Saturday, April 03, 2010








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

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

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

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Nouri's power grab continues (as does Ahmed's reach around)"
"Suicides and other veterans' issues"
"I Hate The War"
"Song of the Bully Boy"
"Sauerkraut and Franks in the Kitchen"
"The economy"
"Deacon Alexander"
"This is a president?"
"Terry Gross tells on herself"
"barry can't stop whining"
"John Forsythe"
"Friday morning"
"Grab bag"
"The ridiculous Barbra Boxer"
"Homophobia wasn't enough, Danny's a racist as well"
"Passes for generals"
"Deanna Durbin"
"The sell out(s)"
"Those who attack women"
"Jill Stein"
"Barack and the minions who worship him"
"Only a week insists cry baby"

Thursday, April 01, 2010







"Many men and women return from the war zone successfully and adjust to their lives out of theater, but others have had difficulty in readjusting or transitioning to family life, to their jobs, and to living in their communities after deployment." That statement appears on page one of the 192 page report issued yesterday by the Committee on the Initial Assessment of Readjustment Needs of Military Personnel, Veterans, and Their Families; Board on the Health of Selected Populations; Institute Of Medicine. The report is entitled Returning Home from Iraq and Afghanistan: Preliminary Assessment of Readjustment Needs of Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families. The Institute Of Medicine defined the task as (a) "identify preliminary findings regarding the physical and mental health and other readjustments needs for members and former members of the armed forces who were deployed to OEF or OIF and their families as a result of such deployment" and (b) "determine how it would approach [. . .] a comprehensive assessment of the physical, mental, social and economic effects and to identify gaps in care for members and former member of the armed forces who were deployed" in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Among other things, IOM found many programs had been created to help the veterans of both wars; however, little evaluation of the programs had been done. The report states that little attention has been paid to either the costs or helath condition needs in long-term care for TBI. In addition, it notes that there "is the critical shortage of health-care professionals -- especially those specializing in mental health -- to meet the demands of those returning from theater in Iraq and Afghanistan and their family members."

The report refers to all levels of care. Last week, US House Rep Michael Michaud chaired a hearing of the House Veterans Subcommittee on Health and US House Rep Gabrielle Giffords spoke of the bills she is sponsoring HR 2698 and 2699 -- both of which are concerned with treatment for PTSD. The first would provide a scholarship to train VA workers and allow veterans to access PTSD health care at the VAs even if -- especially if -- the PTSD is newly emerging/manifesting. The first bill would put more and better trained workers in the VA and allow the veterans greater access to treatment. The second bill would create pilot pograms that would provide treatment but also track feedback from the veterans and their families in order to devise better treatments. The bills she is sponsoring are both in keeping with the recommendations of the 192-page report. HR 2698 currently has 48 co-sponsors including the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Bob Filner. At least 13 of the co-sponsors are Republicans; however, the Committee's Ranking Member, Steve Buyer, has not signed on as a co-sponsor.

The report notes a barrier to receiving help: "Stigma, real or imagined, is perceived by military personnel who are (or are considering) seeking care for mental health or substance-abuse problems. And active-duty military and veterans fear that vistis to a mental health provider will jeopardize their careers because of the military's long-standing and understandable policy of reporting mental health and substance-abuse problems to the chain of command."

They will argue that they recommended "a review" of confidentiality policies. Yes, they did. And I will turn around and argue that Deborah Mullen (wife of Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen) made stronger remarks on this topic (stigmas as barriers to treatment) in her speech at the DoD-VA Suicide Prevention Conference in DC last January.

As you read through the report, it becomes obvious that there are few solutions offered, just calls for more study. If you doubt that, check out the section on "Identify policy remedies" which reads:

Implicit in much of what the committee has found and has written is that dealing with the population-level consequences of OEF and OIF will require policy changes. The scope of the potential policy rememdies will be targeted at preventing, minimizing, or addressing the impacts, gaps, and needs identified during the committee's work. It is anticipated that this work will generate specific recommendations that may require statutory changes to implement.

They may feel they have met their mission's mandate but what it reads like is "there are problems, we recommend further study." In other words, kick the can. Or maybe hot potato. Though weak on solutions, the study does provide interesting raw data such as the fact that 1.9 million members of the service have been deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq for over 30 days since 2001. That these 1.9 million have been deployed "in 3 million tours of duty". 7,944 women served in Vietnam while "over 200,000 women" have served and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (accounting for 11% of the personnel). Non-reserve personnel? Nearly half the officers "are over 35 years old" compared to the reserve officers figure of 73.6% "are over 35 years old." Well over half the reserve, non-officer members are 30 or less while in the non-reserve category, 85% are under the age of 35 with the greatest number being between the ages of 20 and 24. That group makes up 43.9% of the Army (non-officers, remember), 45.9% of the Navy, 39.1% of the Air Force and 65.6% of the Marine Corps. For the non-officers in the reserves, there is no one age group that consistently tracks across the branches. In the Army national Guard, the largest portion (30%) are between the ages of 20 and 24 and that is true also for the Army Reserve (32.1%) and the Marine Corps Reserve (58.1%); however, for the Navy Reserve, most members (24.3%) are between the ages of 35 and 39 (with the second highest being the ages 40 to 44), ages 40 to 44 make up the largest percent of the Air Force Reserve (18.4%). That's all the reserve branches except for the Air National Guard and their highest percentage is 16.6% which is the percentage of their deployed members ages 20 to 24 but it is also the percentage of their deployed members age 35 to 39.

With no distinction made between officers and non-officers, service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been "66% [. . .] white, 16% black, 10% Hispanic, 4% Asian, and 4% other race." That's reserve and non-reserve. Of the non-reserve, 55.2% are married and that number is 49% for the reserves. Children? 43% non-reserves are a parent and reserves? They aren't tracked. Which appears to echo the RAND Corporation critieria for their recent study which Anita Chandra discussed with Congress last month. Reserves and non-reserves (the report calls it "active component" but I've heard too many reserves note that they are active and have been active month after month) share one thing in common, for both over 60% of the Navy branches have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. For non-reserves, that is the highest of any branch. For the reserves, the Air Force Reserve has deployed even more with over 80% of their members have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. [See Figure 2.5 and 2.6 of the report for more on that breakdown.] The report notes:

The rate of domestic violence is higher in military couples than in civilian couples. Marshall et al. (2005) reported that wives of Army servicemen reported significantly higher rates of husband-to-wife violence than demographically matched civilian wives. Although it has bee nreported that spousal abuse has declined over the last few years, domestic violence still affects 20% of military couples in which the service member has been deployed for at least 6 months (Booth et al., 2007).

On the topic of families:

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on the children of US troops deployed there. Children of US troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan reportedly sought outpatient mental health services 2 million times in 2008 (Andrews et al, 2008). Impatient visits by military children have increased by 50% since 2003. Additionally, an increase in the rate of child maltreatment has been reported since the start of the conflict. Rentz et al (2007) conducted a time-series analysis from 2000 to 2003 to investigate the effect of deployment on the occurrence of child maltreatment in military and nonmilitary families. They reported a statisically significant two-fold increase in substantial maltreatment in military families in the 1-year period after Septemeber 11, 2001, compared with the period before then. A recent study of over 1,700 military families (Gibbs et al, 2007) found that the overall rate of child maltreatment, especially child neglect, was higher when the soldier-parents were deployed than when theyw ere not deployed. Because of the demographics of those who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (older service members who are married and have children), the number of children who have been affected by these conflicts is clearly larger than in past conflicts.

Julie Sullivan (Oregonian) examines the report with a focus on Oregon service members, "Nearly 51 percent of the returning soldiers told commanders they have no job waiting. More than 170 have no permanent address. And, an exhaustive new national report finds that the most challenging transition for their families will come after they arrive." Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) boils the report down to the VA "has no way of determining long-range health care costs for the veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan".

Monday's snapshot covered the Commission on Wartime Conracting in Iraq and Afghanistan in DC which heard about abuses and problems to do with KBR and also heard from KBR. Kat covered the hearing in "Commission on Wartime Contracting," Ava covered it at Trina's site with "Fraud and waste" and Wally covered it at Rebecca's site with "The arrogance and waste of KBR." The Commission's attention isn't the only negative attention KBR is receiving this week. The US Justice Dept issued the following today:

WASHINGTON -- The United States has filed a lawsuit against Kellogg Brown & Root Services (KBR) alleging that the defense contractor violated the False Claims Act, the Justice Department announced today. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, alleges that KBR knowingly included impermissible costs for private armed security in billings to the Army under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) III contract. The LOGCAP III contract provides for civilian contractor logistical support, such as food services, transportation, laundry and mail, for military operations in Iraq.
The government's lawsuit alleges that some 33 KBR subcontractors, as well as the company itself, used private armed security at various times during the 2003-2006 time period. KBR allegedly violated the LOGCAP III contract by failing to obtain Army authorization for arming subcontractors and by allowing the use of private security contractors who were not registered with the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. The subcontractors using private security are alleged to have also violated subcontract terms requiring travel only in military convoys. The government's lawsuit further alleges that at the time, KBR managers considered the use of private security unacceptable and were concerned that the Army would disallow any costs for such services. KBR nonetheless charged the United States for the costs of the unauthorized services.
"Defense contractors cannot ignore their contractual obligations to the military and pass along improper charges to the United States," said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "We are committed to ensuring that the Department of Defense's rules are enforced and that funds so vital to the war effort are not misused."
This case is being brought as part of a National Procurement Fraud Initiative. In October 2006, the Deputy Attorney General announced the formation of a National Procurement Fraud Task Force designed to promote the early detection, identification, prevention and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with the increase in government contracting activity for national security and other government programs. The Procurement Fraud Task Force is chaired by the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division and includes the Civil Division, U.S. Attorneys' Offices, the FBI, the U.S. Inspectors General community, and a number of other federal law enforcement agencies.
Along with the Justice Department's Civil Division, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigation Division and FBI participated in the investigation of this matter. This case, as well as others brought by members of the task force, demonstrates the Department of Justice's commitment to helping ensure the integrity of the government procurement process.

NOW on PBS begins airing on most PBS stations Friday night (check local listings) and this week's program:The number of inmates in American prisons is outpacing the system's ability to hold them all. In one startling example, California prisons hold well over 50,000 more inmates than they're designed for, even though the state has built a dozen new prisons in the last 15 years. One of the biggest reasons is rampant recidivism. On Friday, April 2 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW goes inside an Illinois prison that may have the answer to California's problems. With its innovative plan to keep released inmates from coming back, the Sheridan Correctional Center is trying to redefine "tough on crime" by being the largest fully dedicated drug prison in the country. The approach involves aggressive counseling, job training, and following the convicts after they get out. Can their novel approach keep convicts out of jail for good?

And we'll close with this from Tom Over (OpEd News) report on the activities of World Can't Wait and speaks with Debra Sweet, national director of World Can't Wait:Sweet said that during the Bush presidency, protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had a lot more people participating. "A Presidential candidate and then a president was brought forward who represented on the surface something very different. This was change we were supposed to believe in and huge numbers of people, including anti-war leaders, put all their energy into electing Obama, regardless of the fact that he was promising to expand the war in Afghanistan," Sweet said. Perhaps interestingly, as Sweet and I spoke, Public Enemy's "Don't Believe The Hype" played on the PA system. Also interesting was that Sweet uttered a combination of words-- 'hoodwinked and bamboozled ' -- Malcolm X used to famous effect, which was made more famous by way of Spike Lee's film about the civil rights leader. "A lot of people have been hoodwinked and bamboozled. Many of us weren't, but we need to be all that much more visible and protesting now, because even more than ever, we need a movement that says 'no' to this whole package of continuing the Bush direction," Sweet said.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010






Starting off with a question: What is the role of the press?
In the US, that can lead an esoteric discussion or emphasizing certain points such as we can debate the merits of this and that, the right not to reveal sources, the differences between reporting and opinion journalism, the increasing (and bad) tendency to label TV hosts "journalists" (they're not reporters and, no, they don't even qualify as journalists), etc. But that's in the US and it's true of many countries -- East and West -- with an existing and functioning press. What about a country being hailed as 'emerging' and as a 'democracy'?
What about Iraq?
What message has the US press sent since the last votes were cast on March 7th? First off, the press rushed to declare Nouri al-Maliki the winner. They rushed to do that on March 8th. The day after the election. With no results -- not even partial -- released. They did have a 'poll' that said Nouri was the leader . . . a poll done by Nouri. Often they forgot to include the source for the poll when citing its results. Those results weren't valid. But what message did that send to Iraqis? Remember that they've been very vocal about what happened with their own press. One example should suffice, such as when Listening Post's (Al Jazeera) Richard Gizbert observed, "As they scan their new media landscape, Iraqis are under no illusions about what they see. They know the channels covering the elections had their favorite candidates as did the newspapers." If they were looking for any sings that this was not the way a functioning press behaves, they didn't find it from American outlets. Around the time the ballot count released reached 70%, each day had Nouri's political party ahead in the count or Ayad Allawi's. At that point, though a surprise could have still been in store, the press' back and forth was more understandable. But last Friday 100% of the vote count was released and how has the press -- the US press -- behaved since?
That tally found Allawi's slate had won two more seats in the Parliament than had Nouri's. Which meant Allawi had first dibs on attempting to put together a government. The US government will do business with whomever Iraq declares prime minister. That's reality. For the US press, objectivity shouldn't be hard in this instance (though they're declaring Nouri the winner on March 8th indicates otherwise) because it's not really a US issue. The individual -- whomever he (or in a better world) she is will continue relations with the US government. So the US press should have been able to have been objective. (That may be too high a goal for those who couldn't even be informed -- as the Friday roundup guests on The Diane Rehm Show at the start of this month demonstrated, few even bothered to learn basics.)
And just by being objective, they could have sent a message. Even now, they're not able to. In what country -- functioning democracy or 'democracy' or not -- is the sitting leader allowed to cast aspersions on the vote as freely as Nouri has? In what country would the sitting leader be allowed to benefit by the targeting of members of the winning's side -- targeting them with violence and political intimidation?
This is what's going on in Iraq and there's no disputing it. The US press probably couldn't change the realities on the ground (I doubt seriously that shaming works on Nouri -- if it did, he would have slit his wrists years ago). But it could help the Iraqi people. Instead of the diffident, lackadaisical attitude displayed by the US press, there could be expressions of outrage over what's happening. That it's not taking place sends a message to the Iraqi people that this is just how it's going to be, that this is how it is?
I don't believe you can make democracy somewhere else. I believe a people can make a democracy if they want it. The War Hawks -- including a large segment of the -- "CASE CLOSED!" -- US press -- believed democracy could be exported. I would assume that all but the most thick headed now realize it can't be. But I'd also -- apparently wrongly -- assume that the US press would grasp that their actions are being watched and that behaviors are modeled. So when they want to act as if it's perfectly normal that, for example, a member of Allawi's party was assassinated Sunday or that at least one -- possibly four -- members of Allawi's party are being smeared with the charge of "Ba'athist!" in order to sideline them, the message to the Iraqi people is, "That's just how it is."
I didn't and don't support the ongoing, illegal war. But I also don't believe the press should now tell the Iraqis that that's just the way things are and no sense getting outraged, no sense expecting more. That's the message being sent: This is all you can hope for. (Possibly with a subtext of: This all you're worth.) The entire international community should be vocal about these efforts to overturn the will of the people but the US press bears a special burden (in a court of law, the term for that 'burden' should be "culpable") since it did so much to help sell the Iraq War to begin with. And we're fully aware that the selling of the Iraq War didn't stop in March 2003. Waves of Operation Happy Talk kept the illegal war -- keeps it going -- for every Damien Cave or Alissa J. Rubin that did some strong work, you had ten and twenty Dexter Filkins lying in print over and over. You see a lot of that today if you pay attention, the Dexy pose, where they all want you to know -- now -- that things aren't that bad. Why, in 2006, . . . But check the archives, in real time, they weren't telling you about it when it was happening. Today they will because it helps sell the war. "It's better! Now it's better!"
So for those crimes and many more, the US press should feel a special obligation in terms of calling out outrages in Iraq. But they don't judging the near total silence. A rare exception would be the Los Angeles Times editorial board:

Nevertheless, Maliki has been challenging the election results every which way, within the elastic boundaries of the law. He has tried but so far failed to secure a recount of what international observers determined to be a sufficiently fair and transparent vote. And just before the final results were released last week, the Supreme Court concluded, at Maliki's urging, that the right to form the next government could go to alliances and super-coalitions formed after the election, if they prove to have the most seats. Maliki promptly launched negotiations with other religious Shiite and Kurdish parties.
Now the Accountability and Justice Commission, which already had banned scores of candidates with alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from the election, says six others slipped through the cracks, won seats and should be disqualified. Removing them would alter the outcome, because several appear to be from Allawi's Shiite-Sunni bloc (and because Allawi's coalition won by only two seats). Not incidentally, the commission's head, Ali Lami, belongs to a party that is reportedly in merger talks with Maliki.
Perhaps some of this is just postelection posturing, but to us it looks like shenanigans. What's more, not only are these dubious maneuvers potentially destabilizing in such a fragile country, but they are probably unnecessary for Maliki's bloc to come out on top.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010




To listen to the pundits and soak up what the media is saying here in Washington DC, you’d think that President Barack Obama is running at about 70 per cent in the polls and cruising towards being re-coronated in 2012.

The polls, however, tell a different story. According to a new USA Today poll, 50 per cent of Americans view the new health-care law as “a bad thing” and 47 per cent view it as a “good thing”. That’s a different picture from the a poll conducted a week ago, in the warm glow just after the House of Representatives vote, in which 49 per cent thought it was good thing and 40 per cent bad.

Obama’s personal popularity briefly popped up over the 50 per cent mark but is now down again to 48 per cent, close to his low of 46 per cent – the kind of favourability rating which, with more two and a half years to go before his bid for re-election, is an early alarm bell.

The Democrats have just experienced a dead cat bounce.

This contrast between media coverage and the actual views of most Americans is another example of the perennial disconnect between Washington DC, where 93 per cent voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and the rest of the country.



They say this train don't give out rides, it don't worry me,
And all the world is taking sides, it don't worry me.
Cause in my empire, life is sweet, just ask any bum you meet.
Life may be a one way street, but it don't worry me.
It don't worry me, it don't worry me.
You may say I ain't free, but it don't worry me.
-- "It Don't Worry Me," words and music by Keith Carradine
Who knew Chris Hill would make like Barbara Harris in Robert Altman's Nashville and run around singing "It Don't Worry Me"? Hill is the US Ambassador to Iraq and, apparently, a huge Altman fan. Yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered, Noah Adams spoke (link has text and audio) with Hill:

ADAMS: Now, the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he's just not happy at all. He wants a manual recount. He's putting a lot of pressure on the election officials. He said, no way will we accept the results, he said that flatly. And he likes to remind people that he is, indeed, the commander-in-chief. If you're an Iraqi citizen, aren't you figuring he's going to take this election any way he can?

Ambassador HILL: Well, I think, you know, anyone who's lost an election by 0.045 percent probably is feeling a little grouchy that day. And so I think Mr. Maliki was probably not very happy to see those results. On the other hand, he has made clear that what's necessary is that everybody needs to follow the law, including himself. But, you know, he's going to challenge some of the results, I think as any candidate would. And the key thing here is not that he doesnt have a right to challenge results in specific areas, but he needs to do it lawfully according to the procedures.

Nouri's just a grouchy bear, insists Chris Hill, as if Little Nouri was awakened from naptime too quickly and just as soon as he finishes his juice box and sugar cookies, he'll play nice. Strangely, Iraq's neighbors do not see it the same way. Lebanon's Daily Star editorializes, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is moving onto very thin ice with his rejection of his country's elections -- and the entire country could well take a plunge with him. It is one thing if Maliki simply expressed his opposition to the leader who won the elections, Iraqiya head Iyad Allawi; however, Maliki is denouncing and challenging the whole elections as fraudulent." So that's one of Iraq's neighbors and Caryle Murphy (UAE's the National Newspaper) notes that another neighbor, Saudi Arabia, contains many people who are excited by the prospects of Allawi being the winner and "If Mr al Maliki stays in power, Mr Eshki added, Iraq will continue to suffer from terrorism because 'the Baathists … don't like him'. But with Mr Allawi at Iraq's helm, 'the terrorists will not find any group that will welcome them'." And Duraid Al Baik (Gulf News) reports on Iraqi attitudes towards Allawi's slate's apparent victory (they won the count released last Friday), fear as they see his supporters targeted, fear "that Al Maliki and his supporters will not hand over authority peacefully."
Timothy Williams (New York Times) reports that Iraq's Justice and Accountability Commission -- a paralegal committee whose mandate expired many years ago and whose membership was not appointed by Parliament -- has decided to disqualify six winners in the Parliamentary elections and this "could prove critical to the election's outcome because the political alliance headed by Ayad Allawi, the country's former interim prime minister, won only two seats more than Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's coalition in the March 7 contest." McClatchy's Hannah Allam (Christian Science Monitor) notes that if the "federal court upholds" the barring, not only would Allawi's slate lead their lead but it also "could threaten hopes that the elections would pave the way to a new unity government". As the Washington Post's editorial board observes, "On Monday, the pernicious Iranian-backed Accountability and Justice Commission piped up again, seeking to purge six winners it considers tainted by past association with Saddam Hussein; not coincidentally, the purging could be useful to politicians who run the commission." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "The vanquished Maliki continues to show signs that he will not fade away, describing as "impossible" Allawi's attempts to build a coalition. Maliki made the comment in a television interview, in which he also said "the game is still very much on", in relation to who will be Iraq's new leader." Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) report on the tensions arising from the para-legal body's latest move:

A senior Iraqiya member reacted furiously Monday, seeing the announcement as an effort to undermine the slate's quest to assemble a coalition of 163 seats to form the next government. He warned of dire consequences if the judiciary rules in Lami's favor and takes away Iraqiya seats.
"No doubt, if they try to isolate Iraqiya then definitely the aim of doing that is to push the country toward civil war. . . . Maybe this is the intention of Iran. They want their people to control Iraq for another four years," said Iraqiya member Falah Naquib. "Maybe half the country or more will not accept what they are trying to do."

Leila Fadel (Washington Post) quotes Falah al-Naqib as well and he tells her that if the banning is approved by the court and if it robs Allawi's slate of their lead, "It would be civil war, absolutely no doubt. I think the United States and other allies should find a solution for this problem. Otherwise, we're seriously going for a civil war, and this time, it's a big mess." NPR's Deborah Amos' Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East has just arrived in stores. Writing at Global Post,she explains:

Stung by his loss, Maliki rejected the official tally and invoked his status as commander-in-chief as he warned of violence. Maliki's top aide, Ali al-Adeed, was more explicit when he said Iraq's Shiites would not accept the legitimacy of Allawi's victory. Maliki's warnings prompted an unusual on-the-record observation from a senior U.S. embassy official, Gary Grappo, who acknowledged that Maliki's coalition would "take advantage of all means at their disposal to try to eke out a victory."
While Grappo went on to express confidence that Maliki and his allies would work within the judicial system, the system has been far from neutral, both before and after the election. Power in Iraq centers around personalities rather than institutions. As long as Maliki remains in office, he can manipulate government resources to press his advantage.
On the day before the election results were announced, the Supreme Court interpreted an ambiguous constitutional clause in a way that gives Maliki an edge. While the constitution stipulates the largest bloc in parliament gets the first chance to form a government, it is unclear whether the largest bloc is determined by the vote or groups that merge after the election. The judges ruled that the later is permissible, which means if Maliki can convince smaller blocs to join him in the next few days, he can deny Allawi the first shot at forming a government.
But Chris Hill is not troubled. Proving that the simplest mind sleeps easiest. As the US State Dept today, Chris Hill spoke via video link (and click here for State Dept video and transcript). Hey, remember when Chris Hill told All Things Considered yesterday:
I will say that as in any close election, it's not easy to lose a close election. If you look at the differential, it was some 0.045 percent. That's not fun to lose an election like that. So I don't think people should be too surprised that there are some comments that reflect the anguish of losing.
You're nodding. No. That's from today's press briefing. Sounds just the same, I know. That's because he can almost manage to memorize scripted soundbytes. Almost.
CNN's Elise Labott asked what happens if Nouri loses out to Allawi (as the count indicates his party should) and yet refuses to "secede power"?
Chris Hill: Well, again, these are -- this is kind of speculation. What if? What if he doesn't? What if he does? What if he -- will he resign from the position if he's unable to put together a coalition? All I can say is he has been very, very clear with us in private, very clear in public, that he will follow the law. I want to make very clear this is something that when you look around the landscape of this part of the world, you don't see too many examples of this actually happening. Yet I think the Iraqi people went to the polls in great numbers and I think the Iraqi people expect all of their politicians, whether it's the seated prime minister or whether it's the challengers, to follow the letter of the law. And I think that is a widespread expectation and I would expect everyone to do that. I mean, if we have problems in the future, we'll deal with problems in the future. But right now, I think what people are saying is the right thing, which his to observe the law and observe the procedures.
Are you on the floor rolling yet? If not, it's probably because you're thinking of the actions of the Justice and Accountability Commission (and for those who keep e-mailing about that commission, that is it's English translation -- for some reason some press outlets want to go alphabetical, it's Justice and Accountability). Reuters' Susan Cornwell immediately raised that issue.
Chris Hill: Well, let me just say that certainly political commentators here in Iraq sort of look at a challenge like that and wonder to what extent it reflects a political challenge. Certainly, I think the UN has made very clear that this is no time to be challenging people who have won seats. But I think the UN has also made very clear that the proper place for any such challenges is to the courts. If they want to sue the IHEC, they can do that and let the courts take this up. I think going forward, certainly for the next election, certainly for the next period of Iraq's history, they're going to have to deal with this whole issue about accountability and justice. They're going to have to deal with the issue of what to do with people who have ties to the Baathist regime in the past, how they're going to deal with this, whether a South African model or some other model. But certainly, what we want to see in the future is something that is transparent and something that does not appear to many people to have politics written all over it.
Oops, the manic half of his manic-depression appears to be fading. Like a Joyce Carol Oates character, he's going lethargic leading all to wonder, "What is he saying? What does he mean?" (Nod to JCO's "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?")
Chris Hill appears to be saying that without UN approval no candidates will be banned. And that if an Iraqi official doesn't like that, he can take the UN to court. That's what he appears to be saying.
But I've been on the phone with two friends at the UN and they say that's news to them. Not only is that news to them, Hill establishes that as 'reality' one minute and then appears to forget what he just said.
Seconds later McClatchy's Warren P. Strobel asks him about violence and how Allawi supporters are stating/worrying that violence could/would return if "the results of the accountability commission come back to where he's below Mr. Maliki." Do you understand what Strobel just said? It's fairly clear. But maybe it was lost on Hill? Strobel asked about Allawi being knocked out of the lead -- his party leads by two seats, remember -- if the accountability commission -- not a UN body nor a court of law in Iraq -- should ban or pull some of the ones elected on Allawi's slate. That was the question.
Here's Hill in full -- or, here's the fool in full:
Well, look, this is a country that has had a recent history with violence. I mean, we all know about the violence in Iraq. It's something we've all been very aware of for some time. So it is quite understandable that people look at this question, that people speculate about it, that the issue of violence gets raised in the news. I would say, however, that I would be careful, though, to suggest that a coalition that has won less than a third of the seats and clearly needs to reach out and get still another 80 percent of what the coalition is -- that is, Mr. Allawi's coalition has 91 seats. He needs at least another 70-plus seats if he's going to make a -- if he's going to be able to form a government. Well, I think his ability to do that will depend on his ability to work with coalitions, to decide who wants what ministry, to really sit down and negotiate. So I think this is really a political question and my sense is people understand that this is a political question. I think what is necessary at the end of the day, though, is to see that all elements of this society, whether it's Kurdish, whether it's Sunni, whether it's Shia or secular, that all of these people, all of these communities, really, have a potential to participate in the political life of this country. I think everyone is aware of this issue in this country. I mean, I don't hear of anyone saying, "Well, let's form a government and drop one significant group out of it." You don't hear any of that. So we'll have to see. We obviously monitor these things very carefully. We're very aware of the levels of violence. But so far, it is very much on a political track, which is where we want to keep it.
Whether it's Sunni, whether it's Shia -- forget Barbara Harris' character, now he's sounding like Miles Monroe in Sleeper when Miles believes he's in a Miss America contest. If Chris Hill told the truth (I know, I'm laughing too) the first time, then his reply to Strobel would have been consistent, he would have again replied that the UN would be the final say and that if someone was unhappy with the UN's decision they could go through the Iraqi courts. But he didn't say that. Chris Hill . . . At some point the chuckles fade and he just becomes an international embarrassment.
And if you doubt that, grasp that the idiot who didn't understand Kirkuk in his confirmation hearing, referred to it today in the press conference as "the so-called disputed internal boundary"? So-called? Baghdad claims it, the KRG claims it. It's disputed, moron, there's nothing in doubt about the fact that it's disputed. The only doubt is over whether the issue will be resolved (it was supposed to have been resolved three years ago). If it weren't for the fact that I sat through the idiot's confirmation hearing, I'd think he was trying to take sides with his choice of words but Hill -- and look at the rest of his answer -- clearly didn't and doesn't understand Kirkuk even after being the US Ambassador to Iraq for nearly a year now.

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While the 'winner' of the elections may now be in question, one 'winner' is not in question and Queerty announces that 'winner' is . . . : "We're sure the Jamaicans might have something to say about it, but Iraq has won the prestigious award of being dubbed "the most dangerous place on Earth for gays." For stuff like this. Congratulations!" As noted Saturday, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reposts Paul Canning's "Iraq is the most dangerous place on Earth for gays:"It often shocks people to hear this but talk to Iraqi gays who've made it out and they'll tell you -- Life was better under Saddam. Baghdad played the role that Beirut does now as a sanctuary for Middle Eastern gay life with clubs which men from the Gulf and Saudi Arabia flocked to. In sharp contrast, for the past six years Iraq has been the worst place in the entire world to be gay. Far, far worse than Uganda or even Iran. Hundreds of gays, lesbians and transgender people have been hunted down and killed in the most vile ways imaginable -- and imagination is the right word. Doctors have confirmed reports of men have had their anuses glued shut by militia forces and others have accused the government of being involved. No one has been prosecuted and the Iraqi government has failed to do anything to stop it. So Iraqi gays have helped themselves. They have created safe houses, although many have been discovered and become a new killing field. Many have fled but they have faced a cold wall of indifference and they have needed friends and luck to actually make it to sanctuary. Our government, the British government, has turned its back on those who have arrived here. All have initially been refused asylum. The system instead has told them that Iraq is safe and they should go home.Ali Hili is an Iraqi attempting to be granted asylum in England, he is also the head of Iraqi LGBT. It is past time for Congress to hold a hearing on the issue of the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community. Among those who have spoken out publicly against the targeting are US House Reps Jared Polis, Tammy Baldwin and Alcee Hastings and US Senator Kirsten Gilibrand. Gilibran and Baldwin led on an effort last month. From the Gilibrand press release, we'll note the letter she and other members of Congress sent to the US Secretary of State:
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State of the United States of America
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520-0099
Dear Madam Secretary,
We are writing to share our concerns about the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in countries where these individuals' health and lives are threatened and governments provide inadequate protection. Our concern was sparked most recently by accounts of LGBT individuals from Iraq and Iran who have had to flee after being severely beaten or worse, or because they face a significant risk of such persecution. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Iraq and Iran. LGBT individuals in a number of other countries are also under threat. Moreover, we are troubled by the fact that a number of countries criminalize or are taking steps to increase penalties against the LGBT community.
We know you share our concern. We appreciate the attention that the United States Government has paid to the special circumstances of people fleeing countries where they face persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly Iraq and Iran. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, for example, has raised the unsolved attacks on gay men with the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Ministry. While we value these steps, we remain concerned about people's safety in both these and other countries with reports of persecution of LGBT individuals and/or groups. We are likewise very troubled that LGBT refugees from Iraq and Iran and possibly other countries face risks in first asylum countries where refugees often remain for years, and which are often nearly as hostile to the LGBT community as their home countries.
Therefore we respectfully request you to consider several ways in which your leadership and guidance would improve protection for LGBT individuals in both the countries where they are targeted and the first asylum countries where their safety is in question.
1. United States Ambassadors in countries of concern should strongly and consistently raise the fact that laws targeting homosexual activity and a lack of protection for LGBT individuals or groups violate international human rights law.
2. United Nations and its appropriate agencies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, should increase their promotion of the human rights of LGBT individuals and ensure that appropriate programs are focused on support of such individuals and groups.
3. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should increase the training of all of its employees, contractors and implementing partners following its Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. UNHCR should maximize its implementation of this important guidance so that LGBT refugees are not disadvantaged by inappropriate conduct or inadequate processing by UNHCR employees or implementing partners. It appears that additional LGBT refugee protection tools would need to be developed. As the largest donor, the U.S. could help foster an appropriate focus on this issue.
4. Ffor LGBT individuals, such as those from Iran and Iraq, who face risks in the countries of first asylum, as well as inside their home countries, resettlement processing should be expedited. This can be done in a number of ways, including:
a. Those LGBT refugees who can articulate a serious protection concern because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the country of first asylum can be designated "refugees of special humanitarian concern" so they are eligible for Priority 2, or direct processing to the U.S. refugee admissions program. The United States already designated several groups of at-risk U.S.-affiliated Iraqis as P2-eligible in 2007 and 2008, and has used the designation for refugees from other countries in the past. We appreciate that this category of direct-access eligibility is reserved for some of the most at-risk groups and must be carefully crafted to identify a discrete group.
b. Processing of LGBT refugee applications can be expedited by UNHCR or the Department of State entering into agreements with qualified non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to identify or screen refugees who need to be taken immediately out of harm's way. Those LGBT refugees with serious protection concerns who are so identified by NGOs -- or who are otherwise known to UNHCR or the U.S. Government -- should be "fast tracked" by UNHCR or the State Department, as appropriate.
c. In appropriate cases, individuals might be moved by UNHCR to its emergency transit centers (ETCs) in order to ensure their safety during refugee processing. Our understanding is that such transit centers are currently used to house populations whose safety cannot be guaranteed while they are in refugee processing. If such centers are used to temporarily house LGBT refugees, UNHCR would need to take steps to ensure that the centers are sensitive to the protection needs of LGBT individuals. In cases where evacuation to an ETC is not practicable, we urge you to work with the Secretary of Homeland Security to expeditiously parole or conditionally admit particularly vulnerable refugees to the United States for processing, as the United States did with applicants evacuated from northern Iraq in 1996 and Macedonia in 1999.
d. Finally, the U.S. agencies involved in the security clearance procedures required as part of the refugee resettlement process should continue to improve coordination in order to enable these procedures to be completed in a timely manner.
Again, thank you for your attention to this matter. We would be very pleased to work with you and support you in any way we can.
Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator Patrick J. Leahy
United States Senator Daniel K. AkakaUnited States SenatorJeff BingamanUnited States SenatorSherrod BrownUnited States SenatorRobert P. Casey Jr.
United States SenatorRussell D. FeingoldUnited States SenatorFrank R. LautenbergUnited States SenatorJoseph L. Lieberman
United States SenatorJeff Merkley
United States SenatorCharles E. Schumer
United States SenatorRon WydenUnited States Senator
Tammy BaldwinUnited States RepresentativeJared PolisUnited States Representative
Barney FrankUnited States RepresentativeJan SchakowskyUnited States RepresentativeJerrold NadlerUnited States RepresentativeMichael M. HondaUnited States RepresentativeLois CappsUnited States RepresentativeJames P. MoranUnited States RepresentativeZoe LofgrenUnited States RepresentativeDavid WuUnited States RepresentativeEdolphus TownsUnited States RepresentativeCarolyn MaloneyUnited States RepresentativeAlcee HastingsUnited States RepresentativeJohn ConyersUnited States RepresentativeLuis GutierrezUnited States RepresentativeBill DelahuntUnited States RepresentativeEliot EngelUnited States RepresentativeRa├║l M. GrijalvaUnited States RepresentativeChellie PingreeUnited States RepresentativeJoseph CrowleyUnited States RepresentativeGary AckermanUnited States RepresentativeAnthony WeinerUnited States RepresentativeMaurice HincheyUnited States RepresentativeSteven RothmanUnited States RepresentativeJames P. McGovernUnited States RepresentativeLynn WoolseyUnited States RepresentativePaul TonkoUnited States RepresentativeMike QuigleyUnited States RepresentativeSteve IsraelUnited States RepresentativeHoward BermanUnited States RepresentativeHenry WaxmanUnited States RepresentativeBrad ShermanUnited States RepresentativeCongress -- especially the DPC -- has had hearings into waste and fraud. It's past time that hearings took place about human rights. Paul Canning believes one of the most helpful things that can be done presently for Ali Hili and Iraq's LGBT community is for the US Congress to invite him to testify before them. To contact Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis and Kirsten Gillibrand visit their websites. To contact the DPC (Democratic Policy Committee), click here. To request that the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs take up the issue, click here.

"We are here today" Christopher Shays declared in DC this morning, "to talk about transitions in Iraq. March 20 was the seventh anniversary of the US, British and other allies invasion of Iraq. American combat operations there have lasted almost twice as long as the American Civil War or US involvement in WWII."

Shays was reading the opening remarks of the commissioners of the Commission on Wartime Conracting in Iraq and Afghanistan as they held another of there oh-so-rare hearings. Shays explained the Commission was concerned that contractors -- such as KBR "whose employees account for half of all contractors in the country" -- were keeping accurate numbers of their employees -- and didn't have "unnecessary staff hanging around" -- since each one can cost the US tax payer approximately $1,000 a month. In addition, "We also want to explore what appears to be alarming data revealed in audits by the Defense Contract Audit Agency and the Inspector General of the Department of Defense."

Adam Weinstein (Mother Jones) reported earlier this month, "It was just a single contract for a single job on a single base in Iraq. The Deparmtne of Defense agreed to pay the megacontractor KBR $5 million a year to repair tactical vehicles, from Humvees to big rigs, at Joint Base Balad, a large airfield and supply center north of Baghdad. Yet according to a new Pentagon report [PDF], what the military got was as many as 144 civilian mechanics, each doing as little as 43 minutes of work a month, with virtually no oversight. The report, issued March 3 by the DoD's Inspector General, found that between late 2008 and mid-2009, KBR performed less than 7 percent of the work it was expected to do, but still got paid in full."

The Commission heard from two panels. The first was governmental -- Lt Gen James Pillsbury, DCAA's Patrick J. Fitzgerald and RICC's James Loehr. The second was KBR execs Doug Horn and Guy H.A. Laboa. All the witnesses were sworn in -- and sworn in at the start of the hearing. Shays is one of the co-chairs of the Commission, Michael Thibault is another. Thibault declared in the first round of questioning that he was "on a tear about efficiency and economy." He noted Loehr's report which found KBR was repeatedly late with providing cost updating, that they were overstaffed and that they were mismanaged.

Commissioner Michael Thibault: So my question, Mr. Loehr, is, please, what's going on here?

James Loehrl: Okay, um. What that PEB [Performance Evaluation Board] is is that's a monthly assessment that the Defense Contract Management Agency's ACO's perform with KBR in theater on a monthly basis to give the contractor feedback. And as you said, all of that leads -- flows into the bi-annual award fee process. Uh, some of what is in there very clearly, if what the ACL is reporting there was correct and KBR is not implementing ACL changes and getting those ACL changes incorporated into the base line, then that is an issue and the proper way to be addressing them is at that PEB form so the KBR understands that that is then going to flow into their award fee evaluation and effect their profitability. And so that is what that process is going on. I believe that particular PEB was one on the core logistics, then calls into the same thing Mr. Fitzgerald brought up with that DCAA report regarding that staffing of that logistic's mission. So I think two of those --

Thibault cut him off and noted the problems outlined before stating, "Multi-billion dollar and my sensitivity is if you don't have the kind of score keeping, sir, that you need, in order to do your job, how are we going to get it?" His time was up but he noted Shays had indicated he wanted to pursue the line of questioning when his turn rolled around. Pointing to one report regarding staffing, Commission Robert Henke noted over $190 million in waste of the tax payer dollar by KBR and he wanted to know if "the Army or the Army Material Command has responded to this report? If someone would write me a report that said, 'You can save $193 million,' I'd write 'em back and say I agree or disagree. Sir, has the Army responded?" Lt Gen James Pillsbury reponded, "I will take that for the record. I don't know if we have responded exactly to-to it. I know that we are taking actions to drawdown" contractors. Henke then asked Fitzgerald if the Army had "responded formally to the report?"

Patrick Fitzgerald: Sir, if you mean formally in writing --

Commissioner Robert Henke: Yeah.

Patrick Fitzgerald: No. [. . .]

Commissioner Robert Henke: General, since the Army hasn't responded to the audit, could you do that here?

Lt Gen James Pillsbury: Uhm. Again, sir, the-the-the drawdown in Iraq is-is on pace. Uhm, given the DCAA audit and the fact that General [Ray] Odierno [top US commander in Iraq] has said that we would draw down by 5%, the actions of -- that I believe are ongoing -- are prudent. Now, I am not an auditor. I am an operational logistician and requirements in a flowing battlefield, in a flowing theater, especially when its drawing down, are very difficult to put your arms around. So I will say to you, sir, I will take this for the record and get back to you with a written response from AMC with what are actions are for the audit but-but I will tell you sir, the situtations on the ground are somewhat fluid as you well know.

Commissioner Robert Henke: I-I-I appreciate that entirely but you're telling me that AMC has a comprehensive plan to drawdown contracts and contractos and the single biggest contractor in theater is KBR with 15,000 direct hires and 30,000 other peopl. I would think if an auditor would tell you, "There's a chance to save $193 million" that someone in the system would feel compelled to respond. I'm disappointed that the Army has not. We had the LOGCAP program manager up here before the Commission in December, asked him his response -- the report was just out -- so this is not new material. In fact, the point of the audit is that the savings are going, going gone. If the army had acted the savings could have been achieved but since the Army or the DoD hasn't responded, the savings are effectively gone. So my question to you, sir, is who is responsible for cost efficiency, for cost awarenss of expensive contracts in theater.

Lt Gen James Pillsbury: The Army Material Command leadership is as you well know. The contract oversight, we depend on our partners at DCMA and DCAA. [. . . . ]

Commissioner Katherine Schinasi returned to the PEB and wanted to know what the government did in terms of consequences for those who failed? She noted that the government has written to KBR: "You're not being pro-active enough, you're not taking the initative." So after they've been given instructive criticism, "what is the consequence if they don't do that?" James Loehr fell back on that this was part of their award fee criteria.

Commissioner Katherine Schinasi: And have you withheld award fee for that purpose? Because they have not done that?

James Loehr: Uhm. Yes. I think if you go back and look at the award fee evaluation, you'll find that K -- KBR, I don't think, has ever -- very rarely -- gets 100% in that category.

Commissioner Katherine Schinasi: Close to 100%?

James Loehr: Uhm. I think -- I'd have to get back to you for that specifically but they are generally in that-that high-very good, though, excellent range that category.

In other words, KBR suffers no real penalty. And they keep getting contracts. And Inspector General reports keep coming out calling out KBR. But it's calling out not just KBR but these people who are supposed to be watching this in real time, doing these PEBs in real time. But KBR gets to skate. It's already stolen $193 million from the US tax payers on one deal alone and James Loehr and others work real hard to ensure it's high rated -- despite only average reports -- so that it gets the bulk of its award fee. Kat intends to cover some aspects of the hearing at her site tonight.

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