Monday, January 03, 2011

CERP Funds

The Washington Post notes that, starting in 2004, $3.8 billion has been put into CERP funds [Commander's Emergency Response Program] and they list $480 million as "Unaccounted-for funds." Which is a reassuring lie at best. We'll get back to the accounting. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that two years ago CERP funds were turned over to fill a dried out Baghdad lake and create a park: "But today the Baghdad park is nearly waterless, more than two years after a U.S. military inauguration ceremony that included a marching band and water-scooter rides. Much of the compound is in ruins, swing sets have become piles of twisted steel, and the personal watercraft's engines have been gutted for spare parts." The article then segues into an exploration of criticism of how the money was spent. Later in the long article (not a complaint about length, and the article's more than worth reading), it will be noted that Barack's asking for another $1.3 billion in CERP funds ("All but $200 million would go to Afghanistan."). And he's good at noting that US tax payers footed the $250,000 bill for a Sadr City concert that never took place.

At the end of the article, Londono gets closer to what's needed but he's not a Congressional reporter and he can't cover the US Congress while covering Baghdad (where he's been stationed for some time). So the question is, did the paper not pair him with a Congressional reporter intentionally?

The article pushes the idea that the problem with CERP funds is that some programs weren't worth the cash and a few bad apples stole money -- strangley, their pie chart (first link) doesn't give you a reading for money embezzled despite convictions -- but they miss the whole point that this entire progam has been in question.

Embezzlement has been so easy -- and most of it presumably undeteced (accodring to members of Congress in open hearings) because there have been no real requirements for record keeping and there's been little to audit. (What has been audited has led to additional problems.) Ike Skelton won't be in this year's Congress and so he won't be able to lead on this issue but throughout the CERP program he has repeatedly pointed out the problems with it.

CERP was an issue during the September 10th House Armed Services Committee hearing (and also see this entry by Mike). This is from the exchange between Committe Chair Ike Skelton and DoD's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric S. Edelman:

Ike Skelton: The department's understanding of the allowed usage of CERP funds seems to have undergone a rather dramatic change since Congress first authorized it. The intent of the program was originally to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Iraq through small projects undertaken under the initative of brigade and battalion commanders. Am I correct?

Edelman: Yes, sir.

Ike Skelton: Thank you. The answer was "yes." Last year the Department of Defense has used millions of CERP dollars to build hotels for foreign visitors, spent $900,000 on a mural at the Baghdad International Airport and, as I understand this second piece of art, that CERP funds were used for. I'm not sure that the American tax payer would appreciate that knowing full well that Iraq has a lot of money in the bank from oil revenues and it is my understanding that Iraq has announced that they're going to build the world's largest ferris wheel. And if they have money to build the world's largest ferris wheel why are we funding murals and hotels with money that should be used by the local battallion commander. This falls in the purview of plans and policy ambassador.

Edelman: No, no, it's absolutely right and I'll shae the stage here -- I'll share the stage quite willing with uh, with Admiral Winnefeld with whom I've actually been involved in discussions with for some weeks about how we provide some additional guidance to the field and some additional requirements to make sure that CERP is appropriately spent.

Edelman then tries to stall and Skelton cuts him off with, "Remember you're talking to the American taxpayer." Edelman then replies that it is a fair question. He says CERP is important because it's flexible. It's important because they're just throwing around, if you ask me. They're playing big spender on our dime.

Skelton: The issue raises two serious questions of course. Number one is they have a lot of money of their own. And number two the choice of the type of projects that are being paid for. I would like to ask Mr. Secretary if our committee could receive a list of expenditures of $100,000 or more within the last year. Could you do that for us at your convience please?

Edelman: We'll work with our colleagues in the controller's office and - and . . . to try and get you --

Skelton: That would be very helpful.

The CERP funds are not being tracked. They haven't been. The Washington Post's pie chart is a reassuring lie, it's surely not reality. And the idea that the CERP funds are needed has been repeatedly questioned. Let's drop back to the Commission on Wartime Contracting's first public hearing (February 1, 2009 snapshot), when the DoD Deputy Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble weighed in on CERP:

CERP funds are appropriated through the DoD and allocated through each major command's sector of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to $500,000 can be allocated to individual CERP projects, and CERP beneficiaries often receive payments in cash. We have also identified occasions where soldiers with limited contracting experience were responsible for administering CERP funds. In some instances, there appeared to be scant, if any, oversight of the manner in which funds were expended. Complicating matters further is the fact that payment of bribes and gratuities to government officials is a common business practice in some Southwest Asia nations. Taken in combination, these factors result in an environment conducive to bribery and corruption.

Barack's asked for $1.3 billion and the article reads like it's on board with that because it has no real examples from Congress (or Commission on Wartime Contracting). Again, I don't expect Ernesto Londono to have those examples. There's no way he could. He wasn't at those hearings, he was in Baghdad covering Iraq. But the paper should have paired him with a Congressional reporter and, in the midst of the Great Recession, $1.3 billion going outside the country (as bribe money, let's be honest -- "soft diplomacy" for those who still need to self-soothe and self-deceive) should not result in an article whose basic thrust comes off as 'this program might need some fine tuning.' Instead the paper should be questioning this program's very existence. That's what the press is supposed to do. They're not supposed to say, "Oh, the president wants it? Okay, we'll sell it."

The following community sites -- plus Jane Fonda -- updated earlier this morning:

Law and Disorder Radio celebrates their seventh year of broadcasting this week (begins airing on WBAI this morning at 9:00 am EST, around the country throughout the week). Topics include Gaza, immigrant rights and more. And we'll note something else but first, I don't endorse hunger strikes. This country has enough eating disorders as it is. On Immigrant Rights, we're noting the following but whether you take part in a hunger strike or not is on you:

Dear family, friends and supporters of the Lucasville uprising prisoners,

Mark your calendars to come to OSP in Youngstown on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, Saturday, Jan.15, for a rally and press conference. Gather at 12:45, rally and press conference at 1:00. Park in the parking lot of the small church next to the entrance gate to OSP (see address underlined below). We will have reports from visits with the hunger strikers, messages from the prisoners, solidarity statements, and more. If enough of us gather with enough signs and banners, we can be seen from the prisoners' windows. So come on down! Bring your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow students, and your whole family. To arrange for car pooling, email

By now some of you may have seen commentary about the upcoming hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary - much of it reprints of my last email to you! - as well as many important contributions by attorney Staughton Lynd and professor Denis O'Hearn, both of whom are tireless advocates on behalf of this group of prisoners. The internet age is a beautiful thing so I want first of all for you to know about the facebook page set up by dedicated activists working with Professor O'Hearn. Hopefully I have provided the link correctly below:

facebook page <>

Become a friend of the facebook site and urge all your facebook friends to do the same. As we get updates during the hunger strike, they will be posted on the facebook page and tweeted by twitter. So get involved and spread the word.

You recall the Bomani Shakur is to be the first to start the hunger strike tomorrow, and I'm sure our thoughts and best wishes are with him. I have attached his beautiful statement explaining why he is going on the hunger strike: in essence, the conditions under which they have been held amount to torture and enough is enough!

For those of you who wish to send him cards, letters and other messages of support, be sure to include his "convicted as" name: Keith LaMar, and his prisoner number: 317-117. The address for all four prisoners is: Ohio State Penitentiary, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505-4635. You can also send the prisoners email through the JPay-Ohio system once you set up an account. It will cost you 25-30 cents per page of email, depending how many virtual "stamps" you purchase at once.

Siddique Abdullah Hasan will join the hunger strike second, probably after three days. His "convicted as" name is Carlos Sanders and his prisoner number is R130-559. Next will be Jason Robb whose prisoner number is 308-919. And finally, Namir Abdul Mateen will join, to the extent that his health will allow. His "convicted as" name is James Were and his prisoner number is 173-245. We wish them all victory and good health.

Messages of solidarity and support are of course welcome. In addition, we should be deluging certain officials with our support for the prisoners' demands, which are, very simply, that they be treated like other Death Row prisoners and be afforded the same tiny privileges to the other prisoners held in OSP who are also sentenced to die, such as physical contact with loved ones. Fair and just annual reviews that took into account these prisoners' 12 years of good behavior would have resulted in recommendations of removal from the highly restrictive "level 5" solitary confinement they have been subjected to for no reason other than vindictive need for punishment - for crimes they did not commit, folks, don't forget that! This is inhumane, this is unconstitutional, this is illegal, this is deplorable, this is an international disgrace - and it must stop. Please contact the following people to speak your mind:

OSP Warden David Bobby, 330-743-0700 or fax 330-743-0841 or email
ODRC Director Ernie Moore,614-752-1159 (couldn't find fax) or email
People from Cleveland, please contact state Senator Shirley Smith, who is on the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, 614-466-4857 or email

The facebook page will direct you to an electronic petition. Other initiative are in the works. If you have ideas, suggestions and information, please post them. There are people working on this cause literally around the world. But we need to build the strength of support for the very modest demands of the hunger strikers and ensure a swift victory. So get the word out to all interested organizations and individuals. Now is the time for not only a nationwide prisoner support movement, but an international prisoner support movement. Let's make it happen!

Sharon Danann
for the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network

And Kat's "Kat's Korner: 2010 in music" Ruth's "Ruth's Radio Report: 2010," Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "2010: The Urkel Moment," "2010 in books (Martha & Shirley)," my "2010: The Year of Enough," Marcia's "2010 in Page Turners" and Rebecca's "2010 in page turners" and Ann's "10 Best DVDs of 2010" and Stan's "10 Best DVDs of 2010" -- are the year in review pieces in the community. In addition Kat got in one more review for 2010, "Kat's Korner: Mystic Melanie" -- Kat reviews Melanie's brand new album Ever Since You Never Heard of Me.

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