Saturday, April 03, 2010








Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane and her guests -- joined by Tom Gjelten (NPR), Moises Naim (Foreign Policy) and Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) -- addressed Iraq.

Diane Rehm: Let's turn now to Iraq and the elections there. Are we any closer to knowing who is going to be the next prime minister, Mary Beth?
Mary Beth Sheridan: You know, I think that we are probably weeks away. And, you know, I think what's really important about this issue -- it's so easy over here I think for your listeners to find the whole thing rather baffling all these parties that are jockeying and so on and one guy won but will he form a coalition? You know, I guess for me -- I've spent some time in Iraq -- the main question is: Can they work this out peacefully? Because Iraq has a history of resolving its political disputes by force and, of course, President Obama wants to end combat operations in August and you're looking at weeks, months of jockeying to form a government so I think there's a real question here about -- and real implications for -- US strategy.
Diane Rehm: And what role is Iran trying to play in this election?
Mary Beth Sheridan: Well that's a very interesting point. A lot of the leaders of the Shi'ite parties have gone to Iran to consult. They are very influential. They have some control over militia groups. There's money that flows in. So they're definitely a big player in this -- uh -- in this political issue.
Diane Rehm: And there's going to be a vetting panel, Tom?
Tom Gjelten: Well, the problem is that the alliance that won, Mr. Ayad Allawi, a secular, sort of largely Sunni group, uhm, is uh just two seats ahead of the alliance led by Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister. Well the government is in the hands of Maliki and therefore --
Diane Rehm: And he says it's fraud.
Tom Gjelten: -- he has a real interest in disqualifying some of these candidates because that would then put him ahead and with just a two seat margin, there's not a lot of leeaway here, in fact, it's interesting, some of the -- some of the -- some of the candidates -- some of the Parliementary candidates in Mr. Allawi's group have basically gone underground to stay out of reach of the law because the government is trying to come after them.
Diane Rehm: Ah-hah. So Mary Beth's concerns are valid. Go ahead, Moses.
Moises Naim: And both Mary Beth and Joe -- Tom, are right, this is not any election. Because you could say, "Well this is democracy at work, you know. It happens all the time that you have to build coalitions and do some horse trading and create a government and so on." But here we are in a different game because, as Mary Beth says, if this ends up with violence or if there is huge fraud then the exit of American troops will also be more difficult.
Diane Rehm has been awarded a Peabody for her work this year (here for the list of winners) and they note of her show, "Now available to National Public Radio listeners after decades on Washington's WAMU-FM, Rehm's talk show is the gold standard for civil, civic discourse." Congratulations to Diane and her team. Earlier this year The Diane Rehm Show won a Shorty Award for their real-time Twitter platform, so she leads the year with traditional media (Peabody Award) and new media (Shorty Award).
Back to the elections, the Washington Post's Leila Fadel (via Sydney Morning Herald) explains, "In a sign of hardening sectarian divisions, the secular, largely Sunni-backed bloc that won the most seats in Iraq's recent parliamentary elections says its victorious candidates are being subjected to a campaign of detention and intimidation by the government of the Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki." For background on the attempts to target/smear successfully elected candidates as "Ba'athists," CNN notes:

A controversial committee that nearly derailed the Iraqi election in January has resurfaced. Led by Ahmed Chalabi, a former ally of the Pentagon, the committee this week announced that six winning candidates in the March 7 parliamentary election are connected to the former regime of Saddam Hussein and must be disqualified.
Critics say it's no coincidence -- disqualifying them will erase the lead of secular candidate Ayad Allawi and his Iraqiya alliance of Shiites and Sunnis. Allawi's electoral list won 91 seats in parliament and topped the State Of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which won 89 seats.
Tom Gjelten's point about people going into hiding was reported on by Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) who reported in today's paper on Sheik Qais Jabouri, a memer of Allawi's slate elected to the Parliament, who went into hiding yesterday after Nouri's security forces ransacked his home looking for him and this has led to allegations (I'd say truthful statements) "that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is carrying out politically motivated arrests to stay in power after his own Shiite Muslim-led slate finished a close second in national elections March 7."
This attack was a continue to the attack launched by officials from the Justice and Accountability Committee Started before the elections under assuming of preventing candidates connected to Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party from standing for elected office. As they prevented About 500 candidates were from standing before the election by the commission Another attacks were in changing the constitution translation for paragraphs that say that the top vote-getter should have the first shot at forming a government. to those who got bigger collation from sets holders as the Supreme Court concluded, at Maliki's urging, that the right to form the next government could go to alliances and super-coalitions formed after the election, if they prove to have the most seats. Maliki promptly launched negotiations with other religious Shiite and Kurdish parties. They current leaders of the government concentrate of staying in power than focusing instead on building peace and stability in Iraq. Many of the votes for Allawi were votes for a strong national government in Baghdad and against sectarianism.
As Nouri and his cronies attempt to overturn the will of the people, Moqtada al-Sadr comes off looking like he's committed to giving the people a voice (and he may well be). Xinhua reports that voting has begun to determine whom the Sadr bloc (which won 40 seats in the election) should back for prime minister. Voting takes place today and continues tomorrow. Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) quotes a statement from Moqtada al-Sadr which was "read to his followers before Friday prayers" in which he states, "According to political developments, a mistake might occur in choosing the next prime minister, and for that I think it is in the (national) interest to assign it directly to the people." Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) report on the developments and offer an in-depth walk through on the past tensions between al-Sadr and Nouri al-Maliki stemming from Nouri's attack on followers of Moqtada al-Sadr in Basra and Baghdad. They noted, "Sadrists may use the informal referendum, which continues Saturday, as an excuse not to bak Maliki who already endured a blow earlier this week when another Shi'ite party appeared to back former primer minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc." That move that may halt Nouri's attempt to nullify the voice of the people, Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) reports, came via Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Iraqi National Alliance (which al-Sadr's bloc is a part of), who posted online, "We will not participate in a government that does not include Iraqiya." Zaid Thaker and Timothy Williams (New York Times) inform that the voting today and tomorrow is open to all and they describe a scene of voting, "A crowd of about 100 would-be voters excitedly mobbed tables where the official green paper ballots were being distributed. Some people took several ballots and handed them to friends and relatives in the throng behind them. As pushing and shoving intensified, people began to shout at one another."
"The war in Iraq is not over and we as a nation will be dealing with its aftermath for a long time," noted The World (PRI) today in the intro to Ben Gilbert's report on some of those serving in Iraq (US Army's 3rd Infantry Division's 1-64 amor):.
David Shumate: My name is David Shumate. I'm from Palm Bay, Florida and I'm 27-years-old. And I'm from Alpha Company 1-64 Amor. This is my fourth tour in Iraq. I've been in the invasion OIF3, OIF5 and OIF8. I was active army right after September 11th and then deployed to Kuwait and then a few months after a lot of training, we invaded Iraq. So, yeah, we lost two guys and had eighteen wounded. But I mean, really, once we got into Baghdad, basically it was kind of over. It was just once we got there, we did -- It all stopped basically and it was kind of amazing. When I was on my first combat -- my first patrols into Baghdad, it was amazing. I was actually getting flowers from people, bouquets of flowers from women and they were happy and cheering that we were there. So a lot has changed from the first few weeks of Baghdad. It's a couple of weeks after that when the insurgency really started its effect on the people.
Mike Bailey: My name is Mike Bailey. I'm from Belle Chasse, Louisiana and I'm 27-years-old. This is my fourth time to Iraq. The first time I was here, with 1st Marine Division, was down in Babel Province. The second round, I switched over and came as part of 1st Marine Regiment in Feburary 2004. We went to just outside Falluja in Anbar Province and the word of the day was IEDs, they were everywhere I mean people were more worried about what was going on the side of the road than what was going on on the roads and that one definitely started off with a bang with the four Blackwater conrtactors that got killed two or three weeks after we got there. Not too long after the Blackwater contractors were killed we moved into the city of Falluja with several battalions and started, basically, rooting out the guys that were coming out to fight us. And there was a lot of them, a whole lot of them. It seemed like everybody had an RPG or a gun in Falluja back then. You couldn't get very far into the city before you started hearing booms and richochets coming off vehicles and stuff like that. They definitely wanted to fight us head on.
James Ausmann: My name is Staff Sgt James Ausmann. I live at Fort Stewart, with my wife and kids, so that's home. I was with the 1st Batallion, 18th Infantry, first ID. We were based out of Tikrit, just south of here. Saw the end of all the major combat and the beginning of all the IEDs. There was no armor on our vehicles, so that made it for interesting times
Ben Gilbert: This was back before armored humvees, right?
James Ausmann: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. So we had all the soft skin humvees with all of the Secretary of Defense trying to get us the armor in a rush. And you know, to their credit, nobody knew what the IED threat was until we hit it. So.
Ben Gilbert: Yeah, right. Did you -- did you guys hillbillly armor your vehicles?
James Ausmann: Oh yeah. Plywood, sheet metal, sandbags, everything you could of think of, we put on there. Some of it worked.
David Shumate: David Shumate. I was twenty when we invaded and now I'm fixing to turn, about to turn 28 so a big chunk of the 20s. Wow, it's from OIF3 to today, it's night and day. The Iraqi army is a lot more established. We no longer, really, can go into the cities without Iraqi escorts. We can't go into an Iraqi house without an Iraqi escort and without a warrant or permission. So, um, it's night and day. So basically OIF3 was if we felt something was suspicious or something was going bad in that house, we went into that house and took care of business and so now basically the Iraqis have control of everything and we're just there to support them.
Mike Bailey: Mike Bailey. You get the feeling that it's the last deployment. Basically told that you guys are going to turn the lights off on the way out the door.
Ben Gilbert: How much time have you spent in Iraq?
Mike Bailey: Let's see here. Three years of my twenties have been spent in Iraq. Parts of me are sick of coming here, being away from a toddler -- my daughter was just born, I actually missed her birth the last time I was here -- and being away from my wife of eight years. But this is what I signed up for when I was 18-years-old and this is what I know, and my wife came into and we know it's one of those things that's going to happen we're prepared for it.
James Ausmann: I'm one of those guys, I want to see it all the way through. I'd rather stay here another year or two and get it done right then leave to early. I want us to leave and for this to work out, not for us to leave and the country have issues.
Turning to KBR -- and isn't it a rare week when we don't -- often several times -- February 25th a federal judge dimissed a case against KBR -- not ruling on the merits of the case, just addressing the issue of jurisdiction. Jeffrey Rainzer (Doyle Rainzer LLP) explained, "Today, the federal court dismissed the claims of the Indiana National Guardsmen in 'McManaway et al v. KBR, Inc.' pending in Evansville, Indiana. The Court found that the KBR defendants could not be sued in Indiana. We are disappointed by the ruling, particularly since so many of the veterans we represent are exhibiting symptoms of exposure to toxic sodium dichromate / hexavalent chromium. We will fight to hold KBR accountable for what happened to our Iraq veterans at Qarmat Ali. Doyle Raizner and co-counsel intend to refile the veterans' claims in another federal-court jurisdiction as soon as possible. This development delays but does not deny justice for the Indiana Guardsmen in this case. The truth of what happened at Qarmat Ali will be told, and we believe it will be told in a federal court. The firm and co-counsel represent other veterans in Qarmat Ali-related cases pending in West Virginia and Oregon federal courts." The Indianapolis Star reports that Mike Doyle ("Doyle" of Doyle Raizner LLP) refiled the case in Houston, Texas on Wednesday. Eric Brander (Evansville Courier & Press) notes, "Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., has drafted legislation that would create a registry similar to the one created for soldiers exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. That registry would ensure that those suffering symptoms possibly related to the exposure receive treatment from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors, but it has not become law." Because it is buried in committee. October 21st, US Senator Evan Bayh appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and made the following statement:
I am here today to testify about a tragedy that took place in 2003 on the outskirts of Basrah, Iraq.
I'm here on behalf of Lt. Colonel James Gentry and the brave men and women who served under his command in the 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry of the Indiana National Guard.
I spoke with Lt. Col. Gentry by phone last week. He is at his home with his wife, Lou Ann, waging a valiant fight against terminal cancer.
The lieutenant colonel was a healthy man when he left for Iraq. Today, he is fighting for his life.
Tragically, many of his men are facing their own bleak prognoses as a result of their exposure to sodium dichromate -- one of the most lethal carcinogens in existence.
The chemical is used as an anti-corrosive for pipes. It was strewn all over the water treatment facility guarded by the 152nd Infantry. More than 600 soldiers from Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina were exposed.
One Indiana Guardsman has already died from lung disease. The Army has classified it a service-related death. Dozens of others have come forward with a range of serious respiratory symptoms.
The DoD Inspector General just launched an investigation into the breakdowns and gaps in our system that allowed this tragic exposure to happen. Neither the Army nor the private contractor KBR performed an environmental risk assessment of the site, so our soldiers were breathing in this chemical and swallowing it for months.
Our country's reliance on military contractors -- and their responsibility to their bottom line vs. our soldiers' safety -- is a topic for another day and another hearing.
Mr. Chairman, today, I would like to tell this committee about S.1779. It is legislation I have written to ensure we provide full and timely medical care to soldiers exposed to hazardous chemicals during wartime military service.
The Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act of 2009 is bipartisan legislation that has been cosponsored by Senators Lugar, Dorgan, Rockefeller, Byrd, Wyden, Merkley and Specter.
My bill is modeled after similar legislation that Congress approved in 1978 following the Agent Orange exposure in the Vietnam conflict.
The bill ensured lifelong VA care for soldiers unwittingly exposed to the cancer-causing herbicide in the jungles of Vietnam.
Some have called toxic industrial hazards the Agent Orange of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.
My legislation would make soldiers eligible for medical examinations, laboratory tests, hospital care and nursing services. It would ensure soldiers receive priority health care at VA facilities. It would recognize a veteran's own report of exposure and inclusion on a Department of Defense registry as sufficient proof to receive medical care, barring evidence to the contrary.
My legislation will help ensure that we provide the best possible care for American soldiers exposed to environmental hazards during the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. At a bare minimum, my bill will ensure compassionate care so families are spared the added grief of going from doctor to doctor in their loved ones' final days, searching for a diagnosis.
The 1978 Agent Orange registry only covered one chemical compound. But my bill is broader. It covers all members of the armed forces who have been exposed to any environmental chemical hazard, not just sodium dichromate. It recognizes a new set of risks that soldiers face today throughout the world.
Senate testimony last year identified at least seven serious instances of potential contamination involving different industrial hazards -- sulfur fires, ionizing radiation, sarin gas, and depleted uranium, to name a few.
S.1779 ensures that veterans who were exposed to these chemicals will be eligible for hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care.
It allows the Secretary of Defense to identify the hazards of greatest concern that warrant special attention from the VA.
My bill switches the burden of proof from the soldier to the government. Soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals will receive care presumptively, unless the VA can show their illness is not related to their service.
Exposure to toxic chemicals is a threat no service member should have to face. It is our moral obligation to offer access to prompt, quality care. We should cut the red tape for these heroes.
Mr. Chairman, I promised Lt. Col. Gentry that I would fight for his men here in Congress. I promise I would use my position to get them the care they deserve and to make sure we protect our soldiers from preventable risks like this in the future.
This tragedy will be compounded if we do not take the steps to provide the best medical care this country has to offer.
Thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony today. I urge this committee to adopt S. 1779 to honor the sacrifice of Lt. Colonel Gentry and all of our brave men and women doing the hard, dangerous work of keeping America safe.
December 1st, Lt Col James C. Gentry was buried. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has refused to move on Bayh's legislation. Is someone being paid off? There's no reason in the world to have sat on this legislation. Bayh, who doesn't serve on the Committee, is not seeking re-election and when he spoke about what he believed was conflict from both sides of the aisle and how it was preventing Congress from doing the needed business, maybe some of the smart mouths attacking Evan could have stopped a moment and looked at the bills he was proposing, such as the registry, and how there was no action on them despite overwhelming public support for them. Mike Doyle (Doyle Raizner LLP) notes, "The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, where KBR maintains its corporate headquarters. The case was assigned to United States District Judge Vanessa Gilmore, and the judge ordered a Scheduling Conference on July 9, 2010, to select a trial date for the case. Judge Gilmore at the time of her appointment by President Bill Clinton was the youngest sitting federal judge, and she has presided over a number of important trials (including the Enron Broadband trial) during her tenure on the bench."
At Doyle Raizner, our recent work pursuing claims against military contractors has focused on continuing litigation over our soldiers' exposure to the known cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium -- also known as sodium dichromate -- at facilities and sites operated by the Houston-based engineering and construction company KBR, Inc.
This major, determined effort has further prepared our attorneys to handle other potential negligence and damage claims on behalf of U.S. and U.K. military personnel. We encourage you to contact us if you are:
  • Experiencing respiratory problems or symptoms of toxic exposure you believe are due to your service at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Iraq in 2003, where exposure to the potentially deadly carcinogen sodium dichromate occurred and has come to light
  • A family grieving a soldier tragically lost in an electrocution on a military base or deployment location
  • Among many thousands of former and current military personnel suffering the harmful effects of exposure to fumes emitted from contractors' toxic burn pits in Iraq or Afghanistan
  • A victim of some other form of toxic chemical exposure you believe occurred while you were serving in the U.S. or U.K. armed forces
[. . .]
To discuss your potential military contractor claim with an attorney who will take you seriously and treat you with care and respect, call or e-mail us anytime.

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