Sami Zaatari (Digital Journal) notes it was announced today that NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden was receiving "the whistleblower award by the German branch of the human rights organisation Transparency International." Deutsche Welle notes in a video report:
Hans Pfeifer: Those awarding the prize haven't yet said Edward Snowden is aware he's the recipeiant. Snowden hasn't been easy to contact while marooned at Moscow Airport. For civil rights campaigners, Snowden's case is a scandal. They say he is being persecuted like a criminal for acting in the public interest.
Edda Muller (Transparency International): He's not a pedophile and he's not a person who has committed criminal acts. He's not a tax evader. He's simply a person who has uncovered some uncomfortable truths.
Hans Pfiefer: The prize is not only in tribute to Snowden's whistle-blowing, it's also to put pressure on the German government to offer protection to the former IT contractor.
Edda Muller: We would welcome it very much if Snowden were granted asylum in Germany or were taken into a witness protection program so that a genuine investigation could be undertaken here into what's actually going on there.
Hans Pfiefer: But Chancellor [Angela] Merkel has ruled out help for Snowden. In a brief statement last week, she said he was not eligible for asylum in Germany.
Hopefully, this is something that won't be taken away. This morning, there were reports that Ed Snowden had some success on the asylum front. Jim Ensom (Voice of Russia) reports, "Former CIA contractor-turned whistle blower Edward Snowden has been given temporary asylum in Russia. His papers from the Federal Migration Service;were delivered to him in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Wednesday, allowing him to leave the airport transit zone." The Irish Independent adds, "FORMER U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was today granted documents that will allow him to leave a Moscow airport where he is holed up, an airport source said."
BBC News reports:
Mr Kucherena visited his client at the airport on Wednesday and told a news conference later that the 30-year-old would not yet be leaving the airport.
He said the application for temporary asylum had not been processed, and no travel documents had been received.
"He is not planning to leave for now. He asked for temporary asylum, which in the case of a positive decision is granted for a term of one year," said Mr Kucherena.
The Voice of Russia live blogged the confusing developments. Aboard Air Force One this morning, White House press secretary Jay Carney took a few questions and the topic of Ed Snowden was raised:
Q Jay, what is the latest information the White House has on the status of Edward Snowden? There were Russian media reports earlier today that he had gotten papers that would allow him to enter Russia, and then the latest update that we had was that his lawyer said that he was going to stay in the transit zone in the airport. So what’s the latest that you all know about him?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Darlene. We have seen reports of the nature you just described and of both kinds, and we are seeking clarity from Russian authorities about Mr. Snowden’s status and any change in it. But beyond that, I don't have any more information. And I can say that our position on Mr. Snowden remains what it was, which is that he is neither a human rights activist, nor a dissident. He’s been charged with serious felonies for the unauthorized leaking of highly classified information, and there is ample precedent and legal justification for him to be returned to the United States where he will face trial with all the rights and protections afforded defendants in the United States of America.
Q Jay, what steps is the President prepared to take today to stop Edward Snowden from getting somewhere if he should be on the move?
MR. CARNEY: We've made our position clear to the Russian government, to Russian authorities, and we'll continue to do that. It is absolutely our view that Mr. Snowden should be expelled and returned to the United States. And that's a message we've communicated both publicly and privately to the Russians, and I'm sure we will continue to do that.
Q I mean beyond -- if he were to leave Russia on a plane, I suppose, what steps is the United States prepared to take to stop him from getting wherever he goes? There was the incident with the Bolivian President’s plane and all that.
MR. CARNEY: There’s a series of hypotheticals in there that I don't think I should address or need to address because even today’s reports don't suggest that that is what might be happening. I think today’s reports -- which are contradictory, as Darlene noted -- suggested that he might be leaving the transit area of the airport and entering Russia proper. But again, we've just seen the press reports, both those that say that might be happening and those that say it’s not happening, and we're seeking clarification from Russian officials.
But again, we've just seen the press reports, both those that say that might be happening and those that say it is not happening. And we're seeking clarification from Russian officials.
Q Jay, you said you're seeking clarification. Will you be able to brief us or give us an update later today?
MR. CARNEY: We'll obviously see if further information is available. But I think it's certainly the case that your colleagues who are Moscow-based could also inquire of the Russian government if there's any new information to be imparted.
Q Any update on whether President Obama will meet with President Putin in Moscow on the sidelines of the G20?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the G20 is in St. Petersburg, so that would be a very wide sideline. But the President intends to travel to Russia for the G20 Summit, and as I've noted in the past, I have no further announcements to make about that travel.
Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting. At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work. Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora. US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing." Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans." The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported, was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe." The spin included statements from Barack himself. Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move." Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about." Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights." The more Barack attempted to defend the spying, the more ridiculous he came off. Mike Masnick (TechDirt) reviewed Barack's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show and observed of the 'explanations' offered, "None of that actually explains why this program is necessary. If there's a phone number that the NSA or the FBI gets that is of interest, then they should be able to get a warrant or a court order and request information on that number from the telcos. None of that means they should be able to hoover up everything." As US House Rep John Conyers noted, "But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else. You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned." Barack couldn't deal with that reality but did insist, in the middle of June, that this was an opportunity for "a national conversation." He's always calling for that because, when it doesn't happen, he can blame the nation. It's so much easier to call for "a national conversation" than for he himself to get honest with the American people. And if Barack really believes this has kicked off "a national conversation" then demonizing Ed Snowden is a really strange way to say "thank you."
Ed was raised in this afternoon's State Dept press briefing as well:
QUESTION: Could we start with Russia, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the situation of Mr. Snowden at the moment?
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for your question. I suspected this might be on your minds today. We have seen, of course, the press reports and are seeking clarification from the Russian Government. Obviously, any move that would allow Mr. Snowden to depart the airport would be deeply disappointing.
I also have another update for all of you. The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. He reiterated our belief, the belief of the United States, that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States where he will have a fair trial, that Russia still has the ability to do the right thing, and that call happened just late this morning.
QUESTION: So have you – who sought the clarification? Secretary Kerry sought clarification from Foreign Minister Lavrov in their conversation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are still seeking an update on the exact status. Our understanding is he’s still in the transit lounge, but for any update or announcement on the Russian Government’s steps, I would point you to them.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but Lavrov did not clarify things to the Secretary in their phone call? Did he, or did he not?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more on the phone call to read out for all of you.
QUESTION: So you’re basing – when you say you’ve seen the reports, you’ve seen that his lawyer went to visit him?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: About 10 days ago, two weeks ago when the human rights activists went in to see Mr. Snowden, into the transit lounge, you expressed disappointment that the Russians had facilitated this meeting, which turned into what you called a propaganda platform. I’m just wondering if you have a similar problem with the lawyer going to see him today.
MS. PSAKI: I would not compare all options. I believe at the time what we were most concerned about was the steps by the Russian Government to facilitate that event, which we expressed our concerns --
MS. PSAKI: -- about, as you know, but beyond that, our focus is on encouraging Russia to do the right thing and return Mr. Snowden to the United States.
QUESTION: Okay, but you don’t have any problem with them allowing this guy in to see him today. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not our focus.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you don’t have a problem with it?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I expressed a problem about it.
While Ed Snowden was asked of, Iraq was not raised at either the State Dept press briefing or Carney's Air Force One briefing. This despite the fact that US officials say Iraq is now in the midst of a civil war. From Tuesday's Today (NBC):
Richard Engel: Iraq is now back in a civil war, US officials tell NBC News. The hard fought US surge there, the benefits of American war to stop Iraq's civil war, are being wiped out. In car bombs, ambushes and gun fights more than 250 killed in ten days. Abu Ghraib prison notorious for American abuses and humiliations that United States [. . .] remains an open wound. On Sunday, attackers free hundreds some say up to 500 inmates in a jail break include dozens of al Qaeda fighters.
The Sunday prison attacks and breaks only became news outside of Iraq when the number of prisoners who escaped (between 500 and one thousand) was announced on Monday. Yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq claimed credit for the two prison assaults and breaks. On yesterday's Nightly News with Brian Williams, Richard Engel reported on Iraq.
Richard Engel: Iraq is back in a civil war -- bad for Iraqis. More than 600 killed just this month in bombings and Sunni versus Shi'ite vengeance. And bad for Americans -- after all nearly 4,500 US troops died to bring stability to this strategic, oil rich country A trillion dollars was spent, hundreds of thousands of American troops were deployed and deployed again. But now Iraq is tearing itself apart again. al Qaeda in Iraq won a big victory this weekend, perhaps enough to reconstitute itself. They staged a major prison break, a major assault on Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib Prison. Hundreds of militants were freed from their cells. Iraqi officials today said at least 250. al Qaeda in Iraq puts the number even higher at 500. Militants stormed the prison, car bombs blasting open the gates, as suicide bombers rushed in and reinforcements fought off guards with mortars and assault rifles. Nothing good seems to come from Abu Ghraib. It was Saddam Hussein's dungeon. After his fall, it held US detainees and became infamous for graphic images of prisoner abuse and humiliation. And now a prison break releasing militants who will likely target the Iraqi government but who also have years of training fighting American troops. Richard Engel, NBC News.
AFP's Mohamad Ali Harissi spoke with The World (PRI) today noting:
Sunday night, just one or two hours before midnight, two prisons -- one in the north and one in the west of Baghdad -- were attacked at the same time and the battle continued until six or seven a.m. the next morning . At least twenty police men and soldiers were killed and at least 26 prisoners died in these battles. But what's more important is that hundreds of prisoners escaped from both prisoners.
The World also featured a conversation with guest host Carol Hills Time's Michael Crowley. Excerpt.
Matthew Crowley: I think the most worrisome aspect of this is the larger context: Sectarian violence in the region if flaring up, to say the least. ... To be honest, I don't know which is worse. In other words, should we be more concerned that al Qaeda in Iraq is strong enough, savy enough emboldened enough that they would stage these attacks? Or is the more concerning part that they have now freed a large number of their hardened brothers in arms who had been taken off the battlefield, so to speak? And incidentally one expert on Iraq to whome I spoke with something called the Institute for the Study of War here in Washington, a former army intelligence officer, said that al Qaeda leaders in these prisons actually become more radicalized when they're in prison. In fact, they may actually have become more dangerous in captivity. [. . .]
Carol Hills: Most US troops pulled out of Iraq more than a year ago and the idea was that Iraq was fairly secure. And so this prison break can't bode well in what area. What does this mean?
Michael Crowley: In the piece I wrote about this for Time.com today, I opened with Barack Obama's presidency has been filled with several surprises in the Middle East but, actually, up until now, Iraq has not been one of them.
How serious has the prison break become? INTERPOL issued the following today:
LYON, France – A regional security alert has been issued by INTERPOL at the request of Iraq following a mass breakout from two Iraqi prisons involving hundreds of dangerous prisoners, many of them members of Al-Qaida.
During the night of 21 July, gunmen attacked the Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons near Baghdad using mortars to gain access and free the prisoners, killing at least 20 members of the Iraqi security forces in the process. INTERPOL said the jailbreaks constituted a major threat to global security.
Many of the escaped prisoners were senior-level Al-Qaida members, some of whom had been sentenced to death.
Following confirmation of the escape from INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Baghdad, the Command and Coordination Centre at the General Secretariat headquarters issued the alert to member countries in the region to warn them of the threat posed by the fugitives.
INTERPOL is working closely with NCB Baghdad to collect information on the escaped prisoners, including photographs and fingerprints, with the view to issuing a global Orange Notice, to assist law enforcement officers regionally and worldwide in their search and eventual identification of the fugitives.
An Orange Notice can be issued by INTERPOL’s General Secretariat or an NCB for any act or event that poses a serious and imminent threat to the safety of citizens around the world.
A resolution underlining the need for member countries to alert the General Secretariat to prison escapes of suspected terrorists and other dangerous criminals was adopted at the INTERPOL General Assembly in 2006.
In addition to the INTERPOL notice, others are weighing in on possible meanings. Jabbar Yaseen and Liz Sly (Washington Post) quote the Middle East Forum's Aymenn al-Tamimi stating, "This is a significant milestone in the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he said. “A good deal of the progress achieved from 2006 onwards has essentially been undone now.” David Blair (Telegraph of London) observes, "The mass breakout from two of Iraq’s biggest prisons is yet more evidence of how close the country is to suffering the terrible sectarian bloodshed of 2006-07 once again. [. . .] The increasingly poisonous and sectarian nature of Iraqi politics – with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, purging Sunnis from his government – is leading to greater alienation and violence."
The break outs and the increased violence are also prompting comments from Iraqis. Sunday, Cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr has already decried the 'leadership' that has allowed the problems to emerge and thrive. Today, All Iraq News reports National Dialogue Front MP Haidar al-Mulla is calling for Nouri al-Maliki to be replaced as a result of "his failure in running the security file." Mulla is quoted stating, "All realize well the failur of the CGAF in running the security institution in light of the continuing security breaches over the past eight years especially after Maliki dominated the management of this file without engaging any other side. The one-sided administration of the security file proved failure, so the issue needs changing the CGAF and his strategy and plans." Nouri should be held accountable for the security failures. He is over the security ministries having refused to nominate anyone to head them. Over a year ago, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support." These positions were supposed to be filled no later than December 2010. They have never been filled. The Constitution requires they be filled for someone to be moved from "prime minister-designate" to "prime minister." But the Iraqi Constitution was circumvented by the US-brokered Erbil Agreement.
The Erbil Agreement was needed because Nouri's State of Law came in second and Barack was adamant that, the will of the Iraqi people be damned, Nouri would have a second term.
Having failed at the ballot box, the Constitution couldn't rescue Nouri so Barack ordered an extra-constitutional measure, The Erbil Agreement, which would go around the law and provide cover for Nouri. Having given Nouri a second term not by votes but by a suspect contract, the Constitution no longer applied. So it didn't matter that Nouri failed to create a Cabinet in 30 days as the Constitution dictates.
He's continued to refuse to fill those slots. Barack has gone along with it and babied, stroked and petted his little toy Nouri and in the process he has screwed Iraq over forever.
The Tripoli Post notes "around 700 people" killed in violence this month in Iraq by their count. Through Tuesday, Iraqi Body Count counts 722 violent deaths.
The violence continues today. National Iraqi News Agency reports an armed clash in Anbar left 2 Iraqi soldiers and 4 rebels injured, 1 person was shot dead in Baquba, a Mosul bombing claimed 2 lives and left three people injured, a Hilla sticky bombing left one attorney injured, and "on foot gunmen assassinated Mukhtar of the reform area near his home in western Mosul." Alsumaria adds that 3 corpses were discovered in Baghdad (gun shot wounds) and a Tazi bombing left four Iraqi military members injured. In Sulman Pak, Reuters notes, "Militants shot dead 14 Shi'ite tanker-drivers after checking their identity papers at a makeshift roadblock on the main route leading north from the Iraqi capital late on Wednesday, police said."
In addition, there's been an attack on a northern police station. Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports an attack on a Bashmaya police station Reuters notes it was in Shura and 9 people are dead.
Meanwhile someone please find out what John Arquilla is smoking or snorting and put it out on the open market. Stoned is the only thing that can explain his column entitled "Why Iraq Was America's Best-Run War" (Foreign Policy).
Turning to veterans issues, at the end of May, the Federal Registry posted a notice:
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is announcing an opportunity for public comment on the proposed collection of certain information by the agency. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) of 1995, Federal agencies are required to publish notice in the Federal Register concerning each proposed collection of information, including each proposed new collection, and allow 60 days for public comment in response to the notice. This notice solicits comments for information needed to ascertain and monitor the health effects of the exposure of members of the Armed Forces to toxic airborne chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits.
Patricia Kime (Air Force Times) notes, "The Veterans Affairs Department has extended the deadline for the public to comment on its planned registry for service members exposed to open-air burn pits through Aug. 20." The use of burnpits in Iraq and Afghanistan has left many veterans and contractors with breathing difficulties and illnesses. It has left people seriously ill and, in some cases dead. Burnpit 360 is a resource for those needing more information.
Still on veterans issues, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and the former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Today her office issued the following:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Murray Bill to Help Catastrophically Wounded Veterans Start a Family Clears Major Hurdle
Murray calls for quick action on bill to end the VA’s ban on In Vitro Fertilization which has prevented thousands of veterans with traumatic brain injury and serious spinal cord or reproductive organ injuries from accessing fertility care
Last Congress Murray’s bill passed the Senate unanimously only to be stalled in the House of Representatives
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) that ends the ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF) services at VA in order to help severely wounded veterans start families was cleared through the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Senator Murray’s bill, the also builds upon previous law to improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families.
Late last year, Senator Murray was able to pass the bill through the U.S. Senate after delivering an impassioned speech on the Senate floor describing the challenges veterans and their families face in accessing IVF. Unfortunately, the bill failed to move in the House of Representatives in time to make its way to the President’s desk after Republican leaders there expressed opposition. Working with advocates and military families, like Staff Sergeant Matt Keil and his wife Tracy, Sen. Murray is pushing for the Senate to once again immediately take up and pass this legislation.
“There is absolutely no reason that this bill should not move quickly to the President’s desk,” said
Senator Murray. “It was passed unanimously in the Senate, and the House has a responsibility to our most seriously wounded veterans and their spouses to act. This is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything, every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family. It says that we are not turning our back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars. It says to all those brave men and women that didn’t ask questions when they were put in harm’s way that we won’t let politics get in the way of our commitment to you. We owe them nothing less.”
Last year, the New York Times ran an editorial emphasizing the importance of providing these services saying:
“In more than a decade of combat overseas, the military and V.A. have continually had to adjust to the challenges of new traumas with new treatments, as with the epidemic of brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. Adapting the V.A. health system to better meet reproductive-health needs should be part of that response. It is one compassionate way to fulfill the country’s duty to wounded veterans.”
Department of Defense (DOD) data show that between 2003 and 2012 nearly 2000 servicemembers have suffered reproductive and urinary tract trauma. The reliance on foot patrols in Afghanistan and the prevalence of improvised explosive devices has left servicemembers far more susceptible to these injuries. In fact, these data show a clear increase in injuries of this nature in recent years.
Veterans who have severe reproductive and urinary tract injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) often need highly specialized treatments and procedures like IVF to conceive. However, under current law, IVF is expressly excluded from fertility services that are provided by the VA to veterans or their spouses. This is a significant barrier for veterans with SCI and genital and urinary tract injuries and as a result they have to seek care outside of the VA. DOD currently provides access to IVF services under the Tricare program and coverage for IVF and other fertility treatments at no charge to severely combat wounded servicemembers. Senator Murray’s bill would provide veterans with the same access.
Murray’s bill also will give VA permanent authority to offer child care programs at hospitals and Vet Centers for veterans seeking care, and improve outreach to women veterans.
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834
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