Thursday, March 15, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, March 15, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the government refuses to follow the rules for disclosure in their case against Bradley Manning, the State Dept goes after one of their own, the illegal wars compete for time and attention with the administration's war against the Constitution and the public's right to know, Iraqi youths continue to be targeted, and more.
Chanel Curry: I started  off as as a veteran during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  I'm from Cleveland, Ohio and I joined the military in 2008.  As I served overseas and came back to the United States, I suffered many difficulties finding employment.  So I recently relocated to Atlanta, Georgia because I had a job opportunity available to me almost immediately.  So I relocated and during my process of living in Atlanta, Georgia, a lot of  different circumstances forced me to have to move back to Cleveland, Ohio where I was originally stationed.  Coming back to Cleveland, Ohio, it was very hard to find a job.  So basically, I bounced around from different relatives homes, different friends and it just became definitely a burden because a lot of people I knew suffered their own hardships and no one could afford to accomodate another adult.  So that forced me to have to contact the VA and I contacted the Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and I spoke to a veteran by the name of William and he directed me over to a female by the name of Toni Johnson.  Toni Johnson is a representative of the women's homeless outreach program.  And she, herself, actually opened up a lot of possibilities for me to get back on my feet.  She told me about the Grant Per Diem program and I lived in a homeless shelter, a women's homeless shelter, known as the Westside Catholic Center and there there were other things available for me such as the Employment Connection and I met with a representative by the name of Angela Cash and she basically helped me to get a job at the Cleveland Clinic. So she offered me classes, computer training, basically everything that I needed to be readily available for work.  And also she had her own non-profit organization known as the Forever Girls At Heart which is a group of beautiful women who helped me get all of the things I needed for my apartment.  Now with that being said, I will be moving into my place as of Friday if everything goes as planned.  And I do have everything I need.  So the VA definitely went above and beyond to make sure that I was not -- that I did not remain a homeless veteran.
Curry's testimony goes to what Senator Scott Brown rightly termed "a lack of consistency." While the VA was able to assist her, Sandra Strickland's testimony to the Committee made clear that the VA practices a scatter-shot, non-consistent response.
Chanel Curry is an Iraq War veteran and among a growing number of veterans of the current war who have or are becoming homeless.  She testified to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as part of the hearing on homeless veterans. The first panel was made up of veteran Sandra Strickland, National Women Veterans Committee's Marsha Four, Deputy Assistant IG for VA Linda Halliday and Reverend Scott Rogers.  The first panel was covered in yesterday's snapshot, by Ava in "Scott Brown (Ava)" and by Kat with "Glad someone's back, not impressed with hearing." 
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee.  In her opening remarks, she noted:
VA must focus on a new and unfortunately growing segment of the homeless veteran population -- female veterans.  Like their male counterparts, women veterans face many of the same challenges that contribute to their risks of becoming homeless.  They are serving on the front lines and being exposed to some of the same harshest realities of war.  They are screening positive for PTSD, experiencing military sexual traum, suffering from anxiety disorder, and having trouble finding a job that provides the stability to ease their transition home.  Yet when our female veterans find themselves homeless, they have needs that are unique from those of male veterans.  And, as the VA's Inspector General found in a report released on Monday, some of those unique needs are not being addressed.  The IG found that there were serious safety and security concerns for homeless women veterans, especially those who have experiences Military Sexual Trauma. They found bedrooms and bathrooms without sufficient locks, halls and stairs without sufficient lighting and mixed gender living facilities without access restrictions. They also found that the VA should do a better job at targeting places and populations that need help the most. And in addition to this IG report, GAO released a report at the end of last year that cited VA for the lack of gender-specific privacy, safety and security standards.  Following that report, I sent a letter to VA and HUD with Senators [Jon] Tester and [Olympia] Snowe seeking answers to a number of questions it raised.  I have heard from HUD that they are reviewing their data collection process in order to capture more information on homeless women veterans. I have also heard from VA tha they are working to develop and provide training for staff and providers to better treat veterans who have experienced traumatic events and modifying their guidance on privacy, safety and security for providers who serve homeless women veterans. As more women begin to transition home and step back into lives as mothers, wives and citizens, we must be prepared to serve the unique challenges they face.  As we continue to learn about the alarming number of homeless women veterans, we must be sure that VA is there to meet their needs.
The second panel was Chanel Curry and the VA's Executive Director of the Homeless Veterans Initiative Pete Dougherty.  (Lisa Pape, of the VA, accompanied Dougherty.)  VA's Dougherty noted a variety of figures including that 29,074 Veterans and family members are housed, as of last month, through the HUD-VASH program, 37,549 Housing Choice vochers have been handed out, Veterans Justice Outreach (legal services) have served 15,706 veterans, 366 is the number of homeless veterans (or formerly homeless) that the VA has hired in the Homeless Veterans Supported Employment Program (hires are since September of last year), "in FY 2011, VA helped 83 percent of veterans in default retain their homes or avoid foreclsoure, an increase from 76 percent in FY 2010" and "VA paid pension benefits exceeding $4.2 billion to over 500,000 veterans and survivors in FY 2011.  Because pension benefits are paid to veterans and survivors whose income fall below Congressionally established minimum standards, it inherently assists in income issues related to homelessness."
We'll note this exchange from the second panel.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Dougherty, we heard from Ms. Strickland on the first panel.  She reached out to the VA and was told there was no help -- literally [they] hung up [and left her] with nothing.  We just heard Ms. Curry obviously a totally different story.  With a "no wrong door" policy, it's unacceptable that more help wasn't given to Ms. Strickland and others like her.  Ms. Curry, I wanted to ask you, what was the turning point that led you to the VA?
Chanel Curry: Actually, it was a very long time before the resources were actually known to me.  I had to do some research.  I actually contacted Military One Source  which is a very helpful resource who helps you basically get to a lot of different resources.  But what led me to the VA was the fact that I was just tired of being homeless.  I was tired of not having a stable job and having to ask people for things. And I'm the type of person where I like to get everything on my own so it was definitely a challenge for me. So I had to make an adult decision and go to a shelter where the HUV Ash program would be availabe for me.
Chair Patty Murray:  Mr. Dougherty, both the GAO and IG found that the VA has to improve the way it serves homeless veterans -- homeless women veterans -- especially those who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma. I am deeply concerned about women veterans -- or any veteran -- but women veterans being placed in a place with no privacy, no locks on doors, no locks on bedrooms. It just is implicit that that should be available.  I understand that the department is developing this new, gender-specific, privacy, safety and security standard for the facilities and I want that done quickly -- obviously.  But I wanted to ask you: Is that enough to make sure we have protection for women -- to make sure there's no registered sex offenders?  Are we following that?  And especially for women who are victims of Military Sexual Trauma, are we really making sure we're focused on those issues?
Pete Dougherty: [microphone not on or working . . .] and her staff are working very closely on making those corrections. I would also say that one of the things that we have and are asking the Committee to do is to change the Contract Care Authority Requirement.  Currently under law, you have to have a serious mental illnesee diagnosis in order to get contract residential care.  And I think as the IG [Linda Halliday] just said a few minutes ago, that one of the issues is that in some small communities, we may not have enough need to develop a whole program that's big enough to support a community program and in those places what we need is more flexibility in contracted residential care in order to make that work.
Chair Patty Murray: Well, okay, let me be very clear given the strong oversight work that this Committee has done leading up to just this hearing, I think it's very clear we're going to be following this very carefully. We want to make sure this is implemented. It's absolutely a top item for all of us.
We'll jump to another exchange.
Senator Scott Brown: Mr. Dougherty, how is VA working to improve the data collected so that the VA and Congress have information to effectively allocate the resources to ensure homeless veterans receive the needed services?  And that's based on the GAO report saying that the information's lacking.  [Doughtery speaking with Pape.]  Either one.
Lisa Pape:  We have been collecting information on homeless veterans for over 20 years now. What we've done to really enhance in the last several years is roll over into an electronic system, enhancing the kind of data we're really asking for so that there's more questions related to people's experience, their medical issues, their housing issues prior and-and-and leaving the program. But what really is where we're shooting for is connecting with the community and aligning our data collection system with the homeless management collection system that the continuum of care do so that we have a coordinated and integrated collection system to look at what veterans are entering the VA and the community and bed capacity and things like that.
From the panel on homeless veterans to an Iraq War veteran imprisoned for over a year, Bradley Manning.   In January,  Josh Gerstein (POLITICO) reported, "Another military officer has formally recommended that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning face a full-scale court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables to the online transparency site WikiLeaks." In addition, Article 32 hearings are almost always rubber stamps. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.
The Associated Press reports the latest in government ridiculous, the military insisted to the court today that the release Bradley is accused of aided al Qaeda.  They tossed in the word "indirectly."  You know what directly aids al Qaeda, endless war.  So throw some charges at Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the crooked gang making up the administration.  Know what else aids al Qaeda?  Keeping Guantanamo open.  So throw some more charges at Barack. The latest development only underscores that Barack Obama is no different from George W. Bush, that idiots like Naomi Wolf who swore he was a Constitutional lawyer (Memo to Naomi: Constional lawyers take cases involving Constitutional issues -- they don't generally represent slum lords) were wrong (and have refused to own their errors) when they insisted Barack would protect the Constitution.  He's done nothing of the sort and now he's attempting to 'ohn Walker Lindh' Bradley Manning.
Jessica Gresko (Huffington Post) reports, "An attorney for an Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified information asked a military judge Thursday to dismiss the charges, arguing the government bungled the handover of documents to the defense."  At issue are documents that the government refuses to hand over.  Since this is a criminal prosecution, discovery attached at the beginning of the case.  Therefore, the documents should have been turned over long ago.  Discovery is the process by which the defense learns the evidence the prosecution has.  This is standard procedure and the claim by US Capt Ashden Fein that the defense is attempting to launch a fishing expedition is outrageous and puts a stain on the already questionable concept of 'military justice.'  Fein whined to the court that they had to produce "as much as possible" for the defense.  Someone needs to explain the law to Fein, "as much as possible" is not how discovery works.  You're compelled to turn over everything.  "As much as possible" claims should get you up on charges before a legal board. 
Speaking to RT on Thursday about that afternoon's hearing, Zack Presavento of the Bradley Manning Support Network said that the prosecutors in the case continue to defend their right to withhold material from the defense, something he says is just "one more absurd allegation in a long train of absurdities."
Coombs says he has repeatedly asked the government to supply him with documents that pertain to the case, but the military is defaulting to the claim that the material in question is classified and therefore must be shielded from civilian eyes. For two years, Coombs says, he has asked for documents that the government has still refused to deliver and, at this point, he believes the US should forfeit their case.
Equally disturbing, Chantal Valery (AFP) reports:
Coombs asked the government to provide an assessment of the damage Manning caused to US national security by sending WikiLeaks military field reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, a quarter million State Department cables and war videos.
But military prosecutor Ashden Fein said the State Department "has not completed its damage assessment."
Any 'asssessment' should have been completed prior to charges being brought.  That's basic.  Yet again, the Obama administration, in their haste to punish whistle blowers, sets the law aside and goes off like a vigilante posse bound and determined to take the law into their own hands.  America has never been more at risk from their own government then with these crooks and clowns in the administration.  They make Bully Boy Bush look like a Constitutional defender by contrast.
 Law and Disorder Radio is a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights).  The Center of Constitutional Rights is among those representing WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. In that capacity, among others, Michael Ratner is closely following Bradley's trial.  Today he Tweeted on it including:
There are many other Tweets Ratner's done but this may really sum up just how much lying the prosecution thinks it can get away with:

Manning. Govt saysno video of manning solitary. Manning says otherwise. Same with gitmo clients. Think govt lying? #freebradley #Manning

We were the ones, at Third, who pointed out the lie from the government that they had to keep Bradley naked to 'protect him.'  We were able to point out that flaw because a very good friend of mine runs an adolescent recovery center so I know about the procedures and about scrubs and the rest.  I also know when someone's basically on lockdown, Cameras are recording.  Bradely was kept on watch, videos were made.  The government's lie is just the latest effort by the Barack Obama administration to lie and lie and lie again.  When confronted with the regulations -- and military regulations (I've just been told on another phone) include recording people like Bradley both for his protection and for the militaries -- the government will most likely trot out a new lie: The tapes were erased! Or taped over.  The military is supposed to preserve those tapes.  They knew a legal case was likely.  If they next try to lie that the tapes no longer exist, then they should be able to provide a list of names that the defense can use as witnesses (names of people doing monitoring while the taping was going on) and a list of names of people fired for failure to follow procedure (which includes preseving the tapes).
Bradley is only one alleged whistle blower the administration is going after.  , Lisa Rein (Washington Post) reports on career diplomat Peter Van Buren:

Now the State Department is moving to fire him based on eight charges, ranging from linking on his blog to documents on the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks to disclosing classified information.

In 24 years as a diplomat, Van Buren was posted around the world and speaks four languages. He called the termination notice he received Friday the coup de grace in a series of blows he received since his book, "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People" was published last fall.

Van Buren's supervisors admittedly singled him out, and are monitoring all of his online activities taken on his personal time using his personal computer. They have insisted that he "preclear" all of his blog posts, tweets, and other social media activities as well as live radio and TV appearance - all First Amendment-protected activities Van Buren conducts on his personal time. How is anyone supposed to pre-clear a live radio interview?
The proposed removal alleges that Van Buren mishandled sensitive information by linking - NOT leaking - to a publicly-available Wikileaks document on his blog, which contains a disclaimer that Van Buren is writing in his personal capacity and that the State Department does not endorse his views.
The State Department's lame canned quote defending against the retaliation claims offers no explanation as to why the Agency has singled Van Buren out to monitor his social media activities and selectively enforce the policies against Van Buren.

"There are protections within the government for freedom of expression and for whistleblowers," spokesman Mark C. Toner said. "The State Department has followed process and acted in accordance with the law."

How does it protect freedom of expression to propose firing an employee for exercising his First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern in his private capacity?
Adding to the trumped-up nature of the charges, the State Department accuses Van Buren of "bad judgment" because he mocked Michele Bachmann and criticized Hillary Clinton's laughing at Libyan leader Qaddafi's death. Does the State Department really need to be told that the First Amendment covers political speech?
The US State Dept goes to war on Peter, but they refuse to publicly rebuke the killing of Iraqi youths. The Department won't make a statement on the record nor will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Iraqis thought to be gay and/or Emo are beign threatened, bullied and killed. And the State Dept is silent. And wishing Americans would shut up already because then the State Dept could function without accountability and below the radar.   Today, State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland opened her press briefing by drawing attention to a sheet on US humanitarian assistance to Syria.
Hey, those Syrians getting humanitarian assistance?  Al Qaeda.  So when are we prosecuting the State Dept and the administration?
If you're not getting how unaccountable and ineffectual the State Dept is, Al Mada reports this morning that the Ministry of the Interior will be removing the February statement attacking the Emo kids. That statement, reported on by Reuters, CNN and other outlets, has been up the entire time.

Why did they finally take it down?

Because the press kept pointing to it.

Not because the State Dept lodged a complaint. Not because the State Dept did a damn thing. They've done nothing.  The US Embassy in Baghdad gave an interview to Iraqi TV station Al Sumaria and they had a private e-mail exchange with a San Francisco LGBT group -- a private exchange that went public.  Today they posted the following:
We strongly condemn the recent violence and killings in Iraq by groups who appear to be targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or personal expression.  These acts of intolerance have no place in democratic societies.
We are monitoring this situation closely on the ground and in Washington, and have expressed our concern to the Government of Iraq.
Additionally, in recent days, some of Iraq's religious leaders and members of Parliament have denounced these attacks and taken steps to address this issue.  A representative for Grand Ayatollah Sistani has condemned this violence and the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee within Iraq's Parliament has condemned these actions as well. 
As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, "Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human… It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave."
At the State Department, we will continue to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Don't applaud Hillary.  That quote is not on the Iraqi youth, it's pulled from her December 6th speech on Human Rights Day. In addition, the Embassy was forced to put that up and forced to make it appear it had been up.  But the Baghdad embassy is only one and State Dept friends called to inform me if I visited ___ embassy and ___ embassy, I would find embassies
that did not backdate the statement.  I did find those and I've got screen snaps if it becomes an issue we need to document. For not, we'll note that Hillary and the State Dept are feeling the pressure over their silence -- enough so to basically forge a press release.  They should continue to feel the heat.  Shawkat al Bayati (Niqash) reports:
Since February Iraqi extremists have been threatening, even murdering, Iraq's "emo" teenagers. They believe them to be Satanists, vampires or homosexuals. While religious authorities say the anti-emo campaign is wrong, activists now suspect police involvement in the threats. 
Ahmad is only 16 – but for the time being, he sits, virtually imprisoned, in a small room on the roof of a building on the outskirts of Baghdad. His crime? Dressing like a teenager. 
Ahmad is what is being referred to in Iraq as an "emo". In the West, the description emo has become shorthand for a certain style of dressing and music. The teenage devotees of emo tend to prefer their rock music with punk overtones and emotional lyrics and they like to dress all in black, have black hair and accessorise with slightly Gothic imagery, such as skulls or bleeding hearts.
Emo in Europe and North America was the latest evolution of music that started off as "emotional hard core" and the look and music resonated with a certain sort of melancholy outsider. 
And whereas in the West, an emo teenager might expect to be harassed by those who didn't understand their funereal obsession or their dressing up – a lot of critical bystanders thought the costumed nature of the emo look meant the wearer must be homosexual – in Iraq, emo kids are at far more risk.
Emo kids first started to appear in Iraq in 2008; most of them are aged between 12 and 18, the vast majority are male and one imagines the same elements of rebellion that attract Western teens, also attract the Iraqi youth.

In other news, Al Rafidayn reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani has made clear that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is safe in the KRG and they will not hand him over to Baghdad. Nouri is targeting Iraqiya and that includes al-Hashemi. Nouri accuses the vice president of terrorism.

That ongoing crisis hasn't been resolved either (Barzani wants the three presidencies to resolve it -- that's Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Nouri). The State Dept's done nothing to help their either.

Since October of last year, the State Dept was supposed to be running the US mission in Iraq. Thus far, they're an abject failure.