Thursday, March 13, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, March 13, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the Archbishop is discovered dead, Congress gets the run-around on veterans healthcare, IVAW kicks off their investigation tonight, and more.
Starting with war resistance.  March 17, 2007 -- as the 4th anniversary of the illegal war was days away -- the War Resisters Support Campaign's Michelle Robidoux spoke outside the US Embassy in Canada.  Snowshoe Documentary Films captured the Toronto speech
Michelle Robidoux: Good afternoon, sisters and brothers.  I think people in this city who have been out on the streets marching against war over the past few years are familiar with the war resisters who have come up to Canada.  I want to introduce some of them to you today.  Jeremy Hinzman, Nga Nguyen and Liam, their son, who were the first to come up here -- first US soldier to refusing to fight in Iraq, to seek refuge in Canada and since Jermey arrived in January 2004.  We have seen an influx of people from every branch of the US military -- from the marines, the navy, the US army, national guardsman.  And I want to introduce other resisters you may not have met yet Phil MacDowell and Jamine Aponte.  They arrived here in October and are making their life here in Toronto and Steve Yoczik who arrived in December from Florida We have also some Vietnam resisters up here.  Tom Riley and Lee Zaslofsky who is the cooridnator of the War Resisters Support Campaign, who have been the backbone, the Vietnam resisters, the people who came up 35 years ago  opposing another illegal and immoral war.  We are at a crucial point in the battle to win asylum for war resisters  because this isn't just a legal battle.  We learned a lesson when we marched in our tens of thousands before the beginning of the invasion and occupation of Iraq we actually achieved something that many of us thought might not be possible the Canadian government made a decision in the teeth of the opposition on the streets to not send Canadian troops to Iraq and now we need to use that political pressure to make sure that we follow through.
That was a year ago.  Since then war resisters in Canada have been dealt a serious set-back when the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey. Today, Canada's Parliament remaining the best hope for safe harbor war resisters 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 ( -- that's pm at who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion ( -- that's Dion.S at who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua ( -- that's Bevilacqua.M at 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. That is the sort of thing that should receive attention but instead it's ignored.           

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, 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 has a DC action this month:

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.
Click here to sign a statement of support for Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan

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'." 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." The hearings will be broadcast throughout at the Iraq Veterans Against the War home page an on KPFA March 14th and 16th with Aimee Allison (co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None) and Aaron Glantz hosting and the KPFA live stream will also be available at Glantz' War Comes Home.
Mark Benjamin (Salon) writes today, "It is unclear whether Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will gain wider attention from the media and the public, but its organizers say that today's technology could make a difference.  'The modern soldier carries a digital camera almost as a sidearm,' explained O'Brien.  The group says that potentially explosive photos and video from Iraq displayed at this Winter Soldier investigation will help 'expose the human consequences of failed policy' in the war zones.  The searing images from Abu Ghraib, of course came to light because soldiers working inside the prison made use of their personal digital cameras."  Norman Solomon's IPA has put out a news release on the action and quotes Adam Kokesh declaring, "There are too many veterans returning from futile occupations with heads full of lies and hearts full of sorrow.  Minds full of bad memories and bodies full of shrapnel.  Fists full of anger and families full of confusion.  It's not a strong place from which to make yourself politically relevant.  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 we weren't doing everything we could to bring our brothers and sisters home as soon as possible."
The action starts this evening (7:00 to 9:00 pm EST) and will stream at IVAW online and the hearings will close Sunday afternoon.  Kelly Dougherty explained in a press release last month, "We've heard from the politicians, we've heard from the generals, we've heard from the media -- not it's our turn.  It's not going to be easy to hear what we have to say.  It's not going to be easy for us to tell it.  But we believe that the only way this war is going to end is if the American people truly understand what we have done in their name."
Staying with veterans, this morning the US House Committee on Veterans' Affairs' subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing entitled "Care of Seriously Wounded After In-Patient Care" attempting to address what happens to the wounded veterans after their immediate wounds are treated.   US House Rep Harry Mitchell is the chair of the committee and he explained in his opening remarks, "We are here today to hear from veterans, their families, and the Department of Veterans Affairs about the long-term care of our most severely wounded Afghanistan and Iraq veterans.  We know that DoD and VA provide the excellent inpatient healthcare for these warriors.  But many of the most seriously injured require extensive outpatient care, some of them for life.  Their families need care and assistance as well.  Unfortunately, once these veterans leave the hospital, the care they receive does not seem to be on par with what they received directly following their injury.  I think we can do better."  US House Rep Nick Lampson introduced Casey Owens and noted, "Care for veterans such as Edward Wade and Casey Owens was by trial and error, as there was no system of care in place for these new types of injuries -- both external and internal.  Casey expressed to me his worry that there are still issues with care for polytrauma patients today.  And I was most impress with his concern for those who will come after them and his hope that they will not come to Congress with the same exact issues, complications, and frustrations as we are hearing today."
Among those testifying were Casey Owens who served in Iraq (Marine Corporal) and was wounded while serving his second tour of duty.  Both of his legs were amputated.  Ted (Edward) Wade lost his arm from a roadside bombing while serving in Iraq (Army Sgt.) and his wife Sarah Wade testified to the subcommittee.  Sarah was advised by 'experts' at Walter Reed Army Medical that her husband would be a 'vegetable' (which he is not) and the couple had to fight the military just for him to obtain the medical care he was owed.
Casey Owens: While some of the problems I have encountered have been resolved, many have not.  The learning curve of VA's system is steep and its bureaucratic maze is hard to understand.  It has been thirty years since the last major war and what lessons has the VA learned since then?  Did no one expect another war or learn anything from Viet Nam? What have the educated and highly paid personnel who have been appointed to correct the system been focusing their attention on?  While the system continues to be broken, where is all the government funding going that is supposed to be fixing the system and what are they doing with?  A tremendous problem that I have encountered is the double standard of the VA and the Department of Defense's claims and rating for veterans.  It took me three to five months of agonizing appointments and addendums to finalize my Medical Board, which was performed by competent and qualified military and civilian personnel.  After I had completed my medical boards, I thought I was finished with that process only to find out I was not.  When I enrolled in the VA, it took almost another year and a half to finalize those claims.  It is actions like that make veterans avoid the VA.  My qualms is not that the VA does not have nough programs in place to benefit veterans or the adequacy of it, rather, it is the bureaucracy and red tape that are the problems.  While many problems have been addressed, it is time for SOLUTIONS.
Sarah Wade followed Casey Owens.
Sarah Wade: As an above elbow amputee with a severe TBI [traumatic brain Injury], Ted was one of the first major explosive blast "polytrauma" cases from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Walter Reed Army Medical Center or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had to rehabilitate.  Much of his treatement was by trial and error, as there was no model system of care for a patient like Ted, and there still is no long-term model today.  His situation was an enormous challegne, as Walter Reed was only able to rehabilitate an amputee, not a TBI, the VA was able to nominally treat a TBI, but not an above elbow amputee, and neither were staffed to provide appropriate bheavioral health care for a patient with a severe TBI.  Because Ted could not access the necessary services, where and and when he needed them, he suffered a signficant setback in 2005, that put him in the hospital for two weeks, and would take a year to rebound from.  Ted has made a remarkable recovery by any standard, because we have strayed from standardized treatment, and developed a patient-centered path.  I had to educate myself about, and coordinate, additional outside care.  Often, access to the necessary services required intervention from the highest levels of government, or for us to personally finance them ourselves.  But despite our best efforts, Ted is still unable to easily receive comprehensive care for all of his major health issues, due to shortcomings in the current system, and because of the time his needs demand of me, I have been unable to return to regular work or school.  We have been blessed to have family, with the means to see us through these difficult times, and help with the expenses. I was fortunate to have the education, of growing up in Washington, D.C. and learning about the workings of the various Federal agencies.  Our situation is not typical though.
Wounded War Project's Meredith Beck addressed the issue  of how active duty and retired veterans have different benefits, noting "an active duty patient can be seen at a VA Polytrauma Center to treat his Traumatic Brain Injury.  However, while at the VA facility, the servicemember, due to his duty status, cannot enoy VA benefits such as Vocational Rehabilitation or Independent Living Services that can he helpful in his recovery.  Alternately, as mentioned previously and unbeknownst to most families, a medically retired servicemember cannot use his/her TRICARE benefits to access private care as TRICARE does not cover cognitive therapy once retired."  Using Sgt. Eric Edmundson's story as an exmpale (he suffers from "a severe brain injury in Iraq"), Beck explained the need for more research on veterans (Eric Edmundson is making progress that many did not believe would be possible) .  She advocate for the VA to "initiate a pilot program partnering with local universities to provide such a care/respite initiative for those with brain injury" and to have graduate students be matched with veterans in their own communities "so than an individualized program can be developed."  Beck made the case for compensating the primary caregiver noting pointing out that often "the spouse or parent" of a wounded veteran "is forced to leave his/her job to provide the necessary care for their loved one, leaving the entire family to suffer from an adverse economic situation.  In these cases the VA relies on the family member to assist in the servicemember's care, but has been denied financial compensation."
The administration provided Madhulika Agarwal  (Chief Patient Care Services Officer of the Veterans Health Administration in the government's VA), Lucille Beck (Rehabiliation Services) and Kristin Day (Veterans Health Administration) and Argawal mainly wanted to throw out a lot of words that really meant nothing.  Wow! Another phone line set up!  can the administration do anything besides set up these phone lines?  Online!  They've set up some online stuff.  Harry Mitchell may have shocked the adminstration by pointing out that there are "people who don't access the website, people who can't access the website."  The questioning of the the government provided witnesses was best done by Reps Mitchell and Shelley Berkley.
At the end of Sarah Wade's testimony, she referenced a young mother who was caught in the maze of attempting to get her husband the care he needed and having no resources.  The marriage ended, it was all just too much.  Mitchell noted this example and stated that the need for "total care."  He also seemed to grasp the urgency of addressing this problem -- putting him far ahead of many members of Congress as well as the trio testifying on behalf of the administration who had a lot of plans of someday improvements causing Mitchell to point out, "These people are living right now . . . It's great to have long term vision but they need help right now."  He spoke of the need to "have a trust in government" and what sort of impression was being created by those struggling in the current system of veterans healthcare.  "It's not just soldiers," he reminded, "they are recruiting families, not just the soldiers" and the families are part of the total care.
Mitchell: There was an office, the Office of Seamless Transition. . . . It was supposed to be a point of contact. . . . This office was disbanded almost immediately after it was created and yet we continue to talk about a seamless transition from DoD to VA.  Do you know why this office was disbanded?
Agarwal: Sir, we do have seamless transition in our office --
Mitchell: So it exists still?
Dr. Madhulikia Agarwal, sent by the administration to testify, had no idea.  In fact, she rarely was able to answer any question.  She could mouth words but rarely did they address what she had been asked.  For example, problems were repeatedly pointed out, things not being done, things being done slowly.  When these various details were pointed out, repeatedly there was no answer.  Rep Shelley Berkley asked, "Doctor, why . . . just now is a comprehensive list of seriously injured veterans being developed?  Isn't this something that should have been done all along, that the department should have been tracking?"  Agarwal maintained that it was been tracked "and there's a list."  Follow this exchange:
Berkeley: When did the list start to be created?
Agarwal: In fact, very soon.  We have . . . [blah, blah, blah]
Berkley: Let me make sure I understand what you say because I don't think you understood me question: How long ago did you start the list?
Madhulikia: I have to take that back and get back to you.  I don't know when we started the list.
Berkley: In the last year?  In the last two years?
Agarwal didn't know and tossed the question to Kristin Day who believes it was "approximately 2005" but Day apparently had trouble following as well because the list she was referring to was not a systematic list to keep track of the wounded (and types of wounds).  "So it's a refund list is what I think I am hearing you say," commented Berkley. 
The three witnesses sent by the administration appeared to require a fourth because none of them knew anything.  Berkley moved on to the issue of foster homes and how "we have unfortunately found that many times when we have volunteers that their attention isn't always what we'd hope they would be.  What kind of screening procedure do you have or plan on having?  What kind of background cehcks will you be doing on these volunteers?"  The answer was a hem and a haw topped of with a huge portion of disappointment leading Berkley to state, "I want to make sure I fully understand . . . Doctor, if you don't do criminal checks, that's criminal."
The point appeared lost on Dr. Madhulika Agarwal.
Turning to Iraq.  Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is dead.  He was leaving the Catholic Church in Mosul when he, his driver and two others were stopped on February 29th and the Archbishop was kidnapped while the three others were shot dead.  Throughout the kidnapping, Pope Benedict XVI has issued mutliple appeals for the Archbishop to be released.  The kidnappers had requested a ransom and then increased the amount they were asking for.  After that contact appeared to break off.  Reuters reports that the Archbishop's corpse was discovered in Mosul today "half-buried in an empty lot" and "Police said it was not clear whether Rahho, 65, had been killed or died of other causes.  He appeared to have been dead a week and had no bullet wounds, police at the morgue in Mosul said.  He was dressed in black trousers and a blue shirt."  AP reports, "After two weeks of prayers and searching, officials at the archbishop's church received a phone call from the kidnappers on Wednesday, informing them that he had died and where he was buried, Monsignor Shlemon Warduni, the auxillary bishop of Baghdad, told The Associated Press."  Spero News notes, "In a letter to the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, Cardinal [Francis] George called today's killing 'callous' and one which 'demonstrates the particularly harsh realities faced by Christians in Iraq and the lack of security faced by all Iraqis'." notes, "The Chaldean community around the world stand numb and in disbelief as news of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul is dead.  Outcry from world leaders swayed no influences as fanatical terrorists proved once more that no women, children, medical providers, and now spiritual leaders are safe from their killing spree." They also note that the ransom requests led to requests by the Church to speak to the the Archbishop and that's what led to their being informed he was dead and "had been dead for at least five days before his body was found this morning by some members of the Church, following information provided by the kidnappers themselves."  Frances Harrison (BBC) notes, "Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is thought to be the highest-ranking Chaldean Catholic clergyman to be killed in the violence in Iraq."  March 11th, US House Rep Jeff Fortenberry raised the kidnapping of the Archbishop in an open hearing (by two subcommittees, click here). 
Staying with the topic of kidnappings, Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "U.S. authorities in Baghdad have received five severed fingers belonging to four Americans and an Austrian who were taken hostage more than a year ago in Iraq, U.S. officials said ednesday.
The FBI is investigating the grisly development, and the families of the five kidnapped  contractors have been notified, American officials said on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the case publicly."  She lists the five as Jonathon Cote, Joshua Munns, Paul Johnson Reuben, Bert Nussbaumer and Ronald J. Withrow.  McClatchy Newspapers reports today that the mother of the last man listed (Ronald J. Withrow) was only informed her son had been kidnapped January 2, 2008 despite the fact that her son was kidnapped January 5, 2007.  (The FBI was the agency that informed her finally.)
Meanwhile Erica Goode (New York Times) reports that "American soldiers accidentally shot and killed a young Iraqi girl in Diyala Province on Wednesday, and three soldiers were killed in a rocket attack in the southeast, as a wave of deadly violence continued." CBS and AP quote US Major Brad Leighton stating that the victim looked to be "around 10 years old."  This follows the US attack on a bus of mourners.  9 is the death toll in yesterday's snapshot, but Goode reports it was actually 16 and quotes bus passenger Qasim Salih Jaber say very clearly was an attack but the US military continues to deny involvement. Joshuas Partlow and Saad Sarhan (Washington Post) also note bus driver Zeki Abdul Qader in their report: "They shot me with small arms from the beginning of the bus to the end, the whole side, then they shot this rocket."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad car bombing that climed 9 lives and left forty-eight wounded.  Ned Parker and Tracy Wilkinson (Los Angeles Times) report the dead now numbers 18 (they cite Iraqi sources).  Steve Lannen (McClatchy Newspapers) notes, "The explosion occurred on al Khayam Street in Bab al Sharji neighborhood, not far from a bridge leading to the GreenZone."  Also Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing that wounded five peiple, a Baghdad car bombing, a Kirkuk bombing claimed 3 lives and left seven wounded, car bombing outside of Kirkuk claimed 1 life and left ten people wounded and a bombing outside of Kirkuk left three Iraqi forces wounded.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 members of the "Awakening" council members were shot dead in Salahuddin Province, while 1 police officer 2 more "Awakening" council members were shot dead in Tikrit.  Reuters reports Qassim Abdul-Hussein ("head of the circulation department for al-Muwatin nespaper) was shot dead in Baghdad.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports four members of "Support Forces of Baiji" were kidnapped "between Baiji and Tikrit at dawn today" and Mwaffaq Raheem Kereem was kidnapped outside Kirkuk.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad and 1 corpse discovered outside Erbil.

Only 28% of the public knows that nearly 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war, and attention to the conflict has gradually diminished, a survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found.      
In the poll released Wednesday, around a third said about 3,000 U.S. troops have died and about one in 10 said 2,000.
Take a tour of broadcast and print independent media and see if you can't figure out why that is?  Meanwhile NOW on PBS asks what the biggest threat to democracy is and you can post your answer here.

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