Tomgram: The Numbers Surge in Iraq

June 28, 2007

Iraq by the Numbers

Surging Past the Gates of Hell
By Tom Engelhardt

Sometimes, numbers can strip human beings of just about everything that makes us what we are. Numbers can silence pain, erase love, obliterate emotion, and blur individuality. But sometimes numbers can also tell a necessary story in ways nothing else can.

This January, President Bush announced his “surge” plan for Iraq, which he called his “new way forward.” It was, when you think about it, all about numbers. Since then, 28,500 new American troops have surged into that country, mostly in and around Baghdad; and, according to the Washington Post, there has also been a hidden surge of private armed contractors — hired guns, if you will — who free up troops by taking over many mundane military positions from guarding convoys to guarding envoys. In the meantime, other telltale numbers in Iraq have surged as well.

Now, Americans are theoretically waiting for the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to “report” to Congress in September on the “progress” of the President’s surge strategy. But there really is no reason to wait for September. An interim report — “Iraq by the numbers” — can be prepared now (as it could have been prepared last month, or last year). The trajectory of horror in Iraq has long been clear; the fact that the U.S. military is a motor driving the Iraqi cataclysm has been no less clear for years now. So here is my own early version of the “September Report.”

A caveat about numbers: In the bloody chaos that is Iraq, as tens of thousands die or are wounded, as millions uproot themselves or are uprooted, and as the influence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national government remains largely confined to the four-square mile fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, numbers, even as they pour out of that hemorrhaging land, are eternally up for grabs. There is no way most of them can be accurate. They are, at best, a set of approximate notations in a nightmare that is beyond measurement.

Here, nonetheless, is an attempt to tell a little of the Iraqi story by those numbers:

Iraq is now widely considered # 1 — when it comes to being the ideal jihadist training ground on the planet. “If Afghanistan was a Pandora’s box which when opened created problems in many countries, Iraq is a much bigger box, and what’s inside much more dangerous,” comments Mohammed al-Masri, a researcher at Amman’s Centre for Strategic Studies. CIA analysts predicted just this in a May 2005 report leaked to the press. (“A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda’s early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.”)

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tag You’re It: Thinking Blogger Award

June 28, 2007


Skyblu of  A Step Apart blog has tagged me with a Thinking Blogger Award. I am deeply honoured!

Skyblu wrote this about my blog:

verbena-19: another bucketful of insight from Canada, social justice, environment, civil liberties, environmental awareness – great stuff – [old site, new site.]

Skye (Skyler Baguta) is an Environmental Consultant, working as Director – Yellowstone Ecological Research Station. She is an amazing woman with many accomplishments, among them the Boston Marathon! Her blog is very interesting, intelligent, and truly worthwhile to visit regularly.

Now I will try to tag 5 others with the same award. No small feat, as there are so many of you ‘out there’ who make me think, laugh, ponder — and often prompt me to action! — so if I leave you out, it’s only for lack of space and time, and that only 5 are allowed to be tagged, and my brain is not functioning up to par these days…

So here it goes:


1. Harper Valley: Scout does some outlandish, insanely hilarious things with Photoshop and her witty, irreverent humour indeed makes me think, and laugh all at the same time. She is a very wise woman and a healer, and part of my extended family. Scout is also a tireless activist for Indigenous Rights, both in Canada and in Hawaii. Her blog is definitely a daily ‘must read’ and on the top of my favourites list. Harper Valley won numerous 2006 Blogger Awards. Visit her blog and you’ll see why!

2. Politics’n’Poetry: The writer of this blog is a poet, publisher, mother, wife, community educator, and social activist who “likes to stir the pot, literally and figuratively”. Her well-written, cogent posts cover a wide range of important issues from the dangers of nuclear power to Iraqi refugees forced into prostitution, and so much more. Go check it out!

3. liberal catnip: This tireless woman is a veritable font of news, information and commentary bringing to attention a wide range of political and other pertinent issues, many of which you won’t find elsewhere. Her knowledge about politics is astounding! Catnip was also my hard-working side-kick when we launched our campaign to free the 9-year-old Canadian boy and his Iranian parents from Texas detention (T. Don Hutto) early this year. I am happy to say that our efforts — with the tremendous help of many fellow bloggers — paid off and the family was finally returned to Canada in late March. liberal catnip well deserves this award.

(4. Unrepentant Old Hippie: JJ is another woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. Her posts are informative, peppered with humour, wit, and often unabashed irreverence. Ooops, I just checked her blog and see that she’d already been nominated by April Reign. So I guess I’ll try someone else among the myriad of blogs that I visit regularly…. Hmmmm…)

4. JimBobby Sez: Don’t let his ‘country accent’ fool you! Jim Bobby has an exceptionally keen mind as is evidenced by his astute observations in his highly interesting, informative posts which often include some original songs and satire. He was also foremost among the many bloggers who unflinchingly jumped in to help with the Yourdkhanis’ case, writing numerous letters to our PMO and urging other bloggers to do likewise. Jim Bobby’s blog shows superb talent and it will definitely make you think!

5. April Reign: Debra of April Reign deals with issues important to all women, and indeed to everyone who is concerned about human rights and equality. She is a very progressive woman writing from an insightful feminist perspective. Debra is also my ‘mentor’ and most of my site’s graphics are thanks to her diligent work, help, and advice. As well, Debra hosts a wonderful progressive forum: Bread ‘n’ Roses. I strongly urge everyone to check it out as well as her blog.

Whew! That took me a lot of effort, believe it or not. I am still a dinosaur when it comes to ‘tech stuff’, so putting the above thoughts into legible words was quite time-consuming. Plus the fact that there are so many wonderful bloggers who are my faves and make me think — just look at my Blogroll to see what I mean — that narrowing it down to merely 5 was honestly difficult. Some of the other bloggers I wanted to tag have already been tagged with this meme, like Wild Dog Road who has some of the most breathtaking photos on her wonderful blog.

I sincerely appreciate all the wonderful work being done by a vast number of bloggers. They are the true “fifth estate” (or should that be the “sixth estate”, I can’t remember now), taking up the work of sifting gems of truth among the vast amount of available information. You are treading where the neutered corporate mainstream media are too cowardly to go. As we’ve seen, bloggers can, and do, make a difference and are fast becoming a vital part of disseminating news and bringing important issues to the forefront. Kudos to all of you!

These are the rules for those who’ve been tagged with this meme and wish to participate:

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme

3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

Michael’s Moore’s “SiCKO”

June 28, 2007

Michael Moore’s new documentary film SiCKO opens around the GTA on June 29th.  It’s one that shouldn’t be missed.  I will definitely be going to see it…

“SiCKO”: The Profits of Life and Death

Michael Moore’s documentary film, “SiCKO,” focuses on the more than 250 million people who have insurance, but highlights those who are betrayed by it in their time of need. The horror of Moore’s expose is not that health insurance companies are posting too much of a profit; it’s that they are doing so at the expense of American lives. A coalition of nurses and doctors will co-host the film nationwide to promote bills in Congress that would fundamentally change the profit-based health system.

Amnesty International: Support Rights of Indigenous People

June 28, 2007

Request for activist support for UN

Draft Declaration on the Rights of

Indigenous Peoples

We are entering into a critical period with the UN General Assembly poised to decide whether to go ahead with a vote on the current text or to reopen negotiations — and potentially discard two decades struggle to bring the Declaration forward

As you may have seen, the Harper government’s unprincipled opposition to the Declaration has lately been getting some bad press in Canada.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the initial adoption of the Declaration by the UN Human Rights Council, and Canada’s campaign against it, it would be very helpful for a wide cross section to speak out.

An online petition campaign with the Grand Council of the Cree is in operation and Amnesty International has just renewed our letter writing appeal. Both can be found at:

If there is anything you can do to draw attention to this action in the labour movement and other social justice circles it would be greatly appreciated.

I’m pasting in below an open letter to the Canadian government from our international director and one of two recent Globe articles on the Harper government’s politicization of the Declaration.

I’m also attaching a very brief backgrounder that sets recent developments in context.

Warm regards

Craig Benjamin
Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Amnesty International Canada
312 Laurier Ave. East,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 1H9
1.613.744.7667 (ext. 235)

[ ]

[ ] | 1 800 AMNESTY



8 June 2007
Ref.: TG AMR 20/2007.01

Prime Minister Hon Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

I am writing to urge the Government of Canada to withdraw its opposition to the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the vitally important and long overdue UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Canada has long enjoyed an international reputation as a leader in the promotion of human rights. Canada ‘s influence was put to good effect in the final years of negotiation of the Declaration when Canadian representatives were able to bring states and Indigenous peoples together around a common vision of human rights protection.

Regrettably, Canada ‘s reversal of its position has had a negative impact on the prospects for the adoption of the Declaration. Although the draft Declaration was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on June 29 the UN General Assembly went on to call for further “consultation”. Today, it is uncertain whether the Declaration will return to the General Assembly later this year for final adoption or will be consigned to an endless cycle of renegotiation.

I am concerned, Prime Minister, that a critical opportunity to advance the cause of international human rights is at risk of being lost.

According to Canadian government briefing documents, obtained through an Access to Information request, senior Canadian officials who reviewed the final text of the Declaration recommended that Canada support its immediate adoption. Furthermore, these documents state that at one point both the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs had indicated that they were in favour of its adoption.

I note as well that the Declaration has been publicly supported by all three opposition parties in the Canadian Parliament and that the Parliamentary Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has twice called on your government to support the adoption of the Declaration.

Given this, it is unclear why your government has persisted in opposing the Declaration.

Human rights declarations provide inspiration and guidance to governments, state institutions such as courts, and the public as a whole, but do not directly bind states to specific actions. Drafted to apply to a great diversity of situations around the world, such declarations cannot be interpreted in isolation from other human rights instruments or apart from the context in which they will be applied. The articles in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that the Canadian government has objected to, such as the articles on land rights, do not describe absolute or unconditional rights. In their application, these provisions will necessarily be interpreted in relation to all other existing rights and obligations – a fact that Canadian officials previously emphasized when they were working to build support for the Declaration.

Claims that the Declaration is incompatible with existing Canadian human rights protections distort the reality of how the Declaration can be reasonably interpreted. But more than that, the suggestion that this demand for basic recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights is excessive, a threat to public interest, or a potential source of conflict, risks playing on and promoting the very prejudice and discrimination the Declaration is intended to counter.

Around the world, Indigenous peoples are among the most impoverished, most marginalized, and most frequently victimized sectors of society. Their rights are routinely ignored in favour of wealthier, more powerful interests. This discrimination is cloaked by the racist denigration of Indigenous cultures and the paternalistic claim that non-Indigenous elites know what is best for Indigenous peoples.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents an inspiring alternative vision of collaboration and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working together to advance the rights of all. Implementation of this vision will not be easy. It will be an uphill struggle to undo centuries of prejudice and discrimination, around the world. But that, in fact, has been the goal of this whole long process since the drafting of the Declaration first began more than twenty years ago.

I hope that after further deliberation your government will feel able to support the Declaration as adopted by the UN Human Rights Council.

Yours sincerely,

Irene Khan
Secretary General

Article from Friday’s Globe and Mail: Back UN on native rights, Ottawa urged by Gloria Galloway, June 8, 2007 at 4:00 AM EDT

Rudy Giuliani in drag, with Donald Trump

June 28, 2007

This MediaChannel video is totally hilarious!


Giuliani’s Breasts Shamelessly Violated By Donald Trump

Presidential candidates have been creating a lot of buzz with YouTube videos, but this Rudy Giuliani clip has remained below the radar for far too long. Watch Here »


Media Savvy Subscribers,



Despite a successful fundraising drive that kept MediaChannel online for several months, almost exclusively through reader and member support, we are now forced to face the inevitable: the site can only stay online for another thirty days unless we are able to attract a partner, an angel, a major funder or financial help from MediaChannel’s global community of affiliates and individual users.

Can we find the support we need in the next thirty days? That’s our challenge–but if you want to keep the site alive, it’s your challenge too.

If we can get 1500 of our readers (that means you) to give $25, we can keep going for another quarter.

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CBC Documentary: ‘Among the Believers: Cracking Toronto’s Terror Cell’

June 27, 2007


(Wednesday June 27 at 9pm on CBC-TV)


Last summer, Toronto’s mostly moderate Muslim community found itself in the glare of unwelcome public attention from the international media when eighteen men were charged with plotting terrorist attacks on Canadian soil.

In a special co-production with PBS Frontline, the Fifth Estate goes inside the alleged terror cell. A Muslim fundamentalist who infiltrated the cell reveals to the Fifth Estate’s Linden MacIntyre the inner workings of the cell and its members. These are young men who have adopted a brand of Islam that they believe sanctions jihad in their home

city and against their fellow citizens.

Watch this film online.

Tomgram: Roger Morris, The CIA and the Gates Legacy

June 26, 2007

It’s fitting that, as part 3 of Roger Morris’ monumental portrait of Robert Gates, the CIA, and a half-century-plus of American covert action comes to a close, a CIA document dump of previously secret materials from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s has put the years when our Secretary of Defense first entered the Agency back in the news. Assassination plots against foreign leaders, kidnappings, warrantless wiretapping of reporters, the illegal opening of American mail, illegal break-ins, behavior modification experiments on “unwitting” citizens, illegal surveillance of domestic dissident groups and critics of the Agency — it seems never to end.

And yet, you have to read Morris on Gates to realize how much this list still lacks when it comes to the acts of the CIA. It is, after all, one of the ironies of our moment that our (relatively) new secretary of defense now travels the American world — to Kabul and Baghdad in particular, where he frets about Tehran — only to find himself, in essence, confronting (though our media never bothers to say so) the consequences of the misdeeds of his younger self. It’s a grisly record and, not surprisingly, a grisly world has been its result.

If you haven’t read bestselling author (and former National Security Council staffer) Roger Morris’ first two parts on Gates and the CIA — “The Gates Inheritance” and “The World That Made Bob,” then do so and prepare yourself for the mayhem of the world Gates helped make when, in the 1980s, he came into his own. That this is the man meant to save us from the disparate fundamentalisms of Bush the Younger and Dick Cheney tells us a great deal about just how low we’ve sunk. Tom

The Rise and Rise of Robert Gates

The Specialist (Part 3)
By Roger Morris

Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 8, 1985, an Islamic Sabbath — In Bir El-Abed, an impoverished, crowded Shiite quarter in the southern reaches of the Lebanese capital, Muhammad Husain Fadlallah stops on the street to speak to an elderly woman; and so, the revered 51 year-old cleric, delayed momentarily, will not be home at the usual time when a car bomb explodes at his apartment doorstep with a force felt miles away in the Chouf Mountains and well out in the Mediterranean.

“Even by local standards,” reported the New York Times from car-bomb and shell-shocked Beirut, the explosion “was massive.” Eighty-one people were killed — men, women, and children — and more than two hundred wounded. Fadlallah, the target of the attack, was unhurt. The next day, a notice hung over the devastated area where grief-stricken families were still digging the bodies of loved ones out of the rubble. It read: “Made in the USA.”

The sign was more apt than even its furious makers knew. The terrorist strike on Bir El-Abed was a classic product of American covert policy. Behind the bombing lay a convoluted secret history and, beyond that, a longer legacy of power wantonly uninformed by “intelligence.”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.