Friday, August 10, 2007

URGENT: Help Preserve Iraq's National Library and Archive

Through a few people at the British Library and over the IraqCrisis email list today, I received an urgent message from Dr. Saad Eskander, Dir. of Iraq's National Library and Archive (INLA). I don't have time to comment on it at the moment, but I've reprinted the message in full (with a couple inconsequential grammar edits). To whoever reads this--offer help however you can:

Dear ...

I hope this message finds you well.

I would like to inform you that the unruly national guards are continuing their aggression against the INLA and its staff.

This morning, (8 August), a group of Iraqi national guards has broken into the National Library and Archive's main building. By this action, the national guards have violated the instructions of the Council of Ministers, which clearly assert that Iraqi security and armed forces cannot enter any state-run institution without a prior approval of the government and the concerned authorities.

The national guards took their action without consulting or asking me; they simply entered the building by force. As the government declared a 4-day curfew period, I was not able to go the INLA to be with the INLA's guards, who did not know what to do. Therefore, I talked to the commander of the national guards by phone, asking him politely to leave the building immediately. He refused to consider the idea of evacuating the building, claiming that he had orders from his superiors and the Americans to occupy the NILA. He justified his action by claiming that the national guards wanted to protect Shi'i visitors of the holy shrines of al-Kadhimiyah, which is 30 km away from the INLA!!

I would also like to draw your attention to the fact on Monday (6 August), a US military patrol entered the INLA's main building without my permission. The commander of the patrol interrogated the INLA's guards and ordered them to show their IDs. Please note, this was not the first time in which US patrols entered the INLA without my permission. In July, US soldiers entered the INLA three times. It seems clear to me that the actions of US soldiers have encouraged Iraqi national guards to do the same, i.e. entering and then occupying the building by force.

By the way, US army units and the national guards have their own bases in the same old building of the Ministry of Defense, where they coordinate their security efforts. The old building of the Ministry of Defense is just opposite the INLA. I contacted US authorities In Baghdad indirectly, hoping to stop the violations and the unlawful actions of both US soldiers and Iraqi national guards against the INLA and its staff. They showed no interest whatsoever.

My staff and I have spent a lot of time and efforts on the reconstruction of the INLA, after it was destroyed in mid-April 2003. The reckless actions of US Army and the Iraqi National Guards will put the INLA's staff and library and archival collections in real danger. I hold both US Army and the Iraqi National Guards responsible for all future material damages, cultural losses and human casualties.

I need your support and that of your colleagues.

I will ask some of my friends in Europe to support us whatever the means. I will not cease my efforts to expose the wrongdoings of the national guards and those who are behind them.

As Ever,
Saad Eskander

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The End of Law and Democracy?

Last week, Congress yet again green-lighted the erasure of law and democracy in America. Thanks be to those gutless losers.

Now that the Bush Administration's most recent, just as flagrantly unconstitutional anti-terrorism bill is solidified as law, the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is finally torn asunder. The NSA can now monitor any electronic communications between foreigners and Americans without warrants and without challenges from the FISA court.

"Every day that Congress puts off these reforms increases the danger to our nation," Bush would have said in a July 28 radio address, had Senator John D. Rockefeller IV not requested that the statement be removed. Now that Bush got his way, spies are probably already poring over millions of Skype calls between Arab college kids and their parents back home. They'll be plenty busy for the next six months, I'm sure: Al-Qaeda means "The Base" in Arabic, a prosaic set of words that, in all likelihood, find their way into conversations at least a million times a week among the world's Arabs and Arabic-speakers.

No doubt, this passage happened so fast that most Americans hardly had time to consider it. They were busy reading Harry Potter, saving each other from a collapsed bridge or just working to make end's meet. I, for one, spent the overwhelming majority of my time last week at work, calling countless businesses a day and hawking catalogs. Fortunately, my parents pay my rent and I can read the paper at night. But I never called my Senator and I lucked out: Hillary Clinton didn't vote for this bill.

I'm thinking that if I was a single mother, worked at a supermarket or mall over 30 miles from home, rose early every day and returned by nightfall to pull in hardly enough money to feed two kids, I'd have a lot less time and energy to read the paper every day, let alone make sure my Senator didn't screw democracy for good in a bit of surprise legislation.

This happened fast, that's for sure--just like the passing of the Military Commissions Act last year, which bans the writ of habeas corpus for "illegal enemy combatants," legalizes "enhanced interrogation" techniques and essentially lets the Administration detain anyone they want for as long as they want without trying them in a court of law first.

I've come to believe that we are mired in a hellish "Groundhog Day" scenario. In the middle of an election campaign, most of our Congressmen clearly don't need much prodding to buy the argument that legal restrictions enable violent terrorist cells and hamper the work of intelligence agencies. Of course, this rhetoric takes for granted a professional, nonpartisan air among Bush cronies. This in turn completely ignores the reality that the Administration has done almost everything in its power to make the war on terrorism an abject failure.

Limiting our constitutional freedoms won't magically lead us to victory against terrorist cells that lurk among us, but it will strengthen a totalitarian system of panoptic controls. At any rate, reality doesn't appear to matter to most of our lawmakers. What matters is winning brownie points for adhering to the false sense of reality that the Bush Administration and its supporters have deftly advanced for so long.

Law and democracy in America has not finally been obliterated, I believe. In six months the bill is set to be deliberated over again. Our two main contenders for the presidency, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, didn't vote for the bill. So I have some hope for seeing progressive change in the future.

Nevertheless, Bush still has more than a year to go and, judging by his track record, I expect to see at least one more unconstitutional bill reach the floor of Congress before he is out. So if we ever expect democracy to survive this horrid chapter in our history, our Democrat-controlled Congress needs to grow a spine.

Quick update on...stuff...

I'm sure you've noticed that some of the countries in my topics section are not capitalized. No, I'm not trying to convey some poetic coolness that doesn't require the use of proper grammar. I just can't figure out why blogger won't let me rewrite these labels how I want them. I'm working on it.

I should mention: I've got a modest bucket-load of writing assignments and ideas on my plate at the moment, including this feature on the fate of Iraq's archeological sites and art. So to all 10 or so of my faithful readers, I say keep your eyes peeled.