Tuesday, March 16, 2010








Also know is that Iraq's minority populations are targeted non-stop. This includes Iraq's LGBT community. At the end of last month, David Taffet (Dallas Voice) reported on Iraqi refugees Yousif Ali and Nawfal Muhamed who were in Dallas speaking about what they'd experienced in Iraq ("being kidnapped, raped, robbed and stabbed in Baghdad") for the 'crime' of being gay. After being designated refugees by the United Nations, the US granted asylum to the two men. Last Thursday, the US State Dept issued "2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" which noted the persecution of the LGBT community in Iraq:
During the year there were reports of discrimination and violence against gay men and lesbians, mostly by nongovernmental actors. Press reports in April indicated that approximately 60 gay men had been murdered during the first four months of the year, most of them in Baghdad. According to UNHCR, during the year approximately 30 boys and men from Baghdad were murdered because they were gay or perceived to be gay. On April 4, local and international media reported the discovery of the bodies of nine gay men in Sadr City. Three other men were found tortured but alive. Numerous press reports indicate that some victims were assaulted and murdered by having their anuses glued shut or their genitals cut off and stuffed down their throats until they suffocated. The government did not endorse or condone these extra-judicial killings, and the MOI publicly stated that killing men or lesbians was murder.
On May 29, Muqtader al-Sadr, leader of the JAM militia, ordered that the "depravity" of homosexuality be eradicated. Although he publicly rejected outright violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals, reports attributed the killings of gay men to radical Shia militias, as well as to tribal and family members shamed by the actions of their LGBT relatives.
Authorities had not announced any arrests or prosecutions of any persons for killing, torturing, or detaining any LGBT individuals by year's end.
Last May, Paul Canning explained , "The campaign started in 2004, following the religious decree of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that said gay mena nd lesbians should be 'punished, in fact, killed . . . The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing'. Since then Iraqi LGBT has received reports and information of over 600 LGBT people killed. But Iraqi gays and media reports say that the killings have massively escalated since the end of 2008."
We'll stay with LGBT issues but move over to the US for a moment. Gen David Petreaus appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee (as did Adm Eric T. Olson). The general was asked about Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- the current policy in the military which is supposed to translate as 'If you are gay, you can serve but you cannot discuss your sexuality or personal life or loved one or much of anything. If you do, you're kicked out of the miltiary. Oh, but your surperiors can't ask you if you're gay.' Allegedly, President Barack Obama is going to keep a campaign promise and end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Not anytime soon. Maybe at the end of the year
Ranking Member John McCain: Finally General Petraeus and Adm Olson do you believe that Don't Ask, Don't Tell needs a thorough review before action is taken?
Gen David Petraeus: Uh, Senator, my position is . . . Can I -- can I give my statement on that?
Ranking Member John McCain: Yeah. We're short of time. But please go ahead.
Chair Carl Levin: Well how long is this statement?
Gen David Petraeus: About eight minutes sir.
Ranking Member John McCain: No. No.
Gen David Petraeus: Well look sir this is not -- this is not a soundbyte issue.

Chair Carl Levin: I understand.
Ranking Member John McCain: It's a pretty straight forward question, though.
Chair Carl Levin: We respect -- we respect -- believe me the thoughtfulness that you are applying to it, we've read your public statement but an eight minute answer unless someone else wants to use all their time for it, I'm afraid would violate the spirit of our rules. I would suggest however that if nobody asks you that question and their time is used for that purpose that you make that part of the record. But someone may well ask you. I just don't -- because of our time limit -- to take eight minutes.
With that settled -- or seemingly settled -- Adm Olson was asked (by McCain) and he spoke a few words (but didn't press the button on his microphone) while nodding his head indicating "yes." Which, based on McCain's question, means he does believe a review is needed. After that, Petraeus jumped in.
Gen David Petraeus: I believe the time has come to consider a change to Don't Ask, Don't Tell but I think it should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative manner -- that should include the conduct of the review that Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates has directed that would consider the views in the force on a change in the policy and it would include an assessment on the likely effects on recruiting retention morale and cohesion and would include an identification of what policies might be needed in the place of a change and recommend those policies as well.
Chair Carl Levin: And as I believe you said in my office the likely effects could go in either direction. The likely effects could go in either direction, I believe you told me, either negative or positive
Gen David Petraeus: It could. It could.
That is what was said. Some outlets are declaring Petraeus supports the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That is not what he stated. He stated he supports a thorough review before anything is done. And Levin's remarks at the end really nail that down -- which may be why they're not reported. Petraeus has only endorsed the study. We'll return to the hearing later in the snapshot. Yesterday Marcia wrote about Jene Newsome who was dischared from the Air Force for the 'crime' of being in a loving relationship with another woman. Robert Doody (ACLU's Blog Of Rights) provides background on how the police, while in Jene and Cheryl's home, saw their marriage certificate and dropped a dime on them with the Air Force. As Marcia rightly points out, this is NOT the compromise that was agree to in the early nineties. Don't Ask, Don't Tell needs to be tossed out (and all who want to serve should be able to). But it is the law now and it's not Don't Ask, Don't Tell, But Snitch. Jene's rights were violated under the policy. She did not go public with those she served with. She followed the policy and she's been punished for following the policy. Marcia notes this:
Congress.org has a page where you can contact your members of Congress to let them know where you stand on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Congress.org's Ryan Teague Beckwith provides an update, "After a week, more than 2,500 letters were sent, with 64 percent opposed to changing the policy and 36 percent in favor of ending it."
Between those numbers and the obvious reluctance on the part of many (put Petraeus on that list), the repeal is not a "done deal." And while it's in effect, it's not fair to expect Jene or anyone else to follow it but not demand that the superiors follow it. A snitch calls? So what. It's really not your business and, in order for you to make it your business, you have to be in violation of the policy because a 'tip' that leads to questioning means you violated the Don't Ask aspect of the policy.
Meanwhile 2011 looms around the corner. The Iraqi air force is not ready (as has been noted since 2007). The Congress continues to complain about the administration not sharing a withdrawal plan with them. (Michele Flournoy always offers such lovely excuses.) And people are beginning to grasp that if the US government wanted troops out of Iraq, they'd be out by now. Just last week, the Afghanistan War was debated on the House floor and the bill being voted on would have pulled all US troops out of Afghanistan by . . . the end of this year. And yet our 'antiwar' (or at least 'antidumbwar') Barry O's done damn little. Well that's not fair. He's done an amazing job of embracing and continuing the policies of George W. Bush. Michael Schwartz asks "Will the U.S. Military Leave Iraq in 2011?" (Huffington Post):

Like so many others who have been following the recent developments in Iraq, I do not have a settled opinion on what will happen to the US military presence there between now and the end of 2011, when the Status of Forces Agreement calls for the withdrawal of all troops (not just "combat" troops). For me, the (so far) definitive statement on this question by Obama was his 2006 election campaign statement at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where he firmly asserted the need to maintain a (approximately 50,000 strong) US "strike force" in or near Iraq to guarantee US interests in the Middle East, to allow Washington to move quickly against jihadists in the region, and to make clear to "our enemies" that the US will not be "driven from the region." (I am attaching that document, which I still think is the most explicit expression of his thinking on this issue.) In that statement he said that this force could be stationed in Iraq, perhaps in Kurdistan, or in a nearby country (despite the absence of nearby candidates).
Since taking office he has neither reiterated nor repudiated this policy, but his actions have made it very clear that he is unwilling to sacrifice the 50k strike force, even while he has also said he would abide by the SOFA and remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. In the meantime, Gates and various generals have released hedging statements or trial balloons (see the recent Tom Dispatch article by Engelhardt) saying that the 2011 deadline might be impractical and that various types of forces might stay longer, either to provide air power, to continue training the Iraq military, or to protect Iraq from invasion. Any or all of these could translate into the maintenance of the 50k strike force as well as the five (previously labeled as) "enduring bases."
Back to Congress on Iraq. The 'deadlines' for draw-downs and withdrawals were addressed in the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning in testimony from Gen David Petraeus. Also offering testimony was Adm Eric T. Olson. "By September 1st the US combat mission will end" in Iraq declared Committee Chair Carl Levin speaking of the planned draw-down. That something more might be coming was probably most noticeable with Petraeus' prepared remarks which, typed, ran 56 pages. Wait, he didn't read the whole thing outloud, did he? Olson noted that he'd submit his prepared remarks for the record and just make a few brief statements to which the Chair replied, "That'll be fine." Did Petraeus read his entire prepared remarks? No. He declared, "I too have submitted a written statement for the record and will summarize it here." He declared that. As opposed to everything else which he read word-for-word from a prepared statement. That is correct. Petraeus showed up with a 56 page statement and also with a written statement that was supposed to be more 'off the cuff' and 'brief.'
Brief? Eighteen minutes and thirty-four seconds after he began his opening remarks he used the phrase "In conclusion." A minute and sixteen seconds later, after referring to "our troopers" when he meant "troops" and "unvavering" when he meant "unwavering," he was finally done. Finally. Nearly 20 minutes for an opening statement?
In his written remarks and read-aloud-but-written (opening statement) remarks, he gave what he always gives. For example, does he ever speak of Iraq without offering "but the gains there remain fragile and reversible"? Senator Joe Lieberman noted that phrase as well. And during his exchange with Lieberman the issue of the draw-down was raised. "[. . .]" indicates I'm not interested in Joe Lieberman's Happy Talk of the illegal war and have edited him out.
Senator Joe Lieberman: [. . .] whether it is still going to be possible or we should desire to draw down to 50,000 American troops in Iraq by September 1st of this year? It's obviously not a goal, a draw down required by the Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq. It's a good goal but I'm sure -- you'd say -- you'd be the first to say, we don't want to arbitrarily go to it if we think there's risk of a reversal as a result. So give me your sense at this moment of whether we'll be able to get down to the 50,000 by September 1st?
Gen David Petraeus: I think we will be able to do that, Senator. I think that in fact we may reconfigure the force a bit over what we were originally were thinking it would look like say four months or so ago. We're constantly tinkering with it There's a possibility we may want to keep an additional brigade headquarters, as an example, but then slim out some of its organic forces and some of the other organic forces elsewhere. Headquarters really matter in these kinds because they're the the element of engagement. And if indeed we think there's a particularly fragile situation say in a certain area in the north, we might do that. And that's something we are looking at. But we still believe we will be able to stay on track to get down to that 50,000 figure.
Lieberman stated that would mean there would be a 7th Brigade headquarters and Petraeus agreed and that it would be somewhere around Kirkuk. Kat 's going to cover some of the hearing at her site and Wally will cover another exchange on the numbers in Iraq at Rebecca's site tonight.

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