Monday, May 19, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 20, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Bully Boy orders more US service members to Iraq, VA issues, and more.
Starting with war resistance.  Last week (see Thursday and Friday's snapshots), Matthis Chiroux, currently in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserves), publicly announced that he would not deploy to Iraq.  Brittany Whitley (Opelika Auburn News) reports  that "Chiroux will . . . return to Washington D.C. in an attempt to win an audience with a committee in Congress.  He said the goal is to talk to Congress and build support for war resisters in the legislative branches of the government."  Whitley and Beverly Harvey (The Dothan Eagle) report Chiroux's back story:
Matthis Chiroux had it all planned out after he graduated from Auburn High School in 2002. First, he would join the U.S. Army. Then, he would use his G.I. Bill benefits to enroll in college to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. After college, Matthis planned to become a public defender and dabble in politics.
And the 24-year-old Army sergeant's dream was on track when he was honorably discharged last September. He wasted no time moving to New York City to attend college as a journalism and pre-law major. But less than six months after relocating, the Army came calling again. This time, they needed him to deploy to Iraq.
David Botti (Newsweek) posts a video of Matthis' statement from Thursday and notes that "he said his position as a military journalist exposed him to countless disturbing stories he was afraid to publish for fear of retribution by the Army."  The Pentagon states that if Matthis does not report on June 15th, the next step is to list him AWOL.
Some war resisters are in Canada and they need support as well as they wait to see if the motion for safe harbor is going to come to the Parliament floor.  You can utilize the following e-mails to show your support: 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.  In addition Jack Layton, NDP leader, has a contact form and they would like to hear from people as well. A few more addresses 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 Matthis Chiroux, Richard Droste, Michael Barnes, 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, Jose Vasquez, 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, Logan Laituri, Jason Marek, 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. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).
We're going to pick up with a hearing last week.  As noted Thursday and Friday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, chaired by Lynn Woolsey, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee, and featured veterans offering testimony Thursday -- Iraq Veterans Against the War.  The hearing was broadcast on CSPAN and KPFA (click here for KPFA's archived broadcast) and at Aaron Glantz' website The War Comes Home.  Earlier (in March)  Iraq Veterans Against the War held their Winter Soldier Investigation and it was broadcast live at War Comes Home, at KPFK, at the Pacifica Radio homepage and at KPFA over three days, here for Friday, here for Saturday, here for Sunday 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 anchoring Pacifica's live coverage.  (It was also broadcast at the IVAW site.)  Allison and Glantz also hosted a live report on KPFA about the lawsuit against the VA on April 22nd. 
Since Friday afternoon, the hearings were noted in the following: Trina's "Contentment in the Kitchen," Rebecca's "sergio korchergin speaks to congress," Betty's "A red day," Ruth's "Sgt. Adam Kokesh speaks to Congress," Kat's "Luis Montalvan," Marcia's "Vincent Emanuele testifies to Congress," Elaine's "IVAW's Vincent Emanuele testifies to Congress," Mike's "IVAW's James Gilligan speaks to Congress" and The Third Estate Sunday Review's "Editorial: The teachable moment."  We'll pick up with  Adam Kokesh's testimony on Falluja that can be applied to Sadr City, to Mosul, to any Iraqi city under assault:
At one point during the siege of Falluja, we decided that we were going to allow women and children out. We thought this was the most magnanimus thing we could have done. And yet our rules were to let only women and children out so any male over the age of fourteen . . . was turned away. So my responsibility during this time at certain points was to go out on the bridge and turn away families and, like I said, we thought this was the most magnanimus thing we could be doing; however, it was clear we were giving these families an impossible choice: whether they could stay together with their families intact or split their families up and hope that half of them end up with something better.
Kristofer Goldsmith testified about what he witnessed in Sadr City and how there were no efforts to inform then of Muqtada al-Sadr's role (in the "Sadr" City section of Baghdad).  He noted "at the end of January 2005," "the humantiarian and rebuiling process . . . was supposed to begin with my units deployment.  The soldiers of my unit were told that a cease-fire had been declared between Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and American Forces in Sadr City as of October 2004" so there should be little incidents of violence. He testified to learning upon arrival that the residents of Sadr City were not pleased by the US presence: "Adults in the area encouraged children to throw rocks, bricks, trash and bottles of oil at US army vehicles and personnel."  He spoke of seeing "huge piles of trash and enormous puddles of raw sewage" and how they would file reports (SWET Reports -- Sewage-Water-Electric-Trash Reports) documenting in words and photos "the lack of adequate clean water, the never ending presence of trash and sewage throughtout the streets, and the very limited few hours of electrical power provided" and there was never any improvement.  The service members were told, by command, to tell the residents that improvements would be made and the improvements never came.  He explained, "Throughout my entire time in Sadr City my platoon only brought supplies to a medical facility once, on March 10, 2005.  The items we dropped off at the Sadr City Women's Hospital were a truckload of baby diapers -- we never provided any real medical supplies despite the fact that the hospitals and clinics in the area were in dire need of antibiotics and basic surgical equipment."  Sergio Korchergin's testimony about Najaf would echo that with him noting, "While serving in Najaf, the only humanitarian work we did was painting a park for kids and after that we did not do any humanitarian work until we left."
Near the end of the hearing, Rep Waters explained the House vote on Wednesday:
US House Rep Maxine Waters: As a matter of fact, we just voted on a rule. . . .  And that supplemental funder request was about $170 billion more dollars to continue the war.  And we fought to try and separate the funding from other issues.  We met with the leadership and we said, 'The members deserve an opportunity to vote up or down on this issue.  Don't pile the funding up with a lot of domestic spending to make people feel bad that they're not supporting the extension of unemployment or they're not supporting other kinds of things.  So we did get that.  We advocated for that. They did separate it.  So the funding resolution is going to be separate and for all those people who say that they want to end the war the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  If they vote for this supplemental appropriation, they're not serious about ending this war. They have two other portions to the bill.  Amendment number two where basically they have a lot of other conditions but . . . the first part of it is a little trickery because they say that there will be an attempt to start redeployment within thirty days with an absolute end -- the goal of an absolute end of the war, by December 09.  I'm not nervous about that because that's too long. That's December 09.  We have had some targets before.  We've always been for getting out as quickly as possible.  We know that it takes some time to wind down and move equipment and redeploy.  And we've always thought six months was a reasonable amount of time to talk about doing that.  We've even entertained the idea of maybe one year but now, you know, it's further out with this December '09.  So I know that I'm voting against the first part of the war.  I'm uncomfortable with it going to December of '09 and the third part, where there are some conditions, the separate amendment I could support.  So I'm going to be talking with my colleagues before we take that vote to take a look at that second amendment that talks about of winding -- starting redeployment in thirty days.  In thirty days of?  Does anybody know in thirty days of what?         
US House Rep Lynn Woolsey: The new president.     
US House Rep Maxine Waters: Well see, that takes us to January, then thirty days, that takes us to February and then it goes on to the end of the year.  That may be just a little too long for me even though I'm anxious to get some kind of language that talks about getting out.  That's taking it a little bit too long.  Now  -- December '09, that's a little bit too long for me.  But I wanted to share that with you so that you know when you are talking to members of Congress who are telling you all of these good things and how much they're supportive and against the war, you take a look at their vote today and see who's voting for that money to continue the kinds of things that you have described here to us.          
Waters made that point last week.  Today the US Department of Defense issued two press releases.  The first noted "additional major units scheduled to deploy" to Iraq -- "one division headquarters and seven brigade combat teams consisting of approximately 25,000 personnel." The second noted that "four brigades from the Army National Guard" were being sent to Iraq -- "approximately 14,000 personnel who will begin deploying in the spring of 2009."  That would make 39,000 the White House is ordering to Iraq  The first announcement stated deployment would "begin in the fall and continue until the end of the year."  The second has the White House scheduling deployments for a period of time when the current occupants will not be present.  (Elections in November will result in a new leader being sworn in come January.)  In terms of Waters' points quoted above, it needs to be noted that withdrawal is all the more complex (planning and implementing) if the numbers on the ground are increased.  Equally true is that the numbers were already supposed to be reduced to pre-'surge'/escalation levels.  That got tossed out this spring when it was noticed that, even after July, more US service members would be stationed in Iraq than were there prior to the 'surge'/escalation.  Prior to that 'fix' that failed, there were approximately 130,000 US service members stationed in Iraq.  As Kristin Roberts (Reuters) notes that before today's announcements the plan was for the number to fall from 155,000 to 140,000.
Returning to last week's hearing and focusing on testimony regarding health care or the lack of it.
Sergio Korchergin: When we all come back from Iraq and we seek help from our command they call us 'weak' and 'cowards'.  The line for psychologists is almost a year long and the only thing that can help us is the alcohol and the prescription pills that they are giving out to us like candy to keep us down because it seems like doctors don't want to do their jobs and they just don't care. . . . The last thing I want to tell you about is a roomate who we shared a bathrooma with.  A marine who was on a suicide watch for about afew months on and off.  The last three weeks before we were deployed he was constantly on watch.  A week before a family day -- when a family comes in and says good-bye to their marines before we deploy -- he was released from the watch so that he would not say anything to his parents and he did not say anything to them. About a month into deployment, he blew his brains out in the shower stall.  Actions like that show the poor judgement of our command, just to have numbers for the troops and just to keep their own skins safe. The marines should never have gone to Iraq in the first place and nobody was held responsible for his death. If there's no care for your marines what care do they have for the people of Iraq when they give the orders?
We'll come back to the topic of the health care but we'll wrap up the hearing but noting the testimony of another Iraq War veteran.  "Dear Ted, you are my hero," Luis Montalvan stated as he began his testimony delivered in the form of a letter to the late Ted Westhusing.  "I did not get the opportunity to meet you while we served in the army together, but I feel as though I know you from your honorable life and tragic death.  Just one month before returning to your wife Michelle and three children, you were found dead on June 5, 2005 from a bullet to the head.  Investigators conducted -- investigations conducted by the army deemed your death a 'suicide' but the circumstances are highly controversial.  I have spoken with your brother Tim and your father Keith and we are now close friends. Both Tim and your father believe that the army did not do a thorough investigation and covered up many of the aspects surrounding your mysterious and untimely death."  Westhusing was bothered (to put it mildly) by corruption in the contracting in Iraq.  Montalvan explained what he experienced, lack of weapons, lack of supplies.  "I lost many friends in Iraq, American and Iraqi," he explained.  He cited an Iraqi friend in Jordan applying for asylum (to the US) via the United Nations. PISCES system (Personal Identification Secure Comparsion and Evaluation System)  was supposed to track immigration and emigration flow across Iraq.  Gen Ricardo Sanchez and Bwana Paul L. Bremer sent a team to look into putting PISCES in place and the official word was that it would be done.  Then came the story that the equipment wasn't in Iraq -- it was there as Montalvan discovered when he returned to Iraq in 2006 on his second tour and it had been there and it was never implemented. 
On the subject of PISCES, it is a tracking device and one of the systems that raises concerns -- in the US -- about bio-chips.  The US uses the system to some degree (and has for some time) and has tried to get India (they refused) and other countries to implement it.  Those who have are generally the ones most dependant upon foreign aid.  (Such as Uganda and Djibouti.)  There are serious concerns about civil liberties with this program but such concerns haven't prevented the US government from trying to sell it and have it implemented.  In Iraq, due to the refugee situation, it's 'best' for the White House that it wasn't implemented.  Had it been, actual concrete numbers would have been readily available. But real numbers were never of interest to the White House as evident by The Myth of The Great Return. Bio-metrics do exist in Iraq and are used in, for example, Falluja to deny entry and only make life more cumbersome for Iraqis.  If there was a use for them on a temporary basis that could be justified, it would most likely be during a continuing refugee crisis to provide statistical data.
Montalvan concluded his testimony by declaring, "I strongly urge you to please take measures to perhaps have a Congressional testimony to address these matters in entireity particularly the death of Col. Ted Westhusing."  For more on Westhusing, you can refer here and here to two pieces by Robert Bryce (Texas Observer).
Sergio Korchergen was quoted above and he wasn't the only veteran informing Congress last week about the efforts to deny veterans the health care they need (and are due).  The Veterans Administration is already in hot water over hiding the rate of suicides among veterans, now they have a new problem.  CREW has published [PDF format warning] an e-mail the VA sent out:
Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Diorder, R/O PTSD.    
Additionally, we really don't or have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.    
Also, there have been some incidence where the veteran has a C & P, is not given a diagnosis of PTSD, then the veteran comes here and we give the diagnosis, and the veteran appeals his case based on our assessment. 
This is just a suggestion for the reasons listed above. 
Despite this being the latest revelation in an ongoing story, the New York Times noted it Friday in a tiny AP article.  You can put it with CBS News' coverage of the veterans suicides (click here for text and video as well as links to past reporting, here for the PDF format e-mail Dr. Ira Katz sent out on the actual suicide numbers, and here for Congress questioning Katz and VA officials about the suicide numbers -- Armen Keteyian was the reporter and Pia Malbran the producer on those reports), with Korchergen's testimony and with Adrienne Kinne's testimony at Winter Soldier last March.  Explaining after leaving the military how she did college internships at VA hospitals, Kinne shared that a study on PTSD and TBI resulted in a proposal to screen for the two. 
And then they went to go to the next step, to actually make this happen. And I was actually on a conference call when someone said, "Wait a second. We can't start this screening process. Do you know that if we start screening for TBI there will be tens of thousands of soldiers who will screen positive and we do not have the resources available that would allow us to take care of these people so we cannot do the screening." And their rationale was that medically, medical ethics say if you know someone has a problem, you have to treat them. So since they didn't have the resources to treat them, they didn't want to know about the problem.
The latest e-mail is identified by Bonnie Goldstein (Slate) as having been written by "Norma Perez, team leader and psychologist at the Temple, Texas, Olin E. Teague Veterans' Center".   The Fayetteville Observer issues a strong editorial on the subject of the e-mail CREW obtained asking of the the 'strategy' laid out to deny care: "Does it get more coldly than that?  Actually, it does. 'Additionally,' the e-mail continued, 'we really don't or have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.'  Without the 'additionally,' and with the afterthought placed ahead of the suggestion, that might have left a little room for a limited discussion of, for example, the inadequacy of the VA's psychiatric budget. But the writer of the e-mail gave the play away in his or her first 11 words, and there's no hauling them back now. It was about money."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad rocket attack that injured five people, a Baghdad bombing that left three people injured, a Baghdad bombing that is seen as an assassination attempt on "Major Ahmed, the chief police of al Quds police station" that wounded him and three bodyguards, another Baghdad bombing left two people wounded, a Tikrit car bombing left three people injured and an Al-Anbar Province bombing took place in a home following a search by police where, apparently, a husband made his wife put on a vest -- lined with explosives -- to conceal it and shortly after the police departed, the bomb exploded killing the couple. Reuters notes a Suq al-Shiyukh assassination (bomb placed under bed) of 1 "local Iraqi police chief."
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports three police officers were wounded in a Baghdad shooting and "an officer in the ministry of interior affairs" was wounded in a Baghdad shooting.  Reuters notes 11 police officers shot dead in Ba'aj and they also note that (dropping back Sunday) police  Lt Col Ahmed al-Nouri was shot dead in Baghdad.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad.  Reuters notes 2 corpses discovered in Suwayra and 2 outside Rutba.
Turning to US politics, the Democratic race for the party's presidential nomination.  Wah-wah-wah cried Barack Obama today.  On Good Morning America (here for video) he attempted to dictate to the GOP what they could and could not do -- insisting they can say this or that . . .   What a big baby.  He really has had it too easy.  He thinks -- he thinks he's getting the nomination and if he does that he can then dictate to a rival political party what they can do or what they can't.  Grow up.  Talk about not being ready to run for president.  As with the Democratic race, he's saying his opponents "can say whatever they want to say about me, my track record."  Uh, wake up Barack, the GOP isn't the love-sick John Edwards looking at you in debate after debate with cow eyes.  He then declared that Michelle Obama was off limits.  Grow the hell up, Barry.  If you get the nomination, she'll be the subject of press the same way any other prospective First Lady is and it's always more difficult on the ones who have worked.  As Rick Klein (ABC News) points out, the DNC "has aggressively targeted Cindy McCain over her decision not to release her tax returns, and DNC officials said Monday that they would continue to do so".  Hillary Clinton survived it.  Is Michelle unable to fight back?  No, she can fight back so what's got him so worried?  Larry Johnson (No Quarter) thinks it's the video of Michelle responding enthusiastically (to put it mildly) to a speech (let's not call them sermons) by Jeremiah Wright.  That may be or, since he's mentioning "low class," it might be the shopping around of those 'side-boob' photos of Michelle looking ridiculous in that 'dress' that ____ selected for her to wear to the private party late last year.  Those are pretty frightening pictures (and I thought so when they were sent to my cellphone last year during the party).  They do not look First Lady-ish and, yes, they are being shopped around.
CBS and AP note Hillary's response to Barack's assertion (seemingly now withdrawn) that he will declare himself -- excuse me, that he will anoint himself the nominee Tuesday night: "You can declare yourself anything, but if you don't have the votes, it doesn't matter."  And he doesn't have the votes.  The delegates he's been awarded aren't enough to become the nominee -- same with Hillary.  They are in a tie.  Superdelegates -- in fact, all delegates -- vote on the convention floor.  That should mean -- if both stay in the race and the DNC rules and guidelines are followed -- the nominee will be known in August of this year.  Barack's apparently backed down from his desire to self-annoint and that has less to do with concern for letting the people decide and more to do with what Ava and I noted Sunday (and it was noted here last Wednesday) announcing you are the candidate in the midst of a tight race results in one of two things.  1) The DNC calls you out and the press laughs.  2) The DNC doesn't call you out and the GOP immediately argues that the Democrats have now named their candidate and have entered the general election in May, while the GOP will declare their nominee September 4th.  In other words, general election funds will need to last for the Democratic Party from May through November while the GOP will only be constrained from September to November.  And the DNC thought things were bad in 2004 when they announced in July and the GOP announced in September?  The race is a tie and Hillary's now ahead in the popular votes. 
Tomorrow, Molly Bingham and Steve Connors' amazing documentary is released on DVD,  Meeting Resistance.  As the press release notes:
Meeting Resistance is about the people and make-up of the Iraqi resistance. Since it was released in theaters last fall, we have shown the film in more than 80 U.S. cities, as well as to several key military audiences. We've made more than 200 appearances with the film to talk about our understanding of the conflict in Iraq and take questions from the audience. When the lights come up, we are greeted with the kind of silence associated with people trying to reconcile what they thought they knew with what they now understand. We've come to realize that our film is delivering a paradigm shift about the Iraq conflict--one audience at a time.   

There are two wars in Iraq. Meeting Resistance explores the first war, the popularly supported resistance to occupation, which contains the majority of the organized violence that is happening in Iraq. Using primary source material, critical analysis and cross-referencing, we crafted a film that tells the story of that conflict. The second war is the civil war--an internal political struggle being waged over competing visions of Iraq's future, of which the country's sectarian violence is a symptom, not a cause.