Wednesday, July 8, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq sees at least 27 deaths reported and fifty wounded today, Adm Mike Mullen mentions Iraq and the press isn't interested, US House Rep Patrick Murphy leads the fight to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and more.
Today the Chair of the Joint chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, spoke at the National Press Club in DC.
Adm Mike Mullen: Clearly we're at a point now, in Iraq, where the violence level is down -- dramatically so. In fact, it's the lowest level of violence since 2003, 2004. And-and we are at a point -- we're on our plan to support the draw down which will start significantly really early in 2010, next year. And-and our ability to do all of this is, in great part, contributed to the 2.2 million men and women who-who served -- and so many so nobly, including those that uh paid the ultimate sacrifice and there isn't a day that goes by uh or uh very many issues that I'm dealing with where our young people uh in the best military I've ever seen aren't very much on my mind and I'm privileged to be with them. So as we move forward in Iraq -- and clearly that doesn't mean it's -- we still don't have our challenges. I think most of the challenges there right now are political challenges, economic challenges and that heavy focus in those areas is absolutely critical. And elections which come up next year, early next year, are vital and then after that my expectation is that we will draw down rapidly to get to about 35,000 to 50,000 troops in the August of 2010 and at that point certainly turn over -- we transition our combat forces totally uh to uh advisory and assistance forces. as you know the significant date last week was the 30 June date where we pulled out of the cities. The last two big areas were Mosul and Baghdad. That actually has gone very well. That doesn't mean that it isn't a vulnerable time -- uh times of transition al-always are -- but I'm confident right now that we've got the strategy right and the support of the Iraqi security forces.
He noted stresses on family members and service members and noted the suicide rate has been increasing for the military and otherwise focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports on the increase in service members' children seeking mental health treatment in 2008, noting that the number has doubled since the start of the illegal war. Mullen did not note that and no one asked about it.
The press? They did ask questions. They didn't ask about Iraq. When do they ever? The Iraq War is over -- or that's what they pretend. An exception being the Raleigh News & Observer which editorializes on the four most recent deaths in Iraq (Roger Adams, Juan Baldeosingh, Robert Bittiker and Edward Kramer) in "Four of the brave:"
A war that is said to be "winding down" isn't winding down at all for those who remain in the middle of it. The N.C. Guard knows that well. It has lost 15 troops there since the Iraq war began in 2003. A strong military presence in North Carolina, with multiple bases, brings pride to the state, and in times of war, a keen and painful shared sense of what it takes to fight. (In 2004, the 30th was the first major National Guard unit in the country to be sent to Iraq. It lost five soldiers on that tour. And just this past May, three died because of a suicide bomber.)
For the families of those in action, and all who know them and all who admire them, a war is not gauged merely by victory. It is about wives and children left behind, about all the good times shared, and all those that will never be shared.
As DC speeches go, Mullen's was a bust. Far better today, also at the National Press Club, was US House Rep Patrick Murphy who kicked off the Voices Of Honor campaign.
US House Rep Patrick Murphy: My name is Patrick Murphy, I'm a Democrat from the eighth district of Pennsylvania which is Bucks County and far north east Philadelphia. I am now a United States Congressman in my second term but prior to that I was in the military since 1993. I rose up to through the ranks to become a professor at West Point. And then when 9-11 happened, I served on two deployments. My first one with General [David] Petraeus and my second one as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004. That's why every day I wear the 82nd Airborne pin on my lapel, I don't wear the Congressional pin because 19 of my fellow paratroopers never made it home. I am proud to be the lead sponsor today of the Military Enhancement Readiness Act -- a bill that will finally repeal the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and are stretched dangerously thin. These men and women in our military understand what it takes to serve our country and the values that our military and our nation hold dear. They take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, yet the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy when it took effect in 1993 has discharged over 13,000 troops -- honorable men and women. That is the equivalent of three and a half combat brigades. They have been discharged not for any type of sexual misconduct but because of their sexual orientation. The policy is not working for armed services and it hurts national security. Attitudes on Don't Ask, Don't Tell have changed -- have changed in our military and have changed in the public at large. Up to 75% of Americans support repeal and the number is even higher in the age bracket of those we are recruiting from 18 years of age to 29. Former senior military leaders agree that it is time to re-evaluate and to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Opponents of lifting the ban arguing that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will be detremental to unit cohesion and morale. As a former Army officers and West Point professor, that is an insult to me and to all the troops serving in uniform. In Iraq, my men did not care what race, color, creed or sexual orientation their fellow paratroopers were. They cared, whether they could get the job done. We cared about serving with honor and coming home alive. Over 20 nations, include our two strongest allies, Great Britain and Israel, allow gays and lesbians to serve openly without any determental impact on unit cohesion or morale. Believe me, our heroes serving in the US military are the best fighting forces in the entire world. We are second to none. And we are just as good as those who serve in Great Britain and Israel. Our president, President Barack Obama, has stated that if Congress will get a bill to his desk repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, he will sign it into law. It is now our job, and my job specifically, to quarterback this through the Congress of the United States to do just that. I cannot tell you today how long it is going to take. All I can tell you is that paratroopers don't quit and paratroopers get the job done. To remove honorable, talented and committed Americans from serving in our military is contrary to the values that our military life holds dear. My time in Iraq and at West Point teaching the next generation of military leaders taught me that our military deserves and expects the best and the brightest that are willing to serve. I stand here today with these honorable and noble veterans. Together we will continue the fight to make our nation and our military stronger.
Mullen is incorrect about the violence being low. AFP observes today that June's official death total (from Iraqi ministries) was 437 -- "the highest toll since July 2008." But it wasn't just AFP who fact checked him, it was also events on the ground in Iraq today. Meanwhile Iraq wasn't an issue at Mullen's appearance before the National Press Club -- wasn't an issue to the press (Mullen addressed it as the first topic when he spoke, it's the press that didn't give a damn). Somewhere after weaponry program questions (yes, they had time for that in both costs -- FY2010 and beyond -- and wide-eyed dreaming of future wars), in the final minutes of Mullen's appearance (the second to last question), it was noted he had "called for an evolution in the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy" and he was asked if he could write the new policy, what it would be. "Well I'm not a policy guy," Mullen began indicating he would punt on the issue and avoid addressing it. "Uh, uh, I'm charged with carrying out the law I'm charged with carrying out policy and right now the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and law from 1993 is in effect." He then started mentioning Obama and US Secretary of Defense of Robert Gates. And, no, he never answered the question. So, yes, he could have stopped at "I'm not a policy guy." Yet still he continued, splitting sentences, serving up fragments, uh and uhm. He repeated that he just follows the law, for anyone who might have missed it, and "like the law that exists now, should the law change, certainly we would carry it out." In other words, how would he change it? He never said. But he went to great lengths to say he follows orders. For any who were confused by that point, Mullen follows orders.
And the press refused to care about anything other than the meal on their plates. And dessert. They cared about dessert. Your working press corps in their natural habitat, up close and scary.
At the Voices of Honor Campaign press conference, retired US Navy Captain Joan Darrah, of the Sevicemembers Legal Defense Network, expressed her confidence in Murphy's ability to lead in the House on this issue and get the needed 218 needed votes and shared her story.
Joan Darrah: When I first joined the Navy, I didn't realize I was gay. By the time I figured it out, I had about 10-plus years of service. Based on my promotion record and fitness reports it was clear to me that the Navy felt that I was making a difference so I opted to stay. Now that I am retired and out from under Don't Ask, Don't Tell I realize how incredibly stressful and frankfully just plain wrong it is to have to serve in silence. Each day I went to work wondering if that would be the day of my last service. Whenever the admiral would call me to his office 99.9% of me would be certain it was to discuss an operational issue but there was always a small part of me that feared the admiral was calling me into his office to tell me that I had been outed, that I was fired and that my career was over. On September 11th, I was at the Pentagon attending the weekly intelligence briefing when American flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, I was at the Pentagon bus stop. The office I had been in seven minutes earlier was completely destroyed and seven of my co-workers were killed. The reality is if I had been killed, my partner would have been the last to know because her name was nowhere in my records and I certainly hadn't dared to list her in my emergency contact information. It was the events of September 11th that made me realize that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was taking a much bigger toll than I had ever admitted. On 1 June, 2002, a year earlier than originally planned, I retired. I am incredibly proud of our military and our country. And I know that we will be stronger once Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed. More than 26 countries have already figured this out and now allow gay people to serve openly. What we need now is for Congress to act and they must act now. Every day the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is delayed, more highly qualified, motivated, valuable service members are discharged simply for being gay. Our great country can do better than this.
Among the others speaking, Iraq War veteran Eric Alva.
Eric Alva: Six years ago on March 21, 2003 I was part of a logistical convoy with 3rd Batallion 7th Marines. My unit was part of the first wave of ground troops that entered the country of Iraq from Kuwait to start the ground invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I had been in Iraq no more than three hours when I stepped on a landmine near the city of Basra wuffering life threatening injuries. I had a broken left leg, a broken right arm with severe nerve damage and a badly injured right leg that doctors had to ampute it in order to save my life. I had become the first American injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was not until February 28, 2007 that I announced not only to the people of the United States but to the rest of the world that the first American injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom was a gay marine. I decided to be true to myself and my country by coming forward and announcing who I am. My coming forward was to tell the people of this country that as a patriotic American when I went to fight the war on terrorism it was for the rights and freedoms of every single person in this country not just selected individuals. That means every single individual regardless of who they are. I stand here today on two good legs again with my fellow service members and a courageous Congress member Patrick Murphy to show my support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. It is time to let people be judged for their merit, professionalism and their leadership. This is a time when we should not be firing anyone from their job in the United States Armed Forces for being gay.
Rep Murphy's office has released a statement on the confrence today. Voices of Honor is a partnership between the Human Rights Campaign the Servicemembers United. Emily Sherman (CNN) reports, "A 'Voices of Honor' tour, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, will travel across the country sharing stories of gay, lesbian and straight servicemen and -women in hopes of garnering support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the law that established the policy. The act would allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the military without concealing their sexuality." Sherman notes Colin Powell was the architect (Powell refused to go along with then President Bill Clinton's effort to allow gays and lesbians to serve in 1993 and made many threats about what would happen if the policy went forward -- it was the first step in the disrespect for the president among the military that Powell fostered and had he been punished for it, he might not have been able to lie to the UN in 2003). Sherman has a few mealy mouthed words from Powell today and he's only saying those because he realizes the shame that his actions and that policy carry. More pointing out Colin's role in Don't Ask, Don't Tell could force him to actually speak out in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military openly. He's desperate to (white)wash his image and he's trying so very hard to get himself back into the news cycle. Which is why, Sunday, Colin Powell made a fool of himself -- as is to be expected. On CNN's State of the Union today, Collie The Blot Powell, who lied to the United Nations in an attempt to make the case for illegal war, declared the mistake about the Iraq War was . . . not doing an escalation ("surge") sooner. He lied the nation into illegal war and he's never apologized for it. He did fret a bit over his blot for a little while. Now instead of hanging his head in shame, fueled by the Cult of St. Barack, he's attempting a comeback. Smart would be using his ambition against him to force him to take a stand.
In Iraq today the Islamic State of Iraq did not hold a press conference; however, Aseel Kami, Missy Ryan and Elizabeth Fullerton (Reuters) report that the group did issue a statement in the form of an audiotape which declared, "Even if the Americans remain nowhere but a small spot in the Iraqi desert . . . so every Muslim should battle them until they are expelled." The statement might have garnered more attention were it not for the fact that car bombings rocked northern Iraq. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) explains they were in Ba'wiza and Gubba which are nearby neighborhoods of Mosul. Andrew Dobie (Reuters) adds the second bombing followed the first by approximately ten minutes. AP puts the death toll at 16 with over twenty-four wounded. AFP is able to confirm 12 dead and thirty injured via Dr. Ahmed Abdul Karim of Mosul's Medical City Hospital.
That was far from the only violence today and police officers continued to be targeted.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) notes a Mosul hand bomb aimed at a police patrol which left two police officers injured as well as five civilians, a Mosul car bombing which claimed the lives of 2 people ("inside the car"), a Mosul roadside bombing which injured one woman andd a Mosul roadside bombing which wounded one man. Reuters notes a Hilla roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 3 members of wedding party with eleven more left injured. AP notes that the wedding party bombing now has a death toll of 4 with sixteen injured and they note a bombing outside of Baghdad which claimed the lives of 2 people -- a father and his teenage son who had been working in their garden -- and left five people wounded.
Reuters notes "a member of the local infrastructure police" in Kirkuk was wounded in an attack, 1 person shot dead by Mosul police, one Mosul police officer wounded in a checkpoint shooting, one Iraqi soldier wounded in a Mosul shooting. AP reports the soldier died. Alsumaria reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul in front of his home.
Three big developments today may impact the immediate future in Iraq. Alsumaria reports that despite claims that a vote on Kirkuk might be able to take place before the elections now scheduled for January, no suche elections will be happening. AP adds, "On Wednesday, Iraqi officials said the Kurdish-run north of the country could not vote this month on a draft constitution, a document perceived by Iraqi Arabs as an effort to expand Kurdish authority at the expense of the central government." That draft constitution was to be voted on this month because the KRG holds their elections this month. Now that's been stopped and it is part of the continued tug-of-war between the Arabs and the Kurds. Finally, Alsumaria notes that a prison abuse investigation has been completed and that MP Zaynab Karim al Kinani of the Sadr bloc is stating that the results of the investigation "are not feasible stressing the need to reopen investigations, bring people implicated in torturing prisoners to justice and add a parlimentary committe of polical parties' represenatives to special investigation committees."
Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and Kat covered it at her site last night. The best witness was Retired Admiral John D. Hutson and we noted some of his remarks yesterday. His opening statement [PDF format warning] is now posted online by the committee and it can be found in HTML (what you're reading right now, normal webpage) at Franklin Pierce Law Center where is the Dean and President. He was the best witness. Huston is also a Retired Rear Admiral and a former Judge Advocat General of the Navy. The ACLU has released a silly statement where they praise David Kris for supposedly stating Due Process applies to military commissions. Kris stated that the Defense Department, not the Justice Department, should be prosecuting. A fact that the silly release leaves out. The press release does note:
In further hearings today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Denny LeBoeuf testified that the military commissions are inherently unconstitutional and cannot be fixed.
I didn't attend that hearing. But the remarks Denny LeBoeuf made, accurate remarks, were made at the full committee hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. And they were made by John D. Hutson. That's who should have been noted in their press release. Not the laughable Kris who only appears mildly competent because he was sitting next to Jeh Johnson. As someone who attended that hearing and heard Kris' many offensive remarks, I find it shocking that the ACLU wants to cite him at all.
Independent journalist David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). At Against the Current, he discusses the book with Star Murray and Charles Williams:
ATC: Why don't we start with the title of the book?
David Bacon: Well, I debated with the publisher a lot about it. I knew it was going to be kind of a controversial title, because I've been an immigrant rights activist for over 30 years and all that time we've been trying to get people to say "undocumented people" instead of "illegal aliens." And the reason for it is a very good one, which is that the word "illegal" is used to demonize people and to excuse denial of rights and second-class social status.
So putting the word illegal in the title, especially saying "illegal people," I anticipated that people would say "Well, okay, you're doing what you have tried to get people not to do." The reason I did so is because writing the book made me really think more concretely about where illegality comes from, and there is a part of the book that traces out the development of the social category.
It doesn't really have much to do with the law. It has to do with the creation of a social category for people who are denied equality with those who live in the community around them, and who don't have the same set of rights and don't have the same social and political and legal status.
So the book traces this history all the way back to the origins of this country and the colonization of North America, and specifically to slavery. Slavery established the idea that the society that was created here was going to be divided, that people were going to be divided between those that had rights and those who had no rights.
The purpose of this was economic really. The labor of slaves was what was desired by slave holders, and the whole system was built and developed in order to allow for the maximum extraction of that labor. And then that inequality got not only written into the Constitution and into law, but applied to other people too. There were simultaneous debates in the Americas about the status of indigenous people.
What I'm trying to say is that illegality is real. It's a real status of people. And that it has an economic function, and this system creates illegality for very specific reasons. Today, in a globalized world, we have the use of neoliberal economic reforms, including free trade treaties, that in countries like Mexico displace people and send them into motion, and then those people are forced to come to the United States looking for work and survival and, at the same time, are forced into a social category, illegality, which already existed before they get here.
Basically the book's argument in the end is that this is obviously a very brutal system, and if we don't like illegality we have to change the social reality. It's not enough to just say "Well, let's not demonize people by not calling them illegals and instead using the word undocumented." I believe very strongly that we should use the term "undocumented people," but we have to face the fact that undoing illegality requires a social movement and social struggle, and we have to be willing to do that.