Friday, October 03, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Friday, October 3, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, Rosa Clement (Green Party) and Matt Gonzalez (independent) take part in a vice presidential debate this morning, Sarah Palin (Republican) and Joe Biden (Democrat) took part in a vice presidential debate last night, what got signed in Iraq today?, and more.
Megan Feldman (Dallas Observer) notes the suicides of war veterans Andrew Valez, Ted Westhusing, Nils Aron Andersson, Jeff Lucey, Derek Henderson and Chad Barrett and explains:
A series of recent reports reveals that record numbers of active-duty troops are committing suicide, raising concerns about the military's ability to adequately screen, diagnose and treat soldiers with mental health problems. 
An Army report released in May showed that at least 115 soldiers killed themselves in 2007, the highest rate since the Army began keeping records in 1980.  One of the officials to present the study cited extended and multiple deployments, frequent exposure to "horrifying" experiences and easy access to loaded weapons.  
This year's suicide tally among active-duty troops -- 62 confirmed and 31 other deaths still under investigation -- is on pace t surpass last year's and push the rate of suicides per 100,000 service members above that of the civilian population for the first time ever, Army officials announced in early September. 
The reports follow the controversy that enveloped the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this year when the agency was caught deliberately hiding high suicide rates among veterans.  An e-mail to colleagues from Ira Katz, the VA's head of mental health, began "Shh!" and estimated the unreleased number of suicide attempts at 1,000 per month.  "Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" he wrote.  That was after the agency told CBS there were just 790 suicide attempts in all of 2007.  After a three-month investigation, the network reported "a hidden epidemic" of suicides among veterans, especially the youngest ones who had served most recently.
In November of last year, CBS News aired a story entitled 'Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans.'  On April 21, 2008, CBS News aired a story 'VA Hid Suicide Risk, Internal E-mails Show.'  The reports (Armen Keteyian reported and Pia Malbran was the producer of the reports) were noted in an May 6th hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee entitled "The Truth About Veterans' Suicides."  The chair of the committee is US House Rep Bob Filner who pointed to these reports in his opening states and reminded Dr. Ira Katz (one of the witnesses appearing before the hearing) that not only had CBS News reported on this after being misled by the VA in November, but that Katz had told Congress in December 2007 that "from the beginning of the war through the end of 2005 there were 144 known suicides among these new veterans." Katz' e-mail that Feldman refers to in her report was replied to by Ev Chasen (VA's chief communication director) who declared, "I think this is something we should discuss ourselves, before issuing a release.  Is the fact that we're stopping them good news, or is the sheer number bad news?  And is this more than we've ever seen before?  It might be something we drop into a general release about suicide prevention efforts, which (as you know far better than I) prominently include training employees to recognize the warning signs of suicide."
In July, the VA was stated that their suicide hotiline had received calls from more than 22,000 veterans (the number is 1-800-873-TALK).  And, apparently keeping Ev Chasen's words in mind ("Is the fact that we're stopping them good news, or is the sheer number bad news?") declared that their work had prevented 1,221 suicides.
The May 6th hearing would include testimony from Dr. Roger Maris (University of South Carolina) where he would note that "the vast majority of VA facilities, in fact, do not have suicide coordinators."  Monday Mike Mount (CNN) reported, "The U.S. Army is establishing a suicide prevention board to examine the mental health of its recruiters around the country after the fourth suicide in three years by Houston, Texas-based recruiters, according to Army officials.  The board will look at how to handle the high-stress climate facing recruiters who may be both under pressure from their job and victims of post-combat deployment stress, according to Douglas Smith, a spokesman from the U.S. Army Recruiting command." CNN refers to a recent suicide in the article and states they've chosen not to name the victim.  AP reports there were two recent ones (Staff Sgt. Larry G. Flores Jr in August and Sgt 1st Class Patrick G. Henderson in September) "from the same Houston-based battalion" for a total of five from that battalion.  Linsay Wise (Houston Chronicle) quotes Texas Tech's psychology chair David Rudd stating, "Clearly, there's a problem.  Somebody needs to look and see if there's a broader national problem outside of this one battalion.  Is it a problem placing these combat veterans in recruiting positions?" Wise also notes that US Senator John Cornyn has asked the Secretary of the Army "for a briefing on the ongoing investigation and on the policy of returning soldiers from combat and reassigning them to a recruiting office."
Today Kathlyn Stone (Twin Cities Daily Planet) reports on the work of Penny Coleman who runs PTSD workshops (and states, "It's not a disorder, it's an injury") including one in August at the Veterans For Peace conference and notes, "The VA is in denial about PTSD contributing to the high suicide rate of combat veterans, she says, adding that official counts aren't accurate. Speaking of Vietnam vets, Coleman said, 'There are more suicides than names on the [Vietnam Memorial] wall.' Veterans For Peace members agree that the United States must be better prepared to provide not only care for physical wounds but also better mental health support for soldiers now serving or just returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Coleman cited figures released by CBS News documenting over 6,256 military suicides in 2005."  At the start of the week John C. Bersia (McClatchy-Tribune) observed, "Most Americans are familiar with the official Iraq toll -- as of last week, 4,169 U.S. dead, along with a several hundred from allied nations.  Missing from that list, though, are Americans who fulfilled their duties and returned home unable to cope with the complexities of life after Iraq, often compounded by post-traumatic stress disorder.  One such person died last week; his name was Dominic D.H. Pritchard, a resident of Ovideo, Fla.  He was a U.S. Marine, a student, a citizen-soldier who volunteered with the Florida Army National Guard because of his desire to serve his community in times of clamity, and an emerging writer with a particular passion for history, military affairs and art."
Meanwhile retired Army Col and retired US State Dept Ann Wright pens a column for The Fayetteville Observer:
As a former army officer who once served proudly at Fort Bragg, I'll be returning here Wednesday. I'm going to join in a commemoration of the deaths of three military women, and the suffering of the many other victims of military-related domestic violence and sexual assault.     
The commemoration will start with a vigil at the Yadkin Road gate of Fort Bragg at 11 a.m. The vigil will be followed by a luncheon-discussion at 12:30 p.m. at the Quaker House and conclude with a wreath-laying at the grave of another victim of military spousal homicide.  
We invite the military and civilian communities of Fayetteville and Jacksonville to join us.   
We'll be especially mindful of the three women soldiers who were murdered in this area in the first six months of this year, allegedly by male GIs: Army Spc. Megan Touma, who was seven months pregnant; Fort Bragg nurse 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc; and Marine Lance Corp. Maria Lauterbach, who had been raped and also was pregnant.   
And AP is reporting that arrrests have been made in the death of Sgt Christina E. Smith ("the third off-post killing of a Fort Bragg servicewoman in four months") -- her husband, Sgt. Richard Smith, is "charged with first-degree and conspiracy to commit murder" and "Pfc. Matthew Kvapil, 18, faces the same charges, and [Theresa] Chance [spokesperson for Fayetteville police] said he was hired by Smith to kill the wife as the couple walked together Tuesday evening."
In Iraq today . . . confusion.  Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that the presidency council "has agreed to approve a long-delayed law that will allow most of the country to hold provincial elections early next year, officials said Friday." However, China's Xinhua reports that the "presidential council had not approved the provincial election law passed by the parliament, local media reported Friday." Al Jazeera does not say that they have agreed to pass it, Al Jaezeera states that it is passedAP also states it has passed and, in fact, signed into law by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani: "Firyad Rawndouzi, a Kurdish lawmaker, told The Associated Press that the three-member panel led by President Jalal Talabani had signed the law Friday and asked the parliament 'to solve the minorities problem'."  Article 50 issue was never addressed.  It is the one that has been called out by everyone from Iraqi Christians to Moqtada al-Sadr and puts minority representation at risk.  Nouri al-Maliki did express some public statements and there is said to have been concern on the part of the presidency council.  But if it's signed, it's the law.  The Parliament can try to fix it but the law is what was signed by Talabani.
Erica Goode and Mohammed Hussein (New York Times) report on Samarra and among the details provided by the reporters is that the reconstruction of Askairya Shrine (after the 2007 bombing) is not only expensive (expected to cost $8 million), the reconstruction is being done "without blueprints." Samara, like everywhere in Iraq, suffers from the same problems: "few jobs available, that the water is not potable, that the electricity is intermittent at best, that they have not received their pensions and that there are shortages of medicine."  At Baghdad Bureau Blog (the paper's blog) Mohammed Hussein has written of the journey taken to report that story and notes, "The Awakening and National Police and Iraqi army all manned different checkpoints. It took one and a half hours to drive only 70 miles. There was some risk along the whole journey, but during the 90-minute drive I was really worried for only five minutes, near Meshahda. Five minutes can be a big deal."  Hussein shares impressions of all the areas they traveled through, by the way. 
Wednesday, the US 'handed over' the "Awakening" Councils to the puppet government in Baghdad.  Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor) reports today: "Fresh concern is washing over Iraq of a new wave of insurgent violence as the bands of mainly Sunni Muslim Iraqis, trained, armed and paid by the US military to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq are now coming under the control of a skeptical Shiite-led government.  While the group called the Sons of Iraq (SOI) has been critically imporant in improving security, the US military and many leaders within the SOI worry that their foot soldiers -- many of them ex-insurgents -- will simply return to their old ways if they are not paid or brought into Iraq's official security forces."  The Charleston Post and Courier editorializes on the same topic, expresses similar concerns and notes: "Doubts about the ability of the two sides to quickly develop a satisfactory relationship is a major reason why the Pentagon on Wednesday announced plans for sending additional forces to Iraq next year. The reinforcements, if needed, would maintain U.S. troop strength in Iraq at the present level of about 152,000 through 2009."  Meanwhile UPI reports on the female branch of "Awakening" (also called Daughters of Iraq) and states that "is taking on a new role under U.S. financing as part of the counterinsurgency strategy there, officials said."  They are paid 20% less than males and that wage discrimination was put in place by the White House.  On the issue of counter-insurgency, Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus (Washington Post) report on the US Defense Department's latest contracts ("up to $300 million") which will "produce news stories, entertainment programs and public service advertisements" in Iraq aimed at Iraqis in a program called "information/psychological operations" that is part of the counter-insurgency strategies.  The US has a lengthy history of attempting to use the media within Iraq to propagandize to the Iraqi people.  For an earlier effort, you can refer to Borzou Daragahi and Mark Mazzetti (Los Angeles Times) explaining the process in 2005 which noted the US military penned articles and that many were then "presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists.  The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounced insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country."
It's Friday so little violence gets reported but some of today's violence includes:.
Reuters notes a Sulaiman Pek roadside bombing which resulted in two people being injured.
Today the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Center Soldier was killed when an improvised explosive device exploded near his vehicle south of Amarah Oct. 2."  That is the first announced death for the month and brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq to 4177 since the start of the illegal war. 
JUAN GONZALEZ: Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Biden, talking about the war in last night's debate. Rosa Clemente, Green Party vice-presidential nominee, what's your viewpoint on the war?

ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, the Green Party's viewpoint -- and Cynthia has been very clear, and the party has been very clear -- an immediate end to the war, an immediate withdrawal of troops in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.  And, you know, one thing Cynthia agrees with a former colleague of hers, Dennis Kucinich, is that we now have to talk about creating departments of peace. And we have to also talk about withdrawing troops wherever they reside in other people's homelands. I always found it interesting -- or, you know, the fact that we, as the United States government, and we, as the people in this country, allow our military to be placed in other people's homelands. And being from Puerto Rico, I'm very clear on why the military does what it does. But we would never allow another country to have a military base there.  And that might be a little simplistic kind of thing to throw out there, but I also think it speaks to the way we want to move forward in the future. And I don't think that either party is planning on ending the war. I think that the Democrats are more about transferring troops to Afghanistan and potentially preparing for a war in Pakistan. And even yesterday, Joe Biden talked about the possibility of putting troops in in Darfur. And I think that's something that we have to say immediately is unacceptable and that the majority of young people in this country have been clear for the last five years that we want an end to the war right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Independent vice-presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez?

MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I certainly -- and Ralph Nader supports getting our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan immediately. I think the problem with a lot of the rhetoric that we're hearing is that if you concede that the surge is working, which we do not concede--but the moment you do that, you are going to run into a problem with the so-called timetable. Are the Democrats going to stick to a timetable if, as they start to draw down troops, there's increased sectarian violence? And I think the answer to that is really unclear, and probably no. I think the only way that we can successfully get out of this country is if, at the outset, we make it clear we're going to -- we're going to work quickly to get our troops out of the region, that we're part of the reason why the region remains unstable.
And we'll also note this section of the debate:
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Gonzalez, I know you have to leave, so I'm going to give you the first stab at this, as you catch a plane. And also, a correction: in 2004, yes, Ralph Nader was an Independent candidate, as well. He was, 2000, the Green Party candidate. Your comment on same-sex marriage?

MATT GONZALEZ: Well, obviously, Nader and I support marriage rights for all. I think it's insulting to hear these candidates want it both ways. They're essentially trying to appeal to both conservative voters who are opposed to gay marriage and somehow also appeal to progressive voters who want to see equality.  You know, I think Ralph Nader, you know, when you step back and look at his history, he is somebody who is an enormously important voice against the growing corporate greed in this society and what concentrated capital does when it's left alone. And I think he's not somebody who has decided to fight against the two parties. You know, he has, his entire life, been fighting against these parties -- it's not a recent conversion -- on a host of issues.  And I think he should have been in this debate. I think he has a legislative record that's stronger than the candidates that we saw in that debate. I mean, Joe Biden should have been asked about his support of credit card companies in Delaware, of the federal sentencing guidelines that he helped pass in the 1980s that, you know, has disproportionately hurt people of color. These were things that were absent. And I think if Rosa and I had been in that debate, it would have been a better debate.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Rosa Clemente, your perspective on gay marriage?

ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, full 100 percent equal rights for everybody. I also take it a step further for it being about human rights. LGBT people are human beings, and they have a right, like anyone else, to get married, to get divorced, to not get married.  But if I could just quickly just say, yes, Cynthia did leave the Democratic Party after twelve years, but while she was in there, it was Cynthia McKinney that had a hearing on the issue of political prisoners, the first-ever congressional hearing on that. It was Cynthia that pushed the envelope about what happened on 9/11. It was Cynthia that wrote the articles of impeachment.  And I think that speaks highly to someone who will leave a party, finally, based on principles and values and then pick someone that truly represents what the majority of this country is going to look like. I think if me and Matt were on there, and if Cynthia, Bob Barr, [Chuck] Baldwin, Ron Paul and Ralph Nader were allowed to debate, the presidency on November 4th would look radically different and would represent the majority of American people.
Green Party presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney  took the "super pledge" Thursday:
I, Cynthia McKinney, pledge to use my candidacy, whenever feasible, to advance the preservation of democracy. I will officially challenge the results of the election as provided by law if the combination of election conditions, incident reports and announced election results calls into question the reliability of the official vote count. I will wait until all valid votes are counted and all serious challenges resolved before declaring victory or conceding defeat. I will involve my campaign volunteers in actions to enhance the accuracy and verifiability of the election in which I am a candidate. I will speak out publicly during the pre-election period about the importance of fair, accurate and transparent elections and about this pledge. I will designate a liaison between my campaign and "Standing For Voters" so that "Standing For Voters" can alert me to any red flags they are aware of regarding my election.
Meanwhile independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader weighs in on the economic bailout.  Click here for his post before the House voted today (it passed)  and here were his thoughts prior to vote:
People often ask me -- what forces shaped you, Ralph? 

I reply simply: 

"A lucky choice of parents." 

Among other things, my parents passed down many traditions. 

Traditions that were handed down from generations before them. 

Traditions that served as a counterweight to the addictions. 

And fads. 

And technologies. 
Of modern life. 

Traditions such as:  

The tradition of listening. 

The tradition of scarcity.  

The tradition of discipline. 

And the tradition of civics. 

A couple of years ago, I sat down at my manual Underwood typewriter and wrote a book titled The Seventeen Traditions (Harper Collins, 2007). 

It's about growing up in my hometown of Winsted, Connecticut (above is a picture of me standing next to my mother Rose). 

And it details the seventeen traditions of my youth. 

It's the only book that I've written that everybody loves. 

When you get a copy, you'll know why. 

Flipping through a copy of the book the other day, I asked myself --  

If the majority in this Congress was governed by the traditions that we grew up with in the New England of my youth -- wouldn't they have acted to prevent Wall Street's "sustained orgy of excess and reckless behavior" -- as Richard Fisher, the president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank put it last week? 
Surely they wouldn't then turn around and reward that behavior with a $750 billion bailout? 

By now you know that McCain, Obama and Bush all support the bailout. 

And Nader/Gonzalez are opposed. 

And we again urge all members of the House to vote against the bailout today. 
But no matter how the House votes today, Nader/Gonzalez will be barnstorming the country in October. 

Putting front and center our platform of shifting the power from the corporations back into the hands of the American people. 

We're on the ballot in 45 states and the District of Columbia. 

We've deployed a contingent to each state to coordinate our get out the vote drive.
And we're raising money to drive the campaign home to election day. 

But we need to raise $1,000,000 in October to get it done. 

Our first October goal is to raise $250,000 by October 12. 

Yes, that's a heavy lift.  

But it's been heavy before, and you've come through every time. 

So, here's the idea:

If you donate $17, or $170, or $10, or $50 -- whatever you can afford to donate -- by midnight tonight, we'll e-mail to you tomorrow a signed one pager listing the 17 traditions.
You can share it with your friends and family.

Or just stick it in your drawer for posterity's sake.

If you
donate $100 now, we will send you a copy of the 150-page hard cover edition of The Seventeen Traditions -- my favorite book.

And I'll autograph it.

In my humble opinion, this book makes a
wonderful present -- for the upcoming holidays, as a wedding present, birthday present, Mother's Day present, or for a baby shower. (This Seventeen Traditions book offer expires on October 12, 2008 at 11:59 p.m.)

So, stock up now.

The more the merrier.

The proceeds will power our campaign during this momentous October.

Thank you again for your generous support.

Together, we are making a difference.

Onward to November
Thursday night, Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden debated. The John McCain - Sarah Palin campaign issued this statement regarding the debate:


Statement From Communications Director Jill Hazelbaker  

ARLINGTON, VA -- McCain-Palin 2008 Communications Director Jill Hazelbaker issued the following statement on tonight's Vice Presidential Debate:  
"Tonight, Governor Palin proved beyond any doubt that she is ready to lead as Vice President of the United States. She won this debate, putting Joe Biden on defense on energy, foreign policy, taxes and the definition of change. Governor Palin laid bare Barack Obama's record of voting to raise taxes, opposing the surge in Iraq, and proposing to meet unconditionally with the leaders of state sponsors of terror. The differences between the Obama-Biden ticket and the McCain-Palin ticket could not have been clearer. The American people saw stark contrasts in style and worldview. They saw Joe Biden, a Washington insider and a 36-year Senator, and Governor Palin, a Washington outsider and a maverick reformer. Governor Palin was direct, forceful and a breath of fresh air."

The McCain - Palin campaign also quotes Geraldine Ferraro, the first women to make the ticket of one of the country's two major parties (1984, the Democratic ticket of Mondale - Ferraro).  Ferraro stated on NBC: "I really wanted her to get up there and do a good job, and I think she did. . . . I think it was a good evening for -- certainly for Governor Palin. . . . . I think she showed she is certainly capable of going toe to toe with a man who is more than qualified to be vice president, if not president of the United States."
Quickly, TV notes,  NOW on PBS offers a look at New Mexico which is seen as a battleground state in the 2008 election and speak to various voting groups as well as to Governor Bill Richardson.  Washington Week finds Gwen sitting around the table with four journalists including the AP's Charles Babington. (And for others, 'journalists' is being generous.) In a book note, independent journalist David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which came out last month.  The Oakland Institute notes: "Since NAFTA's passage in 1993, the U.S. Congress has debated and passed several new trade agreements - with Peru, Jordan, Chile, and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. At the same time it has debated immigration policy as though those trade agreements bore no relationship to the waves of displaced people migrating to the U.S., looking for work.  Meanwhile, a rising tide of anti-immigrant hysteria has increasingly demonized those migrants, leading to measures that deny them jobs, rights, or any pretense of equality with people living in the communities around them. To resolve any of these dilemmas, from adopting rational and humane immigration policies to reducing the fear and hostility towards migrants,  Uprooted: The Impact of Free Market on Migrants a new Backgrounder from the Oakland Institute, suggests the starting point has be an examination of the way U.S. policies have both produced migration and criminalized migrants."