Monday, July 23, 2012. Chaos and violence continue as Iraq sees the largest death toll of the year thus far, Victoria Nuland spins at the White House (and fails to bring up a threat to the US -- way to serve the public, Vicki), Moqtada al-Sadr rejects Nouri's Reform Commission, reports emerge of a British military training camp in Iraq, we look at MST and more.
As noted this morning, US President Barack Obama decided to grandstand on the Iraq War. His re-election campaign released a ridiculous video featuring Tom Appelbaum (and his wife) talking about the St. Louis veterans parade earlier this year. Appelbaum and Craig Schneider were the organizers of that event -- one which was billed as non-political and non-partisan, one that was fundraised on with the promise that this was about the veterans and not some political stunt. Today Appelbaum turned it into just that whoring for Barack's campaign and the use of footage of that parade in Barack's commercial is offensive. To be clear, they had to fundraise because the Barack Obama administration refused to stage a parade or fund a parade. That's why private citizens had to donate in St. Louis and across the country where such events have been held. Barack was too busy to attend the St. Louis welcome home or any other across the country. But Tom Appelbaum wants to play cheap whore for Barack and take an event that Barack did not attend or contribute to and pretend like Barack Obama was part of it. That lousy whore ad shouldn't pass a fact check but watch the enablers of Barack, as usual, look the other way. In the media, Kevin Lipstak (CNN) was the first to note the ad. He was not the last.
Charlie Spiering (Washington Examiner) notes the use of parade footage in the ad and points out that "President Obama's own Defense Department advised against Iraq victory parades, warning that they were inappropriate as troops were still in Afghanistan." Spiering quotes NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg from last January stating, "The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, and Army Secretary McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Odierno made it clear -- we talked about it -- they do not think a parade is appropriate now."
At the conservative National Review, Mario Loyola argues, "It was President Bush who ended the war in Iraq -- by winning it. For Obama to claim that he ended the war in Iraq by bringing the troops home is as ridiculous as if he claimed credit for ending World War II by bringing troops home from Germany and Japan." While we disagree that Bully Boy Bush won the Iraq War -- the war continues as news out of Iraq makes clear today -- it can be argued that Bush did end the Iraq War. Barack Obama campaigned on all troops out in 16 months and then, to Tom Hayden's joy, 10 months. As soon as he was sworn in, he stated, it was the first thing he would do. Instead, the thing that got most US troops out of Iraq last December was the Status of Forces Agreement that the Bush administration negotiated.
So people voted for a liar named Barack who spent the primaries tearing apart Hillary Clinton and other opponents, waxing on about his 'fabeled judgment' and pretending to be against the Iraq War (he was only against it before it started) while insisting that "change" was needed, that the US needed a new path. And then he's sworn in and he offers America the same withdrawal Bush had negotiated. Where in all of that did Barack do a damn thing?
Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont (AP) report Barack told the VFW today of Iraq, "When you're commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan." Well then we should all be glad George W. Bush came up with one before he left office since Barack was unable to. (And, no, "we should all be glad George W. Bush came up with one" does not flow easily from my mouth.) The only thing more outrageous than his ridiculous claims is how far so many in the press are willing to go along with him. Thankfully not all.
A 2005 study by the Media Research Center found that (under a Republican president) the networks were eager to report bad news relating to Iraq:
Network coverage has been overwhelmingly pessimistic. More than half of all stories (848, or 61%) focused on negative topics or presented a pessimistic analysis of the situation, four times as many as featured U.S. or Iraqi achievements or offered an optimistic assessment (just 211 stories, or 15%).
Bombings slammed Iraq today. No doubt, Barack took credit for that as well. Alsumaria notes the dead includes police officers and Sahwa members ("Awakenings" and "Sons/Daughters of Iraq") and that Baghdad, Nineveh Province, Diwaniyah Province, Kirkuk, Wasit Province, Diyala Province and Salahuddin Province were all targeted with bombs. Rami Ruhayem (BBC News -- link is video and text) reports, "Well the attacks took place all over the country in different cities. They seem to have targeted primarily security forces -- army as well as police -- checkpoints, convoys and even some police officers were targeted inside their homes. There have also been a number of incidents targeting civilians and marketplaces -- especially in Sadr City in Baghdad." In a sidebar on the right-hand side, the BBC notes the most violent attacks of 2012 and today replaces June 13th when 84 were killed and "nearly 300" wounded. Ala A. Nabhan and Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) add, "Several parked car bombs were detonated in markets packed with Ramadan shoppers in predominantly Shiite areas such as Baghdad's congested Sadr City district, the town of Taji northwest of the capital and the city of Diwaniya to the south, killing and wounding dozens, according to a Ministry of Interior official." Mark Leon Goldberg (UN Dispatch) notes over 100 dead.
In addition, Sunday , Xinhua reported on an audio recording released by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI -- linked to al Qaeda in Iraq) which states, "We are setting of a new stage of our struggle, with the launch of a plan named 'breaking the walls.' The tape says the effort will release "Muslim prisoners" from jail and kill "judges and investigators and their guards." The recording warns the United States that "you will see them (Qaida militants) at the heart of your country with God's willing, since our war against you has just started." Maamoun Youssef (AP) notes the recording and that it is supposed to be Abuk Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking (he "became head of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010").
More and more these attacks are greeted with international silence. The Voice of Russia notes, "The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed its condolences to victim's relatives and support for Iraqi government's measures to 'stabilize the situation and boost security' in the country." In Iraq, UNAMI's Gyorgy Busztin declared today, "I strongly condemn the heinous attacks and the senseless violence and bloodshed across the country. The scale and brutality of the attacks are appalling -- especially now, when Iraqis are not only celebrating the holy month of Ramadan with its messages of peace and reconciliation, but are also welcoming thousands of returnees who have fled the ongoing violence in Syria." Because the Russian government and UNAMI issued statements and because she was asked about the topic in today's State Dept press briefing, Victoria Nuland offered a brief condemnation of the attacks and then basically spun (and spun badly):
QUESTION: It's kind of Syria-related.
MS. NULAND: Syria-related? (Laughter.) Okay.
QUESTION: Because of the pressure on its borders --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- on Iraq's borders from Syria, we saw some incidents last week when apparently the opposition took some border posts. How concerned are you about the situation in Iraq right now and whether or not the security forces are up to the task? They're – they've got all these attacks within the country and now the border with Syria, which is so porous anyway.
MS. NULAND: Well, first on Iraq and Syria, you'll also note that Iraq made a call for its own citizens who had taken refuge in Syria during the troubles, the worst of times in Iraq, to now begin to come home. So I think that speaks to Iraq's sense that it can manage the return of its own citizens, that it can provide for them better in Iraq than the situation that they confront in Syria now. We work very closely with the Iraqis on Syrian issues, as you know. In part of outreach to the transition, we've been working not only with the groups that are strong in the western parts of Syria but also with some of these tribes in the east, as has the Iraqi Government, to get to know them better, to support the opposition as best it can. With regard to the security inside Iraq itself and some of the violence that we've seen as Ramadan has started, we strongly condemn these attacks which took place today, took place over the weekend, in Iraq. The targeting of innocents is always cowardly. It's particularly reprehensible during this holy month of Ramadan. I would like to see it's unusual. Unfortunately, it is not unusual, that we have seen terrorists exploit the holy month, exploit the peaceful efforts by Iraqis to worship, to commit acts of terror. But we continue to believe that Iraqi security forces are up to the task, that net-net the security situation over the last couple of years has improved in Iraq, as has the capability of Iraqi forces. Please.
QUESTION: Victoria --
MS. NULAND: Still on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah. Still on Iraq, this wave of attacks was the most violent day since the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Is the United States doing anything specifically to help the Iraqi Government in its response to this morning's violence?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we continue to provide appropriate security support to the Iraqis based on their requests in terms of equipping and training and that kind of thing, and we will continue to do that. But in general, the position of the Iraqi Government is that they want to be responsible for their own security, that they are up to the task of dealing with these kinds of things. The issue here is the horrific tactics of al-Qaida in Iraq, who, during this month of Ramadan, are making desperate efforts to call on Sunnis to turn against their government, to assassinate judges and investigators, and to, in general, turn against all of these democratic institutions. They're going to fail. The Iraqis know they're going to fail. But regrettably, this is a bloody pattern that we've seen in years past, that Ramadan has been exploited for the agendas of terrorists and those who don't have the best interest of Iraq at heart.
QUESTION: Can I just follow it up really quickly, just to be absolutely clear? So does the violence change the U.S. posture towards Iraq? Does this morning's violence shift what we are doing at all?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are concerned, and we stand ready to give the Iraqis any support that they might request. At the moment, their preference is to do what they can to manage their security themselves. They fought long and hard to get to this stage where they are taking responsibility for their own security. But as necessary, we provide support.
QUESTION: If they requested, say, a contingency of U.S. troops to go back in --
MS. NULAND: Now you're, Guy, into all kinds of hypotheticals that I'm not going to get into. But again, it has been their desire – all the way through we've been guided by what they have wanted. We made clear a year ago that we were open to a number of options. They picked the option that we are in, which is that they maintain security with advice and support as necessary. But if that posture changes, obviously we will consult with them on it.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication today between the U.S. and the Iraqi Government as they try to manage these series of events in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Our Embassy is in constant contact there.
So much in there that's wrong. The bulk of Iraqis returning from Syria have largely gone to the KRG and that's not a large number of returnees to begin with. Victoria Nuland hopes you're stupid enough to believe that all the Iraqis who went to Syria beginning in 2006 have stayed there -- despite the fact that they're not allowed to legally work in Syria. She's hoping you're real stupid and don't know that the United Nations has been assisting them in relocation. She also prays the press never raise relocation of refugees since the current administration has falied repeatedly to meet the slots set aside for Iraqi refugees. She avoided the issue of Syrian refugees. That's because of this:
The UN system in Iraq is putting in place contingency plans for possible humanitarian emergency. In this connection, I recently visited a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region for those displaced by the conflict in Syria. So far, with 7,000 refugees, their number are manageable.
Yeah, that doesn't really help her argument so she avoids and probably says a prayer of thanks the press didn't bring it up. On another day we could examine all the lies she offered and take her to task for failing to address the threat made to the United States but we have other things to cover.
In other news, Kitabat notes thousands are crossing from Syria into the KRG in search of asylum -- these include Kurds and Syrians. Who else is in Iraq? Kitabat notes a report in the UK Sunday Express which stated British forces were training Syrian fighters -- training over 300 of them from a base inside Iraq. What is Kitabat talking about? This article by Marco Giannangeli:
A British Army source revealed last night that former SAS soldiers are training Syrian rebels in Iraq in military tactics, weapons handling and communications systems.
More than 300 have passed through a base just inside the Iraq border, while a command course is run in Saudi Arabia.
Groups of 50 rebels at a time are being trained by two private security firms employing former Special Forces personnel. "Our role is purely instructional teaching tactics, techniques and procedures," said a former SAS member.
"Some of these guys are shopkeepers and schoolteachers who have lost everything.
"If we can teach them how to take cover, to shoot and avoid being spotted by snipers it will hopefully help."
There is entering Iraq and there is also leaving Iraq. Dar Addustour reports rumors that high level government officials and politicians are smuggling rare birds and animals out of Iraq -- already there has been at least one arrest with the official said to have had 102 birds and animals.
On the topic of officials and politicians, the political stalemate continues in Iraq. Dar Addustour notes politicians are saying Nouri's Reform Commission will not replace the call for a no-confidence vote in Parliament to oust Nouri. Today Moqtada al-Sadr's website reports -- quoting Secretary-General of Moqtada's bloc, Zia al-Asadi -- that Moqtada's bloc will not be part of the Reform Commission. The commission itself is deemed a contradiction in terms. Nouri caused the stalemate by refusing to honor the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly noted that Nouri could end the stalemate by returning to the Erbil Agreement. The failure to do so may be why al-Sadr sees the Reform Commission as something less than genuine. Saturday, Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi also rejected the Reform Commission.
Last Wednesday and Thursday we covered the Wednesday morning House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations into how the VA was managing (or not) claims. Thursday and Friday we covered the Thursday Iraq briefing to the United Security Council by Martin Kobler, the Special Envoy to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. There was a Wednesday afternoon hearing that was put on hold here so we could finish up the Subcommittee and grab the UN briefing. We'll drop back to that hearing now (and tomorrow we'll note US House Rep Chellie Pingree from the hearing).
"As a nation, we call on our armed service members to sacrifice bravely on our behalf," declared House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Chair Jon Runyan as he brought the hearing to order. "They courageously put their lives at risk and face deadly enemies on the battlefield. When we think of these enemies, we think of those who oppose our freedom and our American way of life. We certainly do not think of soldiers needing to defend themselves from their fellow service members. However, many of our service members are required to do just that. Women are the fast growing population among veterans, making up 8% of the Armed Forces; however, the Department of Defense estimates that 1 in 4 women who join the armed services will be raped or assaulted. But only -- but that only about 10% of such instances are ever reported. Even more alarming, is that of those few who did report the incidents of Military Sexual Trauma. Over 75% stated that they would not have made the same decision about reporting the instances again due to the consequences it had on their military career. Despite the fact that these instances often go unreported, VA currently estimates that over half of a million veterans have experienced Military Sexual Trauma. This includes 17% of veterans from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."
So MST is clearly a problem while serving but after service? Veterans with MST are repeatedly struggling with the system in order to have the VA recognize their MST.
Ruth Moore: In 1987, I was a bright, vivacious eighteen-year-old, serving in the United States Navy. After my training school, my first assignment was to an overseas duty station in Europe. Two-and-a-half months after I arrived, I was raped by my supervisor outside of the local club. Not once, but twice. I sought help from the chaplain but did not receive any. I tried to move beyond this nightmare but had contracted a STD. At this point, my life spiraled downward and I attempted suicide. Shortly thereafter, I was medivaced to Bethesda Naval Hospital and ultimately discharged from the Navy. No prosecution was ever made against the perpetrator. In hindsight, it was easier for the military to get rid of me, than admit to a rape. My problems began at the point of separation as the psychiatrist diagnosed me with a Borderline Personality Disorder. I did not have a personality disorder, this was the standard diagnosis that was given to all victims of MST at that time, to separate them from active duty and protect the military from any and all liability. This travesty continued when I was counseled by outprocessing to waive all claims to the VA, as I "would get helathcare" through my former spouse who was on active duty. From 1987 to 1993, I struggled with interpersonal relationships, could not trust male supervisors and could not maintain employment. I filed my first VA claim in Jacksonville which was denied despite having serveral markers for PTSD and gynecological problems. My life continued to spiral downward and I was not able to maintain my marriage. In 1997, I fled from my house and lived out of my van for two weeks before I was able to start rebuilding my life with my present spouse. Things were very difficult and I developed additional markers of PTSD including night terrors, panic attacks, severe migraine headaches and insomnia. In 2003, I refiled for disability and was denied again; howeaver, I enlisted the aid of the Disabled American Veterans. With their help, I was awarded 30% compensation for depression. I was denied PTSD and was told that I did not submit enough evidence to prove that I was raped despite having submitted a letter from my former spouse who remembered the rape and when I was treated for Chalmydia. Given the eyewitness testimony, the VA still denied this as credible proof. There was no record of my medical treatement for STD from that duty station as my medical records had been partially expunged. Additionaly, I wasa coded by the Togus VA as having Traumatic Brain Injury or Brain Syndrome. In 2009, I entered into my first comprehensive treatment at the VA hospital in White River Junction, Vermont. I met a MST Coordinator who truly listened to me. She began a systemic review of all my records and determined that they had been expunged by noting the glaring incosistencies between my lab work, treatment notes and service record. My psychiatrist and counselor determined that I did not have Borderlin Personality Disorder and the later diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Syndrome was inaccurate. My MST coordinator and I refiled for an increase in disability and my clinicians wrote supportive records for the VBA to make an accurate determination. They readjudicated my claim to 70% but denied my status as individually unemployable, citing that I did not complete the necessary paperwork. At this point, I was very frustrated and suicidal with the stresses of the VBA system and claims process. In my final effort, I called the Honorable Bernie Sanders and his staff agreed to investigate why the VA was taking so long and denying part of my claim. I took Mr. Sanders copies of all the paperwork I had filed, including the VBA time and date stamped "missing information" to prove that they had originally received it. Within two weeks, my claim was finally adjudicated to 70% with IU and it was a total and permanent decision. My rating should have been 100% by the VBA criteria, but I was so grateful for a favorable determination that I have not pursued it further. Ladies and Gentleman, this process took me 23 years to resolve, and I am one of the fortunate ones. It should not be this way. If I had been treated promptly and received benefits in a timely manner, back at the time of my discharge, my life would have been much different. I do not believe that I would have been totally and permanently disabled in my 40's. I would not have had to endure homelessness and increased symptomology to the point where I was suicidal, I would not have miscarried 9 children, and I firmly believe that I would have been able to develop better coping and social skills. Instead, my quality of life has been degraded to the point where I am considering the possibility of getting a service animal to relieve the stress that my husband endures, as my unpaid caretaker.
Another example from the hearing.
Margaret Middleton: I recently interviewed a female veteran who was raped by two sergeants in her barracks thirty years ago. They ordered everybody else out and they kept her behind. Decades later, similar to what the doctor just said [Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen] just said, I was the first person that she had ever told. She didn't tell anyone at the time because it would have meant the end of her career. And if you think her career wasn't important to her, she served in Iraq, she achieved the rank of Master Sergeant and she was retired honorably after 28 years serving in the military. This incredibly strong soldier held back tears when she told me this story and it was only one of the several episodes of MST that she described to me. This veteran's claim faces an almost impossible evidentiary burden because of this particular provision [38 CFR 3.3.04 (f) (5)]. She did not tell anyone what happened, so there are no medical records, no letters home, no actions taken against her assailants. In order to succeed in the army, this veteran felt forced to stay silent and now she will be punished for her silence because the VA will refuse to credit her story on her testimony alone.
Chair Jon Runyan: I think this Committee recognizes that many veterans are having difficulty receiving benefits related to MST and despite the [VA's] relaxed evidentiary standard, many veterans still have difficulty providing the evidence required for the award of the service connection disability. In each of your opinions, can you kind of touch -- and in your personal opinion -- why that is happening?
Anu Bhagwati: Well I think the first thing I would say is I wouldn't refer to them as relaxed evidentiary standards. I would refer to them as actually harder evidentiary standards. There's -- there's a two-tier system right now. One for PTSD generally and one for MST-PTSD. And those veterans -- again, 87% of these assaults are never reported for very good reason -- for fear of retialiation in the military and a variety of other factors related to rape and assault and the trauma that results. And so we have to think more strategically about -- about what counts as a fair evidentiary standard. But the regulation itself gives you that suggestion. And it's clear in all other cases of PTSD that the veterans testimony, the lay testimony, is sufficient as long as that veteran has a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from a qualified medical provider as well as proof of time and service. And there's language in that legislation for every other veteran suffering from PTSD with the exception of rape, assault and harassment. And it's completely unfair.
Chair Jon Runyan: Okay. Ms.
Joy Ilem: I think probably we would like to see the data. For years, we've asked for data. Specific to MST-related cases versus non-personal assaults. The first information we'd really seen was the FOI-ed information and certainly we believe VA does have the capability to extract that information and perhaps has, just briefly looking at their testimony, appeared to evaluate some of the raters' decisions. And I think we would definitely want to look at where was their compliance with the rules and regulations and the policies that have been set so far. That's where probably, I think, the biggest, you know, problem may lie because there are often times signficant number of other opportunities to support those claims but it appears perhaps they're not being consistent throughout the country because we continue to hear these complaints repeatedly of people saying 'I've submitted a number of things -- everything they've asked me and my claim is still denied.'
Chair Jon Runyan: Ms. Perkio, in [laughing] one second, can you surmise? No. Please do respond.
Lori Perkio: Thank you. I've been a service officer for 16 years and I've been working VA claims and that include Military Sexual Trauma claims. In my experience as a service officer is that the evidence was not given the weight that it should have. When a service member -- I worked with one man. He had been -- He had been raped. And the next morning, he was walking around, feeling very dejected and trying to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life, he chose to commit suicide by throwing himself under a truck. Not only did he have to live with the results of the medical injuries from that, the treatment that he received did not get used in support of his claim because he didn't report that he had actually been sexually assaulted. The medical records and nobody in the VA would take into account the reasons why he may have tried to commit suicide when it's plain there was definitely a change in his attitude, his personality and in his will to live. Those are the types of things that we would like to see the VA take more into account in supporting claims for Military Sexual Trauma. In their own adjudication manual, it states behavioral changes will be considered. These are things -- while the regulation is already there -- the adjudication manual is there -- more information needs to be provided to the raters on how to look at that information and apply it.
Chair Jon Runyan: Thank you. And with that, I'll recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. McNerney.
Ranking Member Jerry McNerney: Thank you. Ms. Bhagwati, I believe that one of the problems you mentioned that claimants have is that records have been purged after a certain number of years. Do you know if that's a policy or is that just local custom or what regulates when records are purged and how can we change that so that there's more evidence that would be persistent?
Anu Bhagwati: Well there are some records that are still purged and some records that are no longer purged thanks to the last National Defense Authorization Act and perhaps Congresswoman [Chellie] Pingree can add to that. Sexual assault -- I believe it's unrestricted reports are kept for 50 years -- or maybe restricted reports. What's still destroyed however is EO or sexual harassment investigations so if you were sexually harassed and reported it. This happened to me, I could tell you my first-hand experience. Those EO reports are destroyed in two-to-five years and it's done branch to branch by service and the Marines, so the Department of the Navy is not tracking those, we're not keeping those records forever.
Ranking Member Jerry McNerney: So there's no policy with regards to keeping those?
Anu Bhagwati: Not for sexual harassment investigations.
Ranking Member Jerry McNerney: Well you concluded in your testimony that when we look at the VA's policies on paper, it's no surprise that veterans who suffer from MST related PTSD have only a one-in-three chance of having their claims approved. Could you please elaborate on that conclusion and how the VA regulations could be changed to change the outcomes of that?
Anu Bhagwati: Sure. It's an absolutely murderous process. We heard the example of one veteran who killed himself because of this process but I went through it myself, it took four years and VA -- frankly VBA is inept at the regional office level. I mean, you can -- you can give them all the evidence you have. I had plenty of eye witness statements -- anything they asked for, all the secondary evidence that's in the regulation but it was flat out ignored. What happenes when those claims get rejected is a lot of veterans fall into this downward spiral of worsening trauma -- suicidal ideation, maybe attempted suicide, maybe completed suicide. And so, I mean, we're looking at really a life and death situation here with this claims process.
We'll continue coverage of the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot.