Friday, May 23, 2008

Iraq: Death and Graft

A local Iraqi police chief Thursday accused the U.S. military of killing seven Iraqi civilians, including at least one child, in a helicopter strike in northern Iraq.
The military said the adults were members of a bombing network, but it added that two children were killed in the clash.
Wednesday's incident, the latest in a series of strikes that have injured or killed civilians, could raise tensions between U.S. troops and Sunni Arab tribesmen who have become allies in the fight against militants loyal to the group Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The above is from Alexandra Zavis and Saif Rascheed's "Iraq police chief says U.S. killed 7 civilians" (Los Angeles Times) and, in today's New York Times, Stephen Farrell's "U.S. Helicopter Strike in Iraq Kills 8 Civilians, Including 2 Children:"

The official, Col. Mudhir al-Qaysi of the Baiji police force, cited police officials in the village who claimed that they had gone to the site of the assault "and found the killed family unarmed and the bodies were burned and torn apart."
Colonel Qaysi said: "The scene of the bodies is ugly and these acts are unacceptable." He said that the dead included seven members of one family, including a child no older than 5. "We were hoping that the American Army would seek to improve its image after many crimes carried out by its soldiers in Iraq," he said.

Turning to the 'economics' of illegal war, Charlie notes Dana Hedgpeth's "Spending On Iraq Poorly Tracked: Audit Faults Accounting for $15 Billion in Work" (Washington Post):

The inspector general for the Defense Department said yesterday that the Pentagon cannot account for almost $15 billion worth of goods and services ranging from trucks, bottled water and mattresses to rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns that were bought from contractors in the Iraq reconstruction effort.
The Pentagon did not have the proper documentation, including receipts, vouchers, signatures, invoices or other paperwork, for $7.8 billion that American and Iraqi contractors were paid for phones, folders, paint, blankets, Nissan trucks, laundry services and other items, according to a 69-page audit released to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
An earlier audit by the inspector general found deficiencies in accounting for $5.2 billion of U.S. payments to buy weapons, trucks, generators and other equipment for Iraq's security forces. In addition, the Defense Department spent $1.8 billion of seized Iraqi assets with "absolutely no accountability," according to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the oversight committee. The Pentagon also kept poor records on $135 million that it paid to its partners in the multinational military force in Iraq, auditors said.

A visitor notes the BBC's "US spending in Iraq ignored rules" on the same topic:

In some cases, contracts worth millions of dollars were paid for in cash with little or no documentation to show what was delivered.
In one example, investigators found a copy of a $5.6m cheque paid by the US Treasury to an Iraqi contractor, but no records to show what had been purchased.
"Payments that are not properly supported do not provide the necessary assurance that funds were used as intended," the inspector general concluded.
The Pentagon auditors' review was released at a hearing of the US House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Government reform on Wednesday.

The visitor maintains that this is the hearing that should have been in yesterday's snapshot because "it's more important." No, it's not. A) This is the sort of thing that will get covered. B) The chair is fond of publicity and will ensure it gets some attention. C) I believe we all know about these practices. D) Most of us know about due to James Glanz owning this topic from the beginning. E) Glanz would most likely be covering it in Friday's paper. (Which he did and we'll get to it in a moment.) By contrast, the hearing in yesterday's snapshot took place on Wednesday and it didn't garner big stories. By contrast, Senate's Committee on Veterans Affairs had Les Blumenthal (McClatchy Newspapers)and not much else. That's not an insult to Blumenthal, just giving credit to someone who earned it. The corruption in Iraq has been well documented by Glanz (and many others). It's news, it's a story. (Hopefully Glanz will write about it in book form.) But it's also 'done.' That money's not coming back (and Waxman's committee might try practicing oversight over current spending because the graft has not stopped). By contrast, the number of veterans accessing the VA health care system will only rise and it is an important topic for that reason alone. Second, all the lip service given to this illegal war by the right, left and center (bumper stickers, flag pins, etc.) really means they should be focusing on veterans. If they're for or against the illegal war, wars produce veterans. Promises were made to those serving and promises will be broken even with tremendous oversight. With little to no attention? The bulk of the promises will be broken.

Equally true is that any push that can be made in benefits prior to a war ending is always a gain. By the time the war ends, the public and the Congress take a 'world weary' attitude and show far less attention and concern. Ask any veteran of Vietnam.
With so little attention paid to the 'issue,' it tends to become a monolithic one when, in fact, it's many, many issues. Senator Patty Murray made that point in the hearing and for her opening remarks alone, the hearing needed to be noted.

Equally true is that the hearing took place Wednesday (as noted in yesterday's snapshot). And, to be honest, I was planning to be lazy and just resort to a bunch of links and quotes from reports but, outside of Blumenthal, there really weren't any reports. Had Waxman's hearing not been covered in today's papers, I'd grab my notes for this afternoon's snapshot. But it was covered and it was always a hearing-most-likely-to-be-covered.

James Glanz files an extensive report entitled "Iraq Spending Ignored Rules, Pentagon Says" and, from that, we'll note

The Pentagon report, titled "Internal Controls Over Payments Made in Iraq, Kuwait and Egypt," also notes that auditors were unable to find a comprehensible set of records to explain $134.8 million in payments by the American military to its allies in the Iraq war.
The mysterious payments, whose amounts had not been publicly disclosed, included $68.2 million to the United Kingdom, $45.3 million to Poland and $21.3 million to South Korea. Despite repeated requests, Pentagon auditors said they were unable to determine why the payments were made.
[. . .]
According to the report, the Army made 183,486 "commercial and miscellaneous payments" from April 2001 to June 2006 from field offices in Iraq, Kuwait and Egypt, for a total of $10.7 billion in taxpayer money. The auditors focused on $8.2 billion in so-called commercial payments to contractors -- American, Iraqi and probably other foreign nationals -- although the report does not give details on the roster of companies.

And we'll again note Murray's statements in Wednesday's veterans committee hearing:

Senator Patty Murray: Women have always played a role in our military going back to the founding of of our nation. However, as we all know, in today's conflicts women are playing a far different and far greater role. Women now make up 14% of our current active duty guard and reserve forces. Some units, including military police, are using an increased number of females to fill jobs that were traditionally held by male personnel. And because of the conflicts of today, we have no clear frontlines and women, like all of our service members, are always on the frontline -- riding on dangerous patrols, guarding pivotal check points and witnessing the horrors of war first hand. However, while women's numbers are rising on the battle field, up until now women have remained a small minority at the VA. According to the VA, there are more than 1.7 million women veterans but only 255,000 of those women actually use the VA health care services. For too long the reasons for this discrepancy have been elusive but today we are getting a clear picture. In fact, when I first started holding roundtables around my home state of Washington to talk to veterans about their experiences with the VA, I heard almost exclusively from men. They would sit at the table with me, they would stand up, they would tell their stories and talk about their issues. But inevitably, as I was leaving the room, a woman would come up to me and whisper to me her experiences. Some told me they had been intimidated by the VA and viewed the VA as a male only facility. Others simply told me that they couldn't find someone to watch their kids so they could attend a counseling session or find time for other care. But as some members of this committee and those who will testify today know the voices of women veterans are no longer whispers. Today they are full throated calls for equal access to care at the VA. And I believe that now, as we sit on the brink of seeing more returning veterans than ever before, it is time that we heed those calls. We simply cannot allow the attitudes of the past or the VA's lack of preparation for the influx of new women veterans to linger a moment longer. As The Independent Budget has noted [PDF format warning, here], the number of women using VA health care services will double in less than 5 years if women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan continue to enroll at the current enrollment rate. We need to make sure now that the VA is prepared to care for the needs of these honorable veterans today. And that is exactly why Senator [Kay Baily] Hutchinson and I introduced The Women's Health Care and Improvement Act of 2008. This important legislation will increase the number of women accessing care at the VA by increasing the VA's understanding of the needs of women vets and the practices that will best help them. It will do so by requiring the VA to study the health care needs of women who are serving or who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, study the effectiveness of current services being provided to women veterans, study barriers to care for women veterans who are not accessing the VA health care system and it will also help provide child care for new born children of a woman veteran who is receiving maternity care at the VA. It will implement a program to train, educate and certify VA mental health professionals to care for women with Military Sexual Trauma [MST] and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. It will begin a pilot program that provides child care to women veterans that seek mental health care or other intensive health care services at the VA. It will begin a pilot program that provides readjustment counseling to women veterans in group retreat settings. It will make the position of Women Veterans Program Manger at all VA medical centers a full time position. And finally, it will include women that are recently separated from service on VA advisory boards. Now I know that the VA recognizes that they need to improve services for our women veterans and the department has taken several steps to do that. But a lot more needs to be done if we're going to ensure that women get access to equal care at the VA for health care benefits and services and that the VA health care system is tailored to meet the unique needs of our women veterans. Planning for the wave of new women veterans is going to be a difficult and complex task but the effort has to start today and it has to start with this bill.

Robbie notes Howard Wolfson's "HUBdate: Count Every Vote" (

Count Every Vote: During a campaign stop at Century Village Retirement Community in Boca Raton, FL, Hillary told a crowd of 700 Floridians: "We believe that casting your vote is the truest expression of your will. Here in Florida, you learned the hard way what happens when your votes aren't counted. If any votes aren't counted, the will of the people isn't realized and our democracy is diminished." Read more. Read Hillary’s remarks here.
Automatic Delegate Watch: Guam Democratic Party Chair and automatic delegate Pilar Lujan today announced her support for Hillary.
Hillary Strongest in Swing States: A new Quinnipiac University poll out today shows Hillary's continued strength in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania…She leads Sen. McCain by 7 in both Florida and Ohio and by 13 in Pennsylvania.
Read more.
Tomorrow On The Trail: Hillary will campaign in South Dakota, and will host "Solutions For Securing South Dakota's Future" events in Brandon and Brookings.
"Major General Paul Eaton Goes to Bat for Hillary" In Missoula, Montana, Major General Paul Eaton, Ret., told residents that Hillary is the best prepared to be commander in chief and bring the war in Iraq to a safe end. "We've got to get a competent leader into the White House," Eaton said. "Hillary Clinton is hands down electable because she is smart and she is tough."
Read more.
Dalton’s Donation: "Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has her own poster boy: Dalton Hatfield, who, as she reminded us during her victory speeches in both West Virginia and Kentucky, sold his bike and video games to donate more than $400 to her campaign." Read more.

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