Friday, October 22, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, WikiLeaks releases documents, torture, rape, turning a blind eye and much more is documented, Lt Dan Choi continues standing up for equality, the political stalemate continues and more.
US service members serving in the Iraq War and Afghnistan War have been exposed to toxins that can prove as deadly as any roadside bombing or sniper attack, it'll just take longer for the effects to be felt. Those exposed to, for example, the burn pit in Balad are already experiencing symptoms such as breathing difficulty. A number of service members have attempted to find justice via the US court system and, thus far, they've had no luck. Senator Byron Dorgan has long addressed the burn pit issue. Sadly, Senator Dorgan is not running for re-election and will be leaving the Senate in the new year. Dorgan chairs Democratic Policy Committee and today his office released the following:
U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Friday a preliminary report of an investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General confirms that the Pentagon dropped the ball in responding to the exposure of hundreds of U.S. troops to a deadly chemical in Iraq. Those failures left some exposed soldiers unaware that they had been exposed to the deadly chemical and without follow up health monitoring and treatment. Monitoring tests performed on other soldiers who were informed of their exposure were so inadequate that the agency that performed them now admits they have a "low level of confidence" in those tests.
A second and more detailed Inspector General's report, originally scheduled to be released this month, has now been moved back to the end of the year, a development Dorgan said he finds "disappointing."
The Senate Armed Services Committee and Dorgan requested IG investigations after he chaired hearings by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), in June 2008 and August 2009. The hearings revealed that troops from Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina, and West Virginia were exposed to sodium dichromate, a known and highly potent carcinogen at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in Iraq. The DPC hearings revealed multiple failures by the contractor, KBR, and the Army's failure to adequately monitor, test, and notify soldiers who may have been exposed of the health risks they may now face.
The IG is releasing two reports on its investigation, The first reportwas released in September. The second, expected to be a more detailed response to specific DPC concerns, was originally slated for release by late October. But the Department of Defense Inspector General now states a draft of that report won't be available until the end of the year.
The first report provides no indication -- seven years after the exposure – that the Army ever notified seven soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry Division who secured the Qarmat Ali facility during hostilities that they had been exposed. It also confirms that the Army's assessment of the health risks associated with exposure to sodium dichromate for soldiers at Qarmat Ali are not very reliable. In fact, the organization that performed these assessments, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (CHPPM), now says it has a "low level of confidence" in its test results for the overwhelming majority of those exposed.
Equally troubling, Dorgan said, is the report's finding that the Department of Defense is refusing to provide information to Congress about the incident, because of a lawsuit to which it is not a party.
"I am very concerned about the findings we now have, and I am disappointed in the delayed release of Part II of this report. The IG's investigation and its findings are very important to the lives of U.S. soldiers and workers who were at the site. Details and definitive findings will help us ensure accountability for this exposure and flawed follow up, but even more importantly, they will help ensure that all exposed soldiers receive appropriate notice and medical attention," Dorgan said.
Senator Byron Dorgan addresses the issues in this video also released today.
Iraq was briefly touched on in the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) and were it not for the fact that James Kitfield was strong on the topic, we'd probably skip it. But I've called him out so we'll note it to give him his due credit. Diane noted that Shaun had left a message on the program's Facebook page about the cuts in England which include military cuts: "It was the military spending necessary for England's participation in the Iraq War that put them in this predicament. The same is true here. The Bush administration could not deal with the simple fact that we couldn't afford to invade Iraq, either financially or morally."
James Kitfield (National Journal): I take the point and believe me our government is watching very closely what happens in Britain because, I mean, one thing that is interesting is that those cuts have majority support right now, we'll see if that holds, but there's a concern that if you cut back quickly, this very nascent economic recovery will be reversed and that's exactly what we don't want. So there's a big -- Britain is taking a very bold step. I think it's commendable. I hope it works but there is risk involved in it and I think we are watching it very closely.
Elise Labott (CNN): But there's also a huge concern by the United States about these defense cuts -- it's about a 7.5% defense cuts is that going to make Britain a less reliable partner? We have British troops in Iraq, you have British troops in Afghanistan. What about future conflicts, future areas that the US relies on its very special ally the Brits?
[. . .]
James Kitfield: Diane, can I just make a point? I just came back from London, working on this story. The-the fact is Britain no longer wants to be that ally to us. You know the Iraq War has really soured them on being America's, you know, ally of first resort. It's an aftermath, blowback from the Iraq War.
Diane Rehm: Who did you talk to?
James Kitfield: I talked to senior officials in the government, I talked to senior think tank people, all the same thing. They have investigations now, the whole Iraq War, where they are deposing Tony Blair and others, the Iraq War and how that went wrong and how Britian got --
Diane Rehm: Involved.
James Kitfield: -- brought up into it is very real to them right now, even today. And they have no interest in being the kind of ally of first resort, as I say.
Diane Rehm: But again, is that because of financial problems or is that also the question of moral responsibility?
James Kitfield: Well, I mean, it's partly -- The economic part plays into it. But it's primarily a feeling that they went to war that their own people did not support and they thought it was on false pretenses with the Weapons of Mass Destruction. You know, we got our election in 2008 and the Republicans lost and I think we went on, moved on from Iraq. The British have not moved on from Iraq. Their populace does not buy this argument anymore that we should stand by America's side, right or wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, in the last release of documents [on the Afghanistan War], there were 91,000 documents, but—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Of which they've withheld so far one out of five, 15,000, for damage control. WikiLeaks has not yet released those. They're working over them to redact.
AMY GOODMAN: Which is the point I wanted to make, released around 75,000—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: -- that WikiLeaks is withholding documents, concerned about issues of --
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes. And moreover, they let the Pentagon know what they were releasing. They gave them the files in code to them and asked them actually to identify people that they hoped to be redacted from those. Now, the Pentagon refused, meaning they prefer to bring charges into -- both in court and in the press, of -- endanger, rather than actually to protect these people, showing the usual amount of concern they have over other humans.
AMY GOODMAN: Has the same been done with these 400,000 documents?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes. That's why they're going over them now. They know what's coming out. And they have every ability, if people are endangered -- which actually is in question to this point. The fact that there's been no damage up 'til now really strongly questions the claims that were made earlier and, as I say, passed on by most of the mainstream press, very uncritically, that there was danger. But if there was, it may well have been in those 15,000 which WikiLeaks is properly going over still.
JUAN GONZALEZ: So, what you're saying is that WikiLeaks has let the Pentagon know precisely what it is about to release?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: To my understanding, they have. I'm not in the process. But I understand that they've said that they did make them aware of what it is and have invited them to cooperate in protecting those names. But as I say, the Pentagon, if there are such names, has preferred to make charges.
Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew W. Lehren (New York Times) zoom in on the civilian death data: "The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians -- at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan. The archive contains reports on at least four cases of leathl shootings from helicopters. In the bloodiest, on July 16, w00, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed, about half of themcivilians. However, the tally was called in by two different people, and it is possible that the deaths were counted twice." Al Jazeera (link has video) zooms in on the torture revelations.
Al Jazeera: It was one of the stated aims of the war to end the torture chambers but the secret files reveal a very different story. In graphic detail, they record extensive abuse at Iraqi police stations, army bases and prison. On more than 1,300 occasions, US troops reported the allegations to their superiors.
Reading from a US service member's report: The detainee was blindfolded, beaten about the feet and legs with a blunt object, punched in the face and head. Electricity was used on his feet and genitals and he was sodomized with a water bottle.
Al Jazeera: The alleged torturers claim the victim had fallen off his motorbike but the Americans recall that this was
Reading from a US service member's report: Not consistent with the man's injuries.
Al Jazeera: There are many such reports. This one says that --
Reading from a US service member's report: A detainee was jabbed with a screwdriver, struck with cables in the arms, back and legs, electrocuted and sodomized with a hose.
• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.
The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent death.
As recently as December the Americans were passed a video apparently showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in Tal Afar, northern Iraq. The log states: "The footage shows approximately 12 Iraqi army soldiers. Ten IA soldiers were talking to one another while two soldiers held the detainee. The detainee had his hands bound … The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him."
The six years of reports include references to the deaths of at least six prisoners in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception. In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee's fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.
And while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug: soldiers told their officers and asked the Iraqis to investigate.
As Al Jazeera notes (earlier link), at least two orders were issued on this to US soldiers. The first told them to ignore it and do nothing. The second told them to report it to their superiors and then do nothing unless ordered. The documents contain many reports -- by US troops -- of abuse but no orders for follow up actions from the command.
Jonathan Steele (Guardian) reports on three US spy balloons which drifted or 'drifted' into Iran after they came unmoored or 'unmoored' from April to October 2006. In all three cases, only the initial report is available and there appears to hae been no follow up. A lack of follow up for balloons the US military lost -- with spy equipment on them -- would appear to indicate the 'loss' was planned. Michael R. Gordon and Andrew W. Lehren (New York Times) focus on Iran as well -- in terms of US documents detailing allegations of Iran backing Shi'ite militias and that a plan was hatched to kidnap a US soldier. Gordon -- who repeatedly sounded the alarms on Iran's alleged involvement in the violence (as he had falsely tapped out the drumbeat in the march to war on Iraq) -- no doubt feels vindicated: "But the field reports disclosed by WikiLeaks, which were never intended to be made public, underscore the seriousnees with which Iran's role has been seen by the American military." Really? Really? It's the WikiLeaks files that "underscores" that and not all the constant daily brieifings at the Defense Dept and in Baghdad where military officials insisted Iran was up to no good?
Ignore Tom Gjletin and his ridiculous 'reporting' on NPR. As his actions repeatedly indicate, he's left the reporter role. Ava and I'll tackle it at Third on Sunday, we'll fold into a piece on the firing of Juan Williams.
Gulf Daily News reports that Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa met with Iraq's Sunni vice president and member of the Iraqiya slate Tareq al-Hashemi. The meeting took place yesterday, as Nouri concluded his regional tour.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and fifteen days and counting.
The Toledo Blade editorial board weighs in: "Perhaps most troubling is the fact that, seven months after national elections were held, a government is still not in place. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party finished first and incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's finished second, neither with a majority of seats in parliament. Mr. al-Maliki has declined to leave office and is still seeking support among other parties and abroad, including in Iran, to remain in power in spite of his electoral defeat. He added the party of anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr to his tentative coalition, but that still didn't give him enough seats in the 325-member parliament to form a government."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Garma sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and injured a woman, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 person and left six more injured, a second Mosul roadside bombing which left 1 Iraqi soldier dead and a Badush roadside bombing which injured "a young girl".
Reuters notes an attack on a Baghdad chckpoint in which two police officers and one Iraqi soldier were left injured and an attack on a Mosul police checkpoint in which 1 police officer was killed and another was injured.
Turning to legal news, Dylan Welch (Age) reports that security/mercenary company Unity Resources Group 'forgot' to inform the Australian government (which uses them to guard Australian officials in Iraq) "that it has been fighting a US civil suit since 2008 regarding a Baghdad shooting death. [. . .] It was involved in two fatal shooting incidents in Baghdad in 2006 and 2007, which resulted in the death of an Australian professor and two local women." Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times) reported the 2 women killed in 2007 were part "of Iraq's Armenian Christian population" and speak with the family of one of the women, Marany Awanees, and they make it clear that, despite Unity's claims otherwise, they were not being contacted. The other woman was Geneva Jalal.
On September 24th, US Spc John Carrillo Jr. and Pfc Gebrah P. Noonan were shot dead while serving in Iraq. A third US soldier was injured in the shooting and he or she has not been identified at present. US Spc Neftaly Platero's name has been floated in the press as the shooter. Yesterday, USF issued the following:
BAGHDAD – A U.S. service member, Spc. Neftaly Platero, is in pre-trial confinement, in connection with the shooting and killing of two service members and injury of another here Thursday. The incident remains under investigation. "Our condolences go out to the families of those service members whose lives were lost. We are saddened by this tragic incident," said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan.
"Not someone that you'd think would do this," Guy Womack tells Jessica Willey (ABC 13 out of Houston, Texas) of his client, Platero. Willey notes that Womack spent a couple of hours with the soldier "and none of it was asking his client whether he did it."
Womack maintains that there is no hard evidence against his client. He states that John Carrillo Jr. was shot dead on or near his bed with Gebrah P. Noonan shot dead on or near his bed. Between their two beds was a third bed. The third bed contained the soldier who was reported wounded and who has not been identified thus far. Womack states that the three were found in the room and that his client was found outside the room (after the shooting).
Womack also states, "Well I don't need to know what he thinks happened, I need to know what the government thinks happened and what the evidence suggests. And, right now, most of the scenarios you can come up with from looking at the evidence would exclude him as being a shooter."
Womack, a former Lt Col in the Marines, found infamy in some circles when, acting as Abu Ghraib criminal Charles Graner's defense, he stated, "Don't cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?" Graner received a ten year sentence after being found guilty. Guy Womack & Associates is the firm Womack runs with his son Geoff Womack.
The story of America is a story of the quest for inclusion once travelers came to the occupied Native American land. (Some would rightly point out that, all these years, the original inhabitants -- Native Americans -- still have to struggle for inclusion.) Throughout the nation's history, various groups have had to fight for and win the recognition of their equality and of their natural born dignity. One group fighting for the full range of equality today is the LGBT community. One of the rights they are attempting to win is to be just like any straight person in the military: Able to talk about their significant other or their wild Saturday night. Able not to hide who they are or who they love. The 1993 policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (especially as executed which is different than as conceived) makes it impossible and forces lesibans and gay men to hide who they are.
US Judge Virginia Phillips rightly ruled that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was unconstitutional. The White House appealed the decision. She issued an injunction forbiddiing any discharges under Don't Ask, Don't Tell while the White House's appeal was awaiting a decision from a higher court. The White House didn't like that either. They got the injunction halted.
Katie Couric: An update on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It is the law once again after a federal appeals court put a temporary hold on a judge's order that struck it down. So for now, gays are again barred from serving openly in the military. But today Defense Secretary Robert Gates put out new guidelines that will make it tougher to discharge gays who violate Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
And that was it. The report in full. As bad as that is -- and it's pretty bad -- note that neither ABC World News with Diane Sawyer nor NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams had time for the story. They had time for other things. A dog who has been taught 'to pray' on it's owners bare legs (it looked a lot like a tired male dog slolwy humping a leg). But they didn't have time for Don't Ask, Don't Tell, they didn't have time for the American story.
Katie mentioned Robert Gates. He did issue new orders -- as Katie and many others have noted. And that's significant that he finally issued new orders.
That's not me praising me because I'm not a complete idiot (foes would debate how much more I need to qualify for "complete") nor do I suffer from amnesia.
Meaning Robert Gates FINALLY issued new orders. Instead of applauding that, real news outlets should have been asking why?
They should have been asking why the delay?
Why didn't they ask that question?
Yes, yesterday Robert Gates finally issued new orders on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But travel back with us to February via the February 2nd snapshot when we watched Robert Gates testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee. There was Bobby Gates, blathering away and all the sudden, after detailing the study he wanted, he offered this:
Simultaneous with launching this process, I have also directed the Department to quickly review the regulations used to implement the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell law and -- within 45 days -- present to me recommended changes to those regulations that, within existing law, will enforce this policy in a more humane and fiar manner. You may recall that I asked the Department's General Counsel to conduct a preliminary review of this matter last year. Based on that preliminary review, we believe that we have a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in uniform.
When did those procedures get changed? This month! What happened to within 45 days? As Aimee Mann once sang:
But no one is watching you now
I know no one is watching you now
No one is watching you now
Like I did
-- "No One Is Watching You Now," written by Aimee Mann, first appears on 'Til Tuesday's Welcome Home
MARGARET WARNER: So, on Dec. 1, which was the deadline, or at least when Secretary Gates told Congress he'd have something, will they have just the results of the poll and some sort of outlines, or are they going to have a full policy recommendation laid out about how exactly they'd implement it?
MARK THOMPSON: I think it will be a full menu of options, saying, this is the best way forward, this is how we should do it.
MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, will they say, we can do it, or is there some pushback now from the service chiefs?
MARK THOMPSON: Well, no, their -- Well, the sense is, No. 1, their mission is not -- their mission is only how we should do it if the law changes, not should it be changed. So, they're going to look for the best path to undo don't ask, don't tell. There is some sense that the service chiefs, especially the Marines and the Army, the ground force guys, are slow-rolling this thing. They don't want it to move out fast. They want it to take a long time. I mean, it's interesting. The papers filed with the courts have said, we have to train everybody before we do this. Meanwhile, you talk to the generals in Afghanistan who are saying, my lord, we have more important things to worry about. This is the last thing on our minds. So, there is some sort of disconnect there.
MARGARET WARNER: So, is that why you're saying it might take -- they might be saying it will take us a year to roll it out? Because there are so many things that would have to be changed, everything from partner benefits to training, sensitivity training?
MARK THOMPSON: Yes, that's the military's mindset. I mean, when RAND studied this issue in 1993, the think tank, they said the way to do this is to do it immediately and do it with leadership. Don't stretch it out. Don't turn it into a taffy pull, which is what it has become. And that's allowed all sorts of polarization to occur. And we're sort of reaping the fruits of that right now.
Lt Dan Choi: But still, when we found last week that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was struck down by the courts -- and as far as I know about American government, that's the judicial branch -- that's the judiciary branch's constitutional mandate. If there is an unconstitutional law, they strike it down. And for seven days, an entire week, there was no Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It was dead. There were no enormous consequences, like Secretary Gates mentioned. Nobody quit. Nobody protested. No homophobic harassments of gay soldiers happened, as all the fear mongering that happens in many parts of the country, in many political circles, surrounding the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, were just, on their face, invalidated.
And now that President Obama has asked for a stay on that ruling and the injunction, it was very saddening. It was hurtful to me and to people who were in the military that came out or wanted to have that full measure of integrity. It wasn't easy to join back up, go to that recruiting station. But when I realized that the real victims of Don't Ask, Don't Tell are not the gay soldiers that get kicked out, it's really all of America that's the victim of this policy, and when we signal to the rest of the world that our country, even though we say equal justice under the law, we're the land of the free and the home of the brave, that doesn't necessarily apply to some of our citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: So President Obama now, while he says he's against Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it's his government, it's his Justice Department, that has appealed this decision.
LT. DAN CHOI: That's right. And they don't need to. They fulfilled their mandate, the Department of Justice. All they needed to do was put on a court and trial. Many people, legal scholars, have shaken their heads, scratched their heads, wondering what this president is doing. His rhetoric indicates that he wants Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed. He hasn't said that it's unconstitutional. Well, the courts have done that, and that's their job. President Obama, as a legal scholar, as a constitutional law professor, he should know better. The President has no obligation to defend, with such a full-throated effort, the discriminatory and unconstitutional policies. The courts have done the heavy lifting for him, and his policies, his desires to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, have essentially been done.
Dan Choi and every other American has the right to dignity and equality. It's really sad that, at this late stage in the country's history, people still have to fight for inclusion. But that is the American story the constant struggle for full equality for all.
.As well as being part of the larger history of American inclusion struggles, it's also the story of individuals who are punished for who they love or who they're suspected of loving. In Denver, Hendrik Sybrandy (KWGN -- link has text and video) reports on Luiza Fritz, a sergeant discharged from the army for being gay -- and not only was she thrown out of the army due to her sexuality, the army's billing her $15,000 -- a portion of her signing bonus. Or take Sara Story's KLTV (text and video) report from Tyler, Texas on Troy Carlyle who was also kicked out of the service and became "the first person to be court-martialed under Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He states, "Everything I had worked for was reduced in that one moment to the fact that I was gay. Not to my performance, not to my talent, not to my leadership skills, but that I was gay."
These are not isolated stories. And in the very near future, these American stories will be party of American history, you just apparently can't discover these stories on the network news. But again, a man who trains his dog to assume the prayer position on his pasty bare leg is news.
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