Saturday, January 23, 2010








The Iraq Inquiry continued today in London. And the opening moments recalled a film scence. Specifically, Robert Zemeckis' Death Becomes Her, the scene where Helen (Goldie Hawn), obsessed with anger and rage towards Madeline (Meryl Streep), is now institutionalized and in group therapy with a psychologist (Alaina Reed-Hall) and other patients.

Doctor: What about you, Helen? We haven't heard from you in a while. Is there anything you'd like to talk about with the group?

Helen: Yes. I would like to talk about . . .

The group tenses up.

Helen: . . . Madeline Ashton.

The group members scream, yell, go frantic.

The above scene, screenplay written by Martin Donovan and David Koepp, was vaguely similar. December 17th, John Chilcot, who chairs the committee, elected to make it all about himself with a lengthy closing remark. (December 17th was also when Alaina Reed-Hall passed away.) Today?

Chair John Chilcott: Before I begin, I should like to make a short statement. The Iraq Inquiry that sits before you is an independent committee, dedicated to establishing an account of the UK's involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and learning lessons for governments facing similar circumstances in the future. Now, from the outset, we have made it clear that we wish to stay outside party politics. Ours is a serious task and we wish to collect our evidence in a way in which our witnesses will be open about what happened and give their evidence fully without the hearings beging used as a platform for political advantage by any party. It was for this reason that my colleagues and I made a decision announced before Christmas, that we would not call ministers currently serving in posts relevant to Iraq until after the election. The Prime Minister wrote to me earlier this week to say that he was preapred to give evidence whenever we saw fit. In my reply to the Prime Minister yesterday evening, I said that, as a matter of fairness, the committee concluded we should offer the Prime Minister, if he wished to take it up, the opportunity for him, for David Miliband, as Foreign Secretary, and Douglas Alexander, Development Secretary, to attend hearings before the general election. The Prime Minister replied to me this morning to say that he will be happy to agree dates from a range we have proposed over the next two months and this correspondece is now being published on our website. Thank you.

Over 250 words. Let's all be glad it was a short statement. In addition to the verbal statement, the Iraq Inquiry issued a lengthy release including [PDF format warning} links to Chilcot's January 21st letter to Brown and Brown's January 19th letter to the Inquiry.

Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) explains the committee is "irritated" over charges that they are allowing Brown to dictate terms. Graeme Wilson (The Sun) adds, "The inquiry is believed to be furious that the move was revealed by No 10 sources before a planned announcement today." David Brown (Times of London) also notes the anger, "An exact date for the Prime Minister's appearance is yet to be set and sources said that members of the inquiry were absolutely furious that the information was released by No 10 before its planned announcement today. They complain that Downing Street is turning the invitation, which was extended by the inquiry in a letter last night, into a political issue." James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) interprets the move as a sign of the Iraq Inquiry's weakness, explaining how at first John Chilcot, chair of the Inquiry, insisted that Brown would testify after the Parliamentary elections but now that's changed and he doesn't buy that it was changed by Chilcot: "So look again at that original decision to defer Mr Brown's evidence. All that has changed between then and now is Mr Brown's public attitude on the timing. How can we avoid the conclusion that the original decision was affected by Mr Brown's attitude? I've no doubt that Sir John will say his decision reflects the wider political context and not simply Mr Brown's preference. But the reality is that the idea of his inquiry's independence has taken a heavy blow." Philip Webster (Times of London) states Brown pushed for an early appearance and observes, "It means he will go to the country with memories of his appearance at the inquiry -- and the revived spectre of the war -- fresh in voters' memories. Labour MPs, particularly those in marginal seats, will be dismayed at the timing, though most see it as inevitable given Mr Brown's decision to accede to an inquiry so late in the Parliament." James Macintyre (New Statesman) provided two possibilities for Brown's change of heart:As to the implications of Brown's appearance: on the one hand this could damage Brown, reminding voters that this was a "Labour war", even though it was unwisely backed by the Tories and no matter how much Brown tries personally to disasssociate from it. On the other hand, Brown strategists believe, there is a chance that -- along with the debates -- this could be a chance for Brown to level with the British people and even thrive under pressure.

This is far from the first time Gordon Brown's been forced into a different position than originally stated regarding the Iraq Inquiry. For one other example, we'll drop back to the June 18, 2009 snapshot:

Turning to England where the good times keep coming for Gordon Brown. His efforts at a behind-closed-doors 'inquiry' appear to be falling apart. Philip Webster (Times of London) reported this morning, "Parts of the Iraq war inquiry may now be held in public after Gordon Brown was forced into a partial climbdown." James Kirkup and Alastair Jamieson (Telegraph of London) add that Lord Bulter was "critical of the decision to hold hearings behind closed doors". At the Guardian, Toby Helm stated that "Buter will accuse the government of 'putting its political interests ahead of the national interest'" today. Andrew Grice, Kim Sengupta and Nigel Morris (Independent of London) report it's not one noted person who'll be speaking out against Brown, it's two: Lord Hutton and Lord Butler. Great Britain's Socialist Worker notes the crony-infested panel for Gordo's inquiry: "John Chilcot, its chair, was part of the last Iraq whitewash, the Bulter inquiry. Another committee member, Sir Lawrence Freedman, wrote Tony Blair's 1999 Chicago speech setting out the idea of 'humanitarian' war." The Belfast Telegraph reports that Gordon's closde-door policy has been criticized by former Prime Minister John Major who states: "The Government's decision to hold the inquiry into the Iraq war in private is inexplicable -- not least in its own interests. [. . .] The arrangements currently proposed run the risk of being viewed sceptically by some, and denounced as a whitewash by others. I am astonished the Government cannot understand this." ITN quotes Bulter stating, "The form of the inquiry proposed by the Government has been dictated more by the Government's political interest than the national interest and it cannot achieve the purpose of purging mistrust." Rebecca will be blogging about this topic tonight and should remember to include these words "I told you so." (Because she did.)

Rosa Prince (Telegraph of London) reports that Brown's spokesperson is hinting Brown will take a strong position in support of the illegal war and Prince quotes the spokesperson stating, "The Prime Minister is keen to take up the opportunity to state the case why Britain was right to take the action that it did. He has nothing to hide at all. The Prime Minister welcomes the opportunity to state the case. He believes it is a very good opportunity to set out the cast and answer any questions that are put to him." Iain Martin (Wall St. Journal) offers this view, "No, what is of much more interest is finding out what Gordon Brown really thought about Iraq. Seven years on from the invasion we have no real idea, which is remarkable. He has made heartfelt remarks in Basra and elsewhere in support of the troops who served, and has acknowledged the importance of their mission. But beyond that he's pretty much a blank page on the most controversial British foreign policy and military mission since Suez."

Those in England not focusing on what Brown might say tend to be focused on what Tony Blair will say when he appears before the committee next week. Gordon Brown is the current prime minister. Tony Blair handed the baton off to him. Brown continued the illegal war and Tony started it with a number of lies including the now discredited assertion that Iraq had WMD and could launch them on England within 45 minutes (a detail included for "local colour," the committee was told this week). If you're late to the inquiry, Deng Shasha (Xinhua) explains that Blair is scheduled to provide testimony January 29th and offers this background on the hearing: "The public hearing opened on Nov. 24, 2009 with the chairman of the inquiry commission promising a 'fair and frank' investigation, which will cover the entire eight-year period from the build-up to the war to the withdrawal of British troops." Charles Moore (Telegraph of London) notes that some would love to see Blair crucified: "Given Mr Blair's messianic tendencies, one should surely be pleased that he is not being offered his Christ-before-Pilate moment. There would be a very real risk of him claiming to have risen again on the third day." Lance Price (Time magazine) observes, "Before Christmas, he told the BBC that he would have gone to war even if he had known that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, conceding that 'you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat.' Perhaps he will go further when he appears before the inquiry, but I wouldn't bet on it." The Daily Mail makes this call, "Day by day, witness by witness, a deeply shocking picture is emerging from the Chilcot Inquiry, a picture of Tony Blair dragging this country into a damaging and unpopular war, while his advisors doctored evidence and ministers allowed ambition to override their principles." Marco Evers (Der Spiegel) offers his own thoughts on Blair, "He will be asked to respond to charges that he lied to the public over going to war. His appearance could turn into a public tribunal on 13 years of Labour rule, and perhaps even -- just a few months before the election -- into a premature end to the Labour era."

Along with two upcoming witnesses dominating the news cycle, a third potential one as well as yesterday's also garner press attention. Janet Stobart (Los Angeles Times) reports of Jack Straw's testimony yesterday, "Legally, he said the case for invasion 'stood or fell on whether Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security by reasons of its weapons . . . not whether it had an unpleasant authoritarian regime . . . butchering its own people." Did Iraq have WMD? No, it did not. Which brings us to a potential witness -- one the Inquiry has refused to call thus far (though he's publicly stated he'd willing to testify) Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector for the UN in the time before the start of the Iraq War. Emma Alberici (Australia's ABC) quotes from an interview with Blix today where he stated, "Well in some cases we found conventional weapons, in other cases found nothing, in one case we found a stack of documents that were related to nuclear matters, but no weapons of mass destruction." Yesterday Straw told the committee that Blix was unsure whether Iraq had WMD -- Blix' statements in the past and present would put the burden on the committee to call him if for no other reason than to rebut Straw's remarks. Alex Barker (Financial Times of London) notes that some witnesses (Jack Straw) have stated Jaques Chirac (president of France at the start of the Iraq War) believed WMD were in Iraq but Barker notes, accodring to Blix, that this was not the case.

And some stick to comments about the Inquiry in general. Ben Macintyre (Times of London) feels, "The inquiries on Iraq mark a new way of doing politics, a different sense of how history evolves, and a technological revolution." While the paper's editorial board concludes, "To call the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War 'a farce' would be, perhaps, to endow it with a gravitas it does not deserve. With the latest intervention of Gordon Brown, it has descended even lower. It has become the Muppet Show." The paper's Ann Treneman has offered some of the strongest critiques of the day to day events such as this on yesterday's testimony:
The thing about Jack Straw that fascinated me and everyone else in the public gallery yesterday was whether the man before us was for or against the Iraq war.It was quite hard to figure out: until the end that is, Agatha Christie could not have plotted it better. But what we could all see from the beginning was that Jack Straw was very pro all things Jack Straw.Mr Straw is neat, pin-striped, eager to be noticed. He is not so much pompous as nerdily self-important. Thus he had submitted a memo on Iraq to the Chilcot committee, limiting himself to a mere 8,000 words (25 pages, 78 paragraphs). He then quoted himself often, via numbered paragraph reference.His almost obsessive use of references is coupled with a true love of reflection. Thus yesterday we got his thoughts on bees, Suez, the Falklands, John Maynard Keynes, the American Civil War, Bill Clinton and, yes, Monica Lewinsky, whose name was transcribed as Liewn ski, which seemed right. Intriguingly, interlaced with all of this other stuff -- a technical term but accurate -- were his thoughts on the war and the man who was Foreign Secretary did, actually, seem to be against it.

While all that dominates the news cycle, it's easy to forget that, in addition to hearing from John Chilcot, today the committee also heard from Suma Chakrabarti and Nicholas Macpherson (link goes to video and transcript options). On Twitter, Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged today's hearing. Iraq Inquiry Blogger notes of the lack of attention to the two witnesses, "It's every performer's worst nightmare -- being upstaged by the warm-up act" and:

In the event the scheduled witnesses didn't offer up many surprises. DfID's Suma Chakrabarti added an "unworthy" to Lord Turnbull's description of the Alastair Campbell's remarks about Clare Short as "very poor". I did offering a right to reply but answer (thus far) came there none.

For HM Treasury Nicholas Macpherson had a pretty good stab at rebutting Geoff Hoon's budget-slashing allegations earlier in the week. He couldn't remember the MoD complaining at the time, he said, and in any case had the generals handled their finances better the Treasury wouldn't have needed to park its own tanks on their lawn.

We'll note this from Suma Chakrabarti's testimony.

Suma Chakrabarti: Well, in May 2003, the strategy that DFID [Department for International Development] was pursuing was this one of shifting from relief to recovery and reconstruction. It essentially had three prongs to that strategy. To start with, really much focused on the infrastructure sort of components. We were moving into a period from quick impact projects to something called the essential services project, and then on to the emergency infrastructure programmes. The infrastructure was quite a large component of this in the south. The other part of it was capacity building, which came on, I would say, more so after 1483 was passed because, as I said last time, it was clear then that the UN was not going to lead this. Then de-Beatification happened, so Iraqi capacity were removed.

de-Beatification is de-Ba'athification (US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse also uses the term "de-Beatification"). And de-Ba'athification -- or the lack of de-de-Ba'athification -- is why one US official is in Iraq. The cry of "Ba'athists" is now being used to eliminate political rivals by removing them from the race. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports, "Vice President Biden arrived in Baghdad on Friday night in hopes of defusing a political crisis over the disbarment of hundreds of candidates in an upcoming election." This as BBC reports that the commission doing the banning has announced "more candidates are likely to be banned" before the March election. Today the New York Times offered the editorial "Sunnis and Iraq's Election"

The accountability commission is the successor to the destructive de-Baathification commission that sought to keep anyone with ties to Mr. Hussein out of government. Its chief, Ali Faisal al-Lami, is hardly an impartial judge. He is a candidate on the slate led by the Shiite leader Ahmed Chalabi, a relentlessly ambitious force in Iraqi politics who lured the Bush administration into the 2003 invasion and wants to be prime minister.Both the accountability and the election commissions are part of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government, and he issued a statement supporting their decisions. But American officials say Mr. Chalabi is the main manipulator. Mr. Chalabi's absurd charge that the United States wants to return the Baath Party to power is typical of his divisive and destructive brand of politics.

Nada Bakri (New York Times) explains Biden is advocating that the issues be set aside until after Iraq holds its intended elections in March and "Many politicians said that they supported this solution, but others questioned its legality and criticized Washington for interference in Iraq's affairs." Barkri notes he has met with the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill. David Jackson (USA Today) states he'll also meet with Jalal Talabani (Iraq's President), Nouri al-Maliki (thug of the occupation) and Ayad al-Samarrai (Speaker of the Council of Representatives). Nouri's spokesmodel, Al Jazeera reports, declared, "It is an internal affair that should be discussed by Iraqi political entities." What will be accomplished remains to be seen but Biden arrived in Iraq as the country's Parliament was debating whether or not Barack Obama's "vows on Iraq" were sincere.

Whether they can trust Barack or not, it appears they can't trust 'bomb detectors.' Caroline Hawley (BBC Newsnight -- link has text and video) reports that England has placed an export ban on the ADE-651 'bomb detector' -- a device that's cleaned Iraq's coffers of $85 million so far. Steven Morris (Guardian) follows up noting that, "The managing director [Jim McCormick] of a British company that has been selling bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq was arrested on suspicion of fraud today."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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Thursday, January 21, 2010














"I want to be perfectly clear: I do not think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified. I don't know where it comes from; I don't begin to understand it. But you can't pretend it doesn't exist, and it will energize the Republican base. Their nominee won't energize them, Bush won't, but Hillary as the nominee will. It's hard for John to talk about, but it's the reality."






Today the US military announced: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- A U.S. Soldier assigned to United States Forces - Iraq died of non-combat related injuries as a result of a vehicle accident, Jan. 20. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .] The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4374 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

RTE News is the only one filing on violence today and they note a Kirkuk bombing targeting the Health Dept director general (who survived) today and, dropping back to yesterday, they note that 1 Iraqi colonel was shot dead in Mosul, while 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul and a third was killed in a Mosul bombing.

In DC today, US Senator Carl Levin declared, "Today's open hearing is on the panel's unrestricted report. A restricted annex to their report entitled 'Oversight of the Alleged Perpetrator' focuses on information which, in the judgment of the Department of Defense could prejudice a criminal prosecution if it was discussed in public. So our committee will have a closed session after this open hearing is concluded." Levin is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee which was hearing from former Secretary of the Army Togo West and retired Adm Vernon Clark, both of whom were tasked by US Secretary of the Defense Robert Gates to examine procedures and policies leading up to the November 5th Fort Hood shootings. John McCain is the Ranking Member on the committee and he noted, in his opening remarks, that "your report is devoted to personnel policies and emergency shooting response procedures. The report concentrates on actions and effects rather than the motivations but it was motives that led to the Fort Hood killings and that should have been examined." McCain called it an "omission" to not identify specific threats of potential violence to servicemembers.

In reading his opening remarks, Clark broke away to insist that "behaviors" were addressed in the report ("that's what we're talking about") and "self-radicalization" was in there. He also broke away to say there was "no single" answer to ensuring the protection of servicemembers from these threats but the threats really weren't identified in the public report. I'm less interested in West and Clark's opening remarks today because we covered them in yesterday's snapshot when they appeared before the House and the basics remained the same. One difference was Clark's delivery which was brusque at best and defensive in regards to issues McCain raised. His irritation was also noted by his repeated praise for "Mr. Chairman" and his pointed refusal to praise the "Ranking Member" or "Senator McCain." He offered praise for Levin not once but mulitple times and there were several times when he offered an "I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman" for something that Levin had noted in his opening remarks . . . but it had also been noted by McCain who, again, was pointedly not mentioned. (At one point he did thank "Mr. Chairman and all the members".)

Chair Carl Levin: The panel found that: "Department of Defense policy regarding religious accomodation lacks the clarity necessary to help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for violence or self-radicalization." And I think what you're saying is that obviously this country believes in religious tolerance, tolerance of others' religions, but it can never be tolerant of violent, radical views that are dressed up in religious garb. I think that's that point reworded. I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes the views that are clearly inherently violent, promote violence are dressed up in religious clothing and that automatically means that people who are sensitive to others' religious views then are kind of put on the defensive right away or reluctant right away to point out what is underneath the claim of religion. So the line has got to be there obviously. We want to continue our tolerance but we've got to be much harder and much more intolerant of views that are radical, promote violence, or encourage violence. And so my first question to you is that the policy of the Department which is limited to and addresses only active participation in groups that pose threats to good order and discipline is far too narrow a policy because of the self-radicalization point. You don't have to participate in a group that poses that kind of a threat to be a threat yourself. And so I guess my first quesiton is: How would you -- and I know you're not here to provide remedies and that wasn't your job -- but I assume that you agree that it's not just that that policy should be examined but that in your judgment, at least, it's simply too limited a policy. And I'm wondering whether or not for instance, you would agree that communication with a radical cleric who promotes violence is the kind of conduct that should raise real questions? Would you agree with that? Even though it's not active participation at that point it's just simply communication -- asking someone for their recommendations and views. Would you agree that that ought to be raising great suspicion without getting into this particular case?

Sec Togo West: Yeah. Mr. Chairman, I would certainly agree -- I think we both would. And I think your larger point that this is an example of, we would agree with as well. And that is: Yes, in the past perhaps, membership alone in a group may have been less looked upon than the actual act of doing things but, in this environment, we have to look at the group, we have to understand its purposes. And it is already considered by some that there is a tool that enables a commander to declare certain kinds of action including that a threat to his immediate area'ss order and discpline. But we think the Department of Defense can just simply strengthen the ability of commanders to look at and examine exactly what kind of activity they are permitting and whether or not we can better define it. Group membership in a group of that sort that has a record of active advocation of violence and as well as your point communication --especially repeated communication -- again, not referring to any particular case -- with those who advocate violence? Those are all signals that we need to be able to indicate in our publications and in our regulations commanders are authorized to look and be react to.

Chair Carl Levin: And even if there weren't active communication, excuse me, active participation or communication, with radical persons who are promoting violence, even if there's simply the expression of views which promote violence without any information about participation in a group or communication with radical extremists -- if somebody gets up and says, 'I believe that the Constitution comes in second and that my religious views come in first,' would that not be that kind of a signal which ought to indicate some real genuine concern? Would you agree with that?

Adm Vernon Clark: I certainly do agree with it and it goes without saying that where we draw our redlines is a very, very important point. But if you look at our history, we as a people, as Americans have always been very careful working about where we draw those lines. I so appreciate, your introduction to this question by your [. . .]

And we're done. Salem Witch trials are only one historical example in the US of religious intolerance. That is a flavor of the hearing a number of service members are concerned with what is going on in these hearings and wanting to be sure that care is being taken. Levin covered that at the top. Whether you think it is or is not will be your call but the issue was raised and those are some of the responses. Due to space limitations and too much else to cover, that's it on that.

Yesterday the US House Armed Services Committee heard from West and Clark. Last night Kat weighed in on US House Rep Loretta Sanchez' exchange. Sanchez noted a colonel who called into a radio program that she happened to catch and how he stated that there were warning signs and he just wanted to retire before the guy 'blew'. West told Sanchez he believed they spoke to the (left unnamed) colonel but they never heard the radio broadcast or of it. Kat: "How does that inspire confidence? You've got a public conversation out there that you can now apply to the testimony a colonel is giving you. Shouldn't you have made the comparison? Shouldn't you have been aware of the radio broadcast?" Filling in for Rebecca last night, Wally noted US House Rep Todd Akin was the one to ask a question about the issue of the suspect being Muslim and he also noted that although over sixty representatives serve on the committee, he counted 14 at one point and one of those wasn't on the committee, US House Rep Michael Burgess who was allowed to sit in.

And we're back to service members. Today the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. We'll start by noting some of the chair's opening remarks (as delivered, slightly different from the prepared text).

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Some of those in attendance may recall that our first hearing of 2009 was on the implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill. This was followed up by supplemental hearings that sought to ensure VA's progress on the short and long-term information techonology solutions. I hope that it is clear to our panelists before us today that by making this our first hearing of 2010, we demonstrate the continued importance of the subject at hand. I'm sure my colleagues will agree that the current delays in processing education claims are simply unacceptable. A number of my colleagues not on this committee have spoken to me directly or have written to me documenting experiences of student veterans that they represent who have suffered some of the consequences of the delays in processing these claims. While the administration, I know, shares my concerns regarding these shortcomings,more has to be done. However, the blame doesn't rest solely with the VA. The processing of a single claim requires multiple steps involving multiple parties and computer systems, all of which must work in-sync with one another in order for a veteran to receive his or her benefits in a timely manner. These computer difficulties demonstrate the need for a fully-functional long-term solution.

The Chair then noted that the Subcommittee staff had visited Muskogee, Oklahoma's VA Regional Processing Center and Education Call Center wher ethey discovered the Education Call Center was being shut down on Thursdays and Fridays. Veterans calling were not able to speak to anyone and the staff was working on claims. It was noted by Herseth Sandlin that the Call Center can and should be open five days via better time management. Ranking Member John Boozman noted the visit as well and how the staff were the ones who told them time could be better managed and that, "As a result of that discussion, local VA management forwarded a request to the VA's Office of Field Operations to make the changes suggested and therein lies my concer: Why does it take a suggestion from Congressional staff to raise such a common sense issue and why do those responsible at the local level need to get permission from central office?" He furher noted that seven a.m. to five p.m. on the call center (from Monday through Friday) limits the opportunities for those "living outside the continental US" to speak to someone.

The VA sent Capt Mark Krause (Program Manager) and Roger W. Baker (Asst Sec for Information and Technology) to testify. I'm really not interested in their excuses or self-strokes. Nor are the service members complaining that they still haven't received their fall 2009 checks. So I'm not interested in Rober Baker's bulls**t for example where he refers (past tense) to 2009 enrollees that did not receive their checks and "I believe it is important to convey, on behalf of Secretary Shinseki and every member of the VA team, our apologies for those delays and our understanding that the impacts of those delays on Veterans are unaccpetable."

It's nonsense. And the committe heard "accountability" from Shinseki and others who followed him in October. Someone needs to explain to the VA that merely tossing around the word "accountability" (while the cameras are rolling) is not demonstrating "accountability." And the VA has yet to demonstrate that it has taken any accountability for its poor job. A congo lline of VA employees have repeatedly appeared before the committee all claiming that the delays were "unacceptable" but the VA has shown no improvements. Following a lengthy slideshow, this exchange took place.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Let me start with a statement, Mr. Wilson, that you made. On slide four, the long-term release II scheduled for June 30, 2010 that sort of allows for the automated data feeds for the schools, DoD, that this is a game changer from the user point of view. You know, for Mr. Baker, Mr. Wilson, I assume that the goal for the long-term release II is to have that operatational for processing fall 2010 semester claims. Is that correct?

Keith Wilson: Yes, that's correct.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: That being the case, Mr. Baker, according to your testimony, release I has been modified to reduce its functionality because of this software requirement that you recently --

Roger Baker: Yes. The increased complexity, yes.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So why did it take until just recently to identify the need for the new software requirement?

Roger Baker: Actually . . . uhm . .. what-what occured is as the subject matter experts and the software people were sitting down together to walk through what does an amended reward really mean? What are the intracricies, the decision trees required for an amended reward . . . uhm . . . They kept uncovering , if you will, more and more depth of what was required on software of amended awards and it went beyond the estimates they had originally had for what it was going to take to do amended awards. Uh, so as we determined that the amount of work to make that March 31st date exceeded the amount possible to accomplish, we had to determine what would come out of that release?

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And how confident are you then that the June 30th deadline can be met --

Roger Baker: We're --

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: In light of how important that deadline is to the fall semester?

Roger Baker: We're -- we're pretty confident in that. We-we, as you can imagine, we've had some significant focus on that as well. And we've talked about what is it possible to do in the June 30th timeframe. We know that we can get everything in that was originally scheduled for release I and release I was intended to be the replacement for the current system so -- functional replacement. If we had delayed release I until about mid-May , we'd have had a fully functional release. There's about that much additional work that was added. Uh, so we know that will come in. And we will be releasing that functionality in incremental pieces along the way to mid-May and if VBA determines it's appropriate allowing the users to work with the increased functionality in that time frame. And then adding those automated feeds that are critical as we ramp up to June 30th. So we-we have a reasonably good confidence in the June 30th -- and if you don't mind, I'll elaborate on that just a little bit further. The-the thing that I have to tell you that I'm pleased with in the slip -- and I know this is going to sound a little strange -- is that in December, this project team was able to tell us that they had a problem with meeting the March 31st date. That's not a usual thing inside of VA projects. Usually, you hear about it March 30th. Uh, you know, that's going to happen on March 31st. That gave us time to make rational decisions about: Do we want to allow the slip or do we want to force the delivery date so that we see the software and what is the impact of that on subsequent releases? And so that's why we have a reasonable degree of confidence that we're going to have what we need on June 30th for a more automated system going into the fall semester. That's exactly been our focus with that June 30th release.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well I would just request that as that team -- you know, you've got a lot of internal milestones you're trying to meet and you've been very helpful to our committee and our committee staff in sharing information at every step of this process but in light of the problems that we've had with the interum solution, in light of the importance of this long-term solution, we-we need to stay on top of this, day-by-day, week-by-week. And if there is any other problem that is revealed to your project team, uh, we just need to be made aware of some of that ongoing work because of the importance of these deadlines in meeting the benefits for these students and-and understanding what more you might need from us because it's a high priority not only among this committee but the colleagues we hear from who have student veterans who are experiencing problems. You know, we want to make sure that we're able to answer questions immediately.

Herseth Sandlin wanted to know how long it will take to train the veterans claims examiners in each of the releases?

"We haven't done this before," said Krause. "I don't know that we have a feel for it," he added after some stumbling and hand gesturing. Wilson stated the training would be different blah blah blah. Which means, we don't know. But Wilson couldn't tell the truth and instead went into "that will be a more efficient process." The chair noted that after release one, the committee needed to be informed of what the time figure for training was.

Wilson stated approximately 1,000 veterans are still waiting for their fall 2009 checks ("no payments have gone out on those"). Wilson also insisted that the VA is in contact with all veterans who are waiting. No, they aren't. And as the chair pointed out, service verification from DoD is not the student's responsibility. That's the government's issue and that's their delay.

If it seemed to repeat from past hearings, that's because it did. Boozman repeated that the committee needed to know when there was a problem and that they needed to know if additional resources were need: "We have to understand what's going on." And the Ranking Member and the Chair both care about this issue but this is getting to be a joke where the committee gets informed of a problem in the midst of hearing or right before a scheduled hearing. The VA did not, DID NOT, inform Congress, that over a thousand veterans were still waiting for fall checks. That broke right before Christmas -- AP's Kimberly Hefling broke that story. Now grasp that this might have been tuition and/or housing checks. Tuition? You may say, "Well the college can wait." Many veterans -- talk to them, not the VA -- will tell you they had to take short-term loans. With interest rates. In order to cover the VA's delayed tuition payment, they had to take out short-term loans. I think the issue of money that would have gone to housing is self-explantory but I do know there is a perception (a mistaken one) that if the veteran's just waiting for a tuition check, it's no big deal. It is a big deal. And it's really past time that the committees in Congress started hearing from veterans in a public form so that all the citizens can know what they've had to go through as they've waited and waited for this promised benefit. They've waited and waited. And then, when problems emerged, they were treated rude. "It was," to quote one attending today's hearing, "as if the attitude was, 'Well we're giving it to you so you should just be grateful and stop complaining about it being late. We'll get to you when we have time.'" It has been offensive and it's been awkward. And especially so for those veterans with children. Whether they are the primary caregiver or not, many had to juggle money that was not there -- because the VA couldn't get the checks out -- to try to pull off a Christmas for their children. There's no excuse for that. There is no excuse for months and months of delays and it is very upsetting to veterans to continue to see Congress ask, "What do you need? Now you're going to tell us -- this time -- when a problem comes up, right?" Veterans at the hearing today felt like if they made that kind of mistake it would be all on them but when the VA makes it, the VA gets patted on the back and told, "Just try next time." It needs to stop and there needs to be accountabilty, There is none now and that goes to a lack of real leadership at the VA currently.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010










Senator Barbara Boxer: First of all, I have never heard Nouri al-Maliki ask us to stay so I don't know what particular speech he [the caller] was referring to. He said for a long time it's time for Americans to leave and I think it is. And what will guide me, obviously the reports on the ground from the military but my overwhelming belief that we have bled so much and done so much that I already say and I said a long time ago we gave the Iraqi people the chance to govern themselves, to rebuild and anyone who served there or any of the families who lost people there or any of those who were wounded there should know they gave their all to give the Iraqis a chance and now they have to take that chance and run with it.

This is the best my state can do? This passes for liberal? Barbara Boxer lying, LYING, about the Iraq War. Did you hear the Barbara say one damn word about the Iraqis who have died? And excuse me, but Barbara knows Nouri's a thug so is she being stupid or playing us for stupid when she says the Iraqi people have a chance at a government?

The Iraqi people have had a government imposed upon them by the US government. The Iraqi people would never, NEVER, elect a government of exiles to represent them. No one would. You wouldn't elect someone to the board of supervisors if their 'qualification' was they hid in another region because they were too scared to stand up. With each addition of highlights, Barbara loses more intelligence so maybe she truly is as stupid as she came off but it felt more like she was playing listeners for stupid. Reality, Adil E. Shamoo and Bonnie Bricker (Foreign Policy In Focus) explain, "Parliament members are afraid to attend meetings. Iraq's nascent economy is deteriorating. Hundreds of armed militias are ready to fight for their own interests. This is Iraq today." But Barbara wants to turn it into a fledging democracy?

it appears she's not looking at the facts and let me do her snide little laugh at her because the stupid idiot is so out of touch that she's not aware of the speech. Reading list for the failed and failing author, Margaret Talev's "Iraq's Maliki raises possibility of asking U.S. to stay on" (McClatchy Newspapers) and, Barbara, Anne Gearan covers al-Maliki's remarks for AP. From the July 23rd snapshot:

The articles repeatedly (and falsely) claim the US will be out of Iraq in 2011. That's not what's happening. It's not even claimed to be happening. Does no one listen to Adm Mike Mullen, Gen Ray Odierno or even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates? Reading the articles today, it doesn't appear that anyone does. Uh-oh. Reality slaps them in the face. Aljazeera reports, "The Iraqi prime minister has admitted US troops could stay in the country beyond 2011." Yeah, he did it today and it's only a surprise if you've never grasped what the Status Of Forces Agrement does and does not do. The Washington Post, for example, has one person on staff who understands the SOFA completely. That's one more than the New York Times has. Drop back to real time coverage (Thanksgiving 2008) and you'll see the Washington Post could explain what it did and didn't do and get it right. No other US outlet can make that claim. (The Los Angeles Times hedged their bets but did appear to grasp it in an article co-written by Tina Susman.) McClatchy Newspapers? Oh goodness, Leila Fadel made an idiot of herself over the SOFA. Even more so than the New York Times (Elisabeth Bumiller -- in December and January -- offered some realities but they were lost on the other reporters at the paper). The Times just got it wrong. Fadel got it wrong and sang praises of it. It wasn't reporting, it was column writing passed off as such. Today, Nouri declared, "Nevertheless, if the Iraqis require further training and support we shall examine this at the time, based on the needs of Iraq." Sound familiar? It should. This month you should have heard Adm Mike Mullen make the same statement, you should have heard General Ray Odierno make it over and over beginning in May and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made it many times -- generally he's asked when he's visiting a foreign country because US reporters don't really seem to care. One exception would certainly be Dahr Jamail who was on KPFA's Flashpoints yesterday and explained, "We still have over 130,000 troops in Iraq. Troops are not being withdrawn from Iraq. They are being relocated to different bases, some of the bases still within cities, but they are not being withdrawn thus far." Dahr's latest book The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan has just been released this month. IPA provides this context from Global Policy Forum's James Paul: "For all the talk of 'U.S. withdrawal' from Iraq, the reality on the ground is starkly different. U.S. troops still patrol the cities, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, while Washington remains hugely influential in the politics of the country. The gigantic U.S. embassy looms large in Baghdad, U.S. forces still hold thousands of Iraqi prisoners in the vast U.S. prison camp in the southern desert, dozens of U.S. military bases remain in place including the sprawling 'Camp Victory' complex in Baghdad and Washington continues to press towards its ultimate goal -- the de facto privatization of Iraq's vast oil resources."

So before you go to town on others for not knowing the facts, Barbara, how about you first explain how you, a sitting US Senator pretending to give a damn about Iraq and putting the war on your list of regrets, aren't even aware of what Nouri publicly stated less than three weeks ago while he was in DC? Your incompentence does not do a great deal to encourage a belief that the US Senate knows what it is doing. It does, however, explain why you have NEVER led on the issue of Iraq despite the fact that you -- not Hillary -- had the safest seat from which to do it. Our state has sent huge numbers of service members to Iraq and has seen a large death toll and an even large number of wounded. We have had tremendous leadership in the House, we've had none in the Senate. Want to explain that, Barbara? Want to explain how little you've done to end the illegal war while allegedly representing the people of California? Want to match your record (or lack of it) against US House Rep Lynn Woolsey or Maxine Waters or Diane Watson or . . . Get the point?



In DC today, the House Armed Services Committee heard from the former Secretary of the Army Togo West and retired Navy Admiral Vern Clark about the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood shootings. Committee Chair Ike Skelton noted 13 people dead (Togo West explained 12 members of the military, 1 civilian) and 43 wounded in the shooting.

Committee Chair Ike Skelton: I'm troubled by the fact that it would appear that some of the circumstances that led to the shooting were the result of military officers not following existing policies and procedures. Specifically, there are numerous stories in the press -- NPR, AP, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News and others -- that the alleged shooter's raters and senior raters failed to document negative information in his official record. We have questions. Why did it happen? Could it have been prevented? Was the response adequate? More importantly, we all share the same intent to ensure that everything possible is done to make sure that this does not happen again.

West and Clark's opening statement was read into the record [PDF format warning, click here] explaining how they were tasked by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to review the "policies, procedures and practices" leading up to the Fort Hood shooting. Following the reading of the statement, West and Clark then they hit some of the highlights of their report. West noted that details regarding the shooter are in a restricted annex available to members of the committee. Skelton had already noted that, due to ongoing prosecution issues, they would not be focusing on the shooter or alleged shooter. West explained that the military intelligence aspects -- did they fail? -- as well as the criminal aspects and the FBI review of sharing information with the military were segments West and Clark did not look into because (a) they were asked not to and (b) explorations of those three areas were already taking place.
Sec Togo West: With respect to the alleged perpetrator, you will note that we state openly in Chapter One [of the report] that several military officers did not apply Army policies to the alleged perpetrator. We also recommended that that finding and similar findings that are reflected in the annex be referred by the Secretary of the Defense to the Secretary of the Army for review as to responsibility, acountability and such other action as he shall deem appropriate. He [Gates] has done so. The Army has that referral, the review is underway now. Before I turn this over to Adm Clark, to fill in some details with respect to the review of the report that you have, three observations I think are important to-to point out. First, what we learned is that there is never enough preparation, there is never too much preparation. Authorities at Fort Hood had already anticipated a mass casualty event as reflected in their emergency response plans. And their response on that day showed their preparation. Two minutes and forty-seven seconds after the 911 call was received, first responders were on the scene of the shooting. And by "first responders," I refer specifically to members of the Fort Hood security team. A minute and a half after their arrival, the assailant was incapacitated. Two minutes and fifty seconds later, two ambulances and an Incident Command Vehicle from the post hospital arrived and began to provide life saving health care. With that response, lives were saved. And yet thirteen people died. Scores more were wounded. We can prepare better. We must plan with greater attention. And we must make the effort to look around the corners of our future and anticipate the next potential event in order to deflect it. Secondly, we need to pay attention to today's hazards. The fact is that we need to understand the forces that cause an individual to radicalize, to commit violent acts and, thereby, to make us vulnerable from within. And, thirdly, there is much in this report that is about violence -- violence by a service member against his or her colleagues. The effort is to detect the indicators that one might commit acts of violence, to catalogue them, to make them available to the persons who need to know what are the indicators -- and where have the indicators been noted -- and then prepare ourselves to act when that evidence is before us to make it available to our commanders so that they can act and to be clear about their authority. One further note, as has been pointed out, we were asked to do this review within 45 days. The Secretary clearly had in mind that there would be follow-on reviews of what we would come up with. For that reason, although we have cast our net widely, there were also boundaries simply in terms of what the 129 or so souls who were committed to our leadership could accomplish and thus you will find that there is space left for the follow on reviews. Often our recommendations are couched on term of the need to pay closer attention and to closer review that.

[. . .]

Adm Vern Clark: First, let me just talk briefly about force protection. The principle message is this: There are many policies, dozens of policies, in the Defense Dept about force protection. We built lots of barriers since 9-11. That said, existing policies are not optimized for the internal threat and the threat that we saw witnessed at the Fort Hood incident was evolving inside the barriers. Second, let's talk about employees who can be a threat in this sort of circumstance. It's a difficult challenge. The reality is that there is insufficient knowledge and guidance to identify individuals. Guidance involving workplace violence and the potential for self-radicalization or radicalization in general, as Secretary West indicated, it's inefficient. And the key here is that we focus on violence of any kind. What we found was a lack of clarity for comprehensive indicators which then limited commanders or supervisors ability to then recognize these potential threats. And so it doesn't matter if we're looking at somebody who might be inclined to hurt themselves. And, by the way, the Secretary of Defense had that specifically in our terms of reference -- incidents of suicide. Or criminal and gang behavior or somebody advocating supremist activity and doctrine or family violence or the evolving threats like radicalization. Identifying the key indicators is critical to focusing the force on the threat. So our focus was on violence that comes from any kind of behavior. But what we found especially was that policies on the internal threat are inadequate. Prohibited behaviors and actions need to be addressed. And our report says specifically that such guidance exists but it's incomplete for the day in which we live.

He continues with "remove the walls" over and over about intelligence sharing (over and over) to the point that he might as well have been singing the "tear down the walls" refrain in Jefferson Airplane's "We Can Be Together" (written by Paul Kanter, first appears on Volunteers).

Tear down the walls
Tear down the walls
Come on now together
Get it on together
Everybody together
We should be together
We should be together my friends
We can be together
We will be
We must begin here and now
A new continent of earth and fire
Come on now getting higher and higher
Tear down the walls

Only Clark was far less melodic and much more scary. The committee never asked him to define the wall tearing he wanted and "walls" are usually erected for a reason. Rush to dismantle "walls" can lead to, for example, the current economic crisis in the US (the 'barriers' of regulation were dismantled). There is a difference between "information sharing" and targeting and/or spying. That's especially true when it comes to military intelligence. We'll note this exchange from the hearing.

Chair Ike Skelton: It appears to me that there were two disconnects that lead to a major question. Disconnect number one is the actual performance of the alleged shooter on the one hand and the OER [Officer Evalution Report] and academic evaluation. The second disconnect would be one of intelligence type -- whether that reached the right superiors or not. Which leads to the bottom line question: Was a great deal overlooked because this was a medical person in a speciality in which there was a shortage? Mr. Secretary?

Sec Togo West: [Long pause] Mr. Chairman, I paused just for a minute because I'm trying to reflect on how much my answer leads me into a discussion of an area we've covered in the annex rather than in the report.

Chair Ike Skelton: Do your best.
Sec Togo West: But I -- thanks for the encouragement. But I would think that we could say in general as to the way uh uh officers are evaluated, especially medical officers, and that the way that is reported that what we have concluded and have said to the Secretary of Defense is this: First, the disconnect you noted is correct. That's what we mean when we say that the policies were not applied. That things witnessed were not always reported where they need to be reported and that in fact there are contradictory indications. And with respect to the Secretary, and we recommended to the Secretary of Defense that he take some public steps about this, that we had to say to the force -- or that he had to say to the force -- the Department has to say to the force, "Evaluations make a difference and we can't do the job of leading or protecting against threats if honest evaluations are not done by those who have the duty, the information and the authority to do so."

Chair Ike Skelton: Adm?

Adm Vern Clark: A major piece of this, Mr. Chairman, is what is part of the record. And our report -- we don't tell the Secretary of Defense what parts to make -- what should go into the record -- we say -- he asks us for gaps and weaknesses and so we said look if an individaul track history doesn't stay with him that leaves you open to potential weaknesses and gaps. So there are certain things that are required by regulation that cannot move from station to station with the individaul. That's something that needs to be looked at. With regard to the issue of performance appraisal, we all know that performance appraisal is a challenge in any environment. That said, we used specific terms to say things that we wanted to conote. We didn't just use the term "leadership," we used the term "officership." If you look on page six and seven of our report, we say specifically what we think happened here. We believe that some of the signs were clearly missed or they were ignored. I can't tell you which. And I can't go further than that because of the nature of the restrictions -- the information that's in the restricted annex. But there's no doubt in my mind or Secretary West's mind that there were issues here.

US House Rep Vic Snyder objected to the annex noting it confused the issue and that "it would be one thing if we had out there the criminal case file [. . .] But, in fact, what you all are conducting is an administrative proceeding based on the records that are in the military in order to problem solve. And it's not clear to me why the American people are not entitled to see -- because it's part of the problem solving process -- these undredacted reviews -- career reviews or academic reviews or college transcripts or whatever's in that record as part of an administrative proceeding. You're not putting those things out there." Snyder also wanted to know when would be the right time for such a discussion? After the trial? After an appeal process? "I don't know what the right time's going to be for the American people [. . .] to have a specific discussion about this specific case," he stated. West replied that the annex contains "officer efficiency reports and the like. Those are specifically protected. Secondly, the overall concern that what's contained in there will have an effect on the military justice proceedings." On the first aspect, notice that it's tear down the wall to let hidden spying take place (that is what Clark was advocating) but it's hide and hide again when it applies to what the American people can and cannot have access to.

Kat plans to offer a few thoughts on today's hearing tonight (including on US House Rep Loretta Sanchez) so be sure to check her site.

In Iraq, a bombing has resulted in numerous people being wounded. Xinhua reports a Mosul suicide car bombing claimed the life of the driver and left thirty people injured Al Jazeera reports that the bombing targeted an Iraqi military base and, citing police, states the injured are "18 soldiers, five police officers and 10 civilians". Reuters notes the injured has climbed to 45. In other reported violence . . .


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Diyala Province motorcycle bombing which claimed 1 life and left four people wounded. Reuters notes a Mosul sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer.


Reuters notes a Mosul attack in which 1 police officer was shot dead in a cafe while, in Baghdad, a robbery at a jewelry store resulted in the death fo the owner and 1 other person and was followed by Iraqi police and the robbers engaging in a gunfight in which 1 police officer was shot dead and 7 people were injured (two were assailants, the remainder civilians).

Today the Washington Post editorial board offers "Obama administration must intervene in Iraqi election crisis" on the banning of political rivals in Iraq with the claimes of "Ba'athist!":

There's not much clarity about who is behind the nasty maneuver -- but one protagonist appears to be Ahmed Chalabi, the notorious former exile leader and master of political manipulation. Now regarded as an Iranian agent by most U.S. officials, Mr. Chalabi, along with his associates, served Tehran's interests as well as his own by banning the Sunni leaders. Several of those blacklisted had recently joined cross-sectarian secular alliances that are challenging the Shiite coalition of which Mr. Chalabi is a part, as well as the list headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Over the weekend, Mr. Maliki appeared to endorse the disqualifications -- a step that would nullify his previous support for progressive electoral reforms. Surprised by the sudden decision, U.S. and U.N. officials have been trying to moderate it. Vice President Biden, who used his influence to good effect during previous disputes over the elections, has been working the phones again.

If the US had a real ambassador to Iraq (and not Chris Hill), maybe all these 'last minute' surprises wouldn't continue to pop up? Why is it that the US is repeatedly caught unaware over and over despite having Hill there supposedly to guide diplomatic relations?
Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) notes "U.S. diplomacy has shifted into high gear" (that would be Biden) and that there are now "515 barred candidates -- the number keeps growing". Rahma al-Salim (Asharq Alawsat) reports: "The office of Iraqi parliamentary speaker, Ayad al-Samarrai informed Asharq Al-Awsat that US Vice President Joe Biden has called for the Debathification process to be postponed until after the elections on the condition that the electoral candidates in question prove that they are no longer affiliated to the outlawed party. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, hinted that his country would not support the elections if al-Mutlaq is not allowed to stand for election." And al-Salim notes that Nouri's spokesperson is stating that US attempts "will not achieve anything."
At An Arab Woman Blues, Layla Anwar offers her take including the following:

The news from Iraq where the Shiites from Iran are doing everything possible to ensure that only they present themselves to the forthcoming elections, by banning all secular and non Shiites representation i.e Sunnis. Which of course lead me to remember the ongoing genocide against Arab Sunnis in Iraq, the ongoing genocide led by Iran and its Shia supporters, a genocide within the grander American genocide on the Iraqi people. And of course that lead me to question for the 100th time the role of the filthy, despicable, depraved, perfidious Iraqis who supported and still support either the American or Iranian occupation of Iraq or both... These filthy, rotten to the core, dishonorable, undignified traitors on CIA/Pentagon payrolls and on Iran's -- who still 7 years on, despite the holocaust, despite the destruction, despite the exile, despite the mass terror inflicted upon us by both the Americans and their Iranian counterparts, still manage to praise, justify, rationalize, propagandize, glorify either the US or Iran. These filthy, depraved, complicit criminals calling themselves Iraqis, who made their money and fame from Iraqi blood, they live inside Iraq and outside of Iraq, they are men and women, young and old ; bloggers, journalists, so-called activists, so-called feminists, some are running NGOs, other are "analysts and experts", spokespersons...some of them are hiding in their spider holes, their rat holes in America, Europe, and elsewhere spewing more lies and more garbage, covering up the crimes, and some come to the limelight and appear in the media, having pocketed good sums of money from the murderers of Iraq, their masters. And they dare speak in the name of Iraq and Iraqis !

At Reuters, Suadad al-Salhy offers that the banned candidates are more often Shi'ite than Sunni. The tongue stuck out after 'reporting' that appears implied. Going far deeper than that, Reidar Visser examines the banned list and finds

The main problem with the de-Baathification measures, then, refers not so much to systematic and overt sectarianism or partisanship as such as to despotism more generally, albeit clearly with the ulterior goal of perpetuating a sectarian political atmosphere. The basic problem here is the attempt by the accountability and justice board to portray its decisions as "legal" and "constitutional" when they clearly are not – and the failure of the rest of the "democratic" system in the new Iraq to offer any meaningful resistance. Previous developments have shown that the accountability and justice board is an anachronism that lacks a clear legal basis after the passage of the accountability and justice law in 2008, that the formation of a seven-judge appeals court (to which these decisions may be appealed within three days) remedies this situation only in a partial way, that the Iraqi elections commission seems to be in league with the accountability and justice board in this matter, and that even if one accepts the dubious existence of the current de-Baathification board, its application of the relevant laws appears to be both partisan and selective in the extreme.
In sum, rather than being an attempt at a complete exclusion or elimination of political enemies, these de-Baathification measures seem aimed at intimidating and terrorising, with the overarching motive of keeping sectarian issues on the agenda. Any attempt at remedying the situation must keep this aspect in mind: What is at stake here is not a question of "Sunni participation" versus a "Sunni boycott"; rather this is about the very fundamentals of the post-2003 system of government in Iraq and the importance of offering hope to those Iraqis who wish to get rid of the narrow sectarian categories altogether. Hence, even if the US should miraculously succeed in reversing or postponing the de-Baathification moves, the ball will simply be kicked further down the road: The so-called independent elections commission (IHEC) which will oversee the elections is in practice owned by the same Shiite Islamist parties that control the accountability and justice board, and that authored the decision to exclude 511 candidates with reference to de-Baathification and with support from Iran. To really make a difference, what is needed today is some kind of appeals institution that does not mechanically replicate the structures of power in Iraq that have emerged since 2003 on an ethno-sectarian basis and their underlying sectarian logic, which after all is what the accountability and justice board is fighting so hard to preserve. An internationalised complaints commission similar to the one used in Afghanistan could be one possible option. On the whole, it is of course a good sign that US policy-makers today seem concerned about the gravity of the situation, but if they are really serious about solving it then they should realise that none of their current friends in Baghdad are capable of doing so in a truly sustainable fashion.

Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports that Iraq's Presidency Council is supposed to take up the issue: "The initiative is under process waiting for the return of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, the source said."

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010










Turning to London where the Iraq Inquiry is in the midst of a busy week. Yesterday they heard from Tony Blair's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell and today they heard from Sec of Defence (2001-2005) Geoffrey Hoon. The rest of the week, they will hear from: Mark Lyall-Grant (Director General Political, FCO, 2007 - 2009), David Omand (Permanent Secretary Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, 2002 - 2005), Jack Straw (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 2001 - 2006), Suma Chakrabarti (Permanent Secretary, DFID, 2002 - 2007) and Nicholas Macpherson (Permanent Secretary, HMT, 2006 - 2009). Before getting to hearings, BBC News reports over "3,000 people have applied for seats at Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry. The inquiry, which has 60 seats" will raffle or lotto (no charge) them and has set up a room with additional seating (total of 1,400 seats will be made available).

Jonathan Powell appeared before the committee yesterday (link goes to video and transcript options) and insisted there was no blood oath signed in Crawford, Texas by Bully Boy Bush and Tony Blair. Whether or not they just became spit brother (spit on the palms and then shake) remains an unknown. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) takes on Powell's fluff here. David Hughes (Telegraph of London) offers this evaluation of Powell's appearance: "Well, who'd have thought it? Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former chief of staff, has told the Chilcot inquiry that 'when our forces went in, we were absolutely amazed to discover there weren't any weapons of mass destruction.' Bet you could have knocked them all down with a feather. I can just picture them all --Blair, Powell, Alastair Campbell, Sir John Scarlett -- sitting around in the PM's office scratching their heads in complete and utter bewilderment." Looking like a more emaciated John F. Burns (New York Times' London correspondent), Powell scowleded and furrowed his brow throughout his testimony -- apparently in the hopes that such extreme and 'heavy' facial expressions would add gravitas to his facile statements.

How facile? Have you seen the episode of Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy where Lois runs for mayor? And the easy answers she tosses out? And her 9/11 changed everything? Jonathan Powell declared (more than once), "Well, I think 9/11 changed everything for the United States." He offered that on September 12, 2001, Tony Blair and Bully Boy were phone buddies and Bush brought up Iraq during that phone call. Other phone buddies were David Manning and his American counterpart Condi Rice. December, January and, as late as February 14th, Rice, Powell believes, assured Manning that the US had no "concrete" plans for Iraq.

Jonathan Powell: So, really, I think it was February and March that they started to get into more concrete plans.

Committee Member Usha Prashar: Concrete plans for what?

Jonathanon Powell: For considering how they would actually deal with Iraq. You remember there was the State of the Union speech in which he talked about the Axis of Evil, and, again, David spoke to Condi Rice on 14 February to make sure the Americans would not plunge into any plans before the Prime Minister met the President at Crawford and received an assurance that they wouldn't. The first face-to-face encounter we had on this was with Vice-President Dick Cheney, who came to Number 10 on 1 March 2002. He was on his way for a Middle East tour and he wanted to discuss Iraq with us before he discussed it with Middle East leaders. The Prime Minister warned him of the law of unintended consequences. If you are going to deal with something like Iraq, you have to think ahead about what might happen and that you do not expect.

Committee Member Usha Prashar: What was Dick Cheney's view at the time? What was he proposing?

Jonathan Powell: Dick Cheney was proposing to go and consult the Middle East leaders on what should be done in Iraq, to see what their tolerance would be for action. He said at the end of the meeting --

Committee Member Usha Prashar: But the action was about regime change?

Jonathan Powell: The action was about -- yes, about replacing Saddam, and, at the end of the meeting, he said that a coalition would be nice, but not essential.

Jason Beattie (Daily Mail) emphasizes Powell's admission that there was no proof that WMDs existed and quotes him stating "Intelligence is something that suggests something -- not proves something" as opposed to Tony Blair's September 2002 insistance to the public that there was intelligence demonstrating "beyond doubt" Iraq was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) live blogged the hearing. Before moving on to today, we need to note another development. Last week (Tuesday), the Inquiry heard from Alastair Campbell who had been the spokesperson for then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) noted Sunday that Campbell has now provided a "clarification" for his testimony:He appeared, he said, to be suggesting that the then prime minister could have claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction "beyond doubt" even if intelligence chiefs disagreed. "This is clearly not correct," he said in a written memo to the inquiry which had grilled him about the Government's controversial 2002 dossier which was used to justify the invasion. Andrew Gilligan (Telegraph of London) adds:It's just not how a leading professional communicator should be treated, is it? Alastair Campbell tonight faces a demand from the former Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, that he be recalled to the Chilcot inquiry after I spotted that the former Spin King had written to Chilcot, "clarifying" his evidence.Campbell decided he needed a second go at saying what he really meant over an issue which is emerging as a key area of interest for the enquiry. It is the claim, written by him in the WMD dossier, and repeated by Tony Blair, that the "assessed intelligence" had established continued Iraqi WMD production "beyond doubt." But the intelligence, of course, established nothing of the sort, as both Blair and Campbell must have known.Now we move on to today's testimony by Geoffrey Hoon (link goes to video and transcript options -- transcript is over 200 pages). Channel 4 News reports, "As the session started a previously unpublished letter from the then Attorney General was made public, revealing that Lord Goldsmith complained that Mr Hoon had put him in a "difficult position" by claiming Britain would be 'perfectly entitled' to use force against Iraq without a specific United Nations mandate." James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) reports, "Documents released today by Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the war show that Lord Goldsmith wrote to rebuke Goeff Hoon, then the defence secretary, for stating publicly that war could be justified in international law. Mr Hoon made the claim in a television interview on March 24, 2002." Now to the testimony. 200 pages of transcript and damn near nothing worthy of recording.

Doubt it? How about when Hoon blamed the Iraq War on 9/11 and Americans reactions to 9/11?

Geoffrey Hoon: I was never really persuaded -- I have family and I have lived in America and I have many friends there. I don't think the United Kingdom ever quite grasped the extent of the shock that 9/11 caused to the United States, both to the political system, but also to ordinary people, and I think the Americans became very anxious to avoid being taken by surprise again and looked hard at the kinds of risks that were around. Iraq was one of them, but I would say in the pre-Crawford period, as far as the Ministry of Defence was concerned, it was only one of them.

Support for the war in the US, ahead of the March 2003 invasion was not as Hoone portrays it. Maybe it's really past time that the committee insist witnesses testify to that which they, here's the key word, WITNESSED. "Witnessed," hence the term "witness." Hoon's a blustering fool. Check [PDF format warning] questions 43 and 44 of the CBS News - New York Times poll for October 3 - 5, 2002. Question 43 has 63% of respondents stating the United Nations should be given more time for weapons inspectionwhile question 44 has 70% saying Bush should obtain authorization from Congress before starting the Iraq War. Let's move to January 24, 2003 when CBS News reported on the latest poll: "The poll found 63% of Americans want President Bush to find a diplomatic solution. It also found support for military action -- if it becomes necessary -- is still high, but it has slipped from just two months ago -- 64% now compared to 70% last November. What's more, Americans seem to want hard evidence that Iraq is cheating. More than two-thirds (77% to 17%) say if inspectors haven't found a smoking gun, they should keep looking. For the moment, diplomacy is the clearly favored course with regard to Iraq, a feeling that hasn't changed from two weeks ago." After a Conga Line of Media Whores -- all of whom now hide behind Judith Miller -- wrote op-eds insisting Colin Powell's laughable presentation (February 6, 2003) meant 'case closed,' Americans were again polled by CBS and NYT and: "The public is divided on whether the Bush Administration has yet presented enough evidence against Iraq to justify military action right now. 47% say they have, 44% say they still have not." That's pretty much an even split (plus/minus 4% was the margin of error for the poll). Now we can go round and round with the polling of other outlets, it's not going to make Hoon right. He was wrong. He offered testimony that either he knew was wrong or should have. He doesn't know the first thing about popular opinion in the US and he obviously didn't bother to familiarize himself with it before he testified. Just saying it's so doesn't make it so. Ask Collie Powell and ask him how that blot feels (it's not going away). Hoon's a liar and the committee needs to get some guts and some gumption. It is past time that they call out these witnesses who come before them and offer 'testimony' about things they have no way of knowing and that they did not witness. That's speculation and, pay attention, if all they're doing is gathering speculation, the Inquiry is going to be of little value because you can't use anything from an inquiry (in a later case) that was speculation. But I have a feeling the Inquiry already knows that. Sometimes he offered non-stop speculation -- to paint others. Anything that might make him seem culpable? He pled he was an innocent and unknowing lamb. Ann Treneman (Times of London) boils down the essance of his performance:

Geoff Hoon is the man who was never there. He is like Macavity but not as much fun, for there is little of mystery, or indeed cattiness, about the man who was Defence Secretary for six years. Six years! Can it be? Can you be that important and yet be so very unimportant for six long years?
When I say that he wasn't there, I mean it. He was asked if he was at a crucial meeting at Chequers just before Tony Blair met President Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. "Actually I wasn't," he noted, "and I haven't been able to establish precisely why."
So, after Crawford, where military intervention in Iraq had been discussed, what had the Prime Minister told him? "I don't think he told me anything directly. I saw a record of the meeting." So did he know that Mr Blair was writing little billets-doux to George saying: "I'll be there for you"? Mr Hoon said he did not and seemed puzzled why anyone should ask such a question.

Emma Albercici (Australia's ABC) emphasizes Hoon's claim that he warned Blair that Iran was what needed to be focused on and his claim that the British military suffers today due to cuts the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown made in 2003 when Brown was chancellor. Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) covers the military aspect. Iain Martin (Wall St. Journal) offers a look at Geoff Hoon the person (as opposed to the buffoon). Glen Oglaza live blogged the hearing for Sky News and he notes Jack Straw's appearance on Thursday is expected to be a media event. Sunday, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) reports on a letter Straw wrote Blair ten days before Blair met with Bush at the latter's Crawford ranch (April 2002): "Jack Straw privately warned Tony Blair that an invasion of Iraq was legally dubious, questioned what such action would achieve, and challenged US claims about the threat from Saddam Hussein, it was revealed today ."

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