Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Camp Ashraf, Turkey

Iranian dissidents came to Iraq, on the invitation of Saddam Hussein, after the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of the Ayatollah. Less than 4,000 remain and reside in Camp Ashraf. The US invaded Iraq in 2003 and entered into negotiations (the government and the military -- more so the military but the government oversaw those negotiations and could have stepped in at any minute). In exchange for disarming, certain guarantees were made and, most importantly, international law kicked in making the resident "protected persons." At the start of 2009, the US turned responsibilities over to Nouri al-Maliki who swore the residents would be protected. He has now ordered two assaults on the Camp. He has announced that the camp will be shut by year's end. He has floated publicly sending them back to Iran. He and his government have also spoken of breaking them up and dispersing them throughout the country -- because Iraq's so very good and safe for minorities apparently.

UK Progressive post a transcript of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifying before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. (The transcript focuses solely on her remarks about Camp Ashraf.) The date of the hearing isn't noted. Presumably this is from her October 27th appearance before the Committee. But this is a typical exchange and it also goes to misreporting that some may remember.

Rep. (Judge) Ted Poe (R-TX): Thank you Madam Secretary, thank you Madam Chair. I will try to make this to the point. Last time you and I talked in this very room, we talked about the safety of camp Ashraf. That was in March and then later in April, Iraqi soldiers came in and killed people in Camp Ashraf. People disagree on how that occurred but people did that. Right now, on 31st [December] United States is leaving, I am not discussing that, but also on 31st, Maleki has made it clear that the camp is going to close. When we were in Iraq this summer, Chairman Rohrabacher, myself and others on this committee, we met with Maleki on the issue of Camp Ashraf. It got very heated. We wanted to go see the camp, he refused to let us see it. And later, we learned when we were flying around in a Black Hawk, that we have been invited to leave the country based upon that discussion with him. But the number one thing he said about the way Iraq treated Camp Ashraf was the US designation of the MEK. He spent all of his time saying this is the reason they are treated the way they are because you, the United States, have designated them as a foreign terrorist organization. My concern, first of all, is the safety of the people in Camp Ashraf when that 31st comes. They are in fear. 85 of those people some are Americans and the others of that 85 that are there among the 2000, are permanent residents of the US. So, my question is, what are we doing through the end to make sure they extend the deadline so the people can do what necessary through the UN to get out of Iraq and go somewhere in the world. And second, the long term issue of the MEK designation. I am encouraged by your words last night that you made regarding that. So, those are my two issues and my two questions to you Madam Secretary.

Secretary Clinton: Well, congressman, I can assure you that I am personally very focused on trying to make sure that we protect the safety of the residents of the camp. I, and our department and our administration strongly condemned the violence that led to the deaths. Regardless of how that happened, the fact is, you are right, 36 residents died because of the violence on April the 8th. We are monitoring the situation as closely as we can. We see no evidence suggesting that there is any other imminent attack on Ashraf and we continue to urge the government of Iraq to show restraint. As I said earlier, we do have written assurances from the government of Iraq to treat the Ashraf residents humanely, to follow their international obligations which they have, as long as the residents remain in the country, and not to transfer anyone to any country where that person could be persecuted as a result of their political or religious beliefs. And so, we are trying to nail down as much as we can to provide some protective screen for the residents. We know that they have approached; that we have also pushed the UNHCR to have even more of a presence, to do more, to try to move as many of the status determinations as they can. So this is an area of deep concern to us and we are moving on many fronts and we are also going to move as expeditiously as possible to a final resolution on the designation.

If you've forgotten the misreporting, it had the US House members kicked out of Iraq. That was not what happened. As usual Nouri presented a fake front. He waited until after the delegation was on its way out of the country to thump his chest and play the big man for his domestic audience. Poe's remarks are consistent with others on the trip.

James Morrison (Washington Times) notes claims that Nouri's forces are gearing up for another assault on the camp. I have no idea whether that's true or not (nor does Morrison present himself as knowing whether it's true or not). But what is known is that Nouri gave assurances to both the previous and the current US Administrations. And he still assaulted the Camp twice. Certain members of the British Parliament have publicly accused the US government of complicity in the attacks noting that then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq both times when the assaults took place.

Sebnem Arsu (New York Times) reports a crackdown on "pro-Kurdish political activists" in Turkey including over 20 ordered held in confinement by a court yesterday. This comes as the Turkish military continues its assault on northern Iraq. And as it tries to tout its own reputation as a leader in the region. Suppressing freedom domestically won't help its image but refusing to bring to justice the police officer who shot 17-year-old Ferhat Gercek four years ago and left him paralyzed hasn't demonstrated the Turkish government's overly concerned with how they're seen abroad.
Nor will blaming European governments for their own problems. Anna Reimann (Der Spiegel) reports as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepares to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

Yet another problem between the two countries is the PKK conflict, with Turkish politicians repeatedly attacking the German government and accusing Berlin of indirectly protecting the Kurdish terrorists. "Twice as many PKK members live in Germany as in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq," claimed Cemil Cecik -- speaker of the Turkish parliament and a party colleague of Erdogan -- according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The prime minister himself has criticized German foundations and accused them of funding the PKK.
One thing is certain: As a regional power, Turkey is starting to flex its muscles. Erdogan was hailed during a visit to the region following the Arab revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and became the symbolic head of the freedom movement. The moderate Islamists who were victorious in the recent Tunisian elections model their Islamic political framework on that of his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan recently made his country's opinion of its own power unmistakeably clear: "Our interests range from the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean," he said.

One country rushing in to give the Turkish government a stamp of approval and then some is the US. Craig Whitlock (Washington Post) reports, "The Pentagon has agreed to sell three attack helicopters to Turkey and is trying to persuade Congress to sell highly coveted Predator or Reaper drones to its increasingly influential ally in the Middle East, defense officials said Tuesday." Press TV adds, "Turkey's Mynet news website reported on Tuesday that it has taken a year to build the radar base, which is totally under US control, according to the Press TV correspondent in Ankara."
AFP notes that the US is selling Turkey 3 AH-1 Super Cobra helicoptersand that US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with Turkey's Defense Secretary Ismet Yildiz yesterday for talks on "maintaining strong security ties."

Lastly, KZTV 10 reports on Rosie and Capt Leroy Torres trip to DC this week to advocate on behalf of the victims of burn pits (which does include Capt Torres, an Iraq War veteran). Burn pits have resulted in many service members and contractors being exposed to chemicals and toxins that have seriously harmed their bodies. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held hearings on this issue when Byron Dorgan was the Chair of the DPC. Click here to go to the hearing archives page. A registry is something that Leroy and Rosita Lopez-Torres are now working on. It should be noted that were it not for US Senator Jim Webb, the nation would already have such a registery. In October 21, 2009, then-Senator Evan Bayh appeared before the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee explaining the bill for a registry he was sponsoring, advocating for it.

I am here today to testify about a tragedy that took place in 2003 on the outskirts of Basra in Iraq. I am here on behalf of Lt Col James Gentry and the brave men and women who served under his command in the First Battalion, 152nd Infantry of the Indiana National Guard. I spoke with Lt Col Gentry by phone just this last week. Unfortunately, he is at home with his wife, Luanne, waging a vliant fight against terminal cancer. The Lt Col was a healthy man when he left for Iraq. Today, he is fighting for his life. Tragically, many of his men are facing their own bleak prognosis as a result of their exposure to sodium dichromate, one of the most lethal carcinogens in existence. The chemical is used as an anti-corrosive for pipes. It was strewn all over the water treatment facility guarded by the 152nd Infantry. More than 600 soldiers from Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina were exposed. One Indiana Guardsman has already died from lung disease and the Army has classified it as a service-related death. Dozens of the others have come forward with a range of serious-respiratory symptoms. [. . .] Mr. Chairman, today I would like to tell this Committee about S1779. It is legislation that I have written to ensure that we provide full and timely medical care to soldiers exposed to hazardous chemicals during wartime military service like those on the outskirts of Basra. The Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act of 2009 is bipartisan legislation that has already been co-sponsored by Senators Lugar, Dorgan, Rockefeller, Byrd, Wyden and Merkley. With a CBO score of just $10 million, it is a bill with a modest cost but a critical objective: To enusre that we do right by America's soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals while defending our country. This bill is modeled after similar legislation that Congress approved in 1978 following the Agent Orange exposure in the Vietnam conflict.

An important bill but one that never got out of Committee. Iraq War veteran Leroy Torres and his wife Rosie Torres have continued to battle on behalf of veterans exposed to burn pits and contiuned to educate the nation on the issue. The Torres have a website entitled BURNPITS 360. They are also on Facebook. It's a personal issue, Capt Leroy Torres was exposed to the burn pit on Balad Airbase. They note that a member of Congress is working on the issue.

From: The Honorable W. Todd Akin
Dear Colleague;
Please sign on to be an original cosponsor to legislation that is important to our veterans.  Numerous veterans have suffered serious health problems after exposure to open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. This legislation will establish a registry, similar to the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Syndrome Registry.  This is the first step toward providing better care for veterans who have been affected by open burn pits.
This legislation is already supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Veterans (AMVETS) and the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN).  And the issue of burn pits was recently reported on in the October 24th edition of USA Today (which can be found here)
This bill will also be introduced in a bipartisan/bicameral fashion with companion legislation being introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
This bill is scheduled to be introduced on November 3rd, so please contact my office soon to become an original cosponsor.
W. Todd Akin
Member of Congress


Rep. W. Todd Akin

Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011

Department of Veterans Affairs

Based on recent accounts of health maladies of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and a possible link to toxic fumes released in open burn pits it has become necessary to voluntarily track and account for these individuals. 
This registry will ensure that members of the Armed Forces who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes while serving overseas can be better informed regarding exposure and possible effects. This legislation
is modeled after legislation that created the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Syndrome Registry.
As drafted, the purpose of the
Burn Pit Registry  (bill text found here) is to:
• Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who
may have been exposed during their military service;
• Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
• Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the
• Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
In order to ensure that the Veterans Administration conducts the registry in the most effective manner, the legislation:
• Requires an assessment and report to Congress by an independent
scientific organization;
• This report contains an assessment of the effectiveness of the Secretary
of the VA to collect and maintain information as well as recommendations
to improve the collection and maintenance of this information;
• The report will also include recommendations regarding the most effective
means of addressing medical needs due to exposure;
• This report will be due to Congress no later than 18 months after the date
which the registry is established.
• CBO states that this registry would cost $2 million over 5 years
We learned from this country's issues with Agent Orange that the need to get
ahead of this issue is of paramount importance. 
The establishment of a burn pit registry will help the VA determine not only to what extent the ramifications of burn pits may have on service members but can also be of great use in information dissemination. 
If you have any questions please contact Rep. Akin's office at 5-2561 and speak
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