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Daily Column
US Papers Wed: Blackwater Charges Not Dismissed
Turkey Best Iraq Exit? Iraq Interrogating Ex-Guantanamo Detainees
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/18/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, there are no big features, but a steady flow of varied material, concerning contractor woes, continued uncertainty for Guantanamo detainees, Turkey as an exit, and a reemerging Baghdad social club.

Blackwater
Del Quintin Wilber of the Washington Post reports that, despite attempts to have charges dropped against former employees of Blackwater Worldwide (now known by the snappy moniker of “Xe”), the trial will go on as scheduled. In December, the five guards were indicted on federal charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using a firearm in a crime of violence in the infamous September 2007 incident which left at least 24 Iraqis dead, 20 wounded, and an extremely angry Iraqi population and government.

Wilber details the defense’s arguments somewhat, which challenged the court’s lack of jurisdiction over the case because the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 was intended for American servicemen, not private contractors. A 2004 amendment expanded the act to cover those working "in support" of Defense Department missions, which U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina saw as applicable.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Marc Santora writes of the four prisoners held at the American prison at Guantánamo Bay for years, and who were turned over to Iraqi custody last month. According to the Iraqi government, they are currently being interrogated. Santora gets across how unsure their fates are, despite previous announcement by Iraqi officials which suggested that they would soon be released.

“The lack of clear information about these men’s fate since their return to Iraq raises obvious concerns,” said Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch. “All these men have already been held for years without charge in Guantánamo and should now be either charged by the Iraqi government and prosecuted in a fair process, or released.” Human Rights Watch identified the four prisoners, all arrested in Afghanistan, as Hassan Abdul Said, Arkan Mohammad Ghafil al-Karim, Abbas Habid Rumi al-Naely and Ali Abdul Motalib Awayd Hassan al-Tayeea.

“The government is reviewing their files to see if there are any charges against them,” said Wijdan Mikhail Salim, the minister of human rights. If they are not found guilty of any crimes, she said, they will be released.
The prisoners, who had been arrested in Afghanistan, were sent to Iraq more than a month ago, according to a senior American defense official, and contradictory statements about their fate by Iraqi officials in recent weeks have troubled critics. Mrs. Salim said that reviewing their cases could take several more months.

The interim justice minister, Safaldin al-Safi, speaking on the United States-backed satellite channel Al Hurra, said that their families had been informed and that Iraqi human rights officials would be allowed to visit them. “If they have committed crimes in Iraqi law, they will be punished,” he said in the interview, which was broadcast Tuesday. “If not, they will be released.”
Santora adds a more human element that other recent stories about the four, with quotes by one of the detainee’s older sister.

Aamer Madhani of USA Today pens an interesting piece about the culture of Baghdad’s Hunting Club, where “Iraq’s Leisure Class” is making a cautious return.

The building has seen better days, but members of the elite social club don’t seem to mind. Families are again crowding some rooms, men drink liquor in others, music is being played and food served. Everything is getting back to normal (except that Uday Hussein is no longer a regular).

One rule... "No talk of politics, and no talk of religion. It's absolutely forbidden," says manager Maksood al-Sanjary. "People come here to enjoy themselves, and talk of such things does not belong at the club."

Stateside
Gordon Lubold reports that Turkey is likely to play a prominent role as the US begins to remove thousands of tons of equipment and supplies from Iraq over the next year or so, according to defense officials. Using Kuwait alone doesn’t seem possible, due to the fears that it will “choke” the huge amount of material being shipped, and even with a probably secondary route of Amman, Turkey (possibly on to the southern coast of Aqaba) will likely not be enough, either.
The American military has been quietly shipping construction materials, food, fuel, and other nonlethal items into Iraq through Turkey using a two-lane commercial border crossing known as the Habur Gate in southeastern Turkey.

...The country, which hosts a large US airbase at Incirlik, could also be a major hub for the United States as it ramps up operations in Afghanistan. Earlier this month the government of Kyrgyzstan announced it would no longer allow the US to operate a key base there. That presents a prickly logistical challenge as the US prepares to send as many as 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan. Today, some 1,000 commercial trucks cross the Turkish border into Iraq every day, many of which carry goods for the US military.
Lubold mentions that the Turkish government, opposing the 2003 US invasion, did not permit US forces to invade from Turkey. Things have changed, he says, since the two countries “allied in response to the growing threat posed by the PKK,” which might be seen as a mischaracterization of events, since Turkey had been badgering the US about the PKK for years, and eventually made it clear that they were crossing the border, either way.

Other than that, the dustiness of the Habur Gate seems to have impressed Lubold.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

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