Monday, January 12, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, January 12, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, Bully Boy rewrites history, Joe Biden goes to Iraq, PTSD remains in the news, and more. 
"Clearly putting a 'Mission Accomplished' on a aircraft carrier was a mistake," said the Bully Boy of the United States at the White House today in what he billed as "the ultimate exit interview."   That was a mistake, when he was asked to identify them, he threw that out.  The Iraq War itself?  "And when the history of Iraq is written," declared the ahistorical Bully Boy, "historians will analyze, for example, the decision on the surge.  The situation was -- looked like it was going fine and then violence for a period of time began to throw -- throw the progress of Iraq into doubt.  And rather than accepting the status quo and saying, oh, it's not worth it or the politics make it difficult or, you know, the party may end up being -- you know, not doing well in the elections because of the violence in Iraq, I decided to do something about it -- and sent 30,000 troops in as opposed to withdrawing.  And so that part of history is certain, and the situation did change."  What's certain is that he continues to misrepresent what was taking place (including Moqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire/truce) at that time. 
"Mission Accomplished," he wanted the world to know was a mistake.  Abu Ghraib, by contrast, was "a huge disappointment during the presidency."  Not a mistake, not a crime, just "a huge disappointment during the presidency."  He found also label the lack of WMDs in Iraq "a significant disappointment."  In fact, let's note that passage of his remarks -- and the question had been about mistakes: "There have been disappointments.  Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency.  Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment.  I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way."
Let's not.  Abu Ghraib isn't a disappointment, it is a WAR CRIME.  And the criminals were never punished because they went straight up the chain of command.  As for WMD -- what's one supposed to think about his statements today?  Presumably, he means that since he lied about WMD ahead of the illegal war, he's "disappointed" that none were found and that's due to the "rationale" for the illegal war.  But some will rightly point out that the construct of his response indicates he wishes WMD had been in Iraq.  In which case, that would have meant what for the US service members sent there?  Or is that more thinking than Bully Boy is capable of?
By the same token, he should have been forced to walk out his mistake a little further.  He said, "Clearly putting a 'Mission Accomplished' on an aircraft carrier was a mistake.  It sent the wrong message.  We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message."  He's referring to his May 2, 2003 padded-crotch strut across the USS Abraham Lincoln below a banner proclaiming, "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED." If the banner was a mistake, was it a mistake to blame others for it? Was it a mistake all along or just when he got caught out?  When did Bully Boy believe it became a mistake?  John Dickerson (Time magazine), November 1, 2003:
Asked at a news conference whether the "Mission Accomplished" banner had been prematurely boastful, the president backed away from it, saying it had been put up by the sailors and airmen of the Lincoln to celebrate their homecoming after toppling Saddam's regime.  
Not long afterwards, the White House had to amend its account. The soldiers hadn't put up the sign; the White House had done the hoisting. It had also produced the banner -- contrary to what senior White House officials had said for months. In the end, the White House conceded on those details, but declared them mere quibbles. The point was, they said, that the whole thing had been done at the request of the crewmembers. Even that explanation didn't sit well with some long-time Bush aides. "They (the White House) put up banners at every event that look just like that and we're supposed to believe that at this one it was the Navy that requested one?" asked a senior administration official. Others remember staffers boasting about how the president had been specifically positioned during his speech so that the banner would be captured in footage of his speech.
Mission Accomplished?   Reuters notes at multiple bombings in Baghdad today and that incoming US vice president Joe Biden has landed in Iraq.  We'll come back to that but first let's turn to peace news to wipe away the smell of the Bully Boy.  Military Familes Speak Out plans a February sixth through ninth action in DC entitled "The Change WE Need:"

President Elect Obama opposed the war in Iraq before it started, calling it a "dumb war." But he and his advisors have also said that they plan to spread the return of combat troops from that "dumb war" out over sixteen months and to keep tens of thousands of other troops on the ground in Iraq indefinitely.

So from February 6-9, MFSO will be traveling to Washington to bring the new President and new Congress the message that it is long past time to bring all our troops home from Iraq. The four days of events will include:

  • A teach-in on Capitol Hill featuring the voices of military families, veterans, and Iraqis, explaining the need for an immediate and complete end to the war in Iraq -- and the human impacts of continuing the occupation.
  • A march from Arlington National Cemetery to the White House.
  • Lobbying members of Congress to end the war in Iraq.
Watch for more details in the days to come!
March 21st, A.N.S.W.E.R. will be among those sponsoring the "Bring the Troops Home Now" March on the Pentagon:
Tragically, the criminal occupation of Iraq will not be over even by the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in March 2009. People around the world will be marching together on the sixth anniversary in the strongest possible solidarity with the people of Iraq demanding an end to the occupation of their country.  

Marking the sixth anniversary of the criminal invasion of Iraq, on March 21, 2009, thousands will March on the Pentagon to say, "Bring the Troops Home NOW!" We will also demand "End Colonial Occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Everywhere" and "Fund Peoples' Needs Not Militarism and Bank Bailouts." We will insist on an end to the war threats and economic sanctions against Iran. We will say no to the illegal U.S. program of detention and torture.  

To endorse the March 21 March on the Pentagon,
click here. To sign up to be a Transportation Organizing Center, click here.  

While millions of families are losing their homes, jobs and healthcare, the real military budget next year will top one trillion dollars--that's $1,000,000,000,000. If used to meet people's needs, that amount could create 10 million new jobs at $60,000 per year, provide healthcare for everyone who does not have it now, rebuild New Orleans, and repair much of the damage done in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost for the occupation of Iraq alone is $400 million each day, or about $12 billion each month.  

The war in Iraq has killed, wounded or displaced nearly one third of Iraq's 26 million people. Thousands of U.S. soldiers have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more have suffered severe physical and psychological wounds. The U.S. leaders who have initiated and conducted this criminal war should be tried and jailed for war crimes.  
On the topic of violence, Sunday the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldier died when an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle in eastern Baghdad at approximately 8 p.m. Jan. 10. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin."  Today the US military announced: "A U.S. Solder died as a result of a non-combat related injury near Samarra, Iraq Jan. 11. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin and release by the Department of Defense. The incident is under investigation." The death brings to 4225 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
Over 1.5 million Iraqis have died since the start of the illegal war.  Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing and a car bombing at eight this morning that claimed 3 lives and left ten people wounded, a Baghdad sticky bombing fifteen minutes later that claimed 1 life and left another person wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing forty-five minutes later which claimed 1 life and left three people wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing one hour later that wounded four people and, one hour later, a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed the lives of 3 Iraqi soldiers and left three people wounded.  Al Dulaimy also notes a Mosul sticky bombing targeting al-Hadbaa National List's Faris Sinjari -- they are among the political parties in Mosul competing for seats in the provincial elections scheduled for January 31st.  BBC has video on today's violence.
Moving to Iraqi politics but starting with a US example.  Willam Brockman Bankhead was the Speaker of the US House of Representatives for over four years.  He died unexpectably of a heart attack on September 15, 1940. (For those unfamiliar with Bankhead, he was the father of Tallulah Bankhead.)  The following day, Sam Rayburn became Speaker of the House.  The following day.  December 23rd, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was forced out of the Speakership of the Iraqi Parliament.  The week prior he had stated he was resigning.  He attempted to take that back but a large number wanted him gone as Speaker and had wanted him gone for some time with repeated public efforts to oust him.  It is now January 12th and they have still not appointed a new Speaker.  Today Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reports that the Parliament will address the issue on Saturday and they expect to continue discussing it.  Saturday -- when they do not expect to make a decision -- will be the 17th.  It will be almost one month later.  Repeating, when US House Speaker Bankhead unexepectedly died in office, he was replaced by Speaker Rayburn the next day.  Repeating, al-Mashhadani was wanted out by many (in the summer of 2006, believing whispers, the New York Times reported he would be out of the post shortly).  Despite all the planning to oust him, despite the fact that it was not a surprise, nearly a month later and they have yet to name a replacement.  Sam Dagher (New York Times) reported yesterday, "According to political agreements, his successor must be a Sunni Arab, as part of a codified effort to help Iraq's Sunni minority feel it has a voice in government. But disagreements over the choice led to more walkouts from the main Sunni political coalition, Tawafiq, on Saturday, weakening the bloc before crucial provincial elections scheduled for the end of January and raising the possibility of street protests by outraged Sunnis. The dispute may also keep Parliament from passing any legislation until a speaker is chosen and confirmed."   Kimi Yoshino and Ali Hameed (Los Angeles Times) added, "The defection came just a couple of weeks after five Sunni members from Mashadani's party, the National Dialogue Council, withdrew."
Meanwhile incoming US vice president Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad.  Or, as the New York Times puts it, "Bombings in Iraq as Biden Arrives."  The paper's Timothy Williams notes, "Mr. Biden met with the Iraqi president, Jjalal Talabani, according to Iraqi state television, but there were no accouncements regarding their content."  AFP quotes Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari stating, "President Talabani and I have met with him.  We discussed the latest developments in Iraq and the good progress that has been made.  He is aware that his new administration is facing a new reality."
"Under the leadership of Dr. James Peake, the Veterans Administration has shown callous disregard for the intense suffering of Veterans like my husband who are struggling with psychological injuries.  My husband has described his treatment at the hands of the Veterans Administration as frustrating and belittling -- and has been outraged at the dismissive attitude the leadership of the VA has demonstrated twoard the epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide plaguing veterans of the war in Iraq," says Military Families Speak Out's Stacy Hafley. We're focusing on PTSD again.  Underfunded and hidden away by the military culture.  JD Malone (Express-Times) reports on Afghanistan War veteran Rob Kislow: "A Taliban fighter blindsided the 19-year-old soldier from East Allen Township with three shots from a high-powered rifle.  He lost most of his right leg.  His right forearm is so reconstructed it feels like a steel pipe.  He kept the bullet that pierced the back of of his skill."  Malone's article includes this:
"The injury is nothing now," Kislow said, pointing to the side of his head, "it's the fight up here now." 
The fight Kislow speaks of is one with posttraumatic stress disorder, which afflicts almost one in five veterans of the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  
He said PTSD is a ghost: present at times, invisible at others.  He's learned to cope with not having a leg, and with the recovery from his brain injury. 
Jeff Schogol (Stars and Stripes) broke the story last week on the decision not to recognize PTSD as a wound eligible for the Purple Heart: "The matter came up in May, when a military psychologist at Fort Bliss, Texas, told reporters he felt that making troops suffering from PTSD eligble for the Purple Heart would help remove the disorder's stigma."  Schogol quoted Dr. John E. Fortunato stating, "These guys have paid at least a high -- as  high a price, some of them -- as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with shrapnel wound, and what it does is it says this is the wound that isn't worthy, and I say it is."  Justine Judge (CBS 3 -- link has text and video) reported Saturday on the Pentagon's decision and the reaction to it.  Judge spoke with MFSO's Kevin Lucey, father of Iraq War veteran Jeffrey Lucey who was butchered and neglected by what passes for mental 'health care' in the VA.  Lucey explained, "If anybody even questions how lethal or how damaging PTSD can be and whether its real we would invite them to go down to our son's grave."  Pentagon apologist Stephanie Salter (Terre Haute News) believes everything is as plain as her face: "No blood, no Purple Hearts."  Let's quote Kevin Lucey again, "Unless you see blood then it's not really a wound?  Well I can tell you the day that I found our son Jeff was bloody, on his arm and down his shoulders."  The CBS Evening News reported (link has text and video) on PTSD December 26th and noted, "There were 115 military suicides last year, and 93 through just August of this year."  Kimberly Dozier noted the military culture of denial and illustrated it with this: "Commanders at one army base posted a fake 'Hurt Feelings Report' -- portraying a crying cartoon face -- to moke soldiers seeking help for combat stress.  Selections on the form ncluded: 'I am a crybaby,' 'I want my mommy' and 'All of the above.' It was tacked on the barracks bulletin board, next to the sign-up sheet for the mental health clinic."    Stephanie Slepian (Staten Island Advance) reports, "Joseph Di Giovanni, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Father Capodanno Chapter, who lost a finger and took shrapnel in the eyes and chest during an ambush in Vietnam, believes the Pentagon should rethink its decision. . . . William Liell, a Korean War veteran and adjutant for the Capodanno Chapter, shares that view."  John E. Bircher III, Director of Public Relations of Military Order of the Purple Heart, disagrees and you can click here for his thoughts.
The Pentagon has decided that the disabled and damaged young people who return from war with post-traumatic stress disorder should not get the Purple Heart, which recognizes the sacrifice that soldiers have made. The Pentagon says this is because the wound is not physical and because the damage was not caused intentionally by the enemy.          
Those who say this live in unbelievable ignorance. They need a higher awareness of the nature of warfare today, and a better knowledge of medical science.           
Today the weapon of our enemy is "terror," and we have identified our enemies, the "terrorists," not by nation, but by their chief weapon of destruction and the damage it causes. PTSD is a result of contact with not only the enemy's terror, but with the bullets and bombs used to create it. PTSD is a tormenting, disabling condition, caused by direct contact with violent trauma. The enemies' destruction of us is certainly intentional, and the reality of our troops' psychological wounding is not up for debate.             
PTSD is well-documented, relatively easy to diagnose and clearly identified in the DSM-IV-R, the diagnostic manual used in behavioral medicine and psychiatry. In many cases, PTSD is much harder to recover from than other potentially crippling wounds. It most certainly deserves the Purple Heart. I've heard of people getting Purple Hearts for minor injuries; PTSD is a major one.       
Come on, you who want to lead our soldiers. Earn your leadership, or let more knowledgeable and wiser people take your place.
The Pentagon has decided that soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) do not deserve the Purple Heart. "PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event," Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez told Stars and Stripes. "It is not a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an 'outside force or agent.'" In short, the psychological wound does not merit the same medal the nation would award for a physical one; witnessing your buddy blown apart by a 107- mm rocket is not as significant as taking shrapnel from it.
Anyone who has kept an eye on the Bush administration's conduct of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and that's an ever-shrinking number of Americans -- would understand why the Pentagon wants nothing to do with Purple Hearts for PTSD. This isn't as much about upholding standards as it is about maintaining, in classic military style, the status quo in the face of overwhelming evidence that increasing numbers of troops are surviving combat but with severe psychological trauma.
According to RAND Corp. estimates, about 320,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan sustained brain injuries by 2007, while close to that number -- about 300,000 -- reported symptoms of PTSD or major depression. (An estimated 1.8 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The last thing an administration waging a long, costly and unpopular war wants is for the number of casualties from that war to run into the hundreds of thousands; that's far more Purple Hearts than budgeted. The Purple Heart ruling is in keeping with what Aaron Glantz, author of a new book on the neglect of veterans during the George W. Bush years, calls the official shortchanging of service members who were sent to fight.
"The Bush administration was never seriously interested in helping veterans," Mr. Glantz concludes in The War Comes Home. "The sorry state of care for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is not an accident. It's on purpose. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration fought every effort to improve care for wounded and disabled veterans. At the root of that fight was its desire to hide the true costs of the war in order to boost public support." And, says Mr. Glantz, rejecting PTSD claims is one way of making sufferers not only ineligible for benefits but also fit for multiple tours of duty, something vital to an all-voluntary military challenged to reach recruitment goals.
Glantz' book is due out January 15th.  In the 2004 presidential debates, Democratic Party nominee John Kerry rightly called Bully Boy out for not adequately funding the VA.  His thanks for that bit of truth telling was to be slammed by various outlets and to have the alleged "" dismiss his statements and call them false.  John Kerry was exactly right and anyone paying attention to the issue at that point would have seen (as Elaine did, she has always rightly noted that has blood on their hands) Senator Kerry was correct.  For those who are still living in denial, McClatchy's Joseph L. Galloway (Salt Lake Tribune) observed the p.r. efforts to make Bully Boy appear to have done something for the VA and offers the actual reality on what Bully Boy did:
Those who try to rewrite history credit Bush with increasing veterans' benefits and transforming veterans' health care. They claim that he instituted reforms in the care of wounded soldiers coming home from his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and expanded resources for mental health services for troops coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  
The truth is that Congress passed virtually every bill to spend more money on benefits for veterans over the opposition of the Bush administration. Reforms in the care of wounded soldiers came only after The Washington Post exposed the shameful warehousing of the recovering wounded at Walter Reed Army Hospital, less than five miles from the Oval Office. 
Even as the Iraq War dragged on and the numbers of severely wounded troops began rising sharply, Bush's Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, a former Republican National Committee chairman, was up on Capitol Hill delivering a budget with cuts in health-care staffing at VA and cuts in nursing home care. 
Nicholson, on White House orders, blocked four congressional attempts to streamline the VA's handling of a disgraceful six-month backlog in veterans benefit claims -- a backlog that's only grown worse in subsequent years.
We believe a more important issue is the troubling fact that many soldiers and veterans are waiting months, often years, for mental healthcare and disability benefits.   
What veterans need are pre- and post-deployment medical examinations as well as prompt and high-quality treatment without stigma. Congress ordered the military to conduct the deployment examinations in 1997, yet the military still refuses to perform the exams required by the Force Health Protection law, PL 105-85, Sections 761 - 771. Once again, VCS urges the DoD to follow the law.      
What the public needs are facts about PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) so discrimination against our veterans is mitigated. For example, the Department of Labor launched a new website that we highly recommend for employers and others interested in PTSD and TBI.
Turning to US political news, Senator Roland Burris has still not be seated.  Yesterday he spoke with Bob Schieffer on CBS' Face the Nation (link has text and video):
Roland Burris, the former Illinois Attorney General chosen by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill out Obama's term, said this morning that according to the Illinois State Supreme Court and by other constitutional authorities, the appointment was legal. 
Appearing on CBS' Face The Nation this morning, Burris also said that the documents he has submitted are in compliance with Senate Rules, and furthermore he complied with the requests of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois' senior Senator Dick Durbin to appear before the Illinois House of Representatives' impeachment committee to answer questions about Blagojevich.

Following a meeting between his attorneys and the Senate's lawyers, Burris said, "It is our position that we have done everything that's required, and that, yes, I should be seated forthwith, and I should be seated prior to the inauguration of our 44th president, a seat for which I now hold."  
"I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois. There is no question of my legality of appointment," Burris told host Bob Schieffer. "Illinois has two senators. That is the law. We have two senators."
Senator Burris has been made to jump through hoops unheard of (see Third's editorial yesterday).  This afternoon, John Nolan (CBS News) reported that Senator Burris' attorneys were "in the Secretary of the Senate's office".  Thomas Ferraro (Reuters) reports, "U.S. Senate officials on Monday approved Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, which would give Democrats 58 of the Senate's 100 seats, their biggest majority since 1981."  Evan Glass and Dana Bash (CNN) add:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois senior senator and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin said Monday that the Senate would accept the credentials of former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris. 
"The Secretary of the Senate has determined that the new credentials presented today on behalf of Mr. Burris now satisfy Senate Rules and validate his appointment to the vacant Illinois Senate seat. In addition, as we requested, Mr. Burris has provided sworn testimony before the Illinois House Committee on Impeachment regarding the circumstances of his appointment," the two said in a statement. 
"We have spoken to Mr. Burris to let him know that he is now the Senator-designate from Illinois and as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a Senator-elect," the statement said. "Accordingly, barring objections from Senate Republicans, we expect Senator-designee Burris to be sworn in and formally seated later this week. We are working with him and the office of the Vice President to determine the date and time of the swearing-in."