Thursday, May 09, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, May 9, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri stomps his feet over the possibility of peace to the north, the counterinsurgency practice in Iraq gets evaluated by a US colonel, we look at WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning and Lynne Stewart, service organizations offer testimony at today's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing and more.

Lynne Stewart is a US political prisoner.  For the 'crime' of issuing a press release, she was eventually tossed in prison.  The'crime' happened on Attorney General Janet Reno's watch.  Reno has her detractors who think she was far too tough as Attorney General.  She also has her supporters who see her as a moderate.  No one saw her as 'soft.'  Reno had her Justice Department review what happened.  There was no talk of a trial because there was no crime.  No law was broken.  The Justice Department imposes guidelines -- not written by Congress, so not laws -- on attorneys.  Lynne was made to review the guidelines and told not to break it again.  That was her 'punishment' under Janet Reno.  Bully Boy Bush comes into office and the already decided incident becomes a way for Attorney General John Ashcroft to try to build a name for himself. He goes on David Letterman's show to announce, after 9-11, that they're prosecuting Lynne for terrorism.

Eventually tossed in prison?  Even Bully Boy Bush allowed Lynne to remain out on appeal.  It's only when Barack Obama becomes president that Lynne gets tossed in prison.  It's only under Barack that the US Justice Depart disputes the judge's sentence and demands a harsher one (under the original sentence Lynne would be out now).  Lynne's cancer has returned.

Her husband Ralph Poynter  and Mya Shone and Ralph Schoenman provide an important update this week:

A major milestone has been reached in the struggle for Lynne Stewart's freedom. Lynne Stewart wrote on April 26 to confirm that the Warden at FMC Carswell recommended Compassionate Release to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“So Happy that the Compassionate Release was granted at Carswell and we are on the road!!!
"Who DID It? --- The People Yes – and we certainly deserve a VICTORY and this is one for sure!!”
With this dramatic development, the International Campaign to Save the Life of Lynne Stewart crossed a critical threshold. We directed our attention immediately to Charles E. Samuels, Jr., the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Following two expedited communications from former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a probation officer charged with inspecting the residence designated for Lynne Stewart's recovery was dispatched to the home of her son, attorney Geoffrey Stewart. Soon afterwards, we were notified that the residence was approved.
Thus, another hurdle has been overcome, paving the way for Lynne Stewart's Compassionate Release.
There is no time to lose. Lynne Stewart has been in quarantine for several weeks at FMC Carswell since her white blood count dropped precipitously. As Ramsey Clark wrote to BOP Director Samuels:
"Further medical tests reveal that the cancer that had metastasized rapidly to her lungs, lymph nodes and shoulder remains aggressive. If the series of chemotherapy treatments slowed its spread in certain areas, it has not attenuated in her lungs. … The sustained treatment and preparations by the medical team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City are critical to her survival.”
This is the moment to intensify our global mobilization. We must prevail upon the director of the Bureau of Prisons to file the motion for compassionate release with Judge John Koetl, the sentencing judge.
Among the latest signers are: Fr. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, Bianca Jagger, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, Mark Lane, Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, Rosa Clemente, Kathy Kelly, James Ridgeway and William Blum. 

On Law and Disorder Radio last month, Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) provided the work address for BP Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr.:

Charles E. Samuels Jr.
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534

Lynne's been there when people have needed her -- everyone from so-called 'respectable' people to people no one else would help.  That's how she earned the title of "The People's Attorney."  She never should have been put in prison in the first place and she needs to be out now to get the treatment she needs, to have the support system of her family and her friends (and a support system is very important when you're being treated for cancer).  She turns 74 this year.  She's not a threat to anyone and she needs to be home.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  I referred in the Tuesday snapshot to how Julian loses his case.  A number of people want clarification.  If the goal is to get Julian Assange out of London to Ecuador, then they're again bungling everything. 

Julian Assange is a divisive figure.  You may not like that fact if he's your hero or someone you support but the ugly truth needs to be told and it needs to be recognized.  What his legal team wrongly thinks is that they can 'humanize' Julian Assange.  No.

That will not happen.  Assange is not an unknown where the problem is people just don't know him.  He's not a cypher that you can write a new pattern over.  He is a known.  And he pisses a number of people off.  If you want him out of the Embassy in London, you need to quit lying and start recognizing reality.

Before the rape allegations emerged, Julian Assange were already divisive.  Long before they emerged, South Park was mocking him (he was a rat).  He's also seen as an ego maniac.  We can list all of his negatives but, if you're honest with yourself, you know how he's seen.

The key to Assange's freedom is not Celebrity Profile Assange!

And every time one of those appears, he looks stupid (and trivial) to all but his small fan base.  That's not enough support.  To garner more support, his legal team needs to grasp that WikiLeaks is more popular than Julian.  When he gives interviews, he needs to be talking about WikiLeaks.  No one needs his thoughts on today's 'hot topics.'  He needs to give interviews where he talks about what WikiLeaks has done but, most importantly, what WikiLeaks can do, what's up next.

Julian Assange's value is limited.  He's one person and not someone who polls well.  (As his legal team knows from repeat polling but they keep kidding themselves that they're just one soft feature away from convincing the people that they actually love Assange.)  WikiLeaks is where the value is -- provided WikiLeaks is publishing.  WikiLeaks as a curio from the past?  Not going to motivate people.  WikiLeaks still active today (which it is) and that the focus of any Julian Assange interview is what lets his issues become issues that matter. 

You tie him into WikiLeaks, you make the case for WikiLeaks.  He doesn't become more likable in the process but he's off the table.  It's no longer bout what Julian does as Julian Assange it's about what WikiLeaks does.  I've made this argument repeatedly.  People nod (I'm thinking of two of his attorneys) and claim insight.  But then we get the nonsense like the Chris Hedges interview.  Chris is going to softball Julian.  He's going to fluff.  He's the best (most favorable) interviewer Julian could have.  And Julian and Michael Ratner wasted that interview with crap like what Julian Assange thinks about gay people in the military.

No one cares.  Leave aside that the repeated use of "homosexual" at a time when most say "gay and lesbian" made it seem as if Julian was ridiculing gays and lesbians, there was no need for the topic and it had nothing to do with WikiLeaks.  Every time he goes off topic, he risks saying something offensive and his favorables are so low he can't afford to turn off any more people.

The topic has to be WikiLeaks.  By hard selling its past impact, its current work and, most important, where the future leads for WikiLeaks, you're suddenly on the issues that more people care about and you're making a case for extraditing Assange by sketching out something much more important than one person.

Matt Sledge (Huffington Post) reports, "Fed up with the military's limits on access to the court martial of Bradley Manning, the Army private who has admitted to sending hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents to the transparency organization WikiLeaks, a nonprofit group announced Thursday that it is crowdfunding a court stenographer to create daily trial transcripts." That's a topic that should have been raised with Chris Hedges.  That's the sort of thing that WikiLeaks needs to be doing.

Vivienne Westwood revolutionized fashion beginning with the punk movement in the 70s so she was a natural for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's gala this week celebrating the exhibit PUNK: Chaos To Courture (which runs through August 14th).  Karen Dacre (Evening Standard) reports, "The inimitable Vivienne Westwood -- a vision in a pale pink kimono and grey ruched waist dress from her own label -- led the charge.  And rightly so, the British designer is the godmother of the era this whole evening was devised to celebrate." But not everyone was impressed.  Lucy Waterlow (Daily Mail) explains that, on the red carpet, Vivienne was questioned by Vogue's Billy Norwich on a live feed and Norwich quickly cut her off.  Norwich was bothered by her brooch and her discussing it.  Michael Dickinson (CounterPunch) explains Vivienne's brooch was a large photo of Bradley Manning with the word "TRUTH" on it and that Norwich cut her off after Vivienne said:

The most important thing is my jewelry, which is a picture of Bradley Manning.  I’m here to promote Bradley.  He needs public support for what’s going on with secret trials and trying to lock him away.  He’s the bravest of the brave, and that’s what I really want to say more than anything. Because punk, when I did punk all those years ago, my motive was the same: Justice, and to try to have a better world. It really was about that. I’ve got different methods nowadays.

The background on whistle blower Bradley Manning.  Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."  February 28th, Bradley admitted he leaked to WikiLeaks.  And why.

Bradley Manning:   In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.

Counterinsurgency is war against a native people.  WikiLeaks' counterinsurgency folder is here.  Anthropologist David H. Price is a professor at St. Martin's University.  He is the author of several books, most recently 2011's Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State.  WikiLeaks released the US military's "Army Stryker Brigade Initial Impressions Report on Operations in Mousl, Iraq" and they feature Price's analysis of the document which includes:

The "lessons learned" component of this section provides a clear view of the military's expectations of how anthropological or cultural knowledge is to be used to meet military needs. In observing that "cultural understanding is an endless endeavor that must be overcome leveraging whatever assets are available," the military's choice of "leveraging," beautifully clarifies how the military conceptualizes anthropologists and others providing occupying troops in Iraq with cultural information: they are seen as priers of knowledge; tools to be used for the extraction and use of knowledge ("assets") in ways that military commanders see fit.
It was concerns over this sort of "leveraging" (the functional use of anthropologists as pry-bars deployed to act upon human and cultural "assets" used by the military) that recently led the American Anthropological Association's Executive Board to declare its disapproval of the military's Human Terrain Systems as "an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise."
Obviously, the limited scope of this 2004 Center for Army Lessons Learned report precludes addressing fundamental issues raised by the Bush administration's reliance on false pretenses to illegally invade Iraq. Such issues are not among those included with the designated "Lessons Learned"-because at this level, the army follows rather than sets policy. But the same cannot be said for the free-agent anthropologists and other social scientists who are not part of the military and are now working as contractors on Human Terrain Teams "leveraging" culture in service of the military occupation of Iraq. These individuals willfully choose to ignore the ethical alarms being sounded by their peers as they voluntarily surrender their disciplinary skills to better "leverage" cultural "assets" for whatever ends the military dictates.
Given the problems identified in this 2004 report, it makes sense that the army would strive for a more culturally nuanced occupation; after all, it is the nature of occupying armies to seek to subjugate and occupy nations (legally, or illegally) with as little trouble as can be arranged. But anthropology's abetment of this cause slides it askew from any central ethical principles of the field, and it reveals something of the lesser demons of the field's nature. Granted, anthropology's past has plenty of shameful instances of anthropologists applying their skills to leverage occupied peoples in colonial and neocolonial settings, but the common contemporary understanding that such manipulative leverages are part of a shameful past does not influence those seeking their fortune outside the ethical standards of their discipline's mainstream.

That's counterinsurgency.   Lawal Tsalha (Peace and Conflict Monitor) speaks with Iraq War veteran, Col Gian Gentile, about his time in Iraq.

[Lawal Tsalha:] The idea of counterinsurgency is to protect the population…

[Col Gian Gentile:] Yes, that’s the idea.

[Lawal Tsalha:]  Can you call the Iraq counterinsurgency a success?

[Col Gian Gentile:]  No!

[Lawal Tsalha:]  Why?

[Col Gian Gentile:] [pause] Counterinsurgency is a tactical method, right? And in war, tactics are never ends in themselves. Tactics are supposed to achieve some political goal, some higher good, right? What has United States has achieved in Iraq? Let’s just look at the numbers – not just for the United States, also Iraq, but first the United States: the government has spent close to $3 trillion dollars for 8.8 years of occupation and war in Iraq, has had 4,883 soldiers killed, tens of thousands with life changing wounds, that many more thousands suffering from PTSD, right? Then let’s look at the Iraqi side: close to a quarter of a million killed, close to a million displaced from their original homes, only a few of them returning. And then, back to the American perspective, we’ve replaced one dictator, Saddam Hussein, with arguably another, Nouri al-Malaki, who is allied closely with USA’s regional adversary, Iran. So looking at all of that, to say the counterinsurgency as a tactical method has worked – I don’t see how one can justify that based on what it cost the United States and what outcome has been achieved there.
And then, the other question you’ve asked: did counterinsurgency work in terms of protecting the population, well, it’s hard to say that counterinsurgency worked to protect the population if close to a million Iraqis have been killed. And then, further with that, if you look at the narrative that tries to show that, once General Petraeus took over in February 2007, he instilled new, better counterinsurgency methods, the fact is that in 2007, the number of Iraqi civilians that died at the hands of American operations and firepower tripled during the surge as compared to previous years.
So that’s why I say, with all of that: no, counterinsurgency has not worked.

On a possible planned-use of violence in Iraq, Murtaza Hussain (Al Jazeera) offers this:

Away from the focus of major news media - numbed as it has become to stories of unconscionable Iraqi suffering - Iraq this past April recorded its deadliest month in five years, with over 700 killed in sectarian violence throughout the country. Describing the aftermath of a deadly car bombing in his neighbourhood, school teacher Ibrahim Ali gave voice to the dread and foreboding felt by many Iraqis for their country:

"We asked the students to remain inside the classrooms because we were concerned about their safety… [they] were panicking and some of them started to cry…. We have been expecting this violence against Shiites due to the rising sectarian tension in the country."
The unacknowledged truth behind the past decade of bloodletting in Iraq is that the country itself effectively ceased to exist after the 2003 US invasion. The northern province of Iraqi Kurdistan is today an independent country in all but name and is increasingly moving towards formal recognition of this fact - while Sunni and Shia Iraqis have come to see themselves more as distinct entities than as part of a cohesive nation. Iraqi Sunnis, a once-empowered minority, have taken up arms in recent months against the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki and have staked their terms in a manner which acknowledges the irredeemable nature of a continued Iraqi state. In the words of Sunni cleric Mohammad Taha at a rally in Samarra:
"Al-Maliki has brought the country to the abyss... this leaves us with two options: Either civil war or the formation of our own autonomous region."
There is evidence to suggest that this state of affairs was not an unintended consequence of the 2003 invasion. The American architects of the Iraq War - while couching their justifications for war in the rhetoric of liberation - had for years previously openly acknowledged and predicted that an invasion would result in the death of Iraq as a cohesive state. In a follow-up to their 1996 policy paper"A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" - a report published by leading neoconservative intellectuals, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, which advocated a radical reshaping of the Middle East using American military power - the report's authors acknowledged the inevitability of Iraq's demise post-invasion.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 136 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.  Today?  National Iraqi News Agency notes 1 rebel was shot dead in Mosul, a Mosul armed clash has left 1 bystander dead and another injured, Iyad Khalil Ismael was shot dead in front of his Mosul home (he was the director of a polling center), Ziyad al-Hamdani was shot dead inside a Mosul barbershop (he was the manager of the National Alliance in Mosul),a Baji roadside bombing claimed 3 lives (one was a police officer),  a Hawija bicycle bombing claimed the life of 1 child and left eleven people injured,  and Nouri's forces shot dead a Mosul suicide bomber. Alsumaria notes the suicide bomber claimed 3 lives (plus his own).  Alsumaria also notes a Tuz Khurmatu cafe bombing which left at least fifteen people injured.  All Iraq News adds that a Mosul car bombing left one child injured. Not all the violence succeeded in its goals/aims.  NINA notes Duraid Hikmat survived an assassination attempt by bombing in Mosul today (he is the adviser on Christian Affairs to Nineveh Province Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi).  That's 12 dead and twenty-eight injured -- and that's just some of the reported violence today.  Earlier this week, another journalist was killed in Iraq.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization issued the following today

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova today deplored the death of radio journalist Muwaffak al-Ani, who was killed in an explosion in west Baghdad on Monday 6 May.

“I am saddened and deeply concerned to hear of the murder of Muwaffak al-Ani,” said the Director-General. “He was one of Iraq’s best known media voices; a man dedicated to his profession and determined to pass his knowledge and skills to a new generation of journalists. He will be sorely missed, in a country emerging from many years of conflict and trying to rebuild itself.
“In such situations, the media has a special role to play.  Journalists must be allowed to work in safety - to fulfill their duty of informing the public, and to uphold the right of freedom of expression. Impunity for crimes against them must not be tolerated, and I trust the Iraqi authorities will do everything within their power to bring those responsible for this attack, which also claimed several other lives, to justice.” 
Muwaffak al-Ani was one of Iraq’s longest-serving broadcasters. He began his career in radio and television in 1962 at Radio Baghdad and had worked for several of the country’s major networks since then. He also taught radio journalism. 

According to media reports he was killed, along with his brother and several others, when a bomb exploded outside the Mansour Mosque in west Baghdad during evening prayer on Monday.

Muwaffak al-Ani is the third journalist killed in Iraq over the past 12 months. He is remembered on the dedicated web page UNESCO Condemns the Killing of Journalists

While the United Nations was mourning the loss of one Iraqi journalists today, they were also celebrating the work of three Iraqi journalists:

9 May 2013 – Three Iraqi women journalists have been selected as the winners of a United Nations contest which seeks to highlight the everyday challenges faced by women living in the Middle Eastern country.
The stories submitted by Suha Audah, Enas Jabbar and Shatha al-Shabibi were selected by an independent panel for their depiction of women’s situation in Iraq.
Suha Audah’s article describes the pressure of traditional values on women practicing sports in Mosul, Enas Jabbar relates the suffering of women subjected to abduction and Shatha al-Shabibi addresses the sensitive issue of honour crimes, widespread in traditional Iraqi society.
“The selection was difficult since the quality of the articles received was high; most stories portrayed brilliantly the challenges faced by women in Iraq,” said the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs, Gyorgy Busztin, who was a member of the jury.
The three winners received their prizes during a special ceremony organized at the UN Compound on 1 May, as part of a roundtable discussion on women and media to mark World Press Freedom Day.
Ms. Audah, a freelance journalist from Mosul, highlighted the importance of such awards for Iraqi women journalists who are facing several difficulties in their daily work. “Women should be able to impose themselves,” she said. “However, when I claim women’s rights, some people label me as sexist.”
The winning stories were anonymously selected by an independent panel composed of Mr. Busztin, the head of the Public Information Office (PIO), Eliana Nabaa, the Senior Political Advisor to UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and former journalist Hussain Hindawi and the representative for the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women, Frances Guy.

Still on journalism, BBC News notes, "Already being described by some as the 'forgotten war', America's fraught military expedition into Iraq now rarely captures news headlines."  The link goes to a video about the new book Photojournalists on War: The Untold Story from Iraq.

Yesterday a historic moment took place.  Ayla Jean Yackley noted it with "Kurdish rebels begin Turkey withdrawal, fueling peace hopes" (Saudi Gazette).  A decades long conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government had a chance of ending and that's all it took to upset the insane thug Nouri al-Maliki.   AP reports that Nouri is insisting no members of the PKK will be coming into Iraq.

The PKK's already in Iraq and the whole world knows it.  That's why Nouri's whines about Turkish war planes bombing were never taken seriously -- he whined in 2006 and then tabled it for two years before he began whining nonstop, as though he were a baby that had missed a feeding.  Most western media outlets -- CNN, the Times of London, the Telegraph of London, CBS News, etc -- took their tours of PKK headquarters by 2006, if not sooner.  That meant that traveled to the mountain area of northern Iraq.

That's the area that the Turkish warplanes would target and they did that based on intelligence from the US CIA -- a CIA base was set up on Turkey's southern border as part of the 2011 drawdown.  Surveillance drones fly over Iraq from that  location.  Raheem Salman, Isabel Coles and Jon Hemming (Reuters) observe, "The central government's ability to intervene directly in the northern enclave is therefore extremely limited, but Baghdad's statement is the first indication of its stance on the process that has raised hopes of peace."  Denise Natali (Al-Monitor) offers a look at the PKK and how Natali feels it fits into the KRG:

The last six months, however, have seen a shift in PKK tactics inside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Whereas the PKK leader in Kandil, Murat Karaliyan, had previously indicated his willingness to work with [Massoud] Barzani in 2009, he now opposes electing him to a third term as president. The PKK is using its networks and social media to incite local opposition against Barzani and the Iraqi Kurdish parties. For instance, it is encouraging local populations in the Iraqi Kurdish-Iranian border town of Halabja to criticize the KRG and Barzani for lack of services. One of the PKK websites has inflammatory photos and remarks about Barzani's leadership, as well as other KRG political party leaders.
This shift reflects a reaction to Barzani’s growing power — including his close ties to Erdogan — and his claims or ambitions to become a leader of all the Kurds, expressed in Kurdish as “president of Kurdistan,” which the PKK rejects. More specifically, the PKK shift coincides with the illness of Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq and leader of the PUK, which has further weakened the PUK and limited any serious competition for the KDP and Barzani's power. In fact, the rump of the PUK — known as the "Gang of Four" — may have called for a separate list in the planned September elections to reflect its differences and attempts to challenge the KDP. Yet the PUK leadership continues to support and depend upon Barzani as president, particularly as a financial patron.
This is why the PKK is now calling for a “Kurdistan supported by Goran.” Goran remains the only secular Kurdish nationalist party that seeks to remove Barzani from office while pressing for a parliamentary and not presidential system for the region. Goran also has indicated its support for the PKK and affirmed the PYD as the representative of the Kurds in Syria, posing another direct challenge to Barzani and the KDP. The PKK-Goran alliance also is based on shared concerns about Turkey’s regional power and the need to check Erdogan’s influence over Iraqi Kurds and in Syria.

I have no idea whether Natali missed it or just doesn't believe KRG President Massoud Barzani on the topic, but we've noted this before and we'll note it again, Saturday NINA reported that Barzani issued a statement declaring he had no interest in seeking a third term and that he had not asked either that the KRG's Presidency Law (which limits people to two terms as president) or that his term be extended.

Yesterday, we noted the House Oversight Committee's hearing on Benghazi.   Ava covered it with "Crazies on the Committee (Ava)," Kat with "If today were a movie . . .,"  Wally with "Biggest Coward at today's Committee hearing" and Ruth, who's owned this topic from the beginning in this community, covered it with "An order to stand down." This morning we attended the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on   The first panel was the VA's Dr. Robert L. Jesse accompanied by Susan Blauert (Deputy Assistant General Counsel).  The second panel was Vietnam Veterans of America's Rick Weidman, Samueli Institute's Dr. Wayne B. Jonas, VetsFirst's Heather Ansley, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans' Matt Gornick and the VA's former Chief of Staff Thomas Bowman.   We're focusing on the second panel.

Rick Weidman raised an important issue early on.  The Vietnam Veterans of America classifies a homeless veteran as a veteran without a permanent home; however, the VA defines a veteran as homeless only if they are on the street.  Weidman pointed out that the first definition is more accurate and that veterans going from couch to couch to avoid being on the street are already homeless.

Dr. Wayne Jonas is calling for true integrated health care that would integrate alternative medicine into the process. 

Chair Bernie Sanders: Dr. Jonas, let me start with you, if I might.  As you may or may not know, your statement is fairly revolutionary.  As I hear it, what you are suggesting is that what in recent years has been called "complimentary medicine," alternative medicine, really should be integrated into our health care system.  What you are suggesting is that if we move aggressively in areas like meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic care, I suspect nutrition,  and other areas, we can ease suffering for veterans and we can save the system substantial sums of money because many of these things have limited side effects.  Is my characterization correct and, if so, what would you suggest that we do with the VA?  How aggressive should we be?  The VA has already made efforts in all these areas.  They've been probably ahead of the curve when compared to the medical health care system in general.  What would you like to see the VA do and is my characterization correct.

Dr. Wayne Jonas: [. . . Microphone not on]  could be correct provided that these processes are integrated in the proper way, they're not simply tagged on as if they were another treatment for another condition and a specialty is created.  So my first suggestion is that the VA -- and they have made a lot of progress in these areas -- get outside help.  And what I mean by that is that by definition these things are not part of the mainstream system -- that's why they're called complimentary, alternative medicine.  They're outside of the way things are normally done.  That means the skills that are part of them are not normally part of the educational part of the practitioners that are in the VA.  They're not integrated into medical records, for example, they're not part of the benefit system  and they're not tightly linked to the priorities such as the personalized person-centered care center.  So we'll go into a patient centered medical home -- in the VA that's a PAC -- and we'll look for whether these practices are even on the radar screen.  In most cases they're not.  Or they're on the side -- they're not fully integrated.  We'll go into the distribution system for primary care enhancement, for example, called the scan system.  That infrastructure is there to do it but you don't see interactive practices as part of that.  There needs to be a retraining program and an evaluation and quality assurance program that's coordinated with current existing practices so that they're systematically designed and evaluated as they're put in to the systems.

Chair Bernie Sanders: Are there any health care systems in this country which are doing a better job than the VA that we can learn from?  

Dr. Wayne Jonas:  In these areas, there are.  And I suggest that the VA really look at some of those care systems that have demonstrated improvements in pain, improvement in function, reduction in cost in those areas. There's a number of them.  The Alliance Center for example up in 

Chair Bernie Sanders:  I'm sorry?

Dr. Wayne Jonas:  The Alliance Center for example up in Minnesota has a wonderful in-patient example of how to integrate complimentary practices into mainstream in a systematic way.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  And there results have been positive?

Dr. Wayne Jonas:   Very positive, yes.  Reduction in pain, anxiety, costs, length of stay in the hospital, this type of thing.  There are some examples within the VA also but they tend to be champion driven so if you have a passionate person in the VA, it's done.  Salt Lake City had a wonderful one, for example, that showed documented and published major improvements in outcomes, reductions in costs --  including an impact on homelessness and that type of thing -- through a whole person integrated practice.  But when the medical director of that retired and left, it largely went away.  What happened wasn't embedded into the system, into the benefits, for example, into the training and the education of the entire system.  So these are the kinds of things that need to be coordinated.

Chair Bernie Sanders: My impression, scientific impression, is that all over the country, people are gravitating more to these type of procedures.  My impression also, having visited a number of VA centers, is that many veterans look forward and want to access these types of alternative treatments.  Is that accurate?

Dr. Wayne Jonas:  That's absolutely right.  Surveys done, at least on the DoD side, and also on the VA side, show that the use of these practices tends to be even higher in those populations than they are out in civilian populations.  Especially for stress-related pain and those types of conditions, mental health conditions.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  The VA and all of us are wrestling with the epidemic of PTSD, it's a huge problem.  You touched in your testimony that you think there are treatments, alternative treatments. Say a word on that.

Dr. Wayne Jonas:  Well I mentioned two.  One, a relaxation treatment that we tested out at Camp Pendleton that was delivered by nurses.  It induced a deep relaxation.  It actually involved training skills -- in other words, training veterans and their families how to do that.  We're doing another one of those programs down at Fort Hood and some VAs that show improvement in that.  Those are the kind of practices that they're skill based practices.  They're not treatments, per se.  They're not something where you have a pill or you have even a needle or a manipulation where you call a professional.  They're self-care practices. 

Chair Bernie Sanders:  We've done that within the DoD but there's no reason, I presume, that it couldn't be done in the VA?

Dr. Wayne Jonas:  There are mind, body and relaxation practices going on in the DoD.  Very few of them have been evaluated.  There have been some that have had impact in those areas.  They need to be designed with experts from the outside that get involved, subject matter experts, and done in coordination with the VA practitioner so that they learn how to actually deliver them because they're the implementation experts.  That's why a team approach is required in those areas.

Ava will note Committee Chair Bernie Sanders at Trina's site tonight and Kat will report on Ranking Member Richard Burr at her own site.

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michael ratner