Two days ago an email came from an Iraqi doctor in Baghdad in response to a brief greeting I sent for the month of Ramadan.

“Thanks so much for remembering us…In fact we are the same if not worse. Our hearts are broken at the organized ruining of our country. We are targeted by those criminals and gangs coming from everywhere, even from the west who are all witnessing this drama and, if not supporting it, are keeping silent. We wonder what sin we committed to face this gloomy black fate. In fact, what is going on is beyond words.”

This courageous woman doctor never left the side of gravely ill children despite the great exodus of doctors due to kidnappings, assassinations and threats to their lives and families. Sadly she reports that another of her siblings has cancer, and she needs to leave the medical students for some days. This happens she says regretfully in “the critical time of final exams.” She herself is a cancer survivor and both her mother and sister had cancer. They have no choice, she says, but to go on and try to survive.

Another longtime friend is working in southern Iraq in a job that will soon end. He is away from his family in Baghdad, and it is dangerous for him in the south, but he has no choice with a wife and seven children to support. There was already an assassination attempt on his life in Baghdad and houses near their own have been bombed. There are nightly explosions and gunfire, assassinations and kidnappings. Approximately 200 people across Iraq have been killed each day in this month alone.

We have been frantically trying to find a safe place for him and his family to escape to. If they could go to Kurdistan they would join the ranks of the already three million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) within Iraq. If they could get to Turkey, they might eventually get refugee status. But it is expensive there, they don’t speak the language, are not allowed to work and resettlement could take years.

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Last week CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling went to prison. If he were white, he probably wouldn’t be there.

Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American case officers, and he became the first to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency. That happened shortly before the CIA fired him in late 2001. The official in Langley who did the firing face-to-face was John Brennan, now the CIA’s director and a close adviser to President Obama.

Five months ago, in court, prosecutors kept claiming that Sterling’s pursuit of the racial-bias lawsuit showed a key “motive” for providing classified information to journalist James Risen. The government’s case at the highly problematic trial was built entirely on circumstantial evidence. Lacking anything more, the prosecution hammered on ostensible motives, telling the jury that Sterling’s “anger,” “bitterness” and “selfishness” had caused him to reveal CIA secrets.

But the history of Sterling’s conflicts with the CIA has involved a pattern of top-down retaliation. Sterling became a problem for high-ranking officials, who surely did not like the bad publicity that his unprecedented lawsuit generated. And Sterling caused further hostility in high places when, in the spring of 2003, he went through channels to tell Senate Intelligence Committee staffers of his concerns about the CIA’s reckless Operation Merlin, which had given Iran some flawed design information for a nuclear weapons component.

Among the U.S. government’s advantages at the trial last winter was the fact that the jury did not include a single African-American. And it was drawn from a jury pool imbued with the CIA-friendly company town atmosphere of Northern Virginia.

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The White House recently announced that Obama has approved a plan to send 450 new troops into Iraq to fight ISIS. These “troops” aren’t ground troops, but instead are going in an adviser role to assist the Iraqi military.

Now, everyone who believes that please, go stand on your head.

It’s been four years since the US “officially” pulled their ground troops out of Iraq, yet CNN reports that, “There are currently 3,050 U.S. forces in Iraq – with 2,250 of them devoted to supporting Iraqi security forces, 800 protecting US personnel and facilities, 450 training Iraqi troops and 200 in advising and assisting roles.”

Does it sound like war has ended in Iraq for the US military? Does it sound like the taxpayer is all of the sudden not going to have their money stolen to benefit the military-industrial complex? Does it sound like, in such a war torn country (thanks in no small part to the US), that these new 450 soldiers will really have much of a choice in whether they’re combat troops or not?

I am also unsure how it could even be tracked whether these troops stay in their “adviser” role. Maybe some decide to go off and shoot some folks anyway. How would we know? Or maybe there will be some who are de facto turned into ground troops because of the unpredictability of war torn countries. There are many questions about unaccountability that need to be answered.

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The State Department is struggling to make up its minds on the Iraqi Shi’ite militias in the ISIS war, declaring Iran to be financing “terror-related activities” for supporting those militias, which are the same militias fighting on the same side as the US in Iraq.

including Iran in the annual terror report at all is a risky decision, as Congressional hawks are likely to try to use this to block efforts to ease sanctions as part of the final nuclear deal, though they tried to thread the needle by insisting that Iran isn’t plotting against the US, and that the Shi’ite militias in Iraq aren’t either.

Ultimately though, putting Iran in the report is a surprising decision both for the impact on sanctions and what it might mean for US-Iraqi relations, since they are in bed with these same militias.

The US has pressed Iraq on the militias for quite some time, and has tried to sideline the Shi’ite militias in favor of Sunni factions in Anbar Province, hoping this will ease sectarian tensions. So far, though, there hasn’t been much in the way of Sunni militias to bring on board.

Israeli officials are usually pretty mad at the UN for something they did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say. Today, Ambassador Ron Prosor’s outrage centered around a new UN report on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in the occupied territories, a report he complains mentions Israel altogether too much.

The report was supposed to be something of a compromise. The UN issued a recent report on violence against children in warzones worldwide, and was facing intense US and Israeli pressure not to mention Israel in this, despite the large death toll among children in last summer’s Israeli invasion of Gaza. In the end, they didn’t mention Israel in that official report, but released a separate report about Israel.

But the UN can’t win with Israel, and Prosor complained that the report about Israel, which again, was a report about Israel, mentioned Israel way more than it mentioned ISIS.

That would’ve been a fair complaint if Israel had been in the main report, where ISIS was one of the many violators spotlighted, but it seems absurd that Israel should expect, having gotten out of that report entirely, that this lesser report would also focus on countries other than Israel, even though it’s a report explicitly about Israel.

… or at least he tried to butcher them.  On this day 800 years ago, King John was compelled to sign Magna Charta, formally accepting a limit to his prerogative to ravage everything in England.  But the ink on his signature was barely dry before he brought in foreign forces and tried to wipe out the barons who had compelled him to sign the Charta.  The English almost lost their newly-recognized rights within months of the signing because they were not sufficiently suspicious of the King. As David Hume noted in his magisterial History of England, “The ravenous and barbarous mercenaries, incited by a cruel and enraged prince, were let loose against the estates, tenants, manors, houses, parks of the barons, and spread devastation over the face of the kingdom. Nothing was to be seen but the flames of villages and castles reduced to ashes, the consternation and misery of the inhabitants, tortures exercised by the soldiery to make them reveal their concealed treasures…”

Few people recall that Pope Innocent speedily sought to annul the charter and formally absolved King John of any obligation to obey Magna Charta.  English liberties received a boost from the death of King John less than a year after Runnymede.

The real lesson of Magna Charta is that solemn pledges do not make tyrants trustworthy.  Similarly, American presidents are required to pledge upon taking office that “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully… preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” At this point, that oath does little more than spur cheers from high school civics teachers.  It has been more than 40 years since any president paid a serious price for trampling the law.  And presidents have a prerogative to trample constitutional rights as long as they periodically proclaim their devotion to democracy.

In the final realm, Magna Charta was simply a political promise – and it would only be honored insofar as private courage, resolution, and weaponry compelled sovereigns to limit their abuses.

For an excellent analysis of why the heritage of Magna Charta did not prove a panacea in this nation, see Anthony Gregory’s The Power of Habeas Corpus in America (Cambridge, 2013).

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Here’s David Hume’s account of what happened after Magna Charta was signed (copied from the excellent Liberty Fund online version of Hume’s history): Continue