Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, May 6, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Jim Moran shows he grasps the VA duties better than those in leadership at the VA do, veterans suicides gets some attention in Congress, Helen Thomas questions Perino and more.
Starting with war resistance.  Claudia Parson (Reuters) reports on Iraq Veterans Against the War's Eli Wright who awaits "a medical discharge for post traumatic stress disorder and a shoulder injury" and has added to his tattoo collection "a black paper clip on his right hand."  From Different Drummer Cafe, Wright explains, "During Vietnam, guys that were against the war would wear a paper clip on their uniform somewhere, it was a little way for them to identify themselves. It stands for People Against People Ever Re-enlisting -- Civilian Life is Preferred.  We decided instead of just ewaring paper clips, we would actually tattoo them, a permanent reminder of our dedication to getting out."
March 14th, Wright testified at IVAW's Winter Soldier on the experience of health care and cautioned veterans, "Don't keep it quiet," demand the health care you've been promised.  Vet health care will be a later topic this snapshot but if  you missed Winter Soldier you can stream it online at IVAW's Winter Solider page (audio or video). You can also stream audio at War Comes Home, at KPFK, at the Pacifica Radio homepage and at KPFA, here for Friday, here for Saturday, here for Sunday. Aimee Allison (co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None) and Aaron Glantz were the anchors for Pacifica's live coverage. Allison and Glantz also hosted KPFA's live coverage April 22nd on the lawsuit against the Veterans Administration.

In Canada, war resisters are hoping the Parliament will take action on a motion waiting to be debated.   Currently, you can utilize the following e-mails to show your support: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pm@pm.gc.ca -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration.  In addition Jack Layton, NDP leader, has a contact form and they would like to hear from people as well. A few more addresses can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.         

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Jose Vasquez, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Logan Laituri, Jason Marek, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).
Today the US House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing entitled "The Truth About Veterans' Suicides."  Among those questioned by the committee were the Sec of the Dept of Veterans Affairs James Peake, Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration Gerald Cross, the VA's Dr. Iraq Katz, the University of Georgia's Stephen L Rathbun, Texas Tech's M. David Rudd, University of South Carolina's Ronald Maris and, from the Inspector General's office, Dr. Michael Shepherd.
US House Rep Bob Filner chairs the committee and noted in his opening statements, "On December 12, 2007, this Committee held a hearing entitled 'Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges within the Department of Veterans Affairs.'  Nearly five months later, we are again holding a hearing on the tragic issue of suicide among our veterans and what the VA is doing to address what is clearly an epidemic.  In November of last year, CBS News aired a story entitled 'Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans.'  On April 21, 2008, CBS News aired a story 'VA Hid Suicide Risk, Internal E-mails Show.'  The first step in addressing a problem is to understand the scope and extent of the problem.  In the case of the VA and the epidemic of veteran suicides, either the VA has not adequately attempted to determine the scope of the problem, which is an idictment of the VA's basic competence, or the VA knows the extent of the problem, but has attempted to obfuscate and minimize the problem to veterans, Congress, and the American people, which is an indictment of the leadership of the entire Department.  In December, Dr. Katz, in testimony before this Committee, stressed a low-rate veteran suicide, stating that 'from the beginning of the war through the end of 2005 there were 144 known suicides among these new veterans.'  In responding to the figures used by CBS, Dr. Katz stated that 'their number for veteran suicides is not, in fact, an accurate reflection of the rates of suicide'."
The reports Filner references were done by CBS Evening News and Armen Keteyian was the reporter and Pia Malbran the producer for both reports.  CBS obtained (for the April report) an e-mail (warning PDF format) that Katz had sent out stating that "our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among that veterans we see in our medical facialities" which was considerably higher than the less than a thousand suicides (790) per year that the VA had insisted to CBS was the accurate number.  In addition, the e-mail opens with "Sh!" and is entitled "Not for the CBS News interview segment." The e-mail was sent to the VA's chief communications director, Ev Chasen, who replied, "I think this is something we should discuss among ourselves, before issuing a release.  Is the fact that we're stopping them good news, or is the sheer number bad news?  And is this more than we've ever seen before?  It might be something we drop into a general release about suicide prevention efforts, which (as you know far better than I) prominently include training employees to recognize the warning signs of suicide."  Kats replies back, "I want to wait until Jan gets back from leave and then plan talking points with her." 
Speaking for the VA, Peake attempted to bore the world with a lecture on suicide, its history, its measurements.  Well into his opening remarks he admitted something truly appalling that some may miss: "Until VA committed itself last year to providing full time suicide prevention coordinators at each of its 153 hospitals, it could provide no useful number of attempted suicides among patients."  Suicide is epidemic for Iraq and Afghanistan wars, no question.  But suicide is also a serious isssue for veterans period.  That's Vietnam, that's Korea, that's . . .  The idea that until 2007 the VA was not staffing each VA hospital with a full time suicide prevention coordinator is appalling.  And, as Dr. Ronald Maris would later point out, this is just VA hospitals, it doesn't include the 875 VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinics.  Maris noted [paraphrase on at least two words]:
Thus the vast majority of VA facilities in fact do not have suicide coordinators.  Several questions remain.  What do these coordinators do, exactly?  How are they trained to do suicide assement and prevention ?  What are their professional credentials and licensing?  Who supervises these suicide coordinators?  Do suicide coordinators interact directly with suicidal vets in clinical care of the VA?  What exactly are they coordinating?
Maris points would come after Peake was done.  During his testimony, Peake cited the e-mail CBS got hold of from Katz and attempted to state that due that the lack of full time coordinators (apparently until October) resulted in the data having only been compiled for "three months" which he maintained was "too short a time period to determine if it was reliable."  For that reason, Peake stated, "The data was not sent to CBS".  He identifes that as one of Katz' "concerns" but that's not in the e-mail.  Peake's inventing a cover story after the fact.  Katz'  e-mails reflect that he does not the want the number getting out.  There is nothing about the time period the figures are being pulled from. He then tries to question the numbers themselves stating that people were still learning -- full time suicide prevention coordinators are still learning?  On the tax payer dime?  Was the VA unable to find qualified people to fill the positions because, if so, that should be the subject of another committee hearing.
He claims that "borderline calls" were being included.  Despite his lengthy lecture on sucides at the beginning of his remarks, he didn't define that term.  But presumably a "borderline call" would be included by most studying suicide. 
Peake needs to resign.  He needs to resign effective immediately and the VA needs to apologize.  That's for what he then launched into.  Peake announced that the VA, as part of their efforts, "intends to ask suicide prevention coordinators for the names of all those in their facility who have attempted suicide."  The VA has regularly and repeatedly lost computers, accidentally disclosed private information to the public and a host of other issues.  Is Peake such an idiot that he doesn't grasp that his little bit of information will likely result in at least some (possibly many) who need help deciding to forgoe out of fear that they'll be on some list that will follow them around -- follow them around outside of the VA? 
Peake then wanted to play with the data (Dr. Stephen L Rathbun's testimony refuted Peake's nonsense so we won't even go into it) and shade the issue before launching into what the VA's doing.  What is the VA doing?  Not a damn thing to be proud of and a hell of a lot to be ashamed of.  Peake spoke of the "two National VA Suicide Prevention Awareness Days" -- one of which piggy-backed on the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week.  The same way that 'their' hotline piggy backs on the National Suicide Hotline (already set up).  Peake revealed that callers who press "1" (we went over this before) are immediately taken to a separate call center because they are veterans (no, they are not always taken there) and that they then receive help from "mental health professionals . . . trained in both crisis intervention strategies and in issues" such as PTSD and TBI.  He goes on to reveal something else and again this DOES NOT encourage veterans to call.  If the veteran has a VA record and gives out his or her information, the 'operator' is pulling up their information and putting "consults in the patient's medical record," etc.  That's not how the National Suicide Hotline works.  They guarantee confidientiality and since the VA has -- to save money -- piggy-backed on their efforts, they should follow the same system.  That they aren't is misleading and hurts veterans as well as the National Suicide Hotline.  Is it really the place of some 'operator' to, as Peake says they do, "check patient's records to see if consultations were completed; actions are taken; and follow-ups are ongoing"?
It's past time for the press to stop treating the VA as its own little island.  Doctors and counselors working in suicide prevention can tell you (loudly) that the hodge-podge system Peake's speaking of does not encourage those in need to reach out and that, again, it will actually harm the National Sucide Hot Line because people will confuse the two and assume they are being put (with their names) on some national list if they call (I'm referring to civilians).  What is the VA doing?  Not a damn thing.  Peake spoke of posters!  Posters!  Wow, what is this third grade?  And MTV's doing a video!  This is a disgrace and the resignations from all in leadership at the VA should be turned in immediately.  They repeatedly refuse to address this problem and any tiny steps they take are done on the cheap (and in such a way that it puts veterans and civilians at risk).  This is shameful.
Texas Tech's Dr. M. David Rudd spoke of the illness and noted, "The tragic increase in both active duty and veteran suicide rates since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedome (OIF/OEF) underscores a seldom recognized but very real fact about mental illness; that it can be fatal."  From Dr. Ronald Maris, we'll zoom in on this:

One reason I cannot answer definitely about what causes veteran suicides is that the Office of Veteran Affairs has not provided me or the courts crucial data that are needed. For example, each time there is a military death, suicide attempt, or other serious incident, the VA produces a short 'incident brief' which summarily describes the suicide or suicide attempt.  Then about 45 days later each incident undergoes what is called a 'root cause anaylsis' and a three-page report is generated.  On April 22, 2008, when I was an expert for the plaintiff in the Veterans v. Peake trial in San Francisco, I was given only 170 of the estimated 15,000 incident briefs and none of the root cause analyses.  Clearly these VA documents could go a long way in establishing what causes veteran suicides and whether or not there is an epidemic.  It seems that these personal, clinical documents could be redacted, with patients' names and other indentifying information removed, and then supplied to independent scientific investigators, like myself."
US House Rep Jim Moran spoke to the committee about the need for a suicide hotline for veterans -- not piggy backing off an existing hotline.  He noted the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline Act and how it would be "a stand-alone 24-hour national toll-free hotline" which "would be staffed by veterans, trained to appropriately and responsibly answer calls from other veterans."  Moran grasped the fact that there is a stigma still associated with suicide or even asking for help.  He grasps that fear "of potential job-related consequences keep many active duty soldiers and recent veterans from seeking the care they need."  And he grasps the need for those seeking help to fill that the person on the other end of the line has "a real-life perspective of what's happening."  In short, Moran's more on the ball than all the VA staff trotted out before Congress.
We can return to the hearing tomorrow (or later in the week) because there's enough to make the hearing alone the entire snapshot.  Instead, we'll move on by noting that, at the White House today, press flack Dana Perino expressed her firmly held spin that "the President has full confidence in Secretary Peake and believes that he is handling it appropriately."  It?  The VA or maybe accusations.  She also firmly spun that "Secretary Peake answered those [accusations] today" but when pressed on what his answer was she stated "nobody was covering it, so I wasn't able to see it directly."  But by osmosis, Dana Perino just knows the accusations were answered. 
Perino was also asked about the Iraq War supplemental the US Congress is currently working on and, in one of the more laugh inducing moments, she denied that the Bully Boy was in denial about the economy.  Perino denied that Bully Boy was in denial.  Sort of like the cereal box with the picture of the cereal box on it with the picture of the cereal box  with the picture of the cereal . . .
The Iraq War supplemental?  Carl Hulse (New York Times) reported this morning that House Democratic leadership intends to include -- among other measures -- in the House bill a call for 'significant' withdrawals of US troops in Iraq by December 2009; however, they expect it to be stripped out in the US Senate's version of the bill.  Richard Cowan (Reuters) reports, "Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have agreed on a plan to fund the Iraq war into next year but included a provision to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2009, lawmakers said on Tuesday.  The plan for supporting the approximately $170 billion request from President George W. Bush to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also would expand education benefits for war veterans and give more help to the long-term U.S. unemployed."  Anne Flaherty (AP) notes, "The bill also includes a mandate that the president negotiate an agreement with Baghdad to subsidize the U.S. miltiary's fuel costs so troops operationg in Iraq aren't paying any more than Iraqi citizens are" and a prohibition on US dollars for reconstruction "unless Baghdad matches every dollar spent".
Meanwhile the assault on Sadr City continues in Iraq.   Helen Thomas questioned Perino about that today.
Helen Thomas: Yesterday, according to the New York Times, we dropped a bomb on a home in Sadr City and burned alive a pregnant woman and her children. How long is the siege of Sadr?  How long are we going to keep bombing Iraqis?
Dana Perino: Well, I'm not aware of that particular report. I have not -- I've not seen it.
Helent Thomas: Well it was pretty buried in the story.
Dana Perino: Okay. Well the operation against the militias in Sadr City will continue until they root them out. And that is expressly in order to protect people like you just mentioned.
Helen Thomas: Root who out? Iraqis? In their own country?
Dana Perino: It is Prime Minister Maliki's government which is going after the militia, which is appropriate.
Really?  Because Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) offers different terminology calling them "American strikes on Shiite fighters" in today's paper.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad mortar attacks that claimed 3 lives and left twelve people wounded, 2 Baghdad missile attacks that wounded ten people, a Diyala Province roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 "Awakening" Council member and left another wounded, a Tikrit car bombing that claimed 2 lives and left twenty-six people wounded and a Mosul roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 police officer. 
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Baghdad armed clashes resulted in 3 deaths and nine people wounded and an armed clash in Mosul that claimed the lives of 2 police officers with one more wounded.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad.
On NPR's Morning Edition, Guy Raz reported (text and audio) the lastest on the military's use of "counter-insurgency."  To back up, "counter-insurgency" is attacking and tricking civilians and, once upon a time, it was seen as something to be called out.  But note the 60s Peace Train hopping on board Bambi For Prez -- alleged 'peace warriors' -- who repeatedly ignore Barack's own ties to counter-insurgency.  Raz reports today that the Pentagon is now worried that too much focus has been placed on 'counter-insurgency' in Iraq and not engough on training "to fight conventional battles".  Lt Col Gian Gentile is quoted (from a lecture he gave) stating, "Due to five years in Iraq and six years in Afghanistan, I believe that the U.S. Army has become a counterinsurgency-only force.  . . . The high public profile of the new counterinsurgency manual, combined with the perception that its use and practice with the surge in Iraq has lowered the violence, I think has had a Svengali effect on us."
But don't worry, crap-ass outlets like 'Voters For Peace,' like a number of aging hippies, have other things to focus on than the actual Iraq War.  As long as they can pretend they care enough for some people to believe that they do, that's fine and dandy.  They damn well knows what 'counter-insurgency' is and damn well decried its use during Vietnam.  Today?  It's ignore it and hop on board the corporate and psuedo peace train.  Take Tom-Tom Hayden (forever on the outside) whinging at Aged Socialite's Cat Mix on March 18th that Barack "failed to dissociate from the grim counterinsurgency war envisioned by Gen. Petraeus" in a fifth anniversary speech he gave.  Like self-loathing lesbian Laura Flanders calling for Barack to break with Richard Dailey over torture, Tom-Tom has to pretend that Barack could make the break, as though Barack hasn't stacked his adivsors with the ones who approve and wrote the Army's 'counter-insurgency' manual.
On September 12, 2007, Matt Lehrich posted (at Barack's website) a rave about Sarah Sewall (aka Sarah Sewer) and Sammy Get The Axe Power noting that not only were they two of Bambi's foreign policy advisors but they were selling Bambi via a conference call with bloggers.  (And you wonder how so many idiots could defend War Hawk Power online when her trashing of Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown as well as her revealing that Barack's Iraq "promises" were empty to the BBC.)  Sammy just blurbed the manual (and believed in it), Sarah Sewer offered so much and was in charge of it.  That would be the same Sarah Sewer who declared on PBS' The Charlie Rose Show, on the last week of 2007, that the US must not, cannot, see the Iraq War as a failure because it would prevent future interventionsAs Ava and I noted last December of the interview:
Sewer came close to unhinging in public when she went into rapid-fire mode, spitting out sentences about the failure of states, her desire to create "a strong, international force," how the illegal war must not be seen "as a failure" and her "concern" that, if Iraq is seen as a failure, "we'll move towards isolationism" or, worse, send in the military to "strike him and get out" (as opposed to occupying -- and "him" wasn't identified by the War Pig). That truly does concern Sewer because her whole existence, her belief system such as it is, is rooted in the notion that she, and only she, possess the wisdom to decide. She's a hairy-legged version of the Bully Boy with better vocab.
These are the War Hawks Barack selected.  But don't worry, your 'peace' 'leaders' won't bother you with those realities, they're far too busy lying to get Barack into office.  Equally true is just as Judith Miller's past includes The Progressive, Sarah Sewall's includes the Institute of Policy Studies and, no, IPS hasn't called out Sewall.  In fact, IPS hasn't addressed the issue of 'counter-insurgency' at all.  (The organization.  Phyllis Bennis has addressed it and has addressed it as applied to Barack.  And we've noted that before.  She's addressed it as an individual.  IPS, the organization, has remained silent.)
Yesterday Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reported:

On a conference call with reporters this morning, the Clinton campaign knocked Barack Obama over a report in the Wall Street Journal today that Obama "won the endorsement of the Teamsters earlier this year after privately telling the union he supported ending the strict federal oversight imposed to root out corruption."
Clinton has not taken a position on oversight of the Teamsters, and, as the Journal notes, Obama's stance is unusual, as "[p]olicy makers have largely treated monitoring of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as a legal matter left to the Justice Department since an independent review board was set up in 1992 to eliminate mob influence in the union."
Today Green Change reposts Brody Mullins and Kris Maher's Wall St. Journal article which opens: "Sen. Barack Obama won the endorsement of the Teamsters earlier this year after privately telling the union he supported ending the strict federal oversight imposed to root out corruption, according to officials from the union and the Obama campaign."  Well thank goodness RFK's children didn't embarrass themselves endorsing Barack.  Too bad other members of the Kennedy clan can't say the same.
Yesterday's snapshot noted this: "Jeralyn (TalkLeft) highlights his new ad attacking Hillary Clinton -- both are running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination -- and he says 'I approved this message' at the end.  So he's responsible for its accuracy."  Jake Tapper (ABC News) notes that the ad doesn't quote correctly from a column by Paul Krugman.  Tapper also steers to Paul Krugman's comment on the distortion: "I did not say that the Clinton proposal would increase oil industry profits. If the ad implies that I did, it should be retracted."
From today's HUBdate (Clinton campaign): "Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton appeared on Monday on the 'Late Show with David Letterman' to deliver the 'Top 10' reasons she loves America, which included the ability to order her trademark pantsuits around the clock on the Internet." Watch here. Read more.

Be a better friend, newshound, and know-it-all with Yahoo! Mobile. Try it now.