Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, July 31, 2007. Chaos and violence continue, religious minorities in Iraq get some press attention, the air war continues, the US military announces another death, the realities of medical care for veterans, and more.

Starting with war resisters. Yesterday on on WBAI's Law and Disorder, Dalia Hashad, Michael Smith and Michael Ratner spoke with war resister Camilo Mejia.

Dalia Hashad : You're one of the very first publicly known conscientious objectors to this Iraq war and I believe the first military soldier who went to Iraq, saw what happened, came back and said I will not go back.

Camilo Mejia: That's right. Let me start by saying that when I allegedly went AWOL, I didn't really go AWOL because when we received orders to go to Iraq I had pretty much come to the end of my eight year service. So what happened was that I was extended from the year 2003 to the year 2031 by this thing that they called "stop loss."

Michael Ratner: (chuckling) Only 28 years more, you mean?

Camilo Mejia: 28 years more.

Dalia Hashad: Is that typical for stop loss to extend for that period of time?

Camilo Mejia: It's typical, it's typical because I mean the likelihood of soldiers actually serving that long beyond their service or their eight-year-service it's very low. But what it does, it just gives the military, you know, a pretty big window to just keep extending people as many times as they need them.

Michael Smith: You know what it reminds me of, Camilo? My grandfather came here from Romania in 1912 and the draft law in Romania, particularly for Jews, in 1912 was fifty years.

Camilo: Wow.

Michael Smith: And he packed up and left. And now they're trying to do the same sort of thing to the country that people fled to.

Camilo Mejia: Right, so yeah, that's happening now. it's pretty common. I don't think anybody's going to actually serve 28 years beyond their contract. But what it does it gives the military the ability to keep extending people two years at a time. When I deployed to Iraq I was just politically opposed to the war
but it was a very detached and selfish opposition because I basically didn't want my life disrupted. And when I actually went to Iraq, and, you know, the first mission that we had there was to just basically torture prisoners -- to keep them awake for periods of 72 hours and, you know, we did that by performing mock executions, putting pistols up to their heads, yelling at them, creating explosion like sounds just to scare them. And from there we moved on to more combat
missions and because of a combination of bad leadership and disregard for the lives of both Iraqi civilians and soldiers we ended up killing a bunch of innocent civilians and, you know, just doing things the opposite way from what we should do.

Mejia tells his story in book form with Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia (The New Press). The interview is wide ranging the section above is selected because it is an aspect that tends to get left out of the coverage. Mejia was a non-US citizen. The US military could not stop loss him, they could not extend his eight year contract. US Senator Bill Nelson had already addressed this, unknown to Mejia who was serving in Iraq at the time, and the military knew they could not extend his eight-year contract. What they attempted to do was to trick him, to try to get him to apply for citizenship and, except for one person, to refuse to tell the truth up the chain. We're also highlighting this section because Dalia Hashad (who obviously read the book) tried to address it with another guest previously and, as Mike (Mikey Likes It!) noted, she was more or less treated as if she was making something up. She was correct (and Mike cites the passage in the book.) There are other sections of this week's Law and Disorder that we'll note as the week goes along and Mike's going to be covering this week's broadcast at his site later in the week.
With war resisters, it is often said that they don't "live up to their contract" and no one bothers note how the only one expected to live up to the "contract" is those at the bottom. This is one of the points addressed in "Where Have All the War Resisters Gone?" (The Third Estate Sunday Review).
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Zamesha Dominique, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Joshua Key, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Care, Kyle Huwer, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, forty-one US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline, Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters.

Today Democracy Now! broadcast an interview Amy Goodman did with Military Families Speak Out's Kevin and Joyce Lucey about the lawsuit they've brought against the US Veterans Affair Dept. over the death of their son Jeffrey Lucey who, as Goodman explained, "hanged himself after the US military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May of 2004, Jeffrey's parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him a few days later. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. The Luceys are suing the VA for negligence."

Joyce Lucey explained, "Jeffrey went to Kuwait in the beginning of February of 2003, into Iraq with the initial invasion in March. He returned home to us in July of 2003. And at the beginning, we really saw -- we didn't notice any major difference, although his girlfriend said he was distant when they went away for the weekend to Cape Cod, and he told a friend that he had seen enough sand to last him a lifetime, so he really didn't want to go on the beach. We found out during the fall that he was vomiting on a daily basis. We encouraged him to go to the doctor on that. And they went more for a physical reason, rather than a psychological, and now, looking back, it might have been the PTSD starting. And then he progressed onto Christmas Eve, where he threw the dog tags at his sister and called himself a murderer. From there to nightmares, which I heard him yelling out, and to which he said he was fine, that he was just having a dream that he was caught in an alleyway and they were coming after him. And then Jeffrey went back to college. He had been in college since September, after his return, went back to college in January and was fine until March, when they have their college break. And at that point, he got very depressed, drinking, and couldn't go back to school, even though he didn't actually tell me that. But he would go and come home early and say class had ended early or the professor didn't show up. So I didn't really know he wasn't attending classes, but he was having panic attacks, and when he finally did say something, he said he just couldn't stay in class. And he was also having a startled response, if somebody would slam a door. So he went to our primary care physician at that point and was put on Prozac and Ativan to see if it could keep him in class. And it just continued on from there, the inability to sleep, the lack of appetite, the social seclusion. "

From the broadcast:

KEVIN LUCEY: Well, I think that the primary reason is that what happened to Jeff should never have happened. Jeff was so afraid to go to the VA, because he was afraid that the military would find out. And it's that stigma issue. And so, therefore, we called anonymously, and we described the symptoms, and they told us that that's classic PTSD and get him in as soon as possible. And what happened was, Jeff finally did agree to go in, but he delayed it until May 28th, on Friday. And when I was bringing Jeff to them, I really did think that we were bringing him to the arms of the angels, because they were going to save him. They were going to deal with Jeff's problems. And it took us about six hours to get him committed. They tried to talk him into going in voluntarily, but Jeff refused to. So Jeff was finally committed, and he tried to leave the building, but the nursing staff and the police had to go after him. But they brought him back in. He was there for about three-and-a-half days. He was discharged on June 1st. And what we discovered -- and this was about a year afterwards -- that there was a psychiatrist that saw him upon the admission, and then there was the psychiatrist who saw him at the discharge, but no psychiatrist saw him at all during those two times.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, during the entire time he was committed, he was not seen by a psychiatrist, except for being admitted and for being released?


JOYCE LUCEY: And it was two different psychiatrists, so there really was no continuity in the care.

What the two psychiatrists were most likely doing was the initial assement upon entry and the discharge. This isn't treatment. The assesment is just to get a general feel and know what issues need to explore. The final interview is, in Jeffrey Lucey's case, most likely the cover-your-own-ass interview that is actually supposed to ensure that the patient is not a harm to themselves or others. Kevin Lucey goes on to stress that Jeffrey Lucey, while under VA care, spoke of "three ways that he had planned to commit suicide". Joyce Lucey notes this is in "the records" and that's the charts. In the commercial world of medicine, what has happened was that Jeffrey Lucey received no medical treatment. He was babysat. That's not an insult to the staffers. But they chart for a reason and that's not to kill to time. The doctors are supposed to be reviewing the charts. In the for-profit world this would be described as a 'treatment team'. The staffers would be on it in terms of charting. But with Jeffrey Lucey, it appears the only ones treating him were the staffers and, most likely, they were not medically trained. I'm not saying "Bad staffers." I am pointing out that were we speaking of a commercial hospital setting with the exact same circumstances, this lawsuit would be a strong one. (It should be a strong one now but the government has a habit of weaseling out of blame.) In a commercial setting, an excuse might be offered that by admitting on a Friday, no doctor was going to do anything with him over the weekend unless he had an episode. I'm not justifying that but I am noting that Jeffrey Lucey was discharged on a Tuesday (June 1, 2004) and the point there is if the weekend excuse (or 'excuse') was being used, it would mean that treatment started on Monday. No psychiatrist saw Lucey on Monday. The Tuesday interview was the mandated exit interview that had to be done so it could be charted. If this isn't clear -- or the VA's failure -- again, Jeffrey Lucey was committed. He didn't check himself. Jeffrey Lucey was given no treatment at all, he had no medical supervision at all (the entry and exit interviews are not supervision). He was babysat from Friday through Tuesday.

The Luceys explain to Goodman that the days after the release were not good ones. A non-drunk Lucey "totaled the family car on Thursday, June 3rd" and two days later, at his sister's graduation, he was "barely able to walk . . . slurring his words". Again, he goes to the VA and he's not admitted, he won't go inside, the VA sends someone outside to speak to him but it's not a psychiatrist. There are many issues here but, and remember the Luceys are bringing this lawsuit so that no other family has to go what they went through, the one that's a standard and repeating thing with the VA is staffing. Where were the doctors, how many were scheduled, why weren't more scheduled (there clearly was not enough if -- in a five day stay -- Jeffrey Lucey was never assigned a psychiatrist as part of his care) . . . The details may be a bit different (or not) but this story is not uncommon today and it wasn't uncommon during Vietnam. Pretending that these issues are being addressed with the nonsense of a panel is insane. Kevin Lucey speaking during the broadcast:

I think one of the biggest things that got destroyed in my mind was my perception of the American government. I couldn't believe and I can't believe even until today that the government would have never prepared for the soldiers upon their return home. It was more of an afterthought. Even now, even now, even with all the money that they've been investing and all the Blue Star commissions, Blue Ribbon commissions, they aren't really dealing with what they need to deal with. Not one military family, I noticed, was ever appointed to any of the Blue Star commissions. And I thought that that was a horrible slap in all of our faces. So, right now, due to the fact that this administration and due to the fact that past congresses haven't done anything, it's the whole -- the phrase of the government by the people, for the people, by the people -- I think we have to do something.

Last week's panel got a lot of soft press. As Kevin Lucey points out, no one serving on it is from a military family. And, to be honest, that's not even good enough. Veterans will not be served today by someone serving on a panel that can say "I served" or "my husband served" in WWII or any other war. The panel needs to have veterans or their families (ideally both) from this war because they are the ones facing the problems right now and they can be the strongest advocates. Donna Shalala and Bob Dole don't know the first thing about accessing a new medical system as a stranger. It's insane to suggest that these 'names' know the first thing about the issues let alone how to fix them.

We're going to note one other section of the broadcast and we'll have less of the day's news but (a) there's not a whole lot on any given day to begin with (not when journalists are confined in the Green Zone) and (b) this is a story that is going on for other families and will continue to go on until it's addressed. It usually isn't addressed, in any US war. It's usually swept aside and ignored or you get a nonsense committee like the one Shalala and Dole 'served' on that's not going to fix anything but makes for nice some headlines. So, one more time, from Goodman's interview with the Lucey's:

AMY GOODMAN: Is Jeffrey considered an Iraq war casualty?

JOYCE LUCEY: No. No, he's not. If he had died over in Iraq, yes, he would be. But he came home and took his life here. So he's not a casualty, even though we know he is a casualty of that war.

KEVIN LUCEY: He's unknown, uncounted and unacknowledged by his government or by the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you want him to be acknowledged, his life remembered?

JOYCE LUCEY: I guess I'd like Jeffrey to be known as someone who wanted to help people. When he came back from Iraq, he said that's what he wanted to do now. He wanted to help. So through what we're trying to do, it's like Jeffrey's outreaching to help other people. We're hoping that some good will come out of this lawsuit in the form of better healthcare for the veterans. And that would be something that Jeffrey would be proud of.

KEVIN LUCEY: And we want Jeff's legacy -- and it's not only Jeff. We want to really emphasize that. We have people who have died the same way, T.J. Sweet, Philip Kent, Jason Cooper, and so many others, known and unknown. We want their legacy to be that they have saved others, that through the mistakes that the government had made with them and through mistakes that we also made, that we all have learned and were able to come, especially in this country, with the most effective, the most responsive, viable VA healthcare system that can be afforded and that can be given to our veterans.
If the point is not clear (and it may not be, the story of Jeffrey Lucey makes me very angry), both interviews were required because Lucey did not admit himself. They had nothing to do with treatment. Lucey received no treatment at all. It's as though you or your child had an addiction and, at a treatment center, you got your intake assessment and you got your exit interview but you got nothing else. That's not a slam at the staffers (who are overworked) but Joyce and Kevin Lucey were not expecting that their son would have babysitters, they were (rightly) expecting that, at a medical facility, their son would receive medical care. Jeffrey Lucey received no medical care.

Let's stay with reality. Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan (Reuters) report Michael Mullen -- Bully Boy's pick to replace Peter Pace as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- has declared to the Senate Armed Service committee, "I do think we will be there [Iraq] for years, not months." The illegal war's not ending and if that's new to you, you're either in a coma or in the Congressional Democratic Leadership.
Staying with reality. The narrative presented by the media is that the religious groups in Iraq are Sunni and Shia. Sometimes, they'll even toss in that there are Kurds in north. But the reality is that Iraq has a diverse population. Or had. They've been under attack (especially in the Kurdish north and in Baghdad). Jews and Christians were often killed in the early years but rarely noted as such in the stories of, for instance, "an owner of a liquor store was shot dead . . ." Ellen Massey (IPS) explores the situation for the religious minorities in Iraq noting, "A movement among some of Iraq's minority groups is calling for U.S. support for a semi-autonomous province, with extra security, which would provide a safe haven near the Nineveh Plains northwest of Mosul. Four Iraqis and an Anglican priest testified before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom last week that Iraqi Christians, Jews, Assyrians, Yazidis and Mandaeans face near extermination in their homeland as the violence in Iraq escalates." Pascale Warda is quoted (Chaldo-Assyrian Christian) and her religion was one "four percent of the Iraqi population" but now makes "up 40 percent of the Iraqis who are fleeing their homeland." Warda testified, "Over 30 churches have been destroyed, priests have been kidnapped, killed or beheaded. Christian women are forced under the Islamic hijab, a practice being rejected even by a large number of Muslim women as well." The Mandaens, a religion that goes back centuries, are noted. Someone we won't bother to name (he's British, he pushed for the continuation of the illegal war and still does, despite the collar) says that every Jewish person he knew has left. In Baghdad a small number (tiny) remains. They are all elderly. The last study estimated that they numbered 19. Other Jews in Baghdad exited over the last years of the illegal war. (And, of course, those who didn't were killed.)
And the violence continues today. Some of it includes . . .


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier (five more people wounded), and five more Baghdad roadside bombings throughout the day wounded at least ten. Reuters notes two police officers were killed in a Samarra roadside bombing.


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 police officers shot dead in Baghdad and Bahaa Naji ("a resident engineer in Al Sarafiya Bridge" -- in the process of being rebuilt) was shot dead in Baghdad,


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 19 corpses idiscovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes that 6 corpses were discovered in Kut.

Today the US military announced: "A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died July 30 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province." 3653 is the number of announced deaths of US service members in the Iraq war since it started and 74 is the number announced who have died in the illegal war thus far this month (ICCC figures). CBS and AP play STUPID and make a big deal out of the alleged drop in US military fatalities since February. For the record, 74 is only 7 less than 81 (the count for the months of February and March). Also for the record, the US military has repeatedly delayed death announcements this month. Compounding the error, they present the likes of Pubic Head Ken Pollack as a "war critic" -- he's a war supporter and that's known as surely as its known that his ridiculous hair style should have been changed long ago. This "lower deaths" is the talking point the media was primed for last Thursday and it's really important they play STUPID and run with it. Sinan Salaheddin is but one example. Assuming there are no other announcements of deaths to make, we are still talking a difference of 7 deaths.

CBS and AP also report: "An Apache helicopter also went down Tuesday after coming under fire in a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, but both crew members were safely evacuated, the military said."
The air war goes on and is seldom noted. Ali al-Fadhily (IPS) tackles it and notes that the "dramatic escalation" is being seen by some Iraqis as an admission that the US military grasps they cannot win a ground war, al-Fadhily also notes that "U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped five times as many bombs in Iraq during the first six months of this year as over the first half of 2006, according to official information. They dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first half of 2007, compared to 86 in the first half of 2006. This is also three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. The Air Force has also been expanding its air bases in Iraq and adding entire squadrons. It is now preparing to use a new robotic fighter known as the Reaper. The Reaper is a hunter-killer drone that can be operated by remote control from thousands of miles away." Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan also noted the air war (at Common Dreams) while wondering where the real discussion of Iraq was on the Sunday chat & chews, "I was wondering when the real discussion was going to occur until I saw those five words: 'Brought to you by Boeing:' the number one aerospace/defense contractor in the world according to Fortune 500. The next show after Meet the Press is The McLaughlin Group which is brought to a gullible American viewer ship by The Oil and Natural Gas Council." She notes the formal announcement of her campaign for a seat in the House of Representatives will occur August 6th and the Camp Casey Peace Institute is now up and running online (and the group will be going to Jordan and Syria to speak to Iraqi refugees about their plight -- over 4 million refugees have been produced by the illegal war counting externally and internally displaced people).
In activism news, Bully Boy long since learned to avoid the ranch-ette in Crawford, TX. (And rumors abound that he will avoid when he leaves the White House.) His vacation will take place and it will take place in Maine. Ron Jacobs (Dissident Voice) continues his coverage of what is planned, "And the war drags on. Several protests are scheduled for DC and other cities this autumn and a new effort to bring the protest movement into every community in the United States that calls itself the Iraq Moratorium Project is launching September 21st. Mr. Bush is getting ready to take his vacation up in Maine at the Bush Family Compound in Kennebunkport, recreating (as his daddy said back in 1990) while Baghdad burns. However, Mr. Bush won't be alone. In fact, in what organizers hope will be an even larger manifestation of the last two previous protests in that bucolic playground of the rich, a broad coalition of antiwar groups are holding a protest and convergence over the August 24 - 26 weekend. Like the encampment spearheaded by Cindy Sheehan outside of Crawford, Texas last summer, this protest aims to bring the antiwar message to the apparently heartless man who claims the war as his own." Sheehan will be among those participating.
Turning to political news. Elizabeth Edwards, wife of 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, gave an interview to Salon recently. The 'coverage' that followed ignored her remarks about Barack Obama and instead zoomed in on Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth Edwards is the subject for the August 2007 Progressive Interview (pp. 31-36, The Progressive) conducted by Ruth Conniff. Edwards notes early on, "There's no way to do this that doesn't sound negative about the other candidates. And I don't mean to because I think they're good people." That noted, Edwards explains her husband's stance on the illegal war, notes that he has taken a lot of criticism for voting for the authorization (which wasn't an authorization for the illegal war as she correctly notes) but also emphasizes his votes after that. From the interview:
And honestly, the other candidates? Obama gives a speech that's likely to be extraordinarily popular in his home district, and then comes to the Senate and votes for funding. John, the first time funding came up, he was already suspicious. What he said was we've got two issues, one is information and the other is not trusting your President. And he gave plenty of speeches at the time saying, "I'm not voting for the $87 billion because he has no plan." You've got to do that for the men and women who are ther: You've got to have a plan. And he didn't vote for the $87 billion, and never voted for any dedicated funding. So you are going to get people behaving in a holier-than-thou way. But John stood up when he was in the Senate for exactly the thing he's asking these people to stand up for now. . . .
We're electing the leader of the free world, and just like the votes in this last funding bill, we're looking for a leader. They [Obama and Hillary Clinton] are very important leaders in the Senate. And we got thirteen votes on this last bill? Could they have influenced a few more votes? Probably not enough, but they should have been making speeches about why it was they were doing this, and standing up and trying to rally. And they didn't. They weren't leaders. The point isn't, "I got here first or I got here last." The point is, in this moment, are you a leader?
Elizabeth Edwards is unaware of one thing. It's not surprising she doesn't live in Barack Obama's state and the press has avoided the issue. Barack Obama was against the illegal war before it started. Barack Obama was also against withdrawal while running for the US Senate. That's a matter of public record. If the interview is noted, no doubt it will be like the Salon interview, where choice bits about Hillary Clinton are picked out and trumpeted. There's been more criticism from Elizabeth Edwards than has made it into the popular narrative that passes for reporting. (If her comments regarding the economic situation in this country are noted, it will be much harder to reduce it to Elizabeth Edwards v. Hillary Clinton -- which is not her intent or Clinton's.)
Lastly, feminist Naomi Wolf has re-emerged as a strong voice against the administration ("re-emerged" is not a slap or an insult, she had a child in the last few years and the still repeated nonsense and lie that she was a 'fashion consultant' to Al Gore is enough to sap anyone's energy). Wolf is endorsing a new campaign: American Freedom Campaign. The need for it she defines (Huffington Post via Common Dreams) in a straightforward fashion,
"America is looking less and less like America. And more and more Americans are worried about it. What country is this? The president is claiming the right to keep his aides from testifying for Congress about the U.S. attorneys scandal; hundreds of men -- according to a Seton Hall study, many of them innocent -- are in legal limbo in Guantanamo Bay; U.S. agents are kidnapping people off the streets in Italy and Macedonia and 'rendering' them to be tortured; the president and his lawyers claim the executive has the right to call anyone -- U.S. citizen or not -- an 'enemy combatant' -- and the person who should decide what that means is the President himself; civil rights organizations say peaceful citizens' groups are being infiltrated and put under surveillance; and a new bill just made it easier, as Senator Patrick Leahy warned, for the president -- any president of whatever party -- to declare martial law." And it should be added that we have an administration that not only refuses to listen to the boss (the people) on the Iraq war, they continue to lie and deceive on the topic.
Disclosure, I know and like Wolf. I'm glad she's coming back strong. But on a day when a supposed powerful woman's voice wastes everytime with an op-ed about how honest 24 and its lead character are (what has she been sniffing?), Wolf's piece needs to be noted. Not all women are wasting their public voices writing nonsense divorced from reality.

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