Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Yesterday Human Rights Watch released a new report entitled [PDF format warning] "On Vulnerable Ground: Violence against Minority Communities in Nineveh Province's Disputed Territories" (see yesterday's snapshot). For a change, a report actually gets press attention. BBC generally covers the reports so this is not a shift for them but they'll get noted first since they continue their coverage. Nishant Dahiya (NPR -- text only) covers the report and notes:

Though these minorities live in disputed land that stretches from Sinjar near the Syrian border to Khanaqin near the Iranian border, the HRW report concentrates on the northern province of Nineveh, Iraq's second most-populous. There, according to HRW, the minorities have been targeted by Sunni insurgents who regard them as "crusaders" and "infidels." Bombings in Nineveh have killed hundreds of minorities since 2007. In late 2008, "a systematic and orchestrated campaign of targeted killings and violence by insurgents left 40 Chaldo-Assyrians dead and more than 12,000 displaced from their homes in Mosul (the capital of Nineveh and regarded as the last urban strong-hold of al-Qaida in Iraq)."

That's due to security concerns which determined the areas they'd visit and wouldn't visit. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, HRW visited Arbil, Bashiqa, Bartalah, Qaraqosh, al-Qosh, Sulaymaniyah and Tal Usquf. Saturday the New York Times attempted to cover a report -- it was not pretty. Today's paper includes Sam Dagher's "Iraq's Northern Minorities Seen Under Critical Threat" which gives a general overview of the report but mainly relies upon HRW's Joe Stork and Jaffar Sheik Mustafa -- described as "the Kurdish region's equivalent of minister of defense." He's over the peshmerga and generally referred to as the Pesmerga Forces Minister, the Minister of Peshmerga or the Minister for Peshmerga Affairs. And that's not me being 'picky,' that's me aware of what a hot button issue the dispute between the KRG and Baghdad has become far outside of Iraq and that, therefore, you get the title right or you're accused of siding with one group and bombarded with e-mails as to how your refusal to get the title proves you've chosen sides. The position of this site is that the disputed territories should be resolved as outlined (and promised) in Iraq's Constitution. If those steps are followed, and the process is legitimate, it will be a decision by the people effected and they are in the best position to make that choice. Dagher's article includes this:

Mr. Mustafa said the joint forces must include Americans in order to secure the area and carry out Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which outlines the mechanism for resolving the fate of disputed territories. Kurds are clinging to it, but Arabs reject it.

Why did Mustafa say that? Not the Article 140 part, but the "must include Americans in order to secure the area"? Possibly because in the report's most tortured passages, HRW repeatedly gets the facts wrong.

We went over one example of that in the snapshot yesterday and my apologies to everyone who reads the public e-mail account because the inbox is overflowing. The report's a bad report. If you believe that has to do with sympathies on my part for the KRG, that's what you're going to believe. But the report is really bad. You want to talk about abuse by the KRG of two activists? Do so upfront. Don't bury it over forty pages into a 52-page report. And certainly put it before pages and pages of rumor and charges that are over a year old and never proven. And if people say they are receiving threats, tell the readers what the threats were.

It's a bad report.

But it's factually-challenged throughout the August 10th bombings (as noted in the snapshot yesterday) which the report wrongly refers to as the August 11th bombings. Anti-KRG e-mails note that my snapshot for August 10th is wrongly labeled (in the text August 9th). And? It's labeled by Blogger/Blogspot August 10th. I dictate these things and if you think you're going to have me in tears, you're sadly mistaken. Those things are dictated and, as with anything, we do the best we can. A snapshot isn't a report from an organization.

It's surprising that Sam Dagher doesn't note in his article that the date was wrong in the HRW report since he reported on the August 10th bombings, click here. But why the quote from the Minister re: American forces?

Go back and read the August 10th reporting and contrast that with the report. One thing should stand out, the report maintains the peshmerga is the only force present and that's in direct contrast to multiple outlets. The report maintains that after the Baghdad forces come in. Again, in contrast. The report isn't even aware of press reports of a third truck (the two truck bombings of August 10th) only the third one was prevented from entering the area.

I'm not a fan of HRW. That's long ago established. (It has nothing to do with their current back and forth with some falsely charging they have an anti-Israel bias.) But we do note their Iraq reports. This one was a bad report. I mentioned it in the morning entry yesterday and stated we'd address it in the snapshot. That was because I thought, "I must be missing something." I read it again later in the day, it's a bad report.

If you're going to say that threats are being made, tell the readers what the threats are.

If two activists are willing to go on record -- in your report, not just in talking to you -- about abuse they suffered while in Kurdish custody, that's what you open with. You don't save it for the last pages of the report.

If no one ever determined who was responsible for the assault on Iraqi Christians -- which the report has the timeline wrong on, by the way -- do not make that the thrust of your report -- going on and on for pages and pages with charges against the KRG only to then tell your readers that these are rumors and no one knows.

That has nothing to do with me protecting the KRG. (I fully believe the two activists' stories of abuse, for example.) That has to do with you've built your report around rumors that cannot be proven (and, at this late date -- despite HRW's call for a full investigation -- probably won't be) when you have two people who can discuss their own abuse.

I could go on and on, but it's a bad report and that has nothing to do with KRG bias on my part. Again, I fully believe the two activists detailing their torture while in Kurdish custody.

Alice Fordham (Christin Science Monitor) notes the report and uses it as a jumping off point to cover the plight of Iraqi Christians:

"The scale of the problem is total, and it has created an existential crisis," says Michael Youash of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, who campaigns on behalf of Iraqi Christians. "It may be that in 20 years there could be no more Christians in Iraq."
Those with means are still leaving the country; very few are returning. Father Sabri al-Maqdacy, a priest in the Arbil suburb of Ainkawa, says that almost all have lost hope that they can stay in Iraq, where most follow the Eastern-rite Catholic Chaldean church.
Mr. Maqdacy estimates that some 40,000 Christians have come to Ainkawa. Inside each big house live several refugee families who have fled cities such as Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, where militant Islamic groups target Christians and clergy with attacks, kidnappings, and bombings. Mosul "is very bad now," he says. Refugees from Baghdad say churches have been targeted and it would be impossible to build new ones without them being attacked.

Turning to the topic of Blackwater. Mark Mazzetti and James Risen (New York Times) interview four former Blackwater execs who state that, in December 2007, approximately one-million dollars was used to bribe officials in Iraq in order to get them to look the other way in the face of Blackwater's continued assaults.

Blackwater, which wants to be called Xe, can't stay out of the hot water. Yesterday's snapshot noted the new lawsuits against Blackwater and quoted from a Burke O'Neil LLC press release which we'll note in full now:

Sixteen new lawsuits allege that KBR, Inc. jeopardized the health and safety of tens of thousands of American soldiers and private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan by burning vast quantities of unsorted waste in enormous open-air burn pits with no safety controls.
The lawsuits were filed during the past week in federal courts throughout the nation by Burke O'Neil LLC and co-counsel on behalf of military veterans and private contractors. The suits allege that round-the-clock hazardous emissions from the burn pits caused illnesses such as multiple cancers, respiratory disease, pulmonary complications, chronic coughing, debilitating headaches, and neurological and skin disorders.
KBR is accused of allowing thick, noxious smoke, coming off of flames sometimes colored blue or green by burning chemicals, to hang over U.S. bases and camps across Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004.
According to the complaints, the burn pits are so large that tractors are used to push waste onto them and the flames shoot hundreds of feet into the sky. KBR allegedly burned waste such as biohazard materials including human corpses, medical supplies, paints, solvents, asbestos, items containing pesticides, animal carcasses, tires, lithium batteries, Styrofoam, wood, rubber, medical waste, large amounts of plastics, and even entire trucks.
Susan L. Burke, Elizabeth M. Burke, and Susan M. Sajadi, of Burke O'Neil LLC, in Washington, D.C., and co-counsel represent the more than 200 veterans, KBR employee-contractors and families in the cases which are pending in 37 states.
Elizabeth M. Burke, of Burke O'Neil LLC, stated, "KBR utterly disregarded the safety of the troops when they chose to use open air burn pits and failed to use incinerators and other safer methods of waste disposal. The hazards of operating large open-air burn pits were well known, and KBR promised to minimize the environmental effects of the burn sites they operated in Iraq and Afghanistan. KBR willfully endangered these men and women who honorably served their country in military service or in support of the military."
The legal team for the plaintiffs intends to seek class certification of the lawsuits to cover costs of medical monitoring, future medical expenses, and other damages for other individuals exposed to KBR burn pit emissions.
The new cases were filed in federal courts in Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Earlier this year, dozens of other current and former military personnel, private contractors and families of men who allegedly died as a result of exposure to toxic emissions from KBR burn pits brought similar claims.
The defendants include KBR, Inc., of Houston; Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC, of Austin, Texas; Kellogg, Brown & Root Services, Inc., of Houston; and Halliburton Company, of Houston.
Attorney Contact: Susan Burke, of Burke O'Neil LLC, 202.445.1409.
Media Contact: Erin Powers, Powers MediaWorks LLC, for Burke O'Neil LLC, 281.703.6000.

Yesterday's snapshot noted an article by Donna Goodison (Boston Herald) and she's written another one on the topic (of the two Massachusetts veterans who are suing KBR: Jeffrey Cox and James Garland). In her new report, she quotes Cox stating, "The pits are at least 10 acres in some places -- as big as the Boston Common, if not larger. You would get this deep smoke that would come downwind to the area that I was living at, and I would breathe this in on a nightly basis." Chris Cassidy (Salem News) reports on the law suit and quotes Cox stating, "I was downwind from the burning. You'd sit in there and breathe that in all day. . . . The smoke was so thick some days that it went right into where I was sleeping. It was like a heavy fog of smoke." Andrew Wolfson (Louisville Courier-Journal) reports that Iraq War veterans Sean Alexander Stough and Charles Hick are among those suing with Stough being exposed while at Camp Bucca (now has "asthma, sleep apnea, neurological and pulmonary problems") and Hicks at Balad (now suffers from "pulmonary problems, headaches and diabetes"). Jeanie Powell (WAFF) reports
on L. Russell Kieth who testified last week about his exposure and how he feels that his development of Parkinson's Disease:

He said he worked no more than half a mile from the open burning in Balad. Keith claimed smoke, sometimes black, green, or yellow, would cover the base on a regular basis.
"As soon as they started burning the green stuff, all of our clinic patients started going up," he said. "It increased 30 to 40 percent, just in my guess."
WAFF 48 News asked him to explain the symptoms patients came in with.
"It was everything from respiratory to sinus to outright coughing blood and stuff," he said.
Keith said he's been contacted by congressmen, senators, and the Disabled American Veterans organization about his story.
"I feel a lot better now because at least I will be able to go to bed at night knowing I did what I could," he said.

L. Russell Keith testified (most recently) on Friday when KBR's burn pits were the subject, see Friday's snapshot, of a Democratic Policy Committee hearing chaired by Senator Byron Dorgan. Video is posted at the Democratic Policy Committee website. We'll again note Chair Dorgan's prepared remarks:

"Are Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan Making Our Soldiers Sick?"
Friday, November 6, 2009
628 Dirksen Senate Office Building
This is the twenty-first in a series of oversight hearings conducted by the
Democratic Policy Committee to examine contracting fraud, waste, and
abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A number of the hearings that we have held have focused on the worst kind
of contract abuse: that which unnecessarily puts our troops’ lives in danger.
Today we are going to hear how, as early as 2002, U.S. military installations
in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits, disposing of
waste materials in a very dangerous manner.
We will hear how there were dire health warnings from Air Force officials
about the dangers of burn pit smoke. We will hear how there were
Department of Defense regulations in place that said that burn pits should
only be used in short-term emergency situations – regulations that have now
been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the
regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal,
Kellogg, Brown, and Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn
pits and exposed thousands of U.S. troops to toxic smoke.
I would like to show two charts to give you an idea of the seriousness of this
Here is a photograph showing the smoke plume from a typical burn pit being used by
KBR in Iraq:
And here is a list of some of the toxins that, according to an Air Force
briefing on the subject, could have been contained in burn pit smoke:
Now, I think it is important to understand that these burn pits were being
used at some very large, populated and well-established bases in Iraq,
six years after we had invaded Iraq.
In fact, burn pits are still used at the Balad Airbase in Iraq, which is the
largest U.S. base in that country. There are 20,000 troops based there,
making it equivalent to a small city. The base has good paved roads, two
large swimming pools with diving wells, two PX's that look like huge Americanstyle supermarkets, five mess halls, and a fullservice
movie theater complete with a Dolby surround sound system.
Here is a picture, for instance, of one of the buildings at the base, which
has a Subway sandwich shop.
My point is that this is not a makeshift base where one
would be surprised to find safe waste disposal with an incinerator. This is
the kind of base were our troops would logically expect that there would be
proper waste disposal.
So today we want to look at this practice of using burn pits, and examine
whether it is endangering our troops’ health. Witnesses will include former
military officials and KBR employees with first-hand experience of this
problem, as well as a medical expert on the health consequences of burn pit
Our first witness is Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a former Bioenvironmental Flight
Commander for Joint Base Balad from Arkansas, who wrote a 2006 memo
for the Pentagon warning of the acute health hazards associated with the
continued use of burn pits by private contractors. Mr. Curtis has a Ph.D.
in Environmental Engineering and has conducted health risk assessments for
the Air Force for almost 20 years.
Rick Lamberth is a former KBR employee from Maryland who worked on
logistics and helped KBR set up camps from Kuwait into Iraq. He is a longtime
Army reservist who became LOGCAP officer, deployed to Iraq, and
was exposed to burn pits.
Russell Keith served as a Medic for KBR at Balad Air Force Base from
2006 to 2007 and at Basra from 2008 to 2009 and currently resides in
Alabama. Mr. Keith treated many patients in Iraq who had respiratory
Finally, Anthony Szema is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Surgery
at Stony Brook University. Dr. Szema is also the Chief of the Allergy
Section at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport, NY.

If you [PDF format warning] click here, you can see the photos included in Senator Dorgan's statement.

Today is Veterans Day. On NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, guest host Susan Page (USA Today) is joined for the first hour (10:00 am is when the program beings broadcasting on most NPR stations and streaming online) by Asst Sec of VA Tammy Duckworth (also an Iraq War veteran), the Washington Post's David Finkel and photographer Peter van Agtmal (2nd Tour Hope I Don't Die). For the second hour, Page is joined by Stars and Stripes Leo Shane, Jericho Project's Tori Lyon, Survivor Corps' Scott Quilty, Yellow Ribbon America's Brad White and Sun Valley Adaptive Sports' Tom Iselin.

The following community sites updated last night:

And Ruth's "KBR, health care," Marcia's "Love you, Lynn, but get real," Trina's "Remember it," Elaine's "Why does Jasmin Ramsey hate women?," Ann's "They fired her" and Kat's "CCR, Peggy Simpson."

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oh boy it never ends