Friday, October 19, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, 4 British families get good news, Senator Patty Murray wants to know when an announced review into diagnoses changes is going to start since it still hasn't, State of Law launches more attacks on Barzani, new details about the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi emerge, and more.
Starting with veterans, in the US veterans have struggled with many issues they shouldn't have to. Some struggles may truly be a surprise. Many struggles aren't. Many struggles are a sign that proper planning was not done when the government sent people off to war. This is a point US House Rep Bob Filner very skillfully made September 30, 2010:
Chair Bob Filner: It struck me as I looked at a lot of the facts and data that we-we see across our desks that, as a Congress, as a nation, we really do not know the true costs of the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] We all look at the data that comes from these wars. It struck me one day that the official data for, for example, the wounded was around 45,000 for both wars. And yet we know that six or seven hundred thousand of our veterans of these wars -- of which there are over a million already -- have either filed claims for disability or sought health care from the VA for injuries suffered at war -- 45,000 versus 800,000? This is not a rounding error. I think this is a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in terms of the actual casualty figures. We know that there is a denial of PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a 'weakness' among Marines and soldiers to admit mental illness so we don't even have those figures until maybe it's too late. We all know that women are participating in this war at a degree never before seen in our nation's history and, yet, by whatever estimate you look, whether it's half or two-thirds have suffered sexual trauma. The true cost of war? We know that over 25,000 of our soldiers who were originally diagnosed with PTSD got their diagnosis changed or their diagnosis was changed as they were -- had to leave the armed forces, changed to "personality disorder." And not only does that diagnosis beg the question of why we took people in with the personality disorder, it means that there's a pre-existing condition and we don't have to take care of them as a nation. Cost of war? There have been months in these wars where the suicides of active duty have exceeded the deaths in action. Why is that? When our veterans come home from this war, we say we support troops, we support troops, we support troops? 30% unemployment rate for returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. That's three times an already horrendous rate in our nation. Guardsman find difficulty getting employment because they may be deployed. Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize. We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed? Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow.
That pretty much says everything about the planning and the funding and how both were lacking. Bob Filner was Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Comittee at that time and credit to him and US House Reps Harry Teague, Ciro Rodriguez, Jerry McNerney, Walter Jones, George Miller and Jim Moran who all attended that hearing while almost everyone in the House had already bolted and gone back to their districts to focus on their re-election races. Bob Filner did a great job serving veterans as a member of Congress. He's decided not to seek re-election to Congress and instead is running for Mayor of San Diego.
He will be missed in Congress. Veterans are fortunate to have other champions in Congress. One of those is Senator Patty Murray whose office issued the following yesterday:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
Sen. Murray Calls on Secretary Panetta to Provide Timeline for Promised Military Review of PTSD and Behavioral Health Diagnoses
In the aftermath of the misdiagnoses of servicemembers in Washington state, Murray calls on the Pentagon to move forward with nationwide review of mental health diagnoses since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began
Letter also calls for information on efforts to collect missing unit military records that could prove critical if certain health care problems arise from service in Iraq or Afghanistan
(Washington D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requesting next steps and a timeline for the execution of a critical military-wide review of PTSD and behavioral health diagnoses made since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. The review, which Secretary Panetta promised following the misdiagnoses of severvicemembers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, has seemingly stalled since being announced on June 13th.
"The Department must act with a sense of urgency in order to complete this review and to act on its findings in coordinating with other ongoing efforts to improve the disability evaluation system." Murray wrote to Panetta. "Each of these efforts is vital in ensuring servicemembers truly have a transparent, consistent, and expeditious disability evaluation process."
"Senator Murray's letter also addressed her concerns that records for military units in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are often used to provide information on potential health and exposure issues be carefully identified, located, and collected.
The full text of Senator Murray's letter follows:
October 18, 2012
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Secretary Panetta:
I am writing to express my concern about two distinct issues, which taken together impact the disability evaluation process for servicemembers and veterans.
At the outset, I very much appreciate your ongoing efforts to address behavioral health diagnoses and care both within the Integrated Disability Evaluation System and throughout the Department at large. In June, as part of this ongoing effort, you announced a comprehensive Department-wide review of mental health diagnoses. Shortly after the announcement, I had the opportunity to meet with Under Secretary Conaton to discuss some of the initial steps the Department had taken in preparation for this review. However, it appears that progress on this effort may have stalled. I am writing today to request the Department's next steps and timeline for execution of this review.
The Department must act with a sense of urgency in order to complete this review and to act on its findings in coordinating with other ongoing efforts to improve the disability evaluation system. Each of these efforts is vital in ensuring servicemembers truly have a transparent, consistent, adn expeditious disability evaluation process.
My second concern relates to the ability of the Department, and specifically the Army, to identify and account for many records for units that served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lack of access to documentation of the locations and fucntions of specific military units interferes with the ability of both servicemembers and veterans to obtain evidence of military service that may result in adverse health conditions now or in the future. As we have learned from prior conflicts, this lack of documentation all too often leads to hardship for veterans in establishing a relationship between miltiary service and a specific medical condition.
The lack of accessible documents may also impede future research efforts if health care problems arise from service in Iraq or Afghanistan. For these reasons, I would like to know the current status of efforts to identify, locate and collect records for units that served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure unit records are properly archived and accessible.
I appreciate your attention to these requests and look forward to our continued work together to strengthen both the disability evaluation system and behavioral health diagnoses and care and to ensure our servicemembers and veterans have access to critical military documents.
To tie the two together -- because this is really not new -- Bob Filner was speaking of a policy to change a diganoses from PTSD to "personality disorder" because someone was deciding the government shouldn't pay what the government owed. Someone was deciding that the role of government was to get over on veterans, not to deliver to veterans what had been promised.
There is no excuse for diagnoses to have ever been changed. There's even less excuse for refusing to start the promised review of changed diagnoses. To be clear, there's even less excuse for Leon Panetta to avoid starting the promised review. Leon is Secretary of Defense. I like him, I've known him for years -- since he was in Congress. I like Leon. But that doesn't change the fact that as Secretary of Defense it reflects poorly on him that the review has not started. It doesn't change the fact that he needs to do his job. I didn't care for Robert Gates and was appalled to see the press fawn over him (in the months long farewell tour coverage as well as in that awful farewell press conference that immediately went off the record so the press could hug him and get their photos taken with him -- as someone in the entertainment industry, I'm used to excited fans, but this was a press acting like teeny boppers mooning over some heart throb of the moment). The fact that I like Leon doesn't mean that I don't think he should be evaluated when he leaves office. There are not two standards here. Gates should have been evaluated on key issues (instead, he was only evaluated on granting press access) such as military suicides and military sexual assaults. Those were two key problems in the military and he should have been evaluated on how he addressed those (and other key problems). Leon should be judged by those and also by issues like this scandal and the failure to launch a review in a timely manner. Leon Panetta needs to provide an answer to Senator Murray -- more than that, he needs to launch the promised review.
The Paterson Press notes another need, in Paterson, New Jersey, the Paterson Veterans Council wants to inscribe the names of three local Iraq War veterans who died while serving in Iraq on the Veterans Memorial Park monument. The three fallen are Spc Gil Mercado, Spc Farid Elazzouzi and Sgt Christian Bueno-Galdos. The Paterson Veterans Council is staging a beefsteak dinner November 5th as a fundraiser: "Donations to the Nov. 5 beefsteak are tax-deductible and can be made to the Paterson Veterans Council, 296 Maitland Ave., Paterson, NJ 07502. For information, call Tony Vancheri at 973-303-3523."
Sue Smith: This is a case of an employer owing his staff the right duty of care. Take away the uniform and everything else and it's simply a man or a woman doing their job and they should be respected for doing that job the same as anybody else. [. . .] I think it's despicable. They knew the vehicles were no good but it's also this dismissive attitude of it doesn't matter, they're like action men, if we break them, we can throw them in a junk pile and nobody can do anything about it. And if they're really badly broken, they can be buried. Well, it doesn't work like that.
Nick Childs: Why are you trying to go through the UN Convention on Human Rights to deal with this - this issue? When the court of appeal has said these claims can be pursued in terms of care and negligance through the courts here?
Sue Smith: The negligance is for wives or dependants because that's a compensation claim. I'm not claiming compensation. I'm claiming that the soldiers have a right to life which is something that the MoD seemed to say that if they're on exercise or anything like that abroad, they're not covered by that.
[. . . ]
Nick Childs: How have you felt about the Ministry of Defence as you've gone through this-this legal proces.?
Sue Smith: Well they're just pen pushers as far as I'm concerned. They've got no idea. They're not living in this world. They're not the ones going out in substandard vehicles -- or were. I'm not sure what they're doing now. But at the end of the day, they're people that are arguing who haven't actually lived the life that we're living. They've got no idea. So how can they sit there and say that these boys have no right to life? They're not the ones sitting in the back of the vehicle that might blow up at any moment.
On security issues, Margret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reported yesterday, "A number of Sahwa members quit their jobs and abandoned their posts in Hawija and Kirkuk. The men say their demands have not been met, but local leaders are asking them to remain on the job. The Sahwa were to have been folded into the military, but the central government has refused to fully do so. The payment of salaries has also been slow at times. Because the group is made of Sunnis, many who are former insurgents, the central government has been wary of them if not outright antagonistic. About 8,000 Sahwa are in the Kirkuk region. Should they all abandon their posts, it would be a significant blow to security."
Deutsche Welle covers Nouri's attack on the Central Bank noting that this all began back again a year ago -- this was when the political stalemate transitioned into a political crisis. The outlet notes that the talk in Iraq is that there are political reasons behind the sacking of the Governor of the Central Bank. From yesterday's snapshot:
This week, charges were brought against Sinan al-Shabibi, the governor of the Central Bank, and he was replaced. Al Mada reports that Parliament's Legal Committee is saying the actions were both rash and illegal. Nouri does not control the Central Bank and he cannot fire a governor with it. They point to Article 103 of the Iraqi Constitution which has two clauses pertaining to the Central Bank:
First: The Central Bank of Iraq, the Board of Supreme Audit, the Communication and Media Commission, and the Endowment Commissions are financially and administratively independent institutions, and the work of each of these institutions shall be regulated by law. Second: The Central Bank of Iraq is responsible before the Council of Representatives. The Board of Supreme Audit and the Communication and Media Commission shall be attached to the Council of Representatives.
The second clause puts the Parliament over the Central Bank. (The third clause, not quoted, puts the Cabinet over the Endowment Commission.) Michael Peel (Financial Times of London) reports an arrest warrant has been sworn out for "Sinan al-Shabibi and 15 of his colleagues." Peel also observes, "While no evidence has yet been produced about the allegations, analysts and business people have raised concerns about the way the government has handled the case. Some observers see it as an extension of efforts by Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister, to extend his control over important security and financial institutions, a charge the governmnet denies."
Iraq Business News notes that "there has been tension between the Central Bank and the government for years. In January of last year, Nouri al-Maliki secured a court ruling placing the Central Bank under the control of the cabinet, rather than the parliament, much to the displeasure of al-Shabibi." My apologies, I'm not aware of that decision. The Parliament either isn't or doesn't consider it a valid decision.
Let's note this week's war of words by first dropping back to Monday's snapshot: Today Al Mada reports Yassin Majeed, an MP with Nouri's State of Law, is declaring that KRG President Massoud Barzani is a threat to Iraq. Majeed held a press conference outside Parliament to denounce Barzani. Alsumaria notes that among Barzani's supposed outrageous offenses is objecting to the infrastructure bill and objecting to the recent weapons shopping spree Nouri's been on ($1 billion dollar deal with the Czech Republic, $4.2 billion dollar deal with Russia). All Iraq News notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a statement noting that, at a time when they are trying to resolve the current political crisis, the remarks are not helpful.
Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports today that State of Law is rushing to walk away from Majeed's remarks after Talabani and Iraqiya both called out the "reckless" remarks yesterday. Alsumaria reports Iraqiya stated there was no way to justify the remarks and called on everyone to condemn the remarks and this method to destroy a foundation of unity. In addition, All Iraq News notes the Kurdistan Alliance announced yesterday that there is no political difference between Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani and that the Allliance's statement was in response to the verbal attack on Barzani from Majeed. Hussein Ali Dawed (Al-Montior) notes Talabani statined "he considered these statements a 'call to war'." State of Law has never walked away from their constant smack talk before. The difference here appears to have been a united push back from the blocs at the same time that Nouri wanted it to appear he was trying to reach an understanding with everyone and be a national leader. Majeed's remarks were in keeping with State of Law's trash talk in the past. A month ago -- or maybe a month from now -- they wouldn't have raised an eyebrow and are part of State of Law's never-ending attacks on other politicians.
KRG President Massoud Barzani will be visiting Moscow shortly. This trip to Russia was planned weeks ago. Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports today that State of Law MP Mohammad Chihod is stating that the trip is so Barzani can destroy the weapons deal Nouri signed with Russia.
State of Law is a bunch of losers, liars and thieves. They lost the 2010 election, they lie constantly and they stole the post of prime minister. They are also stupid. So possibly Chihod is so dumb that he believes what he's saying (or maybe he shares Nouri's paranoia?). But Barzani can't break the contract. And unless he has some previously unknown magical power, he can't force Russian President Vladamir Putin to break the contract either. Now he may be a very charming man and might be able to use all that charm to slow delivery. But he can't stop delivery. A contract is a contract.
I grasp that's difficult for State of Law to understand because in addition to everything else they lack honor and integrity. They break contracts. So they assume everyone else must as well. If Russia were to break the contract with Nouri without just cause, it would be very difficult for Russia to interest other countries in buying weapons from them.
Nouri's State of Law came in second in the March 2010 elections. Since the Iraqi Constitution meant that Nouri wouldn't get a second term, he dug his heels in and spent over eight months (Political Stalemate I) bringing the country to a standstill while the US White House -- which fully backed Nouri -- went around telling political blocs that they needed to be mature and put Iraq first. Grasp that lie.
Grasp that the White House told all the other political blocs -- that Moqtada al-Sadr, that's Ibrahaim al-Jafaari (National Alliance) -- that they were stopping Iraq from moving forward. All the other leaders by wanting to stick to the Constitution were harming Iraq. Not the little bastard Nouri who refused to honor the Constitution or the will of the Iraqi people.
Then the US government rolls up with a proposal that everybody give a little to get a little. Give Nouri a second term as prime minister and what is it you want? What can Nouri give you?
That's what the White House did. So the Kurds wanted many things but among them Article 140 of the Constitution implemented. (Article 140 was supposed to have been implemented -- per the Constitution -- by the end of 2007; however, Nouri refused to do so. It is how disputed areas will be resolved -- census and referendum. The Kurds want Kirkuk so does Baghdad.)
The White House negotiated the contract, which would become known as the Erbil Agreement. It swore that the contract was valid, legal and binding. So all the leaders -- including Nouri -- signed off on it.
Nouri grabbed the second term that the Erbil Agreement delivered and Nouri then refused to honor the contract, he broke the contract. That's why the country's in a political crisis at present. It's not a mystery.
Turning to the issue of the September 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, there are new items in the news cycle. First, the background via the House Oversight Committee hearing this month:
Committee Chair Darrell Issa: On September 11, 2012, four brave Americans serving their country were murdered by terrorists in Benghazi, Libya. Tyrone Woods spent two decades as a Navy Seal serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2010, he protected the American diplomatic personnel. Tyrone leaves behind a widow and three children. Glen Doherty, also a former Seal and an experienced paramedic, had served his country in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His family and colleagues grieve today for his death. Sean Smith, a communications specialist, joined the State Dept after six years in the United States Air Force. Sean leaves behind a widow and two young children. Ambassador Chris Stevens, a man I had known personally during his tours, US Ambassador to Libya, ventured into a volatile and dangerous situation as Libyans revolted against the long time Gaddafi regime. He did so because he believed the people of Libya wanted and deserved the same things we have: freedom from tyranny.
But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, told CNN that the panel had information from the intelligence community within 24 hours of the incident that it was a military style attack.
"If you look at all of the information leading up to (the attack) from an intelligence perspective, it's really confounding how you can come to a conclusion and then promote it for days in the face of all of that information that this was about a video," Rogers said.
Reality, the State Dept's Patrick Kennedy went to Congress September 12th and briefed staffers on the attack. He called it terrorism. Reality, the attack was seen by State Dept types ('types' because the CIA also saw this) in real time. Reality, a little over 50 minutes of the attacks is on video. Reality, the FBI has no objection to Congress reviewing the video but they don't have it. At this point, it is not disclosed who has possession of the video other than that they are in the executive branch and they are not law enforcement. The White House is refusing to turn the video over to Congress.
If your outlet of choice -- say The NewsHour on PBS wasted your time by refusing to tell you about those realities and instead offered a 'style' report, you really need to demand that your news outlet of choice covers the damn news. A lot of people are talking -- like Bob Somerby -- who clearly were not at the hearing and really need to inform themselves before speaking. These days you assume that what was reported was what happened at your own peril. That hearing was important and full of revelations.
So one of the items was Susan Rice's alleged innocence which, again, has been pushed back on. And should be. Another item in the news cycle is the cables released today.
A diplomatic cable sent by Ambassador Chris Stevens from Benghazi hours before the attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed him was largely devoted to the rising security threats in and around the city.
The cable, sent to the State Department, was released Friday by the chairman of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California. It is among more than 160 pages of documents that paint a picture of persistent and unpredictable violence in and around Benghazi this year and an often fractious debate about resources for diplomatic security.
In the September 11 cable, the ambassador refers to a meeting nine days earlier in which the commander of Benghazi's Supreme Security Council "expressed growing frustration with police and security forces" being too weak to keep the country secure.
Another paragraph refers to the "expanding Islamist influence in Derna," a town east of Benghazi, amid reports linking "the Abu Salim Brigade with a troubling increase in violence and Islamist influence."
The Abu Salim Brigade was prominent among the opponents of former strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
The ambassador refers to another meeting on September 9 in which commanders of unofficial militia claimed that the Libyan Armed Forces depended on them to secure eastern Libya, and even supplied them with weapons.
The White House is not being honest when they claim that it was 'intel.' The tape exists, the attack was monitored in real time, CIA agents were wounded in the attack and made clear that it was not a protest that descended upon the Consulate. But not only are they not being honest there, the document release makes clear that there was reason for concern -- serious concern -- and that the administration ignored those warnings. Four Americans died. It's time for the White House to get honest.