Saturday, March 10, 2012








"In Iraq," US Senator John McCain declared Tuesday, "Prime Minister Maliki continues to centralize power at the expense of the other political blocs while the threat posed by al Qaeda appears to be growing along with the kinds of horrific, spectacular attacks, like the one we saw yesterday." He was referring to Monday's attack on Haditha security forces which left at least 27 dead with three more injured. Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Committee, McCain is the Ranking Member. General James Mattis (Commander of US Centcom) and Admiral William McRaven (Commander of the US Special Operations Command) were the witnesses appearing before the Committee. We had to hold this to cover the Veterans Affairs Committee hearings this week (and there's a House VA hearing we still didn't get to).
The drawdown in Iraq is a drawdown. The military's been clear in their use of "drawdown" and "reposturing" and just as clear in the non use of the term "withdrawal." There are at least 200 US service members guarding the American Embassy in Baghdad and the various consulates. In addition, there are US service members present as "trainers." Nouri al-Maliki has publicly spoken this year -- and repeatedly -- on this issue. The number he supplies publicly is 700. You don't read that in the US newspapers. His number may be too high, it may be too low. Maybe if US newspapers weren't so busy attempting to spin and reported facts, we'd know what the number was. At this point, the only number given is Nouri's number of 700. And there are more, as US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey admitted to Ted Koppel last December on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.
MR. KOPPEL: I realize you can't go into it in any detail, but I would assume that there is a healthy CIA mission here. I would assume that JSOC may still be active in this country, the joint special operations. You've got FBI here. You've got DEA here. Can, can you give me sort of a, a menu of, of who all falls under your control?
AMB. JAMES JEFFREY: You're actually doing pretty well, were I authorized to talk about half of this stuff.
In addition, the US State Dept has its largest mission in Iraq and Iraq is the mission they have militarized. There are 16,000 foreigners working for the US State Dept in Iraq -- that includes a large number of contractors.
Iraq is reported badly if at all by most outlets today. You get the Josh Rogins who want to pretend they're journalists but don't want to be held to the guidelines of journalims if it interferes with them completing another page in their slam book. The US occupation of Iraq continues. It hasn't ceased. Moqtada al-Sadr grasps that. So many in the US press pretend otherwise.
In addition to those US service members still in Iraq, there are the thousands stationed in the region around Iraq. General James Matthis noted to the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that most US troops had left Iraq.
General James Mattis: The question then becomes: How do we maintain our presence with a light footprint? To accomplish this, the USCENTCOM AOR will assume an increasingly maritime character with special operations forces (SOF) and strong air enablers. Naval forces -- with embarked troops -- provide presence and a cost efficient means of rapidly projecting power in a crisis to execute contingency operations. Sustained naval presence and response forces provide a lighter footprint on the ground and are vital for reassuring our partners, deterring those with malign intent and tempering destructive actors from fermenting trouble in the region. The maritime environment also permits freedom of action unfettered by international boundaries and agreements. However, the stacked Iranian threats in our AOR of ballistic missiles, long range rockets, mines, small boats, cruise missiles and submarines demand stronger naval presence and capability to protect vital sea lines of communication.
The US news industry is a story of budget cuts. So Americans get less and less news from the news industry. Less and less coverage. It's much cheaper for Diane Sawyer, Scott Pelley and Brian Willaims to, for example, waste three or more minutes of airtime 'reporting' on some YouTube sensation where a pet does a trick. Pets can be house broken. News anchors, I'm not so sure. As the news industry goes for the cheap and the banal, Americans are less and less informed about what is going on due to this news failure.
General James Mattis: Our successful military drawdown from Iraq puts the need to develop a new strategic relationship with the Iraqi government at the forefront of our regional policy. The Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) has been established and testifies to our respect for Iraqi sovereignty. Our relationship going forward will be based on mutual respect between two sovereign nations. USCENTCOM will work to expand security cooperation activities and deepen our military-to-military ties with Iraq while helping to expand its military engagement with key regional partners. Simultaneously, we remain clear-eyed, recognizing Iran's access to and efforts to subordinate Iraq and work to counter that malign influence. OSC-I -- working under Chief of Mission authority and with the full support of USCENCOM -- is the lead proponent for executing the military component of our intent. Thank you for your fast action in support of our special authority for OSC-I and for your continued patience as we work through a successful transition. The danger from al Qaeda in Iraq is still serious and it remains capable of spectacular attacks against the people and the government there even as it takes advantage next door in Syria to mount attacks there.
The Congress, the Pentagon and the State Dept continue to have to address Iraq -- that's staffing, that's budgeting. But the news media tells Americans that the mission (occupation) has ended.
We'll note this exchange from the hearing.
Ranking Member John McCain: General, are their strong indications that al Qaeda is making a comeback in Iraq?
General James Mattis: Yes, sir. Particularly in the western Iraq area but the threat is extending into Baghdad.
I think al Qaeda in Mesopatamia is both a catch-all to blame anything on and, especially for the US government and the US press, a device that allows denial. If al Qaeda in Mesopatamia is responsible, then there's no need for the US government of US press to factor in just how much US actions have resulted in a government that so many Iraqis oppose. You might also think that since the US went into a trillion dollar debt over the Iraq War -- a debt that will weigh on the country for decades to come -- the news media might continue to cover Iraq as a result of the money invested but you would be wrong. Then again, maybe the news media avoids Iraq for that reason -- don't you dare let the taxpayers know just how poorly their money was spent.
Maybe that's why Senator Claire McCaskill's comments at the hearing weren't noted? Specifically when she observed, "I can give you anecdotally disasters in Iraq. In fact, I am trying to compile all the infrastructure we build in Iraq and what the status is of it today. But I think everyone knows, it's not a pretty picture. How much got blown up? How much was never utilized? How much sits crumbling? And -- and that's all an incredible amount of resources of our country that we have invested."
The press is supposed to be a watchdog and provide oversight. Does it really look like that's happening today?
We'll note this exchange from the hearing.
Senator Ben Nelson: I've got a number of concerns about our presence in Iraq at the current time. I don't think that I have a clear understanding of what our mission is there. And it's further complicated by the fact that we've got questions about the new embassy which is a significant -- in terms of size -- building with a significant number of security contractors located there -- perhaps not even functioning in a security role outside of the embassy. And the embassy continues to be expanded. And I understand, perhaps, the State Dept is now in charge of establishing what our mission in Iraq is. Can you -- either of you -- help enlighten me about what our mission truly is in Iraq today? And how that might relate as well to the providing of security by contractors and the continuing expansion of a building that seems to be gargantuan in size already. General Mattis?
General James Mattis: Sir, as far as our mission in Iraq, it's going from a military-led effort in Iraq over the last eight years to a State Dept-led mission under the Ambassador. There I do have a Lt. General with a small footprint on the ground, part of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq and they are engaged in everything from the sales of certain military equipment, providing contractor-led training, to organizing the Iraqis who want to go to military schools in the United States. We've maintained those relationships, that's what they're doing. As far as the security contractors, sir, who actually protect the embassy, those come under the US embassy, under the State Dept. But having been there recently, they're simply doing the guard duty you would expect in a high threat area. And as far as the size of the building, sir, I'm really not competent to respond on that part of the question.
Senator Ben Nelson: But it is big, isn't it?
General James Mattis: It's big.
Senator Ben Nelson: Thank you. In trying to understand the role of the contractors there in providing security, in other embassies in other countries, are we required -- do we require ourselves to provide security or do we look to the host nation to provide security?
General James Mattis: Sir, the host nation provides the external security outside the grounds. Inside the grounds, it's sovereign territory and we do that. We do that generally with contract guards, many of them are long serving guards there, and inside the building itself, you have Marine security guards.
Senator Ben Nelson: Is that the way it works in Iraq? In Baghdad?
General James Mattis: Yes, sir. It is.
Senator Ben Nelson: The Iraqis provide the external security?
General James Mattis: They do, sir.
Senator Ben Nelson: And if our personnel are moving from one place to another, who provides the security?
General James Mattis: That security is provided by our own -- our own contract guards.
Senator Ben Nelson: What level of security would the Iraqis provide externally to the -- to the Embassy?
General James Mattis: In that zone, when you go there, sir, you see that there are checkpoints set up some blocks away. They have patrols that go by. It's not just for our embassy, it's for other embassies in town as well as they provide the kind of diplomatic security that's expected around the world. Here in Washington, DC, some police men [and police women] can provide it because the threat is very low. In a place like Baghdad, prudent measures require the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police to do the security in a much more visual, obvious way.
If the State Dept is now in charge of the US mission in Iraq, why are they doing reports? When they weren't in charge, through 2011, they did the "Iraq Status Report." (Click here if you never read them.) Not anymore. And why isn't the State Dept regularly briefing on Iraq. They're supposedly in charge. They are answerable to the American people. They should be required to provide regular updates. They are operating in darkness, they are cloaking their actions and it's not surprising that a senator wants questions answered as to what the mission is. (Yes, I am aware that Victoria Nuland made comments Thursday -- only when asked -- on Iraqi women. I've never seen such ill-informed remarks. And that's despite the fact that we're referring to only a few sentences. I'll address them when I can do so a bit more calmly.) (And I've noted many times that I know Robert Kagan -- and often disagree with him. Victoria and Robert are married. I know Victoria as well. Check the archives, she's gotten no special treatment as a result of that.) They're not just spending taxpayer money, they are asking for record levels of taxpayer money and they can't be open about what they're doing? That should be unacceptable to everyone.
We'll note this exchange from the Tuesday hearing.
Senator Scott Brown: Regarding Iraq, I am as concerned as others are about the vacuum that has been created. And, as you know, al Qaeda in Iraq has carried out more attacks this year than it did in the entire second half of last year. Do you think there's a security vacuum there since we've left or what?
General James Mattis: It's not a security vacuum, Senator Brown, but it is a less capable Iraqi security force without our capabilities there. They're scrambling to try and fill in those gaps. We are working with our small footprint there to help them fill in those gaps but it is a concern, I know, for the Iraqi government and it is a concern for [US] Ambassador [James] Jeffreys.
Senator Scott Brown: Alright. You think al Qaeda -- You think al Qaeda's making a comeback in Iraq?
General James Mattis: Yes, sir, they are. It's not significant. It won't threaten the government. It will kill a lot of innocent people.
Senator Scott Brown: And what about the favoritism in the Iraqi government for the majority Shia political party? Do you think that's fueling another insurgency potentially and does this play right into al Qaeda's hands potentially to create that instability?
General James Mattis: It's not playing into al Qaeda's hands yet and I think that there has been some progress back into a political dialogue here in the last couple of weeks that I think is back on the right track. So it's -- I give you a cautious, optimistic view of this -- but it's very, very cautious at this point.
Wow. Mattis offers less spin than the US press. Which is supposed to be independent? That's right the US press. But they've rushed to tell you -- especially the New York Times -- that the political crisis is over. No such thing has happened. Mattis offered his "optimistic view" and it was more fact-based than anything the New York Times has offered on the political crisis. That's great for General Mattis, good for him. But that's damn lousy for the US press.
Brown and Mattis explored the political crisis. If you're the New York Times, you pretend that the political crisis kicks off on or around December 21, 2011. That's not accurate. The political crisis is ongoing and years-old. The easiest way to trace the current problems is to return to March 2010 when parliamentary elections were held and Nouri al-Maliki was unhappy with the results, stomped his feet for a recount and even after that was completed his State of Law still did not come in first. Instead, the Ayad Allawi-led Iraqiya slate came in first. Per the Constitution, President Jalal Talabani should have named Allawi the prime minister-designate and, at that point, Allawi would have had 30 days to put together a Cabinet -- failure to do so, per the Constitution, would mean Allawi's turn was over and a new prime minister-designate would be named. But Nouri used everything to hang on to his post, from the non-independent Supreme Court to the US White House.

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Friday, March 09, 2012






In 2009 and 2010, US House Rep John Hall was the Chair of the House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and memorial Affairs. With others on the Subcommittee, including former US House Rep Steve Buyer, they raised many important issues. We'll drop back to September 24, 2009 to note one example:
During the first panel, US House Rep Steve Buyer opened with a visual display showing various cemeteries. Normandy American Cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. These were "beautiful" and up to standard. He then went to a national cemetery run by the Department of the Interior, Andersonville National Cemetery. Pointing to the dingy, dirty headstones, "This should not matter that this is the marker of someone who died in the Civil War. It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't matter if it was someone who died in the Revolution or someone who died that's interned in Mexico City." He then "So when you said in your testimony that you gently, finely clean the markers, well that's going to take you a lot of time. This is not a standard for which we should have in America. I think Mr. Cleland, if you saw that in one of yours, you would just freak out." Buyer explained that he complained about the weeds and the result was they pulled out everything, including the grass.
If you can't take the heat and embarrassment from the shoddy work noted above, what do you do? Maybe you do like the National Park Service did too and skip a Congressional hearing. The Subcommittee Chair noted that they were invited but they decided they wouldn't attend today. The first panel was made up of government officials who were willing to attend, the Veteran Affairs Dept's Steven Muro (Under Secretary for the National Cemetery Administration), the Pentagon's Kathryn Condon (Executive Director of Army and National Cemeteries Program) and the American Battle Monuments Commissions' Deputy Secretary Raymond Wollman.
In the 2010 mid-terms, control of the House flipped to the Republicans and some House members chose not to seek re-election and others did not win their re-election races (that applies to Buyer and Hall). US House Rep Jon Runyan is now the Chair of the Subcommittee and Jerry McNerney is the Ranking Member.
Chair Jon Runyan: We are here today to examine the current state of our final resting place for our nation's heroes. These cemeteries and monuments span across our country and the entire world: from my own District in New Jersey with Beverly National Cemetery; to across the Atlantic in Normandy, France; or across the Pacific with Clarke Veterans Cemetery in the Philipines. Some of these cemeteries instantly bring to mind the triumph of courage in conflicts fought around the globe for liberty and freedom. Others hold memories of bravery now known only to God and those who died on the field of battle. Others hold memories of bravery now known only to God and those who died on the field of battle. Yet each one of these national shrines has this in common: They are all honored tributes to our service men and women now resting in peace.
He would go on to explain that audits reveal more than "240 mismarked or unmarked graves and 8 veterans or their loved ones buried in the wrong place. Again, this was not a failing of just one national cemetery, but at 13 NCA cemeteries nationwide. Ladies and gentlemen, there is a pattern here and I find it totally unacceptable."
The following exchange was typical of the responses offered in the hearing.
Chair Jon Runyan: I want to start with Under Secretary Muro. Currently NCA is performing 39 raise and realignment projects. Could you discuss what is being done to make sure the problems related to the prior raise and realignment projects are not repeated?
Steven Muro: Thank you for the question, sir. The first thing we've done is ensure that the headstones are not taken from the grave sight. So they're maintained on the grave sight. The second thing is we're requiring the COR -- which is the Contracting Officer's Representative at the site -- to do a daily check at the end of the day at the site before they leave to ensure that the headstones are on the correct grave sight.
Chair Jon Runyan: Were you able to identify all of the contractors who were involved in all of the previous raise and realignment projects where the errors occurred that actually uncovered and started this national audit.
Steven Muro: Yes, we were able to uncover the contractors that had done the work. Some of them had done multiple cemeteries and we didn't have an issue at other cemeteries but we were able to identify them.
Chair Jon Runyan: That -- And what are you doing to ensure that none of these -- none of these contractors involved during the initial errors are involved in the future raise and realignments? And are you going to reach out to the same ones or do we have to make sure that obviously we have the system of checks and balances and that in there? Because, I mean, rewarding bad behavior sometimes becomes, unfortunately, a bad pattern around here.
Steven Muro: Two things we've done. Some of them didn't rebid other contracts. But the ones that have? We have been watching them at the other cemeteries where they didn't have problems. Plus, if they have a site now, we're making sure that they're doing it --
Chair Jon Runyan: So you're still -- you're still offering them?
Steven Muro: Unfortunately, if they did an error and we didn't catch it, it became our responsibility once they left and we signed off on it. So that's where we're holding our employees accountable for that issue.
Chair Jon Runyan: But you're still offering the same contractors --
Steven Muro: Actually, most of the contractors that did the first rounds aren't in the business anymore. A lot of them couldn't keep up with the standard that we set and have not rebid their contracts.
Chair Jon Runyan: What is the process of accountabily once personnel are identified who directly led to some of the failings uncovered by the national audit?
Steven Muro: Whenever -- Whenever an aerror is found at the national cemeteries, it's reported up through the chain and then we -- we double check to make sure everything they think they found, we do ask differet questions to verify. Then when we are sure that it is an error, we make sure we advise Congress of the error and this committee. And we also work with the families, we contact the families -- where there are families available -- and we talk to the families. If it's just the headstone, once we move it -- We advise them before we move it and after we've moved it that it's been corrected. And then if it's cremated remains or a body that needs to be relocated -- the eight that we did, we contact the family and we have a funeral director there. If the family wishes us to use the original funeral director there -- if they're still in business we do. Otherwise we hire a local one from the area.
Chair Jon Runyan: But to the personal accountability, there's nothing being done there?
Steven Muro: Yes, there is. We're holding those employees there are still employed there accountable for the error and for not catching the error.
Chair Jon Runyan: You have any examples of that?
Steven Muro: We're in the process of doing the investigation to take the appropriate adminstrative action on those employees.
If you're not feeling like accountability is taking place, you're not alone. Runyan's expressions throughout were often of disbelief. And what of Ranking Member Jerry McNerney? He noted that this was a follow up to the September 24, 2009 hearing and he would also note that "the value of the current $300 burial allowance and $300 plot allowance for qualifying veterans has diminished as funeral and burial costs have increased -- negatively affecting the survivors left behind."
He is correct. However, if you go back to our snapshot of that Septemeber 24, 2009 hearing, one of the first things you'll find is this: "Subcommittee Chair Hall also noted that the VA's $300 for a funeral plot and $300 for burial does not begin to cover the costs."
This was known in 2009. It's three years later. Why has this not been addressed?
One new detail that did come up was when the Department of Defense's Kathyrn Condon informed the Subcommittee that the average wait time is 98 days for the burial of a veteran not killed in action. 98 days seems like a very long time.
Back in 2009, then public editor of the New York Times Clark Hoyt weighed in on the issue of anonymous sources. He noted that the paper's "policy says anonymous sources should be used only as 'a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information is not available any other way'." Does Foreign Policy not have a policy on anonymous sourcing?
"This is tough enough without paid advocates making it worse" is what Josh Rogin presents "one official" in the government telling him. Are there any standards at Foreign Policy. Is Josh Rogin just allowed write any damn thing? He's now, yet again, attacking Camp Ashraf and this time he's gong after their public supporters. And the poor little White House and State Dept are just so so so worn down by these awful, awful advocates.
Not only was the quote unneeded, not only did it violate the basic policies (in journalism) on anonymous sourcing, it also part of yet another catty attack on Camp Ashraf from someone who's been allowed to launch many already.
Here's another reality for Josh Rogin: If the United Nations is monitoring Camp Liberty -- where some residents of Camp Ashraf are being relocated -- then you talk to the UN to confirm that.
Unless you're a an idiot, you do not run with this, "While there are some legitimate problems at the camp, the ["Obama administration"] official admitted, the U.N. has been monitoring Camp Liberty's water sewage, and food systems on a daily basis and the condtions are better than the MEK is portraying." How the hell is that sourcing?
Did Josh ever get his work fact checked? Or did the little punk cry and piss his briefs to get his way with every editor he ever had? The White House is not monitoring by that statement; therefore, the White House cannot tell you what is or isn't going on. If you want to talk -- on the record or off -- about what the UN has found, you go to a UN source. This is basic. And what Josh has offered is bulls**t.
If you doubt it, this section of his 'report' is a character attack and you don't allow anonymous officials to launch character attacks:
"The Americans who ought to know better and claim to be on the side of good solutions are really damaging it. Either they are too lazy or too arrogant to actually do their homework. They don't spend the time to learn facts, they just pop off. They accept the MEK line without question and then they posture," the official said. "We have a plan that has a chance to work and the Iraqis want it to work. The MEK ... it's not clear. And in this situation they are being badly advised by the people whose names appear in these ads."
I know Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Patrick Kennedy, Ed Rendell, John Lewis and Evan Bayh. (I know Lee Hamilton but I loath him.) They're among the public advocates for Camp Ashraf residents to be treated fairly.
It's strange because I spoke to two about this little 'report' from Joshy Posh and, thing is, he didn't try to get a comment from them. He just, like a good little whore, wrote down what the government wanted him to write down -- no questions asked. Whores don't ask questions, they just take your money.
The White House has refused to honor international law. Last week, we called out Hillary for making an idiot of herself and the US terrorist list by stating that whether or not Camp Ashraf residents were taken off that list would depend upon how they 'behaved' as the Iraqi government relocated them -- the same government that's already twice attacked them and -- as the United Nations publicly acknowledges -- the same government that's killed at least 49 Camp Ashraf residents.
No, that's not how you determine terorrism. If Josh Rogin weren't such a little whore, he'd be writing about that, he'd be pursuing that. Instead, he launches another attack on a group of people who are defenseless. And, at some point, the argument's going to be made -- and I could do it right now and do it in terms of the law -- that Camp Ashraf residents aren't on the terrorist list. The MEK is. The MEK is on it for activites that don't involve Camp Ashraf. When that argument gets made, the White House has even less to hide behind.
Somehow the State Dept refusing to comply with a court order from 2010 to conduct and complete a review of the status of the MEK isn't a concern to a whore like Josh Rogin. It's not even worth mentioning to him.
Camp Ashraf residents are protected under international law, that's reality. Josh Rogin doesn't have to like them, doesn't have to support whatever it is they support. All he has to do is recognize the law. Once he does that he can respect or reject the law. But there is nothing in his mental midget ditherings to ever imply, infer or openly suggest that the idiot knows the first thing he's writing about. But he's so very good at working in every point the White House wants made.
Here's what so damn embarrassing about Josh Posh's latest crap-fest, the White House is complaining that citizens -- that's what Howard Dean and company are -- are being active in politics. They're using their First Amendment rights. And that's what has the White House bitching, whining and moaning. They need to grow the hell up. In a democracy, what they're facing right now should happen on every issue and if they hadn't dragged their feet on this issue, maybe they wouldn't be fighting such a strong push now.
It's hard to tell when Josh is lying because he's so damn stupid. But at one point, when he's listing the 'paid advocates' and their activities, he goes off about sitting in on Congressional hearings. Those aren't paid advocates and that didn't start this year, it didn't start last year. It's been going on forever and maybe if Josh Rogin didn't take swallow everything the White House sticks in his mouth, he'd know that. Then again, maybe not. As I said, it's always had to tell when he's lying or when he's just showing how very stupid he is.
I've noted this before, I'll note it again before someone wonders, I have not received any money from Camp Ashraf or MEK or anything to do with them. I don't take money for things like that. I don't take money period. I don't take money for speaking -- I pay my own travel, I pay my own lodging. Nor do I speak on behalf of Camp Ashraf. The law is the law and who knew Foreign Policy would decide that international law wasn't to be respected?

Thursday, March 08, 2012







We'll always open with a serious call to bring US troops home. There is a bi-partisan effort in the Senate calling for US troops to come home from Afghanistan. Senator Patty Murray's office issued the following:
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Twenty-Four Senators Tell President it's Time to Focus Nation-Building on American Jobs

(Washington, DC) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, joined a bipartisan group of 24 Senators today in calling on the President to bring American combat forces home from Afghanistan. As the Senate considers the 2012 Highway Bill on the floor this week, the Senators pointed out that the total dollar amount spent in both Iraq and Afghanistan to date would provide enough funding to rebuild the American interstate highway system five times over.

"We simply cannot afford more years of elevated troop levels in Afghanistan. We are spending roughly $10 billion in Afghanistan each month at a time when we're making tough sacrifices at home. Your recent budget calls for $88 billion more for the war in Afghanistan in 2013. If this money is appropriated, we will have spent a total of $650 billion in Afghanistan. A majority of Americans worry that the costs of the war in Afghanistan will make it more difficult for the government to address the problems facing the United States at home. They're right," the Senators wrote.

In June 2011, Sen. Murray
spoke on the Senate floor to discuss her views on the need for a sizable and sustained troop drawdown in Afghanistan, and to outline her concerns over the unseen human costs of war.

Led by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), the letter also included: Patrick Leahy (D-VT); Jeff Bingaman (D-NM); Tom Harkin (D-IA); Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); Herb Kohl (D-WI); Ron Wyden (D-OR); Dick Durbin (D-IL); Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ); Bob Menendez (D-NJ); Ben Cardin (D-MD); Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); Tom Udall (D-NM); Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Al Franken (D-MN); Joe Manchin (D-WV); Rand Paul (R-KY); and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Complete text of today's letter follows below:

March 7, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We write to express our support of a transition of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from a combat role to a training, advising and assistance role next year, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated was his intention on February 1st, 2012. Although we would prefer a more rapid reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the statement made by the Secretary is a positive step towards ending the decade long war.

It is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. The United States intervened in Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda's safe haven, remove the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursue those who planned the September 11th attacks on the United States. Thanks to the exceptional service and sacrifice made by the American Armed Forces and our allies, those objectives have largely been met. We should continue to confront America's enemies wherever they are through targeted counterterrorism operations and end the large scale counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

We simply cannot afford more years of elevated troop levels in Afghanistan. We are spending roughly $10 billion in Afghanistan each month at a time when we're making tough sacrifices at home. Your recent budget calls for $88 billion more for the war in Afghanistan in 2013. If this money is appropriated, we will have spent a total of $650 billion in Afghanistan. A majority of Americans worry that the costs of the war in Afghanistan will make it more difficult for the government to address the problems facing the United States at home. They're right.

Our troops and their families have made unimaginable sacrifices during the past ten years of war in Afghanistan. Over 1,900 American troops have been killed and over 14,300 have been wounded. Thousands more return home with invisible wounds that will make it difficult to ever again enjoy life the way they did before the war.

There is strong bipartisan support in Congress to change course in Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want a safe and orderly drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives nearly passed an amendment to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act requiring a plan to accelerate the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. A similar amendment introduced by Senators Merkley, Lee, T. Udall, and Paul was passed by the U. S. Senate on November 30th.

We look forward to reviewing the report required by Section 1221 of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which will set benchmarks to evaluate progress toward the assumption by the Afghan government of lead responsibility for security in all areas of Afghanistan. In light of the comments made by Secretary Panetta on February 1st, we would also be interested in learning more about how quickly U.S. troops will be coming home, the number and purpose of troops that might remain in Afghanistan and for how long a period, and the costs and savings of accelerating the completion of combat operations. Nonetheless, we welcome his announcement and encourage you to take every possible step to end the large scale combat operations in Afghanistan and transition our effort to a targeted counterterrorism strategy.


Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)

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Again, that call is news, big news.
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
I knew when we woke up
You would be leaving
You knew when you left me
It might be too long
That kiss on your shoulder
It's me looking over
Close to your heart
So you're never alone
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
-- "Till They All Get Home," written by Melanie (Safka) and first appears on Melanie's Crazy Love
Today the Veterans of Foreign Wars appeared before Congress in a joint-hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Patty Murray. Let's note this from her opening statements.
Chair Patty Murray: Last month, I set down with veterans from across my home state when we were out at home over recess and I heard from veterans who time and again couldn't get access to VA mental health care in a timely way, who weren't getting the type of treatment they need, talked to women veterans who told me about their ongoing struggles to get specialized care and time and time again from veterans who shared their stories about the claims system that just wasn't working, veterans told me about the obstacles to employment that they continued to face. Some told me that they're even afraid to write the word "veteran" on their job application, for fear that those who have not served will see them as damaged and unstable. We passed last year the Vow to Hire Heroes Act and I want to thank Chairman Miller and everyone for their work on that. It was a great first step in tackling the high rate of veteran unemployment but it was only that, a first step. We have to focus now on building partnerships with private companies -- large and small -- to make sure that they have the information and tools they need to hire and train our veterans. We need to take advantage of the great sea of good will across the country from those who want to do the right thing and hire a veteran and as part of that effort we also need to beat back the myth and disinformation about the invisible wounds of war. No matter the challenges on the battlefield, we owe it to our veterans to give them a fair shot as they look for work when they come home. That's why the litmus test for hiring veterans can't be fear or stigma of PTSD or mental health issues. Instead, it must simply be whether a veteran is qualified for the job at hand. So I will continue to highlight the tremendous skills and leadership and talent our veterans bring to the table and I will continue to work with employers across the country to make sure our veterans can find good paying jobs here at home. And while we focus on jobs we can't lose sight of our veterans who are heading back to school. Before veterans commit their GI Bill benefits, we need to make sure they have the right information to make the best choice about their education and the school they choose. I'm pleased to say that in the next couple of weeks, I'll be introducing a bill that targets how educational institutions are recruiting our veterans and make sure veterans are given a clear picture about an institution's track record with other veterans. But whether is education or jobs or mental health or claims system that isn't working, each of those challenges serves as a constant reminder of the important work ahead to fuffill our obligation to our nation's veterans.
Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee. The Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is US House Rep Bob Filner. The Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is US House Rep Jeff Miller and we'll note this from his opening statement.
Chair Jeff Miller: Sequestration is in fact probably one of the top issues out there and it could be dealt with pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I've been trying to work for eight months now to get some type of a resolution from the administration and I can't. I've asked the Secretary and I've written a letter to the president. We've asked for all types of folks to come forward and say whether or not sequestration does in fact apply. And I'm sure you've already heard about it while you're up here but there is a conflict in the law. The newest law that was passed basically says you are in fact exempt from sequestration but unfortunately right now there's some -- some discrephancy. So I filed a bill on the House side that basically says that veterans health care and veterans benefits are exempt from sequestration. It will clarify totally the problem for the future so we won't have to ever contend with this again. And I ask you, as you're making your visits on the Hill, to talk to your senators, talk to your members of Congress and certainly on the House side ask your folks to sponsor this one-and-a-half page piece of legislation. Around here, one-and-a-half pages is pretty rare, most of it is thick stuff. This is pretty easy and it basically says veteran dollars are exempt from sequestration.
The VFW was represented on the panel by Commander-in-Chief Richard DeNoyer, Executive Director Robert Wallace, Director of National Veterans Service William Bradshaw, Director of National Legislative Service Raymond Kelley and the Chair of the National Legislative Committee Louis C. Stifano.
DeNoyer noted in his opening remarks, "Americans will soon forget what these warriors and veterans have done for our great nation." I am of a different opinion: Americans will soon forget what the government has done to these men and women. DeNoyer is absolutely right that there is a time limit on national interest and it's already fading. The VFW is focusing on issues that their membership feels are important. Other veterans organizations should make sure that they are representing the needs their members rank most important.
For the VFW, DeNoyer explained that two of the big issues involve transitioning to civilian life which has to do with education and employment. (Wally's weighing on education tonight at Rebecca's site.) On unemployment, he gave these figures: Iraq and Afghanistan veterans unemployment rate in February 2012 was 13.1% ("compared to 7.7% among all veterans) and that "nearly a third of young veterans are unemployed, more than 20% of women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed."
The other two concerns were medical. First, are the veterans getting the treatment they need? The VFW is concerned over the suicide rate and that more work needs to be done on providing assistance and on removing any stigma on asking for assistance. They are also concerned with the stigma that some people may be placing on veterans who suffer from PTSD or other wounds. That's a brief summary, Ava's going to cover those remarks at Trina's site tonight. That was the first part of the medical. The second concern of the medical for the VFW is the facilities themselves which are in need of repairs, in need of expansion and, in some cases, needing to be replaced.
We'll note this exchange between DeNoyer and Chair Patty Murray.
Chair Patty Murray: [. . .Y]ou mentioned about our newest student veterans needing to be able to get accurate information and have realistic expectations about the academic programs they choose so they can make their best choices about how to use their GI Bill benefits. As this Committee looks at this issue in the coming months, I want to ask you what are some of the key points that we should keep in mind as we look at this?
Richard DeNoyer: We need to provide veteran students with a clear understanding of what colleges offer and what their requirements are and what the requirements of the school are? It seems that many are using the GI Bill for the 21st Century and are not aware of their requirements before they get into school. They are not aware of graduation requirements, curriculum requirements and it would be our recommendation to have a centralized office that they could go to to get this information and that would be one of the solutions that we would encourage to do that.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay I appreciate that because I want to make sure --
Richard DeNoyer: That would help the state approving agencies also with their juridiction over colleges and so forth.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay. So they use their GI Benefit well since they can only use it once we want to be sure that they get good information.
Richard DeNoyer: That's right.
Chair Patty Murray: I appreciate that. I want to ask you -- and thank you for the VFW's really great work on the Independent Budget and for highlighting some of the major and minor construction for VA. As we talked about, the President's budget for construction is less than the Independent Budget recommendation. I know that you and I share the same concern about the VA's request. We need to take a hard look at the gap between the funding the VA needs to bring its facilities up to date and the funding that's now actually been requested by the department. In my home state of Washington, this is very important. We want a new pain clinic, a new spinal cord injury ward in Seattle, a new fire structure in Walla Walla. These are all critical infrastructure projects that are not going to get done for a great deal of time and I wanted to ask you if you could kind of share with the members of this Committee what this gap in funding will mean across the country?
Richard DeNoyer: Well access is the key to many of the facilities particularly those that provide speciality care. We're concerned the space, with the quality of the care and we believe that many of these are old and antiquated or maybe need to be renovated or even replaced. Safety is also an issue that we are concerned about to with some of these buildings. The seismic conditions. And, therefore, it nets down to access for specialty care and also safety.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay. Safety and access. Alright, I appreciate that. Commander, I really appreciated your comments about tasking the high rates of unemployment for returning veterans -- and for your leadership and work on this issue. This is something I care deeply about and I know we've got a lot of work ahead of us. As I talk to veterans and to employers, it has been really troubling to me to hear so many veterans who tell me directly that they don't write the word "veteran" on their resume when they apply for a job because of the fear that they have of the stigma attached to PTSD and mental health issues. I know we've got a lot of work ahead of us to address the misinformation about the invisible wounds of war but I wanted to ask today through your work on this, what strategies have you found to be most effective in fighting against the type of misinformation that many of our men and women are facing in terms of the invisible wounds of war.
Richard DeNoyer: Well first and foremost, Madam Chairman, we believe that today's military are the best educated, best qualified, best experienced individuals that America has ever fielded in an army. And they come home and they're completely qualified. They have skills that they could easily integrate into civilian society and the civilian workforce. Unfortunately, there seems to be a gap, a misunderstanding, between the skills that the military provides and the skills that they're looking for in civilian society. We believe that that could be easily resolved. The mental health issue, on the other hand, we propose a screening on mental health before the individual even goes into combat and a screening when they come back and periodic screenings afterwards. We also propose immediate care if needed -- mental health care -- as quickly as possible and only the pharmaceutical drugs used if absolutely necessary so that drug dependence doesn't result in that. And we feel that this would be -- hopefully, resolve these problems.
He was speaking of drug dependency and the need for care in prescribing drugs, a new study on PTSD finds that veterans are being overly medicated. The Universty of California, San Francisco (UCSF)'s Steve Tokar reports on the study conducted by UCSF and the San Francisco VA Medical Center which found that veterans being prescribed opiates for PTSD and/or pain are "more likely to receive higher dose prescriptions, two or more opiate prescriptions and concurrent prescriptions of sedative-hypnotics such as valium." And while that is serious all by itself, the study also found that "all veterans who were prescribed opiates were also at significantly higher risk of serious adverse clinical outcomes, such as drug and alcohol-related overdoses, suicide and violent injury, with the risk being most pronounced for veterans with PTSD." Dr. Karen Seal was the lead author of the study and Tokar notes:

Seal explained that previous studies have shown that patients with PTSD may experience physical pain more intensely because of either lowered pain thresholds or disruption of the production of endorphins – opiates secreted naturally in the brain and body. PTSD, an anxiety disorder, may be a cause, itself, she said. "The more anxious you are, the more likely you are to be attuned to pain symptoms, which in turn, make you more anxious, which makes the pain worse, so it becomes a vicious cycle."
To break that cycle, Seal and her co-authors recommend that the VA continue to extend its current stepped approach to treating patients who have both pain and PTSD. "Fortunately," she said, "the elements of that approach are in place, or can be put in place, throughout the VA health care system."
Seal said that those elements include Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs), which align primary care physicians with nurse care managers, mental health providers, pharmacists and social workers. "For patients presenting to primary care with pain, PACTs are important step in the direction of better care," she said. "Patients requiring more intensive treatment can 'step up' to multi-disciplinary specialty pain management and PTSD services that are available at most VA medical centers. And the VA is also a leader in providing evidence-based combined cognitive behavioral therapy for PTSD and pain.
Finally, she said, the VA is "making strides" to implement pain management guidelines developed by the VA and the Department of Defense that discourage the overuse of opiate medications in favor of anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, exercise, relaxation techniques and complementary alternative medicine such as acupuncture.
Even in remote VA clinics and isolated rural areas, many of these resources can be tapped through the use of video teleconferencing with pain experts at the medical centers, as well as online," said Seal. She recommended that veterans visit the VA site MyHealtheVet at

Nadia Kounang (CNN) adds
, "The authors emphasized that the study didn't find that PTSD or other mental health diagnosis caused increased pain or opioid use. Rather, the study was an alarm to the consequences of pain management through opioids." Kounang quotes Dr. Seal stating, "We now need to start considering alternative solutions to relieving our patient's pain and suffering."

Wednesday, March 07, 2012







Chair Bill Johnson: The VA clearly indicates in a letter from Secretary Gould on November 24,2010 that they automatically go to the two-step acquisition process which by definition precludes evaluation of existing lease space as an option of lease spaces for all leases greater than 20,000 feet. Does VA presume that this authorizes them to bypass the requirements of federal acquistion regulations in 38 US Section 8104B.
Robert Neary: No, sir, we do not presume that we've got authority to violate title 38 or the federal acquisition regulations.
This afternoon the US House Veterans Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing. Bill Johnson is the Subcommittee Chair, Joe Donnelly is the Ranking Member. Robert Neary is the Acting Executive Director of the Office of Constructin & Facilities Management at the Department of Veterans Affairs and he was joined by the Dept's George Szwarcman (Director of Real Property Services) and Brandi Fate (Director of Capital Asset Management and Support). Robert Neary began his opening remarks before the Subcommittee with what he termed an "update" but what are more popularly known as a "correction."
Robert Neary: In response to a series of questions from the Subcommittee in December 2011, VA provided an incorrect appraisal for the targeted relocated Savannah Outpatient Clinic site. Instead of referencing a 46,85 acre site, VA inadvertently referenced a 16.85 acre location. The appraiser failed to identify that the deed of sale and the tax records did not reflect the same information. Since learning of the discrepancy, VA immediately requested a revised appraisal and provided an update to the Subcommittee on March 2, 2012, acknoledging the error. VA is contracting for another certified appraiser to review the initial appraisal, and provide a determination regarding fair market value of VA's preferred site as of Spring, 2010. Finally, VA is also obtaining a new appraisal that reflects the current land value of the site. VA will review all the appraisal reports concerning the targeted parcel in Savannah in order to determine what appropriate corrective action may be warranted. I want to emphasize that VA only uses appraisers who maintain appropriate licensure and accreditation, in addition to adherence to the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, which is standard operating procedure. I would like to apologize to the Committee for the delay in uncovering the facts and provide assurance that response to future inquiries will be more thoroughly investigated.
And before you think, 'At least the VA's being upfront . . .,' no, they are not. They got caught. I'm not referring to Neary himself -- I have no idea who was responsible. But Ranking Member Joe Donnelly explained what was going on:
The VA sought Congressional authorization for the Savannah, Georgia clinic expansion in its FY 2009 budget submission. This authority, for a clinic with 38,900 net usable square feet at a cost of $3.2 million, was provided in October 2008. Sometime after this authorization, the VA epxanded the project by over 45% and is now seeking to lease a clinic with a maximum net usable square footage of 55,193. The VA has not notified Congress or sought additional authorization for this expanison. In addition, although this project was authorized in 2008, construction is just now going forward.
Okay, let's review that. In 2008, the VA had a plan to expand the Savannah clinic and presented it to Congress while Congress was working on the 2009 budget. Congress examined the proposal and signed off on it with funding of $3.2 million. Four years later, construction is only now beginning. Construction was supposed to have already been completed and the expanded facility up and running no later than June of last year. In addition, what VA presented and Congress approved was not good enough for someone(s) who took it upon themselves to expand the plan by nearly 50% ("over 45%"). Why would you do that? Why would you turn in plans for an expansion, get approval and then double what you had planned?
Because you know Congress will foot the bill. The costs will fall under "cost overruns" and Congress isn't going to default on payment to various contractors and subcontractors overseeing the work and construction workers doing the building. (Nor am I suggesting that Congress should. The fault is not on the building end, the fault's with VA management and supervision.) Most likely, Mr./Ms. X knew that the Savannah project was going to be a big one. They presented Congress with plans for only half the work needed knowing that once the project was started, it would be cost overruns and Congress wouldn't pull the plug. What they did wasn't 'creative.' What they did was most likely fraud.
And if that term ("fraud") seems too strong or if someone wants to argue it's an accident. It happens too often to be an accident.
Ranking Member Joe Donnelly: The clinic in Savannah is not the only project which the VA has expanded after seeking authorization. Projects in Atlanta, Georgia; Eugene, Oregon; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Green Bay, Wisconsin and Greenville, North Carolina are all slated to be substantially larger than authorized by Congress.
Sequestration is very likely this year -- meaning the 2013 Fiscal Year budget will face automatic cuts. The country has a huge deficit which is supposedly this huge concern. So why is VA being allowed -- and it's not just VA -- to get away with cost overruns?
Congress needs to have an automatic policy regarding cost overruns. Again, I don't subscribe to denying payment to the various contractors and construction workers. But I do think if you have a cost overrun, you need to be responsible. And by "responsible," I mean out of job. You're supposed to have planned this. They can make an exception for inflation. They can even allow a 15% overrun not resulting in termination. But when you're project has increased over 45% by what Congress approved, you need to be out of a job.
That's because you're either too incompentent to oversee a project in the first place or you're not providing the oversight needed. Either way, the taxpayer can't afford you and your mistakes.
There need to be clear consequences here. We are willing (wrongly, I believe) to automatically sentence someone to prison under "three strikes and you're out" laws. But we have no law requiring that those who waste -- intentionally or due to incompetence -- taxpayer monies aren't immediately fired? It's past time for departments to start being held accountable. And it's very clear that VA and others will not hold themselves accountable so Congress needs to start providing some input.
It is not fair that everyone else from a shoplifter to, yes, even a member of Congress faces some form of accountability (Congressional members can be kicked out in any election if enough voters don't feel they're doing their jobs) but those responsible for cost overruns are never disciplined, never lose a job, never lose a night's sleep.
Again, you may think, 'Well it was just a mistake . . .' No, it wasn't. Back to Subcommittee Chair Johnson.
Subcommitee Chair Bill Johnson: Why did the three annual lease status reports reported to Congress since 2009 continue to repeat the original authorization amounts when the VA clearly knew their efforts were not consistent with the Congressional limits.
Robert Neary: Sir, I-I -- I think our current process for the past several years has been to notify the Congress -- to notify the Committees on Veterans Affairs when we, uh, are planning to enter into a lease that exceeds the, uh, uh, what was authorized by greater than 10%. And our practice is to do that after we have received market-based pricing based on our procurement. Now, in this case, significant time has passed since the original authorization. Uh. But-but that's the reason that we have not, uh, notified the Committee. We're waiting for the, uh, price proposals to receive, uh, through competition.
Subcommittee Chair Bill Johnson: Okay, I'd like to point out that the Green Bay clinic is a similar scenario the FY '09 budget authority request was for 70,600 square feet, two-million-eight-thousand annual rent and $3,883,000 initial payment. Total budget authorized over 20 years was 44 -- I'm sorry, 44,043,000. As recently as the 2012 submission to Congress, the VA has indicated in the lease status report that Green Bay lease was not changed from FY '09 authorization request, however, SFOVA-101-09-RP-0200, issued 6-24-2009 was for 161,525 square feet -- 228% higher than authorized. And news reports indicate that the Green Bay lease has now been awarded.
Repeating, for the 2009 budget, they claimed they were requesting for 70,600 square feet. They knew at least by June of 2009 that they were actually going to be dealing with 161,525 feet. They didn't notify Congress, they stayed silent for years. This was fraud. When you present that you need X but you actually need greater than that amount and you know that once the project's started, it will be very hard for Congress to pull the plug, then you're engaging in fraud.
You're presenting false numbers -- fraudulent numbers -- to Congress because they will get approved while the whole time you're intending to spend much more. You're defrauding the taxpayer.
Chair Bill Johnson: Uhm, let me ask you another question. Has the VA already paid approximately 100,000 or so for a purchase option on the land in Savannah.
Robert Neary: That's correct, Mr. Chairmn.
Chair Bill Johnson: Under what authority does VA purchase an option to buy real property?
Robert Neary: I'd like to ask Mr. Szwarcman to answer that.
George Szwarcman: . . . [Microphone not on] Oh, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Robert Neary: Okay, it's on.
George Szwarcman: Okay. Uhm . . . [Clears throat] VA -- According to a decision, or an opinion by the Office of General Counsel, VA does, uh, have authority to purchase options to purchase real property. Uh, the only distinction I would make in this case is that VA is purchasing an option for -- an assignable option -- or I should say -- yeah -- purchases an option to buy that property which will be assigned to the eventual developer. So it is never really the intent of VA to acquire a piece of property such as in Savannah for VA to own.
Chair Bill Johnson: Uhm, you know, I think the operative word here is to purchase an option. The red book makes it clear that agencies need a specific statutory authority to purchase an option. This is a separate authority than the authority to buy real property outright. I can refer you to that -- to the red book. A quick search of VA's authorities do not provide an authority for their action. So I'm a little bit lost with that. There's a difference between purchasing an option and purchasing property outright. Has the VA obligated itself to purchase the land?
Robert Neary: Uh, no, sir, we've not.
Chair Bill Johnson: And if the land is not purchased, will VA get any of that money back?
Robert Neary: No, sir.
Chair Bill Johnson: So that's taxpayer dollars down the drain.
Robert Neary: If a decision were made not to acquire that site, then the money would be lost, yes.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012






Saturday night on NBC's The Firm (airing new episodes in the second hour of prime time and featuring Juliette Lewis delivering an amazing performance in the role of Tammy -- played by Holly Hunter in the film) a military officer heard his son shot while the two were on the phone. He needed Mitch (Josh Lucas) and Ray (Callum Keith Rennie) to help him find out what happened to his son. They quickly figure out that they're dealing with an assassination ordered by the White House.

Ray: This kill list, an actual list created by the feds?

Mitch: Approved by the White House, enemies of the state who are pre-approved for assassination.

Ray: Pre-approved?

Mitch: If US agents or military come across names on that list they are authorized to kill -- no due, process nothing.

Ray: Okay, I understand that on a battlefield but Rashad's an American on US soil.

Mitch: We've killed people on this list before, even US citizens, but never here in the US.
Ava and I noted the dialogue at Third. As the episode(written by Lukas Reiter and Jonathan Shapiro) progresses, the government tries to stonewall the FISA court. Mitch wants to know when it became acceptable to kill US citizens on US soil and when the discussion on that took place? Today Jason Ditz ( reports the disturbing news that US Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at Northwestern University, declared that such assassinations were "legal and constitutional" and that Barack Obama -- or apparently any other US president to come -- making the decision to assassinate equaled "due process." No, it doesn't. Some will quibble and say that Holder was speaking of overseas (which doesn't make it any more legal) but if he's declaring that it can happen anywhere -- anywhere includes the United States.
In remarks delivered at the Northwestern University School of Law today, Attorney General Eric Holder provided the Obama Administration's most detailed public description yet of the legal authority under which it believes it can carry out targeted killings, including of U.S. citizens abroad. Unfortunately, the remarks still amounted to a broad defense of the government's claimed expansive authority to conduct targeted killings far from a battlefield, without judicial review of its legal justifications or evidence, either before or after a killing. The remarks also mischaracterized the debate over the need for judicial review of targeted killing decisions
Echoing statements made by Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson last month, Holder claimed that "some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen" (our emphasis), and argued that courts should not get involved in the "real-time decisions" to deploy lethal force. But Holder is constructing a straw man argument here. We are not aware of anyone who has argued that judicial review before a targeted killing is always required, or that courts should exercise real-time oversight over lethal operations.
Rather, in a lawsuit we filed with the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2010 on behalf of the father of Anwar al-Awlaki (who was placed on a government kill list in 2009 and died in a joint CIA/military drone strike in fall 2011), we asked the court to set standards describing when the government could constitutionally use lethal force against a U.S. citizen away from an active battlefield. We also asked the court to order the government to reveal the criteria it used to place al-Awlaki on so-called "kill lists." And we made clear to the court that we were not asking it to intervene in real-time decision-making by the Executive Branch. The court dismissed our lawsuit on the grounds that it raised "political questions," and held that the judiciary had no role to play in deciding the legal criteria pursuant to which the executive branch could take the life of one of its own citizens.
As Holder's speech demonstrates, though, judicial oversight is critically important given the breathtaking authority the government has claimed. Holder acknowledged that all U.S. citizens, including those accused of being terrorists, have a right to due process under the Constitution, but he argued that the Executive Branch, alone, should determine whether the due process requirement is satisfied when the government claims law of war or self-defense authority to kill. In a system of constitutional checks and balances, that simply cannot be the case. Courts must have a role in determining whether the government's authority to kill its own citizens is legal and whether a decision to kill complies with the Constitution. Otherwise, the government can wield the power to take life with impunity. We should not trust any president -- whether this one or the next -- to make such momentous decisions fully insulated from judicial review. As the Supreme Court has admonished, "a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."
Josh Lucas plays an attorney (Mitch McDeere) on The Firm, Nathan Freed Wessler is a real attorney and we'll stay with real attorneys to note that on this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights). Among the topics they explore this week is a potential secret indictment against Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Excerpt.
Michael Ratner: But what brings us really and brings me particularly to focus on these documents is the Center for Constitutional Rights and myself are advisors to Julian Assanfe and WikiLeaks, legal advisors. And we've been particular advisors about the Bradley Manning trial [. . .] So in these documents, these Stratfor documents, there's one document from Fred Burton who is the vice president, former US official, a counter-terrorism official, that says, "We have a sealed indictment on Julian Assange. Keep this private." He did this in January 2011, just over a year ago. And, of course, WikiLeaks is analyzing documents and sees this document and says, "What's this? Is this true? Is this valid?" And, of course, until we see it and know it, we don't know that it's 100% valid, but what Fred Burton has done in the past has been very reliable. And he's very well connected. So, for example, in another e-mail he says, within 10 days after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, he said, "I can get the documents that were seized in that house from Osama bin laden." So these guys have very close connections with US intelligence. Other parts of these documents, in addition to this claim that there's an indictment, where they talk about Julian Assange, they talk about Julian Assange as a high tech terrorist, that's what Fred Burton says, and that we have to bring him down the way that we bring down al Qaeda.
Heidi Boghosian: No.
Michael Ratner: That's what they say.
Heidi Boghosian: No.
Michael Ratner: And the way we're going to do it, we're going to jail him wherever we can, we're going to cut off all his finances and, of course, that's exactly what happened. They cut off Master Card contributions to WikiLeaks, they cut off Visa donations to WikiLeaks, they cut off pay pal to WikiLeaks, and they're obviously going after them any way they can. So there's a lot of accuracy in this. But, lookit, from my point of view, the fact that there might be, or it looks like there is, a sealed indictment against Julian Assange is just incredible to me. I mean, first of all, it would be, I think it's the first time in US history that a US journalist has actually been indicted for publishing classified documents that he himself didn't have access to as a classified person. SO that's the first thing. The second thing that's amazing, the secrecy. If he's been indicted, it's by a secret grand jury sitting in Alexandria [Virginia], it's a secret indictment and it's secret to me, one of his --
Heidi Boghosian: Attorneys, legal advisors.
Michael Ratner: -- legal counsel, legal advisors, right. It's secret to Julian Assange, it's secret to WikiLeaks, but it's apparently not secret to a private security company that's like a back door for the US spy agencies.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, how often are secret indictments brought and under what circumstance?

Michael Ratner: The normal case of a secret indictment is when a person is not in custody and they're afraid, if a person gets news of a secret indictment, they'll flee. Now, of course, Julian Assange is in custody. I mean, he sort of is in custody. He has a [monitoring] bracelet on, he's under court --
Heidi Boghosian: He's under house arrest.
Michael Ratner: He's under house arrest essentially in the UK -- not house arrest exactly, but he has to go back to his house every day at six o'clock [p.m.], he could meet people for lunch or something --
Heidi Boghosian: He's under supervision.
Michael Ratner: And he has a bracelet that he can't get off. So the normal case would be when a person -- not really Julian Assange -- but when a person doesn't really know about it and then they do it in the sealed way so the person doesn't flee. Now I think in this case, it may be --
Heidi Boghosian: I was going to say, could this be because he's enjoyed such broad support, especially in the online communities? That the government, with their private arm, is afraid that there would be such a tremendous outcry and more support? And perhaps more 'hacktivism,' as they say?
Michael Ratner: There's certainly going to be hacktivism as a result of this. I actually think the explanation may be differnent. Two things. One, let's hope it's not really an indictment and that the government isn't so crazy, Obama isn't so crazy -- and Holder, aren't so crazy to make their legacy to be the execution of a person I consider to have exposed -- along with Bradley Manning if it's true that he was the source --
Heidi Boghosian: Murder.
Michael Ratner: Murder. Serious War Crimes. Thousands of deaths in Iraq. The Collateral Murder video of the Reuters people being killed. So these people have done an amazing, an amazing piece of work. And the idea --
Heidi Boghosian: A public service.
Michael Ratner: A public service. And the idea, of course -- I mean this is what happens to whistle blowers. They first get -- You know the government in power or charge, Obama and Holder, go after them --
Heidi Boghsian: Retaliation.
Michael Ratner: Right. And eventually they're seen as what they really are, which are people who have played the crucial role in trying to change society in a positive direction.
Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights weighed in on the possible secret indictement:
A sealed indictment against Julian Assange would underscore the very thing Wikileaks has been fighting against: abuses the government commits in an environment of secrecy and expansive, reflexive calls for "national security." From the shocking, inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning, to secret grand jury proceedings, to Stratfor's apparent knowledge of the existence of a sealed indictment before either Mr. Assange or the American public had such knowledge, the government's conduct in this case reveals why more transparency, not more secrecy, is essential. This would also mark perhaps the first time a journalist has been prosecuted for allegedly receiving and publishing "classified" documents. Indicting Julian Assange would represent a dramatic assault on the First Amendment, journalists, and the public's right to know.
Rather than promoting transparency as promised, the Obama administration has aggressively pursued whistleblowers and dissenters, launching Espionage Act prosecutions twice as many times as all previous administrations in the last century combined. Attorney General Eric Holder should rethink this dangerous course. Instead of pursuing Julian Assange, Mr. Holder should investigate the serious crimes and abuse of government authority exposed by Wikileaks.
From shredding democracy in the US to the apparently failed 'democracy' 'experiment' of Iraq, early this morning in Iraq, police forces were attacked in Haditha. Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) reports, "This was obviously a very well-planned attack. It began when gunmen, dozens of them according to police sources, commandeered and stole SWAT vehicles. The SWAT teams are part of the counterterrorism forces. They drove around the city, dressed as SWAT members, in black-and-blue univorms. As they were stopped at a checkpoint, they opened fire." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) notes one of the assailants was killed in the attacks and that they used "at least 14 black USVs". Jack Healy (New York Times) reports that there were approximately 40 assailants and that they wore police uniforms and used vehicles which were like or were similar (or actually were) police vehicles and that they passed through police checkpoints by claiming "they had arrest warrants for criminal suspects." David Blair (Telegraph of London) adds, "The nine officers on duty, who appear to have been taken in by this deception, were then disarmed and shot dead." AFP states that, in addition to the "stolen army vehicles," they had others dispersed throughout the city in civilian cars and that police Col Mohammed Shauffeur and Captain Khaled Mohammed Sayil's homes were attacked with both men kidnapped and three bodyguards killed. Later Shauffer's corpse turned up in with "gunshots to the head." Bassim al-Anbari (AFP) quotes police Lt Col Owaid Khalaf who states, "More than 50 gunment altogheter started attacking checkpoints all over the town." Fadhel al-Badrani (Reuters) reports, "Three policemen survived the attacks with wounds and were being treated at Haditha hospital. A medical source at Haditha hospital confirmed the hospital received 27 bodies of slain victims and was treating three wounded." BBC News reports both Col Mohammed Shauffeur and Captain Khaled Mohammed Sayil corpses were discovered ("shot dead") shortly after they were kidnapped, "According to the Associated Press news agency, an al-Qaeda flag was raised at one of the checkpoints that was hit." NPR, in their hourly news updates, notes that "reportedly" the flag was raised.
AP really milks the "al Qaeda" -- notice it's not "al Qaeda in Iraq" and, turns out, they're yet again wrong. Why do they lie? Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "During the clashes, the attackers raised the black flags of Islamic State of Iraq -- an umbrella group which includes al Qaeda in Iraq." Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) offers, "The Islamic State of Iraq, which has claimed responsibility for a string of recent bombings, across the country appears to be stepping up efforts to eliminate all those who played a prominent role in the anti-al Qaeda Awakening movement launched by the U.S. military at the height of its presence in Iraq five years ago."

Alsumaria TV notes that, using "machine guns and grenades" the assailants carried out the attacks and quotes an unnamed "source in operational command of Anbar province" stating that "the gunmen took control of the majority of the checkpoints in the judiciary." The Herald Sun states, "Shauffeur's body was found in a Haditha marketplace and Sayil was discovered in an alleyway, blindfolded with fatal gunshots to the head." Alsumaria explains that there is a vehicle and pedistrian ban in Haditha currently as a result of the attacks.