Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, December 22, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, four US Senators demand changes in a US general's order which criminalizes pregnancy (ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer covers the latest developments of this story on this evening's broadcast), March Forward! explains their mission, the US Treasury issues a news release on Iraq, war resister Cliff Cornell's sentence is reduced and more.
Michael Prysner:  . . . the way that we're going to end this war and the way that we're going to stop this atrocity that's happening -- the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and thousands of soldiers -- which are no doubt going to increase as this war rages on -- is we need to build a movement, we need to build a mass, people's movement.  Which is what we're doing. So I encourage everyone to pay attention to a national march on Washington, DC that's going to happen on March 20th. There's also going to be coinciding marches in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But a large organization of antiwar groups have come together.  It was initiated by the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition -- you can go to A.N.S.W.E.R.org for information about the march. But we're calling on everyone to be a part of this action. We want soldiers, we want veterans, we want military families and we want all people in the United States who are suffering because of these wars.  We're in the middle of a Depression where every month, more and more jobs are being lost. There's this health care debate going on, we're seeing that there's people that are not going to have access to quality health care. Education -- tuition is skyrocketing.  We need money so badly, most people, yet we're spending over $500 million dollars a day to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. So if you're angry about this war which everyone should be, there is something you can do and that's become active in the movement. And the first thing you can do is become involved in the organizing for March 20th and of course participate in that demonstration as well.  We need as many people as possible to send a message that the people are not in support of this war and we're going to fight until it's over.
Iraq War veteran Michael Prysner was explaining that on Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton and Charles Goyette.  He and Iraq War veteran James Circello were on to discuss March Forward! "an affiliate of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition" composed of veterans and active-duty service members.
James Circello: Yeah.  Well March Forward!'s position on the officer corps -- or we refer to them as the officer class -- it's pretty straight forward. The officers, they do little suffering in times of war. They merely put forth the line by Washington.  And the enlisted members of the military -- who we view as workers -- are made to carry out these orders. They're made to follow these orders without question or you become slandered with the "unAmerican" and even jailed for-for disobeying orders that are obviously illegal.  But our line is pretty simple in that the officer class, once they retire, they go straight into the Pentagon and right into the War Profiteers right across the street. And the enlisted were obviously cast out onto the street. There's a million homeless enlisted -- or veterans, I should say, on the street tonight and 2 million will be on the street homeless this year. So there's a real class struggle within the military and the enlisted soldiers are doing all the suffering, all the dying, all the killing, coming home with PTSD and missing limbs while the officers are celebrating and stacking their resumes for their future jobs.
Scott Horton: It's almost like all the commercials about "Be All That You Can Be" and 'once you get out, then you'll be guaranteed a great job,' all that's really true for the officers basically but they're selling that for the masses out there.
Michael Prysner: Right and it's interesting because if you look at the statistics, you're actually less likely to get hired if you're a veteran because it's somewhat of a liability for the employers.  But just to clarify a little more about our view on the officer corps, you know, I-I, myself in my personal experience and this is an all too common story in Iraq and in Afghanistan and James had a similar experience and it's a story that you hear much too often where, for example, myself, officers join the military because they're trying to be successful in a career. Most people become enlisted soldiers because they're pushed in for economic reasons, because they need access to health care for their family, because they need, they want, a college education, because they want job training, because they want a place to live, things that all people need and deserve which, I think, are basic human rights. But that's what pushes most enlisted soldiers into the military.  Officers join for a very different reason.  And what results in that is officers generally do very little time in combat but what they do is they want their units to get attacked, they want to take fire. And I know myself, personally, I went on missions called -- which we called -- "Draw Fire" missions where there'd be an officer who knew that a certain vehicle had a ransom on it if the vehicle was destroyed so he knew that it was a target so he'd say, "Hey go get so-and-so and let's drive around town and see if we can get shot at?" This is because if his unit gets in combat or if he gets in combat, it's good for his career, it's good for his promotion. He'll get a bronze star and he'll get all of these things.  So there's-there's many, many soldiers who have died, who have had life changing injuries, whose lives are destroyed because they had an officer who's going to do one tour in combat who wants to help his career and wants to move up in the ranks and people have died because of this.

Scott Horton: Well now, Michael -- that's Michael right?
Michael Prysner: Yes.
Scott Horton: Now, Michael, you're basically talking about the-the satire, Joseph Heller's satire Catch 22.  You're telling me and you're telling my audience that that is truly and literally and really the operational incentive in a war like Iraq? For officers to get the people under them killed for points?
Michael Prysner: Yeah, there's something that is very frequent and it was something that was very frequent in the Vietnam war too and that's why there was such a massive GI rebellion against the officer corps in Vietnam as well. And, as James mentioned, it's very obvious to see the different interests that the officer corps has because there's a study -- two years ago there was a study released that showed there's over two thousand retired generals and colonels that now are employed by defense contractors. It's kind of the most common retirement path is either you're a lobbyist for defense contractors, you're sitting on corporate boards for defense contractors and oil companies while at the same time still being paid by the Pentagon as consultants. So all this team of generals right now that's telling us that we have to be in Afghanistan, that we can't leave. This team of generals, this team of officers, that's telling us that are people that are actually on the payroll of companies like Chevron, of some of the largest defense contractors in the world  So we say that we have very different interests, the enlisted and the officers. It's very obvious what their interests are. So we think that we shouldn't be ordered into combat by officers that are trying to build their careers. We think that officers should be democratically elected by enlisted soldiers in their unit. And I think that's something that most enlisted soldiers.
[. . .]
James Circello: It takes a strong voice, and that is what March Forward! is trying to become, to tell the enlisted soldiers exactly what is happening. We all understand what is happening. There's-there's definitely dissent in the military ranks.  Thousands of men and women have deserted the military in the last decade. The last time I checked, the statistic was upwards to 50,000 and that isn't shown. A lot of the times it's not a political stance.  A lot of the time it's just that these soldiers miss their families, that they've been deployed four times and don't want to go back to a war zone. Or a lot of the time, it's that these soldiers are suffering through PTSD and no one is listening to them, no one the VA, the medical bases -- the medical stations on the bases, they won't diagnose them for fear that they won't be able to deploy them when the time comes. So soldiers have taken it upon themselves to stand up and to leave the military and a lot of the times they're quiet about it and March Forward! is calling for that in a wider scope for all soldiers that are being told to deploy to refuse that because Afghanistan and Iraq not only are they illegal and immoral but they're against our interests as workers in the United States.
Scott Horton: Alright everybody, I'm talking with James Circello and Mike Prysner, Michael Prysner, from March Forward!  They're soldiers basically telling the rest of the soldiers to quit to refuse to participate in this -- well I call it madness, you call it what you want, anymore.
This morning a female service member e-mailed to be sure we all knew one of the worst parts of the "100% repulsive order" coming down from General Prude Anthony Cucolo. Backstory, yesterday's snapshot, over the weekend Cucolo couldn't stop giving interviews about his new order which punishes any women serving in northern Iraq for pregnancy -- married or unmarried, she's punished and that may include court-martial.  Yes, women in the military are not allowed to have sex with other women unless they want to risk being drummed out of the military and now they better not have sex with men (unless they have their tubes tied because contraception is never 100% effective 100% of the time). But the female service member caught another detail of the order and steers us to Navy Seals Blog's post which notes: "If the pregnancy of a female soldier, however, was proven to be caused by a sexual assault, then the soldier will not be subjected to punishment."
Do they train these generals in anything or just slap them on the back and say, "Strut around in pure ignorance"?  Vic Lee (San Francisco's ABC, KGO-TV, link has text and video) reported yesterday on sexual assualts in the military -- someone might want to get a copy to General Know Nothing. Brave women like Swords to Plowshares' Tia Christopher shared their stories.  Tia Christopher went to report it and the officer above her's response was whether or not this was a joke?  It was no joke for Christopher who never saw justice but did receives "an early discharge with a personality disorder."  Lee notes, "The National Institute of Justice says one in five women will be sexually assaulted. The ratio in the military, according to the Department of Defense is one in three or four women and a new Pentagon report says sexual assaults are increasing."  And when a woman comes forward, watch the brass and 'justice' system bend over backwards to ignore the assualt.  Suzanne Swift is only one example of a woman fighting back in this decade and being punished, only one example of a complete and utter failure for the military to discipline their own or to take the victims seriously. 
So now in a culture that doesn't take sexual assaults seriously and then blames the victim, a woman who ends up pregnant faces even more harassment.  Maria Lauterbach was raped while she was in the Marines.  She identified her rapist, Cesar Laurean.  The military refused to take her seriously.  She was forced to continue to be around him.  At what point does the US Marine Corps intend to take accountability and responsibility for their role in what happened?  Maria disappeared.  As the police searched for her and her family frantically worried, the Marines refused to inform the police about Cesar Laurean or even restrict him to base.  Which is how Maria's murdered managed to escape to Mexico.  (He is now back in US custody.)  He murdered her.  Then he set her body on fire.  Then he told his wife.  If a Marine is missing and she's accused a fellow Marine of rape, it stands to reason that command puts the accused under watch.  But that's how little women mattered at Camp Lejeune.  A Marine can go missing and the brass doesn't give a damn.  A woman who has accused another service member of raping her and they don't give a damn.  That's reality for a lot of women in the service.
But the general in Iraq doesn't live with reality.  He fancies himself a king issuing orders.  The heat's been on Cucolo including from the Senate.  Rebecca Santana (AP) reports that he held another press conference today where he "appeared to back from the policy [. . .] saying the policy was to emphasize the problems created" by pregnancy and that no woman who got pregnant would be put in jail for "the offense."  American Women Veterans charted the developments on their Twitter account:
The General clarifies: "I see absolutely no circumstance where I would punish a female soldier by court martial... http://bit.ly/6U8XuW

December 22, 2009                              


The Honorable John McHugh                         

Secretary of the Army                   

101 Army Pentagon                 

Washington, DC 20310-0101                     


Dear Secretary McHugh:                


It has come to our attention that Major General Anthony Cucolo III -- the Commander of Multi-National Division-North, Iraq -- has implemented a stricter policy that criminalizes pregnancy for members of the United States Armed Forces under his command and for others "serving with, employed by, or accompanying" the military. While we fully understand and appreciate the demands facing both commanders and service members in Iraq, we believe this policy is deeply misguided and must be immediately rescinded.                   


Under the policy, it is possible to face punishment, including imprisonment, for "becoming pregnant, or impregnating a Soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne" Area of Operations. The policy even extends to married couples jointly serving in the warzone.                           


Although Major General Cucolo stated today that a pregnant soldier would not necessarily be punished by court-martialunder this policy, we believe the threat of criminal sanctions in the case of pregnancy goes far beyond what is needed to maintain good order and discipline. This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for mother and child.                   


This policy also undermines efforts to enhance benefits and services so that dual military couples can continue to serve. We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child. This defies comprehension.


As such, we urge you to immediately rescind this policy. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this most important request, and for your continued commitment to our men and women in uniform.                       




Barbara Boxer                                

United States Senator                          


Jeanne Shaheen                      

United States Senator                    


Kirsten E. Gillibrand                    

United States Senator                            


Barbara A. Mikulski                   

United States Senator                     

On ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer, Diane will be covering this story this evening.  Meanwhile NOW president Terry O'Neill pronounces the order "ridiculous" and tells ABC News, "How dare any government say we're going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant. This is not the 1800s."
On the subject of retired generals with 'new careers,' Ray Locker, Tom Vanden Brook and Ken Dilanian (USA Today) report on the 'mentor program' (easy money for generals who retire) and how you can be pulled off the tax payer dole for objecting to official policy publicly as happened to Gen Ricardo Sanchez (of Abu Ghraib War Crimes) and they note that the military currently pays "at least 158 senior mentors, about 80% of whom also have connections to various defense contractors."  On the subject of war resistance, Courage to Resist reports war resister Cliff Cornell has seen his one year jail sentence reduced by 30 days.  They note: "Clemency appeals (known as "1105 requests" in military justice terminology) are rarely granted. However, Courage to Resist continued to fund Cliff's post-conviction legal defense despite the odds. Our efforts, made possible by your donations, paid off for Cliff! We're still about $500 short of being able to pay Cliff's final legal bill. Although we have closed our separate fundraising page for Cliff, please donate at couragetoresist.org/donate. This is an important development as most define a felon as a person sentenced to one year or more imprisonment, so Cliff will no longer fit this definition. Hopefully this will make it easier for Cliff to find a job, and to eventually return to the community of Gabriola Island, Canada."  In protest news, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke Friday at the University of Georgia's graduation ceremony and Russ Bynum (AP) reports protesters were outside carrying signs. Saturday, WCSI reports, he spoke at Indiana University's commencement ceremony and protesters turned out for that appearance as well.
Turning to the violence in Iraq . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded two people.  Reuters notes a Kirkuk bombing which injured three police officers and a Falluja car bombing which injured Abdul-Hadi al-Isran, a local politician. AFP reports 2 Shi'ites were shot dead outside "Baquba while leaving a mosque" and they note that the Falluja bombing which injured "the head of the town's city council" also injured police Capt Mohammed Shikhan.  Reuters drops back to Monday to note a Baghdad car bombing which claimed 1 life.
Reuters notes 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead in Mosul, another was shot dead in a Mosul home invasion (in which his brother was also injured) and dropping back to yesterday, 1 civilian was shot dead in Mosul. 
McClatchy's Scott Fontaine is back in Iraq and he report (link has text and video) and he reports on the fears of Iraqi police offiers in Khandari including one who is now being targeted: "Al-Qaida in Iraq killed his mother, brother and uncle. The man started the habit of checking under his car each morning. One day last month, he discovered a magnetically attached bomb." (A longer version of Fontaine's article can be found at the Tacoma News Tribune).
In other news, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has issued a new report entitled "Global Restrictions on Religion" and Iraq finds itself among the top scorers when it comes to social hostilities. [Note: Do not e-mail saying, "Iraq is number one! You should have noted that." It's not. There are outlets reporting -- one example here -- that and they haven't read the study. Iraq is the first country listed under the "Very High" category; however, this note of caution is being ignored by some outlets: "The Pew Forum has not attached numerical rankings to the countries because there are numerous tie scores and the differences between the scores of countries that are close to each other on this table are not necessarily meaningful."] While scoring with other countries as "Very High" when it comes to Social restrictions, it makes the "High" list for government restrictions.  Meanwhile AFP reports that the Iraqi military is on high "alert" according to the Minister of Defense, Mohammed al-Askari, who states, "We have put our forces on alert in Baghdad, the provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, including its capital Mosul, where our Christian brothers will be celebrating their holidays, because we have intelligence indicating they could be attacked during this period." Brothers? How typical of Nouri's flunkies to forget the women. Timothy Williams (New York Times) reports, "At churches in Baghdad this week, Christians are being asked for identification to determine if they have names that security force members recognize as Christian. Some churches around the northern city of Mosul are digging in, surrounding their buildings with giant earthen berms to prevent car bombers from getting too close."  Chrismas Eve, Free Speech Radio News examines the costs to Iraqis of the Iraq War in a special half-hour broadcast.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated the Iraq-based insurgent group Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) for threatening the peace and stabilization efforts in Iraq. JRTN has committed, directed, supported, or posed a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces and is being designated today pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13438, which targets insurgent and militia groups and their supporters. Today's designation freezes any assets that JRTN may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with the entity. The U.S. Government has no information indicating any tie between JRTN and the Naqshabandi Sufi order of Islam.            
"Today's designation is an important step in protecting Coalition troops, Iraqi Security Forces, and innocent Iraqis from insurgent groups like JRTN that use violence to undermine Iraq's progress toward a more democratic and prosperous future,"‪ said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey.‪                              
JRTN has conducted attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq since April 2009, including the August RKG-3 (armor-penetrating grenade) attack against a Coalition Forces convoy in Hawijah, Iraq. Subsequently, a JRTN cell operating in Kirkuk, Iraq, fired rockets at the Kirkuk Regional Air Base in two separate attacks.  As of mid-2009, JRTN planned to conduct attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces and intended to overthrow the Government of Iraq and reinstate Ba'ath Party rule. In mid-July, JRTN members were responsible for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on Coalition Forces near an Iraqi police station in Salah ad Din Governorate, Iraq . Later that month, JRTN detonated an IED targeting Coalition Forces in Kirkuk and in August, conducted an indirect fire attack on Joint Security Station McHenry in Kirkuk.                
In December 2008, a JRTN member operating in Kirkuk purchased three Katyusha rockets and an undetermined number of magnetic improvised explosive devices that were intended to be used in attacks against Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraqi police or Government of Iraq officials. JRTN's Abu Ghurayb Brigade also targeted Coalition Forces stationed at or around Baghdad International Airport .      
Web postings made by JRTN further demonstrate that the group conducted attacks against Coalition Forces. In a statement on the al-Mindar Network's website in May 2009, JRTN claimed to have conducted three separate attacks against Coalition Forces, including a May attack that destroyed a U.S. Humvee in Anbar Province, Iraq; an April 2009 sniper attack against a U.S. soldier in al-Ta'mim Province, Iraq; and the destruction of a U.S. vehicle in Anbar Province in April. In a separate instance, in August, JRTN posted a video of a military vehicle being hit by powerful explosion to the JRTN website, www.alnakshabandia-army.com.
We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "Escalating War in Afghanistan Apt to Bring More Economic Woes" (YubaNet):
If Iraq war spending helped plunge the U.S. economy into its worst slump since the Depression, what does President Obama think his escalation of the Afghan war will do it?
Besides forcing taxpayers to cough up fresh billions to enable the Pentagon to chase down a few hundred Taliban fighters, the Afghan war is liable to continue to inflate oil prices---and this means more than the ongoing swindle of motorists at the pump.   
Higher oil prices also slow the global economy, causing our trading partners to buy fewer Made-in-USA goods, thus reducing demand for our products and leading to layoffs.  
Spending money on war also siphons billions of dollars from truly productive uses.            
"Today, no serious economist holds the view that war is good for the economy," write Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard government finance expert Linda Bilmes in their book "The Three Trillion Dollar War: the True Cost of The Iraq Conflict."            
Referring to Iraq, they write, "The question is not whether the economy has been weakened by the war. The question is only by how much." They note, "Oil prices started to soar just as the war began, and the longer it has dragged on, the higher prices have gone."