Friday, November 18, 2011

4 men, 2 women

Today on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), her guests for the first hour were Lisa Lerer, Major Garrett and John Harwood. Second hour, Mark Landler, Mark Mardell and Elise Labott.



If there is a funnier sitcom on TV right now (still in production), funnier than Whitney, I just haven't seen it. I think Whitney Cummings is amazing and so is her show.

Thursday night's episode found them -- Whitney and Alex -- trying to get their first dog together. They were discriminated against because they weren't married. Whitney said the woman in charge was a singlest and Lily begged her to Tweet that so she could retweet it and put "America" as a hashtag. Then Lily went with Whitney when Whitney went back to the doggy clinic to show support. Lily's crazy. It's so hard not to laugh when she gets on one of her kicks. (Like trying to be "more Indian" last week -- as Roxanne told her then, that's not something you just "add to cart.")

Whitney and Alex's relationship also seems like a real one.

And I think how much they've developed as a comedy team and how much the show has. This is a great TV sitcom.


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, November 18, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a US delegation is said to be in Baghdad to continue negotiations on immunity for US troops, Moqtada al-Sadr threatens to take his bloc and go home, Baghdad and the KRG continue to argue over the Exxon deal, DoD identifies the fallen, and more.
Starting with breaking news out of Iraq, Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports a mixture of White House officials and US military officials arrived in Baghdad Friday for a three day visit to discuss a number of issues including to "provide immunity to American trainers." The delegation will meet with President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's two vice presidents, with the prime minister, and with the head of the political blocs. In addition, it will visit the Krudistan Regional Government. Al Mada reports that Rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wasted no time in announcing that, should immunity be granted, his bloc would immediately withdraw from the National Alliance coalition. An MP with the Sadr bloc is quoted declaring that it is not the right of Nouri al-Maliki to provide the Americans with immunity
Bombs went off throughout Iraq today. Press TV counts 9 dead from bombings alone. Reuters provides the breakdown: a police officer's Saqlawiya home was bombed claiming the lives of his wife and their 4 kids [CNN states the dead were police officer Najah Abdullah's mother-in-law, the man's five-year-old son and two daughters with two more relatives injured and notes that his home was attacked in 2008 as well]; a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers and left four people injured (this was near a mosque in the Abu Ghraib section of Baghdad), a second Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five people injured, 1 police officer was injured in a Hawija shooting, and, dropping back to Thursday, a Mahmudiya car bombing claimed 2 lives and left seven people injured (increase in deaths by 1 and injured by 2 since yesterday's report by Mohammed Tawfeeq of CNN), a Baghdad attack in which one police officer was injured, a Mosl car bombing claimed 1 life, a Mosul grenade attack which left a police officer injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left one Iraqi soldier injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left an Iraqi police officer injured and 1 man was shot dead outside their Mosul home. The Abu Ghraib mosque bombing, Bushra Juhi (AP) reports it was "bombs" plural, near mosques (plural) and that 4 people died with eighteen more injured.
Staying with violence, earlier this week it was announced another US soldier had died in Iraq. DoD has identified the fallen:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn.
Spc. David E. Hickman, 23, of Greensboro, N.C., died Nov. 14, in Baghdad, Iraq, of injuries suffered after encountering an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
For more information related to this release, the media may contact the Fort Bragg public affairs office at 910-432-0661 or at 82ndpao@conus.army.mil .
Today at the US State Dept, Deputy Dept Spokesperson Mark C. Toner gave the press briefing. Iraq came up at the end in an exchange with AFP's Lachlan Carmichael.
Lachlan Carmichael: Can I have one more here?
Mark C. Toner: Oh, I'm sorry, Lach. Sure. I'm sorry, guys.
Lachlan Carmichael: No, just -- in --
Mark C. Toner: It's just Friday. We're so close here.
Lachlan Carmichael: Yeah. In Brussels, the head of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq raised concerns about the fate of Camp Ashraf refugees. He said that Iraq has served a virtual death warrant on the residents, and he pointed to an embassy note from the Iraqi Government saying that they're committed to close the camp by the end of 2011.
Mark C. Toner: That's correct, yeah.
Lachlan Carmichael: And it says that dissidents there are terrorists, and the Iraqis deny they have refugee status, and therefore the Europeans are fearing that the UNHCR will not be able to interview them as refugees.
Mark C. Toner: Well, we are working -- look, I don't have a detailed response to those accusations. I do know that we are working with international organizations, including UNHCR, to find a suitable outcome and a suitable destination for these individuals, and we recognize the urgency.
While this was going on at the US State Dept, AFP reports that the European Parliament's MEP Struan Stevenson declared that a "death warrant" had been signed today on the residents of Camp Ashraf when the government sent the European Parliament which refers to the residents as "terrorists" and asserts that they are not protected under the Geneva Convention nor do they have refugee status.
Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."
Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing addressed many Iraq issues. In yesterday's snapshot, we noted the remarks on the residents of Camp Ashraf. We're going to go over most of those again today in light of the comments that a "death warrant" has been signed and what appears to be a refusal of the Iraqi government to honor the agreement that was made with the US government with regards to the residents of Camp Ashraf. Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Committee, Senator John McCain is Ranking Member on the Committee. The first panel the Committee heard testimony from was composed of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsy.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Do you think -- do you think the people in Camp Ashraf, do you think they're going to get killed? What's going to happen to them?
General Martin Dempsey: The, uh, as you know, Senator, the State Department is leading an effort to ensure that -- work with the Iraqi government ---
Senator Lindsey Graham: Can you tell the people back here that the likelihood of their friends and family being killed has gone up greatly if there are no American forces up there policing the problem?
General Martin Dempsey: I won't say anything to those people because I'm not involved in the outcome.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Fair enough.
[. . .]
Ranking Member John McCain: Could I just say finally on the Camp Ashraf issue, I know the Secretary of Defense -- I mean, Secretary of State is addressing this issue, but it is American troops that are protecting them now. I hope that you can give us some idea of what disposition is going to be because I think it's -- I think it's very clear that the lives of these people are at risk and I thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: I appreciate that.
Chair Carl Levin: Well, just on that, to turn it into a question -- and, maybe, General, this needs to be addressed to you too -- what -- There's obviously a greater risk to folks there unless the Iraqis keep a commitment. What's going to be done to make sure, to the best of our ability, that they keep that committment and what about the question of removing them from the list of -- not them, the organization from the terrorist list?
General Martin Dempsey: Well, Senator --
Senator Carl Levin: We're all concerned about this --
General Martin Dempsey: And we share your concern. [General] Lloyd Austin shares your concern. And I know that Ambassador Jeffreys shares the concern and there is no -- we're not sparing any diplomatic effort to encourage the Iraqis to do what we think is right in this regard to ensure the protection of those folks in Camp Ashraf. But right now, actually, the Iraqi security forces guard Camp Ashraf with our advisory and assistance group with them. And so the concern, when we do leave that capacity, is a real one. And But I actually think we've got to put the pressure on the Iraqi government diplomatically to have the outcome that we think is correct.
Senator Carl Levin: Just assure them if you would that there's a real strong feeling around here that if they -- if they violate a committment to protect those people -- assuming that they're still there and that they haven't been removed from the terrorist list so that they can find other locations -- that if they violate that committment to us, that is going to have a severely negative impact on the relationship with the -- I think I can speak here -- the Congress although I'm reluctant to ever say this. I think there's a lot of concern in the Congress about it and this will, I believe, in my opinion, will severely negatively impact their relationship with the Congress. Let me leave it at that.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Senator, I want to assure you that Ambassador Jeffrey has made that point loud and clear, loud and clear the Iraqis.
Senator Carl Levin: Senator Lieberman?
Senator Joe Lieberman: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And add my voice and I think you can speak for Congress members of both parties in both houses in expressing our concern about the safety of the people in Camp Ashraf.
The concerns have been expressed, a supposed understanding was reached, yet reports today indicate that the understanding meant nothing to the government of Nouri al-Maliki.
Turning to issues revolving around the provinces, Aswat al-Iraq notes "Tahreer Square in Baghdad witnesses since last February different types of demonstrators, including terminating political differences and ending corruption dossiers." And they note today's protest included a call for provinces not to move towards being semi-autonomous. Alsumaria TV adds that the participants in the protest numbered in the "tens." Along with today's protesters, the move is opposed by Nouri al-Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr. Nouri is especially ticked off at the Speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, because he continues to cite what the Constitution states on this issue while Nouri and his lackeys on the 'independent' electoral commission repeatedly attempt to pretend that the Constitution gave the Council of Ministers the right to make these decisions. (Article 119, as McClatchy Newspapers' Laith Hammoudi has reported, notes the process for a province to move to semi-autonomy.) Apparently having difficulty maintaining all of his many grudges, Nouri's focusing on al-Nujaifi but, Al Rafidayn reports, he's decided that Ayad Allawi is a-okay. The Iraqiya leader pissed off Nouri weeks ago when he offered a strong critique to a London paper about the current state of Iraq. Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram Weekly) covers the province issue and other developments:


On 2 November, a Sunni-dominated province of Iraq created uproar when its local council voted to establish itself as an "independent region within a unified Iraq."
The provincial council of Salaheddin, which hosts Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, voted by 20 votes out of 28 to set up the new federal region, sparking speculation that other Sunni provinces may now follow suit.
In trying to explain the shift, the council's leaders said that the establishment of an autonomous region was a reaction to the Iraqi government's negligence, exclusion and marginalisation of Sunnis.
They said that the request to set up an autonomous region had been intended to boost the province's share of federal revenues and to protest against the domination of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's Shia-led government.
Coming in the aftermath of a nationwide crackdown on former Saddam loyalists, the timing of the vote seemed to have been spurred by the firing of more than 100 lecturers at Tikrit University for alleged Baath Party connections and a roundup of suspected Baathists in the province.
Hundreds of former Baathists have been arrested in recent weeks following government reports that they were conspiring to overthrow Al-Maliki's government.



And to clarify on the Salahuddin vote, there are 28 members of the provincial council. Twenty of them voted on the measure. All voting on the measure voted "yes." On the alleged conspiracy, Aswat al-Iraq reports that over 2,000 people marched in Salahuddin's Samarra today to declare their support for Salahudding becoming a semi-autonomous province. In other 'oops Nouri' news, Al Mada reports Iraqiya's Salman Jumaili has declared Iraqiya intends to host a session in the Parliament over the claims of the existence of a conspiracy. With several dents already in Nouri's public claims, the prime minister may be sweating that possible session.
Currently, Nouri's Baghdad government is engaged in a game of chicken with the Kurdistan Regional Government -- Exxon being the prize. Javier Blas (Financial Times of London) reviews the companies interested in oil exploration in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Blas notes in addition to oil, Turkey's eyeing the KRG's natural gas reserves and that Erbil is becoming a boom town. This follows on the deal that the KRG says is a done deal and that the government out of Baghdad is still making noises about. Pierre Bertrand (International Business Times) reports, "After several days of loaded proclamations, a deal may be in the offering between ExxonMobil, the Kurdish regional government, and Iraq's central government, in relation to an oil exploration contract the company signed with Kurdistan that the central government calls illegal ." Ipek Yezdani (Hurriyet Daily News) reports, "Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy, Hussain al-Shahristani, said the Iraqi govenrment did not recognize the oil agreement signed between the KRG and Exxon Mobil in northern Iraq [. . .] this contract is not approved by the Iraqi government and is not legal."
Turning to the US, Rand Paul is a Senator from Kentucky. His father is US House Rep Ron Paul who is currently in a race for the GOP's presidential nomination. Senator Paul's office notes:

Nov 17, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul introduced an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill to formally end the war in Iraq.
The war in Iraq cannot be considered definitively concluded if Congress does not reclaim its constitutional power to declare war by repealing the underlying authorization. Until Congress takes this action, the President would still possess the legal authority to move troops into Iraq or to conduct kinetic operations within its borders, agreements with the Iraqi government notwithstanding.
"On several occasions this year, Congress has been ignored or remained silent while the President committed our forces to combat. It is my intention to urge Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority over the decision to go to war, or to end a war - it is one of the body's most important powers," Sen. Paul said. "It is right that we wrest it back from a President who has shown he cannot be trusted to obey the Constitution or powers prescribed to Congress in it."
The President has ordered withdrawal of most forces by the end of the year, and Sen. Paul's amendment continues the spirit of that decision by formally ending the war. Sen. Paul will push for a vote on this measure during consideration of the Defense bill. Under existing laws, necessary actions to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq (such as at the embassy) will still be allowed.
"Americans should celebrate the safe return of our soldiers, thank those who served, and mourn those we lost. We should honor them by committing to a return to a more rational and constitutional foreign policy," Sen. Paul added.

###




Finally, today the Defense Dept released the Army's suicide data for October:
The Army released suicide data today for the month of October. Among active-duty soldiers, there were 17 potential suicides: one has been confirmed as suicide and 16 remain under investigation. For September 2011, the Army reported 16 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, one case has been added for a total of 17 cases. Three cases have been confirmed as suicide and 14 cases remain under investigation.
During October 2011, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were 12 potential suicides: none have been confirmed as suicide and 12 remain under investigation. For September 2011, the Army reported six potential suicides among not-on-active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, two cases have been added for a total of eight cases. Three cases have been confirmed as suicide and five cases remain under investigation.
Maj. Gen. David E. Quantock, director of the Army Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Task Force, knows how the tragedy of suicide affects our soldiers, civilians, and families. He joins the task force as the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. "Our people are the Army and their health and well-being are top priorities. This is very important work and I can assure you that the Army team is fully engaged and is totally committed to it," said Quantock.
Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org .
Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at: http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_63.pdf and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/p600_24.pdf .
The Army's comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at http://www.preventsuicide.army.mil .
Suicide prevention training resources for Army families can be accessed at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/training_sub.asp?sub_cat=20 (requires Army Knowledge Online access to download materials).
Information about Military OneSource is located at http://www.militaryonesource.com or by dialing the toll-free number 1-800-342-9647 for those residing in the continental United States. Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource website for dialing instructions for their specific location.
Information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at http://www.army.mil/csf/.
The Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at Resources@DCoEOutreach.org and at http://www.dcoe.health.mil .
The website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is http://www.afsp.org/, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Council site is found at http://www.sprc.org/index.asp .



iraq
al sabaah
the financial times of london
javier blas
international business times
pierre bertrand
aswat al-iraq
al rafidayn
mcclatchy newspapers
laith hammoudi
al-ahram weekly
salah nasrawi
cnn
mohammed tawfeeq

Thursday, November 17, 2011

3 men, 2 women

The first hour of today's Diane Rehm Show (NPR) featured Kevin Book, Coral Davenport, Robert Bryce and Nathanael Greene. The second hour was Diane Keaton.

The second hour was really solid radio. Diane Keaton has a new book called Then Again about her mother and herself.

Diane Rehm: Tell me about your relationship with her growing up.


Diane Keaton: Well, of course, I was just devoted to my mother because she was devoted to me. My mother was by far the most active, intense, devoted listener that I've ever come across in my life. I used to love to spend time with my mother just sitting across from her at the kitchen counter and telling her about my problems. I had many problems and she would always sit there and she would also look and go, oh Diane, it's going to be alright. She never made a judgment call. She just allowed me to go on and on and was always, as I said, actively interested, so she was this fabulous person to listen to and she had a great sense of humor. So you know she would laugh and she would encourage me and this is true with my siblings as well, Randy, Robin and Dorrie. So this was a great gift and I don't think people really understand how important listening is. You know my problem in life has always been that I like to express myself. I don't like to listen as much as I like to express myself, but I'm learning and I do think it's a great gift because I think it makes for a more enriched life, but it's hard sometimes.


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, November 17, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq executes 11 people, Camp Ashraf residents get attention from the US Senate, Political Stalemate II continues, Nouri prepares to target more political opponents, Nouri launches secret arrests on Iraqi youths who had the 'nerve' to complain about the lack of employment in their country, and more.
Camp Ashraf is one of the worst reported subjects in the US press. We do get articles so slanted that even a paper's public editor calls out the slant (against the residents of Camp Ashraf) and we get hurled insults at Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and others for speaking out on behalf of the residents. But very little attention is given to the issue of their support. A US military official used the New York Times to smear Clark and Dean and suggest that they have sold their voices out to the highest bidders. US House Rep Bob Filner has not been paid on behalf of anyone to speak out for the residents of Camp Ashraf (a number of family members of the residents live in California, including in Bob Filner's district). You don't read about that. You don't read about hearings on topic or Congressional statements. This week, Camp Ashraf, yet again, came up in a Committee hearing. We're going to note the remarks. But first, let's provide some background on Camp Ashraf.
Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."
"The status of the residents at Camp Ashraf from the Iranian dissident group MEK remains unresolved," Senator Carl Levin declared Tuesday. "As the December 2011 deadline approaches, the administration needs to remain vigilant that the government of Iraq lives up to its commitments to provide for the safety of the Camp Ashraf residents until a resolution of their status can be reached. We need to make it clear to the government of Iraq that there cannot be a repeat of the deadly confrontation began last April by Iraqi security forces against Camp Ashraf residents."
He was speaking Tuesday morning at the Senate Armed Services Comittee hearing while delivering his opening remarks as Chair of the Committee. Senator John McCain is Ranking Member on the Committee. The first panel the Committee heard testimony from was composed of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsy. Camp Ashraf came up in Chair Levin's opening remarks and it came up later during the first panel.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Do you think -- do you think the people in Camp Ashraf, do you think they're going to get killed? What's going to happen to them?
General Martin Dempsey: The, uh, as you know, Senator, the State Department is leading an effort to ensure that -- work with the Iraqi government ---
Senator Lindsey Graham: Can you tell the people back here that the likelihood of their friends and family being killed has gone up greatly if there are no American forces up there policing the problem?
General Martin Dempsey: I won't say anything to those people because I'm not involved in the outcome.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Fair enough.
In what was now the second round, John McCain went on to laugh with Leon Panetta and to thank him for appearing before the Comittee and putting up with pointed questions. He brought up a request that Panetta had made to him and Senator Graham (formally, in a letter) and noted they were working on that issue (defense funding). We're not going to excerpt that but since so much was made of the first round of questioning between Panetta and McCain, we will note that both laughed with one another in an exchange in the second round. (The hysterical gossip corps portrayed McCain being testy as new or novel and may have left many with images of poor Leon struggling for the vapors. Neither person was harmed by the exchange in the first round nor appeared to hold a grudge or ill will towards the other.) Near the end of his second round, McCain did bring up the issue of Camp Ashraf.
Ranking Member John McCain: Could I just say finally on the Camp Ashraf issue, I know the Secretary of Defense -- I mean, Secretary of State is addressing this issue, but it is American troops that are protecting them now. I hope that you can give us some idea of what disposition is going to be because I think it's -- I think it's very clear that the lives of these people are at risk and I thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: I appreciate that.
Chair Carl Levin: Well, just on that, to turn it into a question -- and, maybe, General, this needs to be addressed to you too -- what -- There's obviously a greater risk to folks there unless the Iraqis keep a commitment. What's going to be done to make sure, to the best of our ability, that they keep that committment and what about the question of removing them from the list of -- not them, the organization from the terrorist list?
General Martin Dempsey: Well, Senator --
Senator Carl Levin: We're all concerned about this --
General Martin Dempsey: And we share your concern. [General] Lloyd Austin shares your concern. And I know that Ambassador Jeffreys shares the concern and there is no -- we're not sparing any diplomatic effort to encourage the Iraqis to do what we think is right in this regard to ensure the protection of those folks in Camp Ashraf. But right now, actually, the Iraqi security forces guard Camp Ashraf with our advisory and assistance group with them. And so the concern, when we do leave that capacity, is a real one. And But I actually think we've got to put the pressure on the Iraqi government diplomatically to have the outcome that we think is correct.
Senator Carl Levin: Just assure them if you would that there's a real strong feeling around here that if they -- if they violate a committment to protect those people -- assuming that they're still there and that they haven't been removed from the terrorist list so that they can find other locations -- that if they violate that committment to us, that is going to have a severely negative impact on the relationship with the -- I think I can speak here -- the Congress although I'm reluctant to ever say this. I think there's a lot of concern in the Congress about it and this will, I believe, in my opinion, will severely negatively impact their relationship with the Congress. Let me leave it at that.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Senator, I want to assure you that Ambassador Jeffrey has made that point loud and clear, loud and clear the Iraqis.
Senator Carl Levin: Senator Lieberman?
Senator Joe Lieberman: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And add my voice and I think you can speak for Congress members of both parties in both houses in expressing our concern about the safety of the people in Camp Ashraf.
Our gossip corps masquerading as a press corps missed that too, didn't they? The Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee declared that if the Iraqi government did not keep their promise to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf -- residents that the Iraqi forces have already twice attacked -- there would be serious damage to the government of Iraq's relationship with the US Congress.
Sounds like a headline to me. In fact, sounds like a first page, opening segment of the evening news type story. And that's before you factor in the remarks of the others or the consensus that Levin did speak for Congress in his remarks. Yes, independent Joe Lieberman did agree with Democrat Carl Levin who agreed with Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain but there were other Democrats present (Ben Nelson, Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen) and other Republicans present (Jeff Sessions). No one lodged an objection. It would appear that the US Congress -- at least the Senate -- pretty much universally (if not fully) backs the protection of Camp Ashraf residents. That's a story you really don't get. But news outlets can make time and will make time to run stories implying that Howard Dean and Wesley Clark are only concerned with the protection of Camp Ashraf residents because they've been 'bought' and that no one would care about these people unless they were being paid to. The implication being not only that Dean and Clark are 'on the take' but also that the residents of Camp Ashraf are so low on the human chain or so digusting or so whatever that no one in their right mind could ever think these people were worthy of defending. That's a really ugly thing to suggest about Dean and Clark and it's extremely ugly and phobic to suggest that of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
If you need an example of this ugliness, you can refer to Josh Rogin's Foreign Policy piece. Tonight or at Third on Sunday, I plan to write about how people get hearings so wrong. You can find part of the answer in Josh Rogin's quote from Carl Levin. Yes, Levin did declare what Rogin quotes him stating -- but that's all Rogin quotes him stating and misses the exchange that we've quoted above. That's because like a lot of 'reporting' on this hearing, people didn't bother to attend the actual hearing. But we'll save that for tonight or I'll take it over to Third on Sunday.
Gary Feuerberg (Epoch Times) reports, "The Ashraf residents fear that they will be sent back to Iran, where they were an opposition group, and could be executed. Three Iranians visiting their sons in the camp, upon returning home, were each executed in Dec. 2010 - Jan. 2011. In the last few days, Iraqi troops in larger numbers have been outside the gates, awakening the residents early in the morning with taunts broadcast through loud speakers. The residents remember April 8 this year, when this kind of harassment was a prelude to the Iraqi military firing on unarmed residents, killing 36 and wounding scores that outside observers called a massacre." Outside observers include US Senator John Kerry who termed that assault a "massacre." British MP David Amess writes at the Independent of London's Foreign Desk blog:
At Camp Ashraf in Iraq, 3,400 residents are encircled. Loud speakers have been placed around the town's perimeter as part of a campaign of psychological intimidation. They blast out insults and threats in the early hours of the morning. The aggressors, Iraqi forces, are taking orders from the Iranian regime. They want Camp Ashraf cleared out and shut down because the residents are members of the People's Mohjahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), the main Iranian opposition group.
No-one is allowed out of the Camp to receive medical attention. Foreign observers, including Euro MPs, US congressmen and journalists, are not allowed to enter. In the latest sign that the siege is tightening, Ashraf's fuel supplied have been cut off. There have been no gasoline deliveries for almost a year, and very little diesel fuel and kerosene. Now that temperatures are dropping, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered an end to deliveries of coal and wood.
Iraq's Christian community has been repeatedly targeted. They were raised twice in Tuesday's hearing. Both times by Chair Carl Levin. First, he noted in his opening statement, "Our concern about the security of the Christian minorities is very strong. We need to work with the government of Iraq to ensure it has the will and capability to protect Iraq's religious minority communities from targeted violence and persecution."
Then he brought up the issue again when the first round of questioning started.
Chair Carl Levin: Let me ask you about protection of religious minorities, since our invasion of Iraq in 2003, I have worked with many members of the Congress and many members of Congress have worked with our military and civilian leadership both here and in Iraq to ensure that the small religious minority community in Iraq are protected from targeted violence and persecution. Give us your assessments, first Secretary and then perhaps general, of what the Iraqi government's willingness and ability to protect the religious minorities in Iraq, particularly the Christians?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I-I believe that, uh, Ambassador Jeffrey and the State Department continue to work very closely with the Iraqis to ensure that, uh, religious minorities are protected there. It is -- it is a problem. It's a concern. I think it's something that's going to demand continued vigilance by all of us, continuing pressure by all of us, on the Iraqi government that they do everything possible to recognize both human and religious rights. There's a lot of history here and a lot of challenges here but I am absolutely convinced when you talk to the political leadership in Iraq, uh, they -- they don't want to have these kind of divisions, they don't want to have this kind of discrimination take place within their country but it's going to require constant vigilance to make sure it doesn't happen.
Chair Carl Levin: General, do you have anything to comment on that?
General Martin Dempsey: No, just the -- just the comment, Senator, on the fact that in the pre-surge period, which many of us remember, it was very common for state sponsored militias out of the security ministries to be conducting these kind of attacks against uh-uh those religious groups that didn't agree with their particular faith. We haven't seen anything like that since the surge -- meaning the security ministries have become responsible agents of government. And though not discounting the continued pressure on the small religious communities, at least it -- there's no evidence that it will be state-sponsored. And that's a -- that's a significant change.
Yes, you did just hear a US general cite as "significant" progress that the Iraqi Christians were not being attacked by government forces. Which brings up the very real issue of why, in real time, we weren't told this? It's so wonderful as they reflect back on 2006 through 2008 and suddenly want to share with the world events that, when the US military appeared before Congress during those same years, they never raised. But, just like Dempsey on Tuesday, they always managed to insist Iraq was coming along nicely.
The reality for Iraqi Christians isn't pretty. Take Kirkuk where the Syriac Orthodox Church has now been bombed three times in five years. Most estimates on Christians in Baghdad are at 4,000 or under. That number was said to be at least 300,000 of Iraq's estimated 800,0000 Christians in 2002. Many have left Baghdad for other countries or to move to the Kurdish north which is thought to be a safer area for Iraqi Christians. So, when the Baghdad population is no longer targeted by Nouri's Iraqi security forces, it's not "significant," despite what Dempsey says. What's signficant is that a large number of them were killed, a large number of them left Baghdad for other countries (Iraqi Christians make up at least 25% of the Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanaon) and a large number moved to the KRG where Nouri's forces can't get to them. (The semi-autonomous KRG has its own security forces including the peshmerga.)
This week, Mark Pattison (Catholic News Service) reported Youngstown, Ohio's Bishop George V. Murry, just returned from Iraq, is calling for an increase in US financial aid to Iraq, what he terms a "modern-day version of the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. [. ..] Iraq is suffering from the results of the war. The United States and the nations that joined with it in the war can help Iraq rebuild their infrastructure and rebuild their country." Joan Frawley Desmond (National Catholic Register) quotes the bishop stating, "We visited the Church of Our Lady of Salvation, where the militants entered and killed the faithful, including two priests. One still sees bloodstained walls." Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked October 31, 2010. An Iraqi Christian told the bishops on their visit, "We used to live in the Garden of Eden, and now we live in hell." As Jim Muir (BBC News -- link is text and video) observed after that attack, the Islamic State for Iraq declared "that all Christians in the country are now a legitimate target."
Levin was the only one to explore the issue of Iraqi Christians in the hearing. That might actually be a good thing when you notice how efforts were made to spin the KRG. For background, we drop back to Monday's snapshot:
AFP reports John Kirby declared at the Pentagon today that the US was deploying some of the predator drones in Iraq to Turkey to give "support to the Turkish military to deal with the specific threat posed by the PKK on their southern border." Reuters adds that the program "involves four US predator unmanned aircraft". Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) observes, "Moving them to Turkey could strengthen the diplomatic alliance with the United States, but it also risks putting the United States in the middle of a regional conflict between Turkey and Iraq, two putative allies. Pentagon officials declined to say whether the four Predator drones being flown out of Incirlik Air Base, a joint U.S. - Turkish military installation, would be allowed to cross into Iraqi air space." And how is Iraq going to feel knowing Turkey has a spy view on them? Not the US which is bad enough. But Turkey's a neighbor. There's really no chance Turkey won't use the drones to their own advantage? John Reed (Military.com News) adds, "In what could be an effort to head off the popular discontent seen in other countries that have hosted U.S. drones, Davotugu claimed that the American UAV missions would be overseen by the Turkish military."
The following day, at Tuesday's hearing, this issue was raised in the hearing.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: [. . .] we have cooperated with Turkey in the past -- specifically with Kurds in northern Iraq. And we're seeing that violence between Turkey and the Kurd rebels has escalated since the summer. We saw a major Turkish operation into Iraq. And, yesterday, there were reports that US drones had deployed into Turkey from Iraq for surveillance flights. So can you just give us an update on that situation?
General Martin Dempsey: I can, thank you, Senator. You know each combatant commander has a theater security cooperation plan that supports both building the capability of our partners allows us to make ourselves better and deters potential adversaries. And so in Turkey, for example, we have, uhm, we've-we've recently, as you've described, taken the ISR platform that was apparently flying out of Balad Air Base and is now flying out of Incirlik in Turkey to support the Turks in their fight against terrorism. The Turks recently agreed to put the TPY-2 radar [Army/Navey/ Transportable Radar Surveillance] as part of the European phase adaptive approach, integrated air defense, against the possibility of a rogue missile strike from Iran if they develop that capability. So -- And then if you walk down the Gulf Cooperative Council, we have bi-lateral agreements with each of them -- some of which are multi-lateral, for example, air defense; some of which are exclusively bi-lateral. And then the other thing we do is exercises as well as this foreign military sales program, it becomes a significant cornerstone to our relationship with these countries.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: Relative to the US - Turkey cooperation on the Kurds, how is Iraq responding?
Genearl Martin Dempsey: Iraq has uh-uh consistently denounced the presence of the Kurdish -- the PKK on Iraq's soil and so too has the Kurdistan Regional Government. So there hasn't been any friction as long as there's been transparency about intent.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: So we're cooperating with them as we're doing these kind of
General Martin Dempsey: We are, Senator.
That was very far from the truth. Not only have there been protests throughout Iraq -- not just in the KRG -- against Turkey's latest bombing campaign which began August 17th, but members of Parliament have called out the bombing campaign -- called out publicly. Wednesday, Al Mada reported on the objections which include that Turkey, "under the pretext of attacking the PKK," has launched one of the most dangerous assaults on civilians and the transfer of drones is called "extremely dangerous" and attempt by the US government to curry favor with Turkey. If you're missing it, Iraqis are not dancing in the streets with joy over the use of drones to monitor their country and provide the results to Turkey.
Violence continued in Iraq today. Reuters notes a Tuz Khurmato sticky bombing (to a bulldozer) claimed 1 life. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds a Mosul bombing this morning claimed the life of police officer Lt Col Jabbar Rasheed and left three more police officers injured while a Mosul roadside bombing left nine people injured and a Mosul roadside bombing attack (three bombs) left ten people injured and a Mahmoudiya car bombing left six people injured.

In addution, Al Rafidayn reports that 11 people were executed today and quotes a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice stating that this incuded a woman and a Tunisian. (Mohammed Tawfeeq covers the issue here for CNN for those who'd like a report in English.) Amnesty International notes:
The Iraqi authorities must commute all death sentences and ensure verdicts
are not based on forced confessions involving torture, Amnesty International
said today, after 11 people convicted of terrorism-related offences were
hanged in Baghdad.
The execution of the 11, including one woman, took place yesterday in
spite of attempts by the Tunisian authorities to obtain a pardon for a Tunisian national, Yosri Trigui, who was sentenced to death for his alleged
involvement in an attack against the al-'Askari Shi'a Muslim Shrine in
Samarra in 2006. The attack sparked an eruption of sectarian violence.
Trigui, who had been living in Iraq since 2003, was arrested in 2006 by
US forces for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts. He was also convicted
of the killing of a female Iraqi journalist from the Al Arabiya TV channel,
Atwar Bahjat. Amnesty has previously voiced concern that Trigui's trial
did not appear to meet international standards.
Meanwhile, a further 10 people are reportedly due to be executed in Iraq
today.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Acting Director
Philip Luther said:
"While the Iraqi government has the right to bring to justice those
responsible for serious crimes, the death penalty violates the right to life
and should not be used in any case.
"Given the appalling state of Iraq's justice system, it is questionable whether
these 11 people received a fair trial.
"Iraq must immediately commute the death sentences of the hundreds of
people remaining on death row in the country. The authorities must also
ensure that trials meet international standards for fair trial, and are not based
on confessions extracted under torture and other ill-treatment."
Trials in Iraq consistently fall short of international standards for fair trials. The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), established by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 after the US-led military invasion of the country, is the main criminal court, which handles crimes relating to terrorism, sectarian violence, organised crime and government corruption. The court has handed down the vast majority of death sentences.
Defendants in Iraq frequently complain that "confessions" are extracted under torture and other ill-treatment during pre-trial interrogation, often when they were held incommunicado in police stations or in detention. Defendants are often not brought before an investigative judge within a reasonable time and not told of the reason for their arrest. "Confessions" extracted from them are often used as evidence against them at their trials and accepted by the courts without taking any or adequate steps to investigate defendants' allegations of torture. Such "confessions" have also frequently been broadcast on the Iraqi government-controlled satellite TV station Al Iraqiya. This practice undermines the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental human right.
Trial proceedings before the CCCI are very brief, often lasting only a few minutes before verdicts are handed down.
Staying on legal, Nouri's been crying 'Ba'athist!' to take out political opponents. This issue was even raised in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday -- Senator Scott Brown raised it and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated the White House was concerned over the arrests. From Ava's report at Trina's site Tuesday night:
Brown noted the crackdown taking place in Iraq on Nouri's political opponents, them being arrested and held without charge. He asked Panetta, "Are you concerned with these types of arrests and whether it will either require us to have a larger foot print or how it's going to be effected by our footprint being reduced?"

Panetta responded, "I am concerned by the actions the Prime Minister took with regards to arresting the Ba'athists." Love how he just went with Nouri's language. These are, by all accounts, ex-Ba'athists.

Panetta then stated, "I think that -- and they're being held at this point without charges and that raises concerns about due process. At the same time, I have to say that the Sunnis -- and it's a reflection of what's happened in Iraq -- that the Sunni population there recognizes that even in light of that that their actions ought to take place through the actions of government. And they're bringing their pressure through the Parliament and through the government to try to change that behavior and I think that's what democracy should do." Yea! A victory!

Reality: Nouri is fighting those moves.

Panetta wants to sell political targeting as evidence of a democracy. He clearly thinks the Committee is composed of idiots.



Al Sabaah reports that security sources are stating there is another list of 'Ba'athists' to be arrested in Dhi Qar. Al Rafidayn adds that the list has approximately 50 names on it. In other disturbing news, Al Mada reports that Iraqi security forces in Baghdad arrested a group of youths who were speaking to one another about the unemployment problem while eating a meal at a restaurant. The forces follwed the young people home and arrested them -- after forcing their way into the youth's homes. At least six people were arrested. One is Ashraf Mohamed whose mother states who explained that she was worried about her son's where abouts and after checking with the hospitals and police was told he was being held in detention. The secret arrests are being compared to the Iraqi security forces February 25th attack on four journalists who were at a restaurant eating lunch after covering the protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square -- they were publicly beaten, hauled off and then tortured. One of the four was Hadi al-Mehdi who was assassinated September 8th and the government has made no effort to find his killer.

Political Stalemate I was a period in Iraq following the March 7, 2010 elections. It ended in November of 2010 only as a result of a meet-up in Erbil and the political parties signing off on an agreement in which all but State of Law made political concessions. The results of the March 7th elections, even after Nouri al-Maliki bitterly contested them and stamped his feet until a few post-election votes were tossed his way, were that Iraqiya came in first and Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second. Iraqis do not elect their prime minister, the Parliament does. Per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, should have had first crack at forming a government. First crack? You become prime minister-designate and then have thirty days to name a Cabinet (nominate people for positions and have Parliament vote in favor of them). If you can't accomplish that in 30 days, per the Constitution, a new prime minister-designate is supposed to be named.

Nouri al-Maliki refused to surrender the post of prime minister. So the March 7th elections were followed by over 8 months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I. The Erbil Agreement found all but State of Law making major concessions so that the country could pull together. (During that eight month period, Parliament had one session which was little more than roll call.) Iraqiya, the winner in the elections, was supposed to see their leader (Allawi) head an independent security commission, the KRG was promised Article 140 would finally be followed (Article 140 of the Constitution addresses disputed territories such as Kirkuk -- it calls for a census and referendum to be held in Kirkuk by the end of 2007. Nouri was prime minister then and refused to implement Article 140.) Many promises were made but the only one that concerned Nouri was that he would remain prime minister.

With all sides signing off on the Erbil Agreement, it appeared that Iraq would be moving forward on a national level. Nouri was named prime minister-designate (unofficially named, Jalal Talabani would wait two weeks before making it official to give Nouri 30 days plus two weeks to form a Cabinet). Before November drew to a close, Nouri would announce the planned census to take place in December was off. He would claim that the national security commission had to be put on hold but would be created earlier. By the time he was illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister, Iraq was in Political Stalemate II. And that's where it has remained. Illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister? The Constitution says 30 days to name Cabinet. That's not 'partial' cabinet, that's the full Cabinet. Nouri did not name a full Cabinet. Most importantly he said he would 'temporarily' fill the security ministries -- Defense, National Security and Interior.

The Kurds, the National Alliance and Iraqiya have all called for the Erbil Agreement to be followed ("the Kurds" does not include Goran). Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Nouri and Iraqi president (and Kurd) Jalal Talabani have met and that steps are being taken to resolve the issues -- of course this has repeatedly been reported for months now with no resolution as of yet. Nouri and Talabani are said to be on the same page regarding the issues. If true, this should be a big surprise to the Kurdish delegation that visited Baghdad weeks ago and found no resolution or mutual understanding with Nouri. Dar Addustour adds that supposedly the two agreed that the three security ministries must be filled. Iraqiya tells Dar Addustour that Ayad Allawi is due back in Iraq and that there will be some important developments shortly. All options are open, their spokesperson states, including a vote of no-confidence for Nouri.

Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports that Nouri held a press conference yesterday announcing and promoting a bill that, if passed, would give the provinces more say in their own affairs -- such as implementing water and health projects. Nouri's always so good about making statements to garner support. It's following up those statements with actual action that Nouri has problems with.

Moving over to England where Murray Wardrop (Telegraph of London) reports, "The panel, led by Sir John Chilcot, had been expected to deliver its initial conclusions by the end of the year, but yesterday announced that it was postponing the draft report until 'at least Summer 2012'. The inquiry is being held up in delivering its findings as it is locked in negotiations with Whitehall officials over how much information it can release in classified documents." The Iraq Inquiry. An official inquiry -- promised by Gordon Brown -- a government inquiry in fact. And the results are delayed again due to, yes, government secrecy. Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) adds, "The inquiry makes it clear that Whitehall departments are continuing to block the disclosure of documents about the circumstances surrounding the invasion of Iraq." BBC News reminds, "At one hearing in early 2010, inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot expressed his frustration about his committee's inability to publish certain classified documents relating to Iraq policy. Although the committee could see these documents, their public release had not been sanctioned by the government - a move also criticised by Lord Goldsmith, attorney general in the run-up to war."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

6 men

The first hour of today's Diane Rehm Show (NPR) featured Jim Tankersley, Michael Premo, Legba Carrefour, Lawrence Lessig and Tyler Cowen. The second hour was Andrew Graham-Dixon.

"Bridesmaids." Three friends I went to school with came over tonight -- Cedric and I skipped church for this. One just eloped (and had her husband with her). So this was just a minor get-together. Something low key. The four of us were best friends in high school and are still best friends. (I don't think they'll be upset with me for naming them but I'll just use their first names since I didn't ask permission: Carrie, Diane and Miguel are my three best friends. Miguel was a next door neighbor and we were in 1st through 5th together. Not 6th, sadly. But in 7th grade we were back together and Carrie and Diane were in our class together. And we were four best friends and still are.) So Diane got married. She was planning on it in January. But they decided to use the money to instead go on a great honeymoon. So they eloped in Vegas, spent 3 days there and then a week in Europe. They had a great honeymoon.

We just had pizza and Diane's husband being new (she met him 2 years ago, they started dating about a year ago) to the group dynamic, Carrie thought a movie would make it more relaxing.

So Cedric and Miguel ended up pcking out "Bridesmaids." Cedric didn't know if it would be funny but figured everyone would like it. Miguel thinks Kirsten Wiig is very funny and that Maya Rudolph is "the bomb." (Right on both counts.)

So we ate dinner and then popped in the DVD.

And laughed like crazy.

First, the film is so dirty!!!!

I'm not complaining. But I thought this would be a Kate Hudson type movie -- like "Bride Wars." This was raunchy and very, very funny.

That's the second, just how laugh out loud funny it is.

We couldn't stop laughing. We all loved it. If, like me, you're late to this movie, make a point to see it immediately. (And who doesn't love Wilson Phillips' "Hold On"?)




This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Wednesday:


Wednesday, November 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the most important hearing on the Iraq War this year took place yesterday and we continue to cover it, we also note which outlets got it right and which got it very, very wrong, "enduring" US bases (and that's a US general, not me calling them "enduring") will remain in Iraq, DoD will keep US troops in Iraq (it won't just be the State Dept or just 'guarding' embassies and diplomatic staff), John McCain (and Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman) are distorted by the press, the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee -- Senator Patty Murray -- calls for action on the VA's backlog of disability claims, and more.
Charley Keyes (CNN) reports of yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, "The Obama administration will withdraw all U.S. military personnel by the end of the year, after negotiations with Iraq broke down last month over leaving behind a small force for training and security. Some 30,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq now, and only a small number of U.S. military will remain behind, attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad." Well golly, I'm confused and would assume I were wrong were it not for the fact that it is impossible for Barack to "withdraw all U.S. military personnel by the end of the year" and also for "a small number of U.S. military will remain behind". All is all. Does CNN not grasp that?
Do they also not know how to report on hearings? The way you do that is you attend the hearing and you report what was said. Keyes doesn't have a quote does he? No. He needs one. When he's so wrong, he really needs one. So "all" leave, he says, while he's also saying that small number will remain "attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad." Did Keyes doze off during Senator Susan Collins' questioning?
Senator Susan Collins: What about the Kurdish region in Iraq? There are concerns that Kirkuk stands out as an unresolved area where there's still a lot of tension with the central government in Baghdad. I understand that only a small DoD contingent will remain there. And it's my understanding that the State Dept is going back and forth on whether or not it should have a full consulate presence in Kirkuk or maintain a less formal 'diplomatic post'. If there's no US military presence to act as a buffer between the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi security forces, are you worried that this region of Iraq will become a destabalizing flashpoint?
General Martin Dempsy: I-I worry about a lot of things, Senator. And I will include this among the list of things I worry about. As you know, we put in place, several years ago, joint-check points where there was a member of the Kurdish peshmerga, there was a member of the Iraqi security forces and a US service man or woman and a coordinating center. And part of our Office of Security Cooperation footprint will include our participation in the coordination center. We won't be on the check points anymore -- that's true. And so we will have to rely upon the continuing negotiations between the Kurdish political leaders and their Iraqi -- the government of Iraq. But this is not, again, a place where we are completely removing ourselves. But your point is accurate. We won't be on the check points. We have been there as a buffer. The risk goes up. But our presence in the coordination center provides a stabilizing influence to get them to find negotiated answers, not violent answers.
I'm sorry, where in there is the State Dept? It's not there. Collins and Dempsey are speaking of US military personnel that will be stationed in Kirkuk in a coordinating center. And possibly Keyes was snoring when Collins explained she was referring to "a small DoD contingent"?
Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- and we'll note some of his remarks tomorrow -- and John McCain is the Ranking Member. We're focused on the first panel of the hearing, when General Martin Dempsey (Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff) and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified.
We noted another exchange in yesterday's snapshot -- one which refuted the lie that "all" are leaving or that negotiations are "over." I noted this was one of several exchanges in the hearing on this topic -- maybe Keyes required multiple naps? -- and wrongly thought we didn't need to do flash cards.
Senator Joe Lieberman: Understood. In your own thinking, since you obviously didn't recommend zero troops after January 1st, what do you think now are the greater risks that we face as a result of the fact that we will have no continuing US military presence in Iraq.
General Martin Dempsey: Well some of the things that the -- that the larger military footprint address will now have to be addressed diplomatically and that is some of the things that have come up here today about the, you know, the protection of the small religious communities and so forth, the Arab-Kurd tensions, if you will. But I also want to mention this Office of Security Cooperation will help us ensure that the foreign military sales program, the program of record as we call, it that continues to build the institution of Iraqi security forces, will continue to be addressed. So this isn't a divorce. It might feel that way because the way the numbers have -- the way the Iraqi government came to the decision. But the fact is we will be embedded with them as trainers, not only tactically but also at the institutional level. And I think that's an important way to mitigate the risk that you are talking about.
Senator Joe Lieberman: Let me, Secretary Panetta, pick up from that point. I've heard from friends in Iraq -- Iraqis -- that Prime Minister Maliki said at one point that he needed to stop the negotiations -- leave aside for one moment the reasons -- but he was prepared to begin negotiations again between two sovereign nations -- the US and Iraq -- about some troops being in Iraq after January 1st. So that's what I've heard from there. But I want to ask you from the administration point of view. I know that Prime Minister Maliki is coming here in a few weeks to Washington. Is the administration planning to pursue further discussions with the Iraqi government about deploying at least some US forces in Iraq after the end of this year?
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Senator, as I pointed out in my testimony, what we seek with Iraq is a normal relationship now and that does involve continuing negotiations with them as to what their needs are. Uh, and I believe there will be continuing negotations. We're in negotiations now with regards to the size of the security office that will be there and so there will be -- There aren't zero troops that are going to be there. We'll have, you know, hundreds that will be present by virtue of that office assuming we can work out an agreement there. But I think that once we've completed the implementation of the security agreement that there will begin a series of negotiations about what exactly are additional areas where we can be of assistance? What level of trainers do they need? What can we do with regards to CT [Counter-Terrorism] operations? What will we do on exercises -- joint-exercises -- that work together?

Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
Secretary Leon Panetta: We -- we have these kind of relationships with other countries in the region and that's what we're going to continue to pursue with Iraq.
Senator Joe Lieberman: And in fact, just using the term that both of you have used, that would be a normal relationship. A normal relationship would not exlcude the presence of some American military in Iraq, correct?
Secretary Leon Panetta: That's correct.
Senator Joe Lieberman: So what I hear you saying, assuming that this question of immunities can be overcome, do you, Mr. Secretary, personally believe that it's in the interests of the US to have some military presence in Iraq as part of an agreement with the Iraqis?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I believe -- I believe there are areas where we can provide important assistance to the Iraqis but again I would stress to you, Senator Lieberman, I know that you have been there that in order for this to happen we've got to be able to have them basically say, 'These are our needs, this is what we want, these are the missions that we want accomplished.' And then we can assist them in saying we can provide this in order to accomplish those missions. It's got to be a two-way street.
So, flash cards.
There's that "Office of Security Cooperation" again. And, no, that's not State Dept, that's DoD. And in that OSC, according to General Martin Dempsey, "we will be embedded with them as trainers" -- get that?
Second card, Senator Joe Lieberman noted what he's hearing from Iraqis which appears to be that after January 1st there will be a deal made. That talk jibes with what I've shared here several times perviously, a friend at the State Dept swears that as soon as Nouri and Barack have both had their victory laps over 'withdrawal,' negotiations begin for more US troops in Iraq.
Third one, Panetta says that the US is currently in negotiations with Iraq ("with regards to the size of the security office that will be there"). Get it? Negotiations did not end.
Fourth card: Panetta notes that just for that security office -- DoD security office -- there should be "hundreds [of US troops] that will be present" -- that's what's currently being negotiated.
Fifth card: Panetta rejects the notion taht "zero [US] troops" will be in Iraq. Hint, to CNN, that's why you don't report or 'report' that "ALL" US troops are leaving.
Sixth card: Panetta believes negotiations will continue and that Iraq will make requests for additional troops.
Is Panetta right? CNN can't tell you that. They're not psychics. They can report what was said and they can fact check. If they want to. And clearly reporting on the hearing wasn't a concern for CNN.
The hearing was yesterday morning. At Trina's site last night, Ava covered an exchange with "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," at Rebecca's site, Wally covered economic concers expressed over the use of contractors "The costs (Wally)" and Kat offered a look at various claims about the administration's negotiating goals and what Iraqi leaders supposedly sought with "Who wanted what?"
But Keyes isn't the only bad reporter. Look at Rachel Martin. And unlike Keyes, Martin's not paid by a corporation and advertising. Martin's salary is paid for by tax payers and donors to NPR. 'Reporting' like this should get you fired, "But come December 31st, the remaining 24,000 US troops now in Iraq will be out." No, they won't. As she got to the end of her report, like Keyes, she suddenly noted a few American troops would remain in Iraq. What about those bases, by the way?
Those US bases in Iraq. What about them?
Strange Keyes and Martin didn't report on that. What were they called? Oh, yeah. "Enduring." And that was in yesterday's hearing. By the US general. Let's go to that section.
Senator Kay Hagan: But I wanted to talk about our Special Operations Forces. And, as you know, our Special Operations Forces have engaged with their Iraqi counter-parts in counter-terrorism and in training and advising activities. And what will things look like in Iraq from a Special Operations Forces stand point going forward. And what type of engagement would our Special Operation Forces have in Iraq?
General Martin Dempsy: Yes, senator the size of the Iraqi operating Special Forces is about 4,500. They're organized into a counter-terrorism section commanded by an Iraqi general by the name of Kanani. We partnered with him at the head quarters level and will remain so. We're in discussions with Iarq about training -- trainers -- that would stay inside the wire of their places where this counter-terrorism force is located, not go with them on missions but rather train them to continue to go on missions. And-and as I mentioned earlier, the gap is actually in their ability to kind of identify the network and target it. We call it the find-fix-finish-asses-and-exploit cycle. They're very capable of fixing and finishing, not so capable as yet in finding, assessing and exploiting so that you continue to keep pressure on a network. But I will tell you, they are extraordinaryly competent individual soldiers. What we've got to do is keep raising the bar with them on their ability to do things at eschelons above tactics.
Senator Kay Hagan: Well with the drawdown taking place in less than two months, what is your outlook for the ability to continue this training process to enable them to continue to do this on their own?
General Martin Dempsey: Well they will be limited. They don't have the airlift to deliver them to the target that we might have been able to provide. They don't have the ISR target to keep persistant surveillance over the top of the target. So they'll be limited to ground movement and they'll be limited to human intelligence and we'll keep -- But part of the Office of Security Cooperation provides the trainers to keep the training to develop those other areas, but we're some time off in reaching that point.
Senator Kay Hagan: We'll, as we continue this drawdown of our military personnel from Iraq, I really remain concerned about their force protection -- the individuals that will be remaining in Iraq. So what are the remaining challenges for our military personnel in Iraq in terms of managing their vulnerabilities, managing their exposures during the drawdown?
General Martin Dempsey: Senator, are you talking about getting from 24,000, the existing force now and having it retrograde through Kuwait?
Senator Kay Hagan: The ones that will remain over there.
General Martin Dempsey: The ones that will remain --
Senator Kay Hagan: Their protection.
General Martin Dempsey: Yes, Senator. Well, they will have -- First and foremost, we've got ten Offices of Security Cooperation in Iraq bases. And their activities will largely be conducted on these bases because their activities are fundamentally oriented on delivering the foreign military sales. So F-16s get delivered, there's a team there to help new equipment training and-and helping Iraq understand how to use them to establish air sovereignty. Or there's a 141 M1 Tanks right now, generally located at a tank gunnery range in Besmaya, east of Baghdad and the team supporting that training stays on Besmaya so this isn't about us moving around the country very much at all. This is about our exposure being limited to 10 enduring, if you will, Offices of Security Cooperation base camps. And doing the job of educating and training and equipping on those ten bases. Host nation is always responsible for the outer parameter. We'll have contracted security on the inner parameter. And these young men and women will always have responsibility for their own self-defense.
Senator Kay Hagan: So we'll have contracted security on the inner-paramenter?
General Martin Dempsey: That's right.
"The ones that will remain over there." Again, "all" aren't leaving. And "the ones that remain over there" will be on the "enduring" (Dempsey's term) bases -- those Offices of Special Coordination bases. Breaking with the pack to do actual reporting is Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reports, "Some United States forces will remain as military trainers on 10 bases in Iraq even after an end-of-year deadline for all American troops to be out of the country, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee on Tuesday." She's reporting on the exchange above. She speaks with an unnamed "military official" who, frankly, lies to her. That's fine, she doesn't present the claim as truth, merely as a claim. "No more than 200" -- on ten bases? That is what the general testified to. And it's previously been reported that the number of these 'trainers' would be over half the amount the official insists off the record. And General Dempsey testified that they were in ongoing negotiations to increase the number already agreed to.
Now let's assume unnamed isn't lying? 20 people on 10 bases each? And security contractors hired to protect them? That's cost-effective how? It isn't. So who's going to launch an investigation into that? As for the claims about Iraq's counter-terrorism forces, were you puzzled? You should have been. It was the second time Dempsey was praising Iraq's counter-terrorism forces for being able to do their job after -- after -- a target was identified. Actually doing the identification, he had to admit -- to Hagan and earlier to Senator Scott Brown as well -- was a step they just weren't up to. From Ava's report:
But the big howler was when Brown was asking Dempsey about Iraq's counter-terrorism forces and how proficient they are? Dempsey said about 80% ready to handle what's needed. He wanted to explain his score -- apparently feeling bad that he hadn't given them a 100. He insisted that, when a target is identified, the C-T forces could "lock onto" it. Otherwise, they have a problem.
Counter-Terrorism forces can "lock on" with an identified target?
Who can't?
When you know who the target is, who can't?
General Dempsey's such a generous grader when it comes to Iraqi forces. So the hearing revealed "enduring" US bases in Iraq -- the general's term -- and it revealed that negotiations are taking place right now, and that negotiations will continue (that the US isn't done with the 'trainers' issues), that already trainers are planned to remain in Iraq, and a lot more.
It's rather strange to look at two sites that I think of as right-wing -- both are Libertarian websites. Maybe I'm misunderstanding them looking, as I do, from the left? At Lew Rockwell.com, Laurence Vance accurately covers what Panetta stated at one point (we'll be pulling that in with another section where Panetta's asked to clarify it), "We have more than 40,000 American troops that remain in the Gulf region. We're not going anywhere." Vance rightly notes this is no withdrawal. So good for LRC and Vance. But at Antiwar.com -- where they want to tell you it's fundraising time -- they make no effort to be accurate. In fairness to John Glaser, maybe he's pulling from bad reporting and wasn't actually at the hearing? His past reports have been strong and sound. This hearing was reported on badly. I think it's most likely that he's relied on bad reporting.
I don't think we have time or space to refute that 'report' today and am not sure if we'll have time for it tomorrow (where I'm already shoving the topics of Camp Ashraf, Iraqi Christians and drones too).So, briefly, you may hate John McCain. I've noted I don't care for him. I've noted I would never vote for him. But that doesn't give me the right to lie about him. Intentional or not, the Antiwar.com report is 100% wrong. In the hearing, John McCain ("and otehrs in Congress") did not argue "the administration should have strong-armed their way into a new security agreement in Iraq." That is 100% incorrect.
What McCain argued, what Senator Lindsey Graham argued, what Senator Joe Lieberman argued, was that a deal should have been made to keep US troops in Iraq and that the deal failed because of the US. No, they did not argue that the US should have forced Iraq to do anything. They argued the US failed by refusing to present a number (for troops) and a plan for missions. "As late as May" -- if one of the three said it once, they all said it multiple times. What are they basing that on? Their trips to Iraq. McCain specifically stated that he came back after one trip (this is in his second round of questioning) and asked the National Security Advisor what the plan was -- as late as May -- and the White House still didn't have a plan to offer. What McCain stated he was hearing from Iraqis -- including Nouri al-Maliki -- was that the US would not provide a plan. Graham, Lieberman and McCain all noted repeatedly that they spoke to Nouri, that they spoke to the Kurds, that they spoke to Osama al-Nujaifi (Speaker of Parliament, Iraqiya member and a Sunni). There was not opposition from these groups, the three stated repeatedly. This was Lindsey Graham's point in his first round of questioning. He walked it through slowly with Panetta and then noted that he'd gone slowly and done so for a reason, he stated that when you had all of that support (and Panetta agreed on the Sunni issue, the Nouri issue and on the Kurds that they would have -- the Kurds -- gone for as many as 50,000 US troops), how did you fail to make a deal? McCain felt that the White House didn't want to make a deal and presented that feeling as fact. Graham agreed with him about the failure and wanted to point out that the whole thing -- Iraq plus Afghanistan -- seemed to be done for votes and that it was interesting that Panetta was willing to talk about and explore the Iraqi political situation but no one wanted to talk about the American one. From his remarks in the hearing, Lieberman agreed it was a failure but did not form an opinion as to why it failed.
This was their argument, they repeated it over and over. They never once said, "We can force Iraq to do this!" Or that Iraq should have been forced. Their argument was that they speak with these politicians (including Nouri) often and that they knew what the Iraqi politicians were open to and that they couldn't believe that with what Iraq was willing to go along with the White House couldn't get a deal. If they're right about what the Iraqi politicians were willing to go for (I believe them because I've heard similar from the administration), then that was a significant moment and one that history books will review -- as McCain himself noted. I disagree -- again based on what I've heard from administration friends -- that the White House intended to torpedo the agreement. But that's my opinion and I could be wrong (and often am). McCain may have hurt his own argument by presenting it so forcefully -- you'll note that the presentation and not the substance is what the 'reporters' focused on. Had he turned it into a question -- the way Lindsay Graham did -- it might have led to many headlines. Then again, it's a lazy press. Most likely they would have just seized upon another trivial moment to run with. (We don't have space for a full transcript. But some of McCain's remarks on this were included in yesterday's snapshot and Kat's report last night included much more from McCain where he made the argument that the Iraqi leaders wanted US troops but the White House failed when they repeatedly had no plan to present.)
It's interesting that John Glaser goes with the garbage when he should have -- Antiwar.com should have -- been leading on that hearing. Repeating: We learned there were "enduring" bases; we learned that there are "trainers" who will remain; we learned that some US military will remain in Iraq under DoD (not the State Dept); we learned that negotiations continue and that further negotiations are expected. In addition, we got some numbers on the countries that will most likely be used as a staging platform should, for example, sectarian warfare noticeably return to Iraq.
Remember we noted Vance (LewRockwell.com) quoting Panetta stating, "We have more than 40,000 American troops that remain in the Gulf region. We're not going anywhere." We're going to the second round of Joe Lieberman's questions, when Lieberman brought up Panetta's earlier statement.
Senator Joe Lieberman: My question, Mr. Secretary, is if you could just develop the statement that you made a little earlier, that we will have 40,000 troops in the region, does that include the 24,000 now in Iraq? Or have we made a decision to increase the number based on the failure to have more troops in Iraq after January of next year, have we made a decision to increase the number of the troops in the region outside of Iraq for some of those what-ifs I just talked about?
Secretary Leon Panetta: No, Senator, that did not include Iraq. What we have now is in Kuwait we have almost 29,000; Saudi Arabi we've got 258; Bahrain over 6,000 -- close to 7,000 --
Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
Secretary Leon Panetta: UAE about 3,000, Qatar 7,000 if you go through the region and add up all those numbers, that's the 40,000.
Senator Joe Lieberman: So has there been a decision made to increase that number at all because we were unable to reach an agreement about continuing presence of American troops in Iraq? In other words, keeping them in the region?
General Martin Dempsey: Yeah, I wouldn't describe it as cause-and-effect relationship based on what happened in Iraq but rather our continuing concern with a more assertive Iran and, uh --
Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
General Martin Dempsey: -- we are looking at our central command footprint. You know, Senator, that prior to 2001, we had -- we routinely rotated brigades in and out of Kuwait for training --
Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
General Martin Dempsey: But also as part of deterrance. And I think, we haven't negotiated this with Kuwait yet, but it would be my view that we should have some sort of rotational presence -- ground, air, and naval.
Senator Joe Lieberman: Some of those would be combat troops?
General Martin Dempsey: Absolutely.
Is that what Barack presented to the American people last month? Not really. And along with his distortions, there were the press distortions. It worked kind of like the way he was portrayed (falsely) as the anti-war candidate in the primaries. He distorted a little, the press distorted a little and before you know it, he was being considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. Last week, Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reported on a CBS poll. Montopoli concluded, "Three in four Americans support President Obama's decisions to withdraw US troops from Iraq by the end of the year." Do they?
No, they don't.
Respondents were told, "President Obama recently announced that US troops will come home from Iraq by the end of the year. Should U.S. troops come home?" That's what 77% of the respondents approved of; however, that is not what was discussed in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, now is it? 40,000 US troops kept in the region? An unknown number of US troops under the State Dept kept in Iraq and an unknown number of US troops under the Defense Dept kept in Iraq? That's not even getting all the contractors. If the Americans aren't presented with what's taking place, how can they make an evaluation?
CBS should be ashamed of themselves over this poll. I find it very interesting that they decided to whore for Barack yet again. 77% approved of a vague 'plan' falsely presented by CBS. The real headline, from the polling data, should have been "67% of Americans say the Iraq War wasn't worth it." That's 49% of Republicans, 81% of Democrats and 67% of independents. That's an honest headline. An honest headline for the 'plan' question? "CBS News Fails To Explain Plan In Survey And Gets Good Results." People always respond in polls highly to the vague, that's a known.
Violence continues in Iraq and that's also known. Reuters notes a Bagdhad roadside bombing left six people injured, a bombing outside targeting a mayor left him injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left thirteen additional people injured, 2 corpses were discovered in Qaiyara (father and son who were kidnapped yesterday), a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 2 lives and left eighteen people injured, and, dropping back to last night for the last two, a Kirkuk roadside bombing left three people injured and a government worker was kidnapped in Kirkuk.
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports on Osama al-Nujaifi's trip to Turkey. The Speaker of Parliament declared that he will also visit Tehran and Riyadh to address regional issues with the hopes of bringing Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the table for discussions. While MP Abdul Salam al-Maliki expresses hopes for the visit, he also makes clear that he and State of Law see the trip as "vague" and not promising.


We'll note the topic of oil -- the root of the war -- and the current struggle for control of it in Iraq. Forbes reported this morning that oil giant Chevron is demonstrating interest in oil exploration in the KRG. This comes on the heels of Exxon's deal with the KRG over the developing the West Qurna oil field last week which outraged the centeral-government out of Baghdad. Chevron would be the second oil giant dealing with the KRG and the Forbes article notes rumors that Italy's Eni may also be in talks with the KRG. Meanwhile Reuters reports that the Baghdad government is attempting to cancel the Exxon contract. Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) quotes the (Iraq) Ministry of Oil's director of contracts, Abdul-Mahdy al-Ameedi, stating, "Exxon has violated the ministry directions and instructions concerning the companies working in Kurdistan. It's a violation of the contract and th e law. As a consequence the oil ministry will take steps to end the contract."
Due to the lack of coverage on the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, that was our emphasis again today. And we'll probably make a third of tomorrow's snapshot the hearing as we wrap up on it (tomorrow's emphasis will be on Camp Ashraf, Iraqi Christians and drones -- and I'm surprised those sections of the hearing weren't picked up on). Things are going on in Iraq, I know. And we cover some of it in the morning entries. But this hearing is important and we have to focus on it -- all the more so since so few actually want to take the time to cover it accurately.
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 (202) 224-2834


VETERANS: Chairman Murray Urges VA to Take Immediate Steps in Addressing Disability Claims Backlog

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki about the critical need to improve the efficiency of the claims processing system by eliminating unnecessary tests and procedures that are contributing to the claims backlog at the Department.

"I have heard time and time again from veterans who are frustrated with having to wait months, years and even decades for resolution of their claims and appeals," said Chairman Murray. "I am writing to bring to your attention a practice that may not be medically supported and may be unnecessarily delaying the processing of some claims."
Chairman Murray was alerted to this issue after a number of "errors" were identified at the Seattle Regional Office during an Inspector General review. She shares veterans' frustrations with the disability claims system and continues to take targeted action to address the backlog and to improve the timeliness and accuracy of claims decisions.


The full text of Chairman Murray's letter is below:


The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420



Dear Secretary Shinseki:

The disability claims system is under enormous pressure as the number and complexity of claims continue to increase. I have heard time and time again from veterans who are frustrated with having to wait months, years and even decades for resolution of their claims and appeals. I am writing to bring to your attention a practice that may not be medically supported and may be unnecessarily delaying the processing of some claims. I request that you put an end to this practice, if there is no strong medical basis for it.

This issue was brought to my attention by a number of "errors" identified at the Seattle Regional Office during a recent Inspector General review. In some disability cases, veterans exhibit "overlapping symptoms" meaning they have symptoms that may be attributable to more than one claimed disability. Currently, medical providers are being asked whether they can differentiate what portion of the symptom is caused by each diagnosis and to provide an opinion as to which overlapping symptom is attributable to each disability. In cases where a medical provider fails to address this question, regional offices are required to return examinations to the provider delaying a final decision on the claim. The "errors" identified in Seattle were the result of a failure to return examination reports that did not address this question.

Based on staff discussions with VA physicians, it appears that a medical provider cannot scientifically, with a high degree of certainty, attribute an overlapping symptom to one disability or another. If a provider cannot say with a level of certainty greater than fifty percent that a particular symptom is due to only one of the overlapping symptoms, it calls into question the practice of asking a medical professional to answer this question.

I hope you would agree that if procedures are being used that are not necessary for the proper resolution of the claim they should be eliminated. Returning an examination for failure to address a question that is not supported by medical science delays the final resolution of a claim and unnecessarily contributes to the claims backlog.

I am therefore requesting that you ask the Veterans Health Administration and VA's General Counsel to answer the two questions attached to this letter. Thank you for your service to our nation's veterans and your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,


Patty Murray

Chairman


###

Meghan Roh

Deputy Press Secretary

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

@PattyMurray

202-224-2834

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