Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Iraq snapshot

 Wednesday, July 23, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Talabani says "NO!" to elections this year, the US Congress stages a feel-good session for the US army, and more.


Starting with war resistance.  In June 2006, Lt Ehren Watada became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to the illegal war.  Since Judge Benjamin Settle ruled last November that the US military could not attempt a second (kanagroo) court-martial of Watada while the double-jeopardy issue remains, he has been in limbo.  In a grab-bag column about a number of topics, Christina Clark (Nebraksa's Gateway) mentions Watada while discussing how the Iraq War is illegal: "Bush did not receive permission from the United Nations to invade Iraq.  In September 2004, then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that the war was 'not in conformity with the U.N. Charter, from our point of view and from the Charter point of view, it was illegal.' A number of military personnel, most notably 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, have refused to serve in the war because they consider it 'illegal' and have been court marshaled as a result."  As Rebecca noted of Watada last Friday, "the contract expired in 2006. it's time for the military to release him.  instead they keep him in the military and he has to report for duty on the base every day."


Meanwhile Chris Vanderveen (9 News Denver) reports that the War Resisters Support Campaign's Lee Zaslofsky has gone to Colorado to show his support for US war resister Robin Long who was extradited from Canada last Tuesday and states of Robin being expelled, "(Canadians) are very distressed by this.  This is going against the tradition we have in our country."  Meanwhile Angela Giles (The Chronicle Herald) argues for war resisters' right to remain in Canada and notes, "They have a higher obligation to international law than their 'duty' to just follow orders. . . . We now know soldiers are systematically ordered to violate international humanitarian law in Iraq -- from torture to intentionally targeting civilians -- and there are more revelations of war crimes emerging every day. . . .  The U.S. soldiers seeking refuge in Canada signed up to defend their country, not to commit war crimes."


To pressure the Stephen Harper government to honor the House of Commons vote, Gerry Condon, War Resisters Support Campaign and Courage to Resist all encourage contacting the Diane Finley (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration -- 613.996.4974, phone; 613.996.9749, fax; e-mail -- that's "finley.d" at "") and Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, 613.992.4211, phone; 613.941.6900, fax; e-mail -- that's "pm" at "").  Courage to Resist collected more than 10,000 letters to send before the vote.  Now they've started a new letter you can use online hereThe War Resisters Support Campaign's petition can be found here.  Long expulsion does not change the need for action and the War Resisters Support Campaign explains: "The War Resisters Support Campaign is calling on supporters across Canada to urgently continue to put pressure on the minority conservative government to immediately cease deportation proceedings against other US war resisters and to respect the will of Canadians and their elected representatives by implementing the motion adopted by Parliament on June 3rd. Please see the take action page for what you can do."


There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Andrei Hurancyk, Megan Bean, Chris Bean, 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).
Turning to Iraq and starting with the latest in the provincial elections bill -- CNN reports it has been rejected today.  Yesterday, the Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi Parliament staged a walk-out over a bill regarding the alleged provincial elections that allegedly would take place October 1st. The walk-out means the already much postponed provinicial elections may be postponed further.  Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) covers the political process backdrop for yesterday's actions: "Some Iraqis think that the offensives that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki launched in the southern cities of Basra and Amara and the Baghdad slum of Sadr City were to weaken his political rivals, the Sadrists, who controlled those areas. The possibility of a months' long delay in the elections could fundamentally alter the priorities of local and national politicians."  Ned Parker and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) zoom in on the backstory/history, "The contentious issue was among several points that have delayed a vote on the law that would pave the way for the first local elections since January 2005, when most Sunni Arabs and many Shiite followers of cleric Muqtada Sadr boycotted the vote. U.S. officials believe the participation of such groups could go a long way toward righting the balance of power in provincial politics, in which a small number of parties, mainly Kurdish and Shiite Muslim, have dominated."  Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) focuses on the struggle for the oil-rich Kirkuk, "The disagreement centered on the multiethnic city of Kirkuk, one of several areas in Iraq where there are competing claims over which province a city or district belongs in. The question for Kirkuk is whether it should be absorbed into the Kurdistan region -- a particularly charged question because the city sits on some of the largest unexploited oil reserves in the country. Both Arabs and Kurds lay claim to the area.  At bottom, the disagreement is also about the ethnic identity of Iraq and about Arab frustration with the Kurds. Although the Kurds are a minority, they have proved adept at turning the political process to their advantage, often to the chagrin of larger ethnic and religious groups."  Last December, Stephen Farrell (New York Times) reported on the attempts of the Kurdish region to take control of Kirkuk (with something other than the security forces they currently utilize) -- forcing Kurds out of the Kurdish region and into Kirkuk to live in "the squalor of the Kirkuk soccer stadium." CNN quotes this statement from President Jalal Talabani's office today, "The president, who does not agree with such a law, which was voted on by 127 deputies who do not represent half of parliament, is confident that the presidency council will not pass it."  Al Jazeera points out, "Wednesday's move, which comes after protests by Kurdish and some Shia MPs, is likely to delay the elections, which have been encouraged by US officials as a key step toward repairing Iraq's sectarian rifts.BBC states, "Correspondents say this would be a blow to the outgoing US administration of President George W Bush, which sees the elections as a key step to the national reconciliation between Iraq's dividied communities."  Is anyone going to make the obvious point?  If elections are called out, why does Moqtada al-Sadr need to hold the line on a truce?  al-Sadr's cooperation was thought to be in part due to the 'October' elections that were coming.  al-Maliki started throwing down rules (or trying to) about who could and who could not participate.  This was after the assault on Basra began.  al-Sadr calmed the situation.  And most likely did so so that the Sadr bloc could turn out for elections in October.  Meanwhile AFP reports that August 1st will be the launching date for the assault on Diyala Province according to unnamed Iraqi "army and police officers."  If elections are on hold until 2009, the assault might play out elsewhere in Iraq the same way the Basra assault did. In some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Diyala Province roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 woman.  Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing that left three police officers wounded and a Mosul mortar attack that left two people wounded.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot down in Mosul this mornging with 2 Iraqi troops shot dead in Mosul this afternoon.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses discovered in Baghdad.



"The purpose of today's hearing," US House Rep Susan Davis said yesterday as she brought to order the House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee, "is to take a hard look at the current state of the Army Medical Action Plan This will be the third hearing this subcomitt has held on the Army Medical Action Plan --  the army's response to the revelations at Walter Reed Army Medical Center last year, since it was issued in June 2007.  When the Army Medical Action Plan  execution order was issued last summer, the military personnel subcomittee believed that the army had finally demonstrated a full understanding and acceptance of the organizational and systemic short comings that had led to the scandalous conditions at Walter Reed.  We felt that the Army Medical Action Plan was a comprehensive and ambitious blue print to tackle these issues head on. After years of frustration many on the subcomittee believed that the army was finally ready to take the necessary steps to solve these problems.  However, from our very first briefing on the Army Medical Action Plan, we had two significant concerns.  The first was that the army would be unable to initially dedicate and then maintain over the long haul the level of resources required by the Army Medical Action Plan.  Specifically, we were worried that the army would be unable to assign adequate numbers of personnel  to the Warrior Transition Units.  Why? Because the core of the Warrior Transition Units were to be the same soldiers that make up the backbone of our brigade combat teams: mid-grade, non-commissioned officers.  And these soldiers were already in short supply.  The second concern was that army commanders would overwhelm the Warrior Tranistion Units by sending them all of their soldiers with medical issues rather than just those with complex injuries or conditions that required comprehensive case management.  In truth, we do not feel that this was necessarily a bad thing especially if it helped units deploy at full strength while injured or ill soldiers had the opportunity to fully recover  Of course, this would only work if Warrior Transition Units were properly resourced to take care of these soldiers.  From June 2007 through  February 2008, the members and staff of this subcommittee made numerous visits to Warrior Transition Units throughout the army.  The overall trend we observed was positive.  The Army Medical Action Plan was clearly providing better support for recovering soldiers than the previous medical holdover system.   One wounded warrior commented, 'Thank God for the Warrior Transition Unit.  Things are so much better than they were before.'  That was good to hear but despite the positive trends we were frustrated at the slow progress of implementing the AMAP.  We felt that things should have and could have been moving faster.  We also felt that there was a discconnect between how quickly the army leadership believed things were happening and what the facts on the ground seemed to indicate.  Again, despite the challenges, we felt things were moving in an overall, positive direction.  However our concerns about Warrior Transition Unit staffing levels and the potential  of line units, quote, 'dumping ' soldier on the Warrior Transition Unit continued.  We asked General [Eric] Schoomaker about this repeatedly during our hearing in February to get an update on the AMAP In response to a question asked by Mr. [John] McHugh, the army surgeon-general declared, 'For all intents and purposes we are entirely staffed at the point we need to be staffed.'  As the facts at Fort Hood demonstrate that is clearly not the case now. Gentlemen, the Army Medical Action Plan was designed by the army.  It is your plan.  The army senior leadership has publicly trumpeted your commitment to wounded soldiers at every opportunity -- and we believe that that is true.  But the Secretary of Defense agrees -- as Dr. [Robert] Gates has made clear -- apart from the war itself, this department and I have no higher priority." . Over the course of this hearing we will review the following topics.  Resources.  Why has the army failed to properly resource the Warriror Transition Units population growth.  Why did the army fail to predict the growth in the WT population.  We were assured by the army in Feb. that you had the processes and reviews in place to stay on top of the population and clearly that's not the case today.  Priority.  Is the Army Medical Action Plan truly the army's number two priority?  Our visits do not leave us with that impression. And creativity.  From the outset the Army Medical Action Plan has been sold as a bold roadmap to overhaul outdated, inefficient and deteremental policies and procedures. . . . And oversight.  Finally and perhaps most importantly why did it take oversight visits from the subcommittee to identify and spure the army to fix these issues and what will take to ensure that the army follows its own plan and lives up to its own promises it  Gentlemen, aside from telling us that you will will harder to implement it -- and we do believe that, we know that you are working very hard  at this -- what concrete steps are being taken to ensure better follow through?"


Rep John McHugh (ranking Republican) noted "there continues to be serious shortfalls.  Shortfalls that our staff did identify and I know the army continues to try to deal with.  Serious questions.  That of resources.  A mechanism that anticipates the population growth that we have seen -- an explosion" that it is only reasonable to expect will continue.  Davis and McHugh were speaking to the army's Lt Gen Michael D. Rochelle, Lt Gen Robert Wilson, Maj Gen David A. Rubenstein and Brig Gen Gary H. Cheek.  PDF format warning, you can click here for the brass' prepared statement.


Dana Milbank (Washington Post) describes the scene: "The generals were nervous.Lt. Gen. Robert Wilson moved his index finger across the page as he read his statement with a halting delivery.  Maj. Gen. David Rubenstein, holding a discolored washcloth under the witness table to dry his perspiration, accidentally dropped the cloth and felt for it with his shoe. The anxiety, even for men with two or three stars on each shoulder, was to be expected.  They had come before a House Armed Services subcommittee to explain why, 16 months and at least eight fact-finding investigations after the Walter Reed scandal, the Army still hadn't fixed the health-care system for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan."


Milbank rightly notes that the witnesses played contrite.  True.  They also played suck up. Shortly after stating the obvious ("Make no mistake about it, our army is stretched"), Rochelle would declare, "It is clear to us that this committee foresaw that better than we did."  Why was that?  No need to explore that.  No need to worry because Rochelle insists, "But our heart was in the right place and remains in the right place."  Were these adults testifying before Congress?  And did this tender-hearted brass miss all of Davis and McHugh's many statements that bordered on the way an adult would speak to a very young child -- stressing repeatedly that the action, not the people, were bad; that the action, not the people, was at fault.  It was a bit puzzling to hear Davis and McHugh hit those points repeatedly at the start of the hearings but, a half-hour in, as McHugh had to again reassure the toddlers with stripes and bars on their shoulders, you were left with the impression that anything more age appropriate would have left the generals sucking their thumbs, curled up in a fetal position and sobbing on the House floor.


McHugh had to again do that tap-dance before getting to his point.  Having again assured the brass that everyone at the table was a special and wanted general, McHugh slowly and carefully declared, "In many ways, this challenge isn't being met.  And I find the current circumstances unacceptable."  It seemed to linger in the air as the bragg fidgeted.  "You gentlemen agree with that?" McHugh asked.  Silent pause.  "Anybody disagree with that?"

he then asked.  Still no comment.  Realizing the guilty children had agreed ahead of time to all stick together, McHugh began noting the numbers.  6,000 WTs were in the program in June of 2007 and increased to 12,000 by June of the following year with current predictions that it will "grow to another 20,000".  McHugh wanted to know if the problem was the model, the problem with the personnel or the problem due to the 90-day review not being done?  Apparently feeling he had to answer, Rubenstein stated "I'll go first" and quickly began talking about . . . people who weren't hired.  McHugh (stating "I'm going to interrupt you") attempted to get the conversation back on track.  If hearing Rubenstein discuss how he meets neighbors while he mows his yard is back on track . . . Around that time, McHugh would tell Rubenstein, "I'm not hear to argue with you" and, approximately ten minutes later, "General Rubenstein, I don't mean to engage in a debate per se"  -- then why was the hearing held?  US Rep Niki Tsongas appeared to waste the least amount of time doling out affirmations to the generals and instead focused on the realities involving the increased number of WTs.  She rightly noted that the White House's escalation troops are returning and that "if we do eventually engage in a timetable for the redeployment of our soldiers so again you'll be bringing back larger soldiers at once and particularly where the issue is PTSD -- where you might not have to deal with it really until the soldiers do come home.  Can you envision what you would do in a situation where you simply become overwhelmed by the demand?" Rubenstein agreed to go first and then began talking about the need to "keep our arms around" the wounded.  If we can leave the happy place for a minute, Tsongas asked about preparation for the expected influx into the program.  She didn't ask about group hugs.  "Where we can't," he said finally getting near the question asked,  "and where we may not be able to meet the needs if the numbers are overwhelming, we fall to our civilian network providers."


US House Rep Niki Tsongas: And this is a plan you have in place so that it kicks in automatically or is it really reacting to any given moment?


Maj Gen David Rubenstein: It's -- it's a plan that's in execution as we speak today.  In October at Fort Hood we sent about 350 of our warriors downtown Killeen [. . .]  to receive health care.  Those same soldiers, six months later,  in April of this year had 19,000 appointments downtown so we already use the system


Lt Gen Michael D. Rochelle: May I add, ma'am, Madam Tsongas, the two things that you hinted in your question is being pro-active in looking at both the deployment of individual elements of army unit brigades and support elements and being pro-active for those that are redeploying as well.  That we have come to learn is - - is one  -is one of our misconnects -- disconnects at the -- at the senior levels of the army and we're going to do better at that.  We already have a very reliable -- very reliable -- metric.


The answer to Tsongas' question is "NO."  Tsongas was speaking of the troops that will be returning as the escalation continues to wind down so dropping back to last year or last April really doesn't address that.  She was also asking noting that there may be some limited withdrawal in 2009 and is the army preparing for that?  When Rubenstein is offering that last April Fort Hood (which is supposed to be served primarily by the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center) was already scheduling 19,000 appointments with civilian providers (via the TriCare contracts/outsourcing) the answer is "NO!" the army is not prepared for it and does not appear to be doing anything to prepare for it.  (Whining, as Rubenstein did elsewhere, that emergency room nurses in civilian settings can work to 12 hour shifts and get paid for forty hours allowing them to make more than they would working for the military is not "dealing with" or "anticipating" an influx.)  Various members of the committee spoke of visiting Fort Drum and their surprise or disappointment that so much was still wrong.  Rep Nancy Boyda spoke of a mother of a wounded soldier who was unable to get the help he needed and was in limbo ("literally dying to get in" to some sort of treament) and subcommittee chair Davis spoke of being told about the healing groups ("focused healing environment") in place and instead seeing people sitting around in frustration and boredom "not feeling that things were happening for them."  Davis asked "how you see that changing at all? That people are able to get the appointments they need?"  Rubenstein offered nonsense about how, military or civilian, no one ever gets what they need or the time they think they deserve in a medical visit.  In other words, it was a lot of garbage.  Near the end, Davis offered that the army might need more money and that they could meet again in September but Rochelle insisted he felt "September would be too soon."  Since the generals could point to nothing accomplished the idea that they're going to skip out on a September meeting is rather appalling.  Dana Milbank (Washington Post) observes, "Finding no argument, the lawmakers brought the hearing to a prompt close, but not before another round of mutal flattery."  Yes, it really was that pathetic. Two hours and ten minutes wasted with no answers given, no indications that the military actually is addressing the expected influx of wounded.  A lot of airy statements and back-patting.  In the 2004 presidential race, US Senator John Kerry (the Democratic presidential nominee) rightly noted these problems were coming.  He stated that the White House was underfunding and diverting resources.  His reward for that truth telling was to have smack him down with one of their psuedo 'fact checks.'  Nearly four years later, there is still no indication that anything is being done unless the Washington Post shines a large flashlight on the problem.  The paper did that and brought public awareness and public outcry.  The US Congress seems unwilling and/or unable to follow up on that.  The hearing was an embarrassment.  The fact that Milbank and Talk Radio News Service appear to be the only ones who bothered to cover it is even more embarrassing.


In England Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, is in the news for making another statement.  Philip Webster, Deborah Haynes and Tim Reid (Times of London) reports that Brown is saying that 'most' British troops will be out of Iraq "in a year."  There are approximately 4,1000 of them -- that's actually the number of British troops and the number of contradictory statements Brown has made in his brief time as prime minister as to whether England would leave or stay in Iraq. Take the wait and see approach with Brown's statements which, like the weather, seem to change hourly.


Turning to the US presidential race.  MediaChannel -- for some unknown reason -- is pushing a stupid study by "Media Tenor."  "Media Tenor" is not a media watchdog, it's part of Democracy In Action -- yet another front group funded with blood money. Go to MediaChannel if you're interested in reading it.  (My comments are not about MediaChannel, they are about "Media Tenor").  It's an 'analysis' that is both factually 'free' and non-content based.  It's a 'study' in the way your eight-year-old brother or sister might write a book 'report.'  It's also insulting.  Barack Obama and John McCain are not candidates for president.  They are 'presumptive' candidates.   Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader are actual candidates and they're shut out of the 'analysis.'  It's superficial crap that wants credit for finger-pointing at . . .  super-ficial crap.  As Phoebe famously said on Friends, "Hello Monica, this is kettle, you're black."  Media Tenor's garbage doesn't need to be circulated, it needs to be put in the trash.  MediaChannel got a link, but no link to the trash of "Democracy" In Action or "Media Tenor" or all the other partisan outlets staffed with dimwits paid in blood money.  Shame on you all.  (If need be, Ava says we can revisit the garbage being offered by Media Tenor at Third in our TV commentary Sunday but, if we do, we'll be doing a 'greatest hits' and not offering anything on any program airing this week.)


Paul Street takes on the myth of Saint Barack here (Black Agenda Report).  Kenneth J. Theisen (World Can't Wait) calls out the War Hawk Barack here.  Sally Soriano of Team Nader notes:


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robin long
 ehren watada
 angela giles

the washington post

 nancy a. youssef
 mcclatchy newspapers
 the los angeles times
 ned parker
 saif hameed
 the new york times
 alissa j. rubin