MidEast Dispatches: IRAQ: Kidnappings Now Become ‘Unofficial’

August 30, 2008

IRAQ: Kidnappings Now Become ‘Unofficial’

Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*

BAQUBA, Aug 29 (IPS) – Residents of Baquba deny police claims that kidnappings are now a matter of the past.

“There are fewer people disappearing, but it continues,” a trader who asked to be referred to as Abu Ali told IPS. “All of us know that several people are still being kidnapped every week.”

A local sheikh, speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity, said that many from his tribe have been kidnapped in just the last three weeks.

“This sectarian security operation is targeting Sunnis,” the sheikh said. “At least ten people from my tribe alone, all of them Sunnis, have been kidnapped, and we suspect it is by people with the government.”

A police captain, Ali Khadem, told IPS that “no kidnapping actions were reported in the city in the last four months.” Baquba is capital of Diyala province, just north-east of Baghdad.

Residents say that while the number of kidnappings may have declined, the fear continues. Underscoring the volatility of the province, the Iraqi government issued an order Aug. 27 banning residents from keeping weapons.

Baquba has seen more than its share of kidnappings. Those responsible are believed widely to be members of various militias, or simply common criminals looking for quick money.

“When we were going to our jobs, we did not know whether we would get back home or not,” Hisham Ibrahim, a local labourer, told IPS. “Everyday, we felt the same fear and horror. And now, even though it’s better, we don’t know when this horror will return.”

The usual kidnapping style is for armed militants to drive up with their faces covered to the victim’s house, office or shop, or sometimes corner him on the street. The victim is overpowered, and dumped into the boot. The kidnappers then demand ransom, usually making video films of the victim.

Often a killing is also filmed. “Near our house, there was a place we used to call the execution zone,” a trader told IPS on terms of anonymity. “I myself saw a cameraman with the militants in every action.”

Another resident, also speaking on terms of anonymity, told IPS he had witnessed executions of kidnapped men. “They brought kidnapped men blindfolded, with their hands tied, lined them up on the street, and shot them one by one.”

“My wife has been sick ever since she saw these killings from our house,” Nasir Abbas, a local resident who lives on Majara Avenue told IPS. Many kidnapped persons have been executed here.

Some of the kidnappings have been at random. “The militants might ask anyone on the street about his identity,” says Abdul-Jalil Khalil, a local trader. “They take him to their stronghold for questioning. When they find he is their sect, they release him. If not, they kill him.”

A local man who was kidnapped told IPS what he went through.

“Militants attacked me in the market. They forced me into the boot of a car. After reaching their place, they got me out of the boot, tied my hands and covered my eyes. They poisoned me with something that made me sick, along with several other people in a room.

“They were shouting and insulting us. They whipped me with a cable and a nylon tube on my back and legs. After a few hours, they took me to another room. There I met the leader, they called him the prince. He asked me about my sect, tribe, job, relatives, etc. The prince decided to release me after three days.”

Many others are never released. Or even recorded as ever having been kidnapped.

(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq’s Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East).

_______________________________________________

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Tomgram: Ann Jones, Afghan Women Behind Closed Doors

August 29, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch readers: This is the third and last post in a pre-Labor-Day “best of TomDispatch” series — and a good reminder that yesterday’s story at this site may turn out to be tomorrow’s headlines. Back in February 2007, I wrote of our “forgotten war” in Afghanistan. There, civilians were dying in startling numbers, as they are today, and the Taliban was proving resurgent, as it also is today. I listed a set of grim then-recent headlines about those civilian deaths and added: “So goes the repetitive, if ever deepening, tragedy of our other war — and under such headlines lie massive tragedies that seldom make the headlines anywhere. Ann Jones, who has spent much time as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan these last years and wrote a moving book, Kabul in Winter, on her experiences, turns to one of those tragedies: the fate of Afghan women.”

A year and a half later, with the U.S. reportedly planning to ship 12,000-15,000 extra troops to Afghanistan early next year, that tragedy only deepens and, far from turning into ancient history, Jones’s piece might as well have been written yesterday. Or tomorrow — for no matter who becomes president in January 2009, those extra troops are likely to be but an American downpayment on further grim headlines and more suffering for Afghan women.

As you may know, this post by Ann Jones is now in print, chapter 14 of The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008). It’s a book that helps explain tomorrow’s headlines. Why not buy a copy for your friends today — or tomorrow? Tom]

Surging in Afghanistan: Too Much, Too Late?

Despite George W. Bush’s claim that he’s “truly not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden, the administration is erecting 10 “Wanted” billboards in Afghanistan, offering rewards of $25 million for bin Laden, $10 million for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and $1 million for Adam Gadahn, an American member of Al Qaeda, now listed as a “top terrorist.” That’s 10 nice, big, literal signs that the administration is waking up, only seven years after 9/11 and the American “victory” that followed, to its “forgotten war.”

When I wrote this piece for TomDispatch in February 2007, I’d been working intermittently since 2002 with women in Afghanistan — women the Bush administration claimed to have “liberated” by that victory. In all those years, despite some dramatic changes on paper, the real lives of most Afghan women didn’t change a bit, and many actually worsened thanks to the residual widespread infection of men’s minds by germs of Taliban “thought.” Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women outdo men when it comes to suicide.

To transfer those changes from paper to the people, “victory” in Afghanistan should have been followed by the deployment of troops in sufficient numbers to ensure security. Securing the countryside might have enabled the Karzai government installed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to extend its authority while international humanitarian organizations helped Afghans rebuild their country. As everyone knows, of course, that’s hardly what happened.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Walk for Justice FRIDAY 6:30 PM, welcome women to Toronto – TOMORROW

August 29, 2008

Walk4Justice (a 4,700-kilometre trek from Vancouver to Ottawa) Arrives in Toronto to Raise Awareness About Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women

Welcome Reception: Friday August 29th, First Nations House (563 Spadina Ave.)
A meal will be served and the walkers will address the public & the media beginning at 6:30pm.

Hope to see some of you there!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Walk4Justice (a 4,700-kilometre trek from Vancouver to Ottawa) Arrives in Toronto to Raise Awareness About Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women

(August 27, 2008) Hundreds of Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada over the last decades. These tragic deaths received little public attention until Amnesty International took the unprecedented step of investigating a host country, Canada. The organization linked the disproportionate levels of violence experienced by Indigenous women to governmental polices and called the situation a human rights tragedy. While the public is well aware of the horrors that were committed at a Port Coquitlam Farm few know that one third of the women killed were Indigenous. Recently, in one weekend in Toronto the Native community lost Carolyn Connelly and Katelynn Sampson who was only 7 – both murdered.

The Walk4Justice publicly addresses the key issues faced by marginalized, missing, and murdered Indigenous women and their families. They will present a petition to Parliament Hill on September 15th and demand a national inquiry into these deaths and disappearances.

The Walk4Justice is organized by Gladys Radek, whose niece Tamara Chipman went missing on BC’s Highway of Tears, and Bernie Williams, a front-line worker in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, where many Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered. The Walkers left Vancouver on June 21st and arrive in Toronto on August 29th.

The media is welcome at the following public events, organized to welcome and honour the Walk4Justice as they pass through Toronto:

Welcome Reception: Friday August 29th, First Nations House (563 Spadina Ave.)
A meal will be served and the walkers will address the public & the media beginning at 6:30pm.

Public Send-Off: September 2nd, 9am at Allen Gardens (across from the Native Women’s Resource Centre, 191 Gerrard St.). The Walkers will be continuing on to Tyendinaga on September 2nd, and arriving in Ottawa on September 12th. They will be on Parliament Hill September 15th.

A full day of events has been planned at Six Nations, where the Walkers will be welcomed by Bev Jacobs, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. They will also visit the Six Nations Polytechnic, where a tree has been planted in memory of Tashina General, murdered last Spring at the age of 21, and her unborn son, Tucker.

For more information, please contact:

− Audrey Huntley, No More Silence Network Toronto: 416-508-8632
− Gladys Radek, Walk4Justice Organizer: 778-839-0072
− Norma General, Grandmother to Tashina General (Six Nations) 519-445-4238
− Bev Jacobs, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada: 613-878-6922


Listeriosis toll grows, number of food inspectors shrinks

August 27, 2008

One of the key initiatives of neo-liberalism and the so-called “Washington consensus” is massive deregulation. It is often couched as “self-regulation” – the notion that we hand over more and more regulation to the companies that we used to regulate through government agencies. It is notoriously ineffective and in combination with huge cuts to the number of regulators still employed by government, it means that the public is at ever-greater risk from a wide variety of threats. The listeriosis outbreak has led to twelve deaths with more added every few hours. At the same time as our most vulnerable citizens are dying or getting extremely ill, a whistle blower has revealed that things are about to get worse: food safety will be put increasingly in the hands of firms like Maple Leaf which is already cutting corners. In addition, the union representing food safety inspectors has stated that the Harper government has also slashed the number of inspectors still working. This government plans to further deregulate food safety, right at the time when a dozen people – and counting – have died from tainted meat.

So what can we Canadians do?

As a start, write a letter demanding the government: 1) hold a public inquiry into the listeriosis outbreak and its causes, 2) abandon plans for so-called self-regulation of the food industry and 3) increase the budget for inspections to a level that guarantees the safety of Canadians.

I am in the process of doing this.

On the immediate personal level, I’ve gone through my fridge with a fine-tooth comb with the updated (long and growing) list in hand and threw out a couple of more items, just to be on the safe side. I seldom purchase processed meats, but a few occasionally do make it into the grocery basket. My elderly uncle who lives with me likes them. The updated list of tainted items is taped to my fridge door. It is several pages long and contains items most of us would not have associated with Maple Leaf foods. Deli meats and sausages from companies like Schneiders, Shopsy’s, Bittners, Burns and others. Who would have thought that these also came off the assembly lines at the Maple Leaf plant in Toronto?

A Star blogs Political Decoder was wondering the same thing in this post. Here is an excerpt:

Well, I guess JM Schneider has left the smokehouse. At Maple Leaf Foods, CEO MIchael McCain has apologized for the tainted meat related to the outbreak of listeriosis, saying his company will do better in future. Perhaps it’s time for advertisers to do better by giving consumers a break.

You’ve probably seen Schneiders’ folksy TV ads that feature a smokehouse employee who says his wife always complains about the smell in this clothes – but, hey, that’s the price of quality. The ad is shot like an old-time news reel showing employees working together and the old man himself saying nothing but the best gets past him. Okay, nobody thinks it’s a genuine 1920s newsreel, but we do at least expect Schneiders meats come from a Schneiders plant where, in a modern age, employees show the same dedication as in the past. That’s the point of the ad: times change, dedication remains the same.

But no. We find out with this tainted meat scandal at least some of Schneiders meat comes off assembly lines at the Maple Leaf plant in Toronto. It’s the plant linked to meats contaminated with the listeria bacteria, with Schneiders products on the recall list.

[…]

Read this Political Decoder (Star blogs) post: Tainted meat at Maple Leaf: Where’s old man Schneider when you need him?

Read Star HealthZone article and related articles here: Tainted meat toll grows

Recalled products list as of August 25


Toronto cousins land in jail on US shore

August 27, 2008

Two Toronto cousins out jet-skiing. Turbulent Niagara River. US immigration holding cell. What do all these have in common? Read this weird tale to find out. (I still can’t understand what happened, how it happened and why it happened, except that the cousins spent 2 days in a US jail cell. They’d probably still be there if their situation had not come to the attention of some media, thanks to the girlfriend of one of the cousins.)

Here’s an excerpt:

“We were at the bottom of a 15-storey hill; you could not climb up there if you tried. We weren’t even docked,” said Haist. “And we really weren’t sure what side we were on.”

That stop landed the 28-year-old and his cousin, 21, in jail, said A.J. Price, an agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Read this Star article here.


Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Future of Death at the Pentagon

August 27, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers This is the second post in a pre-Labor Day “best of TomDispatch” series. The first was Chalmers Johnson’s 2005 “Smash of Civilizations.” Now, we backpeddle another year to 2004 and reconsider the Pentagon’s ceaseless efforts to dream up and build ever more effective, ever more invasive and destructive weaponry not just for 2010, but for 2020, 2030, 2040, and beyond. The new model car or the next version of the iPhone has nothing on the Pentagon, which fully expects to roll out the next version of destruction until Hell freezes over. This makes TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse’s 2004 piece — in those distant days he still signed his posts “Nicholas” — on ways the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was planning to weaponize the wild kingdom as shiny new as tomorrow’s HDTVs.

A version of this piece would later became part of Turse’s 2008 book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, which will someday be considered a classic on the militarization of American society and should be in your library — yes, I mean you! It’s a shame, really, that TomDispatch pieces, now collected in a new book, The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), hold up so well. If only a better world had made them obsolete — but no such luck. As Chalmers Johnson did, so here Turse provides a new introduction to his old post, reconsidering a world in which, however new its weaponry, the Pentagon is starting to look its age. Tom]

The Pentagon: Some-Things-Never-Change Department

What a difference four and a half years makes. When I first penned “The Wild Weapons of DARPA,” in March 2004, I was a new TomDispatch writer; the war in Iraq was not yet a year old; the war in Afghanistan had been bubbling for less than two and a half years, and I suggested that “what’s left of the USSR is a collapsed group of half-failed states, while the U.S. stands alone as the globe’s sole hyperpower.” Today, I’m the long-time associate editor of TomDispatch.com; the United States, now far from a “hyperpower,” continues to be bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight in either occupation; and a resurgent Russia, now an energy superpower, has only recently invaded the hardly-failed state of Georgia.

Similarly, at that time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s blue-skies research outfit, still looked young and vigorous. Today, DARPA is beginning to show the stresses of age. The agency turned 50 this year and, as Sharon Weinberger reported at Wired Magazine’s Danger Room last month, “its birthday present appears to be another $100 million in budget cuts, according to a Defense Department document…” — and this was on top of a $32 million loss the month before.

Still, much remains the same. Despite current budget cuts, the agency is still “both intellectually and financially, a fabulous and alluring gravy train,” and its funding for the life sciences still offers “a fertile area to further the science of death and destruction.” For example, back in 2004, I wrote that “DARPA has been creating insect databases while increasing efforts to ‘understand how to use endemic insects as collectors of environmental information,'” and I asked: “How long until they start thinking about weaponizing insects as well?” Earlier this year, I answered my own question. Not long was the reply. I reported that DARPA was now working to create cyborg insects for surveillance purposes, and — an even more frightening prospect — “that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with ‘bio weapons.'”

I wish I could claim some special prescience, but that prediction was a total no-brainer. After all, this is just the way the Pentagon operates, whatever changes or budget cuts come down the pike. Four years later, plenty of people have written about various DARPA projects, but most still fail to ask the most salient question: Why does the U.S. government foster unfettered, blue-skies creativity only in the context of lethal technologies (or those that, indirectly, enhance lethality by aiding the functioning of the armed forces)? Some things never change. Nick Turse, August, 2008

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Brampton Peace Vigil, September 7th

August 26, 2008

Mayor Susan Fennell will be holding Brampton’s annual candlelight Peace Vigil on Sunday, September 7th starting at 7 pm. If you live in the area, please attend this event. I will be there and will have available information pamphlets, buttons and sign-up sheets for the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative [CDPI] for those who are interested in learning more or becoming members/supporters of this important initiative. (I have started the new Brampton Chapter of the CDPI several months ago. We are looking for new members.)

Date: September 7
Time: 7 pm
Where: Gage Park in downtown Brampton

** Last year Brampton’s Mayor Fennell joined the Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign and our city officially became a Peace City.