Saturday, October 23, 2010








US service members serving in the Iraq War and Afghnistan War have been exposed to toxins that can prove as deadly as any roadside bombing or sniper attack, it'll just take longer for the effects to be felt. Those exposed to, for example, the burn pit in Balad are already experiencing symptoms such as breathing difficulty. A number of service members have attempted to find justice via the US court system and, thus far, they've had no luck. Senator Byron Dorgan has long addressed the burn pit issue. Sadly, Senator Dorgan is not running for re-election and will be leaving the Senate in the new year. Dorgan chairs Democratic Policy Committee and today his office released the following:
U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Friday a preliminary report of an investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General confirms that the Pentagon dropped the ball in responding to the exposure of hundreds of U.S. troops to a deadly chemical in Iraq. Those failures left some exposed soldiers unaware that they had been exposed to the deadly chemical and without follow up health monitoring and treatment. Monitoring tests performed on other soldiers who were informed of their exposure were so inadequate that the agency that performed them now admits they have a "low level of confidence" in those tests.
A second and more detailed Inspector General's report, originally scheduled to be released this month, has now been moved back to the end of the year, a development Dorgan said he finds "disappointing."
The Senate Armed Services Committee and Dorgan requested IG investigations after he chaired hearings by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), in June 2008 and August 2009. The hearings revealed that troops from Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina, and West Virginia were exposed to sodium dichromate, a known and highly potent carcinogen at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in Iraq. The DPC hearings revealed multiple failures by the contractor, KBR, and the Army's failure to adequately monitor, test, and notify soldiers who may have been exposed of the health risks they may now face.
The IG is releasing two reports on its investigation, The first report was released in September. The second, expected to be a more detailed response to specific DPC concerns, was originally slated for release by late October. But the Department of Defense Inspector General now states a draft of that report won't be available until the end of the year.
The first report provides no indication -- seven years after the exposure – that the Army ever notified seven soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry Division who secured the Qarmat Ali facility during hostilities that they had been exposed. It also confirms that the Army's assessment of the health risks associated with exposure to sodium dichromate for soldiers at Qarmat Ali are not very reliable. In fact, the organization that performed these assessments, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (CHPPM), now says it has a "low level of confidence" in its test results for the overwhelming majority of those exposed.
Equally troubling, Dorgan said, is the report's finding that the Department of Defense is refusing to provide information to Congress about the incident, because of a lawsuit to which it is not a party.
"I am very concerned about the findings we now have, and I am disappointed in the delayed release of Part II of this report. The IG's investigation and its findings are very important to the lives of U.S. soldiers and workers who were at the site. Details and definitive findings will help us ensure accountability for this exposure and flawed follow up, but even more importantly, they will help ensure that all exposed soldiers receive appropriate notice and medical attention," Dorgan said.
Senator Byron Dorgan addresses the issues in this video also released today.
Iraq was briefly touched on in the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) and were it not for the fact that James Kitfield was strong on the topic, we'd probably skip it. But I've called him out so we'll note it to give him his due credit. Diane noted that Shaun had left a message on the program's Facebook page about the cuts in England which include military cuts: "It was the military spending necessary for England's participation in the Iraq War that put them in this predicament. The same is true here. The Bush administration could not deal with the simple fact that we couldn't afford to invade Iraq, either financially or morally."
James Kitfield (National Journal): I take the point and believe me our government is watching very closely what happens in Britain because, I mean, one thing that is interesting is that those cuts have majority support right now, we'll see if that holds, but there's a concern that if you cut back quickly, this very nascent economic recovery will be reversed and that's exactly what we don't want. So there's a big -- Britain is taking a very bold step. I think it's commendable. I hope it works but there is risk involved in it and I think we are watching it very closely.
Elise Labott (CNN): But there's also a huge concern by the United States about these defense cuts -- it's about a 7.5% defense cuts is that going to make Britain a less reliable partner? We have British troops in Iraq, you have British troops in Afghanistan. What about future conflicts, future areas that the US relies on its very special ally the Brits?
[. . .]
James Kitfield: Diane, can I just make a point? I just came back from London, working on this story. The-the fact is Britain no longer wants to be that ally to us. You know the Iraq War has really soured them on being America's, you know, ally of first resort. It's an aftermath, blowback from the Iraq War.
Diane Rehm: Who did you talk to?
James Kitfield: I talked to senior officials in the government, I talked to senior think tank people, all the same thing. They have investigations now, the whole Iraq War, where they are deposing Tony Blair and others, the Iraq War and how that went wrong and how Britian got --
Diane Rehm: Involved.
James Kitfield: -- brought up into it is very real to them right now, even today. And they have no interest in being the kind of ally of first resort, as I say.
Diane Rehm: But again, is that because of financial problems or is that also the question of moral responsibility?
James Kitfield: Well, I mean, it's partly -- The economic part plays into it. But it's primarily a feeling that they went to war that their own people did not support and they thought it was on false pretenses with the Weapons of Mass Destruction. You know, we got our election in 2008 and the Republicans lost and I think we went on, moved on from Iraq. The British have not moved on from Iraq. Their populace does not buy this argument anymore that we should stand by America's side, right or wrong.
Late today nearly 400,000 documents on the Iraq War. Phil Stewart (Reuters) reports that, at the Pentagon today, Col Dave Lapan declared that the Defense Dept did not "expect big surprises" from a rumored upcoming WikiLeaks release. On Democracy Now! this morning, Penatgon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg explained why the Pentagon would not be surprised by the release:
AMY GOODMAN: Now, in the last release of documents [on the Afghanistan War], there were 91,000 documents, but—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Of which they've withheld so far one out of five, 15,000, for damage control. WikiLeaks has not yet released those. They're working over them to redact.
AMY GOODMAN: Which is the point I wanted to make, released around 75,000—
AMY GOODMAN: -- that WikiLeaks is withholding documents, concerned about issues of --
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes. And moreover, they let the Pentagon know what they were releasing. They gave them the files in code to them and asked them actually to identify people that they hoped to be redacted from those. Now, the Pentagon refused, meaning they prefer to bring charges into -- both in court and in the press, of -- endanger, rather than actually to protect these people, showing the usual amount of concern they have over other humans.
AMY GOODMAN: Has the same been done with these 400,000 documents?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes. That's why they're going over them now. They know what's coming out. And they have every ability, if people are endangered -- which actually is in question to this point. The fact that there's been no damage up 'til now really strongly questions the claims that were made earlier and, as I say, passed on by most of the mainstream press, very uncritically, that there was danger. But if there was, it may well have been in those 15,000 which WikiLeaks is properly going over still.
JUAN GONZALEZ: So, what you're saying is that WikiLeaks has let the Pentagon know precisely what it is about to release?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: To my understanding, they have. I'm not in the process. But I understand that they've said that they did make them aware of what it is and have invited them to cooperate in protecting those names. But as I say, the Pentagon, if there are such names, has preferred to make charges.
Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew W. Lehren (New York Times) zoom in on the civilian death data: "The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians -- at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan. The archive contains reports on at least four cases of leathl shootings from helicopters. In the bloodiest, on July 16, w00, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed, about half of themcivilians. However, the tally was called in by two different people, and it is possible that the deaths were counted twice." Al Jazeera (link has video) zooms in on the torture revelations.
Al Jazeera: It was one of the stated aims of the war to end the torture chambers but the secret files reveal a very different story. In graphic detail, they record extensive abuse at Iraqi police stations, army bases and prison. On more than 1,300 occasions, US troops reported the allegations to their superiors.
Reading from a US service member's report: The detainee was blindfolded, beaten about the feet and legs with a blunt object, punched in the face and head. Electricity was used on his feet and genitals and he was sodomized with a water bottle.
Al Jazeera: The alleged torturers claim the victim had fallen off his motorbike but the Americans recall that this was
Reading from a US service member's report: Not consistent with the man's injuries.
Al Jazeera: There are many such reports. This one says that --
Reading from a US service member's report: A detainee was jabbed with a screwdriver, struck with cables in the arms, back and legs, electrocuted and sodomized with a hose.
The new logs detail how:
• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.
The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent death.
As recently as December the Americans were passed a video apparently showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in Tal Afar, northern Iraq. The log states: "The footage shows approximately 12 Iraqi army soldiers. Ten IA soldiers were talking to one another while two soldiers held the detainee. The detainee had his hands bound … The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him."
The six years of reports include references to the deaths of at least six prisoners in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception. In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee's fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.
And while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug: soldiers told their officers and asked the Iraqis to investigate.
As Al Jazeera notes (earlier link), at least two orders were issued on this to US soldiers. The first told them to ignore it and do nothing. The second told them to report it to their superiors and then do nothing unless ordered. The documents contain many reports -- by US troops -- of abuse but no orders for follow up actions from the command.
Jonathan Steele (Guardian) reports on three US spy balloons which drifted or 'drifted' into Iran after they came unmoored or 'unmoored' from April to October 2006. In all three cases, only the initial report is available and there appears to hae been no follow up. A lack of follow up for balloons the US military lost -- with spy equipment on them -- would appear to indicate the 'loss' was planned. Michael R. Gordon and Andrew W. Lehren (New York Times) focus on Iran as well -- in terms of US documents detailing allegations of Iran backing Shi'ite militias and that a plan was hatched to kidnap a US soldier. Gordon -- who repeatedly sounded the alarms on Iran's alleged involvement in the violence (as he had falsely tapped out the drumbeat in the march to war on Iraq) -- no doubt feels vindicated: "But the field reports disclosed by WikiLeaks, which were never intended to be made public, underscore the seriousnees with which Iran's role has been seen by the American military." Really? Really? It's the WikiLeaks files that "underscores" that and not all the constant daily brieifings at the Defense Dept and in Baghdad where military officials insisted Iran was up to no good?

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