Wednesday, June 29, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, talk of Iraq developing a Sunni region is shot down, officials are repeatedly targeted in today's violence, Iraq is discussed in the US at a Senate Subcommittee, and more.
Starting with this on veterans employment from Senator Patty Murray's office:
Chairman Murray Applauds Committee Passage of Landmark Veterans Employment Legislation
Having unanimously passed the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, the bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, applauded the unanimous passage of her landmark veterans employment bill, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 (S. 951) through the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Chairman Murray's bill is the first of its kind to require broad job skills training for all service members returning home and comes at a time when more than one in four veterans aged 20-24 are unemployed. In addition to providing new job skills training to all service members, the bill will also create new direct federal hiring authority so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military, and will improve veteran mentorship programs in the working world.
Having unanimously passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
Read Senator Murray's statement about the passage below:
"With today's passage, this critical legislation moves one step closer to providing veterans with the broad job skills training and support they need to break down barriers to employment. For the first time, this comprehensive bill will require service members to learn how to translate the skills they learned in the military into the working world. It will also ensure that more veterans have jobs waiting for them when they leave the military by streamlining the path to private and federal employment.
"Our veterans sacrificed greatly to fight for our freedoms and they shouldn't have to fight for jobs when they return home. I'm hopeful that this legislation will quickly make its way before the full Senate, and I look forward to fighting for it when it does."
Senator Murray has long championed veterans and her bill should be passed quickly by the full Senate.
Turning now to the wars that produce the veterans (the wars also produce the fallen).
Cynthia McKinney: Congress must exercise its authority and reign in this president. [Applause.] If this president proceeds -- now we already know that this president is guilty of committing war crimes. [Applause.] We know that. Now if having oral sex is an impeachable crime certainly war crimes and crimes against humanity are also impeachable crimes. [Applause.] Ignoring the War Powers Act and the Constitution is an impeachable crime. If President Obama refuses to heed public opinion in the United States -- 60% of which is against the involvement against Libya -- if he is determined to violate the Constitution and violate the War Powers Act and defy Congress, I'm hoping that we will bring enough pressure to bear on our members of Congress that they will follow the House and, in the Senate, also vote to cut off the funding for this NATO operation. [Applause.] Because of what NATO is doing in Libya, what we're seeing is the Israel-ization of NATO policy against the people of Libya. Whether it's collective punishment -- NATO now is refusing to allow food, fuel and medicine to come in as they bomb people and hurt people, NATO is refusing to allow Libya to import the necessary medicine. That too is against international law. That makes our president's actions also criminal in the collective punishment that is being visited on the Libyan people. They can't even fish in their own territorial waters because NATO is stopping that. Sounds a lot like Gaza, doesn't it?
Michael S. Smith: Michael, Heidi, there's been a lot of ink spilled over Obama overstepping legal authority with the war in Libya. And Michael, you've litigated this question on the War Powers Act. What's your take on it?
Michael Ratner: We should first say that, as hosts, we're against this war to begin with, apart from the legality, that this is just another US imperialistic war in the Middle East. I mean, whatever we think about that. But, in addition, what's come out lately is that it's flatly illegal and the administration is fighting an illegal war. I wrote an op-ed on this way back at the end of March that this was an unconstitutional war because it was attacking another country and under the Constitution you have to get the consent of Congress. He didn't. Since then, of course, the War Powers Resolution has clicked in. That's the resolution that was passed in the wake of the Vietnam War. And it was passed for a particular reason: Congress was afraid that presidents would continue to go to war without their consent and so they built an automatic trigger into the War Powers Resoultion saying that 60 days after the president initiated a war, for whatever reason, whatever basis, if it didn't have explicit Congressional consent, the troops had to automatically be withdrawn. I say that again: automatically be withdrawn within 30 days after the 60-day time clock expires. So that's 90 days. There shouldn't be any attack on Libya going on that the United States is involved in at all -- not involved in coordination, not involved in helping with the radar, not involved in helping send its own missiles -- which it's still doing, not involved in bombing -- which it's still doing. So the 90 days are over. The war started over 90 days ago. And there's now been a big debate in the administration with Obama saying, 'I'm not violating the War Powers Resolution. There's no hostilities. We haven't entered into hostilities.' I mean, it doesn't pass the straight-face test. I mean, it's ridiculous. It's a total lie. And what's sad about it, of course, is that he got advice from the administration official lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel --
Michael S. Smith: And the Pentagon.
Michael Ratner: And the Pentagon which -- the OLC actually is authoritative on the law with the president. Yes, he can override it, but it's authoritative. Very rarely over-ridden. Then he went to some other people at the State Dept and elsewhere -- including Harold Koh -- who I used to work with very closely. And they give him the opposite opinion. They said, 'Oh, no. There's no violation of the War Powers Resoultion here.' And Obama, to the American people, with a straight face, has the nerve to say, "We're not violating the War Powers Resolution." So now you see them scrambling around in Congress -- you know, [Dennis] Kuccinich and some Republicans -- saying 'let's cut off all the funding for this war.' They never actually funded the war. That's another interesting point. Obama took the money from some raw defense dept budget. He didn't even use specific funding for the war.
Michael S. Smith: That's utterly unconstitutional. The Constitution [says the Congress] is supposed to have the power of purse and since war is so important they're supposed to fund them or not fund them.
Michael Ratner: Right and I was asked this morning, about how do you compare Obama and Bush on the war? Well whatever you thought of the resolution authorizing -- 'authorizing' -- the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq, there was at least resolutions. I mean there isn't one for Libya. And now you see the great scene is to see [John] Kerry, our former presidential candidate who, you'll recall, when he ran for president saluted the Democratic Convention saying, "Reporting for duty" to show that even though he was against the Vietnam War after the fact, that he was still a figher. Well he proved he's still a fighter. He's now joined by [John] McCain at the hip to say, 'Now let's pass a resolution authorizing the war.' So here you go, the president does an unconstitutional war, he violates the War Powers Resolution and then, of course, exactly what the problem was in Vietnam, you're seeing with a war going on, Congress is saying, 'Well we can't abandon our troops in the field, we can't abandon our troops in the air, our credibility is at stake if we abandon NATO. The same BS we've heard forever. So underneath it, and it's the only analysis that counts, is this is one of a half-dozen imperial wars the US is fighting. And, as someone once said to me, "If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In the US, the world looks like a bunch of nails that it can just hit around when it gets into a problem.
Michael S. Smith: I think the other point is whether it's Bush or whether it's Obama, whether it's a Republican, whether it's a Democrat, that certain necessities of empire that these guys follow regardless of what party they're in or what promises they make when they're running for office.
Michael Ratner: I think that's right. I mean, you always tell me about there's two capitalist parties --
Michael S. Smith: One party with two wings.
Michael Ratner: Right, so this is, you know, we have one War Party really, the question is are there even two wings?
We'll stop there but I do love what Ratner says next. From the illegal Libyan War to the never-ending Afghanistan War, Bill Van Auken (WSWS) observes Barack and Richard Nixon:
In our response to the Obama speech, the World Socialist Web Site stated: "The plan announced by Obama will spell an escalation rather than a reduction in the bloodshed in Afghanistan. The aim is to carry out a military offensive over this summer and the next in an attempt to militarily crush the popular opposition to US occupation. To the extent that the withdrawal affects firepower available to US commanders, it will inevitably lead to the use of more air strikes and drone missile attacks and, as a result, an even greater number of civilian casualties."
The opinion piece drafted by Rose provides added confirmation to this assessment.
Both the author of this piece and the publication that he edits are worth examining. Foreign Affairs, the organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, has long served as a public forum for debating foreign policy issues within the US political establishment. It is the same magazine where Henry Kissinger, then a private citizen, first advanced views on Vietnam that would subsequently be embraced by Nixon after his 1969 inauguration.
As for Rose, he is described by the magazine as an expert on international conflict, terrorism and economic sanctions. He was a Middle East advisor on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, helping craft the sanctions regime against Iraq estimated to have claimed the lives of over half a million Iraqi children.
And if Barack's Tricky Dick, Tom Hayden's Rose Mary Woods because his revisionary and 'creative' interpretation of Barack's speech creates its own highly edited response and we long to see him demonstrate the Rose Mary Wood stretch. David Walsh (WSWS) observes, "Hayden makes entirely unwarranted claims about the so-called withdrawal plan and then attributes the 'de-escalation' to pressure from a 'peace movement' that is largely the product of his imagination." Ivan Eland (Antiwar.com) also sees Richard Nixon when he looks at Barack:
Richard Nixon faced the same dilemma presiding over the lost Vietnam War. In 1971, he wanted to withdraw U.S. forces from South Vietnam until Henry Kissinger reminded him that the place would likely fall apart in 1972, the year Nixon was up for reelection. To avoid this scenario, Nixon unconscionably delayed a peace settlement until 1973, thus trading more wasted American lives for his reelection.
Obama appears to be up to the same thing. A phased withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. troops before the election will push back at Republican candidates' demands for more rapid withdrawal and signal to the conflict-fatigued American public that he is solving the problem, while leaving 70,000 forces to make sure the country doesn't collapse before that election. Again, American lives will be needlessly lost so that a slick politician can look his best at election time.
WTVB reports on a new report from Brown University on the financial costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and the drone war in Pakistan which finds that $2.3 trillion dollars have already been spent in the last ten years on these wars. Reuters explains that the three wars have resulted in "between 224,475 and 257,655 deaths." Alex Sundby (CBS News) adds, "However, one of the project's co-directors told Reuters that the Pentagon's tally of troops who died from the wars should include those who come home and commit suicide or die in car accidents." And Tim Mak (POLITICO) offers that "the report asserts that conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue through the decade, adding to both financial and human costs." John Glaser (Antiwar.com) provides another aspect of these costs, the return:
With those kind of numbers, you might think people would be wisely pulling up and pulling out of these costly and deadly wars; however,Xinhua (link has text and audio) reports 55 soldiers from Fiji are being deployed to Iraq, increasing their total number in Iraq to 278. The Fiji Times cites a statement from the Ministry of Information stating that the deployment was made at the request of the United Nations.
Eight years after the start of the illegal war and the installation of exiles into a puppet government in occupied Iraq, there's little that can pass for 'progress' and "political stagnation" has become the watchword. Will US troops remain in Iraq? The issue, Al Mada reports, is little more than a "political pressure card" within Iraq used by various blocs in various ways. A political scientist at Baghdad University tells Al Mada that he fears that politicians are not factoring in what's best for Iraq but how to posture on the issue. Aswat al-Iraq adds that US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met and Talabani's office issued a statement which includes: "The bilateral relations between the Republic of Iraq and the United States were discussed in the meeting, and necessity for their expansion and development, especially the bilateral future cooperation, within the Strategic Agreement, concluded between the two friendly countries."
What the White House wants is an extension of the SOFA or a new agreement which would allow US troops to stay on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011 and under the US Defense Dept. If that is not possible, the plan is to take the troops remaining in Iraq and slide them under the umbrella of the US State Dept in which case their presence is covered under the Strategic Framework Agreement of 2008. Ed O'Keefe does the "Federal Eye" beat for the Washington Post. For the next several weeks, he is in Iraq. This morning, he Tweeted:
In his article on this issue he explained that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, in a GAO Office report, "acknowledged it is not designed to assume the military's mission in Iraq and will have to rely on its own resources and the assistance of the host country to protect the U.S. mission in the absence of the funding, personnel, equipment, and protection formerly provided by the U.S. military." He was referring to the report entitled [PDF format warning] "Expanded Missions and Inadequate Facilities Pose Critical Challenges to Training Efforts." The report stood as prepared remarks by GAO's Jess Ford as he appeared this afternoon before the Senate's Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Federal Workforce and DC. Senator Daniel Akaka is the Subcomittee Chair. He noted, "This Subcommittee held a hearing in 2009 to examine staffing and management challenges at the State Dept's Diplomatic Security Bureau which protects State Dept employees and property worldwide. Today's hearing will build on the previous hearing, as well as examine the results of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of Diplomatic Security training challenges."
There were two panels. Ford was on the first panel with the State Dept's Eric J. Boswell. The second panel was Susan R. Johnson of the American Foreign Service Association. We'll excerpt this from the first panel.
Subcommittee Chair Daniel Akaka: My question to you, what planning is underway to make sure DS [State Dept's Diplomatic Security] will be able to be prepared to protect diplomats and US civilian personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan as the military withdraws?
Ambassador Eric Boswell: Mr. Chairman, thank you for that question. We are engaged -- we the Dept of State and DS -- are engaged in a marathon of planning. I think that's the right way to describe it. It's probably -- The planning for the transition in Iraq is probably the most complex planning effort ever undertaken by the State Dept and perhaps one of the most complicated civilian planning efforts ever undertaken by the US government. We've been working on it for years. We think we have a very good planning strategy and we think we have a good plan and the short answer to your question, sir, is that I think that we will be able to be in a position to provide the security for our people in Iraq after December 31st of this year when all US troops will be gone from the country. Having said that, as I said, it's a very, very complex and difficult task. We are going to be dramatically increasing the number of security personnel at post in Iraq. And we will be increasing also the use of contractors in part for some of the things you mentioned and Mr. Ford mentioned, certain functions and activities that are not mainstream State Dept functions and were we are taking over functions now provided by the US military. We think we've got the structure in place to do it. I'l -- I-I-I should make the point that combat operations in Iraq ceased over a year ago, US military combat operations in Iraq ceased over a year ago. We have been providing security to our very large US embassy in Baghdad for over a year without any assistance from the military beyond certain very specialized funtions and we expect to be able to continue to do so. You asked about Afghanistan also, sir. Obviously, we are not there yet, there is not a transition yet. The president has just announced the beginning of a drawdown in Afghanistan but I can assure you that we have learned a lot in the planning process for Iraq and we will apply those lessons in Afghanistan.
Subcommittee Chair Daniel Akaka: Thank you. Ambassador, as the military withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan -- later Afghanistan -- DS will provide certain security and protective services that the military is performing now such as downed aircraft recovery and explosive ordinance disposal; however, the military provides many services such as intelligence collection and providing a visible deterrence in ways that DS cannot. How will the loss of these important capabilities effect the way DS provides security in Iraq and Afghanistan? And is DS equipped to handle all of the functions it will be asked to assume?
Ambassador Eric Boswell: Uhm, senator, Mr. Chairman, I was in Iraq several years ago and the security situation in Iraq now, I think it's fair to say, is infinitely better then it was at the worst of times: 2005 to 2007. You are right, sir, in saying that certain key functions of the US military will be absent. They can't be replaced by DS -- notably, uh -uh, counter-rocket fire. We are not an offensive unit in DS. Some intelligence functions as well. We are going -- As Iraq normalizes as a nation, we are going to rely as we do in most countries on the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi police for these functions to the maximum extent that we can.
Subcommittee Chair Daniel Akaka: Well, Mr. Ford, in 2009, GAO recommended that State conduct a security review of diplomatic security's mission, budget and personnel as part of State's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. While State agreed with the recommendation, the QDDR did not include this strategic review. Will you please discuss how inadequate the stategic planning may effect DS operations?
Jess Ford: Uh, yeah, Mr. Chairman, let me respond to that. First of all, I can say that we were disappointed that the QDDR did not take a more strategic look at DS operations. Our 2009 report suggested that DS has been required to expand a number of missions that it's asked to support by the Dept overall and that they're often put into what I would characterize as a reactionary posture which we don't think is good from a planning point of view and our goal of that 2009 was that the Dept would take a longer look at DS and come up with a more strategic way of asessing needs, resources and requirements. I think I can say that our current report which is focused on the training parts of DS suggests that there still seems in my mind to be a gap here.
Asked about the use of security contractors, Boswell insisted this was a must, that multiple studies demonstrated this and he cited his 2007 visit as somehow proof. He then suggested that at some point, as Iraq becomes more 'stable,' they might be able to replace the foreign security contractors with "nationals" (Iraqis) and stated that they currently use "nationals" in Erbil. He also claimed "about eighty" DS employees would be providing contract oversight to ensure that contractors were behaving properly (in his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Daniel Akaka noted the Nassar Square slaughter in September 2007 by Blackwater mercenaries guarding the State Dept). He noted there were two kinds of security contractors: contract guards and the bodyguards -- contract guards = static guards; bodyguards = protective security details, "the movement people who travel in the motorcades and who run the motorcades."
Meanwhile Iraq has a Kurdish region, some want it to now have a Sunni region. And, no, we're not talking about US Vice President Joe Biden. (Biden favored a federation system for Iraq made up of a Shi'ite region, a Sunni region and a Kurdish region.) Al Mada reports that while Osama al-Nujaifi (Speaker of Parliament) has long supported (that's their call, I have no idea whether he's long supporter it or not) a centralized Iraq, he's now begun talking about a Sunni region. The Secretary-General of the Justice and Reform Movement, Abdul Hamidi al-Yawar, finds the idea distressing and claims it will add to the tensions. Aswat al-Iraq quotes Hussein al-Muayad stating, "The Iraqi people, with all their fraternal components, strongly reject any step to ignore the national principles, mainly the unity of Iraq. Sunnis in Iraq understand well that their real and active existence can't be achieved through projects of secession and division, but through cohesion towards Iraq's unity." Alsumaria TV carries the response from Iraqiya: "Al Iraqiya stands firmly against any attempt to strip down Iraq through despicable sectarian motives", Iraqiya official spokeswoman Maysoun Al Damlouji said in a statement which Alsumarianews obtained a copy of. "Marginalizing citizens is not restricted to a specified province. Bad services, unemployment and poverty affect all people while the only beneficiaries of Iraq's wealth are a group that does not represent a sect or a rite", she said.
Aswat al-Iraq quotes the Iraqi Republican Gathering stating that this talk is "a dangerous turn that will open regional and international greed."
Rawya Rageh: Sheikh Osama al-Tamimi recalls a time when he couldn't pray freely here. The Shi'ite cleric was imprisoned under Saddam for fourteen months for leading worshippers in this Baghdad shrine. But today the Sheikh calls the mosque named after a revered 8th Century Shi'ite figure has emerged into the light. He says thousands of visitors come here to pay their respect to an Imam whose life story exemplifies the suppression of Shia Islam with numbers swelling during an annual festival marking his death.
Sheikh Osama al-Tamimi: We found the freedom to hold our religious rites and rituals and, year on year, there's more creativity and development in commemorating these religious occasions.
Rawya Rageh: Scene like there would have ben unimaginable under Saddam Hussein. Iraq's Shia have been experiencing a renaissance that's enabled them to express their identity openly and proudly and has created a whole new political landscape. For the first time in modern history, Shia have come to power in an Arab country. Their various competing political parties have been predominantly shaping Iraqi politics differences between them at times advancing democracy, other times deadlock.
Turning to today's violence, Reuters notes a military officer with the Ministry of Interior was left wounded in a Baghdad shooting, an employee of the Hajj Commission was injured in a Baghdad shooting, Lt Col Mohammed Abdul Ridha with the Ministry of Defense was injured in a Baghdad shooting, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left seven people injured, a Baghdad bombing injured two people and Ali al-Lami's brother Jamal Faisal was shot dead.
In the US, an Iraq War veteran is facing legal trouble. 26-year-old Elisha Leo Dawkins, Susannah Nesmith (New York Times) reported last week, has been "in federal lockup" for a month with the government planning to deport him because of a passport application and his apparently not being a citizen. His attorney explains that Elisha was raised in this country and led to believe he was a citizen. He was never informed he wasn't. The US military considered him a US citizen and gave him a very high security clearance. The State Dept issued him a passport. Kyle Munzenrieder (Miami New Times) added, "Dawkins applied for a passport in order to serve in Guantánamo. A question on the form asked if he'd ever applied for a passport before. He checked no. That wasn't entirely true. He had begun an application for a passport before deploying to Iraq but never finished the process. That single check on a box is why he now sits behind bars." Carol Rosenberg (Miami Herald) explained, " His lawyer says he grew up fatherless and estranged from his mother, staying with relatives in Miami, believing he was a U.S. citizen. He even obtained a Florida Birth Certificate to get a passport to travel to war as a soldier, with neither the Navy, the Army nor the state of Florida apparently aware of a two-decade-old immigration service removal order issued when he was 8 years old." Today Susannah Nesmith (New York Times) reported that an offer was on the table: Elisha takes an offer of probation and completes the probation, he can then apply for citizenship. (A felony conviction would interfere with the citizenship process. Probation would allow him to avoid a felony conviction.) The judge, Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, thinks it's a strong offer. Marc Caputo (Miami Herald -- link is text and video) reports US Senator Bill Nelson raised the issue on the Senate floor today and his remarks included:
A federal indictment says the serviceman failed to acknowledge he'd once applied for a passport when filling out a new application - something prosceutors call passport fraud; something his public defender calls an innocent oversight.
Mr. Dawkins now faces up to 10 years in prison, if he's convicted.
All John Dillinger served in prison was 8 ½ years on a conviction for assault and battery with intent to rob and conspiracy to commit a felony.
According to his lawyer, he came to this country from the Bahamas when he was just a kid. His mother brought him here. And he's still not a U.S. citizen....
Mr. President, some have wonder whether passage of the Dream Act might have prevented something like this from happening in the first place. That legislation would grant legal status to some undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and who join the military. Let's finally pass it.