I think C.I. covered today's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing just fine in the snapshot. I know there was more that could have been covered but that's the longest snapshot ever. There was just too much happening today. I'm not joking about it being the longest. C.I. said, "Give me one second." Then turned to us and said, "It's 116K." 92K is the danger zone. A ton had to be edited out of all sections of the snapshot and edited out quickly and C.I.'s doing that in the head. C.I.'s saying, "Okay, take out . . ." For example, C.I. had a critique of Hillary's statement that instead was worked into Hillary's statement (and C.I. also ditched half the critique). And Liz Sly was a necessary because C.I. wanted to include her -- C.I. tries to include female reporters whenever possible. So it was trim here, trim there, and C.I.'s doing all of that in her head.
The third panel doesn't interest me -- government people. But I will note some stuff from the second panel briefly. (And I'm using C.I.'s notes.)
US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick wanted to know why Disabled American Veterans was concerned about corporate sponsorship and Adrian M. Atizado said the concern was "two entities trying to seek out the same kind of sums, it can cause some conflict." He explained that Sprint had long been very generous with DAV and if a competing sponsor was suddenly picked up, they might lose their relationship with Sprint. Kirkpatrick explained her district is basically 84 small towns and the local baseball teams in each town get sponsorship. So she wanted to know if that was possible? Atizado noted he was discussing the Winter Sports Clinic "and at the local level, I think it's a different ballgame, no pun intended."
Kirkpatrick then asked Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project's Julie Ray what % of veterans leaves sports therapy because they live in rural areas? Ray didn't have an answer and said that what they focus on is exposing the veterans to a wide range of sports while they're with them. She said they also attempt to stay in touch when veterans return to their home communities.
Kirkpatrick wanted to know from Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake about outreach and rural areas. "I had a good answer until you asked me what the VA could do and then I lost it," replied Blake and I did laugh. I think it hit others what he was saying a few seconds after. He argued that if the access is there for veterans, people will show up for it but they need to get the word out. He thought the vet center could be an outreach tool in this as they are with other resources.
The title of the hearing was Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. And, as C.I. points out, the local aspect was stressed repeatedly as well as word of mouth.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Wednesday, July 29, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, two of three remaining British hostages in Iraq are thought to be dead, the assault on Camp Ashraf continues, there is no binding get-out-of-Iraq for the US, and more.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Iraq yesterday and, among those he met with were the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno. Today Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reports, "The Iraqis will be unable to handle their own air defense after all American troops withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, the top commander of American forces in Iraq said Tuesday. . . . Asked if the Iraqis would be in a position to fly their own defensive air patrols at the end of 2011, when a United States agreement with Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of the country, General Odierno replied, 'Right now, no'." If you don't realize what a shock Bumiller's article is and how much it needs to be buried for some, note how heavily an AP story about Gates declaring maybe some US troops may leave earlier. Some. May. Some. News gets in the cycle, better dump a bunch of fluff. We've covered this. This community is fully aware that the Iraqi air force will not be able to take control at the end of 2011 barring a miracle. Example, from the November 4, 2008 snapshot:There's no rush to leave Iraq or even a desire. That needs to be grasped. Iraqi General Nasier Abadi made that pretty clear during Sunday's press conference in the Green Zone. Questioned by the Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan as to when the Iraqis would be able to handle "their own internal security . . . how many years are you away from reaching that goal," Abadi tried to distract by listing duties before declaring, "We have no duties or missions to protect the air on the borders of the country. But in case we have this responsibility, there is a brief that -- to the minister of defense, if he ask us to -- task us with that, a reportw ent also to the Prime Minister, what are the capabilities and the army's specifics to do those duties?" Asked how many years again, he responded, "Building an aerial force, building an Army is not easy, but it's still easier than building naval and air force. The naval force, as I said before, that the first ship will come in 2009 and the fourth will arrive in . . . at the end of 2011. In regard to 200- . . . Air Force, the first aircraft we will receive in 2011 until 2015. And that depends on the support and the help that the coalition forces can secure to Iraq so we can be able to maintain and defend our airspace and territories. Without that, there will be also agreements with the neighboring countries on the security of Iraq. But it's possible that we will go with those missions without having an air force or naval force because this is a common battle, it's not just an army's duty." Setting aside the naval force and focusing only on the air, if the period they'll be taking possession of aircraft will last from 2011 through 2015, how likely is it that they will be prepared to handle their own airspaceby the end of 2011?
But Bumiller deserves credit -- a lot of credit -- for covering Odierno's statments which were news and which are in keeping with statements from the last three years -- statements made by US and Iraqi military figures as well as Iraqi government officials. And, again, note the fluff immediately dumped into the news cycle to undercut Bumiller's report.
Robert Gates didn't just meet with Odierno. Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) reports, "Before leaving northern Iraq on Wednesday, Gates pressed Kurdish leaders to resolve their disputes with the Iraqi government in the next few months, while the United States still had tens of thousands of soldiers in the country and some influence over Baghdad." In Kurdistan, Jaffe reports, Gates delivered a lecture to KRG President Massoud Barzani which began, "We have all sacrificed too much in blood and treasure to see our gains lost over political differences." That's the thing about lectures given by those who flit in and out of the area, they rarely grasp the basics. Political differences? Gates is trying to defuse pressure from the Kurdish leaders on the issue of Kirkuk. That's not a political difference. That's a territorial dispute. Saddam Hussein attempted to Arab-ize Kirkuk and drove many Kurds out and pushed many Arabs in. Kurds feel they have a historical claim on Kirkuk. The central government in Baghdad feels that they have a claim on the region. The fact that it's oil rich adds the layer of economics to it. This isn't merely a political difference and to attempt to reduce it to that is to come off as uninformed as Chris Hill did in his one Senate hearing for the post of US Ambassador to Iraq. And, by the way, Hill was supposed to be working on that. He was in Iraq for weeks before he even had a face to face with KRG leaders. Which no one was bothered by. Certainly Gates wasn't offering lectures as the KRG was supposed to continue to wait and wait and wait.
Iraq's constitution mandated a census and a referendum on Kirkuk. That was supposed to take place no later than the end of 2007. In 2007, the White House devised a list of benchmarks to prove 'progress' in Iraq. Kirkuk was on that list of benchmarks. Nouri al-Maliki signed off on those benchmarks, agreeing to strive towards reaching them. There has been no census (one is currently scheduled for October) and no referendum. al-Maliki has given numerous interviews in the last six months stating that Kirkuk will not go to Kurdish region. [For one interview in English, see Deborah Haynes and Richard Beeston's "Time to go home, Nouri al-Maliki tells Britain" (Times of London) and pay attention to the transcript of the interview which got more attention in the Arab world than the interview itself -- statements by Nouri like, "Kirkuk is a city that belongs to the federal government and is outside the boundaries of the Kurdistan region."} From the Kurds point of view, they have waited patiently on this issue. They have backed off when the US asked them to. They have understood that ethnic cleansing was going on (Nouri's thugs cleaning neighborhoods in Baghdad) and other serious problems. Their point of view is that they waited, they went on with business in their area and now the US is not backing them. The US isn't backing them, the United Nations isn't backing them. Last summer the UN got involved as tensions boiled yet again. They were supposed to devise a plan and the Kurds were supposed to wait. They have waited over six years and they're not idiots. They can see the United States pulling away from them and the UN revealed itself to not be an honest broker a week ago when a UN official and blabber mouth began trashing the Kurds to the press. Whether the Kurds should have Kirkuk or not is something for the people of Kirkuk to decide. But the Kurds are not in the 'wrong' for asking that what was agreed to be followed: a census and a referendum. That was supposed to have taken place no later than 2007 -- that's promised in the 2005 Constitution. Again, it was part of the benchmarks. These things have already been agreed to by all sides and foreign entitites such as the US and United Nations. They just aren't being implemented. They need to be. The Kurds don't need lectures from Gates or to be told to wait another year or another or another. One side acted on good faith. In any situation, when one side acts on good faith and sees others get rewarded without doing the same, tensions build. The tensions on the issue of Kirkuk now are not just between the central government in Baghdad and the KRG.
Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports that Barzani "rejeacted proposals by the United Nations to resolve Iraq's explosive internal border disputes, and reiterated his determination to proceed with a contentious local constitution." Let's take the latter part first. "Contentious local constitution"? Is it contentious in Kurdistan? If it is, it won't be passed (the people of the region have to vote on it). Is it contentious to people outside Kurdistan? Too damn bad. The people upset are Nouri and his puppet government. Too damn bad. At this point, Dagher is just a DAMN LIAR. There's no other term for him right now. His distortions have already been called out by someone who knows what they're talking about. Earlier this month, Sam Dagher had another bad article (click here for critique) which demonstrated either no knowledge on the subject he was covering or a desire to misrepsent it. A letter ran in the July 14th edition of the New York Times setting the record straight:
To the Editor: Re "Defiant Kurds Claim Oil, Gas and Territory" (front page, July 10): The Iraqi Constitution, specifically Article 140, requires a vote by referendum to resolve Iraq's disputed territories. To cast this as a "threat" is unfair. The Iraqi Kurds are simply trying to carry out the constitutionally mandated referendum.Furthermore, the Iraqi Kurds are not defying Baghdad in formulating a regional constitution; they are embracing their right to create such a document, which is allowed in the Iraqi Constitution. The Kurds, who represent the most stable and progressive element of Iraq, have made it clear that they desire to be a part of a united Iraqi nation. To allow for a responsible and phased withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, which is the stated policy of the Obama administration, several issues must first be resolved, the most important of which is that of the disputed territories. Only then will a stable and united Iraq be able to thrive. Jay Garner Erbil, Iraq, July 10, 2009 The writer, a retired lieutenant general in the Army, was director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq in 2003.
Jay Garner knows the promises made and what's in the Iraq Constitution. The Constitution gives the KRG the right to write their own Constitution. Not with Baghdad's approval -- no approval from anyone outside the region is required. Dagher's been corrected but continues to play Drama Queen. And that's very sad because he actually had a gift for journalism. Moving from distorting the Constitution to lying about/for the UN. The UN proposal for how to address the dispute of borders?
Trash Iraq's Constitution, trash the benchmarks, trash every promise -- including promises from the United Nations -- repeated promises -- that Kirkuk would hold a referendum. The UN is proposing that neither Baghdad nor the KRG get Kirkuk, instead make it independent. Why would the KRG go for that? If you tell me that you'll pay me twenty bucks tomorrow and then tomorrow comes and you tell me you're not going to pay me twenty dollars, you're going to instead give it to someone else so that it's 'independent,' am I supposed to go along with that? The Kurds are asking for Article 140 to be followed. That's not a new demand nor is it really a demand. They're asking that the law be followed. And Dagher's working overtime to paint them as hysterics and greedy. It would appear the paper spends far too much time attempting to manipulate what happens on the ground and far too little time grasping they are outsiders on the ground to report what happens.
Jalal Talabani is the president of Iraq (a ceremonial position with no real power) and he's a Kurd. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the political party he belongs to (and heads as the highest official in the party), is thought to have done less than well in Saturday's elections (ballots are still be counted -- Saturday, the KRG held provincial and presidential elections in their three provinces -- preliminary results, not final ones, were released today). From the March 16th snapshot: "Sabah got the interview and they quote Talabani stating, 'Iraq will not be separated and the civil war is over' and 'The ideal of a united Kurdistan is just a dream written in poetry. I do not deny that there are poems devoted to the notion of a united Kurdistan. But we can not continue to dream.' If accurate, Talabani's remarks will spark anger among some Kurds." In the lead up to the election, the big rallying cry was Kirkuk belongs to the KRG. No surprise that Talabani's party would do poorly with him making statements like that -- and he's done that for some time. He's also announced he's not running for re-election as president, wait, he is, no, he's not, wait . . . As the figure head of his political party, he's come off as a defeated and confused voice repeatedly. Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) reports on him and observes, "Talabani himself was buffeted by criticism from each direction. Some said he spent too much time in Baghdad, losing touch with his Kurdish constituency. He acknowledged the criticism. Others said that as Iraq's president, he belonged in Baghdad." And demonstrating why Talabani's party may be in trouble, Shadid goes on to reveal that as the KRG demands that promises be kept, Jala "was much more conciliatory, even suggesting the possibility of an alliance with Maliki in January elections that will choose a new national parliament." And Talabani wants to wonder why his party might be in trouble?
Yesterday, an assault began on Camp Ashraf. We'll start by noting Amnesty International's statement which will also serve as a recap:
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENT AI Index: MDE 14/021/2009 28 July 2009 Iraq: Camp Ashraf residents attacked Amnesty International is seriously concerned at today's attacks by Iraqi forces on unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf which left several people injured and led to the arrest of at least eight others. Hundreds of armed Iraqi security forces are said to have stormed the camp, north of Baghdad, at around 3pm local time. They used tear gas, water canons and batons against unarmed Iranian residents who tried to stop them from entering the camp. Video footage seen by Amnesty International clearly shows Iraqi forces beating people repeatedly on different parts of the body, including the head. Dozens of people are said to have been injured. Two of them, Reza Chelcheraqi and Mohammad-Reza Shahsavandi, are believed to be in serious condition. At least eight people, including Hasan Besharati, Humayoun Deyhim, Gholam Reza Behrouzi, Hosein Fili, Mehdi Zareh and Naser Nour Ebadian, were arrested and their current whereabouts are unknown.In the last few months the Iraqi government has publicly stated that it wants to take over full control of Camp Ashraf, in Diyala governorate, north of Baghdad. On 27 July government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh told an Iraqi satellite television channel that the government "will take over the responsibility of internal security affairs of Camp Ashraf". The authorities are reportedly planning to establish a police outpost inside the camp. Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to investigate the apparent excessive use of force by Iraqi security forces. The government should reveal the whereabouts of the eight people detained and ensure that they are protected from torture or other ill-treatment, as well as from forcible return to Iran. Background Around 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf are members or supporters of the People's Mojahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition organization whose members have been resident in Iraq for many years. Until recently the PMOI was listed as a "terrorist" organization by the European Union and other governments, but in most cases this designation has now been lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran.The US forces provided protection for the camp and its residents, who were designated as "protected persons" following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but this situation was discontinued following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments, although the SOFA makes no reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents. Public Document **************************************** For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty.org
Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) was reporting on the assault yesterday evening and this morning, he and Greg Jaffe report the assault continues and they note: "The operation, which caught U.S. officials off guard, coincided with a visit to Iraq by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Analysts said it appeared designed to send a message of Iraqi independence. " This morning, BBC also reports the assault is still ongoing: "Eyewitnesses say Iraqi police have surrounded the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) camp and clashes are continuing inside. Iran wants the camp closed. The exiles fear they will be forcibly repatriated." (They also quote a portion of the Amnesty International's statement.) Odierno told AP that "non-lethal force" was used and "We have had promises from the government of Iraq that they would deal with the [group] in a humane fashion." AP goes on to point out, "But a video provided by an exile group showed Iraqi forces using batons and water cannons against the residents gathered at the camp's gates. The group also released photos showing injured people and bloodied bodies, although the authencity of the images couldn't be independent verified." Alsumaria quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source stating "200 Iranian residents and 50 Iraqi security forces [were] wounded" and that Nouri ordered the assault. Charles Levinson and Yochi J. Dreazen (Wall St. Journal) note, "Residents of Camp ashraf said hundreds of Iraqi security forces tore down the camp's walls on Tuesday afternoon with bulldozers." Laith Hammoudi and Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) offer more on that, "An Iraqi security official in Diyala told McClatchy that on government orders, security forces from the Ministry of Interior and riot police entered the camp Tuesday afternoon using bulldozers to tear down the walls." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that Nouri's flunkies are insisting this was not done to please Iran and Sly notes the actions have other potential impacts as well, "The pledge to assert the right of Iraqi forces to extend their authority over all of Iraq has potentially profound implications for another simmering dispute, over territories claimed by the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan and currently controlled by Kurdish peshmerga forces." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reveals Iraq's Interior Ministry is admitting to 7 deaths -- MEK is stating they have lost 11 members. Aljazeera airs video of the assault here. Today at the US State Dept, CBS' Charlie Wolfson asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the assault. Her response follows with my snark in brackets.
Well first with respect to the MEK at Camp Ashraf, we are urging restraint on both sides. [Yes, MEK, please restrain yourself from yelling too loudly as your homes are bulldozed and you are assaulted.] The government of Iraq has stated that the residents of Camp Ashraf will be treated in accordance with Iraq's constitution, laws and international obligations. [Really? Well that would be a first for Nouri and his thugs.] The Iraqi govenrment has assumed security responsibility for Camp Ashraf and its residents which obviously largely consists of MEK members -- the full transfer from the coalition forces in Iraq to the Iraqi army forces occured on February 20, 2009. This is part of the turnover of responsibilities to a sovereign nation. [We washed our hands clean, in their blood, didn't we?] And although the US government remains engaged and concerned about this issue, it is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve in accordance with its laws. [No, she doesn't believe what she's saying. In fairness to Hillary, this issue was supposed to have been resolved before she was even confirmed and, in fact, she was kept out of the loop on it. She was not the person on this issue, assigned by Barack, back in November.] And we are very clear that we expect that the Government of Iraq, now that it has assumed this security responsibility, will fulfill its obligations to show restraint, will not forcibly transfer anyone to a country where such a transfer might result in the mistreatment or the death of that person based on their political affiliation and activities. But it is now the responsibility of the Government of Iraq. [In other words, MEK, don't fill out refugee applications for the US.]
Timothy Williams (New York Times) explains, "There is a permanent American military presence in the area in the form of a military police platoon, acting as observers and reporting directly to Gen. Ray Odierno in Baghdad, an American military officials said."
Over 130,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq for why? This is exactly what the current vice president warned about in April, in an April Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when he noted the thug Nouri al-Maliki would attack the people and the US military -- if still on the ground -- would be put in a position of supporting the thug. That's exactly what's happening and it's one more reason all US troops need to be out of Iraq immediately.
Turning to some of the other reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad cafe bombing which claimed 3 lives and left thirty-one people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left a police officer and a child injured, and a Mosul bombing which injured two children.
In Iraq, five British hostages appears to be down to one. For background, we fall back to the June 9th snapshot:
This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of.
The brothers were supposed to lead the group that kidnapped five British hostages. That's why the trade went through. And it resulted in? Two corpses originally. Apparently two more. BBC News' Humphrey Hawksley (link has video and text) reports:
Humphrey Hawksley: Alan [McMenemy] from Dunbarton, Alec [Maclachlan] from South Wales believed to be two more victims in this long running Iraq hostage tragedy. Security guards whose colleagues Jason Swindlehurst from Lancaster and Jason Creswell from Glasgow were shot dead, their bodies recovered last month. There's hope that Peter Moore, the IT specialist they were protecting, is still alive. This is the fortified Finance Ministry in central Baghdad from where the five men were kidnapped more than two years ago in May 2007 in a highly organized operation. Forty men wearing the uniforms of the Iraqi police drove up surrounded the building and took the hostages off to a secret location. For moths there was no news then, in November, there came a video from Jason Swindlehurst and, three months later, another from Peter Moore. He called for the release of nine Shia Iraqis being held by the Americans, release them so we can go, he said. And a year ago Alan asked the British government to try to get them home as soon as possible. The Foreign Office has adopted a low profile, softly-softly approach although the families did speak out from time to time hoping their voices might lead to the freedom of their loved ones. But nothing until last month. Thousands of suspected insurgents are being held in Iraq but are slowly being released. On June 7th, one of the nine referred to in Peter Moore's appeal was freed. Twelve days later, the two bodies were recovered. They'd been shot some time earlier. It's not know if there was a connection. The hope now is that somewhere in the dangerous world of Iraqi militias, Peter Moore is alive with a chance of being released. Humphrey Hawksley, BBC News.
Deborah Haynes (Times of London) notes the news "raises uncomfortable questions about Britain's handling of the crisis. For more than two years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stuck to the mantra that it was doing everything possible to secure the 'safe release' of the computer consultant and his four security guards. Officials warned the media that extensive coverage of the men's plight could put them in greater danger. It now turns out that two of the guards had been dead for a long time and the other two are also thought to have perished." In another report, BBC News notes, "BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the Foreign Office told the families of Mr McMenemy and Mr Maclachlan last week that the men had most likely died while in captivity. And he revealed the kidnappers told the British government a month ago they had two more bodies." Earlier this month, Kim Howells, former Foreign Office Minister in the UK, told BBC: "I'm not convinced we were ever negotiating with the right people. I mean, that's doubtful. And the only real proof of life that I saw were the videos. And there were stories circulating that a suicide had taken place, there were deadlines which came and went." To listen to the interview in the immediate future, click here and go to the July 16th broadcast of The Report. Simon Cox explores the topic of hostage taking in the broadcast and starts with the Telegraph of London's James Brandon who was one of the first known British citizens to be kidnapped. "I opened the door," Brandon tells Cox about the August 13, 2004 kidnapping, "there was just over a half a dozen guys, mostly wearing police uniforms, mostly with balaclavas and guns. They pushed their way in. They started hitting me around the head, took my passport and I was blindfolded, dragged out down the stairs, into a car and driven off." Brandon escapes and makes it to a police checkpoint where he thinks he will get help.
James Brandon: They were very welcoming and kind to me, said that, "It's okay, you're safe now. Sit down and have a drink of water. It's all okay." And then, um, the guys who I thought were my friends told me to hide under a sheet. I was under the sheet for about ten seconds. I heard feet running down the corridor, the blanket was kind of ripped off of me where I was hiding and all these guys were standing around with guns and they basically started hitting me, kicking me with guns. And I thought, "Right. If I had a chance before this time, I don't have a chance" because they were so angry. Just look in their eyes and see pure hatred basically. And it's the kind of hatred that you've never seen before in your life. And then they took me off to another building and we did one of these hostage videos basically.
Brandon wrote about his kidnapping for the Telegraph of London. Simon Rex explains on that Margaret Hassan and Ken Bigley's kidnappings would follow also in 2004 (both would be murdered by their kidnappers) and over 200 foreigners would be kidnapped in Iraq in the next years but it had slowed down by 2007. Cox asked Howells about what he was experiencing in the Foreign Office during this period?
Simon Cox: And how much were we dependent on the Iraqi government and their contacts in order to try and sort things out?
Kim Howells: Well I became very frustrated with the Iraqi government because we would hear stories that the kidnappers had influence with elements of the Iraqi government or that there were ministers in the Iraqi government who were Sadrists and knew roughly who was involved in this kidnapping and they would talk in very rational way and they would persuade people to release the hostages. Now none of this, none of this, proved to be true. And it really used to frustrate me that the Iraqi government ministers themselves would hint to you that they knew something about what was going on but then nothing would happen.
Deborah Haynes (Times of London link has text and also has video of the press conference) reports the families of all five British citizens who were kidnapped appeared in public today to make a statement: "We are all deeply upset and troubled to hear the reports that Alec and Alan have died in the hands of their captors, as well as Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell. This is a terrible ordeal for us all. We ask those holding our men for compassion when so many are working hard for reconciliation in Iraq and we continue to pray for the safe return of our men." Haynes also reports, "Release efforts will now focus on Peter Moore, the computer consultant whom the four men had been guarding." CNN quotes Haley Williams from the press conference but leaves out a bit including a very important sentence in her remarks. We'll note her remarks, we'll note Peter Moore's stepmother and then conclude with Alan's wife.
Haley Williams: These reports are the worst possible news for us but we continue to hope that they cannot be true. But whatever Alec's condition, he no longer should remain in Iraq. We appeal to those holding him to please send him home to us. I speak to you as the mother of Alec's son. We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men we would release them to you but we don't. Please send him home because as a family we can't cope with this anymore."
Pauline Sweeney: Please let them go now, enough is enough. We've been to the two funerals of Jason Creswell and Jason Swindelhurst and now we are informed, allegedly informed, that Alec and Alan are also no longer with us. I plead with the hostage takers to send home the bodies of Alec and Alan so that their parents can have, you know, closure and move on. And I appeal to them to please let Peter come back alive.
Rosalyn McMenemy: You understand how frightened we are to hear these reports and how hard it is for us to consider what might have happened to Alan. We continue to hope and pray that these reports cannot be true. We are desperate to have Alan home with his family. Please return him so that he can return to me and his children where he belongs.
For anyone wondering, CNN did not include this by Haley Williams "We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men we would release them to you but we don't." They did include her sentence before those two statements and her sentence after. They did not note online that they edited her remarks; however, they did edit her remarks and edited out: "We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men we would release them to you but we don't."
Today the Los Angeles Times editorializes on the topic of the current government in Iraq's obligations (or not) to pay reparations for the violence of Saddam Hussein and concludes, "Kuwait should consider reducing reparations, and its proposal to reinvest some of the remaining debt in Iraq would benefit both countries. In return, Iraq should act quickly and decisively to resolve the other outstanding issues of concern to Kuwait, proving itself to be a good neighbor." Staying with LAT, yesterday's snapshot noted AFP's estimate of a Baghdad bank robbery resulting in $3.8 million dollars being stolen. Liz Sly and Usama Redha report that the figure was $7 million.
Turning to the US, local community is the key and so is word of mouth. Those were the two messages coming out of today's House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. The hearing was divided into three panels. The first panel was composed of three veterans: Sgt. Kortney Clemons, Capt Nathan Waldon and Capt Mark Little. Panel two was composed of Disabled American Veterans' Adrian M. Atizado, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake. Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project's Julia Ray, National Recreation and Parks Association's David Stringer and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Carlos Leon. The third panel was composed of Dept of Defense's Dinah Cohen, United States Olympic Committee, Charlie Huebner and Dept of Veterans Affairs' Diane Hartmann.
"I think we have a very interesting and important hearing this morning," declared Chair Bob Filner as he brought the meeting to order. "I think you all know since the early years of our country, Congress has had to reassess programs created to care for our men and women in uniform, our veterans who have courageously answered our call to duty and their families who have joined in the military experience. For many service members and veterans who have been severely injured from service to our country, their rehabilitation can sometimes be quite disheartening. Many become concerned about having the same quality of life that they had prior to their injuries. This was known to be true in WWII and has held true today in the midst of our nation's commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan."
In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Steve Buyer noted, "I believe that sports are the most valuable rehabilitative tools that we can provide our wounded warriors." On the first panel, Clemons noted that he lost his right leg in a 2004 roadside bombing in Iraq and explained, "Paralympic sports has given me opportunities that I never thought would be possible. Prior to my injury, I was an athlete who absolutely loved sports. I played football, basketball and baseball in high school in Little Rock, Mississippi and played football at East Mississippi Community College before joining the army." Clemons was recovering in the Brooke Army Medical Center and learned of the Paralympic Military Program through word of mouth. He explained that John Register of the US Olympic Committee visited the medical center and explained the USOC's Paralympic Military Program and, Clemons explained, "his inspirational message made me realize that sports could give me the strength, courage and confidence to live a great life." Little also learned of programs by word of mouth. After losing both of his legs from the below the knee down in an IED attack in Iraq, Little went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "Very similarly also, sports was huge in my identity being an almost pro-rollerball hokey player ice hockey player, rugby, tennis, golf, soccer, football, etc, I had similar concerns, now I'm missing both of my legs, how am I going to be an excellent sports star like I always knew I would be? And it was as I was expressing those concerns my first day of physical therapy a couple of weeks after returning home that Gunnery Sgt from the marine corps who is a double below the knee amputee walked in with his set of prosthetic roller blade inline skates, telling me that they had just custom made them for him He was the second person to ever receive that style and was already skating outside. Right then and there, competitive spirit took over and I knew exactly what I knew before in the military and even prior in sports, I have to be better than this man, I have to do one more. So I asked my physical therapist who ironically was also his physical therapist what-what records had he set? She said pretty much everything for a double amputee. So after getting a laundry list of those, I set out to beat every single one."
US House Rep Timothy Walz wondered about how to get the word out and what sort of events were needed? Little explained that it needed to be community based because most people don't live in DC and they will be interacting in their own communities. Clemons agreed with that and added that the word needed to be out there that "there are things to do when you get back home to move forward." Waldon spoke on the issue noting, "Pretty much the daily community programs. Just moving it down to a more, just like classroom size. The smaller the classroom, the more personal instruction can be for the students the same thing with this. The more one-on-one, one-on-three, one-on-four time you can really get with an instructor, someone to help you out, the better it will be and you know pretty much being everywhere. It's a far reaching goal but you at least have something in mind, like something to push towards. No reason to settle if we can achieve something else." On the second panel, Julia Ray noted, " I think what we're noticing from the most recent grop of injured veterans is the extreme diversity in what their needs and interests are. It's not your classic disabled sports that we began with back in the Vietnam era -- skiing and so forth. They're wanting to do the Iron Man in Hawaii. They all want to compete and train alongside the communities-- people with and without disabilities. All kinds of diffent things and that kind of support needs to be individualized, it needs to be adjusted according to the type of injury. With polytrauma, we're seeing the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury, multiple amputations and very severe injuries that require very individualized attention." Kat will cover some of the hearing at her site tonight and we need to wind down. We'll close on the hearing with these remarks by Little, "I would never have known half of what I do about being an amputee, being a returning disabled veteran and just getting around in life had it not been for people like my first snow board trip Captain [Nathan] Waldan who you may have met earlier teaching me how to properly fit my prosethetic in a snow board boot to get down the hill -- which I did sucessfully my first time. And then going on to be that person. There's someone out there right now that's going on about how Capt Little showed him how to do that the first time he was out there."
Finally, independent journalist David Bacon continues to report on labor issues. How did TARP -- the Big Business bail out -- help residents in Oakland? At In These Times, Bacon reveals that it didn't help them at all: "Tosha Alberty had just left for work, for her job as a transportation services coordinator for Alameda County. Her children were still at home, though. Sheriffs told her adopted son Christian, a nine-year-old with autism still in his undershorts, to get dressed. Alberty's daughter Sharquita rushed to collect the bottles and diapers she needed to take care of her nine-month-old baby Zmylan." And they were evicted, right then, right there. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST) and his latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press).
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