Asma Noray: For War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Asma Noray.
Dylan Okabe-Jawdat: And I’m Dylan Okabe-Jawdat. Pro-Russian demonstrators in Ukraine seized government buildings in several cities near the Russian border, including Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk. Similar tactics were used by protesters in February to oust former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. These activists, some of whom have declared a new independent state, the Donetsk People’s Republic, argue that the high concentration of ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine justifies independence. Although Russia has yet to recognize this new state, United States Secretary of State John Kerry said that civil unrest between the new Ukrainian government and these protestors could, quote, “potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention.” Kerry also suggested that Russian special forces and agents were responsible for instigating these demonstrations, and the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have warned Russia against any further intervention in Ukraine.
Noray: Iran celebrated a National Day of Nuclear Technology this week, marking its eighth year since first enriching uranium. At a celebration, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei explained that, quote “None of the country’s nuclear achievements can be stopped, and no one has the right to bargain over it,” referring to the “p-five plus one” talks in Vienna featuring the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany. Though Iran has already curbed its nuclear program in return for eased sanctions, the current dialogue, which is supported by Khamenei, seeks to further constrain its nuclear program. Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, and according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, it is continuing to cooperate with a United Nations investigation of its nuclear sites. In late 2013, the “p-five plus one” countries formed a framework deal under which Iran agreed to greater transparency, and would address suspicions that it may have designed an atomic weapon.
Okabe-Jawdat: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his ministers to halt negotiations with Palestinian representatives as United States-led peace talks between the two sides continue to crumble. Netanyahu’s action is a direct response to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to sign 15 United Nations treaties in order to advance its application for statehood. Netanyahu’s order does not apply to Israel’s leading negotiator Tzipi Livni or to defense and security officials. Netanyahu is threatening to impose economic sanctions on the West Bank if the Palestinians continue to pursue unilateral action regarding statehood. In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel’s announcement of settlement development in East Jerusalem was responsible for the latest impasse in the peace negotiations, which are set to expire on April 29th.
Noray: Two car bombs in the Syrian city of Homs killed at least 21 people and injured over 100. The Karam al-Loz district of Homs, where the bombs were detonated, is inhabited mainly by Alawites—the Shi’ite sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs. This violence in Homs was preceded by the recent assassination of a 75 year old Jesuit priest in the Old City district, an area controlled by Syrian opposition forces. Father Frans Van der Lugt lived in Homs for over 50 years and had continuously offered Muslim and Christian communities refuge throughout the conflict. The identity and motive of Father van der Lugt’s assailant is unknown.
Okabe-Jawdat: A bombing in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad killed more than 20 people and wounded dozens. The bomb, which was hidden in a fruit crate, exploded in a market full of civilians. Soon after the attack, the Taliban released a statement condemning the act, calling it, quote “regrettable and un-Islamic.” A different separatist group, the little-known United Baluch Army, claimed responsibility for the bombing. They have fought for the independence of the Baluchistan Province, and until now, most of their fighting has remained in the region. The involvement of the United Baluch Army comes at a tense time for Pakistan, as the government is deeply involved in peace talks with a more prominent militant group in the region, the Taliban.
Noray: The United States has named Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – or A-B-M – a foreign terrorist organization. This designation, announced by the United States Department of State this week, makes it a crime to knowingly aid the group. It also allows the US government to freeze ABM assets, but it is not known whether the organization has any holdings in the United States. While the State Department noted that the Sinai-based Egyptian militant group is not formally linked to al Qaeda, the report insists that the two organizations have ideological connections. Among the terrorist activities of the group listed by the US State Department are an assassination attempt on Egypt’s Interior Minister last year, a missile attack on Cairo in January, and rockets fired at the city of Eilat, in southern Israel.
Okabe-Jawdat: Car bombs exploded across Baghdad this week, killing at least 24 people and injuring dozens. Most of the areas targeted in the attacks were predominantly Shiite neighborhoods. No group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attacks, but the bombings bore a resemblance to strategies used by al-Qaeda inspired groups, as well as Sunni insurgents. The attacks were the latest in a string of violent incidents across the country. According to United Nations estimates, over 8,800 people died in attacks in Iraq last year, and the violence has only continued to rise in recent months. These most recent bombings have raised concerns about the stability of the upcoming elections. The national elections, which will take place on April 30, mark the first democratic vote in the country since the United States withdrew its troops in 2011.
Noray: Over the past week, Kenyan authorities have arrested over 3000 Somalis and deported 82 as part of an ongoing security crackdown in response to a spate of terrorism in Kenya. According to Kenya’s Interior Minister, Joseph Ole-Lenku, the deported Somalis were in Kenya illegally and lacked proper documentation. The most recent incident was a grenade attack on April 1st in Nairobi that killed six people in Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali neighborhood in Kenya. Kenya has blamed the recent attacks on the Somali militant group al-Shabab. Kenya police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi said that 447 Somalis remain in custody under anti-terrorism laws. The detained Somalis are being held in Kasarani Stadium, a sports stadium on the outskirts of Nairobi. Reports of human rights violations by police officers have led the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to believe that the detainees are being held in degrading and inhumane conditions. Religious clerics and leading members of the Kenyan parliament have accused the security forces of unfairly targeting Somalis in the current security crackdown.
Okabe-Jawdat: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Caroline Batten, Jay Clayton, Joelle Hageboutros, Allison Hrabar, Sabrina Merold, Tyler Welsh, Chloe Wittenberg, and Henry Zhang. I’m Dylan Okabe-Jawdat.
Noray: And I’m Asma Noray. Until next time, thanks for listening.
This week on War News Radio, “Changing Perspectives.” First, we learn how the mainstream American media has sensationalized mass shootings and normalized urban gun violence. Next, we present our editorial segment, “Filibusted.” Finally, we hear from Ukrainian citizens and expats about Ukraine’s upcoming elections, internal tensions, and uneasy relationship with the Russian Federation. Stay with us.
Dylan Okabe-Jawdat: For War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Dylan Okabe-Jawdat.
Boozarjomehri: And I’m Fatima Boozarjomehri. Ukrainian military forces left Crimea earlier this week as acting-defense minister Ihor Tenyukh stepped down from office. The Ukrainian Parliament initially rejected his resignation, but ultimately named Colonel General Mikhail Kovalyov as his replacement. Tenyukh, a strong supporter of the uprising against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, rebuffed critics who labeled his response to the Russian annexation of Crimea as indecisive. Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly has dismissed the annexation of Crimea as illegal. Several former Soviet republics, including Albania, Estonia, and Slovenia, joined the list of the resolution’s co-sponsors.
Okabe-Jawdat: An Egyptian court has sentenced to death 529 people described as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been convicted of participating in a riot in which an Egyptian police officer was killed. The trial itself lasted less than two hours, and 400 defendants were sentenced in absentia. The judge has been accused of violating criminal law procedures by preventing defense lawyers from calling witnesses, and Egyptian legal experts believe the sentences will be overturned or reduced following the appeals process. Each death sentence must be ratified by Egypt’s grand mufti before it can be carried out, which provides a measure of hope to those affected by the ruling. 683 more people have also been put on trial this week and are still awaiting a verdict.
Boozarjomehri: Egyptian General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has announced his resignation from the military in order to run for President in Egypt’s upcoming elections. Sisi deposed Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, in 2013, and he is expected to easily win the election. Although he has acknowledged the economic and political difficulties the country faces, Sisi has promised to build a, quote, “modern and democratic Egypt”. Despite the continuous crackdown on, and recent conviction of over 500 Muslim Brotherhood members, Sisi vowed that his politics would be non-exclusionary and that he would extend a hand to, quote, “all those who have not been convicted”.
Okabe-Jawdat: A pro-government militia killed at least 151 rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan this week. Several commanders of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement–or S-L-M–died in the fighting, according to a report by the Sudanese Media Center. The SLM is a rebel group that formed in 2003 in response to perceived governmental discrimination and neglect. This recent incident is the latest in a string of violent assaults on rebel groups by Sudanese government forces. Human rights groups and the United Nations have condemned the Sudanese government for the attacks, noting that over 100,000 citizens have been displaced since the violence escalated earlier this month.
Boozarjomehri: Taliban militants attacked an election commission office in Kabul this week, killing at least five people. Two suicide bombers detonated their vehicle outside the office while three other militants stormed the building, engaging in a five hour gunbattle with Afghan security officers. The victims include a provincial council candidate, two police officers, two election commission workers and five militants. This assault is the latest in the Taliban’s campaign to disrupt Afghanistan’s crucial presidential election on April 5th. The elections will decide the successor to president Hamid Karzai, marking the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.
Okabe-Jawdat: North Korea launched two medium-range ballistic missiles earlier this week as part of a military technology test. The launch may have been timed to coincide with a nuclear security summit attended by Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Kim Min-seok, a spokesman from the South Korean defense ministry, said that the decision to launch the missiles from mobile vehicles was a clear move by North Korea to, quote, “show off its ability to attempt a surprise attack.” The defense ministry also reported that the missiles flew about four hundred and three miles into the sea between North Korea and Japan. This launch represents an escalation from the test-firing of twenty-five short-range rockets by North Korea earlier this year. A North Korean diplomat, however, has claimed that the test launches are meant to protest the continued US and South Korean military drills near the Demilitarized Zone.
Boozarjomehri: Dozens of people were killed this week as a series of attacks swept across Iraq. The deadliest attack occurred in northeastern Baghdad after a suicide bomber crashed a truck filled with explosives into a security checkpoint, killing 6 and wounding 21 others. Gunmen in Tarmiyah and Mosul, cities north of Baghdad, killed 13 soldiers and wounded 13 in separate attacks on army checkpoints. Two bomb blasts in Baghdad also killed 5 and wounded 17. In Baghdad’s Ghalibiya district, 2 bodyguards were killed and 7 wounded in an attempted assassination of Sunni lawmaker Salim al-Jubouri. Although no group has claimed responsibility for these attacks, they are similar to acts of violence by an Al-Qaeda breakaway group. These attacks come just weeks before Iraq is set to hold national elections on April 30.
Okabe-Jawdat: Three Venezuelan air force generals were arrested under charges that they were planning a coup against the current regime. None of the generals have been identified. This most recent development comes as the government has increasingly cracked down on opposition groups. Other high profile arrests have included opposition party leader Leopoldo Lopez and the mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos. These arrests followed weeks of protests in Venezuela that have left at least 34 people dead and dozens more injured. The anti-government protests have criticized President Nicolas Maduro’s administration for failing to address shortages of basic goods, increased crime, and rising inflation.
Boozarjomehri: Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, has been convicted by a New York federal court jury of, quote, “conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists”. The prosecution accused the 48 year old Kuwaiti clergyman of serving as Al-Qaeda’s mouthpiece and main recruiter, pointing to his fiery speeches in which he glorified the 9/11 attacks. Abu Ghaith, however, testified that he had never joined Al Qaeda. He also insisted that his videos were only meant to encourage Muslims to rise up against their oppressors and that the more severe threats against America were fed to him by Bin Laden himself. Abu Gaith will be sentenced on September 8th and faces life in prison.
Okabe-Jawdat: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Aneesa Andrabi, Caroline Batten, Joelle Hageboutros, Allison Hrabar, Sabrina Merold, Jerry Qin, Tyler Welsh, Zoey Werbin, Chloe Wittenberg, and Rachel Yang. I’m Dylan Okabe-Jawdat.
Boozarjomehri. And I’m Fatima Boozarjomehri. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Henry Zhang: For War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Henry Zhang.
Jay Clayton: And I’m Jay Clayton. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty formally annexing Crimea, after the region voted to join the Russian Federation earlier this week. Putin justified the move by citing the plight of ethnic Russians in Crimea. Russian officials have also pointed to the results of the recent referendum, in which a reported 95% of Crimean voters expressed support for joining Russia. The interim Ukrainian government has denounced the vote as illegal. The United States government has also criticized annexation, with Vice President Joe Biden calling the move, quote, “a land grab.” The US and European Union have since imposed sanctions on Russia, ranging from travel bans to the freezing of assets of Russian and Ukrainian officials. These sanctions target those linked to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, including two top aides to Putin, Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev.
Zhang: Israeli air forces fired on Syrian military bases in the Golan Heights in response to a bombing earlier this week that injured four Israeli soldiers. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks against the Israeli Army patrol, Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner stated that Israel would hold the Syrian Army responsible for the blast. Israel’s subsequent military action killed one Syrian soldier and wounded seven. The Syrian Army claimed that Israel’s attack was a violation of the 1973 Separation of Forces agreement, which maintained relative peace along the Syrian-Israeli ceasefire line in the Golan Heights. This border conflict marks the most serious confrontation between the two countries since the start of the Syrian civil war three years ago and has led many to question the extent of Israel’s involvement in the conflict.
Clayton: Syria has failed to eliminate 12 chemical production facilities by the March 15th deadline set in place by the United Nations Security Council last September. Syrian government officials argue that security concerns are the reason for such delays, citing recent attacks on convoys transporting chemical weapons. Inspectors overseeing the demolition of chemical weapons facilities have also come under sniper fire. While Syria has not been granted an extension beyond the April 27th deadline for the complete elimination of its chemical weapons program, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said that almost half of Syria’s declared stockpile had been destroyed.
Zhang: The second round of international talks over Iran’s nuclear program continued this week, complicated by tension between the United States and Russia over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Political tensions in Ukraine may make it difficult for the US, European Union, and Russia to present a unified front in nuclear negotiations, potentially reducing the pressure on Iran to make concessions. Recent negotiations between the US and Iran have eased tensions between the two countries, though domestic criticism has limited progress. Upcoming negotiations will deal with regulating the level of uranium enrichment allowed in Iran. Iran continues to insist that its nuclear program will be peaceful, but many countries remain skeptical about Iran’s intentions.
Clayton: Thailand has lifted the state of emergency that has been imposed on Bangkok and surrounding areas since late January, following Thailand’s February general election. Protests erupted in Bangkok in November of last year, with the goal of ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The results of the election might soon be annulled, due to boycotts by a large portion of voting districts. Ms. Yingluck’s government lifted the state of emergency in an attempt to boost Thailand’s suffering economy, particularly the tourism industry. A less stringent law, the Internal Security Act, remains in place to allow the Thai government to impose curfews, operate security checkpoints, and control protesters if demonstrations flare up once again.
Zhang: Seven Taliban fighters attacked a police district base in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, leaving a total of 18 dead. Soon after, four Taliban militants assaulted a luxury hotel in Kabul, resulting in the deaths of the four attackers. These attacks are the latest in a series of violent incidents around the country, as Afghanistan prepares for its upcoming presidential elections. The Taliban have issued a threat to use violence in order to disrupt the elections, which are scheduled for April 5th.
Clayton: The South Sudanese army recaptured the town of Malakal this week following a month-long rebel occupation. A spokesperson for former Vice President Riek Machar, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, confirmed that the rebels retreated from the northern city but vowed that they would, quote, “retake the town soon.” Due to its vast oil fields, Malakal has been a center of violence since the conflict between the South Sudanese government and rebel factions began last December. The fighting over Malakal may hinder attempts to resume peace negotiations between the two parties. Past peace talks have floundered, and both rebels and government forces have violated the cease-fire deal signed in January.
Zhang: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Caroline Batten, Joelle Hageboutros, Allison Hrabar, Sabrina Merold, Dylan Okabe-Jawdat, Jerry Qin, Mackenzie Welch, Tyler Welsh, Zoey Werbin, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Henry Zhang.
Clayton: And I’m Jay Clayton. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Forty-three years ago this month, a group of anti-war activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and made off with every document inside. The leaked reports led to the discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s secret campaign to harass and intimidate opponents of the war in Vietnam, leaders of the Civil Rights movement, and even students on college campuses. War News Radio’s Caroline Batten sat down with two of the burglars, husband and wife John and Bonnie Raines, to talk about conflict, activism, and the whistleblowers of today.
BATTEN: March 8, 1971. The night of the World Championship in Heavyweight Boxing, the Fight of the Century, Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier.
BATTEN: People across America were tuning in on their radios — which was just what activists Bonnie and John Raines, along with their six partners, were banking on.
BONNIE: Maybe the police would be not quite as vigilant about their patrols listening to the fight.
BATTEN: Bonnie and John were part of a secret group of anti-war activists, calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. That night, with everyone listening to Frazier pounding Ali, the group broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and made off with every single document inside.
The documents that the Citizens’ Commission stole and leaked to The Washington Post led to the discovery of COINTELPRO, a program designed by then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The goal of COINTELPRO was to intimidate and harass leftist leaders, even trying to blackmail Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into committing suicide. They monitored student activists on campuses, wiretapped various organizations, discredited everyone from actresses to athletes, and tried to get investigative reporter Jack Nelson fired from his job at the LA Times. Fred Hampton, the national spokesman for the Black Panthers, was killed as part of a COINTELPRO operation.
Bonnie, John, and their partners didn’t know what the word COINTELPRO meant when they leaked the stolen documents, but they did know that a memo from J. Edgar Hoover encouraging FBI agents to, quote, “increase the paranoia” for liberal activists was serious news.
JOHN: We had ‘em. We had ‘em nailed. That was it. It wasn’t surveillance, it was intimidation.
BATTEN: Bonnie and John had been activists for years. John was a Freedom Rider during the height of the Civil Rights movement, where he first noticed FBI agents taking pictures and harassing protesters. When the two moved north to Philadelphia, they started protesting the war in Vietnam.
JOHN: We brought from the South to the North knowledge about J. Edgar Hoover and his dirty tricks. We also brought expectations of success, which would be frustrated time and time again. I mean, we tried all the street tactics, we tried all the nonviolent protests, and none of them were getting us anywhere.
BATTEN: Bonnie says it was clear the FBI was constantly watching.
BONNIE: Everyone realized they were being watched. And their photographs were taken when they were in marches or rallies. People knew their phones were tapped… and we knew that if we were meeting to plan something that there would probably be FBI plants in our midst.
BATTEN: And all that surveillance was starting to derail the anti-war movement.
JOHN: And if you have the suspicion, well, is this person next to me who says all these right things, I mean, is he really working for the FBI, that begins to break the trust that is at the very heart of a community of resistance.
BATTEN: That’s when Bonnie and John met Haverford physics professor Bill Davidon, who was determined to prove that the FBI was disrupting the anti-war movement. Former Washington Poster reporter Betty Medsger, who published the documents stolen by the Citizens’ Commission, says Davidon felt he was up to the challenge.
MEDSGER Instead of thinking like most people would about such a problem, how you get evidence that the most powerful law enforcement agency in the country is suppressing dissent, when it’s also the most secretive and the most protected organization in the country, most people, I think it would safe to say, would have thought, this is a problem that cannot be solved, sure, it’s terrible, and simply lament. And Bill was a problem solver.
BATTEN: Determined to find evidence of Hoover’s dirty campaigns, Davidon rounded up a group of eight activists and planned to break in to the FBI satellite office in the small town of Media. Bonnie and John were ready to try something drastic.
JOHN: America was on fire. And that anger was constantly being frustrated from having any success at stopping the war in Vietnam. We knew he was using massive surveillance, we knew he was using infiltrators and provocateurs, and we also knew that nobody in Washington was going to hold him accountable.
BONNIE: We came to the realization that it really is up to every citizen in a democracy to protect rights in a democracy, and if there is abuse of those rights you can’t just sit back and wait for someone else.
BATTEN: The Citizens’ Commission had no idea what they would find in the Media office, or if the documents they wanted would even be there. They were counting on the fact that Hoover was a bureaucrat who kept endless files on his programs. So they spent months casing the office, which was inside an ordinary apartment building.
JOHN: In order to make that burglary something that was… that would look safe and rational to do rather than absurd, because, you know, who’s going to rob the FBI? Crazy people, right? So we had to make sure of… exactly what those folks, the patterns of their behavior at night were, when they got back from work.
BATTEN: But that wasn’t enough. They had to get inside.
BONNIE: So I called the office and said I was a student at Swarthmore, and I was doing research on opportunities for women in the FBI.
BATTEN: Bonnie managed to get inside for an interview, wearing borrowed glasses and a hat over her long hair.
BONNIE: He never seemed to notice that I never took my gloves off, the whole time I was taking notes.
BATTEN: On the night of the burglary, everything almost went wrong. Taxi driver Keith Forsyth had learned to pick locks, but the FBI had added a new lock to the door — one he didn’t know how to open.
FORSYTH: At that moment my heart just sank. Because immediately I thought, a, I’m incompetent because I didn’t see this lock before, and b, the whole thing is off because I can’t get through this door.
BATTEN: That’s Keith, speaking at the Philadelphia Free Library. He headed around to a second door and pried open the deadbolt with a crowbar. Then he had to use a car jack to budge a hundred-pound file cabinet blocking the way. But the surprises didn’t stop there.
FORSYTH: Somewhere in this process of getting through the second door, I heard a clanking sound inside the office, and I didn’t know if it was the heating system or the FBI jostling furniture.
BATTEN: But the coast was clear, and Forsyth, Davidon, and their partners emptied the contents of the file cabinets into their suitcases and drove off to a farmhouse to examine their finds. When they found the memo with the words “enhance the paranoia”, they were furious — and thrilled.
JOHN AND BONNIE: Ohhhh boy, we got him, we got him, we got old J. Edgar Hoover!
BATTEN: After sending out copies of the files to a list of reporters, the group needed to lie low. Hoover sent out more than two hundred agents searching for the Media burglars.
JOHN: The reason they didn’t find us is important. I’m convinced this burglary could only happen in the Philadelphia area. Because back in the late 60s and early 70s, Philadelphia was the national center of resistance to the war in Vietnam. We could hide out in plain sight.
BATTEN: And if Betty Medsger hadn’t written a book about the Citizens’ Commission, called The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, they might never have come forward.
JOHN: Why would we? BONNIE: No, I don’t think we would have. JOHN: We did what we did, it was effective… we don’t think of ourselves as heroes, we think of ourselves as everyday citizens.
BATTEN: That’s where John thinks whistleblower Edward Snowden, former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked details of global surveillance programs, may have made a tactical mistake.
JOHN: We didn’t take public responsibility. And therefore the focus of public opinion stayed on the issue, stayed on the issue of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and his dirty tricks. Once Snowden says, I did it, then all of the public media attention focuses upon him, not the issue. And in a certain sense, we were more effective because we hid out.
BATTEN: Bonnie and John weren’t inside reporters, like Snowden, but they still think he’s done the people of the United States a public service.
JOHN: So citizens will always have to fight, always bring a suspicion to those institutions that embed and enact power and privilege… We must hold, as citizens, hold those institutions vulnerable and accountable to the voice of the people.
BATTEN: Not everyone agrees with him — like Patrick Kelly, the FBI agent who first discovered the break-in. Kelly told NBC reporter Michael Isikoff:
KELLY (clip from NBC.com): They’re rationalizing a criminal act. I don’t believe such people have the right to take upon themselves and make decisions.
BATTEN: Bonnie has thought about responses like Kelly’s — and she says she still believes the Citizens’ Commission did the right thing.
BONNIE: A greater crime has been occurring and the government is responsible for that. So I think that when all the means that one can try as an ordinary citizen… when they’re not producing any results, then I think that it is time for something to be more drastic.
BATTEN: John and Bonnie agree that if citizens refuse to let their voices be drowned out, government policy can change for the better.
JOHN: It’s amazing what government officials will do if they begin to feel the pressure of public opinion.
BATTEN: And he thinks we need to keep holding our government accountable, as the War on Terror declared by former President Bush in 2001 continues with no end in sight.
JOHN: The gasoline that the terrorists run on is the same gasoline that NSA runs on, and its called the endless hole of fear. We are safe, and we need to keep saying that to each other.
BATTEN: Keith Forsyth says the message he and the Citizens’ Commission sent to the people of the United States still holds true today.
FORSYTH: The Goliath is tough, but he’s not invulnerable.
BATTEN: For War News Radio, I’m Caroline Batten.
WARNING: this piece contains discussions of rape.
Host Intro: Sex trafficking is a widespread problem for women and girls in Iraq. For sex trafficking victims, currently their voice is silenced under the law, society typically views them as prostitutes, and limited social resources exist once they are free. War News Radio’s Sabrina Merold spoke to Sherizaan Minwala, an expert on the sex trafficking of women and girls in Iraq about how honor codes predispose women to become victims of sex-trafficking, why combating sex-trafficking is not a priority in Iraq, and what could be done to change sex trafficking in the Iraqi legal system and in society.
MEROLD If you’re a woman in Iraq and, for whatever reasons, you’re seen with a boy who is not a close family member, you don’t return home for a night, or you stay in a women’s shelter, the last thing you want to do is go back home. That’s because these all expose a woman or girl to face honor violence at her home, leaving her afraid to return and susceptible to falling into the hands of sex traffickers. When these women and girls are arrested for prostitution, even though Iraq signed into law a comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in 2012, they are typically convicted and placed in jail. With turmoil and violence in Iraq, the issue of sex trafficking is just not a priority. On the societal level and in the legal system, for change to occur, Sherizaan Minwalla believes we need to reframe how we view women and girls. They are victims of sex trafficking not prostitutes. The problem is, we rarely hear from a girl in this situation.
MINWALLA The laws, the systems, the practices all of that is important but I think starting from the perspective of the victims, hearing their voices and really listening to them is so important. The piece that is so tough is just having compassion for the victims and really understanding how they got there, what they are going through, what keeps them in that situation. I think once we develop that compassion and that understanding a lot can come from that.
MEROLD That’s Sherizaan Minwalla, the Deputy Country Director in Iraq for Mercy Corps, an international development organization based in the United States. In Iraq, honor codes run deep. These traditions – not strictly religious, but common in Muslim societies – mean that an entire family’s reputation is jeopardized by the perceived sexual impurity of any female member. In the eyes of many tribal, religious, and community leaders, killing a woman that has had sex outside of marriage, even in the case of rape, is the best way to restore family dignity. Minwalla believes honor violence leaves women fearful for their safety yet escaping honor violence does not ensure freedom but a high risk of being trafficked into prostitution.
MINWALLA You know if the relationship comes out that puts you at risk. You might be killed by your father or uncle or someone else in the family but then also once you leave home because you are afraid, that puts you at risk. I’ve seen cases where girls have been involved in a relationship. Then they are afraid that they father is going to find out and then the men who they were involved with they ask for help to get away or run away and then they end up taking them to a brothel.
MEROLD Surprisingly, Minwalla says that in many cases, women can’t even trust another woman to help them find a safe way to independence from their families. Women are often complicit in the sex trade, working as middlemen between traffickers and vulnerable populations or even as traffickers.
MINWALLA I have seen those really awful cases where women have been recruited through women’s protective shelters. In 2007, where the director of a women’s shelter was trafficking and abusing and exploiting residents in the shelter along with her husband. I also saw another case of a shelter in Sulaymaniyah. One of the smaller shelters where one of the night monitors recruited a 14 year old girl into trafficking by promising to take her to her parents where she would have a better life and where she could live in a center protected shelter. She called two men who picked them up and raped this young girl and then left her at a brothel.
MEROLD Iraq passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking law in 2012, but the justice system is still stacked against victims of sex trafficking. Women are seen as prostitutes, people that don’t deserve legal representation, rather than the targets of crime. Lawyers have to prove that their clients are even worth defending.
MINWALLA Lawyers would go into court and essentially say that these women and girls were forced into prostitution and that is a defense to criminal activity because under the Iraqi code if you are forced into committing a crime you could claim a legal defense. Then they really need to be able to have quality representation. There is a lot of crimes you will find that the evidence is out there that could bolster their case but nobody is really looking for it and everyone is just complacent. I’ve seen judges who have called clients and lawyers whores in court. It simply requires training of lawyers and lawyers who are willing to put their own reputation on the line when they go into court.
MEROLD Beyond training lawyers, in order to further the progress that is currently been made in dropping cases or finding victims of sex trafficking not guilty, Minwalla believes that judges need to be educated on the issue of sex trafficking.
MINWALLA I think there are some judges who you may never win over but there has definitely been change and the fact that we have seen judges drop charges, not refer cases for trail, find their clients not guilty. I mean I think that is huge progress and so if we could sort of start from where we have seen success and build out from that I think a lot of change can happen.
MEROLD Although change could happen, a consequence of the ongoing volatile security situation in Iraq is that the Iraqi government, donors, and policy makers disregard the importance of implementing change and developing a response to sex trafficking. In Minwalla’s opinion, it does not make sense to wait and respond once the security situation is resolved because sex trafficking and security are greatly interconnected. Syrian refugees pouring into the northern region of Kurdistan have added to instability. These populations, Minwalla says, easily get caught in existing trafficking webs.
MINWALLA Again, there is a lot of trafficking in Kurdistan so when these refugees came they were already walking into a situation where the environment existed that could exploit their vulnerabilities. Of course when refugees don’t have money or resources and they are vulnerable you always end up finding these situations where poor women and girls are trafficked.
MEROLD For women that manage to get their case cleared or dismissed and escape sex trafficking, they still can’t return home. Their purity and honor have been lost. The few shelters that exist for these victims are hardly safe. Even some Ministry of the Interior guards tasked with policing shelters could be linked to traffickers. Minwalla believes that addressing legal issues is important but a long-term social service program is also needed to provide victims with safe shelter and figure out long-term solutions so they do not end up being recruited back into trafficking. Currently, the resources in Iraq are so limited that the focus on victims of sex trafficking is very minimal. Yet, according to Minwalla, change can slowly begin by simply having compassion for the victims of sex trafficking and being willing to listen from their perspective, as victims, and hear their voices.
For War News Radio, I’m Sabrina Merold.