Intelligence Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers: He either boldly lied about the breadth of NSA surveillance of the American people, or he didn't know and was therefore engaged in incompetent oversight of the NSA.
Either possibility has huge implications for American constitutional government: If Rogers didn't know, what does that say about congressional oversight of these shadowy NSA programs? And if he did know, and was willingly lying to the American people, is that any better?
Rogers, a liberal Michigan Republican (51 percent cumulative Freedom Index score, one of the lowest scores among Republicans), claimed in debate on the Amash amendment, which would have forbidden the NSA from spending any of its funding on the bulk collection of Americans' electronic messages, July 24: “We should have time and education on what actually happens in the particular program of which we speak. And I'll pledge each and every one of you today, and give you my word, that this fall, when we do the Intel authorization bill, we will work to find additional privacy protections with this program, that has no emails, no phone calls, no names and no addresses.”
Some of the effects of the reported revelations? Michael Hirsh (National Journal via Gov.Exec) notes:
A groundswell of congressional support for major new restrictions on the NSA, combined with pressure from the nation's most powerful tech companies, is almost certain to force some of those changes into being. And the battle lines are already being formed between the judiciary and intelligence committees in both the House and Senate. Firebrand defenders of privacy rights on the judiciary committees are seeking to shut down or fundamentally overhaul surveillance, while Intelligence committee members who tend to stand behind the NSA are trying to preserve as much as they can of what they consider an essential program.
The ideas range from the extreme, shutting the telecommunication and Internet monitoring programs down altogether—something almost certain not to happen—to more feasible ideas that might preserve the heart of the program but add more transparency to the process. Such ideas include one that is gaining momentum in both the House and Senate—appointing a privacy advocate to take the other side against government requests for surveillance in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—declassifying portions of the FISA orders, making them available to more members of Congress, and redesigning the phone-records collection program so that the NSA does not take possession of all the data itself.
Another impact? BBC News notes, "Germany has cancelled a Cole War-era pact with the US and Britain in response to revelations about electronic surveillance operations. Details of snooping programmes involving the transatlantic allies have been leaked to the media by former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden."
Some would argue that Ed Snowden's revelations also exposed Barack Obama but the reality is Barack exposed himself. Paul Craig Roberts (Global Research) observes:
As Washington loses its grip on the world, defied by Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and now Russia, the US government resorts to public temper tantrums. The constant demonstration of childishness on the part of the White House and Congress embarrasses every American.
Washington’s latest outburst of childish behavior is a response to the Russian Immigration Service granting US whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum in Russia for one year while his request for permanent asylum is considered.
Washington, having turned the US into a lawless state, no longer has any conception of legal procedure. Law is whatever serves Washington. As Washington sees it, law is nothing but Washington’s will. Any person or country that interferes with Washington’s will is behaving unlawfully.
Because Obama, like Bush before him, routinely disobeys US law and the US Constitution, the White House actually thinks that Russian President Putin should disobey Russian and international law, overturn the Russian Immigration Service’s asylum decision, and hand over Snowden to Washington.
Today, the United Nations announced:
2 August 2013 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced the appointment of Nickolay Mladenov of Bulgaria as his Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
Mr. Mladenov has extensive experience in public service. As former Foreign Affairs Minister of Bulgaria, he led his country’s diplomatic engagement with a large number of partners, including in the Middle East. He also served as Minister of Defence for his country and as a Member of the European Parliament, including its Foreign Affairs Committee and the Delegation for Iraq.
Mr. Mladenov has held several positions in the inter-governmental and non-governmental sectors, including at the World Bank, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republic Institute.
He will replace Martin Kobler of Germany. In a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson, the Secretary-General expressed his gratitude for Mr. Kobler’s dedicated service and leadership of UNAMI.
Established in 2003, UNAMI is mandated to advise and assist the Government and people of Iraq on a number of fronts including advancing political dialogue and national reconciliation, assisting in the electoral process, facilitating regional dialogue between Iraq and its neighbours, and promoting the protection of human rights and judicial and legal reform.
The 41-year-old Mladenov has also served (for two years) in the European Parliament. He was also the subject of a February 2010 State Dept cable from the US Embassy in Sofia. WikiLeaks posts the cable here and it notes his appointment to Foreign Minister:
Mladenov, 37, is one of the youngest and brightest stars in Borissov's cabinet. A former Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Mladenov was the first person to become Minister of Defense without military experience. Mladenov is modern-thinking and western oriented. He is dynamic, with a famous work ethic and the strategic vision to challenge entrenched interests inside the military and his ministry. While Minister of Defense, Mladenov made deepening the United States-Bulgaria relationship his top priority and worked to expand deployments to Afghanistan and find creative new uses for the joint bases. While he made progress, much of his time and attention was drawn into cleaning up the legal, structural, and budgetary mess left behind by the previous Minister. We can expect Mladenov to take his reformist, transatlanic attitude with him to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). It is rumored that he will continue to have input into important security decisions, though how this will work in practice is not yet clear. He will undoubtedly represent Bulgaria well in his new role and will put a young, modern face on Bulgaria.
Why were they so high on him? Because, among other things, he's also worked with the World Bank and the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Those are organizations that the US government loves. They are not organizations beloved by the people.
He has work cut out for him. Today, the State Dept issued the following:
Worldwide Travel Alert
August 2, 2013
The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.
Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.
We continue to work closely with other nations on the threat from international terrorism, including from al-Qa'ida. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.
We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens Traveling abroad enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don't have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Internet website at travel.state.gov where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play, to have travel information at your fingertips.
In addition to information on the internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, from other countries, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, Eastern Time (except U.S. federal holidays).
CNN's Elise Labott pointed out (on the second hour of today's Diane Rehm Show), "That's absolutely, I mean, the reason that all of these embassies are being closed not just in the Middle East and North Africa but also in Asia, abundance of caution since Benghazi. The U.S. doesn't want to be liable if, God forbid, something happens. here was a specific threat to the U.S. embassy in Yemen. That's where the primary concern is coming from but when you take that threat that is also kind of ambiguous and then you take this Ramadan special, days of Ramadan that Nancy just mentioned. You have Benghazi in everybody's mind. You also have the anniversary of the U.S. embassies, the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania coming up. So all of this just leads to a heightened abundance of caution and the U.S. isn't taking any chances." Fox News has a list of the closings -- and in edition to the US Embassy in Baghdad being closed Sunday, the US Consulate in Erbil is also being closed Sunday. Jennifer Jones (Christian Today) observes, "The U.S. Embassies, which would normally be open this Sunday, will be closed and possibly for more days. The U.S. diplomatic offices are usually open on Sunday, where it is the start of the workweek in Muslim countries." State Dept spokesperson Marie Harf explained yesterday that "the Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4th. The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations that indicate we should institute these precautionary steps. The Department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety."
On violence, NINA notes 1 security agent was shot dead in Kirkuk, the Iraqi military killed a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq commander, an armed attack in Kirkuk left 3 soldiers dead and three more injured, an attack on a Mosul checkpoint left 2 Iraqi soldiers dead, a Baaj bombing left 2 people dead and three more injured, and a Falluja roadside bombing left two people injured. Alsumaria adds a Kirkuk bombing left 4 Iraqi soldiers dead and two more injured.
World Bulletin reports today that reporters who attempted to cover a protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, "A group of journalists wanted to go to Tahrir Square to follow the protests which are to be held for the improvement of security standards in the state, but were detained by Iraqi security officials, sources said. The journalists' cameras and video cameras were also confiscated." Nouti's back to imprisoning journalists. Will anyone bother to condemn his latest attack on the press?
This protest was part of the Consolidated Friday theme and included recognition of International Quds Day. National Iraqi News Agency notes that it featured "hundreds of members of the League of the Righteous, Hezbollah, Badr Organization and other parties" took part in actions which were "called by Iranian Imam Khomeini." In Baghdad, All Iraq News notes, hundreds turned out. Looking at the photo with the article, you'll see that it should probably be changed to "thousands." They explains "International Quds Day is an annual event that began in Iran in 1979 that is commemorated on the last Friday of Ramadan, expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and opposing Zioneism as well as Israel's control of Jerusalem." But NINA makes clear, that the Baghdad Tahrir Square demonstration also included those who were "demanding the government to address the security file and the elimination of terrorism as well as the abolition of the use of broken sonar devices in the multiple checkpoints in Baghdad and of other provinces.
Iraqi Spring MC notes that Nouri's SWAT forces cut off roads leading to Tahrir Square. In addition, the SWAT forces began arresting people in Tahrir Square and downtown Baghdad. And they turned out in Baghdad's Adhamiya, in Baiji, in Jalawla, and these protests also took place today in Basra and in Karbala. The protests have been going on since December 21st (and today's theme was Consolidated Friday which allowed the ongoing protests to also include the Quds focus).
Ali Mamouri (Al-Monitor) reports on how activists and members of the media remain targets in 'free' Iraq:
According to a report by the JFO, Iraq has recorded 259 cases of murder of Iraqi and foreign media activists in the last 10 years. Furthermore, 64 activists were abducted, most of whom were killed, while 14 of them are still missing. The perpetrators of these crimes have still not been revealed, given that the crimes were all committed under mysterious circumstances. These violations were neither legally nor politically pursued.
Civilian activists in Iraq are divided into two main categories: governmental and non-governmental. The second category faces a very serious risk. It is targeted by government forces, militias and terrorist organizations all at once. Moreover, the government does not feel responsible for them and abstains from providing them with a minimum level of protection. The Iraqi government continuously passes laws against civil liberties related to social activists through a number of institutions that are concerned with this matter.
These laws include a law to “protect journalists.” This law was totally taken from the former Iraqi laws that criminalize the publication of information in different cases and allows the imprisonment of journalists for up to seven years when they insult the government, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Meanwhile a national park gets declared and quickly becomes declared sacred ground? Wednesday, National Geographic's Lara Sorokanich reported:
Iraq decreed its first official national park last week, after years of planning and bargaining within its governmental council. The new title will help protect the central marshes of Iraq, which are currently threatened by the country’s increasing urbanization and development.One integral part of the legislation’s passing was Nature Iraq, an environmental group whose founder and president Azzam Alwash was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize earlier this year for his work in Iraq’s marshlands. The group played a key role in developing the park’s management plans—along with the Ministries of Water Resources and Environment and the National Park Committee—and has also worked for several years to reflood the area’s drained marshes.
Environment News Service adds today, "The Mesopotamian Marshlands of southern Iraq were once the third largest wetlands in the world, originally extending between 12,000 and 15,000 square kilometers and partially covering the three southern governorates of Iraq: Missan, Thi Qar and Basrah." Janet Falk (Smart Planet) noted yesterday, "This vast Mesopotamian marshland in the south of the country is widely held to be the location of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were created (and subsequently cast out)." Fred Pearce (New Scientist) insists, "The 'Garden of Eden' has been saved, even as chaos grows all around.
If it turns out to be sacred ground, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might want to visit. He could use a blessing right about now as the security unravels and he's the one responsible. Aso Fishagy (Rudaw) explains how Nouri's handling his failures:
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is blaming opponents and allies alike for his government’s failures, accusing a deputy of giving him wrong information about power outages and charging that the Shiite Mahdi Army was behind the recent escape of prisoners from Baghdad jails.
In an interview with Al Iraqiya TV, a semi-official channel in Iraq that gathered Maliki and a number of Iraqi political commentators, the premier said that electricity blackouts across the country were not his fault.
“Hussein Shahristani, Iraqi deputy PM for energy affairs, has given me incorrect information about the level of electricity production in Iraq,” said Maliki, whose Shiite-led government has been adrift as attacks and bombings have risen dramatically, and the country’s large Sunni and Kurdish minorities no longer regard him as the man to lead Iraq.
“Unfortunately these mistakes happen at a time when the Iraqi PM has three deputies. Each deputy prime minister should have acted responsibly towards the problems of social services,” said Maliki, providing a glimpse into the turmoil and disunity inside his own inner circle.
In the same interview, Maliki blamed the fellow-Shiite Sadr Movement’s Mahdi Army for this month’s attacks on teahouses and cafes in Baghdad.
Nothing's ever Nouri's fault. An underling (Shahristani) is at fault for having "given me incorrect information." The violence? It's Moqtada al-Sadr! That won't play in Iran where they're tired of Nouri and eager to back Moqtada to be Iraq's new prime minister. Last week's prison breaks resulted in hundreds of escapees. Haider Najm (Niqash) reports:
It was like a scene from the 2002 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Collateral Damage. During the movie Colombian guerrillas break into a prison to free their fellow members. In Iraq last week, there were similar scenes as armed extremists used mortars, rockets and suicide bombers to break prisoners out of the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons. A power cut, rioting in the prison by prisoners affiliated with the attackers and prison guards who colluded with the attackers were also part of the real-life incident.
The attacks on Abu Ghraib were spectacularly successful, lasting ten hours and leading to the escape of around 500 prisoners; that number included senior members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, Al Qaeda. Over 300 of the escapees have already been recaptured but others remain at large. The attack on Taji prison was not as successful – it resulted in the deaths of over a dozen soldiers and six militants but there were no escapes.
Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which has connections with Al Qaeda. “The organization announced that hundreds of Muslim detainees, among them some 500 of the best fighters ever born, were freed,” the London-based Middle Eastern news website, Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
Film clips were also posted on the Internet that showed the prison attack underway. The clips were posted on sites known for their affiliation with Al Qaeda and members of the sites wrote messages underneath the clips, congratulating each other on the success of the operation.
But even as the events were being widely reported on, the recriminations and conspiracy theories had already started in Baghdad.
Apparently the Iraqi National Intelligence Service actually warned local security forces of the attacks a few hours before they happened. The militants themselves apparently warned locals living nearby to stay away. Word leaked out that Iraq’s secret service had sent a total of seven messages to local security forces over a period of two months, which detailed, among other things, the date on which the attack was planned. According to investigators dispatched by the Iraqi government to find out why the Abu Ghraib jail break succeeded so well, the local security forces did not react quickly enough to the warnings they received nor did they take them seriously enough.
Also in line for criticism was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Prime Minster didn’t comment on the attack until the following day and many said he didn’t treat the matter as seriously as he should have. At a meeting in his office that was organized by his office, to which three media commentators were invited, al-Maliki even sought to put the blame elsewhere, saying that he thought the Shiite Muslim militia, the Mahdi Army, were probably involved.
Turning to veterans issues, Guy Kovner (Santa Rosa Press Democrat) reports, "Three local Iraq veterans are hosting the first annual PTSD Awareness Walk, an event open to the public Saturday at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa. The 1-mile walk around Lake Ralphine, which starts at 10 a.m., is intended to 'increase awareness and raise funds to help break the stigma' around post-traumatic stress disorder in Sonoma County, the organizers said." Yesterday on Here and Now (NPR -- link is audio and text), host Jeremy Hobson explored veterans suicides with Derk Bennett:
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST: It's HERE AND NOW. A new survey of thousands of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that suicide is the biggest issue they are concerned with. Almost 40 percent say they know a vet who killed themselves. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America conducted the survey, and its chief of staff is Derek Bennett. He is a former Army captain who served two tours in Iraq. Derek joins us now from NPR in New York. Welcome.
DEREK BENNETT: Thank you very much for having me.
HOBSON: Well, let's start with these suicide numbers, just shocking if you think about it. Thirty percent of respondents to your survey have thought of taking their own lives. Forty-five percent know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.
BENNETT: It's epidemic. Both of those numbers are frightening. It's not new. We've seen similar trends in the previous three years that we've done the survey. And I think it's something that we're not talking enough about in this country. The number of veterans and the number of active-duty individuals who have committed suicide is actually higher than the number of folks we've lost to the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
HOBSON: Well, what's going on? Because the military has upped its suicide prevention programs. These have been an issue that's been around for a while. People have been talking about it.
BENNETT: It's been around for a while, but like so many things in this space, there's not a lot of reliable good data, which is why this survey, to us, is so important. The Army specifically didn't really start consistently and methodically counting suicides until about 2002. And that only counts active-duty folks. Since they've started counting, now they've implemented some suicide prevention work, and there's still a lot more that needs to be done. They need to better understand the problem itself, who's most at risk.
They have the National Institute of Health and some other folks who have done a lot of research that indicates that deployments actually in Iraq and Afghanistan specifically may not be correlated with the increase in suicide. But that's all the data that's available for active-duty individuals. Once someone transitions and leaves the DOD and they become a veteran, no one counts whether or not a veteran commits suicide. So we actually don't have a reliable number for how many veterans are committing suicide. We believe - some of the best research in this right now indicates it's somewhere around 22 a day, which is unbelievable.
In other veterans news, Chapel Hill News reports that Iraq War veteran Viv Taylor has been named as the new Executive Director of Integrity USA which works "for full LGBT inclusion in the Episcopal Church" and, "Taylor is among the first transgender women to enter the Episcopal ordination process and will be the first openly trans woman to lead a major mainline Protestant denominational organization in the U.S., according to an Integrity news release. Integrity has been the leading grassroots voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church and for equal access to its rites since its founding in rural Georgia in 1974." In 2013, Senator Patty Murray became the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and Senator Bernie Sanders replaced her as Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair. Murray continues to serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee and she continues to work on behalf of service members and veterans. Yesterday, her office issued the following:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Thursday, August 01, 2013 (202) 224-2834
Murray Special Victims Counsels Receive Full Funding
Senate Defense Appropriations bill includes $25 million for trained military lawyers to help victims of sexual assault take action against attackers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee approved $25 million to fully fund Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) Special Victims Counsels (SVCs) program aimed at providing victims of military sexual assault, in all branches, with a trained lawyer to guide them through the legal process. The House of Representatives has also approved full funding for the SVC program in their Department of Defense spending legislation. In May, Senators Murray and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced the bipartisan Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, which has been included in the pending National Defense Authorization Act.
“I’m pleased this bill supports several important initiatives, starting with expanding the highly successful Special Victims’ Counsel program across the whole military,” said Senator Murray. “The SVC program will provide victims of sexual assault with the legal assistance they need to pursue justice and be protected from retaliation, while getting to the heart of effectively addressing this tragic epidemic. Thank you to Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cochran for their leadership in putting forward a strong, bipartisan Defense appropriations bill that puts a priority on tackling this scourge within the ranks.”
“We include $25 million in this bill to implement their great idea of a Special Victims Counsel program across all services to address the issues of sexual harassment,” said Chairman Dick Durbin during the hearing. “The Air Force has good program. We’re going to incorporate this across the services with the $25 million here. I think this will have a greater positive impact than many of the other issues that are being debated that should make our military more welcoming.”
In a statement endorsing the Murray-Ayotte SVC legislation, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said, “The Air Force Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) pilot program, while very new, has shown positive results and provides a robust support program for victims of sexual assault. Hundreds of victims have availed themselves of SVC services in the Air Force in just the past several months since it was implemented. Many of those victims who initially filed restricted reports of sexual assault decided to change their report to unrestricted, allowing full investigation of the offenses committed by their assailant. As the early reports have been so promising, I expressed in my May 20, 2013, letters to Senators Levin and Inhofe that the proposed SVC legislation had merit. I support providing victims of sexual assault this important resource.”
The Senate Defense Appropriations legislation also addresses Senator Murray’s priorities to continue oversight of the struggling integrated electronic health record system, funding for Army National Guard Behavioral Health programs, and includes $10 million for the Office of Suicide Prevention.
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834
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