Iraqi Kurds protest Iranian bombardment

The Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq (KRG) issued a press release on Friday protesting Iran’s bombardment of the border regions in their fight against Iranian Kurdish rebels in PJAK. According to the October 2nd press release, two sub-districts in the Kurdish Region of Iraq were subjected to heavy bombardment from Iran, most likely by shelling and Katyusha rockets, based on past strikes.

The KRG maintains some distance from groups like the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party, in Turkey) and PJAK because they are concerned about these such military actions, which they consider a violation of sovereignty. But the regional government also hasn’t taken particularly strong action against the rebels using their territory as a base of operations.

However, the statement doesn’t quite read as an accurate representation of the situation:

The Islamic Republic of Iran has severely bombarded the border areas of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq without any justification in clear violation of the sovereignty of Iraq and of the territory of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

If an armed terrorist organizations is attempting to bring down your government, you probably do feel like you have justification, whether or not it’s a violation of sovereignty.

The KRG still does have a legitimate complaint, and they’re in an awkward position of not wanting to antagonize either the neighboring countries or the other ethnic Kurdish groups, with whom they feel some solidarity, by rooting them out. But it’s probably unlikely that their request will be met:

Continued bombardment of such border areas is not in the interest of good neighbourly relations. Therefore, we urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately cease the unjustified bombardment of the border area and respect the sovereignty of Iraq, international law, and the peaceful will of the people of the Kurdistan Region.

This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

One of the main arguments in support of the death penalty is that with all of the litigation and the many years of waiting on death row, it would be impossible to execute an innocent person. Given that a number of prisoners on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence, there may indeed have been some innocent people killed (since DNA evidence is not present in every crime, despite what we see on CSI). Until now, however, there has never been one case that we can say with a good amount of certainty that the man was probably innocent. From the New Yorker’s David Grann comes the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for starting a fire that killed his three children. Though the evidence seemed airtight at the time of the trial, there are some serious holes. The arson experts who studied the house had no real scientific training. There was never any motive for the murders. The prosecution had convinced the jury that a Led Zepplin poster and a skull tattoo were evidence of cult-like actions. Nevertheless, Willingham was executed. In recent years, Texas has been reviewing the evidence and may state next year that they believe he was innocent. If that happens, it will be a major landmark in our national debate over the death penalty.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Yet another reason the US Senate sucks

Yeah, I get the need for compromise in 1789 to get the Constitution passed, and I can see how back in the day it made sense to worry that some states would be trampled by others. But that matters less and less these days as the country is far more unified than before, with regional concerns often trumping state-by-state concerns. And thus the Senate serves as an undemocratic obstruction to passing sound policy backed by the country.

Specifically, on health care reform, 40 Republicans elected by 44.2 million voting Americans are able to stall and block 55 Democrats and independents elected by 79.8 million voters, with help from 5 obstructionist Democrats who were elected by a mere 2.5 million voters.

We know the polling data shows overwhelming public support for serious health care reform. We know that 79.8 million Americans voted for 55 US Senators (or their predecessors for the appointees) who support this reform. And yet 40 lousy Republicans concentrated in a decreasing number of states – mostly in the southern United States – backed by half as many voters are able to stall things to the point where health care reform is in danger again.

The US Senate sucks. It’s great when you’re in it, but it’s not so good for the rest of America. And, in my view, it’s getting pretty obsolete.

Originally published at Starboard Broadside

Little Somalia?

The political mess in Guinea-Bissau, a small former Portuguese colony on the coast of West Africa, has gotten to the point where the United Nations found that drug traffickers are leaving due to perpetual instability. When the traffickers leave, it’s pretty much a failed state. Is Guinea-Bissau the next Somalia? There’s an election today, but nobody expects anything useful to happen.

Recent events include (NYT, link above):

First the general was blown up. Then the president was shot dead, the former prime minister was arrested and tortured, a presidential candidate was killed in his villa, and the former defense minister was ambushed and shot on the bridge outside town.

So people have pretty much given up there. At least there still is a government.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

US Unemployment at 16.4% (U6)

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means today’s labor report is out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for last month. The U6 unemployment rate nationwide hit 16.4% for May 2009.

This is much higher than the normally quoted U3 rate, of course, in case that seems high to you. But as I explained when the February data came out, we should be looking at the U6 to get an accurate understanding of the situation. I encourage you to read that post, if you didn’t before, since understanding the difference between the “official rate” and the U6 rate is critical, in my opinion, to understanding the US economy, especially when we’re not in a recession.

I call the U6 “real” unemployment, just like people talk about “real” wage growth (which accounts for inflation).

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

“CIA official: no proof harsh techniques stopped terror attacks”

Oh? That headline comes from McClatchy DC:

WASHINGTON — The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.

That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off terrorist attacks.

Unsurprising. Didn’t know it had been found codified yet in an official document. There was a Bush speech in 2006 that explains that a foiled 2002 plot was later identified by torturing KSM in 2003, suggesting that some information was gained but not anything vital or time-sensitive that stopped an attack. The 183 waterboardings just explained to the CIA which plot had been stopped previously by a local arrest of an Al Qaeda agent.

By the way, I skimmed and read parts of the 2005 Bradbury memo, which the McClatchy article above mentions later as citing (and contradicting) the 2004 memo. I didn’t get to that part yet, but I’ll check into it.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Torture “safety measures”

More disturbing discoveries in the torture memos: doctors were on hand with equipment to perform emergency tracheotomies on detainees in case they stopped breathing properly due to extensive water boarding.

You know, where they cut a hole in your throat so you can get enough air not to die.

I don’t understand how people can still insist this wasn’t torture.

I’ve crawled through several sections of the 2005 memo cited (pdf) myself now. The tracheotomy part can be found in the second paragraph of page 14. (I actually read the memo backward for some reason, but this particular part is on p. 14). I’ve also found from reading it that these rules were created pretty much in response to worse torture before this, such as the repeated waterboarding of KSM 183 times in one month… though they don’t acknowledge that.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.