Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 15, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, journalists and activists hold a press conference in Baghdad to draw attention to the abuse and torture conducted by Iraqi forces, US House Rep Chellie Pingree notes, "I am deeply concerned that we're going after medical care for both our active duty personnel and our retirees when I think there are other places to make more effective cuts" and more.
Kutaiba Hamid (Al Mada) reports that a press conference was held yesterday by the February Youth Movement (young Iraqi activists) at the Women's Association Hall in Baghdad to detail the way Iraqi forces are torturing protesters and journalists. Journalist Ali Abdul-Zahra was taken by Iraqi forces after covering the protests earlier this month. He and three youth protesters were taken to the Eight Brigade's Baghdad headquarters where they were all four tortured with wooden sticks and electrical wires. Hanaa Edwar noted that if they do not stand up to it now, it will be the normal and it will effect every Iraqi. Youth protester Shawkat al-Bayati stated that the press conference was not about demands but about putting into the light these abuses. He likened the current conduct to that of the previous regime (Saddam Hussein's). New Sabbah covers the press conference and notes that the activists called for an end to silence. Youth activist and bodybuilder Mohammed Kazem David spoke of how he was pounced upon by two security forces who stated they were with the intelligence division of the Ministry of the Interior and they forced him to sign a statement after they tortured him, doing damage to his leg, to his ear and tearing ligaments in both of his hands. In another report, Kutaiba Hamid (Al Mada) details Ali Abdul-Zahra's statements which note, "Without any charge against me and without any court order, I was held just for covering the demonstration, being present as a reporter. At half past noon, I was detained on Saadoun Street and after I had identified myself and explained I was a journalist, I was informed this would not help me." Along with others, he was taken to the Eight Brigade-Third Regiment and then to another regiment. "They beat us and they took photos of us and a colonel told the soldiers to get the [electric] cables while the soldiers beat us on the sensitive parts of our bodies and insulted us in vulgar terms, calling us homosexuals. The Colonel told us, 'You want democracy and freedom, I'll show you democracy and freedom.'" And the beating continued.

In other Iraq protest news, New Sabah reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared yesterday he will not meet with any government official until the demands of the protesters are met. He did meet with a member of the National Alliance on Friday; however, that visit was supposed to be based on passing on medical news. Al Mada adds that al-Sistani reportedly refused Ibrahim al-Jaafari (also of the National Alliance and a former prime minister of the country). Meanwhile Ali Hussein (Al Mada) pens an opinion piece warning that Saleh al-Mutlaq (Iraqiya) cannot be trusted and that, basically, al-Mutlaq offers meaningless crocodile tears for the protesters because he is part of the problem that created Iraq's current climate.

As you read about the torture of protesters and journalists by Iraqi forces, you may wonder why the hell the US is still in Iraq? You may wonder it more if you read this article from Al Mada which explains that Mark Meevid with the US Embassy in Baghdad has explained on Al Sumaria TV that the US will do nothing to protect Iraqis from arrests or torture.

Why is the US staying in Iraq?

Why are Robert Gates, James Jeffrey, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama insisting billions are needed for this year (and for the next ten -- though the press has trouble reporting that, doesn't it?)? What's the point of it?

Is the US supposed to be propping up a government they know is guilty of widespread abuse?

Are US tax payers supposed to pay for that?
Last week, Kelley B. Vlahos offered "Iraqi Protests Make Washington Squirm" (Antiwar.com) and discussed Iraq on Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton. Excerpt:
Kelley B. Vlahos: And like I mentioned earlier, we helped Maliki basically destroy his political enemies through systematic, sort of ethnic cleansing and superior fire power. I mean, I remember going and seeing David Petraeus talk about how we won the surge and basically it was basically unleashing the mighty forces of superior US firepower on Baghdad, unlike anything that those people have ever seen and so basically we just pummeled the crap out of Iraq, out of the Sunnis, out of Sadr City and basically brought all of Maliki's enemies to heel so that he could basically create a central government with all the powers that came with and he's become an authoritarian strongman there. And now we're seeing his real, true colors come to be through these protests. And one way this is actually a good thing is it basically tears the veneer off of everything that we've been saying about what we've done over there and trying to do. It basically shows Maliki for who he really is and what's been going on there while the media has been ignoring it these past two years. 

That's where the money has gone, in protecting the US-installed  puppet.  And, more bad news, while puppet Nouri has denied repeatedly the existence of secret prisons, Dar Addustour reports that members of Parliament's Commission Human Rights visited a secret prison in the Green Zone and are calling for it to be closed -- many of the prisoners have been held for years.  The secret prisons still going on were noted this year by it's Ned ParkerHuman Rights Watch and Amnesty International.  Nouri's response to the revelations?  Deny, deny, deny. The last one I'm aware of was on February 6th, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported, "The Iraqi government on Sunday denied a human rights organization's allegation that it has a secret detention center in Baghdad, run by Prime Minister Nur al-Maliki's security forces." The report then quoted Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Moussawi stating, "We don't nkow how such a respectable organization like Human Rights Watch is able to report such lies."  The secret prisons and secret detentions helped spark the first protests of 2011 in Iraq,  especially the ones featuring attorneys in three cities (Baghdad, Basra and Mosul).
 Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) broke the story of the secret prisons in Iraq and how they were run by Nouri's security forces, the Baghdad Brigade -- and how the Brigade was behind the prison he and the paper exposed in April 2010.  Today Raheem Salman and Salar Jaffe (Los Angeles Times) note, "The jail in Baghdad's high-security Green Zone, called Camp Honor, fell under the nominal supervision of the Justice Ministry. But it was actually controlled by two elite security branches affiliated with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's military office, the Baghdad Brigade and Counter-Terrorism Bureau. [. . .] After a scandal last spring over a secret prison at another military base, Maliki ordered that Camp Honor should be opened to detainees' families and lawyers. Instead, the jail remained closed to visitors and allegations of abuse emerged in late January in reports by the Times and Human Rights Watch."  AP reports that the Minister of Justice's spokesperson is stating that "Camp Honor" will be shut down. New Sabbah quotes the spokesperson stating that the prison runs "contrary to international human rights standards."
Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) examines Nouri's 100-days 'till reform pose and speaks with various experts who say the idea that any serious reform will be done is unbelievable leading Ibrahim to conclude that Nouri's made a few for-show measures to buy some time and to ditch some Cabinet ministers: "From the outset, he has said he was not satisfied with the cabinet, complaining he was forced to acept some ministers to win the blessing of parliament. The protests effectively give him an opportunity to revist the coalition agrement, blame ministers for Iraq's woes, and replace them."  Mayada al-Askari (Gulf News) examines recent events and finds a country that is in real trouble:
The country is simmering with anger while Al Maliki and his bloc are playing politics on a two way street. On the one hand, Al Maliki is assuming all the authority, and on the other, he is pressing all the other blocs' representatives to come up with solutions related to corruption and ill-management, a task which he alone controls.
Regulatory authorities, the central bank and other vital bodies, which are supposed to hold the prime minister and his government accountable for its deeds (or misdeeds if you please) are all under Al Maliki, which seems very odd in a democracy which has come after 35 years of blood, sweat and tears.
There are also stories of Iraqi prisoners telling human rights' groups about the existence of secret jails -- something that runs against Iraq's Constitution.
Members of Iraqi Parliament no longer have the power to propose legislation. Instead, all new laws have to be proposed by the cabinet or the country's president and then passed on to parliament for a vote.

New Sabbah reports that the Parliament has just discovered 22 billion dinars has vanished in various cities in various provinces. David Ali (Al Mada) reports that bickering plagues Parliament. Zainab Suncor (Al Mada) adds that the al-Sadr bloc in Parliament is blocking the move to create three vice presidents. Iraq still has no official vice presidents. An attempt by Jalal Talabani to create four positions was blocked by the Parliament (his fourth would have been a female Turkman). With that shot down, now it appears the three vice presidents plan is shot down as well. Which may mean that they will stick with naming just two. You would think this could have been established long ago, during the long, long political stalemate, for example.
The long, long pattern of violence continues.  Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing injured five people, 2 Baghdad roadside bombings (one after the other) injured seven people, a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured two police officer, a Falluja bombing targeting police officers (their homes) which left one police officer and two girls injured, 5 Yazidis were kidnapped in Baaj by assailants wearing "military uniforms using civilian cars," and, after being injured by Syrian border guards, 1 man passed away in Mosul.  On the Yazidi kidnapping, Aswat al-Iraq adds that three cars were attacked and the men pulled from them but women in the cars were left alone.
"Today the Subcomittee meets to hear testimony on the Military Health System and the Defense Health Cost Program for the Fiscal Year 2012," declared US House Rep Joe Wilson as he brought to order the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcomittee hearing this morning.  Subcommittee Chair Wilson noted his recent trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, his Iraq War veteran son and his Iraq War veteran nephew.  He then stressed, "Even in this tight fiscal environment, the Military Health System must continue to provide world class health care to our beneficiaries. Even in this tight fiscal environment, the Military Health System must continue to provide world class health care to our beneficiaries and remain strong and viable in order to maintain that commitment to future beneficiaries."
Must continue to?  When has that ever been a doubt? 
Travel back with us to May 19, 2010 when the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony from the VA's Associate Deputy Under Secretary Thomas J. Pamperin:
Senator Scott Brown: I'm wondering if you could just tell me what benefits might be at risk at this point and time? Any specific issues that we need to focus on that we're missing or falling through the cracks?  

Thomas Pamperin: Benefits that are currently being delivered that might be taken away? 

Senator Scott Brown: Right. Things that we -- that you're saying, "You know what? We got to keep our eye on this."         

Thomas Pamperin: Uh - uh, we'd be glad to - to give you a more extensive response in - in the future. Uh . . . My - my concern is that the nation clearly --
Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second?
As noted in that day's snapshot (in addition Wally covered the hearing at Rebecca's site), people needed to hear an answer to the question but before the answer was provided, Brown was cutting off Pamperin -- intentionally or not, you'd have to ask Brown -- and America, for a brief moment, may have realized that even veterans care wasn't safe under the current government.  If they did, they might have wished (as we did at Third) that Brown had kept his mouth closed and allowed Pamperin to finish his statement.  Instead, nearly a year later we learn that, in Subcommitte Chair Wilson's words:
The proposed TRICARE Prime fee increase for Fiscal Year 2012, while appearing to be modest, is a 13% increase over the current rate.  The Dept of Defense proposes increasing the fee in the out years based on an inflation index.  You suggest 6.2% but it is unclear exactly which index you are using? You plan to reduce the rate that TRICARE pays Sole Community Hospitals for inpatient care provided to our active duty, family members and retirees.  Several of these hospitals are located very close to military bases -- in fact, some are right outside the front gates -- especially important for 24-hour emergency care.  What analysis have you done to determine whether reducing these rates will affect access to care for our beneficiaries and in particular the readiness of our armed forces?  I would also like our witnesses to discuss the range of efficiency options that were considered but not included in the President's budget.
There were four witnesses appearing before the Subcommittee: DoD's Cliff Stanley, Jonathan Woodson, Army Surgeon General Lt Gen Eric Schoomaker, Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm Adam Robinson and Air Force Surgeon General Lt Gen Charles Green. In 2003 and 2004, attempts by the Bush adminstration to slash veterans benefits was big news.  This administration is going after active duty.  This is the Armed Services Committee, not the Veterans Committee.  These are the active duty personnel who can be -- and often are -- deployed to the current wars.  We'll note this exchange near the end of the hearing.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree:  I just want to say again, I understand how well you are all doing your job and the importance of all of you looking for cost efficiencies in what you do as we face a difficult time with the budget deficit and, uh, also where there's a lot of examination of the military budget and looking for places where we can cut.  And maybe my first comment is more to my fellow Committee members then to all of you but I might see more places to cut the fat in the military budget than others of my colleagues but I am deeply concerned that we're going after medical care for both our active duty personnel and our retirees when I think there are other places to make more effective cuts. So I know you have to do your job and look for those cuts but almost everything that's before us today, either myself or one of my colleagues has mentioned a concern about, whether it's the changes to TRICARE, how we're going to deal with some of our Sole Community Hospitals I have two in my district, there are four in our state of only 1.2 million people, in a state where we have almost a fifth of our citizens are either active duty or retired military.  So there's a very big dependance on this system in our state and I'm worried about that particular program.  So for me, many  of the efficiencies that you're talking about are going to reduce the level of medical care to people who have served us to whom we have made a huge promise.  And there is going to be a -- I think -- a reduction in the services that they receive so I just -- I know you have to do your job but I don't like it and I don't think it's all necessarily good.  And the only other program that hasn't been brought up today that I might ask you to comment on is the pharmacy co-pay.  I've seen a little bit about that and know that some of the co-pays will be reduced through using mail order pharmacies.  I have concerns about that as well because I do believe people get better care when they go directly to a pharmacist in their community, that's where we catch a lot of redundancies or problems with the medications that people are taking particularly with retirees.  So, in my opinion, having to go with mail order to get your pharmaceutical products is not always good treatment or good service.  And one of the things I might ask is how much the Department is doing to negotiate for better prices with the pharmaceutical companies in bringing costs down in that way as opposed to this other option.  That was my question.  If you've got any comments about that.
Asst Sec of Defense Jonathan Woodson:  Uh -- we continue to have efforts to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. I think that in fact the mail order advances care because, uh, there's a large percentage of retail prescriptions that are never picked up and there's breaks in terms of, uh-uh, the supply of medications. Our proposal not only reduces the cost but it ensures timely supply of medicines and, of course, linked with our concept of the patient-centered home, they have a team of health care providers that can counsel, coach, monitor their medicines.  We have new electronic -- electronic data bases that highlight, uh, medication, medication interactions and notify, uh, pracitioners of, uh, medications that may be unsafe. So I think there are a number of things that we're doing that are, uh, are going to enchance the quality of care while reduce the costs and provide a better service for the beneficiaries.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree:  I appreciate your perspective on that. That's - that's useful information in thinking about the program.  Uh, back to the question of negotiating, is that an active activity that goes on today to negotiate for cost-cutting. We-we still continue to pay some of the highest prices in the world in this country for prescription drugs and I know the military has done a better job of bringing down the costs but I just I wonder how engaged we are in the process and I wonder how much resistance there is to it?
Lt Gen Eric Shoomaker: Ma'am, I'm told that's a commodity that's managed through the Defense Logistic Agency and the center in Philadelphia and I'm told that the Dept of Defense has some of the most favorable cost profiles of any organization in the United States because of our -- because of levarging and volume.
An issue raised was the Pentagon's hiring of a consultant to conduct a year long study and US House Rep Walter Jones seemed to speak for many when he noted the endless studies while people wait and wait and for help.
Walter Jones: My question, in just a moment, will be for you Adm Robinson. I appreciated the question by Congressman West. I remember 10 years ago, I think I was briefed by Dr.
[Paul] Harch from LSU about hyperbaric oxygen as a treatment for our head wounds.  And I know I had a conversation a couple years ago, I cannot remember the Air Force officer, about where the research is going.  And I appreciate your statement, Gen Schoomaker, uh, that, uh -- My concern or interest is this Adm Robinson, I know that -- I want to thank Adm Mullen.  Quite frankly, I brought this up at a full hearing about a year ago about a hyperbaric chamber down at Camp Lejeune, we do have one at Camp Lejeune. And I believe that they're in the process now of preparing to be part of a pilot program to treat Marines down at Camp Lejeune, which I am very grateful for.  Help me understand when -- and I understand the need for studies, please understand, I do realize they are very, very important -- but when would the military get to a point after the study by the Air Force, maybe the Army, I don't know that, maybe the Navy as well?  When do you get to the point that the study says -- and I'll tell you why and then I'm going to let you answer -- I've called numerous Moms and Dads whose sons and a couple of daughters had been in the hyperbaric chamber or treatment.  One that really sticks with me -- and I want to use this and then you answer, please sir -- I called Col [George E.] "Bud" Day -- he's a Marine, won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam -- called and he told me his grandson had a severe brain injury from Iraq, I believe, at the time and he was just not satisfied with the treatment and as his own expense he sent his grandson to LSU to Dr. Harch and, I never will forget, Col Day said to me, "I'll go anywhere I need to go to testify that this treatment has given my grandson a quality of life that he would never have had if he had not had the hyperbaric treatment." So now -- this was the question I had just a moment ago -- when do we get to the point that we say -- meaning the Dept of Defense -- that this protocol does help, it does work?
Vice Adm Adam Robinson:  Congressman Jones, thanks for the question.  This has been for me, as Surgeon General of the Navy, a four year question.  We have looked at hyperbaric oxygen and Dr. Harsh who has been at  several meetings -- and I've met him many times and looked at his results -- we've invited him to come through and participate in our double-blinded studies so that we can get away from the anecdotal results of individual patients, families and other anecdotal lessons and we can get down to what we have to have from an objective and definitive way so that we can base clinical practice guidelines both for the military health system and also for the private section.  We need to base those therapies on objective clinical data that cannot be influenced by opinions of people who have benefited but we can't prove that benefit in a scientific way.  So we need to employ a scientific method.  What we have done -- and I can say that after --in my fourth year as Surgeon General -- we now have studies, we're now beginning to produce data from-from compentent studies that look at, number one, hyperbaric oxygen seems to be safe.  So I think that that is a -- that is a clear improvement in terms of our knowledge.  And now we need to go and look more deeply at the Air Force study and that study has been completed but the analysis has not been done. So I think we're very, very close to getting more data.  I think when we can get some studies on the record that actually look at the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, I think at that point we can say that is an effective treatment, it is not an effective treatment but it is a treatment that can be utilized in complimentary medical ways so that the people who may benefit from it can use it it's certainly not going to harm them.  We will have an array of answers I think we are literally months away from getting there but it normally takes -- and this is one of the issues with medicine -- it normally takes time to get to where we need to be and we have to base it on a scientific method in order to keep from having everything become a clinical practice guideline -- things that are not proven.  So the scientific method is being utilized in this way.
There will be protests in the US next weekend. A big one in DC and protests around the country.  If you are in NYC or the surrounding area, you might consider this one that Joan Wile is the founder of Grandmothers Against the War and has written the book Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace. She and others will be taking part in a peace celebration Sunday:
It's encouraging to see the people uprisings abroad and in our own country.  The Egypt revolt really sparked something, and, on its revolutionary heels, the workers of Wisconsin came to life and fought Gov. Walker's efforts to strip them of their rights.  People in other states being subjected to the same onslaught rose into action, also.  It seems as if we might be on the cusp of meaningful fightback in the U.S. against the new robber barons who don't give a damn about you and me but are only interested in swelling their over-bloated portfolios to even greater obscene proportions.
This is a supremely opportune time to apply this welcome surge of People Power to the anti-war movement.  We in the peace movement who have been conducting our futile struggle for almost 8 years to prevent, then end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, must grab this moment to pursue our cause with greater force.  This does not take anything away from the battle to protect workers rights -- to the contrary, it is a wonderful support.  Bring the troops and the war dollars home, and fix our broken economy.  Remove all justification that way for cutting benefits and salaries -- then, the greedy scoundrels would have no rationale for busting the unions.
Accordingly, I urge all those within travel distance of New York City who will not be going to the Washington rally on March 19 to attend our adjunct protest on the same day, coordinated by the local Chapter 34 of the Veterans for Peace and by Grandmothers Against the War.  As we did on Dec. 16 in support of that day's protest at the White House, we will meet at the Times Square recruiting station at 5:00 pm.  In December, 131 people were arrested in D.C. and 11 of us were arrested in New York.  We will again carry out non-violent civil disobedience in our continuing efforts to thereby keep the issue alive and, hopefully, to nudge the sleeping citizenry with the urgent need to end these immoral and tragic wars.
Let's turn out in massive numbers in Washington and in the Big Apple.  They are doing it in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and other locales.  We can, we must, get out on the streets, too, and finally stop the killing!
DATE AND TIME:  5-6 pm, Sat., March 19
PLACE:  Times Square recruiting station, Broadway at 44th St.
 endorsed by
Big Apple Coffee Party; Brooklyn For Peace; Catholic Workers; Chelsea Neighbors United to End the War; Grandmothers Against
the War; Granny Peace Brigade; Gray Panthers; Pax Christie of
Metro New York; Peace Action Bay Ridge Interfaith Peace Coalition; Peace Action Manhattan; Raging Grannies; Veterans for Peace Chapter 34 (NYC);
War Resisters League
In addition to that event, A.N.S.W.E.R. and March Forward! and others will be taking part in these 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.

We'll cover this tomorrow.