Thursday, May 21, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, May 21, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces deaths, the jury decides Steven D. Green's sentence, the Senate shows some oversight before handing out the people's monies, a large wave of violence sweeps through Iraq and more. 
Starting with 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. Then the jury began hearing testimony to 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 yesterday were closing statements made and the jury sent to deliberate Green's sentencing.  This Thursday they issue a verdict.  Evan Bright reports, "JURY UNABLE TO REACH VERDICT IN USA V GREEN.  STEVEN DALE GREEN SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON W/O PAROLE."  The Courier-Journal's Andrew Wolfson and Andrea Stone team up for Stone's outlet (USA Today) and observe, "Green's sentence closes the case on one of the worst war crimes committed by U.S . forces or contractors in Iraq. The atrocity in Mahmoudiya may not pack the political wallop that the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison did but it ranks with other infamous incidents in Iraq, some military experts say."  Brett Barrouquere (AP) notes the life in prison sentence comes following the jury deliberating for "10-and-a-half hours".
The verdict follows another bad 'report' filed by Gail McGown Mellor, this one at Women's Media Center, where she floats, maybe, just maybe, Abeer wasn't raped!  Based on?  The fact that Gail's an idiot.  The weeping rapists showed up at their military courts and one offered he wasn't sure if he had a boner.  By the time they gave testimony in Green's trial both -- to run from their guilt -- were floating the notion that maybe, just maybe, they couldn't get erections.  Grow the hell up.  Every damn one of you putting that out, grow the hell up.  You think Steven D. Green wouldn't know if his co-gang-rapists hadn't cum in Abeer.  Do we really need to get graphic.  He's third in line in the gang-rape, you think he wouldn't notice?  Also don't forget that Abeer, prior to being gang-raped by US soldiers, was a virgin.  You think Green wouldn't have noticed if he were first?
This is such stupidity and it is appalling that a feminist website wants to serve that crap up.  Women are raped every day in the United States.  Over 92,000 reported rapes in 2006 alone -- reported.  We don't need Gail's fantasies.  It happens.  There's no reason for it to be stripped out of Abeer's story because Gail wants to make her 'respectable.'  Stripping the gang-rape out of Abeer's story is not at all different than blaming a woman for being sexually assaulted.  It happend, it is a crime and it's part of the story of Abeer.  It's not pretty, but life isn't always pretty.  And it is an insult to the millions of rape survivors for Gail to prattle on -- in her own ignorance -- about how maybe Abeer's wasn't gang-raped, maybe the soldiers couldn't get erections, maye . . . Women's Media Center isn't supposed to be a lurid pulp magazine.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  Gail?  This is her second novelization of the case.  If familiarizing herself with the case is that difficult for her, she should stick to writing fiction -- she's repeatedly attempted to write fiction while allegedly 'reporting.'  Abeer was held down by Paul Cortez while James Barker raped her and by Barker while Cortez raped her.  Abeer screamed, yelled and fought back.  That is part of the testimony and was part of the testimony in these War Crimes long before this month.  Gail needs to do the work required which entails looking at the confessions made to the military courts.
Stupid is apparently contagious for those reporters flitting through Kentucky.  Which is how James Dao's wretched  "Civilian Jury Considers Death Penalty for Ex-G.I." appears in today's New York Times.  The paper rendered Abeer invisible.  Intentionally.  When finally forced to file something on the case, they went with a front page propaganda piece by
Carolyn Marshall and Robert Worth which presenting the defense's case before the defense could present it at the Article 32 hearing in August of 2006.  Abeer's name never appeared in that.  She is "14-year-old girl" or "14-year-old Iraqi girl" when she's mentioned.  She has no name because giving her a name humanizes her and the paper certainly wasn't interested in that.  They were more than happy to defend the War Criminals and did so repeatedly backing off only when, one after the other, received a prison sentence. In late June and early July of 2006, most oulets (Washington Post, CNN) were covering the story and mentioning Abeer by name.  Not the New York Times.  Abeer's name finally appears in print May 9th of this year when the paper ran Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan contribute "Ex-G.I. Guilty of Rape and Killings in Iraq."  Nearly three years after the War Crimes were known. Even then, the paper wouldn't open with her name. It wasn't until the 13th paragraph that they finally mentioned her name.  Today James Dao does mention her name.  Once.  Paragraph 14.  It's disgusting.  But the paper -- which has never printed a photo of Abeer or either of her surviving younger brothers (USA Today did back in 2006) -- prints a photo of Steven D. Green.
Yesterday the jury heard closing arguments.  Deb Feyerick (CNN) explains:
But prosecutors seeking the death penalty told the jury Wednesday it was time to end the blame game.          
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Skaret said that the soldiers in Green's unit who died honorably "would be rolling over in their graves" if they knew their deaths were being used to explain why Green went on the murder rampage.    
Skarat said that before the killings, Green and his four co-conspirators were talking about "sex" and "screwing Iraqi chicks" rather than avenging their colleagues' deaths.           
Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- Three Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldiers died when an improvised explosive device detonated near their patrol in Baghdad at approximately 10:40 a.m. May 21.  The Soldier's names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense."  The announcement brings to 4299 the number of US service members killed in the illegal war -- one away from the 4300 mark.  Usama Redha and Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) report that the soldiers were "on foot patrol" when the bomb exploded also killing 12 Iraqis. Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report it was a suicide bomber and that thirty people were wounded (they also state twelve Iraqis were killed).   Meanwhile in Kirkuk, CNN reports: "Also Thursday, a bomber struck outside an army headquarters in southern Kirkuk, a city about 150 miles north of Baghdad, police said. The explosion killed eight Awakening Council members who were lining up to receive their monthly salaries. Four other council members were wounded in the attack." Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) adds, "The bomber ran into the group today as they queued to collect their salaries and detonated a belt laden with explosives, according to the Web site of President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party."
In other violence . . .
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad roadside bombing injured five people, a Baghdad bomb "in a plastic bag and planeted in a waste paper basket in Mamoun Police Station" resulted in the deaths of 2 police officer and left twenty people injured, a Kikurk bombing apparently tarketing the Chief of Police (Brig Burhan Tayib) resulted in one security officer being injured, a Baquba bombing left two people (on the bomb squad) wounded and a Mosul grenade attack left three people injured.
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report 2 brothers shot in Mosul (wounded, not killed) and 1 mother and 1 daughter shot dead in Mosul (both women were seamstresses).
Today the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued the following statement: "The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG) Staffan de Mistura strongly condemned the bombings in Baghdad and Kikruk on Wednesday, 20 May and Thursday 21 May, Mr. de Mistura described these attacks which resulted in the death and injury of dozens of innocent Iraqi citizens, as 'reprehensible crimes that have indiscrimately targeted ordinary Iraqis'.  Mr. de Mistura extends the United Nations' sincere condolences to the bereaved families, and his wishes for a full and speedy recovery for the wounded."  Xinhua quotes the Turkish Foreign Ministry's statement: "We observe with great regret and concern that there has been a recent upsurge in the acts of terrorism in Iraq. . . .  We condemn these latest abhorren terrorist attacks in the strongest terms and we call on all the parties in Iraq to put an end to violence and contribute to peace and security in the country."
The statements come because Iraq is swept up in another wave of violence so sweeping that even the press has to acknowledge it.  Jack Dolan and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explain, "The bombing started a wave of violence that spread across the country over 18 hours, killing at least 63 people. They included three U.S. service members, who were attacked by a suicide bomber while they were on foot patrol in Doura, a Sunni Muslim neighborhood in southern Baghdad, Iraqi police said. Twelve Iraqis died in that attack, police said."  Jamal Hashim (Xinhua), "The latest bloodshed arouses fears of a return of al-Qaida-style bomb attacks aimed at sparking sectarian strife that threatened to bring the country to the edge of civil war two years ago." 
Chris Hedges: If you're an Iraqi or Afghani it makes no difference at this point whether George Bush is president or Barack Obama is president. The imperial projects in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.  As you mentioned the unraveling in Iraq is beginning.  The attempt to essentially silence Sunni insurgents by buying them off is fraying at the edges.  We tried the same tactic in Afghanistan with tribal groups and once the money and the weapons stop or once the Taliban began to assert itself in the areas they were operating in they went right back into the arms of the Taliban.  So the situation is increasinly precarious in Iraq and deteriorating at a very alarming rate in Afghanistan.
Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, authors of Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians, were guests on Tuesday's KPFA Flashpoints (show is archived at Flashpoints and at KPFA). 
Laila Al-Arian: Last week there was a very revealing incident in Iraq where a soldier basically stepped into a mental health counseling center and killed some of his comrades. And I think it was very reavealing because I think it kind of touches on some of the work we did which is the psychologically destructive impact of war, especially an unnecessary war like the war in Iraq.  The soldier was on his third tour in Iraq and he had seen a lot.  And we hear so many stories like this.  Some of the 50 veterans we interviewed in our book talked about having thoughts of suicide.  And  it all really stems from seeing injustice before their eyes either participating in it or witnessing it and as Chris could tell you having covered so many wars, this is something that is not unique to the Iraq War and to the Occupation.  This happens in every war when you see a civilian population suffer disproportionately.
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. 
Laila Al-Arian: We hear estimates of more than a million Iraqis killed, how did this happen?  So we were told convoys -- the way that the military travels in Iraq, twenty to thirty vehicles, told don't stop if you see an Iraqi child step in front of you, they were able to just run over medians, drive on the other side of the road, the wrong side.  The raids that took place night after night you'd be hard pressed to find an Iraqi family that didn't expereince the terror of that.  Having people with alien looking uniforms barge into your home speaking a different language that you don't understand.  Checkpoints that would pop up randomly across the country at a moment's notice and being told basically that there was no accountability -- that if you shoot an Iraqi who drives through your checkpoint you won't face any trial, any court-martial, nothing like that.  And we were told time and time again that there were cover ups of these incidents.  And, again, you see the same thing happening in Afghnaistan  and finally hearts and minds which is the racist attitude in the military that help justify these actions.  Calling Arabs H**jis which is a racial slur that's used to basically dehumanize them.
Chris Hedges: Yeah, we focused on those particular activites where you had daily intersections between occupation troops and Iraqi civilians.  Iraq is so fraught now with violence and, because there's no stability, foreign journalists can't stay in one place more than fifteen or twenty minutes -- those that are there.  And we really wanted to find a way to tell the stories of Iraqi civilians.  And the way that we did it was to find very courageous service members who were willing to go on the record and speak about civilian atrocities that they had either witnessed or in some cases participated in.   And we characterized the -- as Laila said -- the functioning of convoys for instance which are just freight trains of death in Iraq barreling down highways fifty -- sixty miles an hour.  As Laila said, they are told not to stop even if whole families go in front of the convoys -- smashing into Iraqi vehicles,  jumping over merdians and, of course, when an IED goes off laying down what they call suppressing fire which is essentially unleashing with very high caliber weapons  [. . .] which are like machine guns, 50 caliber and very rarely stopping to inspect the human carnage that they have left behind. This is what the occupation is day in and day out for Iraqis and that is very rarely glimpsed much less examined by the American media -- partly because of their inability to get out and partly because it it runs against the counter-narrative.  It runs against that idea of "Our Boys! Our heroes!"  and I think that even people who oppose the war have not been able to excape from.
Repeating, 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. 
"The previous Chief of Staff of the Air Force said that something like an additional $20 billion per year beyond the Fiscal Year 2009 budget request would be required to maintain and modernize the Air Force," declared US Senator Carl Levin this morning  as he chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to review the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2010 and the Future Years Defense Program.  Two witnesses appeared before the committee, the Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley and US Gen Norton A. Schwartz. 
Noting past cost "overruns" on other programs, Ranking Member Senator John McCain stated he was interested in hearing of the status of the Joint Strike Fighter program and whether it might mirror the cost overruns of the F22.  And he put the rest of his prepared opening statement into the record.  Credit to Donley for not attempting to pass off a goody list as 'We're helping our people!'  Apparently that sort of nonsense is left to the Secretary of the US Army.  (Click here.)  Donley didn't insult anyone by attempting to pass off the Air Force's goody list as 'empowering' those who have enlisted.  PDF format warning, click here for a rough outline of his and Schwartz' opening statements.  He listed the twelve core functions for the Air Force.
1) Nuclear Deterrence Operations
2) Air Superiority
3) Space Superiority
4) Cyberspace Superiority
5) Global Precision Attack
6) Rapid Global Mobility
7) Special Operations
8) Global Integrated ISR
9) Command and Control
10) Personal Recovery
11) Building Partnerships
12) Agile Combat Support
Donely declared that the Fiscal Year 2010 budget request "reflects a commitment to our Core Functions".  The song and dance Donley didn't want to do?  Schwartz was eager to strap on his tap shoes.
Gen Norton A. Schwartz: In recent testimony, Adm Mullens stated, "We are what we buy." Following his lead, we intend to maintain stewardship of America's resources, for our war fighters in the field and the tax payers at home by recapturing aquistion excellence in fielding the right capabilities for our nation on time and within budget.
Buy?  The Air Force was asking for money.  We'll note this exchange.
Senator Carl Levin: Last year, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General [Michael] Mosely testified that the Air Force would require something like $20 billion per year additionally beyond the budget request to maintain and modernize the Air Force.  Secretary Donley, General Schwartz, have you made your comparable assessment of modernization needs for sustaining the Air Force? How much additional -- if any -- do you believe will be required?  Secretary?
Michael B. Donley: Uh, Mr. Chairman, we have uh reviewed with Secretary Gates, Adm [Mike] Mullen the overall requirements for the Air Force.  Uh. You have an unfunded requirements list from General Shwartz that reflects his military judgment on those capabilities above and beyond those proposed in the FY'10 buget which we would prioritize for additional consideration. The Air Force --
Senator Carl Levin: Are they prioritized?
Michael B. Donley: Yes, they are.
Senator Carl Levin:  And that was the total of 1.7?
Michael B. Donley: 1.9.
Senator Carl Levin: 1.9.
Michael B. Donley: Yes, roughly. 
Senator Carl Levin: And you join in that request?
Michael B. Donley: Yes, we discussed that fully. The request went to General Schwartz so it is answered by General Schwartz discussed across the Air Force leadership.
Senator Carl Levin: And, General Schwartz, I take it that is your personal judgment.
Gen Norton A. Schwartz:  It is, it is, sir, and the twenty items are in priority order.
Senator Carl Levin: Relative to the Joint Cargo Aircraft Reduction Proposal by the administration is it your intention that those air craft be assigned exclusively to the air guard or the air force reserve units?
Gen Norton A. Schwartz: Mr. Chariman, I say that's not yet clear.  We - we have the direction from the department to make the transition of the program from the army to the Air Force.  That is not an instantaneous undertaking.  It will take us into -- well into 2010 in order to accomplish that.  We, the army and General McKinnley from the National Guard Bureau and our people are meeting to get  together with how one would execute a program of at least 38 air craft which is reflected in the budget proposal and how we would operate the fleet and what the basing footprint would look like and so on.  We have to make a recommendation to the Deputy Secretary not later than the 30 of this month. 
Senator Carl Levin:  Do you support the reduction in the Joint Cargo Reserve Aircraft?  78 to 38?
Gen Norton A. Schwartz:  Sir, we will have an opportunity through the quadrennial defense review to confirm that 39 is the right noumber.  My view is the correct number is at least 38.
Senator Carl Levin: Have you made a personal assestment as to what the right number is?
Gen Norton A. Schwartz:  Mr. Chairman, we have a number of studies including the analysis of alternatives which the army did in the 2005 - 2006 time frame.  A more recent study's accomplished by RAND as late as 2009 that suggests that the 78 air craft package which was split between the Army and the Air Force originaly at 24 and 54 respectively.  It is a valid -- a valid need.  And obviously what occurred through the budget process committment on the part of the department to recommend the Army C23 Shurpas [. . .]
As Schwartz and Donley went on (and on), Levin broke into the non-answers answering to state, "We're going to need to have your further thoughts on that if you want your thoughts to be considered we're obviously going to need those before we take up this authorization bill in mark up."  That's a basic point and it took the witnesses by surprise.  They apparently thought they could josh their way through the hearing which, in fairness to the two witnesses, the army had already recently done.  Credit to Carl Levin for immediately raising these issues.  The above exchange was from the first round of questioning.  No the Air Force wasn't at all prepared to answer.  Yes, it did show that the Congress was taking the spending of the tax payers' money seriously.  And Levin's exchange also showed the committee it was time to get serious.  The looks during this exchange were priceless and can be best be described as surprise replaced with enjoyment.  Levin set the tone and brought an energy into the hearing right away with that first exchange.
John McCain followed and immediately asked for "an update on the Joint Strike Fighter -- whether it's on time and what if any cost overruns are associated with it?"  McCain got a song and dance about it being national and international and across the branches and . . . McCain interrupted to ask "what's the cost" and how it was going?  Donley threw together a bunch of words that really said nothing (as his last sentence indicated).
Senator John McCain: Maybe you can submit in writing a response as to where we are as to the original cost estimates and the original schedule?
Michael B. Donley: Be happy to do that.
Senator John McCain: Appreciate it.  But I still don't get from your answer a feel has there been cost overruns that have been signficant already?
Michael B. Donley: I'd have to go back and look at the baseline program, sir, and -- to sort of give you a sense as to where things have come since the program started. 
Senator John McCain: I'd certainly hope you'd keep track of that every single day.  
Exactly.  The Air Force should have been prepared with the answer for the hearing and they should be following it every day.  This was where the Air Force made the case for the monies they say they need -- or it was supposed to be.  And the Air Force should have come prepared.  A basic question from Senator Ben Nelson about whether something was being carried over to Fiscal Year 2011 led to Schwartz yet again being unable to provide an answer. 
Yesterday the Senate Democratic Committee held a hearing about KBR's war profiteering and, specifically, how their shoddy electrical work put US service members at risk of death. Kimberly Hefling (AP) offers a BAD 'report' on the hearing, specifically this section:

William P. Utt, the chairman of Houston-based KBR Inc. told The Associated Press in an interview that the company was not expected to meet the U.S. electrical code in a wartime environment. He said the company was striving to meet the British electrical code, which was more in line with the Iraqi electrical system.

Were you at the hearing, Hefling? (I didn't see her.) If she was, why did she print KBR's assertion and not the testimony offered at the hearing which contradicts it? From yesterday's snapshot:

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.

PDF format warning, from Childs' opening statement:

KBR is responsible for about 4,000 to 6,000 hardstand buildings that existed before the war. The other roughly 90,000 buildings that KBR is responsible for under LOGCAP were built after the War in Iraq started and most were built by KBR and/or its subcontractors and the military. Many of these buildings are containerized living units, shower units, and latrines for soldiers to use on a daily basis. KBR did not do this work to any electrical code. KBR now claims to have used the British code BS7671 as its code, not the NEC. If you were to use the BS
7671 standards, there would be even more KBR code violations. Army inspectors interviewed KBR workers at the time of inspections. Almost all stated they were working to meet the NEC. 
They did not even know the British code and had never received any training related to the British code. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Is that too hard for Hefling to understand? And is it too much for AP to send reporters into hearings or just to expect that they will pay attention? AP has a real problem when it comes to reporting on Congressional hearings and apparently that includes reporting on the Senate Democratic Committee.

KBR chose not to appear at the hearing. As Senator Byron Dorgan noted during the hearing, he was sure they'd offer a denial after the hearing. It sure was 'nice' of Hefling to not only get a statement from them but to refuse to report how their claim had already been rejected by a Master Electrician in the hearing. Some might call it reporting -- they apparently have very few standards.   Kat reported on the hearing last night:
Second big point from me, why did we keep hearing that people were threatened with being fired if they told the truth? If people are being threatened by KBR with firing seems to me the Congress needs to do more than nod their heads and refer to it. If there were people who could have prevented some of the electrical shocks that killed at least 18 soldiers and they were silent because they were threatened, it seems to me Congress needs to be on that issue as well.            

My suggestion?                          

There are protections in place for government whistle blowers. KBR was working on government funds. There should be whistle blower protection for anyone working for the government and for anyone whistle blowing on a project that uses government funds in full or in part.               
Today the President of the United States, Barack Obama, gave attempted another pretty words speech, this one to note why he wasn't releasing torture photos but was bringing military tribunals back.  Though he didn't look directly into the camera and proclaim "I am George W. Bush Jr.!" he might as well have.  The Center for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner observes, "The president wrapped himself in the Constitution and then proceeded to violate it by announcing he would send people before irredeemably flawed military commissions and seek to create a preventive detention scheme that only serves to move Guantanamo to a new location and give it a new name."  Along with being a Constitutional Law expert, Ratner is also a co-host of  WBAI's Law and Disorder. (Along with Heidi Boghosian, Michael Smith and Dalia Hashad.) The ACLU's Suzanne Ito quotes the organization's Senior Legislative Counsel for the Washington Legislative Office:
Chris Anders: Interestingly, President Obama gave his speech while standing within a few feet of the Constitution. He and Congress should keep that cherished document in mind when considering today's proposals. You can't square upholding the Constitution with pushing for a new military commission scheme that would allow people to be convicted based on coerced evidence and asking Congress to pass the nation's first-ever law permitting the federal government to declare someone dangerous and imprison the person indefinitely without any criminal charges. Congress should reject that proposal.