Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, May 11, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq receives little to no attention from broadcast TV, Allawi wants the de-Ba'athifcation to end, Chris Hill seems to think it has, veterans issues remain unaddressed and little noted, veterans are forced to sign papers waiving treatment for their injuries, and more.
The Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans commissioned a poll to find out how aware Americans were about veterans issues and the wars themselves. 

The Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans (CIAV) commissioned the poll to measure American support for those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and determine whether the public is aware of the important issues facing current service members and veterans –issues such as unemployment, homelessness, post traumatic stress disorder and suicide. The poll, conducted by Cohen Research Group this April, surveyed 1,000 adults who currently live in the U.S.
"There is a very real and disturbing disconnect among the majority of Americans in understanding how deployment contributes to economic, social, and familial stress through a dearth of services and support," said Amy Fairweather, program director of the CIAV. "All of which are factors which drive veterans and their families to poverty."                         
The poll found that while the psychological effects of the wars are widely known, a majority of Americans are not aware of the unique economic struggles that returning veterans face; including high rates of unemployment, access to healthcare issues, and risk factors for homelessness, poverty, and suicide.
Specifically, 58% of Americans know about the prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder among Iraq and Afghanistan troops and veterans, yet only 35% are aware that not all veterans are eligible for VA healthcare, and only 31% know that veterans can wait up to a year for disability benefits.              
Regarding the economic impacts of war and poverty among veterans, fewer than three out of ten Americans know that 20% of male veterans ages 18-24 were unemployed last year and that there are approximately 200,000 homeless veterans in the U.S.                           
"What the poll tells us is that Americans have little knowledge of the true costs of war," Fairweather said. "As advocates we understand the tremendous struggles service members face when they return from war, but collectively we have a lot of work ahead of us to educate the public about the sacrifices our warriors make and ensure that the system of care is sufficient and appropriate for military, veterans, their families and survivors."                    
The CIAV will address the gaps in services for our military community and discuss ways to foster improved communication with the American public about the issues our troops and veterans face this week at the 3rd annual conference in Washington, DC May 11-14. Service providers, veterans, families, survivors and advocates will share cutting edge expertise and meet with top officials from the VA, DoD, White House and Congress to improve the quality and quantity of support for the military and veteran community. The conference is open to the public and attendees will have an opportunity to learn about the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Register at coaltionforveterans.org                 
May 11-14, 2010               
Renaissance Mayflower Hotel           
1127 Connecticut Ave                     
Washington, DC 20036                 

About the Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans            
The Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans (CIAV) is a national non-partisan partnership of more than 50 organizations committed to working with and on behalf of all military, veterans, families, survivors and providers to strengthen the existing system of care and support for all those affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.          

If the people are under-informed of something or over-informed, it goes to the media. The media sold the never-existed link between Iraq and 9-11 through repetition. Don't offer the b.s. that the White House did it alone. The White House's remarks could have made the cutting room floor. Instead, they were broadcast, printed, etc. Repeatedly.  The media acted (and acts) as an echo chamber and megaphone for the White House. What gets lost?  Reality.
Yesterday was the deadliest day of this year in Iraq as the country was slammed with attack. When the snapshot was being dictated -- before the evening news began airing on the east coast -- the death toll had already reached 102. Saad Abdul-Kadir (AP) reports today that the death toll has reached 119. Around the world, the violence is covered. Russia's Pravda, for example, All India Radio, South African Star, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation . . . In fact, pretty much every country and every outlet reported on it. The only news consumers who might not know about the violence would be . . . US news consumers dependent upon commercial, broadcast TV to provide them with news on what passes for news shows. Three evening news broadcasts and two offered blink-and-you-miss-it 'coverage' while the third offered . . . as Heart once sang, "Nothing At All."

ABC World News with Diane Sawyer served up 19 seconds and, as Sawyer read the following, they had a graph of numbers:

Overseas as America continues to draw down troops in Iraq, more violence there. Suicide bombers, heavily armed gunmen, launched a wave of attacks that touched nearly every part of the country. At least 80 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the attacks in market, a factory and police checkpoints.

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams offered a few seconds more -- 28 seconds total -- and ran video of the aftermath of attacks while Williams read the following:

We have an update today on Iraq where the American presence is now winding down but as we saw dramatically today the violence isn't -- quite the opposite. Some two dozen attacks across that country left more than 90 people dead, hundreds more injured. Coordinate attacks by suicide car bombers targeted workers at a textile plant. Then the emergency workers who showed up and came to their aid were targeted. It was the bloodiest day there all year so far.

Two offered headlines. And then CBS Evening News with Katie Couric continued it's slide into obscurity last night with no news on Iraq. CBS was among the first to bail on the country and it continues to avoid the topic. Let's be really clear, when you've got time to cover the 'announcement' that Barbara Walters will have heart surgery -- not that she had it, which would be news, but that she will have it -- and you've got time to offer bulls**t on Tiger Woods, you've got time to cover the deadliest day of the year in Iraq. Unless you're just not really in the news business. CBS viewers were treated to a story on heartburn medicines. And didn't that make for a better world and a more informed citizenry?

If it bleeds it leads. Maybe the refusal of all three broadcasts to grasp that accounts for why network news continues to bleed viewers?

PBS didn't have much time for Iraq either. More than CBS but you're local town gossip has more time for Iraq than CBS. The NewsHour reduced it to a headline as well (link has text, video and audio option):

Hari Sreenivasan: A series of attacks across Iraq made today the deadliest day of the year so far. At least 99 people were killed in violence that began in the early morning and continued into the night. Hundreds more were wounded. Nearly half of the victims died in a pair of car bombings outside a textile factory in Hillah. As a crowd gathered to help those victims, a suicide bomber blew himself up. The violence also included coordinated shootings targeting Iraqi security forces at six checkpoints in Baghdad.
Today the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, issued the following: "The Secretary-General strongly condemns the wave of terrorist bombings and other attacks in Iraq yesterday that reportedly claimed the lives of over a hundred people and injured many more, mostly civilians. The United Nations stands in solidarity with the Iraqi people in the face of these deplorable, unjustifiable acts."  Amnesty International issued the following statement:
Amnesty International has condemned the killing of civilians in a series of suicide bombings and shootings by armed groups in Iraq on Monday, which left over 100 people dead and 350 wounded.

The attacks on a textile factory, markets and police and army checkpoints were carried out in the town of Hilla, the southern city of Basra, the capital Baghdad and other cities.

"Yesterday, was the deadliest day so far this year in Iraq, said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "Some of the attacks appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and to have been intended to cause maximum loss of life. If so, such attacks constitute war crimes. We condemn them utterly. Those responsible must cease these murderous attacks."

"Civilians are continuing to pay a very heavy price for the ongoing divisions in Iraq."

"The political vacuum resulting from the failure of Iraqi political leaders to agree on a new government, two months after the 7 March election, is fuelling instability and being exploited by armed groups, in particular al-Qa'ida and its supporters, to cause further mayhem and suffering."

Leaders of the major political groups in Iraq have so far failed to garner enough support to form a government following the national elections, which did not produce a clear winner.

Two suicide car bombers drove into a textile factory in Hilla, south of Baghdad on Monday afternoon. A third bomb exploded as rescue workers arrived on the scene. At least 45 people were reported killed and 190 wounded.

On Monday evening, three car bombs exploded in Basra - the first in the central market, the other two in a residential area in the north of the city. Reports say that 21 people were killed and more than 70 others were wounded.

Earlier on Monday, suicide bombers killed 13 people and wounded 40 in a market place in al-Suwayra, 50 km (30 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

The day of attacks started at dawn in Baghdad, when gunmen killed at least seven Iraqi soldiers and policemen when they attacked six checkpoints. Bombs planted at three other checkpoints wounded several more, according to reports.

Further attacks in the western province of Anbar, the northern city of Mosul, the outskirts of Baghdad and elsewhere took the death toll to at least 102.

On 27 April 2010 Amnesty International published Iraq: Civilians under fire, highlighting the plight of the Iraqi civilian population and the targeting of particular vulnerable groups by armed groups, government forces and others in Iraq.
The report is PDF format. You can also refer to the April 27th snapshot for a summary of some of the reports key points. Faith Abdulsalam (Azzaman) observes, "Iraq is heading towards the abyss.  The path to hell gets clearer not only day after day but hour after hour. The abyss engulfs the country the way rough seas erode a small island."   Asia News notes that "attacks yesterday covered the entire country: from Mosul to Baghdad, Hilla to Basra."  Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) adds, "The government has blamed militants linked to Al Qaeda." But not everyone agrees.  Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report, "Many Iraqis, including police and soldiers, say they believe their own politicians are behind the attacks."  And they quote an Iraqi police officer explaining, "This is a struggle for power -- none of the citizens are blindfolded -- we can all see and understand the situation. I blame the government for this." And they note, "The Sadr movement -- one of the members of the new Shiite alliance -- has called for an emergency session to reconvene the former parliament to oversee security." Ayad Allawi has called for an interim government to address the violence and security issues.  Ben Lando (Time magazine) interviews Allawi:
The two biggest blocs belong to former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya Party took 91 seats, and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose State of the Law Party took 89. Parliament has a total of 325 seats -- with 163 needed to form a majority. In an interview with TIME, Allawi angrily accuses the international community of undercutting what he calls his victory at the polls, after first supporting the results. "We came first," he says. "Now they are silent; the [U.N.] Security Council, they kept their mouth shut."           
After the elections, an electoral court ruled that it wasn't the top vote getter that has the right to form the next government but the biggest bloc of newly elected members of parliament, turning the post-election period into a time of high-stakes horse-trading. In Iraq's parliamentary math, Allawi and al-Maliki together have enough seats to form a government. But the two leaders dislike each other so much that a one-on-one meeting has yet to take place. Al-Maliki has instead turned to another slate, the Iraqi National Alliance, led by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and other religious leaders, to form what U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill called this week "a Shi'ite mega-party." The religious slate needs only four additional seats to form a party, and by acquiring them, it could edge out Allawi altogether.

Allawi tells Lando he has conditions including that the de-Ba'athification process must stop.  On today's Morning Edition (NPR), Peter Kenyon reported from Baghdad:
Ambassador Chris Hill: I think we have genuine expectation that the Accountability and Justice Commission has concluded its work, and that we will not see further moves on that.


Peter Kenyon: The American comments were echoed in private by Iraqi officials. Analyst Joost Hiltermann, with the International crisis group, wrote that: The Accountability and Justice Commission, which has disqualified candidates under the rubric of De-Baathification, seems to have reached the limits of its influence for now. All of which elicits only a patient smile from Ali Faisal al-Lami, the director of the De-Baathification panel. Relaxing on a couch inside a compound controlled by former Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, Lami says he doesn't see how the Americans have the right to interfere in the work of an independent Iraqi commission. He adds that the commission is still pursuing a legal ruling on the candidates it has already challenged.


Justice and Accountability's Ali al-Lami: Our proposed disqualifications were sent to the higher Electoral Commission, but the commission refused to act. Therefore, we took the cases to the judiciary for a decision to be implemented.

Chris Hill just needs to sit somewhere silently.  A) de-Ba'athifcation?  Never should have sprung up.  The fact that it did goes to Hill who damn well should have been on top of it, should have known the legal status of the commission and should have been prodding Nouri back in April to nullify the committee.  That was one of the benchmarks.  Hill inherited those benchmarks when he took the post.  B) What Chris Hill wants or thinks at this point mean nothing and he just needs to sit down.  al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi are running the Justice and Accountability Commission.  They're not listening to Chris Hill.  Any chance of Hill having impact passed months ago.

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Falluja suicide bombing whcih claimed the lives of 1 police officer and 1 bystander and left five people wounded, 2 Mosul roadside bombings which wounded two people and, dropping back to Monday, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured two pople, a Baghdad home bombing which injured four people and a Baghdad store bombing which destroyed the store. AFP reports two Baghdad bombings close to the Athureen Church which claimed the lives of 5 police officers and left fourteen more injured.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that Monday saw four Baghdad drive bys which injured five police officers
As the attacks on police officers continue, Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report that approximately half of the security forces do not show up and those who do are often afraid such as an Iraqi soldier who tells them, "I haven't slept for three days."  Lara Jakes (AP) reports that US commanders are now rethinking the drawdown pace scheduled for the end of August. Jakes notes that the first week of May saw 92,000 US forces on the ground in Iraq.
Turning to the US, where 2009 saw the US army won convictions against 327 soldiers for going AWOL.  Chie Saito (Austin's News 8 -- link has text and video) reports on Jacob Wade who went AWOL while back in the US on two weeks leave from his Iraq deployment.
Chie Saito: [. . .] he says the psychological effects from what he saw and experienced --
Jacob Wade: Riding through town we got attacked.
Chie Saito: -- in his first six months there --
Jacob Wade: I had a grenade go off like five feet behind me.
Chie Saito: -- made it impossible for him to go back.
Jacob Wade:  I saw a lot of people die, saw a kid get shot.
Chie Saito:  Images and memories which he says still haunt him today.
Jacob Wade: I wake up talking to myself about Iraq. Dreams about killing myself all alone.
Jade Ortego (Killeen Daily Herald) adds, "His psychiatrist, Dr. William Cross of Manilus, N.Y., who has agreed to testify on Wade's behalf at his sanity board, diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Wade also suffered physical injuries to his legs as a result of his service, and walks with a limp. Wade was scared to report and be redeployed, but was also afraid of the harassment and hazing from fellow soldiers that he heard comes with an admission of mental health issues due to service." Tod Ensign (Citizen Soldier) is representing Jacob Wade.  Yesterday Iraq Veterans Against the War posted an update on Eric Jasinski who also suffers from PTSD and also self-checked out to get treatment for PTSD.  The military responded by court-martialing him. He has served one month at Bell County Jail and been released from the jail.  Their update includes a video by Stand with Honor filmed after the court-martial.
Eric Jasinski's mother Laura Barrett: He stood up.  He knew -- he knew he was going to have to go to jail. He knew that would happen. But he also knew he had to have help. And he wants to make sure that the word -- the word gets out there. That's what I'm so proud of him for, that he wants to make sure that the word gets out that so many other young men and women need help psychological help. They're coming back damaged from what they make them do, make them participate in. Eric's going to stand up. He will inspire and help so many other people.
James Branum is Eric's attorney.  PTSD is rarely taken seriously.  The Congress continues to fund studies that find . . . further studies are needed.  The system itself works against those suffering with it.  Lyda Longa (Daytona Beach News Journal) reports 29-year-old Iraq War veteran Joshua James Gerard was shot at his home Sunday by Deputy Vidal Mejias when the sheriff's office responded to a 9-11 call placed by his wife.  Gerard is said to suffer from PTSD.  It is not known at this point whether or not he had sought help for his PTSD.  Afghanistan War veteran Jennifer Crane did seek help once she returned home and found her life spiraling out of control.  She shared her story with Lynn Harris and Marie Clare:
I completed two weeks of rehab, and then went to a three-month VA program for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. But after only one month there, the doctors, unbelievably, asked me to leave. They said the treatment wasn't really helping me -- although I disagreed -- and that as one of only two women in the group, I was distracting the male patients, who apparently found me attractive. I begged them, literally on my hands and knees, to let me stay; I knew I wasn't ready to go back into society. I knew what would happen if I tried. Incredibly, they said no.

I left the VA Medical Center and went straight to my drug dealer's house. I told him I needed something strong to get rid of my pain. That day, I started smoking crack. I hit bottom so fast, it was amazing. I went from being happy with my progress to having no hope at all. I used all day, every day. I tried to hold down jobs -- bartender, waitress, receptionist -- but I was so strung out that I couldn't get out of bed to go to work. When I was at work, I was high. I got fired from every job. At one point, I just quit trying.

I couldn't afford rent, I couldn't go to my mom's house unless I was clean, and I couldn't stop fighting with my boyfriend long enough to stay with him. That's how I wound up living in my car.           

For several months, in exchange for drugs, I ran errands for my dealer and cleaned his home. He also asked me to be a "dancer" -- in other words, dance privately for his friends and customers. Clinging to my last shred of dignity, I said no. But not long after, I had sex with him for drugs. I felt so disgusted afterward, I took out a lighter and burned the clothes I'd worn that night.           

Then, in August 2006, as I was driving away from my dealer's house, seven police cars suddenly surrounded me. I was handcuffed and arrested for possession of the crack cocaine I had with me. But when I wouldn't give them the name of my dealer (which would be suicide), they eventually gave up and let me go.  

The very next day, my old friends held a reunion on the anniversary of Steve's death. When I showed up, everyone stared. I was emaciated, with my eyes darting around and contusions all over my face from picking my skin, out of anxiety. When I spotted one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jason, he gently whispered, "What's wrong?" With his Timberlands, tattoos, and crew cut, he made me smile, and his simple question moved me. I told him, "I have to change my life, and I don't know how to do it."  

Jason sat up with me all night. I didn't get high. I cried and I shook, and he held me, saying, "I'm not letting you leave." That night -- those words -- changed everything. I finally felt ready to let someone help me. I began to imagine getting clean. 
Jennifer Crane is now a spokesperson for the non-profit Give an Hour which provides "free medical health service to US military personnel and families affected by the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."  Alison St. John (KPBS -- link has text and audio) speaks with Iraq War veteran Sage Bird who has Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD which made returning to civilian life rough and, as she sought to self-medicate, she developed a drug addiction and ended up in jail  where she "caught the attention of the jail authorities who saw her efforts, and that her violent behavior was connected to the traumas she experienced in Iraq. They gave her a second chance. She was given a lawyer who won her a reprieve, to spend six months at Veterans Village, working on healing herself."  Last Friday on The World (PRI -- link has text and audio), Marco Werman spoke with journalist Joshua Kors about Sgt Chuck Luther who was forced to sign a statement claiming his injuries were a pre-existing personality disorder so the military could avoid paying for his care.
Joshua Kors: Well they're not accusations.  This was two years of combing through the medical records kept by his doctor, confirmation from his commander who was there to watch his treatment, and from others who came to visit him while he was in confinement.  Sgt. Luther had been wounded by mortar fire while serving in Iraq.  Slammed his head against the concrete and ended up with severe traumatic brain injury.  The headaches resulting from that blow to the head caused blindness, his vision to shut off in one eye.  He said the other eye felt like someone was stabbing him in the eye with a knife.  He went to the aid station to get care for that, but they told him that his blindness was caused by a personality disorder.  He thought that was ridiculous, how could a problem with his personality cause blindness?  But Marco, this is part of a larger story. For the last three years I've been reporting on wounded soldiers, pressed into signing these papers saying they have a personality disorder. [. . .] Sgt. Luther was put in a closet and held there for over a month under enforced sleep deprivation with the lights on all night, blasting heavy metal music at him all through the night, but when he tried to escape the closet they pinned him down, injected him with sleeping medication and dragged him back to the closet.  Finally, at the end of a month, he was willing to sign anything and he did.  He went ahead, signed papers saying that he had a pre-existing personality disorder.  They flew him back to Fort Hood, and that's when they let him know the repercussions of that discharge.  No disability pay for the rest of your life, no long term medical care, and here's a bill for $1,500.00. [. . .] Since 2001, 22,600 soldiers have been booted out of the military with personality disorder.  Taking those wounded soldiers and sliding them out the side door with that mental illness is saving the military 12.5 billion dollars in disability and medical care.  And that is why, then Senator Barack Obama was so up in arms about this issue.  Along with Republican Senator Kid Bond, he put forward a bill to halt personality disorder discharges.  That made him both a hero and a disappointment to so many veterans.  A hero because he was addressing this critical issue; a disappointment because during his Presidential run, and now from the White House, he hasn't spoken at all about personality disorder.  The result was that the issue sort of withered on the vine.