Friday, October 09, 2009





Today the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, chaired by Senator Daniel Akaka, held a hearing entitled "VA and DoD Response to Certain Military Exposures." We're going to jump into the first panel -- well into it -- and then work a bit backwards. Imagine yourself infected or exposed to a substance that puts your life in danger. Imagine that your government put you at risk and/or hid the risk. After the exposure is known of, how's the government contacting you, getting the word out?

Senator Daniel Akaka: Many of you have given heart-felt testimony regarding some very, very personal issues that have effected your lives. I know I speak for the entire committee -- members of this committee -- when I say that we appreciate your here today. I'd like to ask my question to four of our witness: Mr. Partain, Ms. Pennington, Ms. Paganelli and Mr. Powell. Are you satisfied with the military's response to each of the exposures your or your family member was effected by including high-risk list -- high-risk health problems? Mr. Partain?

Michael Partain: As far as the military's response to my exposures at Camp Lejeune, I would say no. I was diagnosed with male breast cancer in April 2007. My wife found the disease when she gave me a huge before bed one night. Two months later, I discovered that I had been exposed in the womb while at Camp Lejeune. I had no knowledge of my exposures until then. It just happened to be -- my father was watching a newscast and saw a hearing about Camp Lejeune and that's how I became aware of this.

Senator Daniel Akaka: Ms. Pennington?

Stacy Pennington: We-we were disappointed actually with the doctors at actually Duke University for orally citing the reasons for my brother's aggressive AML [Acute Myelogenous Leukemia]. When pushed again, they admitted it was definitely due to chemical exposure but they couldn't prove it. And there is some pushback that they are receiving from the military there at Fort Bragg. And I don't know the details to that. They wouldn't elicit any further. I can tell you the [Matt] Bumpus family, no, has not received any assistance from the VA or military because Matt ended his service one year after -- or the disease came to light one year after his service. So the VA has harshly denied the connection between the AML and his service in Iraq and where he was stationed in Balad. So, no, they are not receiving any benefits from the VA or military and are completely dissatisfied.

Senator Daniel Akaka: Thank you. Ms. Paganelli.

Laurie Paganelli: Thank you. I would say on behalf of [US Naval Air Facility] Atsugi residents and past Atsugi residents, "no," because I really strongly believe there needs to be a accurate registry and so many families are not informed. I just really would like there to be a registry for these families and benefits for those who, further down the line, need them. Some acknowledgment for that. Thank you.

Senator Daniel Akaka: Thank you. Mr. Powell?

Russell Powell: I think that the Army did, or the Department of Defense did kind of lack in acknowledgment that we were even exposed later, about five years later. after we returned home. And it was just kind of an eye opener. So that's kind of -- I'll tell you like this. We go to the VA and the VA has no idea what's going on with us but they still are kind of timid on what to say -- whether it's exposure or anything like that. They're just -- are trying to back away from us. So we're all pretty disappointed. We're on a registry but the registry, to us, doesn't -- still doesn't say "You guys were exposed." Or a lot of soldiers try to put in claims for the chemical exposure get denied.

They were not informed. They were not informed at all. The first panel was composed of those four plus Colorado State University's John R. Nuckols, University of South Carolina's Charles Feigley, Dr. Robert F. Miller and Herman Gibb who has a PhD. We're focusing on the four witnesses already quoted above.

Michael Partain's parents were stationed at Camp Lejeune. His mother became pregnant there, he was born on base. Camp Lejeune residents "were exposed to high levels of tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TC), dichloroethylene (DCE), benzene and vinyl chloride in the tap water provided to my family by the Marine Corps." In his testimony, Partain discussed the song-and-dance and outright lies between 1981 through November December 198 and, "The misrepresentation did not end with the public and the media, it extended to the EPA. On November 1, 1985, there was a meeting at Camp Lejeune between base officials and EPA representatives. During this meeting, base officials including Robert Alexander, told the EPA that the contamination had not reached the distribution plants. Three years later, another base official, Assistant Chief of Staff Facilities, Col Thomas J. Dalzell was quoted in the media that prior to 1983: 'At that time, we were not aware of any of these particular compounds that might have been in the ground water and we have no information that anyone's health was in any danger at that time'." Again, among the many health problems that Michael Partain faced as a result of his exposure to these chemicals was breast cancer.

Stacy Pennington is the sister of Staff Sgt Steven Gregory Ochs and was speaking on behalf of him and their family and on behalf Staff Sgt Matt Bumpus and his family. Her brother was in the military for 14 years and Matt for 8 and 3/4 years. Both men were deployed to Iraq.

Stacy Pennington: Both of these brave soldiers you see before you dodged bullets, mortar attacks, roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Eventually their tours of duty would take their lives. The ultimate sacrifice for a soldier, for his country, is death. However, their deaths did not show up in the manner you may assume. In Balad is the site of the infamous enormous burn pit that has been called by Lt Col Darrin L. Curtis, USAF and Bio-environmental Engineering Flight Commander, as "the worst environmental site" he had ever visited. Staff Sgt Ochs and Staf Sgt Bumpus were both stationed in Balad and war, as strategic as it is, followed them home. Death lay dormant in their blood and waited for them to return safely home and into the arms of their loved ones. Like every silent ticking bomb, it eventually exploded. On September 28, 2007, just months after Steve's return home from his third tour, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, also known as AML. He spent the next ten months as a patient -- more like a resident -- at Duke University Hospital. Doctors at Duke said his aggressive form of AML was definitely chemically induced and, like Steve, both agreed it was due to the exposures he experienced while in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the doctors refused to go on record citing as the reason that they could not prove it. The aggressive AML that Steve endured was similar to bullets ricocheting in the body causing torturous pain. The graphic images embedded in my mind are of Steve's last screams for air as he was rushed into ICU. Steve waved goodbye to my husband. Steve, with very little strength, said, "I love you, sis" and my mom kissed his forehead and said, "We will see you when you get comfortable." Five minutes later, while in the ICU waiting room, the nurse came in to tell us Steve went into cardiac arrest and they were working on him now. My mom ran into ICU -- fell to her knees as she realized her son was dying. Screams filled the air as we begged God to keep Steve here with us. We know Steve heard us as tears were in Steve's eyes. Doctors and nurses pumped on Steve's chest trying to revive him. But I knew immediately he was gone. His spirit that surrounded my dear, sweet brother was gone. We were left alone with Steve's body for hours as we were all in pure shock. My mom looked upon my brother's face and wiped away the tears puddled in his eyes. And at that very moment, our lives were changed forever. Steve died on July 12, 2008. Two weeks later, on the opposite of the coast, Staff Sgt Bumpus would succumb to the same fate. For Staff Sgt Matt Bumpus, the ticking time bomb exploded with a vengeance on July 31, 2006. Matt was rushed to the hospital by ambulance with acute appendicitis. In Matt's own words, I quote, "The next thing I remember is hearing that I had been diagnosed with AML." Doctors declared that there was chromosome damage due to exposures he must have come in contact with while in Iraq. Matt ended his prestigious service to the Army one short year before the war zone chemical warfare showed signs of its presence. As if this was not enough suffering, Staff Sgt Bumpus' family was met by the VA with harsh claims of denial to benefits. This battle continues to this day as Lisa, Staff Sgt Bumpus' wife, is left alone with two small children to raise with no VA or military benefits for her family. The aggressive assault of the AML in Matt's body was taking claim. Jo, Matt's mother, recalls the haunted look in Matt's eyes as he revealed to her that the AML invasion was back. Matt's mother will never forget the discouragement and sadness that overwhelmed Matt as the realization that promises he made to his wife and children to provide for his family, to love and protect them, and that his sacred word would be broken. He knew now that the battle was over and he would be leaving his family behind. Tuesday, July 29, 2008, Matt once again entered the hospital with fever and septic infection that discharged throughout his body. Doctors notified the family that it would just be days before his demise. Matt was heavily sedated as the pain and incubation was unbearable. Nate, Matt's ten-year-old son, bravely entered his father's hospital room to lay on his daddy's chest as he said his final goodbye. Nate curled up by his dad and cried and cried. Despite Matt's heavy sedation, Matt too was crying. Matt, being a devoted Christian, appropriately passed away on a Sunday morning, surrounded by his wife, mother, father and sister as they expressed to Matt their everlasting love. They, too, were in shock and stayed with Matt's body as the realization overwhelmed them that Matt would not be going home. Matt died on August 3, 2008.

Later, with Senator Jay Rockefeller, Pennington would pick back up on this topic and note,
I need to tell you that my brother immediately upon return from his third tour in Iraq the end of April 2007, suffered from flu-like symptoms almost immediately. He went to Womack [Army Medical Center] Hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina three times. The doctors did exactly what you just said. They said, 'You have some type of virus." She explained he was sent home with Ibuprofin and, not until September and after "he had to get special permission to be seen by a private hospital, where the private hospital actually discovered that my brother actually had AML."

Laurie Paganelli spoke "on behalf of my family and as a representative for hundreds of Sailors, Marines and civilians who were unknowingly exposed to and have been adversely affected by the contaminated air, soil and water at US Navy Air Facility Atsugi, Japan." Her husband is a member of the US Navy and he and his family were stationed at Atsugi from 1997 to 2000. Their son Jordan was only five years old in 1997. Eleven years later, January 11, 2008 ("our lives changed forever") when their son "was diagnosed with a rare, vicious and highly aggressive form of cancer -- so aggressive, in fact, that by the time he displayed any symptoms, his cancer had already progressed to a Stage Four condition. The name of his cancer is Alveolar Rhabdo-Myo-Sarcoma, "ARMS" for short." He was sixteen-years-old and his parents were learning he had cancer and that his type of cancer does not have a high survival rate. He immediately went into treatment which included "twelve total weeks of radiation" and ended up on crutches "quite a contrast to the young boy who played at Atsugi Base and the high school cross country star he had been just months prior to diagnosis." The Shinkampo Incineration Complex on the base was releasing toxic fumes and chemicals. Starting in 1997, when Laurie Paganelli's family was stationed at the base, the Navy started to let a few people know of some of the risks. The limited risks the Navy was willing to acknowledge were further minimized by encouraging people to believe they were safe as long as they were inside when chemical plumes from the incinerator were visible in the air. She explained, "The Navy had knowledge that Atsugi residents were being exposed to Dioxin in the SIC's emissions by the early 1990s; and they knew what detrimental effects such exposure would do to the human body. As you remember, Dioxin is what made Agent Orange so toxic. So it's no surprise that, by 1998, the Navy recognized their liability and instituted a one-page waiver that did not convey information of the known long-term risk associated with SIC. We were all required to sign this waiver."

Russel Powell joined the army in 1994 and was discharged in 2001 and he then enlisted in the West Virginia Army National Guard. March 2003, he was deployed to Iraq. In Iraq, "1092nd Charlie Company was assigned as security for the KBR contractors. My duties consisted of battalion medic and supplied defensive positions and cover fire if needed to protect KBR contractors at Qarmat Ali Water treatment plant in Basra, Iraq." They were immediately confronted with the orange dust everywhere which coated everything and spilled out of open sacks, caught up in the dust storms which Powell estimated hit "ten times daily." They were not offered protective clothing or masks, nor were they warned that the orange powder was dangerous.

Russell Powell: After a few weeks of being at the facility, several personnel began getting lesions on their hands, arms, faces and nostril area. As a medic, I felt very concerned for the safety and health of persons exposed. I questioned of the KBR workers, I have forgotten his name, and he told me that his supervisors told him not to worry about it, that we were allergic to sand and dust. Shortly there after, there was another severe dust storm. I ate an MRE and my throat and stomach began to burn like nothing I have felt before. My nose began to bleed and I was nauseated. After this particular storm, I was severely sick to the point that when we returned to Kuwait City, Kuwait, I was told that I was not going out on the mission the following day. The following day, I went to the infirmary at Camp Commando and was seen by a Naval doctor. After a brief examination, he dismissed me as being sick and prescribed me Motrin and Tylenol. Approximately thirty minutes later, I went to a bombshell bunker to give myself an IV, a couple soldiers found me. I was delirious and coughing up blood. I do not remember anything until waking up the following day in the Kuwait Soldiers Hospital. My face and lips were burnt and my throat was sore to the point I couldn't swallow anything. I was there for almost a week getting antibiotics intravenously. The doctors had no explanation why I was sick or why my face and lips were burnt so badly. The day I was released from the hospital, I returned to Qarmat Ali with Charlie Company 2nd platoon. Upon my return to Qarmat Ali, numerous soldiers were complaining of the same symptoms I was experiencing. I prescribed those soldiers antibiotics; however, the symptoms persisted. At the end of June 2003, the Indiana National Guard relieved us of our duties. Our unit moved into northern Iraq. The nose bleeds subsided a little, but the nausea was still present daily. After leaving Iraq in April 2004, I went to the VA clinic in Clarksburg, West Virginia to talk to the doctors about my skin rashes and lesions, stomach problems and nose bleeds. The doctors were unable to determine what the cause is of these problems. In 2009, I received a letter from the West Virginia National Guard stating we were possibly exposed to Sodium Dichromate while serving at Qarmat Ali and the VA doctors believe that this could be what's causing my health issues, but because they know little about Sodium Dichromate, they are researching and trying to figure out the affects of it on the human body.

Senator Jay Rockefeller was thanked by name by Russell Powell and he's worked on this issue for decades. He was sharing in the hearing about twenty-five years ago when they were dealing with it with regards to WWII. He spoke of doctors with the VA who have ignored the problems or suggested "take an aspirin and go home or you've got a virus, go home, sleep, get a good sleep. It makes me mad. And what scares me is that I don't know if the culture has changed." He spoke of the frustration with the same situations repeating over and over: "And I don't get it, why they don't learn? And maybe I'm wrong but until someone shows me I'm wrong, I'm just mad." We'll note this section of Rockefeller's questioning.

Senator Jay Rockefeller: What fascinates me but angers me so much is that -- as I said, and you'll remember this, Russell, at our August hearing -- is there such a direct comparison between this and the Gulf War Syndrome? The denial on the part of the military, their refusal to not only respond to soldiers whose lives were being shredded -- couldn't sleep, couldn't keep marriages, couldn't get jobs, couldn't read newspapers because they were being told to take a pill, which had never been cleared by the FDA for animal use -- much less for human use, to protect them from what they thought Saddam [Hussein] was going to do and it turned out actually it was the wrong pill anyway. It was for the chemical he didn't have . And that's another story. But the refusal -- and I want to get into the military culture. Now I know the military is the next panel and I'm not going to be here in the next panel. But your a medic, Russell, and you're a good one and you've been through this and you come and you testify and you tell us about what you're going through and you've see the letter from [Secretary of the VA] Eric Shinseki that he sent this morning --

Russell Powell: Correct.

Senator Jay Rockefeller: -- which has some promise to it. He says he's going to give full pulmonary tests and, in West Virginia, we've discovered all of those people who weren't on the registry or weren't yet found. In Indiana, I'm not sure they have. They have a lot more of them but I'm not sure that they've discovered all of those. But when you got into that situation and you had the orange dust and you're a medic and you've got some stature and you go over to that place and you just lie down and try to give yourself an IV and all the rest of it, it-it says something about soldiers -- Well, first of all, it says something about the military's inability to deal with something that might either be embarrassing for them or for which they can't explain because they're busy fighting wars which is a rather large task. On the other hand, there are people who are doctors and who have medical responsibilities and they're not fighting wars, they're taking care of soldiers. There's something which prevents -- and I've heard this in other sessions about other types of problems -- soldiers taking on the military even as they suffer. And I want to talk about that for a moment. From your point of view, first of all, I understand the chain of command, I understand -- From my point of view, this is kind of a repeat, you went through this in 2003?

Russell Powell: Correct.

Senator Jay Rockefeller: And nobody discovered what you had until 2009. What-what is the culture problem we're dealing with here?

Russell Powell: Well the biggest problem is when you go to -- Or let me say this. I don't think the army knew fully -- was fully aware with the chemicals being on the ground through the KBR not actually providing-providing them with that information. And -- but the Army could have actually told us a little bit sooner whenever they did find out in August -- August of 2003. But they didn't tell any of the soldiers and there are still some of the soldiers that I've talked to who are government employees who just found out within a week that they were one of the guys that were exposed to chemicals and he's a government employee. And they're saying they can't find these gentlemen at and this is the Dept of the Army saying they can't find them. Well one of the officers, high-ranking officers from West Virginia was on an aircraft with him and this was a month or two ago. And still on that individual -- because I can't really tell you what he does for the government -- but, uh, he was talking to one of our generals and he told them that he was in the 1092nd Charlie Company. And the general just didn't say, "Well maybe you might want to look at this or look at that." And he was just dumbfounded until we linked up with that individual just through e-mails and trying to find all our soldiers because we're trying to do our best to find out where our people went and give them the heads up on their actual medical problems because a lot of them didn't have medical problems just didn't know why. And when you go to the VA or anything like that and it's so horrible because you say you're a medic and a flight medic and they kind of look down to you in a sense because they say, "Well you already know everything" or "Mister Know It All." That's how most physicians feel. And we're not even trying to do that, we're saying, "Hey, this is what's wrong with me. I'm pretty sick. I'm not -- I'm not faking a funk on you. I was doing medicine for a lot of years, I'm not trying to get over on you." And it's real frustrating because they're just brushing you off, brushing you off. Now there are a few doctors that are actually concerned and figure out the problems for mechanicals but most of them just kind of brush you off at the VA and it's really a hard obstacle to go through.

Senator Jay Rockefeller: Dr. Gibbs, do you have any thoughts about that? Why is it that people, strong men like Russell can't -- or they look down at a medic or they -- Some doctors are good, some doctors are bad. Whatever. For heaven's sakes, they knew they were going to send you to this camp, to Qarmat Ali and therefore they had to have been there. For the fact of there being some orange dust must not have escaped them unless they were color blind and so I don't understand that. There's a lack of thoroughness or a lack of concern or a lack of care. I mean if you saw the orange dust -- you now know and knowing what the world now knows six years later, it's not very complicated to me. They were entering a risky environment and chose not to know about it, not to warn about it, to take steps to clean it up or to do whatever. Now, Dr. Gibbs, I don't know if you have any thoughts on that?

Dr. Herman Gibbs: I think they had a significant exposure there. I mean, some of the soldiers described looking like orange powder dough nuts. And it was all over the ground. Statements of the soldiers at the previous hearing indicate that it was everywhere. Uhm, I think that -- and the bags read: Sodium Dichromate. It wasn't like guessing. So they should have known and it should have been reported and, again, I don't think there was a good understanding of what Sodium Dichormate is or what it's effects are. So I think there was a significant exposure that should have been addressed immediately as soon as they learned what it was. So I-I think that there was just, uh, uhm, I feel like it was dealt with uh, irresponsibly. I can't think of a better word.

Senator Jay Rockefeller: Well let me be -- let me be tougher about it then. Doesn't the military have a responsibility? And particularly when you're not in a huge situation which varies a lot. Like the Second World War, the First World War, you know, whatever. But you've got a particular type of territory where there are certain factors which are common for all that territory. Basra, I guess was where you were. And then there's this orange dust. I don't understand that. I don't understand why, if there are doctors who are in charge of the health, are they not in the deployment decision process in any way? Are they left out until somebody does get sick? Is there anybody here can answer that question?

Dr. Herman Gibbs: Again I think that the knowledge of industrial hygiene is uh we could do -- you could recommend pre-deployment physicals and post-deployment physicals and those kinds of things but if you don't understand what substances that you're dealing with those kind of physicals are not going to get the kind of information that you need. So you know I think this was um a lack of -- a lack of understanding of the industrial hygiene, of the environmental health. And then the follow-up to that was uh . . . You know -- It was just . . . sort of like "Don't worry about it, it's okay." And I think uh that, you know, that to me is just uh uh I don't want to say -- unconscionable> But I think it was uh -- This was -- This was a very dangerous substance, this was a very potent carcinogen, a very irritating substance. You don't have to look very far to find out about the effects of Sodium Dichromate. It's not some arcane chemical that we don't know about.

And, as Dr. Robert Miller pointed out, the military knew about it and issued a memo sent out for the soldiers exposed from the 101st Airborne [Fort Campbell] that said Sulfur Dioxide is not a problem it has no known serious side effects, it's not a carcinogen. They had measurements that the levels were toxic well above the military's baseline of thirteen parts per million" and a 62nd Brigade Medical Staff report that also insisted that the exposures were safe.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009






Today in England, the inquiry into the death of Iraqi Baha Mousa (while in British custody) continued. Baha died September 16, 2003, after being beaten so badly that he had at least 93 injuries. Iraqi witnesses who were prisoners at the same time Baha was (none of the prisoners were ever found guilty of anything) are listed with "D" and a series of numbers. There names are not given to protect them. D004 testified today. D004 testifed that Baha was being abused before they left the hotel that the British army hauled them away from.

D004: As for me, no, but I could see the late Baha. He was being beaten up.

Gerald Elias: That is Baha Mousa?

D004: Yes.

Gerald Elias: What did you see happen to him?

D004: I saw a soldier kicking him on the head.
Gerald Elias: How forceful or otherwise was that kick?
D004: It was enough to make him sound in pain.

Gerald Elias: Upon arriving at the detention center, D004 was hooded (at one point with multiple hoods) and the hooding continued for three days with the hoods removed once for a doctor's visit, once when they were given water and once when they were given food. He described the three days:

D004: The torture was beyond belief. All kinds of beating, swearing. They did it in an artistic -- they were trying to be creative in their beating of us. [. . .] They beat me directly on all my body. There were also kicks and punches and suffocating holds.

Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) reports on Tuesday's testimony which included an Iraqi prisoner explaining how "he was forced to drink the urine of British soldiers and described how his head was pushed down a toilet." This prisoner was the son of one of the owners of the hotel and is identifed as D005 and his father offered testimony earlier as D006. D005 explained what the British soldiers did to him (from inquiry transcript):

[. . .] he lowered my head to the opening of the toilet and asked me to stay as such, looking into the hole of the toilet. The smell was extremely bad because it had been an abandoned toilet, as far as I know. So I stayed in that position about an hour -- even more than an hour -- and it was such a scene, such an abominable scene and very improper. [. . . ] I felt I was not a human because a human who would be lowered to such a leave -- first of all, I felt inhuman. I felt a lack of respect, because the level of a man -- human being -- who was lowered to such an extent to foul -- to a foul level, this moved me a lot and affected me psychologically. [. . .] The stench was unbearable. When I lifted my head away from the smell, the soldier would hit me on the back with his feet because he was standing behind me. [. . .] This episode ended with beating by the soldiers and shouting, sleeplessness, I mean -- it was a very bad ending. [. . .] I was beaten by the soldiers whilst handcuffed, completely helpless, in pain, screaming, crying.On Monday, Ali Aktash gave testimony to the inquiry via videolink from Iraq and he explained, "I was detailed to go to Battlegroup Main firstly to look after the radio equipment there that I had been trained on and also to man the brigade net, which just involved keeping a log of radio traffic that was sent to Battlegroup Main." While working in the Ops Room, he overheard a conversation.Gerald Elias: All right. Let's see if we can just take a step back then and let me ask you about the conversation or conversations that you may have heard in that ops room which interested you. Who was present when these conversations took place?Ali Aktash: Okay, there was Lieutenant Crawford and Major Peebles was called into the ops room when they detained these men. Also there was a --Gerald Elias: Can I just ask you to pause a moment? Just pause a moment. When you were referring to a major a few minutes ago, was that Major Peebles or is that another major?Ali Aktash: Oh, no, Major Peebles, but there was another major whose office was -- he was the 1QLR major. There was another major, yes, there was. Gerald Elias: So when you were referring a few minutes ago to a major with an adjoining office, that is a different major to Major Peebles? Is that what you are saying?Ali Aktash: Yes, sir, yes.Gerald Elias: All right. So you are going to tell the Inquiry about something that happened when Lieutenant Crawford and Major Peebles were present in the ops room with you?Ali Aktash: That's correct.Gerald Elias: Yes, well tell us what happened please. What was the conversation that you heard?Ali Aktash: At that time my network wasn't busy. It generally wasn't that busy and I happened to overhear on the battlegroup's network that they had detained some people and Major Peebles was called into the room, and at some point the soldier on the ground asked, "Shall we commence the shock of capture?", and Major Peebles then said something along the lines of, "Yes, but don't go as far as before" and that caught my attention.Gerald Elias: Just pause there, if you will. Just pause. Major Peebles said "Don't go as far as before" or something like that. You say that he had been called into the room. Who called him into the room, do you remember?Ali Aktash: I don't remember. I don't remember.Gerald Elias: Did you hear any further conversation across the airwaves on this occasion?Ali Aktash: I don't remember, no. But then I -- because Lieutenant Crawford was no longer manning the -- their network at that time, I turned and asked Lieutenant Crawford what he meant, because once the soldier on the ground has said, "Can we commence the shock of capture?", Lieutenant Crawford then said, "Well, that sounds a bit ominous", which got my attention, and I asked Lieutenant Crawford what he meant by that and then he explained about the shock of capture.Gerald Elias: So what did Lieutenant Crawford say to you about the shock of capture?Ali Aktash: Well it's when they -- there's a procedure to keep the shock of capture going which I believe is used to help with interrogation. Gerald Elias: I'm going to stop you, Mr Aktash, because if you can listen to the question, I would be grateful. What was it, if anything, that Lieutenant Crawford said to you? You asked him what he meant by "That sounds a bit ominous", as I understand it. Correct? Ali Aktash: Yes, that's correct.At which point, they referred to Aktash's statement from May 7, 2004.Gerald Elias: All right. What I want to ask you about is the second paragraph. You see in the second paragraph -- you refer to Major Peebles in the top line: "When [he] had finished on the net I asked him 'How did you mean, what happened before?' or words to this effect . . ." That's what you have just told us about, isn't it?Ali Aktash: Yes, it is.Gerald Elias: Then you said this: "He said, 'They went too far and beat him up, they were in a state', or words to this effect. I did not ask and Major Peebles did not clarify this comment." Is that true? Ali Aktash: I don't recall exact words now --Gerald Elias: All right. Ali Aktash: -- but I can only rely on my statement. Gerald Elias: I understand. What I do want to ask you about is that you are here reciting in those paragraphs what Major Peebles had said to you in the ops room. Do you see how the next paragraph begins: "Later that same day, the exact time I do not recall . . ."Ali Aktash: Yes.Gerald Elias: ". . . though it was still daylight, I completed my shift and together with Sergeant Hitchins I walked with him to the prisoner holding cell. I knew that prisoners were being held in the cells as I saw that there were members of the guard of 1QLR milling around the holding cells . . ." Do you see that?Ali Aktash: Yes, I do. I understand what you're saying.Gerald Elias: Can that be taken off the screen please? What I want to ask you about, Mr Aktash -- if you can't help us further, you say so -- you seemed to be saying in 2004 that the conversation, if I can call it that for the moment, that you had with Major Peebles was on the same day as your visit to the TDF holding cells. Ali Aktash: When I gave my statement, it was in the context that -- the way the evidence came about was quite stressful for me and it -- at that time all I can put it down to is nerves and stress and I made a mistake. I'm quite clear now that it was the following day that I went to the TDF.They then discussed what he saw there. Ali Aktash estimated he saw eight prisoners whom he testified "weren't in good condition."Ali Aktash: Well, they -- firstly they were hooded with sandbags and they were making noises as if they were distressed. Also, I -- at one point one of the guards took off a hood and I noticed that they had bruising on their face. One of the detainees in the room to the left was falling over and having to be put back up again into their seated position.Gerald Elias: Just pausing there, do you recall, were they all hooded with sandbags?Ali Aktash: There was one guy closest to the door, the right-hand room, that didn't have a hood and was allowed to smoke a cigarette, and I asked about him too and one of the guards mentioned that he had already been through questioning. But I can't 100 per cent say if they were all hooded. All I can remember, the majority were hooded. [. . .] They were huffing and puffing a lot and groaning. Gerald Elias: When you saw one with bruising, you say, to the face because his hood was taken off, where was the bruising do you remember?Ali Aktash: It doesn't -- I can't remember specific. I just remember that there was bruising.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009







Earlier this year, four Iraqi gay males -- Fadi, Ahmed, Mazen and Namir -- discussed the targeting of Iraqi gays in a Baghdad cafe. Within a month, two of the four would be executed for the 'crime' of being gay. Matt McAllester (New York Magazine) notes them in his report on the continued assault on Iraq's LGBT population which observes:

As virulent as the violence against gay people (men mostly) was, it operated at a kind of low hum for many years, overshadowed by the country's myriad other problems. But in February of this year, something changed. There was no announcement, no fatwa, no openly declared policy by a cleric or militia leader or politician, but a wave of anti-gay hysteria hit the country. An Iraqi TV station, with disapproving commentary, showed a video of a group of perhaps two dozen young men at a private dance party, wiggling their hips like female belly dancers. Terms like the third sex and puppies, a newly coined slur, began to appear in hostile news reports. Shia and Sunni clerics started to preach in their Friday sermons about the evils of homosexuality and "the people of Lot." Police officers stepped up their harassment of openly gay men. Families and tribes cast out their gay relatives. The bodies of gay men like Mazen and Namir, often mutilated, began turning up on the street. There is no way to verify the number of tortured or harassed, but the best available estimates place that figure in the thousands. Hundreds of men are believed to have been killed.

Yesterday on NPR's Talk of the Nation (here for audio and transcript links) discussed the issue with Matt McAllester.

Neal Conan: As the conditions improved in Iraq, general security, the militias had time to start feeling that gay people were a real threat and punishing them.

Matt McAllester: Yeah. I'm not sure that they ever felt that they were a threat. I felt that there was, in a sense, there seemed to have been a lack of targets. American troops were armed, much less visible and much less numerous and really just aren't in the major cities in Iraq anymore. The government of Iraq is much stronger than military and police forces in Iraq. And the power of the militias has faded in terms of the civil war that was going on and really has been over for sometime. So some of the militias, one in particular, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which had been extremely powerful, had lost their sort of raison d'etre in their power base, and, in a sense, needed someone to pick on. And there was no more hated and is no more hated group across just about every ethnic barrier that you can think of and social group in Iraq than gay people. And --

Neal Conan: Yeah. You just described them as being utterly defenseless. There is no --

Matt McAllester: Mm-hmm.

Neal Conan: -- political advantage to anyone in Iraq for standing up for the rights of homosexuals.

Matt McAllester: That's right. I mean, it's incredibly difficult to get any comment from the Iraqi government about this. They're just not even comfortable talking about it. It took me several weeks, I think it was - certainly many days to get any response from the Iraqi embassy in Washington, and none that I get at all from emails that I sent to Iraqi government spokesman in Baghdad. Other journalists have had this problem in the past. It's not even something they're happy talking about it.

Nor is it something that the US State Dept or White House is "happy talking about" which is why they avoid the topic and are aided in that avoidance by a domestic press corps that finds the issue too 'icky' to bring up. (The one time the issue was seriously raised in a State Dept briefing, the correspondent pressing the issue was with BBC News.)

Matt McAllester and Neal Conan discuss "Nouri" (not his real name) and how he was not only targeted, not only kidnapped, but it was done by the Interior Ministry and he was taken to one of their prisons (they have many -- most 'off the books') where he was shown five corpses and told that was his fate if his family didn't pay a ransom.

Kidnapping is just another way to raise additional funds apparently. Richard Kerbaj (Times of London) reports how it "has overtaken burglaries, robberies, car theft and other crimes to become the biggest criminal activity in many areas of Baghdad, an investigation by The Times has discovered insurgents and gangsters are increasingly using abducted children to raise funds for terrorism operations and personal wealth." Kerbaj explains how posters of mmissing children have become common in Baghdad's richer neighborhoods while, in "unstable neighborhoods," "several children were found beheaded and dumped in the rubbish after their parents failed to come up with ransom payments." That was the fate of 11-year-old Muhsin Mohammed Muhsin whose parents were unable to raise "$100,000 in 48 hours".

That's 'liberated' and 'democratic' Iraq. Where children and the LGBT community (along with Iraqi Christians and many others) are targeted with nary a word from the US administration and little interest from the press. Grasp that despite all the money spent, it wasn't the Times of New York that reported on the kidnappings, it was the Times of London. The paper that sold the illegal war (Times of New York) seems to think that they deserve praise when they manage to do a violence brief once or twice a week -- the sort of thing Reuters does daily without breaking a sweat.

Though the US press largely lost interest in Iraq, US forces did not leave the country. And today the US military announced: "A Soldier assigned to Multi-National Division-South died of a non-combat related injury October 6. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin." The announcement brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4349.

Since the start of the illegal war? Today US House Rep Dennis Kucinich observes, "Seven years ago this week the House of Representatives debated the Iraq War Resolution which was presented by President Bush. I made the case for NOT going to war. I analyzed the Bush war resolution, paragraph by paragraph, and pointed out 'Key Issues' which argued against Congress voting to go to war. I distributed the attached analysis, personally, to over 200 members of Congress from October 2, 2002 until October 10, 2002 when the vote occurred. When you hear people say: 'If only we had known then what we know now,' remember, some did know of the false case for war against Iraq. And since so many know now that we should not have gone to war against Iraq, then why are we still there?"

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Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports that plans for a January referendum have been put aside in Iraq. This would be the referendum promised when the Iraqi Parliament voted on the treaty masquerading as a Status Forces Agreement (Thanksgiving Day 2008), those who voted (many skipped the vote due to the vote's controversial nature) were told there would be a referendum in six months on the matter. Six months came and went. As late as May, some foolish gas bags were stating the vote would take place in June or July. Forgetting all that's needed before any vote can take place. The vote wasn't happening. Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, declared it would take place in January 2010 along with the planned national elections. More lies.More lies and the lies never end. This is a huge slap in the face to the Iraqi Parliament, to the Iraqi people and to the democratic process. But it's also more than that. Business Week runs Sameer N. Yacoub's AP story where Iraq's Parliament notes that there will be no vote on the draft oil law. That's not much of a surprise. US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill told Congress that last month.It's among the issues causing tension (to put it mildly) between Hill and Gen Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq. But grasp that NOTHING has happened. All this time later, NOTHING has happened.This community opposes the oil draft law which we see as the theft of Iraqi oil.But what is taking place?Elections are (supposedly) being held. And?And?Elections were held in 2005.What's been accomplished since? (Provincial elections were held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces in January 2009 and in 3 more in July of 2009 -- but these are the first national elections since 2005).Congress demanded measurements, metrics. In 2007, the then-administration came up with a series of benchmarks. Nouri agreed to them and signed off on them. The benchmarks were never met.These benchmarks became 'confusing' because the press (and the the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction) began measuring them 'partially" as if that was the point.No, that was never the point.The benchmark says you will ___ then you do ___.You moved an inch when you were supposed to travel a mile? Well, let's give you a smiley face sticker if it makes you feel better but let's not pretend that you've accomplished your benchmark.Those benchmarks were not open-ended. They were supposed to be met.It's two years later and they have not been met.It's two years later and why are US forces still there?No, they shouldn't have been sent there to begin with. Yes, the Iraq War is an illegal war.But the 'excuse' for it was that the (US installed) Iraqis were moving forward.In 2005, they had national elections. In 2010, they're supposed to hold national elections again. And what's been accomplished between the two?It's no longer just Nouri disrespecting US forces stationed in Iraq. Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that Capt Abdullah al Maliki made a point of delivering a speech in front of US soldiers where he offered an insult "speaking slowly so the interpreter wouldn't miss the implicit insult that the U.S. military had avoided hand-to-hand combat" by using air strikes on Baghdad at the start of the Iraq War. US forces disrespected to their faces (and that behavior tends to escalate -- is anyone in the administration worried about the safety of US forces?). And for what?
The escalation ("surge") was sold as a way to buy time for political movement. No political movement took place. How long are US forces going to have to remain on the ground for the US-installed puppet government of exiles in Iraq?AFP quotes MP Ali Hussein Balo stating, "There is no agreement on the contents of the oil law . . . because this government wants the management of the oil sector to be centralized. Due to these conflicts, we have decided to delay the oil law enactment until after the eleciton."As Chris Hill stated.We're told the 'problems' in Iraq are political not military. So why is the military remaining on the ground in Iraq month after month when the US-installed puppets are in no hurry to move?It's past time for all US forces to leave Iraq.

Meanwhile Erin Alberty (Salt Lake Tribune) reports 45 soldiers from Utah's Army National Guard's 2-285th Aviation Battalion are deploying to Iraq for one year while AP notes that Arizon's Army National Guard's 2-285th Assault Helicopter Battallion is sending over 250 soldiers to Iraq.

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