Friday, April 24, 2009


The US occupation of Iraq, which has become the full responsibility of President Barack Obama, is once again a bloodbath. Not that it had ceased to be violent, brutal and chaotic, for not one day has passed since the US invasion of Iraq was launched that hasn't found several Iraqis being senselessly slaughtered. But rather than talking about three Iraqis being killed today, or two dozen, we are again talking about several dozen, and over 100 wounded, as we are seeing recently. Each of these Iraqis have been killed as a direct result of the US occupation of Iraq - their blood splattered on the hands of President Obama, who, during a visit to Baghdad's airport on April 7, praised the US military for their "extraordinary achievement" in Iraq.
[. . .]
Meanwhile, we have the pathetic propaganda from the impotent Maliki government in Baghdad. On the same day of the aforementioned bloodletting, just after the second bombing, Iraqi state television announced that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda-linked group, was captured in eastern Baghdad. Security experts have previously speculated that al-Baghdadi was a character invented by some extremist groups rather than a real person and the US military does not believe there was ever a single al-Qaeda leader with that name.

The above is from Dahr Jamail's "... The Horrible Truth" (New Zealand's Scoop) and you should pair that with C.I.'s morning entry. That was dictated and we were rolling with laughter as we heard C.I. dictating it into the phone. (Gnostic Gospels!) I think there may be a truest in Dahr's statements above. I'll nominate it Saturday night/Sunday morning. Now this is from Martin Chulov (Guardian of Manchester):

Last weekend, the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, visited the interior ministry in Baghdad – an institution not long ago riddled with sectarian groups that ran torture chambers in the basements of several government buildings – to tell the minister that not much had changed.
Maliki said that the ranks of the police were still a forum for sectarian and private interests that posed a threat to the Iraqi state. These were hardly the reassuring words of a leader in control. They were instead the protestations of a man who knows how easily it could all go wrong.

And this is from Hurriyet on today's bombings: "Police said the attackers approached two different gates to the shrine, which has been a frequent target in the past. One of the bombers detonated the explosives just inside a courtyard of the shrine, which contains the tombs of two important holy men, or imams. The blasts on the Muslim holy day followed two suicide bombs on Thursday, one in Baghdad and the other in the northeastern province of Diyala, in which at least 89 people died." And check out this condemnation of the bombings -- grasp how the UN never condemns the murders of gays in Iraq.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, April 24, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, Chris Hill breaks his first Iraq promise, Cliff Cornell's court-martial is set for next week, and more.

We're going to start by looking back. Six years ago, the New York Times [Sunday] Magazine featured Peter Maass' "
Good Kills" which demonstrated all that was wrong with war reporting (April 20, 2003, pp. 32 - 37). Predictions? Maass opened with them: "As the war in Iraq is debated and turned into history, the emphasis will be on the role of technology -- precision bombing, cruise missiles, decapitation strikes." Really? Is that what anyone talks about today? And did they really talk about it then? No and no. But that was what the first Gulf War was about and lazy reporters couldn't capture what they were seeing -- apparently the US education system has failed them and they lack the ability to put their observations into words -- so they tried to use a narrative from a previous war.

Six years ago, this story demonstrated how the embeds were a success . . . for the US military. Reporting on his 'buddies' in The Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, Maass smoothed over all the edges even when the edges were dead civilians. Especially when it was dead civilians. Entering Diyala Province (though Maass didn't use -- and probably didn't know -- the term), his 'buddies' were drgiving over a bridge. He calles this attempt to get across the Diyala River (by vehicle, over a bridge) "a signal event in the war" -- which indicates the other problem. The reporters were so jacked up on their own sense of being 'history' that they jerked off in print and the audiences back home were stuck with it. What were minor events were suddenly 'epic' just because a reporter was embedded.

"BATTLE IS CONFUSION." And you know Maass stood by it because it was in all caps. But REPORTING IS CONFUSION when reporters forget their role. As the marines attempt to travel (drive) over the bridge, things get, as Maass puts it, "complicated." We have wasted four pages on his War Porn when finally readers learn (in less than two pages) that civilians were being killed. This 'big battle'? Lt. Bryan McCoy is thrilled that people are dying. He utters a censored word -- the paper renders it "[expetives]" -- describing Iraqis and then self-strokes, "Boys are doing good. Brute force is going to prevail today." He adds, "We'll drill them." And indeed McCoy and the others did. But they were civilians attempting to cross the bridge from the other end. Civilians were attempting to drive across the bridge. Proving what a fool he was Maass -- even after it's known that civilians were killed -- is still writing about these precision shootings. A moving car's engine block is being taken out? Didn't we hear that one after the shooting on the car containing Giuliana Segrena? And those bullets were everywhere. Maass writes, "As the half-dozen vehicles approached, some shots were fired at the ground in front of the cars; others were fired, with great precision, at their tires or their engine blocks. Marine snipers can snipe." Can Maas gush over his 'buddies' any more foolishly and any less journalistically?

After he's done gushing, after approximately two-thirds of another page has been wasted, Maass finally informs, "The vehicles, it only later became clear, were full of Iraqi civilians." Now what reader would feel cheated? You got Maass playing Miss Cleo and offering predictions, you got pages and pages of rah-rah, you got everything but reporting and there's not a great deal in what remains of the article. Despite, for example, speaking to one survivor, Eman Alshamnery, who was shot, whose sister was shot dead along with two other people in one of the cars, he really doesn't have much to say. He speaks to another survivor who is digging graves to bury people and Maass doesn't have much to say. No one knows how many people were killed -- despite Maass and other journalists being present, Maass never feels the need to give a death toll. He estimates at least six cars with people and also one old man walking (with a cane) on the bridge were shot dead. But the number of dead isn't important to him. Nor is it important to give voice to the survivors.

But, naturally, he offers plenty of space for the marines such as Lance Cpl Santiago Venture who explodes when another journalist (unidentified) disputes a marine's assertion of "Better safe than sorry" and another's pant of "I wish I had been here" by noting that "the civilians should not have been shot." Why is that? That really is what a reporter using six oversize pages (the Sunday Magazine is the size of Rolling Stone until the recent 'downsize') in a magazine should be able to answer. Maass does note that maybe warning shots whipping through the air aren't readily heard or recognized by civilian populations. And maybe more so when the firing is coming from people in camo that the civilians can't see. Just idle observations that readers really have to fill in to grasp what's being inferred but not said: You don't grasp that these 'tink' sounds hitting your car are bullets being fired by people you can't see. And the US marines weren't trained to grasp that just because your instructor tells you someone under fire will stop doesn't mean that's what happens in the real world (as has been demonstrated in Iraq over and over).

But why did the journalist say the civilians should not have been shot? The journalist isn't quoted or even mentioned except for that sentence and another where "the journalist walked away". Hmm. Maybe because the Genever Conventions insists that those engaged in combat "distinguish themselves from the civilian population while they are engaged in an attack or in a military operation preparatory to an attack. Recognizing, however, that there are situations in armed conflicts where, owing to the nature of the hostilities an armed combatant cannot so distinugish himself, he shall retain his status as a combatant, provided that in such situations, he carries his arms openly; (a) during each military engagement, and (b) during such time as he is visble to the adversary while he is engaged in a miliary deployment preceding the launching of an attack in which he is to participate." That's the Geneva Convention. That's what Maass can't tell you about, what he wouldn't tell you about.

It's not just that it's 'bad' and 'sad' that these Iraqis were killed, it's that the way in which they were killed was, as described by Maass, a violation of the Geneva Convention. Maass can't be bothered with things such a the law. Much better to present the whole thing as if it were a traffic jam on some epic scale. No one's at fault, people died. Oh well. That is his 'angle.' It's embarrassing, it's not journalism. While he can't be bothered with explaining or citing the law, he does make time for the excussed. Ventura is quoted at length with a 'defense' that includes: "We've got to be concerned about our safety. We dropped pamphlets over these people weeks and weeks ago and told them to leave the city. You can't blame marines for what happened. It's bull. What are you doing getting in a taxi in the middle of a war zone?"

"Our safety"? Actually, as the invading force, you've got to be concerned with the civilian population and, are in fact, bound by law to protect the civilian population -- protect and not harm. "Dropped pamphlets" and people were supposed to leave their homes? And go where? And go why? Because another country told them to? Can't blame marines? Did the civilians shoot themselves? A taxi in the middle of a war zone? In the middle of Iraq, in the middle of their country, in the middle of their lives, in the middle of their homes. "Their" being the key term as in "theirs" not "ours."

Peter Maass, of course,
wrote about knowing Salam Pax -- an Iraqi blogger who worked for the New York Times though Maass' inflated self-opinion turned it into 'works for me'. The same ego that allowed him to think he had the right to disclose various details about Salam Pax without checking with Pax first. Talk about arrogance and a sense of entitlement. If you're missing it, note "working alongside -- no, employing --" Pax and "there were occasions when I stayed in my room and let Salam loose for several hours." Let him loose for several hours? Is he a dog? For all who whine about Devil Wears Prada type of employees, grasp that it's the pompous employers who write the most insulting 'memoirs.' Last month, at his own website (The Fear), Salam Pax noted AP's assertion that Baghdad' was "calm . . . in part because the city is now ethnically divided." To which Pax added, "No s**t! You're not telling me anything new here. This was government and US army policy. Who put up the walls cutting the Sunni districts from the rest of the city?" Pax also takes on the assertion that "Shia militiamen and death squads" are now "off the street":

Is the writer being wilfully naïve? I am sure he knows better. The militias might have disappeared but one of the main reasons why these Shia neighbourhoods are safer than other districts is because Shia political parties were allowed to have their own organised security and militia forces. Like the Kurdish parties no one was allowed to question the right of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in having it's own militarised arm, the Badr Organisation. And al-Dawa under al-Maliki started their own security brigade, in the guise of a counter terrorism brigade.
The Sunnis on the other hand were left to fend for themselves. And between the Mahdi Militias with their ominous slogan 'Our regular programme will resume after this break' and the other Shia security forces the 'Awakening Groups' were too little and too late. The harm was done.

"Awakening," "Sons of Iraq" and Sahwa all refer to the same group and the
Boston Globe editorialized about it yesterday: "One sign of trouble is how Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has been treating the so-called Awakening Movement. . . . The Awakening fighters were promsied that once Al Qaeda was crushed, they would get jobs in the police and other security forces. But the Shi'ite-dominated government appears to be breaking that promise. Not only has it been slow to hire former Sunni insurgents, but it has allowed several Awakening leaders to be arrested on the basis of flimsy allegations. If this sectarian behavior is not stopped, sooner or later it may result in a resumption of calamitous Sunni - Shi'ite violence." independent journalist Dahr Jamail observed this week (at ZNet) that the whole thing was "ripe with broken promises" and:

It is an easily predictable outcome. An occupying power (the US) sets up a 100,000-strong militia composed of former resistance fighters and even some members of al-Qaeda, pays them each $300 per month to not attack occupation forces, and attacks decrease dramatically. Then, stop paying most of them and tell them they will be incorporated into Iraqi government security forces. Proceed to leave them high and dry as the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki begins targeting them - assassinating leaders, detaining fighters and threatening their families. Allow this plan to continue for over six months, unabated.Not surprisingly, the Sahwa are fighting back against US forces and those of the Iraqi government.

Wayne White of the Middle East Institute in Washington told Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor), "if you continue arresting and harassing, and shunning Awakening types -- many of whom were originally derived from the insurgency -- you're really playing wtih fire." Yesterday, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported a roadside bombing outside of Baquba which claimed the life of Sahwa leader Mubarak Hammad al Obadi and 3 of his aids while leaving two more aids wounded. Violence is increasing (again) in Iraq. James Hider (Times of London) adds that "Awakenings" "have been repeatedly targeted by militans, and complain they have not received support from the Shi government, which views them with deep distrust." Hider notes an investigation by his paper "revealed that widespread abuse of power and corruption among Iraq's sprawling new security forces are also stoking resentment among the population, stirring people to carry out attacks." Hider also reported on that investigation into Iraq's police and he notes, "In the desperate rush to drag Iraq back from civil war, sweeping powers were granted to its new security forces. Human rights workers, MPs and American officials now believe that they are all too often a law unto themselves: admired when they defeat terrorists but also feared for their widespread abuse of power." Hider also reports on a video of a woman being raped (video shot by a mobile phone) and ex-Falluja Mayor Jassim al-Bidawi identifies the man in the video "as an Iraqi police officer" and says the one filming the rape is as well: "They are thought to have drugged the woman as she visited her husband in a detention centre in Ramadi. Since the rapist's uncle is a senior policeman in the city the attacker is all but untouchable, Mr al-Bidawi says." Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) reported Thursday on a woman, Dalal, who was in a Tikrit prison where she was "raped by prison guards," she informed her brother who visited her "drew a gun and shot his visibly pregnant sister dead." They explain how common assaults on women are and how easily buried. No one is imprisoned for either raping Dalal or for murdering her. No one was fired. Just another example of the ongoing femicide in Iraq.

Staying on the topic of Iraqi women the
Janan Collection is Iraqi women's arts and crafts. Megan Feldman (Dallas Observer) reports that the collection/colletive was started by Ty Reed who was a US soldier serving in Iraq when she encountered a young Iraqi widwo named Fatima who, like many other Iraqi women, was now the sole support for her family. Fatima explained that she and approximately 24 other widows "had artistic skills such as basket-making, painting or leather-working. Could Reed help them find a way to earn a living?" So Reed and Teresa Nguyen (Ty Reed's sister) started up the collective and there will be an online auction May 9th. Feldman notes, "The work on tour now includes traditional baskets, ornaments and jewelry made of leather, turquoise beads and gold, as well as paintings like Harvest Moon, a minaret-studded cityscape set against a glowing moon. . . . The proceeds from just one painting, Reed said, will support the painter's family for at least a month."

More widows and widowers and orphans in Iraq today as
yesterday's violent bombings with mass fatalities is echoed. This morning Ernesto Londono and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) reported that at least 135 people have been killed in Iraq bombings today and yesterday with today seeing 55 dead and one-hundred-and-twenty-five wounded in a double bombings near a Shia mosque in Baghdad. Timothy Williams and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) explain the double bombings were suicide bombers ("within five minutes of each other") outside "the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim and his grandson." The Times link also has audio option where Myers says, "The bombers came up and mingled with the crowd while they were waiting to get into the shrine that you mentioned and blew themselves up nearly simultaneiously as near as we can figure." He also stated, "It seems very clear that the last few attacks have targeted the Shi'ites in Iraq particularly." Corey Flintoff (NPR) adds, "Until the country can reach power-sharing arrangements among its ethnic Kurdish and its Shiite and Sunni Arab communities, Iraq remains vulnerable to attacks by al-Qaida and other militant groups, analysts say." James Hider (Times of London) notes that the death toll hit 60. Aws Qusay, Zahra Hosseinian, Michael Christie and Louise Ireland (Reuters) observe: "The attack was the deadliest single incident in Iraq since 63 people died in a truck bomb blast in Baghdad on June 17 last year, and came amid growing concerns that a recent drop in violence might turn out to have been just a temporary lull." Laith Hammoudi and Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) quote eye witness Hammad Faisel stating, "There were piles of bodies. I saw a man running after the explosions to get away, but he quickly fell. I watched him die."

There was other violence in Iraq today and we'll note that but the bombings and Iraq were a good portion of the second hour of
The Diane Rehm Show today so let's note this from Diane and her guests Karen DeYoung (Washington Post), Daniel Dombey (Finanical Times of London) and Yochi Dreazen (Wall St. Journal).

Diane Rehm: Daniel Dombey, let's talk about this latest violence in Iraq. Another explosion this morning, a suicide bomber killing perhaps as many as 125.

Daniel Dombey: These are obviously awful events with terrible human costs. I think, however, the key thing to bear in mind is this is a crucial year and any easy assumption that meant -- that went from the progress of last year in terms of safety and security to believing that this coming year would mean that Iraq would just go on getting better was always going to be a perilous one. There are lots of longterm political problems in Iraq. Maybe those have been papered over. Maybe we focus too much on the military side. And this is becoming ever more clear. It's a very important year in Iraq. There are an awful lot of tensions in the country.

Diane Rehm: What does this mean or what could this mean for US plans to reduce the military in Iraq, Karen?

Karen DeYoung: The statements that have been made as various withdrawals have been announced have been very careful to say 'We know it's not going to be totally peaceful in Iraq when we leave. We believe we have set up political and economic structures that are lasting and it's up to them to deal with it.' I think that you -- it's interesting that these attacks in -- over the past two days in Baghdad and Diyala are believed to have been Sunni groups against Shi'ites in at least two cases at mosques where people were worshiping [and] don't involve US troops. I think that we're concerned about the north where we believe al Qaeda still is around Mosul and we're concerned about Kirkuk which is the kind of oil center in the north which is being contested by the Kurds and the Arabs. Uh, it's been intimated that we might be asked to stay a bit in those cities but I think these kind of bombings -- Iraqi on Iraqi in Baghdad and father south -- I think are not going to hold up the plan to depart.

Diane Rehm: Yochi Dreazen, would you agree?

Yochi Dreazen: I think it depends on which part of the plan one is scrapping. US troops have already made clear that they're going to stay in bases that they consider to be 'joint bases.' So if there is -- pretty much all US bases now have Iraqis on them. The interpretation that US commanders have is that they're allowed to stay on those bases beyond summer of 2010. They can stay on those bases pretty much until all troops leave. So I think that the US footprint in major cities will shrink further but it's not going to be as if we disappear. I mean, we will still have a fairly large footprint in Baghdad, we'll still have one in Mosul. Falluja, which we've pulled out of entirely, has had a spate of bombings lately so now US troops at Ramadi and Taqaddum -- the two bases closest to Falluja -- have begun inching closer back to that city as well. I think the broader point is that if they're had been a broader political consensus that the US hoped would emerge from stability consensus wise and that consensus is very fragile in part because the decisions about Kirkuk, about Arab-Kurdish delineation of powers and oil money were never made. They've been kicked down the road, down the road, down the road. Now we're leaving so the vacuum is re-emerging and those questions still have to be answered.

Daniel Dombey: Yes, I would absolutely agree with that. I mean there are some very fundamental problems in Kirkuk where you have this Kurdish-Arab tension and, actually, US forces have increased in Kirkuk in recent months. You also have this basic critique that Obama always made of the Bush policy which was it didn't concentrate enough on the politics and, in fact, we don't really see a political initiative so far in terms of the US to try and push deals in Iraq. But you haven't had a US ambassador there so there is a US ambassador who is headed out this week. But it's an enormous struggle to reach any kind of an accord in Iraq. It's a very important year though as we've seen Maliki really try to consolidate his power and lots of tensions emerging as well.

Diane Rehm: But you know what's interesting? What's happened is that Iraq has completely knocked Afghanistan off the front pages. Now we see concentration on the suicide bombings in Iraq but also what's happening in Pakistan. We were planning to send more troops to Afghanistan, removing them from Iraq. Now how is all of this going to be effected, Karen?

Karen DeYoung: I think the, you know, this year, they've already settled on which troops are going to Afghanistan and the request from the commanders there is for another 10,000 next year which has not been authorized. I don't think that's going to seriously impinge on plans to withdrawal from Iraq. Right now those are the only requests. The 21,000 that were authorized, actually 21,000, for this year and a request that the president has not signed off on for an additional 10,000 next year. Right now there are not additional requests to send more troops to Afghanistan and, in fact, the Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, has said many times, as have others, there's a limit to the number of troops you can send to Afghanistan.

Diane Rehm: Have Americans, with the exception of military families, stopped caring about Iraq, Yochi?

Yochi Dreazen: I think even in the military there's been a massive shift of military manpower and military mental power. Within the military the question now is how do you try to win Afghanistan and stabilize Pakistan. It's less Iraq. I think there was a bit of false complacency that came in when violence fell and Obama won and made clear his plan to leave. To the degree that anybody was still following Iraq, and I think many people had tuned it out, at least a year earlier if not longer, there's a belief that we won, that the war was over. Violence was down, we were going to leave. Things were not great but there was a somewhat functioning government and now we could do something else. And when that happened, I remember getting an e-mail from someone in Baghdad saying that we in the US could decide to leave and we could say we're done with our part of the fighting come 2010 or 2011 but there's another side and that side might want to keep fighting. And I think what you're seeing now is that there is another side, it does want to keep fighting and we're going to decide do we keep fighting to?

[. . .]

Yochi Dreazen: I think that the intent of those carrying out the attacks is precisely that issue. You're trying to stir up renewed Shia on Sunni violence and reprisals. To be honest, I don't think it's going to work -- in part because Shia political power is stronger and more stable across the Arab portions of Iraq then it's been at any point since 2003. Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army which had been the main form for Shia reprisals is largely receded into the background. A lot of its members no longer affiliate themselves with him or his movement. I think the intent is clearly that if a Sunni group carries out an attack big enough or horrific enough, some Shia group will carry out a revenge attack. So the hope would be -- obviously, I use 'hope' not in the way we would use it -- the hope would be that if you kill 500 Shia at prayer one day, something bad will happen, Shia on Sunni. To be honest, I think that was what happened in '05, '06, '07. I think to a degree early '08. I think that has largely played out.

Diane Rehm: So do you all believe that what's happening in Iraq now is not going to effect US plans to draw down troops moving forward? Karen?

Karen DeYoung: Uh, not right now, I don't think it will.

Diane Rehm: Not right now.

Karen DeYoung: I think that what was said previously, that what we think of as a complete withdrawal eventually is not going to be a complete withdrawal as soon as we -- as we think it will.

Diane Rehm: And what happens to those large bases that the United States has built in Iraq?Karen DeYoung: They're supposed to be turned over to Iraq eventually --

Daniel Dombey: You've got. Oh, I'm sorry.

Karen DeYoung: No, go ahead.

Daniel Dombey: You've got to remember a three-stage process. By June of this year, the US is supposed to be out of major cities although with the conditions that Yochi mentioned before. By August 2010, it's supposed to cease combat operations which is an Obama phrase that probably doesn't mean anything very much. And by the end of 2011, it's supposed to be out completely. Now that's actually according to a deal negotiated with the Bush administration. Whether that's going to happen -- that's a long way off One criticism of Bush and a criticism of Obama is that you really need to get the politics right. The real priority, however, for the US, is for Iraq not to provoke a regional conflict.

Diane Rehm: Mmm-hmm.

Daniel Dombey: That's why something like Kirkuk, which is something that involves the Kurds, the Arabs and Turkey -- which does not want Kirkuk to fall under Kurdish control, is so sensitive. They do not want Iraq to be a source of instability in the region. I think that they're prepared for Iraq to be a less than wonderful place for Iraqis to live in.

Yochi Dreazen: If I -- if I was a betting man, which I would never publicly admit to being, I would put considerable money that there is absolutely no chance that we would be out of those big bases by the end of 2011. The bases are so beyond-belief enormous. I mean, the Victory compound out by Baghdad airport is roughly 50 square miles, it's huge. You have thousands and thousands of tons of equipment, tens of thousands of vehicles. So the idea that somehow in the next two years all of these bases will be dismantled is non-existant. Beyond the fact that US officials have made clear all along that, should the Iraqis request it, maybe we'd stay beyond 2011. And you can envision a 100 scenarios --

Diane Rehm: Of course

Yochi Dreazen: -- in which the Iraqi government says we need you.

Steven Lee Myers of NYT (audio link again): "The fact is that not many American troops have yet withdrawn so the numbers are still high." That's an important point and also one made in a Congressional hearing this week that Jim, Dona, Ava and I have already decided is part of an editorial for Third Sunday. There are parts you probably agree with above and parts you don't. Some you may strongly disagree with. What's interesting is how November 2007 is actually the crucial period if you want to talk US draw down. That was avoided. We may cover it at Third or here next week.

But right now, some of the other violence.
Hussein Kahim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which killed police Maj Raad meki and left three people in his car injured and a Jalwlaa car bombing which claimed 2 lives and left twenty-six people injured. Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and injured another, a Sinjar sticky bombing claimed the life of "the son of a local sheikh" and, dropping back to Friday, a police major was shot dead in Kirkuk.

Today the
US military announced: "TIKRIT, Iraq -- A Multi-National Division - North Soldier died in a non-combat related incident in Salah ad Din province April 24. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4277 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. This is the third death of a US service member announced this week and the 14th for the month thus far -- already putting April's death toll ahead of March's.

Tuesday Chris Hill was confirmed as US Ambassador to Iraq. AP reports Hill arrived in Baghdad today. And they seem on the point of gushing that it's only "three days after" his Senate confirmation. What the hell have they been drinking? Reality, the unqualified Hill has already broken his first promise. As John Kerry noted in the Senate Foreign Committee's hearing on Hill March 25th, Hill stated he would leave for Iraq "within a day of his Senate confirmation." Does it matter? Yeah it does. You say you'll do something, you better do it. This is another example of Hill telling the Congress one thing and then doing another. And it makes John Kerry look like an idiot because, in his opening remarks at that hearing, Kerry argued against any attempts to delay Hill's confirmation stating that it "would do a serious disservice to our efforts" in Iraq if senators attempted "holding up a vote on Ambassador Hill's nomination." Kerry said, "This is not a time for delay." He added, "The committee will move to quickly discharge Ambassador Hill, who has committed to depart for Iraq within a day of his Senate confirmation." Committed. And he already broke it. It's not a minor issue and one more sign that Hill's a little 'too casual' when it comes to job responsibilities.

Winding down on Iraq,
Mattis Chiroux faced a military board this week (see Tuesday and Wednesday's snapshots). The board has a recommendation. Yesterday, Matthis wrote a very intense and moving account of his life thus far. We've noted the process here and a few people have e-mailed to dispute where it stands now. In Tuesday's snapshot, I'm going by three officers I spoke to on the phone and one JAG attorney I spoke with in addition to a woman Jess spoke with and she typed up the process and e-mailed it. Here is that e-mail:

SGT Chiroux's duty status will not change today because his case is notcomplete. HRC-St. Louis will compile the board record and complete alegal review prior to forwarding the case through the Commander, HRC-STLto the Commanding General, Human Resources Command. Before he left today, SGT Chiroux was informed of the Board's findingsand recommendations. Due to Privacy Act constraints, I am not able todiscuss this with you. SGT Chiroux remains a member of the Individual Ready Reserve until theCommanding General takes final action. This is expected to occur inseveral weeks' time. Thank you, v/r, Maria Quon LTC, U.S. Army Public Affairs Officer U.S. Army Human Resources Command-St. Louis 1 Reserve Way St. Louis, MO 63132-5200 (314) 592-0726 [. . .] Classification: UNCLASSIFIED Caveats: NONE
Based on the conversations and the e-mail, the board made a recommendation or even a decision but it goes on up the chain of command. No one is attempting to insult Matthis in any way. Nor to, as two e-mails suggest, take something away from his victory. But I'm not Scott Horton. Translation, I can't know the truth and say something else. I can't say "Bush is going to be indicted!" when I don't know that's true. The e-mail published above is censored only to take out Quon's e-mail -- which is her business one but I'm not comfortable having that in there. I didn't speak to anyone in public affairs. Jess spoke to her and she e-mailed him. What she's stating in that e-mail is what I was told by three officers familiar with the procedure and by one JAG attorney who knows the drill. We met the three-source rule with two extra.
At Courage to Resist, a piece by Matthis Chiroux states he was awarded a recommendation by the board. I don't know where people are seeing something other than that but I've explained why we have worded it the way we have and, again, it's also the way Chiroux himself does. Also at Courage to Resist:

Cliff Cornell was denied sanctuary in Canada; will face general courts martial Tuesday, April 28 at Ft. Stewart, Georgia
Donate to Cliff's legal defense here ]56 people have given $2,270 as of April 22. Goal: $3,000
By Friends of Cliff Cornell. Updated April 22, 2009
The U.S. Army has charged Specialist Clifford Cornell, with desertion. Cornell, 28, surrendered himself to authorities at Fort Stewart, Georgia on February 17, after being denied refugee status in Canada. The Arkansas native left Fort Stewart four years ago, when his artillery unit was ordered to Iraq. According to family and friends, Cornell did not want to kill civilians, and said that Army trainers told him he must shoot any Iraqi who came near his vehicle.

That's this Tuesday. Turning to public television
NOW on PBS examines rape in "Justice Delayed:"A terrible statistic: one in six women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. But an even more shocking reality: A backlog in processing rape kits--crucial evidence in arresting violent predators -- is delaying and sometimes denying justice for tens of thousands of American women. NOW travels to Los Angeles County to investigate why it has the largest known rape kit backlog in the country--over 12,000 kits are sitting untested in police storage facilities. An internal audit found that more than 50 of these cases have exceeded the 10-year statute of limitations on rape. "The evidence that we're talking about represents human lives," Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick tells NOW. "Those are lives stacked up on the shelves waiting for justice." NOW talks with courageous rape survivors and law enforcement experts for insight and answers in this disturbing but important report. Are these women being victimized twice?

NOW on PBS begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (check local listings) as does PBS' Washington Week which finds Gwen sitting around the table with Dan Balz (Washington Post), Joan Biskupic (USA Today), Jeanne Cummings (Rona Barrett's DC) and Mark Mazetti (New York Times). Also on PBS (and starts airing tonight on many PBS stations, check local listings), Bonnie Erbe sits down with Kim Gandy, Amanda Carpenter and Avis Jones-DeWeever to discuss this week's news on To The Contrary. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers: Vice President BidenIn this profile of Joe Biden, Lesley Stahl spends three days with the vice president and also interviews his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and his boss, President Barack Obama. Watch Video
Powered By CoalCoal is America's most abundant and cheap fossil fuel, but burning it happens to be the biggest contributor to global warming. Scott Pelley reports. Watch Video
The OrphanageIvory is selling for nearly $1,000 a tusk, causing more elephants to be slaughtered and more orphaned babies in need of special care provided by an elephant orphanage in Kenya. Bob Simon reports. Watch Video

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the third estate sunday review

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Subcommittee hearing

Some big sillys e-mailed to say, "Yes, it is great C.I. reports on the hearing . . . but what about you?" I am the music woman, okay?

I do the album reviews. That's me.

Plus what stands out to me is not what stands out to others. For instance, we were at the PTSD hearing today -- a House subcommittee. John Hall chaired the hearing. There were a number of kids there which surprised me.

I assumed they were kids whose parents were veterans; however, I spoke to two (with backpacks -- one green, the other yellow) and they were there (at least those two) as part of a school thing. What did they think of the hearing? The one with the green backpack said, "People talk a lot but they don't seem to listen." To me that pretty much is a basic outline for every Congressional hearing.

And does a great deal to capture today's hearing. So I'm not really sure anyone would want me reporting on Congressional hearings.

But I've got C.I.'s notes so let me see what I can offer that didn't make it into the snapshot.

Okay, Wilson. Let me look up his first name. Okay, that's John Wilson. John Wilson pointed out that part of the problem with this issue -- people getting covered for the PTSD which is a problem for some because they're forced to prove they were injured in combat with the 'enemy' -- was that the VA held no public hearing to take input on their rules.

"There has not been an opportunity for public comment," Wilson said.

Richard Paul Cohen felt the VA should not be allowed to try it via a rule change (as the VA tried to argue in the 2nd panel) because they've had the time to do so already and they haven't done it.

Barton Stichman said the legislation is "needed and long overdue."

My impression of the hearing is that the first panel -- veterans' advocates -- were committed to care and that the second panel (VA administrator) was committed to not changing anything, a refusal to improve services because they did not want to be made to do anything. And I also believe that if the VA is not made to do something (by law), it will not do it.

So there you go and I told you that you didn't want me reporting. By the way, there was another hearing C.I. attended but I didn't go to that one. C.I. may cover it in tomorrow's snapshot. I see she's got pages and pages of notes on it. Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, April 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, a Democrat and a Republican and a witness all embarrass themselves in Congress today while allegedly discussing PTSD, the Iraq-torture connections, and more..

In Iraq today, multiple bombings, multiple deaths.
Al Jazeera noted this morning a Baghdad bombing today which "targeted a police patrol in the Karrada district" with a death toll of 28 and fifty injured. Michael Christie and Jon Boyle (Reuters) added that, along with the 28 killed in Baghdad, a Muqdadiya bombing claimed 32 lives. Reuters state that both bombings were suicide bombings. Jomana Karadsheh and Cal Perry (CNN) explain that the death toll in Muqdadiya rose from 32 to 45 and that twenty-eight is the wounded toll thus far and that the bombing targeted Iranian pilgrims. Timothy Williams (New York Times) notes the toll rose again, to 47, combines the two bombings for a total death toll of 75. Unlike CNN which describes the Baghdad bomber as wearing a "suicide vest," Williams says it was a "suicide belt" and that the bomber was a woman. Corinne Reilly, Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) also report a female bomber in Baghdad. They and Timothy Williams mention an arrest. CBS News has that as well: "Iraqi officials told CBS News Terrorism consultant Ali al-Ahmed Thursday that [Abu Omar] al-Baghdadi had been arrested. . . . If true, the arrest could deliver a significant blow to an intensified campaign of attacks - the latest which included two separate suicide bombings that killed at least 54 people Thursday." Ernesto Londono and K.I. Ibrahim (Washington Post) provide context, "The assertion, made by Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman for Iraq's security forces, was startling because many intelligence officials believe Baghdadi is a mythical figure created to give the Sunni insurgent organization an Iraqi face. Iraqi authorities in the past have made similar claims that turned out to be incorrect." The 'capture' may be true and it may, indeed, have taken place today. Then again, it may be an attempt to distract from the large death toll from the two bombings. Back to the bombings, Aseel Kami (Reuters) quotes Diyala Province Governor Abdulnasir al-Muntasirbillah stating, "I just left the hospital of Baquba. The scenes there are catastrophic. Words can't express it. It is a dirty, cowardly terrorist act." [Muqdadiya is in Diyala Province]. Usama Redha and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) observe, "The two attacks bore echoes of the worst violence from Iraq's civil war and was certain to fuel fears that the security strides of the last year and a half were fading away."

This morning US House Rep John Hall chaired a hearing by the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. It was some hearing. Full of embarrassments from both sides listening in Congress as well as from the witness table. One Congressional member took the hearing for a Mary Kay Convention, another thought it was the time to go crazy and vent all your hatred for US government and, from the witness side, one thought a hearing was a license to lie. Repeating, it was some hearing.

It started off slowly and normally enough with Hall, after noting that New York soldiers stationed in Afghanistan had told him on a recent trip that they want more bandwidth and better showers, making opening remarks. "Today," Hall explained, "we are here to consider legislation, the Compensation Owed for Mental Health Based on Activities in Theater Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act or the COMBAT PTSD Act, H.R. 952. During the 110th Congress and most recently during an oversight hearing held on March 24, 2009, the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs revisited Congress' intent in establishing presumptive provisions to provide compensation to combat veterans under Section 1154(b) of title 38." Hall noted that the Veterans Affairs Dept appeared to be interpreting qualifications narrowly and that his bill is about "clarifying and expanding the definition of 'combat with the enemy' found in section 1154(b) to include a theater of combat operations during a period of war or in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities."

The first panel was John Wilson (Disabled American Veterans), Barton F. Dutchman (National Veterans Legal Services Program), Norman Bessel (American Ex-Prisoners of War) and Richard Paul Cohen (National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Inc.).

"The definition of what constitutes combat with the enemy is critical to all veterans in a combat theatre of operations," stated John Wilson reading his prepared remarks aloud (
click here), "whether the issue is service connection of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other conditions resulting from combat. The current high standards requried by the Department of Veterans Affairs' internal operating procedures for verifying veterans who 'engaged in combat with the enemy' are impossible for many veterans to satisfy, whether from current or past wars." He noted the various reasons that can prevent someone from being seen (by the VA) as "engaged in combat with the enemy" and offered women serving in Iraq:

The female soldiers who accompany male troops on patrols to conduct house-to-house searches are known as Team Lioness, and have proved to be invaluable. Their presence not only helps calm women and children, but Team Lioness troops are also able to conduct searches of the women, without violating cultural strictures. Against official policy, and at that time without the training given to their male counterparts, and with a firm commitment to serve as needed, these dedicated young women have been drawn onto the frontlines in some of the most violent counterinsurgency battles in Iraq.
Independent Lens, an Emmy award-winning independent film series on PBS, documented their work in a film titled Lioness which profiled five women who saw action in Iraq's Sunni Triangle during 2003 and 2004. As members of the US Army's 1st Engineer Battalion, Shannon Morgan, Rebecca Nava, Kate Pendry Guttormsen, Anastasia Breslow and Ranie Ruthig were sent to Iraq to provide supplies and logistical support to their male colleagues. Not trained for combat duty, the women unexpectedly became involved with fighting in the streets of Ramadi. These women were part of a unit, made up of approsimately 20 women, who went out on combat missions in Iraq. Female soldiers in the Army and Marines continue to perform Lioness work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I would like to highlight the issues faced by Rebecca Nava as she seeks recognition of her combat experience and subsequent benefits for resulting disabilities. Then US Army Specialist Nava was the Supply Clerk for the 1st Engineering Battalion in Iraq. In conversations with her and as seen in the film Lioness, she recounts several incidents. Two of those incidents are noted in my testimony today.
The first is the roll-over accident of a 5-ton truck that was part of a convoy to Baghdad. In this accident, the driver was attempting to catcuh up with the rest of the convoy but in doing so lost control of the vehicle. The five ton truck swerved off the road and rolled over, killing a Sergeant who was sitting next to her, and severely injuring several others. Specialist Nava was caught in the wreckage. She had to pulled through the fractured windshield of the vehicle. While not severly injured in the accident, she did suffer a permanent spinal injury.
Another incident occurred wherein she was temporarily attached to a Marine unit and her job for this mission was to provide Lioness support for any Iraqi women and children the unit contacted. It was a routine mission patrolling the streets of Ramadi. Before she knew it, the situation erupted into chaos as they came under enemy fire. She had no choice but to fight alongside her male counterparts to suppress the enemy. No one cared that she was a female -- nor did they care that she had a Supply MOS -- their lives were all on the line -- she opened fire. The enemy was taken out. During this fire fight she also made use of her combat lifesaver skills and provided medical aid to several injured personnel.
This and other missions resonate with her to this day. When she filed a claim with the VA, she was confronted with disbelief about her combat role in Iraq as part of Team Lioness. Specialist Nava filed a claim for service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus but was told that she did not qualify because of her logistics career field. Since she does not have a Combat Action Badge, she cannot easily prove that the combat missions occurred which impacted her hearing.

Wilson observed that Nava's "lack of recognition for her combat role can be multiplied countless times for other veterans also caught in the fog of war." Later in the hearing, he would return to Nava to point out her struggle and how she had a team following her in Iraq, recording her (for the documentary) and still was denied and that most service members do not have a document of their service (example: "So we have a troop who has a camera following her around in Iraq [. . .] How much more of a problem is this for other veterans who do not have the visibility she has.") She does not Norman Bussel stated, "To refuse PTSD compensation to veterans because their job titles are not synonymous with combat is unconscionable. There's more than the money involved. Even more important is the colossal insult of telling a combat veteran that he didn't fight for his country. That is an unnecessary stressor to stuff into his or her already overlowing load of emotional baggage." (Bussel read his prepared remarks,
click here.) Cohen observed in his opening remarks:

You've heard justice delayed is justice denied well justice denied increases frustration among our combat veterans, increases their anxiety, increases their depression, increases their anger, increases their betrayal -- a sense of betrayal from the VA and, by extension, from the whole country.

Cohen's opening remarks are not the same as he prepared statement in the record (
click here for his prepared statement). Stichman noted:

Under current law, VA has to expend more time and resources to decide PTSD claims than almost every other type of claim. A major reason that these claims are so labor intensive is that in most cases, VA believes that the law requires it to conduct an extensive search for evidence that may corroborate that the veteran's testimony that he experienced a stressful event during military service. According to the VA, an extensive search for corroborating evidence is necessary even when the medical evidence shows that the veteran currently suffers from PTSD, and mental health professionals attribute the PTSD to stressful events that occurred during military service.

Click here for Stichman's prepared remarks (which he read into the record). We'll focus on two strong exchanges before we get to the goofballs. US House Reps Ann Kirkpatrick and Ciro Rodriguez were on focus and raised real issues. First Kirkpatrick.

Ann Kirkpatrick: I just spent two weeks in my district meeting with veterans and there's so much anger about how they're being treated by the administration and specifically with regard to PTSD. I've met with veterans who said that -- how difficult it was to show the service connection. One veteran in particular was a Vietnam veteran and he told me how painful it was to try to track down his patrol finding out that so many of them had died since their days in the service. I finally was able to locate someone across the country who was able to validate the service connection. The other problem is also the lack of trained mental health care professionals specific to PTSD in some of these communities. And again they said, 'Please take back to your community our request that we have trained mental health counselors in PTSD in the Veterans Administration' and how specific that is to their treatment in those who qualify. My concern, and my question is for you Mr. Wilson, for a veteran who has PTSD or thinks they have it and can't show the service connection, where do they go for treatment? What services are there for them?

John Wilson: It's a good question. While I was in the field, I also had veterans come through with the same issues -- Vietnam in particular, some WWII -- their entire team wiped out. So who did they go to for support for their particular claim? No letters -- as we were talking about here -- and the distinguished gentleman was providing letters still postmarked from someone overseas at the time, excellent evidence typically. Why that claim was denied, I am not sure. It would, I think normally, I hope, it would be granted. It's difficult circumstances as I say and I have encouraged those people to go back and meet with their reunion websites for people who may be part of that unit, who may be able to provide, perhaps, some other story of 'Yes, I saw Johnny there on that -- on that truck going to that combat zone all geared up.' Those kind of things may all be of benefit. But it is nonetheless very difficult and the fog of war? How is it that you're going to appoint a stenographer or a court reporter, a videographer to accompany each person on that combat? You cannot. It's very difficult circumstance. I would contend that the VA does have the means before it in order to grant those benefits by looking at the lay evidence that a veteran submits and looking at the times, places and circumstances of that particular event, they should in fact be able to grant the service connection. But it nonetheless is a problematic condition.

Ann Kirkpatrick: And for those people who can't -- can't show the connection, are there other places they can go for help?

John Wilson: Ma'am, I wish I could find those. None that I'm aware of.

Ann Kirkpatrick: Mr. Chairman, let me just make one other comment. I asked the veterans I was meeting with if they were concerned about people applying for PTSD treatment who may not really qualify and they said "No." No. The risk really is that those who need treatment are not going to seek it out because of the current system and they emphasized over and over again that they were promised medical treatment for life when they enlisted and that that promise has been broken.

Now for Ciro Rodriguez. He'll refer to some past experiences prior to Congress (and prior to being in the Texas legislature). He's speaking of when he was with Bexar County Department of Mental Health and with Intercultural Development Research Association. Also he had a statement put in the record (
click here).

Ciro Rodriguez: Let me also just add that the same people that might suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders initially are the same ones that might not even be aware of the fact that they're suffering it. And a lot of times that's not acknowledged until much later after a lot of difficulties. And it's kind of like, you know, example of getting burned out at work and you're not sure why but it was, you know, an example I can give you in terms of my experience working with the mentally ill, staying there until seven, eight o'clock at night, taking the work back home with me and then all of the sudden telling them, 'No, I can't see you, it's after five.' And it's something wrong. And it doesn't dawn on you until very much later in terms of what's happening to you. The same thing applies with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and the system is not equipped to handle or to even reach out to those individuals that are not even aware that they're suffering from that. And be able to be aggressive and be able to reach out and work with some of the invidviduals. Your testimony. One of you mentioned the fact that a lot of them deal with it indirectly by going to prescription drugs and going to alcohol and other illegal drugs -- in terms of coping with it. And somehow we've got to get the system to be more responsive. I know the legislation on HR 952 directly addresses the strereotypes by helping to relax the evidentary standards to deployment on a combat area and we know that when you go -- the first two soldiers that were caught, [. . .] remember that one lady that was a cook and the other was a mechanic. [Rodriguez is referring to Shoshana Johnson and Patrick Miller who were part of US Army 507th Maintenance Company which was ambushed March 23, 2003. They were POWs -- along with James Riley, Edgar Hernandez and Joseph Hudson -- until April 13, 2003. Jessica Lynch was part of this unit; however, she was taken to an Iraqi hospital.
Anna Mulrine (US News & World Report) spoke with all three -- Lynch, Johnson and Miller -- for a March 18, 2008 article.] Those were the ones that were captured. And it's hard when you get into those situations, especially what we have in Afghanistan and Iraq, that at any given time, you'll be asked to do other things besides your so-called duites as you're there and some of those might not be translated in terms of -- so that you'll be able to justify in the future. So we need to give them the benefit of the doubt under those circumstances and be able to.

[. . .]

Barton Stichman: The point you made about people not recognizing that they have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or being in denial about it I think relates to this legislation. A lot of people don't realize that they have it for a long time and then they get treatment and then they apply for benefits. So it may be years, many years, after they finish their military service. And so in order to win benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a situation where the VA doesn't believe that they served in combat with the enemy at that point and time, they're going to have to go out and get corroborative evidcne which is very difficult. The length of time effects their ability to do that.

Ciro Rodriguez: Mr. Chairman, I know I've gone over my time.

John Hall: Do you have another question?

Ciro Rodriguez: Just a little statement. [To Stichman] What you've indicated is so true and that that's one of the things the system has to be responsive to in terms of meeting those needs. And as a person goes through denial, you go through a process where you even not acknowledge certain things that might have occured that other people there will tell you, 'No, this and this transpired.' Because you might be going through guilt and other things as you go through that, that you might not have responded as appropriately as you should have and those kind of things and sometimes that's not cleared up until you have time to go through those and be able to think about what actually occurred.

Throughout the hearing, the witnesses did not buy into the notion that veterans were faking PTSD to get some of that 'easy' and apparently 'glorious' treatment. Norman Bussel would respond to the John Hall's question (Hall does not believe that claim either) that "the America veteran does not come in for treatment because he feels there is a stigma and he's ashamed of how he feels" so it doesn't make sense that some veteran would insist he or she was suffering from PTSD when they weren't. Bussel stated they were "in a horrendous state" when they came for help. Bussel also spoke of the harm being done currently with the denial of PTSD claims, noting that the veterans "feel like they are being called liars [when] they're combat experience is denied." He explained his WWII records took forever to catch up with him. And that "in Iraq and Afghanistan," "those records are just kept" which would say you were in combat. He spoke of the collatoral damage on families and veterans relationships as a result of a veteran being denied.

Let's turn to the goofballs. And it's bi-partisan. We have one from each side of the aisle.

Suggestion: US House Rep Deborah Halvorson might want to leave out her personal tales ("I found out I wasn't so tough") and attempt to learn the issue she's talking about. For example, there's no excuse in a hearing on PTSD for a member of Congress to believe it is "PTSB." And Mary Kay Cosmetics is not well served by their chirpy alumni Halvorson failing to learn House procedure, "I yield back -- or I reserve the balance of my time for later!" It's April 23, 2009, long past time for the War Hawk Halvorson to get her act together. Harsh? If you think that's harsh, you don't know Little Debbie.

Democratic Debbie was saved from winning Fool for a Day by US House Rep Brian Bilray who came across like someone who'd gone off their meds. Whether it was floating a theory that those working at the VA hated veterans -- apparently from the top of the VA down to the custodians -- or working in multiple attacks on "welfare" and the "welfare system," Bilray was a rage of beauty to behold. Was anyone spared his toxic accusations? You might think so but around the time he was griping about fire fighters with respitory problems and how they 'claimed' it was from their work but they might be smokers, you realize Bilray had a lot more issue to work out than even the full staff of the VA could assist him with if they worked around the clock just on him.

How bad was it? We already noted Subcommittee Chair John Hall does not believe there is this mad craze of veterans faking PTSD for the 'glory' and 'glamor' but Hall had to pursue that on the record because Bilray had insisted this was a reasonable and reasoned hypothesis and one that should be considered at length (and he certainly spoke of it at length). Another example? As the first panel wound down, Hall felt the need to declare, "I do not intend by this legislation nor do those that support it to minimize or cast aspersions on the value or the bravery of those who have fought in direct combat, in intense firefights, who signed up and served as Special Forces, those who have seen combat of the most intense type." Why did he have to clarify what should be obvious? Because he was responding to Bilray. Yes, Bilray even argued that eliminating a few of the hoops veterans are forced to jump through was somehow doing harm to other veterans. Bilray was a piece of work.

So that's a Democrat and a Republican who made fools of themselves but remember we said a witness did as well. Which one? Not any on the first panel. The second panel is where Bradley G. Mayes would show up, the VA's Compensation and Pension Service cruncher. He was so offensive that had Bilray stood up and screamed, "See! That's what I mean about the VA hating vets!" it probably would have been the first time in his life that the world would have found it hard to disagree with Bilray.

Mayes sniffed:

The short title of the legislation we are discussing today indicates that the intent behind it is principally to ease the burden on veterans in proving their service-connection claims based on PTSD, which is a goal that the Department shares. However, we are concerned about the scope of the bill and also believe it would unduly complicate the adjudication process.
In furtherance of our mutual objective of simplifying the adjudication of wartime veterans' PTSD claims, the Department currently has under development an amendment to our regulations to liberalize in certain cases the evidentiary standards for establishing an in-service stressor for purposes of service connecting PTSD. This amendment would relax in some situations the requirement for corroborating evidence that a claimed in-service stressor occurred. We also recently completed a rulemaking that eliminated the requirement for evidence corroborating the occurrence of a claimed in-service stressor if PTSD is diagnosed in service.

His prepared opening statement can be read [PDF format warning]
here but note that he did not deliver it exactly as written (the quote above is word-for-word what he said and word-for-word what was prepared ahead of time). Words were not Mayes' friend such as when he spoke of POWs from past war and declared "an individual was incarcera -- er, interned by the enemy."

Subcommittee Chair Hall registered Mayes strong opposition to the proposed legislation and explained that if this were left to the VA alone and they handled it, it would be under rule making. Rules can be changed, Hall noted, with administrations. So "should that be a consideration" as to whether or not the issue should be resolved by law or by rule?

Mayes inisted he'd never seen or even been aware of efforts -- ever -- to roll back rights for veterans. And no one challenged that assertion.

March 19, 2005, CNN was reporting on Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's response to Bully Boy Bush's weekly address: "He maintained that budget cuts include 'a $350 million reduction in veterans home funding, which wipes out at least 5,000 veterans' nursing home beds." April 10, 2005, Karen Blakeman and Dennis Camire (Honolulu Advertiser) reported, "President Bush's proposed 2006 budget would * Drastically cut financial support for up to 80 percent of the veterans in the nation's 129 state-run homes. * Let the VA reduce the number of nursing-home beds from the 13,391 required by law. * Put a hold on $104 million in grants slated to rehabilitate and build new state veterans homes." Among the many, many other reports on this 2005 move by the then-administration, you can refer to Joel Wendfand (People's Weekly World) and you can drop back to 2004 for Edward Walsh (Washington Post). There are plenty of other examples we could offer. It would do no good; however. Mayes had insisted "I just can't envision that" when Hall had offered that administrations change and they can change rules (but not laws) to weaken veterans' benefits.

Mayes was pompous and an idiot. (When he's especially proud of one of his responses, he tilts his head to the left, to the right and then tosses his head back. No, it's not attractive.) The hearing was on what topic? PTSD. And the hearing was about whether or not people suffering from it are getting the help they need. So when Hall asks you for the number of those diagnosed with PTSD and the number of the backlog for those who have been diagnosed, you really should never respond, "I would have to get that for you." Exactly what topic did Mayes think he was attending the hearing to discuss? And as Hall pointed out, Mayes refers to the backlog himself on page three of his prepared statement. Apparently the statement was prepared but Mayes was not. He also had prepared remarks about "combat operations" in his written statement and Hall wanted to ask Mayes about that topic. Mayes declined to answer and announced he was "going to defer" that issue to his handler Richard Hipolit. Hipolit speaks like William Hickey (with a wheeze) and has all the charm of an ambulance chasing divorce attorney -- and why do you think that is? Maybe the next hearing could be about the qualifications of those appearing before the panel and how they managed to snare government jobs?

Might the legislation proposed save the VA time and money? A basic question. But Hall had to go through the process of pulling teeth and bringing in Vietnam and Agent Orange before he could get even a weak and qualifed "yes" from Mayes. He blathered on about, "I think, for me, the difficulty [. . .] is because the disaease [ . . .] we know Agent Orange was sprayed in the Republic of Vietnam [. . .] but with PTSD, the difficulty in trying to define what parts of the world at different times in our history . . ."

What an idiot. Agent Orange has been used around the world. It is a problem (a huge one) for Vietnam veterans because they served in Vietnam. PTSD is a problem for veterans because of the experiences while they served. This is not complicated. Mayes wants to make it complicated. But if Agent Orange were used in Iraq, it would be an issue for today's veterans. It has nothing to do with Vietnam, it has to do with the battlefield. Repeating, Agent Orange was used all over the world. It is a hazard during Vietnam because US troops were in Vietnam. That's where they were exposed to it. PTSD is related to where you were exposed to the theatre of war and/or combat. It is not as difficult as Mayes (intentionally) tries to make it out to be.

Hall attempted to nail Mayes down repeatedly but he was like Liquid Metal, always sliding away -- largely by refusing to be consistent in his remarks.

From veterans to the fallen. Last night
the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldier died April 22 from combat related injuries while conducting a patrol in eastern Baghdad. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of the service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Website at . The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. MND-B will not release any additional details prior to notification of next of kin and official release by the DoD. The incident is currently under investigation." The announcement brings to 4275 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

Today's violence included more than just the two attacks noted earlier.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured and, in Baquba, two homes "belonging to displaced families from Timim tribe were blown up," a Mosul roadside bombing which wounded two people, a Mosul grenade attack which wounded four, and a roadside bombing outside of Baquba which claimed the life of Sahwa leader Mubarak Hammad al Obadi and 3 of his aids while leaving two more aids wounded.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Shiekh Salih Mustafa Mohammed was shot dead in Bauqba

Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed's "
In Iraq, a story of rape, shame and 'honor killing'" (Los Angeles Times) is a must-read article which we'll note tomorrow. We'll wind down with Iraq and topic of torture. US Senator Carl Levin's "Senate Floor Statement on Report of the Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody" notes the following:

The Committee's report provides extensive details about how the aggressive techniques made their way from Afghanistan to Iraq. In February 2003, an SMU Task Force designated for operations in Iraq obtained a copy of the SMU interrogation policy from Afghanistan that included aggressive techniques, changed the letterhead, and adopted the policy verbatim. (p. 158) Months later, the Interrogation Officer in Charge at Abu Ghraib obtained a copy of the SMU interrogation policy and submitted it, virtually unchanged, through her chain of command to Combined Joint Task Force 7 (CJTF-7), led at the time by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. On September 14, 2003, Lieutenant General Sanchez issued an interrogation policy for CJTF-7 that authorized interrogators to use stress positions, environmental manipulation, sleep management, and military working dogs to exploit detainees' fears in their interrogations of detainees. The Committee's investigation uncovered documents indicating that, almost immediately after LTG Sanchez issued his September 14, 2003, policy, CENTCOM lawyers raised concerns about its legality. One newly declassified email from a CENTCOM lawyer to the Staff Judge Advocate at CJTF-7 – sent just three days after the policy was issued – warned that "Many of the techniques [in the CJTF-7 policy] appear to violate [Geneva Convention] III and IV and should not be used . . ." (p. 203). Even though the Bush administration acknowledged that the Geneva Conventions applied in Iraq, it was not until nearly a month later that CJTF-7 revised that policy. Not only did SERE techniques make their way to Iraq, but SERE instructors did as well. In September 2003, JPRA sent a team to Iraq to provide assistance to interrogation operations at an SMU Task Force. The Chief of Human Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the Task Force testified to the Committee in February 2008 that JPRA personnel demonstrated SERE techniques to SMU personnel including so-called "walling" and striking a detainee as they do in SERE school. (p. 175). As we heard at our September 2008 hearing, JPRA personnel were present during abusive interrogations during that same trip, including one where a detainee was placed on his knees in a stress position and was repeatedly slapped by an interrogator. (p. 176). JPRA personnel even participated in an interrogation, taking physical control of a detainee, forcibly stripping him naked, and giving orders for him to be kept in a stress position for 12 hours. In August 3, 2007, testimony to the Committee, one of the JPRA team members said that, with respect to stripping the detainee, "we [had] done this 100 times, 1000 times with our [SERE school] students." The Committee's investigation revealed that forced nudity continued to be used in interrogations at the SMU Task Force for months after the JPRA visit. (pp. 181-182). Over the course of the investigation, the Committee obtained the statements and interviews of scores of military personnel at Abu Ghraib. These statements reveal that the interrogation techniques authorized by Secretary Rumsfeld in December 2002 for use at GTMO – including stress positions, forced nudity, and military working dogs – were used by military intelligence personnel responsible for interrogations.
The report Levin is referencing is entitled [PDF format warning] "
INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY" and page 76 begins the section on Major General Geoffrey Miller and what he knew, what he oversaw, etc. While Janis Karpinski was punished (administratively) for things she had not done, Miller walked away scott free. As retired Army Col and retired State Dept diplomat Ann Wright told Cindy Sheehan on Cindy's April 5th Soapbox Janis Karpinski was made the fall person for Abu Ghraib. (Wright also spoke of how Karpinski fought back, like no one she'd seen do, refusing to be silent while the military did their 'investigation'.) Karpinski appeared on The Early Show (CBS) yesterday and again noted that the torture was brought in and not something the people serving under her came up with on their own. As Samira Simone (CNN) observed, "She said was a scapegoat. She said she was just following orders. She said she was demoted unfairly. Now, retired Army Col. Janis Karpinski can say: I told you so. . . . Today, Karpinsi has found validation in a few Bush-era memos released last week by the Obama administration." As Ruth asked last night, "So are they going to restore her rank? They should. They busted her down when she was innocent."

Abu Ghraib isn't the only link between torture and Iraq. Another one is outlined by
Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers):

The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist. Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.

Michael Ratner is the president of the Center for the Constitutional Rights and he explains (at CounterPunch) why a 'truth' commission is the last thing needed:

I am sure some of these human rights groups will argue that a commission will or can be a first step to prosecutions. Sure, it is possible, but unlikely for the reasons I gave in a letter published in Harper's and available on my blog. The commission process will drag on, statutes of limitation will run and the conclusion of the commission is likely to be: the US should not have tortured, but it was an extraordinary and dangerous moment after 9/11 and the torturers were acting in our best interest to avoid another 9/11. Prosecutions are not recommended.

Michael Ratner, Dalia Hashad, Michael Smith and Heidi Boghosian co-host
WBAI's Law and Disorder. Meanwhile of all the domestic organizations only the ACLU, as Elaine noted, is playing it straight and from a position of strength. The ACLU notes:

The ACLU has been calling for years for an independent criminal investigation into the interrogation techniques used by the federal government against detainees held by the United States. Based on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by the ACLU, several congressional hearings and this latest committee report, it is clear that important decisions on the use of torture and abuse were made in the White House, at the Pentagon, and at the headquarters of the CIA and the Justice Department."This report makes frighteningly clear that some of the darkest moments in our country's recent past were choreographed at the highest levels of government," said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. "The days of privates and sergeants being the only people charged with torture or abuse crimes -- while top government officials go free -- should be over. The people who were at the very top of the Bush administration and those at the top of the chain of command must be held accountable. Just as any other American would be investigated by a prosecutor for crimes committed, so must our government officials. We must ensure that our laws are impartially enforced against everyone." To read the OLC memos obtained by the ACLU, go to: To learn more about the ACLU's work on torture issues, go to:

mcclatchy newspapersjonathan s. landay
sahar issa
cindy sheehanann wrightcbs newsthe early show
law and disordermichael ratnermichael smithdalia hashadheidi boghosian
the los angeles timestina susman