Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, May 20, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, closing statements are made in the Steven D. Green sentence hearing, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee talks KBR, and more.
Starting with the sentence hearing of Steven D. Green who was convicted two Thursdays ago in the gang-rape of 14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, her murder, the murder of her five-year-old sister and the murders of both of her parents.  Since then, the jury has been hearing testimony they will weigh when determining his sentencing. Green could receive the death penalty; however, all 12 jurors would have to vote to sentence him to death. If that does not happen, he is facing life in prison.  Two Thursdays ago the verdict was decided by the jury and only now is the jury being sent to deliberate Green's sentencing.  Evan Bright reports this afternoon, "The jury went into deliberation less than five minutes ago."  Prior to that, the prosecution and the defense made their closing statements.  Bright notes, "Scott Wendelsdorf (D) finished his closing.  'America does. not. KILL.  it's broken soldiers.  SPARE this boy's life, SPARE HIM".  Andrew Wolfson (Courier-Journal) reports that Brian Skaret gave the closing for the proseuction and noted, "This is a chance for you to say that our soldiers do not do this, that we are a good and decent people."  AFP quotes Skared stating, "The victims in this case cry out for justice from their graves" and that he stated of the defense, "They've tried to make Mr Green a victim in this case."
That's today.  Of yesterday's hearing, Evan Bright reports:
For the prosecution, Jim Lesousky called a single rebuttal witness, as previously predicted. Dr. Helen Mayberg, a clinical neurologist at Emory University, was called; Dr. Ruben Gur was also listening via muted phone so as to hear what her response to his testimony would be.          
Mayberg was called to respond to the testimony of Gur. She told the court of her medical degree from USC and of her certification in neurology. Her testimony did not last nearly as long as Gurs. She told the jury that "testing one person deemed possibly mentally disabled...against a control group of forty-one 'healthy' people, would not always produce accurate results." She told the court that she did not note the same variations within Green's MRI that Dr. Gur previously testified to the jury. She also testified that in Gur's study of the forty one "healthy" subjects, they were tested using MRI's of a 1.5 tesla strenth, as well as two other measurements/settings that were to equal or be set to "one;" she told the jury when Gur reviewed Green's MRI, he failed to notice that his MRI was given at a 3.0 tesla strength, and that the two other aformentioned settings were also different, meaning that Green's MRI would not have matched the control group results regardless. For the most part, the defense has been excellent, but if they've ever suffered a setback, this would be it.
"Today's hearing is a result of this committee's continuing investigation into the deaths of some US soldiers by the death of electrocution in Iraq," explained Senator Byron Dorgan who chaired this morning's Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing "Rewarding Failure: Contractor Bonuses for Faulty Work in Iraq."
Senator Byron Dorgan: That investigation has led us to internal Pentagon documents showing that in 2007 and 2008, contractor KBR received bonuses of $83.4 million for work that, according to the Pentagon's own investigation, led to the electrocution deaths of US troops.  Let me repeat that: The Pentagon gave bonuses of $83.4 million to KBR for work that resulted in the electrocution deaths of American soldiers. 
Dorgan spoke of Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret and Army Ranger with the rank of Staff Sgt who died in Baghdad January 2, 2008 from taking a shower in KBR's 'safe' facilities.  Dorgan noted that in the July hearing, "we obtained testimony that KBR had known of this very electrocuting hazard since at least February 10, 2007, 11 months before Ryan Maseth's death. In fact, the prior occupant of Staff Sgt Maseth's room was shocked in the same room four to five times between June and October 2007, in the very same shower were Ryan was killed.  According to his sworn affidavit, each time this soldier was shocked, he submitted a work order to KBR."  In fact, $34.4 million of KBR's $83.4 million in bonus pay was paid after Ryan Maseth was killed by their shoddy, cheap work and the military's investigation, as Dorgan noted, now lists the death as due to negligent homicide.
Participating on the committee this morning were Senators Dorgan, Robert Casey Jr.,Amy Klobuchar, Frank Lautenberg and Mark Udall.  Testifying before the committee were Master Electrician Jim Childs, ex-KBR Master Electrician Eric Peters and ex-Chief of HQ Army Field Support command Charles Smith.
Lautenberg noted this was Dick Cheney's former company and that efforts under the previous administration for investigations were repeatedly blocked. From meals never served to burning vehicles because KBR didn't want to change the tires and much more, the 2.4 billion dollars KBR was paid was never to be questioned and "A hearing was refused."  Lautenberg pointed out that Cheney held KBR stock options throughout all of this and that money -- even unaccounted money -- didn't matter and certainly the deaths of US soldiers from KBR's shoddy work didn't matter.  Lautenberg stated these abuses and the refusal to investigate them never needed to happen again.  Casey noted, in his opening statements, that no families should have to go through what Ryan Maseth's family has had to (and he applauded Cheryl Maseth's efforts to get the truth and to help others).  Casey declared, "We're looking for accountability and we're trying to seek justice.  And the only way we can have either is to arrive the truth."  [Note: Those comments would seem to require an investigation into the torture crimes as well.]  Casey wondered, "Why is it that any company that may have been directly responsible for the deaths of American fighting men and women, in any cicrumstance but especially in this circumstance, why should they be getting more contracts?"
Udall noted he would keep his opening remarks brief and did.  We'll note this comment by him, "The only way forward is to hear the truth.  That's the purpose of this hearing today." 
Klobuchar explained, "It seems like every time we have these hearing on this subgect, there are some answers but mostly more questions."  Kobuchar noted that when she attended the last hearing, she'd thought of her state's David Cedergren who had died in Iraq.  And since then (in 2009, five years later) his parents had learned that it wasn't an accident, that Officer 3rd Class David A. Cedergren was electrocuted.  She noted that his parents were first told his death was due to natural causes.
Senator Amy Kobuchar:  And finally, late last year, over four years after his death, the US military acknowledged that the cause of David's death was electrocution.  His cause is among 18 cases that have been discussed of electrocution that are being investigated as part of the Department of Defense Specials Investigator Inquiry.
Jim Childs went over his various and many qualifications and explained he went to work for Stanley Baker Hill in Iraq and was there for fifteen months.  He explained that KBR built "roughly 90,000 buildings" in Iraq and that none of them were up to code which led KBR to insist they were using the British electrical code BS7671 but holding it to that code only results in more errors for KBR. "During my theater-wide inspections," Child explained, "I concluded that roughly 90 percent of the new construction buildings worked on by KBR were not properly wired.  This means that over 70,000 buildings in Iraq were not up to code." KBR's shoddy work is not limited to Iraq, Childs explained, "While doing inspections in Afghanistan, I found the exact same code violations." Eric Peters than spoke.
Eric Peters: I went to Iraq in February 2009 and returned home in April 2009.  After experiencing only two months of the KBR management culture and witnessing poor quality work at three separate bases, the Al Asad Airbase, Camp Striker and Camp Warrior, I decided that I could no longer be affiliated with KBR.  Based on my personal observations at these three bases, at least fifty percent of the buildings KBR worked on were not properly wired.  By the time I left, I concluded that KBR was not cappable of performing quality, legal electrical installations in Iraq. I worried every day that people would be seriously injured or killed by this defective work.  I would be happy to return to Iraq to help our troops, but only under different circumstances with a different contractor.
The key passage in Charles Smith's opening remarks is probably the following:
Charles Smith: The army was aware of KBR's poor performance in Iraq from 2002 to 2008.  There have been numerous government inspections and reports.  The army, however, continued to give KBR high award fees.  Those high award fees appear to have sent a message to KBR that performance did not really matter.  Award fee boards and decisions are a communications tool between the government and the contractor.  The contractor learns what is important to the government and will respond accordingly.
Dorgan said that KBR would claim that they they did their work effectively and properly "as they have [claimed] after all hearings."  We'll note this exchange from the hearing: 
Senator Byron Dorgan: Do any of you have any notion that we should be concerned about soldiers in Afghanistan? As you know the same contractor was doing work in Afghanistan.  Is your sense that -- Now General [David] Petraeus sends in a blue ribbon task force to do all of this, right? I -- I -- you know, the thing is I've not heard General Petraeus say anything publicly about this.  And if I were General Petraeus, I would be furious about soldiers being put at risk as a result of shoddy work.  I mean just furious.  But I've heard nothing at this point.  My great concern is that what I have heard in most cases is the Pentagon really kind of saying 'There's not as much of a problem here as you think.'  Sgt. Maseth's mother was originally told that he was probably electrocuted because he took a radio into the shower with him.  The -- my colleague Senator Klobuchar has just described the experience of the family from Minnesota who for four years were told that he died of natural causes. Should we worry about the electirical work in Afghanistan as well as this point?  Mr. Childs, what do you think?
Jim Childs: As -- as -- in my role with Task Force SAFE I did go to Afghanistan and look at the electircal work in Afghanistan.  Spent about a day over there, we went over there under direction of General David Petraeus through Task Force Safe to see how their electrical program was. They had the exact same electrical bonding and grounding mistakes that they had in Iraq.  That had building that were dangerous because they were the exact same problems.  And I stood there and witnessed new work being done by KBR that was one hundred percent against the National Electric Code that is clearly the code they are to use there in Afghanistan.  And I do not know what direction has been taken to inspect over in Afghanistan.   
On KBR's method of billing, Klobuchar asked Eric Peters if she had it right, that "KBR can charge the government for work that does not meet safety standards and then come back and charge the government again?"  
Eric Peters: That's my understanding.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: So what we have going on here is they can charge for the work that didn't meet the standards because someone like you doesn't sign off and they charge again to repair the work that failed to meet the proper safety standards?
Eric Peters: That's correct.  They would send somebody out and pay him the work done and it's not a complete job done so they'd have to send somebody else out at a different time to complete the job and do it again. 
Senator Amy Klobuchar:  And you think that's common with KBR?
Eric Peters: All over theater.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: Mr. Childs do you agree with that?
Jim Childs: Absolutely.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: In a sort of a broader view of this would be that what they're doing is that they're charging double and then they're getting bonuses for it. Would that be one to look at it?
Jim Childs: I believe that's correct.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: Mr. Smith, you said in your testimony that "the army provided perverse incentives to KBR by providing the company with substantial award fees without KBR having the required business systems and without performing quality work." Is that right?
Charles Smith: That's correct.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: And this is an example?  What I'm talking about right here?
Charles Smith: That's part of the example. 
We'll stop there.  Yesterday's snapshot included the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.  Kat covered some suicide stats offered in the hearing offered by Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army:
Geren responded that the top 3 reasons were:

1. shattered personal relationship (spouse/loved one)   
2. work place humilitation/disappointment or financial problem        
3. medical problem     

Characteristics include:

* Younger than 25          
* Male          
* White          
* By rifle or pistol            

He offered this grouping of thirds on suicide -- he's breaking down all the suicides into thirds:        

* 1/3 who commit suicide have never deployed          
* 1/3 commit suicide during a deployment         
* 1/3 commit suicide after a deployment

Ava filled in for Rebecca and covered Senator Jim Webb's questioning of General George Casey:
Senator Jim Webb: Your comments about dwell time being of your utmost concern. I recall the conversation that you and I had more than two years ago when you called me to tell me that the army was going to go to 15 month deployments with 12 months at home which I think is a .75 dwell time ratio and you will recall I expressed my strongest concern about that. As someone who had grown up in the military, as did you, and watched my father go through multiple deployments, someone who had served in Vietnam when the Marine Corps tour was 13 months and as someone who has had a son and son-in-law deploy as enlisted marines in extended tours in Iraq. Now, on the one hand, and I said this to Secretary of Defense last week and Admiral Mullen, I - I am very encouraged about programs that are in place to treat those whoa re experiencing emotional difficulties and stigma in the active forces and that sort of thing but I'm still concerned measure that could be taken and should be taken to prevent these sort of situations which was the basis really of my conversation with you two years ago, was the reason that I addressed the dwell time amendment twice in '07. If we are going to put greater discipline say into the procurement process - as has become a big focus -- maybe we should be putting the same sort of discipline in our combatant commanders' request for troops? That they're -- certainly one of the parameters in terms of troop availability or in terms of how we use troops is the stewardship that we all should feel about length of deployments versus time back here -- all of these things that you were talking about at the beginning [of this hearing] which I was talking about on the Senate floor a couple of years ago. Uhm, so what do you think about that?               

George Casey: Senator, I couldn't agree more. In fact, one of the points of discussion that I hoped to have in the quadrennial defense review is whether or not we need to move toward a capability based strategy versus a war plan strategy. As I said, we're organizing the army on a rotational cycle so that we provide a sustained level of capability to commanders but at a sustainable deployment cycle.                

Jim Webb: Well certainly rotational cycles should be on the table, when we're talking about the number of troops that should be deployed. You know --          

George Casey: Absolutely.                     

Jim Webb: -- that's something that you and I were discussing two years ago. You were saying, in your defense I will say, you were saying that you had to feed the strategy. When you went to the 15 month, 12 month, you had to feed the strategy. Your obligation to feed the strategy. General Petraeus comes and testifies and I asked him about the dwell time thing and he said, 'Well I just state my requirements' and, you know, there was sort of a disconnect in the middle. And it would seem to me, particularly in this transitional period, we ought to be taking a pretty, a pretty tough look at the well being of the force as a component in terms of how we're using them to deploy in Afghanistan.          

George Casey: I agree with you and I'm not articulating it well, I don't think. But once you have arranged the force into bins for the rotational cycle, that's what's available to the country. And it's available at a sustainable deployment cycle to the families and the soldiers and it's a strategy that's constrained by means which all strategies should be, rather than strategy driving requirements.         

Jim Webb: I think you and I, we are rushing to agree on this but at same time the difficult really is that there seems to be such a deference to a combat commander, and there should be something of a deference, but there seems to be such a deference when they say "I need 30,000 troops" rather than where this decision is now being made this is going to be going on for a long time and how are we going to protect the health and our long term sustainability in terms of feeding these troops.                  

Webb also gave him a chance to clear up his comments made to Senator Joe Lieberman:

Jim Webb: . . . when you said you had a lot of units that are 1.5 dwell time ratio right now. Army wide with the troops actually deployed, what is the ratio in dwell time right now?                 

George Casey: We're between 1.3 and 1.5 is the average.           
In Iraq today a Baghdad car bombing garners the bulk of attention.  BBC reports that the bombing took place "near a popular restaurant in Shula, a poor, crowded mainly Shia neighbourhood." Sahar Issa and Jack Dolan (McClatchy Newspapers) add that the bom "went off at 7:30 p.m. outside a restaurant and ice cream parlor".  Mohammed Abbas and Matthew Jones (Reuters) note the death toll is 35 with seventy-two injured. Iran's Press TV notes, "Police say the death toll is expected to rise as some of the wounded are in critical conditions."  The Telegraph of London offers the context that today's bombing "was the biggest bombing since April 29 when more than 50 people -- again in mostly Shiite districts of the capital -- were killed in a wave of near-simultaneous bombings."
Meanwhile, Jack Dolan (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "For the first time since modern Iraq was founded in the 1920s, a sitting government minister has been questioned publicly about corruption allegations, in this case about skimming millions of dollars from a national food-distribution program while ordinary Iraqis went hungry.  The parliamentary grilling of Trade Minister Abdul Falah al Sudany ran live Saturday and Sunday on state television, and everyone in Baghdad seems to have been watching."  Earlier this month, Natalia Antelava (BBC) reports Sabah Mohammed al-Sudani, brother of Trade Minister Abd Falah al-Sudani (CIA spelling, also spelled Abed al-Falah al-Sudani and Abdel Falah al-Sudani), was arrested Saturday [May 9th] after he and his brother "vanished in late April as they were about to be arrested." Trade Minister al-Sudani was born in Iraq but lived elsewhere. He is one component of the government of exiles the US has installed in Iraq. His official bio includes:

-Ph.D in Biochemistry, Swansea University , Wales, UK,1981     
- Researcher at the Biochemistry Department, Swansea University,Wales,UK           
- Member of the British Royal Society of Biological Sciences           
- Defending strategic analyzer and political editor, Al-A'alam weekly magazine London,UK     
- Founding member of the Islamic House in London,UK     
- President and member of the Muslims Youth Association, London ,UK,1986      
- Former President of Orient Center for Studies ,London,UK   
- Member of Iraq National Assembly,2005          
- Minister of Education of the Republic of Iraq,(2005-2006)            
- Member of Iraqi Parliament,2006        
Natalia Antelava (BBC) explains that he's "accused of making millions by selling the food aid to traders instead of giving it away."  Alsumaria notes, "After more than 100 lawmakers signed on revoking the confidence vote of Trade Minister Abdul Fallah Al Sudani, the confidence vote session will be held a week after submitting the request to the Parliamentary presidency committee which will take the decision by a small majority."  Like Nouri al-Maliki, al-Sudani is an exile.  Like Nouri, he's a member of the Dawa party.  He heads the ministry Nouri put him in charge of. 
In other reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which damaged a US military convoy vehicle and a Mosul bombing late Tuesday which wounded four people.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Mosul ("stabbed many times").
Yesterday Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, authors of Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians, were guests on Flashpoints (show is archived at link and at KPFA).  We'll try to note the interview tomorrow.  Friday, Hedges and Al-Arian will be speaking at MLK Auditorium (MLK Middle School) in Berkeley and ticket prices are twelve to fifteen dollars.  The event starts at seven p.m.  On yesterday's inteview, Laila points out that the Iraq War has become the forgotten war. 
On Wednesday, May 13, Barack Obama reversed his previously announced position, and said that he would move to block the release of some 2000 photos documenting U.S. military personnel torturing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the blocked photos are of U.S. prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and include depictions of "Abu Ghraib-style" torture, along with photos taken by military criminal investigators--in some cases supposedly documenting allegations of abuse, as well as autopsy photos of prisoners who were killed while in custody.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU--the group that sued to make the photos public--said the volume of photos shows that "It is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest levels."
Obama said he would not release the photos because "the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."
What does it mean to cover up evidence of horrific war crimes because knowledge of those crimes would "inflame anti-American opinion?" And what is the responsibility of people living in the United States, right now, when great crimes, committed in their name, are being covered up?
World Can't Wait on the same topic. This is their earlier text statement, "Thursday MAY 28 National Day of Resistance to U.S. TORTURE!:"

On or by May 28, the Obama administration is being forced to release 2000 photos of detainee abuse in US facilities from 2001-2006. The Abu Ghraib photos, released in 2004 only because a solider was horrified over the torture, brought an international storm of protest against the US torture state. The new photos, including many from Bagram, where the detention facilities have just been doubled to hold 60,000 Afganis, will show that US torture was widespread, sustained, and systemic, not an "aberration," but an integral part of the "global war on terror."

Weeks after 4 more torture memos revealed the detail with which George Bush's lawyers managed the torture of individual detainees, calls to prosecute those responsible -- from the White House principals, to the legal torture team, to the CIA agents who tortured -- have met objections from Washington. Cheney and the open advocates of torture scream that they must be able to use "harsh methods" to win the global war on terror. The Obama administration, after deciding to continue indefinite detention, CIA rendition, and Bush's executive powers, says prosecution would stop them from "moving forward." Democratic party leader Nancy Pelosi knew about the torture and waterboarding since 2002, saying and doing nothing to stop it..
It's up to the people to act! World Can't Wait and other groups are planning non-violent civil resistance protests, programs digging into the substance of the charges, waterboarding and rendition re-enactments, and film showings in communities around the country to demand prosecution of the Bush era war criminals. More information, listings, posters, flyers & background on the war criminals at
Wherever the Bush era war criminals are appearing this month, raise the cry "Torture is a War Crime! Prosecute!"