Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When the press in Iraq is threatened, the US press doesn't care

While the international press and the wire services appear interested in the threat against journalism in Iraq, the US press seems not at all interested.  Maybe the useless Gail Collins can write another (bad and factually incorrect) column about a dog on top of a car roof?  And maybe at some point, people who give a damn about dogs will tell Gail Collins to knock it off and stop using animals and their deaths for her own cheap jokes (her columns long ago became endless ridicule of animal cruelty) and inability to engage with the world as an adult?

Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) quotes Moqtada al-Sadr stating, "In our beloved Iraq, the government is always interfering in the affairs of media outlets and tring to politicize them."  Saturday the Journalism Freedoms Observatory published an alert about a government list of 44 news outlets Nouri's government was planning to close.  Ruchi Shroff (Digital Production) observes, "Organizations targeted for shutdown reportedly include BBC, Voice of America, U.S.-financed Radio Sawa, as well as privately-owned TV channels Sharqiya and Baghdadia." AFP notes, "Iraq regularly ranks near the bottom of global press freedom rankings. It placed 152nd out of 179 countries in media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, down 22 from the year before."  Kitabat notes the Ministry of the Interior has rushed to distance itself from the issue, declaring it had no issued the orders and that its role in implementing them would be minimal.

The Committee to Protect Journalists noted last April that Iraq was among 12 countries "where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes."  In 2003, 14 journalists were killed by violence in Iraq according to CPJ (which only counts death by violence); in 2004 the number was 24; in 2005, 23; in 2006, 32; in 2007, also 32; in 2008, 11; in 2009, 4; in 2010, 5; in 2011, 5; and 2012 isn't even half way over.

Hadi al-Mahdi was killed in September 2011.  He was assassinated in his own home September 8, 2011.  All this time later, the murder, of a critic of Nouri al-Maliki, remains unsolved.  Mohamed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported back then, "Hadi al-Mehdi was inside his apartment on Abu Nawas street in central Baghdad when gunmen shot him twice with silencer-equipped pistols, said the ministry official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media." The day of his death, Reporters Without Borders issued the following release:
Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the well-known journalist Hadi Al-Mahdi's murder in Baghdad today, on the eve of nationwide protests that he supported. His body was found at around 7 p.m. in his home in the central district of Al-Karada. He had been shot twice in the head. There can be no doubt that his murder was politically motivated.
Offering its sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues, Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to quickly investigate this murder and to assign all the necessary resources to ensure that those responsible are identified and brought to justice. This crime cannot go unpunished.
Aged 44, a Shiite and married to a Kurd, Mahdi hosted a talk show called "To whoever listens" on Radio Demozy (104,01 FM). His irreverence, his well-observed criticism that spared no one, neither the prime minister nor his detractors, and his readiness to tackle subjects ranging from corruption to the deplorable state of the Iraqi educational system made it one of the most popular talk shows in Baghdad.
It was clear from the messages that Mahdi had sent to relatives that he knew he was in danger. He had received many warnings and had told friends two days ago that something terrible could happen (http://alalemya.com/alalemya_news/0_2011_5_/11_/11_9_1/8-9/hadi-al-mahdi.html). But he was determined to tough it out, regardless of the risks.
After covering a demonstration in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on 25 February, he and three fellow journalists were arrested, threatened and beaten.
Shortly after graduating from Baghdad's Academy of Fine Arts in 1989, Mahdi fled to Syria and then to Sweden and did not return until 2007, after nearly a decade in exile. He began hosting "To whoever listens" for Radio Demozy, an independent station, a year later. (A New York Times profile of Mahdi)
He was the seventh Iraqi journalist to be murdered since the start of 2011 and the 12th since the United States announced the withdrawal of its combat troops in August 2010.
Mahdi's murder comes exactly a month after the Iraqi parliament adopted a law on the protection of journalists on 9 August.

As Dahr Jamail (Al Jazeera) observed in January, the BRussels Tribunal counts 341 Iraqi journalists killed since the start of the war.  And Dahr reported:

US President Barack Obama, during a December 12, 2011, press conference with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, had nothing but high praise for the state of press freedom in Maliki's Iraq:
So we're partnering to strengthen the institutions upon which Iraq's democracy depends - free elections, a vibrant press, a strong civil society, professional police and law enforcement that uphold the rule of law, an independent judiciary that delivers justice fairly, and transparent institutions that serve all Iraqis.
Three days later, Iraq's Society for Defending Press Freedom filed an appeal with Iraq's High Federal Court against Maliki's government and its "Journalists Rights Law", which the group said contradicted four articles from Iraq's constitution.
Like most Iraqi journalists Al Jazeera spoke with, Hattem also received threats through what he said were "departments of the government". "I have had to change my address several times, and in 2008, my six-year-old daughter was kidnapped," he explained.
Hattem received a death threat in February 2011 which caused him to leave the country for 30 days, "and a lot of my colleagues have left journalism because they have received threats from Shia parties and their militias".
"In November 2011, there was another attempt to kidnap my daughter from in front of school," Hattem said, adding that Maliki and his government are "controlling the media more now than even under Saddam".

But Gail Collins will churn out another bad column where she giggles (yet again) about the death of a dog or some other nonsense and the New York Times will be thrilled because the column says nothing, has no impact and doesn't risk taking any kind of a stand or informing one reader of something real going on in this world.  Gail's paid to distract.  And a lot of US media -- who are the first to whine when it's them needing help -- are eager to divert the nation's eyes away from Iraq.

Didn't we see that reflected in a US State Dept press briefing where Victoria Nuland and the neutered and spayed 'free' press could laugh about t-shirts and fool around but couldn't address, not even for a second, reporters under threat in Iraq?  Fortunately, enough did care that Alsumaria reports the commission says it is putting the list (temporarily) on hold.  But this is an ongoing problem, an ongoing struggle and how typical of the pampered US press whose egos have been overly inflated that when journalists in other parts of the world are threatened, it strikes them as no big deal.

The following community sites -- plus NPR, The Diane Rehm Show, CSPAN, Anitwar.com and Susan's On The Edge  -- updated last night and this morning:

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office noted yesterday:

VETERANS: Senator Murray Introduces Mental Health Bill, Speaks on Senate Floor
New legislation would make improvements to ensure that those who served have access to consistent, quality behavioral health care

(Washington, D.C.) – As it becomes increasingly clear that the Pentagon and VA are losing the battle on mental and behavioral health conditions that are confronting so many of our servicemembers and veterans, Senator Murray gave a speech on the Senate floor to introduce her new servicemembers and veterans mental health legislation, the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012. Her speech also comes as the Pentagon begins a comprehensive military-wide review, which Senator Murray urged Secretary Panetta to conduct on diagnoses for the invisible wounds of war dating back to 2001.  The misdiagnosis of behavioral health conditions has been a constant problem for soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, where to date over 100 soldiers and counting have had their correct PTSD diagnosis restored following reevaluation.
The Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 would require the Department of Defense to create a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program; expand eligibility for a variety of Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services to family members; strengthen oversight of DoD Mental Health Care and the Integrated Disability Evaluation System; improve training and education for our health care providers; create more peer-to-peer counseling opportunities; and require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services. More about Senator Murray's bill HERE.

Senator Patty Murray:  Mardam President, last February in my office in Seattle I sat down with an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran named Stephen Davis and his wife Kim.
Stephen and Kim were there to talk to me about their experience since he returned home and about the invisible wounds of war that they were struggling with together -- every single day. 
At the meeting, Kim did most of the talking.  She told me about the nightmares.  She told me about the lack of sleep. She talked about confusion and the anxiety that was now a constant in their lives.
But it was the way that she summed up her experience since Stephen returned home that struck me hardest.
She said that her husband still hadn't returned home.
She said that the husband she had been married to for nearly two decades -- although sitting directly next to her -- was still not back from war.
And you know what, despite the fact that we often refer to these wounds as invisible -- you could see it.
When it came time for Stephen to describe his experiences he shook as he explained how difficult the transition home has been for him, for his wife, and for their family. 
Now Madam President, the Davis family's story is no different than what thousands of other families have faced.
But their story does have a tragic and frustrating twist.
You see, Sergeant Davis knew when he returned home that he had a problem with post traumatic stress -- and he was courageous enough to reach out for help.
He sought care and was diagnosed with PTSD.
But just a few months later -- after a visit to Madigan Army Medical Base in my home state of Washington -- he was told something that shocked and appalled him and his wife.
After a 10 minute meeting and a written questionnaire -- Sergeant Davis was told that he was exaggerating his symptoms and that he didn't have PTSD.
He was told -- in effect -- that despite serving in two war zones, despite being involved in three separate IED incidents, and despite his repeated deployments, he was making it all up. 
He was then sent home with a diagnosis for adjustment disorder and told that his disability rating would be lowered and that the benefits that he and his family would receive would ultimately be diminished.
Now, Madam President, if this sounds like an isolated, shocking incident -- here is something that you'll find more shocking. 
And that's that Sergeant Davis was one of literally hundreds of patients at this Army hospital that was told the exact same thing.
Soldiers who had been diagnosed with PTSD -- not just once -- but several times -- had their diagnoses taken away.
In many instances these soldiers were told that they were embellishing or even outright lying about their symptoms.
In fact, so many soldiers were being accused of making up their symptoms by doctors at this hospital that I began to get letters and phone calls into my office.
Soon after documents came to light showing that the doctors diagnosing these soldiers were being encouraged to consider not just the best diagnosis for these patients but also the cost of care.
These revelations have led to a series of internal investigations that are still under way today.
But even more importantly, they have led to these soldiers being reevaluated and to date hundreds of soldiers -- including Sergeant Davis -- have had their proper PTSD diagnoses restored. 
Now, Madam President, this too, could be viewed as an isolated incident.
And in fact, when I first raised concerns that the problems we saw at Madigan could be happening at other bases across the country -- that's exactly what I was told.
But I knew better.
I remembered back to this Slaon.com article that ran a few years back.
In that article a doctor from Fort Carson in Colorado talked about how he was "under a lot of pressure to not diagnose PTSD."
It also went on to quote a former Army psychologist named David Rudd who said, "Each diagnosis is an acknowledgment that psychiatric casualties are a huge price tag of war. It is easiest to dismiss these casualties because you can't see the wounds.  If they change the diagnosis they can dismiss you at a substantially decreased rate."
I also had my own staff launch an investigation into how the military and the VA were diagnosing mental health conditions at other bases around the country.
And I was troubled by what they found.
It became clear there were other cases where doctors accused soldiers of exaggerating symptoms without any documentation of appropriate interview techniques.
They encountered inadequate VA medical examinations -- especially in relation to Traumatic Brain Injury.
And they found that many VA rating decisions contained errors, which in some cases impacted the level of benefits the veteran should have received.
Now, Madam President, to their credit the Army didn't run and hide as the questions about other bases continued to mount.
In fact they took two important steps.
First, in April they issued a new policy for diagnosing PTSD that criticized the methods being used at Madigan and pointed out to health officials throughout their system that it was unlikely that soldiers were faking symptoms.
Then, in May the Army went further and announced that they would review all mental health diagnoses across the country dating back to 2001.
This in turn led to Secretary Panetta to announce just last week that all branches of the military would undergo a similar review.
Now, Madam President, without question, these are historic steps in our efforts to right a decade of inconsistencies in how the invisible wounds of war have been evaluated.
Servicemembers, veterans, and their families should never have had to wade through an unending bureaucratic process.
And because of the outcry from veterans and servicemembers alike the Pentagon now has an extraordinary opportunity to go back and correct the mistakes of the past.
But Madam President . . . we still need to make sure these mistakes are not repeated.
We still need to fundamentally change a system that Secretary Panetta admitted to me has "huge gaps" in it.
And that is why I am here today.
Madam President, today I have introduced the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012.
It is a bill that seeks to make improvements to ensure that those who have served have access to consistent, quality behavioral health care.
It is a bill that strengthens oversight of military mental health care.
And improves the Integrated Disability Evaluation System we rely on.
Now Madam President, as anyone who understands these issues knows well this isn't any easy task.
The mental health care, suicide prevention, and counseling programs we provide our service members are spread out through the Department of Defense and VA.
Too often they are tangled in a web of bureaucracy.
And frankly too often this makes them difficult to address in legislation.
So what I did in crafting this bill is I identified critical changes that need to be made at both DoD and VA and set up a checklist of legislative changes needed to do just that.
Some provisions in this bill will likely be addressed in my Veterans Committee others will need to be addressed through Defense bills and work with the Chairs of other committees.
But all of these provisions are critical and today I wanted to share some of the most important ones. 
Madam President, high atop the list of changes this bill makes it addressing military suicides -- which was we all know is an epidemic that now outpaces combat deaths.
My bill would require the Pentagon to create comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention programs. 
It would also require the Department to better oversee mental health care for servicemembers.
Second, my bill would expand eligibility for a variety of VA mental health services to family members.
This will help families -- and spouses like Kim -- who I spoke about earlier -- cope with the stresses of deployments and help strengthen the support network that is critical to servicemembers returing from deployment.
Third, my bill will improve training and education for our health care providers.
Often times our servicemembers seek out help from chaplains, medics, and others who may be unprepared to offer counseling.  This bill would help prepare them through continuing education programs.
Fourth, my bill would create more peer to peer counseling opportunities.
It would do this by requiring VA to offer peer support services at all medical centers and by supporting opportunities to train vets to provide peer services.
And finally, this bill will require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.
This will help ensure the VA understands the problem they face so that veterans can get into the care we know they can provide.
Madam President, all of these are critical steps at a pivotal time.
Because the truth is -- right now -- the Department of Defense and the VA are losing the battle against the mental and behavioral wounds of these wars.
To see that you don't need to look any further than the tragic fact that already this year over 150 active duty servicemembers have taken their own lives.
Or the fact that one veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes.
And while there are a number of factors that contribute to these suicides including repeated deployments, a lack of employment security, isolation in their communities, and difficulty transitioning back to their families.
Not having access to quality and timely mental health care is vital.
When our veterans can't get the care they need they often self medicate.
When they wait endlessly for a proper diagnoses they often lose hope.
Last year at this time, I held a hearing on the mental health disability system that this bill seeks to strengthen and heard two stories that illustrate this despair.
Andrea Sawyer, the wife of Army Sergeant Lloyd Sawyer testified about how her husband -- an Iraq veteran -- spent years searching for care.
Together they hit barriers and red tape so often that at one point he held a knife to his throat in front of both her and an Army psychiatrist before being talked out of it.
Later in the same hearing, Daniel Williams an Iraq combat veteran testified about how his struggle to find care led him to stick a gun in his mouth while his wife begged him to stop -- only to see his gun misfire.
Madam President these are the stories that define this problem.
These are the men and women who we must be there for.
They are those who have served and sacrificed and done everything we have asked of them.
They have left their families and homes, several multiple times, and protected our nation's interests at home and abroad.
Madam President, this bill will help make a difference.
But we need to make changes now.
Today, I am asking members of the Senate from both sides of the aisle to join me in this effort.
We owe our veterans a medical evaluation system that treats them fairly, that gives them the proper diagnosis, and that provides access to the mental health care they have earned and deserved.
Thank you.

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