Friday, February 15, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the US kills allies, the refugee crisis has a new wrinkle -- voting, and more.
Starting with war resistance. Brad McCall is a war resister who went to Canada because he could not serve in an illegal war. Yesterday he blogged about an e-mail he received from an angry Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Driggers whom McCall attempts to explain it again to, "I am protecting my nation by doing what I have done. I am also supporting my fellow soldiers that are serving in this war. By leaving and making it clear that I will not conform to this act of hate committed by my government, I make it clear that there are soldiers with conscience and that we (soldiers) should be kept safe in our own borders, and not in some country that we have no business in." Earlier this week, he addressed another e-mail from a soldier and responded, "You see, the military is built so that men, and women, have no chance to speak out against what is obviously wrong. In the Army there was this saying: 'Out of sight, out of mind'. Most lower ranking soldiers live on that principle. They believe that the quieter they stay, the smoother they will flow through, and essentially, the quicker they will get out. They are afraid to speak out. They know what can happen. I knew what would happen when I spoke up."
With Canada's Supreme Court refusing to hear appeals on the issue of safe harbor status for war resisters in Canada. The country's Parliament remains the best hope for safe harbor war resisters like McCall may have. You can make your voice heard by the Canadian parliament which has the ability to pass legislation to grant war resisters the right to remain in Canada. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (email@example.com -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty 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 [(877) 447-4487], 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. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).
Meanwhile IVAW is organizing a March 2008 DC action:
In 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently.
Over three days in January, these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. They called it the Winter Soldier investigation, after Thomas Paine's famous admonishing of the "summer soldier" who shirks his duty during difficult times. In a time of war and lies, the veterans who gathered in Detroit knew it was their duty to tell the truth.
Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into increasingly bloody occupations. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once again, our country needs Winter Soldiers.
In March of 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because yours is a story that every American needs to hear.
March 13th through 16th are the dates for the Winter Soldier Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Dee Knight (Workers World) notes, "IVAW wants as many people as possible to attend the event. It is planning to provide live broadcasting of the sessions for those who cannot hear the testimony firsthand. 'We have been inspired by the tremendous support the movement has shown us,' IVAW says. 'We believe the success of Winter Soldier will ultimately depend on the support of our allies and the hard work of our members'." As part of their fundraising efforts for the event, they are holding houseparties and a recent one in Boston featured both IVAW's Liam Madden and the incomprable Howard Zinn as speakers. IVAW's co-chair Adam Kokesh will, of course, be participating and he explains why at his site, "But out of a strong sense of duty, some of us are trying to put our experiences to use for a good cause. Some of us couldn't live with ourselves if weren't doing everything we could to bring our brothers and sisters home as soon as possible. The environment may be unking, but that is why I will be testifying to shooting at civilians as a result of changing Rules of Engagement, abuse of detainees, and desecration of Iraqi bodies. It won't be easy but it must be done. Some of the stories are things that are difficult to admit that I was a part of, but if one more veteran realizes that they are not alone because of my testimony it will be worth it."
IVAW calls for an immediate end to the illegal war, for reparations for the Iraqis and for full benefits for US service members. Today the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the US House Armed Services Committee held a meeting on "Medical Care For Wounded Soldiers."
US House Rep Susan Davis is chair of the subcommittee and she opened with a statement which included: "The purpose of today's hearing is for members to get an update on the implementation of the Army's Medical Action Plan (AMAP) and hear how the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force are caring for their wounded warriors. At out last hearing on this subject back in June of last year, the Army's Vice Chief of Staff, General Cody, suggested that we have him back in October and January to testify on the progress of AMAP towards Full Operational Capability. Circumstances precluded such follow-up hearings, and we understand that General Cody has just returned from Iraq in the past few hours, but we will nonetheless push foward so that we may learn how far the AMAP has come, and how far it still has to go." Testifying were Vice Admiral Adam Robinson, Surgeon General of the Navy; Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, Surgeon General of the Army; and Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, Assistant Surgeon General of the Army. With those and members of Congress, you might think the hearing could get somewhere.
You would be wrong. Can someone offer US House Rep Joe Wilson a job with MoviePhone? How much time did he use talking about the documentary Fighting for Life? Did the limited time of the hour and 45 minute hearing really allow for Wilson to read from p.r. material for the film? To note a screening? But regardless of the Congress member, there appeared to be far too much concern with making nice and far too little concern about getting down to what was being done or what needed to be done.
Rep John McHugh broke from his peers to ask actual questions regarding demobilization and to address the stories the committee was hearing about servicemembers "being ordered to demobilze while still undergoing treatment." McHugh noted the information on this continues to come in despite the fact that "we brought those concerns to your predecessor and we were assured by Navy leadership that those practicies would end." Robinson claimed to be unaware of any such stories and insisted that care for those in the service was maintained before offering, "From the surgeon in me, I'm tell you that most of the time I don't think that anyone should leave the service until their medical condition has been delineated or treated." It was all a lively side-step by Robinson. The question wasn't 'What do you think?' Again, to McHugh's credit, he did show some focus and determination and followed up with, "To be clear, in general terms, it would not be the navy's policy to discharge a soldier who a few days later had surgery scheduled?" When pressed Robinson would answer and answered, "That is correct." However, he quickly followed with, "I would expect that we would care for them." You would expect? What is the policy and is the policy followed? This is the military appearing before Congress -- what is the policy, what are the orders. It's very basic.
Bethesda (National Naval Medical Center) was mentioned often. Walter Reed Army Medical Center is set to be closed and replaced with a systematic facility that would see Bethesda expanded. Schoomaker stated that the "full integration of services" has already began and used US Secretary of Defense Robert Gate's shoulder injury to illustrate the way the system flows. Robinson maintains that, under the new system, "there won't be anyone left behind" and that "inroads" are being made.
US House Rep Nancy Boyda started off noting that a one year ago the committee was informed "military to civilian transitions were supposed to be halted" but when she looks at the 2009 budget, she sees they "are still in there." In March of 2007, the subject was addressed with US House Rep McHugh endorsing the 'need' for military positions to be transitioned to civilians as 'cost-cutting' steps. At that time, McHugh noted that 5,500 positions had already been 'transitioned' to civilians with 2,700 left to go. Boyda's point was that, after previous hearings, this is still in the budget. The response was, for the Air Force, that the positions "not filled by 2009 will revert back to the military." Did Boyda have a point in asking the question? Apparently not because she mistook herself for a high school guidance counselor in all that followed -- non-stop repetitions of speaking-for-me-we-want-to-make-sure-your-needs-are-met. Over and over. Really, when you a member of Congress, why not try conducting yourself like one. Boyda went on to insist that we (but really her, remember, speaking for herself) want the military to have "the ability to make the decisions that you think are best for our military personnel." Boyda may see that as footage to run in her re-election campaign but the reality is not only does Congress have an obligation but there's also the fact that the Walter Reed scandal requires that Congress provide serious oversight. If anyone member of Congress other than McHugh (a Republican) had any idea what they were doing in that hearing, they hid it very, very well.
Having wasted so much time with 'Help-me-help-you' babble, there wasn't time for all the witness to answer her question on what they needed. Schoomaker stated "we need more latitude" when it came to mental health. It really would have been nice to have had a follow up to that but Boyda ensured that no follow ups would come as she wasted her time. Schoomaker also wanted to see "a medical suppliment".
Susan Davis, the chair, captured the mood of the hearing and it wasn't pretty as she asked, "Any additional thoughts on what the problems were? Whether there was a" here she laughs "misscomunication somewhere?" Exactly what was funny about that? And does Davis really think that's how to chair a committee? It was disgusting. Davis wanted to know about the "bedside training" of the military's CADRE.
Tucker explained that the CADRE comes "from all the ranks in the Army" and that the course-work is currently a 40 hour training; however, it is becoming a three week course based out of Houston beginning in October. The three week course will put "them through the bedside manner, like you've spoken about, ma'am." He explained the special duty pay which was not initially in place (this despite his terming the CADRE's work to be "the Lord's work"). Currently they get $300 of special duty pay a month the first year and $375 the second.
Schoomaker gave a complicated example that was meant to confuse but, judging by their performance, the committee showed up confused. Schoomaker's example rested around the fact that when you are in the military and found to have a health problem, say weak ankles, they discharge with a rating, say 30%. But a person usually has more than just that or, as Schoomaker termed them, a "total person," they have a "combination of problems." And the problem with military care for active duty service members, according to Schoomaker is that. After discharge, the same service member will begin receiving treatment in a VA hospital and the VA will certify him or her for additional health problems. Schoomaker appeared to be making an argument that both the VA and the military should work from the same table -- this was what he found "fundamentally flawed" in the process. It really shouldn't require a great deal of work on the part of Congress to ensure that the VA and the military work from the same disability tables. And it should be the VA's because, as Schoomaker pointed out, that table addresses the "total person" and the health in full. Why don't they use it currently? No one on the committee thought to ask. It's cheaper to discharge with one disability, cheaper for the military. It keeps the costs of beneifts down. Sure would have been nice if Davis or Boyda had thought to use their time for something that really mattered. Schoomaker cautioned of quick fixes, "When you speed up a bad process all you have is a fast bad process."
US Rep John Kline wondered if "we let this emphasis on PTSD . . . pull us away from this orthopedic effort?" Schoomaker disagreed that there was a signature injury to the Iraq War although he did feel there was a signature weapon "blasts." On "blast injury," Schoomaker wondered, "Are we keeping balanced? Are we looking at all the gaps? . . . And are we doing all the things for this singular weapon which is blast?" Robinson offered that "amputations are seen" which makes it appear to have an end point that conditions such as PTSD may not appear to have. He stated that "research needs to be done also in terms of the limbs and the bio-mechanics and the future is really bounding with opportunities." But TBI -- traumatic blast injury -- "is something that's unseen and we don't know what we don't know. With a limb there is an amputation . . . With" TBI "you don't know." Robinson also noted that PTSD was present during Vietnam and the veterans who developed it "were not treated . . . and now we're seeing . . . 35 years later that that was an important thing."
Davis was in wind-down mode (even though the hearing could have run for 15 more minutes) and wondered whether evaluations (she termed what had transpired an "evaluation") should be done yearly or every six months. All offering testimony agreed that a year was too long and that they should meet every six months on this topic. Davis' website notes, "A leading advocate for military families in San Diego and around the world, Davis intends to conduct thoughtful hearings which will focus on the needs of our servicemen and women and their families." That intention was not present in the hearing.
In today's New York Times, Lizette Alvarez and Deborah Sontag continue to explore the violence taking place for veterans when they return and they open with the story of Sgt. Erin Edwards who, despite taking the necessary steps to keep her husband Sgt. William Edwards away from her, was killed by her husband in 2004. Steps she took were not followed through on and one example is the fact that William Edwards was not supposed to be allowed off base without an officer accompanying him but that wasn't enforced. The reporters observe that there was a minor wave of attention to domestic abuse and spousal homicide rates in the US military at the end of the 90s, but "just as the Defense Department undertook substantial changes, guided by a Congressionally chartered task force on domestic violence that decried a system more adept at protecting offenders than victims, the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq began." The reporters note that, "The fatalities examined by The Times show a military system that tries and sometimes fails to balance the demands of fighting a war with those of eradicating domestic violence. According to interviews with law enforcement officials and court documents, the military has sent to war service members who had been charged with and even convicted of domestic violence crimes. Deploying such convicted service members to a war zone violates military regulations and, in some cases, federal law." On January 27th, Alvarez and Sontag contributed "Combat Trauma Takes the Witness Stand," January 13th, they contributed "Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles" and, February 14, 2007, Alvarez reported on the the increase for moral waivers allowing those with felony convictions to join the military.
Meanwhile, Ian Fisher (New York Times) gets a first for his paper, Iraqis killed by US forces are innocent -- and before an investigation! If you're thinking there's a major shift taking place at the paper of record, think again. The six dead aren't just any Iraqis, they're the heart of the counter-insurgency plans, the 'Awakening' Council. Fisher reports that the six "mistakenly fired on American soldiers in the north, the Iraqi police said. The American forces fired back, killing them and two women in nearby houses, the polic said." Contrast that with any other event even the September slaughter in Baghdad on the part of Blackwater. No Iraqi dead ever gets that sort of treatment from the New York Times but the "Awakening" Council isn't any mere Iraq, they are Iraqis on the US payroll, paid to drop arms against the US, and 'loyal' as long as the money's there. Those deaths were yesterday (and the two women are barely dealt with). Today, Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) reports 3 'Awakening' Council members shot dead in Baghdad by "an American helicopter" which also wounded two more and notes, "Sheik Mohammed Ghuriari, who heads the so-called Awakening Councils that supply fighters to protect neighborhoods in north Babil province, said it was the third U.S.-led strike on one of their checkpoints in less than two months.".
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad car bombing claimed 2 lives and left four more wounded. Reuters notes a Tal Afar bombing where 16 civilians were killed at a mosque. Sahar Issa reports that there were two bombers with one getting shot and the other detonating the bomb. Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) explains, "The attackers struck during the midday Friday prayers, the most important of the Muslim week." M-NF announces, "Attack helicopters responded to a small-arms fire attack on Coalition Forces near the town during the early morning hours Feb. 15. The helicopters engaged one structure with rockets."
Reuters reports aa family of four ("including two women") were kidnapped in Balad Ruz today.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 corpses in Baghdad and 5 corpses in Diyala Province. Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Balad Rus.
Meanwhile, Moahmmed Abbas (Reuters) quotes puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki who apparently -- possibly during his time as exile -- is a big fan of Donna Summer: "We must keep our fingers on the trigger." Because? Love is in control?
Picking up from yesterday, we'll return to the subject of the refugees. Over 4 milliion refugees have been created by the illegal war. The figure includes internal and external refugees -- both those displaced outside their country and those displace internally. The Iraqi Parliament is calling for provisional elections and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reports that among the unanswered questions are those pertaining to the refugees including where they would vote if they were allowed to vote? Would they be counted as voters in the provinces they hailed from or, if internally displaced, voters for the provinces they currently reside in? Rubin also notes, "The problem is that many of the nation's most powerful political parties have divided up most of the seats on the Independent Higher Election Commission, which oversees national election policy. That means there are few, if any, independent brokers overseeing the election process, according to Iraqi academics and lawmakers. Some other parties are not represented on the commission."
Yesterday, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, reminded that is still not safe for refugees to return to Iraq. IRIN quotes Guterres: "We have clear criteria for the promotion of returns -- those criteria are not met by the situation in Iraq now. So we are not promoting returns to Iraq in the present circumstances because we do not believe the conditions are there for that to be possible on a meaningfuly scale." Haifa Zangana (Guardian of London) explains:
The return of some refugees is not related to the success of the surge, the establishment of security or a reduction in "sectarian violence", the euphemism for death squads that have infiltrated the security services and local militias. The savings of most refugees have run out, and they face real poverty since they cannot compete for the few jobs available in countries that have historically been poorer than Iraq. While I was in Amman in June, I met an Iraqi engineer who now works as a cleaner to provide for his family. Others, especially the elderly and children, are exhausted by visa restrictions; Most refugees, being of urban backgrounds, rented flats at steep prices, forcing families to share, sometimes with up to five adults and children in one room. Many refugees, previously from professional backgrounds, have had to rely on charity donations or support from relatives living in Europe.
Refugees in Syria or elsewhere rely on pensions, requiring them to go back to their workplaces in Iraq once every couple of months, leaving their families behind. Some go back also to collect monthly food rations to partially sell in the country. In the past, due to corruption in various government offices, some employees didn't attend work but collected half their salaries. Their bosses collected the rest in exchange for allowing them not to show up except for occasional days. All these arrangements came to an end after neighbouring countries implemented visa restrictions and it is almost impossible to get a visa to the UK or the US, despite their responsibility in creating the mayhem in Iraq. Now many refugees who have survived so far with such arrangements are desperate, and their only remaining hope is to share life with their extended families inside Iraq. In most cases they are "internally displaced", ie still refugees.
The Myth of the Great Return. Or as Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London via CounterPunch) observed last weekend: "As a propaganda exercise designed to show that the Iraqi government was restoring peace, it never quite worked. The majority of the returnees said they were returning to Baghdad, not because it was safer, but because they had run out of money in Syria or their visas had expired. There has been no mass return of the two million Iraqis who fled to Syria and Jordan or a further 2.4 million refugees who left their homes within Iraq." The propaganda push did a lot of damage in real time.
Turning to US politics, as Mike, Marcia, Kat, Rebecca, Cedric and Wally noted yesterday, Hillary Clinton won New Mexico -- a Super Duper Tuesday state that only finished its count yesterday.
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