Thursday January 26, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, police are among the targeted in Iraq, in the US victims of the burn pits continue to suffer, fact checks fail on PBS, and more.
The Pentagon's US death toll for the Iraq War stands at 4487. That number doesn't include Staff Sgt Danielle Nienajadlo. Her service in Iraq included Balad Air Base. As Beth Hawkins (Mother Jones) reported two years ago, Danielle Nienajadlo quickly began suffering "headaches that kept her awake; unexplained bruises all over her body; an open sore on her back that wouldn't heal; vomiting and weight loss. In July 2008, after three miserable months, Nienajadlo checked into the base emergency room with a 104-degree fever." In a letter to Traveling Soldier in 2010, Danille's mother Lindsay Wiedman shared, "The Army still did not consider Danielle a Iraq casualty! And she was! Her very bosses that she went to while being very sick didn't believe her that she was sick. She suffered. SFC Addy was whom she went to and he said she was just trying to get out of Iraq! That was not who my daughter was. She valued her Army career, her family, me, her sister and would never not complete a hard days work. She could work Addy! Danielle died on the 20th. She would have completed her chemo the 21st. They were trying to get her to the stage of stem cell transplant. I miss her and am grieving! I blame Addy and Balad, Iraq. And I believe she should should have been considered a casualty! She deserved a big medal and the honors worth so more! I pray with time that Addy and her other bosses realize they helped kill my daughter." Along with her mother, BURNPITS 360 31-year-old Danielle's survivors include "3 sons Isaiah and Ian Jones and Titan Sanchez and her husband Jamie Nienajadlo." They note that on their Our Fallen Heroes page which also notes Ssg Steven Ochs -- dead at 32, Major Kevin E. Wilkins -- dead at 2, survived by wife Jill Wilkins and three children, Sgt Billy McKenna -- survived by wife Dine McKenna and their two daughters, and Jessica Sweet. Jeff Glor (CBS Evening News -- link is text and video) reported in June 2010, "Christopher Sweet blames his wife's leukemia on the burn pits she was exposed to in Afghanistan. Diagnosed in September 2008, Jessica Sweet died five months later." Sadly, it's very unlikely that those five will be the last.
Former-Senator Byron Dorgan explained November 6, 2009 when he chaired a Democratic Policy Committee hearing on burn pits, "Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke." In addition, Disabled American Veterans notes:
In a 2006 memorandum to the Pentagon, Air Force Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, who was in charge of assessing environmental health hazards at Balad Air Base in Iraq, raised serious concerns about toxic exposures from burn pits. The letter, which was signed by Lt. Col. James R. Elliott, the Air Force's chief medical officer at Balad, confirmed the environmental dangers that open air burn pits posed to the soldiers and airmen who lived on one of the largest U.S. installations in Iraq.
Iraq War veteran Captain Leroy Torres is one of many Americans who knows the destruction and damage burn pits cause. He and his wife Rosie Torres have worked very hard to get the word out. In an attempt to explain the realities of life post-burn pit and to spur government action, Rosie Torres shares the following:
The barriers faced by those affected by toxic exposure stem from the various components that define the word Toxic Exposures and Burn Pits. It's those same barriers that for thousands of reservists and their families have left them financially, emotionally, and mentally broken. Our story is far too familiar for those that have been affected, so here is our story. I am the wife of Captain Leroy Torres, prior to his deployment I was working full time for the Department Of Veteran Affairs and he served a dual role in his community as both a full time State Trooper for the State of Texas and a U.S. Army Reservist. Our salaries combined placed us comfortably in the bracket of about $90,000 a year, but all that changed the day he stepped foot onto the airbase in Balad, Iraq. Camp Anaconda, the FOB with the largest Burn Pit in existence, the place where all of our dreams and hopes turned into toxic chemicals. The same chemicals that followed us home and have haunted us for the past 3 years.
For thousands of reservists the story goes like this, the soldier returns from war and immediately the effects of toxic exposure surface like the invisible wounds that they are. The soldier begins seeking treatment at various healthcare facilities only to discover that neither DOD nor VA is acknowledging toxic exposure from particulate matter or burn pits. The only option left if you happen to be blessed with the luxury of private insurance is to seek specialized healthcare in the private sector. Desperately seeking answers to the question of why this once active and healthy soldier can no longer function at the capacity that he/she once did. Why the once healthy father/mother, husband, wife, daughter, son can no longer breathe, why the diagnosis of cancer, why the white matter and the lesions in the brain, the fertility issues, the fatigue, the parasitic infections, the list goes on and on. The family spends their life savings traveling to access specialized healthcare from the physicians they call their heroes. The only healthcare providers brave enough to stand behind the truth of how toxic chemicals affect the body.
The family exhausts all of their finances to gain answers, the soldier can no longer work due to multiple diagnosis and symptoms immediately forcing the once successful career person to give up their life-long dreams. The reservists files an LOD which can take up to two years, the veteran files a claim with the VA which will never grant a rating compensation because there is no category for toxic exposures. All of this forces the family into an abyss of darkness, mental stress, financial stress, and denial of acceptance to their new way of life. The once productive, healthy, and functioning military family is suddenly falling apart at the seams. The gap between VA and DOD for the reservist component of the military service members wounded must be bridged by identifying the needs of those affected immediately. Too many people are losing their homes, their life savings, and their hope, hope in a system that once promised to care for them once they returned.
As I watch my husband deteriorate before my eyes, I wonder what happened to that Captain that stood tall and strong, the father that ran 2 miles twice a week with his boys, the state police officer that served on the tactical squad, and the husband that could run circles around me but instead he is now a patient of doctors from every specialty, pulmonary, neurology, Gastroenterology, Infectious disease.
As I walked into the waiting room of the State Department of Human Services to ask for public assistance I thought to myself how can this be possible. What happened to the Captain's wife, to the once full time VA employee, why have we lost our medical tricare insurance for our children, why are we asking for help? My husband holds a masters degree and we are both educated professionals, what happened to our lives? The toxic exposures from the burn pits from war happened to our lives and to thousands of others coming home. It's only a matter of time.
The Torres family advocates for a national registry for the victims of burn pits and are active with BurnPits 360 (Rosie Torres is the executive director):
BurnPits360 is serving as a pathway of advocacy to assist veterans, their families, and civilian contractors who have been negatively affected by toxic burn pits. Contractors were assigned the task of properly disposing of any and all trash on military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations in the Middle East. Unfortunately, instead of using incinerators, the contractors disposed of the waste through toxic burn pits and now thousands of veterans have been put at serious risk.
BurnPits360 is inviting anyone that has been affected from exposure to toxic burn pits and environmental hazards to sign up on the registry. We are conducting a voluntary cohort anonymous study with Dr. Szema at Stony Brook University. The study simply requires self-reporting your information on the online registry, providing a proof of military service (DD-214), a signed legal consent form, and additional questionnaires. This study will help to provide vital information to doctors and researchers that will help properly diagnose and treat the vast array of medical complications arising from these exposures. It will provide the Department Of Defense and the Department Of Veteran Affairs with data that will allow them to develop a healthcare model for specialized healthcare specific to toxic exposures and environmental hazards.
The importance of this registry is to serve as a model for all military personnel, civilian contractors, and their families to self-report injuries and deaths from toxic exposure from burn pits and other environmental hazards. It will also assist in proving causation and the correlation between the exposure and the illness, as well as determine all areas of possible exposure. It will provide the VA with the data needed to develop legislative language for the development of a compensation and pension category specific to toxic exposures.
Most importantly, this study is completely anonymous. None of your personal information will be shared at any time. (In such cases where information would ever need to be made public, it would not be done so without the members written consent, whereas the veteran, contractor, and/or their family have the option to decline to participate at that time.)
Should you be interested in participating in the study, please contact Burn Pits 360 via email [firstname.lastname@example.org] or by telephone [361-816-4015].
Daniel Meyer is a disabled veteran and activist alerting the country to the dangers of burn pits. Julie M. McKinnon (Toledo Blade) noted that Meyer attended the Statue of the Union speech Tuesay at the invitation of US House Rep Shelley Berkley who told the newspaper, "As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant Meyer proudly served our nation in time of war, and we salute his valor and recognize the bravery and sacrifice of all the men and women in America's armed forces, our veterans, and their families." Along with his work with BurnPit 360, he also makes a huge impact by sharing his story and raising issues and awareness at his website Daniel Meyer Blog.com. Despite the bravery he shows and the bravery of others, those suffering from burn pits repeatedly have to reinvent the wheel and re-educate the public and the Congress about the burn pits effects that they now live with, explain the need for a federal registry, explain the need for the VA to recognize and educate. The first Burn Pits Symposium takes place this month and we'll note that at the end of the snapshot.
On the issue of the State of the Union, different people will have different opinions. There is no universal take. At Third, Ava and I offer a feminist take on the media -- "a" feminist take, not "the" feminist take. It's a difference Time magazine and Nate Rawlings need to grasp. Interviewing Democrat Paul Reickhoff -- who has worked so often and so hard to turn out votes for Democrats -- does not provide "How the Vets Scored It" -- it provides how one did. It is less than honest and highly insulting to allow Reickhoff to speak for all veterans. Reickhoff is someone we have called out here repeatedly for well over six years and done so most recently when he decided he was the person, him, to speak about what it was like to be a female veteran -- him, he was the voice for female veterans. Adam Kokesh is an Iraq War veteran. I doubt very seriously his take on the speech was the same as Paul Reickhoff. Adam Kokesh is with Veterans for Ron Paul.
Adam Kokesh: Today we filed a permit application with DC MPD -- Metro Police Dept -- and on Sunday the Veterans for Ron Paul organizing committee met, walked the route and everything is on track for the Ron Paul Is The Choice Of The Troops (Veterans and Active Duty March On The White House) on Presidents Day, February 20th. For all of you who shared my video announcement from New Hampshire, thank you so much for helping to get that video to over 50,000 views in two weeks and to help us get to over 750 RSVPs on the Facebook events page already. Thanks to everybody who's stepped up on the organizing team and to the two people who already donated to the case. So the details are still pending final approval but here's what you need to know. On Presidents Day, February 20th, we will rally at the Washington Monument at noon and, at 1400 hours, 2:00 pm, we will form up on 15th street, facing north towards Constitution Avenue and step off as soon as we have verified the proof of service of everyone in the formation. There will also be a truck, thanks to Jim Kiisner, to follow the formation for any veterans who might be disabled or not capable of marching with us. We will march to the White House do an about face to turn to a folded flag to hold the salute for as many seconds as troops have died since Obama became president and march back to the monument. So who's going to speak at the rally?
They're having a contest in which the top 18 video makers will be allowed to speak at the rally. We'll try to note that next week. There's just not room. I planned to spend several days on the Human Rights Watch report but only had time and space for it Monday and (hopefully) tomorrow. I will note that Feburary 1st, Adam's birthday, he's asking that you "make a contibution to the cause" here to cover the costs of the march and they hope there's enough money to also cover the transportation costs of veterans who might not otherwise be able to be present. We're still on the State of the Union. As Betty noted, last night on The NewsHour, there was a fact check on the Iraq portion of Barack's speech. Betty wrote, "I am a member of The Common Ills community. We have a number of military members and a number of members whose loved ones are in the military. This does include US troops who remain in Iraq. So to hear Glenn Kessler LIE in a fact check that all US troops had left Iraq was shocking." Here for video, transcript and audio of The NewsHour (PBS) segment. This is the section Betty (rightly) calls out (and Betty gives Gwen credit for bringing up the contractor aspect at least).
Glenn Kessler: Well, I mean, he's correct that, obviously, U.S. troops have left Iraq. The question is, you know, what have they left? And you can look at the way the American troops departed. There was an effort originally the administration made in order to extend the security agreement. And then they were either unwilling or unable to extend that agreement. And that's why the troops left. He is able to say he fulfilled a campaign promise. But, at the moment, Iraq is in a very unstable situation.
Gwen Ifill: Well, and if American contractors are still on the ground, aren't there Americans still on the ground?
Glenn Kessler: Yes, there are Americans there, too. There's a huge State Department presence as well, and being protected by those contractors. So it's troops, but, you know, combat troops -- but there are certainly a lot of Americans there.
On behalf of community members who are in Iraq still or have family members in the military still serving in Iraq, I say, "F**k you, Glenn Kessler." And I don't make a point to curse at my site. But it needs to be said and said loudly until the press stops disrespecting those military members who remain in Iraq.
I support Betty and her statements 100%, without reservation. In addition, I will add that if you are fact checking, know your damn facts. Barack did not promise, if elected, troops would leave at the end of 2011. All troops didn't leave but even if you're too stupid or too much of a liar to grasp this fact, you should get that his promise was a brigade a month, first thing he'd do upon being sworn in. He did not keep his promise. Samantha Power lied to American voters but did let British audiences know in March 2008 that Barack had no intention of keeping that campaign 'promise' and she was right and Glenn Kessler is wrong, he is damn wrong and it is offensive, as Betty noted, to members of this community who either are still serving in Iraq or have a loved one still serving in Iraq. Meanwhile Mike selectedRabbi Michael Lerner as "genius of the week" for being the only voice of truth about the State of the Union speech at POLITICO's Arena yesterday. Rabbi Lerner:
What populism, what message? As usual there were a series of proposals with no common theme. We were told that the model for America was the military - why can't we be like they are, perfect in every way? We were told by the man who was elected from discontent over the war in Iraq that the war was completely worthwhile. Give me a break. This man has neither moral compass nor the political sense to state clearly and unequivocally that government is needed to stop the excesses of the rich and the corporations.
"The President has subverted the progressive ideals of the New Deal. He's imposing his vision of a 'grand bargain' that represents the effective philosophical merger of the Democratic and Republican parties. "
"The President presented a rosy picture of the current state of the economy by tossing out a few anecdotes and cherry-picked statistics. He seemed almost oblivious to recent news that 48% of Americans are living in poverty or near poverty, the greatest number in 50 years of record keeping. If he thinks things are going so well, maybe that's why he sees no reason to change course."
Chris Hedges: Yeah, the way the law is written is, when you read it really closely, really terrifying because it's the whim of the security and surveillance state whoever they want to go after they can pretty much do so under this piece of legislation and then, of course, the way they do it is to use the military to carry out extraordinary rendition on American city streets. And I think to listen to the Obama White House, you know Obama assured in his signing statement that he would not use this legislation to target American citizens? Well [US Senator] Dianne Feinstein proposed inserting into this legislation a clear statement that American citizens would be exempted from it and this was rejected by both the Democractic Party and the Obama White House. They had an opportunity to do it and they didn't. And we know from leaks out of [US Senator] Carl Levin's office that the difficulty that the Obama White House had with the bill was not over the denial of due process but the fact that the executive branch wanted to abrogate for itself the right to decide who, what American citizens would be subject to arrest and detention without access to a lawyer or courts by the military and who would be given exemptions. It was a debate about the prerogatives of the executive branch, it was never a debate about due process or the rule of law.
Glen Ford: Now if we don't have due process, do we have the rule of law?
Chris Hedges: Well if you don't have due process, you don't have the rule of law.
Glen Ford: Are you optimistic?
Chris Hedges: I don't have a lot of faith in the Supreme Court. We saw the case of Jose Padilla. They used to call him the sort-of missing hijacker. He was a US citizen held for three and a half years in a military brig without access to a lawyer or due process. It was challenged, went up to the Supreme Court and, before the Supreme Court took up the case, he was transferred to a civilian court and the Supreme Court said they wouldn't rule on it because it was moot. I mean, they sort of passed it. But given the composition of this particular Supreme Court, I wouldn't say I'm optomistic but I still say we have to try.
Glen Ford: Apologists for Obama say, 'Well this law is nothing new. President Bush claimed the right to detain anyone based on his own criteria and without charges. And that this is nothing new. But it is something new when you codify it into law with the benediction of the Congress.
Chris Hedges: They're right only in this sense: Under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, they already were doing a lot of this stuff -- including, of course, targeting American citizens for assassinations. Barack Obama serving as judge, jury and executioner for Anwar al-Awlaki, the cleric who was murdered in Yemen. But I think that most legal scholars saw that as a fairly radical interpretation of that piece of legislation. This [NDAA] essentially legalizes, overturns 200 years -- over 200 years -- of law to permit the armed forces or the military to carry out domestic policing. And I think the other important point about this legislation is that the 2001 act was tied to groups who were directly related to al Qaeda. This now permits this kind of war against a multiplicity of groups, many of which didn't even exist when 9-11 happened -- groups in Yemen, groups in Somolia. It's a way of sort of cementing into place the permanent war psychosis. And remember that these people can be picked up by the military, held without charges, without trial, without access to an attorney, in the language of the bill, until the end of hostilities. Well, you know, when is that? This is an endless war. The 2001 act was bad enough but, you know, at this point to pass a piece of legislation like this which goes into effect in March is catastrophic assault against what's left of civil liberties and our anaemic democracy.
Glen Ford: If this bill had moved through Congress when Bush was president, would you have expected a hailstorm of protest?
Chris Hedges: The Democratic Party is very good at expressing moral outrage against George Bush or Republicans but doing absolutely nothing to counter those activities. So yeah, you would have had the Democratic Party and the liberal establishment speaking out against it and expressing deep disgust and distaste for these measures yet at the same time I think what these people do and what they say is very different.
And if you doubt it, note this about 2005 -- when Democrats were the minority in the House of Representatives, were the minority in the Senate and didn't control the White House but were desperate to change that by getting one house of Congress in the 2006 mid-terms.
Cindy Sheehan: [. . .] that's what happened to the anti-war movement I was a part of without me even knowing it. And the Democrats told me to my face, "Cindy, if you help us take back the House, we'll help you end the war." You know, Nancy Pelosi told me that, Barack Obama told me that, Hillary Clinton told me that, John Kerry, all of the leading Democrats said it right to my face, "If you help us take back the House" -- and this was in 2005 when I had -- I had the Democratic base which is actually anti-war at their heart but you know they'll go against their hearts every single time when it comes to voting. They said, "You help us take back the House, we'll help you end the war." Well look what happened. You know they used the energy of the anti-war movement and the Camp Casey movement to get back in power and they totally betrayed the movement.
Iraq was again plagued with bombings today. Peter Cave (Australia's ABC) reports a Mussayib home bombing targeting police officers and "brothers Ahmed and Jihad Zuwaiyin" and "killing everyone inside including six children aged under 10" as well as both police officers and their wives. Al Rafidayn notes that four of the children were under ten and two boys who were approximately ten-years-old. DPA adds, "The police officer said the blast was caused by several roadside-type bombs placed near the house's outer walls, which destroyed it. Four people were wounded and six nearby houses were also damaged." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes, "The violence has raised concerns among citizens about the ability of Iraqi security forces to ensure order, particularly after the United States withdrew troops at the end of 2011." In addition to the bombing of the two families, Sinan Salaheddin and Yahya Barzanji (AP) note, "Also Thursday, a motorcycle bomb missed a passing police patrol in the northern city of Kirkuk, but killed two civilians and wounded five others, the city's police commander Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir said." In addition, Reuters notes a the "son of a Sunni tribal leader" was shot dead in Mosul, a Kirkuk sticky bombing last night claimed 1 life and left another person injured and a Kirkuk drive-by shooting last night left 2 police officers dead.
Dan Morse and Asaad Majeed (Washington Post) explain, "The attacks come amid a political crisis that has virtually paralyzed the government in the last six weeks." Nouri kicked off the political crisis by refusing to honor the November 2010 Erbil Agreement he signed off on (the agreement which allowed him to become prime minister despite his State of Law coming in second in the March 2010 elections). He intensified the conflict in October 2011 when he began ordering the arrest of hundreds of Sunnis -- insisting that they were attempting to launch a coup and were terrorists. As reported by the Iraqi media earlier this month, most have been released and the rest are expected to be -- there was no coup attempt. Then came December and Nouri's return from DC, emboldened by his face-to-face with supporter Barack Obama. Nouri immediately demanded that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested for terrorism. Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are Sunnis and members of Iraqiya. Last week saw several prominent Sunnis and Iraqiya members arrested in various provinces.
Since last month, President Jalal Talabani (Kurd) and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi (Iraqiya) have been calling for a national conference. This month there was a meet-up of various political players to firm up the details for the national conference and a final meet-up was supposed to have taken place last Sunday; however, over the weekend, Talabani had to travel to Germany for spinal surgery and the meet-up is now on hold. This week, Nouri and State of Law began demanding that if any national conference takes place, it can't be called a national conference. As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) notes that demand as well as the demand that it not be open to all political leaders but just the the three presidencies (Talabani, Nouri and al-Nujaifi) and the leaders of blocs in parliament and Sheikh notes that the demands, if implemented, will be like a bullet to the body and kill the hopes of any success of resolving the crisis. Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq leader Ammar al-Hakim is in Turkey currently (meeting with officials) and AP quotes him stating, "I want to invite Iraqiya to return to parliament and take its place in parliament. We say that we will examine their just demands and do whatever is necessary."
GN: Former general David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno met up with Al Iraqiya leaders as the political crisis started in the country after the US army's withdrawal. What can you tell us about the meetings?
JJ: General Petraeus is the head of the Central Intelligence Agency and General Ray Odierno is the US army's Chief of Staff and as part of their normal contacts in the region they visit here and they visit any other country in the region. I wouldn't read anything special into that.
GN: The Obama administration is proceeding with the sale to Iraq of almost $11 billion in weapons and training. Do you think that any assistance to Iraq's security forces ought to be conditional on the government's commitment to resolve its disagreements?
JJ: First of all, when we provide weapons we provide them with guarantees that they will be used for their proper purposes. The weapons given to the Iraqis are not for internal security, they are to be used to defend their borders and to eventually defend their air space and this is something any sovereign country needs and Iraq currently does not have. So this is something which is important for Iraq as a state and it has nothing to do with political conflicts.
GN: Thousands of Iraqi and American lives were sacrificed in ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussain. A slide back to dictatorship, when much of the region is striving for democracy, would render their sacrifices meaningless. What are your thoughts in this regard?
JJ: We believe that Iraq remains the most democratic country in the Middle East. Obviously it faces very severe problems now and it is in the middle of a very difficult political controversy and we hope that it will be able to get out of it. We continue to support a united federalist, and democratic Iraq.
As noted earlier, the first ever Burn Pit Symposium takes place next month.
1st Annual Scientific Symposium on
Lung Health after Deplyoment to Iraq & Afghanistan
Studies Branch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research
and Engineering Laboratory, Manchester, NH)
3:15 - 3:45 Toxicologically Relevant Characteristics of Desert Dust and Other
Atmospheric Particulate Matter, Geoffrey S. Plumlee, Ph.D. (Research
Geochemist, U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO)
3:44 - 4:15 In-situ Mineralogy of the Lung and Lymph Nodes, Gregory Meeker, M.S.
(Research Geochemist, U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO)
Continuing Medical Education Credits
The school of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook, is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
The School of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brooke designates this live activity for a maximum of 6 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)TM. Physicians should only claim the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.