Monday, July 13, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, July 13, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, churches are the new targets in Iraq, BBC airs a documentary exploring the assualts on Iraq's LGBT community, Mike Mullens visits Iraq, ABC's Bob Woodruff covers it, and more.
Starting with war resistance.  Last week in the US, a group of activists rallied for US war resister Kimberly Rivera, the first female resister to publicly seek asylum in Canada, at the Canadian Consulate in San Francisco.  They gathered petitions and rallied outside at noon before presenting the petitions.  Bill Carpenter (Indybay Media) offers a report with video. David Solnit, co-author with Aimee Allison of Army Of None, explains in the reception area that they have signatures for Kimberly "who is a US soldier who's facing deportation" from Canada. From the video, I believe that's Joanne Cherep that approaches them. (I could be wrong.)
David Solnit: Hi.  My name's David Solnit, I work with a peace group called Courage to Resist and we have a bunch of folks with peace and human rights groups and we've gathered 6,000 signatures in support of Kimberly Rivera and so we would like to present them.
Except for Adrian Wilson, all present were US citizens.  Wilson noted, "I'm a Canadian citizen and I'm here representing unconventional action in the Bay and I just wanted to request that PM [Stephen} Harper grant asylum to any and all Americans who are seeking refuge."  Below is the letter 6,000 people signed on to.
 Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney

Please act immediately to stop the deportation of Kimberly Rivera, her husband and their three children by implementing the Canadian Parliament's resolutions to allow U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.

I am writing from the United States to ask that you abide by the House of Commons resolution -- reaffirmed February 12, 2009 -- to create a program to allow war objectors, including U.S. resisters, to apply for permanent resident status in Canada and to cease all deportation and removal proceedings against them.

The recent flurry of deportation orders to war resisters, including Kimberly Rivera, and the forcing out of Robin Long, Cliff Cornell and Chris Teske, flaunted Canada's longstanding tradition of providing sanctuary to war objectors. Upon their forced return from Canada to the U.S. military, Robin and Cliff were sentenced to 15 and 12 months imprisonment respectively. Future resisters face even stiffer sentences.

When more than 50,000 Americans refused to fight in Vietnam and emigrated to Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared, "[They] have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism."

On June 3, 2008, the House of Commons first voted to uphold this rich tradition by passing a historic resolution to allow war resisters to apply for permanent residence status in Canada and to halt the deportation of conscientious objectors. In addition to this parliamentary motion, according to a recent poll, nearly two of three Canadians also favor allowing U.S. war resisters to stay. Furthermore, many wonderful Canadians have opened their homes and hearts to U.S. war resisters.

I ask that the Canadian government respect the democratic decision of Parliament, the demonstrated opinion of the Canadian citizenry, the view of the United Nations, and millions of Americans by immediately implementing the motion and cease deportation proceedings against Kimberly Rivera, Jeremy Hinzman, Patrick Hart, Dean Walcott and other current and future war resisters.
Yesterday BBC Radio 5 live broadcast the documentary Gay Life After Saddam.  The documentary was supposed to air July 5th; however, the Wimbledon Men's Final ran long and the broadcast was rescheduled.  This is a section of the opening:
Aasmah Mir: Since the invasion six years ago a steep rise in sectarian violence has claimed thousands of victims throughout the country but this could just be the tip of the iceberg because murders and attacks against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community are also on the increase but often go unreported. So what is happening to gay people inside Iraq? We've spoken to a range of people -- to those still inside the country and to those who fled to different parts of the world.  The names of victims appearing in this program have been changed to protect their identities.  Researchers from the US-based Human Rights Watch recently spent several months investigating the treatment of gay people in Iraq.
Scott Long: Today we're going to look at a new issue for us --
Aasmah Mir: The director of the organization LGBT program, Scott Long, outlined some of their findings at a briefing in New York.
Scott Long: I'm going to start by reading a testimony, or part of a testimony, from a man we spoke to who was 35-years-old.  He actually developed a severe speech impediment from strain and grief.  This is what he told us: "It was late one night in early April and they  came to take my partner at his parent's house.  Four armed men barged into the house. they were masked and wearing black.  They asked for him by name.  They insulted him and they took him in front of his parents.  He was found in the neighborhood the day after.  They had thrown his corpse in the garbage, his genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out.  Since then, I've been unable to speak properly. I feel as if my life is pointless now.  I don't have friends other than those you see.  For years, it's just been my boyfriend and myself in that little bubble by ourselves.  I have no family now.  I can't go back to them."

Aasmah Mir: Back in Britain, I went to see asylum seeker Ali Hilli who runs a group called Iraqi LGBT.
Aasmah Mir: Hello Ali.
Ali Hilli: Hello Ashram, how are you?
Aasmah Mir: I'm fine thank you.  How are you?

Ali Hilli: Good thank you.
Aasmah Mir: Thanks very much for talking to us.
Aasmah Mir: While I was with him, Ali showed me some of the shocking video evidence of torture his group has been collecting. The images he showed me concerned attacks on transsexuals
Aasmah Mir:  People were -- had their heads shaved.  In this video we see one of the victims, his name is Ali also, he was a member of our group in Najaf, a trans person lived all his life as a transwoman.  They took him away.  They had his head shaved.  And they distributed this video everywhere in Iraq and we still don't have an idea
Aasmah Mir: And that's what we can actually see right now, he's sitting on a stool, dressed in female clothes, long hair and someone is shaving his head.
Ali Hilli: Yes and uh it's so degrading.
Aasmah Mir: Yeah.  How do you feel when you watch this kind of video because obviously you probably see a lot of it.  This is the first time I've seen anything like this and, you know, obviously I'm quite shocked by it.  But you, you must see this stuff all the time.  Do you still feel shocked by it or are you almost becoming -- getting used to it in a kind of way?
Ali Hilli: No, I will never get used to atrocities against humanity.  If I see the video for the first time, I'm quite shaken because the only thing that I-I afraid to catch is the moment of death. This is what I-I don't want to see in my life.   I-I can - I can bear anything, I can accept anything but to kill a human?  I just can't.
Aasmah Mir: We were granted exclusive access to one of the so-called safe houses set up and funded and managed by the London-based Iraqi LGBT group.  On the outskirts of Baghdad, in an anonymous street behind heavily curtained windows we found Kassim a man in his late thirties.  Kassim describes himself as a woman in a man's body.  He's had a lifetime of trouble coming to terms with his gender identity.  Kassim's been the victim of violence on several occasions most recently earlier this year
Kassim: One day, um, someone stopped his car by me and he said "Taxi" and I said, "Why?  Why taxi?" Where are you going?  And I said I was going to this certain place.  He took me to an empty house and put a white blindfold on my eyes and then put a gun to my head and I said, "Just give me a time to pray to God before you kill me."  And he said, "I won't give you time to pray."  And he threatened me and I wasn't moving because I was afraid that he would kill me with the gun and then finally he said, "Okay, I'll let you go for this time but your day will come where you will die
Aasmah Mir: Amil's a young Iraqi man whose seeking asylum in London.  A gay friend of his was killed by extremists in Iraq.
Amil: I used to have a friend, he was student with me and they find out he was gay and they kill him and they chop him like a -- like a lamb or I couldn't or I can't - I can't hardly say because it was really awful.  They kill him and they chop it him and they put him in front of the institute, the one I was studying, to show and to scare the people to not be gay or homosexual.
Aasmah Mir: Most shocking of the recent reports to emerge from Iraq is a form of torture used on gay men involving glue.  Hossein Alizadeh is the Middle East and North Africa researcher for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Hossein Alizadeh: The most horrendous form of torture that I have heard and seen is what happened during March and April in Iraq.  Members of the Iraqi Shi'ite militia  al-Mahdi group, they went around posted lists, names of the people who were supposed to be gay and when they arrest them they basically use glue to shut down their digestive system -- the anus. Others who managed to escape go to the hospitals and the hospitals refuse treatment to those people because, again, they look gay or they're perceived to be gay.  So we had numerous cases -- I can tell you about fifty or sixty cases I've heard -- that have been tortured in that way.
Aasmah Mir: Rasha Moumneh is the Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch
Rasha Moumneh: You know some of the gay men have actually talked about internet entrapment, a lot of men would be kidnapped, blackmailed for money.  We've talked to people whose partners have been killed in the most brutal of ways.
Aasmah Mir: And it appears that it is not just people who are gay, bi or transsexual who find themselves the target of violence
Ali Hilli: Anyone who's gay, who looks like gay, or have an effeminate behavior, certain Western dress, we've heard of so many examples of people who were, they were even married with children      
Aasmah Mir: There seems to have been an increase in violence in recent months but according to the London-based Iraqi LGBT the killings and torture go back a long way.  They claim more than 600 people have been executed since 2003.
Ali Hilli: There are so many other areas like villages, little towns, also big cities, we can't have people reach to or investigate about incidents.  Also sometimes security situation is quite very complicated, people can't travel often to check or find out what's happening in certain areas.  So I believe the number is far more higher than 600.  
Aasmah Mir: Gay people are seeking sanctuary from the violence in Iraq in all parts of the world.  At a secret location by the banks of the Seine in Paris we met Omar a twenty year old gay man who just weeks earlier had been facing death in Iraq. A small, slightly built young man, who looks younger than his age, told us his story.  At times clearly traumatized.
Omar: I was arrested and I was in retention and there I found five other gay persons.  We suffered torture.  There was the electrical way -- to use electricity to torture us.  And there's a position where my head is down through my legs -- and  my head is down, it's something horrible.  While you have another mean of torture using the belts -- you cannot imagine -- a normal person cannot imagine such torture.
Aasmah Mir:  I'm Aasmah Mir and you're listening to Gay Life After Saddam on BBC Radio 5 live. So what was life like for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people before the fall of Saddam Hussein
Scott Long: There was no possibility of leading a particularly public gay life. There are reports from Amnesty International that 2002 as Saddam was attempting to sort of shore up his Islamist credentials, before the invasion, he passed decrees mandating the death penalty for prostitution and for homosexual conduct.  We haven't actually seen those decrees and we can't confirm what they contain.
Aasmah Mir: This Iraqi student who wishes to remain anonymous now lives in New York
Anonymous: I had a pretty, you know, reasonable gay lifestyle under the table -- in terms of, you know,  circle of friends, gatherings, get-togethers, we'd get together at homes.  Before the war, there were a couple of bars, a couple of clubs that on weekends are pretty much publicly gay and everybody knew about it and we used to go and hang out there and that's fine as long as we don't take that out in the streets.
Aasmah Mir:  Ali Hilli was a young gay men in Iraq during the 1990s.  He has fond memories of the underground gay scene that flourished without much interference in Saddam's Baghdad.
Ali Hilli: Well we had - we had lots of theater actually plays that we were -- people always have to refer to the gay character which is always taken as a sense of humor in shows.  We used to go to -- to see lots of theaters and plays.  I don't know, for some reason there is always a gay character in these plays and I quite like it because I know some of the actors who are really gay themselves and we enjoy it because they really make the most of it.  They camp it up.  And there were lots of gay famous singers.
Aasmah Mir: Kassim remembers a better life under Saddam    .  
Kassim: Life was good, everything was okay.  There were clubs, cafeterias and we could choose where we sat.  We could choose any place to sit and meet other gays  and frankly compared to the current situation the times under Saddam were much better.
Aasmah Mir: Haider is an Iraqi seeking asylum in England.  He's been living in Huntersfield.  He left Iraq shortly after the US invasion six years ago.
Haider: If you respect yourself and live and you don't cause any problems nobody is going to kill you we didn't hear of anybody being killed because of his sexuality in Saddam's regime. Now after that, everything got worse, everything got fluctuated.  I fled from Iraq in 2003 because of one of the worst experiences I've had in my life. I was kidnapped for 9 days, they took me in a small car and they send me about to a place about half an hour.  I was.  I was eye-folded, they call it.  [. . .]  on the border of Baghdad. One of the officers there, he raped me. And then he said "if you're going to tell anyone from the rest of the gang, I will kill you directly." I was scared.  Just a one meal a day which is not enough. They were always telling us that they were going to kill you.
If you missed it you have six days to listen online and note that first five minutes of the podcast are headlines and the program starts around 5:42 into the podcast.  The next section is where ignorance is really flaunted as 'average' Iraqi men 'explain' 'reality.'  Such as it's wrong to have sex with a guy who is a man -- as opposed to a guy who is a woman?  You'll hear non-stop ignorance and hatred in that section.  After that the issue of responsibility for the violence is raised and then is there a role for the US, UK, etc.  It's a powerful program and those who are able to stream it should.
Violence swept through Iraq over the weekend and a new feature, reported by Iran's Press TV, was the targeting US Ambassador Chris Hill with a roadside bomb in Dhi Qar. Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) explains, "The Shiite Arab-dominated province was among the first handed over to Iraqi security forces, and was the scene of periodic clashes between Iraqi security forces and a militia loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in 2007." Aamer Madhani (USA Today) adds, "A USA TODAY reporter was traveling in a separate U.S. convoy a few minutes behind Hill's in Nasiriyah, a relatively peaceful city where Hill had just finished meeting with local political leaders." No one was reported wounded or killed in the bombing and no one should bother to even think about if if the US State Dept's reaction is any clue.  In a shameful press briefing today Ian Kelly, State Dept spokesmodel, never raised the issue and an increasingly disinterested press corps never asked.  Iraq's not one of their 'issues' apparently and Kelly seems to forget that Chris Hill is under the State Dept umbrella.   
The bombing targeting Hill wasn't the only one but the State Dept press corps doesn't give a damn about Iraq and Ian Kelly couldn't find it with two hands and a flashing lights illuminating its borders.  So the new 'hot' target in Iraq was yet another issue the State Dept didn't tackle.  It needs to be noted that this administration repeatedly pushes the previous one's talking point about lack of progress on Iraq's political scene.  So why isn't that asked of at each State Dept briefing?  Because the reporters just don't give a damn.
Saturday Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reported two Baghdad bombings which damaged a church.  By the following day, a pattern would emerge.  Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) explains that "six bombs exploed outside churches around Baghdad" on Sunday "killing four and sowing fears among the country's dwindling Christian minority that they may be subject to a fres round of persecution now that U.S. forces have withdrawn from Iraq's cities."  Michael Ware (CNN -- link is for video report, not the text on the page) reported on the bombings:
Naamua Delaney: Michael you also talked about the mass exodus of Christians from Iraq. How many are left at this point? 

Michael Ware: Well that's very difficult to say. There's no precise figures on what was originally the Christian population in this country; however, most people seem to agree it was around a million Christians in Iraq. Most people now seem to agree that anything from 600,000 to 800,000 of that million have fled. Indeed we know that just say last October there were reports that in the northern city of Mosul which is one of the last urban strongholds of al Qaeda in Iraq as many as a thousand Christian families left the city and left the country at that time after they faced a threat from Islamic militants to convert or to die.
From summer to fall of 2008, Iraqi Christians in and around Mosul were targeted. Yesterday's attack on Iraqi Christians in Baghdad was the most visible attack on Iraqi Christians in months; however, it is a slow and steady trickle of weekly and daily attacks that have gone on since the start of the illegal war.  Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) observed that Sunday's "worst attack" was when "a car bomb exploded just before dusk outside the Church of Mariam Al-Adra, or the Church of the Virgin Mary, part of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, in central Baghdad.  The blast, which reverberated across the city, damaged the church and scorched cards near a park on Palestine Street.  The blast killed and wounded Christians and Muslims." Doreen Abi Raad (Catholic News Service) reports, "Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, Iraq, had just finished celebrating Mass at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chruch and was talking to parishioners in the courtyard.  Moments later, while he was in his office, a bomb exploded on the road that runs alongside the church."  Doreen Abi Raad quotes Bishop Warduin stating, "We had been praying for peace during the Mass. [. . .] all the little children (had been) praying in the church.  Then they ran outside to see the death, the destruction, to see the war.  It was hell.  We cry: Why?  Why?  What is our fault?  That we are Christians?" Pope Benedict XVI has called out the assaults on Sunday.  L'Osservatore Romano (Italian article, and note the photo the charred car outside the church) reports that the Pope states he "prays for a conversion of the heart of those responsible for the violence and encourages the authorities to do all that is possible to promote peace for all of the Iraqi population."  The report notes that since the fall of Saddam's regime, Iraq's Christian community has been the target of a series of attacks with August 2004 being the most serious when there were four attacks in Baghdad and two in Mosul which led to at least ten dead and fifty wounded.  October 16, 2004 saw five attacks on houses of worship in Baghdad and surrounding areas. Under Saddam, the report states, the Christians in Iraq enjoyed safety and a reletaive freedom and some held important positions in the government like Tareq Aziz who was the Deputy Prime Minister prior to the start of the illegal war.  (Since Marach of this year, he has been serving a fifteen year prison sentece.  He had been held by the US military since 2003.  In 2007, Cardinal Emmanuel Delly made a Christmas plea for his release.)  The most high profile assault on a single Christian individual was probably the kidnapping and murder of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.  From the March 13, 2008 snapshot:
Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is dead.  He was leaving the Catholic Church in Mosul when he, his driver and two others were stopped on February 29th and the Archbishop was kidnapped while the three others were shot dead.  Throughout the kidnapping, Pope Benedict XVI has issued mutliple appeals for the Archbishop to be released.  The kidnappers had requested a ransom and then increased the amount they were asking for.  After that contact appeared to break off.  Reuters reports that the Archbishop's corpse was discovered in Mosul today "half-buried in an empty lot" and "Police said it was not clear whether Rahho, 65, had been killed or died of other causes.  He appeared to have been dead a week and had no bullet wounds, police at the morgue in Mosul said.  He was dressed in black trousers and a blue shirt."  AP reports, "After two weeks of prayers and searching, officials at the archbishop's church received a phone call from the kidnappers on Wednesday, informing them that he had died and where he was buried, Monsignor Shlemon Warduni, the auxillary bishop of Baghdad, told The Associated Press."  Spero News notes, "In a letter to the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, Cardinal [Francis] George called today's killing 'callous' and one which 'demonstrates the particularly harsh realities faced by Christians in Iraq and the lack of security faced by all Iraqis'." notes, "The Chaldean community around the world stand numb and in disbelief as news of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul is dead.  Outcry from world leaders swayed no influences as fanatical terrorists proved once more that no women, children, medical providers, and now spiritual leaders are safe from their killing spree." They also note that the ransom requests led to requests by the Church to speak to the the Archbishop and that's what led to their being informed he was dead and "had been dead for at least five days before his body was found this morning by some members of the Church, following information provided by the kidnappers themselves."  Frances Harrison (BBC) notes, "Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is thought to be the highest-ranking Chaldean Catholic clergyman to be killed in the violence in Iraq."  March 11th, US House Rep Jeff Fortenberry raised the kidnapping of the Archbishop in an open hearing (by two subcommittees, click here). 
Today Iraq attempted to 'respond' to the bombings.  There's only one response ever, the same response Nouri's done over since being installed by the US in 2006: crackdown. Aseel Kami, Tim Cocks and Richard Balmforth (Reuters) explain Mosul is now under curfew while, at present, nothing different is taking place in Baghdad.  CNN notes that another church has been bombed today, this one in Mosul (the curfew doesn't appear to have helped, now did it?) with three children (possibly more) left injured.  Nada Bakri (Washington Post) reports that while Mosul is under crackdown, security has been "tightened" in Baghdad while Tilkaif and Hamdaniyah have a car ban. The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, stated today that, "This campaign is aimed at terrorizing vulnerable groups and preventing the peaceful coexistence of different religious groups in what is one of the world's cradles of religious and ethnic diversity."  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) notes that the bombing today in Mosul was between a church and a mosque and that three boys were wounded and a Baghdad roadside bombing left three police officers and four civilians injured.
Meanwhile ABC News notes that Bob Woodruff has returned to Iraq and the "first report will air tonight on World News with Charlie Gibson".  In January 2006, Bob Woodward was co-anchor, with Elizabeth Vargas, of ABC's World News Tonight.  A roadside bombing severely injured him and he had a very difficult recovery.   David Zurawik (Baltimore Sun) explains Woodruff's report won't air tonight due to a sandstorm and that his first report is now expected to air on Tuesday night.  Brian Stelter (New York Times) notes Woodruff is with the press corps covering Adm Mike Mullen's trip.  Bob Woodruff's recovery was rightly news and his return trip to Iraq is as well.  However in the bulk of the reports (I know of at least twenty that we're not linking to) the focus is on Bob Woodruff who, honestly, won't have much time to absorb the trip until he returns due to his schedule (and temperament).  If reporters were attempting to cover the stress right now, I would assume the person to call would be Lee Woodruff, author most recently of Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress, who is no doubt proud of her husband but would understandly be more than a little ill at ease as she waits for his return.  Again, Bob Woodruff's first report is scheduled to air Tuesday evening on ABC World News Tonight.
Again, he is part of the press corps traveling with the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen whom, Andrew Gray (Reuters) reports is grounded in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk due to the sandstorms and that he has met with leaders in Kirkuk.  Mullen summed up the 'interaction' thusly: "My message to them today was: we're leaving and you'd better figure it out."  On the issue of Kirkuk,  Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) reported yesterday that the status of Kirkuk "is now seen as the leading long term threat to Iraq's stability as sectarian violence dies down" and that Kirkuk does not appear likely to be getting a vote anytime soon and cites the Speaker of Parliament, Ayad al-Samarai, declaring that instead of open election, Arab and Turkmen MPs are advocating for a number of seats set aside for each ethnic group in the city.
Moving over to England, Matthew Weaver (Guardian) notes that Iraqi Baha Mousa's death at the age of 26 while in British custody in September 2003 is the subject of a public inquiry in England which began today and that, "A central issue of the inquiry is why five 'conditioning techniques' -- hooding prisoners, putting them in stress positions, depriving them of sleep, depriving them of food and water, and playing white noise -- were used on Iraq detainees.  The techniques, inflicted on IRA suspects, were banned in 1972 by then prime minister, Edward Heath."  The Telegraph of London offers that Baha "was beaten to death" while in British custody, "sustaining 93 separate injuires, including fractured ribs and a broken nose."  The Telegraph also notes that the inquiry was shown video of Corporal Donald Payne yelling and screaming, "shouting and swearing at the Iraqis as they are force to main painful 'stress position'." Julian Rush (Channel 4) offers a video report of the hearing thus far and what the inquiry is supposed to explore over the next year. BBC explains the Sir William Gage led inquiry will explore four segments:

• The history of "conditioning" techniques, like hooding, used by UK troops while questioning prisoners from Northern Ireland in the early 1970s to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003                             

• What happened to Mr Mousa and other Iraqi detainees          

• Training and the chain of command                           

• Events since 2003 and any recommendations for the future                           
Moving to the US, last week, the US army released their latest suicide data (for the month of June). Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reports this morning, "Army commanders are failing at the day-to-day task of monitoring troubled young soldiers in their barracks back home, which is helping push suicides to record numbers, the head of the Army's suicide task force [Brig Gen Colleen McGuire] says."  James Dao (New York Times) tracks Iraq War veteran Damian J. Todd's attempts to get his claims filled by the VA in order to put a human face on the non-stop, never-ending delays by the VA. Dao notes that the VA's unprocessed claims are "now over 400,000, up from 253,000 six years ago, the agency said." Actually, they're a lot higher.  The June 25th snapshot notes that day's House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing on the Post-9-11 GI Bill which requires new payments starting August 1st. [If you qualify or think you may for the new education benefits, you can refer to the VA's GI Bill website as a resource. For those with limited internet access or who would prefer the human interaction, the toll free number is 1-888-GI-BILL-1 or 1-888-442-4551. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) has a webpage that gives you a historical overview and also allows you to locate a VFW service officer who can assist veterans with the application process.] The VA's Director from the Office of Education Service Keith Wilson testified that, due to the number of applications which had come in up to that point, there might be a last minute crunch of applications as people rushed to put their paperwork through in order to qualify for the fall semester. Dao notes, "Veterans advocates say the actual backlog is nearing one million, if minor claims, educational programs and appeals of denied claims are factored in."
As Winona says to Ethan in Reality Bites, "Where were you?"  To draw attention to Iraq on the sixth anniversary, Rebecca instituted a number of community roundtables in the weeks leading up to the anniversary.  They took place each Friday night and were posted at the sites of all participating.  One week, Rebecca led us in an additional roundtable. "Selling out the women of Afghanistan," "Afghanistan," "Afghanistan women get forgotten"
"Afghanistan roundtable," "US designates Gulbuddin Hekmatyar a Terrorist," "afghanistan roundtable," "Afghanistan," "Afghanistan in the Kitchen," "Talking Afghanistan," "The Afghanistan Roundtable," "Roundtabling Afghanistan," "Friday night movie post on Tuesday," "Afghanistan roundtable," "Iraq and Afghanistan," "Afghanistan," "Ron DLC Kirk," "Iraq, Hillary, Isaiah, etc" and "Anti-feminist Barack Obama."  From the opening of that roundtable:
Rebecca: [. . .] Why a roundtable? Why now? Middle of the week when we all have things to do. We're doing this on Ava and C.I.'s dinner time, for example. Kat's as well but she's not planning on going back out and speaking about Iraq tonight. Kat, Ava and C.I. are on the road -- with Wally of The Daily Jot -- speaking out against the illegal war in and on Iraq. Ruth's been taking care of her grandson all day, Trina's been taken care of her granddaughter, I've been taking care of my daughter, Betty worked all day and has three children, Dona was in classes all day, Elaine was seeing patients all day, Marcia was working hard -- and almost had a heart attack, as Ava and C.I. always say, "we'll get to it." The point being -- and I hope I didn't leave anyone out -- we're all busy. We all have other things to do. Ava and C.I. are taking notes, therefore unable to really eat dinner. Elaine said she'd type this up and she's tired. We're all tired. But we're doing a roundtable because it's become necessary. On Sunday, Little Barry Obam-bam could be found in the New York Times floating diplomatic ties between the US and the Taliban. That's what it was, get serious. Third Estate Sunday Review addressed it with "Editorial: Ms. magazine gets punked" and that was written by Jim, Jess, Wally and Ty, who aren't with us, and Dona, Ava, C.I., Kat and Betty, who are with us. It's only getting worse as the week continues, Little Barry's Big Plan to make out with the Taliban. I understand he's going to give it up for them, lose his cherry. But I'm going to toss to Marcia to explain how it just got out of control today. Marcia?            

Marcia: As I explained to Rebecca, I was at work when my boss starts screaming for me. At the top of her lungs. I didn't think it was financial -- example, "We're closing!" And my own work hadn't been any problem. Plus my boss isn't a screamer. So I hurry into her office convinced she's just learned that one of her parents have died or that she's got only a few months to live or something. She was on the phone with a friend who had called to tell her about this "disgusting radio show" and how they were pushing the Taliban as a good thing. My boss couldn't believe it but then her friend was trying to remember the name and couldn't.. Finally, she remembered the name of the host, Amy Goodman.
I include all that because (a) if anyone wants to go to town on the highlight we're about to note, do so with my blessing and (b) we need to realize that the time to speak out was in March, not July.  And if you're only now speaking out, you should be speaking out even stronger.  And if you can't mention Barack -- you know I'm damn tired, DAMN TIRED, of these closeted Communists.  I don't know why they love Barry and I don't know who they think they fool by being "out" in political circles but closeted on air and in print.  I guess we're supposed to believe Pacifica's just an oasis of "independent" voters?  So cowardly craven Sonali Kolhatkar finally wants to speak up for Afghanistan women.  FINALLY.  And don't give me that s**t about how she's spoken out before.  Her ass has been silent since Barack chose to get in bed with the Taliban.  She hasn't said  a damn word until this month.  With Mariam Rawl, she offers (at ZNet):

As humanitarians and as feminists, it is the welfare of the civilian population in Afghanistan that concerns us most deeply. That is why it was so discouraging to learn that the Feminist Majority Foundation has lent its good name -- and the good name of feminism in general -- to advocate for further troop escalation and war.


On its foundation Web site, the first stated objective of the Feminist Majority Foundation's "Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls" is to "expand peacekeeping forces."        


First of all, coalition troops are combat forces and are there to fight a war, not to preserve peace. Not even the Pentagon uses that language to describe U.S. forces there. More importantly, the tired claim that one of the chief objectives of the military occupation of Afghanistan is to liberate Afghan women is not only absurd, it is offensive.          


Waging war does not lead to the liberation of women anywhere. Women always disproportionately suffer the effects of war, and to think that women's rights can be won with bullets and bloodshed is a position dangerous in its naïveté. The Feminist Majority should know this instinctively.         


Here are the facts: After the invasion, Americans received reports that newly liberated women had cast off their burquas and gone back to work. Those reports were mythmaking and propaganda. Aside from a small number of women in Kabul , life for Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban has remained the same or become much worse.                     


Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children.              


Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war. The conflict outside their doorsteps endangers their lives and those of their families. It does not bring them rights in the household or in public, and it confines them even further to the prison of their own homes. Military escalation is just going to bring more tragedy to the women of Afghanistan .           

You can agree with their essay if you want to be STUPID.  If you want to be a FOOL.  Feminist Majority Foundation is making a fool of itself, no question.  And we've called them out (and I know Eleanor Smeal but that never stops me from calling her out).  But what a ridiculous piece of trash column from Sonali.  Feminist Majority Foundation is the ultimate target? 
Really?  You want to play that?  Are you telling me that Eleanor Smeal is directing the Afghanistan War?  Strange, I thought it was Barack Obama.  You know, the man your closeted Communist won't call out for reasons that you need to explain to your listening audience.  Sonali, you're a damn joke and you made yourself one.  This column where you finally, FINALLY, speak out for Afghanistan women is so damn weak and pathetic it's as if a small toddler wrote it with a crayon.  Grow the hell up, you political closet case, you're a damn embarrassment for yourself and others and I don't have the time and the women of Afghanistan damn sure don't have the time.  You either grow the hell up and learn to call out the president directing this illegal war of aggression or shut your damn ass because you're not helping anyone.  You're just embarrassing yourself.  What an idiot.  What a coward.  What a fool.  Closets are for wardrobes, dear.  Here's another tip, when you're calling out people getting cozy with the wrong side in Afghanistan and doing it four months late, you need to write a lot more strongly.  Get off your knees and stand the hell up, you embarrass us all.

Ron Jacobs hides in no political closet.  At Dissident Voice, he raises an important issue today:
Should the US antiwar movement be attending rallies sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) claiming to support the opposition movement in Iran? According to the group Stop War on Iran, this is exactly what United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and other antiwar groups are doing. If so, are they really supporting the leftist and progressive elements of that opposition or are they naively providing cover for those in the United States power elites who would love to see a regime friendly to Washington ruling in Tehran? Recently, UFPJ urged its members to attend rallies called by a group that goes by the name of United for Iran on July 25, 2009. While I believe the intentions of the antiwar organizations calling on folks to join these protests come from a genuine desire to see an end to the Tehran government's repression, the fact that some of the Iranian dissident groups in Iran and in exile take their money and guidance from the NED and other US-propaganda operations compromises the antiwar groups' position.       
An even closer connection to the NED funds is that of the apparent US organizer of the United for Iran rallies, Hadi Ghaemi. Mr. Ghaemi is is the director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. This group is a project of the Dutch Foundation for Human Security in the Middle East. More important as regards his NED connection is Ghaemi's role as a former board member of the National Iranian American Council, which has received over a quarter million dollars in NED grants. While this is not an indictment of the desire for greater freedoms in Iran expressed by Ghaemi and his organization, one would think these connections would give pause to a US antiwar group whose leadership knows only too well the role groups funded by the NED and other US special funds played in the period leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.