Tuesday, February 8, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Amsty International releases a report, Amnesty International finds time to focus on everything except their new report, unrest continues in Iraq alarming the government, an MP issues a warning, and more.
Al Mada reports that yesterday the province of Dhi Qar in sourthern Iraq saw protests in Nasiriyah as people demanded rations card items and jobs. The protesters noted that the price of "sugar, flour and other essential goods" have doubled at the markets putting further strain on struggling families. One man explains that only a few months ago they were paying less than 10,000 dinars (around US $8) for a bag of flour but are now paying over 30,000 dinars (approximately $25.46 in US dollars). And he explains that the price of sugar has similarly increased. Which is why the decision by Nouri al-Maliki and his Cabinet to increase the monthly ration card by 15,000 dinars a month (see this Al Rafidayn article) is so meaningless. The prices have soared and 15,000 dinars (approximately $12.73 in US dollars) per month isn't going to help. Take the price of flour in Nasiriyah. A few months back, they paid less than 10,000 dinars. Toss in the 15,000 dinars and that's 25,000 dinars which still won't pay for the current price of one bag of flour. Dar Addustour notes protests are increasing and now include Kut, Hilla and Missan and notes Sheikh Qasim al-Tai decreed yesterday that citizens excercising their rights are engaged in activities which demand integrity and should be free of abuse. Haider Roa (Iraqhurr.org) quotes University of Baghdad political science professor Ali al-Jubouri stating that the Iraq protests are different from others in the region because they relate specifically to government performance and services. Related, Alsumaria TV reports, "The amendments made on Iraq's 2011 budget includes allocating 15% of the budget to the Iraqi people, member of the parliamentary financial committee Najiba Najib told Alsumaria News." Al Mada reports that the Parliament yesterday decided to form an investigative committee to examine the ration card system in relation to the years 2008 and 2010. Kholod al-Ziyadi (Zawya) adds:
The Iraqi parliament put off today's session to tomorrow, after reading the first reading of the draft law of the Supreme Judicial Council, according to the KBC member. The Deputy, Sheriff Soliaman told AKnews that the Iraqi Parliament Speaker, Osama Nujaifi raised today's meeting to tomorrow after the postponed of the second reading of the law of the federal budget draft for 2011 and the first reading was read for the draft law of the Supreme Judicial Council. "Today's meeting was limited to discuss the ration card items and mechanisms adopted in the provision and distribution of flour exclusively that is experiencing scarcity in distributing it with in most of the provinces."
Alsumaria TV notes the government's fears over protests which have been taking place in Diwaniya: "Iraq's Trade Ministry took drastic measures to meet the people's demands. The Ministry approved to provide full ration cards and acknowledged that the level of poverty in the province has approached the limit of 88%. [. . .] Diwaniya residents believe the latest measures taken by the central and local governments have come a bit late." And, as Al Mada observes, protests gathered steam quickly after starting with small demonstrations last week. And Alsumaria reports MP Alia Nassif (Iraqiya) has issued a statement warning about "an uprising in Iraq. All the motives of uprising are there, namely unemployment, bad services and mounting poverty, she said. The Iraqi people expected a lot from its Parliament and Government after the changing developments in the past years, Alia uttered. Recent demonstrations in Iraqi cities are alarming and should be a warning for the government and Parliament to take responsibility, she added." And she's not the only one with concerns. Al Mada reports on a new Babuz survey in which the majority of respondents declared that they did not believe the government would be able to provide adequate security or services any time soon. The newspaper notes that the poll can be seen as a warning to various figures that if the fight against corruption and lack of services is not resolved, there ould be a "political explosion." Hari Sreenivasan (PBS' NewsHour -- link has text, video and audio) stated last night, "The government of Iraq is moving to address a wave of protests there." However, Al Mada reports today that Iraq's housing crisis will require the construction of two million additional housing units over the next five years.
Today Amnesty Internation released [PDF format warning] their report "Broken Bodies, Tortured Minds." For clarification, this report was noted this morning. A number of visitors e-mailing insist there is no such report. Use the link. Before we get to the report, let's talk about why people wrongly think there is no report: Amnesty did a report and now Amnesty decides TO BURY IT. Why? Because they can't resist being part of the useless gasbags. Go to their sites (whichever country you prefer) and you will see it's Egypt, Egypt, Egypt. That is not the only story in the world. And when you release a report, YOU NEED TO HAVE IT FEATURED PROMINENTLY ON YOUR HOME PAGE. Let's talk about the ambulance chasing of the soap opera for a moment. As January ended, Pew examined the coverage and US viewers response. The Middle East unrest made up 36% of the US news coverage (January 27th through 30th) with 30% of that being just Egypt. During this period, the media made it the story despite the fact that "[o]nly about one-in-ten (11%) cite news about protests in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries as the story they followed most closely last week." Today Pew released this report on the US public's attitude to the story the media really needs (a) to spend less time on and (b) to offer more insight when they do cover it. (All the wall-to-wall has produced is mass confusion. But that's what happens in a world of EZ Bake Gasbags.) If you need another example of how people are saturated with this story, ask the Pacifica program that tried to raise money on air and began yammering away -- for no reason -- about Egypt and ended up with their worst fundraiser ever. In the US, people are very much aware that Egypt is not the only story. And an already struggling fundraiser (only two lines were in use when they went into the Egypt pitch and then all the lines were available . . . forever). If you're not getting how much time has been spent oversaturating America with this story, Pew explains today, "Last week's turmoil in the Middle East registered as the biggest international story in the past four years- -- surpassing any coverage of the Iraq war, the Haiti earthquake and the conflict in Afghanistan. From Jan. 31-Feb. 6, the Middle East saga, driven by televised images of the protests and power struggle in Egypt, filled 56% of the newshole studied by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Not only was that easily the biggest overseas story in a single week since PEJ began its News Coverage Index in January 2007. It registered as the fourth-biggest story of any kind -- trailing only two weeks in the 2008 presidential campaign and the aftermath of the Jan. 8, 2011 Tucson shooting spree." Repeating, oversaturation. (And with all that, unable to effectively communicate the story -- with all the wall-to-wall, they still couldn't communicate it to the public.) Taking it back to Amnesty, if the US home page lists 22 items (and it does), one of those items should be a headline about the report you issued today.
AFP notes that at least 30,000 people are held in these secret prisons, according to the report, and that torture is routine.
The report includes the stories of prisoner abuse. Example:
Samar Sa'ad 'Abudllah, aged 27, says she was beaten on the soles of her feet -- a form of torture known as falaqa -- and given electric shocks to force her to "confess" to killing her uncle and his family for money. Based on her "confession", she was sentenced to death in 2005 and her sentence was confirmed in 2007. The judge failed to order an investigation into her torture allegations. She says that her fiance carried out the killings; he is still being sought by the authorities. She is now in al-Kadhimiya Prison and, according to her father, suffering from depression, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Another prisoner told Amnesty last April:
We [father and son] were tortured in the same manner: suspension from a bed upside-down, suffocation by putting plastic bags on our heads, beatings, use of electric shocks on various parts of the body. The suspension is for about 30 minutes. . . I was tortured three times. They used electric shocks on me twice. I was beaten several times. After that I confessed. I confessed to things I never knew what they were.
Forced confessions are one of the most common features of 'justice' in Iraq. Torture has many consequences (including imprisoning the innocent and letting the guilty go free). The report notes:
Most torture victims have long-term psychological issues to deal with. A common consequence of torture is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety and memory loss. Many of the detainees interviewed by Amnesty International are not receiving psychological support for the torture they endured. Torture also affects families of detainees. According to the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, children are particularly vulnerable. They can suffer feelings of guilt and personal responsibility for what has happened to their tortured parent. Family members also experience anxiety and a sense of loss. Many psychologists believe that family members would benefit from therapy along with the survivor of torture.
There are many forms of torture including rape. The report notes:
In Iraq, rape or threat of rape of detainees or their loved ones has been widely alleged. Sexual assault shares with other forms of torture the objective of inflicing suffering, humiliation and degradation. It is also used to force "confessions", extract information or punish detainees.
A member of Iraq's parliament who met four male inmates at al-Rusafa prison in Baghdad in June 2009 said they told him that they had been raped and otherwise tortured, and that he had seen marks on their bodies that supported their allegations. Hundreds of inmates at the prison went on hunger strike in May and June 2009 to demand an end to torture and other ill-treatment.
Other Iraqi members of parliament have raised serious concerns about sexual violence in prisons. In mid-June 2009, for example, one said that security forces had sexually assaulted at least 21 male detainees at al-Rusafa and al-Diwanya prisons in southern Iraq since the beginning of the year. In May 2009, a delegation from the Council of Representatives' Human Rights Committee visiting al-Kadhimiya women's prison in Baghad heard testimony from two female prisoners who said they had been raped repeatedly after their arrest.
Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 68-year-old man with dual Iraqi-UK citizenship, was held in communicado and tortured, including by being raped with a stick, after he travelled to Iraq to secure the release of his son Omar. Both men were beaten, suffocated, given electric shocks to the genitals, and supsended by the ankles. Interrogators also threatened to rape Ramze's first wife, who lives in Mosul, in front of him, and threatened Omar that he would be forced to rape his father if he did not confess to killings. Both men signed "confessions".
Rape or threat of rape has serious psychological and physical effects on survivors. The physical consequences for men and women can include sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV; sexual dysfunction; tears or lacerations to the anus and vagina that cause long-term pain; and bruising. Women can also suffer from unwanted pregnancy and gynaecological problems resulting in infertility.
The long-term mental effects on both sexes can include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, phobias, eating and sleeping disorders, PTSD and suicidal behaviour.
Turning to today's violence, Al Rafidayn reports that the Ministry of Defense's Brg Gen Ali Ashan was killed by a Baghdad bombing at his home. Xinhua adds, "Later, another roadside bomb went off at the scene when Iraqi security forces and civilians gathered at the site of the first blast, wounding two policemen, a soldier and a civilian, the source said." Reuters adds 2 Mosul bombings wounded two people, 1 injured man was discovered in Kirkuk and 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul.
QUESTION: There was a report on Iraq on the weekend that Ambassador James Jeffrey has said that the U.S. troops might stay in Iraq beyond 2011, and there is a new threat to regional stability. Can you confirm that or talk to the --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I'm not familiar with Ambassador Jeffrey -- I know he was here last week and testified before the Hill. He might have been responding to questions that were posed to him from senators who have asked questions about military presence. Look, we are proceeding based on an existing Strategic Framework Agreement and Status of Forces Agreement, which says that all military forces will be out of Iraq by the end of this year. We are working on that transition where many of the activities that have been performed by military personnel will be performed by State Department personnel. So we're proceeding on the current strategy. We're going to have a long-term partnership between the United States and Iraq. And we'll define with Iraq going forward, the nature of that relationship. To the extent that we have military cooperation going forward, we'll be happy to have that discussion with the Government of Iraq.
"During my first wheelchair distribution event at a border command post on the Iraq Syrian border, a young boy named Alaa old pulled himself along the ground approaching me from behind," Brad said. "He asked me 'Mister, I can have a wheelchair?' and I lost my breath for a split second, I had to regain my composure." Brad describes giving Alaa a wheelchair as a process that transformed the young boy into "a person of worth and dignity." "For all his 10 years, he dragged himself through the desert sand...and he was given a respectable way of getting around. He became eligible to attend school for the first time because he didn't have to be carried." Due to the departure of General Petraeus from Iraq, Brad had to return to a day job, but remains in Iraq and focused on maintaining WFIK, the only nonprofit working with disabled Iraqi children.
As the US State Dept begs for billions in tax payer monies in order to weaponize diplomacy, grasp how little money is required for WIK and how steadfastly the US government avoids assisting with that. Remember, for all the efforts at stamping the government's motives with a happy face, it's never really about addressing the human pain.
Staying in the US, In March of last year, the Justice Dept announced: "A captain in the United States Marine Corps was charged today with conspiring with his wife to skim approximately $1.75 million from government contracts awarded under the Iraqi First Program while he was acting as a Marine Corps contracting officer's representative in Iraq. Eric Schmidt, 39, of Murietta, California, who is assigned to the First Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, was charged this morning with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and filing a false tax return that concealed the illicit income from the Internal Revenue Service. Capt. Schmidt's wife, Janet Schmidt, 39, also of Murietta, also was charged today with the same two felony counts. According to the criminal information filed this morning, Capt. Schmidt used his position in the contracting process to steer contracts to his favored Iraqi contractor, the Al-Methwad Company. The contracts were often awarded under the Iraqi First Program, which was designed to award certain contracts to Iraqi vendors to assist with Iraqi economic expansion and entrepreneurship. Once Al-Methwad had been awarded the contract, Janet Schmidt found United States-based vendors to provide the goods purportedly to be furnished by Al-Methwad under the terms of the contract. Janet Schmidt purchased the goods using money provided by Al-Methwad, often purchasing far fewer or inferior products than those required by the contract. She then arranged for the goods to be delivered to the United States Marines in Iraq. Once the shipment arrived in Iraq, Capt. Schmidt falsely certified that both the number and type of goods required by the contract had been provided by Al-Methwad Company to the Marines. Armed with the false certification, representatives from Al-Methwad Company sought and received payment from the United States."
Tony Perry (Los Angeles Times) reports Eric Schmidt received a six year sentence to a federal prison and that Janet Schmidt will be sentenced in March. The amount of money they were convicted of stealing? $1.69 million. And what does the government have? "propereties in Big Bear and Murrieta" which are not worth what they were in 2008, "two automobiles and $40,000 in cash" and, no, that's not the same as the $1.69 million the couple made off with, $1.69 million of tax payer money. Nothing in the case, in fact, argues well for the claims that US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey made last week about a system being in place to prevent theft of tax payer dollars from the money he would love to see allocated to Iraq. Dan Whitcomb (Reuters) quotes Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen stating, "The Schmidts defrauded U.S. taxpayers, cheated the Iraqi people and betrayed the trust placed in them. They will now pay a price for their criminal wrongdoing."
And finally, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee released the following today:
(Washington, D.C.) -- Yesterday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the SenateVeterans' Affairs Committee, along with 17
Senators from both sides of the aisle, wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget,
Jack Lew, to urge the Administration to carry out the lawand begin
providing supportive services to caregivers of wounded veterans. The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010,
Public Law 111-163,was enacted May 5, 2010 and directed VA to begin providing caregiver support by January 30, 2011. To date, the Obama Administration has failed to even set out its initial plan to carry out the
In the letter sent Monday, the bipartisan group of Senators urged VA
and the Office of Management and Budget to quickly implement this
vital law to provide crucial benefits for very seriously injured veterans.
The Senators noted that, as a result of the Administration's inaction,
family caregivers across the nation have not received the benefits to which they are entitled. Among the services required by the caregivers law are training in the provision of care, respite care, technical assistance,
counseling, and financial support for those who give up the opportunity
to work in order to provide needed care to their injured loved ones.
"Families of wounded warriors are waiting for these new caregivers' benefits," said Chairman Murray. "And with each day of delay the strain
from the sacrifices they make only grows. Congress heard the concerns
and problems of family caregivers and responded. This delay in putting
the program in place is simply unacceptable. Responding to the needs of
those injured while serving their country is a cost of war that must be
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who has served as the Ranking Member
of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs since 2007, said: "The long delay in getting this program up and running is a disservice to veterans
and their families. Caregivers need training and instruction so they can provide the men and women who were severely wounded while serving our country a better quality of life."
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said "Many families are making enormous sacrifices to care for their loved ones. They are often forced to give up their full-time jobs, bear the cost of home care and even move across the country
in search of treatment. It is past time for our nation to step forward and provide support to these families. Any further delay in distributing these benefits is a disservice to the brave men and women who have served our country."
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) said: "VA and OMB must fulfill their duty
to implement this law and provide timely assistance to families and other
caregivers of veterans who have served this nation bravely. These caregivers have sacrificed so much for so long, and they deserve the full support of the nation their loved ones risked everything to serve."
The full text of the Senators' letter follows:
February 07, 2011
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
The Honorable Jacob J. Lew
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW Washington, DC 20503
Dear Secretary Shinseki and Director Lew:
We are writing regarding the status of the family caregivers program mandated by the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, Public Law 111-163, which was enacted on May 5, 2010. To date, implementation of this program is significantly behind the schedule required by law. The statutory deadline for the full implementation of this program was January 30, 2011, yet not even an initial plan has been completed to this point. We are troubled by this apparent inaction.
Among the critically needed benefits and services that are being withheld from family caregivers are instruction and training in the provision of care, respite care, technical assistance, counseling, and a living stipend for those who must give up their jobs or work limited hours to provide care to their loved one. This law also requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit a plan for the implementation of the family caregiver program. That report was due to the Committee 180 days after the enactment of the law, which was November 1, 2010. At this point, the report is more than three months late.
We also note that the National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law 111-383, tied the Department of Defense's stipend for caregiver services to the amounts of the caregiver stipend to be developed under Public Law 111-163. As a result, any further delay in implementing the caregiver program hinders the implementation of the Defense Department's program as well.
We know you share our view that very seriously injured veterans and servicemembers should not be made to suffer by being denied care essential to daily living. Indeed, we noted the commitments made in the President's most recent State of the Union address, and his comments on the recent release of the report on services for military families, which seem to support prompt assistance to those who have served the nation. The caregivers program is one of the most important ways to assist the families of our servicemembers and veterans and we ask for the immediate completion of any further work so that efforts to implement this program can proceed.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Roger Wicker (R-MS), James Inhofe (R-OK), Mark Begich (D-AK), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Scott P. Brown (R-MA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)