Wednesday, April 29, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad is rocked with multiple bombings, Congress takes testimony on TRICARE, the United Nations voices grave concerns for Iraqi women, an attack leaves a US soldier wounded in Iraq, Steven D. Green's trial for War Crimes continues, and more.
Baghdad was rocked by bombings today. Two (Los Angeles Times, Reuters and Albawaba) or three (BBC, UPI, McClatchy, Xinhua, Washington Post) car bombings exploded in Baghdad's Sadr City. CNN reports the death toll from the Sadr City bombings (they say three) is "at least 45 people" with sixty-eight more injued. Xinhua explains, "The incident occurred in the afternoon when three booby-trapped cars parked at different popular marketplaces in Sadr City neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, detonated simultaneously, the source said." BBC notes, "The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says the attacks are the kind of provocation, blame on militant Sunni Islamists, which triggered and fuelled a deadly spiral of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007." Liz Sly and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) report, "Survivors of the carnage turned their wrath on the security forces, hurling bottles and bricks at the police and army troops until the soldiers fired in the air to disperse the crowd." Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) provides this context, "The attack was the deadliest in Sadr City since the Iraqi army wrested control of the impoverished Shiite district from militias last May." He also notes Iraqi police claim "the defused three other car bombs shortly after the blasts." Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) observes, "The attacks are the latest sign that security gains here are beginning to reverse. Large-scale bombings targeting civilians have been on the rise since March." Reilly points out that over 200 people have died in Baghdad this month thus far and the last time McClatchy shows that happening was March of last year.
In other violence, Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad car bombing left five people injured and two Baghdad car bombings which claimed 2 lives and left eight injured (this is in addition to the Sadr City bombings which they also note), a New Mosul roadside bombing which wounded two, a grenade attack in Kirkuk on US forces which resulted in two Iraqi civilians being shot and four more wounded. CNN cites US Maj Derrick Cheng stating that the US military had been "working with local police to provide micro-grants" when the attack took place and Cheng states 2 "attackers" were dead with two more injured as well, according to Cheng, one US soldier wounded. Reuters adds that Diyala Province roadside bombings claimed the lives of 3 Iraqi soldiers (two also left injured) and 2 Mosul roadside bombings (this is in addition to the New Mosul one) resulted in the death of 1 police officer and five Iraqi civilians being injured. Going with CNN's 45 dead in Sadr City, that would mean at least 53 reported deaths in Iraq today. Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) notes 41 is the death toll in Sadr City according to the political party website of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Alsumaria quotes US Brig Gen David Quantock stating that the increase in violence is not due to the release of Iraqi prisoners from US prisons in Iraq.
According to US Major Cheng, one US soldier was wounded today. We'll use that to jump over to a US Congressional hearing this morning. "Today, the Military Personnel Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the organization of the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs," stated Subcommittee Chair Susan Davis calling the hearing to order. Of Health Affairs/TRICARE Management Activity, she noted "we are clearly dealing witha different model than the rest of the Department. We do not know if that is good-different, bad-different, or just different. It is therefore important for us to examine this structure so that we may understand exactly how the organization operates and how that impacts care for our men and women in uniform and isn't really that the bottom line here that we're seeking?" (Click here for US House Rep Susan Davis' opening statement, non-PDF format -- but not that I'm quoting her remarks and they're not word for word the prepared statement.) Joe Wilson is the Ranking Member on the Committee and his opening remarks included noting, "General George Washington and the Continental Congress understood the necessity of good medical care during the fight for our independence. After suffering a sizeable number of casulities from disease, the Continental Congress established the medical department of the Army in July 1775. Washington then appointed the first Director General and Chief Physician of the Hospital of the Army." That was Dr. Benjamin Church -- a poor choice who was replaced by Dr. John Morgan. Church was a poor choice? He was a spy for the British. Wilson didn't go into that or name Church, I'm just tossing it in as historical trivia and wouldn't have known it if the office of a Dem House Rep hadn't told me after the hearing (when I asked about the trivia). Other triva included that it is "Surgeons General" and not "Surgeon Generals" when you are dealing with the plural. US House Rep Vic Snyder asked and established that.
Appearing before the subcommittee were the following: Acting Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness Gail H. McGinn (DoD, -- PDF formart warning -- here for her opening statement), Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Health Affairs (DOD -- PDF format warning, here), Lt Gen Eric Schoomaker (Army Surgeon General, PDF format warning, here), Vice Admiral Adam Robinson (Navy Surgeon General, PDF format warning, here), Lt Gen James G. Roudebush (Air Force Surgeon General, PDF format warning, here) and Maj Gen Elder Granger (DoD's Deputy Director TRICARE Management Activity, PDF format warning, here). It was Granger's last appearance before the committee who is retiring. From the opening statements, we'll note one section that is of interest and is not in the prepared remarks.
Lt Gen Eric Schoomaker: In a nutshell, the MHS [Military Health System] exist to support war fighters on the battlefield, the Direct Care System exist to deliver military readiness, Private Sector Care supports and fills the gaps in the Direct Care System. If form is to follow function then the MHS should be optimally organized to suport the Direct Care System. I don't believe this is always the case. For example in the budgeting process, Private Sector Care forecasts are considered must pay while Direct Care System estimates are considered "unfunded requirements." The Department's priority has been to fund the Private Sector Care at 100% of projected requirements while many of our Direct Care System needs are not addressed until year end when overforecasted PSC funding becomes available for distribution to the Direct Care System. Since Private Sector Care is often over-programmed , they return money to the MHS and they're seen as "cost containing." Our Direct Care System health care bills are always after the fact and are seen as "cost overruns." This resourcing construct appears to prioritize Private Sector Care over the Direct Care System.
Most veered from their prepared remarks (Robinson brought up San Antonio, for example) but Schoomaker's veer went to the issues raised in the hearing.
To cut down on the "gobbledeegook," US House Rep Vic Snyder gave the witnesses examples so they could speak in specifics.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: The first example is a special-needs kid which I think some of us have talked about before. General Schoomaker, you talked about supporting our war fighters overseas and I think nothing creates more heart ache for our folks overseas than if they have a special-needs kid and the kid is not getting the kind of care that they think they need while they're at a military facility some place. So let's take a kid with either insulin-dependant diabetes or autism or something that requires a fairly intensive amount of help. The second example might be that I think a lot of us have run into over the last several years would be a somebody in the reserve component who is mobolized for active duty for a period of 18 months or so, so there family then goes into the military health care system but may be geographically living in a place, not near a base, not near providers who are used to dealing with TRICARE. So what I would like each of you to do -- and just tell me if I'm off base. It may be the tensions that we were talking about, which you all were discussing, have nothing to do with those examples but how does what you're talking about relate specifically to our men and women and the care that they give and if these are a couple of examples where it may -- it may give you an opportunity to describe how the tension may relate to the actual care that men and women and their families get?
Lt Gen Eric Schoomaker: Well candidly, sir, from my perspective, both of the cases -- and I'll be interested in hearing what my colleagues have to say -- both of those cases I think are not necessarily confounded by the tensions that we're creating here. In fact, I think that both of them in many cases are a tribute to the far-sightedness and the vision of setting up a TRICARE system as we did 15 years or so ago. In the case of special-needs kids, we have an extraordinary generous benefit which is fairly uniformly applied and, in fact, I think it's resulted in -- in the military health care system being one of the elements of a family's decision with a special-needs child to stay in uniform. So I would have to say that doesn't necessarily -- I don't see my role in executing these programs as being interfered with in any way, shape or form in taking care of special-needs kids. I would have to say the same about the mobilized reserve component -- National Guard and Reserves -- many of whom come from places in this country where we don't have a robust Direct Care System: central Idaho, parts of Montanna, Wyoming. We don't have large, robust medical centers and health services systems. And so having an effective Purchase Care System and a Managed Care Support Contractor that is reaching out and providing care to those families is, I think, that again reflects the far sightedness of a well executed TRICARE program. I'm not taking away from any of that part of it.
Vice Admiral Adam Robinson: I would come at this a little differently. I don't completely disagree with General Schoomaker but I think that the autism and the insulin-dependent diabetic do come into play in this regard. Often -- first of all, the private sector care, the network care and the direct care can both play here. Let's take 29 Palms, I'll just take a Marine Corps base in southern California, very remote location. I'm not going to be able to get network care there. It's going to have to be direct care. It's going to have to be uniform care. Now when I say "I can't get it," there are people that will go there but that's very difficult so I have places in this country that are very difficult to, in fact, get network care. That means I need it in uniform [care]. However, very often there's also been -- and I don't want to get caught in the mire of the gobbledeegook -- but there's also thoughts that very often we on the direct care side and uniform should be be there for very specialized war fighting activities that make us incredibly essential for the battle and for the things that the military system in fact, was built to do. But, in fact, in 2009 we have taken on added responsibilities which include garrison and family care. So my question then is I need pediatric endocrinologists as much as I need trauma surgeons but it may be difficult sometimes to, in fact, get there because of how we have, in fact, looked at what we think we should get from the war fighting versus the non-war fighting situations. Now I'm not suggestiong to you that anyone's denying the Navy or the other services pediatric endocrinologists. I'm just simply saying that there is a tension that does exist because of some thoughts and some assumptions made as to how we really should in fact divy up our uniform versus our network. I'd like to add just one other thing. I'm not going to comment on the reserve component. I think that General Schoomaker's answer is -- would be mine also. I'd only like to say, overseas with our EDIS -- exception developmental instructional programs and also our exceptional family member programs this is also the case because overseas we're not able to, in fact, engage in that war care so if I don't have it -- if I can't either contract it to bring it or if I don't have it in uniform, it's much more difficult to get. And those are just challenges that I must look at. I'm not suggesting that anyone's keeping me from getting there but these are the challenges from an SG's perspective that I must look at.
Lt Gen James G. Roudebush: Congressman, I think you raise a point that really brings out the essence of what we're talking about this morning. There is a role and relationship and it's not "either/or" it's "and." For us in uniform there are in fact places where we are going to need to have in uniform speciality capabilities for family members because family care is mission impact. When our men and women are in harm's way, if they're not confident their families are fully cared for, they will not be focused on what's in front of them and that has mission impact. So family care plays directly into the mission. For us, TRICARE gives us that wrap-around in those circumstances where we may not have the capability readily available for our reserves in areas where we don't have a facility availabe for example. Or for special-needs youngsters, we may not have that readily available within the uniform service. TRICARE gives us that wrap-around capability. And, quite frankly, when you get to speciality care for our youngsters that is rather expensive to make and sustain in uniform. And the more cost-effective solution and clinically effective solution in many circumstances is in fact a contract for that capability and that care through the private sector TRICARE. So it's not "either/or," it's "and" and finding the right balance, each of us within our roles, to get that mission accomplished. So I think you do raise an intersection that's critically important for us to get right.
Subcommittee Chair Susan Davis: Thank you, I'm going to move on. Ms. Tsongas?
US House Rep Niki Tsongas: Thank you. I'm enjoying this testimony and I have to say much of this as a new member as a relatively new member, much of it is new to me. I have to say, many years ago as a child of the Air Force, I needed a very delicate eye surgery and I was in an Air Force hospital in Langley Air Base and then subsequently at Tachikawa Air Base. I received remarkable care and, again, I was with Congressman Wilson in Balad where we did see the remarkable work that you're doing. But obviously we're in a time and an era when health care is far more complicated and far more expensive and it's clear that you're wrestling with both on multiple layers. My question, slightly different though, is we have representatives of the different services and you obviously have different cultures, some times very different needs as a result of the roles you play, and I'm just curious as how this plays itself out given the different tensions that you all have described? Is it another layer to it or is it really not particularly significant?
Lt Gen Eric Schoomaker: Well I'll speak for the Army. I think, ma'am, it's very significant and I think it's why we -- not for parochialism or not because we're looking to build duplication or triplication within -- within the defense health system -- why we insist on executing our programs in each one of our services. Each one of the services -- for very good reasons -- has important differences in how it fights war, in how its military health care uniform members support the deployed force. And that's not to say that there aren't commonalities in some large metropolitan areas, like in the national capitol region or San Antonio, we can't find shared platforms where we can retain common skills, where we can share the opportunities in the greater Washington area where we have 36 or 37 different health care facilities across the three services from Pennsylvania down to Quantico and as far west as Fort Belvoir. We have plenty of opportunities to share those platforms for caring for about a half-million beneficiaries. But when it comes down to ships at sea and brigades in battle, some of the remote sites that General Roudebush and I in the Army have to service, the service cultures are very much a part of this and it's why we, Surgeons General and commanders of our medical forces, want to have a very firm grasp on the execution of these programs.
Vice Admiral Adam Robinson: Each service has a concept of care. I think that as the long war has continued in both Iraq and Afghanistan our concepts of care have actually become much closer together. They've merged. From the Navy's perspective, I'm not speaking now for the Army or Air Force but I don't think they're much different, patient and family-centric care is our concept. It's what we think is important in order to make sure that we can meet the mission. Both the operational -- that is the war mission -- as well as the family and the garrison care mission because we can't separate them out any longer. Since people on the battlefield, men and women can now e-mail and text message family members during an intense encounter, it is no longer the case that I can, in fact not take care of families as I'm also taking care of men and women on the battlefield. We've moved into another era of communication, of technology and of the insistence by the people that -- our beneficiaries that we in fact care for them in a very organized and meaningful way and that's what I think all three services do but we all do it differently -- leverging those things that our service chiefs and the equities of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps must have in order to meet their missions and at the same time making sure that we leave no patient, no family and no member behind.
US House Rep Niki Tsongas: And not to interrupt but do health affairs and TRICARE management acknowledge this in your relationship or is yet one more -- one of those things that is a source of tension?
Vice Admiral Adam Robinson: I think that Health Affairs does acknowledge that. I think that they do in fact understand the differences in the services and how to meet them. I also think that very often the concept of what is important from a patient perspective can sometimes get clouded or get shaded in relationship to the business perspective of efficiencies and effectiveness. Now that's the world that we live in so I'm not complaining to you about that because everyone has to look at costs and has to look at the bottom line that we're trying to get done. The key here in medicine is that patients usally when they're coming to you and they need something to save their lives, they need something that they think is going to be absolutely essential to their well being are not interested in hearing the business rules involved in doing that. My job is to, in fact, take that into account and to balance that out with the needs of the patient.
Subcommittee Chair Susan Davis: General, do you want to comment?
Lt Gen: James G. Roudebush: Just very quickly. At times folks will talk about culture and say, 'Well culture is interesting." I would suggest to you that culture is a signficant part of what we do. We have an all volunteer force. Every soldier joins the Army because he or she is attracted to the mission and the culture. Likewise every sailor and Marine and Air man joins that service because they are attracted to the culture and the mission. Their families are wrapped in that culture. We care for our servicemen within that culture and within that mission ethos. So culture is a big part and, particularly when these men and women are injured or ill, that culture wraps around them and supports them, helps them through that recovery, rehabilitation. And so while some of the -- many of the clinical activities are certainly the same in the Army, Navy and Air Force that wrap around, that family, that team that's caring for them is an important part of the construct and I think that can't be lost in the discussion.
FYI, April is Autism Awareness Month. Ruth has covered that here, here and here this month. For more information, the Autism Society of America is one resource.
Back to Iraq, a Sunday attack in Kut continues to make the news. The pre-dawn US raid resulted in two deaths and condemnation from Nouri al-Maliki. US Col Richard Francey spoke to the BBC earlier this week and today tells Alsumaria that the incident "could have been avoided" and that a joint US-Iraqi investigation has been launched. Alsumaria also reports, on the legislative front, "Iraq's Parliament voted to proceed with the secret intelligencer law rejecting the proposal of the legal committee which called earlier to suspend this law." Meanwhile the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq announces their latest report which finds "the overall human rights istuation in Iraq remains a matter of concern." More to the point:
The report shows that gender-based violence remains one of the key unaddressed problems throughout Iraq. Numerous murders of women under the guise of so-called "honour killings" are still being recorded as suicides, the report shows, while in the Northern Region of Kurdistan the practice of Female Gential Mutilation (FGM) remains a tolerated practice.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose staff helped compile the report, said "the situation of Iraqi women is extremely difficult. Violent actions are taken against them on a daily basis and I urge the authorities to make it a priority to both improve legislation, and law enforcement in order to protect them properly."
Iraq is also the largest refugee crisis and women and girls who are internal or external refugees are at risk and are often victimized via Iraq's underground sex trade or the sex trade in other countries such as Syria. The US has done a lousy job providing Iraqi refugees with asylum. Nina Berman (Mother Jones) explores the conditions for some Iraqi refugees who make it to 'safety':
The United States took in a mere 735 Iraqi refugees between 2003 and 2006. Criticized for not doing enough, 17,000 are slated to arrive between September 2008 and September 2009. But the high-minded policy change seems more like another American broken promise.
Recently arrived refugees interviewed in Dallas wonder how they're supposed to become self-sufficient on minimal assistance in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Rather than making new lives, they are facing unemployment, eviction and isolation.
"The life here is closed," said Lara Yakob, whose husband, an architect in Mosul, has been out of work since he arrived five months ago. His best prospect to date: a tryout in a laundry room.
"I think the American government feels that they made bad things for Iraq, so they bring us here. I don't know why they do that if they don't find us a job. This life they start for us, is a very bad life, " said Omar Ibrahim, who arrived in Dallas in 2008 and still is jobless.
He lives in a housing complex on the edge of the city, on a tree-lined street off the freeway, near Garland. Around 100 refugee families from Iraq, Myanmar and central Africa share this neighborhood of two-story apartments around the corner from a gas station -- the site of a recent police killing -- a Cash America outlet, aging strip malls and shuttered superstores.
His rent assistance stopped after four months, and to pay the bills he had to do the unthinkable. "I called my family in Iraq to send me money," he said. And they asked him, "You are in America, and you are asking us for money?"
A large number of Iraqi refugees are Christians and we'll note them tomorrow. Turning to legal news, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi is the 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was gang-raped by US soldiers in March of 2006 while her parents and five-year-old sister were murdered and then Abeer herself was murdered. Steven D. Green is on trial in a federal court in Kentucky (he was discharged before the War Crimes came to light) for assorted charges including gang-rape and murder. The ones who have confessed thus far have all fingered Green as the ringleader. Time magazine has not ignored the War Crimes. It has covered them here and here. Noting the other trials for these War Crimes so far, Jim Frederick provides a walk-through on what's known going in:
Nursing a hatred of Iraqis stemming from heavy losses their unit had suffered, and fueled by several bottles of Iraqi whisky, they embarked upon a premeditated crime of gruesome barbarity. Donning black long underwear outfits as disguises, even though it was the middle of the day, they traveled a few hundred meters to an isolated farmhouse where they gang raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, a 14-year old Iraqi girl and murdered her, her parents, and her six-year old sister. The men returned to their checkpoint unnoticed and for months afterwards, the massacre was considered by the Army and locals alike to be just another outburst of the frequent Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence that plagued the area.
Time notes: "Jim Frederick, a former editor at TIME, is writing a book about Green's unit, entitled Black Hearts: One Platoon's Disintegration in the Triangle of Death and the American Ordeal in Iraq, which will be published in Spring, 2010 by Harmony Books." Meanwhile the Washington Observer-Reporter makes the trial the topic of their editorial and they conclude, "But there are no hardships, military or otherwise, that could excuse an atrocity like this and you can't blame it on a 'lack of leadership'." AP's Brett Barrouquere has long cover this story (three years in a few more months) and he reports Col Todd Ebel's testimony yesterday was that the accused, Steven D. Green wanted to shoot civilians because "the enemy could be dressed as civilians" and that Lt Col Thomas Kunk began testifying today (continues this morning) "about the investigation into the deaths." The hearing continued today and Barrouquere reports that Lt Col Thomas Kunk was on the witness stand and stated he had heard rumors that Green wanted to murder "all Iraqis" so he spoke with him and Green denied that stating that there were 'some' good Iraqis and he didn't wish to harm them.
Meanwhile, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, Iraq War resister Cliff Cornell entered a guilty plea to desertion in his court-martial at Fort Stewart yesterday. UPI notes that Cliff has been sentenced to one year imprisonment and quotes Cliff's civilian attorney, James Branum, stating, "Cliff is being punished for what he believes, for his comments to the press. Because he spoke out against the Iraq war, Cliff's sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94 percent of deserters who are not penalized but administratively discharged." Nanaimo Daily News reports Cliff "tearfully read a prepared statement to the judge apologizing for leaving his unit." Across Georgia quotes him stating, "It was wrong for me to leave my unit and go to Canada. I was very anxious about whether I might be asked to do things that might violate my conscience. I felt trapped. I didn't know what to do." Cliff went to Canada in 2005. He sought asylum there repeatedly and was rejected. He was to be deported when he left Canada in February and turned himself in. (Some say he was deported. Due to the order, we won't split hairs on either interpretation.) Travis Lupick (The Straight) gives the background story here. Frenchi Jones (Coastal Courier) explains, "Cornell was stationed at Fort Stewart at the time of his desertion. He was a soldier with the 1st Battalion, 39th Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, and 3rd Infantry Division." Courage to Resist notes that in addition to the year in prison, "The military judge, Col. Tara Olson, also ordered Cliff's rank be reduced to private and for him to receive a bad conduct discharge."
Meanwhile independent journalist John Pilger evaluates US president Barack Obama's first 100 days:
It is more than 100 days since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The "Obama brand" has been named "Advertising Age's marketer of the year for 2008", easily beating Apple computers. David Fenton of MoveOn.org describes Obama's election campaign as "an institutionalised mass-level automated technological community organising that has never existed before and is a very, very powerful force". Deploying the internet and a slogan plagiarised from the Latino union organiser Cesar Chavez -- "Sí, se puede!" or "Yes, we can" -- the mass-level automated technological community marketed its brand to victory in a country desperate to be rid of George W Bush.
No one knew what the new brand actually stood for. So accomplished was the advertising (a record $75m was spent on television commercials alone) that many Americans actually believed Obama shared their opposition to Bush's wars. In fact, he had repeatedly backed Bush's warmongering and its congressional funding. Many Americans also believed he was the heir to Martin Luther King's legacy of anti-colonialism. Yet if Obama had a theme at all, apart from the vacuous "Change you can believe in", it was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully. "We will be the most powerful," he often declared.
Perhaps the Obama brand's most effective advertising was supplied free of charge by those journalists who, as courtiers of a rapacious system, promote shining knights. They depoliticised him, spinning his platitudinous speeches as "adroit literary creations, rich, like those Doric columns, with allusion..." (Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian). The San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote: "Many spiritually advanced people I know... identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who... can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet."
In his first 100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus and demanded more secret government. He has kept Bush's gulag intact and at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice. On 24 April, his lawyers won an appeal that ruled Guantanamo Bay prisoners were not "persons", and therefore had no right not to be tortured. His national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, says he believes torture works. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, the US experienced a military coup under Bush, whose secretary of "defence", Robert Gates, along with the same warmaking officials, has been retained by Obama.
Lastly, ETAN notes:
Groups Urge Meaningful Pressure on Jakarta for Papuan Rights
Contact: Ed McWilliams, WPAT, +1-575-648-2078
John M. Miller, ETAN, +1-718-596-7668
April 27 - Two U.S. organizations concerned about human rights in West Papua today urged the U.S. government "to apply meaningful pressure on the Indonesian government and its security forces... to address long-standing Papuan concerns and grievances."
The West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) and the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) called the new Obama administration's approach to West Papua "hardly fresh."
In testimony before Congress last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for supporting West Papua "in its efforts to have a degree of autonomy within Indonesia."
"Failure of the U.S. government to think seriously and act responsibly about West Papua, before Indonesia's July presidential elections, risks further deterioration of human rights and communal violence," said Ed McWilliams, a retired U.S. diplomat and spokesperson for WPAT.
"Papuans have repeatedly rejected 'Special Autonomy' and... have demanded instead an internationally-facilitated dialogue with the central government to address key issues, including demilitarization of West Papua, an end to intimidation, the release of political prisoners, and the right to self-determination," the groups said. The full statement is below.
The U.S. government and Congress should "apply meaningful pressure" for such a dialogue and for "an end to restrictions that prevent the international community from monitoring human rights developments and the welfare of Papuans in the region." Pressure should include conditioning "assistance to the Indonesian military, Brimob, Indonesia's intelligence agencies on real reform [of the security forces], human rights accountability and demonstrated respect for people of West Papua."
In recent weeks, their has been an escalation of both peaceful protest and violent conflict in West Papua, which Indonesia annexed in 1969. Since then Papuans have suffered massacres and other systematic human rights violations, environmental destruction, and marginalization in their own land.
Joint Statement by West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) and East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) on U.S. Policy and West Papua
Appearing last week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the first time as Secretary spoke directly about the human rights crisis in West Papua. While candidly acknowledging the "many human rights abuses" in West Papua, Secretary Clinton framed both its problems and their solutions essentially in the same way that the Bush Administration had: She emphasized that West Papua was part of a "sovereign Indonesia," and said West Papua needed support "in its efforts to have a degree of autonomy within Indonesia."
For nearly eight years the Indonesian government has pursued its "Special Autonomy" policy for West Papua. This was to have afforded long-denied fundamental rights to Papuans and ended decades of systematic human rights violations, environmental destruction and marginalization. Clearly, the Indonesian government has failed to implement this policy, instead continuing to rely on a security approach. Indonesia's military, militarized police (Brimob) and intelligence agencies continue to terrorize Papuans. These security forces violate fundamental human rights with impunity and collude with domestic and international corporations to deprive Papuans of their land. At the same time, the Indonesian government has drawn a curtain around West Papua preventing or limiting international monitoring of conditions there by journalists, international human rights officials, and others. Recently, it demanded the departure of International Committee of the Red Cross because its officials had met with Papuan political prisoners.
The Indonesian government continued denial of essential services health, education and employment, leaving the Papuans to suffer among the worst levels of poverty, mortality and education in Asia.
Papuans have repeatedly rejected "Special Autonomy" and -- in massive, peaceful popular demonstrations -- have demanded instead an internationally-facilitated dialogue with the central government to address key issues, including demilitarization of West Papua, an end to intimidation, the release of political prisoners, and the right to self-determination.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration appears to ignore the reality of Papuans' suffering and the urgent need for fundamental change in West Papua. Secretary Clinton's call for a "degree of autonomy" for West Papua is hardly fresh or progressive thinking. Rather than resort to the failed Bush Administration approach of calling upon Jakarta to afford "a degree of autonomy," the crisis in West Papua calls for fresh approach and a genuine commitment to Papuans fundamental rights, including a right to self-determination.
A decade ago, the U.S. Government similarly failed to understand the dynamics of the deteriorating human rights environment in East Timor. During that crisis, the U.S. sought only to press the Indonesian military to take more seriously its responsibility to protect human rights in East Timor. Then (and now) the U.S. government failed to understand that the Indonesian military, (as well as Brimob and Indonesian intelligence agencies) bore ultimate responsibility for the death and destruction in surrounding the UN-organized referendum in 1999.
Instead of offering stale policy prescriptions, we urge the U.S. to apply meaningful pressure on the Indonesian government and its security forces to press for an internationally-facilitated, senior level dialogue between the Indonesian Government and Papuans, including Papuan civil society, to address long-standing Papuan concerns and grievances. The U.S. government should urge an end to restrictions that prevent the international community from monitoring human rights developments and the welfare of Papuans in the region. The U.S. government should also press for fundamental reform of the Indonesian security forces which continue to violate human rights, are unaccountable before Indonesia's flawed judicial system, and are not fully subordinate to civilian government control. The current administration and Congress should clearly condition assistance to the Indonesian military, Brimob, Indonesia's intelligence agencies on real reform, human rights accountability and demonstrated respect for people of West Papua.
John M. Miller Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Mobile: (917)690-4391
Skype: john.m.miller Web: http://www.etan.org