Thursday, February 17, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a Democrat in Congress believes Iraq and the US will reach an agreement to keep US forces on the ground past 2011, Thomas E. Ricks encourages rape myths at his site, protests continue in Iraq and more.
US House Rep Dunan Hunter: Let's talk about Iraq for a minute. If the Status Of Forces Agreement is not changed or the Iraqis do not ask for our help and ask us to stay, what is our plan for 2012? At the end of this year, what's going to happen?
Secretary Robert Gates: We will have all of our forces out of Iraq. We will have an Office of Security Cooperation for Iraq that will have probably on the order of 150 to 160 Dept of Defense employees and several hundred contractors who are working FMS cases.
US House Rep Duncan Hunter: Do you think that represents the correct approach for this country after the blood and treasure that we spent in Iraq? My own personal time of two tours in Iraq. There's going to be fewer people there -- and that 150 -- than there are in Egypt right now. Somewhere around 600, 700 of those types of folks in Egypt. How can we maintain all of these gains that we've maintained through so much effort if we only have 150 people there and we don't have any military there whatsoever. We have more military in western European countries than we'd have in Iraq -- one of the most centralized states, as everybody knows, in the Middle East.
Secretary Robert Gates: Well I think that there is -- there is certainly on our part an interest in having an additional presence and the truth of the matter is the Iraqis are going to have some problems that they're going to have to deal with if we are not there in some numbers. They will not be able to do the kind of job and intelligence fusion. They won't be able to protect their own air space. They will not -- They will have problems with logistics and maintenance. But it's their country, it's a sovereign country. This is the agreement that was signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government and we will abide by the agreement unless the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there.
Tuesday, Susan Burke and supporters of survivors of military sexual assaults and some of the survivors filing suit against the Pentagon held a press conference in DC. Today on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane's guests for the first hour were the Service Women's Action Network's Anu Bahgwati, attorney Burke and military sexual assault survivors Mary Gallagher and Rebekah Havrilla.
Susan Burke: The lawsuit is brought to try to reform what is clearly a broken system. What we have learned from interviewing hundreds of victims is that there is widespread retaliation against men and women that come forward and report rapes and sexual assaults. The program that Dr. [Kaye] Whitley spoke of are all simply focused on hand-holding to the victim but they lack any kind of clout. The SARCs themselves do not have any power vis-a-vis the military chain of command. Many of the SARCs are in the military chain of command and are willing to work at command's direction rather than actually advocate for the victims. So you have a completely dysfunctional system in which the victims have to face day-by-day workplace retaliation. So we're seeking -- we're seeking a Constitional -- a finding that [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and former [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld have let such an obviously broken system go forward for so long that they have deprived the plantiffs of their Constitutional rights.
Diane Rehm: Tell me how these plantiffs came to your attention.
Susan Burke: I was originally contacted by a civilian, a woman named Christine Smith who had been raped by a service member and ended up going through the military system of justice with just dismal results. The prosecutor lost the physical evidence -- her undewear. The court martial went badly. Then, the poor thing, six months later, after this, she gets a phone call from somebody in the military saying, "Oh, please come pick up your things." And, in fact, it was the underwear. It had been there the whole time. So I was just simply staggered by that level of incompetence in the prosecutorial ranks and I spoke with her about the situation and whether we could help her. That led me to begin to investigate the issue of how rape is handled in the military system. I'm actually a child of career military. So I'm somewhat familiar with, you know, the military system, having grown up on army bases my whole life. But nonetheless, I was just shocked when I read Helen Benedict's The Lonely Soldier book, began to look at the reports, began to look at what Congress has done, because what you see is a lengthy pattern of Congress telling the Dept, 'do something effective, clean this problem up', and the Dept just blowing it off and not taking any type of effective steps.
Diane Rehm: Susan Burke, she's the plantiff's lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the Pentagon.
Let's stop to talk about two of the military rape cases that have received the most attention from the press in the last decade. There was Suzanne Swift who was a victim of command rape. She was deployed to Iraq at that time and there was a "victim's advocate" she could speak to. The 'advocate' wanted to work with Suzanne on what she (Suzanne) could do so as not to be 'tempting'. Suzanne Swift went through the channels and received no assistance. Home on a pass, she self-checked out and refused to return. Donna St. George (Washington Post) described what happened when her pass was supposed to be up.
She had the car keys in her hand, ready to drive to the base. Suddenly, she turned to her mother.
"I can't do this," she remembers saying. "I can't go."
The Army specialist, now 22, recalls her churning stomach. Her mother's surprise. All at once, she said, she could not bear the idea of another year like her first. She was sexually harssed by one superior, she said, and coerced into a sexual affair with another.
"I didn't want it to happen to me again," she said in an interview.
As part of a plea bargain, she pled guilty to "missing movement" and being absent without leave. Her rank was reduced to private, and she spent the next 21 days, including Christmas, in a military prison in Washington State. The Army ruled that in order to receive an honorable discharge, Swift was dutybound to complete her five-year enlistment, which ends in early 2009. After finishing her stint in prison in January, Swift says she checked herself into the inpatient psych ward at Fort Lewis's hospital for a few days but ultimately was released back to duty. She told me she was trying generally to ignore the PTSD but had taken to drinking a lot in order to get by. "I kind of liked the Army before all that stuff happened," she said in early February, on the phone from her barracks at Fort Lewis. "I was good at my job. I did what I was supposed to do. And then in Iraq, I got disillusioned. All of the sudden this Army you care so much about is like, well, all you're good for is to have with and that's it." She added, "I really, really, really, don't want to be here."
All the press attention didn't help Suzanne Swift receive justice. The other well covered case involved a woman who was missing. The coverage didn't help rescue her because she was already dead, killed by her rapist. Maria Lauterbach was a Marine. She was raped. She followed the channels. She did what she was supposed to. And doing what she was supposed to, following the rules didn't protect her. Cesar Laurean was her rapist. He was also a Marine. Even after she came forward, she was still forced to work with Laurean and attend meetings with him. The command showed no common sense, let alone sympathy. It gets worse. If there was anyone in a position of authority who did the right thing by Maria it was only Onslow Country Sheriff Ed Brown. Maria was seven months pregnant and missing. Her mother was asking for help. The Marines ignored her. They not only ignored her, they refused to do even a basic investigation. It was Brown and his staff who would locate Maria's body. She'd been brutally murdered and then Laurean dug a pit in his backyard, placed her body in it and attempted to burn her body to destroy the evidence. At this point Sherrif Brown thought he would be arresting Cesar Laurean. Maria had accused Laurean of raping her, she had disappeared just as she was going to testify against him. It should have been simple to pick him up. But it wasn't. Because what was obvious to someone trained to deal with crimes (Brown) was a big mystery to the Marine command. Laurean had already skipped town. And the Marines didn't even know it. Hadn't put him under watch, hadn't even considered him a suspect.
After he was caught (and brought back to the US), Laurean was convicted of Maria's murder and given a life sentence with no parole. Kevin Hayes (CBS News) reported:
After the verdict was read, Mary Lauterbach, Maria's mother, read a prepared statement. "Maria will always be our hero," she said. She told Laurean to look at his mother, saying that her heart breaks for his family too. "Now you will have time to think about your shame, time to think about your failures," she said. "There are many people out there who will die today, people who would love to have the time that God has given you."
These are the two most well known military rape cases of the last decade. In both cases, the women followed the rules on reporting. In neither instance was the woman assisted or protected. Those are the two most well known, they are not the only ones. And there are also cases like LaVena Johnson where she was killed (the facts laid out do not indicate suicide) and her parents, Linda and John Johnson, believe LaVena was sexually assaulted before she was killed. The cases aren't 'out there.' They're not 'extreme.' Service Women's Action Network's Anu Bahgwati explained to Diane's listeners, "Well I think, you know, we need to understand that military culture is completely different than the civilian world. As a service member, you can't quit your job if you're attacked, harassed or raped. You can't transfer to another community. You are stuck with your perpetrator and with the chain of command you have. There's very limited redress which requires, you know, you to take a giant leap of faith and really risk putting your career at an end by stepping forward. You know you're dealing with a system that thrives on power, on rank structure and intimidation. It's very unsafe to step forward unless you are guaranteed protection and, right now, there is no guarantee to your protection or that you'll ever get justice for the crime."
Mary Gallagher was raped while serving in Iraq. She followed the rules and reported the harassment to her supervisor, "And she basically said to me, 'It's he-said/she-said, and, you know, you just kind of need to, like, roll with it. And, you know, I don't really want to deal with it.' And it kept persisting, and so I reported it again. And at that point, she had me go see the chaplain and the chaplain said to me, 'You know, 96% of women are assaulted because they've been drinking.' Well this was a ridiculous statement because you can't drink in -- you know, alcohol in Iraq." That was the 'help' Mary Gallagher received while serving in Iraq and being sexually harassed and that 'help' -- that refusal by the command to do anything -- 'helped' the harassment build and build and Mary Gallgher was raped. Where are the charges for the command that refused to address the harassment?
Diane Rehm: Mary Gallagher, were you worried about being accused of false allegations?
Mary Gallagher: You know, a little bit. But mostly what my -- I was really scared for my life -- especially after the rape actually happened. I was terrified. And, you know, you're already in a war zone situation -- so your senses are up. And my fear was -- is -- that, you know, when I had reported the harassment and they hadn't done anything? When the rape happened, that's why I didn't report it. Because I didn't feel like they were going to do anything. And so it was just like I felt so isolated -- and so alone -- but, as far as, you know, that people would think that it was false? You know, no. But when I did report the harassment? Everybody was like, 'Well you know' -- They would always try to explain it away or dismiss it and so it always leads to a point that, you know, they just don't really want to deal with it.
Rebekah Havrilla was raped while serving in Afghanistan and she spoke of how there was even a training given in Afghanistan, while she was deployed, a PowerPoint training, and that a sergeant present for this sexual assault training "decided that he was going to strip naked and dance on the table. And even as you were going through the slides and you talk about, you know, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, there'd be comments about how, 'Oh, I just did that last night," or an action from one male to even another male trying to stimulate was was [being] told was just inappropriate behavior."
We're noting the next section (a) to include reality about "restricted reporting" -- a 'device' Kaye Whitley favors and we've long called out here (and remember Whitley can never give Congress the numbers -- she's forever asked but she can never provide the numbers and is forever 'surprised' that she's been asked) and (b) there are two men in the lawsuit and the media has often referred to the plantiffs as all being women.
Diane Rehm: I wonder Susan Burke if you can explain the difference between restricted reporting and unrestricted reporting?
Susan Burke: Yes, this is essentially a unique military creation that has, again, been a misdirected effort. Rather than tackling the omnipresent retaliation that occurs, they created an avenue for those who have been raped and sexually assaulted to report on a completely confidential basis. And there's not much -- There's nothing that comes of it. The problem is that even there, even though that confidentiality is supposed to encourage more and more survivors to come forward in order to access the health care treatment that's available to them, the reality is that it often leaks out and the survivors end up enduring the very retaliation they sought to avoid by going the restricted reporting route. So there's serious issues of the focus of the department's efforts. And the unrestricted reporting -- which is not used nearly as often as the restricted reporting -- is what we would normally think of when a crime occurs.
Diane Rehm: What about the two men who are part of this lawsuit? Explain what happened to them.
Susan Burke: Yes, in both instances, they were -- they were harassed and they were violated. One was groped and then, when he went to report it, he became the subject of a pervasive amount of physical abuse against him as he was on the ship. The other gentleman was raped in the barracks and when he went to report it to his command, they simply laughed at him. So the reality is this is not -- rape and the sexual assault -- is not limited to females. It is also occuring among the males as well and again you have the widespread retaliation, the scorn, the disbelief. In addition, there's the constant statement, "Well you know, you don't, don't rock the boat. You're a trouble maker. Don't be reporting on your own." -- these cultural messages that you really risk your career if you step forward. And most tellingly one of the survivors who has joined the lawsuit is a woman who was actually a criminal investigative unit agent. When she was raped, she opted not to report it because she knew that it would not be taken seriously. It was only after her perpetrator went on for the next two years raping additional women did a CID officer hear of what happened to her and come and ask her to come forward. You know, that is a very telling story of what all of these victims of rape and sexual abuse are confronting.
That was today's Diane Rehm Show and if you can't stream or if streaming will not help you, remember that Diane is now putting transcripts of her show online and you can click here for today's transcript. The full hour is transcribed. (Quotes and excerpts above were done by me and won't match up in sentence structure or punctuation, FYI.) This is an important issue, it's an important legal case and Diane treated it as such devoting a full hour to it (and she and guest host Susan Page have covered the issue of military assault for a full hour segment several times before). It's really amazing how other programs appear to have a real problem (a) finding this story and (b) covering it. Many NPR stations are in pledge drive mode currently. If you have the money to pledge and plan to, consider pledging during The Diane Rehm Show and letting them know that you do appreciate the type of programming that you hear on her show. And if you're local station isn't in a pledge drive or if you're reading this between pledge drives at some point in the future, you can always go to this NPR page and donate online.
We were at two Congressional hearings today and I may note one or both tomorrow. But the above is an important issue and it's not being covered. The reluctance to address it can also be seen in the silence on Nir Rosen's attack of Lara Logan (CBS News -- Lara was attacked and sexually assaulted while doing her job -- drop back to yesterday's snapshot if you're new to this topic). I'm not referring to the MSM, I'm not referring to the right. I'm referring to the left where we continue to refuse to police our own and enable the attacks on women who are raped to be launched. On her program Grit TV, Laura Flanders, to her credit, did address it and you can click here for text and video. Flanders concludes her commentary with, "Lara Logan deserves commendation for going public with her story, and anyone who tries to twist into anything other than a tale of what happens to women everywhere, all the time, still, is simply making apologies for rape. And for that there's no apology." Laura Flanders deserves commendation for addressing Nir Rosen's comments in her commentary. Good for her. It was needed and it is appreciated. So many others offered nothing. At The Nation online, since Tuesday, the most read story has been Laila Lalami's "The Attack on Lara Logan: War of the Words." It was written before Nir Rosen launched his attack on Lara and on victims of assault so it doesn't mention him. But the fact that it has been your most read feature for days now -- and still tops the list -- would indicate your readership actually cares about the issue. By contrast, your refusal to follow it up would indicate that you have ZERO interest in the topic (especially with regards to Nir Rosen's attacks). (Laura's commentary was for her show Grit TV. The Nation is running it, but Laura did that on her own, for her own program.) There's the silence at Mother Jones -- a publication more than happy to publish and praise Nir Rosen. Jen Phillips managed to blog yesterday at four in the afternoon California time (seven p.m. EST) and to share how offended she was that some outlets have gone from "sexual assault" to "rape." While that is an issue, Jen, it's not the big issue. Your silence enables the big issue to continue, now doesn't it? Again, Laura deserves credit for standing up and being the only one thus far at a left opinion print outlet to have done so. (In These Times and The Progressive are strangely silent.) In his attack on Lara Logan, also expressed his desire to see Anderson Cooper sexually assaulted. As Mike noted last night, Anderson had Nir on the show and did not accept the spin Nir tried to offer. Nir's a liar. When I dictated the snapshot yesterday, I knew Nir was going on CNN and had hopes that he would be honest. He's obviously incapable at this time of honesty. That point comes across in Anderson's interview with him (Entertainment Weekly has posted it here) and it comes across in the interview Charlie Eisenhood (NYU Local) did with him. While claiming to apologize initially, Nir can't stick with it, can he?
He regrets it he claims. But later declares, "I think certainly my tweets [he attacked Logan at his Twitter account] have been unfairly attacked and blown out of proportion. Thta does not excuse my lapse of judgement for making them in the first place. I stupidly didn't think that some crude banter would become fodder for thousands" -- we're stopping him. "Crude banter." Oh, he was attempting banter. And it was just "crude." And his tweets saying she deserved to be sexually assaulted (because she was a "war monger") and his wishing it on Anderson as well was "blown out of proportion" and 'unfairly attacked." It just gets worse. "That said," he declares, "I find the reactions sanctimonious and silly. A few crude jokes on twitter do not make a philosophy, they just make you a momentary jerk. I didn't mean it and I have a record of eight years of risking my life for justice to prove my values." No, you don't have a record of eight years on this issue. You have a record of attacking women verbally, you have a record of cutting them off when they're speaking (even if they're US senators and you're appearing before a Senate hearing), you have a record of smarmy remarks that express hostility to women. That is your record and that's why I've called you "toxic" for years now.
He still doesn't get it. He thinks -- and at least one lefty male is sure this is happening -- that he just offers a false apology (to those people whose "reactions" are "sanctimonious and silly") and then keeps his head down for a bit and everything's cool. If you're not getting how disgusting it is, how disgusting the climate it, you can always check out Thomas E. Ricks. We called him out yesterday. Today he posts about Nir Rosen and should he ban Rosen from the blog? I haven't led a cry for Rosen to be banned. I've led a cry for him to be called out and for those of us on the left to do so loudly. Ricks can ban him or not, I don't have an opinion on that. I do, however, take offense to Tommy's description of Rosen's comments: "Stupid, insensitve, inane, wrong-headed. Yup. My feeling in this situation is to hate the sin, not the sinner. I mean, a lot of my friends are dumbasses, and I've been there myself."
Nir Rosen took joy in the fact that Lara Logan was sexually assaulted. He thought it was funny. Thomas E. Ricks likes to play like he's in the military and the military's best buddy -- especially to the enlisted. Well, Tommy, the enlisted includes women and those comments were not just "dumbass," they were deeply disturbing and part of a culture that you should be calling out, not excusing, not minimizing. He did not tell a bad joke. He took joy in the sexual assault of another person. He not only took joy in it, he wished it had also happened to Anderson Cooper -- and said that if it had happened to Anderson, that would be funny. Nir Rosen is the poster boy for the mentality that allows sexual assaults and rapes to thrive in this country. Thomas E. Ricks' refusal to treat Nir Rosen's remarks as seriously offensive allows sexual assaults and rapes to thrive in this country.
And if he's not getting that he needs to step up to the plate and call this crap out, Thomas E. Ricks can read the comments left on his post. Most grasp how offensive and distrubing Nir Rosen's remarks were and one woman makes it very clear that she will not feel welcome on the blog with Nir Rosen around. But then you get the people who cite an out of control drug addict active in their disease (I promised the drug addict's parents I wouldn't mention the drug addict by name at this site and have not but I'll assume we all I know who I mean) which is bad enough but then you get the likes of KRIEGSAKADEMIE posting at 8:33 PM ET and declaring that Lara had 'it coming' because she wasn't like Hannah Allam, Misahl Husain, Lise Doucet and others "They dress very conservatively; they don't flaunt long manes of uncovered hair; they use moderate gestures and body language, and they show a modicum of deference (whether they actually feel deferential or not) when speaking to older people, adult men, officials etc."
Thomas E. Ricks, you need to educate that asshole. "Adult men"? Are you not getting the sexism? Are you not getting that what I've just quote from your own damn blog is sexism. She had it coming because she didn't allegedly show defernece to "adult men," she had it coming because of how she dressed and how she gestured? You don't see the problem, Thomas E. Ricks? The rape myths, the claims that a woman had it coming? You're not picking up on that?
How about when the same Kriegsakademie declares, "Lara has shown herself in the past to be both a bit of a drama queen and a practied femme fatale with respect to the male press corps in Iraq. My best is that the underlying thought that gave rise to Nir's unfortunate tweet was something along the lines of 'this whole story would not have happened to any of the real porfessional women correspondents who know how to operate in the region'."
Thomas E. Ricks, do you not get how you better start educating your damn readers? You created this environment on your blog when you went T&A and posted the nudie photo of the woman. You fostered that environment with your post minimizing what took place. You need to take accountability and that includes breaking down reality for your readers -- many of whom grasp it, but some like Kriegsakeademie obviously need to be informed that no woman "asks" to be sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is a crime, it is terrorism. How Lara dresses or who she shows 'deference' to is unimportant. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. No one invited it. A criminal sexually assaults. It's not cute, it's not funny. Yesterday Valerie Strauss (Washington Post) posted something that applies here:
Rosen's tweets on Logan more than crossed a line. They were more than cruel and insensitive. They revealed a perverted view of the world that has no place at any university, much less a prestigious one. Differences of opinion -- even extreme ones -- are one thing, welcome at an educational institution. Misogny and distortions of reality are quite another.
That a grown man (Thomas E. Ricks) can't grasp that today is rather amazing. That he once claimed to be a reporter and that he can't issue a strong denoucement of what Nir Rosen did is flat out offensive. There are some things you just do not do. On the left, many of us may not have agreed with Micheal Kelly. He died while reporting (in Iraq, April 3, 2003). His opinion on the war (he was pro war -- I am certainly not) didn't matter. He died doing his job. And members of the press showed him the respect his profession deserved. Lara Logan was attacked and sexually assaulted while doing her job and Thomas E. Ricks can't show her respect? Can't call out Nir Rosen for not showing her respect? Do we not get that? If Bob Woodruff is again injured while doing his job (ABC News, he was reporting in Iraq at the start of 2006 when he was seriously injured by a roadside bombing) is it okay for Nir Rosen to gleefully cackle and take joy in that? The same year, CBS News' Kimberly Dozier (now with AP) was injured in May by a car bombing in Iraq. If Nir doesn't like her career or her looks or whatever is it okay for him to publicly post comments taking joy in her pain, wishing her pain on others? Miguel Martinez was just assaulted in Bahrain -- is Nir Rosen preparing stand up material on that? There is supposed to be a modicum of respect for any journalist attacked while doing their job.
I'm offended on many levels but if Thomas E. Ricks doesn't have any respect for his profession, he can continue to pretend that what Nir Rosen did was no big deal. We have focused on the sexual assault aspect. But Ricks better grasp for one damn minute that the press is not supposed to trivialize attacks on their own while they are doing their job.
Obviously, Thomas E. Ricks doesn't give a damn about military sexual assault. You can tell that by what he's posted in the past as well as the fact that the big military story this week would be the lawsuit and Thomas E. Ricks couldn't be bothered with that. But he makes time to write what reads like a plea for his "friend-of-the-blog" Nir Rosen (even while saying he'll decide whether to ban Nir or not so your input really doesn't matter).
Again, there were two hearings today and they could be noted. There are protests and other important things. But if women don't stand up on this issue, we're begging it to continue. And we should remember what Thomas E. Ricks refuses to grasp, every rapist believes a woman had it coming. Every rapist has the same mind set as Nir Rosen and the poster at Ricks' site that we quoted. Does that mean Nir Rosen is a rapist? No. But that mind-set is found in rapists. It needs to be called out. Loudly. Rebecca's "the disgusting nir rosen" went up last night.
This report back will be to answer questions from media and the peace movement about the recent trip back to Iraq by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The war is not over but it is not the same as it was in years past. What is the humanitarian situation in Iraq?
How can we do reparations and reconciliation work?
Speakers are all returning from this delegation and include:
To make it clear that continued war is unacceptable, in March A.N.S.W.E.R. and March Forward! and others will be taking part in this action:
March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries.
The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The U.S. is financing endless atrocities against the people of Palestine, relentlessly threatening Iran and bringing Korea to the brink of a new war.
While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the United States remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people.
Actions of civil resistance are spreading.
On Dec. 16, 2010, a veterans-led civil resistance at the White House played an important role in bringing the anti-war movement from protest to resistance. Enduring hours of heavy snow, 131 veterans and other anti-war activists lined the White House fence and were arrested. Some of those arrested will be going to trial, which will be scheduled soon in Washington, D.C.
Saturday, March 19, 2011, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be an international day of action against the war machine.
Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Scores of organizations are coming together. Demonstrations are scheduled for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.
The fact is, the vast majority of jobs in the military do not transfer into the civilian work force. Additionally, when our soldiers return home from the wars, their physical and mental health take a back seat to their preparation for another deployment.
This complete lack of care leads many veterans, especially those with families, with no other option than to reenlist. Facing unemployment, criminally negligent health care services provided by the VA and absolutely no civilian job training, many veterans have no other option than to stay in the military. Many veterans have been redeployed back to the wars for their sixth and seventh tours. Many combat veterans have spent more time in combat in the past eight years than with their families.
This epidemic of unemployment could not have come at a worse time for veterans. Homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide rates among veterans have increased every year since the beginning of the occupations. In the past two years more active-duty troops lost their lives from suicide than the wars.
It is not the unemployed Iraqi who struggles to feed his family that we should be fighting. It is not the impoverished Afghan farmer who tries to survive without basic necessities that we should be fighting. Veterans have been betrayed by the millionaires who walk the halls of Congress and send us to kill and be killed so that Wall Street can turn a profit.
Our veterans' greatest enemies are not found in Iraq or Afghanistan, but right here in our capital city —the ones responsible for mounting unemployment, rising cost of health care, climbing tuition costs, record foreclosures and evictions, and the gutting of basic and essential social services. They have proven that they do not care about us. We can only rely on each other.
Meena Thiruvengadam (USA Today) reports, "Female veterans are twice as likely to become homeless as women who never served in the military, the government's latest data show. The unemployment rate for female veterans of the long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rose to 13.5% in January above the 8.4% that was seasonally unadjusted average for non-veteran adult women." The unemployment rate for young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is at 15.2% nationally and they are among the most at risk for foreclosures. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee which released the following announcement yesterday:
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman, Senator Patty Murray, released the following statement regarding the announcement of a number of new financial initiatives for servicemembers and veterans. This announcement comes just one week after Senator Murray sent a letter to Holly Petraeus, head of the Office of Servicemember Affairs in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the U.S. Treasury Department, regarding some financial institutions that were not offering protections to servicemembers provided under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). SCRA is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
"These new programs, which go above and beyond what is mandated by law, will help ease concerns over financial situations at home for servicemembers," said Senator Murray. "I am also thrilled that they include plans to find new ways to harness the skills of servicemembers and veterans as employees. I will continue to fight to ensure that the housing and employment needs of the men and women who serve our nation are met."
Included in the new initiatives, which are being offered by JPMorgan Chase, are:
•A lowering of interest rates to 4% for SCRA-protected eligible borrowers;•A pledge to not foreclose on any currently-deployed servicemembers; •A pledge to donate 1,000 homes to servicemembers and veterans over the next five years; and •A pledge to partner with other major corporate employers to hire 100,000 servicemembers and veterans over the next ten years.
As protests continue in Iraq, violence resurfaces (first seen earlier this month when the police attacked demonstrators). Yesterday in Kut, private security and Iraqi forces attacked demonstrators resulting in at least 3 deaths and at least fifty more people injured. Al Rafidayn reports that over 2,000 demonstrators were present in the town's central square, calling out the lack of basic services (water, electricity, sanitation, etc.), the corruption and the lack of jobs. A chant of "Down with al-Maliki" -- referring to Iraq's 'beloved' prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki -- sprang up at one point. Al Mada notes the demonstrators had peacefully occupied the building housing the provincial council when the fores began firing on them which led to an uprising during which, some day, the protesters setting the building on fire; however, one protester is quoted stating that the fire erupted on its own and was not caused by the protesters. The city is now under curfew and martial law while government officials are in hiding or have fled. Dar Addustour notes reports that the provincial governor has fled the city.
Michael S. Schmidt and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) report that protests today included Kut where demonstrates rallied for the release of 45 of their own arrested the day before and that, in Sulaimaniya, protesters targted the KDP offices (KRG President Massoud Barzani's political party) and that the peshmerga fired warning shots and then opened fire. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports 9 people were killed and forty seven more were left wounded.
Protests have continued all month and Iraq's college-age youth is calling for large demonstrations on February 25th with Baghdad as the center of protests.
Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports a member of Nouri's "State Of Law" bloc in Parliament, Jafar Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr has submitted his resignation to protest the lack of basic services and show solidarity with the protesters. Nouri's political party is Dawa. State Of Law is the slate he cobbled together to distance himself from the clannish nature of Dawa and indicate to the voters that he was about unity for all Iraqis. In other Parliamentary news, Dar Addustour reports that Parliament voted yesterday to reject the proposal of four vice presidents. Iraq had two vice presidents; however, the decision was made to up the number to three. Last week, Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, advocated for a fourth vice president, specifically a woman with the Turkmen bloc. He encountered strong resistance including from the Kurdish bloc in Parliament. Though some saw it as an easy move (some also saw the proposal as one the Kurdish bloc would have to support since Talabani proposed it), the indications that it wouldn't be so easy were visible Sunday when Parliament refused to vote on the proposal. Zainab Suncor (Al Mada) reports that another opponent to the proposal was Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi.
His opposition (my thoughts, not the report) shouldn't be surprising. When the Kurdish bloc refused to support Talabani what Iraq was witnessing was, once again, the huge split between Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani (each man heads the two major Kurdish political parties). Talabani's stock has been fading for some time with some Kurds arguing he was allowed to continue as president (a purely ceremonial post) of the country only to keep him out of KRG business. Allawi has repeatedly appealed to Barzani and it's unlikely he would go against him on this issue (which was a minor to Iraqiya and had no benefits to them).