The Common Ills


Thursday, July 26, 2012
Iraq snapshot

Iraq snapshot


Thursday, July 26, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the political crisis and Baghdad's oil stand off with the KRG continue, the temperature reaches 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in Iraq, Paul Bremer makes a questionable assertion, again on the joint-hearing of the House Armed Services and House Veterans Affairs Committeess, and more.


Namo Abdulla (Rudaw) reports on Paul Bremer, the Bwana of Baghdad, the first US viceroy after the start of the illegal war in 2003. From May 2003 through June 2004, Bremer was the Administrator and among the most controversial orders he issued was Provisional Authority Order Number 1 which opens:


Recognizing that the Iraqi people have suffered large scale human rights abuses and depravations over many years at the hands of the Ba'ath Party,
Nothing the grave concern of Iraqi society regarding the threat posed by the continuation of Ba'ath Party networks and personnel in the administration of Iraq, and the intimidation of the people of Iraq by Ba'ath Party officals,
Conerned by the continuing threat to the security of the Coalition Forces posed by the Iraqi Ba'ath Party,
I hearby promulgate the following


Section 1 is "Disestablishment of the Ba'ath Party." Abdulla reports:


One of which was a decree drafted to outlaw the former Baath Party. It was called “de-Baathification” in English, but what Iraqis implemented was closer to the Arabic or Kurdish version of the word, "ijtithath - rishekeshkrdn" -- to uproot.
About the implementation of this, Bremer showed a little regret. "Of course," he said, "the de-Baathifcation decree was never intended to exclude Baathists from being in the government."
"It affected only 1 percent of the Baath Party, the top 1 percent. The mistake I made was turning the implementation of the decree over to Iraqi politicians, who then expanded the implementation far beyond what was written in the decree," Bremer said, adding that he should have turned the decree over to lawyers and judges who would have had a narrower, legal approach.
Bremer believes that de-Baathification itself was the correct decision and had been made long before he was appointed as Iraq's governor.


Now we've tried to be fair to Bremer on this issue. He has taken the blame on this in the press and that's largely because most of the reporters covering this were friends with or friendly with Colin Powell who tossed Bremer to the wolves to protect his own ass -- a little trick Collie's practiced for years. We'll allow that he did not go off on his own with this. He was acting on the White House's orders (Bush White House). But to go further and agree with him that only 1% were effected? Wrong. That's completely wrong to the point that it is a lie and he's smart enough to know how wrong it is so he is a liar who knows he's lying. His sudden 'I didn't know this would happen'? The British warned him against this and have testified in public to that fact. He also knew it was more than 1% and wanted it to be more than 1% according to John Sawers who is now the head of MI6 [England's secret service]. Let's revisit that in light of Bremer's claim today because he sure did come up a lot in testimony in London.


In fact, he may be cited in the testimony of the Iraq Inquiry more than any American except for George W. Bush. The Iraq Inquiry is a London inquiry by the UK government which has completed taking testimony but has still not released a report.

December 15, 2009, the British Ambassador to the US, Jeremy Greenstock, testified to the Iraq Inquiry that not only did Bremer ban all the Ba'athists (the dominant political party prior to the US invasion of Iraq) but he put Ahmed Chalibi in charge of the program which was also seen as a huge mistake. These actions were not minor. In 2010, the Justice and Accountability Commission would ban over 500 candidates and do so on the pretext that they were dangerous Ba'athists.


Chair John Chilcot: On the contrary, I was planning to offer you the opportunity
to make your final reflections on this very theme, and you have and thank you,
but are there other comments or observations you would like to offer before
we close?


General Michael Walker: Only ones that I -- to try and be helpful really. I think
the poor old Americans have come in for a lot of criticism, and my personal
belief was that the biggest mistake that was made over Iraq, notwithstanding
the decision that you may have made your own minds up about, but it was the
vice-regal nature of [Paul] Bremer's reign, and I think -- I mean, I don't want to
be personal about this but that particular six months, I think, set the scene for
Iraq in a way that we were never going to recover from.


The Inquiry repeatedly heard from military and diplomatic witnesses that Paul
Bremer's decision to disband the Ba'ath Party and being de-Ba'athification was harmful
and too sweeping. were no longer allowed to work for the government. While some witnesses may (or may not have) been offering statements that benefitted from hindsight, certainly those who warned Bremer before the policy was implemented were able to foresee what eventually happened. John Sawers now heads England's MI6. In 2003, he was the UK's Special Representative in Baghdad. He shared his observations to the Iraq Inquiry in testimony given on December 10th:


Committee Member Roderic Lyne: You arrived on 8 May, [head of CPA, the US' L. Paul] Bremer on the 12th, and within Bremer's first two weeks he had promulgated two extremely important decisions on de-Ba'athification and on dissolving the former Iraqi army. Can we look at those two decisions? To what extent were they Bremer's decisions or -- how had they been pre-cooked in Washington? I see you have got the Rand Report there, and the Rand Report suggests there had been a certain interagnecy process in Washington leading to these decisions, albeit Rand is quite critical of that process. And, very importantly for us, was the United Kingdom consulted about these crucial decisions? Was the Prime Minister consulted? Were you consulted? It is pretty late in the day be then for you to have changed them. Can you take us through that story.


John Sawers: Can I separate them and deal with de-Ba'athification first.


Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Yes.


John Sawers: When I arrived in Baghdad on 8 May, one of the problems that ORHA were facing was that they had been undiscriminating in their Iraqi partners. They had taken, as their partners, the most senior figures in the military, in -- not in the military, sorry, in the ministries, in the police, in institutions like Baghdad University, who happened to be there. And in several of these instances, Baghdad University was one, the trade ministry was another, the health ministry, the foreign ministry, the Baghdad police -- the working level were in uproar because they were being obliged to work for the same Ba'athist masters who had tyrannised them under the Saddam regime, and they were refusing to cooperate on that basis. So I said, in my first significant report back to London, which I sent on the Sunday night, the day before Bremer came back, that there were a number of big issues that needed to be addressed. I listed five and one of those five was we needed a policy on which Ba'athists should be allowed to stay in their jobs and which should not. And there was already a debate going on among Iraqi political leaders about where the line should be drawn. So I flagged it up on the Sunday evening in my first report, which arrived on desks on Monday morning, on 11 May. When Bremer arrived late that evening, he and I had a first discussion, and one of the first things he said to me was that he needed to give clarity on de-Ba'athification. And he had some clear ideas on this and he would want to discuss it. So I reported again early the following monring that this was high on the Bremer's mind and I needed a steer as to what our policy was. I felt that there was, indeed, an important need for a policy on de-Ba'athifciation and that, of the various options that were being considered, some I felt, were more far-reaching than was necessary but I wasn't an expert on the Iraqi Ba'ath Party and I needed some guidance on this. I received some guidance the following day, which was helpful, and I used that as the basis for my discussion with Bremer -- I can't remember if it was the Wednesday or the Thursday that week but we had a meeting of -- Bremer and myself and our political teams, where this was discussed, and there was very strong support among the Iraqi political parties for quite a far-reaching de-Ba'athification policy. At the meeting itself, I had concerted beforehand with Ryan Crocker, who was the senior American political adviser, and I said to him that my guidance was that we should limit the scope of de-Ba'athification to the top three levels of the Ba'ath Party, which included about 5,000 people, and that we thought going to the fourth level was a step too far, and it would involve another 25,000 or so Iraqis, which wasn't necessary. And I thought Crocker was broadly sympathetic to that approach but at the meeting itself Bremer set out a strong case for including all four levels, ie the top 30,000 Ba'athists should be removed from their jobs, but there should be a policy in place for exemptions. I argued the alternative. Actually, unhelpfully, from my point of view, Ryan Crocker came in in strong support of the Bremer proposal, and I think he probably smelled the coffee and realised that this was a policy that had actually already been decided in Washington and there was no point getting on the wrong side of it. I was not aware of that at that stage and, in fact, it was only when I subsequently read the very thorough account by the Rand Corporation of these issues that I realised there had been an extensive exchange in -- between agencies in Washington.


Despite Sawers' recommendation, Bremer wanted to expand it to four levels. He knew what he was doing and until Paul Bremer's willing to testify in public on the record about what happened, all we have is the British witnesses who (a) were all British officials and (b) seemed plausible in their comments about Bremer's actions.


Bremer's de-Ba'athifcation is still an issue today although some of that is not his fault. The Bush White House set as a benchmark in 2007 national reconciliation and Nouri al-Maliki signed off on it but that never happened. Due to the increased security problems -- little reported in the US press -- the decision was made last month to bring back the Ba'athist members of the former army. Former army? Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2 [misspelled on the original government document as "COALITION PROVISIONAL SUTHORITY ORDER NUMBER 2"] disbanded the army. Some Shi'ite politicians have expressed concern over the decision but it is happening. Xinhua reports, "Hundreds of ex-army officers under the ousted president Saddam Hussein have gathered Wednesday at a Baghdad military base to sign up to return to the army, or to be pensioned off. On June 8, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered to reinstate the former army officers during a visit to the northern Iraqi Sunni province of Nineveh."


Turning to the oil issue, Aimee Duffy (The Motley Fool) explains Nouri's Baghdad-based government's annoyance over ExxonMobil and Chevron's contracts with the KRG:


Essentially, the Iraqi central government has a problem with the autonomy of the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, when it comes to the oil business. At the heart of the matter is, naturally, money. Crude oil exports make up two-thirds of the country's GDP. As domestic demand increases, the importance of maintaining complete control of its reserves and production increases as well.
Part of maintaining that control means avoiding production-sharing contracts with foreign oil companies, which is exactly what Iraq has done. The central government signs service contracts instead.
But, production-sharing agreements are much more lucrative than the typical service contracts offered by many foreign governments with national oil companies. It is the reason, for example, that Exxon won't do business in Mexico; that country's constitution outlaws PSAs.
Naturally, when Kurdistan offered up production sharing contracts, the majors jumped at the chance.


One important aspect Duffy leaves out is the March auction Baghdad staged. It was a bust. We knew that going in. Check the February 22nd snapshot where we noted what was being offered by Baghdad was "a dingo dog with fleas." That's just one example. We explained repeatedly that what was being offered -- the fields themselves -- were considered substandard, that the issue raised above (the contracts themselves -- service contracts) and other issues. They don't appear in Duffy's analysis but let's go to the day after the May auction ended, from the May 31st snapshot:


Iraq's two day energy auction ended today. Yesterday brought one successful bid. W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) explain, "Iraq on Thursday closed a landmark auction of energy exploration blocks with just three contracts awarded out of a potential 12, dampening hopes the sale would cement its role as a key global supplier." The offerings weren't seen as desirable and the deals offered even less so. But big business began sending signals this auction would not go well over two months ago. (And we've noted that at least three times in previous months.) That's due to the instability in Iraq caused by Nouri -- and it is seen as caused by Nouri in the oil sector because he is the prime minister, he did pick a fight with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, he did order Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested. All the instability in recent months have not helped. His attacks on ExxonMobil and their deal with the KRG has not helped. Nouri al-Maliki is bad for business. If Iraq had the arrangement they did under Saddam Hussein, Nouri could get away with that. But he's going to have to grasp real soon that state oil isn't what it was under Hussein. The economic model (imposed by the US) is mixed. And if Iraqis hadn't fought back, it would be strictly privatized. Nouri's not yet learned that his actions impact Iraq's business. (And, in fairness to Nouri, this is a new thing for Iraq. Saddam Hussein could do anything and it wasn't an issue unless the super powers decided it was. But, again, it's a mixed model now. Nouri might need to bring in some economic advisors from out of the country.) W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) report Iraq's response to the poor showing at the auction is to declare that they will hold another one.


Those issues do matter to businesses. The reason the KRG has a better business sector post-March-2003 invasion of Iraq is because it is seen as more stable and more calm and businesses feel safer -- both physically and in terms of stability -- doing business in the KRG. [If you dbout that, not only have you missed years and years of press on the KRG but you've also missed Priyanka Pradhan's article today for Kipp Report -- "Iraqi Kurdistan seems far removed from those stereotypical war torn, strife ridden images conjured up in the minds of people who've last heard of Iraq as one of the world's most dangerous places to visit." -- or yesterday's piece by Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program I for the Richmond Times Dispatch.] Also very importnat, Nouri's crazy does not play well for the business community and his inability to move Iraq forward after 6 years in the post does not go unnoticed by the international business community. Patrick Osgood (Arabian Oil and Gas) offers this view on the issue:


The confirmed entry of Chevron has also dealt Iraqi Prime Minister Nour Al-Maliki a blow in his campaign against Exxon’s Kurdish contracts, and further highlights the attractiveness of the terms on offer from the KRG relative to those from the central government after the Oil Ministry's fourth fidding round fiasco in late May.
Chevron had a long-standing relationship with the Iraqi government, having started a technical assistance program in Iraq in 2003. The company had pre-qualified to bid in the fourth round auction, but declined to bid.
It is, however, easy to overplay the significance of the Chevron move.
Unlike Exxon, Chevron has no prior interests in south Iraq, save for a commitment to take liftings of Iraqi crude, which the Oil Ministry did not mention. The blocks are not in disputed territory, unlike three of the six blocks awarded to Exxon, which have tied Rex Tillerson’s company to Kurdish territorial maximalism as well as the dispute over oil policy.


Trend News Agency notes, "The Kurdistan administration in nothern Iraq has oil reserves of 45 billion barrels." Sunday, Nasiriyah reported the National Alliance MP Abdul Salam al-Mliki was telling the press that the National Alliance would file a lawsuit against the KRG becuase of exports to Turkey as well as contracts with ExxonMobil and Chevron. An on the record threat of a lawsuit. That's among the many things that makes AKnews assertion, "An Iraqi legal expert said he is counting on the results of the efforts of the parliamentary committee responsible for monitoring the oil disputes between Baghdad and Erbil after visiting and meeting with officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources in the Kurdistan Region, adding that the crisis will be resolved during the next two days," so questionable.


Questionable is also reporting or 'reporting.' Rod Nordland (New York Times) writes today, "Al Qaeda insurgents in Iraq clashed with the country's security forces on Thursday, the second attack this week in what Al Qaeda in Iraq's leader has depicted as a new offensive aimed at recapturing lost ground." Considering the paper's 'reporting' on Iraq since 2001 (days after 9-11 they ran a front page story falsely connecting Iraq to 9-11 and, no, Judith Miller wasn't the writer), you'd think the paper would try sticking to what they know when detailing 'facts.' The group is the Islamic State of Iraq. Their leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Nordland and his paper may believe (today) that al-Baghdadi is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq but they do not know that and they can't prove it. His group is affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq. Again, with all they've gotten wrong in the not-so-distant past on Iraq, you'd think they'd tread very carefully when offering 'facts' on Iraq. Prashant Rao (AFP) notes of the Islamic State of Iraq, "Last weekend, the group said it would look to retake territory, and appealed for Sunni tribes to provide support and send fighters, in an Internet audio message purportedly left by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi." The Islamic State of Iraq issued a public statement on Sunday which included a threat of attacks on US soil.

Brian Bennett (Los Angeles Times) reports that the House Homeland Security Commission held a hearing to assess the threat.   Janet Napolitano, the Secretary on Homeland Security, appeared before the Committee.


Secretary Janet Napolitano: While the United States has made significant progress, threats from terrorists -- including, but not limited to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliated groups -- persist and continually evolve, and the demands on DHS continue to grow. Today's threats are not limited to any one individual group or ideology and are not defined or contained by international borders. Terrorists tactics can be as simple as a homemade bomb and as sophisticated as a biological threat or coordinated cyber attack.


I wasn't at the hearing, that's from her opening statement. You can read it [PDF format warning] here. Matthew Olsen of the National Counterterrorism Center also testified. You can read his opening statement here.


Matthew Olsen: [. . .] we remain at war with al-Qa'ida, and we face an evolving threat from its affiliates and adherents. America's campaign against terrorism did not end with the mission at Bin Ladin's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Indeed, the threats we face have become more diverse. As al-Qa'ida's core leadership struggles to remain relevant, the group has turned to its affiliates and adherents to carry out attacks and to advance its ideology. These groups are from an array of countries, including Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq and Iran. To varying degrees, these groups coordinate their activities and follow the direction of al-Qa'ida leaders in Pakistan. Many of the extremist groups themselves are multidimensional, blurring the lines between terrorist group, insurgency and criminal gang.


If there is a threat, it's important that the press identify it correctly. It's also important that the press report it. As a whole the American press is failing at both objectives.


Violence continues in Iraq. Xinhua notes this late Wednesday violence, "As many as seven al-Qaida fighters and five security members were killed in clashes at a former al-Qaida stronghold in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, a provincial police told Xinhua on Thursday." AP notes that 11 police officers were killed late last night and early this morning and "Diyala provincial spokesman Salih Ebressim Khalil said militants targeted the Iraqi army helicopter, killing one soldier, wounding another and forcing it to make an emergency landing." Al Rafidayn reports that a Tikrit car bombing has left 5 people dead and ten injured.

Like violence, the political crisis continues. The Economist offers their take on the political crisis today:

But Mr Maliki, who has been in charge since 2006, is opposed not just by Sunni jihadists. Many moderate Iraqis, both Shias and Sunnis, fear he is heading down a path to dictatorship. The political atmosphere is toxic. No meaningful legislation, apart from an annual budget, has been passed for several years. One of the country’s two vice-presidents, Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, is being tried in absentia for alleged links to terrorism. Iraq’s Kurds are increasingly divorced from the rest of the country: their regional government has now signed 48 oil contracts without the consent of the national government in Baghdad, which is infuriated. Meanwhile people in the capital and other towns, suffering sweltering temperatures during the fasting month of Ramadan, are frequently bereft of electricity. There have been angry mass protests in Basra, the main town of the south, against dire public services.
However, Mr Maliki is still managing to shore up support, mainly among his fellow Shias, who make up a good 60% of the population. One of the Kurds’ two main leaders, Jalal Talabani, the country’s president, who wants to sustain the status quo by keeping Mr Maliki in place, has ensured that parliament does not have a chance to vote on a no-confidence motion.


Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. al-Mutlaq belongs to Iraqiya which came in first in the March 2010 elections while Nouri belongs to State of Law which came in second. Dar Addustour reports that the two discussed the stalemate, upcoming provincial elections and the election commission. Alsumaria notes that Ayad Allawi (head of Iraqiya) has stated today that the need to question Nouri before Parliament continues and needs to be speeded up. Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second to Iraqiya which should have ended any hopes Nouri had for a second term as prime minister. But the White House backed Nouri -- and spat on the Iraqi voters and the Iraqi Constitution -- allowing Nouri to create Political Stalemate I which lasted for 8 months. It was ended when the all parties -- including Nouri -- agreed to the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. It gave the Kurds this, Iraqiya that, etc. Nouri? It gave him a second term as prime minister. He used the Erbil Agreement to get that, pretended he was going to honor the contract but, as soon as he was named prime minister, he tossed it aside. Since the summer of 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr have been publicly calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. This is Political Stalemate II. Currently, there is a move -- and it's Constitutional -- to call Nouri before the Parliament and question him. After questioning, a vote could be taken to determine whether or not the answers he provided restored confidence in him or meant that the MPs registered a no-confidence vote.

Alsumaria notes that Ayad Allawi stated he was reviewing the strategy for the next move. All Iraq News adds that he restated, in the press statement, his opinion that the Reform Commission was a waste of time. Back on December 21st, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi (a member of Iraqiya) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) began calling for a national conference to address the ongoing stalemate and/or crisis. Nouri threw every road block he could think of to delay and stop that from happening. In June, suddenly he wanted a Reform Commission to 'solve' the problem. The Reform Commission is a joke. It's always been a joke. It's Nouri's pets declaring what they want for him and it has no teeth so even if the other political players had full participation, nothing would come from it. Allawi notes that the Erbil Agreement needs to be reinstated and that a series of 'reforms' prepared by (Nouri's) National Alliance isn't going to change that. He notes the demands remain the same as they've been all along.

In a sign of what a tool the National Alliance is becoming for Nouri (largely Ammar al-Hakim and Ibrahim al-Jafaari's segment of the National Alliance) on Saturday, Nasiriyah reported that the National Alliance was vowing to refuse to allow the bill to pass that would limit a prime minister to two terms (it would also put a two-term limit on the presidency and on the Speaker of Parliament but the National Alliance is only concerned with Nouri).


The Khaleej Times' editorial board notes, "While politicians squabble for control in the Iraqi parliament, the roads and streets of the country are stained with blood of innocent people. If the country’s politicians don’t realise the gravity of the situation and reach a compromise, there’s a possibility that Iraq might become ungovernable again."


Today the Parliament was supposed to pass an Election Law which would allow for provincial elections in March of next year. Nasiriyah reports that the vote has been postponed. Also today, Alsumaria notes, the temperature was expected to reach 49 degrees Celsius. That's 120 degrees Farehnheit (actually 120.2 degrees). Al Rafidayn notes that today's been declared a holiday as a result of the heat. AFP notes that it actually reached 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 degrees Farehnheit) and they report:


Hunched over, Yaqub mutters softly, "It's Ramadan, and I am fasting," as if to justify his actions, before he steps underneath an outdoor shower in central Baghdad to cool off in the boiling heat.
"It's hard," the delivery man admits, referring to the temperatures across Iraq which have topped 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent days, spurring authorities to declare Thursday a holiday for all government workers.
"This feels good," Yaqub, 53, says after a refreshing splash of water.


Yesterday's snapshot covered the joint-hearing of the US House Armed Services Committee and House Veterans Affairs Committee. I stated, "Sequestration was discussed. This is an automatic measure that will kick in if the buget is not balanced. Established in the hearing is the Veterans Affairs will not be effected but the Defense Dept will be." A community member noted Michael Levine's Honolulu Civil Beat who quotes VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stating VA "is exempt from sequestration -- except for administrative costs." Which is it? Levine's correct in his quote. But that's not what we've been covering or that veterans have been worried about. Their concern and what we've been covering is health care, etc. That will not be effected. Sequestration will not touch that. Administrative efforts? Though hard for many to believe, the VA could get slower. But if sequestration kicks in (automatic budget cuts), VA will not be effected in terms of what it supplies veterans. Senators Patty Murray and Richard Burr and House Reps Jeff Miller and Bob Filner -- among others -- worked very hard on addressing this: Veterans will not be effected. The White House is very clear on how bad that would look for them if veterans benefits were cut. Barack Obama already has enough problems with veterans issues as Reuters pointes out:


His 2013 budget request for the VA is more than $40 billion, or 41 percent, bigger than the one he inherited when he took office, helping to cover construction of hospitals and clinics, staff increases, and expanded disability benefits. That has come despite the warning from some in the outgoing George W. Bush administration that the VA apparatus "is broken, just play defense," according to a member of Obama's transition team.
Yet, based on interviews with veterans, their advocates, and VA and other administration officials, as well as a review of available data, life for many veterans has grown more challenging under Obama's watch.
Veterans returning home today join lines for disability payments much longer than those Obama called intolerable in 2008. Their chances of finding jobs in a bleak economy are worse than those of most other Americans. Veterans' complaints of employment discrimination by the federal government have actually risen.
Veterans remain more likely to be homeless than the general population. The VA estimates more than 67,000 sleep in shelters and on the streets or are otherwise considered homeless, a figure that is only slightly better than in 2009.


In the hearing yesterday, Shinseki and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were the two witnesses offering testimony. Ranking Member Bob Filner spoke of how he felt there should be an exit boot camp to address various issues that can come up in civilian life. Last night, Ava's covered that in "The joint Armed Service and House Veterans hearing (Ava)." On the continued lack of interface between VA and DoD, Steve Vogel (Washington Post) notes this morning, "The Washington Post reported in November that despite the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala commission in 2007 to create a single point of contact to cut red tape for the most severely wounded service members, DoD and VA had instead created at least a dozen programs to coordinate the care." Esther Carey (Federal News Radio) reports today, "The two departments signed a roadmap agreement that will let them develop a future integrated system under a common technology framework. Shinseki said a key difference between the current effort and other failures over the past 10 years was that the way ahead envisions an open-architecture system rather than one that hinges on closed, proprietary systems." Shinseki said a lot. A lot of hot air, a lot of justifications, a lot of nonsense. We'll note two members who called this happy talk out.


US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle: My question has to do with -- and you've heard some references to it -- the Dole - Shalala Commission and the fact that now, five years later, after they issued this urgent call to streamline, to make sure that we have a single point of reference for the care and service and benefits of our military we have to very distinct entities. We've had multiple hearings trying to get assurance from DoD and the VA as to how you're going to get this together so we can make sure that our veterans get the services without being overwhelmed by an extremely complex system. So I would ask you both today, please, how specifically -- what are the goals, what is the plan, to get these two entitites under one roof so that you're complying with the Dole - Shalala Commission and their recommendations for our veterans. I thank you both.


Secretary Eric Shinseki: The program, the Federal Recovery Coordination Program, in existence since 2007, and I think as Secretary Panetta indicated earlier, two good Departments launched and essentially developed good programs that don't quite harmonize. We have a task force with the specific direction to study and bring harmony to these programs, where are we being -- duplicating one another? Where are we not doing things that we should be doing? So it's going to get a good look here. And I'd say in the next couple of months. And I'd be happy -- and I think 

Secretary Panetta would be as well -- to make our people available to provide the results of that.


Secretary Leon Panetta: You know, we -- Look, we -- I think -- Secretary Shinseki and I share the same frustration. I mean, I -- We've been working on this and frankly we've been pushing on this to say why can't we get faster results? Why can't we get this done on a faster track? And, you know, bottom line is: Frankly, we're just going to have to kick ass and try to make it happen and that's what we're going to do.


US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle: I would suggest in your opening statement, Mr. Panetta, you mentioned commitment and we look to the military, their commitment, as an example to our country. We should be that committed to them to make sure that we get this job done. I thank you both very much.


Though he spoke several people before Buerkle, US House Rep Bill Johnson's comments really fit with her remarks .


US House Rep Bill Johnson: I understand that you can't account for the last 10 years, Mr. Secretary [Shinseki] and I understand that you've got two bureaucracies that don't necessarily like to be told what to do and get along all the time. But I'll submit to you that another five years is-is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me and, gentlemen, it ought to be unacceptable to you. This is not a matter of can-do or should-do. This is a matter of want-to and will-do. This is 2012. And one of the underlying issues, Mr. Secretary, quite honestly is the VA's lack of an overall technology architecture. You and I have talked about this before and it still doesn't exist today as far as I know. I've pointed that out. My Committee has pointed that out. Organizations outside that have looked at the VA's IT Dept have pointed that out. You know, I'm just not convinced that five years from now -- given that I don't know where you two will be -- but my fear is that we're going to be sitting right here talking about this same issue again because we're not going about it with the discipline that's needed. I come from an information techonology career of over 30 years. I worked at US Special Operations Command as the Director of the CIO staff. I know what it takes to get this stuff done and five years, gentlemen, is totallly unacceptable. And I don't really have a question for you I just want you to fix this for crying out loud.

Those are some pretty important statements even before you factor in that they came from someone with an Information and Technology (IT) background.  We'll close out on Wednesday's hearing by including this section where US House Rep Niki Tsongas is noting the documentary The Invisible War:


US House Rep Niki Tsongas: As you [Shinseki] say, "That which starts during military service ends up in the VA." And that movie so painfully highlights the multiple bureaucratic hurdles survivors of such assualts -- which are all too frequent across all the services -- must endure to prove that their physical or their psychiatric symptoms are connected to an incident of Military Sexual Trauma. And shows that too often, victims are unsuccessful in pursuing their claims for assistance. To address one aspect of this problem, the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Authorization Act included language that required the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to develop a comprehensive policy for the Dept of Defense on the retention of access to evidence and records relating to sexual assault involving members of the Armed Services. This policy is to be in place by October 1, 2012. Can you both comment on the status of this policy? I'd also welcome any further thoughts you may have on how these claims can be processed faster and more accurately.


Secretary Leon Panetta: It's a -- It's a very important issue for me. I'm not going to wait for the legislation to put that policy in place because I think it ought to take place in providing that kind of guidance and assistance to those that have been the victims of sexual assault so that they get the kind of support that they need in order to get not only the care they need but, if they want to continue their career, to get the support system that would allow them to continue their career. And I think it's fair to say that Secretary Shinseki and I are going to work together on to make sure that we can -- we can deal with this on both sides -- not only on the Defense side, but on the Veterans side for those that ultimately move in that direction.


US House Rep Niki Tsongas: Thank you both. I look forward to seeing that policy in effect.




Posted at 06:10 pm by thecommonills
 

Iraqi fighters down a helicopter and more

Iraqi fighters down a helicopter and more

Violence continues in Iraq.  Xinhua notes this late Wednesday violence, "As many as seven al-Qaida fighters and five security members were killed in clashes at a former al-Qaida stronghold in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, a provincial police told Xinhua on Thursday."  AP notes that 11 police officers were killed late last night and early this morning and "Diyala provincial spokesman Salih Ebressim Khalil said militants targeted the Iraqi army helicopter, killing one soldier, wounding another and forcing it to make an emergency landing."  Al Rafidayn reports that a Tikrit car bombing has left 5 people dead and ten injured.

Like violence, the political crisis continues.  Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.  al-Mutlaq belongs to Iraqiya which came in first in the March 2010 elections while Nouri belongs to State of Law which came in second.  Dar Addustour reports that the two discussed the stalemate, upcoming provincial elections and the election commission.  Alsumaria notes that Ayad Allawi (head of Iraqiya) has stated today that the need to question Nouri before Parliament continues and needs to be speeded up.  Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second to Iraqiya which should have ended any hopes Nouri had for a second term as prime minister.  But the White House backed Nouri -- and spat on the Iraqi voters and the Iraqi Constitution -- allowing Nouri to create Political Stalemate I which lasted for 8 months.  It was ended when the all parties -- including Nouri -- agreed to the US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  It gave the Kurds this, Iraqiya that, etc.  Nouri?  It gave him a second term as prime minister. He used the Erbil Agreement to get that, pretended he was going to honor the contract but, as soon as he was named prime minister, he tossed it aside.  Since the summer of 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr have been publicly calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  This is Political Stalemate II.  Currently, there is a move -- and it's Constitutional -- to call Nouri before the Parliament and question him.  After questioning,  a vote could be taken to determine whether or not the answers he provided restored confidence in him or meant that the MPs registered a no-confidence vote.

Alsumaria notes that Ayad Allawi stated he was reviewing the strategy for the next move.   All Iraq News adds that he restated, in the press statement, his opinion that the Reform Commission was a waste of time.  Back on December 21st, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi (a member of Iraqiya) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) began calling for a national conference to address the ongoing stalemate and/or crisis.  Nouri threw every road block he could think of to delay and stop that from happening.  In June, suddenly he wanted a Reform Commission to 'solve' the problem.  The Reform Commission is a joke.  It's always been a joke. It's Nouri's pets declaring what they want for him and it has no teeth so even if the other political players had full participation, nothing would come from it.  Allawi notes that the Erbil Agreement needs to be reinstated and that a series of 'reforms' prepared by (Nouri's) National Alliance isn't going to change that.  He notes the demands remain the same as they've been all along. 

In a sign of what a tool the National Alliance is becoming for Nouri (largely Ammar al-Hakim and Ibrahim al-Jafaari's segment of the National Alliance) on Saturday, Nasiriyah reported that the National Alliance was vowing to refuse to allow the bill to pass that would limit a prime minister to two terms (it would also put a two-term limit on the presidency and on the Speaker of Parliament but the National Alliance is only concerned with Nouri).

Today the Parliament was supposed to pass an Election Law which would allow for provincial elections in March of next year.  Nasiriyah reports that the vote has been postponed. Also today, Alsumaria notes, the temperature is expected to reach 49 degrees Celsius. That's 120 degrees Farehnheit (actually 120.2 degrees).   Al Rafidayn notes that today's been declared a holiday as a result of the heat.



Iraq has the attention of some.  At the right-wing Commentary, Max Boot weighed in on the topic yesterday including this:



But there are still things we can do to try to prevent Prime Minister Maliki from alienating Sunnis even more than he already has. The fact that the Iraqis are counting on major weapons sales from the U.S. (the Pentagon has just placed an initial order for 16 F-16s) gives us a certain amount of leverage, albeit limited leverage–the Iraqis are rich enough to buy weapons elsewhere if we refuse to sell them. But we can at least try to condition our weapons deliveries on continued Iraqi progress on governance and human rights.
To do that effectively, however, we need high-level attention focused on Iraq. That has been totally lacking in the Obama White House, which has handed off the Iraq portfolio to Vice President Biden–only he has a multitude of other responsibilities and doesn’t seem to be particularly focused on Iraq. The president, meanwhile, appears to be totally disengaged, treating Iraq as if it were his predecessor’s problem, not his. This helps to explain why we couldn’t get the status of forces agreement and why we are not able to exert much leverage at the moment to counteract strong Iranian and sectarian influence in Baghdad.


Max Boot is not an idiot -- even though we're on opposite sides of the political fence, I don't think he's an idiot.  But it bothers me that he rightly suggests non-US troops on the ground things the US can do when The Nation magazine (see the July 9th snapshot) falsely presented the choices as troops on the ground or nothing at all.  Good for Max Boot for knowing that.  Sad for The Nation for not having a clue.  Also weighing in on Iraq is China Daily's editorial board which notes:


The wave of violence across 19 Iraqi cities on Monday, which left 111 people dead and at least 235 injured, has shocked the international community. The heaviest death toll in two years in Iraq highlights the after-effects of the Iraq War, and should be a message of caution for those who are still keen on forcing another regime change in the Middle East.
Monday's violence, which came after al-Qaida had warned that it would try to retake lost territory, carries the stamp of the terrorist group. But it is not enough to just condemn the cruelty of terrorists and remind the world community of the daunting task of uprooting terrorism.
In fact, Iraq has been in a quagmire of political instability, sectarian rift and violence ever since the United States pulled its troops out of it in December.

And, again, I want to note that Dan Murphy has a very comprehensive overview of the current situation in Iraq at the Christian Science Monitor




The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.




 




Posted at 07:51 am by thecommonills
 

The threat against the US and the failure of 'trusted voices'

The threat against the US and the failure of 'trusted voices'

Yesterday, Congress heard about the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq to the United States.  Brian Bennett (Los Angeles Times) reports that the House Homeland Security Commission held a hearing to assess the threat.  I have a huge problem with this section of the report:


On Sunday, the day before the latest wave of attacks in Iraq killed at least 110 people, the militant group released an audio recording to mark the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The message announced a new campaign of violence against the Iraqi government, praised Syria's uprising and made a call for new recruits to join the group. It also spoke directly to Americans.
"You will soon witness how attacks will resound in the heart of your land, because our war with you has now started," said a man that identified himself as Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the pseudonym used by the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"al Qaeda in Iraq" did not issue that statement.  Abu Bakr Baghdadi leads the Islamic State of Iraq which is affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq.  If some terrorist organization issues a threat on the US, the press has an obligation to name that group -- not hide an umbrella catch-all.  The public has the right to be informed.  This is not a minor point and the press seems bound and determined to prove that they are the most ignorant press in the world and intent upon misinforming the people. The Islamic State of Iraq and others affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq may or may not be a threat to the US.  But the press owes it to the American people to get the facts right.  This is sloppy, pre-9/11 reporting that indicates no lessons were learned despite claims to the contrary.

Look at how the US press is failing.  There may be a threat to the US on domestic shores coming out of Iraq.  (There may not be.)  And the tape was released Sunday.  Where's the network television coverge.  At least Bennett and the Los Angeles Times covered the hearing. (And the Tribune is syndicating the story so you'll read it in various newspapers across the country.)   But where are the other news outlets doing their own coverage?

And where is their inernational news coverage?

Not the crap ass, Carrie Nations, rush to the scene of natural disaster and shed a few crocodile tears and wail "Oh, the humanity!" b.s. that the press specializes in but the real reporting that they were supposed to be doing, that they were supposed to return to, after 9/11.  Remember the 'never again' nonsense?  Remember how they were going to return to their roots?

Maybe they did, after all the roots of American journalism are tabloid journalism.


If there's another attack on US shores, the 'winners' are the conservatives in Iraq because, in their periodicals, they never forget the potential of another terrorist threat.  Should one be executed on US soil, they will have 'bragging rights' and be on the ground ready to discuss what happened, to explain how they had already been covering it and everyone else will largely be scrambling.  So who controls the narrative in that situation?

The right-wing.  And that is disgusting because it demonstrates that the left has not learned one damn thing from 9-11.  Who do we have that can speak as an authority if an attack happened at noon today?  Who at the opinion journals cover this?  No one.  The Nation can offer one useless piece of crap every two weeks but can't do a piece on safety and, as everyone should avhe realized after 9-11, a sense of safety is as important in the US as it is anywhere else.

The wallowing in fear after 9-11 allowed so much that is currently wrong with our country to take place.  That especially includes the PATRIOT Act and the rounding up of Muslims.  But there has been so much more.  And yet, on the left, we'd rather waste our space -- our limited space -- on some nonsense like lies about the death of a dog on a family vacation (I'm referring to the nonsense about Mitt Romney's dog -- nonsense that invaded the Senate yesterday) than address what matters.

The left really needs to grow the hell up and grasp that if terrorist attack in the US, the vast majority of Americans -- who don't fall into the left or right holding tanks -- are going to be in front of their TVs attempting to find out what's going on and they're not going to take seriously the musings of a 'Mad Professor' (to name one of many worthless Nation magazine columns) or the pith of the MSNBC no-stars.  In fact, they're going to remember all the stupid jokes the MSNBC 'anchors' (talk show hosts) have wasted everyone's time on when they could have been addressing reality.  I'm referring to the evening and prime time MSNBC shows.  I'm not talking about, for example, Andrea Mitchell's show.  Andrea is a news reporter and usually knows what's actually news as opposed to what's the hype of the week.  But the rest?


You discredit yourself daily by being unable or unwilling to do anything other than pose as the latest Comedy Central hire.

It appears Jon Stewart's real gift to America will be instilling the false belief in a lot of unfunny people that there's a stand-up inside everyone.  As they struggle to get in touch with their inner comic, they fail at journalism.  Repeatedly.

This isn't a minor point.  When this site started, I repeatedly stated that we needed to find voices who spoke to us in case there was another 9-11 so we'd know where to go online because they surely wouldn't be on our TVs since they weren't last time.

But those voices we trusted on the left?  They betrayed that trust.

We get it.  Whoring for an inept president takes a lot of time.  We actually got that watching the Republicans from 2001 to 2008.  But we now gets that there are just as many whores on the left as on the right.  But don't think you can advance the DNC talking point of the day every day and still be seen as a trusted voice.  I believe left periodicals have gotten that message via the plummeting circulation figures.

It's equally amazing that, during the Bush years, they were so eager to talk beyond the left and reach out and get the message out but the minute Barack got into office, they all suddenly morphed into Rita Moreno's Anita in West Side Story, singing, "One of your own kind, stick to your own kind."  Over and over.  And, please remember, Anita was grieving a loss (the death of Bernardo).  By contrast when Barack was sworn in was supposed to be a victory for the left.

There are serious issues and the left is failing.  If there is another terrorist attack, the left's done nothing to establish any credentials to speak to it with any authority and it's how many years since September 11th?

For me, the right-wing lives in fear.  I can understand the left not 'patrolling' the topic in the same obsessive manner as the right-wing.  I reject fear. I refuse to allow it to govern how I vote or how I behave.  But that doesn't mean I ignore the world around me.  The choices should not be live in fear or stick your head in the sand.  But that is how the left's allowed it to play out by repeatedly refusing to address the serious topics so that they could instead spend the last four years propping up one man who didn't do a damn thing for them and never was going to.  His insult about "Tom Hayden Democrats" before getting into office and his non-stop waxing over Ronald Reagan should have tipped everyone off to that.

But it didn't matter that he wasn't going to do anything, our 'trusted voices' on the left were still going to waste their time and ours making every day about him.  Guess what?  There are billions of people on this planet and he is only one.  He will be replaced as every US president before him has been.  A Cult of Personality is not a free press.

The Islamic State of Iraq has issued a threat against the United States -- not a veiled one, a direct threat.  Americans have a right to know that.  Look at your paper, look at your TV screen, turn on your radio and see who bothered to inform you of that.  Again, the choices are not live in fear or bury your head in the sand.


The following community sites -- plus Iraq Inquiry Digest, Pacifica Evening News, Antiwar.com, The Diane Rehm Show and CSPAN --  updated last night and this morning:



Finally, David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with the opening of Bacon's "Mexican Farmers Up Against Canadian Mining Goliaths" (Truthout):


OAXACA, MEXICO (7/20/12) - For over two decades in many parts of Mexico, large corporations -- mostly foreign-owned but usually with wealthy Mexican partners - have developed huge projects in rural areas. Called mega-projects, the mines and resource extraction efforts take advantage of economic reforms and trade treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Emphasizing foreign investment, even at the cost of environmental destruction and the displacement of people, has been the development policy of Mexican administrations since the 1970s. When the National Action Party defeated the old governing Party of the Institutionalized Revolution in 2000, this economic development model did not change. In fact, the PAN simply took over the administration of this development policy, and even accelerated it, while in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies the two parties cooperated to advance its goals.
But while these projects enjoy official patronage at the top, they almost invariably incite local opposition over threatened or actual environmental disaster. Environmental destruction, along with accompanying economic changes, cause the dispacement of people. Families in communities affected by the impacts are uprooted, and often begin to migrate. Nevertheless, the projects enjoy official support, and are defended against rising protests from poor farmers and townspeople by the Federal government.
This economic model could have changed in Mexico's national elections at the beginning of July, had a party won that was committed instead to providing poor and indigenous communities with jobs and social services, to raising rural income, and to protecting labor and social rights. This was the program put forward by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the candidate of the leftwing Democratic Revolutionary Party.
The PRD did not win, however. Instead, the Mexican election campaign looked increasingly like those in the U.S., in which the two conservative parties, the PRI and PAN, were fueled by enormous corporate contributions. Heavy television coverage by two captive corporate networks excluded the left entirely, while "impartial polls" announced the inevitability of the PRI's return. And in the end, a wave of old-fashioned vote-buying backed up the media circus.
The return of the PRI to power does not change Mexico's social reality, especially not its corporate-dominated development policy. The cost of this policy has become most obvious, and the conflicts over it the sharpest, in rural communities faced with huge industrial mining projects. Under a new PRI administration, these conflicts will almost certainly spread, particularly given the party's history of using force against popular movements.
In Oaxaca and southern Mexico, growing anti-mining movements give a preview of what's on the horizon. Sharp conflicts have already broken out over mines in Oaxaca, where in one community indigenous leaders have been assassinated and the town deeply divided since the mine began operation. The companies and their defenders promise jobs and economic development. But affected communities charge that far more people lose jobs and their livelihoods because of their negative environmental and economic consequences.



The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.




 

Posted at 05:53 am by thecommonills
 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Iraq snapshot

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 25, 2012.  Chaos and violence, UNAMI's mandate is extended another year, Tareq al-Hashemi discusses the case against him, Iraqi forces continue to attack protesters but Iraqis continue to protest,  the US Congress hosts a hodgepodge of a hearing with one member possibly getting trippy, and more.


This morning, US House Rep Jeff Miller noted that "in 1961 John F. Kennedy said we'd put a man on the moon, eight years later, we were there.  We're talking about an integrated electronic health records by 2017.  Why could we put a man on the moon in eight years and we're not starting from ground zero on the electronic health record -- why is it taking so long?" He was asking that of the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki who were appearing before a joint-hearing of the House Armed Services and House Veterans Affairs Committee.  


Of course no real answer was given.  A grinning -- apparently amused -- Shinseki began his non-answer by declaring that "I can't account for the previous ten years."  Though he didn't say it, he also apparently couldn't account for the three years that he's been Secretary of the VA.  Three years and seven months.  You'd think Shinseki would be able to speak to the issue.  He couldn't.  He could offer that he met with Panetta four times this year with plans for a fifth meeting.  This was the same amount he met with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates but, apparently, in a few months less time.   I have no idea what that or his ridiculous grin was about. 

But I do think Shinseki may have inadvertantly provided an answer for the delay when he went on to declare,  "It's taken us seventeen months to get to an agreement that both Secretary Panetta and I signed that describes the way forward."  There's the problem right there. 


Back in March 2011 what was Shinseki bragging about?  As Bob Brewin (Nextgov.com) reported, "Veteran Affairs Sectretary Eric Shinseki said Thursday he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed on March 17 that their departments would develop a common electronic health record system."  So that was agreed to in March 2011.  But it took Shinseki and and Gates 17 months to figure out how?  There's your time waster right there.  And it was not needed.  Shinseki and Panette did not need to 'invent' a damn thing.  This is not a new issue.  VA has long ago addressed what they need with regards to records and DoD has identified the same.  And after this had been done (and redone), Robert Dole and Donna Shalala served on the Dole -Shalala Commission coming up with many of the same things.  The Dole -Shalala Commission was established in 2007 and formally known as the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors.   Appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee February 7, 2008, VA's Dr. James Peake testified that this electronic record was "a critical recommendation in the Dole-Shalala Commission report."


The hearing meant nothing for progress on that issue.  It was an embarrassment.  Leon Panetta can take comfort in the fact that he's only now about to hit the one-year mark but Shinseki was sworn in back in January.   Shinseki will get easy press at the end of his term and no one will complain about the foot dragging, the refusal to utilize the work that was already done -- that tax payers footed the bill for over and over -- and instead to take a laid back and non-rush attitude towards something identified as "critical" by a presidential commission back in 2007. 


US House Rep Susan Davis would ask about the lack of coordination between VA and DoD and also about "the kind of counselors that are needed for this" -- the influx of veterans expected as the Afghanistan War draws down -- and will be aware of the service member issues and resources and veterans issues and resources?  Training was the reply from Panetta to a question that probably required something more than a stock reply.


Other issues were brought up.  For example, Sequestration was discussed.  This is an automatic measure that will kick in if the buget is not balanced.  Established in the hearing is the Veterans Affairs will not be effected but the Defense Dept will be. 


Chair Buck McKeon:   As I've already said, we know there's high unemployment among our veterans -- our young veterans.  And we know with the 487 billion cut in defense, we will have a hundred thousand leaving the military.  We will have another hundred thousand  if the sequestration takes effect.  What plans do you have to ensure that these service members will not go from the front lines to the unemployment lines?  And how do you see potential reduction in the Defense workforce resulting from the sequestration and what effect will that have on -- what will you be able to do to try to move them into some kind of meaningful employment?  Mr. Secretary?

Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well I sure as hell hope sequestration doesn't happen. 

Chair Buck McKeon:  I'm with you.

Secretary Leon Panetta:  It would be -- as I said -- time and time again, a disaster for the Department as far as our budget is concerned and as far as our ability to respond to the threats that are out there.  And it would have a huge impact.  It takes -- It doubles the cuts in the military.  It would obviously add another hundred thousand that would have to be reduced and the impact of that on top of the reductions that are currently going to take place would place a huge burden on the systems to be able to respond to that.  I think that it would be near impossible to do the work that we're trying to do and make it work effectively.  I think that we can handle what we've proposed in our budget and the drawdown numbers that are coming now.  We've tried to do this pursuant to a rational strategy over these next five years.  And I think the systems that we are working on and what we are trying to put together in place, I'm confidant in that. But if sequestration should happen and be put on top of it, I think it could really strain the system. 

Chair Buck McKeon:   Mr. Secretary, could you please give us that input for the record.

US House Rep Buck McKeon is Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, House Rep Adam Smith is Ranking Member.  On the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the leadership is Chair Jeff Miller and Ranking Member Bob Filner.  There are many things that will be takeaways from today's hearing.  But the real take away should be Shinseki's ridiculous statement about the 'progress' on the eletronic medical record front,  "The fact that we've agreed upon a concept is, I think, groundbreaking."

Listening to that, it was hard not to recall Ranking Member Filner's opening remarks, specifically this: "The issues that we have, we've been talking as a Congress and with the Executive Branch for many, many years.   Decades in fact.  We've got to break down the bureaucratic stuff that keeps us from having a common health record system.  I mean it just -- People die because that system is not integrated enough.  It seems this is not beyond our capacity to get those systems integrated."  He said those words before either witness had spoken.  20 years in Congress did not make Bob Filner psychic but it has made him one of the most informed members of Congress on veterans issues.

Ranking Member Bob Filner:  In a democracy where you need  obviously the support and vote of people to go to war, the cost of war is a pretty important item to understand.  And treating our veterans is obviously part of the cost of war and should be considered that.  I have tried on several occasions to add an amendment to any war appropriations, 15 to 20% surcharge because that's the difference in your budgets for veterans.  And of course since we've been borrowing money for war, nobody wants to borrow the money for veterans.  So it's not looked on kindly.  But part of the cost of war, you know, we have the statistics show about 6,000 killed in action -- I'm sorry, 5,000 killed in action since 9-11.  And almost 50,000 wounded.  And yet those who have showed up at the VA for help -- and I know there are different definitions and different circumstances -- I think it close to or could be over a million. Why is there such a disparity between -- and it's important for the public to understand what is the cost of war?  How do you account for a million veterans seeking help for problems in war and only 50,000 considered casualties?  Mr. Panetta, I'll go to you first since you know how to manipulate the two minutes, you're looking to him, I know, so you don't have to answer?


Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well, no, I mean it's -- it clearly is the-the impact of war over the last 10 years and how it's effected those who have served and they do return.  When they come back, the reality is that, uh, not -- not all of them -- not all of them are getting the kind of care and benefits they should get. And it's our responsbility to try to respond to those kind of needs as they return.  This -- look, this system's going to be overwhelmed.  I mean, you know, let's-let's not kid anybody, we're looking at a system that's already overwhelmed.  The likelihood is that we drawdown further troops and, uh, as we -- over these next five years, assuming sequester doesn't happen, we are still going to -- we are going to be adding another hundred thousand per year.  And the ability to be able to respond to that in a way that effectively deals with the health care issues, with the benefits issues, with all the other challenges.  That is not going to be an easy challenge.  And, uh, the cost, you talk about the cost of-of war, this is always part of the cost of war.  It's not just dealing with fighting, it's also dealing with the veterans who return and that is going to be a big ticket item, if we're going to do this right.


Ranking Member Bob Filner:  I just hope you'll look at that boot camp idea as a way to really get at that issue.

What idea?  Ava's covering it tonight at Trina's site. 


US House Rep Silvestre Reyes noted his hope that they could do more joint-hearings like this and, earlier, Ranking Member Bob Filner had noted they had tried repeatedly to do a joint-hearing like this with the two Secretaries but had been unsuccessful.  If they do have another hearing, they might want to have a basic topic.  I have never sat through such a disorganized hearing or heard someone muse at length -- and mistakenly, he would be corrected after -- as US House Rep Hank Johnson did in the middle of the hearing.  What was the point of any of those remarks -- none of which were questions?  You had two minutes to ask either or both Panetta and Shinseki questions and instead you offered some sort of enjambment poem? 


Even in a scattershot hearing, that stood out.  Why did he even show up?  I asked Betty's father on the phone if veterans issues aren't a concern in the area?  (Betty's father, who is a veteran, is also a constituent of Hank Johnson's.)  And he couldn't understand why his representative wasted the time instead of utilizing it.  I sat through it and I still don't know what that nonsense was?

"Back from the Battlefield" is probably too broad of a topic for a hearing, let alone a joint-hearing.  But many people did raise important issues in their time.  Take US House Rep Loretta Sanchez who sits on the Armed Services Committee.


US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: In preparing for this hearing, I asked my staff back in Orange County to go through the casework we have with respect to veterans in transtion.  And although we have a great relationship with our VA in Longbeach and we have two clinics -- one in Santa Ana and one in Anaheim -- in our district, the reality is that the most troublesome area with respect to these cases involved the quality and the lack of health care for our service members who are transitioning from active or having been called up and now out into the veteran world if you will.  And, in fact, I have a lot of veterans who come to my office and they express real concern about not receiving treatment or having a longtime to wait for a speciality doctor, for example.  In Longbeach, it would be oncology where we must be short-staffed or something of the sort.  And the other really big concern for them is being prepped up for surgery and then somebody on the surgery team then doesn't show up -- out of whatever -- and then the surgery is postponed..  And it isn't until these people come to my office  and we call in directly that we're able to get that rescheduled.  So my question is how are you addressing these types of concerns with respect to health care and why, if a surgery's scheduled, why aren't people showing up to be on that surgery team?  And, more importantly, why does it take a Congressional office to call to ask that it be rescheduled?

Of course Shinseki had to take it for the record (meaning his office will respond to her questions after they've looked into the matter, respond outside the hearing).  But you better believe veterans in her district are about to find rescheduling postponed surgeries a lot easier.  She used her time wisely and served her constituents -- probably better than anyone else present (and that was just her first question). 


Contrast that with Johnson's "spread my love for you  publicly" and "true gentleman" and "the underdog is now on top" rambles.  Offering up bios "become the Secretary of the Army -- Chairman of the Army?  Or whatever.  Uhhhhmmm.  Hmmm."  At the end of his pause -- word -- pause -- stumble what is one to say?

"Far out!"?  "Groovy!"? 


Maybe: "Who's holding?" 

He stops his ramble to note he's hearing thing and then attempts to reproduce the sound.  When told his time has expired, he responds, "Already?" 

Again, what do you say after all that?

No one was served by that crap.  No one.  And if you're going to tell a witness their own biography, have your facts straight.  But better yet, don't waste everyone's time with that garbage to begin with.  It's a real shame Johnson doesn't seem to believe that he has veterans in his district and that they have needs that should have been addressed.  That was embarrassing and there's no excuse for it.  Maybe Jay Leno was right and we should be drug testing members of Congress?

I have no idea but enduring that nonsense was like one of those Congressional townhalls where you are all waiting hours to way in on an issue but everyone has to first endure the idiot who brought a guitar and can't sing and can't write a song but wants to force all gathered to endure his little ditty as he stands at the mike.

It was a distraction and a diversion.  Fortunately, others had serious issues to explore.  Such as suicide.
 

US House Rep Mike Michaud:  Quick question, and I want to read from a Veterans Service Organization letter that they actually sent to Senator [Jim] Webb just last week.  And just part of it says, "The only branch of the military to show a marked improvement decreasing the number of persons taking their own life is the United States Marines.  They should also be praised for their active leadership from the very top in addressing the problem and implementing the solutions.  The remaining services have yet to be motivated to  take any substanative action. "  Secretary Panetta, I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan several times and I've looked the generals in the eye and I've asked them what are they doing personally to help the stigmatized TBI, PTSD?  And the second question is: Do they need any help?  I get the same answer over there as I do over here in DC: 'Everything's okay.  We've got all the resources we need.  We don't need any help.'  But the interesting thing is someone much lesser ranked came up to me, after I asked the general that question, outside and said, "We need a lot more help."  And he suggested  that I talk to the clergy to find out what they are seeing happening.  And I did that trip and every trip since then.  And I'm finding that our service members are not getting the help that they need.  And my question, particularly after looking at this letter that was sent to Senator Webb, it appears the Marines are doing a good job so why is it so different between the Marines, the Army and other branches?  And can you address that?

Secretary Leon Panetta: You know -- Obviously, there's no silver bullet here.  I wish there were to try to deal with suicide prevention.  We-we have a new suicide prevention office that's trying to look at programs  to try to address this terrible epedemic. I  mean, we are looking.  If you look at just the numbers, recent total are you've got about 104  confirmed and 102 pending investigation in 2012.  The total of this is high,, almost 206.  That's nearly one a day.  That is an epedemic.  Something is wrong.  Part of this is people are inhibited because they don't want to get the care that they probably need. So that's part of the problem, trying to get the help that's necessary.  Two, to give them access to the kind of care that they need.  But three -- and, again, I stress this because I see this in a number of other areas, dealing with good discipline and good order and, uh, trying to make sure that our troops are responding to the challenges -- it is the leadership in the field.  It's the platoon commander.  It's the platoon sergeant.  It's the company commander. It's the company sergeant.  The ability to look at their people, to see these problems.  To get ahead of it and to be able to ensure that when you spot the problems, you're moving that individual to the kind of-of assistance that they need in order to prevent it.  The Marines stay in close touch with their people.  That's probably one of the reasons that the Marines are doing a good job.  But what we're stressing in the other services is to try to develop that-that training of the command.  So that they two are able to respond to these kinds of challenges. 

US House Rep Mac Thornberry also raised the issue of suicides, noting Time magazine's recent cover story (July 23rd issue), Mark Thompson &; Nancy Gibbs' "One A Day: Every day, one U.S. soldier commits suicide.  Why the military can't defeat its most insidious enemy."  He raised the issue of "33% of all military suicides have never deployed overseas at all and 43% had deployed once."  Panetta confirmed that statistic from the article was accurate.  Panetta argued that suicide is on the rise "in the larger society" and that this is reflected within the military.  Chair McKeon wanted to know if the age group committing suicide in the military was reflective of the age group doing the same in the civilian sphere?  Shinseki stated that in the age group of 15-34, suicide is the third leading cause of death and, in the age group of  25 to 34,  it is the second leading cause of death.

There are three more members of Congress we may note from the hearing tomorrow.

Today the United Nations extended UNAMI's mandate.  The UN News Centre notes:


The Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year, while also reiterating its encouragement of further progress in the country's security, humanitarian, human rights and political fronts.
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15- member body encouraged the Government of Iraq "to continue strengthening democracy and the rule of law, improving security and public order and combating terrorism and sectarian violence across the country, and reiterating its support to the people and the Government of Iraq in their efforts to build a secure, stable, federal, united and democratic nation, based on the rule of law and respect for human rights."
The Council welcomed improvements in the Middle Eastern country's security situation, while stressing that challenges remain and "that improvements need to be sustained through meaningful political dialogue and national unity."

In Qatar today, Al Jazeera landed an exclusive interview  with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  al-Hashemi is being tried in absentia in Iraq.  Nouri has declared him a terrorist.  Nouri's court has consistently ruled against him (this week they won't let him call President Jalal Talabani as a character witness) and the same court held a press conference in February announcing he was guilty before the trial had even begun -- that he was guilty and that he was trying to kill them.  The insanity never ends when Nouri's left in charge of Iraq.  From the interview.

Stephen Cole: Now the Iraq government accused you of running the death squads against Shia pilgrims, officials and security.  What's your official reaction to that?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Thank you very much for this interview.  In fact, I could absolutely say there is no crime case.  There is a political case and all of these confessions, in fact, have been accepted under severe torturing.  And one of my guards being killed.  More missing. And unfortunately in fact, I didn't receive any sort of fair trial as is written in the Constitution.  Therefore, I've been obliged to go and address the United Nations and NGOs to look after my case, in fact.

 
Stephen Cole: And you say this is a political case against you.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: That's right.

Stephen Cole:  What do you mean by that? Are you saying a vendetta or what --

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemmi: Well the problem in fact is the judicial system has already lost its neutrality and lost its independence and is becoming just an instrument in the hand of the prime minister -- Mr. Maliki, in fact -- who has a committee very close to the circles surrounding him. This committee is in fact fabricating files against the active politicians in Iraq like myself -- all the time being seen and known as one of the most active advocate of national security, to the human rights to the stability to known interference of neighboring countries and I all the time in fact be seen as an opposition to Maliki and this is why he's fabricating this case and presented --

Stephen Cole: So you're saying that the case is made up against you basically?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: It's totally been fabricated.

Stephen Cole: Is this a Sunni-Shia conflict or --

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Part of it yes.

Stephen Cole: -- is there any Kurdish involvement as well?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Part of it is, partially is.

Stephen Cole: Partially?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Partially. Because I belong to Iraqiya. Iraqiya is a non-sectarian political entity. And, as your fully aware, even the chairman, the leader of Iraqiya is a Shia -- Ayad Allawi. He's not a Sunni, for instance. But regardless of that fact, part of my political targeting is because my position in my community. If you were to check innocent people behind bars, it's more than 90% of them belong to the Sunni community. So the Sunni are in a real tragedy as far as Iraq is concerned.

Stephen Cole: So once again, you're returning to the fact that you're being persecuted, in your words, for your political views, your religious views?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: I said partially. I did not say that exclusively. So I am one of the political advocates advocating and opposing to al-Maliki and Maliki policy but, at the same time in fact, that political motivation is partly because I belong to the Sunni community you see.

Stephen Cole:  Alright. Every month there have been coordinated attacks in Iraq. Using car bombs, mortars, gun fire. Do you think it's linked to this political crisis? It's linked to Iraq Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'ite tensions.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Whether we like it or not, the ongoing violence is just a reflection of the fragile political situation of Iraq.


 AFP 'reports' "After the initial charges were filed, he fled to Iraq's autonmous Kurdish region." Oh, they think they're clever in being pejorative.  Reality:

The political crisis was already well in effect when December 2011 rolled around.  The press rarely gets that fact correct.  When December 2011 rolls around you see Iraqiya announce a  boycott of the council and the Parliament, that's in the December 16th snapshot and again in a December 17th entry .  Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya but he's not in the news at that point.  Later, we'll learn that Nouri -- just returned from DC where he met with Barack Obama -- has ordered tanks to surround the homes of high ranking members of Iraqiya.  December 18th is when al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are pulled from a Baghdad flight to the KRG but then allowed to reboard the plane. December 19th is when the arrest warrant is issued for Tareq al-Hashemi by Nouri al-Maliki who claims the vice president is a 'terrorist.' .

 Nouri caused the political crisis.  Most pin the start of the current stalemate to the above events in December.  But it even goes back beyond that.  Following the March 2010 elections, there was an eight month stalemate as second place Nouri refused to budge or let anything go forward until the Constitution, democracy and the vote was set aside and he was given a second term as prime minister.  He got away with that crap because the White House backed him on it.  The brokered the Erbil Agreement which all the heads of the political blocs signed off on -- including Nouri.  In exchange for this, you get that.  And what Nouri got was a second term as prime minister.  But he took that and then shredded the Erbil Agreement after he got what he wanted.  He refused to honor the contract.  That's what the stalemate's about.  It's not complicated.  Since the summer of last year, the Kurds, Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  In April when the move towards a no-confidence vote in Nouri began, Moqtada repeatedly stated that Nouri could stop the effort cold just by returning to the Erbil Agreement.  This isn't complicated, this doesn't require a forensic investigation.

 All Iraq News notes that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi hosted a meeting of his political slate last night but that details on the meeting weren't know.  They add that Nouri al-Maliki met with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq yesterday (al-Mutlaq is a member of Iraqiya).


In related news, AKnews states, "An Iraqi legal expert said he is counting on the results of the efforts of the parliamentary committee responsible for monitoring the oil disputes between Baghdad and Erbil after visiting and meeting with officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources in the Kurdistan Region, adding that the crisis will be resolved during the next two days."  That may be but this All Iraq News report where ExxonMobil's accused of violating Iraq's sovereignty and more by an MP close to Nouri doesn't make it appear to be a sure thing.  In October, ExxonMobil and the KRG entered into an oil agreement which has enraged Nouri.  Now Chevron's followed ExxonMobil's lead and signed an oil deal with the KRG. Yesterday, Reuters noted, "Iraq hit out at Chevron Corp over its just-signed oil contract with Kurdistan, barring it from any oil agreements with the centeral government in a move meant to deter other companies from dealing directly with the semi-autonomous northern region."

 Meanwhile, as Kitabat explains, Nouri al-Maliki has yielded to international pressure (actually, to international shaming) and is backing off his previous stance and now allowing Syrian refugees (not just Iraqis returning from Syria) into Iraq.  AFP notes that the plan now is for "camps at two of its three border crossings with Syria."  Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) reports that one border crossing is open in Al Anbar Province, "But as for Syrian refugees, the UN is saying there's still no sign of them in huge numbers.  But the Iraqi government has decided to allow in those refugees and it's discussing with the UN refugee agency putting them in a camp near the border in western Al Anrbar at the lead border crossing.  That camp now holds Palestinian refugees who've been there for several years as well as other nationalities but it will be expanded, the UN tells us, to accomodate other refugees."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated last month that the US equivalent of $193 million was needed to assist refugees from Syria.  That figure may be revised shortly because there's a larger number than expected seeking shelter in surrounding countries of Jordna, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.  Last week, UNHCR's Adrian Edwards noted, "The number of Syrian refugees registered or assisted by UNHCR in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey has almost tripled since April 2012 and now stands at 112,000.  Three quarters are women and children.  This actual number of Syrian refugees is thought to be significantly higher, as many people seek to be registered only when they run out of resources."



Last week, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, told the UN Security Council that he'd visited the Syrian refugee camp in the KRG (semi-autonomous region of Iraq, controlled by the Kurds) and that the number of refugees in the camp was 7,000.  Kitabat notes that Syrian Kurds are especially choosing to flee Syria for the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.  While many are fleeing Syria, the number of Iraqis fleeing is about 10% (possibly less -- it's around 10% of the official number of Iraqi refugees in Syria).  Yesterday UNHCR's Melissa Fleming declared, "The violence in Syria has prompted over ten thousand Iraqi refugees to return home since Wednesday last week.  Many of the returnees have expressed their fear regarding the ongoing risks to their safety in Iraq, but said that they had little choice, given the security threats in Syria."  Ammar Karim (AFP) reports that the returning "find themselves returning to a homeland where basic services remain poor and unemployment and housing costs are still high."  Widow Faatin Mohammed Hussein is quoted stating, "Life is much easier in Syria than in Iraq.  There you can live in a house for $200 a month, and finding a job is easy.  Here, finding work is difficult, and housing is very expensive.  Where can I work to provide food for my son and daughter?"

 Xinhau reports that the Islamic State of Iraq posted a statement online claiming that Monday's attacks which left over 115 dead was the first step in their "Breaking The Walls" plan which they announced Sunday.  They quote from the statement:  "The coordinated jihadist operations have stunned the enemy and made him lost his mind, and showed the failure of intelligence and security plans which filled the world with noise and bluster."  Prashant Rao (AFP) quotes from the new announcement: "As part of the new military campaign aimed at recovering territory given up by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the war ministry has sent its sons and the mujahedeen on a sacred offensive during the month of Ramadan.  The operations by the jihadists have stunned the enemy and made him lose his head.  It has demonstrated the failings of the security and intelligence services."  Along with the 115 dead, The Voice of Russia notes over three hundred people were injured in Monday's violence.  KUNA reports, "Arab League General Secretariat on Wednesday strongly condemned the series of bombings that hit some Iraqi cities on Monday, which targeted security and civilian buildings, causing numerous deaths."



Iraq Body Counts notes at least 355 people have been killed by violence in Iraq so far this month.

Alsumaria notes today saw a Diyala Province roadside bombing which left five people injured, a Diayal Prvoince attack which left 2 police officers dead, a Diayala Province roadside bombing which left one police officer injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left 4 people dead, 1 government employee shot dead in Baghdad, an Abu Ghraib bombing that wounded two security officers, 1 police officer shot dead in Nineveh Province, a second armed attack in Nineveh left 2 police officers dead, a Nineveh roadside bombing wounded two soldiers, 1 retired Peshmerga was shot dead in Kirkuk, a Wasit sitcky bombing which left a police officer and his wife injured and 2 corpses were discovered in Dohuk Province.   Alsumaria also reports that the FPS director was in his convoy to the south of Mosul when a bombing targeting him went off. Police state he survived and do not mention any dead or note any wounds to (him or anyone else).  Others weren't so lucky.  AFP reports a Salahuddin Province car bombing has claimed the lives of a police officer's wife and their four children.   Alsumaria reports a member of Parliament's Security and Defence Committee is calling for the security strategies to be changed and for all of Iraq to be protected which is most likely a criticism of the the strategy that places a premium on securing the Green Zone while other areas of Iraq suffer.  (Additional security and anti-aircraft devices have been put around mosques and shrines over the weekend.  Why?  I don't know apparently Nouri's expecting some sort of invasion of Iraqi skies.)   All Iraq News picks up on the story noting MP Riad Saadi declared that security was deteriorating and that attacks indicate additional security needs to be sent to other cities.  As long as they're examing causes, they might want to read the report Dar Addustour posted last night about a Thursday assault in Diwaniya.  Who was doing the assaulting, I'd argue the police who showed up and started arresting "dozens" of protesters last Thursday at which point activists and bystanders responded by throwing rocks at the police who opened fire on the protesters. 

 Despite the recent history of assaulting protesters, Iraqis continue to protest.  Alsumaria reports that tonight, in Basra, they turned out by the dozens to protest the declining electrical service, that they set fire to tires and that the military and the police were sent in.  Nasser Awad tells Aljazeera that the protest wasn't well planned because it was spontaneous.  He also states that this is just the start and more protests will take place over the coming nights.

 
A recent report in the UK Guardian by Charlie Skelton explains that Western news outlets remain willing victims (or accomplices) in a propaganda campaign for US -NATO led Syrian intervention being carried out by skilled and well-financed public relations practitioners. According to Skelton, "the spokespeople, the 'experts on Syria', the 'democracy activists' … The people who 'urge' and 'warn' and 'call for action'" against the Assad regime are themselves part of a sophisticated and well-heeled public relations effort to allow NATO forces to give Syria the same medicine administered to Libya in 2011. "They're selling the idea of military intervention and regime change," Skelton reports,
"and the mainstream news is hungry to buy. Many of the "activists" and spokespeople representing the Syrian opposition are closely (and in many cases financially) interlinked with the US and London – the very people who would be doing the intervening. Which means information and statistics from these sources isn't necessarily pure news – it's a sales pitch, a PR campaign."[1]
If one thinks that a revelation of this magnitude would be cause for other major Western news media to reassess their reportage of the Syrian situation they would be greatly mistaken. Amy Goodman's Democracy Now is a case in point. Since the beginning of the "Arab Spring" color revolutions the foremost broadcast venue of "independent" progressive-Left journalism in the United States has used its reportage to obfuscate and thereby advance the campaign for regime change in Egypt, Libya, and now Syria. The tactics of disinformation and death squads employed in Libya and Syria should be easily recognizable since they were refined against popular Central American moves toward popular enfranchisement by the Reagan administration during the 1980s.
As Finian Cunningham recently observed [2] Democracy Now's adherents look to Goodman on a regular basis because of her perceived credibility; she is the self-avowed " exception to the rulers"—a tireless crusader against the restrictive corporate media where there remains a "deafening silence … around the issues -- and people -- that matter most."[3] Today Goodman's vaunted program is contributing to the very violence being committed by Western-backed mercenaries against the Syrian people.
Goodman and similar Left media are engaging and convincing precisely because of their posturing against corporate media control, economic exploitation and war mongering. Occupying the outer contours of National Public Radio's milquetoast programming, Democracy Now's self-described "independent" reportage takes on a certain aura of authenticity among its supporters --mainly progressives with concerns for social justice and human rights.
Such characteristics make Goodman and Democracy Now among the most effective sowers of disinformation. Further, their role in assuaging an educated and otherwise outspoken audience serves only to aid and abet the wanton military aggression Goodman and her cohorts claim to decry. In light of the program's broader coverage of the "Arab Spring," such reporting must be recognized and condemned as sheer public relations for NATO and the Obama administration's campaign of perpetual terrorism and war on humanitarian grounds.[4]

Posted at 06:59 pm by thecommonills
 

Syrian refugees flee in larger numbers than expected

Syrian refugees flee in larger numbers than expected

As Kitabat explains, Nouri al-Maliki has yielded to international pressure (actually, to international shaming) and is backing off his previous stance and now allowing Syrian refugees (not just Iraqis returning from Syria) into Iraq.  AFP notes that the plan now is for "camps at two of its three border crossings with Syria."  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated last month that the US equivalent of $193 million was needed to assist refugees from Syria.  That figure may be revised shortly because there's a larger number than expected seeking shelter in surrounding countries of Jordna, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.  Last week, UNHCR's Adrian Edwards noted, "The number of Syrian refugees registered or assisted by UNHCR in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey has almost tripled since April 2012 and now stands at 112,000.  Three quarters are women and children.  This actual number of Syrian refugees is thought to be significantly higher, as many people seek to be registered only when they run out of resources."

Last week, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, told the UN Security Council that he'd visited the Syrian refugee camp in the KRG (semi-autonomous region of Iraq, controlled by the Kurds) and that the number of refugees in the camp was 7,000.  Kitabat notes that Syrian Kurds are especially choosing to flee Syria for the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.  While many are fleeing Syria, the number of Iraqis fleeing is about 10% (possibly less -- it's around 10% of the official number of Iraqi refugees in Syria).  Yesterday UNHCR's Melissa Fleming declared, "The violence in Syria has prompted over ten thousand Iraqi refugees to return home since Wednesday last week.  Many of the returnees have expressed their fear regarding the ongoing risks to their safety in Iraq, but said that they had little choice, given the security threats in Syria."  Ammar Karim (AFP) reports that the returning "find themselves returning to a homeland where basic services remain poor and unemployment and housing costs are still high."  Widow Faatin Mohammed Hussein is quoted stating, "Life is much easier in Syria than in Iraq.  There you can live in a house for $200 a month, and finding a job is easy.  Here, finding work is difficult, and housing is very expensive.  Where can I work to provide food for my son and daughter?"

The political crisis continues in Iraq.  All Iraq News notes that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi hosted a meeting of his political slate last night but that details on the meeting weren't know.  They add that Nouri al-Maliki met with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq yesterday (al-Mutlaq is a member of Iraqiya).

AKnews states, "An Iraqi legal expert said he is counting on the results of the efforts of the parliamentary committee responsible for monitoring the oil disputes between Baghdad and Erbil after visiting and meeting with officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources in the Kurdistan Region, adding that the crisis will be resolved during the next two days."  That may be but this All Iraq News report where ExxonMobil's accused of violating Iraq's sovereignty and more by an MP close to Nouri doesn't make it appear to be a sure thing.  In October, ExxonMobil and the KRG entered into an oil agreement which has enraged Nouri.  Now Chevron's followed ExxonMobil's lead and signed an oil deal with the KRG. Yesterday, Reuters noted, "Iraq hit out at Chevron Corp over its just-signed oil contract with Kurdistan, barring it from any oil agreements with the centeral government in a move meant to deter other companies from dealing directly with the semi-autonomous northern region."

And Bob Filner's speaking -- I'm at the joint Armed Services Committee and House Veterans Committee hearing -- and I need to take notes on this hearing so that's it for this entry.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.




 

Posted at 07:23 am by thecommonills
 

At least 355 people dead from Iraq violence this month

At least 355 people dead from Iraq violence this month

Xinhau reports that the Islamic State of Iraq posted a statement online claiming that Monday's attacks which left over 115 dead was the first step in their "Breaking The Walls" plan which they announced Sunday.  They quote from the statement:  "The coordinated jihadist operations have stunned the enemy and made him lost his mind, and showed the failure of intelligence and security plans which filled the world with noise and bluster."  Prashant Rao (AFP) quotes from the new announcement: "As part of the new military campaign aimed at recovering territory given up by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the war ministry has sent its sons and the mujahedeen on a sacred offensive during the month of Ramadan.  The operations by the jihadists have stunned the enemy and made him lose his head.  It has demonstrated the failings of the security and intelligence services."  Along with the 115 dead, The Voice of Russia notes over three hundred people were injured in Monday's violence.  KUNA reports, "Arab League General Secretariat on Wednesday strongly condemned the series of bombings that hit some Iraqi cities on Monday, which targeted security and civilian buildings, causing numerous deaths." 

Iraq Body Counts notes at least 355 people have been killed by violence in Iraq so far this month.

ibcount
And you know the violence continues today.  Alsumaria reports that the FPS director was in his convy to the south of Mosul when a bombing targeting him went off. Police state he survived and do not mention any dead or note any wounds to (him or anyone else).  Others weren't so lucky.  AFP reports a Salahuddin Province car bombing has claimed the lives of a police officer's wife and their four children.  All Iraqi News reports a Mosul bombing has left two soldiers injured and 1 police officer has been shot dead in MosulAlsumaria reports a member of Parliament's Security and Defence Committee is calling for the security strategies to be changed and for all of Iraq to be protected which is most likely a criticism of the the strategy that places a premium on securing the Green Zone while other areas of Iraq suffer.  (Additional security and anti-aircraft devices have been put around mosques and shrines over the weekend.  Why?  I don't know apparently Nouri's expecting some sort of invasion of Iraqi skies.)   All Iraq News picks up on the story noting MP Riad Saadi declared that security was deteriorating and that attacks indicate additional security needs to be sent to other cities.  As long as they're examing causes, they might want to read the report Dar Addustour posted last night about a Thursday assault in Diwaniya.  Who was doing the assaulting, I'd argue the police who showed up and started arresting "dozens" of protesters last Thursday at which point activists and bystanders responded by throwing rocks at the police who opened fire on the protesters. 

It's telling that Dar Addustour and not one of the many fabled international wire services broke the report.  It's also doubtful that any of them will pick up on it.  But use the link even if you don't read Arabic so you can see the photo of the police in riot guard.


The following community sites -- plus Antiwar.com, The Diane Rehm Show, Adam Kokesh, Susan's On Edge, IVAW and Black Agenda Report -- updated last night and this morning:



We'll close with this from Andy Worthington's "Bagram: Still a Black Hole for Foreign Prisoners" (World Can't Wait):


Back in March 2009, three foreign prisoners seized in other countries and rendered to the main US prison in Afghanistan, at Bagram airbase, where they had been held for up to seven years, secured a legal victory in the District Court in Washington D.C., when Judge John D. Bates ruled that they had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to challenge the basis of their imprisonment under the “Great Writ” that prevents arbitrary detention. The men — amongst dozens of foreigners held in Afghanistan — secured their legal victory because Judge Bates recognized that their circumstances were essentially the same as the prisoners at Guantánamo, who had been granted habeas corpus rights by the Supreme Court in June 2008.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration appealed Judge Bates’ careful and logical ruling, and the judges of the D.C. Circuit Court agreed, overturning the ruling in May 2010, and returning the three men to their legal black hole.
In April 2011, the Associated Press reported that the three men — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in May 2002; Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in late 2002; and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004 and sent to Abu Ghraib before Bagram — had all been cleared for release by review boards at Bagram, or, as it is now known, the Parwan Detention Facility.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.




 

Posted at 06:38 am by thecommonills
 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Iraq snapshot

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, a number of people share their hypothesis on yesterday's violence (the worst of the year thus far), Amnesty International issues a call for Iraq to halt all executions, we examine Barack Obama's claim "I will stand with our troops every single time," finish up on the MST Congressional hearing, and more.
 
 
Yesterday, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech to the VFW. Michael A. Memoli and Kathleen Hennessey reported on the speech for the Los Angeles Times and David Sider reported on it for McClatchy Newspapers. Don Gonyea (Morning Edition, NPR -- link is audio and transcript) noted it this morning in a report that quoted Barack stating, "I will stand with our troops every single time."
 
 
But you didn't, Barack, but you didn't. Not in 2009.
 
 
Dropping back to the June 9, 2009 snapshot:
 
 
This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
 
 
The US military believed that they had in custody those who had orchestrated the killing of 5 US soldiers. Barack Obama may claim this week, "I will stand with our troops every single time," but he didn't in June 2009.
 
 
He chose to stand with the British. He chose to release people believed to be responsible for the deaths of 5 US soldiers.
 
 
He did that and refused to answer questions about it -- and the timid press refused to ever ask him about it when they had him for a sit down. We know what the father of Jonathan B. Chism thought, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
 
 
Somebody needs to. And when Barack boasted, "I will stand with our troops every single time," he should have been booed. 5 US service members believed to be killed by the League of Righteous -- brutally killed, kidnapped and killed -- and Barack orders the release of the leaders and does so because he wants to score points with the British? No, he did not choose to stand with US troops.
 
 
And what came of the deal he made with the League of the Righteous? It didn't end there. It didn't end with the December 30, 2009 release of British citizen Peter Moore who was alive or with the three corpses Alec Maclachlan (body handed over in September), Jason Crewswell (body handed over in June) and Jason Swindelhurst (body handed over in June). That left Alan McMenemy. And we called Barack out for this deal, we've continued to call him out. But, too bad for Barack, terrorists talk. They tattle.
 
 
Alan McMenemy, sadly, was already dead. Had been dead for a long time. But his return was delayed. Dropping back to July 9, 2011:
 
 
Though Barry's 'big' deal was supposed to free all five, the League, years later, is now insisting they want a new deal (and figure Barry's just the pushover to give it to them?).
Al Mada reports they have issued a statement where they savage the US government for not honoring -- and quickly honoring -- the agreement made with them. As a result, they say Alan McMenemy will not be released.
Peter Moore, the only one released alive, was a computer tech working in Iraq. Four British bodyguards were protecting him. The bodyguards were McMenemy, Jason Swindlehurst, Alec MacLachlan and Jason Cresswell. The families of the four have continued to publicly request that Alan McMenemy be released.
They condemn the "procrastionation" of the US government after the deal was made and state that a promise was also broken when "US forces did not stop attacks" -- apparently Barack made very grand promises -- so now Alan McMenemy will not be released. The statement is credited to Akram al-Ka'bi.
What the statement really does is demonstrate what many condemned in 2009: The US government, the administration, entered into an agreement that did not benefit the US or Iraq. They freed known killers from prison. Killers of Iraqis, killers of American citizens. There was nothing to be gained by that act for Iraq or the US. At some point, history will ask how Barack Obama thought he was fulfilling his duties of commander in chief by making such an ignorant move?
 
 
Poor Barack. He made a deal with terrorists and the terrorists weren't kind enough to stay quiet about it. January 5th of this year they said they'd release the body of Alan McMenemy and did. It really was the British government's responsibility, their five citizens. The US government's responsibility should have been putting the League on trial. Certainly if you claim "I will stand with our troops every single time" that should be what you do.
 
 
But it gets worse. They were the leaders of the group behind it. There was also a name that's received a great deal more attention from the press: Ali Mousa Daqduq. He was the Lebanese that the US military kept in custody in Iraq. Possibly because he wasn't an Iraqi, the League didn't care about getting his release.
 
 
December 17, 2011, Charlie Savage (New York Times) reported on what was termed "a move likely to unleash a political backlash inside the United States." What was he reporting on? The White House's decision to release Ali Musa Daqduq to the Iraqi government, the man "accused of helping to orchestrate a January 2007 raid by Shiite militants who wore U.S.-style uniforms and carried forged identity cards. They killed five U.S. soldiers -- one immediately and four others who were kidnapped and later shot and dumped beside a road." Reporting on it the same day, Matt Apuzzo (AP) noted the reactions of two US senators.
 
 
Senator Mark Kirk (in a letter before the release): "Daqduq's Iranian paymasters would like nothing more than to see him transferred to Iraqi custody, where they could effectively pressure for his escape or release. We truly hope you will not let that happen."
 
Senator Saxby Chambliss (after news broke of the release): "Rather than ensure justice for five American soldiers killed by Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq, the administration turned him over to Iraq, once again completely abdicating its responsibility to hold on to deadly terrorists. Given Iraq's history of releasing detainees, I expect it is only a matter of time before this terrorist will be back on the battlefield."
 
 
Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported that US National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor insisted that the White House "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes." Some assurances. May 7th, Daqduq was cleared of all charges. Senator Kelly Ayotte released a statement that day noting that she and 19 other US Senators lodged their objection to transferring Daqduq July 21, 2011 in a formal letter which "expressed the Senators' concerns that transferring Daqduq to Iraqi custody might result in his release and a return to terrorist activities." Those concerns were dismissed. When the May 7th verdict came down the White House demanded a "do-over" in Iraqi courts. No surprise (except maybe to the White House) the same Iraqi courts cleared Daqduq of the charges which led the July 12th fuming from the White House that appeared to be just for show:

 
Lara Jakes and Qassim abdul-Zahra (AP) report that Antony Blinken -- Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser -- states that the US wants Daqduq to be hld and that they not only want to see him extradited to the US, they've already made that request. They also note, "Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council said the appeals court ruling is final and there are no charges pending against Daqduq. Ali al-Moussawi, media adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said he was unaware of any U.S. request to extradite Daqduq."
 
 
The White House said they had made a request. Iraq said, no, they hadn't. And there's been no mention of it since -- the press really rolls over for this administration -- despite the fact that Blinken was just in Iraq last week and was holding Nouri's hand and cooing in his ear so much that Nouri was bragging to the press that the White House was siding with him and not ExxonMobil with regards to the oil deal Nouri wants cancelled (between ExxonMobil and the KRG).
 
 
Again, yesterday Barack Obama claimed, "I will stand with our troops every single time." That's the claim, the record suggests something else completely.
 
Why this isn't addressed is a question you should be asking of not just the media but also of politicians. Not only did Barack's action break the public claim of "We don't negotiate with terrorists" (the US government did and does), American lives, the American fallen, were judged not to matter. At a time of war, the American fallen were judged not to matter by the White House. This isn't a minor issue. If we're speaking to a group of veterans or group of family members of veterans they bring this up. They don't always know the names of all the fallen but they know Barack cut a deal and released the leaders of the League of Righteous and that he refused to prosecute Daqduq. It's only the press and the politicians that play dumb on this topic.
 
 
Did Ronald Reagan make a deal with Iran to get them not to release the hostages so Jimmy Carter would be defeated in November 1980? I'm a liberal so I've always believed it to be true. (One of the reasons I thought it was true was Robert Parry's reporting. Robert Parry's 'reporting' in the last four years has been so awful that I can no longer say, "It's true!" But, even now, I believe it.) Is there any conclusive proof? Nope. But the mainstream press -- including PBS, including Frontline -- have been more than happy to explore that possibility repeatedly over the years. Yet when they encounter a real deal, they rush to look the other way. It must really be something to know you can betray the fallen during war time and the press is never going to hold your feet to the fire. I asked a friend at CBS News about that today. If Mitt Romney picked up on it, the press would probably cover it, I was told. But when it went down, I was told, no one made a big deal out of it. I didn't know veterans' families were "no one."
 
 
Blood flowed through the streets of Iraq yesterday as bombings and shootings resulted in the most deaths in a single day of the year so far. This morning, AP notes that the death toll from Monday's attacks "has risen to 115." Reuters notes the increase and credits it in part to a Baghdad bombing and a Baquba bombing "late on Monday" which claimed 9 lives and thirty-one injured.
Commentators debate whether this was the first step in the Islamic State of Iraq's self-proclaimed "Breaking The Walls" plan. Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers:


Viewed in isolation, the attacks are serious enough: the destabilising effect on a country that shows few signs of overcoming deep distrust among its Shias, Sunnis and Kurds is worrying. So too the fact that the postwar hope -- the unifying influence of the state -- has once again been unable to stop a multi-city slaughter.
However, when seen through the prism of the rest of the region's woes, the latest events take on an even more serious perspective. Neighbouring Syria is fast sliding towards full-blown war, with a real risk of a sectarian spillover into a region that has seen hardening sectarian positions in all corners for the last 18 months.
 
Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) offers an overview and examination of various issues.
Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) speaks to two analysts to get their take. From the left, Phyllis Bennis states, "This would have happened if the U.S. pulled out earlier or in another 10 years. What we left behind in Iraq was raw sectarian identity that is playing out in absolutely brutal ways." From the right, Max Boot declares, "It's not out of control yet, but it's certainly moving in a dangerous direction. The U.S. is basically AWOL." Phyllis hasn't published a piece on Iraq today. Boot did, continuing the conversation at Commentary, and arguing:
 
 
So much for the claims of American and Iraqi officials that violence is on the wane. In fact, as noted by the New York Times, "The attacks were likely to continue the trend of the first six months since the departure of American troops, when violence has steadily increased, according to United Nations statistics." If the trend continues this will mark a remarkable defeat -- and a self-inflicted one -- for American policy in the Middle East.
If only the U.S. had been able to keep troops in Iraq past 2011, the odds are that Iraqi forces would have had greater success in continuing to crack down on AQI. The U.S. presence was particularly important for providing intelligence support to the Iraqis as well as pressuring Prime Minister Maliki to share power with Sunnis so as to avoid fueling a sectarian conflagration. With the U.S. out of the picture, Maliki is busy accumulating dictatorial power and the Iraqi security forces appear to be fighting half-blind, thus allowing AQI to rise from the grave like a zombie.
 
 
CNN shares the thought of the Center for American Progress' Brian Katulis. Or 'thoughts.' He argues, as the headline notes, "It's up to Iraq's government to prevent a civil war." Interesting. It wasn't up to Iraq to decide whether or not to overthrow Saddam Hussein in March 2003. It wasn't up to Iraq when US troops left (if it had been, US troops would have left in 2003). And in terms of Brian himself, he didn't seem to think, last December, that Iraq's take on Syria was up to Iraq. No, he thought the US government should pressure Iraq to get them on board. But now? Now, it's all on Iraq. Even if the the White House insisting in 2010 that second place Nouri get a second term as prime minister is partly to blame for today's violence, there's nothing the US can do and it's all on Iraq.
 
 
Unlike Brian Katulis, I spent every year calling for all US troops and contractors out of Iraq immediately. I stand by that call. That doesn't mean there's nothing the US can do. What a stupid thought and how very telling. His mind-set is why there's war, war, war, all the time war. There are a million things that the US can do to influence the outcome. Nouri's government, for example, wants out of the UN's Chapter VII. The US can refuse to support that if certain steps aren't met. The US can refuse to deliver the F-16s Nouri lusts over, that's a bargaining chip right there. War is not the answer to everything but how telling that Brian Katulis believes it's troops on the ground or there's nothing the US can do.
 
 
On the violence and the political situation, the editorial board of Gulf News observes: "What started as a fragile coalition run by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has become a much more authoritarian regime, which is now seen by many non-Shiites as favouring the Shiite community. This has started a serious review by many Sunni politicians of the original desire to see a strong and centralised state. They foresee many years of Shiite-dominated government and therefore have shifted to promote more devolution of power to provincial governments, along the lines of what the Kurds have already done in their provinces."
 
 
Violence continues today in Iraq. Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk bombing in which 1 child was killed and two women were injured early this morning and an attack on a police patrol in Diyala Province left 1 police officer dead and three more injured. AP adds a Tuz Khormato motorcycle bombing claimed the live osf 6 "Kurdish intelligence officials," and a Baquba mini-bus bombing claimed 3 lives and left twenty-nine people injured. Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 336 killed in Iraq this month from violence.
 
 
Iraq is on track to hold the title for most executions in 2012. Amnesty International issued the following this afternoon:
 
 
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel
(New York) – Amnesty International today urged Iraqi authorities to commute all pending death sentences and impose a moratorium on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty after the chief of police in the Iraqi governorate of Anbar announced on Monday a Court of Cassation decision to uphold 196 death sentences in the region.
It is unclear if the sentences have been ratified by the Iraqi presidency yet.
The announcement gave no timeline for carrying out the executions but expressed a hope that it would be soon.
"After this alarming announcement, Iraqi authorities must move quickly to commute all death sentences and declare a moratorium on executions across the country," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
"If the Iraqi authorities carry out these death sentences, they would nearly quadruple Iraq's already shocking execution record so far this year."
In the first half of 2012 alone, Iraq executed at least 70 people, which is already more than the figure for all of last year.
According to Amnesty International's information, in 2011 a total of at least 68 people were executed in Iraq. Around the country, hundreds of others are believed to remain on death row.
The death penalty was suspended in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 but restored in August 2004. Since then, hundreds of people have been sentenced to death and many have been executed.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty – the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
 
 
Last week, the United Nations Security Council had a special briefing on Iraq from the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Martin Kobler. On the issue of the death penalty, he stated:
 
 
 
Mr. President, Iraq retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes. I therefore reiterate the call by the Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the government of Iraq to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to their abolition. I welcome that the authorities of the Kurdistan Region continue to implement a moratorium on carrying out executions which has been in place since 2007.
 
 
 
Turning to the United States . . .
 
 
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen: As I began to prepare testimony for this hearing, I had occassion to speak with a colleague who devoted over 20 years of service to the military. He continues to serve as a civilian with the Department of Defense. I happened to mention to him that I was invited to testify before this committee on this important topic. After stating that he was about to share something with me that he had never shared with anyone, not even his wife, he told me the following story. He enlisted in the military at the age of 17. It was the late 1970s. Within the first year of his service, he was sexually assaulted by two men with whom he served, as part of an initiation process. He was humiliated and devastated. He told no one. He said, "There was no one to tell -- reporting would have made my life much worse. The stigma would have further damaged me and my career. I felt overwhelming guilt and shame." This veteran suffered the consequences of the attack, psychologically and phsically, for years. At one point he contemplated suicide and went so far as to put all his affairs in order and make arrangements for the care of his two-year-old daughter and young wife. His marriage fell apart and he and his wife separated. Fortunately, this veteran found help, reparied his marriage, and healed psychologically -- though he continues to have significant physical problems that stem from the attack that shattered his life 30 years ago. He shared his story with me now because he wants the members of this committee to understand that service members who are sexually assaulted are unlikely to report the assault to their command, to their peers, to anyone. And you can't often tell by looking at them that they've been effected -- not for years. We in the mental health profession know that it is absolutely critical for victims of sexual trauma to seek and receive assistance, support, and treatment as soon as possible.
 
 
She was speaking at last Wednesday's House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affiars om Military Sexual Trauma. The Chair of the Subcommittee is Jon Runyan and the Ranking Member is Jerry McNerney. We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot and today we're emphasizing US House Rep Chellie Pingree who does not sit on the House Veterans Committee but did participate in the hearing. The hearing was divided into four panels. The first panel was Service Women's Action Network's Anu Bhagwati, Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, the American Legion's Lori Perkio. The second panel was Give An Hour's Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center's Margaret Middleton. The third panel was Ruth Moore (joined by her husband Butch Moore). The fourth panel was DoD's Col Alan Metzler (joined by DoD's Dr. Nate Galbreath) and VA's Thomas Murphy (joined by VA's Edna MacDonald). From the second panel.
 
 
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: I'll ask this question of both of you. We see many denials where the VA says that the veteran couldn't be service connected because they were sexually assaulted prior to their military service. VA examiners tell them that their condition is related to the earlier assault not the one that occurred in the military. I think that for these veterans a service assault would at least aggravate a pre-existing condition but it seems like an inappropriate way to look at it. Do you see these types of denials in your work and do you have comments about them.
 
 
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen: Yes. Unfortunately, one of the things that happens with victims of sexual assault is they -- If that sexual assault is untreated, they are more likely to be victims again. And so to say that because a man or a woman was sexually assaulted before they entered the military, somehow then the psychological damage that we're seeing is not related to the additional assault makes no sense psychologically -- makes no sense. It's like -- It's almost the -- In fact, it is the opposite logic that we use for combat stress. Combat stress -- we understand, we know this -- the more deployments, the more exposure to trauma, the more significant the psychological damage. We've kind of gotten that right finally. But here, we're saying the opposite. It makes no sense psychologically in any way. And, in fact, we know that victims are more likely if they are untreated to become victims in the future.
 
 
Margaret Middleton: I would say I've almost never spoken to a veteran who reported to me a case of Military Sexual Trauma who didn't also experience some sort of trauma prior to entering the military. It's very, very common in my experience. And it's just one more reason why we shouldn't hold the veterans to this unnecessary evidentiary standard because we don't need to muddy the water for the VA for our own folks who already applied the rule pretty haphazardly.
 
 
If the rule was applied to you or someone you know and you were denied, you should consider reapplying. Last Wednesday and Thursday's snapshots covered the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations hearing that took place last Wednesday. US House Rep Jason Chaffetz is the Chair of the Subcommittee. MST was raised in the morning and I thought the remarks might be carried over in the afternoon -- by VA witnesses or by members of Congress -- but that didn't happen.
 
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier: And then my third question is on MST. As you know, military sexual assault is absolutely out of control in the military, 19,000 cases a year. As I understand it, your reviews have found differences in denial rates between sexual assault PTSD and other PTSD cases. I'd like to know what you have found and what you are doing about it? And for those that have been previously denied, what can be done for them in terms of refiling and being reconsidered? Thank you.
 
 
Allison Hickey: Thank you, Congresswoman Speier. [. . .] I am so glad you brought up Military Sexual Trauma. It is the very first issue I grabbed the reigns on and ran with when I got on station here aside from, obviously, the backlog. And I will tell you, I'm the one that asked for us to go show -- show me what our grant denial rate is between MSTPTSD and what it is between PTSD for the other three -- combat, fear, terrorism? I asked for us to do that. I got it back and I said, "This is unacceptable." We had a 20% difference in our grant denial rate. I said, "We're going to change this process." We did. And by the way, the process is now in a segmented lane which is one of our new transformation initiatives. We have trained from the VBA person who handles it coming in the door through the exam doctor in the health administration who does the health exam. And we now have everybody trained. I just got the data last Friday that shows I have closed that gap as a result of that effort. We have increased our grants a full 35% in our MST as of last Friday because of the directions we did, the actions we took to make those right and to do those right [. . .]*
 
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier: Mr. Chairman, could I ask a follow up question? I know my time has expired.
 
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Feel free.
 
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier: Thank you. What are we doing about those that had their claims denied? Are we going back now and saying refile?
 
 
Allison Hickey: I am glad you asked that question as well, Congressman --
 
Congresswoman Speier. We are sending letters to everyone we've ever denied and saying, 'This is what we do. We've got a new process. If you feel like you were denied in error, please send it to us and we will re-accomplish it.'
 
 
Allison Hickey is the VA's Undersecretary for Benefits.
 
 
At the hearing on MST, Col Metzler testified that the Defense Dept received 3100 reports of sexual assault in 2011 and "our anonymous survey data suggests that in 2010 as many as 19,000 service members were victims of some form of sexual assault." He stressed DoD's Safe Helpine website, which includes the telephone helpline 877-995-5247, where survivors can "click, call or text."
 
 
We'll wrap up our coverage of the hearing with this excerpt from the first panel.
 
 
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: I think generally the VA is doing a good job providing counseling and treatment to victims of MST but when it comes to awarding benefits, as we've heard so much already today, MST survivors face tremendous road blocks and bureaucratic red tape. Since most attacks, as we've heard, go unreported, it's very hard for victims to provide the documentation for their claims and therein lies the source of some of our problems here. The current policy states that they will be very liberal in deciding MST cases and should accept secondary markers as proof that the assualt occurred: things like counseling reports for PTSD-MST, letters from family members citing behavioral changes, drug and alcohol abuse. But it has been our experience in my office that this policy is not being followed. The VBA remains vastly inconsistent in deciding on MST cases and what one office will accept, as we heard earlier, another might deny and still not be violating VBA policy. I think we have to be sure that VBA gives MST survivors the benefit of the doubt -- especially when so many of these survivors have lost faith in the system they swore to uphold. That's why I introduced the bill that you were asking about earlier and I appreciate the Chairman signing onto that bill. Basically, it would provide service connection for MST survivors if they provide a diagnosis of PTSD and a medical link stating the PTSD is caused by the assault -- similar to the policy in place now for combat PTSD claims. I want to be clear about this, the bad guy in these stories are the perpetrators. They're the villians and the ones who should be held accountable. But by creating this policy that denies justice to the victims and forces them to spend years and even decades fighting for the benefits that they deserve, we're deepening the wounds for those veterans and making it much harder for them to get on with their lives. Ms. Bhagwati, thank you very much for your wonderful work and for being here today and thank you to everyone on the panel. A couple of questions, you've already talked a little bit about this very issue of the VBA and how it's working. Do you think it's enough to ease the PTSD evidentiary burden for MST claimants or do you think we also need to ease the burden for other common conditions associated with MST like depressive disorders and anxiety disorders?
 
 
Anu Bhagwati: As I said in my testimony, according to the Veterans Affairs Department, PTSD is the most common health condition associated with MST but depressive disorder and other anxiety disorders can be just as life threatening and we certainly know that from the rest of the veterans community. I mean, many combat veterans are also suffering from depression rather than Post-Traumatic Stress. So, no, it's not enough just to focus on PTSD. We have veterans committing suicide every day from major depressive disorders and other very, very serious conditions and very common conditions.
 
 
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: Either of the rest of you like to answer that or talk about that?
 
 
Joy Ilem: I would agree. I mean those are certainly other factors, mental health conditions that we see associated with-with MST-related incidents.
 
 
Lori Perkio: In addition, all of the characteristics of anxiety, depression, those are all part of PTSD criteria so they should all be looked at because you never know when that claim may be eventually looked at as a PTSD claim.
 
 
 
 

Posted at 05:46 pm by thecommonills
 

The political stalemate's impact on the violence

The political stalemate's impact on the violence

Violence continues today in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk bombing in which 1 child was killed and two women were injured early this morning and an attack on a police patrol in Diyala Province left 1 police officer dead and three more injured.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 336 killed in Iraq this month from violence.


iraqbodycount


Alsumaria reports Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a statement today decrying the violence as an attempt to use the political  advantage.  Of course, the attackers could easily point out that Jalal Talabani only recently returned from Germany after fleeing there to avoid the wrath of many for going back on his promise and that Talabani seems eager to use yesterday's violence to burnish his own faded image.  Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers:


Viewed in isolation, the attacks are serious enough: the destabilising effect on a country that shows few signs of overcoming deep distrust among its Shias, Sunnis and Kurds is worrying. So too the fact that the postwar hope – the unifying influence of the state – has once again been unable to stop a multi-city slaughter.
However, when seen through the prism of the rest of the region's woes, the latest events take on an even more serious perspective. Neighbouring Syria is fast sliding towards full-blown war, with a real risk of a sectarian spillover into a region that has seen hardening sectarian positions in all corners for the last 18 months.


Sunday the Islamic State of Iraq issued a recording allegedly by Abuk Bakr al-Baghdadi in which he declared a new campaign entitled "Breaking The Walls" which would release "Muslim prisoners" in Iraqi jails and prisons and kill "judges and investigators and their guards" and also threatened to do harm on US soil.  A few e-mails came in on our noting that.  The big issue seems to be should we note it? Yes, it's news.  You could be Barack Obama and spin in front of the VFW [and a friend with McClatchy just called and asked if I could include a link to David Sider's report for McClatchy on Barack's VFW speech -- done.]  Or you can note what the recording said.  There were also questions of why we noted this one?  This one was translated by Xinhua.  I'm not interested in crazy Rita Katz and her wacko SITE.  We have always and will always ignore her translations.  The rule used to be that if you got caught lying to the press, you were no longer a trusted source.  The New York Times and others are happy to break that rule for Rita who lied to 60 Minutes.  Why outlets like the Times don't do their own translation, I have no idea.  If they did, I would include it.  But I do understand the surprise on the part of some that we included what the group was saying because we usually don't.  And that's because it's usually a SITE translation and, unlike the media, I still believe in some basic guidelines of their profession.

Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) has a report worth reading and she deserves credit especially for noting the group that released the audio recording is the Islamic State of Iraq.  So many outlets have already dropped that and are rushing out with "al Qaeada in Iraq" or "linked to al Qaeda in Iraq."  The group that released the statements has a name.  There's no need to be coy about it.  Considering that the group has made a public threat against the US, I have no idea why you'd want to group with various other groups in Iraq.  (al Qaeda in Iraq -- members or linked -- is a loose association of several groupings.)  The Islamic State of Iraq has publicly threatened to harm the US on US soil.  I'd say their name needs to be in US coverage and Americans need to be aware of them.

In Alpert's article, Phyllis Bennis appears breifly at the end.  Her position isn't shocking to this community.  She's arguing that what's going on would have happened regardless.  And that largely is true.  We argued repeatedly over the years -- when Bush was occupying the Oval Office, not just after Barack was elected -- that when the US pulled out, violence would likely take place.  Phyllis argues it's because the US "left behind . . . raw sectarian identity."  And that's probably true.  Iraqis, in the early years of the Iraq War (2003 and 2004), could often be heard discussing how the US was obsessed with Sunni and Shi'ite and that they asked that question always, always the first question, "Are you Sunni or Shi'ite?"  I also think it's true that a lot of people saying that were Sunni.  Meaning?  I think the US war fed the split but the split had to exist beforehand.  It was less evident to Sunnis -- they were an empowered minority (like Whites in South Africa who often couldn't understand there was problem with the way their country was run -- but to a number of Shi'ites is already existed. 

What I think Phyllis may be missing ("may" because her appearance in the article is so brief -- she may have made the next point as well but it wasn't included in the article) is that the violence would have happened because the US selected leaders.  The Iraqis didn't.  If you want to put it into a solely Sunni-Shi'ite divide (it is more complicated than that), Sunnis might have been more accepting of, for example, a prime minister who was actually legitimate. 

Nouri al-Maliki is not legitimate.  There was always going to be problems with a puppet ruler.  In 2006, the US White House (Bush) said no to Ibrahaim al-Jafaari and insisted upon Nouri al-Maliki.  That's how he became prime minister.  In 2010, Iraqis chose Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya over Nouri's State of Law which should have meant that Allawi got first crack at forming a Cabinet and being prime minister.  But the election results and the Constitution were tossed aside by the US White House (Barack) which wanted to keep Nouri as prime minister.

Allawi's a Shi'ite.  Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, also a member of Iraqiya, is a Sunni.  Iraqiya won despite all the odds because it spoke to a larger mood in Iraq -- as demonstrated the year before in the 2009 provincial elections -- to have a national identity.  The damage done can't be measured but the White House made one of the biggest mistakes when they refused to honor the will of the Iraqi people and instead rewarded Nouri and backed him in the 8 month political stalemate he created from March 2010 to November 2010. 

When puppets are put in place, they don't win popularity.  They may stay in power through support of other countries and through attacks on the people but their day of reckoning does come.  I never bought the idea that Barack was a Constitutional genius (as his answer re: Loving v. Virginia demonstrated, he didn't rack up many courtroom hours and wasn't well versed in the law -- if you're late to the party, refer to Ava and my "TV: The Surreal Life stages a comeback!") but I would never have thought he could be so historically ignorant.  (Or possibly, since Samantha Power was insistent that Barack stay, so historically unsure and willing to doubt his own knowledge base in the face of the raving Power.)

Colonialism -- from the stories he told about his grandfather (stories now revealed to be false by David Maraniss' Barack Obama: The Story)  -- was something he was supposed to be very familiar with.  Colonialism quite often ends with violence  -- the US colonies rebelling against British rule being the example Americans should be most familiar with.  So what's going on would likely have happened no matter when the US pulled out.  (Here, our position was a full withdrawal immediately.  That's still not happened with contractors, CIA, Special-Ops and various Marines guarding the US diplomatic staff.) 

Alpert also quotes Max Boot who states, "It's not out of control yet, but it's certainly moving in a dangerous direction.  The U.S. is basically AWOL."  We're don't hesitate to call out Max Boot -- check the archives.  But he's correct and if the White House is uncomfortable with that truth, then Barack can stop campaigning long enough to nominate a qualified person to be the US Ambassador in Iraq.   If Phyllis writes about Iraq today, we'll note it and we'll do the same on across-the-aisle Max Boot.


All Iraq News reports that MP Hussein Almrobei (he's with the National Alliance)  has declared that the security situation in Iraq has deteroriated ever since the political crisis started.

The political crisis is the struggle for Iraq's future.  Will one person (Nouri) determine the path or will Iraq be a shared vision?

We noted the first political stalemate.  That lasted eight months -- from March 2010 to November 2010.  It was ended when the US-brokered an agreement.  If all the political blocs would let Nouri have the second term he wasn't entitled to, a list of concessions would be made.  This is the Erbil Agreement and Nouri used it to get his second term but refused to follow it.  He had excuses from the first day and that led Allawi to lead a walk-out during the first real session of Parliament since eight months prior.  But Allawi was persuaded to return and told that of course Nouri would follow it.

Nouri didn't.  Most observes date the political stalemate -- and that is the term, even Martin Kobler used it when speaking to the UN Security Council last week -- to December 2011 when the bulk of US forces leave Iraq.  That's when Nouri begins targeting high ranking Iraqiya members such as Saleh al-Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  An argument can be made that the stalemate starts in the summer of last year when the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr begin publicly calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  (An argument can be made that it starts when Iraqiya rightly notes -- January 2011 -- that Nouri has no desire to implement the Erbil Agreement.) 

Nouri's now attempting to use the Reform Commission to paper over differences.  When Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and President Talabani started calling for a national convention to address the issues (December 21, 2011), Nouri did everything he could to stonewall it and then managed to get it to implode.  This was followed by efforts to call for a withdrawal of confidence vote in Parliament.  Signatures were collected but then Jalal Talabani stabbed everyone in the back and refused to forward it on to the Speaker.  (This is when Jalal flees to Germany for "emergency surgery" -- knee surgery.)  Since then, the push has been for questioning of Nouri before Parliament.  Though the Constitution allows for it, Nouri refuses.  No surprise, when has he ever followed the Constitution.  (Not in his first term, not in his second.)  If Nouri were questioned, a no-confidence vote could be taken after.  He wants to avoid that so he's tossed out the Reform Committee -- which is basically Nouri's allies will decide what happens. 

Since April, Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly made clear how Nouri stops efforts to remove him: Return to the Erbil Agreement.

The poltiical crisis is Nouri's fault.  He's being asked to honor the agreement he signed to get a second term as prime minister.  It's not complicated at all.

The Reform Committee was rejected by Allawi on Saturday and by Moqtada yesterday.  Most see it as a joke (for good reason).  Just like Nouri's inability to nominate people to head the security ministries (something the Constitution required for him to become prime minister).  As  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) recently observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."



The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.




 

Posted at 07:55 am by thecommonills
 

The death toll rises and Jay Carney spins

The death toll rises and Jay Carney spins

Yesterday, Iraq was slammed with bombings.  This morning, AP notes that the death toll from Monday's attacks "has risen to 115."  Reuters notes the increase and credits it in part to a Baghdad bombing and a Baquba bombing "late on Monday" which claimed 9 lives and thirty-one injured.

No name was given to yesterday -- long gone are the days of "Bloody Monday," "Bloody Tuesday," etc what with all the days having been labeled that repeatedly. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes, "The level of violence Monday was reminiscent of some of the bloodiest days of the Iraq war, when random and targeted attacks routinely killed scores of people a day."  Reuters quotes White House flack Jay Carney declaring, "The fact that there remains violence in Iraq is certainly the case, and we condemn these attacks, but it is also the case that the Iraqi security forces have been trained up and do have the capacity to handle their own security,"  Really?  Is that a "fact"?  Because if it is, I'd love to know when the administration decided it was one.  As someone who sat through one Congressional hearing after another in the fall of 2011 and winter of 2011 about the billions the administration was asking for in Iraq, I'd love to know when the White House decided it was a "fact" that Iraqi  security forces have been trained up.


From the December 1, 2011 snapshot:




"Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program?" asked US House Rep Gary Ackerman yesterday. "Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue."
That was Ackerman's important question yesterday afternoon at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing on Iraq.  US House Rep Steve Chabot is the Chair of the Subcommittee, US House Rep Gary Ackerman is the Ranking Member.  The first panel was the State Dept's Brooke Darby.  The second panel was the Inspector General for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen and SIGIR's Assistant Inspector General for Iraq Glenn D. Furbish.  [. . .]
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
[long pause]
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye."  Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.



So if they're fully trained, Jay Carney, why did the State Dept send Brooke Darby, at the end of 2011, to lobby for funds for a training program?  And, Carney, care to explain why that money got wasted?  (Because the Iraqis didn't want to train on the US facility and the State Dept couldn't guarantee the protection of trainers if they trained at a neutral location.  Also true, as Ackerman pointed out, the person Nouri made 'acting' Minister of Interior -- no such post -- was stating back then that they didn't want training from the US and that the US should spend the billions in the United States.)  But after begging for money and wasting the money, Jay Carney wants to talk about  a 'fact'?  I wish someone would ask him when no need for training became a fact.

Carney can take comfort in the hope that when the evening rolls around, we'll have other things to focus on.  Specifically his boss.

Barack spoke to the VFW yesterday.  Michael A. Memoli and Kathleen Hennessey (Los Angeles Times) quote him stating,  "Well, when you're commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan. You owe the country a plan, and that includes recognizing not just when to begin wars but also how to end them."  I don't believe most people who voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 general election did so with the belief that he would drop the Iraq plan that he had campaigned on to instead follow the SOFA negotiated by the Bush administration.  But that is what happened.  We dealt with that in yesterday's snapshot and I thought that was the stupidest thing he said.

I was wrong.

In a separate article, Memoli reports, "He never mentioned Romney by name, but referred instead to unnamed critics who have questioned his handling of a drawdown of forces in Iraq and a transition of the mission in Afghanistan. He also indirectly challenged Romney to offer more specifics."


Coming from Barack, a challenge for "specifics" is pretty stupid.  From March 9, 2008, "Kamikaze Sammy."


kamikazesammy

 
And here's the description that ran below the comic:


Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Kamikaze Sammy." Samantha Power swoops down declaring, "You can't make a commitment in whatever month we're in." Her comments to the BBCa 'pledge' to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months is nothing but pretty words that the campaign cannot and does not intend to live by.



As noted in the March 7, 2008 snapshot, that's what Samantha Power told the BBC while she was still with the Barack campaign.  She quit before the BBC interview made the news cycle:

Stephen Sackur: You said that he'll revisit it [the decision to pull troops] when he goes to the White House.  So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out within sixteen months, isn't a commitment is it?
 
Samantha Power: You can't make a commitment in whatever month we're in now, in March of 2008 about what circumstances are going to be like in January 2009.  We can't even tell what Bush is up to in terms of troops pauses and so forth.  He will of course not rely upon some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or as a US Senator.


When Barack and his campaign idiots ask for a plan from Romney on Afghanistan, it would be karma if they'd reply with Samantha Power's 2008 statement.  Maybe preface it with, "As President Obama well knows . . ."

So that was dumb.

There was a lot of dumb.  There was really stupid too.  And the VFW should have booed that single line.  They didn't in part because the news media has refused to report on the issue seriously.  We've been calling it out since the middle of 2009.


And we'll make room to call it out in today's snapshot.  It's a shame I'm not seeing anyone calling it out already.  But that's a reflection of how little coverage this important issue has received.


The following community sites -- plus Adam Kokesh, Reporters Without Borders, Black Agenda Report, Dissident Voice, The Pacifica Evening News and The Diane Rehm show -- updated last night and this morning:






The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.




 

Posted at 05:56 am by thecommonills
 

Monday, July 23, 2012
Iraq snapshot

Iraq snapshot

Monday, July 23, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue as Iraq sees the largest death toll of the year thus far, Victoria Nuland spins at the White House (and fails to bring up a threat to the US -- way to serve the public, Vicki), Moqtada al-Sadr rejects Nouri's Reform Commission, reports emerge of a British military training camp in Iraq, we look at MST and more.
 
As noted this morning, US President Barack Obama decided to grandstand on the Iraq War.  His re-election campaign released a ridiculous video featuring Tom Appelbaum (and his wife) talking about the St. Louis veterans parade earlier this year.  Appelbaum and Craig Schneider were the organizers of that event -- one which was billed as non-political and non-partisan, one that was fundraised on with the promise that this was about the veterans and not some political stunt.  Today Appelbaum turned it into just that whoring for Barack's campaign and the use of footage of that parade in Barack's commercial is offensive.  To be clear, they had to fundraise because the Barack Obama administration refused to stage a parade or fund a parade.  That's why private citizens had to donate in St. Louis and across the country where such events have been held.  Barack was too busy to attend the St. Louis welcome home or any other across the country.  But Tom Appelbaum wants to play cheap whore for Barack and take an event that Barack did not attend or contribute to and pretend like Barack Obama was part of it.  That lousy whore ad shouldn't pass a fact check but watch the enablers of Barack, as usual, look the other way.  In the media, Kevin Lipstak (CNN) was the first to note the ad.  He was not the last.
 
Charlie Spiering (Washington Examiner) notes the use of parade footage in the ad and points out that "President Obama's own Defense Department advised against Iraq victory parades, warning that they were inappropriate as troops were still in Afghanistan."  Spiering quotes NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg from last January stating, "The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, and Army Secretary McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Odierno made it clear -- we talked about it -- they do not think a parade is appropriate now."
 
At the conservative National Review, Mario Loyola argues, "It was President Bush who ended the war in Iraq -- by winning it.  For Obama to claim that he ended the war in Iraq by bringing the troops home is as ridiculous as if he claimed credit for ending World War II by bringing troops home from Germany and Japan."  While we disagree that Bully Boy Bush won the Iraq War -- the war continues as news out of Iraq makes clear today -- it can be argued that Bush did end the Iraq War.  Barack Obama campaigned on all troops out in 16 months and then, to Tom Hayden's joy, 10 months.  As soon as he was sworn in, he stated, it was the first thing he would do.  Instead, the thing that got most US troops out of Iraq last December was the Status of Forces Agreement that the Bush administration negotiated. 
 
So people voted for a liar named Barack who spent the primaries tearing apart Hillary Clinton and other opponents, waxing on about his 'fabeled judgment' and pretending to be against the Iraq War (he was only against it before it started) while insisting that "change" was needed, that the US needed a new path.  And then he's sworn in and he offers America the same withdrawal Bush had negotiated.  Where in all of that did Barack do a damn thing?
 
Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont (AP) report Barack told the VFW today of Iraq, "When you're commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan."   Well then we should all be glad George W. Bush came up with one before he left office since Barack was unable to.  (And, no, "we should all be glad George W. Bush came up with one" does not flow easily from my mouth.)  The only thing more outrageous than his ridiculous claims is how far so many in the press are willing to go along with him.  Thankfully not all.
 
Jake Tapper (ABC News) probably captures the unfettered ego out of the Oval Office best with "President Obama Praises Self for Ending War in Iraq on Bloodiest Day of the Year in That Country." At the conservative News Busters, Scott Whitlock notes Iraq's bloodshed received two sentences on NBC's Today ("Today marks the single bloodiest day in Iraq so far this year, as nationwide attacks have killed at least 89 people. The wave of violence comes just days after al Qaeda issued a warning that it is regrouping.")  as did ABC's Good Morning America, while CBS' This Morning ignored the Iraq attacks completely.   Whitlock writes:
 
A 2005 study by the Media Research Center found that (under a Republican president) the networks were eager to report bad news relating to Iraq:
Network coverage has been overwhelmingly pessimistic. More than half of all stories (848, or 61%) focused on negative topics or presented a pessimistic analysis of the situation, four times as many as featured U.S. or Iraqi achievements or offered an optimistic assessment (just 211 stories, or 15%).


 
 
 
 
Bombings slammed Iraq today.  No doubt, Barack took credit for that as well.   Alsumaria notes the dead includes police officers and Sahwa members ("Awakenings" and "Sons/Daughters of Iraq") and that Baghdad, Nineveh Province, Diwaniyah Province, Kirkuk, Wasit Province, Diyala Province and Salahuddin Province were all targeted with bombs.  Rami Ruhayem (BBC News -- link is video and text) reports, "Well the attacks took place all over the country in different cities. They seem to have targeted primarily security forces -- army as well as police -- checkpoints, convoys and even some police officers were targeted inside their homes. There have also been a number of incidents targeting civilians and marketplaces -- especially in Sadr City in Baghdad." In a sidebar on the right-hand side, the BBC notes the most violent attacks of 2012 and today replaces June 13th when 84 were killed and "nearly 300" wounded.   Ala A. Nabhan and Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) add, "Several parked car bombs were detonated in markets packed with Ramadan shoppers in predominantly Shiite areas such as Baghdad's congested Sadr City district, the town of Taji northwest of the capital and the city of Diwaniya to the south, killing and wounding dozens, according to a Ministry of Interior official." Mark Leon Goldberg (UN Dispatch) notes over 100 dead.
 
 
 Kareem Raheem (Reuters) puts the death toll at 107.   Today's attacks come two days after the official start of Ramadan in Iraq and follow increased violence which includes the assassination Saturday of a bodyguard for one of Iraq's two vice presidents and Sunday's violence of which Interfax and AFP note, "On Sunday at least 39 people were killed and 118 more wounded in a series of terrorist attacks in the suburbs of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, according to reports from local emergency services personnel and the police." 
 
In addition, Sunday , Xinhua reported on an audio recording released by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI -- linked to al Qaeda in Iraq) which states, "We are setting of a new stage of our struggle, with the launch of a plan named 'breaking the walls.'  The tape says the effort will release "Muslim prisoners" from jail and kill "judges and investigators and their guards." The recording warns the United States that "you will see them (Qaida militants) at the heart of your country with God's willing, since our war against you has just started." Maamoun Youssef (AP) notes the recording and that it is supposed to be Abuk Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking (he "became head of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010").   
 
 
Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) states, "The question facing U.S. officials is whether the mass killings, which have accelerated throughout the summer, represent a return to sectarian war or a resurgence of al-Qaeda."  Yasir Ghazi and Rod Nordland (New York Times) argue today's violence ("40 separate attacks") were "a coordinated display [by the Islamic State of Iraq]  intended to show that they remain a viable force."
 

More and more these attacks are greeted with international silence. The Voice of Russia notes, "The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed its condolences to victim's relatives and support for Iraqi government's measures to 'stabilize the situation and boost security' in the country." In Iraq, UNAMI's Gyorgy Busztin declared today, "I strongly condemn the heinous attacks and the senseless violence and bloodshed across the country.  The scale and brutality of the attacks are appalling -- especially now, when Iraqis are not only celebrating the holy month of Ramadan with its messages of peace and reconciliation, but are also welcoming thousands of returnees who have fled the ongoing violence in Syria."  Because the Russian government and UNAMI issued  statements and because she was asked about the topic in today's State Dept press briefing, Victoria Nuland offered a brief condemnation of the attacks and then basically spun (and spun badly): 
 
 
 
 
QUESTION: It's kind of Syria-related.
 
MS. NULAND: Syria-related? (Laughter.) Okay.
 
QUESTION: Because of the pressure on its borders --
 
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
 
QUESTION: -- on Iraq's borders from Syria, we saw some incidents last week when apparently the opposition took some border posts. How concerned are you about the situation in Iraq right now and whether or not the security forces are up to the task? They're – they've got all these attacks within the country and now the border with Syria, which is so porous anyway.
 
 
MS. NULAND: Well, first on Iraq and Syria, you'll also note that Iraq made a call for its own citizens who had taken refuge in Syria during the troubles, the worst of times in Iraq, to now begin to come home. So I think that speaks to Iraq's sense that it can manage the return of its own citizens, that it can provide for them better in Iraq than the situation that they confront in Syria now. We work very closely with the Iraqis on Syrian issues, as you know. In part of outreach to the transition, we've been working not only with the groups that are strong in the western parts of Syria but also with some of these tribes in the east, as has the Iraqi Government, to get to know them better, to support the opposition as best it can. With regard to the security inside Iraq itself and some of the violence that we've seen as Ramadan has started, we strongly condemn these attacks which took place today, took place over the weekend, in Iraq. The targeting of innocents is always cowardly. It's particularly reprehensible during this holy month of Ramadan. I would like to see it's unusual. Unfortunately, it is not unusual, that we have seen terrorists exploit the holy month, exploit the peaceful efforts by Iraqis to worship, to commit acts of terror. But we continue to believe that Iraqi security forces are up to the task, that net-net the security situation over the last couple of years has improved in Iraq, as has the capability of Iraqi forces.  Please.
 
QUESTION: Victoria --
 
MS. NULAND: Still on Iraq?
 
QUESTION: Yeah. Still on Iraq, this wave of attacks was the most violent day since the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Is the United States doing anything specifically to help the Iraqi Government in its response to this morning's violence?
 
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we continue to provide appropriate security support to the Iraqis based on their requests in terms of equipping and training and that kind of thing, and we will continue to do that. But in general, the position of the Iraqi Government is that they want to be responsible for their own security, that they are up to the task of dealing with these kinds of things.  The issue here is the horrific tactics of al-Qaida in Iraq, who, during this month of Ramadan, are making desperate efforts to call on Sunnis to turn against their government, to assassinate judges and investigators, and to, in general, turn against all of these democratic institutions. They're going to fail. The Iraqis know they're going to fail. But regrettably, this is a bloody pattern that we've seen in years past, that Ramadan has been exploited for the agendas of terrorists and those who don't have the best interest of Iraq at heart.
 
QUESTION: Can I just follow it up really quickly, just to be absolutely clear? So does the violence change the U.S. posture towards Iraq? Does this morning's violence shift what we are doing at all?
 
MS. NULAND: Again, we are concerned, and we stand ready to give the Iraqis any support that they might request. At the moment, their preference is to do what they can to manage their security themselves. They fought long and hard to get to this stage where they are taking responsibility for their own security. But as necessary, we provide support.
 
QUESTION: If they requested, say, a contingency of U.S. troops to go back in --
 
MS. NULAND: Now you're, Guy, into all kinds of hypotheticals that I'm not going to get into. But again, it has been their desire – all the way through we've been guided by what they have wanted. We made clear a year ago that we were open to a number of options. They picked the option that we are in, which is that they maintain security with advice and support as necessary. But if that posture changes, obviously we will consult with them on it.
 
QUESTION: Has there been any communication today between the U.S. and the Iraqi Government as they try to manage these series of events in Iraq?
 
MS. NULAND: Our Embassy is in constant contact there.
 
 
So much in there that's wrong.  The bulk of Iraqis returning from Syria have largely gone to the KRG and that's not a large number of returnees to begin with.  Victoria Nuland hopes you're stupid enough to believe that all the Iraqis who went to Syria beginning in 2006 have stayed there -- despite the fact that they're not allowed to legally work in Syria.  She's hoping you're real stupid and don't know that the United Nations has been assisting them in relocation.  She also prays the press never raise relocation of refugees since the current administration has falied repeatedly to meet the slots set aside for Iraqi refugees.  She avoided the issue of Syrian refugees.  That's because of this:
 
 
The UN system in Iraq is putting in place contingency plans for possible humanitarian emergency.  In this connection, I recently visited a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region for those displaced by the conflict in Syria.  So far, with 7,000 refugees, their number are manageable. 
 
The camp is in the KRG and that's UN Special Enovy to Iraq Martin Kobler testifying to the UN Security Council last week.  In addition, over the weekend, the Times of Malta reports, "Iraq's government said yesterday it was unable to provide help for Syrian refugees looking to escape their country's ongoing strife because of its own poor security situation."
 
Yeah, that doesn't really help her argument so she avoids and probably says a prayer of thanks the press didn't bring it up.  On another day we could examine all the lies she offered and take her to task for failing to address the threat made to the United States but we have other things to cover.
 


In other news, Kitabat notes thousands are crossing from Syria into the KRG in search of asylum -- these include Kurds and Syrians. Who else is in Iraq?   Kitabat notes a report in the UK Sunday Express which stated British forces were training Syrian fighters -- training over 300 of them from a base inside Iraq. What is Kitabat talking about?  This article by Marco Giannangeli:


A British Army source revealed last night that former SAS soldiers are training Syrian rebels in Iraq in military tactics, weapons handling and communications systems.
More than 300 have passed through a base just inside the Iraq border, while a command course is run in Saudi Arabia.
Groups of 50 rebels at a time are being trained by two private security firms employing former Special Forces personnel. "Our role is purely instructional teaching tactics, techniques and procedures," said a former SAS member.
"Some of these guys are shopkeepers and schoolteachers who have lost everything.
"If we can teach them how to take cover, to shoot and avoid being spotted by snipers it will hopefully help."


There is entering Iraq and there is also leaving Iraq.  Dar Addustour reports rumors that high level government officials and politicians are smuggling rare birds and animals out of Iraq -- already there has been at least one arrest with the official said to have had 102 birds and animals.

On the topic of officials and politicians, the political stalemate continues in Iraq.  Dar Addustour notes politicians are saying Nouri's Reform Commission will not replace the call for a no-confidence vote in Parliament to oust Nouri.  Today Moqtada al-Sadr's website reports -- quoting Secretary-General of Moqtada's bloc, Zia al-Asadi -- that Moqtada's bloc will not be part of the Reform Commission.  The commission itself is deemed a contradiction in terms.  Nouri caused the stalemate by refusing to honor the US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly noted that Nouri could end the stalemate by returning to the Erbil Agreement.   The failure to do so may be why al-Sadr sees the Reform Commission as something less than genuine.  Saturday, Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi also rejected the Reform Commission.
 
 
Last Wednesday and Thursday we covered the  Wednesday morning House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations into how the VA was managing (or not) claims.  Thursday and Friday we covered the Thursday Iraq briefing to the United Security Council by Martin Kobler, the Special Envoy to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  There was a Wednesday afternoon hearing that was put on hold here so we could finish up the Subcommittee and grab the UN briefing.  We'll drop back to that hearing now  (and tomorrow we'll note US House Rep Chellie Pingree from the hearing).
 
 
"As a nation, we call on our armed service members to sacrifice bravely on our behalf," declared House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Chair Jon Runyan as he brought the hearing to order.  "They courageously put their lives at risk and face deadly enemies on the battlefield.  When we think of these enemies, we think of those who oppose our freedom and our American way of life.  We certainly do not think of soldiers needing to defend themselves from their fellow service members.  However, many of our service members are required to do just that.  Women are the fast growing population among veterans, making up 8% of the Armed Forces; however, the Department of Defense estimates that 1 in 4 women who join the armed services will be raped or assaulted. But only -- but that only about 10% of such instances are ever reported.  Even more alarming, is that of those few who did report the incidents of Military Sexual Trauma.  Over 75% stated that they would not have made the same decision about reporting the instances again due to the consequences it had on their military career.  Despite the fact that these instances often go unreported, VA currently estimates that over half of a million veterans have experienced Military Sexual Trauma.  This includes 17% of veterans from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."
 
So MST is clearly a problem while serving but after service?  Veterans with MST are repeatedly struggling with the system in order to have the VA recognize their MST.
 
 
Ruth Moore: In 1987, I was a bright, vivacious eighteen-year-old, serving in the United States Navy.  After my training school, my first assignment was to an overseas duty station in Europe.  Two-and-a-half months after I arrived, I was raped by my supervisor outside of the local club.  Not once, but twice.  I sought help from the chaplain but did not receive any.  I tried to move beyond this nightmare but had contracted a STD.  At this point, my life spiraled downward and I attempted suicide.  Shortly thereafter, I was medivaced to Bethesda Naval Hospital and ultimately discharged from the Navy.  No prosecution was ever made against the perpetrator.  In hindsight, it was easier for the military to get rid of me, than admit to a rape.  My problems began at the point of separation as the psychiatrist diagnosed me with a Borderline Personality Disorder. I did not have a personality disorder, this was the standard diagnosis that was given to all victims of MST at that time, to separate them from active duty and protect the military from any and all liability.  This travesty continued when I was counseled by outprocessing to waive all claims to the VA, as I "would get helathcare" through my former spouse who was on active duty.  From 1987 to 1993, I struggled with interpersonal relationships, could not trust male supervisors and could not maintain employment. I filed my first VA claim in Jacksonville which was denied despite having serveral markers for PTSD and gynecological problems.  My life continued to spiral downward and I was not able to maintain my marriage.  In 1997, I fled from my house and lived out of my van for two weeks before I was able to start rebuilding my life with my present spouse.  Things were very difficult and I developed additional markers of PTSD including night terrors, panic attacks, severe migraine headaches and insomnia.  In 2003, I refiled for disability and was denied again; howeaver, I enlisted the aid of the Disabled American Veterans.  With their help, I was awarded 30% compensation for depression.  I was denied PTSD and was told that I did not submit enough evidence to prove that I was raped despite having submitted a letter from my former spouse who remembered the rape and when I was treated for Chalmydia.  Given the eyewitness testimony, the VA still denied this as credible proof.  There was no record of my medical treatement for STD from that duty station as my medical records had been partially expunged.  Additionaly, I wasa coded by the Togus VA as having Traumatic Brain Injury or Brain Syndrome.  In 2009, I entered into my first comprehensive treatment at the VA hospital in White River Junction, Vermont.  I met a MST Coordinator who truly listened to me. She began a systemic review of all my records and determined that they had been expunged by noting the glaring incosistencies between my lab work, treatment notes and service record.  My psychiatrist and counselor determined that I did not have Borderlin Personality Disorder and the later diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Syndrome was inaccurate. My MST coordinator and I refiled for an increase in disability and my clinicians wrote supportive records for the VBA to make an accurate determination.  They readjudicated my claim to 70% but denied my status as individually unemployable, citing that I did not complete the necessary paperwork.  At this point, I was very frustrated and suicidal with the stresses of the VBA system and claims process.  In my final effort, I called the Honorable Bernie Sanders and his staff agreed to investigate why the VA was taking so long and denying part of my claim.  I took Mr. Sanders copies of all the paperwork I had filed, including the VBA time and date stamped "missing information" to prove that they had originally received it.  Within two weeks, my claim was finally adjudicated to 70% with IU and it was a total and permanent decision.  My rating should have been 100% by the VBA criteria, but I was so grateful for a favorable determination that I have not pursued it further. Ladies and Gentleman, this process took me 23 years to resolve, and I am one of the fortunate  ones. It should not be this way.  If I had been treated promptly and received benefits in a timely manner, back at the time of my discharge, my life would have been much different.  I do not believe that I would have been totally and permanently disabled in my 40's. I would not have had to endure homelessness and increased symptomology to the point where I was suicidal, I would not have miscarried 9 children, and I firmly believe that I would have been able to develop better coping and social skills.  Instead, my quality of life has been degraded to the point where I am considering the possibility of getting a service animal to relieve the stress that my husband endures, as my unpaid caretaker.
 
 
Another example from the hearing.
 
 
Margaret Middleton:  I recently interviewed a female veteran who was raped by two sergeants in her barracks thirty years ago.  They ordered everybody else out and they kept her behind.  Decades later, similar to what the doctor just said [Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen] just said, I was the first person that she had ever told.  She didn't tell anyone at the time because it would have meant the end of her career.  And if you think her career wasn't important to her, she served in Iraq, she achieved the rank of Master Sergeant and she was retired honorably after 28 years serving in the military. This incredibly strong soldier held back tears when she told me this story and it was only one of the several episodes of MST that she described to me.  This veteran's claim faces an almost impossible evidentiary burden because of this particular provision [38 CFR 3.3.04 (f) (5)].  She did not tell anyone what happened, so there are no medical records, no letters home, no actions taken against her assailants.  In order to succeed in the army, this veteran felt forced to stay silent and now she will be punished for her silence because the VA will refuse to credit her story on her testimony alone.
 
 
The hearing was divided into four panels.  The first panel was Service Women's Action Network's Anu Bhagwati, Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, the American Legion's Lori Perkio.   The second panel was Give An Hour's Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center's Margaret Middleton.  The third panel was Ruth Moore (joined by her husband Butch Moore).  The fourth panel was DoD's Col Alan Metzler (joined by DoD's Dr. Nate Galbreath) and VA's Thomas Murphy (joined by VA's Edna MacDonald).  From the first panel, we'll note this exchange.
 
 
Chair Jon Runyan:  I think this Committee recognizes that many veterans are having difficulty receiving benefits related to MST and despite the [VA's] relaxed evidentiary standard, many veterans still have difficulty providing the evidence required for the award of the service connection disability.  In each of your opinions, can you kind of touch -- and in your personal opinion -- why that is happening?
 
Anu Bhagwati:  Well I think the first thing I would say is I wouldn't refer to them as relaxed evidentiary standards.  I would refer to them as actually harder evidentiary standards.  There's -- there's a two-tier system right now.  One for PTSD generally and one for MST-PTSD.  And those veterans -- again, 87% of these assaults are never reported for very good reason -- for fear of retialiation in the military and a variety of other factors related to rape and assault and the trauma that results. And so we have to think more strategically about -- about what counts as a fair evidentiary standard.  But the regulation itself gives you that suggestion.  And it's clear in all other cases of PTSD that the veterans testimony, the lay testimony, is sufficient as long as that veteran has a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from a qualified medical provider as well as proof of time and service.  And there's language in that legislation for every other veteran suffering from PTSD with the exception of rape, assault and harassment.   And it's completely unfair.
 
Chair Jon Runyan: Okay.  Ms.
 
Joy Ilem: I think probably we would like to see the data.  For years, we've asked for data.  Specific to MST-related cases versus non-personal assaults. The first information we'd really seen was the FOI-ed information and certainly we believe VA does have the capability to extract that information and perhaps has, just briefly looking at their testimony, appeared to evaluate some of the raters' decisions. And I think we would definitely want to look at where was their compliance with the rules and regulations and the policies that have been set so far.  That's where probably, I think, the biggest, you know, problem may lie because there are often times signficant number of other opportunities to support those claims but it appears perhaps they're not being consistent throughout the country because we continue to hear these complaints repeatedly of people saying 'I've submitted a number of things -- everything they've asked me and my claim is still denied.'
 
Chair Jon Runyan: Ms. Perkio, in [laughing] one second, can you surmise? No.  Please do respond.
 
Lori Perkio: Thank you.  I've been a service officer for 16 years and I've been working VA claims and that include Military Sexual Trauma claims.  In my experience as a service officer is that the evidence was not given the weight that it should have.  When a service member -- I worked with one man.  He had been -- He had been raped.  And the next morning, he was walking around, feeling very dejected and trying to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life, he chose to commit suicide by throwing himself under a truck.  Not only did he have to live with the results of the medical injuries from that, the treatment that he received did not get used in support of his claim because he didn't report that he had actually been sexually assaulted. The medical records and nobody in the VA would take into account the reasons why he may have tried to commit suicide  when it's plain there was definitely a change in his attitude, his personality and in his will to live.  Those are the types of things that we would like to see the VA take more into account in supporting claims for Military Sexual Trauma.  In their own adjudication manual, it states behavioral changes will be considered.  These are things -- while the regulation is already there -- the adjudication manual is there -- more information needs to be provided to the raters on how to look at that information and apply it.
 
Chair Jon Runyan: Thank you.  And with that, I'll recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. McNerney.
 
Ranking Member Jerry McNerney: Thank you.  Ms. Bhagwati, I believe that one of the problems you mentioned that claimants have is that records have been purged after a certain number of years.  Do you know if that's a policy or is that just local custom or what regulates when records are purged and how can we change that so that there's more evidence that would be persistent?
 
Anu Bhagwati: Well there are some records that are still purged and some records that are no longer purged thanks to the last National Defense Authorization Act and perhaps Congresswoman [Chellie] Pingree can add to that.  Sexual assault -- I believe it's unrestricted reports are kept for 50 years -- or maybe restricted reports.  What's still destroyed however is EO or sexual harassment investigations so if you were sexually harassed and reported it.  This happened to me, I could tell you my first-hand experience. Those EO reports are destroyed in two-to-five years and it's done branch to branch by service and the Marines, so the Department of the Navy is not tracking those, we're not keeping those records forever.
 
Ranking Member Jerry McNerney: So there's no policy with regards to keeping those?
 
Anu Bhagwati: Not for sexual harassment investigations.
 
Ranking Member Jerry McNerney: Well you concluded in your testimony that when we look at the VA's policies on paper, it's no surprise that veterans who suffer from MST related PTSD have only a one-in-three chance of having their claims approved.  Could you please elaborate on that conclusion and how the VA regulations could be changed to change the outcomes of that?
 
Anu Bhagwati:  Sure. It's an absolutely murderous process.  We heard the example of one veteran who killed himself because of this process but I went through it myself, it took four years and VA -- frankly VBA is inept at the regional office level.  I mean, you can -- you can give them all the evidence you have.  I had plenty of eye witness statements -- anything they asked for, all the secondary evidence that's in the regulation but it was flat out ignored.  What happenes when those claims get rejected is a lot of veterans fall into this downward spiral of worsening trauma -- suicidal ideation, maybe attempted suicide, maybe completed suicide.  And so, I mean, we're looking at really a life and death situation here with this claims process.
 
 
We'll continue coverage of the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot.
 
 
 

Posted at 07:26 pm by thecommonills
 


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