Saturday, August 01, 2009







As anyone even slightly interested in the Iraq War knows, NPR's The Diane Rehm Show remains the only public radio program -- NPR or Pacifica -- on which you can get any sort of regular information and discussion on the war. Most Fridays, during the second hour, the international news hour, Iraq will be a topic. USA Today's Susan Paige filled in for Diane (who returns Monday) and they did have a planned segement about Iraq and they also had callers who asked questions about developments there but, at the very end of today's show, they had two women share their stories and we're going to start with that.

Susan Paige: Let's go to Pamela. She's calling us from New Jersey. Pamela, thanks so much for calling.

Pamela: Yes. Good morning, how are you? Thank you for taking my call. I am responding to a comment I heard earlier and it really just like shot me in my heart. And the comment was that the suicide rates [in the US military] are skyrocketing and how this has to be addressed. And I literally like I said stopped dead in my tracks. I . . . lost my brother in service due to suicide. He was home on a leave and, uh, about to be, pardon me, to go back and to serve and, uh, was, uh -- the difficulty in getting the mental health services I believe that he needed -- I mean he was married with two children -- was most, most difficult and delayed and a long wait and this and that. And then the unfathomable happened and, uh, when I, uh, at times decided to share how he died rather than just say he died in the war and I would say he died by suicide the remark I would hear unfortunately was, "Oh my goodness, he didn't die a hero then." And-and I continually hear this and I guess I want to make a statement that how someone dies, um, should not be -- that -- that is not a definition of how they lived their lives. And here was a good man who gave and did so much for the community and yet because of how he died -- which you know is a mental illness health related, etc. etc. -- he is now being defined as -- not -- as a zero. And not being defined. And I think you know this-this suicide issue is getting way out of control and for every person that dies by suicide there are at least six to ten people that are horribly effected as well to the point where their mental health also, uh, you know, begins to fall apart and the whole mental health, how to get help, starts all over again. And I should say that the support groups for those that lose a loved one by suicide are now separated from regular grief groups and while attending one and sharing how my loved one died, people were going around the room, people said to me, "Oh my God, why is she here?" I've been asked to leave meetings because -- grief support meetings -- because of how my brother died and I don't think that's fair or correct or right and, um, so the issue goes far beyond the pain of losing a loved one and is extremely complicated. And, um, I wanted to share all that. And if ever anybody hears of someone that dies of a suicide please just say "I'm sorry for your loss" and ask about the person. And don't say anything cruel or unkind because, again, how one lives their entire life for 38 years should not be defined by a, you know, a irrational moment that effects -- that became a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Susan Page: Yeah well Pamela we certainly thank your brother for his service and we express our sympathy to your family for this terrible loss. [. . .] Let's go to Mary, she's calling us from San Antonio, Texas. Hi, Mary.

Mary: Hi there. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what I was calling about. My husband is currently on his fourth tour in Iraq which is his fifth deployment in six years. As a matter of fact, he's physically lived at home six months since 2001. There's -- there's two reasons I think why the high suicide rate You have these up tempo deployments. When someone comes back from being deployed in Iraq you have what's called a honeymoon period and it might be a month or several months where everyone's happy to see you and every thing's going fine and then the cracks start to show a little bit the stress that every body's been under -- whether it's the normal stress or maybe PTSD. But by the time that starts to rear it's head, they're back for another deployment again and so those issues don't get addressed. And I live in fear for when my husband is home permanently and I know for certain that we're going to have to address that. My husband told me once a story when they were in Iraq, in a combat mission. There was a young gentlemen, maybe 19, scared to death to go out -- understandably. And he was out maybe thirty minutes and they got hit by an IED. He was absolutely terrified and the next day he had to go back out on another mission. And he did not want to go and he had to. And I asked my husband what do you do in those circumstances? And my husband said "Charley Mike" which is an acronym for CM and it means continue mission. That is the most important thing is you continue the mission and you don't stop until it's complete and then you look back and maybe try to figure out what's wrong with these poor people. The -- I don't care what any senior officials say -- the mental health is abysmal in the military. It's frowned upon, there's not enough services. Also I think because the rest -- only the military is at war and the rest of the country is not, there's not -- there's a big disconnect there and I think that adds to the situation. My husband is proud to do his service. He's happy to be there so many other fathers don't have to be. But he would like at least some acknowledgment and recognition. When you turn on the TV and very little is talked about.

Those stories are not being told. They weren't being told in the 'meanwhile back at home' segments of that trashy (and thankfully cancelled) CBS show and they're not being told on Lifetime's ridiculous Army Wives. There is no place for those stories to be told because there is no interest in telling them. You heard them on The Diane Rehm Show today and you could hear them on the show again. Hopefully, you will, hopefully others will call in on Friday's second hour. But in terms of the media, there's really no where to go except Diane's show. And that's really sad. These are stories of today and people would rather serve up propaganda (I'm referring to all the time Pacifica wastes advocating on behalf of Barack which is not why it has a license and is also not why Lewis Hill created Pacifica to begin with) or waste their time (and your time) in other ways. Those are two stories of the Iraq War. Only two stories of millions. And there's no interest in covering them.

Susan Page was joined by panelists Anne Geran (AP), Demetri Sevastopulo (Financial Times of London) and Barbara Slavin (Washington Times).

Susan Page: We had Defense Secretary Robert Gates make an unannounced visit to Iraq this weekend. Anne, you were with him. Tell us about the trip.

Anne Geran: Well Secretary Gates spent a few days in the Middle East. He was in Israel and Jordan before his trip to Iraq. The main reasons for him to go to Iraq now are to get a, kind of a status assessment after the June 30th handover of Iraqi cities to Iraqis --

Susan Page: Which went well. Right on schedule.

Anne Geran: Yeah, it did go on schedule and the - and the assessments from the top commanders and from Gates himself is that it went better than expected and that there really have been -been relatively few problems. A few hiccups, as Gates put it by -- on the part of people who didn't get the word on down the chain. There have been some problems -- in Baghdad, in Mosul which are the cities that had the greatest problems before June 30th. The other reason he was there was to impress on both the Kurdish leadership in the north and the Arab led central government in Baghdad -- they've been increasingly squabbling with one another -- that the time is running short for US forces to stay there and to keep the lid on this and it's time for everybody to figure out where the line is drawn for the Kurdish self-rule area and figure out their business.

Susan Page: Secretary Gates made some headlines when he said that the United States may be able to speed up the scheduled troop withdrawal of American troops. Does it go beyond the symbolic, Barbara?

Barbara Slavin: Well there are some interesting things going on there. There was a story in today's New York Times, a leaked memo that suggested maybe one reason why the US might pull out more troops sooner is because the Iraqis really don't want us there anymore and want to take back their country which seems pretty logical after more than six years now of US occupation, quasi-occupation. But might understanding is that about 10,000 troops are supposed to come out, were supposed to come out, by the end of the year, and so Gates is talking about another 5,000. That would still leave a fair number, let's see, if I do my --

Anne Geran: About 100,000.

Barbara Slavin: calculation -- over 100,000, during Iraqi elections, national elections, which are scheduled in January but would quicken the pace getting down toward 50,000 by the end of next year.

Susan Page: Demetri, this leaked memo which is on the front page of the New York Times this morning, a memo by a senior US military advisor, Colonel Timothy Reese, which was plenty blunt in its language

Demetri Sevastopulo: It was very blunt and it's not clear -- to me anyway -- whether he posted it himself on other websites or whether it was leaked by other people but it was blunt. It was supposed to be to the American military leaders. He himself is an advisor to the Iraqis. His basic argument was, as Barbara was explaining, 'We've taught' -- the Americans have taught -- 'the Iraqis how to ride the military bicyle. Now they can peddle, they're moving along. They may not be perfect but they're frustrated because the Americans are holding the saddle and not letting them go full steam ahead.' So his argument is, 'Just let them get on with it, we should get out now. They've basically accomplished, in terms of training, everything they're going to be able to do.' But not every one in the American military agrees with that. A lot of people think, 'Hold on second. They actually can't do a lot of the things they need to do yet. And General [Ray] Odierno is the top commander in Iraq -- the top American -- he said while Secretary Gates was there that one of the things that they [the Iraqis] cannot do, they won't be able to before the end of next year is to provide air support for themselves. They don't have the capability or the planes, the fighter jets, to defend themselves.

Susan Page: And what will that mean, Anne, for how this proceeds over the next year or two?

Anne Geran: Well in the very strictly technical sense, it will probably mean the sale of American F-16s to Iraq. They want to buy them, we want to sale them. It's a question of how to do that. They can't be built fast enough or in quantity to get them to the Iraqis before the scheduled US pull-out, get enough of them there. So they're looking a different ways to do that. The Iraqis could also buy Russian or French planes. But beyond that there will - there will have to be a debate and a resolution of the debate at some point of what sort of help the United States provides after the cut-off date? Is it -- is it air support from another countries? Is it air support from inside? Is it continued advisory role? Is it nothing?

Susan Page: And, you know, US -- President Obama talked during the campaign about withdrawing most US combat troops by a - by a certain time. I wonder, Barbara, how many troops will be left when most combat troops are out? I mean there will still be some US presence there.

Barbara Slavin: Well, you know, the Status Of Forces Agreement says all US troops are supposed to be out by the end of 2011 but when the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki was in town [DC] the other week, he suggested that he might want to request some of them to stay on and, of course, there are weapons, not just F-16s but other kinds of weapons systems, that the Iraqis are - are buying from the US that will need maintenance. So I think one could forsee a continued US presence but nothing like the one we have now.

Susan Page: And this long war will then actually come to a close for the United States?

Demetri Sevastopulo: Well it will come to a close to the extent -- it depends on what the Americans are doing. If you have 30, 40, 50,000 Americans there who are periodically called in to help the Iraqis when they are fighting in Mosul or somewhere else well then the war will have come predominately to an end but there will still be lingering fighting.

First, Sevastopulo is confused about the issue of the air force. Anne Geran, who was present for the remarks Odierno made this week (reported them here), tries to nicely fix the situation. Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reported Odierno said right now it did not appear likely that Iraq would be able to defend their own air space at the end of 2011. It matters because it goes to the fact that it's not a real withdrawal, a point Sevastopulo seems aware of in his second answer and was probably just confused speaking off the top of his head prior. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail (at CounterCurrents) addresses the realities of the non-withdrawal:

"If the Iraqi forces require further training and further support, we shall examine this then at that time, based on the needs of Iraq," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently informed President Barak Obama in Washington. While Iraqi and US government officials continue to insist the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is currently on schedule, only a few thousand US troops have left Iraq since Obama took office, and few, if any, are expected to be withdrawn through the beginning of 2010. From his recent statement, Maliki appears to be willing to accept a long-term stay.
The timeline in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) says that US "combat troops" were to withdraw from Iraqi cities and villages no later than June 30, 2009, and all troops are to be out by December 31, 2011.
Yet on November 17, 2008, in the wake of Iraq's cabinet approving the SOFA, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking member of the US military, immediately began inferring loopholes and possible grey areas, saying the deadline for withdrawal by 2011 should depend on conditions on the ground.
"I do think it is important that this be conditions-based," Mullen told reporters at the time, "And so three years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time."

Dahr's latest book is The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and it has just been released this month. As the discussion on NPR noted, the memo by US Col Timothy Reese is still in the news. (It was noted in yesterday's snapshot.) It's posted at various places online. One of the many places you can read the memo in full is here (New York Times) and we're noting this section:The general lack of progress in essential services and good governance is now so broad that it ought to be clear that we no longer are moving the Iraqis "forward." Below is an outline of the information on which I base this assessment:1. The ineffectiveness and corruption of GOI Ministries is the stuff of legend.2. The anti-corruption drive is little more than a campaign tool for Maliki3. The GOI is failing to take rational steps to improve its electrical infrastructure and to improve their oil exploration, production and exports.4. There is no progress towards resolving the Kirkuk situation.5. Sunni Reconciliation is at best at a standstill and probably going backwards.6. Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Sahwa transition to ISF and GOI civil service is not happening, and SOI monthly paydays continue to fall further behind.7. The Kurdish situation continues to fester.8. Political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions.9. The Vice President received a rather cool reception this past weekend and was publicly told that the internal affairs of Iraq are none of the US's business. Michael Gordon (New York Times) broke the news on the memo yesterday online. His article appears in today's paper (and link is the story which is longer than his report online Thursday). Clicking here takes you to the Times offering various people weighing in -- some of whom seem not to have actually read the memo. Douglas Macgregor makes the strongest argument. PBS' Online NewsHour notes, "A spokeswoman for Odierno said that the memo did not reflect the official stance of the United States military and was not intended for a broad audience, and that some of the problems the memo referred to had been solved since it was written in early July, the New York Times reported." Yes, because July was, like, months ago, totally. Nancy Montgomery (Stars and Stripes) tackles the sotry from the entry point of Odierno's friend Lt Gen Kenneth Hunzeker returning to Iraq:

Hunzeker, who was promoted to lieutenant general and named V Corps commander in August, 2007, said he's always wanted to go back to Iraq. When he visited two months ago, he said he found that "the performance of the Iraqi security forces is pretty good."
Reese, the adviser, disagreed in his memo. He detailed corruption, poor management and a bowing to Shiite political pressure, the Times said. But he wrote that despite deficiencies, Iraqi security forces are now able to protect the Iraqi government.
But there has been growing concern among military commanders about a potentially explosive dispute between the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan and the central government in Baghdad over territory, oil and other resources.
The issues couldn't be settled when the Iraq Constitution was drafted in 2005 -- the parties couldn't agree even which ethnicities lived there -- so it was put off. A clause in the constitution, Article 140, calls for a census followed by a referendum to settle the fate of these areas, including oil-rich Kirkuk. It was supposed to take place by the end of 2007. It still hasn't happened.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009









"What happens when the US abandons some good friends?" Katie Couric asked that at the start of yesterday's CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The footage of the assault was shown. Footage. What other network newscast made time for this story? And while you're checking that, step on over to PBS and find out if The NewsHour made time for the story. (Answer: No.) Footage of the assault. Footage and violence supposedly drive TV news so what's the excuse for the silence from others on Camp Ashraf? From the segment on Camp Ashraf (link has text and video):

Katie Couric: When the US began turning over security to the Iraqis, it stopped protecting some valuable allies, thousands of Iranian exiles. And their camp outside Baghdad is now under attack. For two days, Iraqi police have been beating the residents. No food or doctors have been allowed in. All with the approval of Iran's government. Here's chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.
Lara Logan: It started peacefully but quickly turned violent. Iraqi police using wooden sticks against these unarmed civilians. These people are Iranians living inside Iraq, members of an Iranian opposition group known as the MEK. It was the MEK that provided the US with intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.

Ali Safavi (Nationcal Council of Resistance of Iran): Were it not for the MEK, the world would not be in a position to find out about Iran's nuclear weapons program and the mullahs may have had the bomb.

Lara Logan: The MEK have lived in this camp, known as Camp Ashraf, for decades. The Iranian government wants them expelled and accuses them of being involved in the recent unrest in Iran. Since the US invasion, the camp's roughly 3,000 residents have been living under US protection. That ended in January when the Iraqis took control under the security agreement. Now the US appears to have washed their hands of the people of Ashraf. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (speaking at the State Dept): It is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve. Lara Logan: Images captured by the inside Ashraf showed the dead and wounded. Residents told CBS News at least 11 people were killed, hundreds wounded and thirty arrested. The number's impossible to verify because the Iraqi government has sealed off the camp. The attack was seen as the latest sign American influence in Iraq is waning as Iranian influence rises. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government increasingly pro-Iranian. Kenneth Katzman: The Iranians would have to cross the border to get at them directly because Camp Ashraf is clearly over the border. But they have an obviously willing ally in Prime Minister Malik, willing to do their bidding.

Lara Logan: The Iranian government praised the Iraqi governement action against MEK saying they're cleaning the country of terrorists.

This morning, AFP reported that while Iraq says everything is under 'control' and a police station is set up, Iraq's refused to allow reporters to enter the camp. Not noted in the report, they're also rebuffing requests from human rights organizations and charities. But today in a US State Dept briefing, spokesperson Ian Kelly asserted the US military now had access.

Ian Kelly: Embassy officials met yesterday with representatives of the government of Iraq. We wanted to stress the importance to the government of Iraq, the importance of Iraq fulfilling its commitment to the US government to treat the camp residents humanely. And we also proposed permitting an assessment of injuries and possible deaths, an assessment by US forces. The government of Iraq did agree to allow US forces to provide medical assistance to those who were injured in Camp Ashraf. And there is, right now, a US medical team there performing this assistance. We're providing medical care and treatment, medical supplies and assessing any kind of follow-on treatment or support that these residents might require. And regarding other issues regarding Camp Ashraf, we'd refer you, of course, to the government of Iraq.

UPI notes, "Statements by members of the PMOI blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the assault on the Ashraf residents. The PMOI claims several hundred residents were severely wounded, with at least 12 people dead." An Iraqi security official (unnamed) tells AFP that 11 MEK have died -- seven on Tuesday and two on each day since. Sebastien Malo (The Daily Star) reports that tensions remain high and that the assault continues -- the most recent "clashes occurred on Thursday morning according to [MEK spokesperson Shariar] Kia." Kia refuted rumors that the MEK has weapons noting that Camp Ashraf has been inspected repeatedly and he noted that residents had begun a hunger strike. The weapons charge is ridiculous and it needs to be noted that the Iraqi government is trying to circulate false rumors that MEK have shot one another to garner sympathy from the world. Yes, Nouri is just that stupid and sick. This is the thug the US installed. Oliver August (Times of London) observes the Iraqi government's "brazen actions show that the balance of power in Baghdad has shifted in ways unthinkable when President Bush was in office, or even a few weeks ago." Robin Corbett (Guardian) points out:

The violent attack on the residents of Ashraf City was a clear indication of the Iranian regime's growing influence in Iraq and the coalition's failure to uphold international law.
In scenes reminiscent of those seen on the streets of Iran: unarmed civilians were attacked with batons, chains, hot-water cannons, rocks, armoured personnel carriers and machine guns. In video footage released by the residents, civilians inside the camp are brutally beaten, while bodies of the dead victims show gunshot wounds as the cause of numerous deaths.
The underlying message of the attack, which is still continuing, is the incredible influence that the Iranian regime now holds. However far it has infiltrated Iraq and caused violence there since the 2003 invasion, it seems that the regime now has a willing partner in Nouri al-Maliki to do its bidding in eliminating the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which is based in Ashraf.
PMOI members there are "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but the attitude of the US administration and UK government has been far from forceful. To look on as civilians are killed and wounded is nothing but shameful.

Sonic grenades are said to be used by the Iraqis, ones made by Defense Techonology in Casper, Wyoming. I believe this is exactly what now Vice President Joe Bidenwarned about in an April 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing back when he was a senator and chair of that committee. We'll come back to that. The National Council of Resistance of Iran released the following statement today:NCRI - The Iranian Resistance's Leader, Mr. Massoud Rajavi, released a statement broadcast yesterday by the Simaye Azadi (Iran National Television), with regards to the brutal assault of Iraqi forces against Camp Ashraf residents in Iraq. Mr. Rajavi said: Through his agents in Iraq, the regime's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took revenge for the Iranian people's uprising from Ashraf, which is the strategic nucleus of the struggle for freedom. He wishfully thinks that by targeting Ashraf the uprising would cease; But, the water that has already gone over the dam can't be forced back into the regime's channel and save the disintegrating religious regime. Mr. Rajavi urged all Iranians across the world to rush to support the hunger strike and demands of Ashraf residents, which are: 1. The leaving of Iraqi forces from Ashraf; 2. Protection of Ashraf to be assumed by US forces, who have disarmed and signed agreements with every single one of Ashraf residents about protecting them until the determination of their final status; 3. Presence of lawyers and international human rights organizations in Ashraf, which has been banned for the past 7 months; 4. Presence of a representative of the UN Security Council or Secretary General in Ashraf for talks about the determination of the final status of Ashraf residents; 5. Compliance of the Iraqi government with the April 24, 2009 resolution of the European Parliament on the humanitarian situation of Ashraf residents; 6. Prosecution and punishment of parties who ordered or perpetrated the brutal attacks and massacre in Camp Ashraf by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.

[. . .]

Yesterday's snapshot offered some coverage of the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. Kat offered more last night at her site, focusing on US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick's questioning of the second panel. The snapshot was long (too long) and had to be edited which meant losing some details of that hearing and all details of another hearing which we'll cover today, the US Senate's Committe on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled the Review of Veterans Disability Compensation: Forging a Path Forward. I had copies of Senator Daniel Akaka's opening statement and Richard Burr's -- Akaka's the Chair, Burr's the Ranking Member but I was only present for the second panel where Michael P. Allen (Steston University College of Law), Daniel Bertoni (GAO) and John WIlson (Disabled American Veterans) testified (via a friend, Congressional staffer, we'll briefly note one section from the first panel).

In his prepared opening statement, Chair Akaka noted, "My goal is to ensure that claims are adjudicated accurately and in a timely fashion. Everyone involved realizes that there is no quick fix to solving all the problems with disability claims, but the Committee, teaming with the Administration and those who work with veterans, intends to do all it can to improve this situation. To bring optimal change to a process as complicated and important as this, we must be deliverative, focused, and open to input from all who are involved in this process. It is in that spirit that we have held previous hearings, and it is the backdrop for this hearing as well." Ranking Member Burr's prepared remarks included, "It takes more than five months on average for VA to make an initial decision on a claim for veterans' benefits and, if the veteran decides to appeal, the delays can go on for years. In fact, Professor Allen noted in a recent article that the average time from when a veteran files a claim with VA until getting a decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is between five and seven years! I think a process that takes that long is indefensible. Our veterans and their families deserve better."

On the first panel, Senator Jon Tester asked the VA's Patrick Dunn for some hard numbers. Tester noted, the VA had 406,000 pending claims and wondered how that compared to one year age and Dunn responded that it was about 25,000 to 30,000. Tester wanted to know at what point a claim gets a red flag and the VA works on addressing it? At 365 days, Dunne said, the claim is referred to a team known as the VA Tiger Team. This is not when appeals make the claim reach 365 days. This is before any appeal is made. Point being, there are claims being filed by veterans that the VA is not getting and veterans are waiting over a year. How many, Tester wanted to know? About 11,000 was the number Dunne provided.

And as outrageous as that number is, grasp that all the numbers are climbing each month, the number of claims pending. Tester asked about more employees being added but Dunne didn't want to go for that and claimed more employees would mean more administrative duties -- Dunne, in effect, said the VA doesn't need more employees. In one year, these numbers will be higher. "We haven't hit break even yet, we're still going the wrong direction," Tester stated. In one year's time, no one better play surprised when the number have risen yet again.

Senator Patty Murray introduced the second panel and took over the chair duties. Michael Allen, in his prepared statement, provided an overview of the process, "A veteran wishing to receive a benefit to which she believes she is entitled begins the process by submitting an application with one of the VA's regional offices (RO). If the veteran is satisfied with the benefits awarded, the process is at an end. However, there are a number of reasons why the veteran may be dissatisfied with the RO's decision. When the veteran is dissatisfied with the RO's decision, she has the option to pursue an appeal within the Department by filing a 'Notice of Disagreement' (NOD) with the RO. The NOD triggers the RO's obliagation to prepare a 'Statement of the Case' (SOC) setting for the bases of the decision being challenged. If the veteran wishes to pursue her appeal after receiving the SOC, she must file VA-Form 9 with the RO indicating her desire that the appeal be considered by the Board of Veterans' Appeals ('Board')." That provides a strong overview of the process (which continues into the courts). Having submitted his prepared remarks, Allen wisely used his opening remarks to speak to the committee, not read from his written remarks. His verbal remarks can be boiled down to his advocacy for "a working group to study the system. What changes can be made in the process from beginning to end including judicial review?"

Tester reviewed the number on the first panel for claims filed, not appeals (Dunne told Tester he didn't have numbers on the appeals but would get back to him with them). The GAO's Daniel Bertoni stated on the second panel that the VA is taking 96 days more to resolve appeals than it did in 2003 and he stated this had to do with workload. (Remember, Dunne rejected the idea that the VA needs more employees to handle caseloads.) Bertoni presented those figures while reading aloud from his prepared remarks. He ran out of time and never got to this section, "We have reported that an infusion of a large number of staff has the potential to improve VA's capacity. However, quickly absorbing these staff will likely pose human capital challenges for VA, such as how to train and deploy them. The additional staff has helped VA process more claims and appeals overall, but as VA has acknowledged, it has also reduced individual staff productivity. . . . According to VA, this decline in productivity is attributable primarily to new staff who have not yet become fully proficient at processing claims and to the loss of experienced staff due to retirements. VA expects its productivity to decline further before it improves, in part because of the challenges of training and integrating new staff."
We'll note this exchange where one witness (and only one) advocated for cuttng the federal court out of the review process.

Senator Patty Murray: Mr. Bertoni, let me begin with you. You testified that the VA has not collected date to evaluate the impact of using the resource centers to redistribute work load. We've heard that mentioned by several of our colleagues this morning concerning that. Can you tell us what measurement you would recommend the VA use to evaluate the effectiveness of these center?

Daniel Bertoni: I think critical to any process -- any of these processes-- timeliness, accuracy and consistency. I-I think it behoves any manager as opposed to going out talking to the troops trying to discuss issues on sight -- that's all important and good but I-I think there's no substitute to the data -- to help management make good date driven decisions. So if you have a resource center and there is indications -- and you do the analysis -- and indications of problems in certain areas, you can take, make remedial interventions. To date, I don't believe that is occuring. I think even most very recently, I don't believe there were any quality assurance reviews being conducted. That would be first and foremost very critical. What type of quality assurance reviews are being done? What is the MI data showing? And what do you do with that data going forward to make the interventions that need to be done?

Senator Patty Murray: Okay, thank you very much for that. Mr. Allen, you talked about the current structure for judicial review of veterans benefits and it has two appellate levels of the veterans court and federal circuit that you indicate increased delays and can be duplicative. You raised the option of removing the federal circuit from the structure of the veterans benefits determination process one way of perahps delaying or reducing some of the delays in this system. Didn't sound like you were 100% committed to that. Can you tell us why you sort of lean towards the federal circuit?

Michael Allen: Sure, Senator, let me start out by saying that it seemed to me that when Congress created the Veterans Corps, one of the things it was trying to do was to create an independent body to review these issues outside of the VA and that that body would be the expert in that area of the law. But since this was a new process, it provided for this second layer of review at the federal circuit. Now I should say that the level of review at the federal circuit is not plenary, is not total. The federal it doesn't have jurisdiction to review any matter of fact or quite oddly any application of law to fact. It, in theory, should only review pure questions of law. Now it made perfect sense to structure the system, at least in my view, at the time like that. Today I think that on balance it's not worth having the federal circuit involved anymore. I don't say that lightly because that is a major change And what it goes to is that what are the competing values that one wants? Because if the value that was absolutely top on the list was making sure that the maximum number of judges' eyes looked at a case, figuring that would reduce over all inaccuracy in decision, well then it might make sense to have this two level court. To use a silly analogy if you're absolute 100% number one value in a day in making sure that your pants don't fall down wearing belt and suspenders makes perfect sense. It is not irrational because that is your value. But I think that for the federal circuit employment here it is not having the maximum number of eyes looking at a case because over time having that second layer review has increased delay and I am not sure -- I'm sure myself, that it has not increased the quality of veterans law sufficiently to justify its continued place in the system.

Senator Patty Murray: Okay Colonel Wilson have you given any thought to a proposal to remove the federal circuit from the veterans benefits determination process and what that would mean?

John Wilson: No ma'am, I have not but would be glad to respond later.

Senator Patty Murray: If you could respond to the committee, I'd appreciate it. Mr. Bertoni, do you have any input on that?

Daniel Bertoni: I would say we have not looked into that or given any considerations there but I would say the would be a range of stakeholders that you would have to bring in to get --

Senator Patty Murray: That's why you suggested the commission, right?

Daniel Bertoni: Yes.

Michael Allen: Yes, that's right senator.

Senator Patty Murray: Alirght. Senator Burr?

Senator Richard Burr: Mr. Allen, you're right. It is a major shift. But I think we're all challegned to look at it in a different context and I was serious months ago when I suggested to the service organizations, let's start with the blank sheet of paper and come in and tell you how you would design it in the 21st century. To the credit of DAV they took on the task and I'm appreciative of that. You're right when you mention the word commission. What little bit of hair I have on the back of my neck did stand up. So let me ask, what additional information do you believe a commission would find that we don't have readily available to us today?

Michael Allen: I thought of two ways to respond to that. The first and most direct is I don't know what additional information the commission would have that you don't and I don't mean to refer back to [former] Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld but there are things that we know we don't know out there. But more importantly, Senator, I think --

Senator Richard Burr: And that was sort of the basis of why you had the creation of the VA appellate process and the federal court. We didn't know what we were going to run into.

Michael Allen: Absolutely and second, though Senator, I think that the key, because I think that this has been the key over time as various veterans benefits issues have been discussed, is it reaches a tipping point when enough of the relevant constitutincies come together on an idea. And I don't know whether something can truly be successful if it's in fact deemed to be imposed.

Senator Richard Burr: How long do you think a commission would need to do -- need to take to accomplish the work that you perceive a commission should -- should attempt to

Michael Allen: Part of it would be how broadly the commission should be structured. In-in-in my perfect world, I would say that it should actually be a commission that looks at the claims processing from cradle to grave because the situation we have now, some have described it as a spider web, and that's not quite right, I think, because it is an older spider web -- the administrative process -- on which a new spider web has been grafted and anything you do to one part is going to effect another. And I think now that we have a system that we have seen if it starts at the beginning and looks at the end because things that are done at claims processing on the administrative level are going to make a difference in the judicial review arena as well and vice versa so if the process were from beginning to end, I think, this could probably be done -- with commitment -- in-in six months.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009








Yesterday, an assault began on Camp Ashraf. We'll start by noting Amnesty International's statement which will also serve as a recap:

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENT AI Index: MDE 14/021/2009 28 July 2009 Iraq: Camp Ashraf residents attacked Amnesty International is seriously concerned at today's attacks by Iraqi forces on unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf which left several people injured and led to the arrest of at least eight others. Hundreds of armed Iraqi security forces are said to have stormed the camp, north of Baghdad, at around 3pm local time. They used tear gas, water canons and batons against unarmed Iranian residents who tried to stop them from entering the camp. Video footage seen by Amnesty International clearly shows Iraqi forces beating people repeatedly on different parts of the body, including the head. Dozens of people are said to have been injured. Two of them, Reza Chelcheraqi and Mohammad-Reza Shahsavandi, are believed to be in serious condition. At least eight people, including Hasan Besharati, Humayoun Deyhim, Gholam Reza Behrouzi, Hosein Fili, Mehdi Zareh and Naser Nour Ebadian, were arrested and their current whereabouts are unknown.In the last few months the Iraqi government has publicly stated that it wants to take over full control of Camp Ashraf, in Diyala governorate, north of Baghdad. On 27 July government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh told an Iraqi satellite television channel that the government "will take over the responsibility of internal security affairs of Camp Ashraf". The authorities are reportedly planning to establish a police outpost inside the camp. Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to investigate the apparent excessive use of force by Iraqi security forces. The government should reveal the whereabouts of the eight people detained and ensure that they are protected from torture or other ill-treatment, as well as from forcible return to Iran. Background Around 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf are members or supporters of the People's Mojahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition organization whose members have been resident in Iraq for many years. Until recently the PMOI was listed as a "terrorist" organization by the European Union and other governments, but in most cases this designation has now been lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran.The US forces provided protection for the camp and its residents, who were designated as "protected persons" following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but this situation was discontinued following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments, although the SOFA makes no reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents. Public Document **************************************** For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK

Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) was reporting on the assault yesterday evening and this morning, he and Greg Jaffe report the assault continues and they note: "The operation, which caught U.S. officials off guard, coincided with a visit to Iraq by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Analysts said it appeared designed to send a message of Iraqi independence. " This morning, BBC also reports the assault is still ongoing: "Eyewitnesses say Iraqi police have surrounded the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) camp and clashes are continuing inside. Iran wants the camp closed. The exiles fear they will be forcibly repatriated." (They also quote a portion of the Amnesty International's statement.) Odierno told AP that "non-lethal force" was used and "We have had promises from the government of Iraq that they would deal with the [group] in a humane fashion." AP goes on to point out, "But a video provided by an exile group showed Iraqi forces using batons and water cannons against the residents gathered at the camp's gates. The group also released photos showing injured people and bloodied bodies, although the authencity of the images couldn't be independent verified." Alsumaria quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source stating "200 Iranian residents and 50 Iraqi security forces [were] wounded" and that Nouri ordered the assault. Charles Levinson and Yochi J. Dreazen (Wall St. Journal) note, "Residents of Camp ashraf said hundreds of Iraqi security forces tore down the camp's walls on Tuesday afternoon with bulldozers." Laith Hammoudi and Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) offer more on that, "An Iraqi security official in Diyala told McClatchy that on government orders, security forces from the Ministry of Interior and riot police entered the camp Tuesday afternoon using bulldozers to tear down the walls." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that Nouri's flunkies are insisting this was not done to please Iran and Sly notes the actions have other potential impacts as well, "The pledge to assert the right of Iraqi forces to extend their authority over all of Iraq has potentially profound implications for another simmering dispute, over territories claimed by the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan and currently controlled by Kurdish peshmerga forces." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reveals Iraq's Interior Ministry is admitting to 7 deaths -- MEK is stating they have lost 11 members. Aljazeera airs video of the assault here. Today at the US State Dept, CBS' Charlie Wolfson asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the assault. Her response follows with my snark in brackets.

Well first with respect to the MEK at Camp Ashraf, we are urging restraint on both sides. [Yes, MEK, please restrain yourself from yelling too loudly as your homes are bulldozed and you are assaulted.] The government of Iraq has stated that the residents of Camp Ashraf will be treated in accordance with Iraq's constitution, laws and international obligations. [Really? Well that would be a first for Nouri and his thugs.] The Iraqi govenrment has assumed security responsibility for Camp Ashraf and its residents which obviously largely consists of MEK members -- the full transfer from the coalition forces in Iraq to the Iraqi army forces occured on February 20, 2009. This is part of the turnover of responsibilities to a sovereign nation. [We washed our hands clean, in their blood, didn't we?] And although the US government remains engaged and concerned about this issue, it is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve in accordance with its laws. [No, she doesn't believe what she's saying. In fairness to Hillary, this issue was supposed to have been resolved before she was even confirmed and, in fact, she was kept out of the loop on it. She was not the person on this issue, assigned by Barack, back in November.] And we are very clear that we expect that the Government of Iraq, now that it has assumed this security responsibility, will fulfill its obligations to show restraint, will not forcibly transfer anyone to a country where such a transfer might result in the mistreatment or the death of that person based on their political affiliation and activities. But it is now the responsibility of the Government of Iraq. [In other words, MEK, don't fill out refugee applications for the US.]

Timothy Williams (New York Times) explains, "There is a permanent American military presence in the area in the form of a military police platoon, acting as observers and reporting directly to Gen. Ray Odierno in Baghdad, an American military officials said."
Over 130,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq for why? This is exactly what the current vice president warned about in April, in an April Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when he noted the thug Nouri al-Maliki would attack the people and the US military -- if still on the ground -- would be put in a position of supporting the thug. That's exactly what's happening and it's one more reason all US troops need to be out of Iraq immediately.

[. . .]

Today the Los Angeles Times editorializes on the topic of the current government in Iraq's obligations (or not) to pay reparations for the violence of Saddam Hussein and concludes, "Kuwait should consider reducing reparations, and its proposal to reinvest some of the remaining debt in Iraq would benefit both countries. In return, Iraq should act quickly and decisively to resolve the other outstanding issues of concern to Kuwait, proving itself to be a good neighbor." Staying with LAT, yesterday's snapshot noted AFP's estimate of a Baghdad bank robbery resulting in $3.8 million dollars being stolen. Liz Sly and Usama Redha report that the figure was $7 million.

Turning to the US, local community is the key and so is word of mouth. Those were the two messages coming out of today's House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. The hearing was divided into three panels. The first panel was composed of three veterans: Sgt. Kortney Clemons, Capt Nathan Waldon and Capt Mark Little. Panel two was composed of Disabled American Veterans' Adrian M. Atizado, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake. Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project's Julia Ray, National Recreation and Parks Association's David Stringer and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Carlos Leon. The third panel was composed of Dept of Defense's Dinah Cohen, United States Olympic Committee, Charlie Huebner and Dept of Veterans Affairs' Diane Hartmann.

"I think we have a very interesting and important hearing this morning," declared Chair Bob Filner as he brought the meeting to order. "I think you all know since the early years of our country, Congress has had to reassess programs created to care for our men and women in uniform, our veterans who have courageously answered our call to duty and their families who have joined in the military experience. For many service members and veterans who have been severely injured from service to our country, their rehabilitation can sometimes be quite disheartening. Many become concerned about having the same quality of life that they had prior to their injuries. This was known to be true in WWII and has held true today in the midst of our nation's commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Steve Buyer noted, "I believe that sports are the most valuable rehabilitative tools that we can provide our wounded warriors." On the first panel, Clemons noted that he lost his right leg in a 2004 roadside bombing in Iraq and explained, "Paralympic sports has given me opportunities that I never thought would be possible. Prior to my injury, I was an athlete who absolutely loved sports. I played football, basketball and baseball in high school in Little Rock, Mississippi and played football at East Mississippi Community College before joining the army." Clemons was recovering in the Brooke Army Medical Center and learned of the Paralympic Military Program through word of mouth. He explained that John Register of the US Olympic Committee visited the medical center and explained the USOC's Paralympic Military Program and, Clemons explained, "his inspirational message made me realize that sports could give me the strength, courage and confidence to live a great life." Little also learned of programs by word of mouth. After losing both of his legs from the below the knee down in an IED attack in Iraq, Little went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "Very similarly also, sports was huge in my identity being an almost pro-rollerball hokey player ice hockey player, rugby, tennis, golf, soccer, football, etc, I had similar concerns, now I'm missing both of my legs, how am I going to be an excellent sports star like I always knew I would be? And it was as I was expressing those concerns my first day of physical therapy a couple of weeks after returning home that Gunnery Sgt from the marine corps who is a double below the knee amputee walked in with his set of prosthetic roller blade inline skates, telling me that they had just custom made them for him He was the second person to ever receive that style and was already skating outside. Right then and there, competitive spirit took over and I knew exactly what I knew before in the military and even prior in sports, I have to be better than this man, I have to do one more. So I asked my physical therapist who ironically was also his physical therapist what-what records had he set? She said pretty much everything for a double amputee. So after getting a laundry list of those, I set out to beat every single one."

US House Rep Timothy Walz wondered about how to get the word out and what sort of events were needed? Little explained that it needed to be community based because most people don't live in DC and they will be interacting in their own communities. Clemons agreed with that and added that the word needed to be out there that "there are things to do when you get back home to move forward." Waldon spoke on the issue noting, "Pretty much the daily community programs. Just moving it down to a more, just like classroom size. The smaller the classroom, the more personal instruction can be for the students the same thing with this. The more one-on-one, one-on-three, one-on-four time you can really get with an instructor, someone to help you out, the better it will be and you know pretty much being everywhere. It's a far reaching goal but you at least have something in mind, like something to push towards. No reason to settle if we can achieve something else." On the second panel, Julia Ray noted, " I think what we're noticing from the most recent grop of injured veterans is the extreme diversity in what their needs and interests are. It's not your classic disabled sports that we began with back in the Vietnam era -- skiing and so forth. They're wanting to do the Iron Man in Hawaii. They all want to compete and train alongside the communities-- people with and without disabilities. All kinds of diffent things and that kind of support needs to be individualized, it needs to be adjusted according to the type of injury. With polytrauma, we're seeing the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury, multiple amputations and very severe injuries that require very individualized attention." Kat will cover some of the hearing at her site tonight and we need to wind down. We'll close on the hearing with these remarks by Little, "I would never have known half of what I do about being an amputee, being a returning disabled veteran and just getting around in life had it not been for people like my first snow board trip Captain [Nathan] Waldan who you may have met earlier teaching me how to properly fit my prosethetic in a snow board boot to get down the hill -- which I did sucessfully my first time. And then going on to be that person. There's someone out there right now that's going on about how Capt Little showed him how to do that the first time he was out there."

Finally, independent journalist David Bacon continues to report on labor issues. How did TARP -- the Big Business bail out -- help residents in Oakland? At In These Times, Bacon reveals that it didn't help them at all: "Tosha Alberty had just left for work, for her job as a transportation services coordinator for Alameda County. Her children were still at home, though. Sheriffs told her adopted son Christian, a nine-year-old with autism still in his undershorts, to get dressed. Alberty's daughter Sharquita rushed to collect the bottles and diapers she needed to take care of her nine-month-old baby Zmylan." And they were evicted, right then, right there. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST) and his latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press).

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009







Today Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reveals that, oh, US troops? Still patrolling. US troops are patrolling in Mosul. The 'pull-back' was for-show as was Nouri al-Maliki's no-no-we-don't-want-US-troops-in-Mosul. The largest question Gatehouse's report raises is why the BBC is the one breaking the news? Don't several US papers have staff in Baghdad?

He's not patrolling (and he's hopefully not editing copying) but US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Iraq today. As always, it was an unannounced visit. They keep splashing waves of Operation Happy Talk but the US officials still can't visit Iraq openly. Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes) reports that the press was told about the visit on Friday by someone at the Defense Dept and quotes the unnamed person telling them, "The purpose of going to Talil is so the secretary can get an understanding of the advisory and assistance brigades that are sort of being developed. This is what eventually we will be left with when we have a transitional force come September 2010." Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) is part of the press traveling with Gates and notes this his first visit to Iraq for 2009 -- seven months in, rather sad -- and that he plans to visit with both Nouri al-Maliki (puppet of the occupation) and Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq). She also notes Gates will be playing an Amway salesman for US defense contractors as he meets with Iraqi officials to discuss "whether the U.S. will sell Iraq any F-16 fighter jets." Jim Wolf (Reuters) reports it more bluntly: "One of the topics they are expected to discuss is Baghdad's interest in acquiring Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N) F-16 multirole fighter jets to counter possible threats from neighbouring nations after U.S. forces leave." And he will visit Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani. Al Bawaba reports that Gates' visit as 8 security guards were killed in a Baghdad bank robbery. AFP places the amount stolen at $3.8 million (US dollars). Gates was greeted with a parade. Well . . . a protest. Aljazeera reports followers of Moqtada al-Sadr staged a demonstration chanting "NO, NO TO AMERICA!" BBC reports, "At a news conference after his talks in Baghdad, Mr Gates side-stepped a question about whether some US forces might stay on beyond a 2011 deadline for withdrawal. The issue, he said, was best left until the end of 2010 or even 2011."

Whose funding the so-called "insurgents" in Iraq? For years General David Petraeus, Robert Gates and assorted others have insisted it was the government of Iran. Turns out, it may be the US. Free Speech Radio News explained yesterday:

Andrew Stelzer: The US Agency for Intenational Development, or USAID, has suspended a $644 million dollar program in Iraq because of two reviews indicating a portion of the money was ending up in the hands of insurgents and going to fund jobs that didn't exist. The government hired the Virginia-based International Relief and Development to run the public works job creation program. Former employees told USA Today that documents were faked and projects that didn't exist were included in progress reports.

Ken Dilanian (USA Today) explains the program "was designed to tamp down the insurgency by paying Iraqi cash to do public work projects such as trash removal and ditch digging." So the US government, not the Iranian one, has been funding the so-called 'insurgency.' Government officials in Iran are no doubt happy by another development. Nouri al-Maliki did their bidding today. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that Camp Ashraf, to the north of Baghdad, was raided today by Iraqi forces who "used batons, hoses, pepper spray and sound grenades during the raid at Camp Ashraf, home to the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq [approximately 3500 people]. The raid came a day after the Iraqi government announced it would assume complete responsibility of the camp and vowed to 'protest the people inside the base'." You can't trust Nouri. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran is stating that "Peyman Kord-Amir, artist and singer, is in coma right now due to severe blows to his head." They note 2,000 Iraqi forces were sent in and they note that following the 300 wounded and the 4 dead, residents of Camp Ashraf have started a hunger strike and have issued a list of demands which include the immediate removal of Iraqi forces and the freeing of prisoners, returning protection responsibilities for the camp to the US, allowing attorneys and human rights organizations into the camp. Nouri's bag boy Ali al-Dabbagh insists to UPI, The entrance of the Iraqi forces into Camp Ashraf is not a break-in but rather a well-coordinated operation to stabilize the security situation inside the camp." AFP is reporting that 150 were injured as Iraqi forces stormed the camp. Until recently, the US had been protecting the camp. Before the start of the illegal war, the Iranians were allowed in the country by Saddam Hussein. Nouri's close ties to Iran include the many years where his cowardly streak found him living there because it took to much strength and courage to fight to overthrow a government he didn't believe in. Much better to hide like a coward and wait for the US military to do so. AFP quotes US Gen Ray Odierno insisting the US had no prior knowledge of the assault: "We didn't know they were going to do this." Really? After May when Nouri ordered what was obviously the trial run for the assault, no one suspected? When he sent Iraqi forces into Camp Ashraf May 28th, no one had a clue?

Barack Obama's administration has failed. Following the election, they knew this was one of the issues that the previous administration would be dumping in their laps and they knew it was time sensitive. They refused to seriously address it and, in fact, took the promises of thug Nouri at face value in order to be done with the matter and wash their hands clean. They knew this was a serious issue and instead of treating it seriously, they passed the buck. On an issue that was early on desginated as "a litmus test" regarding Barack's dedication to human rights.

August 8, 2004, the US Embassy in Baghdad [PDF format warning] sent a report by John Negroponte which noted:


32. (U) 3,839 members and former members of the USG-designated foreign terrorist organization Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) are currently resident at Camp Ashraf in Diyala Province under Coalition guard and protection.

33. (U) MF-I has designated these 3,839 individuals as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention and considers the restrictions placed on MEK travel outside the compound and on visitor entry as "measures of control and security" permitted under Article 27 of IVGC.

34. (U) Those 74 residents of Camp Ashraf who are citizens or legal residents of third countries are permitted to repatriate with the approval of their respective governments. MNF-I and Post are currently facilitating a number of possible repatriations.

35. (U) IRC has been invited to vist Camp Ashraf to conduct individual interviews with the residents of the Camp. It is expected that these interviews may result in ICRC's recommendation that UNHCR make a determination of refugee status in many cases.

The term "terrorist" may be applied to the group. That was being re-evaluated by the US government (prior to the assault). Already this year England and the European Union took the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq off their list of terrorists groups. If "terrorist" is used, don't let that distract from the fact that this was a camp for exiles, that children were present during the assault. In March 2008, the International Red Cross' Juan-Pedro Schaerer explained, "The main responsibility to protect civilians lies with the States that have effective control over them -- in this case, the governments of the United States and of Iraq have to find a suitable solution in accordance with international law and relevant provisions of national law. Our main concern is to ensure that the authorities meet these obligations. In particular, they must always protect the lives, the physical and moral integrity and the dignity of those concerned. Morevoer, should anyone in Ashraf be suspected or accused of committing criminal offences, judicial guarantees must be respected as provided for in international law." The residents of the camp had rights. Those rights were not respected and the camp was assaulted. April 20th, Amnesty International issued "Iraq: concerns regarding the future of Camp Ashraf resident:"

Amnesty International has written directly to the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki about recent developments relating to the more than 3,000 Iranian exiles currently living in Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, who Iraqi officials have said should leave the country. The Iranians are members or supporters of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

In particular, Amnesty International expressed concern at a recent statement reportedly made in an interview with al-Forat, an Iraqi TV channel, by National Security Advisor Dr Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, in which he said that the authorities intend gradually to make the continued presence of the Camp Ashraf residents "intolerable". Shortly after this, possibly in a related development, a team of medical doctors were denied access to the Camp for several days. One purpose of their visit was reportedly to provide treatment to a woman in the Camp in need of surgery for an internal cancerous tumour. The doctors were later allowed into the camp.
In its letter, Amnesty International urged the Iraqi Prime Minister to ensure that no action is taken by the Iraqi authorities that violates the human rights of the Camp Ashraf residents and to clarify the government's intentions towards them in the light of Dr al-Rubaie's reported threat to make their lives "intolerable." Amnesty International has previously called on the Iraqi government to ensure that none of the Camp Ashraf residents or other Iranian dissidents are forcibly returned to Iran in view of fears that they would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations there.
The PMOI is an Iranian opposition organization and many of its members have been resident in Iraq for many years. Until recently the organization was listed as a "terrorist" organization by the European Union (EU) and governments of non-EU states, but in most cases this designation has now been lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the US forces provided protection for the Ashraf Camp residents, who were designated as "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions. This situation has apparently been discontinued following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments which came into force on 1 January 2009, although the SOFA does not make any reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents. The Iranian government is said to be putting pressure on Iraq to expel the PMOI members and supporters from Iraq.

Amnesty International wasn't the only one raising concerns. April 24th the European Parliament adopted the following resolution:

The European Parliament,
- having regard to the Geneva Conventions and notably Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,
- having regard to the Geneva Convention of 1951 relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereto,
- having regard to the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Iraqi Governments, signed in November 2008,
- having regard to its resolution of 12 July 2007 on the humanitarian situation of Iraqi refugees(1) and its resolution of 4 September 2008 on executions in Iran(2), which include references to Camp Ashraf residents having legal status as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention,
-having regard to Rule 115(5) of its Rules of Procedure,
A.- whereas Camp Ashraf in Northern Iraq was established during the 1980s for members of the Iranian opposition group People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI),
B.- whereas in 2003 US forces in Iraq disarmed Camp Ashraf's residents and provided them with protection, those residents having been designated "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions,
C.- whereas in a letter dated 15 October 2008 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Iraqi Government to protect Camp Ashraf residents from forcible deportation, expulsion or repatriation in violation of the non-refoulement principle, and to refrain from any action that would endanger their life or security,
D.- whereas following the conclusion of the US/Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement, control of Camp Ashraf was transferred to the Iraqi security forces as of 1 January 2009,
E.- whereas, according to recent statements reportedly made by the Iraqi National Security Advisor, the authorities intend gradually to make the continued presence of the Camp Ashraf residents "intolerable", and whereas he reportedly also referred to their expulsion/extradition and/or their forcible displacement inside Iraq,
1.- Urges the Iraqi Prime Minister to ensure that no action is taken by the Iraqi authorities which violates the human rights of the Camp Ashraf residents and to clarify the Iraqi government's intentions towards them; calls on the Iraqi authorities to protect the lives and the physical and moral integrity of the Camp Ashraf residents and to treat them in accordance with obligations under the Geneva Conventions, in particular by refraining from forcibly displacing, deporting, expelling or repatriating them in violation of the principle of non-refoulement;
2.- Respecting the individual wishes of anyone living in Camp Ashraf as regards his or her future, considers that those living in Camp Ashraf and other Iranian nationals who currently reside in Iraq having left Iran for political reasons could be at risk of serious human rights violations if they were to be returned involuntarily to Iran, and insists that no person should be returned, either directly or via a third country, to a situation where he or she would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights abuses;
3.- Calls on the Iraqi Government to end its blockade of the camp, to respect the legal status of the Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions, and to refrain from any action that would endanger their life or security, i.e. to afford them full access to food, water, medical care and supplies, fuel, family members and international humanitarian organisations;
4.- Calls on the Council, the Commission and the Member States, together with the Iraqi and US Governments, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to work towards finding a satisfactory long-term legal status for Camp Ashraf residents;
5.- Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Governments and Parliaments of the Member States, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Government of the United States of America and the Government and Parliament of Iraq.

The issue was debate by the UK House of Lords at the start of this month with the Labour Party Whip repeatedly assuring that England was on the issue and conveying this message to the Iraqi government and that message, and monitoring and they have "sought assurances" and received them. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about the assault and responded, "We've seen these media reports and we're looking into them. As you know, the government of Iraq has assumed responsibility -- security responsibility -- for Camp Ashraf and its residents. We continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the residents of Camp Ashraf are treated in accordance with Iraq's written assurance that it will treat the residents there humanely. This is in accordance with the constitutional laws and the international obligations of Iraq and the government has stated to us that no Camp Ashraf resident will be forcibly transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution on the basis of their political beliefs, poitical opinions or religious beliefs or whether there are substantial grounds for believing they would be tortured."

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