Wednesday, July 15, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, realities about the 'movement' to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, did Mullen strong arm the Kurds, details emerge about the Iranian diplomats held hostage, and more.
Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on women veterans health care issues. Senator Daniel Akaka chaired the committee hearing. Kat covered the hearing last night. And? Not a lot more going on. Adam Levine (CNN) filed a strong report and emphasized the GAO:
The report by the Government Accountability Office found wide variation in the medical centers' facilities and programs for female veterans.
Investigators visited 18 veterans' facilities and found that basic services, like pelvic examinations, were being provided and that patients had access to female providers for gender-specific care. But the facilities were lacking in some simpler accommodations, such as the configuration of exam rooms and privacy in check-in areas.
The department says it is taking comprehensive steps to improve, including programs for primary care and mental health care for female veterans, along with having a female veterans' program manager in each of its medical facilities.
McClatchy's Carrie Williams covered it with an overview of the hearing and Kimberly Hefling (AP) covered the hearing and noted, "Female veterans told the Senate Veterans' Affairs committee that VA workers need to be better educated about combat situations that women face in the two ongoing wars. Beyond privacy concerns, there are other issues as well, they said, such as a lack of child care at VA hospitals and difficulty in finding diaper-changing tables." Today the Committee released the following statement:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing to outline gaps in VA care for women veterans and highlight strategies to bridge those gaps. Akaka gathered a panel of women veterans and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Government Accountability Office to share their personal experiences and views on the VA system. The witness testimony yesterday illustrated the gap between the Department's wide array of services for women veterans and the actual experiences of many women veterans.
"VA plans many valuable programs and services for women veterans. However, our witnesses demonstrated that VA must do more than just set mandates -- the Department must ensure that women veterans know about the services available to them and are given assistance to receive them," said Akaka.
• Genevieve Chase, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, and founder and executive director of American Women Veterans. During her service in OEF, Ms. Chase was attacked by a suicide vehicle-borne, improvised explosive device (IED) and returned home with symptoms of PTSD and TBI.
• Jennifer Olds, who served during the first Gulf War. She discussed her experiences dealing with Military Sexual Trauma (MST), the difficulties of rehabilitating, and the strengths and weaknesses of the care she received at VA.
• Kayla Williams, who was part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is currently on the Board of Directors of Grace After Fire. As a soldier with the 101st Airborne Division (Airborne Assault), she came under small arms fire and was mortared -- an experience she shares with other women veterans despite the myth that female servicemembers don't experience combat situations. She testified about VA care from her own experiences.
• Tia Christopher, a veteran and Women Veterans Coordinator for Swords to Plowshares. VA determined she has service connected PTSD associated with MST. She described for the committee the changes she has seen since her discharge eight years ago and the need for additional changes, such as child care for male and female veterans.
• Joy Ilem, a veteran and Deputy National Legislative Director for the Disabled American Veterans. She testified that when she left the service in the 1980s, there was little to no information for women veterans and that she neither recognized herself as a veteran or knew she was entitled to VA benefits for disabilities she incurred in service. Two decades later, Ms. Ilem feels that VA is finally taking steps in the right direction to address the needs of women veterans.
The Veterans Health Care Reauthorization Act (S. 252), Chairman Akaka's omnibus veterans' health care bill that was unanimously approved by the Committee earlier this summer includes provisions to help VA understand why outreach to women veterans is falling short by identifying the barriers women veterans face when seeking care from VA. S.252 would also authorize VA to:
• Implement a program to educate, train, and certify professionals to provide MST-related mental health care (more background here);
• Establish a pilot program to provide child care for veterans who require intensive care and are primary caretakers;
• Report to Congress whether there is at least one full-time women veterans' program manager at each VA Medical Center; and
• Provide care for the newborns of eligible women veterans.
The Chairman's opening statement, as well as the witnesses' written testimony including the Government Accountability Office's audit of VA health care for women, is available here.
And we'll revisit the second panel, composed of women veternas: Grace After Fire's Kayla Williams, Iraq Veteran Project Swords to Plowshares' Tia Christopher, the VFW's Jennifer Olds, American Women Veterans' Genevieve Chase and Disabled American Veterans' Joy J. Ilem, briefly to note Senator Patty Murray's round of questions.
Senator Patty Murray: Ms. Williams, you mentioned that you were both a care giver and a care seeker. You're husband was in the military. I assume that that is fairly common for a woman to be married to a fellow military officer and be in the same position. What can be done to help us care for women veterans who are not only dealing with their own readjustment issues but our dealing with spouse or children as well?
Kayla Williams: I think that it's important that care be more comprehensive. And you're right, the percentages are very high. Among active duty enlisted married female service members, over 50% are married to other service members -- compared to only 8% of their male peers. And my husband and I were both enlisted. I know that the VA is trying very hard to do outreach. I once got a call, for example, asking if I had sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury as part of their outreach efforts to make sure that they're catching everybody. And I said, "No, I didn't but I'm glad you called because my husband did and our family is in shambles right now I don't know how to hold myself together and my family together and keep my job and I'm struggling really hard here. And he said, "Well I can't really help you with that. I'm calling to ask if you've suffered a brain injury." And that's the way that I think that we can try to make sure that we're addressing entire families. If you have one -- if you have a service member who has sustained an injury -- both while they're in the DoD and once they've transitioned to VA care -- making sure that their familiy is being taken care of is an important step. I know The VA does not cover care for family members but if they learn that the spouse is also a veteran, it's important that they take the extra step and reach out and contact them proactively and ask if they need help as a caregiver. And, of course, this does apply to both male and female spouses, it's just the number of female spouses is much higher.
US Senator Patty Murray: I hear a lot from women about the access of child care being a barrier to the VA. You, several of you, mentioned this in your testimony and I don't think a lot of people realize that you tell a woman there's no child care, they just simply don't go, they don't get their health care. Do you for all the panelists, do you think that the VA providing child care would increase the number of women veterans who go to the VA and get the care that they need? Joy?
Joy Ilem: I would say definitely. I think researchers have repeatedly shown this as a barrier for women veterans and that's the frustration, you know? How many research surveys do you have to do when women keep saying this is a barrier to access for care? And I think it was Kayla who mentioned the experience of someone who was told it was inappropriate for them to bring their child with them and some of these very personalized for appointments for mental health or other things -- it may be very difficult but they have no other choice. I think it would definitely be a benefit and we would see an increase in the number of women veterans who would probably come to VA.
Senator Patty Murray: Ms. Williams?
Kayla Williams: I definitely think that usage rates of the VA would increase if women knew that they had child care available. There are a variety of innovative ways that we could try to address the problem of women having to balance their needs of child care with their needs to get services. Among them would be increasing the availability of tele-help and tele-medicine where women don't have to necessarily go all the way to a remote facility and spend four hours trying to get to and from and then be in-care. And there are also opportunities for innovative programs. For example, the VA has small business loans available if they could provide loans to women veterans who want to provide child care facilities near VA facilities, that would be a great way to try to marry these two needs. There are also a lot of community organizations that stand ready and waiting to help that would be happy just given a small office to staff it with volunteers and be able to provide that care for the time that a woman has to be in appointment. I think, as many others have said, the specific solutions may vary by location but there are a lot of innovative way that we could forge public-private partnerships to try to meet these needs.
We'll be covering the topic again tomorrow. If you use the link in the press release from the Committee, you'll not only have their written testimony, you'll also have the option of streaming the hearing. Genevive Chase was on the second panel and she was part of last Wednesday's Voices of Honor press conference. US House Rep Patrick Murphy is gathering public attention to the need to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Monday he was on the start of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show with USA Today's Susan Page filling in for Diane.
Susan Page: Before we go to our panel, though, we're joined on the phone from Bucks County Pennsylvania by Patrick Murphy. He's the Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania's eight district and an Iraq War veteran. Congressman, thank you for joining us.
US House Rep Patrick Murphy: Thanks so much, Susan, for having me on. I appreciate it.
Susan Page: Now last week you announced that you would lead an effort to get Congress to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. What - what would your bill do?
US House Rep Patrick Murphy: Sure. It will repeal the discrimantory practice which is in effect right now: The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy does not allow the gay soldiers to serve openly in the military. And, Susan, the reason why this policy needs to be repealed, uh, right away is because it is hurting our national security. We have let go over 13,000 troops. That's over three-and-a-half combat brigades at a time when our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and we need every qualified and able-bodied individual to serve in our military.
Susan Page: Now what kind of experiences did you have on this issue when you were serving in Iraq?
US House Rep Patrick Murphy: Sure. Well first, you know, when I was in Baghdad as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, you know, there were obviously gay soldiers [. . .] there were gay soldiers serving with us. You know, it's, people knew it but they didn't talk about it. The fact is that our troops, when they're - when they're in Baghdad or whether they're in Kabul, Afghanistan, they don't care whether you're gay or straight, what religion you are, what color you are, what creed you are, they care whether or not you can fire an M4 assault rifle, whether or not you can kick down a door, can you get the job done. That's the important thing, not what your orientation is.
Susan Page: Now President Obama campaigned last year during the presidential election opposing Don't Ask, Don't Tell so why not have him issue an executive order that would change this policy or lift it?
US House Rep Patrick Murphy: Sure. Well first it was an act of Congress that put this all into place, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. And it will take an act of Congress to repeal it. You know, when I was a Democrat -- and I've only been in Congress, as you know Susan, for two and a half years -- you know I used to have a hard time and I used to criticize President Bush when we would pass laws and he would have these executive signing statements that basically would say, "I know Congress passed such and such, but we're going to ignore that part of it." That's not having the proper respect for co-equal government.
And it just got worse, oh so much worse. Patrick apparently believes you're Dumb Ass Stupid and unaware that Barack's doing the same signing statements today -- most recently with regards to the IMF issue in his war supplemental. And there's something really pathetic about the approach he's pushing. I'm not talking about his shameful covering for Barry O. I'm talking about this bulls**t of, "Our national interest!" What does it remind you of because it reminds me of Bette Midler in Big Business at the big stock holder meeting saying that they're appealing to your instinct to "Save your own ass!" It's really pitching it to the lowest, basest argument around and, in doing so, it's telling you a great deal about how the American people are seen. It's disgusting.
How sad that America can't be asked to do anything for equality apparently. I do wonder what that says about how we see ourselves. And, remember, on this issue, we lag behind. We're not leaders. Is that what happens when we're not leaders, we can no longer appeal to people to do the right thing? We have to be selfish and say, "It's hurting this or that?" That's a lousy argument in reality. Now we need the best military? Now? I would assume anyone serving in the eighties or seventies would assume that they needed the best military. I appreciate that Patrick Murphy is speaking of the topic (all that's taking place is speaking -- if the House wanted to vote on this, they already would have, we'll come back to that point) but I didn't "serve with gays and lesbians in the military." I am friends with gays and lesbians and I have family members who are gays and lesbians. It's not an issue that's going to come up every few years at some military reunion for me, it's a regular part of the fabric of human life. And I'm very aware that there is a growing vocal disgust within the gay community over the way this is being presented. Fair is fair, right is right. This is the United States of America and we are all supposed to be equal. Anytime that argument isn't made -- with or without 'oh the money it costs us!', it is heard by an increasingly vocal segment of the LGBT community as, "Your life is too 'icky' for us to defend on the grounds of fairness." That's offensive. And it's all the more so when it comes from a would-be gay-leader assoicated with the campign who an actual gay rights leader refers to as "The self-loathing Bette Midler freak -- who is all for that approach -- and he apparently enjoys seeing himself as 'icky' when getting 'freaky' -- but Gay Pride long ago made self-loathing unfashionable." If you want to get serious, get serious. Playing the economy card isn't getting serious. Playing the scare people with fear ("National security!") isn't getting serious. Now you can include those reasons as part of a tapestry of reasons why the policy needs to be repealed; however, if you're not also making the fairness argument, you're being insulting -- and it doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, you are being insulting to the LGBT community. The Voices org plans to go on tour. They better their act together before they do or plan to play to just straight audiences because I knew about Murphy's appearance Monday and just intended to ignore them (I also thought -- on the same broadcast -- Julian E. Barnes made an ass out of himself -- along with demonstrating he doesn't actually know the law). But I live in the Bay Area and we don't play the Plessy v. Ferguson game with each other out there. Translation, very vocal leaders from that area are complaining and raised the issue. I listened, their complaints and valid and we will cover it.
And here's the big point. Fairness needs to be argued because it is a value. An actual value. One enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. Long after Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone, the LGBT community and other communities will still need the fairness argument for equality. So no one -- straight, gay, bi, non-sexual, what have you -- benefits when the fairness argument is tossed aside. Is it worth it, though, in the short term, when the US could see the hideous Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed. Don't Ask, Don't Tell isn't getting repealed anytime soon.
Congress doesn't give a damn about changing this policy. This is a song-and-dance to take the heat of Barack. That's the reality. I will assume Patrick is serious about this issue. Ellen Tauscher was. But the White House doesn't want this. (And I know that from friends at the White House which is another reason we're covering this topic so strongly today.) And it's not happening short of intense pressure (the October rally in DC could apply tremendous pressure). The myth is that Barry O wants to repeal it. And that he's tasked Congress with getting a bill on his desk so he can repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The reality is that House and Senate leadership (Democratic control of both houses) would be putting it to a vote immediately if that's what Barack really wanted. He doesn't want it and the leadership is attempting to bury it. The bill's written, it's called the Military Readiness Enahncement Act of 2009. Ellen Tauscher introduced it March 3, 2009. It's July 15th. There has been no vote despite the fact that there are 161 sponsors. Now that's the House. In the Senate? Allegedly the issue will be steered by Ted Kennedy. Other than Senator Roland Burris, no one in the Senate has spoken publicly in support of changing it in the last few weeks when it's been a major topic in the press. As for Kennedy leading on it? He has other issues including his own health and promoting his upcoming book. So you have a bill that, if the House leadership was serious, they'd be voting on tomorrow. They're not. The White House doesn't want it and leadership in the House is blocking a vote. (In the Senate there is no action at all.) So, sorry, we're not gong to be silent when the LGBT community is being treated as a concern only out of fear and not out of fairness. That's a short sighted argument and it really is insulting. It wouldn't cut for Civil Rights, it wouldn't cut it for universal suffrage, it wouldn't cut it to end slavery. But someone thinks it's okay to make it the sole argument for ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell? There's an LGBT history moment the country should run from: In 2010, due to national security fears, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was finally repealed. Said Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, "I don't have to like them, I don't have to respect them and you better believe I won't let them marry! But I care about national security so even these 'pervs' get my support." (Sessions didn't say that but it's not very far from what he would say if it passed.)
In the US today, the morning began with news of violence in Iraq. An apparent attack on a police checkpoint in Ramadi, capital of Anbar Province, has resulted in multiple deaths. BBC News says it was a mini-bus bombing and that the dead number 6 with an additional seventeen injured (dead actually would number seven -- it was a 'suicide' attack). AP adds that the dead include five police officers and notes that a funeral for two other Baghdad police officers -- Hussein Qassim and Jassim Shuwaili who were killed yesterday -- took place today. Reuters notes, "Salah al-Obeidi, a doctor at the Ramadi hospital, said some of the wounded were in grave condition. He said the death toll might rise." As usual the response is 'crackdown' -- closed streets, etc. In other violence today, Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad boming "targeting pilgrims" which resulted in 10 dead and another Baghdad bombing which claimed 5 lives and left thirty-four injured.
As the violence continues, word emerges that the US may be sewing more sectarian strife. Iran's Press TV reports that US Adm Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visit to the oil-rich Kirkuk Monday was "a warning to ethnic Kurds" that they should "forget their dream of annexing Kirkuk".
Last week the US military released 5 Iranian diplomats they'd been imprisoning for over two years. CNN noted that they returned to Iran Sunday where: "They were greeted at the airport by dozens of cheering men, who placed wreaths around their necks and carried them on their shoulders from the plane to the airport building, Press TV pictures showed. Some in the crowd flashed victory signs, while others took pictures of the returning men." Today Barbara Slavin (Washington Times) reports on US State Dept talk that three of the imprisoned "were held for more than two years even though they had not been involved in anti-US activities and were functioning as diplomats at the time" and that they were held to be hostages in an effort to strong-arm "Iran to reduce its support for anti-U.S. violence in Iraq." That is what is being said and it demands an independent investigation. The US is not supposed to take hostages. Diplomats have a level of immunity that was violated when the five Iranians were held.
When Robert McNamara did the world a favor and died earlier this month, Democracy Now! aired a roundtable. Historian Marilyn Young (author of many books and recently co-editor of Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam) explained of McNamara:
One of the legacies is that there is none, in a sense. The first clip that you ran, you could have run it now. About Iraq, several years ago, about Afghanistan today. It's as if it doesn't go anywhere. There is knowledge, and then it's erased in between McNamara should be kind of a morality tale. During his tenure as Secretary of Defense, he initially -- he was responsible really -- for the initial escalation. In 1964, he and Bundy gave -- '65, I'm sorry -- gave Johnson what's called "The Fork in the Road Memorandum," in which they said, "Now, we have really thought this over and we have two choices. We could increase military pressure or we could negotiate." And they strongly urged the increase of military pressure and Johnson went along with that. Not that he was, you know, I think he was a little unwilling, but that is another subject.
"One of the legacies," she said, "is that there is none." If you doubt her, you've slept through the news cycle.
Gordon Lubold (Christian Science Monitor) writes that four "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" are being sent to Iraq. These are military troops. But they're "advisory" and "assistance" and not "combat" troops. (As Thomas E. Ricks has noted when fully awake, there is no pacifistic wing of the military.) Lubold is very good at repeating Defense Dept propaganda, but search in vain for any clue that Lubold is educated. Apparently, he's not. Apparently, he's one more glorified general studies major. Maybe it's past time that journalism programs were dropped if this what they produce? A history major reporting the same news today would probably be likely to note that "advisors" in Vietnam just signaled further US involvement. But Lubold's not just unqualified, he's apparently an idiot or a liar. Xinhua reports the detail he leaves out, and it's a pretty big one: "However, they will also conduct coordinated counterterrorism missions." Repeating Marilyn Young on Vietnam and McNamara, "One of the legacies is that there is none."
And there's certainly no legacy of awareness as evidenced by Thomas Friedman and his ridiculous column this morning "Goodbye Iraq, and Good Luck." Does The World Is Flat And My Ass Is Huge Thomas Friedman really think the US withdrew from Iraq? Does he think that already happened? In the bad column, he retells a joke that a Kurdish leader told Mullens and company Monday in Iraq and then plays I-know-what-the-Kurd-said-but-here's-what-I-think-he-meant. (Apparently, Thomas Friedman was too busy autographing bad books and landfills to ask the man what he meant by his joke.) In his insulting interpretation, the Kurd was stating that Iraqis love to talk and talk about their suffering (which is apparently solely the fault of Saddam Hussein -- in Thomas Friedman's mind -- and has nothing to do with a six-years-and-counting illegal war or ongoing occupation). In the joke, the suffer is making a plea for compensation and has to endure retelling everything that happened to a stranger. Strange -- or maybe not so -- that Friedman didn't interpret the joke as what the average person in Iraq has to do for even a morsel today -- prostate themselves to strangers (i.e. foreigners?) to get ahead? Unlike Friedman, Diana West (Washington Times via Jamestown Sun) is aware that the Iraq War has not ended and she notes in a column today:
The first I heard about what happened to Lt. Col. Timothy Karcher, the last U.S. commander of Sadr City who recently signed over jurisdiction to Iraqis, was from a reader. He e-mailed me about my last column, which argued that "allies" don't declare victory over each other (as Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki declared "victory" over the United States), and the sooner we realize Iraq isn't our "ally," the better. It also bemoaned the U.S. military's deference to Iraq, quoting top brass beginning with Gen. Raymond Odierno and including Lt. Col. Karcher, in their execution of what I, myself, consider a futile U.S. policy to Westernize Islamic cultures.
"I appreciate your fervor and feelings about Mr. al-Maliki's comments, but I must say that your biting commentary regarding the quote from Lt. Col Karcher has driven me to reply," he wrote. "You may not be aware," he continued, "but since signing over jurisdiction to the Iraqis, Lt. Col. Karcher suffered a roadside bomb attack and lost both legs. One of his men, Sgt. Timothy David of Beaverton, Mich. -- a veteran of six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was killed by a second EFP."
Timothy Karcher is at Walter Reed currently. The attack which claimed Timothy David's life took place June 28th, as West observes, "two days before Iraq's 'victory' celebration".
Turning to England where an inquiry is going into the death of 26-year-old Iraq Baha Mousa in September 2003 while in the custody of British forces. Deborah Haynes (Times of London) reports:
Geoff Hoon, the former Defence Secretary, could be called to give evidence at a public inquiry into illegal techniques used by British forces in Iraq to prepare detainees for interrogation.
A list of witnesses has yet to be finalised and his name is not believed to be on the latest draft. Asked yesterday whether Mr Hoon would be called as a witness, however, Gerard Elias, QC, counsel to the inquiry, told The Times: "Possibly." A second lawyer said: "It may well be that an application will be made to call politicians. However, it is early days."
BBC News (link has video and text) refers to Baha Mousa's death as "a stain on the British military" and that the abuse also includes abuses such as urinating on prisoners. The abuses are in violation of the Geneva Convention and BBC reports that the inquiry says they will go as high up the chain of command as necessary. Deborah Haynes reports that the UK Ministry of Defence is stating that the abuse was the result of "a lack of trained interrogators" and a 2002 MoD memo states, " "The lack of prisoner handling and tactical questioning-trained personnel within deployed force elements risks the loss of potentially accurate, timely and life-saving information/intelligence during our fighting operations ... The less well-trained our troops are, the greater the chance that they may mishandle prisoners"
We'll close with Debra Sweet's "The Urgent Need for Decisive and Principled Leadership in the Anti-War Movement" (World Can't Wait):
UNITY in the antiwar movement: SAVE these dates: Monday October 5; Saturday October 17; Friday March 19, 2010
I was among the World Can't Wait supporters attending the National Assembly to End the Occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan this weekend in Pittsburgh. Read the proposal World Can't Wait brought. I'm glad to be able to say that out of the Assembly came a vote and intention to support a two-week period of mass, united actions against the occupations from October 3 - October 17, 2009. Based on support of most of the participants, a demand was added to "end war crimes, including torture."
This action period includes Monday, October 5 as a mass protest and non-violent civil resistance action in Washington, at the US House offices and the White House to mark the US occupation of Afghanistan, which begun that week in 2001. The period culminates with Saturday October 17th regional and local actions against the wars. October 17 is the 40th anniversary of the famous Vietnam Moratorium in 1969 that Daniel Ellsberg referred to as so huge that it forced Richard Nixon to shelve plans to nuke Vietnam.
[. . .]
The arguments against March 19, 2010 were that other groups need to be consulted before what is likely the largest antiwar conference of the year decides on a date; and that working people won't take off a week day to protest. As far as I'm concerned, the antiwar movement has collapsed and urgently requires decisive, principled leadership now in order not to become completely irrelevant. So I'm saying, now that we should have the necessary discussion and planning quickly, and get on it!