Tuesday, July 19, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Amnesty International calls for executions in Iraq to be put on hold, Nouri al-Maliki is wanted before a Spanish court, Iran boast of their invasion of Iraq, Senator Patty Murray takes to the Senate floor to note the needs of veterans and argue that the country has a debt to pay which cannot be forgotten, and more.
Signature wounds of the current wars are TBI and PTSD. When the US military brass testifies before Congress they like to emphasize TBI and bury PTSD. That may be changing, not because the military brass really wants to address PTSD but because TBI may have even more risks than have been previously known. Albertina Torsoli (Bloomberg News) reported yesterday that a new study on TBI, presented in Paris at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference, found TBI "may more than double the risk of dementia in military veterans." AP added, "The veterans study was led by Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a University of California professor and director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. The Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health paid for the work." Today in the Senate, TBI was addressed. Senator Patty Murray's office notes:
VETERANS: Senator Murray Reminds Senate of Critical Need to Pass Veterans and Military Construction Spending Bill
The bill includes life-saving investments in Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD research as well as mental health care for those struggling with 'invisible wounds of war'
Watch the speech HERE (Senator Murray begins speaking at 44:50).
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, senior member of the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, gave a speech on the Senate Floor urging her colleagues to pass the critical health care and benefits investments included in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill the Senate is considering this week. Among many other things, the bill includes life-saving investments in Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder research as well as mental health care for those struggling with the invisible wounds of war. The bill also makes a significant investment in preparing the VA for the influx of new Iraq and Afghanistan veterans while supporting housing opportunities and care for older veterans.
"No matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how divided we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, no matter how heated the rhetoric here
in Washington, D.C. gets, we have to keep our commitments to our veterans and service members," said Senator Murray. "We have to move this bill forward and we have to provide those who wore -- are are wearing -- the uniform with the peace of mind that we are keeping up our promise to them."
For details on the critical veterans and military construction priorities included in the bill click HERE. The bill also includes over $500 million in investments for Washington state military bases.
Funding broken down by base appears below:
Naval Station Bremerton – $13,341,000
Naval Station Kitsap – $121,844,000
Fairchild Air Force Base – $27,600,000
Joint Base Lewis McChord – $331,300,000
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island – $25,000,000
Read the full text of the speech below:
"Madame President, there is no question that we need to make smart decisions to
tighten our belts and reduce our nation's debt and deficit.
"American families have done it around their kitchen table, and we owe it to them
to get our fiscal house in order.
"But there is also one group of Americans that we owe an even greater promise to.
"A group who we can never allow to become pawns, fall through the cracks, or be
forgotten altogether in these budget debates.
"And that is our men and women in uniform -- and the veterans who have protected our nation for decades.
"And that is why I'm here today -- in the midst of the whirlwind of debt and deficit
rhetoric -- to remind us all of the critical nature of the bill we have on the floor this
"To remind us that no matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how divided we
may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, no matter how heated the
rhetoric here in Washington D.C. gets, we have to keep our commitments to our
veterans and service members.
"We have to move this bill forward.
"And we have to provide those who wore -- or are wearing -- the uniform with the peace of mind that we are keeping up our promise to them.
"Now Madam President, a couple of years ago we took a proactive step to ensure
that the non-stop wrangling over appropriations bills here in Congress didn't interfere with the health care that our veterans have earned.
"Thanks to the work of Senator [Daniel] Akaka -- and many others -- VA spending for health care is now appropriated a year in advance.
"Protecting it from an imperfect budget process that is so often affected by politics.
But I remember that when we passed advanced appropriations we were very clear.
"Our foresight was not going to be an excuse to sit on our hands when VA funding
was up for consideration.
"We were not going to allow a precautionary measure to get in the way of passing
timely increases in veterans health care.
"And so this bill is the test.
"Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation's veterans and service
"Can we show them that -- despite our differences -- we will work as diligently
toward getting them the benefits and care they've earned as they have worked
for our nation?
"I hope we can.
"And I say that because the investments in this bill are a lot more than numbers
on a page.
"They are life changing programs for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
and Traumatic Brain Injury.
"It's support for suicide hotlines that are seeing more callers than ever before.
"It's providing roofs over the heads of our service members and their families.
"It's timely investments -- in the the very biggest priorities of our nation's heroes.
"And so today I want to talk about just a few of the investments included in this bill
and how they translate into the lives of our service members, veterans, and their
"Madam President, there is an influx of young veterans coming into the VA system
right now like we have not seen in a very long time.
"In fact the VA estimates that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in its
health care system will reach well over half-a-million at some point next year -- that's an over 100% increase since 2008.
"This is a big challenge -- and one that we have no choice but to step up to meet
if we are going to avoid many of the same mistakes we saw with the Vietnam
"That is why this bill includes nearly $3 billion to meet the health care needs of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a nearly $600 million increase over last year.
"But it's more than just the sheer number of new veterans that will be coming home to the VA in the near future -- it's the extent of their wounds -- both visible and invisible -- that will require untold resources from our nation.
"Through the wonders of modern medicine, service members who would have been lost in previous conflicts are coming home to live productive and fulfilling lives.
"But they will need a lifetime of care from the VA.
"And that's part of why this bill includes significant investments for research in a
number of areas including: Traumatic Brain Injury, spinal cord injury, polytrauma
injuries, and sensory loss.
"It includes funding that will go to maintaining world-class prosthetics like the one
worn by Sergeant Leroy Petry who I saw at the White House last week shake the
hand of a grateful President Obama as he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
"It's also funding that comes at a critical time as amputations have sharply increased among soldiers in Afghanistan -- many of whom are getting out of protected MRAP and Humvees to engage Afghan citizens and at the same time putting themselves at far greater risk of severe IED injuries.
"According to a recent Washington Post article 'twice as many U.S. soldiers wounded in battle last year required limb amputations than in either of the two previous years.'
"This funding also comes as mental health concerns continue to rise and suicides
among active duty troops and veterans from these wars have risen to a level now on par with combat deaths.
"In April, the VA's suicide hotline [1-800-273-TALK] took 14,000 suicide calls -- more
than they had taken in any month the previous four years.
"This bill ensures that we are putting someone on the other end of that call.
"This bill funds efforts to give veterans access to mental health professionals.
"This bill ensure we are not leaving our veterans to go it alone.
"But Madam President, this will do much more than help our newest generation of
"For generations we have faced the problem of homelessness among our nation's
veterans without making real headway.
"But recently, through the success of programs like HUD-VASH and the Grant and
Per Diem program, we are seeing real progress toward putting homeless veterans into safe and secure housing and the bold goals laid out by the Obama Administration to end veterans homelessness once and for all.
"This bill includes nearly $1 billion in direct assistance to homeless veterans."
"This bill also helps those who have taken on the monumental but deeply personal task of providing care to an injured veteran in their family.
"Those people who have left behind careers, personal lives, and even their own health care and benefits to care for those who can't care for themselves.
"It includes major investments to meet the unique needs of one of the fastest growing groups of veterans: women veterans
"Who through health care and construction upgrades that improve privacy will benefit from VA facilities that are more conducive to their needs.
This bill also includes major investments to fund military construction projects world-wide, including readiness centers, barracks, hospitals, clinics, and schools.
"It also supports family housing construction projects that ensure military families
have a satisfactory roof over their heads.
"And will create thousands of good-paying construction jobs.
"As we all know well, the strength of our military is rooted in the strength of the
families that support them.
"Investments like these are what allows service members to go abroad knowing
their loved ones are being looked after by the nation they are protecting.
"Madam President, after nearly a decade at war, the consequences of sending our
service members into combat and the sacred obligation we have to care for those
injured in service have become clear.
"But so have the shortcomings and the challenges we have to meet.
"Last week, I chaired a hearing on the gaps in mental health care that still exist at
the VA [to stream that hearing, click here] and the stories we heard were deeply
"I heard the stories of two separate veterans who attempted suicide but were still
left to wait for weeks and months for appointments at the VA.
"We have to fix the VA in a way that makes it flexible and responsive to the needs
of these veterans.
"And we have to do it in a cost effective way by ensuring that we are getting the
most value out of every dollar that a bill like this one provides.
"Next week I will be examing the long term costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to our newest generation of veterans because I believe we need to address this problem openly and honestly.
"Madam President, like generations of service members and veterans before them, today's heroes have done everything that has been asked of them.
"They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments.
"They have sacrificed life and limb in combat.
"And they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country.
"We can't allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in politics.
"We need to pass this bill.
"And we must also come to a budget agreement that avoids default and the
Who go the most? With $36,739, Ron Paul. He got double what all the other candidates took in. He also got more donations from active duty personnel in the last quarter than President Barack Obama ($28,833).
Elite units controlled by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's military office are ignoring members of parliament and the government's own directive by operating a clandestine jail in Baghdad's Green Zone where prisoners routinely face torture to extract confessions, Iraqi officials say. Iraqi legislators and security officials have been joined by the International Committee of the Red Cross in expressing concern about the facility, called Camp Honor. In a confidential letter to the prime minister, the Red Cross requested immediate access to the jail and added that there could be three more connected to it where detainees also are being mistreated. Iraq's Justice Ministry ordered Camp Honor shut down in March after parliament's human rights committee toured the center and said it had uncovered evidence of torture. The Human Rights Ministry denied Wednesday that it was still in operation. But several Iraqi officials familiar with the site said that anywhere from 60 to 120 people have been held there since it was ordered closed.
This is a topic Ned Parker has long reported on and it's a topic that helped spark the protests in Iraq this year. As January wound down, Ned Parker. reported on the secret prisons for the Los Angeles Times and Human Rights Watch issued their report on it. Parker's January report on the secret prisons and how they were run by Nouri's security forces, the Baghdad Brigade followed up on his earlier report on how the Brigade was behind the prison that he and the paper exposed in April 2010. But despite the January 2011 prison revelations, Nouri kept insisting there were no secret prisons in Iraq. Such as February 6th when 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 know how such a respectable organization like Human Rights Watch is able to report such lies." Camp Honor is a prison that's under Nouri's control, staffed by people working for him. Amnesty International would also call the use of secret prisons out while Nouri continued to deny them. In the middle of March, the world was supposed to forget all the denials and rejoice that (yet again) Nouri had been caught operating a secret prison and that he was saying (yet again) he would close one and saying that (yet again) secret prisons did not belong in the 'new' Iraq and would not be part of it. The lie would continue until March 15th. From that day's snapshot:
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."
Despite insisting that they were closing the prison in March, it has not been closed. In part, Nouri's been able to keep it open by refusing to appoint a Minister of Defense and a Minister of Interior. The power grab has prevented any accountability. Many of the prisoners (estimated to be as many as 120) are said to be political prisoners.
Last week, Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera, Christian Science Monitor) Tweeted:
And she's correct, this has been Ned Parker's story for years (plural) now.
Yes, it is the same secret prison. In part, Nouri's been able to keep it open because he's assumed the post of Minister of the Defense. Had someone from Iraqiya been appointed to the post, as was agreed to in the Erbil Agreement, Nouri wouldn't have had control
While Nouri's made nice in China, he's wanted in Spain. New Sabah reports on the decision by the Spanish court to call Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and chief thug of Iraq, before them along with members of Iraq's Defense Ministry and representatives of the United Nations in an attempt to make sense of the massacre on Camp Ashraf in April in which 35 people were killed. Nouri's official spokesperson (and president of his fan club) Ali al-Dabbagh insists that no other state can do what Spain thinks it can and that it encroaches "on national sovereignty" and, apparently, on Nouri's inalienable right to slaughter freely.
Camp Ashraf is where a group of Iranian dissidents leave. Marxists, they took part in the early stages of the Iranian revolution of the late 70s. They ended up in Iraq where Saddam Hussein granted asylum. Throughout their long stay in Iraq, they are not known to have created any internal problems. But Iran doesn't want them in Iraq. Not an issue when Hussein was in power; however, a big deal to the current installed government. Following the US invasion, the US disarmed the group. The residents of Camp Ashraf turned over their arms with the promise from the US that they would be protected. That has not been the case. Since 2009, Nouri has repeatedly sent the Iraqi military into the camp to terrorize the people and he, Hoshyar Zebari, Jalal Talabani and others have been making public statements in Iran and elsewhere promising to evict the residents of Camp Ashraf by the end of this year. They have also repeatedly lied including recently insisting that the International Red Cross was helping them with forcing the residents out of Iraq. The Red Cross immediately issued a statement explaining that they were doing no such thing.
The Spanish court is calling for Nouri to appear before it in October. Ali al-Dabbagh insists that Nouri is under obligation to do so. So are they about to curtail Nouri's traveling? They do realize that should he try to avoid a subpoena, certain countries have agreements that would compel them to take Nouri into custody and turn him over to Spanish authorities. This isn't a civil case. BBC News notes, "Under Spain's universal justice doctrine, grave crimes committed in other countries can be prosecuted." The BBC's article omits Nouri's name (maybe everyone's still recovering from Friday's strike?) but AP notes that Nouri is being asked to testify and they note that Judge Fernando Andreu plans to explore the April 8th massacre as well as the July 2009 one in which 11 Camp Ashraf Residents were killed. We'll remind that the same judge had earlier offered to kill the probe of 2009 (this offer was made at the start of the year) if the Iraqi government would launch their own probe. They refused to do so.
While Nouri bends over backwards to appease Iran, the Iranian military boasts of their control over Iraq. Press TV reports:
A senior Iranian military commander says the Islamic Republic will continue efforts to completely weed out the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) terrorist cell. Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) clashed with PJAK terrorists and inflicted heavy casualties on them during recent days with the purpose of establishing sustainable security and fighting against insecurity and instability in northwestern areas of the country, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said on Monday. A top Iranian military commander, Delavar Ranjbarzadeh, said on Monday that the IRGC has taken full control of three bases of the PJAK terrorist cell near the Iraqi border. Alsumaria TV offers the weakly worded: "Iranian Revolutionary Guards Chief in Sardasht, northwestern Iran, announced that Iranian Forces took over three rebel camps of the Kurdish Party for free life in Iraq." Wait. Wasn't Ali al-Dabbagh whining about "national sovereignty"? Iran invades Iraq and he's got nothing to say about sovereignty? Al Sabaah notes that Iran's military has "penetrated deep into Iraqi territory" and that at least 30 Iraqi families have been displaced as a result. They also note the Iraqi woman injured yesterday by the shelling from the Iranian military. AFP reports that Kurdistan officials are stating that "Iran must respect its borders with Iraq" and quotes KRG spokesperson Qawa Mahmud stating, "We demand Iran respect the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region as part of the sovereignty of Iraq. There was Iranian infiltration along the Iraqi border. If there is any border problem, the best way to resolve it is through negotations and peace, not by bombing civilians." Meanwhile MP and Deputy Chairman of Parliament Iskandar Witwitt thinks he's solved the issue. Aswat al-Iraq reports he's declared the blame for the attacks goes to . . . the United States! He states, the US dismantled Iraq's military when it invaded in 2003 and, as a result, Iraq cannot defend borders today.
Iran's also boasting that they won the 80s Iran-Iraq War. If the US government ever had the brains to leave Iraq, it would appear that happy neighbors Iran and Iraq might be at each other throats in a matter of minutes. Especially once they weren't able to bond over their mutual hatred of the US presence on the ground in Iraq.
Scott Horton: Now, Gareth, I think you say in this article and you were alluding to this a moment ago that therre are indications that July's different from June, that maybe if Sadr was orchestrating attacks against American forces last month that something's happened to change his mind in the meantime -- or there are indications that he had ordered a new strategy.
Gareth Porter: Right. And I think the important -- the first thing that I haven't mentioned which needs to be added to this storyline is that according to this ILO arm of the Iraqi military intelligence which handles intelligence with Sadr for al-Maliki basically there was a major, not a physical meeting, but an exchange of views between Sadr and Maliki last weekend and what happened in that exchange of views. Basically Maliki wanted to know point-blank what Sadr's intentions were? Was he going to use a request for US troops to stay in Iraq against the government and try to bring it to down or was he ready to support the government or to continue to support the government and not try to use that issue politically? And in the background of course was Sadr's previous threat to de- -- to reactivate not to deactivate the Mahdi Army which in fact has been deactivated since 2008 -- since 2009, excuse me. And so basically Sadr responded to that by assuring Maliki that he would not try to bring the government down, that he would not obstruct or stand in the way of a request for US troops. And so this was a major move by Sadr and he then issued a public statement on his website which very -- in a sort of low key way, tipped by saying that he would not reactive the Mahdi Army and explained that corruption and malfeasance in the Mahdi Army that they were not ready to be re-activated so he was not going to do that as he had threatened to do in April if US troops in Iraq past the December 2011 deadline. And he also essentially said that the Promise Day Brigade would be the only force that would have the authorization to resist US troops and they would do so only if US troops remained past the deadline. So, in other words, he was saying that between now and the end of the deadline that Promise Day Brigade would stand down which of course could be viewed and I think should be viewed as another signal by Sadr as to his intentions. So there are a number of things which are going on here which point in that direction but it still remains true that Sadr cannot afford to stop military resistanceto any continued US presence because he'll lose his following. He simply cannot be in a position of accepting the US military position publicly. And so my source is telling me that if the US military presence does remain, of course, Sadr will have to continue making attacks on US bases and convoys. But he would do so in a way that would be aimed at not causing large numbers of dead or wounded. So it's a very, very subtle approach that Sadr is apparently taking on this, trying to have it both ways.
Reuters notes that in Kirkuk today, two roadside bombing left a father and son injured (the father is a police officer), a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two people (one was a police officer) and, dropping back to last night, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured one person.
In other news, Alsumaria TV notes that Parliament went along with Nouri's call to reduce the number of ministries from 46 to 29 but "in principle." Next week, Parliament expects Nouri to appear before them and they will do another vote. Now, Al Mada reports, Nouri's State of Law political slate is pushing to do away with the independent electoral commission.
81 death sentences reportedly approved by President
The Iraqi authorities should halt the imminent execution of five senior officials under former president Saddam Hussain, Amnesty International said today.
The five, who were transferred from US to Iraqi custody last week, have been convicted of crimes against humanity by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) and could be executed within a month if the Iraqi Presidency approves their sentences. A Ministry of Justice official told Iraqi media that he expected the ratification of the death sentences within days.
Amnesty has questioned the fairness of trials before the SICT, which was established to try Saddam Hussain and others accused of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during his rule. The court has been subject to repeated political interference undermining its independence.
Watban Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, former Minister of Interior, and Sab'awi Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, former Head of Intelligence -- both half brothers of ex-President Saddam Hussain -- were sentenced to death in 2009 after being convicted of crimes against humanity.
Senior army and security officials Sultan Hashem Ahmad and Hussain Rashid al-Tikriti were sentenced to death in 2007 after being convicted of participation in the so-called Anfal campaign against Iraq's Kurdish minority in 1988 in which some 180,000 Iraqi Kurds died. The fifth man, 'Aziz Saleh Nu'man, a senior Ba'ath party official, was sentenced to death last month for his role in the brutal suppression of the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussain by the Shi'a community in southern Iraq.
The five were among a group of 206 "high value" detainees and prisoners handed over to the Iraqi authorities by the US military on 14 July.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:
"While the Iraqi authorities have a responsibility to bring to justice those
responsible for the gross human rights crime committed under Saddam Hussein,
they must not use the death penalty under any circumstances.
"It is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
"These men must not be executed. The Iraqi authorities should commute these and all other death sentences and declare an immediate moratorium on executions."
In a letter to the Iraqi Minister for Justice last month, Amnesty raised concern at Iraqi news reports that the Iraqi Presidency had approved 81 out of a total of 516 death sentences submitted for ratification since 2009. According to other news reports, a further 20 sentences were referred for ratification on 14 June alone.
The death penalty was suspended for a time after the US-led invasion of Iraq but restored in August 2004. Since then, hundreds of people have been sentenced to death and many have been executed.
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) report a deal may be forming to stop the executions, "The move would be a significant shift from an announcement by the Justice Ministry last week that execution orders could be signed in days and the men put to death this month." And quotes Ministry of Justice spokesperson Haider al-Saade stating, "There are effots made by some political blocs to bring about a way to avoid execution for some of those who have been sentenced to death -- the efforts are ongoing." The reporters state that the strongest opposition is to the execution of Sultan Hashim, especially in Mosul.
And the Mandaeans have begun a religious ceremony. Al Sabaah reports that the community entered into a five day ritual starting today which includes fasting (for two days). The community is estimated to have 500 families. Each morning will begin with the ritual of bapsitam for the chidlren of the Sabean Mandaeans. It is estimated that 53,000 Mandaeans have left Iraq (or been killed) from their record high in the 1990s. Most have left since the start of the Iraq War and left as a result of the chaos and violence as well as being targeted by other Iraqi groups. They are a gnostic religion.