Friday, April 26, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Friday, April 26, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the provincial elections are in for the press, protests continue in Iraq, State of Law offers smears for all (protesters, the US, Moqtada al-Sadr, everyone!), Shinseki gets confused over which lie he told and which he should tell to Congress, Chris Hedges supports Lynne Stewart, IVAW can't leave the sexism alone, and more.

Is Iraq Veterans Against the War doing parody?  I'm about to pull their link because of the crap that just went up under Patrick McCarthy's name. 

Brother Barrack, I'm really proud of you sir! I was wavering for a moment because of the drone thing-(nightmare). Children being killed by American air assets is a touchy subject for me but, we've all done things we're not proud of; we just need to make amends for them, that's being a man. Y'all are making sure the bombing suspect gets a fair trial. By maintaining the rights of all humans you can show the nay sayers what give me liberty or give me death means. Americans are supposed to be a people of peace that believe unconditionally in fairness and justice.
"Enemy combatants"- criminals-(Men) deserve a fair trial sir, lets retake the moral high ground with superior integrity not firepower and force.

Okay, Marcia's already called IVAW out recently for the sexism. "That's being a man"?  Oh the faux macho of those males who turn against war.  Not all but we're clearly miles from the 2008 IVAW.  I'm not supporting this crap.  Nor do I pretend that killing people with drones can be forgiven by anyone else getting a fair trial.

IVAW has wasted and withered in the last four years.  I've stood by them and avoided slamming them.  But they've lost many of the core members, people who haven't left no longer identify as IVAW in public and they're a nothing group.

Where were they on any damn issue to do with veterans?  I'm really sorry but if you want a make an impact, you start addressing veterans issues.  I speak to groups of veterans who can't stand me or my politics -- and I'm aware of that, that's fine -- but they will listen because I'm addressing veterans issues.  IVAW has failed to do so.  They do not lead on any health issue.  They have allowed IAVA to become the premiere and sole organization for today's young veterans. 

When Marcia's post went up, I heard about it over and over. From female veterans who were tired of IVAW's "macho s**t" and tired of the fact that it  provides no leadership or advocacy on Military Sexual Trauma -- that includes a female veteran who was part of Winter Solider.  You are pissing off everyone who once supported you.  Today you allow a member to post that a fair trial for someone wipes away The Drone War.  Really?  Is that a gift from Barack Obama?  Because I kind of thought that was guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States of America -- or have you never heard of the Sixth Amendment?

I've already had three phone calls on this and has it even been up a half hour?  Four.  Ava's handing me a phone, hold on.  Okay.  Four IVAW members furious with the garbage that went up.  Can't say I blame them.

So now we praise people for following the Constitution -- as opposed to demanding that they do?  Oh, how low to the ground you crawl. 

IVAW has made itself useless.  It has alienated women veterans, it has allowed itself to be ripped apart by arguments between Democratic members and Socialists (IVAW has members of all political stripes -- but in 2008 the fissure emerged between Democrats and Socialists and it never went away -- though it did leave many members to exit).  It has failed to lead on any issue.  It's failed to lead on veterans suicides, it's failed to engage with Congress, they couldn't even offer a statement on burn pits.  As the last months of 2012 saw Barack send in more US troops to Iraq, IVAW couldn't even acknowledge it -- not even a link to Tim Arango's first report on the issue in September of last year.  You've failed to get your house in order.   As Rebecca noted in March, when she dubbed them "the useless:"

but until they start standing for veterans, veterans have no use for them.
i'm sorry that no 1 ever explained p.r. to the group. 1st clue?  don't elect a 9-11 truther to be your leader. i'm not insulting 9-11 truthers.  i'm saying when your leader's 1, that's a distraction. they should have been working on disability issues, they should have been working on claims issues. instead, everything out of their mouth is political. do they not get how sick the country - and veterans in particular - has become with politics?

When they wrongly distanced themselves from Matthis Chiroux,  Jose Vasquez  issued a statement that ended with, "Our messaging is important and in the future we should all make an effort to reach consensus with those we organize with in an open way about how we represent IVAW." They may not be 'members in good standing,' but I've already heard from four IVAW members complaining about the crap that went up at the website tonight -- and that was less than 30 minutes ago -- stating it doesn't represent them.  Matthis was run out for burning a flag -- his own individual decision, representing only himself.  But you continue to put the half-baked 'wisdoms' of Patrick McCarthy up at your site including that now The Drone War is forgiven?  You've made yourself a joke.

On this week's Voices of the Middle East and North Africa (KPFA, Wednesday nights, 7:00 pm PST), the last segment featured Iraqi poet and Gallatin School of NYU professor Sinan Antoon reading his poetry.  He is a novelist and poet and, of his three books of poetry, the one widely available in the US is  The Baghdad Blues.  Excerpt.

I sit before one of those screens
Death in all languages.
The tower of Babel has disintegrated
Into a shore littered with corpses
My body is a tired boat
Silence is its mast.
I turn the channels
And corpses toss and turn.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 462 violent deaths in Iraq for April.  Over a fourth of those deaths have taken place this week (as of last Saturday, IBC's count was 328).

National Iraqi News Agency notes rebels clashed with Nouri's federal forces in Hadeetha and Kubaisa, 1 police officer was shot dead in Falluja, 5 Sahwa were shot dead outside of Tikrit,  a Baquba bombing left one person injured, a Mosul bombing left twelve people injured, one civilian was injured in a Falluja shooting, a Sadr City car bombing claimed 1 life and left seven others injured, a bombing in southern Baghdad left seven people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left twelve injured, and two Baghdad bombings -- both targeting mosques; Malik al-Ashter Mosque and al-Qubeisi Mosque  -- left 2 dead and thirty injuredNINA also notes "that all the units of federal police withdrew from inside the city of Falluja" and quotes a security source stating, "The withdrawal came in the wake of violent clashes between insurgents and police."

At Anbar University today, protesters condemned the Hawija massacre. National Iraqi News Agency reports that sit-ins took place in Falluja and Ramadi.  Alsumaria reports thousands turned out in Ramadi (look at the picture even if you don't read Arabic -- the size of the crowd is impressive)  and they decried the killing of peaceful protesters in Hawija.   NINA reports, "Preachers in Diyala denounced storming arenas of sit-in Haweeja by the army and the killing of protesters, strongly condemning the government for what happened in Hawija of Kirkuk province."   They quote a coordinating member of the Anbar demonstrations stating "the Maliki government has lost its legitimacy when ordered army to open fire against unarmed people."   Alsumaria covers the protesters in Mosul (check out the picture) noting the demonstration expressed its solidarity with the people of Hawija and called for one Iraq of one people where the people are safe from Nouri's forces.

On Tuesday, Nouri's forces took to the air in helicopters to shoot at them and rolled over them with military vehicles, shot at them, arrested them.  All for the 'crime' of taking part in a sit-in.   Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) quoted Anbar Salvation Council's Sheik Ahmed abu Risha stating, "Maliki should be prosecuted like Saddam Hussein for what he does to the people." Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) explores the Hawija attack, the 50 dead and 110 injured and offers:

Ultimately, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might be to blame for what occurred in his capacity as head of the government, commander in chief of the armed forces and the official directly in charge of running the interior and defense ministries, as well as the national security and intelligence services, which have lacked directors for the past three years.

Nouri's State of Law crony Sa'ad al-Muttalibi took to Press TV today -- knowing that they would let him lie as Iranian government's Press TV always lets State of Law lie --  to smear the dead, "those who were killed in Hawijah, they were not civilians, they were armed groups belonging to the Nagshebendi organization or Ba'ath Party members and definitely they were not civilians."  He wasn't done smearing -- please remember Nouri al-Maliki only remains in power because the White House props him up -- al-Muttalibi also wanted to link the US to these events in Hawija, he then went on to smear cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr and his supporters, "The Sadrists are definitely against Maliki, they are Shia but they are against the will of the Shia people in Iraq."  Also State of Law only holds 89 seats in Parliament, al-Muttalibi tries to fudge the issue and imply otherwise.

Iraqiya MP Liqaa Wardi speaks with NINA and states Nouri's reckless actions in Hawija have "created unprecedented reactions of anger." 

Tim Arango (New York Times) reports on the efforts of "Western diplomats" noting:

The continuing battles on Thursday, which by late afternoon had left nearly 50 people dead, most of them described by security official as militants, came as Western diplomats intensified efforts to persuade Mr. Maliki and his government to back away from a military solution to the Sunni uprising. The urgings were met with justifications for the heavy hand, partly out of fears that the situation would otherwise deteriorate into another Syria, according to one Western diplomat and an official close to Mr. Maliki, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. Another diplomat, who also agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said a fierce disagreement had erupted within the military command between Sunnis who opposed the military response and Shiite officers who directed it.

Yesterday on Free Speech Radio News, Dorian Merina spoke with Mohamed al-Obaidi about the week's events

Mohamed al-Obaidi:  Well we had protests a couple of years back here in Baghdad and elsewhere.  What I know of the Baghdad protests is that they've mainly been led by the educated elements of Baghdad like artists, NGOs, even maybe some college teachers and they're basically protesting against corruption and how corrupt the entire public sector was and how bad were the services, demanding change of the regime, but, again, based on corruption and not unlike the current sit-in and protests in mainly Sunni provinces.  These ones are mainly now led by tribal men -- and tribal leaders -- who are demanding equality between Sunnis and Shias in this country and are rejecting the oppression, the general oppression on the Sunnis and mistreatment by security forces.

Dorian Merina: And some of the protests have highlighted the issue of detentions and torture by security forces as a reason for their protests.  What about that?

Mohamed al-Obaidi:  Well I mean like I said it starts with illegal arrests.  If a security breach happens somewhere, say an explosion or an assassination of some soldiers, they round up people by tens or hundreds and they torture some of them.  One of the outrageous acts they do is that they take hostages and arrest women instead of their husbands or their brothers which is a great social taboo in our country.  And in particular [. . .] this is untolerable offense to the honor.  And again people have been held for years in prison and since the time of the American occupation of Iraq until now we have people spending years in prison without facing trial.  And then you have many cases where people pay hundreds or few thousand dollars and get released from any charges they are faced with.  And then you have cases where security forces arrest people and blackmail their families for money.  I mean, 'We either charge you for this, or you pay this.'  So it's -- They're dressed in uniforms but they're acting like gangsters.  So how do you hope to stop that?

Dorian Merina: Well, today Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned of sectarian civil war returning to Iraq.  [Omitting Dorian's citing of the Christian Science Monitor -- Arthur Bright is either extremely ignorant or a liar -- regardless, he religious baits in the piece.]  Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to withdraw ministers from Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet.  How far could this go?

Mohamed al-Obaidi:   Well a new civil war is a very possible reality.  Sunnis are very fed up with the way they're treated and the Shias have a great mistrust in Sunnis.  And with the current corruption and oppression that's going on, it's -- things can develop.  As a retaliation to the crush-down of the protesters in Hawija, Kirkuk, you had Sunni tribal men attacking police stations in nearby towns and even in Mosul city to the north.  So, you know, it could be just like an avalanche.  One event triggers another and the vengeance keeps going and you have a cycle of violence.

Dorian Merina:  Mohamed al-Obaidi is a shop owner in Baghdad, a longtime resident there.  He spoke to us about the government's response to protests, and deadly clashes this week in Iraq.

There's some indication

Last night, Betty wrote about the situation in Iraq:

He was imposed on them (first by Bush, then by Barack).  He is not responsive to them.  He has a multi-billion dollar yearly budget but Iraqis live in poverty without basic public services.  And Iraq doesn't have the US population.  They've got about 30 million people.  And its budget this year is $118 billion. Do you realize that comes to about 60 billion per person? But it's not spent on the people. Can you believe this? No wonder the Iraqi people are sick of it.  Can you blame them?  I can't.

Kat offered, "The White House needs to step [in].  It needs to be made clear that this can't happen again.  If we had a real leader in the White House, they might even be able to get Nouri to leave."  Meanwhile Ann caught the network news and wondered why Iraq didn't make it on the broadcast?  Marcia noted another outlet unable or unwilling to cover Iraq:

Iraq's on fire and where's McClatchy Newspapers? They sure get a lot of praise for Knight-Ridder work.  They're not Knight-Ridder.  But would they have done that if it was McClatchy then? I'm not insulting Jonathan S. Landy or Warren Strobel or others.  I'm asking would McClatchy have given them the same space and support that Knight-Ridder did.  I don't know. But I do know big bad McClatchy's not in Iraq. Iraq's on fire. Not only do they not have Adam Ashton, Nancy Youseff, Roy Gutman or anyone else in Iraq.  And they've obviously gotten rid of the Iraqis that used to work for them in country. So they have nothing. Point being, praise Landy, praise Strobel, praise Knight-Ridder but stop acting like McClatchy is Knight-Ridder.  It's not.

Earlier this week, Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reported, "In Anbar province, Sunni tribes were mobilizing Thursday to defend their cities against possible attacks by Iraqi security forces. They positioned gunmen and paraded in some of their cities, vowing to stop the military from entering their communities. Clashes were reported outside the city of Fallouja on Thursday night."   Today,
AFP notes, "The gunmen pulled out of Sulaiman Bek under a deal worked out by tribal leaders and government."  AFP could be more specific but choose not to be.  "Government" isn't Nouri.  NINA explains Salahuddin Province Governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Jabouri announced yesterday that he had met "with security commanders and local tribal leaders reaching an agreement by which the crisis will be solved tomorrow, and the military force to withdraw, according to the request of tribes' leaders, to be replaced with local police force."  Kitabat also makes it clear that the the peace agreement was made by the provincial government.

 Along with yesterday's defections, Iraqi Spring MC notes 25 have defected today in Kirkuk.  The defections may or may not be connected to the remarks of al-Saadi. Anytime the Iraqi forces have been used by Nouri to attack Iraqis, there have been defections.  This was most noticeable when Nouri attacked Basra in 2008 (and why the US military command was so outraged -- see the April 2008 appearances of then-Gen David Petraeus and then-US Ambassador Ryan Crocker before the various committees in the US Congress --  that he jumped the gun on the planned invasion).  Earlier this week, Al Arabiya notes, "Abu Risha urged Iraqi army members, hailing from the mainly Shiite southern tribes in the country, to defect and not take part in the crackdown against their 'brethren' protesters."

AFP notes, "The gunmen pulled out of Sulaiman Bek under a deal worked out by tribal leaders and government."  AFP could be more specific but choose not to be.  "Government" isn't Nouri.  NINA explains Salahuddin Province Governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Jabouri announced yesterday that he had met "with security commanders and local tribal leaders reaching an agreement by which the crisis will be solved tomorrow, and the military force to withdraw, according to the request of tribes' leaders, to be replaced with local police force."  Kitabat also makes it clear that the the peace agreement was made by the provincial government.

Kitabat has an analysis of the provincial vote.  We'll wait for hard numbers before doing the same.  The IHEC still hasn't posted them.

What is known is that Nouri won 8 provinces.  It's a pity Iraq doesn't just have 8 provinces or even 12.  Then Nouri's pipe-dream of a majority government might be possible.  Iraq has six provinces that haven't voted.  Four that did didn't go for Nouri.  The six that haven't voted?  Five will absolutely not go for Nouri (Anbar, Nineveh and the KRG).  Kirkuk won't get to vote.  But that's 8 provinces for Nouri and 7 against.  That's not going to be a majority government when the parliamentary elections roll around.  Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) reports "educated Shi'ites" voted State of Law for just that reason, they though Nouri could deliver a majority government.   Equally true, there's been a flip-flop on parliamentary and provincial with one group turning out for one and another for the other.  It's a see-saw effect that goes with voters disgust.  There is nothing in the results that speaks well for 2012 and, as we noted before, these reflections did not and would not reflect on Nouri's own power.  These are local elections.  As Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) points out, "It should be noted here that winning one or even 20 seats in local governments does not allow the attainment of any of the above-mentioned goals because these governments have limited authority and primarily focus on providing basic services."  Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) notes:  "Sabah al-Sheikh, professor in politics in Baghdad University, told Xinhua despite that Maliki's State of Law Coalition has taken the lead in eight out of 12 provinces, he will not garner more seats in the provincial councils this time than in the previous polls."  How does that happen?  It happens because you didn't win by enough, you squeaked ahead of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc.

A win is a win.  But in terms of the meaning of the election, there's no overwhelming support for State of Law even in the eight provinces that went for State of Law.  So Nouri's a failure?

Nope.  We've said all along that provincial council elections are local issues.  This is not an indicator that Nouri is unpopular or less popular.  I would love for it to be so.  But Nouri's really not that much of a factor in these elections because people weren't voting for him, they were voting for locals. Hillary Clinton was at a big fundraiser this week and gave her first for-pay speech since she stepped down as Secretary of State.  She'll continue fundraising for the Democratic Party throughout the US.  She can do that because she can rally voters around the country.  She proved that repeatedly as Senator (and before as First Lady).  If you want to make a call based on the elections about Nouri, the best call -- but a still a shaky one, we're looking at one event only -- is that he can't rally people to his political slate (State of Law) regardless of his popularity or lack of it. 

Niqash continues to do the strongest reporting on the elections.  We'll note this from Mustafa Habib (Niqash):

Voter turnout didn't seem so different from Iraq’s last elections. But now many Iraqis are boasting that they defaced their ballot papers instead of casting a real vote. Partly its political malaise, partly they did it to stop electoral fraud.

Young Baghdad man, Amjad Khudair, is pleased with the way he voted in the country’s provincial elections, held over the weekend. On his ballot paper he wrote: “I vote for Barcelona Football Club”. Barcelona were unsuccessful finalists in this week’s European Cup. But that’s beside the point. The point was that Khudair felt his vote was a waste of time.

“We see the same candidates and the same political parties in every electoral event,” Khudair explained. “So I refused to vote for them again because they always perform poorly and they are not able to manage Baghdad’s affairs the way they are supposed to.”

Nonetheless, Khudair decided to go his local polling station and claim his ballot paper so that it couldn’t be manipulated or used in any other way. He had heard that this was a possibility, especially in polling stations where there were no electoral observers. So he put a big X on his ballot paper and made his sarcastic joke. Then he went home.

Khudair was not the only Iraqi who felt this way. The latest reports suggest voter turnout of around 51 percent for the provincial elections – despite forecasts to the contrary, this is similar to the turnout for the last provincial elections in 2009. But it seems that plenty of the Iraqis who voted simply wanted to make sure their votes were not misused and turned up only to deface their ballot papers. Damaging or defacing the ballot papers meant that they could not be misused.

Their other election coverage this week includes Hiwa Barznjy's "iraqi kurdistan a dictatorship? current president will break law, run for election again"  and Daoud al-Ali's "election results so far: low voter turnout, more compromises needed."

Let's drop back to Tuesday's Senate Budget Committee hearing. Senator Patty Murray is Chair of the Committee.  Appearing before them was VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  Senator Kelly Ayotte  made a strong case to Shinseki on why New Hampshire needs a full-service VA medical center to serve its population -- she noted over 10% of New Hampshire's population are veterans and that they are having to cross state lines to get most health care needs addressed.  She made a strong case and noted that she and New Hampshire's other US Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, are not going to drop this issue.

The biggest embarrassment at the hearing -- after VA -- was Senator Tim Kaine.  A first-term senator might want to keep his ignorance on the down low as opposed to flaunting in an open hearing.  Kaine lapped it up when Shineski whined about the VA being all paper and how hard he's had to work.  So what?

He's not working any harder than any of his predecessors.  And don't talk about 'overworkered,' the VA has never has never had as many employees as it does today (and yet the average hours for one worker to rate a single claim has gone up significantly).  Your ignorance of the VA, Senator Kaine, makes you look very stupid in open hearings.

In fairness, Kaine's often an idiot in public.  He's a homophobe who's against gay couples adopting and he's anti-abortion.  (Kaine is a Democrat, I probably should note that for those who aren't familiar with him.)  He's as weird as the man before him: Jim Webb.  Like Webb, he better get his act together because as one self-proclaimed "yellow dog Democrat" from Virginia told me after the hearing, if Kaine ever "acts the fool like that again" at a hearing about veterans, he'll rally support against Kaine in the veteran community.  For those who forgot or never knew, Jim Webb was a one-term senator who didn't seek re-election because the veterans community in Virginia turned on him.  And unlike Kaine, Webb was a veteran.  They will turn on Kaine much quicker.  Kaine may feel re-election is six years away but 2010 is when the veterans turned against Webb.  Kaine also, in the hearing, enabled Shinseki to lie about the 2009 scandal regarding GI's not getting their fall checks.  This was registered by the veteran I spoke to.  Again, Kaine better get his act together real quick.  He's damn lucky he doesn't serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  If he did, he'd have to speak on the issue more and the more he spoke in the hearing, the more he pisses off his veteran constituent.  Also true, no one likes a kiss-ass and Kaine's decision when the hearing should have been over to prolong it to offer some "compliments" might work at a social tea but it doesn't at a Congressional hearing.

Shinseki played the drama queen.  This is year five for Shinseki and his excuses get more and more ridiculous.  His complaints about the paper system also included whining about DoD records.  Before he was sworn in, January 2009, the VA and DoD were already tasked with coming up with an integrated record that would follow a service member from DoD to VA.  The biggest problem, already established before Shinseki was in the VA, was that DoD and VA's computer systems were not compatible.  As we learned this year, nothing has taken place on that issue for the entire four years of Shinseki's first term.  He whined about how he had to wait for Hagel.  Yeah, we heard that same whining when Leon Panetta replaced Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.  I've already vouched for Panetta, he was willing to go along whatever had already been discussed and decided by Gates, but I've since been told by one of Gates' staff that Robert Gates wasn't an obstacle either.  Gates' attitude was, and this is a quote of what I was told, "Let's get it done, let's get it done quick."  He was willing to go along with whatever Shinseki thought would work best and willing to bend to VA because he believed VA would deal with medical issues -- especially serious medical issues and longterm ones -- much more than DoD.    Here he is yammering away in reply to Senator Angus King's questions about was the joint-electronic record place?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  It is not.  And so for the past four years, two Secretaries, first Secretary Gates and then Secretary Panetta and now -- and I -- and Secretary [Chuck] Hagel and I will undertake dealing with the frustration you described.  And that is why don't we have a single, common, joint, integrated electronic health record.

Here's reality, Panetta retired and Gates retired.  People retire in all walks of life.  Shinseki can pretend like that excuses him but it doesn't, he didn't retire.  He was tasked with it four years ago and has no accomplishment on it to point to.  The first decision is which system will be used: VA's or DoD's?  Gates and Panetta told him to use VA's system because that's what Shiseki said he wanted.  For him to pretend, after four years on the job, that he's accomplished anything on this is ridiculous.  Equally true, Hagel could retire tomorrow, could be replaced tomorrow, could die tomorrow.  This decision should have been made four years ago and Shinseki needs to stop making excuses because I was told Gates would probably be happy to discuss how he thought this decision was made in Shinseki's first year as VA Secretary.  At the end of the hearing, Chair Patty Murray also touched on the issue.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:   Madam Chairman, I -- Let me just say, uh, like you, I am committed to what we have been asked to produce here.  And I would say that over my four years of working with Secretary Gates and Panetta and, uh, now Secretary Hagel, uh, that both Secretaries were committed to single, joint, common, integrated health record -- open in architecture and non-propriety in design -- which is what the -- the, uh, the President [Barack Obama] asked us to go to work on.  For Secretary Hagel, who, uh, arrived and was not familiar with, uh, the previous history on IHER [Integrated Health Electronic Record], he asked for time to get into it, I understand, where the program was so I await the next opportunity for, uh, the two of us to sit down here to ensure that the program is on track as we have committed to.

Chair Patty Murray:  Well I hope that is going forward and I will certainly push DoD to do the same.  There is a December 6, 2012 memo from the US Chief Information Officer and US Chief Technology Officer that requires DoD and VA to submit a number of documents regarding the status of the IHER program and I would ask that you provide us with a complete set of documents as well.

Oh, so he and Hagel just discussed it once -- apparently for Hagel to request time to review?  Hmm.  That is interesting.  It's always interesting how Eric Shinseki tells one story one day and another the next.  Specifically, April 11th, the House Veterans Affairs Committee on the VA budget:

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Another question I have is the integration between DoD and VA on the eletronic health records and the benefits. Should we have a joint meeting between VA and DoD -- and I realize that Senator -- that Defense Secretary Hagel has a lot on his plate with North Korea and the Middle East right now. 

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Yep.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  But this is one of my concerns when we changed was the fact that this would get a backburner again.  And are we going to be sitting here -- and you and I have spoken about this and that was a private conversation and it will remain that way but are we going to be sitting here a year from now or two years or three years because it's not a resources -- putting of money -- to be able to integrate these systems.  I mean, it's really become very frustrating to me to sit here year after year and, unless the voters have a different idea, I plan to be here in 2015 and see if we complete these things we say we're going to do.  Is it there.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Again, Congressman, Secretary Hagel and I have discussed this on at least two and maybe three occasions.  He is, again, putting into place, his system to assure the way ahead for him to make this decision and be the partner that we need here.  Uhm, he is committed to a, uh, integrated electronic health record between the two departments. 

So which is it?  He's had one discussion with Hagel on this or two or three?  Considering the importance placed on this and the fact that Barack tasked him with this four years ago, you'd think he'd know how often he'd discussed the issue with Hagel.  You'd also think he'd manage to give consistent answers in two hearings only 15 days apart.

Two veterans at the hearing (one is the one from Virginia noted earlier) there disgust when, in response to questions by Senator Jeff Merkley, Shinseki bragged that "suicide rates have remained flat" and "We think we have a program here that works."  A program that works does not have a high flat rate.  As for whether it's even flat? There's no empirical data to back that up.  Only due to Senator Patty Murray's efforts, while Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, are states reporting to the VA the suicides of veterans.  That's a recent development.  It doesn't cover half of Shinseki's first term.  He can call the rate "flat" but he can't prove any such thing.  Regardless, there are numerous suicides and the two veterans I spoke with did not find his self-praise ("We think we have a program here that works") comforting.

Senator Bill Nelson raised the issue of Orlando VA Hospital, It was supposed to be completed a year ago" and it still isn't but the target date is now for an August opening.  In January and this month Nelson received reports on it -- both stated that the medical center was 75% complete.  75% complete in January.  75% complete in April.  Shinseki offered that his number, right now, shows 79%.  So 4%, if he's being honest -- big if, in three months.  Repeating, it was supposed to open last year.  It not only is supposed to serve medical needs, it's also supposed to provide housing for at least 60 homeless veterans.

Senator Bill Nelson:  We can't just accept this.  It seems to me that from your office, you ought to suggest that some heads ought to roll so that people know we mean business when we set a contract and set some deadlines.  Are there financial -- Are there severe financial penalties in the contract for not completing in time?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  I would say there are provisions for that. I-I-I wouldn't -- not knowledgeable enough to declare whether they're severe or not.  The-These are normal steps in the, uh contracting process.

Senator Bill Nelson:  Maybe that suggests that we ought to rethink how we contract if they're just provisions?

It's really sad that the Shinseki doesn't know about the contract.  You'd think, the minute a VA medical center failed to open last year, Shinseki would have been asking not just what was going on but what the contract specified.  Let's also point out that Nelson has raised this issue (repeatedly) with Shinseki outside of hearings.  And Shinseki showed up for this hearing without the basic information required. 

Still on the US, Lynne Stewart is a political prisoner.  This week, Chris Hedges (Truth Dig) wrote about her:

Lynne Stewart, in the vindictive and hysterical world of the war on terror, is one of its martyrs. A 73-year-old lawyer who spent her life defending the poor, the marginalized and the despised, including blind cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, she fell afoul of the state apparatus because she dared to demand justice rather than acquiesce to state sponsored witch hunts. And now, with stage 4 cancer that has metastasized, spreading to her lymph nodes, shoulder, bones and lungs, creating a grave threat to her life, she sits in a prison cell at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is serving a 10-year sentence. Stewart’s family is pleading with the state for “compassionate release” and numerous international human rights campaigners, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have signed a petition calling for her to be freed on medical grounds. It is not only a crime in the U.S. to be poor, to be a Muslim, to openly condemn the crimes committed in our name in the Muslim world, but to defend those who do. And the near total collapse of our judicial system, wrecked in the name of national security and “the war on terror,” is encapsulated in the saga of this courageous attorney—now disbarred because of her conviction.
“I hope that my imprisonment sends the wake up call that the government is prepared to imprison lawyers who do not conduct legal representation in a manner the government has ordained,” she told me when I reached her through email in prison. “My career of 30 plus years has always been client centered. My clients and I decided on the best legal course, without the interference of the government. Ethics require that the defense lawyer DEFEND, get the client off. We have no obligation to obey [the] ‘rules’ government lays down.
“I believe that since 9/11 the government has pursued Muslims with an ever heavier hand,” she wrote, all messages to her and from her being vetted by prison authorities. “However, cases such as the Sheikh’s in 1995 amply demonstrate that Muslims had been targeted even earlier as the new ENEMY—always suspect, always guilty. After 9/11, we discovered that the government prosecutors were ordered to try and get Osama Bin Laden into EVERY Muslim prosecution inducing in American Juries a Pavlovian response. Is it as bad as lynching and the Scottsboro Boys and the Pursuit of Black Panthers? Not as of yet, but getting close and of course the incipient racism that that colors—pun?—every action in the U.S. is ever present in these prosecutions.”
Stewart, as a young librarian in Harlem, got an early taste of the insidious forms of overt and covert racism that work to keep most people of color impoverished and trapped in their internal colonies or our prison complex. She went on to get her law degree and begin battling in the courts on behalf of those around her for whom justice was usually denied. By 1995, along with former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Abdeen Jabara, she was the lead trial counsel for the sheik, who was convicted in September of that year. He received life in prison plus 65 years, a sentence Stewart called “outlandish.” The cleric, in poor health, is serving a life sentence in the medical wing of the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina. Stewart continued to see the sheik in jail after the sentence. Three years later the government severely curtailed his ability to communicate with the outside world, even through his lawyers, under special administrative measures or SAMs.
In 2000, during a visit with the sheik, he asked Stewart to release a statement from him to the press. The Clinton administration did not prosecute her for the press release, but the Bush administration in April 2002, the mood of the country altered by the attacks of 9/11, decided to go after her. Attorney General John Ashcroft came to New York in April 2002 to announce that the Justice Department had indicted Stewart, a paralegal and the interpreter on grounds of materially aiding a terrorist organization. That night he went on “Late Show with David Letterman” to tell the nation of the indictment and the Bush administration’s vaunted “war on terror.”

Two weeks ago on Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) topics addressed include political prisoner Lynne Stewart.  We noted it last week and it's worth noting again -- plus it has all the information on the petition and on contacting the Bureau of Prisons.

Michael S. Smith:  Michael, we sorely miss our friend Lynne Stewart who's in prison serving a really unjust ten year sentence.  And, of course, as we've reminded our listeners over the last few weeks, Lynne has taken ill again.  And there's a petition for her and I know you want to talk about it and get as many active because we want to get Lynne out of prison on a compassionate release.  So tell our listeners how they can help and what the situation is now for Lynne.


Michael Ratner: Well we're going to link to how you can sign the petition.  Lynne's got Stage IV Cancer as a lot of you know.  That is, her initial cancer which was in remission when they put her in prison three years ago is now in full bloom.  It's spread to her bones.  It's spread to her legs. It's spread to her lungs.  It's spread to her lymph nodes.  And it really is fatal.  We all want to get her out and get her some better medical care that she can get.  She's in a seven person cell down in Fort Worth, Texas.  Get her up to New York, better medical care and be surrounded by her family and friends.  And in order to do that, the Bureau of Prisons, the people with the key have to make a motion to Judge Kotel to ask that she be given a compassionate release.  It's possible.  You can get that.  They don't do it very often.  But with all the friends and supporters that Lynne has, we're hopeful that we can accomplish that.  6,000 people have signed the petition so far.  And I want to read you what Lynne said in thank you to these people -- two of them were Dick Gregory and Desmond Tutu and I'll read you something that Tutu said also. But here's this from Lynne:  "I want you individually to know how grateful and happy it makes me to have your support.  It's uplifting to say the least.  And after a lifetime of organizing, it proves once again that the People can rise.  The acknowledgment of the life-political and solutions brought about by group unity and support, is important to all of us.  Equally, so is the courage to sign on to a demand for a person whom the Government has branded with the "T" word -- Terrorism.  Understanding that the attack on me is a subterfuge for an attack on all lawyers who advocate without fear of Government displeasure, with intellectual honesty guided by their knowledge and their client's desire for his or her case, I hope our effort can be a crack in the American bastion.  Thank you, Lynne."  Pete Seeger wrote her back and said, "Lynne Stewart should be out of jail."  And he signed the postcard "Old Pete Seeger" accompanied by a drawing of a banjo.  Bishop Desmond Tutu, this was his esprit de corps.  He said, "It is devastating.  Totally unbelievable.  In this democracy, the only superpower?  I am sad.  I will sign praying God's blessing on your reference. Desmond Tutu."  Let's hope Lynne gets out on compassionate release while she's still able to at least be part of her community.  And if you'll go to Law and, we'll put the link where you can sign the petition.  And if you'll grab a pencil, I'll give you the name and address of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons  because a well-aimed letter at him is not going to hurt.  His name is:

Charles E. Samuels Jr.
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534

Please send a letter.  Go to Law and -- our website -- sign the petition. We'll be updating you every week on how Lynne is doing.




law and disorder radio
michael s. smith
heidi boghosian
michael ratner