Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Defense con-game

After retiring from the Marine Corps in December 2003, Emil "Buck" Bedard headed back to work -- for both the Pentagon and defense contractors.
Two months after leaving the service as a lieutenant general, Bedard became an adviser for the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command, a job that this year paid him about $1,600 per day to help run war games and mentor high-level commanders on how to lead troops in battle. Bedard also signed on with seven defense contractors as a corporate director or consultant.
For one of those firms, Bedard marketed a video surveillance system to the Marines during the time he was getting paid by the Pentagon for mentoring, even after a general concluded that the technology "did not work as advertised," a USA TODAY investigation found.

The above is from Tom Vanden Brook and Ken Dilanian's "Retired officer's dual roles for Pentagon raise questions" (USA Today) and it's a big story and one that should have many people thinking. For example, Congress might stop bringing in former generals who are now lobbysits for their own companies into hearings to testify as 'experts' when they are nothing but schills. And NPR might think twice about bringing on 'experts' (who don't even know the basics of Sahwa) who have their own private security companies.

You know what? There are a lot of men and women who served in Iraq. If NPR wants to get an opinion from one of them, fine. They should. I don't even care if the veterans plugging a Home Depot they're managing or starting. But let's stop pretending that a 'veteran' who was working for Bush's administration and for Obama's (he stepped down in June) and now is a 'security' contractor is an "independent" voice or, for that matter, one worth hearing.

Plenty of Americans served in Iraq. Some are pro-war, some are anti-war, some are of mixed opinions. These people can be brought on NPR to offer opinions. But the people who have moved into the defense industry are not independent voices and they should never be invited on. At a time when the media pays so little attention to veterans, NPR could take a big step forward by bringing on real veterans to speak and not "I was on the ground for Bush and working with this think tank and now I've got my own mini-Blackwater."

On the subject of veterans, Hugh Lessig (Daily Press) reports on a female veterans forum Senator Mark Waner held yesterday in Alexandria, VA where he heard from veterans about the issues they face such as Kayla Williams who, when hanging with those she served with, is assumed to be a girlfriend or Genevieve Chase who is limited when choosing from those she served with to call about combat stress or other issues because her call might be seen by a wife or girlfriend as threatening.

WTKR's Bob Matthews (link has text and video) reports
on one of the meetings Warner held yesterday:

Bob Matthews: Kayla Williams was a member of the 1st Airborne, she was a translator, she was shot at by the enemy. When she came home though, she said she was treated as if she was never there.

Kayla Williams: I had people ask me if I was allowed to carry a gun because I'm just a girl? And I had other people ask me if I was in the infantry.

Bob Matthews: It's why Senator Mark Warner came to Norfolk. He helped pass a bill that orders the VA to find out if it's giving female soldiers what they need to become civilians. More than 85,000 have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the war on terror began in 2002 but many, like Kayla Williams, don't feel the government gives them the care they need to go from the frontlines to the homefront.

Kayla Williams: I have a friend who was told by a VA doctor that she couldn't have PTSD because women aren't in combat.

"I'd love to say that it's going to be fixed in a year from now but I don't think it's going to be fixed," Warner tells Matthews. "We've got to keep the pressure on and we've got to keep the pressure on."

From Warner's Senate website:

Combat stress and female vets

Senator Warner hosted a round table discussion in Norfolk today with a group of military women to discuss the oftentimes difficult transition back to their normal lives after returning home from combat.

Last month, Senator Warner won passage of legislation directing the Veterans Administration to launch a study into the post traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) that afflict thousands of military women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Kayla Williams, who served as a translator with the 101st Airborne Division and was part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, said that friends of hers have been told by VA officials, "You can't have PTSD because you're a woman, and women don't see combat."

However in Iraq and Afghanistan, the "frontlines" of the war are no longer as clear as they used to be, and the stress of war can affect everyone.

Williams said women often return home and assume the caretaker role for spouses and children, and rarely ask, "Do I need care also?"

Senator Warner said the VA study has two goals: to make sure that women veterans are getting adequate treatment -- and that they receive the benefits they have earned.

The group said that treatment at different VA hospitals varies, and that some are better at treating female soldiers than others, especially for those who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Senator Warner said he would push to make sure these issues are addressed by the VA:

"I'd love to say its gonna be fixed in a year from now. I don't think its going to be fixed in a year from now, but we've got to keep the pressure on and we've got to keep the focus on and we've got to make sure that these women veterans who've served so well feel comfortable claiming their rights."


Kayla Williams is among the veterans NPR could be booking. We've noted her here before. She's offered testimony before Congress several times. She's not shy and she's well spoken. And the only thing she's 'selling' is a need to improve veterans services.

Turning to Iraq where elections are expected to be held March 7th. Gina Chon and Charles Levinson (Wall St. Journal) report on the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) which is now led by Ammar al-Hakim, following the death of his father in September (from cancer, he died in Iran) and whose most high ranking government official is Iraq's Shi'ite vice president, Adil Abdul Mahdi. Chon and Levinson note that SIIC is seen by some as more sectarian and too closley tied to Iran and quote Madhi stating, "We have very close ties to Iran, that is true. But getting orders from Iran, that is not true." The reporters summarize some of the political party's recent history:

In August, authorities linked a brazen bank robbery to the security of one of the party's top officials. Just a few weeks later, its respected leader died, passing the baton to a son even some loyal party members suspect doesn't have the leadership skills needed to right the ship.
It also faces tough competition. Mr. Maliki, a Shia, has endured bitter criticism of his handling of recent attacks in Baghdad. Still, he has been able to paint himself as a leader willing to de-emphasize sectarian tensions, which plunged the country near civil war in 2006 and 2007.

Also in Iraq, Sri Lankan News reports a bank robbery in Kirkuk carried out "by men dressed as police" who drove SUV vehicles, created a cover story of looking for a "would-be bomber" and got the guards in the bank's vault where they locked them, the bank's staff, after which they stole "thousands of dollars." Meanwhile the KRG notes:

KRG delegation arrives in Washington

Washington DC - US (KRG.org) - After reaching an historic compromise on the Iraqi national election law, which will help usher in a new era for Iraq, two high-ranking officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG) have arrived in Washington, DC to discuss the latest developments in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region with US officials and members of the American business community.

Dr Fuad Hussein, Chief of Staff to the President of the Kurdistan Region, and Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations of the KRG, will be in the nation's capital for one week. They will be joined in Washington by Mr Qubad Talabany, the KRG's Representative to the US.

They will be holding meetings with Administration officials, members of Congress, the US Chamber of Commerce and several other organisations to promote increased understanding of the issues facing the Iraqi people and improve business ties between the two nations.

During their visit they will also travel to Detroit, Michigan, where they will meet with members of the Chaldo-Assyrian and broader Iraqi community.

More information is available at the US Department of Justice, Washington, DC.

That was some slew of promises the administration made to the KRG to get Kurdish support for the Parliamentary measure that would allow elections to be scheduled. In other political news, Hurriyet Daily News reports that the Turkish government's decision to ban a Kurdish political party in elections has outraged Kurds in Iraq. Iraq's northern neighbor banned the Democratic Society Party from the elections insisting the group was 'linked' to the PKK. KRG President Massoud Barzani issued a rebuke of the decision.

The following community sites updated last night:

We'll close with this from Chris Hedges' "Gravel's Lament: Fighting Another Dumb War" (Information Clearing House):

I have spent enough time inside the American military to have tasted its dark brutality, frequent incompetence and profligate ability to waste human lives and taxpayer dollars. The deviousness and stupidity of generals, the absurdity of most war plans and the pathological addiction to violence—which is the only language most who command our armed forces are able to understand—make the American military the gravest threat to our anemic democracy, especially as we head toward economic collapse.
Barack Obama, who is as mesmerized by the red, white and blue bunting draped around our vast killing machine as the press, the two main political parties and our entertainment industry, will not halt our doomed imperial projects or renege on the $1 trillion in defense-related spending that is hollowing out the country from the inside. A plague of unchecked militarism has seeped outward from the Pentagon since the end of World War II and is now sucking our marrow dry. It is a familiar disease in imperial empires. We are in the terminal stage. We spend more on our military—half of all discretionary spending—than all of the other countries on Earth combined, although we face no explicit threat.
Mike Gravel, the former two-term senator from Alaska and 2008 presidential candidate, sat Saturday on a park bench in Lafayette Park facing the White House. Gravel and I were in the park, along with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and other anti-war activists, to denounce the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a sparsely attended rally. [Click here for video clips of speeches by Kucinich, Hedges and Nader.] Few voices in American politics have been as consistent, as reasoned and as moral as his, which is why Gravel, on a chilly December morning, is in front of the White House, not inside it.
"I suspect that from the get-go he had an inferiority complex with respect to the military," Gravel, who was a first lieutenant in the Army, said of the president. "It is the same problem [Bill] Clinton had by not serving in the military, by not having an actual experience. You don’t have to go into combat, you just have to get into the military and recognize at the lower reaches how incompetent the military can be. So not having that experience, and only dealing with generals, who of course learn to be charming -- it's the sergeants who inflict the pain -- he has this aura about the military. We have acculturated the nation to a military culture. This is the sadness of it all because that sustains the military-industrial complex."

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends