Friday, October 23, 2009






The United Nations High Commisoner for Refguees (UNHCR) released a new report entitled "Asylum Levels and Trends in Inudstrialized Countries First Half 2009: Statistical overview of asylum applications lodged in Europe and selected non-European countries." From the introduction:

This report summarizes patterns and trends in the number of individual asylum claims submitted in Europe and selected non-European countries during the first six months of 2009. The data in this report is based on information available as of 28 September 2009 unless otherwise indicated. It covers the 38 European and six non-European States that currently provides monthly asylum statistics to UNHCR.
The numbers in this report reflect asylum claims made at the first instance of asylum procedures: applications on appeal or review are not included. Also, this report does not include information on the outcome of asylum procedures, or on the adminission of refugees through resettlement programmes, as this information is available in other UNHCR reports.

The report uses the terms "the 44 industrialized countries" referring to: "27 Member States of the European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America." The study found that all the countries are seeing increased claims for asylum and the US "continued to be the largest single recipient of new asylum claims during the first six months of 2009." The top five countries for most asylum claims are (in descending order) the US, France, Canada, UK and Germany.

Number one country of origin for aslyum seekers? From the report:

Iraq again became the main country of orgin of asylum-seekers in industrialized countries in 2006, having previously been the main source country in 2000 and 2002. Iraq also continued to be the leading country of origin of asylum applicants during the first six months of 2009 with 13,200 asylum claims lodged by its citizens. The latest figures, however, show a decreasing trend, with roughly one third fewer Iraqis requesting international protection compared to the previous two semesters. The decrease in Iraqi claims was particularly signficant during the second quarter of 2009 when 5,400 applied for asylum in the 44 industrialized countreis, the lowest quarterly level since the second quarter of 2006.
During the first six months of 2009, Iraqis lodged asylum applications in 38 out of the 44 industrialized countries covered by this report, but the distribution of claims is not equally spread across countries. More than half of all Iraqi claims were submitted in just four countries: Germany (3,000), Turkey (2,600), Sweden (1,000) and the Netherlands (950). The decrease in Iraqi asylums was observed among all major receiving countries, and in particular in Sweden, where figures plummeted, from an average of roughtly 9,300 claims per semester during 2007, to 1,000 during the reporting period. Although the levels and trends in asylum flows are often difficult to explain, they can sometimes be related to concrete policy changes. In the case of Sweden, the change in Swedish decision making on Iraqi asylum claims, following the Migration Court's determination that the situation in Iraq is not one of "armed conflict", may have led to a shift in flows to other countries such as Germany, Finland and Norway.

This was the fourth year in a row that the number one country of origin was Iraq. UNHCR also released [PDF format warning] "Developing a Livelihoods Assessment and Strategy: Case Stduy from UNCHR Jordan." The report estimates there are currently 685 Iraqis seeking asylum in Jordan and 500,413 Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

The Iraqi refugee population in Jordan has come from various educational and societal backgrounds. Many had become very frustrated and suffer psychological distress due to the isolation and idleness that they face. Many were asking for an opportunity to be involved in delivering services to the refugee community (which also can be used as a method to enhance the community based approach), and many asked for opportunities to expand their existing skills and capacities.

And how many Iraqi refugees did the US accept? In the August 19th snapshot the Eric Schwartz (Asst Sect of Population, Refugees and Migration) State Dept press conference was covered. He asserted in that press conference, regarding Iraqi refugees being accepted by the US, "The numbers -- let me -- I think I may answer your next question. The numbers for fiscal year 2008, I think are on the order of about 13,000. I'm looking to my team here. And the numbers for fiscal year 2009 will get us -- will probably be up to about 20,000." Click here for transcript and video of the press conference. Following the November 2008 election, Sheri Fink (ProPublica) reported on the issue and noted, "A State Department official contacted by ProPublica said, 'We really do recognize a special responsibility.' The official said that resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2009 was a minimum target. 'We hope to bring in many more.' The U.S. will also be accepting Iraqis who worked for the US through special immigrant visas, a program [7] that resulted from legislation introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (discussed [8] recently by Ambassador James Foley, the State Department's senior coordinator on Iraqi refugee issues)." So how many Iraqi refugees resettle in Fiscal Year 2009? According to the US State Dept this month, the number is 18,838. Bare minimum was reached and a tiny bit passed. So what is that? The partially nude minimum? What a proud moment for the US government.

Staying with the US government, at the State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about Iraq and the 'intended' elections for January 2010 and he responded:

The Iraqi legislative branch, which is called the Council of Representatives, has had two readings of the bill, two sessions debating the bill and -- I guess -- Iraqi law or the-the Iraqi parliamentary rules call for three readings before it comes to a vote. What's happened is that because there is this inability to agree on a text. The whole process has been passed to the Political Council for National Security which is composed of the head of the main parties and the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, President and (two) Vice Presidents. This is to see if they can come to some kind of agreement. And, of course, we encourage them to come up with a reconciled text and rapidly pass the legislation. Ultimately, of course, this is a -- this is for the Iraqis to decide. And this is a -- this is the kind of a process that you don't see very often in Baghdad. So, in some ways, it's encouraging that we have this kind of lively debate. But having said that, this has to move expeditiously. We see the elections in January as a real milestone in the development of Iraqi democracy. And we would like to see this law passed and the elections carried out in a fair and open way.

McClatchy's Jospeh Galloway notes the 'intended' elections in a piece where he weighs in on the 'change' (non)delivered by US President Barack Obama, "The president-to-be promised a swift withdrawal from the Iraqi quicksand, but that hasn't come to pass, either. Instead, we witness a slow-mo pullout that will sort of end things on the Bush administration's timetable of late 2011 for the last American combat troops to be gone, and God only knows when for the rest to leave. That's if the Iraqi parliament can pass a new election law in time for elections to be held on schedule in January." Yesterday, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy told the US House Armed Services Committee that the delay was not currently a problem. She stated that Parliament had two weeks to act and that they could "simply have a vote on an election date" and leave all other issues by the wayside as they utilized the law from the 2005 elections. This would not only mean that the elections would be on a closed-list, it would also mean the issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed. (The long post-poned issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed.) On the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday (a new one begins airing tomorrow night), Jasim Azawi explained "an open list is where a group, they list every single candidate running for office, for parliament. While a closed list-- just like happened in 2005 -- you really don't know who you are voting for." Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was on the show and he is among those calling for an open list -- as is current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- and Allawi offered this, "In fact, this is another failure by the Iraqi Parliament to produce a strategic law that would -- hopefully would be cementing democracy. But unfortunately, that's not the case. Likewise, the Parliament has failed in producing a law for the parties -- to say where the funding for these parties are coming from, what they are, who they are, are they national, are they sectarian, are they secular. So there are no laws -- no laws of election. Indeed, the Iraqi people are disenchanted with the so-called closed list because usually it's either voting for the sect or voting for the -- for the leader of the list." Along with using the former election law being seen as a failure by Iraqs, there's also the what Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported yesterday, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Michele Flournoy did not reference that decision to the committee yesterday. Which doesn't mean it doesn't apply.

Other problems include Faleh Hassan (Middle East Online) reports that the country's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is currently "facing allegations of corruption and of poorly supervising elections" Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the "supreme Shiite religious tuhorities," the Marajiya, have concerns about the elections including the issue of the lists, "Another Iraqi who's close to the Marjaiya said their foremost goal was to preserve the unity of Iraq, and that replacing the system of party lists of candidates with direct votes for representatives would serve this aim."

US State Dept spokesperson Ian Kelly was also asked today about the US Embassy in Baghdad and "shoddy work" and he sidestepped the issue with, "Let me take that question and see if I can get a reaction to you." What was he avoiding? Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the costly ($736 million) US Embassy is the subject of a new study by the State Dept's Inspector General which finds, "contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., failed to properly design, construct and commission the largest U.S. Embassy overseas. It also cites failures by the former leadership of the State Department bureau that's responsible for constructing overseas diplomatic posts. Officials there said that those failures had been rectified, and they took issue with some aspects of the inspector general's report." And they note McClatchy's previous coverage of the US Embassy construction issues including the following:

New U.S. Embassy in Baghdad ready — six months late
At new U.S. Embassy in Iraq, even kitchens are fire hazards
Mammoth new U.S. Embassy marks new stage for Iraq

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009






"Today the Committee meets to receive testimony on the status of the US Military Redeployment From Iraq: Issues and Challenges," explained US House Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton this morning. The Committee heard from the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy, Vice Admiral James Winnefeld, Alan Estevez and Lt Gen Kathleen Gainey. Chair Skelton observed, "I don't think anyone on this committee thinks this will be the last hearing on this subject. We have been involved in Iraq for a long time, and I believe we will be involved there for a long time to come." In her opening remarks, Flournoy noted that

Michele Flournoy: Examples of the kinds of excess equipment that we intend to transfer to the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] are tool kits and sets, individual clothing and equipment items such as helmets and body armor and commercial trucks. We requested the authority to streamline the material process and transfer some non-excess equipment such as 9mm pistols, cargo trucks, airfield control and operations systems, M1114 up-armored HWMMVs and armored gun trucks. We would like thank the Committee for including this authority as it will help ensure that the ISF can fulfill their mission by the time US forces depart, an absolutely vital step toward the goal of a soverign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral James Winnefeld made like Fatboy Slim. The original . . .

Fatboy Slim: We've come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d

The pale copy . . .

Vice Admiral James Winnefeld: Meanwhile the Iraqi Security Forces
which we'll refer to as "ISF"
have come a long way
since the security agreement was signed in November 2008.

Like most people, I prefer the original; however, it should be noted that both are creative -- even if only one is recognized as such while the other is treated as 'fact' by a cowed media.

Chair Ike Skelton: Back on July 22nd, Madame Undersecretary, we asked that the Department of Defense provide our committee with a copy of Up Forward 0901 which is, so the members will remember, the order that lays out the organizations and responsibilities for various functions and how the redeployment will work. Despite repeated requests, by our staff, of the Dept of Defense, that Up Forward 0901 has not been provided nor has their been a legal reason given for not providing it for us. Now we pass legislation based upon testimony, based upon briefings, based upon documents. And all of this goes together to put us in position to receive compliments like Admiral Winnefeld just gave us on putting out good legislation. But this one piece of legislation, which is highly important on redeployment from Iraq, thus far, unless you're willing to give it to us this morning, has not been furnished.

Michele Flournoy: Sir, I am -- we are quite happy to have -- to bring that O plan over to you to have staff brief you on the details --

Chair Ike Skelton: And you will leave it with us in our classified --

Michele Flournoy: And I regret that we were not more responsive to your request earlier. But what we'd like to do is come over and-and share it with you, brief you on it and we can work out the details of how it should be handled.

Chair Ike Skelton: Well the details are not just coming over and show it to us and then walk back with it.

Michele Flournoy: I understand.

Chair Ike Skelton: We are very responsible in this committee and responsible with classified material as you know.

Michele Flournoy: I understand. Right.

Chair Ike Skelton: It's some 400 pages long --

Michele Flournoy: [Overlapping] I understand.

Chair Ike Skelton: -- and come over and give us a rough look in 400 pages is pretty difficult. And we would expect full cooperation. And really, is there some reason? We really want to know --

Michele Flournoy: There is --

Chair Ike Skelton: I'm not trying to be difficult I just really want to know.

Michele Flournoy: There is no intention to keep the information from you at all and-and we want to be responsive to your requests.

Chair Ike Skelton: But that was July 22nd?

Michele Flournoy: I understand. I think it was recently brought to my attention and we want to make sure that we are responsive to your response as quick -- as soon as possible. I don't have it physically with me today but I can promise you that we will get it to you.

Chair Ike Skelton: You'll bring it over and leave it with us in a classified manner so we will have the time to go through the 400 pages? Is that correct?

Michele Flournoy: Yes.

Requested July 22nd and three months later still not provided. Why would the administration work so hard to avoid sharing the plan with Congress? And didn't the secrecy leave with George W. Bush? ("No" on the latter.)

Iraq still hasn't passed the election law. The one that was supposed to have been passed by Parliament no later than . . . last Thursday. Jeff Mason (Reuters) reports that "Barack Obama urged Iraq on Tuesday to complete an election law so that a January poll is not delayed" and it didn't make a damn bit of difference. Iran's Press TV reports the Parliament took a pass again today and quotes Speaker of Parliament Iyad al-Samarrai, "The issue has failed and has been moved on to the Political Council for National Security." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) quotes al-Sammaraie stating, "Lawmakers felt they had reached a dead end and couldn't move forward any further so we are giving this to the political leaders." They are now 'planning' to vote on Monday . . . "if the council, comprising of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and the leaders of major political parties, make a proposal by Sunday." Laith Hammoudi and Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) report that Dawa Party member Ali al "Adeeb told McClatchy in a phone call that the Kirkuk issue is the main problem with the new law. He added that Arab and Turkomen want to use 2004 voter records, because those after the 2005 election reflect a large increase in the province's Kurdish population. The Kurdish bloc in the parliament, however, wants the province's representation to reflect that increase, which Kurds argue merely reverses Saddam's 'Arabization' campaign." Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports, "The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, said further delays in passing the law may call into doubt not only the Jan. 16 election date, but also the credibility of the result." Melkert is quoted stating, "It is the collective responsibility of members of parliament to now rise to the occassion and be ready to account to the Iraqi people, who expect to exercise their right to express their preference in the upcoming elecitons." Rod Nordland (New York Times) adds, "The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission and United Nations elections experts have said Iraq needs at least 90 days to adequately prepare for the vote. Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Jane Arraf observes in "Discord as elections looms in Iraq" (Global Post):As Iraqi parliamentarians struggled over the past week with exactly how democratic they really want to be, it was telling that the brightest spot of democracy and certainly the savviest public relations campaign was playing out across town in Sadr City. Members of parliament for the past two weeks have been trying to pass an election law that would pave the way for national elections by the end of January, which are wanted by the voters and required by the Constitution. A vote Thursday became bogged down in a dispute over how voting would take place in Kirkuk, the city disputed by Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and every other group that wants to lay claim to its oil and historic homelands. It stalled again on Monday.The delay has so alarmed both the U.S. and the U.N. that they've both issued statements urging parliament to get its act together and pass the law. The U.S. has been so fixated on the January elections that worry over the timing and type of elections has eclipsed the almost unspoken fear lurking in the background that elections done badly could be even more destabilizing than no vote at all.

The lack of an election law was raised during today's hearing.

Ranking Member Howard McKeon: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have this article that was written [by Oliver August] in the London Times yesterday. The title is "Violence Threatens Barack Obama's pledge to pull troops out of Iraq." And what they're basically saying is that they're threatening to move back the election from January. The election can't be held until their Parliament passes an election law. And, uh, al Qaeda doesn't want to have an election. And they want to do what they can to disrupt it. [The top US commander in Iraq] General [Ray] Odierno feels that he needs to keep his troops there thirty to sixty days after the election to ensure a peaceful transition of government. Do you have any intelligence showing that -- or any feeling that the election is going to be postponed?

Michele Flournoy: Uh, let me start by saying, you know, the draw-down plan that we have, is conditions based and it creates multiple decision points for re-evaluating and, if necessary, changing our plans based on developments on the ground. Although the government of Iraq's self-imposed deadline of October 15th for passing the elections law has passed, we judge that the COR [Council Of Representatives] still has another week or two to come to some kind of an agreement on the elections law before it will put the January date -- the early January date -- in jeopardy in terms of the election commission's ability to actually physically execute the, uh, the election. If a new law with open lists is not passed, the fall back solution for them is to return to the 2005 election law which is based on a closed list system. But that could be used for upcoming elections, the COR would simply have to vote on an election date. If that law is not passed in the next two weeks, they will be looking at slipping the date to later in January which would still be compliant with the [Iraqi] Constitution but would be later than originally planned. In that instance, M-NF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] would need to engage with the government of Iraq to do some contingency planning on how to secure the elections at a later date and that might well have-have implications. But I just want to reinforce, right now, on the ground in Baghdad, here in Washington, just yesterday, our focus is on trying to stick to the current election timeline. The [US] President [Barack Obama] personally impressed upon Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki the importance of sticking to the Constitutionally specified timeline for the Iraqi elections and we are putting all of our diplomatic effort towards that end. That said, of course we will have contingency plans to adjust if necessary. But right now, we're using all of our diplomatic and other leverage to try to make sure the elections happen on time.

Ranking Member Howard McKeon: We won't be forcing General Odierno to withdraw our troops if they don't hold the election in a timely manner? We will still be flexible and allow him to keep the troops there? To provide the national security so they don't -- they don't put themselves at risk in trying to rush out in the couple of month period?

Michele Flournoy: The draw-down plan is not rigid. It is got -- it is conditions based, it leaves room for re-evaluation and adjustment in terms of the pace of the draw-down between now and the end of 2011 so, if need be, we will re-examine things based on conditions on the ground.

The above will shock a few. Especially those who, for example, foolishly believed Barack wanted all troops out and was promising that when he ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Barack made clear to the New York Times that everything was contingent and that he would send troops back in if there was a problem. Of course, the New York Times confused the issue with their write up of that interview (Tom Hayden got confused, for instance) and it was only if you read the transcript of the interview that you discovered what Barack was actually saying (when Hayden discovered that, he suddenly was alarmed but, like all of his alarms, it was a twenty-four hour, viral kind of alarm).

From the November 2, 2007 snapshot

Though Obama says he wants "to be clear," he refuses to answer that yes or no question and the interview is over."
So let's be clear that the 'anti-war' Obama told the paper he would send troops back into Iraq. Furthermore, when asked if he would be willing to do that unilaterally, he attempts to beg off with, "We're talking too speculatively right now for me to answer." But this is his heavily pimped September (non)plan, dusted off again, with a shiny new binder. The story is that Barack Obama will NOT bring all US troops home. Even if the illegal war ended, Obama would still keep troops stationed in Iraq (although he'd really, really love it US forces could be stationed in Kuwait exclusively), he would still use them to train (the police0 and still use them to protect the US fortress/embassy and still use them to conduct counter-terrorism actions.

You can also see Third's article and the actual transcript of the interview.

Or we could paraphrase Samantha Power (to the BBC in March of 2008) and offer that Barack can't be held, in 2011, to any promise he might make as a president in 2009 because things on the ground change. And though many work overtime to avoid that potential occurence, it was raised in the hearing today.

US House Rep Vic Synder: What if things really go badly in Iraq and President Obama who has already made the decision, he's already sent 17,000 additional troops has changed the leadership in Afghanistan and clearly is making Afghanistan a higher priority, what if he were to decide, in the Secretary's words, be flexible, we're going to have put troops back in? Uh, you say we have adequate capacity, we didn't. We didn't for six or seven years. If we had it, I don't know where they were but we didn't as a country respond to the need in Afghanistan. What assurance do we have adequate capacity should we decide that we need to return troops to Iraq.

Vice Adm James Winnefeld: I'd say right now our-our principal focus right now is to make sure that-that-that Iraq goes on the same trajectory that it's on and we don't have to confront that decision. And so far [. . .]

So far. So far. So far isn't a concrete state, now is it?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009









Today the US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq - A Multi-National Division - North Soldier was killed and two were wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle in Ninawa province, Iraq, Oct. 19. The name of the deceased is being withhled pending notifcation of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .]. The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary kin." The announcement brings to 4351 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
Before we go into other violence in Iraq, let's go to the heart of the violence: The continued war. And some people try to pretend it's over -- when it's not. And some try to pretend that SOFA means the end of the war -- when it doesn't. Golly, with even Ryan Crocker, former US Ambassador to Iraq, making it clear, you think the press will try to get it right now?

Gordon Robison (Gulf News) reports on Crocker's speech last week at Harvard's Kennedy School:

Like any international agreement the Sofa can be modified if, at some point in the future, both governments agree there is a need to do so. It is rarely said in Washington, but widely assumed, that this means the actual implementation of the withdrawal agreement is essentially situational: that is, it will go ahead only if conditions on the ground warrant it.
Despite the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has emerged as a stronger, and far more savvy, political player than almost anyone expected; and despite the fact that the existing Sofa was only grudgingly approved by the Iraqi parliament, there remains a near universal assumption in Washington that if, come 2011, Washington decides we need to stay longer, then so be it. Last May, the army chief of staff, General George Casey, acknowledged as much, telling a group of journalists and think tank specialists that his planning scenarios envision the presence of US combat troops in Iraq for another decade.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there has been little discussion here in the United States about what 'withdrawal' really means. As Crocker emphasised last week at Harvard, the US policy has always been that it wants no permanent bases in Iraq. Crocker, however, failed to note that government officials and the general public often have starkly different definitions of "permanent base."
[. . .]
Beyond that there is the question of what 'withdrawal' actually means. The military tends to make a distinction between training or advisory troops and combat forces. The American approach to Iraq raises the very real possibility of combat forces heading home while tens of thousands of trainers, advisers and their accompanying support troops remain in place. A military professional might call such a situation 'withdrawal', but a lot of ordinary Americans and Iraqis are likely to think otherwise.
[. . .]
It is time, as Ambassador Crocker says, for a more public, more focused, discussion about what 'getting out' of Iraq really means. Americans and Iraqis alike may well be unhappy with what they hear.
The Iraq War has not ended. The SOFA does not mean -- and never did -- that the Iraq War ends. The UN mandate expired yearly. When the US operated under the UN mandate, the expiration of the mandate never meant the war ended. It only mean the US had to leave . . . if no other agreement was reached. Instead of doing the yearly renewal, the SOFA was an agreement allowing for three more years of occupation. That's all it has to mean (and that's provided neither side decides to kill it -- and killing it can be to replace it). James Circello (Party for Socialism and Liberation) addressed the realites of the illegal war this week:

The fact that dozens of bases will remain in Iraq long after the United States puts the Iraq war "behind it" clearly demonstrates that the U.S. ruling class has no intention of truly relinquishing Iraq. These bases—six of which are so-called "supersize bases" -- will continue to be filled with the boots and rifles of U.S. occupational forces. The same NY Times article notes that at least 50,000 troops will be left in Iraq through at least 2011. Soldiers, airmen and marines will continue to kill innocent Iraqis, while simultaneously building the military might of a puppet Iraqi army. The purpose of that reduction in Iraq, according to the senior commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, is to free up U.S. soldiers to go to Afghanistan.[. . .]
This so-called withdrawal is a continuation of using different tactics to achieve the same goal: imperialist domination and exploitation. The U.S. ruling class is invested in maintaining the occupation and due to multiple factors -- most notably the heroic resistance by the Iraqi people against its occupiers -- has now chosen to change its policies and the appearance of the occupation in Iraq. For the millions of families in Iraq and Afghanistan that have seen loved ones die while living under occupation, the nature of the experience doesn't change by simply lowering troop levels from 125,000 to 50,000. Foreign soldiers armed and under the direction of foreign governments in Iraq mean that Iraq is still occupied.

Now to some of today's violence in the continued Iraq War.


Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured three people, a Baghdad sticky bombing injured three people, a second Baghdad roadside bombing left two people wounded, a third one injured four people, a Falluja car bombing claimed the lives of 4 people with an ten more injured, a Mosul roadside bombing injured 2 Iraqi soldiers, a Mosul sticky bombing which injured two people and, dropping back to Monday, a Mosul mortar attack which left four Iraqi military recruits injured.


Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul and an armed clash in Mosul in which an Iraqi soldier was injured and 1 suspect was shot dead.


Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Mosul.

Last month, Lisa Holland (Sky News via Information Clearing House) reported on the damage being done to Iraqis and future generations due to toxic and deadly weapons foreign forces (which would include the US) have used (and continue to) in Iraq:

An Iraqi doctor has told Sky News the number of babies born with deformities in the heavily-bombed area of Fallujah is still on the increase. Fifteen months ago a Sky News investigation revealed growing numbers of children being born with defects in Fallujah. Concerns were that the rise in deformities may have been linked to the use of chemical weapons by US forces. We recently returned to find out the current situation and what has happened to some of the children we featured. In May last year we told the story of a three-year-old girl called Fatima Ahmed who was born with two heads. When we filmed her she seemed like a listless bundle - she lay there barely able to breathe and unable to move. Even now and having seen the pictures many times since I still feel shocked and saddened when I look at her. But the prognosis for Fatima never looked good and, as feared, she never made it to her fourth birthday. Her mother Shukriya told us about the night her daughter died. Wiping away her tears, Shukriya said she had put her daughter to bed as normal one night but woke with the dreadful sense that something was wrong. She told us she felt it was her daughter's moment to die, but of course that does not make the pain any easier.

It's a topic Dave Lindorff has covered many times before -- for example, see 2003's "America's Dirty Bombs" ran at CounterPunch. Today Lindorff revisits the topic at CounterPunch:

While the Pentagon has continued to claim, against all scientific evidence, there is no hazard posed by depleted uranium, US troops in Iraq have reportedly been instructed to avoid any sites where these weapons have been used -- destroyed Iraqi tanks, exploded bunkers, etc. Suspiciously, international health officials have been prevented from doing medical studies of DU sites. A series of articles several years ago by the Christian Science Monitor ( described how reporters from that newspaper had visited such sites with Geiger-counters and had found them to be extremely "hot" with radioactivity. The big danger with DU is not as a metal, but after it has exploded and burned, when the particles of uranium oxide, which are just as radioactive as the pure isotopes, can be inhaled or injested. Even the smallest particle of uranium is both deadly poisonous as a chemical, and can cause cancer.
There are reports of a dramatic increase in the incidence of deformed babies being born in the city of Fallujah, where DU weapons were in wide use during the November 2004 assault on that city by US Marines.

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"Uh, Bob, SNL was correct"
"Anita the Trash"

"Global Warming"
"iraqi refugees"

"Isaiah, CCR, Nicola Nasser"
"Carly & Joni"

"Do they get it?"

"Isaiah, ACLU, Washington Week"
"John Pilger, Isaiah, counter-insurgency"
"Isaiah, Dave Zirin, Third, Iraq"
"It's funny he thinks anyone cares what he thinks"

Monday, October 19, 2009








Today the US military announced: "CONTINGENY OPERATION BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq -- a Multi-National Division - North Soldier was killed and two were injured in a vehicle accident approximately five miles west of Mosul, Iraq, Oct. 18. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .]. The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4350 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

As always, violence continued in Iraq today.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad diner bombing claimed 1 life and left ten people injured, a Baghdad bus bombing claimed 1 life and left eight people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded three people, a Diyala Province roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 person, a Faulluja suicide bombing claimed the life of the bomber and the lives of 2 police officers (four more injured) while there were two assassination attempts by bombings: In Kirkuk, Qais Amer Naji, Head of Criminal Investigation Bureau, survived a sticky bombing and, in Salahuddin Province, Abdulrahman Khalid (District Commissioner) was targeted with an assassination attempt via bombing but survived. Reuters notes a Mosul mortar attack which resulted in four people being injured, a Mosul car bombing claimed the life of "a former army officer, who heads a small political party" and a Garma car bombing which left four police officers injured.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the Head of the Bureau of Tribal Affairs Thenoon Younis was assassinated in Mosul today and two by-standers were injured. Reuters notes 1 person shot dead in Mosul.

Still with the violence, Friday Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported "a pontoon bridge in Ameriyah" was blown up leaving the "area which is now completely isolated." As noted in Friday's snapshot, "Those who remember the 2006 bridge bombings and the violence that followed, should take into account that this could be step-one of a multi-violence attack that follows." The bridge bombings are back. Uthman al-Mokhtar (Washington Post) reported Saturday, "Insurgents detonated a truck loaded with five tons of explosives Saturday on a bridge here that links western Iraq to Jordan and Syria, pulverizing part of the overpass and paralyzing traffic for hours. Another, smaller bridge was also destroyed in Fallujah, where a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi military patrol on the highway, killing four soldiers and wounding 14 others, said Sulaiman al-Dulaimi, a spokesman for the Fallujah General Hospital." Iran's Press TV notes, "'A truck was driven over the bridge on a highway in Ramadi at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT) and subsequently exploded,' police Major Imad Abboud told AFP, adding that the highway is used heavily by the departing US military to transport equipment out of the country. It is also being used by local civilians."

Meanwhile Thomas Grove, Shamal Aqrawi and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) report that today eight members of the PKK would cross the border into Turkey (from Iraq) and turn themselves over "to Turkish military forces [. . .] in a gesture of support for Turkey's Kurdish initiative". AP says it is 34 turning themselves over but only 8 of the 34 "are rebels". Hurriyet Daily News reports this took place at 4:00 pm: "The group comprised 26 people, including nine women and four children, from the Mahmur camp in northern Iraq and eight PKK members from the Kandil Mountains. The group is coming 'not to surrender but to open the way for peace,' DTP co-leader Ahmet Türk said earlier Monday at a press conference in Silopi, on the Turkish side of the border. NTV television reported that they would be taken in by Turkish authorities for questioning once they're in the country." BBC News adds, "As Kurdish Turks gathered in Istanbul, thousands of supporters waving PKK flags were waiting in Silopi to greet the 34 Kurds as they crossed the border. Some had come from a refugee camp in Makhmour, south of Mosul in Iraq." Deutsche Welle quotes Turkish government spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin Allen stating, "It is a very good sign, it is one first fruit of the democratic initiative."

Last Tuesday's snapshot included the news that England was attempting to forcibly deport Iraqis back to Iraq. Over the weekend, BBC reported that approximately 30 refugees are "being refused re-entry to Iraqi" allowing the UK to 'only' unload ten of them Thursday. Even so, the inhumane UK Border Agency announces it will be sending even more back. Coalition illegal war of choice partner Italy's Aire Italy provided the flight to Baghdad. Rod Nordland and John F. Burns (New York Times) numbered the forced deported at 50 with Iraq only accepting 9 of them. Amnesty International's London office issued "Asylum removals to Iraq put lives in danger, says Amnesty:"Reacting to news reports that a plane carrying refused Iraqi asylum-seekers from the UK arrived in Baghdad yesterday (15 October), Amnesty International stressed that removals to southern and central Iraq are not safe and should not take place.An Amnesty International spokesperson said: 'Given the reports of killings, bombings and other human rights abuses that continue to come out of Baghdad, it is hard to comprehend that the UK government considers it a safe place to return people. 'As far as we are concerned, removing someone to Baghdad, or elsewhere in central or southern Iraq, is likely to put their life in danger. Amnesty is opposed to all forcible returns to southern and central Iraq. 'Until the situation improves and it is safe to return to Iraq, these people should be offered some form of protection in the UK.' Reports have stated that the plane carrying the refused Iraqi asylum-seekers was turned around upon arrival and returned to the UK with the people still on board.

Owen Bowcott and Alan Travis (Guardian) report the Iternational Federation of Iraqi Refugees state it was one "Iraqi army officer" who allowed the others on board the plane not to depart and that he told them, "Those of you who want to come back, you get off, the rest stay where you are." Richard Ford and Mary Bowers (Times of London) observe, "The [UK] Home Office refused to give any explanation for the debacle at Baghdad, referring all inquiries to the Iraqi Government. A Home Office spokesman said: 'We are not giving a running commentary on this'." Those who returned? Last night, Owen Bowcott reported that they they are reporting "they were beaten by British security guards and that no Arabic translator accompanied them. Refugee Kawa Ali Azada tells Bowcott:

It was like a kidnapping. We had no food for 12 hours. We were kept out of sight at the airport then put on an Italian charter flight. We we arrived in Baghdad, there was an Iraqi officer with sunglasses and eagle decorations on his shoulders. [The British immigration official] started to talk to him but his English was not good so I went to help translate. The British officials didn't have an Arabic translator. [The airport commander] said he had received a message from his boss there was an Italian flight but was never told it was transporting deported Iraqis -- otherwise he would not have let it land. He said to the immigration official he had two hours to refuel the plane and leave or he would take further action. He would not take responsibility for the Iraqis because of the danger of kidnapping and bombs. The immigration officer asked what 'further action' meant and he said would burn the plane with all the people on board if it didn't leave."

Traveling this week is Nouri al-Maliki. But first he had to grandstand. Alsumaria reports that US-installed thug of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki spent Saturday bloviating and puffing his chest about how the 'evil-doers' would be brought to 'justice' as he appeared at Baghdad's Al Rashid Hotel to grand stand on the two month anniversary of Black Wednesday or Bloody Wednesday or Gory Wednesday. That was August 19th and yesterday was August 17th but apparently a photo-op was needed for Nouri. Try to remember a two-month 'anniversary' 9-11 photo-op by Bully Boy Bush. There wasn't one. But Nouri's damn determined to milk Black Wednesday for all it's worth. As he grand stands on a pile of corpses, remember the US installed him in 2006 and US forces have been trapped in Iraq attempting to prop up the exile's illegitimate regime. That was Saturday. Now Nouri's on the move.

At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly noted, "First of all, you've seen that the Secretary [of State Hillary Clinton] has a meeting with Prime Minister Maliki. That's in about 40 minutes. There'll be a camera spray before the meeting and then I expect the Secretary will make some brief remarks as well. There will be, of course, a discussion of bilateral issues, but I think one of the more important items on the agenda for the meeting will be tomorrow's US-Iraq business and investment conference. This conference we see as a stepping stone to greater private sector involvement and investment in the Iraqi economy. And, of course, we have had very intensive government-to-government relations, but we think that the next step is greater involvement of the private sector. So this conference is intended to encourage business-to-business connections and partner our respective business communities."

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Sunday, October 18, 2009







Yesterday the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity met to address the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin called the hearing to order and noted that US House Reps Vic Snyder and Harry Mitchell were joining the committee (she asked for the Subcommittee's consent, which was given) and then explained, "Today we seek to administer our oversight jurisdiction on the VA's implementation efforts of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I expect that this hearing will provide the VA the opportunity to update us on recent actions taken to address delays in distribution of education benefits and its plan moving forward to ensure the same mistakes do not occur in the future."

In his opening remarks, the VA's Keith M. Wilson stated that the VA was unable to find an outside contractor due to a low number of bids so the computer issues were handled in-house by VA's IT. He declared, "Post-911 GI Bill claims currently require manual processing using four separate IT systems that do not interface to each other. When an application or enrollment certification is received, the documents are captured into The Image Management System (TIMS). The documents are routed electronically to a claims examiner for processing. The claims examiner reviews the documents in TIMS and determines the student's eligibility, entitlement and benefit rate using the Front End Tool [FET]. The FET is used to calculate and store student information to support the Post-9/11 GI Bill claims adjudication process. However, the FET has limited capability for processing the multiple scenarios encountered in determining eligibility and entitlement under the new program." If that was an attempt at an explanation for the delay or even just a whine, the Pity Party's already seated and he needs to join others at the VA table -- the VA designed the system and if it doesn't work (so far it hasn't worked well) that falls back on the VA.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin The issue of outreach prior to the fall semester starting starting, we have repeatedly heard from veterans believing that their housing allowance would be issued to them at the beginning of the month or that this would be paid "upfront." What is creating this disconnect?

Keith M. Wilson: We've heard that as well. First let me clarify in terms of how it is paid. The monthly housing benefit is paid in the same manner as VA education benefits are paid under the same existing program -programs in that it is paid in arrays at the end of the month following the month of attendance. There -- and quite honestly this is speculation -- the tuition payment is paid to the school at the beginning of the year, the housing allowance -- I'm sorry the book and stipend allowance is paid to the student at the beginning of the semester. I think it would be logical for some individuals to make a connection between the manner in which those payments were made and the manner in which they would presume that the housing allowance would be paid.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin Before recognizing other members and we'll have another round of questions for everybody, yesterday at our full committee meeting when Secretary [Eric] Shinseki was testifying, we heard from several members that were proposing legislative fixes to make your job easier in the future because as you described it in your written testimony, your oral testimony today, I know you're laying the groundwork for your long-term IT solution but you're dealing with legacy systems and we had the recession effecting states and their decisions, and so some factors and some variables which, in a perfect world, we would have liked to have anticipated all of them and had you prepare for every possible scenario. But we do know that, uh, many members are interested in streamlining the administration of all the education benefits. I don't know if you're prepared to say which legislative fixes you'd endorse today or if you're starting to give those thoughts but any suggestions?

Keith M. Wilson: We are giving that a lot of thought. Clearly there are issues that have been discussed that conceptually are very appealing. Paying housing allowances in advance has been talked about as a possibility. Delinking the tuition payment with the schools with the need to get the housing payment out as quickly as possible to students, etc. The -- and I would -- I would agree that those are appealing from a conceptual perspective. The challenge I believe will be making sure that any legislative fixes are immediately implementable, taking into account the-the issues that you rightly brought up considering the legacy systems that we have in place, the limitations in our short term initiative that we are currently essentially locked into process claims. One thing we absolutely don't want to do is make the situation worse.

No, Wilson did not take accountability. Setting aside Wednesday's testimony to Congress when Shinseki revealed that the VA always knew the system wasn't ready -- which Wilson apparently thought he could ignore, if there are problems with schools or veterans for this new program, who does that fall back on? It's a new program. VA has a million and one excuses for their 'computer' problems. What's the excuse for any misunderstandings? The VA has a budget they are supposed to be spending to get the word out.

And what about when the VA gave out the wrong information? That was pursued at one point in the hearing.

US House Rep Harry Teague: You know we've had a problem with some contradictory information coming out. You know when the checks didn't go out the first of the month, well then we issued the letter that they would be cut on Friday the second. And then there was also some letters sent out that if, like in places like New Mexico, it's 320 miles to the only hospital and the only facility in the state that they would be going to some of the larger universities around and handing the checks out. That didn't happen. At the same time, they got a website up where they could go to but we didn't get that information to people. So I was just wondering if we're streamlining our communications within our office there so that we don't continually jerk the veterans around and have some of them misinformed.

Keith Wilson: I understand your concerns, Congressman. And we-we have, I believe, we have a better process in place to make sure that we are communicating more effectively on that. The issues that we are dealing with was trying to get -- make sure we had something out the gate and-and informed our student population prior to 10-1 [October 1st] -- around the 10-1 time frame. The 10-1 was important because most folks were at that point where they were due their first housing allowance payments. .We thought it was important to get something up as soon as possible. We were dealing -- and continued to deal -- at the time of that press release, with some technical issues concerning how we get to the other locations beyond our 57 regional offices. We very early on wanted a desire to spread this out as much as possible. We felt that the most effective way of doing this was leveraging technology. Taking into account that we've got technology students at thousands of locations across the country. We felt the most effective way of uh getting those folk that weren't within distance of a regional office was to allow technology and so that was the driver for our decision on the follow up --

US House Rep Harry Teague: Yes and I agree with that and I think that the webpage is working good. It's just that during that week prior to that, when I was at New Mexico State University, they were expecting someone to be there with the checks and then, on Friday when there's not, that's when we find out about the webpage.

Keith Wilson: I understand.

US House Rep Harry Teague: Another thing I don't know, I guess it's a misunderstanding on their part and I guess I was wondering where the information came from that so many of the veterans thought that they were going to be paid in advance both for tuition and housing?

Keith Wilson: I-I-I uh -- The advance payment issue has been troubling. We have had, in our outreach material, going back to the winter period -- early spring, winter period, information providing the student experience. In other words, what would the student experience. We have worked very hard to make individuals understand when they will be paid. The example that we used was for the individual who would be having their first day of class toward the end of August, come September 1st, they were only eligible for a partial housing allowance for those couple of days of attendance in September followed by the first full housing allowance paid October 1st. For whatever reason, and again, I would be speculating that didn't seem to be fully understood. Largely it did because most of our current participants are transferees from the Montgomery GI Bill and this past benefit is paid in the same manner but we didn't get that word out to everybody and there were pockets of communication and we need to continue to work hard on that issue.

US House Rep Harry Teague: You know, and you brought up another thing there with the transferring from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and sometimes before they understand the full benefits of both programs, people have committed the Post-9/11 GI Bill and then found out that it really didn't have as many benefits for them individually as the Montgomery GI Bill but they can't switch back. Is there anything that we can do there where they can reconsider if -- through oversight on their part or misinformation -- they want to go back to the Montgomery Bill?

Keith Wilson: The structure of the Post-9/11 GI Bill calls for an irrevocable decision so currently that's a statutory requirement -- is an individual has to revoke, there's no mechanism in the statute allow -- that would allow a person to unrevoke the irrevocable election. Our-our mechanism by which we have been educating people on that is making sure that they can understand the an -- the questions that need to be answered. The answers to the questions themselves are going to be unique to each individual person. You're absolutely right for raising this concern. Individuals do have to be well armed, they have to know what questions to ask and our efforts have been designed towards ensuring they can answer those questions.

A friend who is an Iraq War veteran and a veterans' advocate was at yesterday's hearing and wanted it pointed out how the VA is taking no accountability for all of this. He points out what a huge, huge amount of information is required for all of this -- for deciding to go with the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill just for starters. At this site, we repeatedly referred to the VFW which offered advocates by phone who would explain what was going on and that's because the VFW is going to know what's going on, is going to have explored every facet. And people who called the VFW got information they could use -- the VFW provided that service at no charge -- in determining which plan would be best for them and details of each. But why does the VFW have to do that? It's great that they did. Praise to them for it. They did a wonderful job. But this is the VA's program. This is a government program run by a government department. It shouldn't require a veterans service organization -- which is what the VFW is -- to help veterans sort through the maze.

That was the VA's responsibility, not the VFW's. (And to be clear, the friend I'm speaking is a member of the VFW but his advocacy is not with/for the VFW. It would be fine if it were and if it it were, I would identify him as such.) The VA did not live up to its obligations. A new program is run by the VA. Guess whose job it is to explain that program? The VA's. No one else has that obligation. Many veterans service organizations took it upon themselves to assist their members and that's wonderful. But that's the bonus, that's the added detail. The VA is not supposed to count on or rely on veterans service organizations to do their job.

The VA did not do their job and this is why there is confusion now. The VA has put the blame off on colleges, it's pushed the blame off on individuals. It is a VA program. The VA is responsible for administering it and administering it properly. Now anyone can put a program in place and have it fall apart. That's, in fact, what the VA did. But their role also includes "administering it properly" and that is what they did not do and what they have not taken accountability for. Once Congress made the program law, it was in the VA's court and they were responsible. Having made it a law, the Congress repeatedly asked the VA what they could do to help? Did they need more employees? Did they need more money? What did they need? And the VA led the Congress to believe -- as they led the veterans and as they led the American people to believe -- that there was no problem. But Wednesday, truth emerged when Eric Shinseki informed Congress that the VA always knew there would be a problem, that he had hired an outside consultant who had backed up internal opinions that it wasn't manageable. And until Wednesday, the VA never informed Congress of this problem.

Last night, Rebecca noted a press release from US House Rep Glen Nye's office about additional questions Nye has submitted to Shinseki since the hearing:

If internal estimates showed that there would be delays in processing tuition payments, why did the Department of Veterans Affairs not seek additional resources or support prior to the start of the academic year?

Nye has additional points and other strong statements but that question above is the main one and it needs to be answered.

US House Rep Harry Mitchell grasps that. Let's jump into his exchange from yesterday. He began by noting that the VA had not yet given out Fiscal Year 2009 bonuses and he strongly suggested that before any "plush bonuses" were handed out, the VA think long and hard about the veterans struggling to receive the benefits that they have earned.

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill. And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009." If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal? So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know? Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?

Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony. My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.

Keith Wilson: [Heavy, audible sigh] It has been our desire from the get-go to make sure that the subcommittee has been informed all along. If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that. We provided information that we had at each of the hearings and we have had a long standing mechanism by which we have provided updates to staff on a regular basis. Uh we did notify the Subcommittee at the time of the hiring of the 230 additional people.

Mitchell was obviously not impressed with the response. They had to break to take votes. But everyone should grasp how offensive Wilson's answer is: "If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that." If? Veterans were in danger of losing their homes, some of those veterans were parents, some were single-parents. They were not getting their checks will into October (and some still haven't gotten their checks). Did Congress hear that and say, "Sure, fine, you do whatever you want." No. Congress would not have taken that attitude and Congress was not informed. There is no "if." Congress was not informed of the problems and Democrat or Republican, every member of the Veterans Affairs Committee -- in Committee meetings and Subcommittee meetings throughout 2008 -- has asked the VA (a) do they need any other resources and (b) please come to us immediately if you have any problems.

There is no "if." The VA did not meet expectations. I'll go further. They lied -- and that includes Wilson -- to the Congress. Repeatedly. Shinseki testified on Wednesday that when he stepped into his role as VA Secretary at the start of this year, he knew. He was told that the VA could not meet the expectations. He then went and hired an outside consultant to determine whether or not that was true. The consultant determined the same thing. Shinseki: "And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take." When did the VA share the problem with the Congress? Never.

That's what US Rep Mitchell was getting at in his testimony -- how the Congress had to learn about the problems from veterans and the Army Times. That's ridiculous. As he pointed out, they had multiple hearings, they made requests and the VA never indicated any problems in testimony or in one-on-one discussions.

The VA's failure is an issue. It's an issue that many veterans are still living with as they wait for education benefit checks to arrive. But the issue Congress needs to resolve is why they were misled. If that's not resolved, what is the point?

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, I believe that no veteran, and I'm talking as a former school teacher who values education very, very much, I don't believe any veteran should fall behind even a semester because of the VA's inability to meet the goals that we've set out for them. And I'd like to know what the VA's doing to ensure that future payments will not be delayed? As well as, what assurances can you offer that these measures will work?

Keith Wilson: Everything that we're putting into place right now is designed to ensure that we go into the spring semester fully loaded with what we need to have on board. We will take every step that we need to to make sure that veterans have access to payment. If that means that we have to keep an advance payment mechanism some -- some sort in process, we will do that. But our goal is to make sure that those mechanisms are not needed, that we have this issue resolved prior to the spring semester and we move forward. The Secretary has been very clear that any delay in payment is unacceptable. Everybody in VA agrees wholeheartedly with that. On a personal level, I can say first hand, I know exactly what these students are going through.

Liar. He went to college. On a GI Bill. That doesn't mean he knows what the veteran students are going through today. A program was in place for him and it administered the checks in a timely manner. For him to try to use his 'personal experience' should have resulted in someone on the Subcommittee coming back with, "Well if you know what it's like, why did you and others mislead the Veterans Affairs Committee instead of coming to us and asking for help as we repeatedly requested you to do?"

Stephanie Herseth asked if he needed additional staff at the call center for educational benefits. She also underscored that "we need to be made aware of the problems immediately if there's any complications that arise" and "if you start anticipating problems or start experiencing problems" then let the Committee know. US House Rep John Adler also touched on this repeatedly such as asking Wilson "are there any other tools you need from Congress" and reminding him that "we would like to hear from you as needs arise, before the crisis arise" and "tell us what you need from us."

But here's the thing, these statements? Made throughout 2008. And we know how that didn't work out. There needs to be accountability. There was none. And it was really cheap and dishonest for this man who has worked at the VA since 1989 to pretend he understood what it was like for the veterans who worried (and some still do) that they will be homeless because their education checks have not arrived. Translation: The hearing accomplished nothing. The friend I spoke of earlier stated he felt the Subcommittee made Wilson squirm but he didn't feel that anything else was accomplished: "There was no effort to track down where the accountability was or where the breakdown came in. Even the most basic question was not asked: 'Were you ordered not to tell the Congress that there were problems coming up, problems that the department knew were coming?'"

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