Tuesday, July 24, 2012

4 men, 1 woman

Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were Walter Russell Mead, Steven Erlanger, Michele Flournoy,  Elton John and Steven Deeks.

Elton John is, of course, the musical talent who sings, plays piano and has co-written many classics such as "Candle In The Wind," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," "Tiny Dancer," "I'm Still Standing," "Rocket Man," "Levon," "Border Song," "Your Song," "Crocodile Rock," "Bennie and the Jets," "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," "Little Jeannie," "Nikita," "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," among others.

His new book is  Love Is The Cure: On Life, Loss and The End of AIDS.  And this is him discussing it today on the program.

CONAN: I understand, but let's go back a little. Raising money was no problem?
JOHN: Not for me. I could do concerts. And I did concerts for AIDS, and that was the only way we started by raising money, was for me to do concerts and donate the proceeds to the AIDS Foundation. That's how we started. And then eventually we had our Oscar foundation - Oscar party every year. But when we started, it was only me as the fundraiser. It was my name. I used to do concerts for the foundation, raise money, and that's how we started.
CONAN: And then the concern, though, and I think you're right, other people have said this, once you've got it, then how do you give it away A) usefully, make sure that nobody's wasting it or stealing it, and that it's not duplicating other efforts?
JOHN: Exactly. Well, my mantra is if you raise money, don't waste it. I've seen other, and I've been involved with other charities that have put on galas and events and that you wonder if they ever come up with any money at all at the end of it. So we've only had three people ever working at the foundation in America, at the most, and in Britain eight, and we pay our own way, and we don't pay any more than, in Britain, last year we only paid one percent overhead. So it's essential.
But to first of all give it away, you needed the expertise of people in the field, and that was the National AIDS Fund. And they showed us where, what communities were and what projects were best suited to our money, and then John Scott, who ran the foundation would visit the foundation. He would become friends with people within the whole AIDS advocacy world, and we'd begin to learn for ourselves where to give the money to.



This is a video of Hillary speaking yesterday about AIDS at the AIDS conference.



And if you can't stream, here's what she's saying:




Good morning, and – (applause) – now, what would an AIDS conference be without a little protesting? We understand that. (Applause.) Part of the reason we’ve come as far as we have is because so many people all over the world have not been satisfied that we have done enough. And I am here to set a goal for a generation that is free of AIDS. (Applause.) But first, let me say five words we have not been able to say for too long: “Welcome to the United States.” (Applause.) We are so pleased to have you all finally back here. And I want to thank the leaders of the many countries who have joined us. I want to acknowledge my colleagues from the Administration and the Congress who have contributed so much to the fight against AIDS. But mostly, I want to salute all of the people who are here today who do the hard work that has given us the chance to stand here in 2012 and actually imagine a time when we will no longer be afflicted by this terrible epidemic and the great cost and suffering it has imposed for far too long. (Applause.) On behalf of all Americans, we thank you.
But I want to take a step back and think how far we have come since the last time this conference was held in the United States. It was in 1990 in San Francisco. Dr. Eric Goosby, who is now our Global AIDS Ambassador, ran a triage center there for all the HIV-positive people who became sick during the conference. They set up IV drug drips to rehydrate patients. They gave antibiotics to people with AIDS-related pneumonia. Many had to be hospitalized and a few died.
Even at a time when the world’s response to the epidemic was sorely lacking, there were places and people of caring where people with AIDS found support. But tragically, there was so little that could be done medically. And thankfully, that has changed. Caring brought action, and action has made an impact.
The ability to prevent and treat the disease has advanced beyond what many might have reasonably hoped 22 years ago. Yes, AIDS is still incurable, but it no longer has to be a death sentence. That is a tribute to the work of countless people around the world – many of whom are here at this conference, others who are no longer with us but whose contributions live on. And for decades, the United States has played a key role. Starting in the 1990s under the Clinton Administration, we began slowly to make HIV treatment drugs more affordable, we began to face the epidemic in our own country. And then in 2003, President Bush launched PEPFAR with strong bipartisan support from Congress and this country began treating millions of people.
Today under President Obama, we are building on this legacy. PEPFAR is shifting out of emergency mode and starting to build sustainable health systems that will help us finally win this fight and deliver an AIDS-free generation. It’s hard to overstate how sweeping or how crucial this change is. When President Obama took office, we knew that if we were going to win the fight against AIDS we could not keep treating it as an emergency. We had to fundamentally change the way we and our global partners did business.
So we’ve engaged diplomatically with ministers of finance and health, but also with presidents and prime ministers to listen and learn about their priorities and needs in order to chart the best way forward together. Now I will admit that has required difficult conversations about issues that some leaders don’t want to face, like government corruption in the procurement and delivery of drugs or dealing with injecting drug users, but it has been an essential part of helping more countries manage more of their own response to the epidemic.
We’ve also focused on supporting high-impact interventions, making tough decisions driven by science about what we will and will not fund. And we are delivering more results for the American taxpayer’s dollar by taking simple steps – switching to generic drugs, which saved more than $380 million in 2010 alone. (Applause.)
And crucially, we have vastly improved our coordination with the Global Fund. Where we used to work independently of each other, we now sit down together to decide, for example, which of us will fund AIDS treatment somewhere and which of us will fund the delivery of that treatment. That is a new way of working together for both of us, but I think it holds great results for all of us. (Applause.) Now all of these strategic shifts have required a lot of heavy lifting. But it only matters in the end if it means we are saving more lives – and we are.
Since 2009, we have more than doubled the number of people who get treatment that keeps them alive. (Applause.) We are also reaching far more people with prevention, testing, and counseling.
And I want publicly to thank, first and foremost, Dr. Eric Goosby, who has been on the front lines of all this work since the 1980s in San Francisco. (Applause.) He is somewhere in this vast hall, cringing with embarrassment, but more than anyone else, he had a vision for what PEPFAR needed to become and the tenacity to keep working to make it happen. And I want to thank his extraordinary partners here in this Administration, Dr. Tom Frieden at the Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Raj Shah at USAID. (Applause.)
Now, with the progress we are making together, we can look ahead to a historic goal: creating an AIDS-free generation. This is part of President Obama’s call to make fighting global HIV/AIDS at home and abroad a priority for this administration. In July 2010, he launched the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which has reinvigorated the domestic response to the epidemic – especially important here in Washington D.C., which needs more attention, more resources, and smarter strategies to deal with the epidemic in our nation’s capital.
And last November, at the National Institutes of Health, with my friend Dr. Tony Fauci there, I spoke in depth about the goal of an AIDS-free generation and laid out some of the ways we are advancing it through PEPFAR, USAID, and the CDC. And on World AIDS Day, President Obama announced an ambitious commitment for the United States to reach 6 million people globally with lifesaving treatment. (Applause.)
Now since that time I’ve heard a few voices from people raising questions about America’s commitment to an AIDS-free generation, wondering whether we are really serious about achieving it. Well, I am here today to make it absolutely clear: The United States is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation. We will not back off, we will not back down, we will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone. (Applause.)
I know that many of you share my passion about achieving this goal. In fact, one could say I am preaching to the choir. But right now, I think we need a little preaching to the choir. And we need the choir and the congregation to keep singing, lifting up their voices, and spreading the message to everyone who is still standing outside.
So while I want to reaffirm my government’s commitment, I’m also here to boost yours. This is a fight we can win. We have already come so far – too far to stop now.
I want to describe some of the progress we’ve made toward that goal and some of the work that lies ahead.
Let me begin by defining what we mean by an AIDS-free generation. It is a time when, first of all, virtually no child anywhere will be born with the virus. (Applause.) Secondly, as children and teenagers become adults, they will be at significantly lower risk of ever becoming infected than they would be today no matter where they are living. (Applause.) And third, if someone does acquire HIV, they will have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.
So yes, HIV may be with us into the future until we finally achieve a cure, a vaccine, but the disease that HIV causes need not be with us. (Applause.)
As of last fall, every agency in the United States Government involved in this effort is working together to get us on that path to an AIDS-free generation. We’re focusing on what we call combination prevention. Our strategy includes condoms, counseling and testing, and places special emphasis on three other interventions: treatment as prevention, voluntary medical male circumcision, and stopping the transmission of HIV from mothers to children.
Since November, we have elevated combination prevention in all our HIV/AIDS work –including right here in Washington, which still has the highest HIV rate of any large city in our country. And globally, we have supported our partner countries shifting their investments toward the specific mix of prevention tools that will have the greatest impact for their people. For example, Haiti is scaling up its efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission, including full treatment for mothers with HIV, which will in turn, of course, prevent new infections. And for the first time, the Haitian Ministry of Health is committing its own funding to provide antiretroviral treatment. (Applause.)
We’re also making notable progress on the three pillars of our combination-prevention strategy. On treatment as prevention, the United States has added funding for nearly 600,000 more people since September, which means we are reaching nearly 4.5 million people now and closing in on our national goal of 6 million by the end of next year. That is our contribution to the global effort to reach universal coverage.
On male circumcision, we’ve supported more than 400,000 procedures since last December alone. And I’m pleased to announce that PEPFAR will provide an additional $40 million to support South Africa’s plans to provide voluntary medical circumcisions for almost half a million boys and men in the coming year. (Applause.) You know and we want the world to know that this procedure reduces the risk of female-to-male transmission by more than 60 percent and for the rest of the man’s life, so the impact can be phenomenal.
In Kenya and Tanzania, mothers asked for circumcision campaigns during school vacations so their teenage sons could participate. In Zimbabwe, some male lawmakers wanted to show their constituents how safe and virtually painless the procedure is, so they went to a mobile clinic and got circumcised. That’s the kind of leadership we welcome. And we are also seeing the development of new tools that would allow people to perform the procedure with less training and equipment than they need today without compromising safety. And when such a device is approved by the World Health Organization, PEPFAR is ready to support it right away. (Applause.)
And on mother-to-child transmission, we are committed to eliminating it by 2015, getting the number to zero. Over the years – (applause) – we’ve invested more than $1 billion for this effort. In the first half of this fiscal year, we reached more than 370,000 women globally, and we are on track to hit PEPFAR’s target of reaching an additional 1.5 million women by next year. We are also setting out to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in getting to zero. When women are identified as HIV-positive and eligible for treatment, they are often referred to another clinic, one that may be too far away for them to reach. As a result too many women never start treatment.
Today, I am announcing that the United States will invest an additional $80 million to fill this gap. These funds – (applause) – will support innovative approaches to ensure that HIV-positive pregnant women get the treatment they need to protect themselves, their babies, and their partners. So let there be no mistake, the United States is accelerating its work on all three of these fronts in the effort to create an AIDS-free generation and look at how all these elements come together to make a historic impact.
In Zambia, we’re supporting the government as they step up their efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Between 2009 and 2011, the number of new infections went down by more than half. And we are just getting started. Together, we’re going to keep up our momentum on mother-to-child transmission. In addition, we will help many more Zambians get on treatment and support a massive scale-up of male circumcision as well, two steps that, according to our models, will drive down the number of new sexually transmitted infections there by more than 25 percent over the next 5 years. So as the number of new infections in Zambia goes down, it will be possible to treat more people than are becoming infected each year. So we will, for the first time, get ahead of the pandemic there. And eventually, an AIDS-free generation of Zambians will be in sight.
Think of the lives we will touch in Zambia alone – all the mothers and fathers and children who will never have their lives ripped apart by this disease. And now, multiply that across the many other countries we are working with. In fact, if you’re not getting excited about this, please raise your hand and I will send somebody to check your pulse. (Laughter and applause.)
But I know that creating an AIDS-free generation takes more than the right tools, as important as they are. Ultimately, it’s about people – the people who have the most to contribute to this goal and the most to gain from it. That means embracing the essential role that communities play – especially people living with HIV – and the critical work of faith-based organizations. We need to make sure we’re looking out for orphans and vulnerable children who are too often still overlooked in this epidemic. (Applause.)
And it will be no surprise to you to hear me say I want to highlight the particular role that women play. (Applause.) In Sub-Saharan Africa today, women account for 60 percent of those living with HIV. Women want to protect themselves from HIV and they want access to adequate health care. And we need to answer their call. PEPFAR is part of our comprehensive effort to meet the health needs of women and girls, working across United States Government and with our partners on HIV, maternal and child health, and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning and our newly launched Child Survival Call to Action.
Every woman should be able to decide when and whether to have children. This is true whether she is HIV-positive or not. (Applause.) And I agree with the strong message that came out of the London Summit on Family Planning earlier this month. There should be no controversy about this. None at all. (Applause.)
And across all of our health and development work, the United States is emphasizing gender equality because women need and deserve a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. (Applause.) And we are working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, which puts women at higher risk for contracting the virus. And because women need more ways to protect themselves from HIV infection, last year we invested more than $90 million in research on microbicides. All these efforts will help close the health gap between women and men and lead to healthier families, communities, and nations as well.
If we’re going to create an AIDS-free generation, we also must address the needs of the people who are at the highest risk of contracting HIV. One recent study of female sex workers and those trafficked into prostitution in low and middle income-countries found that, on average, 12 percent of them were HIV-positive, far above the rates for women at large. And people who use injecting drugs account for about one third of all the people who acquire HIV outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. And in low-and middle income countries, studies suggest that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with male partners could be up to 19 times higher than among the general population.
Now over the years, I have seen and experienced how difficult it can be to talk about a disease that is transmitted the way that AIDS is. But if we’re going to beat AIDS, we can’t afford to avoid sensitive conversations, and we can’t fail to reach the people who are at the highest risk. (Applause.)
Unfortunately, today very few countries monitor the quality of services delivered to these high-risk key populations. Fewer still rigorously assess whether the services provided actually prevent transmission or do anything to ensure that HIV-positive people in these groups get the care and treatment they need. Even worse, some take actions that, rather than discouraging risky behavior, actually drives more people into the shadows, where the epidemic is that much harder to fight.
And the consequences are devastating for the people themselves and for the fight against HIV because when key groups are marginalized, the virus spreads rapidly within those groups and then also into the lower-risk general population. We are seeing this happen right now in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Humans might discriminate, but viruses do not.
And there is an old saying that goes: “Why rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.” If we want to save more lives, we need to go where the virus is and get there as quickly as possible. (Applause.)
And that means science should guide our efforts. So today I am announcing three new efforts by the United States Government to reach key populations. We will invest $15 million in implementation research to identify the specific interventions that are most effective for each key population. We are also launching a $20 million challenge fund that will support country-led plans to expand services for key populations. And finally, through the Robert Carr Civil Society Network Fund, we will invest $2 million to bolster the efforts of civil society groups to reach key populations. (Applause.)
Now Americans are rightly proud of the leading role that our country plays in the fight against HIV/AIDS. And the world has learned a great deal through PEPFAR about what works and why. And we’ve also learned a great deal about the needs that are not being met and how everyone can and must work together to meet those needs.
For our part, PEPFAR will remain at the center of America’s commitment to an AIDS-free generation. I have asked Ambassador Dr. Goosby to take the lead on developing and sharing our blueprint of the goals and objectives for the next phase of our effort and to release this blueprint by World AIDS Day this year. We want the next Congress, the next Secretary of State, and all of our partners here at home and around the world to have a clear picture of everything we’ve learned and a roadmap that shows what we will contribute to achieving an AIDS-free generation.
Reaching this goal is a shared responsibility. It begins with what we can all do to help break the chain of mother-to-child transmission. And this takes leadership at every level – from investing in health care workers to removing the registration fees that discourage women from seeking care. And we need community and family leaders from grandmothers to religious leaders to encourage women to get tested and to demand treatment if they need it.
We also all have a shared responsibility to support multilateral institutions like the Global Fund. In recent months, as the United States has stepped up our commitment, so have Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, the Gates Foundation, and others. I encourage other donors, especially in emerging economies, to increase their contributions to this essential organization.
And then finally, we all have a shared responsibility to get serious about promoting country ownership – the end state where a nation’s efforts are led, implemented, and eventually paid for by its government, its communities, its civil society, its private sector.
I spoke earlier about how the United States is supporting country ownership, but we also look to our partner countries and donors to do their part. They can follow the example of the last few years in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, India, and other countries who are able to provide more and better care for their own people because they are committing more of their own resources to HIV/AIDS. (Applause.) And partner countries also need to take steps like fighting corruption and making sure their systems for approving drugs are as efficient as possible.
I began today by recalling the last time this conference was held here in the United States, and I want to close by recalling another symbol of our cause, the AIDS Memorial Quilt. For a quarter-century, this quilt has been a source of solace and comfort for people around the world, a visible way to honor and remember, to mourn husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, partners and friends.
Some of you have seen the parts of the quilt that are on view in Washington this week. I well remember the moment in 1996 when Bill and I went to the National Mall to see the quilt for ourselves. I had sent word ahead that I wanted to know where the names of friends I had lost were placed so that I could be sure to find them. When we saw how enormous the quilt was covering acres of ground, stretching from the Capitol building to the Washington Monument, it was devastating. And in the months and years that followed, the quilt kept growing. In fact, back in 1996 was the last time it could be displayed all at once. It just got too big. Too many people kept dying.
We are all here today because we want to bring about that moment when we stop adding names, when we can come to a gathering like this one and not talk about the fight against AIDS, but instead commemorate the birth of a generation that is free of AIDS.
Now, that moment is still in the distance, but we know what road we need to take. We are closer to that destination than we’ve ever been, and as we continue on this journey together, we should be encouraged and inspired by the knowledge of how far we’ve already come. So today and throughout this week let us restore our own faith and renew our own purpose so we may together reach that goal of an AIDS-free generation and truly honor all of those who have been lost.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)



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

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

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


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

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