Friday, July 31, 2009
Camp Ashraf is in Iraq. The MEK resides there. They are a group of Iranians that Saddam allowed to come in back in 1979. Camp Ashraf is their home. The US protected them after the invasion. They stopped protecting them.
They stopped because they had 'assurances' from Thug Nouri al-Maliki that he wouldn't harm them or force them to go back to Iran. He lied.
Camp Ashraf is under assault.
It began on Tuesday.
Bull dozers, sonic grenades, you name it.
Nouri al-Maliki is a thug and a war criminal.
He needs to be put on trial and if the United Nations were a functioning body, he would be.
You need to pay close attention to who is covering this assault and who is ignoring it. In the US, a lot of people are ignoring it.
I'm not very interesting but Mike makes some good points in "My interview with Ann" -- and it was very kind of him to want to interview me. Just wish I'd been a better subject. And Third interviewed me Sunday " "Talking with Ann of Ann's Mega Dub" -- I'm not sure I mentioned that but it as sweet of them as well.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, July 31, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, bombings targeting mosques rip through Baghdad, the assault on Camp Ashraf continues, the 'withdrawal' is examined, two women tell stories the media hasn't chosen to share, and more.
As anyone even slightly interested in the Iraq War knows, NPR's The Diane Rehm Show remains the only public radio program -- NPR or Pacifica -- on which you can get any sort of regular information and discussion on the war. Most Fridays, during the second hour, the international news hour, Iraq will be a topic. USA Today's Susan Paige filled in for Diane (who returns Monday) and they did have a planned segement about Iraq and they also had callers who asked questions about developments there but, at the very end of today's show, they had two women share their stories and we're going to start with that.
Susan Paige: Let's go to Pamela. She's calling us from New Jersey. Pamela, thanks so much for calling.
Pamela: Yes. Good morning, how are you? Thank you for taking my call. I am responding to a comment I heard earlier and it really just like shot me in my heart. And the comment was that the suicide rates [in the US military] are skyrocketing and how this has to be addressed. And I literally like I said stopped dead in my tracks. I . . . lost my brother in service due to suicide. He was home on a leave and, uh, about to be, pardon me, to go back and to serve and, uh, was, uh -- the difficulty in getting the mental health services I believe that he needed -- I mean he was married with two children -- was most, most difficult and delayed and a long wait and this and that. And then the unfathomable happened and, uh, when I, uh, at times decided to share how he died rather than just say he died in the war and I would say he died by suicide the remark I would hear unfortunately was, "Oh my goodness, he didn't die a hero then." And-and I continually hear this and I guess I want to make a statement that how someone dies, um, should not be -- that -- that is not a definition of how they lived their lives. And here was a good man who gave and did so much for the community and yet because of how he died -- which you know is a mental illness health related, etc. etc. -- he is now being defined as -- not -- as a zero. And not being defined. And I think you know this-this suicide issue is getting way out of control and for every person that dies by suicide there are at least six to ten people that are horribly effected as well to the point where their mental health also, uh, you know, begins to fall apart and the whole mental health, how to get help, starts all over again. And I should say that the support groups for those that lose a loved one by suicide are now separated from regular grief groups and while attending one and sharing how my loved one died, people were going around the room, people said to me, "Oh my God, why is she here?" I've been asked to leave meetings because -- grief support meetings -- because of how my brother died and I don't think that's fair or correct or right and, um, so the issue goes far beyond the pain of losing a loved one and is extremely complicated. And, um, I wanted to share all that. And if ever anybody hears of someone that dies of a suicide please just say "I'm sorry for your loss" and ask about the person. And don't say anything cruel or unkind because, again, how one lives their entire life for 38 years should not be defined by a, you know, a irrational moment that effects -- that became a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Susan Page: Yeah well Pamela we certainly thank your brother for his service and we express our sympathy to your family for this terrible loss. [. . .] Let's go to Mary, she's calling us from San Antonio, Texas. Hi, Mary.
Mary: Hi there. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what I was calling about. My husband is currently on his fourth tour in Iraq which is his fifth deployment in six years. As a matter of fact, he's physically lived at home six months since 2001. There's -- there's two reasons I think why the high suicide rate You have these up tempo deployments. When someone comes back from being deployed in Iraq you have what's called a honeymoon period and it might be a month or several months where everyone's happy to see you and every thing's going fine and then the cracks start to show a little bit the stress that every body's been under -- whether it's the normal stress or maybe PTSD. But by the time that starts to rear it's head, they're back for another deployment again and so those issues don't get addressed. And I live in fear for when my husband is home permanently and I know for certain that we're going to have to address that. My husband told me once a story when they were in Iraq, in a combat mission. There was a young gentlemen, maybe 19, scared to death to go out -- understandably. And he was out maybe thirty minutes and they got hit by an IED. He was absolutely terrified and the next day he had to go back out on another mission. And he did not want to go and he had to. And I asked my husband what do you do in those circumstances? And my husband said "Charley Mike" which is an acronym for CM and it means continue mission. That is the most important thing is you continue the mission and you don't stop until it's complete and then you look back and maybe try to figure out what's wrong with these poor people. The -- I don't care what any senior officials say -- the mental health is abysmal in the military. It's frowned upon, there's not enough services. Also I think because the rest -- only the military is at war and the rest of the country is not, there's not -- there's a big disconnect there and I think that adds to the situation. My husband is proud to do his service. He's happy to be there so many other fathers don't have to be. But he would like at least some acknowledgment and recognition. When you turn on the TV and very little is talked about.
Those stories are not being told. They weren't being told in the 'meanwhile back at home' segments of that trashy (and thankfully cancelled) CBS show and they're not being told on Lifetime's ridiculous Army Wives. There is no place for those stories to be told because there is no interest in telling them. You heard them on The Diane Rehm Show today and you could hear them on the show again. Hopefully, you will, hopefully others will call in on Friday's second hour. But in terms of the media, there's really no where to go except Diane's show. And that's really sad. These are stories of today and people would rather serve up propaganda (I'm referring to all the time Pacifica wastes advocating on behalf of Barack which is not why it has a license and is also not why Lewis Hill created Pacifica to begin with) or waste their time (and your time) in other ways. Those are two stories of the Iraq War. Only two stories of millions. And there's no interest in covering them.
Susan Page was joined by panelists Anne Geran (AP), Demetri Sevastopulo (Financial Times of London) and Barbara Slavin (Washington Times).
Susan Page: We had Defense Secretary Robert Gates make an unannounced visit to Iraq this weekend. Anne, you were with him. Tell us about the trip.
Anne Geran: Well Secretary Gates spent a few days in the Middle East. He was in Israel and Jordan before his trip to Iraq. The main reasons for him to go to Iraq now are to get a, kind of a status assessment after the June 30th handover of Iraqi cities to Iraqis --
Susan Page: Which went well. Right on schedule.
Anne Geran: Yeah, it did go on schedule and the - and the assessments from the top commanders and from Gates himself is that it went better than expected and that there really have been -been relatively few problems. A few hiccups, as Gates put it by -- on the part of people who didn't get the word on down the chain. There have been some problems -- in Baghdad, in Mosul which are the cities that had the greatest problems before June 30th. The other reason he was there was to impress on both the Kurdish leadership in the north and the Arab led central government in Baghdad -- they've been increasingly squabbling with one another -- that the time is running short for US forces to stay there and to keep the lid on this and it's time for everybody to figure out where the line is drawn for the Kurdish self-rule area and figure out their business.
Susan Page: Secretary Gates made some headlines when he said that the United States may be able to speed up the scheduled troop withdrawal of American troops. Does it go beyond the symbolic, Barbara?
Barbara Slavin: Well there are some interesting things going on there. There was a story in today's New York Times, a leaked memo that suggested maybe one reason why the US might pull out more troops sooner is because the Iraqis really don't want us there anymore and want to take back their country which seems pretty logical after more than six years now of US occupation, quasi-occupation. But might understanding is that about 10,000 troops are supposed to come out, were supposed to come out, by the end of the year, and so Gates is talking about another 5,000. That would still leave a fair number, let's see, if I do my --
Anne Geran: About 100,000.
Barbara Slavin: calculation -- over 100,000, during Iraqi elections, national elections, which are scheduled in January but would quicken the pace getting down toward 50,000 by the end of next year.
Susan Page: Demetri, this leaked memo which is on the front page of the New York Times this morning, a memo by a senior US military advisor, Colonel Timothy Reese, which was plenty blunt in its language
Demetri Sevastopulo: It was very blunt and it's not clear -- to me anyway -- whether he posted it himself on other websites or whether it was leaked by other people but it was blunt. It was supposed to be to the American military leaders. He himself is an advisor to the Iraqis. His basic argument was, as Barbara was explaining, 'We've taught' -- the Americans have taught -- 'the Iraqis how to ride the military bicyle. Now they can peddle, they're moving along. They may not be perfect but they're frustrated because the Americans are holding the saddle and not letting them go full steam ahead.' So his argument is, 'Just let them get on with it, we should get out now. They've basically accomplished, in terms of training, everything they're going to be able to do.' But not every one in the American military agrees with that. A lot of people think, 'Hold on second. They actually can't do a lot of the things they need to do yet. And General [Ray] Odierno is the top commander in Iraq -- the top American -- he said while Secretary Gates was there that one of the things that they [the Iraqis] cannot do, they won't be able to before the end of next year is to provide air support for themselves. They don't have the capability or the planes, the fighter jets, to defend themselves.
Susan Page: And what will that mean, Anne, for how this proceeds over the next year or two?
Anne Geran: Well in the very strictly technical sense, it will probably mean the sale of American F-16s to Iraq. They want to buy them, we want to sale them. It's a question of how to do that. They can't be built fast enough or in quantity to get them to the Iraqis before the scheduled US pull-out, get enough of them there. So they're looking a different ways to do that. The Iraqis could also buy Russian or French planes. But beyond that there will - there will have to be a debate and a resolution of the debate at some point of what sort of help the United States provides after the cut-off date? Is it -- is it air support from another countries? Is it air support from inside? Is it continued advisory role? Is it nothing?
Susan Page: And, you know, US -- President Obama talked during the campaign about withdrawing most US combat troops by a - by a certain time. I wonder, Barbara, how many troops will be left when most combat troops are out? I mean there will still be some US presence there.
Barbara Slavin: Well, you know, the Status Of Forces Agreement says all US troops are supposed to be out by the end of 2011 but when the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki was in town [DC] the other week, he suggested that he might want to request some of them to stay on and, of course, there are weapons, not just F-16s but other kinds of weapons systems, that the Iraqis are - are buying from the US that will need maintenance. So I think one could forsee a continued US presence but nothing like the one we have now.
Susan Page: And this long war will then actually come to a close for the United States?
Demetri Sevastopulo: Well it will come to a close to the extent -- it depends on what the Americans are doing. If you have 30, 40, 50,000 Americans there who are periodically called in to help the Iraqis when they are fighting in Mosul or somewhere else well then the war will have come predominately to an end but there will still be lingering fighting.
First, Sevastopulo is confused about the issue of the air force. Anne Geran, who was present for the remarks Odierno made this week (reported them here), tries to nicely fix the situation. Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reported Odierno said right now it did not appear likely that Iraq would be able to defend their own air space at the end of 2011. It matters because it goes to the fact that it's not a real withdrawal, a point Sevastopulo seems aware of in his second answer and was probably just confused speaking off the top of his head prior. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail (at CounterCurrents) addresses the realities of the non-withdrawal:
"If the Iraqi forces require further training and further support, we shall examine this then at that time, based on the needs of Iraq," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently informed President Barak Obama in Washington. While Iraqi and US government officials continue to insist the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is currently on schedule, only a few thousand US troops have left Iraq since Obama took office, and few, if any, are expected to be withdrawn through the beginning of 2010. From his recent statement, Maliki appears to be willing to accept a long-term stay.
The timeline in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) says that US "combat troops" were to withdraw from Iraqi cities and villages no later than June 30, 2009, and all troops are to be out by December 31, 2011.
Yet on November 17, 2008, in the wake of Iraq's cabinet approving the SOFA, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking member of the US military, immediately began inferring loopholes and possible grey areas, saying the deadline for withdrawal by 2011 should depend on conditions on the ground.
"I do think it is important that this be conditions-based," Mullen told reporters at the time, "And so three years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time."
Dahr's latest book is The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and it has just been released this month. As the discussion on NPR noted, the memo by US Col Timothy Reese is still in the news. (It was noted in yesterday's snapshot.) It's posted at various places online. One of the many places you can read the memo in full is here (New York Times) and we're noting this section:The general lack of progress in essential services and good governance is now so broad that it ought to be clear that we no longer are moving the Iraqis "forward." Below is an outline of the information on which I base this assessment:1. The ineffectiveness and corruption of GOI Ministries is the stuff of legend.2. The anti-corruption drive is little more than a campaign tool for Maliki3. The GOI is failing to take rational steps to improve its electrical infrastructure and to improve their oil exploration, production and exports.4. There is no progress towards resolving the Kirkuk situation.5. Sunni Reconciliation is at best at a standstill and probably going backwards.6. Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Sahwa transition to ISF and GOI civil service is not happening, and SOI monthly paydays continue to fall further behind.7. The Kurdish situation continues to fester.8. Political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions.9. The Vice President received a rather cool reception this past weekend and was publicly told that the internal affairs of Iraq are none of the US's business. Michael Gordon (New York Times) broke the news on the memo yesterday online. His article appears in today's paper (and link is the story which is longer than his report online Thursday). Clicking here takes you to the Times offering various people weighing in -- some of whom seem not to have actually read the memo. Douglas Macgregor makes the strongest argument. PBS' Online NewsHour notes, "A spokeswoman for Odierno said that the memo did not reflect the official stance of the United States military and was not intended for a broad audience, and that some of the problems the memo referred to had been solved since it was written in early July, the New York Times reported." Yes, because July was, like, months ago, totally. Nancy Montgomery (Stars and Stripes) tackles the sotry from the entry point of Odierno's friend Lt Gen Kenneth Hunzeker returning to Iraq:
Hunzeker, who was promoted to lieutenant general and named V Corps commander in August, 2007, said he's always wanted to go back to Iraq. When he visited two months ago, he said he found that "the performance of the Iraqi security forces is pretty good."
Reese, the adviser, disagreed in his memo. He detailed corruption, poor management and a bowing to Shiite political pressure, the Times said. But he wrote that despite deficiencies, Iraqi security forces are now able to protect the Iraqi government.
But there has been growing concern among military commanders about a potentially explosive dispute between the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan and the central government in Baghdad over territory, oil and other resources.
The issues couldn't be settled when the Iraq Constitution was drafted in 2005 -- the parties couldn't agree even which ethnicities lived there -- so it was put off. A clause in the constitution, Article 140, calls for a census followed by a referendum to settle the fate of these areas, including oil-rich Kirkuk. It was supposed to take place by the end of 2007. It still hasn't happened.
It's the last day of the month so the little liars crawl out of their holes. Dan Murphy's had a pretty lousy week but isn't done disgracing the once fabled Christian Science Monitor. In a 'turned corner' piece (of garbage) Danny's hoping people take him at his word and don't go off and do their own research: "The numbers at Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a website that tracks both coalition and Iraqi deaths, appear to confirm the improvement. Their count is typically lower than APs, but the trend is the same. They count 200 Iraqi deaths in July, the third-lowest total for them since January 2006. Their data shows Iraqi deaths peaked at 3,500 in September of that year." Their data shows?
ICCC does a wonderful job of tracking the number of foreign military service members killed in Iraq. It deserves huge applause for that. When an announcement's made by a governmental body, it's noted. And it's great that it's trying to provide some form of a count on Iraqi civilians. But ICCC's in California. It's not in Iraq. So why would anyone use their numbers as anything but a basic guage? Take, for example, the June Security Forces and Civilian deaths -- which is what ICCC tracks. They've got how many for the month of June? 367. Really? Because the Interior Ministry always does an undercount and their count for June was . . . 373. In May, ICCC's saying 188 deaths. I know that's wrong because no one wanted to talk May deaths and the lie was 134 from the Ministry of Health so I went through and counted up reported deaths from Reuters and McClatchy alone and the number -- just those two sources -- was 226. Each day in May is linked to, you can check the reported deaths and you can check the math. There is a big difference between 188 and 226. I'm not attacking ICCC but I am noting that their civilian death count is not something I'd go with unless making repeated qualifiers and doing my best to check out the official figures (from the ministries) and do a count myself to offer the differences.
Dan Murphy's not interested in qualifiers or doing his own research. He's interested in pimping the lie that things are less violent in Iraq. We've said it before, we'll say it again. That 'trend' story falls apart with the month of February and you see an increase in violence. That is the trend that's held since February. Dan Murphy's a non-stop embarrassment for his outlet.
Earlier in the week, Murphy was in titters over the assault on Camp Ashraf and those 'strange' MEK. Today at the Independent of London, non-reporter and human stench Patrick Cockburn is giggling over "the latest episode in the strange history of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq" -- no link to his trash. For the record, when someone's assaulted, their history (or your opinion of it) really isn't an issue. For the record, putting the victims on trial is one of the trashiest things anyone can do. No surprise, Patrick Cockburn does just that. He's not a reporter. AP reports that US "medical professionals" (US military medical staff) were at Camp Ashraf yesterday evening and "evacuated the most seriously wounded to a U.S. military facility for further treatment." Charles Levinson (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed on Thursday to let a small group of journalists into the camp. Visitors were given access to only the few hundred yards of land along the main road controlled by Iraqi forces." But that wasn't the first group of journalists allowed in. The National Council of Resistance of Iran explains that although there is ban on any journalists visiting Camp Ashraf, Nouri al-Maliki has made exceptions . . . for Iranian news outlets. They also alleges that the reporters were actually "a number of agents from the Iranian regime's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and terrorist Qods Force".
Not all in Iraq are going along with the assault. The Iraqi National Dialogue Front has issued a statement decrying the assault: "Ashraf residents have been deeply respected during all these years by the Iraqi people and protecting them against the plots, pressures and political quid-pro-quo deals has turned into a matter of national pride for us. However, with the occurrence of yesterday's crimes, which have left a dark stain on those who ordered and carried it out, Iraq's political forces and people must only distance themselves from it. We declare that this crime has no relation to the people and country of Iraq and demand the trial of all those involved." In addition, 50 Iraqi Members of Paliarment have signed on to a letter addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decrying the assault, noting the Fourth Geneva Convention is supposed to protect those at Camp Ashraf and calling for the UN to intervene. And NCRI explains:On Thursday evening at 21:00 local time, the al-Arabiya TV channel reported that Mr. Tariq al-Hashemi, the Iraqi Deputy President, wrote a letter to members of the country's presidential council and highlighted the need to demand sufficient explanations from Nouri al-Maliki about the military operation carried out recently in Camp Ashraf.He also demanded to know the reason for performing the operation as well the political objectives to be pursued by the government in the future with regards to dealing with the refugees of the camp.In his letter, al-Hashemi emphasized that from this point on it would be unacceptable for Iraq's presidential council to be surprised every time political or security measures are taken without prior consultation with the council.
The assault was noted on The Diane Rehm Show today:
Susan Page: Here's an e-mail from C. Harvey who says,"Please speak to the Camp Ashraf situation in Iraq and any American responsibility for roll in or lack of ability to prevent the Iraqi attack on Camp Ashraf." Demetri, tell us what's going on?
Demetri Sevastopulo: Well basically you've had a camp of roughly over 3,000 members of this group, the People's, Barbara, correct me if I'm wrong --
Barbara Slavin: People's Mujahedin.
Demetri Sevastopulo: who have been protected by the Americans in Iraq for several years even though the American government considers them to be terrorists. They are dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian regime. Saddam Hussein basically supported them because he was fighting wars against Iran. The current Iraqi government is more inclined or more aligned towards the Iranian government and so they have been less willing to brook their-their activities. The Americans weren't aware, they say, that the Iraqi authorities were going to authorize their troops to go in and attack this camp. So this is another indication of how the Iraqis are getting out ahead and saying to Americans "we're in charge now."
Susan Page: Should the Americans have been in a position to protect their camp?
Demetri Sevastopulo: Well I don't think the Americans have the ultimate ability to do that anymore because they have kind of pulled back and the problem is when you give a country their solidarity, their soveriegnty, you have to live with that and that's a problem America faces over and over again around the world.
Anne Geran: Well the American military had been arguing essentially with the Iraqi government over what to do about the camp, the MEK as they call it, for some time and they had pulled out full military protection for the camp but still had some advisors around the outside. And the Iraqis did not tell, according to General Odierno, the Iraqis did not tell the US that they were going to go in and do this raid. Odierno was encouraged at first that the raid appeared to be relatively peaceful and bloodless but that changed.
Susan Page: Barbara?
Barbara Slavin: Well this is part of a pattern. Demetri mentioned that the current Iraqi government is much more -- is closer to Iran certainly than Saddam Hussein was and just a couple of weeks ago, the US released some Iranian detainees, some members of the Quods of Jerusaelm Force of the Revolutionary Guards to the Iraqis who immediately turned them back over to the Iranians even though the US had insisted that these were somehow dangerous people. Iraq is reclaiming it's soveriegnty and it's going to do what it's going to do and a lot of these actions might not be quite what the US had in mind perhaps when we went in in 2003.
Leo Shane III (Stars and Stripes) reports, "US embassy officials on Thursday met formally with Iraqi political leaders on the issue of the refugee camp . . . State Department officials said for now the Iraqi government has made no long-term decisions on whether members of the group may be sent back to Iran". Betty weighed in last night on the topic and her thoughts include:
Not that it should matter but Camp Ashfraf isn't a singles complex. Meaning, this has been a home for nearly 3,500 people. A home. Meaning children. And Nouri al-Maliki ordered the assault on the camp Tuesday. They went in with bulldozers, with wooden batons, with sonic grenades, with fire hoses to blast people with water. And Nouri order that.Camp Ashraf has been a home for the MEK for decades. And their homes are being destroyed. And this is why I didn't want Hillary to be Secretary of State. She is going to get blamed for this when it's Barack's fault for not addressing it and for not being firm with Nouri al-Maliki. This is an outrage. And don't give me that bunk about "Iraq's national soveriegnty." If this happened in India, the US would be decrying it. We'd do it in almost every nation. (I doubt we would in Israel, we never really have before.)I don't care what those people in Camp Ashraf believe in or stand for. I care that they are human beings. I care that they are families trying to raise their children. I care that they are people trying to survive. And I care that a government assaulted them and continues to do so. It's not right and I am appalled by the lack of a strong response from the US.I'm not talking, "Bomb em!" There are many ways to respond strongly. For example, those sonic grenades being used? Made in the US. It could be explained to Nouri that US weaponry used against peaceful citizens of Iraq means no more weaponry. (I don't think they need weaponry to begin with.) There is the carrot and the stick and the stick doesn't always have to be violence. Thus far the US has refused to condemn the actions.I will. What Nouri is allowing is an international crime. Excuse me, what he has overseen is an international crime.
That violence is ongoing. It is not the only violence. Chelsea J. Carter (AP) reports on the violence sweeping Baghdad today as attacks on Shi'ite mosques have claimed 24 lives. Reuters explains the death toll climbed 25 and that there have been five bombings. The death toll has continued to climb. Liz Sly and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) report, "In the bloodiest attack, 24 people were killed and 28 injured when a parked car exploded outside a mosque in northeastern Baghdad's Shaab district just as worshippers were leaving prayers.Within the next 10 minutes, four other explosive devices detonated at four other mosques in southern and eastern Baghdad, killing four and injuring 35. The timing suggested a high degree of coordination by the attackers." Citing the Interior Ministry, Sam Dagher (New York Times) counts 136 injured (29 dead) and notes the bombings "took place between 12:46 p.m. and 1:30 p.m." Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) adds "Iraq army and police officers are interpreting [the bombings] as a sign that insurgents are determined to destabilize the country a month now that American forces have withdrawn from Iraqi cities and towns." In other reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Kirkuk car bombing which claimed 2 lives and left fifteen injured. Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) drops back to yesterday to report a grenade attack on a home in Mosul that claimed 1 lives (husband and wife) and left a child wounded and a roacket attack on a home in Basra which left four people injured.
The ministries in Iraq were mentioned earlier. They can't count but might they take part in kidnappings? News today out of England on the May 29, 2007 kidnappings. Background, 5 British citizens were kidnapped over two years ago in Iraq. Following the US military handing over two brothers said to have been responsible for the attack on a US base in Iraq in which 5 US service members were killed, the group the brothers belong to released two of the five British hostages: Jason Creswell and Jason Swindlehurst. Both men were dead. Alan McMenemy and Alec Maclachlan are also now considered to be dead but the families continue to hope otherwise and at this point nothing is known. Peter Moore is hoped to be alive. He is the fifth hostage. There were supposed to be six kidnappings, not five. The sixth person eluded the kidnappers. He is among those talking to the press in today's news cycle. And now the big news out of England on the kidnappings. The Telegraph of London reports:
An unnamed senior Iraqi intelligence source told The Guardian the highly-organised kidnapping was "one only a government can do".Mr Moore had been installing a computer system to track billions of pounds in foreign aid and oil revenue through the finance ministry.The intelligence source told the paper: "Many people don't want a high level of corruption to be revealed."Remember this is the information technology centre, this is the place where all the money to do with Iraq and all Iraq's financial matters are housed."Paul Wood, a former British Army officer who investigated the abduction for the four bodyguards' employers, GardaWorld, said it was "too perfect"."It would make sense to think that there was someone on the inside telling the kidnappers when to come, what to expect and how to deal with any security issues they were going to face," he told the paper.Meena Muhammed, Maggie O'Kane and Guy Grandjean (Guardian) add:Unknown to the kidnappers, two intelligence officers were parked opposite the centre, outside an outpatients' clinic. Through an intermediary – a former high-level intelligence source – one of the officers described the operation to the Guardian:"The cars started coming down the street and surrounding the ministry. The cars were marked 'ministry of the interior' – they are Toyota Land Cruisers, they belong to the ministry of the interior ... The operation was well planned and they were carrying Kalashnikovs. One group came out with two of the hostages. They put them in the first car. They weren't hooded or handcuffed. Then they brought the other three men out. Then they brought out the men's belongings, their briefcases and rucksacks. They put those things in a separate car."People started gathering around. It was near the al-Rafidain Bank on Palestine Street. The people were gathering around and the kidnappers were shouting: 'Go home now, this is nothing do with anyone. Do not look, this has nothing to do with you.'"For those who would prefer audio, the Guardian offers Maggie O'Kane explaining the story here (and Seth MacFarlane creator of Family Guy and American Dad is also featured in the arts section of the audio).Staying with England, Alsumaria notes, "Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be called to testify to a panel investigating Britain's involvement in the Iraq war." Wales News reports that the poodle is going to "be grilled on live TV by the official inquiry into the Iraq war, it was announced yesterday." This is the independent inquiry that Gordon Brown (current prime minister of England) promised long ago but is only now getting started and is no longer as limited as Brown announced it would be. Karla Adam (Washington Post) reminds, "When Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the inquiry last month, he initially said it would be held behind closed doors. The decision was reversed after objections from opposition politicians and families of British soldiers who died in Iraq. The war has claimed the lives of 179 British troops, and Brown has described the inquiry as a chance to pinpoint 'lessons learned'." Sir John Chilcot heads the inquiry and CNN quotes him stating, "You can work out for yourself who some of them will be, but apart from the former prime minister [Tony Blair] -- who it's obvious we must see -- I don't want to give a longer list today." Alex Barker (Financial Times of London) observes, "Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, said public hearings were vital to ensure the inquiry was not seen as a 'whitewash'. 'It is essential that this inquiry has the teeth it needs to get the job done. The government must not be able to interfere to keep Blair and Brown out of the spotlight for the sake of political convenience in the run-up to an election'." Peter Riddell (Times of London) adds, "The Chilcot inquiry provides an opportunity for national catharsis over the Iraq war. Its main value is likely to lie less in any startling new disclosures about why the war was fought than in allowing those affected a chance to air their grievances. It will not end the anger and grief but it provides a chance to balance passion with a thorough narrative about what happened over the course of the eight years from 2001 until 2009, and not just in 2002-03." In terms of what to expect timeline wise, the Guardian offers a basic overview here. Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) explains some of the anger over the timeline from the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats (Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both belong to the Labour Party):However, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said they were still unhappy with aspects of the inquiry. They blame Brown for the way he set it up but, after Chilcot's press conference, they also criticised some of the decisions Chilcot has taken about how it will proceed – showing that he has not yet established cross-party support. Chilcot said the inquiry was unlikely to produce an interim report before the general election – as the Liberal Democrats have been demanding – and said there was no chance of final conclusions being published before polling day.
Yesterday's snapshot covered the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing. Last night, Kat covered it at her site -- and she's covering witnesses who blame veterans for the VA's problems so be sure to read her post. The Thursday snapshot has a typo that I need to clear up. We have typos here all the time -- including especially in what I type (I dictate snapshots) -- and it's not a big deal or the end of the world. But yesterday's includes, "On the first panel, Senator Jon Tester asked the VA's Patrick Dunn for some hard numbers. Tester noted, the VA had 406,000 pending claims and wondered how that compared to one year age and Dunn responded that it was about 25,000 to 30,000. " And "year age" should be "one year ago." In addition, Rebecca's mentioned but not linked to. That's my fault because I said copy and paste me from that morning and that morning I hadn't linked to Rebecca in the morning entry. So when it was copied and pasted into the snapshot, no link. On England, please note that Rebecca's covering Gordon Brown and Labour's problems this summer. As she's explained, a friend is doing polling for Labour and she's been brought in before (and will be again) to offer her take on the polling data. She's not being paid for that, she's doing it as a favor for an old friend. Because she's been looking at the data from time to time for months now, she's decided to make the summer at her site about Brown's drag on the Labour party. Rebecca's done a great job and this week the media in Engalnd started having poll numbers to share. Their numbers jibe with what Rebecca was explaining to her readers back in June.
TV notes, NOW on PBS drops back to May 28, 2008 to air:Child prostitution is on the rise not just in other countries around the world, but right here in America. The Department of Justice says, on any given day, tens of thousands of children across America are involved in prostitution. But what's being done to stop it?This week NOW on PBS visits Atlanta, Georgia to see how one American city is handling the tragic phenomenon of child prostitution. It is one of 27 American cities where the problem seems to be spinning out of control."It's one of those issues that doesn't get discussed and therefore there's an assumption that perhaps either it doesn't exist at all or the young women and girls who are prostitutes are there by their own free will," Atlanta's Mayor Shirley Franklin tells NOW.That is a rebroadcast ("This show was originally broadcast on May 30, 2008."), not an update. Bill Moyers Journal feels like a repeat. Are you tired yet of Wendall Potter? Has any been on every bad Pacifica radio show already in the last two weeks? Amy Goodman's had him, even Houston's The Monitor had him -- in all he's been on at least twelve radio programs airing on Pacifica Radio in the last few weeks. Bill's been waiting his turn. Remember, there's no real left, just one dull DULL echo chamber. Washington Week finds Gwen Ifill sitting round the table with Dan Balz (Washington Post), Alexis Simendinger (National Journal) and Charles Babington (AP). Bonnie Erbe sits down with Irene Natividad, Kim Gandy, Tara Setmayer and Margaret Spellings to discuss the week's issues on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, all four PBS shows begin airing tonight on many PBS stations. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
Coming Up On 60 Minutes
Screening The TSA Are the hassles passengers endure at airport security checkpoints really making them safer? The Transportation Security Administration says they are, but a security adviser who has advised them says those measures are "security theater." Lesley Stahl reports. Watch Video
Is It Murder? With drunken driving fatalities staying constant despite all the campaigns against the crime, some prosecutors are pursuing harsher penalties against perpetrators, including long prison terms for those who caused deaths. Bob Simon reports. Watch Video
Wyclef Wyclef Jean emigrated to the U.S. as a baby and grew up to live the American dream as a millionaire rock star. He's now using his extraordinary talents and wealth to help his native Haiti. Scott Pelley reports.
60 Minutes Sunday, Aug. 2, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
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Thursday, July 30, 2009
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Tonight I'm offering CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. This is more of a visual blog, remember. Why am I offering that?
Because I think Katie Couric does a good job as anchor and because I loved Ava and C.I.'s "Katie Was A Cheerleader" calling out all the sexism aimed at Couric.
Because Couric and Lara Logan cover the assault on Camp Ashraf.
And so many others don't.
(If you can't stream, in C.I.'s snapshot below, there's a transcript. If you can't stream or if you're hard of hearing or deaf, C.I. provides the transcript.)
I like music and I'm not attacking Elvis Costello. I'm not familiar with his work, sorry. I know one song ("God Give Me Strength") and I like it. But I'm not picking on him (and Elvis fans, I'm about to offer a link for him). I am wondering why PBS' NewsHour had time for him yesterday but not time to cover the assault on Camp Ashraf. I didn't know that Elvis Costello was breaking news. Did you?
He's released a new album. Geez, Angelina Jolie got attacked last week for visiting Iraqis in Iraq, for visiting people in need. Gossip sites and gossips at papers attacked her and talked about her chasing publicity. Her motives were attacked when I found her motives to be pure and worthy. But PBS ignores an assault to instead cover a musician releasing a new album and no one worries about vanity? Or chasing publicity?
I'm glad that CBS Evening News with Katie Couric had the good sense to recognize and broadcast actual news. I'm not surprised that other networks did not. You couldn't pay me to watch Brian Williams (Rush Limbaugh is his hero) and as a woman, I'm not fond of Charlie Steal The Job From A Pregnant Woman Gibson. So I'm never surprised that Couric offers more serious and important news than those two; however, it does surprise me that she's doing serious news and PBS is serving arts profiles. And, remember, PBS has a full hour.
A full hour apparently to waste.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, July 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Camp Ashraf continues, the inquiry into the Iraq War begins in England, a US military colonel in Iraq advises that the US needs to remove all forces by August 2010, a Senate committee hears testimony stating the federal circuit should be removed from the VA appeals process, and more.
Yesterday's snapshot included quoting Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) report, "The Iraqis will be unable to handle their own air defense after all American troops withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, the top commander of American forces in Iraq said Tuesday. . . . Asked if the Iraqis would be in a position to fly their own defensive air patrols at the end of 2011, when a United States agreement with Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of the country, General Odierno replied, 'Right now, no'." And then noting, "If you don't realize what a shock Bumiller's article is and how much it needs to be buried for some, note how heavily an AP story about Gates declaring maybe some US troops may leave earlier. Some. May. Some. News gets in the cycle, better dump a bunch of fluff. " Bumiller was one of the few to cover that but the fluff made it everywhere. Surprising when you consider, as Katie Couric noted on yesterday's CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, that there are 130,000 US forces in Iraq, "10,000 are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of this year. According to Gates, 5,000 more could be home for the holidays." Of the 'news,' Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) notes, "Obama has broken a campaign promise to take a brigade a month (I think he was right to do this, but that's neither here nor there.) Right now, we have about as many troops in Iraq as on average over the last six years." Instead of actually writing about the assault on Camp Ashraf, Ricks strings together a small number of words with a link to Juan Cole.
Juan Cole's post that went up early, early Thursday morning -- this morning -- demonstrates both all that's wrong with the Iraq 'coverage' and all that's wrong with I'm-for-the-war-I'm-against-it-I'm-for-it-again Juan (and don't bother disputing that, I'm not Steve Rendall, I can nail it to the wall because I actually do the work). At his laughably named "Informed Comment," he had to do an update to a post written this morning, an update that says "The Iraqi government is now acknowledging that 7 MEK members were killed in the assault on Camp Ashraf." Prior to that Juan can't tell you anything about deaths. Not even a "one side claims . . . and the other claims . . ." But Juan's just discoved, late today, that the Iraqi government said 7 were killed. Juan just discovered that. Late today. Informed Comment? From yesterday's snapshot, "Alsumaria quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source stating '200 Iranian residents and 50 Iraqi security forces [were] wounded' and that Nouri ordered the assault. [. . .] Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reveals Iraq's Interior Ministry is admitting to 7 deaths -- MEK is stating they have lost 11 members." So 'professor' Juan, at "Informed" Comment, decides to weigh in this morning and doesn't even know the basics -- and a death total would be among the basics. Informed, my ass.
"What happens when the US abandons some good friends?" Katie Couric asked that at the start of yesterday's CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The footage of the assault was shown. Footage. What other network newscast made time for this story? And while you're checking that, step on over to PBS and find out if The NewsHour made time for the story. (Answer: No.) Footage of the assault. Footage and violence supposedly drive TV news so what's the excuse for the silence from others on Camp Ashraf? From the segment on Camp Ashraf (link has text and video):
Katie Couric: When the US began turning over security to the Iraqis, it stopped protecting some valuable allies, thousands of Iranian exiles. And their camp outside Baghdad is now under attack. For two days, Iraqi police have been beating the residents. No food or doctors have been allowed in. All with the approval of Iran's government. Here's chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.
Lara Logan: It started peacefully but quickly turned violent. Iraqi police using wooden sticks against these unarmed civilians. These people are Iranians living inside Iraq, members of an Iranian opposition group known as the MEK. It was the MEK that provided the US with intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.
Ali Safavi (Nationcal Council of Resistance of Iran): Were it not for the MEK, the world would not be in a position to find out about Iran's nuclear weapons program and the mullahs may have had the bomb.
Lara Logan: The MEK have lived in this camp, known as Camp Ashraf, for decades. The Iranian government wants them expelled and accuses them of being involved in the recent unrest in Iran. Since the US invasion, the camp's roughly 3,000 residents have been living under US protection. That ended in January when the Iraqis took control under the security agreement. Now the US appears to have washed their hands of the people of Ashraf. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (speaking at the State Dept): It is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve. Lara Logan: Images captured by the inside Ashraf showed the dead and wounded. Residents told CBS News at least 11 people were killed, hundreds wounded and thirty arrested. The number's impossible to verify because the Iraqi government has sealed off the camp. The attack was seen as the latest sign American influence in Iraq is waning as Iranian influence rises. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government increasingly pro-Iranian. Kenneth Katzman: The Iranians would have to cross the border to get at them directly because Camp Ashraf is clearly over the border. But they have an obviously willing ally in Prime Minister Malik, willing to do their bidding.
Lara Logan: The Iranian government praised the Iraqi governement action against MEK saying they're cleaning the country of terrorists.
This morning, AFP reported that while Iraq says everything is under 'control' and a police station is set up, Iraq's refused to allow reporters to enter the camp. Not noted in the report, they're also rebuffing requests from human rights organizations and charities. But today in a US State Dept briefing, spokesperson Ian Kelly asserted the US military now had access.
Ian Kelly: Embassy officials met yesterday with representatives of the government of Iraq. We wanted to stress the importance to the government of Iraq, the importance of Iraq fulfilling its commitment to the US government to treat the camp residents humanely. And we also proposed permitting an assessment of injuries and possible deaths, an assessment by US forces. The government of Iraq did agree to allow US forces to provide medical assistance to those who were injured in Camp Ashraf. And there is, right now, a US medical team there performing this assistance. We're providing medical care and treatment, medical supplies and assessing any kind of follow-on treatment or support that these residents might require. And regarding other issues regarding Camp Ashraf, we'd refer you, of course, to the government of Iraq.
UPI notes, "Statements by members of the PMOI blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the assault on the Ashraf residents. The PMOI claims several hundred residents were severely wounded, with at least 12 people dead." An Iraqi security official (unnamed) tells AFP that 11 MEK have died -- seven on Tuesday and two on each day since. Sebastien Malo (The Daily Star) reports that tensions remain high and that the assault continues -- the most recent "clashes occurred on Thursday morning according to [MEK spokesperson Shariar] Kia." Kia refuted rumors that the MEK has weapons noting that Camp Ashraf has been inspected repeatedly and he noted that residents had begun a hunger strike. The weapons charge is ridiculous and it needs to be noted that the Iraqi government is trying to circulate false rumors that MEK have shot one another to garner sympathy from the world. Yes, Nouri is just that stupid and sick. This is the thug the US installed. Oliver August (Times of London) observes the Iraqi government's "brazen actions show that the balance of power in Baghdad has shifted in ways unthinkable when President Bush was in office, or even a few weeks ago." Robin Corbett (Guardian) points out:
The violent attack on the residents of Ashraf City was a clear indication of the Iranian regime's growing influence in Iraq and the coalition's failure to uphold international law.
In scenes reminiscent of those seen on the streets of Iran: unarmed civilians were attacked with batons, chains, hot-water cannons, rocks, armoured personnel carriers and machine guns. In video footage released by the residents, civilians inside the camp are brutally beaten, while bodies of the dead victims show gunshot wounds as the cause of numerous deaths.
The underlying message of the attack, which is still continuing, is the incredible influence that the Iranian regime now holds. However far it has infiltrated Iraq and caused violence there since the 2003 invasion, it seems that the regime now has a willing partner in Nouri al-Maliki to do its bidding in eliminating the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which is based in Ashraf.
PMOI members there are "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but the attitude of the US administration and UK government has been far from forceful. To look on as civilians are killed and wounded is nothing but shameful.
Sonic grenades are said to be used by the Iraqis, ones made by Defense Techonology in Casper, Wyoming. I believe this is exactly what now Vice President Joe Bidenwarned about in an April 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing back when he was a senator and chair of that committee. We'll come back to that. The National Council of Resistance of Iran released the following statement today:NCRI - The Iranian Resistance's Leader, Mr. Massoud Rajavi, released a statement broadcast yesterday by the Simaye Azadi (Iran National Television), with regards to the brutal assault of Iraqi forces against Camp Ashraf residents in Iraq. Mr. Rajavi said: Through his agents in Iraq, the regime's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took revenge for the Iranian people's uprising from Ashraf, which is the strategic nucleus of the struggle for freedom. He wishfully thinks that by targeting Ashraf the uprising would cease; But, the water that has already gone over the dam can't be forced back into the regime's channel and save the disintegrating religious regime. Mr. Rajavi urged all Iranians across the world to rush to support the hunger strike and demands of Ashraf residents, which are: 1. The leaving of Iraqi forces from Ashraf; 2. Protection of Ashraf to be assumed by US forces, who have disarmed and signed agreements with every single one of Ashraf residents about protecting them until the determination of their final status; 3. Presence of lawyers and international human rights organizations in Ashraf, which has been banned for the past 7 months; 4. Presence of a representative of the UN Security Council or Secretary General in Ashraf for talks about the determination of the final status of Ashraf residents; 5. Compliance of the Iraqi government with the April 24, 2009 resolution of the European Parliament on the humanitarian situation of Ashraf residents; 6. Prosecution and punishment of parties who ordered or perpetrated the brutal attacks and massacre in Camp Ashraf by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.
At Thomas Rick's post linked to earlier, the New York Times' Bill Keller leaves a link promoting an article at the outlet he's executive-editor of. Are times really that tough? Will Keller next be forced to stand in the center of Times Square crying, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"? If so, it would probably be preferable to Bill's attempts to flaunt his 'education.' Translation, his Diogense reference may impress the same people who thought Diane Chambers (Cheers character) was educated. Those of us who studied philosophy in grad school? We're aware that he doesn't grasp the name he dropped (even if we're generous and apply to it either Digoenes -- Laertius or Sinope). We're also aware it was pretty stupid not to have indicated which one he was speaking of but that it was pretty pretentious to drop to begin with.
So what had Bill Keller flaunting his poor education? Michael R. Gordon's report on a memo written by Col Timothy R. Reese ("adviser to the Iraqi military's Baghdad command") which states:
As the old saying goes, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. [. . . ] The massive partnering efforts of U.S. combat forces with I.S.F. [Iraqi Security Forces] isn't yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. We should declare our intentions to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Iraq by August 2010. This would not be a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing U.S. plans by some 15 months.
Because the US military is now becoming sitting ducks. Barack "stupidly" made the decision to continue the illegal war. And each day, thug Nouri takes a piss on the US military. Pressed and aware his puppet masters are watching, he'll say, "Oh, we shouldn't have prevented the US miltiary from responding to an attack on them." But it happens again. (It has happened more than once already.) They're sitting ducks and, we'll repeat, when a Somolia event happens, Barack's going to finally learn the meaning of outrage. It won't be pretty. The illegal war is unjust and needs to end for that reason alone. But it's equally true that Barack's actions (actually, his inaction, Bully Boy Bush was better at playing bully and keeping Nouri in line, Barack fawns over Nouri) are endangering the US miltiary. They need to be out of Iraq immediately. Col Reese is not a crackpot, nor is he alone in his assessment within the US military. Many in the brass are making comments that they may start taking public. The US military, at present, are sitting ducks. And the military brass blames the ineffective actions of Barack for that. (Some also think that Barack fell into the trap the previous administration set for him. Either way, it's due to his own ignorance.)
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded eighteen people, a Qaem city suicide car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left twenty injured. Reuters notes the Qaim bombing death toll has risen to 4 and a bombing of the Reform and Development Movement's offices in Baquba which resulted in the deaths of 6 men and 1 woman who were attending a meeting at the time.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 traffic police officers shot dead in Mosul.
In England, an inquiry is being conducted into the Iraq War and commenced this morning. No report is expected to be released prior to their national elections. Even so, as Rebecca's pointed out, Gordon Brown's taking a hit on this (deserved). Carole Walker reports on the inquiry for BBC (link has video and text) and we'll note her opening for recap:The official end of the British military mission in April of this year, cleared the way for this inquiry. Its aim is to learn the lessons of the conflict which claimed the lives of 179 British service men and women. When Gordon Brown announced the inquiry last month, he said evidence would be heard in private to protect national security. But after numerous protests, the man appointed to head the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, said he believed that as much as possible should be held in public. Now some want the scope of his inquiry to be extended.Francis Elliott and Sam Coates (Times of London) explain, "Tony Blair was today confirmed as one of the witnesses who will appear before Britain's long awaited inquiry into the Iraq war as it was launched with a promise to level criticism where necessary. The former prime minister is likely to be joined by Gordon Brown among those called to give evidence." Deborah Summers, Andrew Sparrow and Haroon Siddique (Guardian) quote Chilcott, "The inquiry is not a court of law, and nobody is on trial. But I want to make something absolutely clear -- the committee will not shy away from making criticism. If we find that mistakes were made, that there were issues which could have been dealt with better, we will say so frankly."
Yesterday's snapshot offered some coverage of the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. Kat offered more last night at her site, focusing on US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick's questioning of the second panel. The snapshot was long (too long) and had to be edited which meant losing some details of that hearing and all details of another hearing which we'll cover today, the US Senate's Committe on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled the Review of Veterans Disability Compensation: Forging a Path Forward. I had copies of Senator Daniel Akaka's opening statement and Richard Burr's -- Akaka's the Chair, Burr's the Ranking Member but I was only present for the second panel where Michael P. Allen (Steston University College of Law), Daniel Bertoni (GAO) and John WIlson (Disabled American Veterans) testified (via a friend, Congressional staffer, we'll briefly note one section from the first panel).
In his prepared opening statement, Chair Akaka noted, "My goal is to ensure that claims are adjudicated accurately and in a timely fashion. Everyone involved realizes that there is no quick fix to solving all the problems with disability claims, but the Committee, teaming with the Administration and those who work with veterans, intends to do all it can to improve this situation. To bring optimal change to a process as complicated and important as this, we must be deliverative, focused, and open to input from all who are involved in this process. It is in that spirit that we have held previous hearings, and it is the backdrop for this hearing as well." Ranking Member Burr's prepared remarks included, "It takes more than five months on average for VA to make an initial decision on a claim for veterans' benefits and, if the veteran decides to appeal, the delays can go on for years. In fact, Professor Allen noted in a recent article that the average time from when a veteran files a claim with VA until getting a decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is between five and seven years! I think a process that takes that long is indefensible. Our veterans and their families deserve better."
On the first panel, Senator Jon Tester asked the VA's Patrick Dunn for some hard numbers. Tester noted, the VA had 406,000 pending claims and wondered how that compared to one year age and Dunn responded that it was about 25,000 to 30,000. Tester wanted to know at what point a claim gets a red flag and the VA works on addressing it? At 365 days, Dunne said, the claim is referred to a team known as the VA Tiger Team. This is not when appeals make the claim reach 365 days. This is before any appeal is made. Point being, there are claims being filed by veterans that the VA is not getting and veterans are waiting over a year. How many, Tester wanted to know? About 11,000 was the number Dunne provided.
And as outrageous as that number is, grasp that all the numbers are climbing each month, the number of claims pending. Tester asked about more employees being added but Dunne didn't want to go for that and claimed more employees would mean more administrative duties -- Dunne, in effect, said the VA doesn't need more employees. In one year, these numbers will be higher. "We haven't hit break even yet, we're still going the wrong direction," Tester stated. In one year's time, no one better play surprised when the number have risen yet again.
Senator Patty Murray introduced the second panel and took over the chair duties. Michael Allen, in his prepared statement, provided an overview of the process, "A veteran wishing to receive a benefit to which she believes she is entitled begins the process by submitting an application with one of the VA's regional offices (RO). If the veteran is satisfied with the benefits awarded, the process is at an end. However, there are a number of reasons why the veteran may be dissatisfied with the RO's decision. When the veteran is dissatisfied with the RO's decision, she has the option to pursue an appeal within the Department by filing a 'Notice of Disagreement' (NOD) with the RO. The NOD triggers the RO's obliagation to prepare a 'Statement of the Case' (SOC) setting for the bases of the decision being challenged. If the veteran wishes to pursue her appeal after receiving the SOC, she must file VA-Form 9 with the RO indicating her desire that the appeal be considered by the Board of Veterans' Appeals ('Board')." That provides a strong overview of the process (which continues into the courts). Having submitted his prepared remarks, Allen wisely used his opening remarks to speak to the committee, not read from his written remarks. His verbal remarks can be boiled down to his advocacy for "a working group to study the system. What changes can be made in the process from beginning to end including judicial review?"
Tester reviewed the number on the first panel for claims filed, not appeals (Dunne told Tester he didn't have numbers on the appeals but would get back to him with them). The GAO's Daniel Bertoni stated on the second panel that the VA is taking 96 days more to resolve appeals than it did in 2003 and he stated this had to do with workload. (Remember, Dunne rejected the idea that the VA needs more employees to handle caseloads.) Bertoni presented those figures while reading aloud from his prepared remarks. He ran out of time and never got to this section, "We have reported that an infusion of a large number of staff has the potential to improve VA's capacity. However, quickly absorbing these staff will likely pose human capital challenges for VA, such as how to train and deploy them. The additional staff has helped VA process more claims and appeals overall, but as VA has acknowledged, it has also reduced individual staff productivity. . . . According to VA, this decline in productivity is attributable primarily to new staff who have not yet become fully proficient at processing claims and to the loss of experienced staff due to retirements. VA expects its productivity to decline further before it improves, in part because of the challenges of training and integrating new staff."
We'll note this exchange where one witness (and only one) advocated for cuttng the federal court out of the review process.
Senator Patty Murray: Mr. Bertoni, let me begin with you. You testified that the VA has not collected date to evaluate the impact of using the resource centers to redistribute work load. We've heard that mentioned by several of our colleagues this morning concerning that. Can you tell us what measurement you would recommend the VA use to evaluate the effectiveness of these center?
Daniel Bertoni: I think critical to any process -- any of these processes-- timeliness, accuracy and consistency. I-I think it behoves any manager as opposed to going out talking to the troops trying to discuss issues on sight -- that's all important and good but I-I think there's no substitute to the data -- to help management make good date driven decisions. So if you have a resource center and there is indications -- and you do the analysis -- and indications of problems in certain areas, you can take, make remedial interventions. To date, I don't believe that is occuring. I think even most very recently, I don't believe there were any quality assurance reviews being conducted. That would be first and foremost very critical. What type of quality assurance reviews are being done? What is the MI data showing? And what do you do with that data going forward to make the interventions that need to be done?
Senator Patty Murray: Okay, thank you very much for that. Mr. Allen, you talked about the current structure for judicial review of veterans benefits and it has two appellate levels of the veterans court and federal circuit that you indicate increased delays and can be duplicative. You raised the option of removing the federal circuit from the structure of the veterans benefits determination process one way of perahps delaying or reducing some of the delays in this system. Didn't sound like you were 100% committed to that. Can you tell us why you sort of lean towards the federal circuit?
Michael Allen: Sure, Senator, let me start out by saying that it seemed to me that when Congress created the Veterans Corps, one of the things it was trying to do was to create an independent body to review these issues outside of the VA and that that body would be the expert in that area of the law. But since this was a new process, it provided for this second layer of review at the federal circuit. Now I should say that the level of review at the federal circuit is not plenary, is not total. The federal it doesn't have jurisdiction to review any matter of fact or quite oddly any application of law to fact. It, in theory, should only review pure questions of law. Now it made perfect sense to structure the system, at least in my view, at the time like that. Today I think that on balance it's not worth having the federal circuit involved anymore. I don't say that lightly because that is a major change And what it goes to is that what are the competing values that one wants? Because if the value that was absolutely top on the list was making sure that the maximum number of judges' eyes looked at a case, figuring that would reduce over all inaccuracy in decision, well then it might make sense to have this two level court. To use a silly analogy if you're absolute 100% number one value in a day in making sure that your pants don't fall down wearing belt and suspenders makes perfect sense. It is not irrational because that is your value. But I think that for the federal circuit employment here it is not having the maximum number of eyes looking at a case because over time having that second layer review has increased delay and I am not sure -- I'm sure myself, that it has not increased the quality of veterans law sufficiently to justify its continued place in the system.
Senator Patty Murray: Okay Colonel Wilson have you given any thought to a proposal to remove the federal circuit from the veterans benefits determination process and what that would mean?
John Wilson: No ma'am, I have not but would be glad to respond later.
Senator Patty Murray: If you could respond to the committee, I'd appreciate it. Mr. Bertoni, do you have any input on that?
Daniel Bertoni: I would say we have not looked into that or given any considerations there but I would say the would be a range of stakeholders that you would have to bring in to get --
Senator Patty Murray: That's why you suggested the commission, right?
Daniel Bertoni: Yes.
Michael Allen: Yes, that's right senator.
Senator Patty Murray: Alirght. Senator Burr?
Senator Richard Burr: Mr. Allen, you're right. It is a major shift. But I think we're all challegned to look at it in a different context and I was serious months ago when I suggested to the service organizations, let's start with the blank sheet of paper and come in and tell you how you would design it in the 21st century. To the credit of DAV they took on the task and I'm appreciative of that. You're right when you mention the word commission. What little bit of hair I have on the back of my neck did stand up. So let me ask, what additional information do you believe a commission would find that we don't have readily available to us today?
Michael Allen: I thought of two ways to respond to that. The first and most direct is I don't know what additional information the commission would have that you don't and I don't mean to refer back to [former] Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld but there are things that we know we don't know out there. But more importantly, Senator, I think --
Senator Richard Burr: And that was sort of the basis of why you had the creation of the VA appellate process and the federal court. We didn't know what we were going to run into.
Michael Allen: Absolutely and second, though Senator, I think that the key, because I think that this has been the key over time as various veterans benefits issues have been discussed, is it reaches a tipping point when enough of the relevant constitutincies come together on an idea. And I don't know whether something can truly be successful if it's in fact deemed to be imposed.
Senator Richard Burr: How long do you think a commission would need to do -- need to take to accomplish the work that you perceive a commission should -- should attempt to
Michael Allen: Part of it would be how broadly the commission should be structured. In-in-in my perfect world, I would say that it should actually be a commission that looks at the claims processing from cradle to grave because the situation we have now, some have described it as a spider web, and that's not quite right, I think, because it is an older spider web -- the administrative process -- on which a new spider web has been grafted and anything you do to one part is going to effect another. And I think now that we have a system that we have seen if it starts at the beginning and looks at the end because things that are done at claims processing on the administrative level are going to make a difference in the judicial review arena as well and vice versa so if the process were from beginning to end, I think, this could probably be done -- with commitment -- in-in six months.
Lastly, for those wondering about the KRG elections. Some outlets are reporting things. These are a prelimnary count, not an official one and the KRG has made no announcement regarding the elections yet -- not even the most basic assumption that the current president, Masoud Barzani, was re-elected as president. We'll wait for the official results or until the KRG issues their statement, which ever comes first. The KRG does note the following from the US Embassy in Iraq on the elections:
The US Embassy in Baghdad congratulates the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for coming out to vote in large numbers for the regional presidential and parliamentary elections, thus demonstrating their commitment to the democratic process. Representatives from the US Mission in Iraq closely followed the elections at polling stations throughout the Kurdistan Region. The Embassy commends the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and its staff for efficiently organizing and conducting the elections. We call upon all citizens to remain patient as election results are tabulated and certified, and as IHEC reviews complaints that have been filed.
And they note this statement from UK MP Dave Anderson (Labour Party):
I am glad to hear that initial reports from the elections in the Kurdistan Region indicate a large turnout, especially among women voters, and which the UN says took place in an orderly environment, notably free of violence. We congratulate the Iraqi Kurds on this and look forward to working with the President, Government and all parties in Parliament to cement links between Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK. As our recent fact finding delegation reported there are great opportunities for increased trade investment and a host of cultural sporting social and other exchanges.
At present, that's all that's known about Saturday's elections.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009
That's the illustration for Third's "Comic-Con" and Isaiah drew it.
Comic-Con was a comic and sci-fi convention that just finished in San Diego. Isaiah, Ty, Betty, Jess, Dona and Jim wrote the article because they attended.
And they almost went with a photo but Jess had seen a sketch Isaiah had done and said, "Why don't we go with that?"
The photo was taken by Betty's parents and they'd gone through about fifty of the best photos her parents had taken. They're supposed to be great photos. The only problem was, they captured one thing. A panel. A person.
Jess remembered Isaiah did a thing that had several things going on in it.
Isaiah said no, said it wasn't that good but they finally talked him into using it and he did some quick adjustments to add a little color to the illustration.
So what you get is a car that was on display there (the Green Hornet's car), the actor from the TV show Chuck, the Twilight kids, the director of Iron Man (I'm guessing on that one but I think that's right) and three attendees dressed in costumes.
And when Dona saw it, she said, "That's the convention."
And that's what a drawing can do that a photo might not be able to. It can summarizes several different points and capture not just one mood but many.
If you haven't guessed, I always wanted to paint and draw. As a treat, I'll try to do a drawing for this site shortly. Trust me, it will be a post that provides much laughter.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Wednesday, July 29, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, two of three remaining British hostages in Iraq are thought to be dead, the assault on Camp Ashraf continues, there is no binding get-out-of-Iraq for the US, and more.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Iraq yesterday and, among those he met with were the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno. Today Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reports, "The Iraqis will be unable to handle their own air defense after all American troops withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, the top commander of American forces in Iraq said Tuesday. . . . Asked if the Iraqis would be in a position to fly their own defensive air patrols at the end of 2011, when a United States agreement with Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of the country, General Odierno replied, 'Right now, no'." If you don't realize what a shock Bumiller's article is and how much it needs to be buried for some, note how heavily an AP story about Gates declaring maybe some US troops may leave earlier. Some. May. Some. News gets in the cycle, better dump a bunch of fluff. We've covered this. This community is fully aware that the Iraqi air force will not be able to take control at the end of 2011 barring a miracle. Example, from the November 4, 2008 snapshot:There's no rush to leave Iraq or even a desire. That needs to be grasped. Iraqi General Nasier Abadi made that pretty clear during Sunday's press conference in the Green Zone. Questioned by the Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan as to when the Iraqis would be able to handle "their own internal security . . . how many years are you away from reaching that goal," Abadi tried to distract by listing duties before declaring, "We have no duties or missions to protect the air on the borders of the country. But in case we have this responsibility, there is a brief that -- to the minister of defense, if he ask us to -- task us with that, a reportw ent also to the Prime Minister, what are the capabilities and the army's specifics to do those duties?" Asked how many years again, he responded, "Building an aerial force, building an Army is not easy, but it's still easier than building naval and air force. The naval force, as I said before, that the first ship will come in 2009 and the fourth will arrive in . . . at the end of 2011. In regard to 200- . . . Air Force, the first aircraft we will receive in 2011 until 2015. And that depends on the support and the help that the coalition forces can secure to Iraq so we can be able to maintain and defend our airspace and territories. Without that, there will be also agreements with the neighboring countries on the security of Iraq. But it's possible that we will go with those missions without having an air force or naval force because this is a common battle, it's not just an army's duty." Setting aside the naval force and focusing only on the air, if the period they'll be taking possession of aircraft will last from 2011 through 2015, how likely is it that they will be prepared to handle their own airspaceby the end of 2011?
But Bumiller deserves credit -- a lot of credit -- for covering Odierno's statments which were news and which are in keeping with statements from the last three years -- statements made by US and Iraqi military figures as well as Iraqi government officials. And, again, note the fluff immediately dumped into the news cycle to undercut Bumiller's report.
Robert Gates didn't just meet with Odierno. Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) reports, "Before leaving northern Iraq on Wednesday, Gates pressed Kurdish leaders to resolve their disputes with the Iraqi government in the next few months, while the United States still had tens of thousands of soldiers in the country and some influence over Baghdad." In Kurdistan, Jaffe reports, Gates delivered a lecture to KRG President Massoud Barzani which began, "We have all sacrificed too much in blood and treasure to see our gains lost over political differences." That's the thing about lectures given by those who flit in and out of the area, they rarely grasp the basics. Political differences? Gates is trying to defuse pressure from the Kurdish leaders on the issue of Kirkuk. That's not a political difference. That's a territorial dispute. Saddam Hussein attempted to Arab-ize Kirkuk and drove many Kurds out and pushed many Arabs in. Kurds feel they have a historical claim on Kirkuk. The central government in Baghdad feels that they have a claim on the region. The fact that it's oil rich adds the layer of economics to it. This isn't merely a political difference and to attempt to reduce it to that is to come off as uninformed as Chris Hill did in his one Senate hearing for the post of US Ambassador to Iraq. And, by the way, Hill was supposed to be working on that. He was in Iraq for weeks before he even had a face to face with KRG leaders. Which no one was bothered by. Certainly Gates wasn't offering lectures as the KRG was supposed to continue to wait and wait and wait.
Iraq's constitution mandated a census and a referendum on Kirkuk. That was supposed to take place no later than the end of 2007. In 2007, the White House devised a list of benchmarks to prove 'progress' in Iraq. Kirkuk was on that list of benchmarks. Nouri al-Maliki signed off on those benchmarks, agreeing to strive towards reaching them. There has been no census (one is currently scheduled for October) and no referendum. al-Maliki has given numerous interviews in the last six months stating that Kirkuk will not go to Kurdish region. [For one interview in English, see Deborah Haynes and Richard Beeston's "Time to go home, Nouri al-Maliki tells Britain" (Times of London) and pay attention to the transcript of the interview which got more attention in the Arab world than the interview itself -- statements by Nouri like, "Kirkuk is a city that belongs to the federal government and is outside the boundaries of the Kurdistan region."} From the Kurds point of view, they have waited patiently on this issue. They have backed off when the US asked them to. They have understood that ethnic cleansing was going on (Nouri's thugs cleaning neighborhoods in Baghdad) and other serious problems. Their point of view is that they waited, they went on with business in their area and now the US is not backing them. The US isn't backing them, the United Nations isn't backing them. Last summer the UN got involved as tensions boiled yet again. They were supposed to devise a plan and the Kurds were supposed to wait. They have waited over six years and they're not idiots. They can see the United States pulling away from them and the UN revealed itself to not be an honest broker a week ago when a UN official and blabber mouth began trashing the Kurds to the press. Whether the Kurds should have Kirkuk or not is something for the people of Kirkuk to decide. But the Kurds are not in the 'wrong' for asking that what was agreed to be followed: a census and a referendum. That was supposed to have taken place no later than 2007 -- that's promised in the 2005 Constitution. Again, it was part of the benchmarks. These things have already been agreed to by all sides and foreign entitites such as the US and United Nations. They just aren't being implemented. They need to be. The Kurds don't need lectures from Gates or to be told to wait another year or another or another. One side acted on good faith. In any situation, when one side acts on good faith and sees others get rewarded without doing the same, tensions build. The tensions on the issue of Kirkuk now are not just between the central government in Baghdad and the KRG.
Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports that Barzani "rejeacted proposals by the United Nations to resolve Iraq's explosive internal border disputes, and reiterated his determination to proceed with a contentious local constitution." Let's take the latter part first. "Contentious local constitution"? Is it contentious in Kurdistan? If it is, it won't be passed (the people of the region have to vote on it). Is it contentious to people outside Kurdistan? Too damn bad. The people upset are Nouri and his puppet government. Too damn bad. At this point, Dagher is just a DAMN LIAR. There's no other term for him right now. His distortions have already been called out by someone who knows what they're talking about. Earlier this month, Sam Dagher had another bad article (click here for critique) which demonstrated either no knowledge on the subject he was covering or a desire to misrepsent it. A letter ran in the July 14th edition of the New York Times setting the record straight:
To the Editor: Re "Defiant Kurds Claim Oil, Gas and Territory" (front page, July 10): The Iraqi Constitution, specifically Article 140, requires a vote by referendum to resolve Iraq's disputed territories. To cast this as a "threat" is unfair. The Iraqi Kurds are simply trying to carry out the constitutionally mandated referendum.Furthermore, the Iraqi Kurds are not defying Baghdad in formulating a regional constitution; they are embracing their right to create such a document, which is allowed in the Iraqi Constitution. The Kurds, who represent the most stable and progressive element of Iraq, have made it clear that they desire to be a part of a united Iraqi nation. To allow for a responsible and phased withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, which is the stated policy of the Obama administration, several issues must first be resolved, the most important of which is that of the disputed territories. Only then will a stable and united Iraq be able to thrive. Jay Garner Erbil, Iraq, July 10, 2009 The writer, a retired lieutenant general in the Army, was director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq in 2003.
Jay Garner knows the promises made and what's in the Iraq Constitution. The Constitution gives the KRG the right to write their own Constitution. Not with Baghdad's approval -- no approval from anyone outside the region is required. Dagher's been corrected but continues to play Drama Queen. And that's very sad because he actually had a gift for journalism. Moving from distorting the Constitution to lying about/for the UN. The UN proposal for how to address the dispute of borders?
Trash Iraq's Constitution, trash the benchmarks, trash every promise -- including promises from the United Nations -- repeated promises -- that Kirkuk would hold a referendum. The UN is proposing that neither Baghdad nor the KRG get Kirkuk, instead make it independent. Why would the KRG go for that? If you tell me that you'll pay me twenty bucks tomorrow and then tomorrow comes and you tell me you're not going to pay me twenty dollars, you're going to instead give it to someone else so that it's 'independent,' am I supposed to go along with that? The Kurds are asking for Article 140 to be followed. That's not a new demand nor is it really a demand. They're asking that the law be followed. And Dagher's working overtime to paint them as hysterics and greedy. It would appear the paper spends far too much time attempting to manipulate what happens on the ground and far too little time grasping they are outsiders on the ground to report what happens.
Jalal Talabani is the president of Iraq (a ceremonial position with no real power) and he's a Kurd. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the political party he belongs to (and heads as the highest official in the party), is thought to have done less than well in Saturday's elections (ballots are still be counted -- Saturday, the KRG held provincial and presidential elections in their three provinces -- preliminary results, not final ones, were released today). From the March 16th snapshot: "Sabah got the interview and they quote Talabani stating, 'Iraq will not be separated and the civil war is over' and 'The ideal of a united Kurdistan is just a dream written in poetry. I do not deny that there are poems devoted to the notion of a united Kurdistan. But we can not continue to dream.' If accurate, Talabani's remarks will spark anger among some Kurds." In the lead up to the election, the big rallying cry was Kirkuk belongs to the KRG. No surprise that Talabani's party would do poorly with him making statements like that -- and he's done that for some time. He's also announced he's not running for re-election as president, wait, he is, no, he's not, wait . . . As the figure head of his political party, he's come off as a defeated and confused voice repeatedly. Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) reports on him and observes, "Talabani himself was buffeted by criticism from each direction. Some said he spent too much time in Baghdad, losing touch with his Kurdish constituency. He acknowledged the criticism. Others said that as Iraq's president, he belonged in Baghdad." And demonstrating why Talabani's party may be in trouble, Shadid goes on to reveal that as the KRG demands that promises be kept, Jala "was much more conciliatory, even suggesting the possibility of an alliance with Maliki in January elections that will choose a new national parliament." And Talabani wants to wonder why his party might be in trouble?
Yesterday, an assault began on Camp Ashraf. We'll start by noting Amnesty International's statement which will also serve as a recap:
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENT AI Index: MDE 14/021/2009 28 July 2009 Iraq: Camp Ashraf residents attacked Amnesty International is seriously concerned at today's attacks by Iraqi forces on unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf which left several people injured and led to the arrest of at least eight others. Hundreds of armed Iraqi security forces are said to have stormed the camp, north of Baghdad, at around 3pm local time. They used tear gas, water canons and batons against unarmed Iranian residents who tried to stop them from entering the camp. Video footage seen by Amnesty International clearly shows Iraqi forces beating people repeatedly on different parts of the body, including the head. Dozens of people are said to have been injured. Two of them, Reza Chelcheraqi and Mohammad-Reza Shahsavandi, are believed to be in serious condition. At least eight people, including Hasan Besharati, Humayoun Deyhim, Gholam Reza Behrouzi, Hosein Fili, Mehdi Zareh and Naser Nour Ebadian, were arrested and their current whereabouts are unknown.In the last few months the Iraqi government has publicly stated that it wants to take over full control of Camp Ashraf, in Diyala governorate, north of Baghdad. On 27 July government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh told an Iraqi satellite television channel that the government "will take over the responsibility of internal security affairs of Camp Ashraf". The authorities are reportedly planning to establish a police outpost inside the camp. Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to investigate the apparent excessive use of force by Iraqi security forces. The government should reveal the whereabouts of the eight people detained and ensure that they are protected from torture or other ill-treatment, as well as from forcible return to Iran. Background Around 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf are members or supporters of the People's Mojahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition organization whose members have been resident in Iraq for many years. Until recently the PMOI was listed as a "terrorist" organization by the European Union and other governments, but in most cases this designation has now been lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran.The US forces provided protection for the camp and its residents, who were designated as "protected persons" following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but this situation was discontinued following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments, although the SOFA makes no reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents. Public Document **************************************** For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty.org
Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) was reporting on the assault yesterday evening and this morning, he and Greg Jaffe report the assault continues and they note: "The operation, which caught U.S. officials off guard, coincided with a visit to Iraq by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Analysts said it appeared designed to send a message of Iraqi independence. " This morning, BBC also reports the assault is still ongoing: "Eyewitnesses say Iraqi police have surrounded the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) camp and clashes are continuing inside. Iran wants the camp closed. The exiles fear they will be forcibly repatriated." (They also quote a portion of the Amnesty International's statement.) Odierno told AP that "non-lethal force" was used and "We have had promises from the government of Iraq that they would deal with the [group] in a humane fashion." AP goes on to point out, "But a video provided by an exile group showed Iraqi forces using batons and water cannons against the residents gathered at the camp's gates. The group also released photos showing injured people and bloodied bodies, although the authencity of the images couldn't be independent verified." Alsumaria quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source stating "200 Iranian residents and 50 Iraqi security forces [were] wounded" and that Nouri ordered the assault. Charles Levinson and Yochi J. Dreazen (Wall St. Journal) note, "Residents of Camp ashraf said hundreds of Iraqi security forces tore down the camp's walls on Tuesday afternoon with bulldozers." Laith Hammoudi and Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) offer more on that, "An Iraqi security official in Diyala told McClatchy that on government orders, security forces from the Ministry of Interior and riot police entered the camp Tuesday afternoon using bulldozers to tear down the walls." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that Nouri's flunkies are insisting this was not done to please Iran and Sly notes the actions have other potential impacts as well, "The pledge to assert the right of Iraqi forces to extend their authority over all of Iraq has potentially profound implications for another simmering dispute, over territories claimed by the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan and currently controlled by Kurdish peshmerga forces." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reveals Iraq's Interior Ministry is admitting to 7 deaths -- MEK is stating they have lost 11 members. Aljazeera airs video of the assault here. Today at the US State Dept, CBS' Charlie Wolfson asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the assault. Her response follows with my snark in brackets.
Well first with respect to the MEK at Camp Ashraf, we are urging restraint on both sides. [Yes, MEK, please restrain yourself from yelling too loudly as your homes are bulldozed and you are assaulted.] The government of Iraq has stated that the residents of Camp Ashraf will be treated in accordance with Iraq's constitution, laws and international obligations. [Really? Well that would be a first for Nouri and his thugs.] The Iraqi govenrment has assumed security responsibility for Camp Ashraf and its residents which obviously largely consists of MEK members -- the full transfer from the coalition forces in Iraq to the Iraqi army forces occured on February 20, 2009. This is part of the turnover of responsibilities to a sovereign nation. [We washed our hands clean, in their blood, didn't we?] And although the US government remains engaged and concerned about this issue, it is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve in accordance with its laws. [No, she doesn't believe what she's saying. In fairness to Hillary, this issue was supposed to have been resolved before she was even confirmed and, in fact, she was kept out of the loop on it. She was not the person on this issue, assigned by Barack, back in November.] And we are very clear that we expect that the Government of Iraq, now that it has assumed this security responsibility, will fulfill its obligations to show restraint, will not forcibly transfer anyone to a country where such a transfer might result in the mistreatment or the death of that person based on their political affiliation and activities. But it is now the responsibility of the Government of Iraq. [In other words, MEK, don't fill out refugee applications for the US.]
Timothy Williams (New York Times) explains, "There is a permanent American military presence in the area in the form of a military police platoon, acting as observers and reporting directly to Gen. Ray Odierno in Baghdad, an American military officials said."
Over 130,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq for why? This is exactly what the current vice president warned about in April, in an April Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when he noted the thug Nouri al-Maliki would attack the people and the US military -- if still on the ground -- would be put in a position of supporting the thug. That's exactly what's happening and it's one more reason all US troops need to be out of Iraq immediately.
Turning to some of the other reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad cafe bombing which claimed 3 lives and left thirty-one people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left a police officer and a child injured, and a Mosul bombing which injured two children.
In Iraq, five British hostages appears to be down to one. For background, we fall back to the June 9th 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.
The brothers were supposed to lead the group that kidnapped five British hostages. That's why the trade went through. And it resulted in? Two corpses originally. Apparently two more. BBC News' Humphrey Hawksley (link has video and text) reports:
Humphrey Hawksley: Alan [McMenemy] from Dunbarton, Alec [Maclachlan] from South Wales believed to be two more victims in this long running Iraq hostage tragedy. Security guards whose colleagues Jason Swindlehurst from Lancaster and Jason Creswell from Glasgow were shot dead, their bodies recovered last month. There's hope that Peter Moore, the IT specialist they were protecting, is still alive. This is the fortified Finance Ministry in central Baghdad from where the five men were kidnapped more than two years ago in May 2007 in a highly organized operation. Forty men wearing the uniforms of the Iraqi police drove up surrounded the building and took the hostages off to a secret location. For moths there was no news then, in November, there came a video from Jason Swindlehurst and, three months later, another from Peter Moore. He called for the release of nine Shia Iraqis being held by the Americans, release them so we can go, he said. And a year ago Alan asked the British government to try to get them home as soon as possible. The Foreign Office has adopted a low profile, softly-softly approach although the families did speak out from time to time hoping their voices might lead to the freedom of their loved ones. But nothing until last month. Thousands of suspected insurgents are being held in Iraq but are slowly being released. On June 7th, one of the nine referred to in Peter Moore's appeal was freed. Twelve days later, the two bodies were recovered. They'd been shot some time earlier. It's not know if there was a connection. The hope now is that somewhere in the dangerous world of Iraqi militias, Peter Moore is alive with a chance of being released. Humphrey Hawksley, BBC News.
Deborah Haynes (Times of London) notes the news "raises uncomfortable questions about Britain's handling of the crisis. For more than two years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stuck to the mantra that it was doing everything possible to secure the 'safe release' of the computer consultant and his four security guards. Officials warned the media that extensive coverage of the men's plight could put them in greater danger. It now turns out that two of the guards had been dead for a long time and the other two are also thought to have perished." In another report, BBC News notes, "BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the Foreign Office told the families of Mr McMenemy and Mr Maclachlan last week that the men had most likely died while in captivity. And he revealed the kidnappers told the British government a month ago they had two more bodies." Earlier this month, Kim Howells, former Foreign Office Minister in the UK, told BBC: "I'm not convinced we were ever negotiating with the right people. I mean, that's doubtful. And the only real proof of life that I saw were the videos. And there were stories circulating that a suicide had taken place, there were deadlines which came and went." To listen to the interview in the immediate future, click here and go to the July 16th broadcast of The Report. Simon Cox explores the topic of hostage taking in the broadcast and starts with the Telegraph of London's James Brandon who was one of the first known British citizens to be kidnapped. "I opened the door," Brandon tells Cox about the August 13, 2004 kidnapping, "there was just over a half a dozen guys, mostly wearing police uniforms, mostly with balaclavas and guns. They pushed their way in. They started hitting me around the head, took my passport and I was blindfolded, dragged out down the stairs, into a car and driven off." Brandon escapes and makes it to a police checkpoint where he thinks he will get help.
James Brandon: They were very welcoming and kind to me, said that, "It's okay, you're safe now. Sit down and have a drink of water. It's all okay." And then, um, the guys who I thought were my friends told me to hide under a sheet. I was under the sheet for about ten seconds. I heard feet running down the corridor, the blanket was kind of ripped off of me where I was hiding and all these guys were standing around with guns and they basically started hitting me, kicking me with guns. And I thought, "Right. If I had a chance before this time, I don't have a chance" because they were so angry. Just look in their eyes and see pure hatred basically. And it's the kind of hatred that you've never seen before in your life. And then they took me off to another building and we did one of these hostage videos basically.
Brandon wrote about his kidnapping for the Telegraph of London. Simon Rex explains on that Margaret Hassan and Ken Bigley's kidnappings would follow also in 2004 (both would be murdered by their kidnappers) and over 200 foreigners would be kidnapped in Iraq in the next years but it had slowed down by 2007. Cox asked Howells about what he was experiencing in the Foreign Office during this period?
Simon Cox: And how much were we dependent on the Iraqi government and their contacts in order to try and sort things out?
Kim Howells: Well I became very frustrated with the Iraqi government because we would hear stories that the kidnappers had influence with elements of the Iraqi government or that there were ministers in the Iraqi government who were Sadrists and knew roughly who was involved in this kidnapping and they would talk in very rational way and they would persuade people to release the hostages. Now none of this, none of this, proved to be true. And it really used to frustrate me that the Iraqi government ministers themselves would hint to you that they knew something about what was going on but then nothing would happen.
Deborah Haynes (Times of London link has text and also has video of the press conference) reports the families of all five British citizens who were kidnapped appeared in public today to make a statement: "We are all deeply upset and troubled to hear the reports that Alec and Alan have died in the hands of their captors, as well as Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell. This is a terrible ordeal for us all. We ask those holding our men for compassion when so many are working hard for reconciliation in Iraq and we continue to pray for the safe return of our men." Haynes also reports, "Release efforts will now focus on Peter Moore, the computer consultant whom the four men had been guarding." CNN quotes Haley Williams from the press conference but leaves out a bit including a very important sentence in her remarks. We'll note her remarks, we'll note Peter Moore's stepmother and then conclude with Alan's wife.
Haley Williams: These reports are the worst possible news for us but we continue to hope that they cannot be true. But whatever Alec's condition, he no longer should remain in Iraq. We appeal to those holding him to please send him home to us. I speak to you as the mother of Alec's son. We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men we would release them to you but we don't. Please send him home because as a family we can't cope with this anymore."
Pauline Sweeney: Please let them go now, enough is enough. We've been to the two funerals of Jason Creswell and Jason Swindelhurst and now we are informed, allegedly informed, that Alec and Alan are also no longer with us. I plead with the hostage takers to send home the bodies of Alec and Alan so that their parents can have, you know, closure and move on. And I appeal to them to please let Peter come back alive.
Rosalyn McMenemy: You understand how frightened we are to hear these reports and how hard it is for us to consider what might have happened to Alan. We continue to hope and pray that these reports cannot be true. We are desperate to have Alan home with his family. Please return him so that he can return to me and his children where he belongs.
For anyone wondering, CNN did not include this by Haley Williams "We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men we would release them to you but we don't." They did include her sentence before those two statements and her sentence after. They did not note online that they edited her remarks; however, they did edit her remarks and edited out: "We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men we would release them to you but we don't."
Today the Los Angeles Times editorializes on the topic of the current government in Iraq's obligations (or not) to pay reparations for the violence of Saddam Hussein and concludes, "Kuwait should consider reducing reparations, and its proposal to reinvest some of the remaining debt in Iraq would benefit both countries. In return, Iraq should act quickly and decisively to resolve the other outstanding issues of concern to Kuwait, proving itself to be a good neighbor." Staying with LAT, yesterday's snapshot noted AFP's estimate of a Baghdad bank robbery resulting in $3.8 million dollars being stolen. Liz Sly and Usama Redha report that the figure was $7 million.
Turning to the US, local community is the key and so is word of mouth. Those were the two messages coming out of today's House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. The hearing was divided into three panels. The first panel was composed of three veterans: Sgt. Kortney Clemons, Capt Nathan Waldon and Capt Mark Little. Panel two was composed of Disabled American Veterans' Adrian M. Atizado, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake. Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project's Julia Ray, National Recreation and Parks Association's David Stringer and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Carlos Leon. The third panel was composed of Dept of Defense's Dinah Cohen, United States Olympic Committee, Charlie Huebner and Dept of Veterans Affairs' Diane Hartmann.
"I think we have a very interesting and important hearing this morning," declared Chair Bob Filner as he brought the meeting to order. "I think you all know since the early years of our country, Congress has had to reassess programs created to care for our men and women in uniform, our veterans who have courageously answered our call to duty and their families who have joined in the military experience. For many service members and veterans who have been severely injured from service to our country, their rehabilitation can sometimes be quite disheartening. Many become concerned about having the same quality of life that they had prior to their injuries. This was known to be true in WWII and has held true today in the midst of our nation's commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan."
In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Steve Buyer noted, "I believe that sports are the most valuable rehabilitative tools that we can provide our wounded warriors." On the first panel, Clemons noted that he lost his right leg in a 2004 roadside bombing in Iraq and explained, "Paralympic sports has given me opportunities that I never thought would be possible. Prior to my injury, I was an athlete who absolutely loved sports. I played football, basketball and baseball in high school in Little Rock, Mississippi and played football at East Mississippi Community College before joining the army." Clemons was recovering in the Brooke Army Medical Center and learned of the Paralympic Military Program through word of mouth. He explained that John Register of the US Olympic Committee visited the medical center and explained the USOC's Paralympic Military Program and, Clemons explained, "his inspirational message made me realize that sports could give me the strength, courage and confidence to live a great life." Little also learned of programs by word of mouth. After losing both of his legs from the below the knee down in an IED attack in Iraq, Little went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "Very similarly also, sports was huge in my identity being an almost pro-rollerball hokey player ice hockey player, rugby, tennis, golf, soccer, football, etc, I had similar concerns, now I'm missing both of my legs, how am I going to be an excellent sports star like I always knew I would be? And it was as I was expressing those concerns my first day of physical therapy a couple of weeks after returning home that Gunnery Sgt from the marine corps who is a double below the knee amputee walked in with his set of prosthetic roller blade inline skates, telling me that they had just custom made them for him He was the second person to ever receive that style and was already skating outside. Right then and there, competitive spirit took over and I knew exactly what I knew before in the military and even prior in sports, I have to be better than this man, I have to do one more. So I asked my physical therapist who ironically was also his physical therapist what-what records had he set? She said pretty much everything for a double amputee. So after getting a laundry list of those, I set out to beat every single one."
US House Rep Timothy Walz wondered about how to get the word out and what sort of events were needed? Little explained that it needed to be community based because most people don't live in DC and they will be interacting in their own communities. Clemons agreed with that and added that the word needed to be out there that "there are things to do when you get back home to move forward." Waldon spoke on the issue noting, "Pretty much the daily community programs. Just moving it down to a more, just like classroom size. The smaller the classroom, the more personal instruction can be for the students the same thing with this. The more one-on-one, one-on-three, one-on-four time you can really get with an instructor, someone to help you out, the better it will be and you know pretty much being everywhere. It's a far reaching goal but you at least have something in mind, like something to push towards. No reason to settle if we can achieve something else." On the second panel, Julia Ray noted, " I think what we're noticing from the most recent grop of injured veterans is the extreme diversity in what their needs and interests are. It's not your classic disabled sports that we began with back in the Vietnam era -- skiing and so forth. They're wanting to do the Iron Man in Hawaii. They all want to compete and train alongside the communities-- people with and without disabilities. All kinds of diffent things and that kind of support needs to be individualized, it needs to be adjusted according to the type of injury. With polytrauma, we're seeing the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury, multiple amputations and very severe injuries that require very individualized attention." Kat will cover some of the hearing at her site tonight and we need to wind down. We'll close on the hearing with these remarks by Little, "I would never have known half of what I do about being an amputee, being a returning disabled veteran and just getting around in life had it not been for people like my first snow board trip Captain [Nathan] Waldan who you may have met earlier teaching me how to properly fit my prosethetic in a snow board boot to get down the hill -- which I did sucessfully my first time. And then going on to be that person. There's someone out there right now that's going on about how Capt Little showed him how to do that the first time he was out there."
Finally, independent journalist David Bacon continues to report on labor issues. How did TARP -- the Big Business bail out -- help residents in Oakland? At In These Times, Bacon reveals that it didn't help them at all: "Tosha Alberty had just left for work, for her job as a transportation services coordinator for Alameda County. Her children were still at home, though. Sheriffs told her adopted son Christian, a nine-year-old with autism still in his undershorts, to get dressed. Alberty's daughter Sharquita rushed to collect the bottles and diapers she needed to take care of her nine-month-old baby Zmylan." And they were evicted, right then, right there. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST) and his latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press).
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