Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Treaty, corruption and Gulf War Syndrome officially exists

Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, a Democrat who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, warned that the agreement could subject American soldiers to Iraqi prosecution and complained that parts of the agreement would be left for joint committees to resolve in the future.
That, Mr. Skelton, said, could set the stage for future disputes between Iraq's increasingly assertive government and Aemrican diplomats and commanders.
"I do not believe it was wise to push off major decision about the legal protections U.S. troops would have in such cases or the crimes for which they could be charged," Mr. Skelton said. "I am also troubled by vague language in the agreement that will likely cause misunderstandings and conflict between the U.S. and Iraq in the future."

The above is from Campbell Robertson and Steven Lee Myers' "Iraqis and American Critics Of Security Pact Speak Up" in this morning's New York Times and here's the statement from Skelton on that:

For immediate release:
November 17, 2008 Contact:
Loren Dealy (HASC) 202-225-2539

Skelton Cautious on U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement
Oversight of SOFA's Implementation is Critical, Says Skelton

Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) released the following statement on the U.S.- Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which has been approved by the Iraqi Cabinet and will be sent to the Iraqi Parliament for ratification:

"The signing of the Status of Forces Agreement by Ambassador Crocker and Foreign Minister Zebari brings to a close the difficult and protracted negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq. Our negotiators have worked long hours over the last year to reach this agreement. The agreement contains some positive aspects. I am pleased that our troops will have the legal authority they need after January 1, and I am glad that the Administration has finally recognized the wisdom of setting deadlines for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.

"However, I am deeply troubled by the sections of the agreement that could result in U.S. troops facing prosecution in Iraqi courts. For example, I do not believe it was wise to push off major decisions about the legal protections U.S. troops would have in such cases or the crimes for which they could be charged. I am also troubled by vague language in the agreement that will likely cause misunderstandings and conflict between the U.S. and Iraq in the future. Should the Iraqi Council of Representatives pass the agreement, the House Armed Services Committee will closely monitor the agreement's implementation to ensure the protection of our men and women in uniform who have served and who continue to sacrifice on our behalf in Iraq."

Reuters reports that Ali Larijani, Iran's Speaker of Parliament, is decrying the treaty for "strengthening comprehensive U.S. hegemony in Iraq" while Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani released a statement today which includes: "The representatives of the Iraqi people in parliament must take on a big responsibility in this case and each must be up to this historic responsibility before God and the people."

The Times also features James Glanz and Riyadh Mohammed's "Premier Of Iraq Is Quietly Firing Fraud Monitors" on the front page (and it continues inside on A9) which covers al-Maliki's attempts to derail accountability and his efforts to promote corruption. A Congressional hearing is referred to by the authors. I believe that's the hearing held by the Democratic Policy Committee. It took place September 22nd and was covered in the Sept. 23rd snapshot and, from that, we'll note the chair's opening statement:

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 article provides specifics (including names) of inspectors who were run off and Stuart Bowen speaks on the record (the only US government official who does) and we'll note this section of the article:

Mr. Maliki's stance on oversight was most vividly illustrated by his long-running feud with Judge Rathi al-Rathi, the former head of the Commission on Public Integrity, an oversight agency created by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
After Mr. Rathi's corruption investigations repeatedly embarrassed the Maliki government, the prime minister's office supported corruption charges against Mr. Rathi himself. Mr. Rathi's backers considered the charges to be trumped-up.
Ultimately, Mr. Rathi was forced out and fled Iraq in the summer of 2007, saying he had received numerous threats to his life. He was recently granted asylum in the United States, said Chris King, a former United States Embassy official who was a senior adviser to the integrity commission.
Mr. King said there had been continual political interference in Mr. Rathi's investigations. When the commission or an inspector general built a case against an official, Mr. King said, frequently "that member of the Iraqi government would then go lobby the American ambassador and the prime minister."
The prime minister eventually replaced Mr. Rathi with Judge Rahim al-Ogaili. Mr. Muhsin, Mr. Maliki's anticorruption coordinator, said the judge was one of three cabinet-level officials serving on the committee that had recommended dismissing the inspectors general.

Also on corruption, Matt Kelley's "Banned firms got new U.S. contracts in Iraq" (USA Today) reveals that government suspensions (for bribery) really don't mean anything and companies can just continue to bid despite slaps on the wrists:

Contracting officers gave Lee Dynamics International a new contract in July 2007 despite warnings from military lawyers, according to a report issued by Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR). The Joint Contracting Command-Iraq did not return calls on why Lee Dynamics was awarded the new contract.
The new, one-year contract allowed Lee Dynamics to continue operating warehouses for the Iraqi security forces. Army Maj. Gloria Davis, who was involved in awarding the company's initial contract in 2005, killed herself in December 2006 after telling investigators that she took $225,000 in bribes from company founder George Lee, federal court records show. Another Army officer, Lt. Col. Levonda Selph, pleaded guilty last year to taking $9,000 in bribes.

David Goldstein's "Gulf War syndrome a real illness, panel concludes" (McClatchy Newspapers) notes the findings of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illness:

The report compared the foot-dragging and denials to the treatment of earlier troops who claimed that they'd been dangerously exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides in Vietnam and radiation during World War II.

Finally, Zach notes Steve Conn's "Where is Nader Country 2008?" (CounterPunch) on independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader:

With his typical Lou Gherig approach to civic engagement, Ralph Nader moved relentlessly through the fifty states, dragging along a new legion of twenty-something’s, who could barely keep up with his seven decades’ sprint, full of righteous indignation and a commitment to win votes for a progressive program ignored by the major party candidates. Boot camp for another generation of citizen activists was nearly over when I flew down to the 2008 Georgetown headquarters to check out his new crew, take their political temperatures and feel their pain. Sure enough, they had the look of combat veterans. I could only imagine what they had expected when invited on to the team and how bright and shiny they were then.. The grind of a Presidential campaign, weathering the attacks from armchair liberals who expect to be spoon fed progress without effort and Nader’s lead by example style had all done their jobs. Where else could these young adults experience this test of fire and a consistent demand that they use their own talents and initiative to make up for scant resources, while enduring consistent abuse by major party sycophants? The graduating classes of the 2000 and 2004 Presidential campaigns were already out there somewhere raising hell on other issues and other campaigns. Each campaign leaves this enduring residual legacy of new people who finally understand what Nader means when he challenges his audiences to act on their rights and duties as Public Citizens.
The staff was battle-hardened from an experience rare for their time and circumstance in America. No fire hoses in Birmingham had quickened their maturation Each drew on talents and strengths which while newly discovered by them, had been anticipated by Nader when he brought them on. Any organization could use Ralph Nader to vet its new hires. So could President-elect Obama.
The 2008 Ralph Nader campaign showed its verve in production of its video, photo art and web postings, all the work of the class of 2008. Funny and serious stuff. Now the graduates were ready to try their newly discovered strengths and talents to other places and take on other issues- once they got some rest. Nader, of course, was ready to plunge back into his normal grind. Plans were discussed among alumni to work within home Congressional districts.
People who think they matter are angry at Nader now as others were at Martin Luther King when he broadened his agenda to matters of the war and the inequities of economic class. The attacks on Nader are always personal. He has a personality defect that makes him speaking out instead of going with the flow, his critics content. Critics never complain explicitly that he is raising issues excised from the campaign debate of that moment by corporate funders and party operatives, pre-screened, you might say. That he is off script. That would be too honest. Progressives from the old days who broke with the 2000 and 2004 campaigns have only admitted privately in later years that their patrons demanded these public breaks with Ralph Nader and they meekly complied, throwing Nader under the bus as Obama did his pastor. Again, they never say that Nader campaign is bringing up issues not to be talked about except in smaller, liberal circles in nostalgic moments. While Nader demands, like clockwork, a repeal of the Taft -Hartley Act of 1947 in every Presidential run, union membership is in single digits and union demands for card checks as an organizing tool are all that’s left in labor’s collective memory of an organized labor movement before Taft-Hartley. But some of the graduates from the 2000 campaign are ensconced in the labor movement and have memories longer than their ages. So their time will come to press for more. Others from the 2000 and 2004 campaigns worked for Obama and the Greens or now focus on issue advocacy. They work on single payer health care or variants of the Equal Rights Amendment, the sleeping giant. Alumni are everywhere with their Nader campaign experience not always listed on their resumes, but imprinted indelibly on their psyches.

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