Friday, January 30, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Friday, January 30, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, provincial elections loom, Blackwater gets its walking papers from the US State Dept, Carl Levin declares the 'withdrawal' of US 'combat' troops from Iraq can wait, and more.
Katie Couric: The United States has now been fighting two wars for nearly eight years and the strain on service men and women is enormous.  The Army reported today that at least 128 took their lives last year alone -- the most since they began keeping records three decades ago.  But sometimes soldiers direct their anger at others.  Case-in-point, cases of assault against wives and girlfriends are on the rise and critics say the Army isn't doing enough about it.  As you're about to see in this CBS News investigation, the results can be tragic.  Sgt. James Pitts was a decorated soldier, part of the early ground offensive that stormed Baghdad.  He had spent a year serving with a combat engineer group providing Army operational support. It wasn't long before the horrors of war became his daily reality.   
Sgt James Pitts: The only thing you could predict was that you were going to get attacked.  The worst part about it is smelling -- smelling dead bodies because it lingers forever.  
Katie Couric: The terrifiying images began to take a toll.  
James Pitts: Mortars you hear the 'phupt!' and that's it.    
Katie Couric: Pitts started abusing prescription drugs as a way to escape and reached out to his command for help.  He says they did nothing.  When it was time to come home, he hoped the joy of seeing his wife and nine-year-old son would make everything better.    
Footage of Tara Pitts speaking: I'm just overwhelmed.  Excited and relieved. 
Katie Couric: But the excitement and relief didn't last.  He was drinking heavily, experiencing flashbacks having nightmares.  
James Pitts: I can't sleep.  I can't get the war out of my head.  I've got my wife saying she doesn't love me anymore.  I got no one in the military I can trust. 
Katie Couric: Family members say that despite some obvious problems, no one in the Army required or even encouraged he get psychological help.  According to this police report obtained by CBS News, Pitts was "increasingly agitated" and had threatened to "put a bullet" through his wife's head.  Afraid for her life, Tara Pitts obtained a restraining order and notified his command who promised to help.  But that help never came.  A week later, Pitts murdered his wife, drowning her in a bathtub.  They'd had a fight and her screams, he says, set him off.  
James Pitts: It reminded me of those screams of fear with the mortars and stuff. . . . I grabbed her and she bumped her head bad. And when I looked down, she was under the water.  
Katie Couric: He was sentenced to 20 years without parole. Pitts feels betrayed by an Army that once applauded his bravery.   
James Pitts: Not only did they turn their back on me, not only did they talk me out of counseling -- four times -- but then they flew in from other units to testify against me.    
Katie Couric: Lynn McCollum is the Army Director of Family Affairs.    
Katie Couric: Doesn't it make you angry to hear these stories about wives who are being killed by soldiers who are actually calling out for help.   
Lynn McCollum: There's a tremendous amount of, um, effort going in to provide, um, that safety network and assistance for those folks and it's very um frustrating and disturbing when we don't reach everyone.   
Katie Couric: The numbers are alarming.  Over the last decade there have been nearly 90 domestic homicides and 25,000 substantiated cases of domestic violence at US military installations.  When we looked at the small town of Killeen, Texas, home of Fort Hood, we found another disturbing trend: Of the 2,500 domestic cases reported to police last year, half of them involved military personnel.  The Army has developed a battle-mind training program to help soldiers transition back into life at home. Most agree that all the systems and services that the military may offer are only as effective as the people willing to use them.  Only then will double tragedies like the case of James and Tara Pitts be prevented.   
James Pitts: This war took my family from me I've lost everything.  Everything that I thought I was, everything that I had lived for for a decade.  Gone.  Gone.  Everything.  
CBS News notes that the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE, that (ofr Teen Dating Abuse) is 1-866-331-9474 and they recommend the  Family Violence Prevention Fund and Military One Source as  resources.   
For our second panel, we're pleased to have two witnesses from the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and one from the California Coaliton Against Sexual Assault.  Dr. Kaye Whitley is the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office -- what we all have been say SAPRO --  she holds a doctorate in counseling and human development.  I also believe that this is her first appearance before our subcommittee.  Welcome.  and also from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is Teresa Scalzo.  Ms Scalzo is the senior policy advisor for the Office and is a former director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women.  Her purpose here today is to provide her subject matter expertise on the Department of Defense's policy of restrective reporting.  And finally we were supposed to have Suzanne Brown-McBride, executive director of the California Coalition Against  Sexual Assault; however, Mother Nature was rooting against her and she wasn't able to fly into DC last night.  But we're very fortunate to have Robert Coombs who did manage to arrive before the bad weather.  Mr. Combs is the public affairs director for the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  Mr. Combs will offer Ms. Brown-McBride's testimony and will be available for questioning.
That's US House Rep Susan Davis, chair of the House Armered Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee which met Wedensday.  Davis asked the three witnesses to share their "response to what you've heard today."  And the response told you just how firmly the culture of denial was.
Dept of Defense's Kaye Whitley: I, too, want to thank Ms. Watterson because we all know, all of us who work with victims, that this is a really difficult thing to do.  We also think she's a perfect example of why we needed our policy and why we needed our program.  I do have some concerns because I felt when we were talking about the new program she thinks that there are still some things out there that are still going wrong through her work with victim advocates so I have offered to work with her to see if I can get some more concrete examples of what's happening to some of the victims and where it's happening so that we can follow up on it. [. . .]  
Dept of Defense Teresa Scalzo: I have nothing additional to add to what Dr. Whitley said.
Dept of Defense contract labor from time to time Robert Coombs: Yes, well, first and foremost I want to acknowledge that I come here as a victim advocate, from my core, that's where I operate I happen to have a professional background in working in media and policy and so when I'm working with folks like the Dept of Defense, I have very little interest in defending the problems that they've had but rather seeking solutions.  We've had a fantastic collaboration with the SAPRO office in particular after working with them for -- since about 2006, have met with  
And we'll cut the little suck up off right there.  What a difference the second panel could have made were they not all DoD or working with DoD.  A point that ten victims rights advocates made when I e-mailed them copies of a transcript to the second panel.  Why -- the biggest question they had -- were no civilians on the second panel?  And they didn't count Coombs as civilian when the Coalition works with DoD.  It's cute that Whitley wants to 'follow up on' what she should have already been aware of.
The second panel was garbage but when you put garbage before a committee that's what you're going to get.  Three liars lying.  Three liars pretending they give a damn about the victims and not even able to pull that off.  Scalzo was asked to explain a restricted reporting option:

The Department has two reporting options: restricted reporting and unrestrictived reporting.  Restricted reporting is quite simply confidential reporting where command and law enforcement are not involved.  It was quite controversial and very novel when it was first created and it wasn't introduced until six months after our policy was initially passed.  In the military it's a culture where commanders need to know and they do know everything that's going on underneath them.  It was difficult to construct a system where we could protect victims privacy but  give them just a little bit of information, Jane Doe information, non-identifying information, if you will that would enable them to keep the community safe.  
That's garbage.  First off, allowing a restricted reporting option means anyone wanting to keep something under the radar would recommend that to a victim.  Second of all, who the hell does that help?  The victim?  If you and I are in the Army and you rape me and I don't want to press charges out of fear, shame or any other emotion, I'm not taking my issue anywhere on base.  If I get help, I'm going to a civilian therapist off base. 

This is nonsense.  It does not help the victim, it is not about helping the victim.  And to hear those ridiculous panelists speak was to want to scream -- especially the smug little Scalzo with her, "I have nothing additional to add to what Dr. Whitley said."
Here's reality -- and we'll stick with rape for this example.  If I was in the Army and raped, my assailant wasn't 'sampling.'  It's not as if he woke up that day and thought, "Hmm?  I wonder if I would enjoy raping a woman?"  And it's not as if -- as statistics demonstrate -- I will be his only victim. 
Restricted Reporting is as offensive as Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  It's telling victims that there are two options and one is we don't say anything.
Again, I'm raped, I don't want anyone to know, I'm not talking my rape anywhere on base, I'm finding a civilian therapist (if I talk to anyone) and I'm doing that because I don't want anyone to know.  There is no benefit to restricted reporting -- not for the victim and not for the community.  If I'm choosing Restricted Reporting and you and I still have to work together, what benefit do I have?  If you're my rapist and we work together, we're still working together.  We're still side-by-side.  Where is the benefit for the victim? 
There is no benefit to anyone but the military command benefits from this -- even if the community itself doesn't.  A point US House Rep Niki Tsongas seemed to grasp when she quoted the number 1,896 Restricted Reports back to Whitley and pointed out, "It means a significant number of people who committed these assaults are not accountable."  A base, which Whitley refuses to acknowledge, is a closed environment.  She can yammer on all she wants about every detail but she's not acknowledging that there is no benefit to allowing 1,896 assaulters to walk around freely.   "It renders," Whitley wanted you to know "a military woman unready and it just tears a unit apart."  Whitley might try explaining what rape does to any woman because she seems to be under the impression that she's able to 'fix' victims and do so quickly.  You kind of picture her with a hammer in one hand and a pick in the other saying, "Lobotomy gets 'em home!"  As Niki Tsongas noted, "The question I have, and I think that's a worthy goal for the victim, on the other hand, we do have new women coming into the military who have no real understanding of the threat that might exist [ . . .] at the same time, we have many young people coming into the services who we want to protect."  Whitley said not to word "hopefully" because when they enter the military they get a sexual assault training.  Really?  That's helping reduce what numbers because that sexual assault training has been going on for years and all studies indicate the number of rapes in the military has risen.  Besides, Whitley wanted you to know, even if the report is unrestricted, "it's very difficult to get victims to stay with" militiary "justice."  Of course it is.  The civilian court system punishes rape.  Military 'justice' has yet to demonstrate it does so consistently.  No, that didn't address what Tsongas was asking about.  Tsongas was asking about the larger community -- with its steady influx -- being protected from rapists and assailants and Whitley avoided the issue completely except to offer a lot of lame excuses.
And, important point, that panel and the first panel -- with the exception of Laura Watterson -- was garbage.
What happened was people in the military told Congress (on the first panel), there's no problem.  And then came the second panel of the military and their civilian partner telling Congress there was no problem.
Golly, do you think maybe Walter Reed Army Medical Center was "not a problem" if Congress had asked the military?  Do we need Dana Priest and Anne Hull to go around speaking with victims and asking for what happened?
What you had with every witness other than Laura Watterson was someone who really wasn't vested in honesty -- they were vested in protecting the DoD. 
So maybe they minimized just a little -- as far as they know -- or maybe they minimized big time.  But they were not honest and the second panel was nothing but defensive excuses.
As Susan Davis explained at the start of the hearing, there will be other hearings on this issue.  When those hearing take place, the subcommittee needs to ensure that their witnesses are at least balanced.  Laura Watterson was a wonderful witness who ripped her own heart apart to share what she went through.  Out of seven witnesses, she was the only civilian.  (She had earlier been in the military.)  The make up had better a lot better.
Robert Coombs f--king lied.  I'm furious with that asshole.  "From the perspective of victim rights advocates ---"  Uh, no, restricted reporting is not favored.  And I polled in California and out of California last night.  Robert Coombs, you lied to Congress or you so stupid that these 'voices' agreeing with you are in your damn head.  At your "core," you're nothing but a PR hack acting as a front man for the boss in the Pentagon.  If you're too stupid to grasp that, then you're a PR hack and an idiot.
Here's another issue for the subcommittee to consider.  What the hell was with the genders of the witnesses?  Seven witnesses.  Three were men?  I didn't realize that was the statistical equation for the military -- that for every four women raped or assaulted, three men were raped or assaulted.  (Because that's not the statistic.  Men are assaulted and raped, I'm not disputing that.  I'm saying that the witnesses were non-reflective in every manner.) 
What is needed in the next panel hearing is a civilian with no ties to the Defense Dept for each Defense Dept witness.  It should be a civilian who has a record of not being afraid to disagree or call out the US military's 'treatment' programs. 
By not having that, the subcommittee allowed the Navy to agree with the Army to agree with the Air Force to agree with two Defense Dept employees and one DoD contract.  Six people lined up against Laura Watterson.  That is exactly what happened.
Laura Watterson showed bravery.  Six little lackeys demonstrated the definition of "toady."  Congress wants to evaluate how the programs are improving or not?
You're not going to get that evaluation from a DoD echo chamber.  And, if nothing else, after Walter Reed, one would think Congress would grasp that on their own.
Victims rights advocates I spoke with helped shape the above with their comments and input.  (I delayed the snapshot to give two -- who didn't have time last night -- the time today to add their input.)
The subcomittee needs to do a better job with witnesses.  That said, the members of the subcommittee were professional -- on both sides of the aisle and Davis and Sanchez especially did strong work.
We'll again note Laura Watterson's testimony because (a) it was important, (b) it was powerful and (c) she was willing to destroy herself before the subcommittee to get the truth out. 
Laura Watterson: I'll just start off.  This is very difficult.  I don't usually come out of my bedroom so coming all the way to DC is a little, well, freaking me out.  But however uncomfortable I may be, I think it is more important that I be here instead of worrying about my own problems because this really needs to be done.  [. . .]
When I entered the Air Force, I seriously considered making it a career for myself.  I wanted to travel and I wanted to have a stable life and career.  After I was assaulted, I no longer trusted anyone on base and my career was no longer an option for me.  Because of my MST and PTSD that resulted from it, I was forced to move in with my mother at the age of thirty because I could not take care of myself, keep a job or feel safe even in my own apartment.  I lived on cereal and microwaveable dinners so I did not end up causing a fire because I forgot that I was cooking something.  I was so depressed that I actually quit smoking because the task of actually picking up a cigarette and lighting it was just too much.  Of course, my doctors were happy about that but . . .     
I had crying fits that were so powerful I could not even get my head off of wherever it landed because of exhaustion.  One time my head landed in my shoe.  And it would leave me hoarse for three days from crying so hard. I have gained over sixty pounds and I would go into violent rages.  One time I ransacked the house to find every present I had ever given my mother, smashed them to bits and dumped them on her bed.   I would swear at her and throw things at her as if I had Tourette Syndrome.  Any attempt at communication with me, I would just flip her off.  This behavior was . . . I had never treated my mother like this before.  I didn't understand why this was happening and it ruined my self-esteem that much further.         
I have missed most family functions since being in the Air Force because I am unable to be around many people -- especially people who are asking a lot of personal questions like "Oh, how is life?  What are you up to? What are you doing?"  That kind of brings the family celebration down a little.  It has been only recently that I would even leave my bedroom.  I used to have very good credit.  And I was very proud of that.  Because of not being able to pay my bills because I could not keep a job -- just recently I had an attempt to have my wages garnished.  I was too afraid to wear anything at all 'inviting'.  I.e. I would wear men's clothing, usually in all black and several sizes too big.  I didn't want anyone to find me approachable.  I'm afraid of being assaulted again.  I used to have my hair and make up and nails match every day, no matter what I was wearing, for years.  Now, with the exception of today, I would only wear chapstick and stick my hair up in a bun.  And I rarely, if ever, painted my nails.  I don't have the energy to look good due to depression.  I have had meltdowns in the super market because if I saw someone -- especially if it was a man -- I knew they were stalking me and I would run from the grocery store.
My marriage to a man who I am still friends with ended due to my PTSD symptoms. I didn't realize why I was acting the way I was and neither did he.  Nonetheless, it ruined our marriage.  That's probably the hardest part [crying], excuse me.
I began . . . I began therapy at the VA because I had lost everything as a result.  I began to see patterns and realized that I needed to get my life back.  I realize that there are many other people who need to be helped to get back on track as well and that is also why I am a Veteran Advocate myself -- out of my bedroom and out of my own pocket. 
Part of my wellness is testifying today, forcing me to get out and do things that are challenging because they're more important.  I'll leave here today but hopefully my message will not leave.  If I had a caring SARC representative I believe I would not have ended up in the mess that I have ended up in.  I was never given a representative when I called to have some assistance.  No one came.  It got to the point that I called the 15th Air Force Commander who was in charge of the entire western half of the United States and whose name was also in all of the sexual assault booklets, leaflets and --
Since basic training, we'd all been taught the same thing.  I trusted in that.  I also trusted because I had friends before I went in, "Aren't you afraid after the sexual harassment, the whole Tail-hook thing?" I was like, "No.  With all this media why would they -- they must be really careful about it now."
The 15th Air Force Commander said, "Well why don't you just keep this on base, have them take care of it?"  They wouldn't.  I reported it as I was supposed to -- to my supervisor, as well as his.  They said it would be taken care of and I trusted that.   
Two weeks later, I was at work and everyone was asked to stand up because there was going to be a pinning-on ceremony.     
That pinning-on ceremony was for the man who assaulted me to now outrank me and become a supervisor.  He was rewarded.
This was when I got very angry.  After fighting and calling everyone I could possibly think of, my commander finally called me into his office with my supervisor who assaulted me here [call this Point A], the guy who assaulted me [Point B], my chair [Point C -- so they are seated right next to each other] and his supervisor [Point D]. So I was not even close to my supervisor, the one who should be protecting me or making me feel safe. 
I was told by my commander that I needed to understand that, "Different people have different personal bubbles. For example, when you go to England, sometimes when you meet people over there and you shake their hand, they like to hold on to your hand while they're speaking and, as Americans, because we don't do that, it's uncomfortable for us."  And that is how he told me that I needed to get over what had happened.
That is when I became --
I started drinking obscene amounts.  Again, not knowing anything about PTSD, I started having, you know, yelling at my husband over the stupidest things and having absolute fits of rage.  And, again, this is not me.  
After this meeting I had with my commander, my SARC, or whatever he was called at the time, offered me therapy.  I asked if it was going to be someone on base or if it was going to be civilian?   He told me it was going to be from someone on base and from the treatment that I had gotten so far to try and help me there was no way I was going to trust another military member to tell them how I felt and what was going on.  So when I refused help, they had me sign a waiver saying that because I refused treatment I was not going to be eligible for any VA treatment or benefits.  I, of course, did not realize that that was a load of malarkey until several years later when I had to go to the VA because I couldn't handle my own life.
I was also told that punishment of my perpetrator was not my business.  I think that is -- I don't know for sure what the real rule is about that now, but it is definitely the business because I trusted them in the first place to take care of it and promoting him two weeks later is not promoting it -- sorry, fixing it.
All of the evidence that had been in my files about this was sanitized.  This is a normal and way too often thing that happens with files.  Things that are important that would have some thing to do with a claim are taken out of your files so, when you request them, over half of your file is no longer there.  So trying to fight the VA to get benefits is next to impossible because there's no proof any more -- even if you reported it to the on base police, even if you reported it to anybody who would listen, like I did, nothing. This, again, makes us trust the government even less.
I would be afraid even when the phone rang.  That could make me cry.  A few months ago, I was at a friend's house and her washing machine turned on and I had a panic attack from that.  I don't know why.  I have panic attacks all the time for the oddest reasons, I'm sure.  As I get further in my treatment I will figure out why certain things trigger me. 
I believe that there are some good SARCs but not enough.  The SARCs need to be on top of their game.  The victim is not going to seek out help.  They're going to do what I did.  They're going to stay in their room and drink.  They're not going to trust anybody else to go help them.  I also believe that a SARC should not be a dependent of a military member because the way that they would run their case may be far too influenced by their fear that if they go against the way the command is saying things should be done, that it could be detrimental to their spouse's career.   
Excuse me just a second.
The SARC also needs to be able to have complete confidentiality.  The things that a victim says and does with their SARC needs to be completely confidential.  It is maybe a month or two ago that a victim's SARC was subpoenaed to testify against their own victim.  And of course, they had no choice.
Just like you're doing now, let the MST victims be involved in the training of SARC personnel.  They know how it feels, they know what needs to be changed.  And commanders also need to be accountable when it comes to the rapist.  
We have plenty of rules that are not worth the paper that they are printed on.  For example, if somebody has done a sexual assault  it is supposed to stay in their record, they are supposed to sign up as -- on the -- I'm sorry, I'm blanking on the name but whatever the civilian thing is that a sex offender has to register under, that's a rule. I've had very little -- in fact, I don't think I've ever seen that done now that I'm even doing advocacy work for people who are still in.  The next base they [assailants] go to, that file does not follow them so the next command does not know it.  They are put in the same situation and they know they can get away with it.  I do not believe a lot of the rumors and the little two-bit ideas that most people have about "Well, it's the alcohol, well, women shouldn't be in the military, well, well, well." I believe it is due to the consistent and rewarded attitudes of misogyny.  Thinking that women -- and also men -- there's plenty of men that I've worked with who have been sexually assaulted as well.  They need to be able to be safe, feel like they have been taken care of  and when you find out that a person who has sexually assaulted you did it at the last base, where is the safety?
I felt like I was entering the band of the brothers as their sister.  I was then an outcast.  Alone.  And challenged on everything I did.   
There is also the Troops to Teachers Actso when the person who sexually assaulted a member, when they get out of the Air Force,  or any Coast Guard or whatever, so they get to go be [. . .]  teachers and their file does not follow them because they have not registered as a sex offender.  So they get to be in schools with children as a sex offender.
If you missed Wednesday's Congressional hearing, it's covered in Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot," Kat's "When I tried to smoke a banana," Thursday's "Iraq snapshot," Ruth's "Laura Watterson's testimony and its meaning" and Kat's "Laura Watterson's testimony."
In Iraq, provincial elections are scheduled to take place tomorrow in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.  Today, as is often case lately, Kim Gamel (AP) stakes out the ground the discussion will be moving to. Gamel's reporting on Mosul -- the city that replaced Baghdad as the most violent by the end of 2008 if you measure solely by the number of deaths. "Mosul is a show down for power between Arabs and Kurds," Gamel notes of the Iraqi city dominated currently by Kurds on their council despite the fact that Kurds do not constitute the largest segment of the population.  Throughout Iraq, borders and airports will close for Saturday's elections (through early the next morning and beginning on Friday) but Gamel informs that Mosul will be banning street traffic starting on Monday and the citizens have been told "to stay at home until they are ready to vote the following day."

Gamel identifies the hopes of US officials: A large Sunni turn out which they believe will vest Arabs in the government and cut down on the tensions.  That's only one of the tensions in Mosul; however, there's also the competition between Sunni and Kurd and Sunni's taking control of the council will increase more tensions on Sunni v. Kurd front. 
Earlier this week, Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) became the first to grasp, "Maybe US audiences aren't all grasping what 'provincial elections' mean?" He offers that they are "the equivalent of an American state legislature" and today Gamel adds to that: "Provincial councils choose the governor and wield tremendous power at the local level. The current Kurdish-dominated council has been heavily criticized for failing to provide local services or security."  Ian Fisher (New York Times) observes of the province:
And thus these elections are studded with contradictions: On one side, the prospect for fairer representation and less violence in the city. Most parties, Arab and Kurdish alike, are pledging to work together in a possible coalition government after the elections (Mr. Goran, however, has ruled out working with the candidates on the slate from al-Hudba.) On the other side, there appears to be rising suspicion between Arabs and Kurds, worsened by the widening gap, in safety and prosperity, between Iraq proper and Kurdistan.
More and more, the roads out of Mosul feel like an international boundary, with checkpoints and virtual customs stops before the Kurdish cities of Dohuk and Erbil. While Mosul is battened down and tense, Kurdistan is safe and lively, full of construction, car dealerships and nice Turkish washing machines for sale. Arabs say that, despite their holding Iraqi passports, Kurdish pesh merga troops harass them and admit them only grudgingly.
Xinhau crunches numbers to remind that there are 14,400 candidates running in the elections, 3,900 of them are women, that only 444 seats are up for grabs and that there are supposed to be "15 million eligible voters".  They also see the elections as "an opinion poll on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki".  al-Maliki also sees it that way. Wisam Mohammed (Reuters) adds, "He won power in 2006 as a compromise figure selected by bigger Shi'ite groups, but is hoping Saturday's election will give him his own power base. The outcome will probably be mixed.  In many Shi'ite areas, the vote is still likely to expose Maliki's weakness. Across much of Iraq's southern Shi'ite heartland, his main rivals, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), are expected to maintain their grip on provincial power with an effective political machine and overtly sectarian pitch."
This morning at the US State Dept, spokesperson Robert Wood declared, that "we have yet to receive further clarification and details in that regard from the Iraqis, but we are talking with them.  To answer the question that was posed yesterday, yes, Blackwater is still providing protective services on the ground for us."  Robert O'Harrow Jr. (Washington Post) revealed this afternoon that State has decided it "will not renew Blackwater Worldwide's contract for securities services in Iraq".  Monte Morin (Los Angeles Times) quotes Blackwater stating that they have not heard anything and an unnamed "U.S. Embassy official" is quoted stating, "We have been informed that Blackwater's private security company operating license will not be granted.  We don't have specifics about dates.  We are working with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision."  US House Rep Jan Schakowsky released the following statement this afternoon:
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, released the following statement today after news reports that the State Department decided not to renew Blackwater's contract in Iraq.  Earlier this week, the Iraqi government denied Blackwater's request for a license to operate in Iraq.   The State Department's contract with Blackwater expires in May 2009.

"In October 2007, I wrote the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to terminate Blackwater's contract after its employees killed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square a month earlier.  Instead of terminating Blackwater's contract, the State Department renewed Blackwater's contract in April 2008.  At that time, I went down to the House floor and said that the State Department was so 'dependent on private security contractors that it is willing to turn a blind eye to gross misconduct.' 

Under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we finally have a State Department that will no longer ignore the gross misconduct of contracting companies, like Blackwater.  The State Department's decision not to renew Blackwater's contract in Iraq shows a dramatic departure from the previous administration.  Instead of overriding the Iraqi government's decision to deny Blackwater a license to operate, the Obama Administration respected the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and did not renew Blackwater's contract. 

While the State Department;s decision will remove Blackwater from Iraq, it does nothing to stop other contracting companies from operating outside the law.  Shortly, I will reintroduce my Stop Outsourcing Security Act to phase out the use of ALL private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Today's violence?  China's Xinhua reports, "Three Iraqi policemen were killed by a collected bomb in a southern city, sources with Iraqi police said on Friday."  The bombing took place in Diwaniyah yesterday. Sixteen people were also wounded.
In the United States today, US Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill which "would grant U.S. service members the same rights as civilians to appeal their convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court."  Currently those convicted by military 'justice' can appeal up to the US Courts of Appeals for the Armed Forces and no higher.  Feinstein declared, "Americans who wear the uniform of the United States should not be penalized with the loss of a basic due-process right.  We need to correct this disparity, and this legislation will do exactly that."  Barack Obama, the new US president, is not withdrawing troops from Iraq.  He may withdraw -- as his plan was supposed to -- combat troops.  On Washington Week last Friday, ABC News Martha Raddatz attempted to clarify this:
Martha Raddatz: They laid out plans or started to lay out plans for the sixteen-month withdrawal, which President Obama says he wants, or the three-year withdrawal which is the Status Of Forces Agreement that the US has gone into with the Iraqis. And they talked about the risks with each of those. Ray Odierno, who is the general in charge of Iraqi forces, said, 'If you run out in sixteen months -- if you get out in sixteen months, there are risks. The security gains could go down the tube. If you wait three years, there are other risks because you can't get forces into Afghanistan as quickly.' So President Obama made no decisions. Again, he's going to meet with Joint Chiefs next week and probably will make a military decision. But also a key there is how many troops he leaves behind. That's something we're not talking about so much, he's not talking about so much. This residual force that could be 50, 60, 70,000 troops even if he withdraws --

Gwen Ifill: That's not exactly getting out of Iraq.

Martha Raddatz: Not exactly getting out completely.
With that in mind, Rick Maze (Army News) reports a disturbing development today, US Senator Carl Levin has indicated Barack has "wiggle room" when it comes to withdrawing combat troops -- that Barack would be fine now with only 80% of combat troops being pulled.  Let's use the 80,000 remaining number.  (The White House unofficially says the number that would remain under the 16-month plan would be 70,000.)  There are approximately 146,000 US troops in Iraq currently.  That would mean 66,000 troops ('combat') could be withdrawn (before Levin's statement).  But if only 80% of the 66,000 are withdrawn, what does that mean?  If you do the math, it means there would be approximately 97,000 US troops in Iraq after Barack's "withdrawal".  For point of reference, prior to the "surge" (escalation) announced by the (former) White House in January 2007, the number of US troops in Iraq was approximately 132,000.  A minus of 35,000 US troops and that's what's being passed off as 'withdrawal'.
Public broadcasting notes. Bill Moyers Journal features Marilyn Young who always (to date, anyway) has something interesting worth hearing. The program airs on PBS and begins airing tonight in many markets -- check local listings on this and other PBS programs all of which begin airing tonight in many PBS markets. NOW on PBS continues it's must-watch tradition and offers:

President Obama has issued a scathing critique of Wall Street following news that Wall Street employees were paid more than $18 billion in bonuses last year as the financial sector melted down. What should his administration do to crack down on banks, given that some experts are suggesting an additional $1 trillion to $2 trillion may be needed to bail them out?
This week, David Brancaccio sits down with financial reporter Bethany McLean -- who broke the Enron story -- to look at options on the table for stabilizing the country's financial system. Is nationalizing our banks a viable solution?
Almost everyone agrees that our banks need federal money to avoid even more calamity, but how much is too much, and who's watching how they spend it?

And then there's Gwen. Washington Week features Gwen, Greg Ip (The Economist), John Dickerson (Slate), Alexis Simendinger (National Journal) and Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times).