DEATH AT THE CHECKPOINT
Jeremy Scahill writes: On March 4, US soldiers fired on the car taking newly released Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the Baghdad airport, wounding her and killing Nicola Calipari, the international operations chief of Italy’s military intelligence service, who was escorting her. He had arrived in Baghdad that day after making contact with the kidnappers. He checked in with US forces at the airport. After picking up Sgrena, they drove back to the airport, keeping the lights on in the car to help identify themselves at US checkpoints. But as they neared the airport, their car was riddled with bullets. US forces claim they fired only after repeated attempts to warn the vehicle. The Italian government and Sgrena say that is false. “We were on our way to the airport, and we thought we were finally safe, because the area where we were was under the control of the United States,” Sgrena told Italian television. “But then suddenly we found ourselves under an immense amount of bullets, something terrible, without any warning.” The Italian foreign minister said, “The government has a duty to point out that the reconstruction of the tragic event that I have set out…does not coincide, totally, with what has been said so far by the US authorities.” That this could have happened in such a high-profile case when every precaution should have been in place indicates the degree to which Iraqis are subject to violence by US forces in everyday life. Their deaths and injuries go uncounted at numerous checkpoints where they did or did not slow down, when commanded in a language not their own, by soldiers of the occupying army. The occupation has been rife with these questionable checkpoint shootings, explained away by the military with the mantra “failed to slow down” or “failed to stop.” The Pentagon has not admitted US culpability in any such deaths. Congress should conduct a full investigation into the military’s treatment of journalists and other noncombatants in Iraq with a particular focus on the killing of Iraqi civilians and unembedded journalists. Every one of the checkpoint killings in Iraq should be heavily scrutinized. The climate of impunity must be confronted, not just by Congress but by the US media as well.
BUSH’S GIFT TO THE UNITED NATIONS
Ian Williams, our UN correspondent, writes: Bush’s nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN is a resounding declaration of American contempt for the organization. It sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States will pursue its own obsessively theological agenda in the teeth of almost universal opposition. Bolton is unlikely to pay much attention to his nominal boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, so even if she is sincere in her recent promises of cooperation with US allies he will sabotage her efforts at the UN. The man who ordered a CIA probe of Hans Blix’s failure to find WMDs in Iraq and contrived the dismissal of the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has recently been trying to get IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei fired for not finding nuclear weapons in Iran. If he is confirmed, Bolton’s task is likely to be to bully the UN into supporting an Iraqi-style fiasco in Iran or Syria. More immediately, the possible casualties of his appointment will include thousands of dead Darfurians. That’s because a resolution that would refer the mayhem in Sudan to the International Criminal Court has been stalled for months by the diehard resistance of the Bolton faction in the State Department. Although the ICC is the one sanction that the Janjaweed militias and the Sudanese government actually fear, Bolton has shown in his war against that body that he does not care about the views of allies. Indeed, his fervent opposition to international restrictions on the small-arms trade, landmines, biological weapons, child soldiers and nuclear testing suggests that he is quite prepared to accept significant casualties for his views–as long as they are other people’s casualties. It should not be difficult for sane senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to question the fitness of an appointee who epitomizes American diplomacy as an oxymoron, who said that “there is no such thing as the United Nations” and that “if the UN Secretariat building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference” (for a longer version of this item, go to www.thenation.com).
Permanent Minority: New Mexico Democratic Governor Bill Richardson called George W. Bush “gracious” for his willingness to negotiate over the massive cuts he has proposed in Medicaid, the nation’s premier healthcare program for the poor.
Toward the Majority: Montana’s new Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer likened Bush’s efforts to sell governors on his Medicaid and Social Security plans to a livestock auctioneer with poor quality studs who fails to tempt buyers. He saw a lot of nose-crinkles among the govs, as if they detected a foul odor: “I didn’t see a lot of buyers in the room,” he said.
BEHIND ‘COMIX NATION’
This week’s issue marks the third appearance of “Comix Nation,” a new feature that showcases cartoons and other graphic forms of commentary. Steve Brodner, who conceived the feature, will serve as “Comix Nation” editor. A prolific artist himself, Brodner has created many Nation covers. He recruited the artists who contributed to the GOP convention issue this past summer. This week’s “Comix Nation” is the work of longtime contributor Robert Grossman, a New York native and Yale graduate who has done cover illustrations for more than 500 national magazines and whose sculpture and paintings have been widely exhibited.