Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, August 9, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the UN's new report on Iraq is damning (where's the media?) including the section on the abuse of prisoners, Steve Inskeep didn't know war was costly (and tries to "demonize" -- Barney Frank's term Social Security), Kirkuk's governor says Iraq needs US military members, and more.
You really have to wonder why Edward Schumacher-Matos pretends he's an ombudsperson.  NPR's latest comatose selection missed it when Steve Inskeep repeatedly and rudely cut off US House Rep Emanuel Cleaver.  And he'll no doubt miss what happened today though NPR should be reviewing the Cleaver interview and the one this morning with US House Rep Barney Frank and wondering if Steve Inskeep needs to take an extended break from public broadcasting?
First, here's a thought, if you host a public affairs or news program (Morning Edition bills itself as news), you need to be up on the news.  Last week it was reported that the US government and the Iraqi government were officially in negotiations to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond this year.  It had been reported for weeks prior that this was the goal.  And yet somehow Steve Inskeep never heard of it as was obvious when he asked US House Rep Barney Frank how cuts could be made in the spending.
US House Rep Barney Frank: And that's telling the rest of the world that they can no longer count on America to be their military budget, their policemen. I would begin by withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost of $125 billion a year.
Steve Inskeep: You mean withdrawing more quickly and more dramatically than is already happening.
US House Rep Barney Frank:  Well, withdrawing from Iraq, definitely the president is unfortunately talking about staying Iraq at a cost of billions of dollars a year, beyond the end of this year, which would put him there longer than George Bush. And I'm hoping he could be persuaded not to do that. But in Afghanistan, while there is a withdrawal - there is a drawdown going on, there is no firm withdrawal date, and they're talking about staying there for several more years.
Repeating, Steve Inskeep should have known that.  Now maybe he counts on NPR for news?  If so NPR NEVER reported on this.  NEVER.  Yes, it was mentioned in passing in hourly headlines, but NPR never reported on it.  How do you do that?  How do you claim to be a news organization and, yes, put down each month that you're spending X (it's a large amount, I'm being kind) for Iraq coverage when you're not providing Iraq coverage?  That's one to screw over the donors.  And the end result is that people end up as stupid as Steve Inskeep, publicly humiliating himself in a conversation with a Congress member because Steve is so far behind the news.  That alone should have NPR (and its ombudsperson) wondering. But let's note another section of the exchange.
Steve Inskeep:  Congressman, if I can, we've just got a few seconds. You have mentioned defense spending. You've mentioned tax increases. Those are two areas of disagreement. The biggest part of the federal budget is entitlements.
US House Rep Barney Frank: No, wrong. I'm sorry. The defense budget is bigger than Medicare, and Social Security is, in fact, self-financing, still is.
Steve Inskeep: Let's stipulate for this conversation: a very, very, very, very, very big part of the budget is entitlements. Democrats are seen as resisting cuts. Is your side - in a couple of seconds - going to appoint people to the special committee who are ready to make a deal?
US House Rep Barney Frank:  I am not going to tell an 80-year-old woman living on $19,000 a year that she gets no cost-of-living, or that a man who has been doing physical labor all his life and is now at a 67-year-old retirement - which is where Social Security will be soon - that he has to work four or five more years.  But I disagree with you that in terms of draining on the budget, Social Security is largely as self-financed --
Steve Inskeep: Okay.
US House Rep Barney Frank: -- and the military budget is larger than Medicare. So demonizing entitlements and saying that - in fact, here's the deal --
Steve Inskeep: Congressman, I really have to cut you off there. But I do --
US House Rep Barney Frank:  Well, I wish you wouldn't ask these complicated questions with five seconds to go.
Would NPR explain why Steve is allowed to editorialize?  He did the same thing with Cleaver the week before.  He wasn't as rude to Barney Frank (proving that, indeed, Inskeep thought he could get away with disrespecting Emanuel Cleaver because Cleaver was Black) but he wasn't doing an interview, he was editorializing.  This is why Bob Somerby is dead wrong when he thinks journalists should be calling out this politician or that one.  They aren't qualified to and few are even honest and impartial enough that you'd allow them to make that call.
Barney Frank is correct about Social Security and Steve Inskeep is dead wrong.  Barney Frank is the Ranking Member (highest Democrat) on the House Financial Service Committee.  And Steve Inskeep -- the king of all dabblers -- wants to 'school' Barney on Social Security and federal spending? 
Because Steve's former career as a sportscaster taught him the ins and outs of federal budgets, spendings and programs? 
As Barney Frank noted, Steve Inskeep was demonizing the safety net programs.  Social Security is its own program with its own fund. If that's news to Steve Inskeep, NPR needs to immediately fire him because he repeatedly chooses to raise that issue without ever having even a semi-functional understanding.  Then there's the issue of military spending.  Click on the second graph to Teresa Tritch's "How the Deficit Got This Big" (New York Times, July 23, 2011).  Still on the Times, Harvard professor and economist Linda J. Bilmes' "True Accountability" notes in the very first sentence, "One out of five dollars spent by the federal government goes to the military.  Since 2001, the size of the annual military budget has grown by nearly $1 trillion, not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." In a column for the Boston Globe ("Costly inheritance," April 27, 2011), Linda J. Bilmes notes that while tax cuts were being made, "At the same time, military spending -- not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has increased by a trillion dollars -- reaching the highest level since World War II." Bilmes and her colleague Joseph Stiglitz were just cited in a Council on Foreign Relations article by James Wright, "After the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the costs of these wars ballooned. In 2010, the United States spent $167 billion on 'overseas contingency operations' in these theaters -- a figure that includes expenditures by the Defense and State Departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development but excludes spending on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated in 2008 that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually cost $3 trillion, and they now acknowledge that the number may be even greater.  Much of the expense for these wars have been financed by debt or represents future oglibations."
The issue was addresed yesterday on PRI's The World: -- let's hope Steve Inskeep caught a later broadcast.  Excerpt:
Lisa Mullins: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the United States between $2.3 and $2.6 trillion and that's not counting another trillion dollars in obligations to veterans during the next 40 years. These figures come from a new research project by the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University.  Boston University professor Neta Crawford was the co-author of the study.  It's not surprising, she says, that the price tags of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is higher than what's been reported.
Neta Crawford: In nearly every conflict it's common for public officials as well as the media and the general public to underestimate both the duration and the budgetary costs of war.
Lisa Mullins: So what was the most surprising figure or set of figures for you?
Neta Crawford: Most surprising for me were the costs over the long run of caring for veterans' medical and disability.  Now the US has already spent on veterans who've come through the pipeline to go into the VA system, over $30 billion dollars. Now if you take that into the future to the veterans who leave the service now, and into the future, the cost will be between $600 billion and a trillion more in their medical and disability expenses over the next 30 - 40 years.
Lisa Mullins: How do you get that figure?
Neta Crawford: Well Linda Bilmes, an economist at Harvard, did the research on that. And she found two interesting things. One is that the soldiers are using medical benefits sooner than in other conflicts and they are using more of them. So this greater draw on resources sooner is going to drive up the costs on veterans care.
Lisa Mullins: The way this was put together, I mean the numbers you have right now for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, those wars, the price tag is $3.6 trillion.  The value of that is what? What does that tell us?
Neta Crawford: Well it tells us a couple of things. FIrst, that we've underestimated and not counted important costs of these wars.
Lisa Mullins:  What are we told the cost is?  How different is this from what we're told by the government?
Neta Crawford: Well the Congressional Research Service has done an analysis of the cost of the war in terms of Pentagon spending. and they tell us it's about  1.2 trillion for the last ten years in post-9-11 war making.
How is this news to Steve Inskeep?  He hosts an alleged news program.  He's neither aware of negotiations to keep US troops in Iraq nor of the huge costs of war and military spending?  Why is he arguing with the guest?  Is he really that stupid or is he attempting to practice something other than reporting?
And, again, how can he not know about the ongoing negotiations to extend the US military presence in Iraq.  Dale McFeatters (Boston Herald) observed Monday, "Iraq's debate over whether U.S. troops should stay in rising to the level of farce.  Of course we're going to stay.  We almost always do.  President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have authorized the government, meaning themselves, to negotiate the terms of keeping U.S. troops there past the year-end deadline for their departure." Joe Randazzao (Burlington Free Press) argues, "No matter how the American debt crisis is ultimately resolved, the end result will be a winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite simply, we can no longer afford them." While the war costs are destroying the nation, it's equally true that sanity rarely parades at the top. In other words, what's so obvious looking at the fall of the USSR was pretty obvious in real time as well. But no one at the top halted the military operations and the country fell apart as a result. That may or may not happen in the US. But I'm trying to make clear that just because the US can't afford them doesn't mean the government will end them. The refusal to be practical is why empires fail. (And all empires fail.) Pat and Chuck Wemstrom (Journal-Standard) also call for withdrawal, "Just bring the troops home. We are not fighting any of these wars because our country is threatened. The Afghan troops we meet in the field were children during 9/11 and rightly believe that they are defending their country from outside invaders. It must be terrible to live in a country where just in the last 150 years the people have had to fight British, the Russians and now the Americans." And in the latest development in the story of non-withdrawal, Aswat al-Iraq reports that Najm al-Din Kareem, governor of Kirkuk, declared at a press conference today "there is a necessity for an extension of some of the U.S. forces, not only in Kirkuk, but in Iraq as a whole, as allies and helpers."

Meanwhile Al Mada reports that the State of Law's Ihsan al-Awadi is stating that the US military is attempting to create a crisis to sell their continued presence on Iraqi soil. What crisis? By saying they can repel Iranians on the border. (Iran is shelling northern Iraq and possibly entering into northern Iraq as they target Kurdish rebels.) In addition, the Ministry of the Interior has stated that weapons are coming across the border Iraq shares with Iran -- echoing claims by the US military and possibly echoing claims for the US military. Alsumaria TV adds, "Iraq Interior Minister former deputy Adnan Al Assadi told Alsumarianews that smuggling arms from Iran thru Missan Province is ongoing in large quantities in an official and unofficial way and it includes rockets and mortars. He also stressed that arms smugglers are being overlooked."

Negotiations with the US government to extend the US military presence in Iraq takes a back seat in the Iraqi press to Nouri's latest scandal. On Saturday, he sacked the Minister of Electricity (which may or may not require the approval of Parliament -- no approval has been granted thus far). His office has stated that false contracts were signed. But, as the story has continued, it's emerged that Nouri's signature may be on some of the contracts as well. The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Wasit province police stops a young man from burning himself protesting against the bogus electricity contracts that the Iraqi government is involved in." Dar Addustour reports Sabah al-Saadi, who serves on Parliament's Integrity Commission, states that the dummy contracts had the signatures of Nouri al-Maliki and his deputy Hussein al-Shahristani. The report also notes grumbles in Parliament about Nouri dismissing the Minister with an MP stressing that is the job of Parliament. Aswat al-Iraq also notes, "A Legislature of al-Iraqiya Coalition, led by Iyad Allawi, has charged Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his Deputy for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristany and the sacked Electricity Minister, Raad Shallal, with having their signatures on the so-called 'illusionary' contracts made public recently." And noting real world consequences of the contracts, Ammar Karim (AFP) observes, "Mismanagement and bureaucratic deadlock in Iraq's electricity ministry have short-circuited a quick-fix plan for some 50 power plants to alleviate the country's severe power shortage, officials say."

Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports that, according to the Deputy Minister of Electricity, Hussain al-Shahristani, the Minister of Electricity is still carrying out his job duties despite his 'dismissal.' The article also notes that there are MPs saying Nouri can't fire on his own (needs approval of Parliament) and that there are increasing grumbles that whatever the state of electricity in Iraq, it was Nouri's responsibility and therefore his fault. Had the story broken in the fall, it might have had less impact. But in the days of 100-degree-plus weather, the electricity issue is a daily issue for Iraqis.
Reuters notes today's violence includes two Tuz Khurmatu roadside bombing which injured five police officers and a Baghdad rocket attack shook the Green Zone.  Aswat al-Iraq adds, "Two U.S. Army patrols have been attacked in southern and south-western Kirkuk late Monday night, according to a Kirkuk Police Director on Tuesday."
Friday in Hilla, there was a clash at a prison and a prison break. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that four escapees have been captured with one more remaining at large. Details have changed from one day to the next. Hammoudi quotes Hilla lawmaker Eskander Witwit stating, "The incident was very well planned, there is a clear collusion and negligence by the guards of the jail. An iron saw, police uniform and a faked pistol which looks like a pistol with a silencer had been passed to the prisoners."  Let's review.  Saturday,  AFP reports late Friday there were clashes in a Hilla prison and 4 prisoners and 1 guard died (five more prisoners were injured -- and we're using the numbers reported by the medic in the article) and that up to 15 prisoners may have escaped. Al Sabaah noted a state of emergency has been called and a curfew imposed on Hilla. Dar Addustour stated 20 prisoners escaped (including al Qaeda in Iraq members and members of Moqtada's Mahdi militia) and that the armed clash on Friday lasted up to an hour. Al Mada stated that the escapees included 8 death row inmates.  Sunday, Al Mada reported today that the Ministry of Justice won't state specifically how or why but guns were in the prison with silencers on them -- guns used by prison staff (why do guards need guns with silencers?) and that some of the escapees made off with them. Dar Addustour noted that the Minister of Justice (Hassan Shammari) held a press conference in Hilla today and insisted that only one prisoner was on the loose and that he will be found.
So putting all that together, a riot/confrontation lasted at least an hour on Friday and the prisoners either used guns or toys to push their prison break.  Which details will still be noted in another week?
Monday the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released [PDF format warning] "2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq." The report finds that at least 3,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence in 2010. There are many important findings in the report.  Yesterday we noted Iraq's LGBT community and Iraq women. Today we're focusing on the prisoners. CNN offers an overview of the report which includes emphasizing this quote from the report: "The judicial system also remains weak -- and an over reliance on confessions, rather than on properly gathered forensic evidence, to convict encourage an environment where torture of detainees takes place." We're focusing on the "Detention and Rule of Law" section of the report today (we'll grab other parts throughout the week).  In 2009, Iraq was responsible for 28,956 prisoners.  The prison population increased slightly to 35,653.  This can be broken down to 34,220 adult prisoners and 1,433 juvelines and 757 of the total 35,653 prisoners are women.

What was life like for prisoners in 2010?  UNAMI would love to tell you but can't.  Why?  From the report:
In some instances, despite UNAMI's mandate under international law, the Government of Iraq prohibited UNAMI access or failed to respond within a reasonable time to UNAMI requests for visit permits.  In other instances, UNAMI was allowed to enter facilities, but was denied access to any detainees or was prevented from speaking to detainees in private.
This is why UNAMI's 2010 prision and detention visits took place only 21 times. (By contrast, they visited the smaller KRG for 39 visits in 2010.) Let's note some of what they found on the visit:
On a visit to the women's prison inside Baghdad's al-Rusafa complex on 9 November UNAMI noted severe overcrowding, inadequate ventilation and the poor standard in general living conditions.
Through various visits to detention centres and prisons, UNAMI found evidence that detainees and prisoners had been threatened with beatings if they raised concerns with UN staff.  Overcrowding was seen to be a major problem in many facilities.  UNAMI obtained information that some prisoners would be removed from their cells before the arrival of UNAMI in order to prevent them from being seen, in particular detainees who had visible makr of otrture or abuse.  Furthermore, UNAMI obtained evidence that torture and ill treatment routinely takes place at the time of arrest and while in detention.  UNAMI staff seeing marks on some prisoners and detainees were threated with the death or rape of their female family members if they refused to sign confessions. Evidence gathered by UNAMI indicated that some detainees had been held for long periods of time -- some up to two years -- without being told of the charges against them and without access to family members, lawyers, or the courts.  Conditions within facilities were often observed to be cramped, with no natural light, and no ventilation. Often there are no toilets in the cells, prisoners being let out intermittently to relieve themselves -- adding to the unhygienice condition of the facilities.
UNAMI had information that on some visits prisoners would be removed from cells and concealed by the authorities to give the impression that over-crowding had been resolved but also to remove from view prisoners who had signs of physical injury.  It was observed that prisoners and detainees were often not provided with adequate food, sometimes only being fed a handful of dates on some days, and many showed skin disorders caused from unhygienic conditions.  More significantly, there was substantial evidence that prisoners and detainees had been physically mistreated and beaten following previous visits by UNAMI in order to comple them to disclose the nature and substance of their discussions with UNAMI. Further visits to detention centres in Baghdad, were suspended from mid December 2010 until unfettered, private access is permited by the authorities to the inmates, and satisfactory guarantees have been given by the Government of Iraq that prisoners will not be harmed as a result of such visits which UNAMI is able to verify.  Visits had not resumed by the end of the year.
Iraq is not meeting either their own written laws or guidelines when it comes to their prison population.  It's appalling.  And along with the physical abuse, you've got basic needs -- for example, women needing tampons or pads -- being denied. Prison riots are pretty regular in Iraq and one reason why is illustrated in the report -- the mistreatment of prisoners.  The report notes al-Mina detention center's inmates went on hunger strick February 18, 2010.  This was a result both of Sunnis feeling they were wrongly arrested (for being Sunni) and that the cases were not being processed in a timely manner.
Common torture methods in Iraq appear to be: electric shocks (anywher eon the body), cigarette burns (ditto), deprivatation of food, water and sleep, plastic bags over the head, family members being threatened and "being handcuffed and suspended from iron bars in painful positions for lengthy time periods."
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes this event on Thursday:
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Thursday, August 11th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will hold a listening session to hear from area veterans on local challenges and to discuss her efforts to improve veterans care and benefits nationwide. This will be Senator Murray's first discussion with local veterans as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Senator Murray will use the struggles, stories, and suggestions she hears on Monday to fight for local veterans in Washington, D.C.

WHO:          U.S. Senator Patty Murray

                     Local veterans


WHAT:        Veterans listening session with Senator Murray


WHEN:        Thursday, August 11th 

         9:00 AM PT


WHERE:     VFW Post 239

                                 190 S. Dora Avenue

                                 Bremerton, WA 98312



In addition, Senator Murray has an event tomorrow:
today Senator Murray's office notes:
WEDNESDAY: Murray at Amazon Headquarters to Discuss Hiring Heroes Act
With unemployment rate among young veterans at over 27%, Senator Murray will discuss her landmark bill that will require job skills training for every separating service member, create new pathways to private sector and federal employment; Senator Murray will hear firsthand from employees of Amazon's successful
veterans hiring program.
(Washington, D.C.) -- Wednesday, August 10th U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will visit Amazon Headquarters in Seattle to discuss current efforts to address unemployment among our nation's veterans. Senator Murray's bill, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, is the first of its kind to require broad job skills training for service members returning home and comes at a time when more than one in four veterans aged 18-24 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. For more information on the bill visit HERE.
Workers hired under Amazon's veterans recruiting program will also be sharing their stories at the event.  

WHO:         U.S. Senator Patty Murray

        Amazon workers hired under their veteran hired program


WHAT:       Senator Murray will speak at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle to highlight her Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, a bill that will require job skills training for

        service members, create new pathways to private sector and federal employment


WHEN:       Wednesday, August 10th

                     10:30 AM PT


WHERE:     Amazon Headquarters

                      440 Terry Ave. N.

                      Seattle, WA 98109