Wednesday, April 28, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, post-election madness continues in Iraq, Human Rights Watch calls out Nouri's secret prison, Senator Jim Webb holds a hearing on military compensation and more.
In Iraq, post-election madness continues as Nouri abuses power and the system. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) adds, "Weighing in on legally dubious efforts to change the outcome of Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Iraqi officials Tuesday to act more speedily and openly in forming a new government." We'll again note her statement in full:
On March 7, I congratulated the people of Iraq on their national elections, which were a clear demonstration of their commitment to democracy and a future without fear and intimidation.
Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the United Nations, the Arab League, and both international and domestic observers declared those elections to be free of widespread or systematic fraud. The United States respects the legal avenues that Iraq has set up for challenges to candidates and to electoral results. However, for challenges to be credible and legitimate they must also be transparent and must accord with the laws and mechanisms established for the conduct of the elections. Investigations into allegations of fraud should be conducted in accordance with IHEC procedures. Similarly, candidates should have every opportunity to answer charges against them. Transparency and due process are essential to protecting the integrity of the process and preserving the confidence of the Iraqi people in their democratic system.
The United States does not support a particular party or candidate. We seek a long-term partnership with an Iraq that is stable, sovereign and self-reliant. As a friend and partner, the United States calls upon Iraq's leaders to set aside their differences, respect the courageous ballots of the Iraqi people, and to form quickly a government that is inclusive and represents the will of all Iraqis and their hope for a brighter future in a strong, independent and democratic Iraq.
Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) reports the White House is troubled/worried over the continued non-progress and he speaks to Wayne White -- 25 years with the State Dept before he left and also a one-time Iraq analyst for the Dept, who states, "They're increasingly afraid of ending up with another Karzai-like mess. There was always concern over time and the impact a drawn-out process of naming [an Iraqi] government could have. But the prospect of a government tainted by illegitimacy is quickly becoming a much larger problem." Andrew Lee Butters (Time magazine) zooms in on US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill's efforts to prod the process along:
The fact that America's man in Baghdad was reduced to asking Iraq's politicians to perform their basic duties should be a warning sign to anyone hoping the U.S. will leave behind a stable democratic Iraq when its last troops are scheduled to depart at the end of next year. U.S. combat troops are scheduled to withdraw by the end of August, and U.S. officials have begun to doubt whether Iraq will have a government in place by then. In the past, U.S. officials have indicated they might slow the timetable of troop withdrawals should Iraq's election process not proceed smoothly. But even if the Pentagon puts the brakes on and keeps combat troops in country, there may not be much they can do to fix Baghdad's political mess.
Ahmed Rasheed, Khalid al-Ansary,Michael Christie and Samia Nakhoul (Reuters) report that Ayad Allawi is calling out Nouri's attempts to steal the election, demanding a "caretaker government" to prevent that and states, "We will not stay silent in the face ofw hat is happening in the Iraqi political areana with attempts to marginalize and exclude the Iraqiya list." Alsumaria TV reports, "Kurdistan Alliance member Mahmoud Othman announced that the decision of the Justice and Accountability Commission to invalidate the votes of some winning candidates in elections is dubious mainly that it has allowed them to stand in elections while it banned others ahead of the electoral process, Othman noted." Saif Nasrawi (Al-Masry Al-Youm) reports that Allawi was in Egypt today and met with the country's President Hosni Mubarak and the two discussed "ongoing efforts to form the new Iraqi government."
Allawi's political slate won 91 seats in the Parliament in the March 7th elections while Nouri's party won 89 seats. In the time since, Nouri has thrown non-stop tantrums. Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) reviews some of Nouri's attempts to invalidate the election:
Maliki's party got a ruling from the Iraqi High Court saying that the number of MPs who are seated in the first session of parliament, not the number actually elected, which decide who gets to form the government. Since then Iraqiya's winning members have faced harassment, arbitrary detentions, and efforts by the Justice and Accountability Commission (JAC), which disqualified hundreds of Iraqiya candidates before the vote, to disqualify many of the winning MPs after the fact.
Iraqiya has already lost two MPs to an Iraqi court ruling, and scores of non-winning candidates have also been lost, setting up possible gains for State of Law, the Kurdistan Alliance, and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) in those districts.
Beyond that, JAC is looking to oust another nine MPs, mostly Iraqiya, at least one of their MPs is being indefinitely detained by the Maliki government, and the Maliki government has also promised to dramatically change the results of the Baghdad vote with a manual recount. When all is said and done Iraqiya would likely be a distant second if not a third place finisher in the parliament, despite having won the actual election.
An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy writes at Inside Iraq about issues facing Iraqis more important than the battles between Allawi and al-Maliki including:
Improving and developing the relation with the owner of the private generator is for sure more important than any political issue because it means having more electricity during our long summer season. Negotiations about one or two extra work hours will be very hard because of the high cost of the fuel and the greed of the owners. From their own sides, the owners of the generators will work for the best agreements with the electricity engineers who supervise providing Baghdad sectors with electricity. They will ask them to supply the areas with electricity during the work hours of the generator which means less generating hours with the same high prices for the supply. We already started the suffering of power shortages and these days we have electricity less than six hours a day.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes 2 Baghdad sucide car bombings which claimed 5 lives (plus drivers of cars) and left seventeen people injured, a Baghdad truck bombing which injured four people, a Baghdad mortar attack on the Green Zone and two Baghdad roadside bombings which left six people injured. Today the US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – A United States Division-North Soldier was killed in Diyala province. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/. The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4393 the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War.
Last week, Ned Parker broke the news about a secret prison in Iraq housing Sunnis which was under the command of Nouri al-Maliki in "Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" (Los Angeles Times). On the secret Iraq prison, Human Rights Watch issued the following:
(Baghdad) - Detainees in a secret Baghdad detention facility were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks, and sodomized, Human Rights Watch said today. Iraq should thoroughly investigate and prosecute all government and security officials responsible, Human Rights Watch said.Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 of the men in the Al Rusafa Detention Center on April 26, 2010. They were among about 300 detainees transferred from the secret facility in the old Muthanna airport in West Baghdad to Al Rusafa into a special block of 19 cage-type cells over the past several weeks, after the existence of the secret prison was revealed. The men's stories were credible and consistent. Most of the 300 displayed fresh scars and injuries they said were a result of routine and systematic torture they had experienced at the hands of interrogators at Muthanna. All were accused of aiding and abetting terrorism, and many said they were forced to sign false confessions. "The horror we found suggests torture was the norm in Muthanna," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to prosecute all of those responsible for this systematic brutality." The Iraqi authorities should establish an independent and impartial inquiry to investigate what happened at Muthanna, determine who was responsible, and prosecute them, Human Rights Watch said, including anyone in authority who failed to prevent the torture. The government also needs to ensure that courts will not admit any confessions obtained through torture. The men interviewed said the Iraqi army detained them between September and December 2009 after sweeps in and around Mosul, a stronghold of Sunni Arab militants, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. They said torture was most intense during their first week at Muthanna. Several well-informed sources told Human Rights Watch that this secret facility was under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's military office. All the detainees interviewed described the same methods of torture employed by their Iraqi interrogators. The jailers suspended the detainees handcuffed and blindfolded upside down by means of two bars, one placed behind their calves and the other against their shins. All had terrible scabs and bruising on their legs. The interrogators then kicked, whipped and beat the detainees. Interrogators also placed a dirty plastic bag over the detainee's head to close off his air supply. Typically, when the detainee passed out from this ordeal, his interrogators awakened him with electric shocks to his genitals or other parts of his body.
During the interrogations, security officials mocked the detainees and called them "terrorists" and "Ba'athists." To stop the torture, detainees said, they either offered fake confessions or signed or fingerprinted a prepared confession without having read it. Even after they confessed, many said, torture persisted.The detainees told Human Rights Watch of other torture methods as well. They described how interrogators and security officials sodomized some detainees with broomsticks and pistol barrels and, the detainees said, raped younger detainees, who were then sent to a different detention site. Some young men said they had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards. Interrogators also forced some detainees to molest one another. Security officials whipped detainees with heavy cables, pulled out fingernails and toenails, burned them with acid and cigarettes, and smashed their teeth. If detainees still refused to confess, interrogators would threaten to rape their wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters. The interrogation sessions usually lasted three or four hours and occurred every three or four days. Muthanna held more than 430 prisoners before their transfer to other detention facilities earlier this month. For months, nobody knew their whereabouts. Detainees had no access to their families or legal counsel. They were not issued any official documents or even a detainee or case number. An investigative judge heard cases in a room down the hall from one of the torture chambers in the facility, they said. After the Los Angeles Times first reported the abuse at the Muthanna detention facility on April 19, the Iraqi government said it would investigate the torture claims and has arrested three army officers in connection with the abuse. "What happened at Muthanna is an example of the horrendous abuse Iraqi leaders say they want to leave behind," Stork said. "Everyone responsible, from the top on down, needs to be held accountable." The following are excerpts from the detainees' testimony:
Human Rights Watch researcher Samer Muscati spoke to Melissa Block (NPR's All Things Considered) today:
Samer Muscati: What we saw was horrific. We went to the facilities on Monday and interviewed about 42 detainees who had been transferred from Muthanna and each of them told us of specific cases of torture. Many of the practices that were taken against them were the same in the sense that people were flipped upside down, suffocated with a dirty bag, beaten and hit with belts and other implements until they passed out and they were brought to using electrical shocks and other specific forms of torture as well including pulling out fingernails and breaking fingers.
[. . .]
Melissa Block: You also apparently heard numerous accounts of rape and-and sodomy in this prison.
Samer Muscati: Yes, and it was obviously very difficult for detainees to talk about -- especially in this culture, for a man to be raped or molested -- it's extremely humiliating. And it was extremely difficult for people to talk about what happened to them but I felt that they needed to explain what happened to them because they are seeking justice and accountability for what happened. But it seems that the younger men -- and actually there were minors there as well -- were subjected to rape while the older men were sodomized using various implements and lots of other ways.
In other prison abuse and torture news, the inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa continues. Yesterday, Marcia explained that the inquiry was told that after Baha died in British custody, Maj Michael Peebles attempted to cover his own end by suddenly making calls to find out what the procedures were for holding a prisoner.
A subcommittee of the US Senate's Armed Services Committee held a hearing today. "The Subcommittee meets today to hear testimony on military pay and compensation," declared Senator Jim Webb, Chair of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. Appearing before the Subcommittee were DoD's William J. Carr, GAO's Brenda Farrell, CBO's Carla Tighe Murray and James Hosek of the RAND Corporation. Webb noted that to retain the quality in the services, compensation must be able to compete with private business and the need for a "robust benefits and compensation program." Webb noted (after the witnesses' opening statements) that when service was compulsary (draft) for males in the US, it was decided to spend more money on the career ranks but when it became voluntary, more money was on the lower end in as a recruiting tool.
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: The question that came to mind when I was listening to this, when we're talking about comprability with private sector. For instance when the comment was made if you include other benefits there's about an 80th percentile for the typical military person. I would like to hear from all of you. First of all, which benefits are we including when we do that and which benefits are we not? For instance, on the medical side, do we factor in such things as not having to have malpractice insurance or to pay for an office. Do we count that as compensation when we're looking at comparing what the cost would be on the outside. What are we doing on these different areas? What are we putting in and what are we leaving out when we hit these kind of numbers? Ms. Farrell, you might want to start on that.
Brenda Farrell: Sure, senator. As I noted, the studies differ in what they include. The first -- That's the reason you get different results. Although at this time, the reports that we looked at from my colleagues here all came up showing that the military pay was very favorable. When we're talking about the 10th QRMC including select benefits it was health care, retirement and the federal tax advantage. And we're talking about a very broad base. When you refer to malpractice insurance, I'm thinking maybe you're thinking more of a scenario that's comparing one occupation for a physician in the private sector. These studies are very broad based. And that's the reason that we say they have limitations because the populations differ from -- usually your private sector population is older than what you have in the military workforce. And usually your private sector population has already further ahead in education. As you know, many people join our military with the plans to go on and get that education. So you have different populations in terms of demographics that you're, uh, viewing -- that places some limitations. But with that said, there's -- We feel that the studies that we looked at with CNA being the backup for the data with the 10th QRMC that included the three select benefits took a very reasonable approach. There could be -- There were a couple of comments that were made on the CNA study regarding making assumptions about health care and retirement -- and some other organization could come up with different assumptions. But we still think it's reasonable. One of the assumptions made, for example, about retirement involves the discount rate. You know if someone's going to retire in twenty years and receive $100 -- to make it very simple -- the discount rate that would be the present value today and the discount rate that CNA used could be a little bit on the high side compared to if a different rate was used. So there's differences in the assumptions that are used for these non-cash benefits such as the health care -- trying to place the value on it -- as well as the retirement. Does that help?
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: That helps.
William J. Carr: Sir, to make a point, I think. Military pay, if it's simple and it's understood, for example, pay stub. We've for years used regular military service compensation which is roughly equivalent with pay stub. It considers my basic pay and allowances -- housing allowances for example. And because allowances are not taxable, the tax advantage. An enormous amount of time explaining that to the soldier, sailor, air, marines, so that they can gain some cross-comparison. Whether it's true -- And I'll stipulate that we're 70% against that pay stub measurement or 80% if we included esoteric things that aren't reflected in the pay stub, it's simply used as a means of communicating a baseline. Either one is producing the same effect. 80% if you're using the esoteric, 70% if you're not. But the importance is consistency in use. So if we are 70% today and we've used that measurement for years, and hope to use it into the future, then we're communicating a point at which core retention patterns look okay to us. So what was the pay level then? And we'd say, "Well the regular military compensation, cause we have to account for the tax break, is at this level and, yes, retention was good, and unemployment was that [gesturing below with his hand]." We can communicate in much simpler cogent terms that I think the troops would subsribe to because, first, because we've talked to them in those terms for so long and secondly because it has to do with the pay stub. And they get that.
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Well the question though is whether we have the right information out to truly compare because there are a number of concerns. We hear it from the Military Officer Association, etc saying that the pay differential for the same type of job in the military is less. And we need an accurate number, if it's less, it's less. But if you're factoring all of the different pieces in together and it's good, we should say it's good. So the question again becomes what-what are we putting into this when we make the formula? And Ms. Farrell, when I was talking about medical insurance, it was just one of the things that popped into my mind when you were giving your presentation in that you can't sue a military doctor. Federal Tort Claims Act. So there are doctors in civilian practice who spend tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of dollars in medical malpractice insurance in order to cover the possibility of a lawsuit. We, argubably, should factor that in when we look at compensation for medical folks. Just one -- just one of many questions I would have in terms of how sophisticated are we in should people should be concerned about these pay levels as they are right now. They should, maybe they shouldn't. But are we using the right for formula?
Brenda Farrell: Again we think by going with the 10th QRMC's recommendation to includes select benefits, that's an advantage to DoD, to show how good their package really is. And that it could be used as a recruiting or retention tool. We have reported in the past, through our surveys with service members, they lacked an understanding of how their pay compared to counterparts in the private sector and there are a lot of misperceptions out there. Granted, DoD has in its hands full because this is such a large workforce. I mean, they bring in about 180,000 every year, they're maintaining 1.2 million service members, it's a vast array of occupations but by doing -- when you're doing a broad based comparison of how the military compares to the private sector, we firmly believe that the total package should be included. The regular military compensation that Mr. Carr mentioned? We're not saying "Don't look at that." And keep that measurement of how the cash does compare with the civilian but also go with the recommendation to look at select benefits to the extent possible because it will give a fuller picture, it will help DoD to monitor so you can keep pace and be competative with the private sector and it's a good recruiting tool as we said.
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Dr. Hosek, what do you think about that?
James Hosek: Well, various things. The first thing to observe, I think, is that the basic elements, what in the past have been referred to as regular military compensation for officers or enlisted personnel, still constitutes the vast majority of their current compensation even when one considers benefits and allowances -- that is it's on the order of 90%. And what that means to me is that it's really important to make sure that whatever we do, we keep track of that and watch it carefully. The second thing is that probably the most salient benefit to military families on active or reserve duty today would be the health benefit. And that comes not only because the military has pledged to care for military service members and their famiilies and follow through with this health benefit -- it's a fairly comprehensive benefit. But also because the cost of similar services in the private sector have risen dramatically -- at times upwards of 40 or 50% a year increase in cost. Today I believe in the private sector, the cost of a relatively good health care benefit for a family of 4 is around $13,000 whereas at the beginning of the decade, it was probably half that. And so the value of the military benefit can be thought of in terms of what it would cost a military family to obtain quality health care outside. A few years ago -- I want to certainly recognize the find work that's been done by CBO and GAO in this area -- also CNA. But with that comment let me note, a few years ago we did a study at RAND trying to place a value on the military health care benefit by which we made use of information on private sector claims data for providers and skill sets and the aging and ethnic distributions similar to that in the military. To make a story short, we too came up with a number such that when you put it in the full context, enlisted personnel had a benefit including basic pays, allowances, tax -- you know, the non-taxibility of the allowance and the health care benefit, placing their compensation at or around the 80th percentile. For officers, I believe it was at or around the 90th percentile. I'll end there with only additional final comment that as you said at the beginning, as important as it is to look at the elements of pay and be clear about what we're including and how we're doing it. We always want to be able to relate those elements of pay to our recruiting and retenetion outcomes. Thank you.
Senator Jim Webb: And also, if I may, on an issue like health care, that's a moral contract. It's a moral contract that goes beyond benefits and it goes to the life of an individual who spends their career in the military. I can't tell you how many people, in my lifetime, who are career military who point that out while they are on active duty and after they retire.
No, the witnesses are not in agreement. Shortly after, Webb would note that there's really no business model here in terms of the budgeting but that's also true in terms of how they're estimating comparble pay. The easiest way to set a standard, and Webb may end up proposing this, is for Congress to come and declare what is measured and what isn't when calculating a pay scale that you can then compare to the civilian world's pay scale for similar jobs and/or duties. That would actually make the most sense because Congress is going to determine whether or not a bump in pay takes place. They control the purse. So since they'll be the ones determining that, it makes sense to have them set the standards by which to measure whether or not the pay is comparable to the civilian pay.
Mike's been noting KPFT's Queer Voices radio program at his site. One of the features of the program is This Way Out's newswrap which is archived in text form here. Taren James and Michael LeBeau covered a large number of topics this week and we'll note the following:
The U.S. queer community's new grassroots activist pit bulls, GetEQUAL, upped the pressure on PResident Barack Obama this week over his failure to keep major campaign promises to LGBT Americans. Although Obama has taken several smaller steps seen as favorable or helpful, he's yet to secure passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Equality advocates are increasingly worried that chances for those actions will diminish after mid-term elections in November. While Democrats have significent majorities in both the House and Senate, and of course there's a Democrat in the White House, the majority party typically loses seats two years after a presidential inauguration.
Many in the mostly-younger generation of queer activists became activists after the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Some accuse the country's leading LGBT rights groups of being insider-wannabes who curry favor with administration officials rather than being the "fierce advocates" for equality that Obama himself promised to be. The Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the nation's largest, and its president Joe Solmonese, are the most frequent targets of that "business as usual" criticism.
GetEqual's latest broadside started April 19th at a political fundraiser for California's Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles. She's facing a strong re-election challenge in November, and Obama was there to help her raise campaign cash.
Five GetEQUAL activists paid their way into the event, and then repeatedly shouted at Obama about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell as he tried to address the gathering.
"Hey! Hold on a second! Hold on a second! We are going to do that!" Obama responded. "Barbara and I are supportive of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so I don't know why you're hollerin'."
The following day, April 20th, GetEQUAL protesters returned to the White House for a second round of handcuffing themselves to the fence and getting arrested, a months after the group's initial action there.
Six servicemembers locked themselves up this time. Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II -- making return visits -- were joined by Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cadet Mara Boyd and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas. "We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again," Choi said, "to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Thomas said that the protest by Choi and Pietrangelo last month "made me realize that I needed to do something to stand up for all the black female soldiers who have been discharged. . . Many people don't know that we Black women are discharged disproportionately more than others under Don't Ask Don't Tell."
The six protesters were taken into custody and released the following afternoon. Their court dates are pending. In an unsettling footnote, U.S. Park Police forced media people covering the event away from the action. "The park's closed. Back up," the Park Police officer yelled repeatedly as he herdered journalists away from the protest. Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Scholosser apologized the following day, telling Politico.com that his department "screwed up."
GetEqual continued its onslaught in the U.S. capital on April 21st, disrupting a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee to demand that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- or ENDA -- be marked up and sent to the House floor for an immediate vote. GetEqual cofounder Robin McGehee tried to give committee Chairman George Miller a magic marker so he could "mark up" EDNA. "I don't know if because of the recession that you guys can't afford markers or whatever the issue is," McGehee said, "but in our community there are people being fired [every day] because they are lesbian, gay, bi or transgender." "We're working on that as expeditiously as we can," Miller responded. "Thank you very much."
ENDA has been stuck in Miller's committee since last year even though openly gay U.S. Representative Barny Frank of Massachusetts had said it would be voted on by the end of 2009. More recently, Frank, openly gay Representative Jared Polis of Colarado, openly lesbian Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called the bill a priority and said that they have the vote to pass it. The protesters were not arrested. Polis escorted them from the hearing room. Frank called the disruption "immature" and "tacky," and "a stupid thing to do . . . I understand people are frustrated and angry," he added, but the action was "no help whatsoever."
"We've waited too long already," McGehee said in response. "We have been promised since last year and, since the 90s, that we were going to have employment protection put in place. And yet, we still don't have it on the House floor." As if to jump on the GetEQUAL bandwagon, more than 230 U.S. LGBT and supportive groups signed on to a one-sentence statement to Congress on the same day: "Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW!" The United States has not seen this kind of burgeoning grassroots activism since the heyday of ACT UP in the late 1980s.
the los angeles times
human rights watch
the washington post