Friday, November 11, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, it's Veterans Day in the US, we examine a Senate hearing on whether or not the National Guard deserves a spot on the Joint-Chiefs, Exxon and the KRG get closer, Iraqiya switches its position on provinces becoming semi-autonomous, and more.
Scott Pelley: Just when you thought the scandal over mishandled remains of fallen American troops at Dover Air Force Base couldn't get any worse. It did today. David Martin has been reporting on the investigation that led to a career ending letter of reprimand for the commander of the mortuary and tonight David is at the Pentagon with new developments.
David Martin: A landfill is no one's idea of a fitting resting place for a soldier fallen in battle.
Gari-Lynn Smith: No service member, no human being at all, should be placed into a landfill -- no matter if it's a finger nail, a foot or an entire body
David Martin: Yet that is what happened to Gari-Lynn Smith's husband, Sgt 1st Class Scott Smith, who was blown apart by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. Without her knowing part of his body was incinerated and disposed of as medical waste in this Virginia landfill. She found out two years after his funeral.
Gari-Lynn Smith: I have honestly no idea what we buried of him because they forbid me to see him in the casket.
The issue was raised by Senators Kelly Ayotte and Claire McCaskill in yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. We noted the hearing in yesterday's snapshot in terms of Ayotte and McCaskill's remarks and questions on the disrespect shown to the remains of the fallen (Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Portions" notes Ayotte's exchange). That was a needed topic and one more senators could have explored. But the topic of the hearing was whether or not the Chief of the National Guard should be a Joint-Chief of Staff.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Now, Mr. Johnson, headlines are made at every hearing. Is the headline from this hearing "Obama Administration Opposes Putting the National Guard Bureau Chief on the Joint-Chiefs"?
Defense Dept General Counsel Jeh Johnson: Uhm, uh, Senator, you've, uh, heard the best military advice from --
Senator Lindsey Graham: Well I'm going to tell you what Vice President [Joe] Biden said in 2008 when he spoke to the National Guard Conference in Baltimore, "It's time for change. Change begins with giving the Guard a seat at the table -- that table in the Pentagon where the Joint-Chiefs sit." President [Barack] Obama's campaign document, Blueprint for Change, page 55, if you want to read it, I haven't read it, I'll be the first one to admit to it, but this part I do like. Obama will restore the readyness of the National Guard and Reserves. He will permit them adequate time to train and rest between deployments, provide the National Guard with equipment they need for foreign and domestic emergencies. He will also give the Guard a seat at the table by making the Chief of the National Guard a member of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff." Has he changed his mind?
Defense Dept General Counsel Jeh Johnson: Uhm, the, uh, uh, not to my knowledge
Senator Lindsey Graham: Don't you think when he said that, he thought long and hard about this and he came to conclude as a prospective commander-in-chief this would be a good idea? And you're not here to tell us he's wrong, are you?
Defense Dept General Counsel Jeh Johnson: The president and the vice president are above my pay grade.
Appearing before the Committee was the Defense Dept's General Counsel Jeh Johnson --noted above -- as well as the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm James Winnefeld Jr., the Army Chief of Staff Gen Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm Jonathan W. Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen Jame Amos, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen Norton Schwartz and the National Guard Bureau Chief Gen Craig McKinley. Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Scott Brown is also an attorney with the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
Senator Scott Brown: I'm looking at a letter from General Amos and Chief Greenert. In paragraph three of the letter says that "CNGB does not represent a branch of service nor is CNGB responsible for manning and training and equipping the National Guard to the extent of the service chiefs." And I've got to respectfully disagree. Pursuant to the DoD directive as to the responsibilities of what the Guard in fact does, they are responsible for entire cradle to grave planning program budgeting and execution of these budgets. Provides the President's budget for each of the APPN, which goes to Congress, validates those requirements, provides the annual financial reports to Congress. It's in fact the service chiefs that don't have any of that budget responsibility. Is that -- Was there a mistatement in your letter there?
Gen James Amos: Well, senator, the point we were -- that I was making was making in the letter, we-we the service chiefs, testify to -- are held accountable to the Congress for the execution of those budgets as well. We have budget submitting offices -- pardon me -- in the Navy who do similarly that you just listed there.
Senator Scott Brown: But you said specifically, they have -- they have, they're not responsible at all. And, in fact, that's not correct. That being said, I'd like to just shift gears a little bit. Um, on -- Mr. Johnson, you indicated that you felt that maybe it would create confusion as to who represents the Army and Air Force and I've referenced letters -- General Odierno's "confusion and balance," obviously General Schwartz' confusing lines of authority and you, sir, Adm Greenert, complicated unity of command. I mean, it is really any question as to what the chain of command is with the Joint Chiefs? Obviously General McKinley would go through General Odierno and obviously General Schwartz to General Dempsy. There's no chain of command breach at all. I think it's very clear. And in addition to that, it would -- it would -- I don't think there's any question that the command authority, the Title X Command Authority wants to change. I don't believe the Guard or General McKinley in his capacity is seeking a seat wants to change that at all. He wants -- he wants -- and I believe, I don't -- I guess I'll just ask you, sir. You don't want to change the Title X Command Authority at all, do you?
Gen Craig McKinley: No, sir. As I said in my opening remarks, it's working well for us.
Senator Scott Brown: There's no confusions as to who you have to go through in the chain of command, is there?
Gen Craig McKinley: I-I-I have no confusion.
Senator Scott Brown: And with regard to the total force integration, do you feel that that would be benefitted by you having a seat at the table?
Gen Craig McKinley: It's improved greatly as the service chiefs have testified. It can only get better.
Senator Scott Brown: And is there any question that you in your capacity of having a seat at the table would be the person that could best advise not only in any capacity through any of the service chiefs or the president or anybody on the domestic mission and what the non-federalized units would be able to do? Espececially the homeland security issues that we're facing? Is there anyone else better quaified than you in your capacity to do that?
Gen Craig McKinley: Sir, I think it's my role and responsibility to be that person.
Senator Scott Brown: I would agree with you and just to follow up on what Senator Inhoff said, General Schwartz, on the fighter aircraft issue, is it a fair statement that due to the effort to save money with the Air Force, the Guard units are going to be eviscerated when it comes to aircraft. And especially, I've heard and others have commented that the TAGS can't gain access to the plans as to what wings will be effected and how many of the aircraft are going to be lost and isn't that another reason to have somebody like General McKinley at the table that can advise those TAGS and others what the plan is for the aircraft --
General Schwartz: Senator Brown, that's not a role of the Joint Chiefs, but beyond that, the reality is that if the Air National Guard is going to be eviscerated so will the active duty and the reserve. We are getting smaller together. That is what's underway here. And I would emphasize the point that -- that we are now the smallest Air Force that we've ever been and so -- And because of that, those reductions that occur because of diminishing resources -- which we all face -- will be shared by all the components.
Senator Scott Brown: Well you know that's interesting. You know, that is another reason why we all need to get back to the table and get this select committee to work so sequestration doesn't come in and dramatically effect this more.
Senator Kelly Ayotte noted that the record indicated that in 1978 the then Joint-Chiefs opposed the Commandant of the Marines becoming a member of the Joint-Chiefs of staff. Gen Amos agreed that the change had not hurt the Joint-Chiefs but stated he was not aware of the positions in 1978.
If there was a valid reason not to make the Chief of the National Guard, it wasn't expressed in the hearing by the witnesses. What they offered repeatedly came off as, "If someone else is promoted to our level, our level becomes less special for us." If all them together couldn't come up with one solid reason then either verbal skills are sorely lacking in military leadership or else there is no solid reason to deny it.
An important point: The Guard is not being used as it was in the last century. Under Bush the Guard became another unit of the military to be deployed to war overseas. If that's what the Guard now is, then, yes, they need to be represented in the Joint-Chiefs. Their role has changed and they suffer a tremendous burden and carry more than their weight. That largely went unsaid except for Senator Daniel Akaka who noted it and how it calls for some adjusments such as elevating "the Chief of the National Guard bureau to the Joint-Chiefs of Staff is something that is overdue and will show our guardsmen and their families that they are a true partner. It will also let them know that their voices and views will be represented at the highest levels of government."
Long before he became a senator, Lindsey Graham was serving in the Air Force and today he serves in the US Air Force Reserves and is a Senior Instructor at the Air Force JAG School.
Senator Lindsey Graham: General Amos, pound for pound, do you agree the Marine Corps is the best fighting force in the world?
Gen Jame Amos: Yes, sir. We celebrate that today on our birthday.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Okay. Good. I agree with you. Do you agree with me that the only thing older than the Marine Corps when it comes to defending America is the citizen-soldier?
Gen Jame Amos: Sir, I believe that's true.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Well okay. So I'm here to tell everybody I appreciate it but the citizen-soldiers' day has come. You're going to get a seat at the table, General McKinley, if I have anything to say about it. We're long into this fight as a nation. The first shot was fired by a citizen-soldier, it is time for the citizen-soldier to be sitting at the table -- not for political reasons, but for substantive reasons.
The most vocal opponent was Senator Jim Webb who had no real reason to explain why he opposed it today or why, when he was 25-years-old, he wrote an article expressing the belief that the National Guard should have a seat on the Joint-Chiefs.
In Iraq, things are heating up over an oil deal. Hassan Hafidh and James Herron (Wall St. Journal) report, "ExxonMobil Corp. could lose its current contract to develop the West Qurna oil field in Iraq if it proceeds with an agreement to explore for oil in the Kurdistan region of the country, an Iraqi official said. The spat highlights the political challenges for foreign companies operating in Iraq" as Nouri's Baghdad-based 'national' government attempts to rewrite the oil law over the objection of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Tom Bergin and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) offer, "Exxon declined to comment, and experts speculated the move could indicate Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders are nearing agreement on new rules for oil companies seeking to tap into Iraq's vast oil reserves." UPI declares, "The breakaway move into Kurdistan, the first by any of the oil majors operating in Iraq under 20-year production contract signed in 2009, could cost Exxon Mobil its stake in the giant West Qurna Phase One mega-oil field in southern Iraq." Salam Faraj (AFP) speaks with Abdelmahdi al-Amidi (in Iraq's Ministry of Oil) declares that the Exxon contract means that Exxon would lose a contract it had previously signed with Baghdad for the West Qurna-1 field. Faraj sketches out the deal with the KRG beginning last month with Exxon being notified that they had "48 hours to make a decision on investing in an oil field in the region." Exxon was interested but sought an okay from the Baghdad government only to be denied.
Nouri al-Maliki and the Kurdish politicians (with the exception of members of Goran) are in conflict and have been for some time now. Over the weekend, Al Mada noted that the country is in the midst of a political crisis with no end in sight. This is Political Stalemate II. Nouri's refusal to abide by the outcome of the election (Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi came in first; Nouri's State of Law slate came in second) and surrender the post of prime minister caused Political Stalemate I which only ended (November 2010) when the political blocs met up in Erbil and ironed out an agreement where everyone made concessions. This agreement is known as the Erbil Agreement. Upon all parties signing off, Parliament held their first real session in over eight months and Nouri was named prime minister-designate (Jalal Talabani would wait over a week to name him that 'officially' in order to give Nouri more time to put together a Cabinet.) Upon getting what he wanted, Nouri went on to trash the agreement. This is the start of Political Stalemate II which has continued since. The National Alliance, Iraqiya and the Kurdish politicians (except for Goran) have called for a return to the Erbil Agreement.
Among the things that Kurds want is to see the Constitution followed. The 2005 Constitution outlined how disputed regions would be settled: A census and a referendum. Nouri became prime minister in the spring of 2006. The Constitution called for the census and referendum to be held by the end of 2007. Nouri operated in violation of the Constitution and continues to do so. In the US, such an action could lead to impeachment. Kirkuk is an oil-rich region that's in dispute with both Baghdad's central government and the KRG claiming it. Another big concern for the Kurds was Nouri's recent effort to rewrite the oil law by proposing a new draft which would result in the KRG losing their claims on many oil fields. The Exxon back and forth today is only the latest in a string of back-and-forth volleys between the KRG and Nouri.
Amar C. Bakshi: Let's switch gears to Turkey -- an important regional neighbor that over the past few months has intervened in northern Iraq to go after Kurdish nationalist forces who have used terror to kill Turkish soldiers, numerous civilians. Now is the Kurdistan Regional Government cooperating with Turkey in its interventions into northern Iraq?
Prime Minister Barham Salih: These issues cannot be solved by military means, these issues cannot be solved by violence. There has to be a political track. This initiative that the Turkish government has started, the democratization process, needs to be enhanced, deepend, in order to ensure that this long-standing conflict is resolved in a differnt way.
Today, Aswat al-Iraq reports, Iraqiya's Azhar al-Sheikhli announced Iraqiya has changed their position on the province issue stating that they "are not against federalism, but there are many questions on their implementation process." Does that mean Kirkuk? It might. But last week, Salahuddin Province set in motion, if the Constitution is followed (Article 119), the steps to become a semi-autonomous province like the three that make up the KRG. On the issue of Salahuddin Province, Aswat al-Iraq reports that Nouri and Salahuddin Province Governor Ahmed Abdulla al-Jbouri and Nouri stressed that there are so many 'dangers' while al-Jbouri stated "the declaration of Salah al-Din as a region has become a public demand and cannot stop it."
Aswat al-Iraq reports 1 Sahwa was killed in an attack in Diyala Province while a second attack left two Sahwa injured. Sahwa are also known as "Awakenings" or "Sons Of Iraq." The US government paid them to stop attacking US military equipment and soldiers. The Iraqi government was supposed to pick up the payments and did so slowly. They were also supposed to incorporate the Sahwa into government jobs -- security and non-security jobs; however, that hasn't happened. Instead, Nouri's targeted them with arrests, often paid them late and never issued a statement decrying any of the attacks on Sahwa. In related news, Mustafa Habib (niqash) interviews Iraq's Minister of National Reconciliation Amir al-Khuzaei:
NIQASH: The process of reconciliation has been criticised – some say that it's avoided putting the blame on certain parties – such as insurgent groups who carry out armed attacks - even though they may have engaged in criminal behaviour.
Al-Khuzaei: In our efforts to reconcile, we want to open up channels of communication with the insurgents and to negotiate with them. The government will pardon those who put down their arms to join in the reconciliation process. But this doesn't mean that the rights of ordinary Iraqi citizens are compromised. Reconciliation may be able to make compromises in the public interest. But it cannot compromise on individual rights.
NIQASH: Can you tell us more about the kinds of dialogue that you have been having with armed factions?
Al-Khuzaei: We have been engaged in a positive dialogue with some of the factions for whom Harith al-Dhari [head of the conservative and mostly anti-US and anti-Iraqi-government Association of Muslim Scholars, a mainly Sunni Muslim group] is a spokesperson. We have also been fully engaged with the [Sunni Muslim] 1920 Revolution Brigade, the [Sunni Muslim] Mujahideen Army, the [Sunni Muslim] Islamic Jihad Brigades and the [Sunni Muslim] Ansar al-Sunnah group in Diyala. Also [the Sunni Muslim armed group] al-Naqshbandia, [the Sunni Muslim armed group] Hamas Iraq and the [Shiite Muslim] League of the Righteous. The dialogue and the agreements we have come to differ from group to group. Some of them were made on a collective level, others were on an individual level. In terms of the latter, we've had members of armed groups approach us and say that they wanted to quit their armed activities and return to their ordinary lives. We have no objection to this -- in fact, we welcome it.
Alsumaria TV reports that yesterday in Baghdad, a sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 Ministry of Health employee. In Baghdad today, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Hundreds of Electoral Authority employees demonstrated today in Firdous Square, mid Baghdad, demanding to be appointed in their full capacity, while other NGOs talked for next Friday demonstration. Aswat al-Iraq correspondent said that the demonstrators came from different provinces to demand that the martyrs of the Authority should be given their lawful privileges."
Alsumaria TV quotes a political analyst on the US and Iraq who states, "U.S. leaked through some of the media they would go to the Security Council to consider The Iraqi government is a competent and this allows again to return to Iraq and I think this Klha means of pressure, because America did not like its the issue of withdrawal. According to observers, the U.S. troops stay in the Gulf comes the desire of them fear for their own interests or fear of potential Iranian expansion, as well as standing desire of the United States to stay close to Iran in anticipation of launching a military strike after sunburn Israel to do so."
Since his return stateside in 2004, Weathers often is unable to shake habits of vigilance he cultivated to stay alive while fighting in the town of Ramadi, often reported as the site of some of the Iraq war's most fierce fighting. "If you stopped at a stoplight in Iraq, you were going to get shot at," said Weathers. "There was a lot of chaos; it was just … it was just hectic." Weathers is currently in therapy in an attempt to manage the nightmarish memories and persistent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that have continued since he first received his honorable discharge from the armed services.
"There was an explosion off the (base) and the concussion blast blew me off my feet," said Todd. She finished her deployment with the rest of 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment. "We just run on pure adrenaline." It was only upon returning home that Todd noticed something was wrong. "I couldn't figure out which slot the fork went into in the drawer, or I couldn't (remember) how to tie my shoes, things like that," she said.
As with every war, there are also those who lost limbs, those who have had their hearing and/or vision harmed or lost, those who suffered burns and much more. On today's Fresh Air (NPR), Terry Gross spoke with journalist David Wood about some of the severely war wounded. Those who served in the war include the fallen and that's those killed while serving and those service members who took their own lives and veterans who took their own lives. Yesterday on The Diane Rehm's Show's first hour, Diane and her guests explored military suicides (link has audio and transcript). We noted that in yesterday's snapshot; however, the link was not included. My apologies.
Today's remembered also includes those who died of natural causes and those who died from wounds or exposures from the war zone which claimed their lives. Those dying from toxins they were exposed to while serving may have been around or worked the Burn Pits.
Iraq War veteran Leroy Torres and his wife Rose Torres work on the Burn Pit issue non-stop. Another person who does is Iraq War veteran and Afghanistan War veteran Daniel Meyer whose blog can be found here. This month the three of them and others have been working on lobbying for a Burn Pit Registry. Wednesday, Daniel Meyer reported:
Yesterday, November 8, 2011, BurnPits360 stormed capitol hill, kicking off a three day campaign. The second week in a row being in our nations capitol, this event displays the dedication and tenacity this great organization exudes in support of veterans who have been negatively affected by toxic burn pits. It also comes just a few short days after the introduction of the Open Air Burn Pits Registry Act of 2011 by Congressman Todd Akin -- R -- Missouri.
The burn pit issue is one that there should be strong support from Congress on. But there really hasn't been. When some -- then-US Senater Evan Bayh in 2009 and 2010, for example -- have attempted to lead on the issue by introducing a bill for an Iraq Burn Registry, others have refused to allow a bill out of committee. Milan Simoniah (Las Cruce) reports Iraq War veteran Master Sgt Jessey Baca is working on the issue:
Baca was the first veteran from New Mexico to publicly say burn pits were killing soldiers. He stood with the state's two U.S. senators last week after they introduced legislation to create a registry that would track veterans who were exposed to open burning and help them get medical treatment. America's military created the burn pits as a practical means to keep bases in Iraq and Afghanistan functional. "They burn constantly to get rid of trash, metal, batteries, chemicals, human waste, plastics, paint. Contaminated jet fuel is used for the fire," Baca said one recent afternoon.
Last year, long before the IOM report, the US government acknowledged the injurious effects of burn pits. According to a report released last year (PDF) by the United States Government Accountability Office, "burn pits help base commanders manage waste, but also produce smoke and harmful emissions that military and other health professionals believe may result in acute and chronic health effects to those exposed."
The VA states on its own webpage that chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metals, aluminum, unexploded ordnance, munitions, and petroleum products among other toxic waste are destroyed in burn pits. Possible side effects, the department notes, "may affect the skin, eyes, respiration, kidneys, liver, nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract."
So while further study may elicit more information about the effects of breathing burn pit fumes as well as the dust in Afghanistan and Iraq, the verdict appears to be in, and that is that the government knows that just breathing the air poses severe consequences to its soldiers.
It took decades for the Congress to get behind an Agent Orange Registry for veterans exposed while serving in Vietnam and surrounding areas. In 2009, then-US Senator Evan Bayh attempted to get the ball rolling on Burn Pit Registry hoping it would take far less time than the struggle for an Agent Orange Registry.
Though returning to life outside of a war zone usually requires some readjustment, many service members and veterans are fortunate enough to return with no major physical, mental or emotional wounds. Many veterans are also furthering their education, some utilizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Kevin Fagan (San Francisco Chronicle) reports on Iraq War veteran, Staff Sgt Josh Aguilar who will be attending San Francisco City College next semester and explains, "I learned in the military that when you want to get something done, it's best to have a plan. So I have one, and at the same time I am open to everything." Iraq War veteran Chris Seaman is a college student and he shares his thoughts at the Drury Mirror:
There were crappy times when you realize how much you've got left over there, but overall it was good. I learned the values of hard work, team work, and leadership. One thing I'd like for people to know is that not all young enlisted servicemen are loud, MMA gear wearing douchebags, although most are. We do not get wasted and have a grand ole time in Iraq and Afghanistan like some movies portray. It really bothers me that a lot of people think we're just getting hammered and running around shooting camel spiders, of which I never saw a single one.
Thursday, November 10, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the Washington Post reports remains of the fallen were dumped by the Air Force into a landfill, the Air Force Chief of Staff appears today at a Senate committee hearing but only two senators felt the need to bring the issue of the landfill with remains of the fallen up, arrests continue in Iraq, and more.
Today Jon Swaine (Telegraph of London) reports, "US Air Force officials admitted that from 2003 to 2008, body parts sent from war zones to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were burned before being handed to a private contractor for disposal in Virginia. Family members of the dead troops were not aware of the practice, which emerged amid anger over earlier disclosures that remains were also lost and mishandled by mortuary officials at the base." Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) broke the story: "Air Force officials acknowledged the practice Wednesday in response to inquiries from The Washington Post. [. . .] Asked if it was appropriate or dignified to incinerate troops' body parts and dispose of them in a landfill, [Lt Gen Darrell G.] Jones declined to answer directly." Julian E. Barnes (Wall Street Journal) adds, "The revelation that a landfill was used for the remains came a day after the Air Force released the results of an extensive investigation into complaints that body parts were lost in 2009 in at least two cases at the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, which handles the bodies of all service members killed in action oversees. The use of a landfill for some of the partial remains was not connected to the cases of missing body parts."
The issue was raised today in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing into whether or not the Chief of the National Guard should be a Joint-Chief of Staff. Appearing before the Committee was the Defense Dept's General Counsel Jeh Johnson, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm James Winnefeld Jr., the Army Chief of Staff Gen Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm Jonathan W. Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen Jame Amos, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen Norton Schwartz and the National Guard Bureau Chief Gen Craig McKinley. Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In his opening remarks, Chair Levin noted, "I believe that this hearing is a first -- the first time that we have had every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a single hearing. Each of them has appeared before us individually and in different combinations, but never all together." The plan was to cover the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot since tomorrow is Veterans Day. We're going to stick to that with the exception of the issue of remains of the fallen being dumped into landfills. A number of senators weren't present for this full Committee hearing.
Senator Kelly Ayotte: General Schwartz, on a different topic and I just feel the need to ask -- ask about this. Uhm, I'm deeply troubled by the reports about what happened at the mortuary at the Dover Air Force Base. And I'm sure you would agree with me this is outrageous that remains of our soldiers would be put in a landfill and not treated with the appropriate dignity and honor which they deserve. Can you tell me, uh, where we are with this? And how we're going to ensure that this never happens again? And, most importantly, that those who have participated in this outrage are going to be held accountable?
Gen Norton Schwartz: Senator Ayotte, first of all, let me clarify the allegation about putting remains in a landfill. These were portions, prior to 2008, which were sent away from the Dover mortuary to a funeral home for cremation -- which is an authorized method of dealing with remains, particularly those that are separated from the larger portions of remains returned to the family. After that, the results of the cremation came back to the mortuary were sent to a medical support company for incineration. So you had cremation, then incineration and it was at that point that this medical support organizations placed the residuals from that effort to a landfill. In 19 -- In 2008, the Air Force came to the conclusion that that was not the best way to deal with those remains and so it is now done in a traditional fashion of burial at sea. It has been that way since 2008. It will continue to be that way in the future and let me just conclude by saying the Secretary of the Air Force, Mike Donley [Secretary of the US Air Force] and I take personal responsibility for this. Our obligation is to treat our fallen with reverence and dignity and respect and to provide the best possible support and care for their families. That is our mission. The people who did not fulfill our expectations were disciplined and there's no doubt what our expectations are today.
Senator Kelly Ayotte: Well I -- General Schwartz, I appreciate your updating on that and, uh, when I think about the fact that we have Veterans Day tomorrow, this is so important, obviously, that we treat the remains of our fallen with dignity and respect and I know that you share that concern as well. And please know that members of this Committee will be there to support you in any way to make sure that the families know that we certainly won't allow this to happen again.
Let's examine Schwartz' statement.
Senator Ayotte, first of all, let me clarify the allegation about putting remains in a landfill. These were portions, prior to 2008, which were sent away from the Dover mortuary to a funeral home for cremation -- which is an authorized method of dealing with remains, particularly those that are separated from the larger portions of remains returned to the family. After that, the results of the cremation came back to the mortuary were sent to a medical support company for incineration. So you had cremation, then incineration and it was at that point that this medical support organizations placed the residuals from that effort to a landfill.
So remains were dumped in a landfill. You didn't clarify a damn thing, you did try to pretty up what happened and make it seem formal and dignified. Dumping ashes of the fallen into a landfill will never pass for "formal," "dignified" or "proper" unless that is in fact what the service member specifies for their remains in writing.
In 19 -- In 2008, the Air Force came to the conclusion that that was not the best way to deal with those remains and so it is now done in a traditional fashion of burial at sea. It has been that way since 2008.
What's the deal with 2008? In the next section, he'll note himself and Michael Donley and 2008 again. What's the deal?
It will continue to be that way in the future and let me just conclude by saying the Secretary of the Air Force, Mike Donley and I take personal responsibility for this. Our obligation is to treat our fallen with reverence and dignity and respect and to provide the best possible support and care for their families. That is our mission. The people who did not fulfill our expectations were disciplined and there's no doubt what our expectations are today.
No, it doesn't. He may have come on board after the policy was changed but he was in charge when whistleblowers who stepped forward on the loss and damage to remains took place. Tuesday David Martin (CBS Evening News -- link has text and video) reported that three whistle blowers (Mary Ellen Spera, Bill Zwicharowski and James Parsons) had been subject to retaliation for coming forwarded with Zwicharowski being put on administrative leave and James Parsons being fired. Martin notes that they have their jobs today because "a federal office created to protect whistle blowers stepped in." That was under Schwartz watch. He takes responsibility?
Tom Bowman (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reported yesterday on Schwartz Tuesday remarks to the press including that the families who were given fallen remains -- partial remains -- due to body parts being 'misplaced,' would have been notified but that, due to the issue of the whistleblowers, they were unable to tell families per the Office of Special Counsel. From Bowman's report:
CAROLYN LERNER: That's patently false.
BOWMAN: Carolyn Lerner is the special counsel. She says her office urged Air Force lawyers back in March to talk with the families, and they did so again recently.
LERNER: We asked them again, why hadn't you notified them? Their response was that these families, some of them had blogs; they couldn't be trusted - that they might go to the media.
BOWMAN: The special counsel's report, which is now with the White House and Capitol Hill, says the Air Force is still unwilling to acknowledge culpability.
You didn't notify the families? And you lied about why you didn't? Or, to be kind, you didn't actually know why you didn't? And you're claiming you take responsibility? Seems like you need to be out the door right now to demonstrate that there is accountability. I'm thinking back on US House Rep Phil Roe who is a doctor and a hearing about the Miami VA Medical Center (the October 12th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing covered in the October 20th snapshot) and it's failure to contact service members potentially exposed to diseases while receiving care due to the medical center's lack of proper care of medical instruments. Dr. Roe was appalled to find out that calls weren't made. He talked about how he made mistakes in his practice and when he did he picked up the phone himself as the director of the Miami VA Medical Center should have done. Roe has spoken of this in other hearings as well. If Schwartz had appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, it would be very likely that, based on past Committee record,
US House Rep Phil Roe would have raised that issue and pursued it.
Today one senator did bother to raise it. In doing so, she became on the second senator in the hearing to note the disrespect for the remains of the fallen. Yes, both times it was women who had to do the heavy lifting in the hearing.
Senator Claire McCaskill: I want to specifically, for a minute, General Schwartz, go to the situation at Dover and I don't want to dwell on how hard this has to be for you and the leadership at the Air Force. No one needs to convince me that you want to get this right at Dover. I'll tell you what I do want to bring to your attention and I've did so with a letter today and that is with the finding of the Office of Special Counsel. And so people understand what the Office of Special Counsel is. It's an investigatory and prosecution oriented agency whose primary responsibility under our law is to be independent of all of the agencies and protect whistle blowers. And what I am concerned about is their investigation into what the Air Force did in response to the whistle blowers. And specifically the fact that the IG of the Air Force, they failed to admit wrong doing in their report. And while I understand people have been moved around as a result of the problems that have occured because of mishandling of the sacred remains of the fallen, I'm not sure that they have been held as accountable as what we saw happen at Arlington in connection with that heart breaking incompetence. And what I want to make sure is that there is an independent investigation as to whether or not the IG shaded it a little bit [Chair Carl Levin began nodding his head in vigrous agreement with what McCaskill was saying] because everyone was feeling a little bit protective of the institution for all the right reasons. The vast majority of the people who serve at Dover and who do this work, I'm sure, do it with a heavy heart but with a passion for getting it right. But when we have a circumstance like this arise, I want to make sure the Inspector Generals are not so busy looking after the institution that they fail to point out wrong doing -- which was not ever acknowledged -- and that there is accountability for the people involved. And so, I want you to address the Special Counsel's report as it relates to the Air Force investigation.
Gen Norton Schwartz: Senator McCaskill, there was -- There were -- Clearly were unacceptable mistakes made. Whether they constitute wrong doing is another matter entirely. And when you look at a situation like this, you look at the facts of a case, as an attorney might say. You look at the context in which the event or the mistakes occurred. And you also consider the demands that are -- are placed on individuals and-and organizations. With respect to accountability, we also had an obligation to ensure that the statutory requirements for Due Process were followed. We did that precisely. I can only speak for the case of the uniformed officer. But the uniformed officer received a letter of reprimand. We established an unfavorable information file. We removed him from the command list and his anticipated job as a group commander at Shaw Air Force Base was red-lined. This is not a trivial sanction.
Senator Claire McCaskill: Well I - I understand that's not a trivial sanction but I-I-I'm worried that there was a conclusion that there was not an obligation to notify the families in these instances and obviously this deals with more than uniform personnel and obviously the Secretary of the Air Force is also copied on the letter that I sent today calling for this independent investigation. What happened at Arlington, nobody was intentionally mismarking graves. They were mistakes too. And I just want to make sure that we have really clear eyes while we have full hearts about the right aggressive need for investigations by Inspector Generals in circumstances like this. And thank you very much and thank all of you for being here today.
McCaskill's call for an independent investigation has been picked up by the head of the Department and Charles Hoskinson (POLITICO) explains US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has stated, "None of us will be satisfied until we have proven to the families of our fallen heroes that we have taken every step necessary to protect the honor and dignity [of the fallens' remains]. This department has to be fully accountable in what we intend to deliver on this matter."
Disclosure: I know and like Leon Panetta. How he handles this will reflect on his tenure as Secretary of Defense and should. And whether or not the sexual assault rate within the ranks drops is also a part of how his tenure should be graded. But Leon's only been in this position since the summer. Is anyone going to go back and 'regrade' Robert Gates who was Defense Secretary during this? No. Of course not, they didn't grade him the first time, they just praised him and -- judging by the off-the-record photo-op we covered here in real time -- they praised him for all the interviews and access he gave them. The military sexual assualt rate did not decline despite his telling Congress over and over that he was taking the issue seriously and addressing it. The military suicide rate did not show a significant drop. Somehow on his Never Ending Farewell Tour, Gates managed to pick up non-stop press about what a 'great' job he'd done with no one ever stopping to actually grade him on what his job was. I like Leon, but when he's done serving as the Defense Secretary, the press doesn't need to gush. They need to grade. If he's done a great job, praise him. That's fine. But if he hasn't accomplished anything on the suicide rate or the sexual assault rate, then he hasn't done his job. Gates granting the press access didn't stop one military suicide or one military sexual assault.
Let's stay with the issue of military suicide because Diane Rehm explored it and veteran suicide on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- link has audio and transcript options -- transcript is provided by the program for free, accessible to all who can surf the web and not just those who can benefit from streaming audio). Her guests were Give An Hour's Barbara van Dahlen, RAND's Rajeev Ramchand, VA's Jan Kemp and DC's Dept of Mental Health's Elspeth Cameron Ritchie. Excerpt.
Diane Rehm: Elspeth Ritchie, talk about the risk factors in the military and for veterans. Are they different from the risk factors in the general population?
Elspeth Ritchie: Yes, absolutely. As you know, Diane, I retired from the Army last year and -- after spending 28 years in the Army and looked very closely at risk factors for especially Army soldiers. And we published a paper recently on the prevalence and risk factors associated with Army suicides. And, basically, Army suicides are very different from the suicides in the civilian population. In the civilian population, it is usually people with psychiatric disease who are prone to kill themselves. In the Army, the risk factors are pretty simple: the breakup of a relationship, and they are also getting in trouble at work and having a legal problem. And in the Army, if you have a legal problem, you have an occupational problem. And what we've seen over time is that these precipitants -- often very humiliating events are what precipitate a suicide. The other thing that's very important to talk about, and people don't in general, is that about 70 percent of Army suicides are committed by gun, by either the personal weapon back here or the service weapon in theater. And I believe that we don't do nearly enough discussion about how dangerous it is to have the -- what I call the gun in the nightstand, the easily available gun there at a time when you might be having a fight with your wife or just found out that you're going to get in trouble.
Diane Rehm: Now, as I understand it, a third of all suicides in the military are among those who have yet to deploy. What are the factors at work there?
Elspeth Ritchie: What I believe is the most important factor there is not the individual deployment history, but the unit deployment history. So our bases with the highest, what we call up tempo, operations tempo are also those with essentially the highest suicide rate. So where we've had a high suicide rate for a number of years: Fort Carson, Fort Stewart, Fort -- not Fort Bragg so much anymore, Fort Campbell, Fort Riley. Those are all bases, and others, where the troops are constantly coming and going. And what the leaders told me, when we went down to investigate suicides, is they don't know their troops anymore 'cause they're just so busy. They get back from theater, and, shortly after that, they're going to different deployments or different schools or different units. And so the new kid who comes in, that in the old days were being integrated with picnics and barbeques and unit runs, now isn't integrated in the same way 'cause it's just going so quickly.
The Veterans Crisis Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. That is the same number that active duty service members will be referred to. And we'll also note one of Diane's callers from today's program, Deb:
Yes, Diane. I'm calling because I feel like the suicide problem in the military extends beyond the soldiers, to the families of the soldiers, specifically in our family. My husband's son was killed in Afghanistan a number of years ago. And this morning, we just came back from a counseling session through the VA. And I can't tell you how many times I have had concerns for my husband's safety. And I think that the problem right now is there's a ripple in a pond. And when a soldier is either wounded or killed, it not only affects the soldier but all of those in his circle who love him.
Moving to Iraq, Azzaman reports Joe Biden, US Vice president, is expected to discuss a number of issues with Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the occupation, when he visits Iraq and notes he met over the weekend in DC with the KRG's Prime Minister Barham Salih. Dar Addustour is an Iraqi paper in Arabic. On their home page they have a poll currently asking whether Iraq should grant US troops immunity after December 31, 2011. The results? 55% (746 votes) have said yes. It's not a scientific poll, it's not in any way limited to Iraqis. But it is surprising that one of Iraq's leading papers would have a poll on that topic and get that sort of result. Yes, a small tiny group -- even one outside Iraq -- could skew the poll. But so could a group on the other side and the percentages really aren't changing this week -- the poll's been up all week and, in fact, went up last week. In other news, Michelle Tan (Army Times) reports:
Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division have been "remissioned" and will move from Iraq to Kuwait for the remainder of their 12-month tour, the brigade commander announced Wednesday. The announcement from Col. Scott Efflandt was posted on the unit's Facebook page. "Troops and families of the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division are being notified that [the unit] will likely be repositioned within the [Central Command] area of responsibility for the remainder of their 12-month deployment," according to Efflandt's note. "This force will function as a reserve in the region to provide maximum flexibility for response to contingencies. It also demonstrates our lasting commitment to regional stability and security, and the robust security relationships we maintain with our regional partners."
Tan explains that the White House is working to secure a deal to use Kuwait as a staging platform for several thousand US troops. Meanwhile, UPI notes the CIA's not leaving Iraq, "The Central Intelligence Agency, which until recently operated outside the military establishment, is expected to stay on in various guises within the 17,000 U.S. personnel who will remain under State Department jurisdiction." Walter Pincus (Washington Post) addressed yesterday how the US government will be using security contractors in Iraq: "The latest example comes from the Army, which said in a recent notice that it has increased the number of contracted security teams hired to escort convoys of food and fuel coming in from Kuwait." And this use of contractors is happening while the State Dept refuses to present Congress or the SIGIR with any hard numbers or other facts leaving the American tax payer at risk of more tax dollars wasted on corruption and graft. And at a time when the Commission on Wartime Contracting -- whose salaries were paid for by US tax payers -- had declared it's not sharing its work. From the October 4th snapshot:
Over the weekend, Nathan Hodge (Wall St. Journal) reported on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, "The internal records of a congressionally mandated panel that reported staggering estimates of wasteful U.S. wartime spending will remain sealed to the public until 2031, officials confirmed, as the panel closed its doors on Friday." They've finished their study and they've closed their books. And, if you were at the hearing today, you learned just how wrong that is as Co-Chair Shays waived around the Commission's published findings and declared, "Our problem with Mr. Tieffer was that this book would have been three times as thick if we'd let him put in everything he wanted to put in so we limited him to 40 cases. But it could have been many more." Great, so US tax payer money went down the drain again. The Commission unearthed tons of things but decided just to publish 40 of them. Because they didn't want their book to be too thick. Right. We covered the Commission's public hearings. It was always a waste of time which describe the Commission itself and those members of Congress that pushed for it. The only value the Commission could have had was in making public its records now while the wars continue in the hopes that contract waste and abuse could be caught and some money saved. However, that's not going to happen with the Commisson's records being sealed and the published report only focusing on a small number of cases of fraud and abuse. As noted before, the Commission's purpose was never to find fraud and abuse. The purpose was to distract outraged Americans from what was being done with their money. The Commission had no powers. No charges have been filed over fraud. The Commission has wrapped up their business.
Two U.S. senators slammed a request by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan to seal its records for 20 years and called on higher officials to publicly release them, according to a statement released Thursday. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., co-signed a Nov. 7 letter to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero calling on him to overrule the commission's request, which would effectively prevent the public from learning the details of an investigation into a massive misuse of taxpayer dollars.
AP adds, "Webb and McCaskill sponsored the legislation that created the commission." And it should be noted that the intent was not for the commission to be a private study group fiercely guarding their findings. The intent was for it to be open and for it to provide resources allowing for lessons to be learned. Writing for Jordan's As-Sabeel, the Washington Institute's Michael Knights estimates the US State Dept will be using approximately 14,000 contractors and that as many as 5,000 of those will be armed security contractors. So this will be a large number and, the weaponization of diplomacy being a new thing, the State Dept has no training in this area. Knights also notes that the Defense Dept will provide 157 personnel (in addition to the 763 contractors) to the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq and that in Defense Dept personnel (military or civilian) would be covered with immunity via the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations -- and that this is agreed to by Nouri al-Maliki who was pushing for this understanding when there was talk of 200 to 300 US forces staying in Iraq beyond 2011. And on why an immunity deal wasn't reachable (so far at least), Omar (Iraq The Model) offered this argument at the start of last month:
The cause of this deadlock is rooted in the disagreements on power, land and money. All the Iraqi political leaders (except the Sadrists) are willing to vote in favor of immunity, but they will not give this to PM Maliki for free. Specifically, Iraqiya wants the Policies Council and Defense Ministry, while the Kurdistani Alliance wants a friendly oil and gas law [there is coordination on this issue with Iraqiya to reach a mutually accepted draft] and, eventually, some progress on disputed territories. If the Kurds and Iraqiya get these some of these demands, they will support Maliki's request for parliament to give immunity to US troops.
Aswat al-Iraq reports that Dr. Hom al-Khishaly, Iraqi Army Doctor, is being held in Diyala Province as a 'terrorism' suspect. Basaer News notes that Nouri's security forces have arrested over 1,000 Iraqi citizens in the last month. The Association of Muslim Scholars notes that many were arbitrary with the most arrests taking place in Diyala Province (277) and Nineveh having the second highest arrest rate (163).
My first seriously intense boyfriend (yes, that does mean sex -- no, he was not my first) was a major weed head. I will call him Bruce here. He was great looking which is always a plus (ask any high schooler). He was also an athlete. At least when we started dating. He got kicked off the baseball team in the spring when the coach found out he was smoking pot.
That was fine with me. I really wasn't into the jock type and he was the first one I had really ever done more than fool around with. (As Toni likes to say of me, "She lost her virginity to a bass player -- so you know it was love!" Toni's little dig at bass players as opposed to axe men.) And one day we were over at his place while his parents were gone for a series of days. We were going to have some friends over. We were going to have pizza rolls and other 'elegant' food. (That's sarcasm. It's just whatever teenagers munched on at the time but we thought we were putting together the spread to end all spreads.)
So he's crushing the ice for me and I'm fussing around the kitchen and have already burned my thumb on the cookie sheet I'm cooking the pizza rolls on when the phone rings and it's his fifth grade sister who is at a friend's home and now needs to come home due to some sort of verbal fight with her friend. So he up and leaves promising to be back but everyone starts arriving within minutes of his leaving.
And because they are our friends, they want th epot that they just know Bruce has somewhere in the house. And one of the boys is going to rip the house apart to find it.
I know where it is and the rolling papers so I get up and go get it feeling very put upon. Hello, I have pizza rolls and french onion dip! (I really did feel like we'd put on a spread. There were also olivies and crackers with the spray cheese on them.)
So I grab the bag of weed, the rolling papers and go back into the living room. And I've never rolled a joint in my life at this point. I've smoked many but never rolled. So we end up with this really thick joint. And because I want to be a good hostess, I don't stop there. I roll up more so that all guests can have one.
So we're all lit except for me, I'm rolling mine right at that moment, I hear the front door open and at last Bruce's home. So I plop my joint in between my lips, spark up and say, "Let me have one drag and then it's yours."
I say that looking up . . . at Bruce's parents.
They're sort of slack-jawed staring at me. And the room is frozen. Finally, I shrug and lift the tray of pizza rolls off the coffee table, "Well maybe you'd prefer a snack first?"
I still laugh at that story.
I wasn't real big on hiding what I did or playing the weasel when caught. But even for me, that was a big deal and I always see as my first grown up party and a very grown up moment.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi women weren't helped by the illegal war, Nouri wants Ba'athists and 'Ba'athists' to repent in writing, US Senator Patty Murray takes to the Senate floor to discuss employment and veterans, and more.
One of 2010's important books was Deborah Amos' Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East which examines Sunnis who relocated to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, most as part of Iraq's refugee population -- a population created by the Iraq War and so huge that it became the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. People forced to flee their homes rarely arrive in a new area on strong footing. Most refugees have to play catch up for basic items that didn't make the journey, for cash that is usually finite and dwindling. In such circumstances and in countries where they are legally forbidden to work, a black market economy develops. For women, black market employment has historically included prostitution. In Syria, Deborah Amos met a number of women engaged in the sex trade:
Another woman said her name was Abeer. "My husband tried to smuggle the kids to Sweden, but they got caught and are back in Baghdad," she told me. She had divorced her husband when he set off for Sweden. She had agreed to the separation for the sake of her two children. Now, she lived with her sister, and worried about her kids. She sent her club earnings home for them. But why had she come to Damascus, I asked; what had driven her to come here in the first place?" "I was a journalist," she said. In 2007, she was hired by a television station based in Baghdad. She worked as a correspondent until the day her mother found a ltter that had been thrown into the family farden: "Leave in 28 hours or we will kill you." Syria was the only open border. While I was pondering Abeer's choices, she clicked her cellphone shut, took one last look at her mirror image, and moved toward [the] door. "Have a good night," she said knowingly, one businesswoman to another, as she made her way into the dark nightclub.
I could see why this was Um Nour's favorite club. The system of cost-and-rewards favored women who wanted some control over their work. It was a freelance market. We had walked in through the front door for "free," while the male patrons paid a steep cover charge and even more for the alcohol and snacks delivered to the table. Um Nour explained that women paid the Syrian men at the door at the end of the night -- but only if they left with a man.
Iraq has a long historical connection to prostitution. The Whore of Babylon is a character in the Bible's Book of Revelations, the symbol of all things evil. The world's oldest profession was first recorded in Mesopotamia in the second millennium B.C. The code of Hammurabi, the ancient world's first fixed laws for a metropolis, acknowledged prostitution and gave prostitutes some inheritance rights.
How much choice a woman selling sex for money is debatable -- even when we're not looking at a refugee population. But the women in that section of Amos' book are women who have reached their decisions apparently without being forced into by another person. Many Iraqi women are not so fortunate and are forced into prostitution. Today, Hajer Nailis (WeNews) reports:
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, as many as 5,000 women and girls have been trafficked for sexual exploitation, with most ending up in Syria, according to a preliminary report released today by the London-based Social Change Through Education in the Middle East. Jordan is the second-ranking destination for trafficked girls and women, according to the Nov. 9 report. These two bordering countries have maintained a relatively liberal policy of granting visas to refugees while also subjecting them to labor restrictions. That combination, the report finds, puts girls and women at high risk of seeking money through prostitution and also being prostituted by families and organized networks. "Both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have failed to address the problem of sex trafficking," the report finds, also noting that the Iraqi constitution prohibits the trafficking of women and children, as well as the sex trade and slavery.
Professional traffickers target young girls and women whilst they are still inside the Iraqi borders. These traffickers, very often women, target young girls who have left their families (for reasons of fear of violence, abuse, forced marriage or the threat of honour crimes) typically in places such as public transportations in larger cities. Kidnapped, the girls may be kept for a period of time while negotiations on their prices are undertaken, before they are sold on.
In other cases, male solicitors are recruited by trafficking gangs. These men are used to lure vulnerable young girls, eventually persuading them to elope whereby; again, they will be sold for sexual servitude. Some taxi drivers, too, are used as recruiters to lure girls with the false pretence of help, whereas women who are already involved in the sex industry are used as intermediaries who again pretend to offer assistance, offering to bring the girls to shelters when, in fact, they bring them to brothels.
We noted Syria via Deborah Amos' excellent book so let's also include the paper's discussion of the three levels of prostitution being practiced in Syria.
The first level [prostitution on the individual level] refers to a girl or woman who has made the decision to engage in prostitution and without the knowledge of her family. In reality, this decision is often one arrived at as a consequence of being forced by poverty and circumstance. Whilst the well-being and safety of these girls is absolutely important, SCEME's research and campaigning focuses on the subsequent, and often interconnected, two levels which relate to the forced sexual servitude of girls and women; the levels of family and organized networks.
The second level [prostitution on the family level] refers to those forced in work with the knowledge and active involvement of family members; these family members are most often male. This type of prostitution is also called "secret prostitution" and is most frequently reported in the Jaramana area of Damascus.
Complexly interwoven with trafficking and forced prostitution we also report that Iraqi girls are increasingly finding themselves in mut'a marriages. As the Karama Movement in the Arab Region has uncovered, on Fridays young girls are married off at price and on the following Sunday the couple is divorced. Research suggests that rates at which these mut'a marriages are carried out intensifies in the summer when male tourists visit Syria from the Gulf. Some of these tourists arrive looking to pay dowries to the families or pimps of these girls in exchange for brief marriages for the purposes of sexual exploitation for the duration of their visit. These so called 'summer-marriages' in which the girls and their husbands live together temporarily of course also provide none of the legal rights associated with marriage, such as alimony and inheritance, making vulnerable both the women involved and their resulting children. Although this particular kind of marriage is not explicitly called prostitution, it is in effect sexual exploitation, often forced, as means of either securing livelihood, or generating profit.
The third level [prostitution on the level of organized networks] involves organized networks and criminal gans which offer women and young girls for sale to people in the local community, tourists, as well as night clubs and casinos. Traffickers played an important role in opening such nightclubs in collaboration with brokers in Syria, relying on the selling of the bodies of female Iraqis. Clubs such as Al Nigma and Al Manara in the suburbs of Damascus are frequented both by local Syrians and tourists from the Gulf and beyond.
You want to pretend you're talking about war and women and peace -- you want to pretend your five-part series focuses at all on women? Then how about you note Iraq? You can't because it won't allow you to bulls**t the way PBS and the US government wants. (BS that also, it should be noted, avoids peace activists while putting "Peace" in the title of the program.) Check out the stories. The series is about how the US government helped. In some cases, well after the fact, but always it helped. And including the reality that the US-led war on Iraq destroyed women's rights in Iraq doesn't allow us to all feel so happy and pleased with ourselves. It's nothing but junk and garbage on supposed 'education TV.' PBS is lying as badly as Barack when he speaks of 'success' in Iraq.
The lies that you tell
Will leave you alone
They'll keep you down
They'll catch you and trip you up
Keep you hangin' around
-- "Love You By Heart," written by Carly Simon, Jacob Brackman and Libby Titus, first appears on Carly's Spy album
Meanwhile, Iraq seems to be moving toward a more conservative society, and this has affected the role of women in politics. Only one woman serves as a cabinet member in the new Iraqi government, as the minister for women's affairs. In the two previous governments, women held from four to six positions.
And in parliament, many of the women are relatives of party members. The New York Times reported this week that only 5 of 86 female parliamentarians got their seats because they won them. The rest were placed there by party leaders to meet the 25 percent quota.
The women MPs are often locked out of party strategy sessions. But some of them don't mind, in part because they don't believe they have the necessary experience (as if democracy is somehow newer to Iraqi women than it is to Iraqi men).
Women's organisations have also documented Islamist violence to women, including acid thrown into faces, even targeted killings. In 2003 many women in Basra reported that they were forced to wear a headscarf or restrict their movements because men began to harass or shout at them.
Women of all ages are now forced to comply with dress codes and be careful when they go out. Suad, a former accountant and mother of four, lives in a neighbourhood of Baghdad that used to be mixed before sectarian killings in 2005 and 2006. She told me: "I resisted for a long time, but last year I started wearing the hijab, after I was threatened by several Islamist militants in front of my house. They are terrorising the whole neighbourhood, behaving as if they were in charge. And they are actually controlling the area. No one dares to challenge them. A few months ago they distributed leaflets around the area warning people to obey them and demanding that women should stay at home."
The threat of Islamist militias now goes beyond dress codes and calls for gender segregation at university. Despite, indeed partlybecauseof the US and British rhetoric about liberation and rights, women have been pushed into the background and into their homes. Women with a public profile (doctors, academics, lawyers, NGO activists, politicians) are threatened and targeted for assassination. There are also criminal gangs who worsen the climate of fear by kidnapping women for ransom, sexual abuse or sale into prostitution outside Iraq.
It isn't a surprise that many of the women I interviewed remember the past nostalgically.
"The status of women here is linked to the general situation," Maha Sabria, professor of political science at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad tells IPS. "The violation of women's rights was part of the violation of the rights of all Iraqis." But, she said, "women bear a double burden under occupation because we have lost a lot of freedom because of it. [. . .] Sabria tells IPS that the abduction of women "did not exist prior to the occupation. We find that women lost their right to learn and their right to a free and normal life, so Iraqi women are struggling with oppression and denial of all their rights, more than ever before." Yanar Mohammed believes the constitution neither protects women nor ensures their basic rights. She blames the United States for abdicating its responsibility to help develop a pluralistic democracy in Iraq.
Iraq doesn't get much reporting from the US mainstream media but it does get a lot of opinion pieces -- though calling them "opinion pieces" might be overstating since most people can back up their opinions with facts and the bulk of the gas baggery reads like one long feelings check with maybe a little "highs and lows" of the day tossed in.
So we get nonsense like "Who lost the war?" and "Is leaving responsible?" and "Is the US leaving Iraq in a responsible manner?" and a host of other garbage.
The Iraq War was a failure. In fact, "failure" is probably too weak. If I attempt to give a speech and am struck with a panic attack resulting in an inability to speak, I have failed at my speech. If my speech makes life worse for people, results in their deaths and more, my speech is much worse than a "failure." I'd call it criminal.
And the illegal Iraq War is criminal. Last week (see yesterday's snapshot), I had to sit through the idiotic Senate Foreign Relations Subcomittee hearing where everyone pretended they gave a damn about women in the Middle East and of course they all avoided Iraq because we can't be honest and discuss how we screwed up the lives and rights of Iraqi women. Better to just disappear it.
But Republican or Democrat, what did all the senators give lip service to? That women's rights were indicators and measurements of how much freedom a society had.
So someone explain why in all the pontificating of the last three or four weeks by various men with column inches to fill on Iraq, no one wants to address Iraqi women?
The Iraq War is a criminal failure. If you happen to believe it was a big success and you're not referring to the theft of Iraqi oil, what are your measurements? And if you think the US should continue to stay in Iraq (as some Republicans in Congress want and as Barack will ensure thanks to the militarization of diplomacy) what are you measuring with?
The Iraq War has destroyed the rights of women. We're not just talking about the women and girls who have to live through the ongoing war. That's bad enough. We're talking about robbing women of rights, removing legal rights, overturning them. That is what the Iraq War "accomplished."
And that is what the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee didn't want to deal with last week, what the five-part PBS mini-series works overtime to ignore and what US gas bags in newspapers across the country refuse to pontificate on.
Iraq is a youthful population (thanks to the sanctions and the illegal war). It is also known as a country of "widows and orphans." That's another "accomplishment" of the Iraq War that no one wants to note right now -- might harsh the buzz apparently. Aseel Kami (Reuters -- of course it wouldn't be a foreign outlet) reports on the issue, noting Gasid al-Zaidi (Minister of Women's Affairs) "estimates there may be 2 million women breadwinners in Iraq, most of them widows of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the sectarian conflict that followed, the first Gulf war or the 1980s Iran-Iraq war" while Relief International adds up approximately 10% of the female population when counting widows and the International Committee of the Red Cross also finds the number to be well over one million. Widows had a monthly stipend from the government before the US invaded and now the program is no more. The program that some would argue replaced it is for widows of war victims and requires jumping through many hoops (and as NPR has reported, often it requires knowing an official who will help push the paperwork through). Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR's All Things Considered -- link has text and audio) observed in October of 2008, "In Iraq, poor widows and divorcees are often discarded by their families-in-law, leaving them vulnerable with no way to support themselves. In this camp, some like Alia beg. Others become prostitutes. These caravans provide roofs over the women's heads, but little else. They are made of metal, and in the hot Iraqi sun, they act like ovens. " In 2009, Timothy Williams (New York Times) would note little improvement and that "the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food [. . .] In large cities like Baghdad, the presence of war widows is difficult to ignore. Cloaked in black abayas, they wade through columns of cars idling at security checkpoints, asking for money or food. They wait in line outside mosques for free blankets, or sift through mounds of garbage piled along the street. Some live with their children in public parks or inside gas station restrooms."
Reflecting on Iraq today in general, Ahmed Kadhum Fahad (Global Arab Network) observes, "The question now is whether Iraqi politicians are prepared for this new phase of self-reliance or not. For this transition to happen smoothly and efficiently, Iraqi political parties need to set aside their divisions and work together to forge a functioning government and economy." A functioning government would require a Constitution that was followed but Nouri doesn't follow the Constitution. Al Rafidayn reportsthat he's now demanding former Ba'athists and "Ba'athists" apologize -- apparently for whatever haunted Chicken Nouri in all those years he hid outside the country. AFP adds that he wants them to publicly repent and sign documents. And with his past record, these documents, if signed, will be used to lock you away if you try to run for public office or do anything he perceives as a threat to his own continued glorification.
Last week, Salahuddin Province's council took a vote on the issue of becoming a semi-autonomous region. It is a position that was popular with the bulk of the residents of the province. An e-mail asked why we hadn't been noting the objection from citizens? Saturday, there were two wire reports of "tens of protesters" turning out in Salahuddin to protest a move towards semi-autonomy. We had some real issues to note and "tens" isn't one. We ignored the protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Friday. Baghdad isn't in Salahuddin Province. What Salahuddin Province should now be voting on (per the Constitution, a referendum should be held in the province) is similar to what Joe Biden proposed for Iraq as a whole. We opposed then-Senator Joe Biden's plan on the grounds that this wasn't a decision to be made by a foreign country. By the same token what a province does or does not do -- if they are following the Constitution -- isn't the say of Baghdad protesters. (You can click here for an Al Sabaah report noting the demonstrators.) The Constitution left the issue up to individual provinces. That's where the decision should remain. (Though Nouri is attempting to hijack the issue and turn it over to his Cabinet.) Aswat al-Iraq reports:
Aswat al-Iraq: Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has said on Wednesday that "every piece of Iraq's territories must be under control by the Central Govenment, warning against the announcement of federations and regions, because the current time is not suitable for such decisions." "Iraq's unity is a red line, we won't bargain upon," Maliki said in a speech during reception of leaders of intellectuals of southern Iraq's Karbala city, screened by Iraq's semi-official al-Iraqiya TV Satellite Station, adding that "every part of Iraq's territories must be under control by the Central Government."
Joining with Nouri in opposing the Iraqi Constitution is Moqtada al-Sadr. Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraq's Sadr Movement warned on Wednesday against demands to establish regions without borders demarcation and while many disputed regions are still not settled. The movement accused neighroing countries of seeking Iraq's partition."
Hussein Ali Hachem became the latest Iraqi official targeted for assassination. Aswat al-Iraq reports that the Mayor of Mosul's home was attacked and his guards and the attackers exchanged gunfire.
Meanwhile US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey provided an apology to some Shi'ites. For what? We just don't know and that's in part beause what should have been a report has instead been turned into a "memo." What are we talking about? Tim Arango's "Iraqi Shiite Anger at U.S. Remains Strong" (New York Times). In it, Arango reveals that US Ambassador to Iraq has offered select Shi'ites an apology for George H.W. Bush's actions (specifically, Shi'ites rising up in 1991 against the rule of Saddam Hussein and believing that Bush and the US military would protect them). What did he say? The White House tells Arango that he was not speaking on behalf of the US government. That's a cute interpretation. He wouldn't be in Iraq if he weren't representing the US government. Iraqis he made the remarks most likely believe that, him being an ambassador, he was speaking on behalf of his government. Not only has the White House distanced themselves from his remarks but what he said can't be discussed because Jeffrey refuses to take questions on the topic.
Barack's administration, many will recall, got a reputation among conservatives for scraping and bowing to foreign leaders (helped out by Barack's not-ready-from-day-one ignorance that US presidents are representatives of the American people who overthrew a monarchy and as such the people do not bow and their representative does not bow before foreign 'nobles'). The White House distancing itself from Jeffrey's remarks may have something to do with wanting to avoid another controversy over that -- especially as election season has already started for Campaign Obama --or it may be something more.
Regardless, James Jeffrey is a paid servant of the American people. He is stationed in Iraq to represent the United States, not himself. That's not his private property he resides in, that's US tax payer property. The notion that his remarks can cause an uproar and he can declare that he's not going to talk about what he said goes to a general lack of accountability from the government.
(For those wondering how the remarks went over, according to Arango's report, not very well. No good will was built and it only led to conversations along the lines of 'Iraq would have had an Arab Spring in 1991 and our country would never have been destroyed by the war.')
The remarks Jeffrey made may have been solid ones. For people to know that, we'd have to know the remarks. And just because the White House is distancing itself doesn't mean that Jeffrey didn't have administration approval for the remarks he made. At this point, no one knows but why an ambassador would feel the need to convey an apology (personal or on behalf of the government) but then suddenly grow reticent is very puzzling.
US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Today on the Senate floor, she spoke about veterans issues including the Hire Heroes Act she has championed. You can stream the speech here ("Senator Murray begins speakin gat 5:40:31") and below are her remarks in full:
"Mr. President, I've come to the floor today to discuss the VOW to Hire Heroes Act -- an amendment to put our nation's veterans back to work -- that we will be voting on tomorrow -- on the eve of Veterans Day.
"The real meaning of Veterans Day is to remind ourselves to take care of service-connected veterans and their families. This amendment does that.
"Now, Mr. President, we all realize that this chamber has had its share of disagreements and discord lately.
"It's no secret that we are sharply divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now.
"But this is one issue we should never be divided on.
"I've served on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee for over 16 years and I can tell you that veterans have never been a partisan issue.
"We have all made a promise to those who have signed up to serve.
"And we all need to keep it.
"That's why I've been so pleased to work to put this amendment together in a comprehensive and bipartisan manner.
"This amendment brings all ideas to the table: Republican and Democratic, House and Senate, those from the President and from members of Congress.
"And it uses all those ideas to address one of the most daunting and immediate problems facing our nation's veterans: finding work.
"Mr. President, on this Veterans Day -- after almost ten years of war -- nearly one million American veterans will be unemployed.
"It's a crisis they face with nearly 13 million other Americans - but for our veterans many of the barriers to employment are unique.
"That's because for those who have worn our nation's uniform - and particularly for those young veterans who have spent the last decade being shuttled back and forth to war zones half a world away: The road home isn't always smooth. The red tape is often long. And the transition from the battlefield to the work place is never easy.
''Too often today our veterans are being left behind by their peers who didn't make the same sacrifices for their nation at a critical time in their lives.
"Too often they don't realize the skills they possess and their value in the workplace.
"And too often our veterans are not finding open doors to new opportunities in their communities. "But as those who know the character and experiences of our veterans understand well, this shouldn't be the case.
"Our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the economy of the 21st century.
"And that's why two years ago I began an effort -- to find out why -- despite all the talent and drive I know our veterans possess -- this problem persists.
"To get to the crux of this problem I knew I had to hear first-hand from those veterans struggling to find work.
"So I crisscrossed my home state of Washington and in communities large and small, at worker retraining programs, in VA facilities, and in veterans' halls.
"I sat down with veterans to talk about the roadblocks they face.
"What I heard was heartbreaking and frustrating.
"I heard from veterans who said they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume because of the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war.
"I heard from medics who return home from treating battlefield wounds and can't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance.
"I spoke with veterans who said that many employers had trouble understanding the vernacular they used to describe their experiences in an interview or on a resume.
"I talked to veterans who told me that the military spent incalculable hours getting them the skills to do their job in the field, but little time teaching them how to transition those skills into the workplace.
"The problems were sometimes complicated and sometimes simple.
"Most importantly though -- they were preventable.
"But the more I relayed the concerns of our state's unemployed veterans to federal government officials for answers, the more I realized there were none.
"It became clear that for too long we have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women with skills to protect our nation - only to ignore them once they leave the military.
"For too long, at the end of their career we patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone.
"That's why in May of this year, as Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I introduced a bipartisan veterans employment bill to ease the transition from the battlefield to the working world.
"It's a bill that allows our men and women in uniform to capitalize on their service, while also ensuring the American people capitalize on the investment we have made in them.
"For the first time, it requires broad job skills training for every service member as they leave the military as part of the military's Transition Assistance Program.
"It allows service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs in government.
"And it requires the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector in order to make it simpler for our veterans to get the licenses and certifications they need.
"All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work.
"And today they are being combined with other great ideas in this comprehensive amendment.
"Including an idea championed by my House counterpart, Chairman Miller, that will ease the employment struggles of our older veterans by providing them with additional education benefits so that they can train for high-demand jobs.
"And an idea that's been championed by President Obama, Senator Baucus, and many others that provides a tax credit for employers that hire veterans.
"Mr. President, with this amendment we are taking a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military.
"And for many of us, particularly those who grew up with the Vietnam War -- we are also taking steps to avoid the mistakes of the past -- mistakes we stand perilously close to repeating.
"You know, each day we read about skyrocketing suicide statistics, substance abuse problems, and even rising homelessness among the post-9/11 generation of veterans.
"And while there are many factors that contribute to these challenges --
"The failure to give our veterans the self-confidence, financial security, and dignity that a job provides often plays a crucial role.
"So on this Veterans Day we need to redouble our efforts to avoid the mistakes that have cost our veterans dearly -- and that have weighed on the collective conscience of this nation.
"We must do that by passing this amendment -- but also by looking back on a time when we stepped up to meet the promise we made to our veterans.
"Mr. President, as I've probably mentioned on the floor here before, my father was a veteran of World War II.
"But what I don't always talk about is the fact that when he came home from war -- he came home to opportunity.
"First to college -- then to a job.
"A job that gave him pride.
"A job that helped him and my mother raise seven children -- who've gone on to support families of their own.
"This is the legacy of opportunity we have to live up to for our nation's veterans.
"This is the responsibility we have on our shoulders.
"It doesn't end on the battlefield.
"It doesn't end after the parades on Friday.
"In fact, it doesn't end.
"I urge my colleagues to put aside our differences.
"To come together.
"And to meet the challenge of putting our veterans to work.