Friday, May 22, 2009

Barack's detention policies

Civil liberties and human rights groups who criticized the Bush administration's detention policies are definitive in their opposition to Mr. Obama's plans.
"It's really crossing a constitutional Rubicon," said Jonathan Hafetz, American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented Ali al Marri. Mr. al Marri recently pleaded guilty to being an al Qaeda sleeper agent after years being held without charge as an "enemy combatant."
Mr. Hafetz says that President Obama is "taking steps that are inconsistent with our legal traditions and values. At the same, he's closing Guantanamo but he's creating a new Guantanamo in another form."
In recent weeks, the Obama administration has won court backing for important elements of the policy. District court rulings have agreed with the administration that the congressional authorization for military force following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, as well as the laws of war, give the government the right to detain indefinitely members of al Qaeda and affiliated groups at war with the U.S. Those cases will likely continue to be in litigation for months to come.

That's from Evan Perez' "Obama's Detention Plans Face Scrutiny" (Wall St. Journal) and we are in for some scary times if the Cult of St. Barack can't stop covering for their loverboy and excusing his actions.

America doesn't have a dictator. Americans don't bow to a leader. This Cult of St. Barack is more dangerous than any of those Republican freaks who got orgasms every time Bully Boy Bush spoke. We had a real left while Bush was in the White House. And we were willing to stand up to abuses. Of course, for a lot of them, it was just about ripping Bush apart.

It wasn't about ending the Iraq War or about freeing the prisoners at Guantanamo or anything else. Their objections were made just to advance Democratic prospects in each election cycle.

And that's why we're so screwed right now.

But people who have called it like it is will continue to do so. And, bit by bit, we will make a difference. We may never wake up the entire Cult of St. Barack (Bully Boy Bush could usually count on approximately 30% of the population even after most had caught on) but enough will awake and admit the truth. And that's how we bring democracy back to the country.

No doubt only to jump on another Cult of Personality next election go-round. We're not especially smart in the United States, are we?

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

Friday, May 22, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the 4300 mark hovers, Green gets life in prison and Iraqis aren't happy, and we look back at the Abeer coverage since the War Crimes were first exposed.

Yesterday the KPFA Evening News didn't air (or not at its usual hour if it did). KPFK did carry the KPFA Evening News. This being Pacifica, we should probably point out that it's fundraising before someone thinks there was another lock-out. On the KPFA Evening News aired on
KPFK, KPFA's Andrea Lewis covered the War Crimes.

Andrea Lewis: An ex-soldier convicted of raping and killing an Iraqi teen and murdering her family was spared the death penalty today and will serve a life sentence after jurors could not agree unanimously on a punishment.

Evan Bright reports:

The jury deliberated for a total of ten hours and twenty minutes. While waiting for the jury, Jim Lesousky(P) was seen, hands clasped, as if in prayer. Scott Wendelsdorf(D) was pacing around the defense table, anxious and apprehensive. His hands were shaking as he took his seat. Green, appearing in the same maroon sweater vest as before, appeared surprisingly calm, his breathing steady; the exact same calm-cool-collected look could also be seen on Green's father John and uncle David, present in court. Pat Bouldin(D) twiddled his thumbs with his head down, knowing that this was the moment they'd spent the past two and a half years preparing for. The jury entered, looking quite stern. Two juror's lips were near quivering. The members of the defense team looked down, while the prosecution eyed the flock of jurors for the last time. After reviewing the verdict forms, Judge Russell announced that the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, giving Green life in prison without possibility of parole.

Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) broke it down thusly, "Green was given the life term after jurors couldn't come to unanimous agreement on sentencing him to death."
AFP explains, "Their failure to agree effectively handed Steven Dale Green life in prison without the possibility of parole for the rape and killing of Abeer al-Janabi, 14, and the murder of her mother, father and six-year-old sister." As James Dao (New York Times) notes, "At least four other soldiers have pleaded guilty or were convicted in military courts for their roles in the rape and murders. While most received long prison terms, none are facing the death penalty, and all will be eligble for parole in 10 years or less." UPI explains, "The trial was the first in which a civilian jury was asked whether to execute a former service member for a wartime crime." Alsumaria notes, "Green acknowledged the 17 charges addressed to him including rape, murder and judicial obstruction." Andrew Wolfson (Courier-Journal -- link has a video option as well) observes, "Green broke into a slight smile when the verdict was announced."

While Green was grinning, Iraqis were less than pleased.
Marc Santora and Suadad al-Salhy (New York Times, for tomorrow's paper so it will not be considered in the next section of the snapshot) quote Sheik Fahil al-Janabi stating, "There is no comparison between the crimes and the sentence. That soldier entered an Iraqi house, raped their underage daughter and burned her with her family, so this sentence is not enough and it is insulting for Iraqi's honor." The reporters tell you that the case was news ("extensive coverage") on Iraqi TV -- well at least some media system cared -- and that Green has been dubbed "the killer of innocence." Sami al-Jumaili and Habaib al-Zubaidy (Reuters) quote Abeer's uncle Raad Yusuf stating, "It's a real shock. That court decision is a crime -- almost worse than the soldier's crime." Earlier, Habib al-Zubaidy (Reuters) noted a mechanic from Abeer's home time, Ahmed Samir stating, "What the American soldier did is a terrorist act and he deserves execution. The court has not delivered justice. If I killed an American girl, the American court would have executed me." CNN quotes Sahwa leader Mustafa Kamel Shabib al-Jaoburi stating, "He raped a girl and killed an entire family, and he got only life in prison. . . . This is an unjust trial. We demand a new trial."

And Green may get a new trial. It's always sad when anyone -- guilty or innocent -- who is poor is betrayed by a public defender. Maybe the defender falls asleep in court, maybe the defender just doesn't give a damn about the client? There are many wonderful public defenders in the US and they work very, very hard. They are heroes and heroines because they ensure that everyone gets a voice, that everyone has representation. But not every public defender is up to the job. Steven D. Green entered a plea of "not guilty." As reporters have repeatedly noted, his attorneys decided (they say) not to fight the guilt but to work on being sure Green didn't get the death penalty. If that is correct, Green's got solid grounds for an appeal because his attorneys disregarded his wishes. A public defender does not determine what the client will plead. Nor is a public defender allowed to say, "I'll just sit out the trial but, after they convict my client, I'll earn the tax payers dollars by fighting to prevent him/her from receiving the death penalty." Green does not appear to have been served by his attorneys who appear to have either thought they couldn't win or just didn't want to work for a win. This appears likely not only by their comments to the press but also by their behavior in the courtroom. April 28th the prosecution began calling their witnesses and they rested
May 4th. That afternoon the defense began calling their witnesses and they rested . . . the following day. 1 day and a half of witnesses. May 7th the jury returned their verdict (guilty on all counts). Green was now guilty. It was time for sentencing. The defense called their first witness on May 11th. May 18th, the defense called their last witness. Throughout the case, the defense verbally argued the entire system failed Green. With their actions, the defense failed him. (Click here for more on that.) Comments made by Green's father and brother indicate it's likely Green may indeed appeal. He's due to be sentenced September 4th. This may or may not be over.

But let's look back to what should be the most known War Crimes of the Iraq War. The fact that they aren't go to a media failure. There are some who have earned praise. Many more have not. From
July 2, 2006 snapshot: "Lupien also noted the arrest of Steven D. Green. Green, is 21 and was with the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. Friday, in Asheville, North Carolina, he was arrested and charged with both the four deaths as well as the rape. According to the US government press release, if convicted on the charge of murder, 'the maximum statutory penalty . . . is death' while, if convicted on the charge of rape, 'the maxmium statutory penalty for the rape is life in prison'." Green's trial finally began April 27th. The first day, Andrew Wolfson (Courier-Journal) reported, "In an opening statement in a trial that is expected to last three to five weeks, Justice Department lawyer Brian Skaret said the government will present at least five witnesses who say Green bragged about the crimes, including one who says Green told his fellow soldiers that it was 'awesome'." Wolfson bid closest without going over: Four weeks. The trial lasted four weeks. In all that time, there was only one known editorial. The Washington Observer-Reporter made the trial the topic of an editorial and they concluded, "But there are no hardships, military or otherwise, that could excuse an atrocity like this and you can't blame it on a 'lack of leadership'." The New York Times? During the four weeks, they filed three reports on the story. Three. Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan filed "Ex-G.I. Guilty of Rape and Killings in Iraq" from Iraq and this is the first report the paper ever carried which mentioned Abeer by name. It was not their first story on the topic, or the second or third or . . . But it was the first time that Abeer's name was ever mentioned. The paper had repeatedly rendered her invisible for nearly three years. James Dao filed "Civilian Jury Considers Death Penalty for Ex-G.I." which moved Abeer's name back to paragraph 14 (paragraph thirteen was where Robertson and Kakan were able to get it in) and was a pretty sorry report with no saving graces. Today Dao filed "Ex-Soldier Gets Life Sentence for Iraq Murders" which is such a huge improvement, it's hard to believe that both articles were written by the same reporter. Praise for Dao.

That was the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times loves, loves to cover 'military justice.' They're always dispatching Tony Perry to . . . Well, as a friend at the San Diego Union-Tribune likes to put it, "Where ever Rick goes, they [LAT] send him." And if anyone ever doubted that Tony was anything other than a camp follower they had their proof over the last four weeks. Rick Rogers wasn't dispatched to Kentucky so . . . Tony didn't go. Some people call it "competition," some people call it "stalking." The Washington Post? Though Ellen Knickmeyer wrote the definitive newspaper account of the crimes in 2006, "
Details Emerge in Alleged Army Rape, Killings" (July 3, 2006), the paper made do with Reuters and AP when 'covering' the Green trial. Wall St. Journal? Didn't Old Man Rupaul Murdoch promise no lay offs and that resources would be pooled so there would be even more coverage? Apparently the only thing that pooled was the blood from his lifeless head because the Wall St. Journal which should have been covering it wasn't covering it. Now everyone knows -- check any Marriott -- that the Wall St. Journal isn't really the paper with the largest circulation in the US (the bulk of the Wall St. Journals at Marriotts are never picked up -- many front desks 'store' them in the closet nearest to the front desk) but it claims to be and, as such, it certainly should have been able to manage one reporter covering the case. September 13, 2006, USA Today ran Gregg Zoroya's "Soldier describes anguish in revealing murder allegations" on the front page which not only offered a look at Justin Watt who heroically came foward, it also named the victims (Abeer, sister Hadeel, parents Fikhriya Taha and Qassim Hamza) and featured photos of her two brothers Ahmed (then nine) and Mohammed (then eleven). Justin Watt did a courageous thing in coming forward and Zoroya explained that he took the issue to a mental health counselor "because he wanted to bypass what he thought would be a skeptical command structure and get an audience with Army investigators". You might have thought they'd want to live up to their high water mark because, let's be honest, USA Today is not the paper most people read -- it's a glance-at. It's the paper which causes serious readers to groan at the airports when they realize it's the only one left. And yet despite having one of those few moments in their history that they could be proud of, they elected not to build it and appeared to think they'd show the world they were a real news outlet -- honest they were -- by blogging about what the AP wrote. Yesterday they teamed their Andrea Stone up with the Courier-Journal's Andrew Wolfson for "Ex-soldier gets life for Iraqi murders." It was a move they should have considered weeks ago but they still come out ahead of many, many other outlets.
And what about radio? A lot of McBurgers were sold to make NPR what it is so where's the beef? Never on air.
Diane Rehm famously BANNED the topic from her show when the jury released their verdict of guilty (on all counts). After they were exposed (here) the show sent out a laughable e-mail to those who had e-mailed on the topic and those who had called Rehm out for banning the topic. We've got seven forwarded copies of that and I've confirmed it with a friend with the show so on a slow day this summer we may include it in the snapshot. (Click here for some of the e-mails sent into the show on the day Diane was banning the topic.) All those hours to fill every day and not a word about Abeer on the NPR programs. This afternoon Frank James blogs and includes some comments by NPR's JJ Sutherland. But actually getting it on air was too damn much work for NPR. Pacifica Radio? They didn't send anyone. They're begging for money right now and they're doing awful. KPFA, for example, is supposed to be ending their fund drive and they are $100,000 short of their target goal. KPFA has the best fundraising (because it has the richest base) of any Pacifica radio station. WBAI is teetering due to already being in debt. No one thought to send anyone to Kentucky and despite the fact that all the Pacifica stations have listeners in Kentucky, no one thought to ask one of them to file some sort of report or, for that matter, to interview Evan Bright. We'll come back to Evan. Lila Garrett talks a good game about caring about Iraqis, she talks a good game. But when it came to an Iraqi teenager who was gang-raped and murdered by US soldiers? Where were you, Lila? We know where Margret Prescond was -- on the corner whoring for Barack. Remember that when Maggie The Cat wants to tell you yet again how wonderful she is and how she interview Hugo Chavez and how she . . . Didn't do s**t.

I'm not overly fond of Amy Goodman. I'd love to right now be able to point to someone else but Amy's the only one who consistently was aware of Abeer. It was never more than headlines but when Goodman's getting ready to go to bed, she can tell herself, "I did cover it." And she did. Credit where it's due. Not as much but also deserving credit, Andrea Lewis on KPFA. Andrea covered it twice. Andrea does know what actual news is. Which puts her far ahead of her morning replacement, to be honest. When Andrea co-hosted The Morning Show and when Sandra Lupien did the news breaks? They broke the story. No other radio station in the country had run with the arrest of Steven D. Green. Sandra worked her ass off and she didn't -- as Aileen does -- just grab AP and read it out loud (which some call plagiarism when you don't say "AP reports . . ."). She found the government's announcement of the arrest and found it about ten minutes after it was released and worked furiously to include it in the news break she was about to do. KPFA was the first broadcast outlet to note Steven D. Green's death.

They're short now. And why is that? Why should we give money to KPFA? They didn't send anyone to cover Abeer's case. We had Aimee Allison making a fool herself every damn morning, being the equivalent of Phyllis George, and we're supposed to pay for that? We're supposed to pay to listen to them read Associated Press stories to us that they pass off as news? We're supposed to pay for all that Barack Whoring? It's not news. It's not free speech. It is propaganda and, no surprise, they're learning people aren't going to pay for it. (See
Panhandle Media for how KPFA in particular ABUSED the airwaves and the audience to WHORE for Barack.) Andrea Lewis is a functioning adult. She may be one of the few left at KPFA. But despite all the calls and e-mails and all the blog comments they've had (you can leave comments at their archives) asking why they weren't covering the Green trial, the only KPFA employee who seemed to think "Maybe in a fundraising cycle it's really not good to piss off our audience?" was Andrea. When the layoffs come, they need to start way at the top. When the layoffs come they need to start with the execs who allowed this to go on and who have turned The Morning Show into two hours that no one can listen to because it's a daily sermonette (preached strongest by Brother Mitch Jeserich in that hideous "Washington Letter") on the Glory and Goodness of St. Barack. Instead of sending Mitch to DC to reach his hands down St. Barack's pants, maybe the money could have been spent reporting on the War Crimes trial coz, pay attention, in ten years when Pacifica really needs to beg for money, their happy time chatter about Barack won't be worth s**t but if they could say "We covered the War Crimes trial" they might have have impressed someone. That's especially true of Free Speech Radio News which appears to be utilizing all of their energies currently to demonstrate that they are not "free speech" nor are they news. Message received. May you share warm reminisces . . . on the unemployment line.

Turning to televison. I have friends with The NewsHour and I know they are re-tooling the show. That's no excuse for their silence on this story. That's no excuse for not covering it. For those wondering, PBS does have a member station in Paducah, Kentucky (where the trial was held), WKPD. There's no reason they couldn't have partnered with that station to cover it. There's no reason -- other than it wouldn't let her be the airhead she loves to be -- that Washington Week couldn't have covered the trial in their gas bag way. (For those not aware of it, even under Gwen, Washington Week has brought reporters on to do a report and not gas bag, they're usually reporting by remote from outside the studio.) PBS is broadcast television. The network news? Damn disgusting. And it's really sad that when we finally do have a woman anchor that the gang-rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager by US soldiers isn't seen as news. It's really sad.

MSNBC? They don't do news, kids. They think they do comedy and that actually is funny. CNN? CNN covered this story starting in 2006. They have always covered the story. While MSNBC and Fox 'News' served up pompous wind bags, CNN offered news. They deserve a lot of credit for the reports they did -- including the reports done by Dave Alsup and Deborah Feyerick on the Green trial. Yet again, CNN proved they are in the news business. They may be the only ones, but they are in it.

The weeklies? Newsweek couldn't be bothered. When can they be? TIME magazine offered
a report by Jim Frederick who has long covered the story and who is writing a book on Green's unit. US News & World Reports? Stop, you're making us laugh. The Nation? Oh that is funny. You think any of those useless writers at The Nation gives a damn about Abeer. Ugly Girl Katha Pollitt who poses as a feminist? What has that useless woman ever done? Not real damn much. She's trashed the NAACP, true. That made her feel good, I guess. What a proud moment for White Katha, lecturing the NAACP on what she thinks they should focus on. How they were wasting their time complaining about the unfair portrayals on TV and the lack of them. But what does Katha do but kvetch and moan every two weeks about something in the media. Real problems? Katha doesn't have time for them. And she never had time for Abeer. It was almost one year after the War Crimes were known that, under tremendous pressure, Katha was forced to mention Abeer. Which she did . . . for a half-sentence. The self-styled den mother of the push-up bra set of 'feminists,' the 21st century's Charlotte Rae, Katha Pollitt, take your bow. Ruth Conniff? She makes Katha look like a deep thinker. The Progressive's a monthly but, no, it didn't cover Abeer. There was time for Matthew Rothschild to come out of the closet this week but no time for Abeer. Never time for Abeer. Well, hey, Matthew Rothschild, what he's really like, him telling us that, does qualify as news, right? News you can use? No, it's more naval gazing from the man who is far too intimate with his own pot belly and who, honestly, should have grasped long enough that, as a news topic, he's just not interesting.

Reuters, UPI, AFP and AP filed stories. AP was fortunate to have Brett Barrouquere who has covered the story for nearly three years and may know it better -- all the ins and outs -- than any other reporter who has followed the story. AP's not really fond of bylines. They're not really fond of reporters names. They prefer their 'product' be known and not individuals -- their 'product' is not the news reports, they mean "Associated Press." Well tough, because Brett Barrouquere deserves praise for the work he's long done on this story and, his own natural talents aside, he's also the strongest argument for keeping reporters on stories. Other outlets should learn something from that. In a reporter's universe, 'heaven' may be tenacity paying off. If so, Brett's earned his joy.

And then there's
Evan Bright. The 18-year-old high school senior, one who's not even necessarily planning to be a reporter, one who wasn't even aware the case over six months ago. But he reported -- REPORTED -- on the case. He was in the court room every day. During the last four weeks we've been treated to a load of sanctimonous claims about the power of the newspapers and how important they are and how much they matter to democracy and how we need to give them a bail out and blah, blah, blah. No national newspaper put a reporter in a court room every day. Evan Bright put himself in that court room. When the US media system failed (excepting only Brett's work for AP), Evan Bright was there. Instead of bailing out newspapers, maybe Congress can fund Evan's college career? Evan's offered closing thoughts on the trial here.

Here is the
US Justice Dept press release on yesterday's events:

WASHINGTON -- A federal jury that convicted Steven D. Green, a former Ft. Campbell, Ky., soldier of charges arising out of the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of the girl and her family today said it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on whether the defendant should be sentenced to death. Because the jury did not unanimously reach a decision on the death penalty, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell will sentence Green to life without parole, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Candace G. Hill of the Western District of Kentucky announced.
Judge Russell is scheduled to formally sentence Green on September 4, 2009.
Green, 24, was convicted by the federal jury on May 7, 2009, in Louisville, Ky., on all charged counts, including premeditated murder, aggravated sexual abuse, felony murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated sexual abuse, use of firearms during the commission of violent crimes and obstruction of justice. Green was indicted by a federal grand jury on Nov. 2, 2006.
Green was charged with the crimes following an incident that occurred on March 12, 2006, in and around Mahmoudiyah, Iraq. According to evidence presented at trial, while manning a military checkpoint, Green and other fellow soldiers discussed raping and killing Iraqis. Trial evidence showed that Green and others then took off their uniforms, put on black clothing, left their post and forced their way into the nearby home of the Al-Janabi family. Evidence presented at trial proved that Green then took the mother, father and six-year-old into a bedroom where he shot and killed them. In the living room, Green and the other soldiers raped the 14-year-old and then Green repeatedly shot her in the face and set her body on fire. Green then tried to blow up the house, according to trial evidence, after which the soldiers returned to their checkpoint. After committing the rape and murders, trial testimony revealed that Green bragged to others that the experience was "awesome."
Green was discharged from the U.S. Army in May 2006 and was prosecuted in U.S. District Court under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), a statute that gives U.S. courts jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed outside the United States by, among others, persons who served with the armed forces but who are no longer subject to military prosecution. Green's co-conspirators were prosecuted by military authorities under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Green, formerly stationed at Ft. Campbell and deployed to Iraq while serving with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, was arrested by the FBI on June 30, 2006, on federal charges of murder and rape based on MEJA.
The case was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marisa Ford and Jim Lesousky of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Kentucky and Trial Attorney Brian Skaret of the Criminal Division's Domestic Security Section.

Yesterday's violence in Iraq resulted in 27 reported deaths and thirty-two reported wounded. The 27 includes the 3 US soldiers killed. This morning Reuters adds the following on Thursday's violence: a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and injured six more, another Mosul roadside bombing injured a woman, 2 corpses discovered in Mosul ("man with bullet wounds" and "woman with bullet wounds"). So there are 30 reported deaths from Thursday's violence (at least thirty) and thirty-nine reported wounded plus nine US soldiers wounded for a total of forty-eight wounded. And the violence follows Wednesday's Baghdad bombing which resulted in at least 40 dead. On yesterday's Baghdad bombing, Nada Bakri (Washington Post) notes eye witness Raed Nizar stating, "Blood was all over the ground. The wounded were pleading with motorists who happened to drive by to take them to the hospital." Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed (New York Times) describe the Baghdad bomber as "a beared man dressed in a woman's black floor-length cloak".

In some of today's reported violence . . .

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad mortar attack on the Green Zone (missed), a Baghdad mortar attack which wounded two people, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left six people injured and a second Mosul roadside bombing which injured one person.

As the US heads into Memorial Day weekend, the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War stands at
4299 -- one away from the 4300 mark.

TV notes.
NOW on PBS begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (check local listings):This week NOW on PBS partners with best-selling author and journalist Robert Lacey to investigate the surprising success of Saudi Arabia's approach to dealing with terrorists and extremists - without torture or water-boarding. Given extraordinary access to the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry and its practices, Lacey visits terrorist rehabilitation camps that use "soft policing" tactics to be nice to the bad guys.In the program we see the Saudis providing a private jumbo jet to bring inmates home from Guantanamo Bay, giving them a hero's welcome, then sending them to a converted holiday resort for re-education. Then, the men are set free.Is this rehab program working, and can we trust the Saudis to protect themselves - and us - against Islamic extremism in the future? Watch this NOW on PBS report for a perspective on terrorism you've never seen before.Washington Week also begins airing tonight and Catty Girl Gwen invites three boys over for her sleep over and tosses Karen Tumulty (TIME) in for giggles (NYT's David Sanger, Wall St. Journal's Naftali Bendavid and National Journal's John Maggs compete to be Gwen's Dream Date). Golly, you know if PBS had been okay with this sort of 'representation' of the American public, Gwen would never have been a host of any PBS show. Don't worry though, she's off singing "I got mine." Four guests, one is a woman. No that's not reflective of the population. Yes, it does speak to Gwen's own sexism and her own vanity. As a fix you can watch (and starts airing tonight on many PBS stations, check local listings) as Bonnie Erbe sits down withCari Dominguez, Karen Czarnecki, Patricia Sosa and Avis Jones-DeWeever to discuss this week's news on To The Contrary. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:Buy AmericanThe economic stimulus package includes a "buy American" clause that the steel and other U.S. industries lobbied hard for. However, American businesses that export overseas now fear foreign governments will retaliate and keep U.S. products out of their market, hurting their business. Lesley Stahl reports. Watch Video
Sergeant BillWaving a badge he bought on the Internet and claiming to belong to the "Multi-jurisdictional Narcotics Task Force," Bill Jakob fooled a small town's officials into granting him the authority of a law enforcement officer. Katie Couric reports. Watch Video
Wine RxScientists have found a substance called resveratrol in red wine that slows down the aging process in mice. Will it someday lengthen the lives of humans, too? Morley Safer reports. Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, May 24, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

evan brightsteven d. green
the new york timesjames daoandrew wolfsoncnnhabib al-zubaidy
justin wattgregg zoroyausa today
the washington postellen knickmeyer
andrea stone
campbell robertsonatheer kakandemocracy now
nada bakrithe new york timesabeer mohammedtimothy williams
60 minutescbs newspbsto the contrarybonnie erbenow on pbs

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Senate Armed Services Committee

Among things not covered already by C.I. in today's snapshot -- things which took place during the Senate Armed Services Committee -- I'd rank most interesting the fact that this is the 62nd wedding anniversary for Millie and Daniel Akaka. Senator Akaka is from Hawaii.

After that?

I agree with C.I. that Carl Levin, the chair, snapped the committee and the room to attention with his first questions. You could just fill the spark and you could see the senators sit up a little straighter and lose the dazed look in their eyes.

Other than that?

Senator Mel Martinez (Republican out of Florida) was more than willing to hand over our money. Joint Cargo Aircraft. The Air Force says they need 38. He disagrees. (Because of jobs lost at Jacksonville, Florida, let's be honest.) He wants them to have more.

Mel Martinez, everyone's Dream Dad on a Friday night. "Can I have twenty?" "Twenty, take two hundred!"

Of course someone might want to let Mel know that the money's he's so eager to give away, it's not his money. It's our money.

I wish Mel had waited. The hearing was really cooking and even Republicans were doing a better job than last week. John McCain was actually one of the stronger voices -- I'd rank him third, behind Carl Levin in first place and Ben Nelson in second place. But the Republicans seemed to be paying attention until John Thune let Mel jump ahead of him and then it was stupidity on parade. Duh, duh, duh.

Wally leaned over and said, "Remember, I didn't vote for him." (Florida's Wally's home state.) I could probably add some more details but I think C.I. did the overview amazingly well especially considering that the verdict came in while C.I. was dictating the snapshot. And there were two different calls on that at the same time with two different people giving two different versions. So C.I. had to put in a call to a friend at AP to ask if Brett had filed yet? And was trying to reconfigure the snapshot on the fly while waiting to find out what happened.

C.I. was wrong on the jury's time. Her guess was that they'd give a verdict on Friday. She was right about the verdict. She guessed that Steven D. Green wouldn't get the death penalty (and noted that this morning in an entry).

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

Thursday, May 21, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces deaths, the jury decides Steven D. Green's sentence, the Senate shows some oversight before handing out the people's monies, a large wave of violence sweeps through Iraq and more.

Starting with Steven D. Green who was convicted two
Thursdays ago in the gang-rape of 14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, her murder, the murder of her five-year-old sister and the murders of both of her parents. Then the jury began hearing testimony to weigh when determining his sentencing. Green could receive the death penalty; however, all 12 jurors would have to vote to sentence him to death. If that does not happen, he is facing life in prison. Two Thursdays ago the verdict was decided by the jury and only yesterday were closing statements made and the jury sent to deliberate Green's sentencing. This Thursday they issue a verdict. Evan Bright reports, "JURY UNABLE TO REACH VERDICT IN USA V GREEN. STEVEN DALE GREEN SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON W/O PAROLE." The Courier-Journal's Andrew Wolfson and Andrea Stone team up for Stone's outlet (USA Today) and observe, "Green's sentence closes the case on one of the worst war crimes committed by U.S . forces or contractors in Iraq. The atrocity in Mahmoudiya may not pack the political wallop that the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison did but it ranks with other infamous incidents in Iraq, some military experts say." Brett Barrouquere (AP) notes the life in prison sentence comes following the jury deliberating for "10-and-a-half hours".

The verdict follows another bad 'report' filed by
Gail McGown Mellor, this one at Women's Media Center, where she floats, maybe, just maybe, Abeer wasn't raped! Based on? The fact that Gail's an idiot. The weeping rapists showed up at their military courts and one offered he wasn't sure if he had a boner. By the time they gave testimony in Green's trial both -- to run from their guilt -- were floating the notion that maybe, just maybe, they couldn't get erections. Grow the hell up. Every damn one of you putting that out, grow the hell up. You think Steven D. Green wouldn't know if his co-gang-rapists hadn't cum in Abeer. Do we really need to get graphic. He's third in line in the gang-rape, you think he wouldn't notice? Also don't forget that Abeer, prior to being gang-raped by US soldiers, was a virgin. You think Green wouldn't have noticed if he were first?

This is such stupidity and it is appalling that a feminist website wants to serve that crap up. Women are raped every day in the United States.
Over 92,000 reported rapes in 2006 alone -- reported. We don't need Gail's fantasies. It happens. There's no reason for it to be stripped out of Abeer's story because Gail wants to make her 'respectable.' Stripping the gang-rape out of Abeer's story is not at all different than blaming a woman for being sexually assaulted. It happend, it is a crime and it's part of the story of Abeer. It's not pretty, but life isn't always pretty. And it is an insult to the millions of rape survivors for Gail to prattle on -- in her own ignorance -- about how maybe Abeer's wasn't gang-raped, maybe the soldiers couldn't get erections, maye . . . Women's Media Center isn't supposed to be a lurid pulp magazine. They should be ashamed of themselves. Gail? This is her second novelization of the case. If familiarizing herself with the case is that difficult for her, she should stick to writing fiction -- she's repeatedly attempted to write fiction while allegedly 'reporting.' Abeer was held down by Paul Cortez while James Barker raped her and by Barker while Cortez raped her. Abeer screamed, yelled and fought back. That is part of the testimony and was part of the testimony in these War Crimes long before this month. Gail needs to do the work required which entails looking at the confessions made to the military courts.

Stupid is apparently contagious for those reporters flitting through Kentucky. Which is how James Dao's wretched "
Civilian Jury Considers Death Penalty for Ex-G.I." appears in today's New York Times. The paper rendered Abeer invisible. Intentionally. When finally forced to file something on the case, they went with a front page propaganda piece by
Carolyn Marshall and Robert Worth which presenting the defense's case before the defense could present it at the Article 32 hearing in August of 2006. Abeer's name never appeared in that. She is "14-year-old girl" or "14-year-old Iraqi girl" when she's mentioned. She has no name because giving her a name humanizes her and the paper certainly wasn't interested in that. They were more than happy to defend the War Criminals and did so repeatedly backing off only when, one after the other, received a prison sentence. In late June and early July of 2006, most oulets (Washington Post, CNN) were covering the story and mentioning Abeer by name. Not the New York Times. Abeer's name finally appears in print May 9th of this year when the paper ran Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan contribute "
Ex-G.I. Guilty of Rape and Killings in Iraq." Nearly three years after the War Crimes were known. Even then, the paper wouldn't open with her name. It wasn't until the 13th paragraph that they finally mentioned her name. Today James Dao does mention her name. Once. Paragraph 14. It's disgusting. But the paper -- which has never printed a photo of Abeer or either of her surviving younger brothers (USA Today did back in 2006) -- prints a photo of Steven D. Green.

Yesterday the jury heard closing arguments.
Deb Feyerick (CNN) explains:

But prosecutors seeking the death penalty told the jury Wednesday it was time to end the blame game.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Skaret said that the soldiers in Green's unit who died honorably "would be rolling over in their graves" if they knew their deaths were being used to explain why Green went on the murder rampage.
Skarat said that before the killings, Green and his four co-conspirators were talking about "sex" and "screwing Iraqi chicks" rather than avenging their colleagues' deaths.

Today the
US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- Three Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldiers died when an improvised explosive device detonated near their patrol in Baghdad at approximately 10:40 a.m. May 21. The Soldier's names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." The announcement brings to 4299 the number of US service members killed in the illegal war -- one away from the 4300 mark. Usama Redha and Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) report that the soldiers were "on foot patrol" when the bomb exploded also killing 12 Iraqis. Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report it was a suicide bomber and that thirty people were wounded (they also state twelve Iraqis were killed). Meanwhile in Kirkuk, CNN reports: "Also Thursday, a bomber struck outside an army headquarters in southern Kirkuk, a city about 150 miles north of Baghdad, police said. The explosion killed eight Awakening Council members who were lining up to receive their monthly salaries. Four other council members were wounded in the attack." Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) adds, "The bomber ran into the group today as they queued to collect their salaries and detonated a belt laden with explosives, according to the Web site of President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party."

In other violence . . .


Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad roadside bombing injured five people, a Baghdad bomb "in a plastic bag and planeted in a waste paper basket in Mamoun Police Station" resulted in the deaths of 2 police officer and left twenty people injured, a Kikurk bombing apparently tarketing the Chief of Police (Brig Burhan Tayib) resulted in one security officer being injured, a Baquba bombing left two people (on the bomb squad) wounded and a Mosul grenade attack left three people injured.


Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report 2 brothers shot in Mosul (wounded, not killed) and 1 mother and 1 daughter shot dead in Mosul (both women were seamstresses).

Today the
United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued the following statement: "The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG) Staffan de Mistura strongly condemned the bombings in Baghdad and Kikruk on Wednesday, 20 May and Thursday 21 May, Mr. de Mistura described these attacks which resulted in the death and injury of dozens of innocent Iraqi citizens, as 'reprehensible crimes that have indiscrimately targeted ordinary Iraqis'. Mr. de Mistura extends the United Nations' sincere condolences to the bereaved families, and his wishes for a full and speedy recovery for the wounded." Xinhua quotes the Turkish Foreign Ministry's statement: "We observe with great regret and concern that there has been a recent upsurge in the acts of terrorism in Iraq. . . . We condemn these latest abhorren terrorist attacks in the strongest terms and we call on all the parties in Iraq to put an end to violence and contribute to peace and security in the country."

The statements come because Iraq is swept up in another wave of violence so sweeping that even the press has to acknowledge it.
Jack Dolan and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explain, "The bombing started a wave of violence that spread across the country over 18 hours, killing at least 63 people. They included three U.S. service members, who were attacked by a suicide bomber while they were on foot patrol in Doura, a Sunni Muslim neighborhood in southern Baghdad, Iraqi police said. Twelve Iraqis died in that attack, police said." Jamal Hashim (Xinhua), "The latest bloodshed arouses fears of a return of al-Qaida-style bomb attacks aimed at sparking sectarian strife that threatened to bring the country to the edge of civil war two years ago."

Chris Hedges: If you're an Iraqi or Afghani it makes no difference at this point whether George Bush is president or Barack Obama is president. The imperial projects in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. As you mentioned the unraveling in Iraq is beginning. The attempt to essentially silence Sunni insurgents by buying them off is fraying at the edges. We tried the same tactic in Afghanistan with tribal groups and once the money and the weapons stop or once the Taliban began to assert itself in the areas they were operating in they went right back into the arms of the Taliban. So the situation is increasinly precarious in Iraq and deteriorating at a very alarming rate in Afghanistan.

Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, authors of
Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians, were guests on Tuesday's KPFA Flashpoints (show is archived at Flashpoints and at KPFA).

Laila Al-Arian: Last week there was a very revealing incident in Iraq where a soldier basically stepped into a mental health counseling center and killed some of his comrades. And I think it was very reavealing because I think it kind of touches on some of the work we did which is the psychologically destructive impact of war, especially an unnecessary war like the war in Iraq. The soldier was on his third tour in Iraq and he had seen a lot. And we hear so many stories like this. Some of the 50 veterans we interviewed in our book talked about having thoughts of suicide. And it all really stems from seeing injustice before their eyes either participating in it or witnessing it and as Chris could tell you having covered so many wars, this is something that is not unique to the Iraq War and to the Occupation. This happens in every war when you see a civilian population suffer disproportionately.

Friday, Hedges and Al-Arian will be speaking at MLK Auditorium (MLK Middle School) in Berkeley and ticket prices are twelve to fifteen dollars. The event starts at seven p.m.

Laila Al-Arian: We hear estimates of more than a million Iraqis killed, how did this happen? So we were told convoys -- the way that the military travels in Iraq, twenty to thirty vehicles, told don't stop if you see an Iraqi child step in front of you, they were able to just run over medians, drive on the other side of the road, the wrong side. The raids that took place night after night you'd be hard pressed to find an Iraqi family that didn't expereince the terror of that. Having people with alien looking uniforms barge into your home speaking a different language that you don't understand. Checkpoints that would pop up randomly across the country at a moment's notice and being told basically that there was no accountability -- that if you shoot an Iraqi who drives through your checkpoint you won't face any trial, any court-martial, nothing like that. And we were told time and time again that there were cover ups of these incidents. And, again, you see the same thing happening in Afghnaistan and finally hearts and minds which is the racist attitude in the military that help justify these actions. Calling Arabs H**jis which is a racial slur that's used to basically dehumanize them.

Chris Hedges: Yeah, we focused on those particular activites where you had daily intersections between occupation troops and Iraqi civilians. Iraq is so fraught now with violence and, because there's no stability, foreign journalists can't stay in one place more than fifteen or twenty minutes -- those that are there. And we really wanted to find a way to tell the stories of Iraqi civilians. And the way that we did it was to find very courageous service members who were willing to go on the record and speak about civilian atrocities that they had either witnessed or in some cases participated in. And we characterized the -- as Laila said -- the functioning of convoys for instance which are just freight trains of death in Iraq barreling down highways fifty -- sixty miles an hour. As Laila said, they are told not to stop even if whole families go in front of the convoys -- smashing into Iraqi vehicles, jumping over merdians and, of course, when an IED goes off laying down what they call suppressing fire which is essentially unleashing with very high caliber weapons [. . .] which are like machine guns, 50 caliber and very rarely stopping to inspect the human carnage that they have left behind. This is what the occupation is day in and day out for Iraqis and that is very rarely glimpsed much less examined by the American media -- partly because of their inability to get out and partly because it it runs against the counter-narrative. It runs against that idea of "Our Boys! Our heroes!" and I think that even people who oppose the war have not been able to excape from.

Repeating, Friday, Hedges and Al-Arian will be speaking at MLK Auditorium (MLK Middle School) in Berkeley and ticket prices are twelve to fifteen dollars. The event starts at seven p.m.

"The previous Chief of Staff of the Air Force said that something like an additional $20 billion per year beyond the Fiscal Year 2009 budget request would be required to maintain and modernize the Air Force,"
declared US Senator Carl Levin this morning as he chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to review the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program. Two witnesses appeared before the committee, the Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley and US Gen Norton A. Schwartz.

Noting past cost "overruns" on other programs, Ranking Member Senator John McCain stated he was interested in hearing of the status of the Joint Strike Fighter program and whether it might mirror the cost overruns of the F22. And he put the rest of his prepared opening statement into the record. Credit to Donley for not attempting to pass off a goody list as 'We're helping our people!' Apparently that sort of nonsense is left to the Secretary of the US Army. (
Click here.) Donley didn't insult anyone by attempting to pass off the Air Force's goody list as 'empowering' those who have enlisted. PDF format warning, click here for a rough outline of his and Schwartz' opening statements. He listed the twelve core functions for the Air Force.

1) Nuclear Deterrence Operations
2) Air Superiority
3) Space Superiority
4) Cyberspace Superiority
5) Global Precision Attack
6) Rapid Global Mobility
7) Special Operations
8) Global Integrated ISR
9) Command and Control
10) Personal Recovery
11) Building Partnerships
12) Agile Combat Support

Donely declared that the Fiscal Year 2010 budget request "reflects a commitment to our Core Functions". The song and dance Donley didn't want to do? Schwartz was eager to strap on his tap shoes.

Gen Norton A. Schwartz: In
recent testimony, Adm Mullens stated, "We are what we buy." Following his lead, we intend to maintain stewardship of America's resources, for our war fighters in the field and the tax payers at home by recapturing aquistion excellence in fielding the right capabilities for our nation on time and within budget.

Buy? The Air Force was asking for money. We'll note this exchange.

Senator Carl Levin: Last year, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General [Michael] Mosely testified that the Air Force would require something like $20 billion per year additionally beyond the budget request to maintain and modernize the Air Force. Secretary Donley, General Schwartz, have you made your comparable assessment of modernization needs for sustaining the Air Force? How much additional -- if any -- do you believe will be required? Secretary?

Michael B. Donley: Uh, Mr. Chairman, we have uh reviewed with Secretary Gates, Adm [Mike] Mullen the overall requirements for the Air Force. Uh. You have an unfunded requirements list from General Shwartz that reflects his military judgment on those capabilities above and beyond those proposed in the FY'10 buget which we would prioritize for additional consideration. The Air Force --

Senator Carl Levin: Are they prioritized?

Michael B. Donley: Yes, they are.

Senator Carl Levin: And that was the total of 1.7?

Michael B. Donley: 1.9.

Senator Carl Levin: 1.9.

Michael B. Donley: Yes, roughly.

Senator Carl Levin: And you join in that request?

Michael B. Donley: Yes, we discussed that fully. The request went to General Schwartz so it is answered by General Schwartz discussed across the Air Force leadership.

Senator Carl Levin: And, General Schwartz, I take it that is your personal judgment.

Gen Norton A. Schwartz: It is, it is, sir, and the twenty items are in priority order.

Senator Carl Levin: Relative to the Joint Cargo Aircraft Reduction Proposal by the administration is it your intention that those air craft be assigned exclusively to the air guard or the air force reserve units?

Gen Norton A. Schwartz: Mr. Chariman, I say that's not yet clear. We - we have the direction from the department to make the transition of the program from the army to the Air Force. That is not an instantaneous undertaking. It will take us into -- well into 2010 in order to accomplish that. We, the army and General McKinnley from the National Guard Bureau and our people are meeting to get together with how one would execute a program of at least 38 air craft which is reflected in the budget proposal and how we would operate the fleet and what the basing footprint would look like and so on. We have to make a recommendation to the Deputy Secretary not later than the 30 of this month.

Senator Carl Levin: Do you support the reduction in the Joint Cargo Reserve Aircraft? 78 to 38?

Gen Norton A. Schwartz: Sir, we will have an opportunity through the quadrennial defense review to confirm that 39 is the right noumber. My view is the correct number is at least 38.

Senator Carl Levin: Have you made a personal assestment as to what the right number is?

Gen Norton A. Schwartz: Mr. Chairman, we have a number of studies including the analysis of alternatives which the army did in the 2005 - 2006 time frame. A more recent study's accomplished by RAND as late as 2009 that suggests that the 78 air craft package which was split between the Army and the Air Force originaly at 24 and 54 respectively. It is a valid -- a valid need. And obviously what occurred through the budget process committment on the part of the department to recommend the Army C23 Shurpas [. . .]

As Schwartz and Donley went on (and on), Levin broke into the non-answers answering to state, "We're going to need to have your further thoughts on that if you want your thoughts to be considered we're obviously going to need those before we take up this authorization bill in mark up." That's a basic point and it took the witnesses by surprise. They apparently thought they could josh their way through the hearing which, in fairness to the two witnesses, the army had already recently done. Credit to Carl Levin for immediately raising these issues. The above exchange was from the first round of questioning. No the Air Force wasn't at all prepared to answer. Yes, it did show that the Congress was taking the spending of the tax payers' money seriously. And Levin's exchange also showed the committee it was time to get serious. The looks during this exchange were priceless and can be best be described as surprise replaced with enjoyment. Levin set the tone and brought an energy into the hearing right away with that first exchange.

John McCain followed and immediately asked for "an update on the Joint Strike Fighter -- whether it's on time and what if any cost overruns are associated with it?" McCain got a song and dance about it being national and international and across the branches and . . . McCain interrupted to ask "what's the cost" and how it was going? Donley threw together a bunch of words that really said nothing (as his last sentence indicated).

Senator John McCain: Maybe you can submit in writing a response as to where we are as to the original cost estimates and the original schedule?

Michael B. Donley: Be happy to do that.

Senator John McCain: Appreciate it. But I still don't get from your answer a feel has there been cost overruns that have been signficant already?

Michael B. Donley: I'd have to go back and look at the baseline program, sir, and -- to sort of give you a sense as to where things have come since the program started.

Senator John McCain: I'd certainly hope you'd keep track of that every single day.

Exactly. The Air Force should have been prepared with the answer for the hearing and they should be following it every day. This was where the Air Force made the case for the monies they say they need -- or it was supposed to be. And the Air Force should have come prepared. A basic question from Senator Ben Nelson about whether something was being carried over to Fiscal Year 2011 led to Schwartz yet again being unable to provide an answer.

Yesterday the Senate Democratic Committee held a hearing about KBR's war profiteering and, specifically, how their shoddy electrical work put US service members at risk of death. Kimberly Hefling (AP) offers a BAD 'report' on the hearing, specifically this section:William P. Utt, the chairman of Houston-based KBR Inc. told The Associated Press in an interview that the company was not expected to meet the U.S. electrical code in a wartime environment. He said the company was striving to meet the British electrical code, which was more in line with the Iraqi electrical system.Were you at the hearing, Hefling? (I didn't see her.) If she was, why did she print KBR's assertion and not the testimony offered at the hearing which contradicts it? From yesterday's snapshot:Jim Childs went over his various and many qualifications and explained he went to work for Stanley Baker Hill in Iraq and was there for fifteen months. He explained that KBR built "roughly 90,000 buildings" in Iraq and that none of them were up to code which led KBR to insist they were using the British electrical code BS7671 but holding it to that code only results in more errors for KBR. "During my theater-wide inspections," Child explained, "I concluded that roughly 90 percent of the new construction buildings worked on by KBR were not properly wired. This means that over 70,000 buildings in Iraq were not up to code." KBR's shoddy work is not limited to Iraq, Childs explained, "While doing inspections in Afghanistan, I found the exact same code violations." Eric Peters than spoke.PDF format warning, from Childs' opening statement:KBR is responsible for about 4,000 to 6,000 hardstand buildings that existed before the war. The other roughly 90,000 buildings that KBR is responsible for under LOGCAP were built after the War in Iraq started and most were built by KBR and/or its subcontractors and the military. Many of these buildings are containerized living units, shower units, and latrines for soldiers to use on a daily basis. KBR did not do this work to any electrical code. KBR now claims to have used the British code BS7671 as its code, not the NEC. If you were to use the BS7671 standards, there would be even more KBR code violations. Army inspectors interviewed KBR workers at the time of inspections. Almost all stated they were working to meet the NEC. They did not even know the British code and had never received any training related to the British code. This is just the tip of the iceberg.Is that too hard for Hefling to understand? And is it too much for AP to send reporters into hearings or just to expect that they will pay attention? AP has a real problem when it comes to reporting on Congressional hearings and apparently that includes reporting on the Senate Democratic Committee.KBR chose not to appear at the hearing. As Senator Byron Dorgan noted during the hearing, he was sure they'd offer a denial after the hearing. It sure was 'nice' of Hefling to not only get a statement from them but to refuse to report how their claim had already been rejected by a Master Electrician in the hearing. Some might call it reporting -- they apparently have very few standards. Kat reported on the hearing last night:

Second big point from me, why did we keep hearing that people were threatened with being fired if they told the truth? If people are being threatened by KBR with firing seems to me the Congress needs to do more than nod their heads and refer to it. If there were people who could have prevented some of the electrical shocks that killed at least 18 soldiers and they were silent because they were threatened, it seems to me Congress needs to be on that issue as well. My suggestion? There are protections in place for government whistle blowers. KBR was working on government funds. There should be whistle blower protection for anyone working for the government and for anyone whistle blowing on a project that uses government funds in full or in part.

Today the President of the United States, Barack Obama, gave attempted another pretty words speech, this one to note why he wasn't releasing torture photos but was bringing military tribunals back. Though he didn't look directly into the camera and proclaim "I am George W. Bush Jr.!" he might as well have.
The Center for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner observes, "The president wrapped himself in the Constitution and then proceeded to violate it by announcing he would send people before irredeemably flawed military commissions and seek to create a preventive detention scheme that only serves to move Guantanamo to a new location and give it a new name." Along with being a Constitutional Law expert, Ratner is also a co-host of WBAI's Law and Disorder. (Along with Heidi Boghosian, Michael Smith and Dalia Hashad.) The ACLU's Suzanne Ito quotes the organization's Senior Legislative Counsel for the Washington Legislative Office:

Chris Anders: Interestingly, President Obama gave his speech while standing within a few feet of the Constitution. He and Congress should keep that cherished document in mind when considering today's proposals. You can't square upholding the Constitution with pushing for a new military commission scheme that would allow people to be convicted based on coerced evidence and asking Congress to pass the nation's first-ever law permitting the federal government to declare someone dangerous and imprison the person indefinitely without any criminal charges. Congress should reject that proposal.

evan brightsteven d. green
brett barrouquere
andrea stone
andrew wolfsondave alsupcnnthe new york timescampbell robertsonatheer kakanjames daogail mcgowan mellor
the los angeles timesliz slyusama redha
mcclatchy newspapersjack dolansahar issa
caroline alexanderbloomberg news
kimberly hefling
flashpointswbailaw and disordermichael ratnerthe center for constitutional rightsguantanamo
michael smithdalia hashadheidi boghosian

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing

Ava, Wally, C.I. and I were at the Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing on "Rewarding Failure: Contractor Bonuses for Faulty Work in Iraq" this morning and I'm just going to share a few thoughts, nothing heavy.

First, Charles Smith is highly intelligent. No question about it. But it was so hard to listen any time he spoke. Now the other two witnesses, Jim Childs and Eric Peters, were master electrician and you would expect them to be technical. But they actually kept their profession so basic that it was easy to follow. (And they deserve credit and thanks for doing that.)

Charles Smith could have made his testimony a lot more interesting and easier to understand if he would have spoken simply and if he would have not attempted to put footnotes with every statement he made. Even a question that was simple and required yes or no or three words, he would get caught up with too much tech and too many words.

He reminded me of Jack Lemmon's character in China Syndrome and how Jane Fonda's character is telling him he has to keep it simple.

Charles Smith did not keep it simple.

Second big point from me, why did we keep hearing that people were threatened with being fired if they told the truth? If people are being threatened by KBR with firing seems to me the Congress needs to do more than nod their heads and refer to it. If there were people who could have prevented some of the electrical shocks that killed at least 18 soldiers and they were silent because they were threatened, it seems to me Congress needs to be on that issue as well.

My suggestion?

There are protections in place for government whistle blowers. KBR was working on government funds. There should be whistle blower protection for anyone working for the government and for anyone whistle blowing on a project that uses government funds in full or in part.

I really just kept shaking my head during the hearing as one story of threatening by KBR after another surfaced.

So those are my two big thoughts on the hearing.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, closing statements are made in the Steven D. Green sentence hearing, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee talks KBR, and more.

Starting with the sentence hearing of Steven D. Green who was convicted two
Thursdays ago in the gang-rape of 14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, her murder, the murder of her five-year-old sister and the murders of both of her parents. Since then, the jury has been hearing testimony they will weigh when determining his sentencing. Green could receive the death penalty; however, all 12 jurors would have to vote to sentence him to death. If that does not happen, he is facing life in prison. Two Thursdays ago the verdict was decided by the jury and only now is the jury being sent to deliberate Green's sentencing. Evan Bright reports this afternoon, "The jury went into deliberation less than five minutes ago." Prior to that, the prosecution and the defense made their closing statements. Bright notes, "Scott Wendelsdorf (D) finished his closing. 'America does. not. KILL. it's broken soldiers. SPARE this boy's life, SPARE HIM". Andrew Wolfson (Courier-Journal) reports that Brian Skaret gave the closing for the proseuction and noted, "This is a chance for you to say that our soldiers do not do this, that we are a good and decent people." AFP quotes Skared stating, "The victims in this case cry out for justice from their graves" and that he stated of the defense, "They've tried to make Mr Green a victim in this case."

That's today. Of yesterday's hearing,
Evan Bright reports:

For the prosecution, Jim Lesousky called a single rebuttal witness,
as previously predicted. Dr. Helen Mayberg, a clinical neurologist at Emory University, was called; Dr. Ruben Gur was also listening via muted phone so as to hear what her response to his testimony would be. Mayberg was called to respond to the testimony of Gur. She told the court of her medical degree from USC and of her certification in neurology. Her testimony did not last nearly as long as Gurs. She told the jury that "testing one person deemed possibly mentally disabled...against a control group of forty-one 'healthy' people, would not always produce accurate results." She told the court that she did not note the same variations within Green's MRI that Dr. Gur previously testified to the jury. She also testified that in Gur's study of the forty one "healthy" subjects, they were tested using MRI's of a 1.5 tesla strenth, as well as two other measurements/settings that were to equal or be set to "one;" she told the jury when Gur reviewed Green's MRI, he failed to notice that his MRI was given at a 3.0 tesla strength, and that the two other aformentioned settings were also different, meaning that Green's MRI would not have matched the control group results regardless. For the most part, the defense has been excellent, but if they've ever suffered a setback, this would be it.

"Today's hearing is a result of this committee's continuing investigation into the deaths of some US soldiers by the death of electrocution in Iraq," explained Senator Byron Dorgan who chaired this morning's Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing "Rewarding Failure: Contractor Bonuses for Faulty Work in Iraq."

Senator Byron Dorgan: That investigation has led us to internal Pentagon documents showing that in 2007 and 2008, contractor KBR received bonuses of $83.4 million for work that, according to the Pentagon's own investigation, led to the electrocution deaths of US troops. Let me repeat that: The Pentagon gave bonuses of $83.4 million to KBR for work that resulted in the electrocution deaths of American soldiers.

Dorgan spoke of Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret and Army Ranger with the rank of Staff Sgt who died in Baghdad January 2, 2008 from taking a shower in KBR's 'safe' facilities. Dorgan noted that in the July hearing, "we obtained testimony that KBR had known of this very electrocuting hazard since at least February 10, 2007, 11 months before Ryan Maseth's death. In fact, the prior occupant of Staff Sgt Maseth's room was shocked in the same room four to five times between June and October 2007, in the very same shower were Ryan was killed. According to his sworn affidavit, each time this soldier was shocked, he submitted a work order to KBR." In fact, $34.4 million of KBR's $83.4 million in bonus pay was paid after Ryan Maseth was killed by their shoddy, cheap work and the military's investigation, as Dorgan noted, now lists the death as due to negligent homicide.

Participating on the committee this morning were Senators Dorgan, Robert Casey Jr.,Amy Klobuchar, Frank Lautenberg and Mark Udall. Testifying before the committee were Master Electrician Jim Childs, ex-KBR Master Electrician Eric Peters and ex-Chief of HQ Army Field Support command Charles Smith.

Lautenberg noted this was Dick Cheney's former company and that efforts under the previous administration for investigations were repeatedly blocked. From meals never served to burning vehicles because KBR didn't want to change the tires and much more, the 2.4 billion dollars KBR was paid was never to be questioned and "A hearing was refused." Lautenberg pointed out that Cheney held KBR stock options throughout all of this and that money -- even unaccounted money -- didn't matter and certainly the deaths of US soldiers from KBR's shoddy work didn't matter. Lautenberg stated these abuses and the refusal to investigate them never needed to happen again. Casey noted, in his opening statements, that no families should have to go through what Ryan Maseth's family has had to (and he applauded Cheryl Maseth's efforts to get the truth and to help others). Casey declared, "We're looking for accountability and we're trying to seek justice. And the only way we can have either is to arrive the truth." [Note: Those comments would seem to require an investigation into the torture crimes as well.] Casey wondered, "Why is it that any company that may have been directly responsible for the deaths of American fighting men and women, in any cicrumstance but especially in this circumstance, why should they be getting more contracts?"

Udall noted he would keep his opening remarks brief and did. We'll note this comment by him, "The only way forward is to hear the truth. That's the purpose of this hearing today."
Klobuchar explained, "It seems like every time we have these hearing on this subgect, there are some answers but mostly more questions." Kobuchar noted that when she attended the last hearing, she'd thought of her state's David Cedergren who had died in Iraq. And since then (in 2009, five years later) his parents had learned that it wasn't an accident, that Officer 3rd Class David A. Cedergren was electrocuted. She noted that his parents were first told his death was due to natural causes.

Senator Amy Kobuchar: And finally, late last year, over four years after his death, the US military acknowledged that the cause of David's death was electrocution. His cause is among 18 cases that have been discussed of electrocution that are being investigated as part of the Department of Defense Specials Investigator Inquiry.

Jim Childs went over his various and many qualifications and explained he went to work for Stanley Baker Hill in Iraq and was there for fifteen months. He explained that KBR built "roughly 90,000 buildings" in Iraq and that none of them were up to code which led KBR to insist they were using the British electrical code BS7671 but holding it to that code only results in more errors for KBR. "During my theater-wide inspections," Child explained, "I concluded that roughly 90 percent of the new construction buildings worked on by KBR were not properly wired. This means that over 70,000 buildings in Iraq were not up to code." KBR's shoddy work is not limited to Iraq, Childs explained, "While doing inspections in Afghanistan, I found the exact same code violations." Eric Peters than spoke.

Eric Peters: I went to Iraq in February 2009 and returned home in April 2009. After experiencing only two months of the KBR management culture and witnessing poor quality work at three separate bases, the Al Asad Airbase, Camp Striker and Camp Warrior, I decided that I could no longer be affiliated with KBR. Based on my personal observations at these three bases, at least fifty percent of the buildings KBR worked on were not properly wired. By the time I left, I concluded that KBR was not cappable of performing quality, legal electrical installations in Iraq. I worried every day that people would be seriously injured or killed by this defective work. I would be happy to return to Iraq to help our troops, but only under different circumstances with a different contractor.

The key passage in Charles Smith's opening remarks is probably the following:

Charles Smith: The army was aware of KBR's poor performance in Iraq from 2002 to 2008. There have been numerous government inspections and reports. The army, however, continued to give KBR high award fees. Those high award fees appear to have sent a message to KBR that performance did not really matter. Award fee boards and decisions are a communications tool between the government and the contractor. The contractor learns what is important to the government and will respond accordingly.

Dorgan said that KBR would claim that they they did their work effectively and properly "as they have [claimed] after all hearings." We'll note this exchange from the hearing:

Senator Byron Dorgan: Do any of you have any notion that we should be concerned about soldiers in Afghanistan? As you know the same contractor was doing work in Afghanistan. Is your sense that -- Now General [David] Petraeus sends in a blue ribbon task force to do all of this, right? I -- I -- you know, the thing is I've not heard General Petraeus say anything publicly about this. And if I were General Petraeus, I would be furious about soldiers being put at risk as a result of shoddy work. I mean just furious. But I've heard nothing at this point. My great concern is that what I have heard in most cases is the Pentagon really kind of saying 'There's not as much of a problem here as you think.' Sgt. Maseth's mother was originally told that he was probably electrocuted because he took a radio into the shower with him. The -- my colleague Senator Klobuchar has just described the experience of the family from Minnesota who for four years were told that he died of natural causes. Should we worry about the electirical work in Afghanistan as well as this point? Mr. Childs, what do you think?

Jim Childs: As -- as -- in my role with Task Force SAFE I did go to Afghanistan and look at the electircal work in Afghanistan. Spent about a day over there, we went over there under direction of General David Petraeus through Task Force Safe to see how their electrical program was. They had the exact same electrical bonding and grounding mistakes that they had in Iraq. That had building that were dangerous because they were the exact same problems. And I stood there and witnessed new work being done by KBR that was one hundred percent against the National Electric Code that is clearly the code they are to use there in Afghanistan. And I do not know what direction has been taken to inspect over in Afghanistan.

On KBR's method of billing, Klobuchar asked Eric Peters if she had it right, that "KBR can charge the government for work that does not meet safety standards and then come back and charge the government again?"

Eric Peters: That's my understanding.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: So what we have going on here is they can charge for the work that didn't meet the standards because someone like you doesn't sign off and they charge again to repair the work that failed to meet the proper safety standards?

Eric Peters: That's correct. They would send somebody out and pay him the work done and it's not a complete job done so they'd have to send somebody else out at a different time to complete the job and do it again.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: And you think that's common with KBR?

Eric Peters: All over theater.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: Mr. Childs do you agree with that?

Jim Childs: Absolutely.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: In a sort of a broader view of this would be that what they're doing is that they're charging double and then they're getting bonuses for it. Would that be one to look at it?

Jim Childs: I believe that's correct.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: Mr. Smith, you said in your testimony that "the army provided perverse incentives to KBR by providing the company with substantial award fees without KBR having the required business systems and without performing quality work." Is that right?

Charles Smith: That's correct.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: And this is an example? What I'm talking about right here?

Charles Smith: That's part of the example.

We'll stop there.
Yesterday's snapshot included the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Kat covered some suicide stats offered in the hearing offered by Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army:

Geren responded that the top 3 reasons were:1. shattered personal relationship (spouse/loved one) 2. work place humilitation/disappointment or financial problem 3. medical problem Characteristics include:* Younger than 25 * Male * White * By rifle or pistol He offered this grouping of thirds on suicide -- he's breaking down all the suicides into thirds: * 1/3 who commit suicide have never deployed * 1/3 commit suicide during a deployment * 1/3 commit suicide after a deployment

Ava filled in for Rebecca and covered Senator Jim Webb's questioning of General George Casey:

Senator Jim Webb: Your comments about dwell time being of your utmost concern. I recall the conversation that you and I had more than two years ago when you called me to tell me that the army was going to go to 15 month deployments with 12 months at home which I think is a .75 dwell time ratio and you will recall I expressed my strongest concern about that. As someone who had grown up in the military, as did you, and watched my father go through multiple deployments, someone who had served in Vietnam when the Marine Corps tour was 13 months and as someone who has had a son and son-in-law deploy as enlisted marines in extended tours in Iraq. Now, on the one hand, and I said this to Secretary of Defense last week and Admiral Mullen, I - I am very encouraged about programs that are in place to treat those whoa re experiencing emotional difficulties and stigma in the active forces and that sort of thing but I'm still concerned measure that could be taken and should be taken to prevent these sort of situations which was the basis really of my conversation with you two years ago, was the reason that I addressed the dwell time amendment twice in '07. If we are going to put greater discipline say into the procurement process - as has become a big focus -- maybe we should be putting the same sort of discipline in our combatant commanders' request for troops? That they're -- certainly one of the parameters in terms of troop availability or in terms of how we use troops is the stewardship that we all should feel about length of deployments versus time back here -- all of these things that you were talking about at the beginning [of this hearing] which I was talking about on the Senate floor a couple of years ago. Uhm, so what do you think about that? George Casey: Senator, I couldn't agree more. In fact, one of the points of discussion that I hoped to have in the quadrennial defense review is whether or not we need to move toward a capability based strategy versus a war plan strategy. As I said, we're organizing the army on a rotational cycle so that we provide a sustained level of capability to commanders but at a sustainable deployment cycle. Jim Webb: Well certainly rotational cycles should be on the table, when we're talking about the number of troops that should be deployed. You know -- George Casey: Absolutely. Jim Webb: -- that's something that you and I were discussing two years ago. You were saying, in your defense I will say, you were saying that you had to feed the strategy. When you went to the 15 month, 12 month, you had to feed the strategy. Your obligation to feed the strategy. General Petraeus comes and testifies and I asked him about the dwell time thing and he said, 'Well I just state my requirements' and, you know, there was sort of a disconnect in the middle. And it would seem to me, particularly in this transitional period, we ought to be taking a pretty, a pretty tough look at the well being of the force as a component in terms of how we're using them to deploy in Afghanistan. George Casey: I agree with you and I'm not articulating it well, I don't think. But once you have arranged the force into bins for the rotational cycle, that's what's available to the country. And it's available at a sustainable deployment cycle to the families and the soldiers and it's a strategy that's constrained by means which all strategies should be, rather than strategy driving requirements. Jim Webb: I think you and I, we are rushing to agree on this but at same time the difficult really is that there seems to be such a deference to a combat commander, and there should be something of a deference, but there seems to be such a deference when they say "I need 30,000 troops" rather than where this decision is now being made this is going to be going on for a long time and how are we going to protect the health and our long term sustainability in terms of feeding these troops. Webb also gave him a chance to clear up his comments made to Senator Joe Lieberman:Jim Webb: . . . when you said you had a lot of units that are 1.5 dwell time ratio right now. Army wide with the troops actually deployed, what is the ratio in dwell time right now? George Casey: We're between 1.3 and 1.5 is the average.

In Iraq today a Baghdad car bombing garners the bulk of attention.
BBC reports that the bombing took place "near a popular restaurant in Shula, a poor, crowded mainly Shia neighbourhood." Sahar Issa and Jack Dolan (McClatchy Newspapers) add that the bom "went off at 7:30 p.m. outside a restaurant and ice cream parlor". Mohammed Abbas and Matthew Jones (Reuters) note the death toll is 35 with seventy-two injured. Iran's Press TV notes, "Police say the death toll is expected to rise as some of the wounded are in critical conditions." The Telegraph of London offers the context that today's bombing "was the biggest bombing since April 29 when more than 50 people -- again in mostly Shiite districts of the capital -- were killed in a wave of near-simultaneous bombings."

Jack Dolan (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "For the first time since modern Iraq was founded in the 1920s, a sitting government minister has been questioned publicly about corruption allegations, in this case about skimming millions of dollars from a national food-distribution program while ordinary Iraqis went hungry. The parliamentary grilling of Trade Minister Abdul Falah al Sudany ran live Saturday and Sunday on state television, and everyone in Baghdad seems to have been watching." Earlier this month, Natalia Antelava (BBC) reports Sabah Mohammed al-Sudani, brother of Trade Minister Abd Falah al-Sudani (CIA spelling, also spelled Abed al-Falah al-Sudani and Abdel Falah al-Sudani), was arrested Saturday [May 9th] after he and his brother "vanished in late April as they were about to be arrested." Trade Minister al-Sudani was born in Iraq but lived elsewhere. He is one component of the government of exiles the US has installed in Iraq. His official bio includes:-Ph.D in Biochemistry, Swansea University , Wales, UK,1981 - Researcher at the Biochemistry Department, Swansea University,Wales,UK - Member of the British Royal Society of Biological Sciences - Defending strategic analyzer and political editor, Al-A'alam weekly magazine London,UK - Founding member of the Islamic House in London,UK - President and member of the Muslims Youth Association, London ,UK,1986 - Former President of Orient Center for Studies ,London,UK - Member of Iraq National Assembly,2005 - Minister of Education of the Republic of Iraq,(2005-2006) - Member of Iraqi Parliament,2006

Natalia Antelava (BBC) explains that he's "accused of making millions by selling the food aid to traders instead of giving it away." Alsumaria notes, "After more than 100 lawmakers signed on revoking the confidence vote of Trade Minister Abdul Fallah Al Sudani, the confidence vote session will be held a week after submitting the request to the Parliamentary presidency committee which will take the decision by a small majority." Like Nouri al-Maliki, al-Sudani is an exile. Like Nouri, he's a member of the Dawa party. He heads the ministry Nouri put him in charge of.

In other reported violence . . .


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which damaged a US military convoy vehicle and a Mosul bombing late Tuesday which wounded four people.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Mosul ("stabbed many times").

Yesterday Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, authors of
Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians, were guests on Flashpoints (show is archived at link and at KPFA). We'll try to note the interview tomorrow. Friday, Hedges and Al-Arian will be speaking at MLK Auditorium (MLK Middle School) in Berkeley and ticket prices are twelve to fifteen dollars. The event starts at seven p.m. On yesterday's inteview, Laila points out that the Iraq War has become the forgotten war.

World Can't Wait notes:

On Wednesday, May 13, Barack Obama reversed his previously announced position, and said that he would move to block the release of some 2000 photos documenting U.S. military personnel torturing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the blocked photos are of U.S. prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and include depictions of "Abu Ghraib-style" torture, along with photos taken by military criminal investigators--in some cases supposedly documenting allegations of abuse, as well as autopsy photos of prisoners who were killed while in custody.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU--the group that sued to make the photos public--said the volume of photos shows that "It is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest levels."

Obama said he would not release the photos because "the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."

What does it mean to cover up evidence of horrific war crimes because knowledge of those crimes would "inflame anti-American opinion?" And what is the responsibility of people living in the United States, right now, when great crimes, committed in their name, are being covered up?

World Can't Wait on the same topic. This is their earlier text statement, "
Thursday MAY 28 National Day of Resistance to U.S. TORTURE!:"
On or by May 28, the Obama administration is being forced to release 2000 photos of detainee abuse in US facilities from 2001-2006. The Abu Ghraib photos, released in 2004 only because a solider was horrified over the torture, brought an international storm of protest against the US torture state. The new photos, including many from Bagram, where the detention facilities have just been doubled to hold 60,000 Afganis, will show that US torture was widespread, sustained, and systemic, not an "aberration," but an integral part of the "global war on terror."
Weeks after 4 more torture memos revealed the detail with which George Bush's lawyers managed the torture of individual detainees, calls to prosecute those responsible -- from the White House principals, to the legal torture team, to the CIA agents who tortured -- have met objections from Washington. Cheney and the open advocates of torture scream that they must be able to use "harsh methods" to win the global war on terror. The Obama administration, after deciding to continue indefinite detention, CIA rendition, and Bush's executive powers, says prosecution would stop them from "moving forward." Democratic party leader Nancy Pelosi knew about the torture and waterboarding since 2002, saying and doing nothing to stop it..
It's up to the people to act! World Can't Wait and other groups are planning non-violent civil resistance protests, programs digging into the substance of the charges, waterboarding and rendition re-enactments, and film showings in communities around the country to demand prosecution of the Bush era war criminals. More information, listings, posters, flyers & background on the war criminals at
Wherever the Bush era war criminals are appearing this month, raise the cry "Torture is a War Crime! Prosecute!"

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