"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Day That Iraqi Anger Exploded In The Face Of The British Occupiers

Barbaric, Savage and Irresponsible

The dramatic events began to unfold just before dawn yesterday, when two British nationals were detained by Iraqi authorities. It emerged later that they were British soldiers. Dressed in plain clothes - according to some they were wearing traditional Arab dress - the two men had been driving in an unmarked car when they arrived at a checkpoint in the city.

In the confrontation that followed, shots were fired, and two Iraqi policemen were shot, one of whom later died. The Iraqi authorities blamed the men, reported to be undercover commandos, and arrested them.

Mohammed al-Abadi, an official in the Basra governorate said that the two men had looked suspicious to police. "A policeman approached them and then one of these guys fired at him. Then the police managed to capture them," he said.

"They refused to say what their mission was. They said they were British soldiers and [suggested they] ask their commander about their mission," he added.

The Britons were taken to an Iraqi police station, with local officials saying they had been informed that the men were undercover soldiers wearing plainclothes. British military officials, both in London and Iraq, began to investigate the arrests.

As a behind-the-scenes operation by British diplomats charged with negotiating a release for the soldiers started, tension spread across the city, where 8,500 British troops are based. A British army tank was surrounded.

In a clear demonstration that the holding of the soldiers would not be tolerated, tanks moved quickly to encircle the police station. Amid the confusion, a crowd initially of about a dozen, which later swelled to hundreds, soon surrounded the tanks.

Some said it was because the news had spread that British soldiers had been responsible for the death of an Iraqi policeman. One witness said Iraqis were driving through the streets with loudhailers demanding that the soldiers should be kept in the police station, and then jailed.

Violence began to break out in the streets near to the prison. As tempers flared, rocks were thrown, and as tempers flared, the soldiers began to fear that they could no longer contain the situation. What looked like petrol bombs began to fly through the air, and television footage recorded one tank attempting to reverse away from the growing mob as the crowds around the tanks tightened their grip.

Then, flames emerged from the top of one of the tanks. It remained unclear whether it was the vehicle itself on fire, or whether the flames were emerging from military equipment placed on the back of the tank.

One soldier decided to jump. His uniform on fire, the television footage shows him attempting to make his escape, as the crowd pelts him with stones. Another soldier carrying a riot shield stood by the tank. Last night the condition of the soldier was not known.

In the rioting that ensued, British control of the city, in the Shia-dominated south of Iraq, began to look seriously under threat. Two Iraqis were reported dead in the rioting, with 15 Iraqis reported injured, along with three British soldiers.

Meanwhile, frantic negotiations continued to free the men, whose arrest had sent Basra into near anarchy within the space of less than two hours.

Images of the men in captivity were available after television cameramen from Arab satellite broadcasters in the Persian Gulf were allowed in to the jail. Seated on the floor of what looked like a prison cell, their hands tied behind their backs, the men stared directly into the camera lens.

Their clothes - plain T-shirts and chinos - were spattered with blood. One had a bandage wrapped around his head, the other also had a head injury, which had been dressed.

The television commentary, in Arabic, identified them only as Britons. A provincial council spokesman for Basra, Nnadhim al-Jabari, confirmed that they were likely to go before an Iraqi court.

Calm then descended on the city. In London, the Ministry of Defence would give no details about the talks aimed at securing the men, a spokesman saying only that they were continuing "to thrash out with Iraqi authorities what is happening and what can be done".

Then, just before midday, a solution of sorts appeared to have been found. Reports coming out of Basra described how up to ten British tanks, possibly Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks, possibly Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles, had stormed the jail where the two men were being held.

Witnesses said that they had smashed down a wall to gain entry. The operation was said to be backed up by helicopters. The witnesses said that up to 150 prisoners took the opportunity to escape through the wall in the confusion.

The British military action was condemned as "barbaric, savage and irresponsible" by Mohammed al-Waili, the governor of the province. "A British force of more than 10 tanks backed by helicopters attacked the central jail and destroyed it. This is an irresponsible act," the governor said.

The Ministry of Defence in London confirmed that the soldiers had been released, but said that had been achieved by "negotiation". Its explanation is unlikely to assuage the anger on the streets of the southern Iraqi city, which has so far been relatively calm compared with the daily violence that has scarred much of the rest of the country.

As an uneasy peace was maintained in the city last night, all the indications were that yesterday's violence could be repeated today.

Helen McCormack
Published: 20 September 2005

The Rights of Detainees: Who Is Protecting Whom From What?

Detaining suspects indefinitely without charging them is not easily reconciled with democracy. Worry about such methods seems to be migrating across political and religious lines. The public has reason to suspect that many detainees held at U.S. detention facilities in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and elsewhere – some for several years – have nothing to do with terrorism.

What the government is authorized do to the few, it can eventually do to the many. Brushing aside constitutional limits jeopardizes the rule of law. A government that takes off its gloves, cautioned British statesman Edmund Burke, will not soon put them on again. "Criminal means, once tolerated," he wrote, "are soon preferred."

Anyone designated as an "enemy combatant," according to the administration, stands outside the protection of international law. Imprisonment without legal recourse is not the only result of this policy. Under a largely secret program called "extraordinary rendition," hundreds of suspects have essentially been kidnapped. They are transferred into the hands of foreign governments – such as Egypt, Syria, or Uzbekistan – where torture is practiced as a means of interrogation. Not all of them return alive.

Safeguarding the legal rights of terrorist suspects is of growing concern to the American people. That is the unexpected conclusion of a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, called "Abortion and Rights of Terror Suspects Top Court Issues." (The poll was conducted before John Roberts was picked as the nominee to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor and then to be the next chief justice.) Asked about the most important matters facing the Supreme Court, those polled gave detainees' rights the same high rating – almost two-thirds – as abortion rights.

White evangelicals were no exception. Breaking the stereotype that they back the Bush administration no matter what, their concern was predictably high on abortion (75 percent), but not far behind on detainee's rights (69 percent). Though receiving little attention in the media, the poll is not likely to be ignored in the White House, since the president's credibility rating stands at an all-time low.

While terrorism remains an ongoing threat, the public is uneasy about what we should or should not have to sacrifice for our safety. The tradeoff between civil liberties and protection is a question the public takes seriously, according to Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Just before the August congressional recess, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) at the urging of the White House, prevented a Senate vote on legislation that would forbid the cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of prisoners. Equally disturbing, the White House blocked the court-ordered release of further photos from the Abu Ghraib prison. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the images show evidence of "rape and murder." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said that these photos depict "acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman."

Pentagon officials oppose the release of these photographs, arguing that they would inflame the Muslim world and put the lives of American soldiers at risk. Whether the Pentagon is equally concerned about accountability for the abuses themselves, however, is far from clear.

Meanwhile, the president threatens to veto the Senate military appropriations bill if it contains an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) banning cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of prisoners, or an amendment by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that would set up a 9/11-style commission to investigate abuses like the ones captured in the suppressed photos.

Are we still looking at a "few bad apples"? Or at the cover-up of a hidden culture (or subculture) of torture? As the Pew Research Center poll suggests, an increasing number of Americans are beginning to ask: Who is protecting whom from what?

George Hunsinger