Wednesday on Fresh Air (NPR), Eugene Robinson was a guest to discuss race and another man was on to discuss publishing Mark Twain's autobiography (Twain finally finished it! He's taking a long nap!). So that was two men and, of course, there's that masculinist Terry Gross his/her/hisself.
Thursday, December 2, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the Senate explores Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Iraq's refugee population remains at risk, US female veterans are more likely to take their own lives than female non-veterans, and more.
"I don't want to lie but you won't let me tell the truth." This morning, Senator Ben Nelson framed the issue of serving in the military while gay under Don't Ask, Don't Tell as harmful to core values. The Senate Armed Services Comittee was hearing from a number of witnesses. Chair Carl Levin explained at the top, "The committee meets this morning to receive testimony on the Dept of Defense's comprehensive review of the issues associated with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The Committee was reviewing the year-long study -- a study that prevented any action from being taken for a year -- and taking testiomony from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Adm Mike Mullen the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, DoD's Jeh Johnson (Pentagon attorney) and Gen Carter Ham.
There are a number of 'conventional wisdoms' the press has run with for two weeks now which are incorrect. For example, claims that the vote make up is the same in the Senate as it was before the mid-term elections? Wrong. Joe Lieberman's been telling the press that there are over 60 votes and Carl Levin's been saying he's not sure if he has 60 votes. Last time, no Republicans would get behind the Defense Authorization -- Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been folded into the Defense Authorization. Some might have, some were close to doing so. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled some procedural nonsense and Republicans closed ranks. Senator John McCain is currently making noises about filibustering. If he does, Democrats are in a weaker position because the Senate has changed.
Senator Roland Burris. The Barack Political Machine trashed him and treated him so rudely that it's one for the history books. Roland Burris was one of the Senate's strongest voices in support of overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Burris wasn't good enough for the Barack Obama Political Machine which just knew that another questionable banker who played hoops with Barack (Alexi Giannoulias) could win a US Senate seat. He couldn't. He didn't. Republican Mark Kirk won the seat. And the Barack Obama political machine so demonized Roland Burris -- and they were so sure Barack's pet would win the race -- that they demanded Burris step down as soon as a new senator was elected. (Burris wasn't elected, he was appointed by the state's then-governor -- appointed to fill out the remainder of Barack's term.)
Mark Kirk was not pushed on this issue in the campaign. His position -- and he's now sworn in and a member of the Senate -- is that he's listening to the arguments (and has read the review) while he considers what action to take. We can guess what he'll do (a freshman senator most likely does what the party wants) but we don't know. We do know what Roland Burris would have done. If McCain should filibuster, Senator Burris vote would have been very helpful.
Let's deal with another issue. We are, where the past Iraq snapshots said we'd be (go back and look). We are not where HRC or the liars and apologists said we'd be. That we're here now is not due to any psychic ability on my part, it's due to being realistic, paying attention and refusing to engage in hero worship. As we have noted since 2009, this repeal was not a serious effort. In the lame duck session, there's now the impression of a scramble which may or may not be sincere. ("Put us back in charge in 2012 and we'll repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell!" might be the Democratic cry of the next election cycle.) Since those who 'know so much' turned out to be so wrong, let's try one more time to talk about what's being proposed because that's very different from what's been hyped and lied about repeatedly.
If the Defense Authorization passes with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in it, that doesn't mean 'Open service! Yea! Equality!' What the administration is doing is turning the issue over to the military. That's a huge problem and a huge cop out. What's being done is not Congress attempting to pass a law to end discrimination. They would just be knocking Don't Ask, Don't Tell off the books. That would return us to where we were before. No, that's not enough. Where we were before was nervous military brass in the 1970s seeing LGBT advances -- including within the military -- and the nervous brass becoming more strident to the point that they had a policy against gays serving. That's what led to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Bill Clinton wanted gays and lesbians to be able to serve openly. He promised that in his 1992 presidential campaign. He was elected and faced huge obstacles -- Colin Powell, Sam Nunn, Republicans in Congress, etc. Most of all he faced a press in the midst of a sexual panic -- filled with leering stories, filled with sexist and homophobic 'reports.' And open service, equality, was not going to happen. The most that could be put forward was Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It was supposed to guarantee that no more sexual witch hunts would be launched by the military. That didn't happen.
All Barack's done -- besides drag his feet -- is advocate (weakly and meekly) for Don't Ask, Don't Tell to be taken off the books. That returns us to where we were before Bill Clinton was president. And without a real measure of equality from Congress or a Supreme Court verdict, there's really nothing to cheer.
The refusal to grasp that has led to a lot of wasted time and a lot of confusion. Why did Barack fight the courts repeatedly when they ruled repeatedly in favor of equality in the services? Because that's not what he and his cronies pushed for. They only pushed for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. There's a world of difference between Congress passing laws that support equality and Congress shirking their responsibilities by tossing aside a law and saying, "It's up to the military to set the policy."
Patrick Murphy had good intentions and worked very hard but he never knew what he was doing. We called him out only when necessary -- such as when he was stating that Ted Kennedy was going to be leading on the issue in the Senate. Patrick Murphy wasn't lying. He was told that was what was going to happen. But by that time, as we noted in real time, Ted wasn't even showing up for his duties and, as we pointed out, Ted was dying. A real effort would have required pairing Patrick Murphy with someone who could steer him through the legislative waters. That wasn't done. He deserves applause for forcing the issue. It's a real shame that House leadership -- including Nancy Pelosi -- knew all along that what was being pushed wasn't enough.
If Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal dies in the lame duck session (as some fear it may), the next move is not propose the same measure. The next move would be to allow the Court to decide or to put forward a law outlawing discrimination. Just taking Don't Ask, Don't Tell off the books really isn't enough. And if you're one of the people who only realized -- after the mid-terms -- that maybe, just maybe, you got hyped and lied to, make up for it by being prepared for the next effort. If a new effort is needed, it needs to be launched on the grounds of equality. No more "Our military is stretched so let some gay guys serve!" That might have seemed brave to some, but it was insulting and we called it out. You fight for equality.
That is an American concept and one that doesn't require a speaking tour. (Those late to the party, Dems couldn't do anything until they launched a speaking tour! That was a cop out as well and as more and more people called that s**t out, you may have noticed, the speaking tour was no more.) Every American understands what equality means. And by starting from a strong stance (equality) as opposed to a begging, whining stance (Patrick Murphy's position and that of, yes, Servicemembers United). You argue for equality and you get equality on the books. Otherwise, LGBT rights become like family planning discussions -- dependent upon a president who supports them because otherwise a global gag order gets imposed. You either put equality on the books (and the Court can put it on the book as well by properly interpreting already existing laws) or what should be rights become whims allowed or denied depending upon who sits in the Oval Office.
The big question as present is whether McCain will filibuster? If today's performance is any indication, the answer is: Yes, if he has to. The witnesses had just finished their opening statements when Levin was noting how many tasks they had today and how many senators wanted to ask questions, so he proposed a round of five minute questions. Immediately, John McCain began insisting, "I object! I object." He said that wasn't enough time. And McCain's been around long enough to know that after every senator had their first round of questions -- and were visible for the cameras -- many would leave (and most did -- later on Scott Brown would get to go well over a time limit -- and without objection from McCain who was present -- due to the fact that so few Committee members were still present for the hearing). Chair Levin slowly went over the basics and added that Gates had to leave early. Even after that, McCain was the personifcation of obstruction.
Ranking Member John McCain: My only response, Mr. Chairman, is that this is obviously a transcendentally important issue and to allow our members five minutes with the Secretary of Defense is simply not adequate to have us have the much needed information that the Secretary of Defense can provide. So all I can do is say you're not giving the members suffiicient time to ask questions which is maybe not the intent but certainly not the effect So maybe we could in the lame duck seession that we're in have another hearing as soon as possible so that all members to get the information that they need to make a very important decision.
At which point, Gates offered to attempt some "rearranging" of his schedule and stay until noon. Even that was not pleasing to McCain. And yet, when he got to his first round of questioning, he found time to grandstand and lecture on WikiLeaks which has nothing to do with Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
As a general rule, Republican Committee Members focused on could it be implemented with an implied should it be? Democrats either played for the camera (Claire McCaskill used her time not to help the LGBT issue but to help herself and give herself footage to push I'm-bi-partisan! mainly by praising Gates and noting she might have had a knee-jerk reaction against him if she'd been in the Senate when he was nominated and blah, blah, blah but Gates calls them as he sees them blah blah and Gates was able to serve two presidents and two parties and still call them the way he saw them. Uh, Claire, no member of a presidential cabinet serves a party. You might want to check your Constitution. As though it was not achievable. After she'd finished her lengthy testament to the greatness of self (Claire needs the stock footage, voters are angry and she's up for re-election in 2012), Claire was pretty much done with the Committee. Democrats either played for the camera (like Claire) or they emphasized some portion of the report. Senator Kay Hagan was a noteable exception.
McCain was openly hostile to Robert Gates -- as he has been since this issue was first raised by the Committee last February. He asked Gates about the fact that combat members of the services were more likely to have objections to serving with openly gay service members. Gates noted that this group was younger and this led to a lecture from McCain, "We send these young people into combat we think they're mature enough to make a decsion on who they want to serve with and the impact on their battle effectiveness, Mr. Secretary." Uh, actually, John McCain, they don't get to decide who they want to serve with. They go where they're assigned.
And the refusal to tackle this issue in terms of equality was a huge mistake. Senator Kay Hagan did tackle it from that standpoint. She has before. Generally speaking, hearings on this issue in the 11th Congress, on this Committee, have found her and ex-Senator Roland Burris stressing this aspect. McCain wants to cast it -- as did Senator Saxby Chambliss -- as some sort of 'extra rights for gays'. Though the public overwhelming supports allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, when charged discussions take place, polls can change. And when Democrats forget to use the building blocks of democracy -- for example, making your argument from the foundation of equality -- they repeatedly find themselves suddenly standing on shifting sand.
"It's just wrong!" independent Senator Joe Lieberman said of the discrimination going on currently. Democrats could have used a lot more people speaking like Lieberman. They had Hagan who made a point to ask about the integration of the troops -- racial integration -- under President Harry Truman. After Hagan, the strongest Democrat on the Committee -- in terms of statements made during the hearing -- was Ben Nelson who wanted to talk about the ethics of asking people to serve and asking them to hide who they are. This is the argument that goes to equality and democracy. It's a winning argument. Getting lost in the report -- lost in the weeds -- wins nothing.
Let's move over to Iraq and start with today's reported violence. Reuters reports 3 suspects were shot dead in Mosul by Iraqi soldiers in one incident, in another incident 1 suspect was shot dead in Mosul by Iraqi soldiers, 1 person was shot dead outside his Mosul home, a Mosul home invasion resulted in the death of 1 teenage female, a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured, 1 employee of the Ministry of Human Rights was shot dead outside his Baghdad home, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two police officers, another Baghdad roadside bombing left three people wounded and a Baghdad sticky bombing left one person injured.
Martin Chulov's "CIA source who built case for war swindles $10,000 from Iraq" (Guardian) reports that CIA asset and Iraqi exile Curveball (Rafid Ahmed Alwan) had taken $10,000 from the Iraqi National Reconciliation Commission to help campaign for Nouri in 2008 but then didn't. He was "swindling, Chulov insists. Uh, no, he was grifting off a corrupt system. Chulov missed the story. A professional liar scammed $10,000 from the government or 'government' in Baghdad and we're supposed to boo-hoo? This is the liar whose lies helped start the illegal war which has cost over a million Iraqi lives. This is the liar whose lies have helped to start the illegal war which has cost over 4432 lives. (Over 4432? Add in the military suicides as well as the family suicides and family deaths as a result of the added stress of a loved one deploying.) And Chulov's outraged over $10,000? Iraq's 'cabinet' just approved a $79.5 billion dollar budget and Chulov's worried about $10,000? He's worried about it because it's in Curveball's pocket. He's not worried about how it got there. In July of 2006, AFP reported:
Iraq's president and Prime Minister have announced the formation of a 30-member commission to promote national reconciliation, even as the speaker of parliament said coalition forces should leave the country. "The commission will immediately begin its work, holding conferences and meetings, and it will prepare a media campaign for reconciliation," President Jalal Talabani told a joint news conference with the Prime Minister.
Where in the above was this 'independent' body supposed to be an arm of the Nouri al-Maliki re-election committee? Where does it say that Iraqi monies can be spent by the committee to help re-elect Nouri? It doesn't.
How many rules and laws were broken to help Nouri become prime minister-designate? March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, twenty-five days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."
Nizar Latif (The National Newspaper) explains today, "The political deal that ended eight months of deadlock in Iraq and saw Nouri al Maliki reappointed last month as Iraq's prime minister had at its heart the creation of a new strategic council. But, with Mr al Maliki currently mulling over the make-up of his administration, exactly what form this council will take remains a mystery. More than that, the ongoing argument over its influence may yet torpedo efforts to form a national unity government. As the council has not been voted into being by parliament, it does not yet actually exist. MPs have been unable to agree even on a name for it, let alone address the core issue of its function and powers." Meanwhile Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (credited to "Wire Reports" -- which basically looks like Lara Jakes' AP report) that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc is demanding "a bigger role in Iraq's new government." A number of reports are being filed on Hussain al-Shahristani. Ben Lando (Iraq Oil Report) is the only one so far who gets it right: al-Shahristani is not just the Minister of Oil, he's also the Minister of Electricity. Nouri named him that when the Minister of Electricity quit in May. No, it's not a real post because all cabinet ministers must be approved by Parliament and Parliament never approved al-Shahristani to the post of Minister of Elecrticity. The news today is that al-Shahristani has been nominated Deputy Prime Minister for Oil and Electricity Issues.
Does that sound strange? It should. It's not a real position. Nouri just created it. We warned you he had overpromised on posts -- promising several people they could be the same post -- and now he has to create new posts just to give the appearance of keeping his promises.
RAZ: Deb, there was one striking revelation from the cables, and it's a report that Iranian operatives were targeting and assassinating Iraqi air force pilots. These are pilots who had bombed Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. What more have you found out about that?
AMOS: There's not many details in the cable from the embassy. It just lays out this charge. However, it may confirm these reports that have been floating in Iraq for years.
I've interviewed military officers who claimed that they were on the assassination list. That we know. Many of those people fled to Jordan or to Syria.
Now, the embassy cable reports that the death toll by the end of 2009 was 180. That seems unlikely that any of those top Iraqi military or air force people were still in the country by then. The lawmakers I talked to tonight said so many people were targeted in the sectarian war, it's hard to know.
What I find interesting about this is that the embassy has such specific figures. If they knew that these top people were being targeted, these were some of the brightest minds in the country, why weren't any of these people offered some kind of protection?
In addition to being an NPR correspondent, Deborah Amos is the author of Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East. Erin, at Africana Online, profiles US House Rep Dennis Kucinich and notes a 2007 visit he made to the MidEast, "He commended Syria for taking in Iraqi refugees. 'What most people are not aware of is that Syria has taken in more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees,' Kucinich said. 'The Syrian government has actually shown a lot of compassion in keeping its doors open, and being a host for so many refugees'." Syria is among the countries sharing a physical border with Iraq and it has taken in a large number of Iraqi refugees. A little noted aspect to Syria's Iraqi refugee population is that it includes the long-term usually covered but it also includes shorter stays -- Iraqi refugees who, for example, may be in Egypt or Lebanon, temporarily relocate to Syria due to its cheaper medical costs. These are generally a parent and a child, a child in need of health care, and when the medical issue is resolved, the Iraqi refugees return to Lebanon or Egypt. Dartmouth College's Michaela Yule reported from Damascus for Global Post two weeks ago noting, "The volatile security situation in Iraq affects not only the millions of displaced Iraqis, but also the governments that admit them. The Syrian government, which is facing a financial crisis and regional drought, is also struggling to meet the needs of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. Currently, the Syrian government provides basic health and education services, and estimates the yearly cost to be almost one billion U.S. dollars. UNHCR is operating at full capacity, processing registration, aid provision, and resettlement among other services. Some Iraqis claim that they are still not receiving the aid necessary for survival." Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are housing the largest number of Iraqi refugees. Thomas Seibert (The National Newspaper) reports that the latest wave of violence targeting Iraqi Christians has led to a number of Iraqi Christians joining an estimated 3,800 Iraqi Christians who had previously fled to Turkey for safety and notes, "Father Yakan, a Turkish national who runs the Kader charity, praised Ankara's attitude towards the refugees. Several European countries, which often criticise Turkey for the way it treats its Christians, have taken in a small number of Iraqi refugees in the past, but those initiatives were mostly symbolic and 'for the media', Father Yakan said." In related news, Simon Caldwell (Catholic News Service) reports that Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England has called out the UK's forced returns of Iraqi Christians declaring, "We know the situation of our brothers and sisters still in Iraq who wake at night frightened by the knock at the door, the unusual sound, the gunshot or the explosion, the knowledge that few if any will defend them, the constant fear and tension of not knowing what will happen next. We who are here in England are angry when our government said . . . that it was safe for people to be repatriated to Iraq. You know in a way few others do how untrue that is. Our emotions are of deep sorrow and possibly also of anger, anger that innocent people are killed in this way, that our friends, our relations are sacrificed for, at best, short-term political gain, and, at worst, for no real reason at all, other than that they are followers of Jesus Christ." Joshua W. Walker and Nader Habibi (Huffington Post) note:
The mass exodus of Iraqi Christians not only imposes a burden on neighboring countries and Europe, which have already received hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, but also drains Iraq of one of its most educated and entrepreneurial minorities. For those Iraqi Christians who fear for their safety in the Arab regions of Iraq, the Kurdistan region could serve as a sanctuary. Thousands of Christian families have already fled to the Kurdish region and the Ninawa province in Northern Iraq, which borders Kurdistan and is relatively safer than central and southern Iraq. The Kurdistan region has thus far been beyond the reach of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that target the Christian community.
To date the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has not received any recognition or assistance from the international community or the central government in Baghdad for hosting this growing number of Christian refugees. In our view the United States, along with other concerned nations, should encourage and assist the KRG in accommodating the Iraqi Christians that feel unsafe in other regions of the country. Those Christians who feel unsafe should be encouraged to relocate to Kurdistan rather than leave Iraq all together.
The Christians of Iraq are one of the oldest religious groups in that country whose roots go as far back as the Christianity itself. Ironically thousands of Christians once lived in Kurdistan and northern Iraq until the 1960s and 1970s when they were forced to leave the region as a result of prolonged violence against the Kurds by the central government in Baghdad.
Basel al-Khatib (Azzaman) reports that 507 Iraqi Christian families have moved to the KRG in the latest wave of violence which began October 31st with the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad: "Baghdad was the last remaining city with a sizeable Christian community, but thousands are said to have fled the latest upsurge in anti-Christian violence. Mosul, the other city with a large Christian minority, is so volatile that one of the city's archbishops declared recently that the city had become dangerous for Christians to stay." Ahmed Fahad (Middle East Online) reports, "There are calls from inside Iraq, especially from the new Iraqi parliament that recently formed a parliamentary committee for the protection of Christians, to safeguard Christians through the help of special security forces. These same voices are also calling for financial compensation for those Christians who have already been affected by the recent attacks." UPI reports, "Baghdad needs to protect the rights of Christians to live freely, members of the European Parliament said in the wave of attacks targeting the minority group." While in the United States, Sister Kathlyn Mulcahy (Illinois Time) issues a call:
I call on Sen. Richard Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk, the Illinois congressional delegation and President Obama to act now to stop the figurative – and literal – bleeding of Iraq's Christian and other minority populations.
There are three steps the U.S. government can take now:
• Accept the recommendation of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that Iraq be designated a "country of particular concern" because of its systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of the religious freedom of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities.
• Pressure Iraq's newly formed government to increase the security and religious freedom of all its minority populations by proactively heightening security at Christian and other minority religious sites.
• As quickly as possible, create a comprehensive policy to protect the religious, political and economic rights of Iraq's minorities.
However, Iraq and Afghanistan are countries where our "involvement" directly or indirectly has led to the creation of millions of new refugees.
During the arrival of the first South Vietnamese refugees at Eglin Air Force Base 35 years ago, I observed the military and civilian professionals and volunteers who were welcoming these unfortunate people and wrote afterward, "The character of a nation is reflected in the faces of these volunteers. Some have flowers in their hands, some have tears in their eyes, all have compassion in their hearts."
I hope that, 35 years hence, America and Americans will once again reflect the "character of a nation" by not forgetting the millions of Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees who are, once again, the wretched legacy of wars they had no hand in.
On this week's Progressive Radio, Matthew Rothschild interviews former State Dept and retired Lt Col Ann Wright. They cover a wide range of topics in the interview and we'll excerpt this section.
Matthew Rothschild: And tell me what it was like to be in the Army. What was your experience like?
Ann Wright: Well mine was very good. I had very good leadership in the units that I was in, very minimal harassment. Being a minority, a real minority as a woman in the military, less than 1% of the military was women when I joined and now it's like up to 15%.
Matthew Rothschild: And you weren't confronted with really nasty sexism or anything worse?
Ann Wright: No, I was not. And I feel very lucky and fortunate and that's why I ended up staying for so long is because I had a good experience. But unfortunately a lot of women don't. In fact, right now the statistics are that one-in-three women are sexually assaulted or raped while they're in the military and the sexual harassment is up around 90%.
Matthew Rothschild: And that's appalling. And the assaults are by their own -- by men in the service.
Ann Wright: Yes.
Matthew Rothschild: Which is just appalling. And what is the military doing on that? Do you know?
Ann Wright: Well yes, I've done a lot of writing about this subject and while they have programs for the prevention of it, it's not working. It's the attitude of -- it's the culture that has to change. And the senior leadership of the army is not, in my opinion, doing what needs to be done which is holding people accountable for criminal acts. If you look at the prosecution in the military of the people who are being accused of these crimes and even if they're convicted, the punishment is just very minor. So it's -- It lends the feeling that you can get away with these sorts of crimes.
Matthew Rothschild: And that tells the women in the service, if they're assaulted, that you might as well shut up because there's nothing that's going to happen about it and if they're assaulted by a superior, it's even more difficult.
There are 250,000 women veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Women make up 14 percent and 17.6 percent of active duty and National Guard/Reserves, respectively.
Women are fighting - and dying - next to their male comrades, as opposed to being limited to support roles, as they had been in previous wars. Yet of the 43 percent of all veterans seeking care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, only 5.9 percent are women.
As homelessness and suicide continue to rise among female veterans, it would behoove anyone in the mental-health community to become more educated with the issues facing today's female veterans, as opposed to clinging to an outdated viewpoint that is condescending as well as inaccurate. Cathryn J. Prince (Wilton Patch) notes this week, "There are between 6,000 and 8,000 homeless women veterans in the United States, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of those, between 300 and 400 of them live in Connecticut."