Friday, October 25, 2013






It's amazing what gets coverage in the US media and what doesn't.  Iraq is the war the media withdrew from -- and to think of all the scorn they heaped on war resisters who refused to participate due to ethics.  For the media, it was money and cowardice.  Today, to flip through what passes for cable news is to realize just how much trash and nonsense is shoved off on the American people daily.  Comedy Central has proved as damaging as Jon Stewart once accused Crossfire of being.

Yesterday, we attended a hearing.  Not on Iraq, not on veterans, not on a topic we cover here.  We're noting it (briefly) now because this hearing has been ignored.  It's been ignored as much as the "invisible" children the Chair of the Subcommittee spoke of.   "We cannot allow this to continue," insisted US House Rep Dave Richert but to who did he insist this when the press is silent on the hearing?

Subcommittee Chair Dave Reichert:  I think most people know that before getting elected to Congress, I spent 32 years in law enforcement in King County and I became sheriff in 1997 and left in January of 2005 to come to Congress.  I saw first-hand the tragedies that children face when they're not cared for by loving parents.  It was in the sheriff's office where I first witnessed the horrors of child sex trafficking and it convinced me that we needed to do more to protect our youth at risk of abuse.  And in late summer of 1982, I began a 20-year journey that would focus my attention on this issue like nothing else ever could.  On August 12 of 1982, I was called to investigate the death of a young woman whose body was found in the Green River just south of Seattle and suburban Kent, Washington.  Of course, I didn't know then that that was the beginning of 20 years, I thought that I was investigating one murder.  Three days later, I received a call about two more bodies being found in the river.  And, as I was investigating that crime scene, I found a third body on the banks of the river.  Finding these victims began our two decade hunt for a man who became known as The Green River Killer who, once caught, confessed to killing more than 70 young women who had been involved in the sex trade.   Of the 48 known victims of The Green River Killer, at least 17 were minors, children who had been abused or neglected, who had run away from home, who had been victimized and ultimately killed.  Ridgway pled guilty to 49 murders and, like he said, probably killed 79 or 80.  The sad part of the story is the families who will never see their daughters again, lives lost, of course, people recognize that.  But the community didn't see these children.  Driving from home to work to work to home, they were invisible. This issue is not just an abstract problem from a faraway place for me, it's personal.  As Chairman, I focused on how we can improve the child welfare system and help children in foster care lead successful lives.  One of the most devastating examples of the vulnerability of children in foster care is when they become victims of sex trafficking.  In 2010, officials in Los Angeles reported that 59% of juveniles arrested for prostitution were in foster care.  Of children reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who were also likely sex trafficking victims, 60% were in foster care or group homes when they ran away.  Research cited by the Dept of US Health and  Human Services shows the majority of sex trafficked youth experience sexual abuse growing up.  

Subcommittee Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett observed, "While there is not one piece of legislation that will stop sex trafficking of children, we can't allow complacency to stop us from doing everything in our power to put a stop to this. Our first task in this Subcommittee, given our jurisdiction, is to ensure the child welfare system doesn't become a pipeline to prostitution."

The Subcommittee heard from two panels.  The first was made up of members of Congress: US House Reps Erik Paulsen, Lousie Slaughter, Ted Poe and Karen Bass and, via video presentation, US Senator Orrin Hatch. The issue, Reichert noted, demonstrated "true bipartisanship so we have Democrats and Republicans testifying here today."

The second panel was Human Rights Project for Girls' Withelma Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's John Ryan, Center for Children and Youth Justice's Bobbe J. Bridge. YouthCare's Melinda Giovengo and Texans Care For Children's Ashley Harris.

As if anticipating the media blackout that would surround the hearing, US House Rep Erik Paulsen observed, "This is an issue that people don't always like to talk about.  And while we read stories about it going on in foreign countries, the reality is that it's happening right in our backyards."  Paulsen and Slaughter are sponsoring HR 2744, the Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act.

US House Rep Louise Slaughter:  [. . .] [T]he part of this bill that is of primary importance to me is that the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act will be amended to require that child victims of sex trafficking will now be considered victims of abuse and neglect, making them eligible to receive services within the child welfare system.  The idea that a young person rescued from a sex trafficking operation could be considered an offender within the juvenile justice system was shocking to me.  These are victims in the strongest sense of the world -- children who have been preyed upon by those who would take advantage of their situation, the fear and loneliness that comes from being in the foster care system, to use them to their own advantage.  They deserve help, a chance at healing and wholeness, not a criminal record.

Senator Hatch continued that thread by noting, "I'm sure many Americans would be surprised to learn that most child welfare agencies will not serve trafficked children and youth who are not in the custody of a biological or foster family or living in a group home.  Often these children, who are not legally able to give consent for sex, are arrested for prostitution and referred to the juvenile justice system."

US House Rep Karen Bass has introduced HR 1732, Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act.  GovTrack.US notes:

This bill was assigned to a congressional committee on April 25, 2013, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole.
Introduced Apr 25, 2013
Referred to Committee Apr 25, 2013
Reported by Committee ...
Passed House ...
Passed Senate ...
Signed by the President ...
0% chance of getting past committee.
0% chance of being enacted.

Only 11% of bills made it past committee and only about 3% were enacted in 2011–2013. [show factors | methodology]
33 cosponsors (25D, 8R) (show)         

Prognosis?  "0% chance of getting past committee.  0% chance of being enacted."  If the press was doing their job, might the prognosis be better?

US House Rep Ted Poe:  Let me tell you the story of Anna, a survivor who was brave enough to tell her story, which I heard from Shared Hope International.  After Anna's family passed away, she was placed in the foster care system at the age of three.  She was shuffled from home to home until age 12 when she was finally adopted by a loving family.  As a typical pre-teen, she did not like her family's rules.  She hung out at the corner store where she could break the rules and eat junk food without her family knowing.  There, she made a friend whom she thought she could trust.  Little did she know that the 'friend' she met at the corner store was not actually a friend at all.  One day, when she got into a fight with her parents, as teenagers do, she called her 'friend' from the store, who promptly picked her up.  Anna didn't know that this call would change her life forever.  Her 'friend' was actually a trafficker.  He was violent.  He beat her and sold her body.  She feared running away or putting up a fight because he threatened her family's lives.  So she stayed.  And the emotional, physical and sexual abuse continued.  Ann became convinced that her family no longer wanted her.  She felt helpless and scared.  After almost four years of this unspeakable abuse, Anna eventually escaped and was reunited with her family.  [. . .] She now has a ministry for sex trafficking survivors and runs an outreach program for at risk-youth.

Congress looks at American youth at risk and no one cares enough to report?  We have a very sick media in this country creating a trash culture that grows ever more toxic. The information we need is kept from us and, this time, it's not because it was stamped "TOP SECRET," it's because the press was too busy having fun to do anything of value.

Since we're on the topic of Congress, let's note Senator Charles Schumer is calling for the Jewish Archives to be turned over to the Jewish community and not the Iraqi government.  The US National Archives explains:

On May 6, 2003, just days after the Coalition forces took over Baghdad, 16 American soldiers from Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, a group assigned to search for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, entered Saddam Hussein’s flooded intelligence building. In the basement, under four feet of water, they found thousands of books and documents relating to the Jewish community of Iraq – materials that had belonged to synagogues and Jewish organizations in Baghdad.
The water-logged materials quickly became moldy in Baghdad’s intense heat and humidity. Seeking guidance, the Coalition Provisional Authority placed an urgent call to the nation’s foremost conservation experts at the National Archives. Just a week later, National Archives Director of Preservation Programs Doris Hamburg and Conservation Chief Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad via military transport to assess the damage and make recommendations for preservation of the materials. Both experts share this extraordinary story and take you “behind the scenes” in this brief video []. This video is in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives encourages its use and free distribution.
Given limited treatment options in Baghdad, and with the agreement of Iraqi representatives, the materials were shipped to the United States for preservation and exhibition. Since then, these materials have been vacuum freeze-dried, preserved and photographed under the direction of the National Archives. The collection includes more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and English, dating from 1540 to the 1970s. A special website to launch this fall will make these historic materials freely available to all online as they are digitized and catalogued. This work was made possible through the assistance of the Department of State, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Center for Jewish History.
The Jews of Iraq have a rich past, extending back to Babylonia. These materials provide a tangible link to this community that flourished there, but in the second half of the twentieth century dispersed throughout the world. Today, fewer than five Jews remain. 

As noted yesterday, Senator Chuck Schumer is calling for the archives not to be shipped back to Iraq but handed over to their rightful owners, the Jewish community.  Dan Friedman (New York Daily News) reported:

  Schumer Wednesday urged the State Department “to do everything in their power to ensure that these treasured artifacts remain available and accessible to Jews worldwide.”
In a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State John Kerry, Schumer urged the department to work with Jewish groups in the United States and abroad to find another home for the documents.
"Since the exile of Jews from Iraq, virtually no Jewish life remains in the country,” Schumer wrote. “This treasured collection belongs to the Jewish community and should be made available to them."

Schumer is not alone.  US House Rep Ilena Ros-Lehtinen's office issued the following statement yesterday:

“It’s imperative that we preserve the history of the Jewish community of Iraq so that future generations will always remember their ancestors’ experiences and historical contributions”
(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a senior member of the Florida congressional delegation, co-authored a letter, along with U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, urging Secretary of State John Kerry to return historic communal and religious items currently on display at the National Archives to the Iraqi Jewish community and their descendants, and not the government of Iraq. These artifacts, discovered in a decrepit state by U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in 2003, were rescued and brought to the United States for repair and preservation.  Next spring, these items are scheduled to be sent back to Iraq but Ros-Lehtinen and Israel are asking that they be returned to their rightful inheritors.
Statement by Ros-Lehtinen: “I’m pleased to join my colleague Steve in urging Secretary Kerry and the State Department to return these ancient Jewish artifacts to their rightful owners. The Iraqi government has absolutely no right or legitimate claim to these artifacts. These communal, religious and personal items were left behind in a temple in Baghdad to be safeguarded as the vast majority of Jews were forced to flee Iraq due to rampant persecution, harassment and anti-Semitic hatred, only to see them stolen by Saddam Hussein and his thugs. Once thought to be lost and gone forever, we now have a remarkable opportunity to restore a piece of an ancient Jewish community’s collective memory. It’s imperative that we preserve the history of the Jewish community of Iraq so that future generations will always remember their ancestors’ experiences and historical contributions. It would be criminal for the U.S. government to be complicit in denying the Jewish community what is rightfully theirs.”
Statement by Israel: “I am grateful that these artifacts, which represent the rich and vibrant Jewish community that once existed in Iraq, have been restored. However, I do not believe that we should send these treasures back to the Iraqi Government. That’s why I’m working with my colleague Rep. Ros-Lehtinen to urge the U.S. Government to facilitate a process by which we can return the artifacts to their rightful owners or their owners’ descendants.”

####### notes, "The State Department plans to return the archive to the Iraqi government, in line with a written agreement between the two parties."  A written agreement regarding the return of property is not binding when it's discovered that the property in question was stolen.  The Iraqi government had no legal rights to the property and committed fraud by signing the agreement.  Fraud can be prosecuted.  The agreement has no legal standing.

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