Tuesday, September 11, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, a new investigative report explores the continued persecuting and targeting of Iraq's LGBT community, Amnesty International decries the sentence of Tareq al-Hashemi, Jalal Talabani is said to return to Iraq shortly, the US Senate passes the Veterans Jobs Corps Bill, and more.
Senator Murray Urges Passage of Veterans Jobs Corps Bill
Bill would help train and hire veterans as police officers, firefighters, and at our national and state parks
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Tuesday, September 11th, Senator Patty Murray,
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, spoke on the Senate floor in support of the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, which she is co-sponsoring. At a time when over 720,000 veterans are unemployed, this bill would increase training and hiring opportunities for our nation's veterans, especially those from the post-9/11 era.
The Veterans Jobs Corps Act would help put our veterans back to work as police
officers, fire fighters, and other first responders, positions that our communities are in
sore need of after 85 percent of law enforcement agencies were forced to reduce their budget in the past year. In addition, this bill would also help train and hire veterans to
help restore and protect our national, state, and tribal forests, our parks, our coastal
areas, wildlife refuges, and VA cemeteries. Senator Murray pointed out that the bill contains ideas from both sides of the aisle, is fully paid for with bipartisan spending offsets, and should not be controversial at a time when our veterans continue to
struggle. The bill is expected to be considered by the full Senate this week.
And we're jumping to Senator Murray's remarks on the bills:
Senator Patty Murray: "Our veterans have what it takes to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century."
"We cannot and should not let that training – or the millions of dollars we have invested in these men and women - go to waste. But in far too many instances that's what has happened. Too often, on the day our service members are discharged, we as a nation pat them on their back for their service, without also giving them a helping hand into the job market. This has to end."
"I urge my colleagues to build on the successes we have had in passing bipartisan veterans employment legislation. Veterans returning home all across the country are watching us and they certainly don't have time to let politics block their path to a job that will help serve their community."
The full text of Senator Murray's speech:
"Mr. President, last Friday, we were again reminded of the difficult employment picture our nation's veterans continue to face.
"In the monthly unemployment report for August, we saw that across the country there are over 720,000 unemployed veterans.
"It's a number that includes over 225,000 post-9/11 veterans - many of whom have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - and have sacrificed time and again for our safety.
"Put simply, this shouldn't be the case.
"Our veterans have what it takes to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century.
"In fact, the characteristics that our veterans exemplify read like the job qualifications you might find at any major company or small business. That's because they have: leadership ability; discipline; and technical skills.
"They know the value of teamwork like few others, and they certainly know how to perform under pressure.
"And they have these skills because, as a country, we have invested in training them.
"We cannot and should not let that training – or the millions of dollars we have invested in these men and women - go to waste.
"But in far too many instances that's what has happened.
"Too often, on the day our service members are discharged, we as a nation pat them on their back for their service, without also giving them a helping hand into the job market.
"This has to end.
"And Mr. President, this Senate has taken bipartisan action in the past to begin to change the way our veterans transition from the battlefield to the
"We were able to pass the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which I co-authored, and which was signed into law last year.
"Importantly, that new law transforms the way that we provide transition training to our service members when they leave the military.
"It also includes a provision that today in my home state, and all across the country, is providing thousands of dollars in tax credits to businesses that are hiring veterans.
"In addition to that bill, we have also worked to build partnerships with private sector businesses in order to tap into the tremendous amount of goodwill that companies have toward our returning heroes.
"Sometimes this is a simple as working with companies to show them easy steps that help bring veterans aboard, like ensuring they are advertising job openings with local veterans service organizations and on local military bases, or having veterans in their HR departments. Or just having
someone on staff that can help translate the experience of veterans into the work a company does.
"Time and again - at big companies like Microsoft and Amazon – or much smaller businesses I have seen these steps make an impact.
"Particularly, when veterans unemployment rates among young veterans ages 18-24 continues to hover around 20% action must be taken. Because that is one in five of our young veterans who can't find a job to support their family; one in five that don't have an income that provides stability; and one in five that don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and
pride that is so critical to their transition home.
"It's a problem that manifests itself in veterans homelessness, in broken families, and far too often in our veterans taking their own lives.
"It's a problem that neither the veterans themselves, nor government
alone can solve.
"But it is also one we need to do everything we can to address.
"And here in the Senate that means a bipartisan 'all hands on deck' strategy.
"And that is exactly what the Veterans Jobs Corps represents.
"Over the next five years, the Veterans Jobs Corps will increase training and hiring opportunities for all veterans using successful job training programs from across the country.
"It will help hire qualified veterans as police officers, fire fighters and other first responders at a time when 85 percent of law enforcement agencies were forced to reduce their budget in the past year.
"It will also help train and hire veterans to help restore and protect our national, state, and tribal forests, our parks, and other public lands.
"All at a time when we face a $10 billion maintenance backlog for our public lands – a backlog I have seen personally in many of the parks and lands in my home state of Washington.
"And because training and hiring our veterans has never been, and should never be, an effort that divides us along partisan lines - the Veterans Jobs Corps takes good ideas from both sides of the aisle.
"In fact, the bill will provide veterans with access to the internet and computers to conduct job searches at one-stop centers and certain other locations an idea championed by Senator Toomey. It will help guarantee
that rural and disabled veterans' have access to veterans' employment representatives a bill from Senator Tester. It will increase transition assistance programs for eligible veterans and their spouses a bill that was introduced by Senator Boozman. And it will require consideration of a veteran's training or experience gained while serving on active duty when they seek certification and licenses a bill cosponsored by Democrats and Republicans.
"This bill says that all good ideas are welcome, because our veterans need all the help they can get.
"And it is also fully paid for in a bipartisan way.
"It has been endorsed most recently by the National Association of Police
Organizations but but there are also many veterans service organizations that stand behind this bill.
"And they do so because they know that helping veterans find employment is critical
to meeting so many of the challenges they face returning home.
"You know, Mr. President our veterans don't ask for a lot.
"Often times they come home and don't even acknowledge their own sacrifices.
"My own father never talked about his time fighting in World War II.
"In fact, I never saw his Purple Heart, or knew that he had a wallet with shrapnel in it,
or a diary that detailed his time in combat, until after he had died and my family
gathered to sort through his belongings.
"But our veterans shouldn't have to ask.
"We should know to provide for them.
"When my father's generation came home from the war – they came home to
"My father came home to a community that supported him.
"He came home to college - then to a job.
"A job that gave him pride.
"A job that helped him start a family.
"And one that ultimately led to me starting my own.
"That's the legacy of opportunity this Senate has to live up to for today's veterans.
"I urge my colleagues to build on the successes we have had in passing bipartisan veterans employment legislation.
"Veterans returning home all across the country are watching us and they certainly
don't have time to let politics block their path to a job that will help serve their
"Surely, this is something that we can show them that we can come
together on, no matter how close or far away we are from an election.
Today the White House issued the following list of nominations:
Robert Stephen Beecroft, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iraq.
T. Charles Cooper, of Maryland, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Jeffrey J. Grieco.
Rose Eilene Gottemoeller, of Virginia, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, vice Ellen O. Tauscher, resigned.
F. Scott Kieff, of Illinois, to be a Member of the United States International Trade Commission for the term expiring June 16, 2020, vice Daniel Pearson, term expired.
Joshua D. Wright, of Virginia, to be a Federal Trade Commissioner for the term of seven years from September 26, 2012, vice J. Thomas Rosch, term expiring.
Robert S. Beecroft is Barack Obama's 4th nominee to be the US Ambassador to Iraq. Senator Barack Obama participated in this process by voting to confirm presidential nominees. But Barack's only been president since January 2009 -- not yet four years. No, it is not common for a president to have to repeatedly nominate people to the same post over and over in one term. And, no, no one died in the post.
When Barack was sworn in, Ryan Crocker was the US Ambassador to Iraq. Barack nominated Chris Hill who, once confirmed and in Iraq, quickly set a record for afternoon naps. When it was realized that Chris Hill wasn't working, James Jeffrey was nominated. Then Jeffrey wanted out and Brett McGurk was nominated. But he withdrew his name, as Press TV notes "over a sex scandal" and Peter Baker (New York Times) notes, when "Democrats were unwilling to defend him because he previously worked for President George W. Bush."
Currently, Robert Stephen Beecroft is the Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Baghdad. This means he's been running things since the US has no Ambassador to Iraq at present. Yesterday, Barack Obama nominated Beecroft to be the latest in his conga line of US Ambassadors to Iraq. Unlike Chris Hill and Brett McGurk, Beecroft actually speaks Arabic.
From June 6, 2008 through June 4, 2011, he was the US Ambassador to Jordan -- he was sworn in to that post July 17, 2008 with his wife Anne and their daughter Blythe present as then-Secretary of State Condi Rice conducted the ceremony. Their daughter attended Brigham Young University, as did Robert S. Beecroft (if you're wondering, yes, he is a Mormon and his missionary work was done in Venezuela). Anne and Robert Beecroft married in 1983, Blythe is their oldest child (22) followed by Warren, Sterling and Grace. After practicing law for six years (UC Berkeley Law School, 1988), Robert Beecroft joined the diplomatic corps in 1994.
Iraq, we were told, was a democracy -- or at least an emerging one. If that were true, it certainly would have needed a steady hand in terms of the US diplomatic mission. It didn't get that. And possibly that's allowed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Maliki Thugettes to believe they could get away with anything?
This believe that they can get away with anything and that others have no rights and no right to expect safety or human kindness goes a long way towards explaining how members of a group that was an oppressed majority less than ten years ago is now represented by thugs who want to harm others, not lift Iraq to a higher place.
First Iraqi Man: They came to me face-to-face and told me that I have to stop being gay otherwise we will kill you.
Second Iraqi Man: They made every excuse to get us out of the car. They took us away and five men started raping us.
Natalia Antelava: In a tiny stuffy room, Ahmed, Nancy and Allou are hiding from their families and the police. All three have received death threats. Ahmed has not left this room for over two months now.
Ahmed: I came here because I was gay and I was threatened by my family -- my immediate family -- and some unknown guys from my neighborhood. The situation a few years ago was very bad. But at that time, they did not pay any attention to gays. Now they have nothing to do but look for gays -- to kill them.
Allou: The threat is much bigger now than before. It's not only the militias now. It's the police, the government who are going after us.
Natalia Antelava: I really wish we could show you their faces. Ahmed's got big, dark, worried eyes on his thin face. Nancy's really pretty and I would have never guessed that she was born male. And Allou's got this very trendy haircut which would be completely normal in the West but here in Iraq, this sort of hair could get you killed. Nancy is especially vulnerable in Iraq. Born a transgender, she dreams of a sex change operation but it is impossible to have it done in Iraq, she says, and she has no way of leaving the country.
Nancy: My mom tried to persuade me to act like a man because I am supposed to be a man I couldn't. She didn't know what was inside me. She couldn't understand that. I can't tell you how many times I've been raped at checkpoints -- with the police, it's countless. The worst incident was at a checkpoint on Al Sadun street. They asked me for my ID, then asked me to get out of the car. It was dark. They put me against the blast wall. Nine of them raped me. There was nothing I could do. If I had resisted, they would have arrested me.
Natalia Antelava: If you could have anything that you wanted, what kind of life would you want to have?
Nancy: I want to live the life I want. I want to be a woman and to be treated like one. I am a human being and this is my right.
Natalia Antelava: It's not just transgender, Allou had been raped too. And I heard many other similar stories -- gay men, with even a slightly feminine appearance say they're often raped by police at checkpoints.
Allou: I am so tired, so sad. I have no freedom. I can't say that I am gay. I can't live my life. I can't go home. I have to stay here doing nothing and just wait.
Natalia Antelava: He doesn't know what he's waiting for. The situation in Iraq he says is only getting worse and without the support of international organizations, they can't find the way out of the country. They appear regularly without a warning. Each neighborhood gets its own hit list with names and addresses of local residents who are believed to be gay. Each time, it drives the already hidden gay community here further underground and further into panic. Each time, one of the gays told me, it signals the beginning of a new witch hunt. Radical milita groups are believed to be behind this hit list. Although officially they've been disbanded, militias still pose the greatest threat to homosexuals. But those we spoke to say that they're just as fearful of countless police and military checkpoints that are supposed to be making Baghdad safe. This checkpoint is manned by the Interior Ministry troops. But in Iraq, one's uniform never tells you the full story. In this country, you can be a police man by day, a militia man by night. These blurred lines and mixed allegiances have made it easy for the government to blame militia groups for the killings of gays. But we've discovered evidence that directly links the police with attacks on gays in Iraq. Qais is gay and a former police man. He told me he had been ordered to go after homosexuals. He couldn't refuse and so he quit his job.
Qais: In 2006, 2007 and 2008, we were busy fighting terrorsm. We didn't pay attention to gays. On top of it, the Iraqi government had to respect the rule of law when the Americans and the British were here. But now? They have a lot of free time and the police are going after gays.
Natalia Antelava: Have you ever been called to arrest gays or kill gays or go after gays in any way?
Qais: Yes, twice. We had to arrest this guy. He was having an argument with someone. Once they arrested him, they accused him of being gay. We were told to send him to another town where he was wanted for being gay. We sent him to that town and he disappeared. His family came to ask about him and we sent them to another town where they could not find him. Then they got a death certificate from the police but they never got the body.
Natalia Antelava: With so much secrecy, fear and loathing, it's difficult to establish the exact level of the government's involvement in the persecution. But 17 gay men interviewed for this investigation said they believed they were being singled out and hunted by the state. All see the police as a major threat. All have recently had friends or boyfriends killed. All said arrests were still happening. Until recently, Ghaith worked a a police station. One day, he came to work to find his boyfriend in a pre-trial detention cell.
Ghaith: Being gay is not illegal in Iraq, it's not a crime. But he was told he was arrested because he was gay. They call gays "puppies." They would beat him, saying, "Puppies are destroying our country. We must rid our country of you. We must kill you all. He was in the police station for a week.
Natalia Antelava: The last time Ghaith saw his boyfriend was the day before he died.
Ghaith: I was upset. I lost all control, had a fight with the guards. I was screaming, "Why did you kill my lover!" They said, "Since you're like him, you should be dead too." I started looking for any document related to his death. I told them I was going to international human rights organizations and tell them everything.
Natalia Antelava: Ghaith is now in hiding, terrorfied that he is next.
Credit to the BBC which has been the world leader on this issue for broadcast outlets. No other broadcast news outlet has done as much to raise this issue or to report on the violence as the BBC has. In print form, the Denver Post has done more than any other daily newspaper and Boston's The Edge has done more than any other weekly (especially reporter Kilian Melloy). And I don't want to take anything away from those three news outlets but it is a real shame that their strong work has not been matched by others in what is not a one day or one month or one year story but what is a story that's been going on since the start of the war and a story whose latest wave of persecution has been going on for nearly four years. A big thank you to those who have done such a great job covering the story (and there are others who have -- especially among the LGBT press) but it is shameful that so many outlets -- so many name news outlets -- have elected to ignore this story -- repeatedly ignore it.
In Iraq, the persecution and the violence continues. Today All Iraq News notes a Falluja home invasion of a police officers home in which 1 family members was killed and five more were left injured. Alsumaria notes 2 corpses were found dumped on a main road in Mosul, both men had been shot to death.
The political crisis continues in Iraq. Al Rafidayn notes that Nouri has been very skillful in playing various political blocs against one another, tossing them off balance and allowing him to continue doing whatever it is that they had been objecting to before he pitted them against one another. (They also note Sunday's violence -- over 100 dead, over 400 wounded -- and speak with analyst John Drake who feels that the violence was more likely carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and not supporters of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.)
The political crisis has lasted over a year. You can chart its beginning to the end of December 2010 when it should have been clear that Nouri was trashing the US-brokered Erbil Agreement (which gave him a second term as prime minister) or the summer of 2011 when Iraqiya, Moqtada al-Sadr and the Kurds were all calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement publicly. The political crisis can be seen as beginning in December of 2011 when Nouri's war on the Sunnis moves from mass arrests of academics and the elderly in the fall of that year to targeting Iraqiya (with his demand that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and his arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi -- al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya and also Sunni).
Immediately after the political crisis begins, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Iraq President Jalal Talabani begin calling for a National Conference -- a meet-up of the political blocs -- to address the crisis. Nouri is immediately against it and says it's not necessary. He'll go for a reform commission, he insists, but not a national conference. He tries to throw one road block after another before the National Conference as prep meetins are held. In late February, he announces it can't take place in March because the Arab League Summit will be held in Baghdad that month. Talabani uses the international press spotlight to schedule the National Conference -- he did that by announcing the weekend before the Summit, with press arriving in Iraq in large numbers that were only expected to increase (and did increase -- for the Summit) that they would hold the National Conference Thursday, April 5th. The announcement having been made to the press, Nouri tries to save face by announcing it himself while instructing his State of Law MPs to work on killing the conference. The day of the conference al-Nujaifi is forced to hold a press conference to announce that the National Conference is off.
It was supposed to be re-scheduled. Nouri then focused his efforts on killing a no-confidence vote. Once he had done that (with the tremendous help of Jalal Talabani), he announced that the reform commission he'd earlier spoken of would do the work the national conference was supposed to.
That was never going to happen. And it ended up being nothing but a set of non-binding statements written by his National Alliance allies. Turns out it was even worse than that. Al Mada reports today that the National alliance is stating that they will review the reform paper before it's put forward. Review it? Al Mada reports State of Law wrote it.
State of Law is Nouri's slate. Nouri wrote his own little 'reform' list. Iraqiya is the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections. Nouri's slate came in second. Nouri is part of the National Alliance (as is Moqtada al-Sadr and his bloc of MPs and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and other Shi'ite groups). The Reform Commission was supposed to be similar to the National Conference -- a face to face meet-up of blocs where the various issues were addressed. Instead, it became a paper written by elements of the National Alliance sympathetic to Nouri. Now it's become a paper written by State of Law.
It is a joke. I-Was-Right rights today go to Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi who was the first Iraqi to publicly call out the Reform Commission and note that the whole thing was nothing but a distraction.
The Reform Commission will accomplish nothing. Nouri implemented a power-grab at the end of 2010 and has continued it. That's part of the objection -- and why some Iraqi politicians have compared Nouri to Saddam Husssein. The idea that the man accused of a power grab can have his political slate write the reforms is laughable.
Part of Nouri's power grab was ignoring the Constitution which requires a prime minister-designate to name a Cabinet in 30 days or else someone else will be named prime minister-designate and get the 30 days to accomplish the task. The Constitution requires that you name the Cabinet in 30 days or you don't get moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister. That's not 'partial Cabinet.' That's name your Cabinet.
Nouri couldn't do that because he wouldn't do that. He never named ministers to head the Interior, Defense or National Security. And, again, Ayad Allawi was the first to publicly call this out. He said it was a power-grab. The press insisted it wasn't. They insisted that in a matter of weeks, Nouri would name nominees for these posts. It's now September 2012 and he's never named nomineess. Al Mada notes Iraqiya is calling for nominees and saying they need to come quickly in light of Sunday's violence. Iraqiya MP Hamid al-Mutlaq states that the country is vulnerable to terrorists as a result of Nouri leaving those positions empty. All Iraq News adds that Iraqiya has submitted a list containing the names of four members they say are qualified to be Minister of Defense.
The PUK is Talabani's political party (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). They tell Al Rafidayn that Jalal will return at the start of next week. In May, as the no-confidence vote on Nouri was about to happen, Jalal suddenly began declaring signatures void. He then ignored the request of the Kurdish officials that no one leave Iraq. Iraq's vagabond president fled to Germany with his office insisting that he needed life-threatening surgery.
That ended up being knee surgery. (What a close call!) He has remained in Germany ever since. He's been said to be on the verge of returning before. He may or may not return next week but his political party is stating he will be returning.
He did note yesterday that the Sunday sentencing of his Vice Presdient Tareq al-Hashemi to be hanged was not helping the crisis. Al Manar runs BBC's report about Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaring today that al-Hashemi is welcome in and safe in Turkey and that "We will not hand him over." Hurriyet Daily News states that Turkey's position is "crystal clear" and quotes Erdogan stating, "We will host al-Hashemi in our country as long as he wants to remain in Turkey. We will not hand him over." Amnesty International weighed in today on Sunday's violence and on the sentence against Tareq al-Hashemi:
The Iraqi authorities must urgently launch a thorough, impartial investigation into a wave of bomb attacks and shootings across Iraq on Sunday which reportedly killed at least 81 people, many of them civilians, and left scores more injured, Amnesty International said.
The apparently coordinated attacks in multiple cities appear to have targeted Iraqi civilians. Members of the security and armed forces also seemed to have been targeted. Car bomb explosions in several, predominantly Shi'a areas were among the deadliest attacks.
"This horrific wave of attacks shows an utter disregard for humanity – the Iraqi authorities must ensure an immediate, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation is carried out and those responsible are brought to justice in proceedings that comply with the most rigorous internationally recognized standards for fair trial," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
"There is no justification for the deliberate targeting of civilians – it is abhorrent and shows a total disregard for international human rights standards as well as the basic principles of humanity."
Several bombings across southern Iraq – including in the cities of Basra and Nasiriyah and a market near the Imam Ali al-Sharqi shrine – also resulted in deaths and injuries.
Meanwhile, a car bomb near the northern city of Kirkuk appeared to have targeted people lining up to seek employment at an oil facility, and two explosions in Kirkuk itself killed three people and wounded scores more.
Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks
Trial in absentia
The attacks came as an Iraqi court sentenced the Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi to death after he was convicted, together with his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan for allegedly ordering killing a lawyer and a Shi'a security official. Al-Hashemi, is now in Turkey and has been in office since 2005. He has denied the charges, which he claims are politically motivated.
"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment and a violation of the right to life. This latest sentence is part of an alarming and sweeping use of the death penalty in Iraq. We call on the authorities to commute al-Hashemi's sentence immediately" said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
In December, state run TV channel Al-Iraqiya broadcast "confessions" by men said to be al-Hashemi's bodyguards saying that they had killed police officers and officials from ministries in exchange for payoffs from al-Hashemi. This is in violation of fair trial standards, especially the presumption of innocence.
One of the bodyguards, Amer al-Battawi, died in custody in March 2012 after being held for three months. His family reportedly claimed his body bore signs of having been tortured.
The Iraqi authorities denied the torture allegations and said al-Battawi died of kidney failure.
One of al-Hashemi's female employees is currently in detention.
Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain, who was working at the Iraqi Vice-President's Office, was arrested without a warrant at her parents' house in Baghdad district on 1 January 2012. The security forces claimed they were taking her away for questioning and that she would return two hours later. Her family did not hear of her whereabouts for weeks.
A second woman, Bassima Saleem Kiryakos, was released, apparently without charge, on around 10 April. She was arrested after her house in Baghdad was raided by over 15 armed security men in military uniform. The men did not have an arrest warrant.
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: email@example.com