Thursday, February 05, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, February 5, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue,  Haider sends food -- Brett McGurk wants you to know -- to Falluja but only after a child dies from the lack of it -- which Brett doesn't want you to know, the Yazidis' revenge attacks get some attention, vengeance gets called out by Amnesty, Senator Richard Blumenthal has some questions regarding veterans, and much more.

Wednesday's snapshot covered some of that day's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the nomination of Ashton Carter to be Secretary of Defense.  Senator John McCain is the Chair of the Committee, Senator Jack Reed is the Ranking Member.

We're going to return to the hearing to note Senator Richard Blumenthal addressing veterans issues and Senator Ted Cruz on ISIS.  First veterans.

Senator Richard Blumenthal: Let me move to another area that is very close to my heart and I, again, want to thank our Chairman, Senator [John] McCain, who joined with me in co-sponsoring a measure, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, Suicide remains a difficult and daunting, horrific problem not only among our veterans -- 22 every day commit suicide -- but also in our active military.  And you and I have talked about this problem.  I believe you're very much attune to it and I'm hopeful that you will continue the military's commitment and the Department of Defense's commitment to providing the mental health care that's necessary to help our warriors deal with these invisible wounds and demons that come back from the battlefield with them.

Ashton Carter: I-I-I am attune to it and they're our -- they're our people and we need to care about them and care for them.  And those who are having these kind of-of thoughts need help.

We did note Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's press release on this legislation in a snapshot earlier this week.  From outside Congress, IAVA led the push for this bill to introduced and to be put to a vote.

From inside Congress, there were many leaders including Senator Patty Murray, the former Chair of the Senate Budget Committee who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (which she also chaired).  Her office issued the following Tuesday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                 CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, February 3, 2015                                                            (202) 224-2834
VETERANS: Murray Votes to Pass Clay Hunt Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill
Suicide prevention bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature
Murray: “We simply must do more to ensure the men and women who have served our country get the physical, mental, and emotional support they need when they come home”
Washington state is home to over 600,000 veterans

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray voted to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.  Senator Murray is an original co-sponsor of the bill, which would require the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish an annual third-party evaluation of VA’s mental health care and suicide prevention programs, promote greater collaboration with community mental health resources, and create a pilot program to attract and retain Department psychiatrists.  The bill is also designed to combat veteran suicide by improving the quality of care at VA facilities and creating a strong base for future mental health initiatives. This bill passes at a critical time when suicide rates continue to rise among female veterans who use VA care, and the rate of suicide has skyrocketed to 79 per 100,000 among male veterans ages 18-24 who use VA services.

“Every day, twenty-two American veterans die from suicide, so as a country, we simply must do more to ensure the men and women who have served our country get the physical, mental, and emotional support they need when they come home,” said Senator Murray.  “This legislation will help the VA continue taking steps to make sure it is doing everything it can, from prevention programs to improved recruitment of mental health providers, to giving our nation’s heroes the care they deserve.”

Throughout her career, Senator Murray has been an advocate for service members, veterans, and their families. In 2012 Senator Murray passed the Mental Health ACCESS Act which improved access to the VA’s mental health support services and care. According to a VA report published in 2013, over 25 percent of all suicides in Washington state were identified as veterans, among the highest group of states reporting suicides by veteran status.

The Clay Hunt bill passed the House on January 12th, 2015. Now after Senate passage, it heads to the President’s desk for his signature.

Leah Kennebeck
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

In the years we've been attending and reporting on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, we've seen strong leadership from many including Senator Murray, Senator Daniel Akaka and Senator Richard Burr.  Today, the new Chair is Johnny Isakson and Richard Blumenthal is the Ranking Member.  Hopefully, they will offer strong leadership and also continue the Committee's near-unbroken efforts at working together as one functioning committee and not as two different wings of a committee at war with one another.

For that to happen, they'll have to regain the past footing that was lost under the previous Chair Bernie Sanders who frequently mistook grandstanding and finger pointing for leadership.  It was not helpful and goes a long way towards explaining useless hearings and very little work done on behalf of veterans when Sanders Chaired the Committee.

For example, the Clay Hunt bill didn't get past in the last months of the previous Congress though it easily could have if Sanders had focused on veterans and not on his petty wars with senators on the other side of the aisle.

Senator Blumenthal is someone I expect to carry on the tradition of Akaka and Murray in putting veterans first -- I expect that based upon the work he's already been doing as a member of the Committee since being elected to the Senate.  I hope the same will be true of Isakson but I'm less familiar with his efforts.

Back to Wednesday's hearing and Blumenthal.

Senator Richard Blumenthal: On the issue of our veterans who have suffered from post-traumatic stress as again you and I have discussed, your predecessor Secretary Hagel worked with me, responded to my urging him to establish a new policy guidance on September 3, 2014 that finally directed proper consideration of Post Traumatic Stress by the Boards for Correction of Military Records when considering upgrade requests.  Post-Traumatic Stress was unknown in the Vietnam and Korean eras -- not unknown because it didn't exist but unknown because it wasn't diagnosed and so this new policy gives proper recognition to a medical condition that simply was never diagnosed at the time but may cause less than honorable discharges.  And I hope that, if confirmed, you'll ensure full and forceful implementation of this policy and continue outreach because it's so vitally necessary outreach to anyone who might be able to apply under the new guidelines.

Ashton Carter: I-I-I will.  We've learned a lot about that, sadly, in recent years and understand now, uh, a lot better that it truly is a-a-a malady that, uh, we can and need to address.  And thank you for taking an interest in it as you've done about the welfare of the troops in so many ways that you've -- in the course of the wars, I was always very grateful 

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  Thank you.

Ahston Carter:  -- for your attention to the troops.

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  Thank you very much.  I should probably stop there but I do have a couple of more questions.  But I do appreciate your kind words. On the inter-operability of the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration -- and I'm the Ranking Member on the Veterans Administration's Veterans Affairs Committee of the Senate and I think there's been an ongoing concern -- you're aware of it -- of the issues relating to the integrated, electronic health records integrated disability system treating military sexual trauma and other shared efforts that really involve a gap between these two great departments each with a vital mission and I'm hoping that you will continue the effort that your predecessor, I believe, found very important to close that gap and make sure that there really is the kind of connection -- the vital, vibrant connection that is important to our troops and then to our veterans.

Ashton Carter: I-I-I recognize that gap and uh, uhm, there's only one soldier -- there are two cabinet departments.  One soldier shouldn't have to worry about two cabinet departments.

This is an important issue that was touched on and not really explored.  Blumenthal's time was up.  I don't know that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will lead on this issue. I hope they will. But, historically, the leadership here has come from the House Veterans Affairs Committee -- first from then-US House Rep Bob Filner and since from US House Rep Jeff Miller who is the Chair of Committee and does not let someone putting up a wall stop him.

Miller is tenacious and determined and that's necessary on this issue.

We're talking about a record that is created when a person joins the service -- a medical record.  It needs to be electronic and able to follow the service member through their service time but also when they leave the service and become veterans.

Why one record?

There are many reasons but let's offer one.  Post-Traumatic Stress.  Getting the rating required for that means documentation.  An electronic record that follows the service member as they transition to veteran status can ensure that P-TS or other issues are fully documented and the veteran isn't left trying to assemble documentation after the fact -- documentation the veteran's medical file should include but, when it's paper, may have been lost in transition.

This seamless, electronic record has had a ton of money already spent on it.

It's still not 'arrived' yet.

It was supposed to be in place, at one point, before Bully Boy Bush left the White House.  That didn't happen.  But US President Barack Obama was going to ensure it was implemented.


Didn't happen.

He's got two more years.

In fairness to Barack, the stumbling block was Eric Shinseki.

While VA Secretary, Shinseki had no real interest in anything but the pretense of going through the motions.

With Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Shinseki agreed to and outlined the type of system needed.  Then Leon Panetta replaced Gates.  Despite Panetta telling Shinseki he was fine with whatever had been agreed to (by Gates), Shinseki used the new Secretary of Defense as a means to stall progress.  Then Chuck Hagel replaced Panetta.  And Shinseki thought he'd used Hagel as well.

He did that once.

In an opening hearing.

Once was all Hagel was going to take.

He requested (demanded) a sit-down with Barack on this.

Barack met with Hagel and Shinseki and all the basics were supposedly agreed to.

But the seamless, electronic record is still not a reality.

At what point is going to become a reality?

Both the House and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committees need to be actively following this and holding public hearings on this.  Not only has so much money been wasted in the last six years alone, but the record is needed, those who serve would benefit from it tremendously and it would be so important to accurate ratings on disabilities among other issues.

Let's move over to Iraq.  You might think that with a billion dollars spent 'fighting' the Islamic State just since August -- over a billion US taxpayer dollars -- that Iraq would be a major part of the hearing but you would be wrong.  It was largely ignored.  Chair McCain addressed it and Ranking Member Jack Reed did.  Another raising the issue was Senator Ted Cruz.

Senator Ted Cruz:  How would you characterize our objective right now with regards to ISIS?

Ashton Carter:  To inflict a lasting defeat on ISIS.  I only add the word "lasting" to re-enforce the idea that once they're beaten, they need to stay beaten. Which means you need to create the conditions in Iraq and Syria so that they stay defeated.

Senator Ted Cruz: And final question, in your professional judgment, what would be required militarily for you to destroy or, as you put it, inflict a lasting defeat on ISIS?

Ashton Carter: Uh-uh, militarily it would be the, uh-uh-uh, dismantlement of their forces and their networks.  And, uh-uh, to get to the point about lastingly to -- there's a political ingredient of this uh-uh which I uh need to add which is to have them replaced in Iraq and Syria with, uhm-uh, a government that the people, uh, want to be part of, uh, and so they don't have to be governed by maniacs and terrorists.

Violence continues in Iraq.  All Iraq News notes 4 Baghdad bombings left 1 person dead and fourteen more injured and security forces state that the Islamic State burned 3 people to death in Heet.

The State Dept's Brett McGurk re-Tweeted  this today:

Under the instructions of PM Al-Abadi, 221.5 tons of food items have arrived in Anbar province this morning.
25 retweets25 favorites

Do you wonder why?

Because he wants that message out, not this one:

وفاة الطفل عبدالله طه العيساوي نتيجة الحصار على الفلوجة وقلة الغذاء والدواء وعدم تواجد الفريق الطبي المتخصص بالأطفال.
51 retweets22 favorites

Iraqi Spring MC is raising attention to the death of Abdullah Taha al-Isawi in Falluja.  Why did the child die?  A lack of food, a lack of medicine.

Brett McGurk, after the death of Abudllah, wants to reTweet Haider's late food shipment.

Wants to rob the action of the context in which it took place.

Wants to pretend Haider did something wonderful.

The reality is Abudllah suffered because of Haider and so many civilians in Falluja continue to suffer because Haider's failed to be a leader.

There has been no real effort at political solutions in Iraq.  The US has pushed for retaliation and has set an example by doing that -- not a good example, true, but an example none the less.

Clearly, the Yazidis now believe violence is the answer.  Dropping back to the January 27th snapshot:

While Barack worried about diplomacy in Saudi Arabia, a natural event took place in Iraq.
The persecuted decided to persecute.  EFE reports:

A militant group including Yazidi and Syrian Kurdish fighters has killed at least 25 Arab civilians on the perimeters of the northwestern Iraqi town of Rabia, on the Syrian border, an official source announced on Tuesday.
Hosam al-Abar, a member of Niniveh's Provincial Council, told Efe that a series of barbaric revenge attacks targeted four Arab villages located 120 kilometers (74 miles) west of Mosul.
The attacks were carried out by Yazidi fighters supported by militias affiliated to Syrian Kurdish parties.

'Pity us!  Feel sorry for us!  Now look the other way as we kill and kidnap!'

This is only a manifestation of the hateful remarks some Yazidis were making publicly in 2013 and 2014.  Their being trapped on the mountain was a crisis and did require humanitarian aid being dropped to them.  That's really all the US should have committed.  (And that's all we advocated for here.)  In Iraq, the Yazidis are basically the short man at the party -- chip on their shoulder and easily outraged.
Years of being called "Satan worshipers" took their toll long before the Islamic State showed up.
Now they've mistaken global pity for permission to destroy and kill.

Last Thursday, Khales Joumah (Niqash) reported on the Yazidis attacking of Arab communities and concluded with this:

The fallout from the massacre saw Yazidi leaders, who have become responsible for parts of Sinjar newly liberated from the IS group, organized a meeting. They condemned the massacre and promised that such an act would never be repeated. They also said that the fighters who had carried out these acts were not able to be identified as they don’t belong to any of the known fighting factions. 

The provincial council says that there are now around a thousand families who have left their homes and who are in need of shelter and aid. On the ground in the area are hundreds of armed men from the villages which were attacked, vowing to protect what is theirs should they be attacked again. In the middle are a handful of Iraqi Kurdish military. Right now things are relatively calm but if tribal justice – which calls for reparations and an eye for an eye - continues to be meted out, it is hard to say how long it will stay that way.

As for Zahra, she found shelter in the home of a nearby relative. But she couldn’t stand not knowing what had happened to her family whom she had left at the mercy of very angry fighters. So, still wearing the same black clothing she had on the night of the attack, she returned to her village to search for her husband and two young sons. She eventually found their burnt corpses in one of the houses in the village that had been set on fire. 

Vengeance doesn't usually end violence.  It's a mirror to reflects and reproduces violence.  Which is why we've noted the response from the Jordanian kingdom this week has been risky and damaging.  Amnesty International released the following statement on the rush to vengeance:

The vicious summary killing of a Jordanian pilot who was burned alive by the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) is an atrocious attack against humanity, said Amnesty International, but responding with executions is not the answer.
The video showing Muath al-Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage has sent shockwaves across the world. This morning at dawn the Jordanian authorities executed Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli, two Iraqis linked to al-Qa’ida, in apparent revenge for his killing.
“The abhorrent killing of Muath al-Kasasbeh is a war crime and an all-out attack on the most basic principles of humanity,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“The Jordanian authorities are rightly horrified by this utterly reprehensible killing but the response should never be to resort to the death penalty, which itself is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The death penalty should also not be used as a tool for revenge. The IS’s gruesome tactics must not be allowed to fuel a bloody cycle of reprisal executions.”
Under international humanitarian law holding hostages is a war crime and all detainees should be treated humanely by their captors.
“The killing of Muath al-Kasasbeh while he was trapped in a cage in such a brutal and orchestrated manner shows the savagery that a group like the IS is capable of,” said Philip Luther.
One of those executed by the Jordanian authorities today was Sajida al-Rishawi, who was on death row for her role in the 2005 bombing in Amman that killed 60 people. Her lawyer’s request for her to undergo psychiatric assessment to assess her mental fitness to stand trial was refused by the court.
According to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, following his visit to Jordan in 2006, she was tortured during interrogation over a month-long period in the custody of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID).
Ziad Karbouli, the second person executed this morning, was convicted on charges of belonging to an illegal organization, possessing explosives leading to death of a person and murder. His lawyer told Amnesty International that he had been forced to confess under duress.
After an eight-year halt in executions, Jordan resumed its use of the death penalty in December 2014 when it carried out the executions of 11 men. Amnesty International is calling on Jordan to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Muath al-Kasasbeh, a fighter pilot in the Jordanian air force, was captured when his plane came down near al-Raqqa, Syria, during a mission against the IS in December 2014.
The IS has killed dozens of its captives in the past year including in the past month the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and a second Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.
Amnesty International calls on the IS to cease summary killings, abductions and hostage taking. 

Brian Williams?

E-mails ask about when Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, will be noted here for getting caught lying about Iraq?

It's a TV issue.  Ava and I plan to cover it Sunday.  We toyed with doing it here and risking the wrath of Jim who would (rightly) point out it was a TV issue so it belonged to our beat at The Third Estate Sunday Review.

If between now and Sunday someone grabbed our point and ran with it?  Well, we'd find something else to cover.

But we were pretty sure that the the issue we saw would be missed or overlooked by others -- we think its the main point.  And it has been missed or overlooked.  So many silly people commenting but not really grasping.  It's part of a problem Ava and I've documented with NBC News -- documented in the past at Third.  Justin Raimondo has an interesting take at -- read it, it's worth reading.  But that's not the way we're approaching it.

Does Brian Williams need to go?  His lies may mean he has to but the issue is larger than his lies.  So unless someone grasps the point between now and Sunday, Ava and I will cover it at Third.

In addition to noting Justin Raimondo's take, we'll also link to Jim Naureckas' piece at FAIR.