Friday, April 27, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the prosecution says they don't have to establish that Bradley Manning's actions resulted in any harm to go after him, the political crisis continues in Iraq, a State of Law flunky disses Biden, and more.
Starting in the US where perceived whistle blower Bradley Manning and his defense have been in pre-court martial hearings this week. The judge has issued a ruling. AP reports Col Denise Lind announced yesterday that she would not toss "aiding the enemy" allegation the government has made against Bradley.
Monday April 5, 2010, 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. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.
Manning's attorney, David Coombs, argued that the charge should be dropped for two reasons. First, the prosecution failed to show intent in the way the charge is worded, he argued. Second, Coombs said, the charge is so vague and broad that it's unconstitutional.
Coombs argued the charge is "alarming in its scope." He told the judge that if he accepted the government's argument, "no soldier would ever be comfortable saying anything to any news reporter." Coombs said they could even be charged after posting something on a family member's Facebook page.
Trent Nouveau (TG Daily) notes that Maj Ashden Fein, prosecutor for the United States government, states that the government isn't required to prove that any damage took place, "Just because a damage assessment might say damage did occur or didn't occur, it's completely irrelevant to the charges. That tomorrow's effect is somehow relevant to the charges on the crime sheet is irrelevant."
That's certainly a curious take on the law. If there's no injury, what's the point? If Bradley Manning is guilty -- he's thus far entered no plea -- and there were huge damages, the judge would certainly be encouraged by the prosecution to keep that in mind. The government has not only declared him guilty -- that includes US President Barack Obama who truly does not know the law if he thought pronouncing the accused guilty before a trial was how a president conducts themselves -- they've insisted repeatedly that tremendous damage was done.
Having used that to drive the press coverage, the government now wants to claim that the level of damage -- if any -- doesn't matter? The court-martial has been set for September 21st. The Center for Constitutional RightsMichael Ratner retweets:
In Iraq, violence continues. Erik West (Australian Eye) reports an Abu Garma home invasion in which 3 children (ages ten to fifteen) were shot dead along with their mother when a killer or killers broke into the home around three in the morning.
KUNA notes that Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, met with Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister for energy, yesterday at the White House and that Biden "reaffirmed U.S. commitment to work with Iraqi leaders from across the spectrum to support the continued development of Iraq's energy sector." While Joe was making nice, al-Shahristani was showing his ass. Alister Bull (Reuters) explains, "A simmering dispute between Iraq's central government and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan is an internal affair, a top Baghdad official said on Thursday, in an implicit rebuff of U.S. efforts to broker a compromise between the two sides."
Thursday Erbil witnessed what some news outlets are calling a historic moment. Press TV reports on Moqtada al-Sadr's visit to the KRG to meet with KRG President Massoud Barzani and the press conference Moqtada held in Erbil. They quote him stating, "I came here to listen to their (Kurds') points of view (on issues related to Iraq's political situation). In fact, I adovcate getting closer to the Iraqi people and protecting the Iraqi people before protecting our parties and blocs. All sides have to pay attention to the public interest and the Iraqi people. The oil of Iraq is for the people and no one has the right to claim it for himself and exclude others. . . . Dialogue is the only solution to end former and current political disputes and all other issues." Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) notes, "During talks with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani yesterday, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr mandate insisted that there would be no support for an overthrow of the government, but he did suggest the possibility of not renewing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's mandate as premier. Barzani and Sadr have both called Maliki a dictator in recent weeks, and the increasingly marginalized Sunnis mostly agree with them." At Foreign Policy, journalist James Traub examines Nouri al-Maliki:
Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, has a remarkable ability to make enemies. As Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group puts it, "Personal relations between everyone and Maliki are terrible." This gift was vividly displayed in March, when the annual meeting of the Arab League was held in Baghdad. Although the event was meant to signal Iraq's re-emergence as a respectable country after decades of tyranny and bloodshed, leaders of 10 of the 22 states, including virtually the entire Gulf, refused to attend out of pique at Maliki's perceived hostility to Sunnis both at home and abroad, turning the summit into a vapid ritual. The only friend Iraq has left in the neighborhood is Shiite Iran, which seems intent on reducing its neighbor to a state of subservience.
[. . .]
But one can be agnostic about Maliki's motivations and still conclude that he is doing harm to Iraq's own interests. No sensible Iraqi leader would pick a fight with Turkey, as he has done. Back in January, when Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggested that Maliki should not be waging war against the Sunni opposition at home, Maliki accused Turkey of "unjustified interferences in Iraqi internal affairs," adding for good measure that Erdogan was seeking to restore Turkey's Ottoman hegemony over the region. This in turn led to another escalating round of insults and a mutual summoning of ambassadors.
Moqtada was attempting to address the ongoing political crisis. Briefly, March 2010 saw parlimentary elections. State of Law (Nouri al-Maliki's slate) came in second to Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi). Nouri did not want to honor the vote or the Constitution and refused to allow the process to move forward (selecting a new prime minister). Parliament was unable to meet, nothing could take place. This is Political Stalemate I and it lasted for over eight months. In November 2010, Political Stalemate I finally ended. What ended it?
The US-brokered Erbil Agreement. This was a written document where everyone made concessions and everyone got something out of it. Nouri got to be prime minister. He was loving the Erbil Agreement then. And as soon as he was named prime minister-designate, he began demonstrating he wouldn't honor the Erbil Agreement. He had called for a referendum and census on Kirkuk for December 2010. He was supposed to have done that by the end of 2007. But he refused to even though Article 140 of the Constitution demanded it. But as he was trying to get everyone to agree to the Erbil Agreement, he was trying to appear resonable and scheduled the referendum and census. After being named prime minister desisngate, he called off the census and referndum. It's still not taken place all this time later. He was also fully on board with the idea of an independent national security commission and it being headed by Ayad Allawi. But then he got named prime minister-deisgnate and suddenly that was something that couldn't be created overnight but would take time. 17 months later, it's still not happened.
Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get a second term as prime minister and then trashed the agreement. He used everyone's concession to him but refused to honor his concessions to them.
This is Political Stalemate II, the ongoing political crisis in Iraq and, no, the political crisis in Iraq did not start December 19th or 21st as Nouri went after political rivals from Iraqiya (Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 elections). From Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace):
Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements. Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence. The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed. The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
Kitabat reports Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared today in Karbala that the Erbil Agreement should be published. The Ayatollah noted that there are disputes about whether or not it was implemented. He says the way to end the dispute is to publish the agreement and that the people can then decide for themselves whether the agreement was carried out, whether or not it was Constitutional*, whether or not it represented the best interests of Iraq. The agreement and the Constitution? There's nothing in the Constitution that allows for the Erbil Agreement. There's also nothing in the Constitution that bars the Erbil Agreement. The White House and the State Dept examined that at length before it was put into writing. They brokered the agreement and did so to end the eight-month-plus gridlock (Political Stalemate I). The agreement is clearly extra-constitutional and we warned about that in real time. But it is not forbidden by the Constitution. After getting what he wanted from the agreement, Nouri and his lackeys began to insist that it couldn't be honored because it was unconstitutional. It's not. If it is unconstitutional then the Parliament needs to vote on a PM because they haven't freely done that, they've allowed Nouri to become prime minister-designate (and then prime minister) in spite of the Constitution. An argument can be made that the only known aspect of the Erbil Agreement that might be unconstitutional would be Nouri being PM since the Constitution is specific on how you become prime minister designate (Nouri didn't meet those qualifications and he knows it, that's why he implemented the eight month stalemate) and since it is specific on how you then move to prime minister.
For those who've forgotten, a prime minster-designate is judged to be competent to be prime minister by forming a Cabinet in 30 days. That is nominating the people and get the Parliament to vote on each one. A Cabinet is a Cabinet. The Constitution doesn't allow for half Cabinets or partials. Nouri was unable to name a full Cabinet in 30 days (actually more than 30 -- as usual Jalal Talabani broke the Constitution for Nouri thereby allowing him more than 30 days). The Constitution is clear that if you do not form a Cabinet in 30 days, a new person is picked to be prime minister-designate.
Nouri failed. Among the posts empty when he was wrongly and unconstitutionally moved to prime minister were all three of the security posts. He had no Minister of the Interior, no Minister of Defense and no Minister of Natioanl Security.
For those who want to claim that a full Cabinet wasn't what was intended, that's a flat out lie. The Constitutionw as written in 2005, not 80 years ago, not 100. There is only one requirement to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister: building your Cabinet.
And for those who still can't grasp that this means every seat, every post, then at least have the brains -- if not the integrity -- to grasp that there is no way in hell that the Constitution ever intended for Minister of the Defense (army) or Minister of Interior (police) to be empty posts.
When Nouri refused to announce them in December 2010, "critics" (so labeled by the press) turned out to be prophets. They stated that Nouri wouldn't fill them in the next few weeks (as the press claimed), they siad it was a power grab. All this time later, these posts are still not filled.
Which is why Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com), reporting on Moqtada's visit to Erbil, observes, "Removing Maliki could be harder than it seems, however, as he is not only the prime minister but the acting Interior Minister, Defense Minister, National Security Minister and chief of military staff. This gives him de facto control over the entire national army and police force."
Massoud Barzani has stated that a solution must be arrived at by the start of September (or the Kurds may include choices on the ballots of their provincial elections). Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi are calling for a national conference to address the political crisis. Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi tells AFP, "We could enjoy a prime minister from the Shiite national alliance on the ground that he is committed to power sharing ... and he keeps all Iraqis equally according to the constitution. This is all what we are dreaming, this is all what we are looking for."
Turning to the United States . . .
Senator Jon Tester: There is a stigma in this country -- and probably in the world
-- but definitely in America, in the United States, attached to mental health
issues -- injuires. There are -- I have multiple stories about folks who won't
go get treatment because they're afraid it wll be on their record, of afraid they
won't be able to get a job, afraid it might impact the job they do have,
perception by family, friends, colleagues. Does the VA have an active education
pogram to try to reach out to those folks, to let them now that this part of --
this is -- as Major General [Thomas S.] Jones says, it's increasing, it's present,
it's growing and it's not uncommon. Is there -- Is there some kind of education or
outreach going on?
William Schoenhard: Yeah. Yes, Senator. There's Make The Connection
Initiative that has just been undertaken. I think it gets back to the primary
care integration of mental health where we're able to screen for PTSD. And
the other aspect of care that we haven't mentioned today is the vet centers --
Senator Jon Tester: Yes.
William Scoenhard: -- who are also ways veterans can approach for help if they
have -- for whatever reasons -- reluctance to access the traditional system.
That's from Wednesday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. Appearing before the Committee was the Dept of Veterans Affairs' William Schoenhard and Mary Schoh, Iraq War veteran Nick Tolentino who testified about what he observed while working for the VA, Outdoor Odyssey's retired Major General Thomas Jones and VA's Office of Inspector General was represented by Linda Halliday and John Diagh. Four senators participated including Committee Chair Patty Murray, acting Ranking Member Scott Brown, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Jerry Moran. What was the hearing about?
Chair Patty Murray: Today's hearing builds upon two hearings held last year. At each of the previous hearings, the Committee heard from the VA how accessible mental health care services were. This was inconsistent with what we heard from veterans and the VA mental health care providers. So last year, following the July hearing, I asked the Department to survey its own health care providers to get a better assessment of the situation. The results as we all now know were less than satisfactory. Among the findings, we learned that nearly 40% of the providers surveyed could not schedule an appointment in their own clinic for a new patient within the 14 days. Over 40% could not schedule an established patient within 14 days of their desired appointment. And 70% reported inadequate staffing or space to meet the mental health care needs. The second hearing, held in November, looked at the discrepancy between what the VA was telling us and what the providers were saying. We heard from a VA provider and other experts about the critical importance of access to the right type of care delivered timely by qualified mental health professionals. At last November's hearing, I announced that I would be asking VA's Office of Inspector General to investigate the true availability of mental health care services at VA facilities. I want to thank the IG for their tremendous efforts in addressing such an enormous request. The findings of this first phase of the investigation are at once substantial and troubling. We have heard frequently about how long it takes for veterans to get into treatment and I'm glad the IG has brought those concerns to light.
Even though the Veterans Health Administration reported in 2011 that 95 percent of veterans received a comprehensive mental exam within 14 days of requesting one (the time frame in agency policy), the actual number was 49 percent, the inspector general reported this week. It took an average of 50 days to provide a full evaluation for the rest, the report said. "VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care services," the inspector general said. Part of the problem is with the way records are kept: Schedulers don't always follow the rules, and the lag between referral by a primary care physician and the evaluation might not be reflected properly. Part of the problem is a shortage of personnel, particularly psychiatrists. Officials knew the data-keeping was problematic; the inspector general pointed it out in reports in 2005 and 2007. They also knew of the growing staffing needs and, in fact, increased personnel 46 percent from 2005 to 2010, the report said. But in an informal survey of VA mental-health professionals, requested by Congress, 71 percent of those responding said their centers didn't have enough people to keep up. A veteran seeking treatment at the VA medical center in Salisbury, N.C., for instance, had to wait 86 days to see a psychiatrist, the IG said.
We covered the hearing in Wednesday's snapshot. Kat offered her take and conclusions in "Fire everyone at the VA." Ava covered it at Trina's site with "Scott Brown: It's clearly not working (Ava)" and what she emphasized was the exchange between Brown and Schoenhard with Brown growing more and more irritated at Schoenhard who did not want to answer questions and did not want to own the problem. From Ava's report, this is when Brown tried to get answers as to why there were delays in care but referrals outside the VA were not being utilized.
Again, it had long ago been established that only 2% had been referred out last year. But Schoenhard wanted to insist on top of the referral issue that the VA was providing veterans with immediate care.
Before we go further, grasp that the IG report already demonstrated that Schoenhard's claim was false. Grasp that.
Senator Scott Brown: But they're not. But they're not.
William Schoenhard: They should be.
Senator Scott Brown: But they're not. But they're not!
William Schoenhard: We have an obligation to be sure that they are.
Senator Scott Brown: But they're not!
Then Schoenhard wanted to argue that the VA can provide the best care.
Brown responded, "Sir, with all due respect, that's not happening. That's why we're here. It's clearly not working."
Brown's other big issue was that the country's in a fiscal nightmare. And yet the VA -- which has had one scandal after another -- is handing out bonuses.
There's been the failure to send out the GI Bill checks. There's the alarming suicide rate of veterans. There's lying about the time wait for appointments. We could go on and on. So the point is, bonuses are being handed out.
You might not think it's a big deal. Do you know how much the VA gave out last year in bonuses?
Remember this is on top of the salary and wages they paid. In 2011, Brown noted that the VA paid out $194 million in bonuses. Nearly $200 million dollars. Brown asked what the average salary was for someone receiving a bonus and the VA's William Schoenhard wanted to take that for the record.
On top of that, Schoenhard felt the VA deserved credit for keeping the number so low. Brown was shocked and asked if Schoenhard was saying that in years prior to 2011 over $200 million was paid in bonuses? Yep.
Again, only four Committee members were present. Moran used his time mainly, as he noted, to allow someone to talk about a program that was working -- a non-VA program. Since I didn't note Moran Wednesday, we're going to include a little of that today.
Senator Jerry Moran: Part of my interest in this topic is coming from a state as rural as Kansas in which our access to mental health professionals is perhaps even more limited than more urban and suburban states. And we need to take advantage of the wide array of professional services that are available at every opportunity. And so I'm here to encourage you -- now that you've made that announcement, let's bring it to fruition. And thank you for reaching the conclusion and getting us to this point. I want to direct my question to General Jones. I thank you very much for your Semper Fi Odyssey efforts. I had a Kansan visit with me in the last month who has organized a program -- I don't know whether it's modeled after what you're doing -- it's the same kind of focus and effort. And it's somewhat related to the conversations and questions of Senator Tester about the stigma or lack of willingness to admit that one needs help, the lack of knowledge of what programs are available, how to connect the veteran with what's there. I wanted to give you the opportunity to educate me and perhaps others on what it is that you've been able to do to bring that veteran who is not likely to know of the existence of your program or programs like yours. And, secondly, what can be done to overcome the reluctance of military men and women and veterans to access what is available -- such as your program.
Major General Thomas Jones: Thank you, sir. Well first off, I think that the Semper Fi Fund that I've been a board member of is -- provides the ability for these veterans to come. Admittedly, most of the veterans that come back to the case workers of Sempre Fi Fund have some problems or they wouldn't be there. I mean, they've had a difficult time making the transition. So when they arrive in western Pennsylvania for one of the weeklong sessions, they arrive with a major degree of skepticism and very tentative and we try to restore them to what was really the strength of their experience in the Marine Corps: the team, the cohesion, team building and basially restoring their trust. I would say -- trust in the system and trust in others. I think my work through the Semper Fi Odyssey because of the mental health professionals that have come in and really bought into the program and really advertised the program and allowed me to speak to other groups led me to a project I'm doing with the Institute of Defense Analysis, sponsored by OSD, that looks at best practices. So, you know, I was a Marine for a long time, we never talked much about mental health issues until recently. As a Vietnam platoon commander, we never talked about it. But now there are programs in the Marine Corps and I would say the army too -- Comprehensive Soldier Fitness in the army; Marine Corps' program is Operational Stress Control and Readiness. It's a great program. But it's not easy to overcome the stigma and the program really rests on the strength of the NCO. No Major General's going to ride into a Marine Corps squad or platoon or company and build immediate trust. It's going to come from the NCO. So overcoming that skepticism, that chasm of trust, is difficult but it's happening -- especially those units that have deployed four and five times, young NCOs, young officers are seeing the power of what a squad leader or a platoon commander can do to identify problems when they're still in the category of combat stress injuries and haven't migrated to combat stress illnesses. I think that's the strength of the Marine Corps program. I think the problem -- this is only my opinion now -- of the army program is that it's very well built, the application is not focused on the young NCO as is the Marine Corps program. And I don't say it because I'm a Marine. I just sense that the NCO identifying in Iraq or Afghanistan, if there's a problem, you can start the dialogue right then, you can start the reconciliation process right then. You don't have to wait six months after he returns and he's got this problem in his mental wall locker and he pulls out then when he's by himself. So we try to restore and very successfuly restore because all these veterans have come in and actually volunteered their services.
So in one form or another, the above and the work by Kat, Ava, Wally and the Wednesday snapshot have covered the bulk of the points raised in the hearing.
My time in country left me with traumas and exposures no human should see or be a part of. It also created an environment in which hazing and death threats were part of my ritual coming from my NCO. Without knowing it, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) soon became my reality and at 18 I started to lose control of my life. Shortly after my return my best friend Daniel Parker died in Iraq. I was the lead pallbearer for his military funeral. After losing Daniel, I felt I lost everything. I struggled with lack of family and support upon my return and found Daniel's death, combined with my PTSD, set me over the edge. I tried getting help from my command. I spoke with my NCOs in charge and even a Sgt from another platoon. I couldn't take the harassment from my NCO both in country and at home, topped with PTSD and the loss of my best friend. With lack of help I began to drink and numb my pain. My suicidal ideation grew and I began to lose sight of who I was. I ended up going UA (unauthorized absence) with suicide in mind. When I was brought back to base by Marine Corps Chasers I soon found myself in the brig again with no help from my command. I was left to deal with PTSD in a cell, like a POW. After a couple months in the brig I was court martialed and given a Bad Conduct Discharge. All I needed was help, I never wanted out. After being discharged, I was released from duty and sent on my way. Here I was a combat vet, a kid, just left out on the street to fend for myself. Not once did I get mental health treatment. It took me two years after my discharge to finally figure out I had PTSD. It took me doing my own research, trying to help myself, to put all the pieces together from symptoms I was showing. It hurt having to do it alone.
And then Collier got help, right? Wrong. That's when he begins a long struggle to get the treatment he needs. That involved the VA, getting a discharge upgrade and much more. His experience and wanting to assist in others in the same situation led to his founding No Soldier Left Behind.
Feminist Majority Board Member Dolores Huerta to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, Executive Vice President Kathy Spillar, and Chair of the Board Peg Yorkin issued the following joint statement on the announcement that Board Member Dolores Huerta will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
The Feminist Majority Foundation and its board salutes our colleague and friend Dolores Huerta for all of her historic achievements for social justice and equality. We are very proud that she will be awarded by President Barack Obama the highest civilian award.
In response to the announcement, Chair of the Board Peg Yorkin said, "No one deserves this honor more than Dolores Huerta. She has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who work the farm fields of this country and has been an incredible advocate for women and girls' empowerment."
President Eleanor Smeal said, "For some 25 years, we have worked very closely with Dolores Huerta in our fight for women's equality, civil rights, and worker's rights. Dolores is an inspiration to all of us at all times. She is dedicated to win equality for women in the state house and Congress and she has significantly increased the number of Latina women running for office."
Executive Vice President Kathy Spillar praised Dolores' work, saying, "It has been my great honor to work with Dolores for nearly 25 years to empower women and girls and secure our fundamental rights. I have learned enormously through her example. Despite the hardship she has seen and the difficulties she has endured, she is the single most optimistic person I have ever known. There is nothing that can't be done when Dolores Huerta is involved."