Tuesday, September 23, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, corporations make a killing in Iraq, the US military announces another death, and more.
"There is a popular saying now in Iraq. They say every one dollar spent in Iraq, fifty percent of it will go to corruption, forty percent will go to security and other issues. In the end, only five percent may go to Iraqi people." Abbas Mehdi shared that yesterday in the Democratic Policy Committee hearing yesterday. The hearing follows on the heals of many Senate hearings into waste and fraud in Iraq. March 11th the Senate Appropriations committee held a hearing to "Examine Waste, Fraud, and Abuse of American Tax Dollars in Iraq." April 16th, the same Senate committee heard testimony from the White House budget director Jim Nussle. In the March hearing, Senator Byron Dorgan declared that the waste and fraud discussed was just "the tip of the iceberg" and that the hearing "ought to be the first of a dozen or two dozen hearings." Dorgan chaired the committee hearing.
Senator Byron Dorgan: In March, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing at my request, in which we heard from a very courageous Iraqi judge who headed Iraq's Commission of Public Integrity. This agency was established by the Coalition Provisional Authority after the US invasion of Iraq, and charged with rooting out corruption in the new government. Judge al-Radhi estimated that corruption in Iraq's government had resulted in the loss of $18 billion in government funds, and most of those funds had been US tax payer dollars. Judge Radhi said that instead of supporting his efforts to fight corruption, the top levels of the Iraqi government had ultimately suppressed his investigations. [. . . ] Judge Radhi also testified that since the establishment of the Commission of Public Integrity, more than 31 employees have been assassinated as well as at least an additional 12 family members. One would have expected that our own government would have been doing everything it could to support Judge Radhi's anti-corruption efforts. But in hearing of this committee back in May, we heard from two State Dept officials who said that our own government was not interested in ensuring accountability of U.S. funds in Iraq or in rooting out corruption. In fact, one of the officials, retired judge Arthur Brenna, said that some of the stolen funds were steered to the Iraqi insurgency. Yet the administration was generally indifferent to the problem. This indifference has had deadly consequences. We will hear from witnesses today -- one of whom was Judge Radhi's chief investigator in Iraq -- about how stolen US funds have gone to al Qaeda in Iraq. Our earlier hearing with Judge Brennan showed us that the State Dept turns a blind eye when it comes to corruption. Today's hearing will show us what the State Dept turned a blind eye to -- and what the consequences have been.
The committee heard from two witness and who knows what. Considering the long practice of trotting liars to the US Congress to argue this or that about Iraq (see the first Bush White House nonsense about incubators), an 'anonymous' witness really isn't going to be taken seriously by most people. (All the more so if they hear his reasons for wanting to be anonymous -- Iraq was his country, he came to America long before the start of the illegal war, some day he might want to hold office in Iraq . . .) For the record, much of what the unnamed stated fits points raised in snapshots; however, we're not going to focus on an anonymous witness.
The two actual witnesses were Salam Adhoob whom Dorgan was referring to in the excerpt above. Adhoob was the chief investigator for the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI) in Iraq. He spoke via a translator throughout. Abbas Mehdi was the other witness and he was the chair National Investment Commission in Iraq. He spoke without a translator. In Adhoob's prepared testimony that he read to the committee, he noted:
Based on the cases that I have personally investigated, I believe that at least $18 billion have been lost in Iraq through corruption and waste, more than half of which was American tax payer money. Of this $18 billion, I believe at least $4 billion have been lost due to corruption and criminal acts in the Ministry of Defence alone. [. . .] During my time at the agency, the CPI worked closely with the Bureau of Supreme Audit which is Iraq's version of the Government Accountability Office. In 2007, the BSA conducted an extensive audit of American reconstruction projects in Iraq. The BSA attempted to track every American-funded project in the country, visited project sites, interviewed Iraqi government officials about the status of the projects and reviewed contradicting documents that were available for inspection. In a report that has never been made public, the BSA revealed that it could not properly account for more than $13 billion in American reconstruction funds. During their audit of American reconstruction contracts, BSA officials uncovered ghost projects that never existed, projects that the Iraqi government deemed unnecessary and work that was either not performed at all or done in a shoddy manner by both American and Iraqi contractors. To cite just one example from the BSA audit, approximately $24.4 million was spent on an electricity project in Ninewa Province that the BSA concluded existed only on paper. While the BSA found that many of these projects were not needed -- and many were never built -- this very real fact remains: the billions of American dollars that paid for these projects are now gone.
Senator Robert Byrd: If your investigators uncovered evidence implicating American contractors or officials in case of fraud or corruption who was responsible for making that case and making those arrests and did you work with or receive good cooperation from your American counterparts?
Salam Adhoob: I was already responsible for a lot of investigations and some American counselors and advisers helped me; however, I have to say in order to be honest that not all the advisers and counselors at the American embassy were helpful. I would also go far as saying that some of these have helped the corrupt people. Here's an example that one American adviser specialized in human rights and he works for the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. He visited him [Adhoob, the translator begins going from "I" to "him"] in his office and he screamed at his face and this is recorded he says asking him not to investigate a particular case, screaming again and again, "Why are you investigating this case? This is American money. This is not your money." And he also sent a message in that regard. There are many, unfortunately many Americans, who are like that particular adviser who, again, asked him not to investigate with a particular American person because "the money is American money."
Senator Robert Byrd: Mr. Adhoob, if corrupt officials illegally move funds outside Iraq what resources did you have to continue investigation, make an arrest or recover the stolen funds?
Salam Adhoob: He's giving one example. He says, I'll give you one example here that there is a person an American who have helped the officials, some officials, in the Ministry of Defence, and Mr. [Nair Mohammed] Jummailly that he mentioned in his statement, he helped them to smuggle outside of Iraq, six hundred million dollars to Jordan and one hundred million to Beirut. And that person was an adviser to the Iraqi Central Bank. When the officials in the airport, in the Baghdad International Airport were again leaving or sending these sums of money, these huge sums of money to leave Iraq, he would use -- that adviser would use -- his influence with the central bank in order to overcome the objections of the officials of the international airport.
In answer to Byrd's question as to which "banks Iraqi officials were using to hide these funds," Adhoob listed the Jordanian Housing Bank ("great majority money of went to"), the National Bank in Jordan, the International Bank of Beirut "and to other banks in the UAE". Adhoob stated that money that went to the Jordanian Housing Bank then saw a portion go to Germany "and he has documents to prove that. The reason for Germany in particular is that Mr. Jummaily that he talked about in his statement has accounts in Germany, in addition, the current Minister of Defence has accounts in Germany also. Other, smaller chunks of money settled finally in New York and Pennsylvania."
Dropping back to another opening statement.
Abbas Mehdi: The Commission of Public Integrity, the chief anti-corruption agency in the country, has been given neither the authority nor the independence it needs to work effectively. As a result, there have been no prosecutions for the embezzlement of public funds. Even worse, the Iraqi Parliament has now taken proactive steps to obstruct efforts to root out corruption. At the press conference on August 30, 2008, the head of the CPI also complained that the amnesty law passed by the Iraqi Parliament on January 12, 2008 will prevent the investigation of some 700 cases of alleged corruption, some at the cabinet level, in Baghdad alone. The costs of corruption fall most heavily on ordinary Iraqi citizens. They are the ones who suffer from the complete absence of services: no water, no electricity, no oil and too little security. Just to give on example, $17 billion of Iraqi money plus $4 to 5 billion of US money has been spent on the electricity infrastructure in Iraq. But what has more than $20 billion brought the Iraqi people? In Baghdad today, more than five years after the start of war, residents have electricity for about one hour in every seven hour period.
A CODEPINK protestor decided to make a statement in the middle of the hearing by rising and declaring, "Excuse me, I don't know the protocol here but it seems to me that it seems to me -- I'm sorry that the travesty of the American public are losing money . . . I think we should focus on the average Iraqi citizen who had nothing to do with this occupation and are suffering -- and we can bail out Wall Street and couldn't give anything to the average Iraqi citizen." Next up, CODEPINK attends a vegan breakfast which they disrupt by calling for people to stop eating meat.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: One thing I've taken away from these hearings, in response to what the woman just said, the Iraqi citizens have suffered because of this corruption and loss of money and we've also learned that the, really, credibility of the Iraqi government has suffered and also our American soldiers have suffered as we've had other hearings where we've learned about contractors in a black market where ice is taken -- and sold on the black market that was supposed to go to our soldiers when it's 110 degrees outside. So I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman [Dorgan] for holding these hearings. I also want to welcome Dr. Mehdi to this hearing. I have known him for many years -- first through my father and then my family has eaten dinner at his home, he's a very good cook, Chairman Dorgan, so maybe at some point, he'll cook for us here in Washington and he's also a well respected academic in Minnesota and has worked on a bi-partisan basis to work with many elected officials and give them his insight into what is going on in Iraq. So thank you very much for your service. Mr. Mehdi, you said unless corruption is rooted out there's very little chance of achieving stability in Iraq and I think that the members of this committee would strongly agree with your assessment. Given how pervasive this corruption is -- as we've heard from you and our other witnesses -- what recommendations would you give US officials on how to combat corruption and what role can Congress play?
Abbas Mehdi: Thank you, Senator. You know, Senator, when United States went to Iraq, they went with high minded mission and the goal for Iraq was really high minded mission -- rebuild Iraq, socially, economically, politically. And Iraq people in the beginning were happy and believed what the US said. Now five years on, Iraq today in a bad shape, worse than the era of Saddam, sadly to tell you this. So what can be done? There were so many mistakes. And as a basic principle, you need to recognize the mistakes first, then to admit these mistakes, then to go from there. I think when Bremer went to Iraq, made a serious mistake, there's are some problem with the Constitution, there's a problem with the ethnic policy, and there's a problem they brought wrong people and they give them power and authority. Now, if you really want to do it right, because there is no hope now, you have to move everybody and you start from the beginning. Is the United States ready to do that? I don't think so? Maybe through the international community. Because until now Iraq people are dying, suffering and, still in Baghdad -- this is the capitol, only one hour every seven hours they receive electricity. There's no medicine. There's no food. How long is it going to take? So either the United States is able to help Iraqi people and do something dramatic or leave them alone.
Staying with the topic of contracts (or 'rewards'), AP reports that Perini Corp had just "won more work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers valued at about $170 million to build bomb-resistant roofing and buildings in Iraqi war zones." And the BBC notes the deal between the 'government' of Iraq and Royal Dutch Shell ("the second between the government and a foreign firm since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003") that Hussein al-Shahristanti (Minister of Oil) signed off on yesterday. Sam Dagher (New York Times) points out, "The company described its decision to open an office here as a milestone that partly reflected the vast improvement in Iraq's stability compared with conditions during the worst years of the war. But in a sobering reminder of the underlying dangers of doing business here, the company would not disclose the location of its office, and the senior Shell official who announced the gas deal was accompanied by a phalanx of armed guards." Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) explains, "This is the second deal that the elected Iraqi government has concluded with a foreign firm, after a $3 billion deal with the China National Petroleum Corp." and that "Western oil companies are eager to return to Iraq, but the parliament has yet to pass a law that would give them a large stake in oil production in Iraq. Many Iraqis worry that foreign oil companies would exploit the country's oil fields with no benefit to Iraqis."
Today the US Senate Committee on Armed Services went through the motions. Appearing before the commitee were the US Sec of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen James E. Cartwright. It was time to yet again serve up five-year-old left overs and hope someone nibbled. Gates offered, "The president has called our reduction in troops numbers a 'return on success.' I, of course, agree, but I might expand futher. The changes on the ground and in our posture are reflective of a fundamental change in the nature of the conflict. In past testimony, I have cautioned that, no matter what you think about the origins of the war in Iraq, we must get the endgame there right. I believe we have now entered the endgame -- and our decisions today and in the months ahead will be critical to regional stability and our national security interests in the next few years." Staying with the Defense Dept, Lt Gen Lloyd Austin III briefed reporters yesterday from Iraq and used "positive" and "progress" repeatedly. For what doesn't matter, check out the write up by Adam Levine (CNN). The press briefing was so much more interesting. Austin did a hard sell on the "Awakening" Council members declaring, "One of our primary focus areas as we move foward is transitioning the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi government. The volunteer movement that started in Anbar and spread across the rest of the country significantly contributed to the security successes that we are now taking advantage of. The Sons of Iraq have paid a heavy price fight al Qaeda and other insurgent groups, and it's important that the government of Iraq responsibly transition them into meaningful employment. Prime Minister Maliki has assured me that the government will help those who help the people of Iraq. And so next week in Baghdad the government will accept responsibility for approximately 54,000 Sons of Iraq, and we will be there to assist in the transfer. We spent the last few weeks working hand in hand with our Iraqi partners on this transition, and I'm confident that this will go well. And you should know that we will not abandon the Sons of Iraq." In response to a question from Bill McMichael of Military Times, Austin stated that there were 99,000 "Awakening" Council members and 54,000 are in Baghdad "so we will start with the Baghdad province next month and transition that element first, and then we will begin to move to other parts of the country and transition those elements." The most interesting exchange took place when JJ Sutherland (NPR) attempted to pin down Austin on what happens when the 54,000 transfer over in terms of what they do now and what they will do? Sutherland had to repeatedly bring up the issue of "Awakening" Council members currently staffing checkpoints in Baghdad and ask what happens to those checkpoints? Austin's repeated replies indicated he hadn't understood the question because no one in the US military had thought about that. Best echange.
JJ Sutherland: Sir, I understand that but I'[m saying, "What happens in October? I understand eventually you want to have them be plumbers or electricians. But in October, there are a lot of checkpoints that have been manned by the Sons of Iraq. Are those checkpoints all going to go away? Are they only going to be staffed by Iraqi police now? That's my question. It's not eventually, it's next month.
Lt Gen Lloyd Austin: Yeah. Next month the Iraqi government will begin to work their way through this. And there's no question that some of them, some of the checkpoints, many of the checkpoints, will be -- will be manned by Iraqi security forces. In some cases, there may be Sons of Iraq that will be taksed to help with that work. But in most cases, I think the Iraqi government will be looking to transition people into different types of jobs.
At which point the Pentagon's spokesperson (DOD press office director) Gary Keck jumped in with the cry of one more question. Erica Goode (New York Times) reported today on the tensions in Baghdad as the transfer of "Awakening" to the puppet government approaches and notes that "Awakening" Councils in Adhamiya "have posed increasing problems. . . . Some residents complain that the men, not a few of them swaggering street toughs, use their power to intimidate people. Sometimes violence erupts."
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad roadside bombings that resulted in 1 death and seven people wounded, and two Basra roadside bombings resulted in 1 death. Reuters notes an Iskandariya roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 person "and wounded his wife and son".
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Sulaimniyah court house shooting that claimed the life of a Hassan Ghalib and left a police officer wounded while US forces shot dead Jassim Mohammed Al Garout ("Awakening" Council head) in Salahuddin. Reuters notes 1 person was shot dead in Mosul.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul.
Today the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Center Soldier was killed as a result of a small-arms fire attack west of Salman Pak Sept. 23." McClatchy Mohammed Al Dulaimy reports that Iraqi police state two US soldiers died, that 2 Iraqis were killed in the exchange and that "[p]olice said the attacker saw American soldiers searching an Iraqi woman using their hands, which prompted him to pen fire on the soldiers." The announcement brings to 4170 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war with 19 for the month thus far.
George Bryson's "Army Ordered to discharge soldier who found religon in Iraq" (McClatchy's Anchorage Daily News) reports that US District Judge John Sedwick has ordered that Private First Class Michael Barnes be released from the US military as a conscientious objector (with honorable discharge). Judge Sedwick found the army's claims that this was some maneuver on Barnes' part to avoid service were assertions the military failed to prove and that "testimony by a chaplain, a psychiatrist, fellow soldiers and Barnes himself proved the contrary." The ruling should shed a light on how the military really isn't in the place to 'judge' faith and that should have been evident in the case of Agustin Aguayo. The military's rejection of Agustin's claim was an offence to faith because it went against the teachings and beliefs of most faiths, with the military arguing, in effect, that faith was a static state of being and that it could not awaken or deepen. Obviously, most faiths advocate that belief that a believer grows in their faith. That can be seen in the stories describing the testings of Jesus Christ. (The testings of, not the teachings of.)
The process isn't going to change tomorrow. And it didn't change greatly during Vietnam. (1968 saw a shake up of the CO process and guidelines.) The peace movement of that period ended the draft and that is and was an important victory but the CO process is something that many members of Congress (at that time) would make sympathetic comments of but the issue was dropped. Following the end of the current illegal war, the peace movement would be smart to pursue this because the policy rarely changes in the midst of a war (of any war).
Religious faith is not necessary for CO status (though the military currently 'forgets' that and is allowed to get away with 'forgetting' it) but we're going to focus on that aspect due to the above ruling.
A counter-argument against CO status (and against war resistance) is, "You knew what you were signing up for." No, you didn't. You couldn't. And that is the story of the trials and testing of Jesus. You may think you do, but there is the abstract and there is the actual.
Stephen Fortunato was a CO during Vietnam and his case was not that different from Agustin's. Like Aguayo, Fortunato had an awakening and stopped carrying his weapon. (Agustin stopped carrying a loaded weapon.) Like Aguayo, Fortunato enlisted, he was not drafted. After his discharge, he attended Providence College and wrote a paper that was widely circulated at the time. In it, he noted:
I came to conscientious objection over a somewhat circuitous route -- via the Marine Corps. At the age of eighteen I freely enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, more out of a spirit of adolescent adventure than anything else, and certainly not because I thought freedom would be better preserved if the government stuck an M-1 in my hands.
With all the passion and exuberance of youth I became a trained killer. I went to classes where I learned how to rip a man's jugular vein out with my teeth. I growled like a tiger when I was told to growl like a tiger. (It would indeed by edifying for religious and educational leaders to see their flocks brandishing bayonets and yelping and grunting on command, like well-trained jungle beasts -- all for the preservation of Western civilization!)
I was told that the Ten Commandments, however worthy they might be in civilian life, had to be suspended in the name of national interest. I was greatly impressed to see that an act perpetrated by the enemy was ipso facto vicious and deceitful, whereas the self-same act perpetrated by the United States was just and praiseworthy.
For two years I did my reserve duty without questioning the purposes or the means of the armed forces. It remained for one of the cruder excesses of military training to wrench me from the spiritual doldrums.
[. . .]
My first break with the ways of the military was emotional and intuitive. The contradictions of war and war preparations became clear and self-evident. It did not become a rational creature to permit himself to be led in cries for destruction of human life; a truly free man would not support a totalitarian system to defend freedom; one cannot bring about peace by threatening to incinerate mankind. No, I came to believe that a free man preserves his freedom by acting freely and not by following those would would herd men into regiments or send people scurrying like moles into bomb shelters. Most important of all, the free man must remain free not to kill or to support killing.
[. . .]
I knew I had arrived at conscientious objection. I was opposed in body and soul to the organized, budgeted, and officially sanctified use of violence called war. I was opposed to the compulsory and regimented aberration from the laws of God and reason, called conscription. I could no longer, in conscience, bear arms.
What course of action was I to take? I had freely enlisted in the reserves. But how free was I? Our society conspires in favor of the armed camp set-up we now live in. At the age of eighteen, I had not once considered military service as confronting me with a moral decision. It is one of the more gruesome paradoxes of our time than in a free -- or supposedly so -- society the atmosphere of choice on such a crucial issue had been so stifled.
Again, in 1968 the military's CO policies were updated and while that can be seen as a small vicotry the problem then is the problem today: the written policy is not really followed. During times of peace, it generally is and we may back off from the issue as a result. But following the end of this current illegal war, a serious investigation by Congress into how the written policy was followed or ignored is needed. Many members of the peace movement advocate for expanding the written policy (I'm not opposed to that) but the reality is that the written policy is yet again not being followed and that many attempting CO status would earn it under the current policy (as is) if it were only followed.
Turning to the US presidential race. The Democratic ticket is Obama-Biden. Yesterday, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric featured a segment with Senator Joe Biden. Couric asked Biden how he was doing preparing for his debate with GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and, "Are you worried that you're going to have to pull your punches a bit because of her gender and you don't want to seem like you're bullying her? It's a different dynamic when it's a male/female thing, isn't it?" Biden replied, ""I don't know, is it? We're sitting here doing it right now, aren't we? Look, all kidding aside. So maybe it's a generational thing but I don't start this thing thinking 'Oh my God, this is a woman, I had better treat her differently.'" On the Obama campaign's recent ad mocking John McCain's computer skills, Biden stated, "I thought that was terrible, by the way." Couric asked, "Why did you do it then?" Biden replied, "I didn't know we did it and if I had naything to do with it, we would have never done it." And chugging down that high road, the Obama campaign unveils a new ad, as Wally and Cedric note, which deals with the very pressing 'issue' of what kind of cars GOP presidential nominee John McCain owns? He owns one car, by the way.
Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate and he writes (in US News & World Reports):
The broadcasts of the presidential debates this year will reach 60 million or more Americans. The array of candidates running includes two former members of Congress--Libertarian Bob Barr and Green Cynthia McKinney--as well as me, but viewers will see only two choices: a Democrat and a Republican. The rest of us are not invited.
Few voters likely know that the debate sponsor, the Commission on Presidential Debates, was created in 1987 by the two parties. Don't be fooled by its claim that its goal is to provide "the best possible information to viewers and listeners." Its purpose is to give the parties cover when they bar other legitimate candidates from debating.
Okay, time for action.
The first Presidential debate is Friday.
And we're getting stonewalled.
They won't let Ralph Nader into the Presidential debates.
So, here's what we're going to do. It's a two step process. Step one -- call Barack Obama. Tell Obama he should demand that Ralph Nader be included in the debates. And step two -- e-mail the Commission on Presidential Debates. And let them know you are onto their game. Here are the details.
Call Barack Obama at 866-675-2008.
Hit 6 to speak with a campaign volunteer.
Once connected, politely deliver the following message:
Hi, my name is ... I was wondering if Senator Obama, being a believer in equal opportunity and equal rights, could insist that Ralph Nader and other ballot qualified third party candidates be included in the upcoming Presidential debates? After all, Nader is on 45 state ballots. And he's polling well nationwide. And he could help Senator Obama challenge the corporate Republicans. True, Ralph would critique Senator Obama for his corporate ties also. But isn't that what democracy is about? Could you please leave this message for the campaign manager? Thank you.
E-mail Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Here's a sample e-mail:
Dear Janet Brown: Greetings. You must be busy. Preparing for the first Presidential debate this Friday. So, I won't take much of your time. Just wanted to let you know that the American people were not born yesterday. We know the deal. Take that little private corporation that you run. Controlled by the two corporate parties. And funded by big business. For the purpose of excluding independent minded candidates. Friday, two Wall Street candidates are scheduled to be in the ring. Barack Obama and John McCain. The one candidate who represents the American people, Main Street, if you will, will be on the outside looking in. So, here's a simple request. Drop your exclusionary restrictions. And let Ralph Nader into the debates. It will be good for your conscience. Good for the American people. (I believe it was The League of Women Voters that called your corporatized debates "campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity, and honest answers to tough questions.") And good for democracy. Let the American people have a real debate for once. Main Street vs. Wall Street. Thank you. Signed your name.
Onward to November
The Nader Team