Friday, May 16, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Friday, May 16, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, another VA scandal emerges (this one in Dallas), Shinseki tries to sell a retirement announced last September as 'accountability,' he suffers pushback, Joe Biden talks to Nouri, and much more.

Starting with veterans issues, US House Rep Eddie Bernice Johnson told her local Fox4 News today that she has been receiving complaints from veterans in her district about problems getting medical appointments in a timely fashion.  She explained this is not just one or two veterans and the problem appears persuasive.  She contacted Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General to report the allegations and they have already sent a representative to the Dallas VA earlier this week to investigate the allegations.

She tells Fox4, "Just the other day, we received additional calls that [they] were ordered to shred records and I reported that right away to the Inspector General."

The Congress woman's region is only the latest across the nation to experience this problem.

Yesterday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee heard from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki as the Committee explored the information VA whistle-blowers have revealed: The VA has two lists for medical appointments.

The first list is entered in computers and is the official list VA officials point to for bonuses and raises -- and Shinseki and other high ranking officials cite when painting rosy pictures for Congress. It suggests that the VA is responsive and pro-active, actively working to ensure that veterans get medical attention within 14 days of requesting an appointment.

It's a happy little fairy tale that goes like this, "Once upon a time, the VA was plagued with problems and scandals but along came Sir Eric Shinseki, the brave knight, to vanquish the problems and scandals."

In the real world, however, there is a second list, a secret list kept 'off book' where veterans wait weeks, months and years for the medical help they need.  It is said that 40 veterans died due to the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona's use of these secret lists.

Yesterday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee attempted to get answers or even a course of immediate action and they only thing they received from Shinseki was an endless series of non-answers and non-responses.  We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot, Ruth covered it in "Senator Richard Blumenthal says call in the F.B.I.," Kat covered it in "Shinseki needs to be fired," Ava covered it in "Shineski (Ava)" and Wally covered it in "More talk, no action (Wally)."

Thursday, Shinseki appeared to dodge questions and today he appears to have attempted to trick and deceive the American people.  Bryant Jones ( wrote early today, "The head of Veteran Affairs Health Care resigned Friday following allegations that scheduling delays had led to 40 deaths at an Arizona VA hospital."  Jones was referring to the VA's Dr. Robert Petzel, Undersecretary for Health Care.  Jones we give the benefit of the doubt.  We don't extend that courtesy to MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma.  Not because she writes for MSNBC but because she writes poorly.. Not only does she repeat the lie that Petzel resigned due to the scandal, she gets a number of other key details wrong.  Someone introduce her to CBS News since she either is mistaken or lying by claiming that Phoenix is the only facility accused of running a real list and a fake list. Tuesday, for example, Wyatt Andrews (CBS News -- link is text and video) reported on the whistle-blower coming forward to make similar claims regarding an Illinois VA center.  Similar to the wait lists at the Phoenix VA -- two sets, the real one and the cover one to make it look like vets are getting timely treatment -- Chicago steps into the spotlight.  Whistle-blower Germaine Clarno has stepped forward.

As the day wore on, people began to feel lied to as it was noted Shinseki turned in his notice last September (he's retiring) and Barack had already nominated Dr. Jeffrey Murawsky to be the new Undersecretary for Health Care.

Pete Kasperowicz (The Blaze) quotes three people on Shinseki's attempted con.  The Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller states, "Today's announcement from VA regarding Undersecretary Robert Petzel's 'resignation' is the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak.  Petzel was already scheduled to retire in 2014 and President Obama has already announced his intention to nominate Petzel's replacement, so characterizing this as a 'resignation' just doesn’t pass the smell test."  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Tom Tarantino is quoted stating, "To be clear, Dr. Petzel's resignation is not the step toward accountability that our members need to see from VA leaders.  Anyone who has been following this situation knows that Dr. Petzel had already announced his retirement earlier this year."  The American Legion's Daniel Dellinger is quoted declaring, "This move by VA is not a corrective action, but a continuation of business as usual. Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year, so his resignation now really won’t make that much of a difference."

A veteran with a veterans VSO discussed Shinseki's appearance before the Committee at length with me today.  He is also grossly offended by Senator Bernie Sanders.  As Wally pointed out in his report, after the hearing Sanders went on CNN and was so craven in toadying up to the VA that host Chris Cuomo even pointed it out.  My friend does not feel Sanders stuck up for veterans in the hearing either.

He feels Sanders made a strong statement in the opening ("when all the press was present") and then "faded quickly."  He's not alone in feeling that way.  I spoke to four other veterans present to get their take on Bernie Sanders' performance as Chair on Thursday and no one's impressed.

I noted that everyone -- in the snapshot yesterday, I noted -- on the Committee spoke at length to express outrage.  They did.  But as my friend points out, Bernie Sanders faded quickly.

Reviewing my notes and evaluating the points made by five veterans present for the hearing, I will state that my opinion was wrong -- or whatever term you want to apply (opinions aren't 'wrong,' they're opinions but I will state mine was wrong) -- the points made by those offering input today were valid.  I painted with broadstrokes and probably with relief (after press predictions that a huge split was going to take place on the Committee).  That was wrong, my apologies for that.

I can be wrong and often am.

Reviewing the notes, I'd say this stands out the most, "One of the concerns that I have to be very honest is that there has been a little bit of a rush to judgment."

The most repeated criticism of Sanders was that he was deferential to the VA and swept veterans under the rug.  If you're going to make that criticism, I'd argue that line from Sanders ("One of the concerns that I have to be very honest is that there has been a little bit of a rush to judgment.") captures it.

40 veterans may be dead because of the VA's actions.  And Bernie's big concern is "a rush to judgment"?

Equally true, the biggest outrage expressed about veterans being denied timely health care should come from the Chair.  In the conversations with the five veterans, it was noted that Ranking Member Richard Burr demonstrated real passion on the topic.  It was noted that Senator Patty Murray doesn't raise her voice but gets chilly when extremely bothered "and she went freezer on Petzel."  Senators Mark Begich and Dean Heller were also noted as conveying how unacceptable the crisis was.  Senator Richard Blumenthal's call for the FBI was noted by three as needed.  But no one bought that Sanders was putting veterans first.

"Great opening statement that then went nowhere."

I am fine with disagreeing with any of the five or all of them.  And they know that.  But as they made their case, I didn't find myself disagreeing.  I was wrong, they are correct.

One pointed out, and this is a very important point on this topic, that Sanders has promised "hearings."

"When," the veteran asked, "has Sanders ever held hearings?  We're lucky to get a hearing on one topic with him.  Hearings?  Do you really see him devoting any real time to this?  We'll be lucky to get one more hearing on this topic.  And you can talk about his acupuncture and yoga issues for the hearing last month [April 30th] but the reality is his pet causes don't trump dead veterans.  When this became the topic in the news, his pet causes should have been put on hold.  In that hearing, he promised there would be a serious hearing on the wait lists but I don't feel he offered anything serious in yesterday's hearing."

Excusing the VA in the CNN interview did not help Sanders but the veterans can all point to moments in the hearing where they felt Sanders was placing VA officials over the health and lives of veterans.

On Thursday's hearing, US House Rep Jeff Miller's office issued the following:

May 15, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following VA’s testimony at today’s Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Hearing and the temporary assignment of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to VA to oversee the department’s review of patient safety and appointment scheduling policies, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement:
“After Sec. Shinseki’s out-of-touch performance today, it’s no wonder President Obama felt compelled to assign someone from the White House to help clean up the mess at the department. Had the president heeded our calls last year to help address the growing pattern of preventable deaths and patient safety incidents at VA medical centers across the country, perhaps VA would not find itself mired in the scandal it is today. While I appreciate the fact that the president has assigned a crisis manager to help deal with what is indeed a crisis, I have no confidence whatsoever an internal VA review will yield results that are either accurate or useful. VA officials in Washington have known about problems with medical care access for at least six years and have failed to fix them. That’s why the only way we can begin to fix VA’s delays in care problem is via an independent bipartisan commission. Anything less is unacceptable.   – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Chairman Miller letter to President Obama Requesting Bipartisan VA Medical Care Access Commission
May 13, 2014
Chairman Miller letter to President Obama
May 21, 2013

The White House issued the following today:

The White House

Office of the Vice President

Readout of the Vice President's Call with Iraqi Prime Minister of Nouri al-Maliki

Vice President Biden spoke this morning with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The Vice President congratulated the Iraqi people on their participation in the parliamentary elections, and emphasized the importance of a new parliament acting to pull the country together given the many challenges confronting Iraq.  The two leaders spoke about the security situation in Anbar province.  The Vice President stressed the importance of pursuing a holistic approach that includes political outreach as well as security measures consistent with the goal of gaining local support and cooperation.   He welcomed initiatives that are now underway to mobilize the population against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and strongly urged the Government of Iraq to ensure that their difficult fight against terrorism is conducted in a manner that protects the civilian population and adheres to the rule of law.  The Vice President and the Prime Minister reaffirmed the long-term partnership between Iraq and the United States pursuant to the Strategic Framework Agreement, including their commitment to coordination in the fight against ISIL, which represents a threat to the entire region.

Before we go further, there's a Biden issue.  Ann's noted it at her site:

  • The New Dick Cheneys
  • The one where the Joe Bidens become the Dick Cheneys

  • Adam Taylor (Washington Post) explains, "Vice President Biden's son, Hunter Biden, has accepted a position on the board at Ukraine's largest private gas firm. According to a news release posted Tuesday, the vice president's son would join the board of Burisma Holdings."  Meanwhile the idiots of the useless CREW can't find anything wrong with this.  It leaves a bad impression.  Hunter doesn't need this work and should walk away.  If he doesn't, he's responsible for the impression left.  (And CREW's responsible for again looking like an idiot.)

    Patrick Martin (WSWS) notes:

    Hunter Biden, in addition to being an investment banker, is active in think tanks that develop the strategy being pursued by US imperialism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He is on the board of directors of the Center for National Policy, a national security think tank aligned with the Democratic Party, including such prominent figures as Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration, and Leon Panetta, CIA director and secretary of defense in the Obama administration.
    According to a press release from Burisma, Biden is also on the chairman’s advisory board of the National Democratic Institute, an arm of the National Endowment for Democracy, a federal agency. The NED plays an active role in political subversion against governments targeted by Washington for overthrow, and the NDI is sending a high-level delegation to Ukraine to monitor the upcoming presidential elections, headed by Madeleine Albright.

    Back to Biden's call to Nouri.  Did Biden "strongly urged the Government of Iraq to ensure that their difficult fight against terrorism is conducted in a manner that protects the civilian population and adheres to the rule of law"?

    If so, did Nouri laugh at that?

    Because Nouri's been carrying out War Crimes for months now and the US government has aided and abetted these War Crimes.  Collective punishment is when a War Criminal targets civilians in their supposed efforts to get at crooks, criminals, terrorists whatever.  Nouri's just burning the village to save the village, you understand.  His bombing of residential neighborhoods in Falluja?  War Crimes.

    Margaret Griffis ( observes, "At least 6,000 people have fled Falluja this month due to 'indiscriminate' shelling by the Iraqi military. Although the Iraq government has denied using barrel bombs, residents keep describing what appears to be usage of such devices."  Ned Parker, Isra' al-Rubei'i and Raheem Salman (Reuters) note 55 deaths since May 6th and the denail from Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Moussawi ("There are strict orders to stay away from residential areas.") and, most importantly, they report:

    However, a mid-level security officer in Anbar province confirmed that barrel bombs had in fact been dropped in Falluja.  “It’s the scorched-earth policy – the destruction of a whole area. The army is less experienced in house-to-house fighting, which the rebels have mastered. That’s why they’ve resorted to this,” said the officer who has been involved in planning to retake the city, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    And the US government is supplying Nouri with weapons (and 'intelligence') which means they are co-conspirators in War Crimes.

    National Iraqi News Agency reports Nouri's shelling of Falluja's residential neighborhoods today killed 1 civilian and left four more injured.

    In other violence today, National Iraqi News Agency reports a Mosul suicide bomber took his own life and left two bystanders and one Iraqi soldier injured, the Iraqi military killed 9 suspects outside of Ramadi, a Hit roadside bombing left 1 police officer dead, security forces killed 3 suspects in Alsigar, a husband and wife were shot dead in Alsadah and their child was left injured, an al-Hermat battle left 1 police member killed and another injured, Judge Zuhair Abdul Razzaq was assassinated today east of Mosul, and a Diwaniyah roadside bombing left one person injured.  All Iraq News adds 3 Sahwa were shot dead in Tikrit and one more was left injured.

    Let's turn to the topic of Camp Ashraf.  As of September, Camp Ashraf in Iraq is empty.  All remaining members of the community have been moved to Camp Hurriya (also known as Camp Liberty).  Camp Ashraf housed a group of Iranian dissidents who were  welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. This is key and demands the US defend the Ashraf community in Iraq from attacks.  The Bully Boy Bush administration grasped that -- they were ignorant of every other law on the books but they grasped that one.  As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp repeatedly attacked after Barack Obama was sworn in as US President. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out."  Those weren't the last attacks.  They were the last attacks while the residents were labeled as terrorists by the US State Dept.  (September 28, 2012, the designation was changed.)   In spite of this labeling, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."  So the US has an obligation to protect the residents.  3,300 are no longer at Camp Ashraf.  They have moved to Camp Hurriyah for the most part.  A tiny number has received asylum in other countries. Approximately 100 were still at Camp Ashraf when it was attacked Sunday.   That was the second attack this year alone.   February 9, 2013, the Ashraf residents were again attacked, this time the ones who had been relocated to Camp Hurriyah.  Trend News Agency counted 10 dead and over one hundred injured.  Prensa Latina reported, " A rain of self-propelled Katyusha missiles hit a provisional camp of Iraqi opposition Mujahedin-e Khalk, an organization Tehran calls terrorists, causing seven fatalities plus 50 wounded, according to an Iraqi official release."  They were attacked again September 1, 2013.   Adam Schreck (AP) reported that the United Nations was able to confirm the deaths of 52 Ashraf residents.  In addition, 7 Ashraf residents were taken in the assault.  Last November, in response to questions from US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, the  State Dept's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Brett McGurk, stated, "The seven are not in Iraq."  McGurk's sworn testimony wasn't taken seriously.  Once a liar and a cheater . . .
    At the start of the year, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued the following on McGurk's January 11th visit to Camp Liberty:
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk visited Camp Hurriya in Baghdad on January 10, accompanied by Gyorgy Busztin, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and officials from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). DAS McGurk met with senior representatives from the Mujahedine-e-Khalq (MEK) as well as survivors of the attack on Camp Ashraf and reiterated the importance the U.S. Government places on the safety and security of Camp Hurriya.  He noted that in meetings with senior Iraqi officials the U.S. will continue to press the Government of Iraq (GOI) to buttress security inside the camp, and welcomed the commitment to install additional t-walls following the next Camp Management meeting among camp residents, UNAMI and the GOI. DAS McGurk stressed the urgency of relocating the residents of Camp Hurriya to third countries as soon as possible and noted the full-time efforts of Jonathan Winer, Senior Advisor for MeK Resettlement, towards that objective. Given the special challenges involved in addressing these issues, DAS McGurk expressed deep appreciation to UNAMI and UNHCR for their work and ensured ongoing U.S. Government support of their efforts.

    Ron Nabors is supposed to fix the VA problems.  Just like Jonathan Winer was supposed to fix the Ashraf issue.  How's that working out?  He's had nine months, is the community out of Iraq yet?  No.

    He can point to a few who've left Iraq.  There's a woman, for example, who recently made it to Albania.  And then died.

    The National Council of Resistance of Iran explains:

    Ms Razieh Kermanshahei, an official of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and a member of the National Council of Resistance (NCRI) that due to the six-year anti-human medical siege against camps Ashraf and Liberty was in dire physical condition, passed away on Tuesday, May 13, a few weeks after her transfer to Albania and undergoing a difficult surgery in a hospital in Tirana.
    Ms Kermanshahei, 57, had spent her life since the age of 19 in the struggle against the dictatorships of the Shah and mullahs in Iran. She had been arrested, imprisoned and tortured at the time of the Shah.
    Her brother, PMOI  member Gholamreza Kermanshahei, was arrested in 1975 and martyred under torture by the SAVAK (Shah’s secret police).
    While in critical condition due to the criminal medical siege imposed by the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki on Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty that denied her of free access to medical services, Ms Razieh Kermanshahei was transferred to Albania in mid-March 2014 and placed under medical treatment. After a few weeks, she underwent a major surgery, but despite physicians’ endeavors passed away in the evening on May 13.
    A few days prior to her passing away, Mr Struan Stevenson, the President of the Delegation for Relations with Iraq at the European Parliament, had visited her in the hospital in Tirana. Mr. Stevenson strongly condemned the six-year-siege on Ashraf and Camp Liberty by Maliki’s government.
    Ms Kermanshahei is the fourth PMOI member that has passed away shortly after transfer to Albania due to the anti-human medical siege.
    Since the onset of transfer of Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty in February 2012, the residents have repeatedly requested from the Iraqi government, the United States, and the United Nations to force the Iraqi government to transfer the medical equipment belonging to the residents to the Camp, but as part of the anti-human medical siege the Iraqi government has obstructed.

    The Iranian Resistance warns of the increasing and irreversible human damages of the medical siege on Camp Liberty, and reminds the U.S. government and the United Nations of their commitments concerning the safety and security of Liberty residents, and calls for an urgent action by the international community to end the tyrannical siege, secure free access of residents to medical services, and to transfer residents’ medical equipment from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty.

    Lastly, David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration  is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). We'll close with this from Bacon's  "WHAT 'CESAR CHAVEZ' MISSED - THE DIVERSITY OF THE FARM WORKERS MOVEMENT" (In These Times):

    The new movie, Cesar Chavez - History is Made One Step at a Time, directed by Diego Luna, tells the story of the Grape Strike of 1965.  This epic 5-year labor battle led to the organization of the United Farm Workers, and made Cesar Chavez a social movement hero.  The movie has provoked controversy over its depiction of his role, and the accuracy of the history it recounts of those events.  In this roundtable, labor journalist David Bacon, a former organizer for the UFW and other unions, explores these themes with four guests.  Eliseo Medina was a farm worker when the strike started, and became a noted labor organizer, first in the UFW and later in the Service Employees Union.  Doug Adair was an activist in the 1965 strike, and then worked the rest of his life as a farm laborer in the grapes in the Coachella Valley.  Dawn Mabalon is a professor of history at San Francisco State University, and an authority of the history of Filipinos in California.  Rosalinda Guillen comes from a farm worker family in Washington State, worked as a UFW organizer, and today organizes farm labor in Skagit and Whatcom Counties, north of Seattle, with Community2Community.

    David:  How did the movie square with your memories of the grape strike as a participant?

    Eliseo:  It's a good time for this movie to come out and show not only the challenges immigrants face, but also the fact that they're willing to struggle and that when they do they can win, regardless of the power structure. It could've done a much better job of telling the full story, but it's impossible to tell 10 years worth of history in 2 hours. It's a movie, not a documentary, and its aim is not to tell the story of the whole movement.  To do that would take a lot more than just one movie. 

    David:  The film presents the UFW as a movement mostly of Chicanos and Mexicanos, but it was also a multinational union, including African-Americans, Arab, and even white people.  That doesn't come through as much.

    Eliseo:  When I was a farm worker, before the strike began, we lived in different worlds -- the Latino world, the Filipino world, the African-American world and the Caucasian world. We co-existed but never understood who we were or what each other thought and dreamed about. It wasn't until the union began that we finally began to work together, to know each other and to begin to fight together. I do wish that that had been more explicit because certainly the contribution that was made by the Filipino workers to the strike and the movement was an incredible part of the success of the union. The fact that we also had Caucasians and African-Americans participating in the strike never even gets brought up. It was always multi-racial. I do wish it had focused more on showing what can happen when people work together and fight together and make changes, not only for one group, but for everybody.