Thursday, January 31, 2013

Congress was as bad as the press today

Ava here filling in for Trina to cover the Senate Armed Services hearing today on the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.

C.I. really nails it in the snapshot, the main thing to notice was how tired Hagel was, how unprepared, how he stumbled, how he fumbled.

This is who the Defense Dept. is going to be entrusted too?

I would like to echo C.I. in noting that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand deserves no praise.

She waited until the very last seconds of her questions -- after seven minutes of talking -- to offer those 19 words on assault and rape within the ranks of the military.

That is nothing to praise.

As C.I. has pointed out for weeks now, the post is an administrator.  Secretary of Defense does not do the President's job.  So how about asking questions that actually mattered?

Gillibrand spent more time on Israel than anything else.

It's a real shame that the Senate, in this multi-hour hearing (it went on forever -- forever), could not make time for serious questions about addressing suicide and assault.

These are the issues that the next Secretary of Defense will be addressing.

For weeks and weeks, we've seen the press jerk-off daily when exploring the topic of Secretary of Defense.  Now we saw the bulk of Congress do the same.

Instead of doing their job and being sure that the person over the Defense Dept. is going to be focused on protecting the members of the military.

And, to be honest, Hagel did not appear to have the energy to tackle those issues.

Now here's  C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, January 31, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq confirms they are holding a Le Monde journalist, flooding throughout Iraq, a dam breaks, people are evacuated, former US Senator Chuck Hagel (Barack's nominee to be US Secretary of Defense) appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and more.

In the moment that probably best captured 'support' for Chuck Hagel and his 'team skills' in today's Senate Armed Services Committee, 85-year-old John Warner was pulled out of mouthballs to drone on about Hagel ("of how he will serve the president") this afternoon.  Warner left the Senate four years ago.  And, if you know Warner (I do), you know if he's talking his time in the Senate, he can't shut up about his attendance record.  Some might point out with that voting record, attendance is better focused on.  But that's what Hagel had to offer for his defense, a retired US Senator, someone who only got into the Senate to begin with because of Elizabeth Taylor, someone who thought small and played the country mouse in the big bad Senate.  That was what Hagel was reduced to: A geriatric with no notable achievements singing his praises.  The hair deserves remarking on as well. Hagel probably thought he was wearing a longer Caesar cut but with it bushing out on the sides it looked more like a modified Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls era but with a tad more length in the back, it could have been a Maude.  But it seemed more Golden Girl, especially as he stumbled throughout the hearing, often taking long pauses to complete his thought in the midst of a sentence.  Is Hagel mentally up to the challenge of being Secretary of Defense? 

We've noted before the position needs someone with passion and energy and, for that reason, stated that former US House Rep and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy should be considered and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice should be considered for the post.  Those aren't the only two.  But watching today as Hagel looked like Bea Arthur and testified like Deputy Dawg, the issue of energy level needs to be raised.

In the questioning, Committee Chair Carl Levin was most concerned with the issue of the relationships between the governments of Iran and the US and whether Hagel could reconcile his various positions over the years on sanctions.  Hagel stated he was for sanctions -- when they were multi-lateral.  But he admitted he had opposed unilateral sanctions in the past.

Senator Chuck Hagel:  As to my records on votes in the Senate regarding unilateral sanctions, I have differed on some of those.  I have voted for some as well.  Uh, it was always on a case-by-case basis when I, uh, voted against some of those unilateral sanctions on Iran.  It was a different time.  For example, I believe one was in, uh, 2001, 2002.  We were in a different place with Iran during that time.  Matter of fact, uh, I recall the Bush administration did not want a renewal -- a five-year renewal of ILSA [the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996] during that time because, uh, they weren't sure of the effectiveness on sanctions.  That, uh, wasn't the only reason I voted against it.  It was because I thought that there might be other ways to, uh, employ-employ our, uh, vast ability to harness power and allies.  It was never a question of did I disagree with the objective.  The objective is, I think, very clear uh-uh to both of us.  Uhm, I recall for example in, uh, 2008, Secretary of State [Condi] Rice sending a letter to the Finance Committee, Senator [Max] Baucus requesting that, uh, a sanction resolution, unilateral, in the Finance Committee, not come out of the, uh, Finance Committee because the Bush administration at the time was working with the, uh, Russians specifically but with the Security-Council of the United Nations to try to get international sanctions which, I think, that effort in 2008 led to the, uh, 2010 international sanctions

Committee Chair Carl Levin: Can you give us your view on the size of the US force which might be necessary, or would be necessary, after 2014?  The so-called 'residual force,' if you have an opinion on the size.  You indicated in your opening statements, two missions for that residual force.  Can you also give us your opinion of the size of the Afghan National Security force after 2014 and whether you agree with me and Senator Lindsay Graham on this Committee and others that we ought to reconsider the position that the Afghan National Security Force should be reduced by a third starting in 2014 -- to about 230,000 from what it's current goal is which is about 350,000.

Chuck Hagel:   Uh, as you all, uh, know now, General Allen has presented his options to the president for the president's consideration.  As far as I know, as of this morning, the president had not made a decision, uhm, uh, on what a residual force -- numbers-wise -- would look like?  I have not been included inn those discussions, so I-I don't know other than knowing that he's got a range of options as you do.  But I would say that from what the president has told me, what Secretary Panetta has told me,  that that decision will be made to assure resourcing the mission and the capability of that mission.  As to, uh, what kind of a force structure should, uh, eventually be in place by the Afghans, I don't know enough about the specifics to give you, uh, a good answer other than that I think that has to be uh-uh a decision that is, uh, made certainly with the president of Afghanistan, uh, what we can do to continue to support and train and, uh, protect our interests within the scope of our  ability to do that.  Obviously, the immunity for our troops is an issue which was an issue in Iraq.  All of those consider -- considerations will be -- will be important and will be made if I'm confirmed and in the position to give the President advice on that.  I will, with consultations of our commanders on the ground and our chiefs, give him, the best, uh, options that we can provide.

Hagel was willing to say anything.  Fortunately for him, the senators were, with few exceptions, willing to play along and nod.  Far too much time was spent on Israel -- that includes some very annoying testimony from Senators Jack Reed and Kay Hagen who seemed to be in a competition over who would win Most Loyal To Israel (Hagan won by a hair, if only because she could boast of the most recent visit).  Senators -- and those were just two of them -- felt the need to discuss Israel and what Hagel had told them privately and how they were so glad to know that it would be an act of war for Palestine to declare the area their own, that Hagel favored a two-state solution and all the other sop that's always tossed out.

I find Hagel's remark referring to the "Jewish lobby" objectionable.  I've stated that before.  Hagel addressed that (more than once) in his testimony.  He said, on the record, that he mispoke and that it was one time.  For me, that one time on the record (answering on the record) was more than enough.  I found him to be believable on that issue because he spoke in what I took to be an honest manner. Also true, he proved himself to be a very poor speaker throughout his testimony.  When Senator Bill Nelson (I know Bill and like Bill) wasted everyone's time giving Hagel a make up test (after he failed to answer Senator John McCain's basic question), Hagel insisted his opposition to the 'surge' in Iraq, "We lost almost 1200 dead Americans in the surge."  The 'surge' was an escalation, an increase, in the number of US troops on the ground in Iraq following the 2006 elections.  The 'surge' was a failure.  We'll talk about that in a moment but "We lost almost 1200 dead Americans in the surge"?  We lost those dead Americans?  And we're not searching for them still?  "We lost almost 1200 Americans in the surge" is how you word what he was attempting to say.

Let's go back to the surge.  It allowed Iraq to be noted for a few seconds by a body that did nothing to stop the Iraq War.  Hagel did nothing to stop it and that's on him. 

Senator John McCain:  Senator Hagel, members of this Committee will raise questions reflecting concerns with your policy positions.  They're not reasonable people disagreeing, they're fundamental disagreements.  Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security including security in the Middle East.  With that in mind, let me begin with your opposition to the surge in Iraq.  2006, we lost -- Republicans lost -- the election and we began the surge and you wrote a piece in the Washington Post called "Leaving Iraq Honorably."  In 2007, you said it's not in the national interest to deepen its involvement.  In January, 2007, in a rather bizarre exchange with Secretary Rice, in the Foreign Relations Committee, after some nonsense about Syria and crossing the border into Iran and Syria because of the surge and a reference to Cambodia in 1970, you said, "When you set in motion the kind of policy the president's talking about here, it's very, very dangerous.  Matter of fact, I have to say, Madam Secretary, I think the speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.  If it's carried out, I will resist it." And then, of course, you continued on and on for months afterwards talking about what a disaster the surge would be, even to the point where it was clear the surge was succeeding.  In March 2008, you said, "Here the term quagmire could apply.  Some reject that term, but if that's not a quagmire, then what is?"  Even as late as August 29, 2011, in an interview -- 2011 -- in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, "I disagreed with the president -- Obama --  his decision to surge in Iraq, because I disagreed with President Bush on the surge in Iraq."  Do you -- do you stand by that -- those -- those comments, Senator Hagel?

Senator Chuck Hagel:  Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them and --

Senator John McCain: -- stand by --  Were you right? 

Chuck Hagel:  Well --

Senator John McCain:  Were you correct in your assessment?

Chuck Hagel:  Well I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.  But I'll --

Senator John McCain: I think -- this  Committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.

Chuck Hagel: I'll explain why I made those comments and I believe I had but --

Senator John McCain: I want to know if you were right or wrong?  That's a direct question, I expect a direct answer.

Chuck Hagel:  The surge assisted in the objective.  But-but if we review the record a little bit --

Senator John McCain: Will you please answer the question?  Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam?  Were you correct or incorrect?

Chuck Hagel:  My --

Senator John McCain: Yes or no?

Chuck Hagel:  My reference to the surge being  --

Senator John McCain: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel?  The question is: Were you right or wrong?  That's a pretty straighforward question.

Chuck Hagel: Well --

Senator John McCain: I would  -- I would like to answer whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.

Chuck Hagel:  Well I'm not going to give you a "yes" or "no" answer on a lot of things today.

Senator John McCain:   Well let the the record show that you refused to answer that question.  Now please go ahead.

Chuck Hagel:  Well, if you would like me to explain why --

Senator John McCain: No, I actually would like an answer.  Yes or no?

Chuck Hagel: Well I'm not going to give you a yes or no. I think it's --

Senator John McCain: Okay.

Chuck Hagel:  -- far more complicated than that.  As I've already said, my answer is I'll defer that judgment to history.  As to the comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam?  Was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into Iraq.  That particular decision that was made on the surge -- but more to the point, our war in Iraq -- I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam.  Aside, uh, from the costs that occurred in this country, uh, in blood and treasure, aside from what that did to, uh, take our focus off of Afghanistan -- which in fact, uh,  was-was the original and real focus of a national threat to this country -- uh, Iraq wa-wa-was not -- I always, uh,  tried to frame all the different issues before I made a decision on anything.  Now just as you said, Senator, we can have differences of opinion, uh,  --

Senator John McCain: But --

Chuck Hagel: -- that's essentially why I took the position I did.

Senator John McCain: It's a fundamental difference of opinion, Senator Hagel.  And Senator Graham and I and Senator [Joe] Lieberman -- when there were 59 votes in the United States Senate --  spent our time trying to prevent that 60th.  Thank God for Senator Lieberman.  I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it.  And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not.  I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans.

Chuck Hagel: Well, Senator, there was --there was more to it than just flooding a zone.

Senator John McCain: I'm asking about the surge, Senator Hagel.

Chuck Hagel: I know you are and I'm trying to explain my position.  The beginning of the surge also factored in what General Allen had put into place in Anbar Province -- the Sunni Awakening.  We put over, as you know, a hundred thousand young --

Senator John McCain: Senator Hagel, I'm very aware of the history of the surge and the Anbar Awakening and I also am aware that any casual observer will know that the surge was the fundamental factor, led by two great leaders, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
Chuck Hagel:  Well I don't know if-if that would have been required and cost us over a thousand American lives and thousands of  wounded.

Senator John McCain: So you don't know if the surge would have been required?  Okay, Senator Hagel, let me go back -- to to Syria now.  More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria.  Do you believe --

The surge was a failure.  That Hagel can't answer the question -- regardless of where he stands -- is disturbing.  If you can't answer that basic of a question, what questions will you be able to answer before the Congress?  We are aware that if Hagel's confirmed, he'll be appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to provide testimony many times in the future, right? 

I say the surge was a failure.  The US military did what was asked of them.  And the military was supposed to provide stability and security.  They did that.  Ethnic cleansing -- popularly called "a civil war" -- had taken place (2006 through 2007) and violence went down.  Some will argue that it went down because the ethnic cleansing was over.  No.  As we've seen since, it has not been over.  The ethnic cleansing that takes place also creates a 'surge' in refugees -- Iraq becomes the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East during this period.  Over 4 million external refugees, many displaced internally within the country as well.  Others try to tie in the Sahwa ("Awakening") and point that the purchasing of loyalty (resistance fighters paid to stop attacking US equipment and US troops) and that can be a factor as well.  But the US military was given a task and they performed it and they achieved their goal.

So why is the surge a failure?  Bully Boy Bush did not just send more troops over to Iraq.  He also gave 12 benchmarks to measure 'success' and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to those benchmarks.  The surge had two parts, the military would provide security and stability and, during this calmer period, US diplomatic staff would work with Iraqi politicians so that the needed political actions could take place.  What was needed?  That was defined in the benchmarks.  (No surprise, the US government was most interested in an oil and gas law.)

The US military did what was asked of them and they were successful in that task.  But the space they successfully created was not utilized.  Bully Boy Bush was not speaking publicly about the ethnic cleansing.  He was concerned -- by his own remarks -- with creating the space that he just knew would allow Iraq to move forward.  That did not happen.

Is that what Hagel believes?  We don't know because he wouldn't answer.  He wouldn't answer what McCain rightly pointed out was a very basic question.  That's really bothersome.  If you can't defend your statements, how are you going to defend a department?  If you can't answer a basic question the Congress asks, how are you going to answer tough questions from the Congress if confirmed?  If you care so little about being upfront with the American people (and members of Congress are the representatives of the American people) during your nomination period, are we supposed to believe that you'll suddenly be more interested in being upfront after a confirmation vote?

Hagel's confirmation hearing put to rest (for me) the issue of the "Jewish lobby."  It also provided a number of senators with the time to compete for the title of Israel's BFF.  But it also provided Hagel and Hagel -- his low energy level, his inability to answer basic questions -- actually raised more issues and questions than a confirmation hearing is expected to.

Senator Claire McCaskill moved quickly through her questioning and was probably one of the three strongest in the hearing of any senator.  (The weakest?  Senator Joe Manchin who couldn't stop whining or whimpering about wishing he could have served in the Senate with Hagel -- at one point his voice quivered on this topic and you had to wonder if Manchin has Daddy issues.)  We'll jump in near the end of McCaskill's exchange for a question that will determine his tenure if he's confirmed and for an important issue that will be a huge issue in the next four years.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  . . . and some people on the Committee are going, "Oh, here she goes on contracting," but auditability of the Defense Dept.  I know that you've stated in some of the advanced policy questions that you want to hold people accountable on auditability.  I don't think most Americans realize that as we face shrinking budgets and as we want to secure  the pre-eminance of our military and not hollow out the spending  at the Defense Dept, that auditability is a crucial ingredient to us being able to figure out whether all the money being spent there is being spent like Americans would want it to be spent.  Can you reassure me that auditability -- as prescribed by law, coming through this Committee -- that it needs to happen no later than 2017 -- can you make a commitment to me today on the record, that that will be a priority of yours, making sure that, as Secretary Panetta did and Secretary Gates before him, that auditability will be an essential priority in your time at defense?

Chuck Hagel:  As I told you, Senator, I will.  Uh, I make that commitment to this Committee.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  And then turning to contracting, I have yet to have, uhm, provided to me other than raw numbers that we spent any data that would indicate that major infrastructure rebuilding as part of a counter-insurgency strategy works.  There are many things that work in a counter-insurgency strategy and one of them, as it was originally posed to me, back some six years ago on this Committee by General Petraeus was that the CERP Funds -- the Commander Emergency Response Program -- that walking around money to fix plate glass windows and neighborhoods, that that was an essential part of the COIN strategy.  That morphed into our military building major infrastructure projects without really any data ever to indicate that the billions of dollars that we were spending was in fact advancing our mission -- our military mission.  In addition to that, it is clear if you want to look at Iraq and the failures that Iraq represents in some ways, one of the failures is the crumbling investments that this country made in Iraq -- the health centers that never opened, the water parks that sit crumbling, the power facilities that were blown up before they even had an opportunity to operate.  I can go down billions of dollars of waste because we didn't do the analysis on sustainability after we have left.  I am convinced that we have made the same mistakes in Afghanistan and I would like your response to this issue of major infrastructure building while we are in a conflict being conducted by our military -- not by AID, not by our State Dept -- and whether or not you would make a commitment to come back to this Committee with a report analyzing whether or not there is data to support that aspect of the COIN strategy?

Chuck Hagel:  Well I will make that commitment and, uh, it is part of the larger, uh, series of questions and, uh, factors always involved, uh, when, uh, a nation gets uh-uh clearly committed as we were -- still are -- in Afghanistan and were in Iraq for years.  When you are at war, the highest first priority is to take care of your people and uh, and, uh-uh, as a result of that, uh, all the rest of the-the normal latitude and guidance, uhm, theory and policy, uh, is secondary.  And so I think in both of those wars, uhm, because we got ourselves in so deep with so many people and, uh, the welfare of our men and women was, uh, paramount, we tried a lot of things.  We had never been this way before.  We had never seen anything like these two situations.  And, uh, as a result, and you know, our Special Inspector Generals have come up with billions and billions of dollars that are unaccounted for, uhm, corruption, fraud, waste, abuse.  Uh, it really is quite astounding. 

And we'll stop him there.  He's committed to a report of some form -- if confirmed -- about the infrastructure building's impact on the invaded land and the issue of open accountability with regards to spending.  If he is confirmed, those are two of the metrics by which he should be measured while he holds the post of Secretary of Defense.

While Joe Manchin (dubbed "Joe Manchild" by one friend in the press who covered today's hearing) whimpered about the lost or stolen time he could have spent with Hagel, he ignored the most pressing issues.  Hagel should have been asked over and over -- the way he was about Israel -- about something that actually has to do with the job: the crises in DoD.  That's the suicide crisis and that's the rape and assault crisis. 

The only one to spend any time on either of these issues was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand but even she had to waste  everyone's time.  Israel, Afghanistan and personnel issues, she ranked as the three topics -- in that order -- she wanted to ask about.  But she quickly launched into Iran.  Iran and Israel were covered at length in the long hearing before Gillibrand ever spoke.  But maybe she just had to insist she had "been one of the strongest advocates" for Israel?  You know what the military needs, they need a strong advocate for the victims of assault and rape.

And though Gillibrand is getting applause for her glancing comments on the issue of assault and rape, she was not their strong advocate in the hearing today unless you just do the "by comparison" verdict.  From Iran and Israel, she went to Egypt, and "okay, for my last minute, with regard to Afghanistan, we've heard . . ." 

Easy, cheesy applause greeted Gillibrand's nonsense.  Bridgette P. LaVictoire (Lez Get Real) can't quote Gillibrand so I'll assume she's working from the same press release we were sent.  But unlike LaVictoire, I attended the hearing and I know what Gillibrand said.  The Service Women's Network rushed to applaud Gillibrand who really only succeeded in reminding most of us that Carolyn Maloney would have made a better US Senator.   Here's what they're applauding:

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: My last question that I'll submit for the record but you and I have talked about it obviously the personnel in our military is our most important asset.  And when we hear reports that there are upwards of 19,000 sexual assaults in the military against women, it's unacceptable.  Uhm, we also have finally repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell but it's difficult for a military spouse to even go to a commissary and be on base or be notified if a spouse is killed in action. I would need a strong commitment from you that you will treat our military families and look after them in the way that you would look after your own.  I want you to be concerned about every man and woman in the military, that their well being is being looked after and seeing real advocacy and leadership, not status quo, not implementing whatever we put forward but actually fighting for them every single day. 

Chuck Hagel:  Well you have my complete commitment on that.

For eight minutes, she went on about everything else before getting to her so-called "last question."  19 words.  She got applauded for 19 words. She spent more than that vouching for sleep overs and pillow fights with Israel.  Come on, let's get serious.  19 words deserves a press release?  She wasted her time and everyone else's.

If assaults matter -- and I believe they do -- you spend something more than 19 words on them in a hearing.  Again, Iran and Israel were covered at length over and over.

Maybe I'm supposed to dance for joy because Gillibrand did mention it?  If she'd given it serious time, maybe so.  But she really made a mockery out of the whole thing, if you ask me.

If every website in the world is covering what Hagel thinks of Israel (and today I'm sure many were), then the last thing that's needed is one more doing the same.  Equally true, if senator after senator is asking the same questions, you need to spend your time asking something different.  Gillibrand deserves no praise for her performance in the hearing.  You will not read reports about her 'question' or her 'statements' due to some press conspiracy to cover up rape and assault.  The reason you won't read about it or hear about it is because she didn't take it seriously.  19 words?  That's embarrassing.

They should have applauded Senator Richard Blumenthal who took more time on this topic.  Blumenthal is Ruth's Senator and she'll be covering it at her site tonight.

Turning to Iraq, this morning Alsumaria reported  that Reporters Without Borders and Iraq's JFO (Journalistic Freedoms Observatory) are demanding the release of French journalist Nadir Dendoune.  From Monday's snapshot:

As we noted this morning, Nadir  Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine.  His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War.   Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures.  (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.)  All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.

Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and Reporters Without Borders issued a joint-statement noting Nadir Dendoune holds Algerian, Australian and French nationalities and that while they do not know the date of his arrest, they know he made a January 28th phone call from custody to a friend to pass on that he'd been arrested.   They call for his release and urge that the government be forthcoming about the details of his arrest and imprisonment. Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists finally issued a statement on the matter:

"The arbitrary jailing of a journalist is a vestige of the Saddam Hussein regime that is completely out of place in Iraq's democracy today," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Nadir Dendoune should be released immediately."
The Iraqi Syndicate for Journalists condemned Dendoune's detention, calling it a violation of Iraqi law and the constitution and saying that it distorted the country's image in front of the international community.

  • For more data and analysis on Iraq, visit CPJ's Iraq page here.

This morning, AP reported that Ministry of the Interior spokesperson Saad Maan Ibrahim confirms that they are holding Nadir Dendoune.  Reporters Without Borders issued the following:

Reporters Without Borders and the newly-formed Nadir Dendoune Support Committee call for the immediate release of Nadir Dendoune, a visiting reporter with French, Algerian and Australian triple nationality who has been held in a Baghdad prison for the past eight days.
Dendoune arrived in Iraq on 16 January to do a series of reports for the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique and the magazine Le Courrier de l’Atlas. According to the French foreign ministry, he was arrested on 23 January while photographing a water installation in the southwest Baghdad neighbourhood of Dora.
He has been held ever since without being charged. Officially, he is alleged to have been taking photos of sensitive locations without permission. He has not yet been allowed to receive a visit from French consular officials based in Baghdad although a request has been made by the French embassy. He managed to call a friend in France yesterday to report that he had been jailed.
Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization in Iraq, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, wrote yesterday to Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki requesting more information about the circumstances of Dendoune’s arrest and the charges against him.
The letter was handed in directly to the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad. The two organizations asked the prime minister to do everything in his power to ensure that Dendoune is released as soon as possible.
The NGO Human Rights Watch has released "Iraq: A Broken Justice System" today and become the first in English to seriously address the treatment of women and girls in Iraqi prisons and detention centers has been the motivating factor for outrage in Iraq for months now and one of the main underpinnings of the protests:

Most recently, in November, federal police invaded 11 homes in the town of al-Tajji, north of Baghdad, and detained 41 people, including 29 children, overnight in their homes. Sources close to the detainees, who requested anonymity, said police took 12 women and girls ages 11 to 60 to 6th Brigade headquarters and held them there for four days without charge. The sources said the police beat the women and tortured them with electric shocks and plastic bags placed over their heads until they began to suffocate.
Despite widespread outcry over abuse and rape of women in pre-trial detention, the government has not investigated or held the abusers accountable. In response to mass protests over the treatment of female detainees, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a pardon for 11 detainees. However, hundreds more women remain in detention, many of whom allege they have been tortured and have not had access to a proper defense.

They also note:

Iraq’s leadership used draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators, and journalists, effectively squeezing the space for independent civil society and political freedoms in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013.
The number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq increased in 2012, for the first time since 2009. Thousands of civilians and police were killed in spates of violence, including targeted assassinations, amid a political crisis that has dragged on since December 2011. Alongside the uptick in violence, Iraqi security forces arbitrarily conducted mass arrests and tortured detainees to extract confessions with little or no evidence of wrongdoing.
“As insurgent groups targeted innocent Iraqis in a multitude of coordinated attacks throughout the year, Iraq’s security forces targeted innocent civilians in mass campaigns of arbitrary arrests and abusive interrogations,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “After decades of dictatorship, occupation, and terrorism, the Iraqi people today face a government that is slipping further into authoritarianism and doing little to make them safer.”

Al Mada reports preparations are beginning already for tomorrow's protests and that organizers are speaking of solidarity with the Falluja martyrs. (Last Friday saw the Falluja Massacre -- seven people dead and sixty injured when the military opened fire on the protesters.)  All Iraq News reports that the Falluja Criminal Court has announced arrest warrants for military personnel involved in the shootings.

From yesterday's snapshot:

Meanwhile in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki is stripping political rivals of their protection according to charges made to Alsumaria.  Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a leader in the Sahwa forces, told the network that he had lost his bodyguards and when he asked why he was told it was on the orders of Nouri al-Maliki.  What seems to be happening is this:  government forces providing protection to various politicians throughout Iraq are being ordered by Nouri to return to Baghdad out of some fear -- real or imagined -- on the part of Nouri that he's about to be overthrown.

The Iraq Times sees the removal of the bodyguards as Nouri attempting to punish Abu Risha for his backing of the protests.  Abu Rhisa tells Kitabat that the protests will continue until the legitimate demands are met.  In violence this morning, Alsumaria reports a Mosul bombing has left two federal police officers injured and a Diyala explosion killed 1 shepherd.

Lastly, the rains continue in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports that rain's expected in Baghdad today and for the next three.  This is not a minor issue.  Not only have Baghdad streets been flooded, there have been dangers of electrical shocks, street lights have been out, outside of Baghdad there have been homes collapsing and much worse.  All Iraq News notes that 1500 families in Baiji (Salahuddin Province) have been evacuated from their homes due to flooding and they are currently in tents and receiving food and aid from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.  All Iraq News notes a dam collapsed in Salahuddin Province (a village near Tikrit) and the provincial government is evacuating residents in Samarra.  If you click here, you can watch an Alsumuria video of the flooding in Baghdad.  In most places, the water comes up to the knees.