Monday, October 17, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad again sees multiple deaths from a bombing, rumors swirl that negotiations may have ended between Iraq and the US, cancer is on the rise in Iraq, the disputed areas issue leads to a protest, US Senators Patty Murray and Jon Tester want answers from the VA about the way the VA is handling MST claims, and more.
Starting with journalists, Aswat al-Iraq's Adel Fakhir has won the first prize in the Open Eye journalistic tournament for "Absence of health observation is a terrorism threatens health and economy" and the news agency also scored second place with Ali Nakeel's "The Marshes: Paradises of Water Changed to Barren Deserts." Aswat al-Iraq reports on Adel Fakhir and Ali Nakeel's wins as well as all the other jounalists who won awards at the Open Eye tournament held in Erbil.
On this week's Law and Disorder Radio-- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI (didn't air today due to a WBAI pledge drive) and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) -- topics explored include Occupy Wall Street with attorney Magaret Ratner Kunstler. Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler are the authors of Hell No, Your Right To Dissentand they discuss the attacks on dissent and your rights with regards to the Occupy Wall Street protests and beyond. We're going to stay with the topic of journalists and note the section at the start of the show on Jose Couso.
Michael S. Smith: Michael, reporter Jose Couso is back in the news. People have probably forgotten but it was a very important incident years ago. Bring us up to date.
Michael Ratner: Let's go back about eight years, April 8, 2003. The US has been bombing the heck out of Baghdad. They sent in troops. It's the Iraq illegal, unconstitutional war. And what do they do? The US kills 3 journalists who are living -- staying at the Palestine Hotel -- a big, modern looking hotel in the middle of central Baghdad. The US put a tank on a bridge and fired shots directly into the hotel, murdering Jose Couso and two other journalists. The US, of course, claimed some b.s. mistake or that they thought that they were doing something, etc. And Couso is a Spanish journalist. And the Spanish journalists have been extremely upset about this. In fact, one day they all went into Parliament in Spain, 50 or 100 of them put their cameras down on the floor of the Parliament, saying, "We want justice." Well eventually, of course, after there was no justice, not even a look at it by the United States, as far as I know, a case was filed in Spain against the US Army really but against the individuals who it was believed were in the chain of command in the division that not only shot Couso but also who ordered him to do the shooting. And amazingly on the 4th of October of this year the Spanish court which has now been investigating this case for a number of years came out with an order going ahead with the prosecution not only of the three but of two of their supervisors. And what the judge says -- it's Judge Santiago Pedraz -- what he said is first that it's not only the three soldiers but two higher ranking officials who are being prosecuted and secondly that one of the assignments of the division -- that division that shot Couso -- was "to prevent international media from reporting on the military operations during the taking of Baghdad." And what this reporter who wrote this article says -- from Al Jazeera says -- "that is why they managed to not have us report it and that there's no image of the attacks right after that." And this ruling, which is in Spanish -- but if you go online you can find it, it offers a precise account of the events on that day and that the Pentagon knew clearly where the journalists were staying and that it was clearly intentional. And what's interesting is that the Spanish judge didn't just do this abstractly, he took a visit to Iraq and he went to the very bridge and he noticed from the bridge that the tank had an unimpeded view of the balconies of the hotel where Jose Couso was standing and you had a good enough vision you could even see what people were holding on the balcony. So here we have this intentional case of the killing of journalists and unfortunately and sadly it's not the first time and unfortunately and sadly it appears that the US directly targeted them and it's all about really suppressing the news and suppressing journalists -- journalists that they don't like.
Staying with that topic, Spain Review notes, "The National Court has shelved the Couso case twice, but reopened it on orders from the Supreme Court." And they note, "The US has pressured the Spanish government and judiciary to block the investigation, according to secret US diplomatic documents obtained by the whistleblower WikiLeaks and quoted by the daily El Pais." November 30th, El Pais published this State Dept Cable. The May 14, 2007 Cable was sent from the US Embassy in Baghdad to several reciepiants including the State Dept and this is the section on Jose Couso:
A couple of other key issues will be in the air, if not actually on the agenda. For our side, it will be important to continue to raise the Couso case, in which three US servicemen face charges related to the 2003 death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso during the battle for Baghdad. XXXXXXXXXXXX. I raised this issue with Vice President de la Vega on April 30. She was supportive but uncertain that direct GOS involvement would be productive. DCM spoke late last week with the Deputy Justice Minister and we continue to prod the GOS to appeal. We were informed Monday morning that the Chief Prosecutor of Spain's National Court has indeed filed an appeal, which will go to the same court which originally dismissed the case (in 2006) on procedural grounds. The Deputy DIGENPOL in MOD told the Embassy last week that MOD completely supports the US position, and said that he would raise with h is superiors the possibility of making a statement to the court or otherwise demonstrating support. The Deputy Justice Minister also said the GOS strongly opposes a case brought against former Secretary Rumsfeld and will work to get it dismissed. The judge involved in that case has told us he has already started the process of dismissing the case.
December 1st, Monica Ceberio Belaza (El Pais) reported that the US Embassy in Madrid had made getting charges dismissed against the three US soldiers -- Col Philip de Camp, Sgt Thomas Gibson, Capt Philip Wolford -- their big objective for the last seven years. Monica Ceberio Belaza reports that the US ignored the case the first year because it was moving slowly through the Spanish justice system; however, by July 22, 2004, they made their interest very clear and among those involved on the US side were Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and US Ambassador to Spain Eduardo Aguirre Reyes Jr.
Over the weekend, Lara Jakes and Rebecca Santana (AP) reported that they were told the White House has given up attempts to keep US soldiers in Iraq (beyond those which will fall under the State Dept umbrella) after 2011.[To be very clear, I do not agree with that take based on phone conversations since Saturday; however, I do not question that Lara Jakes and Rebecca Santana have accurately reported what they were told. And they may very well end up being correct and I may end up being wrong and wouldn't be the first time I was wrong or the last time. And if they're right, we all win -- or at least those of us who are against the Iraq War win. So I will happily be wrong if I am wrong.] As Reuters noted, the report was followed by denials from the Pentagon (spokesperson George Little: "Suggestions that a final decision has been reached about our training relationship with the Iraqi government are wrong") and the National Security Council (spokesperson Tommy Vietor: "President Obama has repeatedly made it clear that we are committed to keeping our agreement with the Iraqi government to remove all of our troops by the end of this year."). What I was told this weekend by friends at State and the White House and one at Defense and continue to be told is that this is part of the negotiations and that AP sources had authority to speak. The US position to the Iraqi government is that the US walks away from the table if immunity is not provided for US soldiers. Dan De Luce (AFP) notes today, "The question of legal immunity for US troops remains a 'sticking point' in talks between the United States and Iraq over a possible US military presence beyond a year-end deadline, a defense official said Monday" and quotes the unnamed official stating, "Nobody's thrown in the towel yet." This morning Barbara Starr, Adam Levine and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN) reported the latest on negotiations between the US and Iraq to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011. Noting the immunity issue as a stumbling block, an unnamed "senior U.S. official" tells CNN, "I think the discussions on numbers are over." The report includes the denials that talks have stopped -- denials in this article by the Pentagon and the National Security Council -- and notes that "while an agreement has not been reached yet, the United States will maintain a military presence nearby should Baghdad and Washington come to terms" -- nearby is Kuwait. If correct, it would now be Iraq's move if the White House knows how to bargain. (Meaning, if the report is correct, the White House should be ceasing all talks on the subject with Nouri and other members of the Iraqi government. The only way, from a position of strength, the talks would resume is if Nouri came back to the table and said, "Okay, we can do that immunity.") Starr, Levine and Carter updated their report this afternoon with more information, click here. Fox News quotes Ali al Dabbagh, Nouri's official spokesperson, stating, "Iraq and (the) USA collectively are looking for any other options which will make the training mission doable." Yochi J. Dreaen (National Journal) speaks to US military officers (unnamed) who feel that the negotiations are over ("the talks have effectively broken off in recent days") and that "U.S. officials publicly insist that Washington is continuing to discuss a possible troop extension with Baghdad, and it's possible -- though highly unlikely at this late date -- that a deal will be cobbled together to allow several thousand American troops to remain in Iraq past the end of the year."
We're not the foolish at Truth Dig where a "K.A." (we don't link to the site, look it up if you need it) babbles on about how it's a withdrawal. No, not yet.
These same fools distracted and deflected attention from the Iraq War -- Truth Dig lost interest in the illegal war as soon as Bush was out of office -- and now they want to do it again. I'd love it if the Iraq War were over -- I'd get my life back among other things and after nine years in February of going around the country speaking out against this damn war, I'd love to have my life back, believe me. But although I can be and often am stupid, I'm not stupid enough to believe that the illegal war has come to end before it has.
Yochi weakens his otherwise strong report by insisting "it's possible -- though highly unlikely at this late date -- that a deal will be cobbled together to allow several thousand American troops to remain in Iraq past the end of the year." Really? At this late date? What's your measure for that?
It's October 17th. When Nouri notified the United Nations at the end of 2007 that the renewal of the UN mandate for the occupation would be the final one, that's where you find your comparison measure. Throughout 2008, there was panic that an agreement wouldn't be reached. I was at the April 2008 hearing where then Senator Joe Biden was urging the State Dept and Defense Dept to speak to Nouri about renewing the UN mandate because it appeared that nothing would come about. The Status Of Forces Agreement did go through. Took a lot of strong arming and 'gifts' from and by the US, but it went through.
When did that go through?
November 27, 2008. If that hadn't gone through, over 150,000 US troops would have had to have left (really stayed in Kuwait and on US bases -- that was outlined by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee). So State and Defense testified to Congress last week that 43,500 US troops were in Iraq still and it's October 17th? Or 39,000 US troops are still in Iraq (CNN's numbers via DoD) and it's October 17th? By the 2008 measure, the current hysteria's being overplayed.
The scale of violence is way down from 2007 or 2008, but this has not ensured an enduring political order. Yochi Dreazen's story in the current National Journal documents how Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has consolidated power and systematically marginalized and intimidated his political rivals, including former prime minister Ayad Allawi, and that he has done this under the noses of tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel. Perhaps Malki would have been more imperious in the absence of a major U.S. presence? Perhaps he will become more so after the last of the U.S. troops leave? Who knows? The obvious point is that the political reconciliation that the surge was supposed to facilitate hasn't materialized. Iraq remains a bitterly divided society, and it is likely to remain that way for a very long time.
Baghdad says that the issue is outside the purview of the status of forces agreement with the U.S., which governs the presence of more than 46,000 American soldiers currently in Iraq, and therefore, the terms of reference, as contained in the status of forces agreement that expires on December 31, 2011, will not apply to the trainers. Senior U.S. military commanders say they are still studying the issue and that negotiations with Baghdad are continuing. At issue here is the U.S. insistence that the American trainers in Iraq have the same immunity from prosecution for crimes committed outside the training bases their colleagues had before withdrawal. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insists on blanket immunity for all U.S. soldiers as combatants or trainers. Iraq says that there is no need for such immunity since the trainers would be operating only within the bases.
For those in a panic -- of joy or fear -- there's a reason to calm your ass down. These are negotiations. The press has a hard time reporting on those because, apparently, they aren't exposed to them in their training. I'm not being sarcastic. But what did we just note? Arango and Schmidt telling us that Parliament was saying "no" (at this point) to immunity. Why does that matter? Drop back to October 5th and the entry "They bungled the SOFA coverage as well" when so many reporters were getting it wrong about what the political blocs were saying. If you've forgotten most (not all, Roy Gutman, for example, got it right) reporters were telling you there would be no immunity because the political blocs had requested trainers but said there would be no immunity.
Only that's not -- as we pointed out repeatedly -- what the political blocs said. They said they wouldn't, at that time, grant immunity. They could turn around and grant it tomorrow if they wanted. But, if you're not getting the point, let's speak slowly: If the outlets were right on October 5th, then the issue of Parliament wouldn't be discussed right now. If the blocs had said "No, not happening!" then that would have been the end of it. Point: they bungled the October 4th and 5th news big time. I'm reminded of a scene inthe 1990 classic In The Spirit (written by Jeannie Berlin and Laurie Jones, directed by Sandra Seacat -- and available for purchase as a download at Amazon) where character Marlo Thomas is asking Elaine May to tell her what she saw and Elaine says a flashlight and Marlo corrects her saying, "Now don't do that, don't interpret. [. . .] You didn't actually see a flashlight did you? You just saw a light. See, we tend to add the details later, don't you think?"
Publicly at least, Iraq's politicians have been sanguine about the prospect of few active-duty US soldiers remaining in the country. "If the Americans have decided to leave by the end of the year, then we welcome that," said Mohammad Al Seyhood, an MP with the ruling National Alliance bloc. Privately, however, a significant number of politicians and ordinary Iraqis seem alarmed that such a comprehensive withdrawal will leave behind national security forces unprepared for the enormous task of safeguarding their country.
Al Mada reports that talks may resume and Parliament is on break until November 20th.
At one point State and Defense were on opposite sides about the issue of whether or not Nouri al-Maliki, in his role as prime minister, could grant immunity. The White House has since formed their own legal opinion which is that Nouri can grant immunity all by himself. Which means if Nouri needed cover for making the decision all by himself, this 'drama' might provide him with the cover, 'Time was running out and Parliament wasn't in session, as commander of the military, I made the decision that trainers were needed and the political blocs and Parliament agreed with me. To get US trainers, we needed to offer immunity and Parliament is on vacation so I had to act.' Whether he does that or not or is willing to do it or not, the US will be pressing for that sort of action.
Yesterday, Aswat al-Iraq reported, "Thousands of demonstrators paraded Khanaqin city protesting dismounting the Kurdish flag from Iraqi governmental institutions. Member of the Provincial Council, Dilair Hassan, a leading member in the Kurdistan bloc, told Aswat al-Iraq that "about 20,000 persons, from different parts of Iraq, participated to denounce Baghdad government decision to dismount the Kurdish flag." DPA estimated 20,000 took to the streets in protest and notes that "sources" say 1 protester "was hospitalized with severe burns after setting himself on fire."
So what was going on? Saturday, Aswat al-Iraq noted that Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament, Karmal Karkuki lodged a public protest in a press conference today over the plan to removed the Kurdish flag from Khaniquin. Tensions are already high over other issues such as Kirkuk which is claimed by both the central government out of Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution (passed in 2005) outlined how the issue of Kirkuk and other disputed territories would be resolved: by the end of 2007, a census and referendum would be held. Despite becoming prime minister in 2006, Nouri al-Maliki refused to follow the Constitution. He has continued to refuse to follow it. This week, he ordered that the Kurdish flag be removed from government buildings in Khaniquin. Al Rafidayn reports that Karkuki declared this is a deliberate attempt by Nouri to create problems for the Kurds and that they would fight this issue, that the Kurdish political leadership will defend the Kurdish flag "even if it costs us our lives." Dar Addustour reports a protest is being planned for Sunday.Of Khanaqin, Global Security notes:
Khanaqin (khän´äkn) [Khaniqin / Khanqin / Khanaqeen City / Alsadia / Saadia-Khanaqueen] is a town in NE Iraq, near the Iranian border on a tributary of the Diyala. It is located in an oil-producing region and has an oil refinery. Khanaquin was severely affected by the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Khanaqin is situated in the south part of Kurdistan. In 1997, Baghdad intensified its systematic efforts to "Arabize" the predominantly Kurdish cities of Kirkuk, Khanaqin, and Douz at the edge of government-controlled Iraq near the Kurdish-controlled zone. To solidify control of this strategically and economically vital oil-rich region, the government expelled Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkomans -- at times, entire communities -- from these cities and surrounding areas. At the same time, it offered financial and housing incentives to Sunni Arabs to persuade them to move to Kirkuk and other cities targeted for Arabization. Forcible relocations continue to take place in the context of a policy aimed at changing the demography of the oil-rich sectors of Kirkuk and Khanaqin by deporting ethnic Kurds and Turkoman families. Although the practice of forced relocation and deportation by the government of Iraq to decrease the presence of the Kurdish and Turkoman population living in that area and to strengthen their hold on the important economic and strategic governate of Kirkuk is not new, the scale of these activities increased in 1997. The Iraqi government's plan to build a dam near Khanaqin will cause flooding of some Kurdish and Turkmen villages near Kalar, in Kirkuk Governorate, as well as the contact lines between Iraqi government forces and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
In September 2008, Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) discussed the dispute over Khanaqin and noted it was "an oil-rich territory similar to Kirkuk" and noted, "Recently Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi army to enter Khanaqin to replacethe pesh merga forces. It was an attempt to check the influence of the Kurdish forces. This was soon followed by orders to force Kurdish political parties out of government owned buildings in the city. In response, Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, threatened to withdraw his support for the al-Maliki government. " The RAND Corporation's recent report, "Managing Arab-Kurd Tensions in Northern Iraq After the Withdrawal of U.S. Troops" (see the July 26th snapshot) noted that tensions will increase between Arabs and Kurds without someone to fill the role currently filled by the US military and noted that joint-patrols could not take place without the US military joining the Arab military and the Kurdish military. These joint-patrols, 'confidence building measures,' started due to Khanaqin: "During an August 2008 Iraqi Army operation targeting insurgents in the vicinity of the town of Khanaqin (which is outside the Green Line in Diyala governorate), ISF commanders ordered peshmerga troops to withdraw, a demand they refused. A confrontation was avoided only because KRG President Massoud Barzani and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally reached an agreement to withdraw both forces from the city and leave security to local police. Similarly, when Iraqi Army units tried to move through the largely Kurdish town of Makhmur en route to Mosul in June 2009, Kurdish troops -- concerned that the army was trying to take the town -- blocked their progress, and violence was only averted with the help of U.S. intervention."
Suha Sheikhly and Adam Joseph (Al Mada) report on the rise of cancer in Iraq due to the war (radiation and pollution caused by the various weapons -- some of them banned -- used by US and British forces). 54-year-old Noria is one of the people presented in the article. The woman feared she had developed breast cancer so she went in for tests. Six months later, she's awaiting the results. The article notes the long delays in testing and how those who are poor do not have the option of seeking treatment out of the country. The report notes that the number of cancer patients has doubled in the last two years and that the Committee on Health and Environment in the Parliament estimates 700,000 Iraqis have developed cancer. Rasha is another woman in the report. Her four-year-old daughter's head was swollen and she appeared to have a brain tumor. but in four months of medical visits, the doctor never treated the tumor.
Turning to the United States, Steve Magagnini (Sacremento Bee) reports on a Military Families Speak Out event yesterday in which the organization organized a workshop to prepare fammilies with returning service members. Experts on spoke on issues such as "post-traumatic stress [PTSD], traumatic brain injuries [TBI], substance abuse, divorce and a desolate job market." Among those speaking were social worker Carolyn Fink who spoke of sexual abuse within the military, veterans suicides and who qualifies for military benefits. Pathway Home's Fred Guzman is quoted stating, "The war will continue even after it's ended for those scarred by their experience." On the subject of sexual assault, Fink noted that "as many as 70 percent of the women and 40 percent of the men have been sexually abused in the military" and there's more news on that topic today. US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office - (202) 224-2834
Monday, October 17, 2011 Tester Press Office – (202)-228-0371
VETERANS: Chairman Murray and Senator Tester Call on VA to Provide Answers about Military Sexual Trauma Data
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray and Committee Member U.S. Senator Jon Tester sent a joint letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey about the critical need to clarify VA's disability claims process related to Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
"Far too many servicemembers, both men and women, are returning home from service carrying the devastating wounds that result from MST," the Senators wrote. "After sacrificing so much to serve their county, they often face tremendous challenges in obtaining the services and benefits they desperately need. That is why we urge you to take further action to ensure that veterans who suffer disabilities related to MST will have their claims properly decided."
Chairman Murray and Senator Tester's letter requests explicit guarantees that concerns about the ability to correctly identify and adjudicate claims for disabilities based on MST are immediately addressed by Veterans Benefits Administration.
The full text of the Senators' letter is below:
The Honorable Allison A. Hickey Under Secretary for Benefits Department of Veterans Affairs 810 Vermont Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20420
Dear Under Secretary Hickey:
We are writing to commend your recent efforts to improve the recognition of disabilities related to Military Sexual Trauma (MST). These efforts are long overdue and more work remains to be done. Far too many servicemembers, both men and women, are returning home from service carrying the devastating wounds that result from MST. After sacrificing so much to serve their country, they often face tremendous challenges in obtaining the services and benefits they desperately need. That is why we urge you to take further action to ensure that veterans who suffer disabilities related to MST will have their claims properly decided. A December 2010 VA Office of Inspector General Report, Review of Combat Stress in Women Veterans Receiving VA Health Care and Disability Benefits, found that VBA had not fully assessed available MST-related claims data. As a result, there is no clear understanding of how consistently these claims are being adjudicated. We understand that you recently directed a review of MST-related claims and request that you provide us with the results of this review and the actions taken in response to the review findings. There are also additional steps you can take to ensure that veterans who suffer disabilities related to MST will have their claims properly decided. These actions include ensuring that regulations and policies concerning MST are based upon sound medical research and are providing VBA decision makers with the training and supervision needed to correctly adjudicate these claims. In 2002, VA implemented universal MST screening after research found that medical and mental health conditions associated with MST were unreported and thus untreated. VA's own research, The Veterans Health Administration and Military Sexual Trauma, (December 2007), found that 22 percent of screened female veterans and one percent of screened male veterans reported MST. This research found that the likelihood of a mental health diagnosis, including but not limited to PTSD, more than doubled for veterans exposed to MST. This underscores the need for VBA to properly recognize mental and physical health conditions associated with MST. Additionally, we have concerns regarding the evidentiary standard for adjudicating PTSD claims based on in-service personal assault such as MST. Under the current standard, evidence such as records from law enforcement authorities or rape crisis centers may be used to corroborate the veteran's account of the stressor incident. However, research shows that MST is severely underreported in both military and civilian settings. As a result, the evidence described in the regulation may not exist. Although the current regulation allows medical or mental health professionals to consider evidence, such as behavioral changes, and to provide an opinion as to whether the evidence indicates that a personal assault occurred, claims processors may not correctly interpret evidence used by a medical professional in the context of a particular case. A clinician skilled in diagnosing and treating disabilities associated with MST should make determinations as to whether the post-MST behavior change is consistent with the reported MST experience. We request that you consider our concerns as you explore potential regulatory changes that may be necessary to resolve the issues surrounding the reported improper adjudication of PTSD claims based on MST. We are also aware of the steps you have taken to require training concerning MST, and are pleased that you are focused on improving VBA's ability to correctly identify and adjudicate claims for disabilities based on MST. While much attention has been given to PTSD claims, we urge you to provide training on other mental health and medical conditions that may result from MST. Thank you for your attention to this request. We look forward to continuing to work with you on behalf of our nation's veterans.