Saturday, March 22, 2003

Human shield & anti-war activist shocked by trip to Iraq

I was a naive fool to be a human shield for Saddam
By Daniel Pepper, The Telegraph, March 23, 2003

. . . I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad - a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was American and said, as we shields always did, "Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good". He looked at me with an expression of incredulity. . .

NOTE: I was contacted on March 25, 2003 by Daniel Pepper who asked me to remove his article. You can read the full account here.

A search revealed an earlier report mentioning Daniel Pepper:
Inside the deluded world of the 'human shields'
By Charlotte Edwards, The Telegraph, March 2, 2003

. . . "Dr Hashimi has explained that we help the population more by staying in the 'strategic sites'," he explained. His friend added: "We play football in the afternoons and the Iraqis bring us cartons of cigarettes. It's just like summer camp."

Not all the sites were as welcoming. Daniel Pepper, a 22-year-old student from Pennsylvania, was not fooled by the oil refinery, despite the comfortable beds with parcels of goodies laid out on the pillows. "The people staying there sleep 50 yards from stacks billowing black smoke." he said. "And it's sinister: 20 minders are there for eight shields. There are three security gates, including one manned by plain-clothed guards carrying AK47s. Most shields want to get out of there and go to the granary.

"We need to negotiate with Dr Hashimi about this." Any negotiations with the Iraqi official, however, would undoubtedly be met with a frosty reception.

The Iraqi government has invested an estimated £10,000 to provide free food and hotel accommodation to the 200 shields and have lost patience with their dithering. It could be argued that this confusion is as much the fault of their leaders as the Iraqi government. On the bus, Sue Darling, who was in touch with Dr Hashimi, had told the shields they would stay with families or in schools, hospitals and orphanges.

"As a former diplomat, I should deal with the Iraqi officials. I speak their language," she said. Once in Baghdad, Ms Darling, who had traded her red puffa-jacket and walking boots for smart suits and Jackie O glasses, quickly acquiesced to the demands of the regime and moved into the granary.

Kevin and Helen Williams, a soft-spoken couple from Wales, were baffled by this volte-face: "We always understood that human shield meant a shield of humans and that we would be allowed to work with Iraqi civilians. Why it is being interpreted differently now?" . . .

Friday, March 21, 2003

UPDATE: Details about Rachel Corey's tragic death slowly emerge
The photos of Rachel Corey on display at the Electronic Intifada have been annotated with rough time estimates of when the pictures were taken. As I originally speculated, the now infamous bullhorn photo was taken at least 45 minutes before her tragic death. Why this important chronological information was absent in the first place remains unadressed. Also left unanswered is the identity of the bulldozer(s) in the photos, -- are these photos really of the same piece of earth-moving equipment? We need to know this answer if we are to correctly identify the driver involved in Rachel's death.

Also newly made available are signed statements of the events by the activists on the International Solidarity Movement site. Unfortunately, two of the four statements made by the witnesses have been scrambled into an unintelligble stream of characters. Hopefully this error will be corrected and, furthermore, scans of all four signed (and notorized?) statements will be posted soon.

Greg Schnabel . . . Rachel was standing in front of this home. As the bulldozer approached she stood her ground. Rachel was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket. She was clearly visible to the bulldozer driver as well as to the soldiers in the tank. The bulldozer began to push up the ground from beneath her feet. The pile of earth was mounding up and she tried her best to stay on top of it. As the ground continued to move Rachel went down on her knees. The bulldozer continued to move forward. Rachel began to become buried beneath the dirt. Still it did not stop. Finally, Rachel was beneath the bulldozer. The bulldozer did not even pick up its blade. It ran over her completely and continued to advance. It stopped when she was completely underneath the body of the bulldozer. It then moved backwards over her body. It moved clear of her and backed away.

Richard Purssell . . . At approximately 16:45 a bulldozer began making a straight run at a house which I now know to belong to a doctor Izmir [sic: Dr. Samir]. At this point the majority of the group were positioned around a wrecked building. We were all within 70 metres of each other. I was to the left of the ruined building and to the right of Dr. [Samir]'s house. Rachel was approximately 15 metres in front of me.

The ground was level and the light was good, I had a good view of everything which happened. Rachel was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket with reflective strips (the type worn by construction workers for high visibility and the avoidance of accidents). Rachel stood to confront the bulldozer and it approached her at about five or six miles an hour. The blade on the bulldozer was dipped into the ground and was scooping up soil.

As the bulldozer came nearer the pile mounted up. Rachel climbed up the pile and at the one stage was looking into the cabin window. There is no way that the driver could not have known she was there. The bulldozer continued driving forwards and Rachel turned round to face in my direction.

She began to slide down the pile, however as soon as her feet touched the ground for some reason she fell forward. Maybe her foot was caught or the weight of the soil pushed her forward. At this point the panic on her face was obvious.

We were all shouting, screaming and gesturing by this stage. The earth was totally pushed over her, engulfing her. She was lost to my sight. I noticed that the driver had not lifted the blade. The machine rolled straight over her and continued for a little way. It then reversed over her and retreated about twenty metres. Rachel was left in its tracks, bleeding from her mouth and twisted.

Still to be determined is the nature of Rachel's death: deliberate or accidental. Again I must call on the ISM members, in the interests of good faith and an impartial investigation, to turn over every roll of film shot on the day of Rachels death to an international recoqnized neutral party. Let the Red Cross or a similar organization carry out an independent investigation whose methods and results won't be tainted by the sinister speculation of a politically contrived conclusion.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The French Elf and the Thief of Baghdad
Two stories, one new and one old, help explain France's defensive position on Iraq is nothing more than a protective measure to keep the free flow of oil and Euros into Paris and the scandal of state corruption out of the press.

'Explosive' Elf scam trial opens

PARIS, March 17 (AFP) - A massive system of government-supported corruption at the formerly state-owned oil company Elf will be exposed when one of the biggest criminal trials ever in modern France opens in Paris Monday.

After eight years of investigations and the accumulation of 250 thick files of evidence, the court will hear the case against 37 suspects accused of benefiting from hundreds of millions of euros embezzled from the now-privatised firm in the early 1990s.

Leading the accused are two men already serving prison terms after being convicted in the trial of former French foreign minister Roland Dumas on related charges: the ex-president of Elf Loik le Floch-Prigent, 59, and his number two Alfred Sirven, 76.

A third key suspect Andre Tarallo, 75, who was known as Elf's Mr Africa for his network of contacts on the continent, was like Dumas acquitted in the first trial.

The three men - who are being tried under the catch-all charge of "abuse of company assets" - are alleged to have enriched themselves to the tune of billions of francs by creaming off the commissions that were systematically paid out by Elf at the time to influential middlemen and foreign leaders.

Sirven, who was extradited from the Philippines to appear in the Dumas trial two years ago, received jewels, a villa in Ibiza and a chateau in central France; Tarallo got property in Paris and Corsica; and Le Floch-Prigent EUR 5 million to pay for a divorce.

The other accused are Elf executives and private intermediaries who are alleged to have arranged pay-offs around the world and helped hide the funds in secret accounts in Switzerland, Luxembourg and other tax-havens.

Investigators believe the trial will reveal the extent of a vast network of influence-buying, originally put in place by the French government as Elf expanded into Africa in the 1960s and 70s, which exploded out of control under Le Floch-Prigent's management between 1989 and 1993.

In a recent interview Dumas said that Elf "gradually turned into a milch-cow. Its capital was used to reward African heads of state, but also - one thing leading to another - to bail out certain empty coffers."

The leaders of several African countries - including Gabon, Angola and Congo - are mentioned in the evidence, though as the payment and receipt of commissions were not itself illegal when the events took place there has been no attempt to bring them to trial.

The judge leading the investigation, Renaud van Ruymbeke, has said he was prevented from discovering the full extent of commissions paid by Elf to African governments because the former Socialist government in Paris declared that much of the evidence was covered by official secrecy laws.

Van Ruymbeke has also been unable to substantiate reports that money paid by Elf came back to France in the form of "retro-commissions" to fund political parties. Before his extradition Sirven boasted that he knew enough to "blow up the republic 20 times over" but he has yet to show his hand.

The trial is expected to last till June.

A "Yes" May Cost France Oil Contracts
Iraq warns France of high price to pay for UN vote
Agence France Presse, December 5, 1999

An official Iraqi newspaper warned France on Sunday of a high price to pay if it sides with the United States in a UN Security Council vote linking a suspension of sanctions to a new disarmament regime.

Such a vote would be "the last straw for Iraqi-French relations," said Babel, a daily run by President Saddam Hussein's elder son, Uday.

As a result it would be "only logical for the French (oil)companies Elf and Total to close their offices in Baghdad and lose the immense concessions which they have won but not yet exploited."

"The numerous advantages which French companies enjoy on the Iraqi market could also be halted," Babel said, protesting that Iraqis had "suffered a lot because of the position adopted by the French government."

Iraq has rejected in advance a British draft resolution at the Security Council that makes a suspension of sanctions conditional on Iraqi cooperation with a new arms control panel.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said Saturday that a vote on the resolution could come "very, very soon."

The Security Council has been divided on Iraq policy since an air war waged in December 1998 by the United States and Britain, which both take a hard line against lifting sanctions.

But a senior US official at the United Nations said Friday that the resolution would finally be voted on within the next week.

The United States backs the British draft, while France has not announced its position but played a role in enhancing a UN humanitarian programme under the resolution.

After having accused Paris at length over several days of abandoning its circle of "friends", Baghdad is counting on Moscow, which has multi-billion dollar interests tied up in Iraq, to block the resolution.

The commentary in Babel, which is run by President Saddam Hussein's son Uday, noted that France had fought against Iraq in the US-led multinational coalition in the conflict over Kuwait.

France took part "in the attacks and the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure," Hashemi said. "An historic opportunity presents itself today (for France) to allow Iraqis to forget the past and turn over a new page," he wrote, warning that "French interests and its standing in the whole region" were at stake.

Sanctions have been in force since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Baghdad insists its weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated and that the time has come for a full and unconditional lifting of sanctions.

A ruling Baath party official, meanwhile, said the extension of the UN oil-for-food programme was nothing more an American "joke" and a ploy to pressure the Security Council into passing the British draft.

"The Security Council ... will assume responsibility for the continuation of the embargo and the agression aimed at exterminating the Iraqi people," said Abdel Ghani Abdel Ghafour.

Iraq has rejected stopgap extensions of the oil-for-food programme since the last phase run out on November 20 and taken its oil off the world market.

The humanitarian programme -- launched in December 1996 in renewable six-monthly phases -- allows Iraq to export crude to finance imports of food and medicine under UN supervision.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Conflicting reports on Rachel Corey's tragic death
A quick comparison of the events as reported by differing sources clearly shows confusion among the eyewitnesses. No doubt these conflicting stories will only hamper the investigation demanded by US officials. Did Rachel stand, sit, lay or stummble into the path of the Israeli bulldozer? Sadly, although there are photos of her last minutes, apparently none captured the definitive moment.

from the Arab News
. . . The woman, identified as 23-year-old Rachel Corey, was lying on the ground in front of an army bulldozer when she was covered with large quantities of sand, Ali Al-Shaar, a witness to the incident, told Reuters. "The American girl was lying in front of the bulldozer when the bulldozer took sand and put it over her," Shaar said. Corey was taken to Al-Najar Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip where doctors said she died from severe skull and chest fractures. "The bulldozer put sand on her and kept crushing her," said Nicholas Dure, a fellow member of the International Solidarity Campaign to Protect the Palestinian People protest group.

from the International Solidarity Movement
. . . The Israeli Army are attempting to dishonour her memory by claiming that Rachel was killed accidentally when she ran in front of the bulldozer. Eye-witnesses to the murder insist that this is totally untrue. Rachel was sitting in the path of the bulldozer as it advanced towards her. When the bulldozer refused to stop or turn aside she climbed up onto the mound of dirt and rubble being gathered in front of it wearing a fluorescent jacket to look directly at the driver who kept on advancing. The bulldozer continued to advance so that she was pulled under the pile of dirt and rubble. After she had disappeared from view the driver kept advancing until the bulldozer was completely on top of her. The driver did not lift the bulldozer blade and so she was crushed beneath it. Then the driver backed off and the seven other ISM activists taking part in the action rushed to dig out her body. An ambulance rushed her to A-Najar hospital where she died.

from the Citizens for Fair Legislation
. . . Witnesses said Rachel Corey, from the state of Washington, was trying to stop a bulldozer from tearing down a building in Rafah, Palestine. A witness, Greg Schnabel, 28, from Chicago, said: "[Rachel Corey] waved for the bulldozer to stop. She fell down and the bulldozer kept going. We yelled 'stop, stop,' and the bulldozer didn't stop at all. It had completely run over her and then it reversed and ran back over her."

from the NY Times
. . . When the bulldozer approached a house today, Ms. Corrie, who was wearing a bright orange jacket, dropped to her knees, a practice that members of the group to which she belonged, the International Solidarity Movement, have used repeatedly, her colleagues at the scene said. As the bulldozer reached her without slowing up, she began to rise, but was trapped beneath a pile of dirt generated by its blade and the blade itself, said one member of the group, Tom Dale, who said he was standing about 30 feet away. "We were shouting and waving our arms at the driver," said Mr. Dale, who is British. "We even had a megaphone. But the bulldozer kept going until she was under the body or the tracks of the bulldozer." The bulldozer stopped for a few seconds and pulled back, Mr. Dale added. Her colleagues rushed to Ms. Corrie, who was bleeding from the head and face and badly wounded, but still breathing. An ambulance took her to Najar Hospital, where she died. She had a fractured skull and other injuries, said Dr. Ali Moussa, a hospital administrator.

from the Palestine Chronicle
. . . "She was sitting in the path of the bulldozer. The bulldozer saw her and ran over her. She ended up completely underneath it," fellow activist Joseph Smith told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "He absolutely knew she was there," added Smith, a 20-year-old student from Missouri.

Making matters worse is the ambiguous chronolgy of the photos as presented. Consider the following statements also from the Palestine Chronicle
. . . The peace activists from the International Solidarity Movement were blocking the paths of two bulldozers and an Israeli tank tearing down Palestinian buildings in the town, which sits on the Gaza Strip's Israeli-controlled border with Egypt. Smith said the group had been active for around an hour, standing on condemned structures and putting themselves in the pathway of the bulldozers, one of which had already pushed an activist against a line of barbed wire.
Now take a careful look at these two photos; 1) a clearly marked Rachel Corrie, holding a megaphone, confronts an Israeli bulldozer driver attempting to demolish a Palestinian home, 2) other peace activists tend to Rachel after being injured by the Israeli bulldozer driver. Notice that the backgrounds do not match -- the outline of the hills, trees, and homes in the distance are clearly different -- so photo #1 can not the presumed "Before" shot as implied. In fact, it isn't even clear if these photos are of the same bulldozer. I do not want to make light of this unfortunate loss, but neither do I wish to see it turned into propaganda. I must urge the ISM members to turn over every roll of film shot on the day of Rachel's death to an internationally recognized neutral party, such as the Red Cross, so that an honest investigation can be conducted.

NOTE: The Guardian has published a series of emails Rachel wrote to her family - they are very honest and revealing and definitely worth reading:

. . . Anyway, I'm rambling. Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I'm witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I'm really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don't think it's an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop.