Iraq snapshot - February 21, 2012
The Common Ills
February 21, 2012
Tuesday, February 21, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, veterans issues in the US include a call to suicide prevention which then resulted in criminal charges against the veteran, Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi delivered a speech yesterday on the charges against him, ane more.
Last night, Hal Bernton (Seattle Times) reported on the US Army Medical Command launching an investigation in Washington state's Madigan Healthcare System, specifically investigating "complaints by soldiers that their PTSD diagnoses were improperly reversed and into comments a Madigan psychiatrist made about how costly PTSD diagnoses were for taxpayers." As part of the investigation, Col Dallas Homas was "administratively removed from command" -- that's as part of the investigation and standard procedure which does not mean that he's guilty of anything or suspected of being guility of anything. ABC News (link is video) reports, "Tomorrow 14 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis McCord will receive the results of their PTSD re-evauations" as a result of the complaints.
PTSD is one of the many important issues the veterans community is facing today. Another one is suicide. If you call the VA's suicide hotline, you have a right to believe your call is confidential. Christian Daventport (Washington Post) reported yesterday on Gulf War veteran Sean Duvall's troubles caused by seeking help. He called the hotline and now he's facing criminal charges and, if convicted of them, could spend as many as 40 years in jail. Sean Duvall called because he wanted to take his own life. The homeless man had a gun he'd made himself. He called for help and got that to a degree immediately (or that's how the story is being told). What happened after that is that he found himself charged for the homemade gun. That's what he could face up to 40 years in prison for.
So you save someone's life to throw them in prison? The case can be dismissed and should be dismissed. If it's being done to 'protect' anyone then the answer is clearly to provide Sean Duvall with therapy because he's the one who needs protection. He was contemplating self-harm, he wasn't stating he would harm others. To put him beind bars for this is ridiculous and will also, as many are noting, make veterans less likely to use the hotline. Let's pretend I'm a veteran (I'm not). I'm depressed and I'm considering killing myself and I decide a gun's the way I want to go but I don't have one and I don't want for any waiting period. So I buy a gun from something other than 'direct channels.' I then decide maybe I don't want to take my life and call the VA hotline. I get help and I feel like maybe life is worth living, maybe things weren't as bad as I thought and then, knock-knock-knock, it's the police arresting me for the way I purchased the gun.
Or I decide I want to do it with pills and swipe some from a friend of a hospital tray from a nurse's cart. Then I call the VA hotline because I think I might want to live. I decide not to take my life but then learn that I'm being prosecuted for having those prescription drugs that weren't my prescription.
This is nonsense that is neither therapeutic nor helpful. In the article, a family connection is noted. I'm not interested in that. If they were calling it a conflict of interest, I might be. But a son-in-law (or daughter-in-law) rarely can be called off (prosecution in this case) by a relative. I think the attempt to prosecute is a huge mistake. I think bringing in the family connection to Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the VA, is besides the point. (Unless the point is to humiliate Shinseki.) It is wrong to presume that Shinseki can 'call it off' because people don't know the relationship between the two for starters. It's legally wrong to try to get Shinseki to call it off because someone took an oath not to Eric Shinseki but to uphold the laws. I would hope that the decision to prosecute or not would be resolved (and quickly) by the AG grasping that prosecution did not serve either justice or the interests of the state. If the person can't grasp that, I would hope that a judge would and that he or she would toss the case out when the defense noted the events that led up to the arrest. But while we might hope that everyone related to Eric Shinseki by blood, adoption or marriage thought as he did, that's never going to be the case and to ask someone to disregard what they feel their responsibility is because of the family they married into is a lousy argument and one that most people -- if it were argued to them -- would reject.
Focusing on Shinseki -- who has no role in this at present -- also distracts from the main issue that if the suicide hotline is going to be effective, it's going to require that veterans have trust in it.
Another issue facing the veterans community is unemployment. Sunday, Steve Vogel (Washington Post) reported, "It is against federal law for employers to penalize service members because of their military service. And yet, in some cases, the U.S. government has withdrawn job offers to service members unable to get released from active duty fast enough; in others, service members have been fired after absences." Those Vogel spoke with included people who felt that since the federal government, if caught and prosecuted, doesn't have to pay fines -- the way a civilian company would -- a number of federal employers feel they can risk it.
February 2nd, the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. The witnesses (government workers) as well as those on the Committee gave no indication that they knew it was against the law to fire someone because they were called up to active duty. As I noted then, I stepped out the second time this came up in the hearing to call a friend with the Justice Dept and make sure the law hadn't changed. (Again, I never assume I'm the smartest in the room, I start with the premise that I'm the least informed. And if House Reps are saying, 'Golly, we should pass a law to stop this,' I'm going to assume that the existing law must have been overturned because surely these law makers know more than I ever could. So I called and asked and, no, the law hadn't been overturned and it was still on the books.) Another reason that this is happening may be because there is so little education on this law. Maybe it's time for the Pentagon and VA to do one of those PSA they love and bombard it over the airwaves. It's one of the few times that a PSA getting information out there might actually work -- especially if combined with serious law enforcement and with federal supervisors ensuring that those under them who broke this law didn't get promoted, didn't get a pay raise and maybe even lost their job over it. If ignorance of the law is no excuse when you're before the court, why are we retaining federal workers who are breaking the law? Whether they know the law or not, if they break this law, they should be fired.
Monday afternoon in Lacey, Washington, Senator Patty Murray held a listening session with veterans. Senator Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Matt Batcheldor (The Olympian) reports on that session and quotes Murray explaining afterwards about asking the veterans if they were putting their military experience on the job applications:
The reason I asked the question about whether or not they put veteran on their employment when they apply for a job is because I'm hearing so many veterans quietly tell me that they never do. We need to call this out; people need to know this is happening, and it needs to be fixed. That's just wrong.
A number of veterans, Guard and Reserve and active-duty service members are following the US presidential primaries. Of those choosing to donate, they've repeatedly donated the most to US House Rep Ron Paul. Veterans for Ron Paul staged an event yesterday. Julie Ershadi (Reason) reports:
On February 20, libertarian activist and Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh, and Nathan Cox, co-founder with Kokesh of Veterans for Ron Paul, hosted a rally and march for veterans and active duty service members who support the Texas Congressman for the 2012 Republican nomination. The "Ron Paul Is the Choice of the Troops" rally began at noon in the Sylvan Theater by the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.. Troops marched on the White House in a 48 x 8 formation, totaling 384, and they were joined by roughly a hundred supporters and observers.
Many people at the event were new to politics, yet they had traveled from out of state to participate in the rally. I spent some time with John, a teacher from Long Island, who told me that he came to support Ron Paul because of the financial meltdown of 2008. "I worked for Morgan Stanley in 2007. That's how I saw it coming. All that reckless betting." He said that in the aftermath of September 11, he supported the Iraq War. "I was eighteen. My dad is a fireman. But I got duped in the Iraq War. Most of us did. The same thing is happening now with Iran." He cited the rational self interest of Iranian authorities as reason to discount them as a threat to the United States, a much more powerful entity capable of causing disproportionate damage in response to any provocation. "That's what I try to teach my students. I say, they're crazy, but they're not stupid. You don't get to be a dictator by being stupid." John said he won't vote for any candidate who supports war at this point. "Look, I don't want to fight, so why am I going to vote for someone who's going to make someone else go and fight?"
Samantha Wagner (Hearst Newspapers) explains, "A crowd of more than a thousand people met alongside the Washington Monument Monday afternoon and marched to the White House in a demonstration of support for Ron Paul. With an "about face," veterans and active duty service members turned their backs to the White House and sent a message to the President: Ron Paul is the choice of the troops." Matthew Larotonda (ABC News) adds, "The demonstration was a mostly silent affair, with the veterans standing calmly at attention in rows. An organizer bellowed that each second of quiet was for every military suicide since President Obama took office. A second moment of silence was for each soldier to die abroad under the current commander in chief." Andrew Moran (Examiner) notes:
February 9th, Human Rights Watch noted that Iraq had executed at least 65 people.
AFP notes at least 4 more people were executed this week bringing the grand total to 69. Al Rafidayn reports that Iraq's presidency council signed off on 33 more executions Sunday. If all are conducted in the next weeks, Iraq will have executed close to 100 people before 2012's half-year mark and AFP notes the 4 this week mean that Iraq has already executed more people in 2012 than it did in 2011. Observing the high rate of executions back in January, former UK Ambassador Craig Murray noted that the judicial killings were only the tip of the ice berg:
Extra-judicial killings by state sponsored actors are much higher, and still higher are killings by various violent factions.
Meantime there are less than a third as many operational hospital beds as before the invasion, and less than 20% of the doctors. There are three million maimed people in Iraq. Available electricity in MW/h is about 30% of pre-invasion levels.
January 24th, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville (link is video and text) explained, "Thirty-four individuals, including two women, were executed in Iraq on 19 January following their conviction for various crimes. Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day. Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure. The High Commissioner is calling on the Government of Iraq to implement an immediate moratorium on the institution of death penalty, around 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, or introduced a moratorium." That moratorium never took place. Iraq wants the UN to remove it from Chapter VII and has been lobbying for that for years. Apparently Nouri wants to kill Iraqis more than he wants Iraq to be truly independent and sovereign.
In other 'great moments' in Nouri leadership, al-Maliki still can't provide a national conference still -- despite Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and President Jalal Talabani calling for one since December 21st. Aswat al-Iraq reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc states it has prepared an agenda for the national conference -- to deal with Iraq's ongoing political crisis -- which is scheduled to be discussed today in yet another prep-meeting. The agenda is said to "start with the topics that were not implemented from the Arbil agreement and the joint issues between Iraqiya and the Kurdish blocs." The Erbil Agreement ended Political Stalemate I in November 2010. Following the March 2010 elections, Nouri at first disputed the results, demanded a recount and then refused to abide by the results. This created Political Stalemate I. Though his State of Law came in second, the US-brokered Erbil Agreement found the other political blocs (including Iraqiya which came in first) agreeing to allow Nouri to remain as prime minister. As a result of that aspect of the Erbil Agreement, the political blocs were supposed to get various things. What happened was after Nouri was named prime minister-designate, he refused to follow the Erbil Agreement. This starts the ongoing Political Stalemate II which can be said to have begun at the end of December when Nouri refused to name the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of National Security. The nominees for the post were reportedly agreed on and in the Erbil Agreement. Nouri refused to fill the positions. He lied and stated he would shortly. Critics of Nouri insisted he was refusing to name the positions because it was part of his power-grab. The US press largely ran with Nouri's claim as reality and either ignored the critics or else chided them. All these months later, it's the critics and not the US press that were correct. For a year and two months now Nouri has refused to name the posts. (Per the Constitution, he should not have been transferred from "prime minister-designate" to "prime minister" as a result of this. Per the Constitution, Talabani should have named a new prime minister-designate at the end of December 2010.) Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports that sources in the National Alliance (which State of Law is a part of) state that they want the security ministries to remain empty until the next prime minister is elected.
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani stated on Sunday that he hopes the national conference ends the political crisis and that Baghdad decides to abide by the Erbil Agreement including the issue of Kirkuk. Al Rafidayn notes that the spokesperson for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Hamid Maaleh, states that his party is working with various components of the National Alliance including the Sadrists and are striving for a way to move the political process forward. In addition, the Adel Abdul Mahdi has recevied a delegation from the Sadr bloc and discussed the situation and what can be done. Adel Abdul Madhi isn't just a high ranking member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, he's also the former vice president of Iraq. He was v.p. from 2006 through the summer of 2011 when he resigned due to the corruption in the government and the refusal of 'leadership' to address it. Aswat al-Iraq, citing the Chair of Parliament's Human Rights Commission, reports Iraqiya's calling for the national conference to limit the three presidencies (Iraq's President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament) to two terms.
The big news yesterday was Iraq's Sunni Vice President delivered a speech from Erbil denouncing charges against him and stating he would not be tried in Baghdad, that the trial should be moved to Kirkuk and that, if it wasn't, international observers should take over. Sky News observes, "It now also threatens to draw a new wedge between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, and Kurdish leaders in Iraq's north who refuse to hand over al-Hashemi for trial."
In December, after multiple photo-ops with US President Barack Obama, Nouri returned to Iraq and quickly ordered the homes of his political rivals circled by tanks -- a detail the US press 'forgot' to report for at least 24 hours (most estimates are 48 hours). The bulk of US forces had left Iraq when Nouri made his move (a detail international observers are stressing). He began calling for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq to be stripped of his office. Like al-Hashemi, al-Mutlaq is also Sunni and also a member of Iraqiya. In October, Nouri had begun ordering the mass arrests of Sunnis on the pretext that he had information of an impending coup attempt. There was no attempted coup and none planned. Those inside Nouri's Cabinet have been loudly whispering to the press about that.
Sunday December 18th, Tareq al-Hashemi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, along with bodyguards, attempted to leave out of Baghdad International Airport for the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government -- three semi-autonomous provinces in Iraq). Nouri's forces pulled all off the plane and detained them for approximately an hour before allowing some bodyguards and al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq to reboard. The next day, December 19th, Nouri issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi whom he charged with 'terrorism.'
al-Hashemi did not 'flee' to the KRG. He went there on business and could have been stopped if Nouri wanted tos top him. A day after he arrived, an arrest warrant was issued and he elected to remain in the KRG. He has been the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. He has noted that many believe Nouri controls the Baghdad judiciary and first asked that the case be moved to the KRG (refused) and then that it be moved to Kirkuk. He's also been stating that international observers were needed. And despite the inept reporting today of a lazy and uninformed press, that call didn't initiate today -- as this February 10th Alsumaria TV report indicates.
Thursday the 'independent' Supreme Court in Baghdad issued a finding of guilt against Tareq al-Hashemi. Was a trial held? Because Article 19 of Iraq's Constitution is very clear that the accused will be guilty until convicted in a court of law. No. There was no trial held. But members of the judiciary -- who should damn well know the Constitution -- took it upon themselves not only to form an investigative panel -- extra-judicial -- but also to hold a press conference and issue their findings. At the press conference, a judge who is a well known Sunni hater, one with prominent family members who have demonized all Sunnis as Ba'athists, one who is currently demanding that a member of Iraqiya in Parliament be stripped of his immunity so that the judge can sue him, felt the need to go to the microphone and insist he was receiving threats and this was because of Tareq al-Hashemi, that al-Hashemi was a threat to his family.
Having already demonstrated that they will NOT obey the Constitution, the judiciary then indicated -- via the judge's statement -- a personal dislike of Tareq al-Hashemi. What they did Thursday was demonstrate that Tareq al-Hashemi had always been correct in his fear that he would not receive a fair trial in Baghdad.
Pakistan's Daily Times noted the speech was a half-hour and that he called on "all honest Iraqi people" to join him in rejecting the charges. Yara Bayoumy, Ashmed Rasheed, Patrick Markey and Alastair Macdonald (Reuters) quote al-Hashemi declaring, "All of these accusations against members of my protection detail are a black comedy." He repeated his belief that a trial should be held in Kirkuk and stated if that did not happen the his next move would be to "turn immediately to the international community." He also spoke of forced confessions. Al Jazeera quotes him stating, "We have pictures of bruises on their faces and bodies." AFP gives the full quote as, "All the arrested people from my bodyguards and the employees of my office are being held in secret prisons over which the ministry of justice has no authority, and confessions are being taken from them through torture. We have pictures and evidence proving that the bodyguards were tortured, physically and psychologically." CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq reports:
Al-Hashimi criticized the investigation, saying, "How come they finished investigating 150 cases against me and my bodyguards within a few days?
"Where did my bodyguards plan for these 150 attacks? On the surface of the moon?" he asked.
Aswat al-Iraq notes that the Baghdad judiciary is making noises about trying the vice president in abstentia and Lara Jakes and Yahya Barzanji (AP) offer, "Al-Maliki and Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani have had a rocky relationship for years over how to share disputed land, oil revenues and federal funding. Barzani has shown no indication that he plans on handing over al-Hashemi to Baghdad, and officials in Irbil say doing so could worsen sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites."
On this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) -- topics explored include why guest Chris Hedges was suing the White House. Excerpt.
Michael Smith: The National Defense Authorization Act was signed by President Obama on December 31st of last year and takes effect this coming March. The act authorizes the military to begin domestic policing. The military can detain indefinitely without trial any US citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. Vague language in the bill such as "substantially supported" or "directly supported" or "associated forces" is used. We're joined today by returning guest Chris Hedges in his capacity as a plantiff in a lawsuit that he's just filed against President Barack Obama with respect to the National Defense Authorization Act and its language about rounding up even American citizens and salting them away forever.
Heidi Boghosian: Chris, welcome to Law and Disorder.
Chris Hedges: Thank you.
Heidi Boghosian: Can you talk about the significance of codifying the NDAA into law essentially several over-reaching practices that the executive has been implementing for awhile now?
Chris Hedges: That's correct but it's been implementing those practices through a radical interpretation of the 2001 law, The Authorization to Use Military Force Act. You remember old John Yoo was Bush's legal advisor. It was under the auspices of this act that Jose Padilla who is a US citizen was held for three and a half years in a military brig. Remember, he was supposedly one of the other hijackers that never made it to a plane. Stripped of due process. And it's under that old act that the executive branch, Barack Obama, permits himself to serve as judge, jury and executioner and order the assassination of a US citizen, the Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Michael Smith: Two weeks later his 16-year-old son.
Chris Hedges: Yes, exactly. So what this does is it essentially codfies this kind of behavior into law. It overturns over 200 years of legal precedent so that the military is allowed to engage in domestic policing and there are a couple of very disturbing aspects in the creation of this legislation. One of them is that [US Senator] Dianne Feinstein had proposed that US citiens be exempt from this piece of legislation and both the Obama White House and the Democratic Party rejected that. Now Obama issued a signing statement saying that this will not be used against American citizens but the fact is legally it can be used against American citizens. There was an opportunity for them to protect American citizens and to protect due process and they chose not to do that.
Michael Smith: Well he also announced that he was going to close Guantanamo.
Chris Hedges: Right, so it's very disingenous.
Heidi Boghosian: And signing statements really carry no legal force.
Chris Hedges. Right. And if they wanted to protect basic civil liberties, they certainly had a chance to do so and it was there decision not to do that. I mean, the other thing that's disturbing is that it expands this endless war on terror. So the 2001 act is targeted towards groups that are affiliated or part of al Qaeda. Now it's groups that didn't even exist in 2001. There are all sorts of nebulous terms like "associated forces," "substantially supported." When you look at the criteria by which Americans can be investigated by our security and surveillance state, it's amorphus and frightening: People who have lost fingers on the hand, people who hoard more than seven days worth of food in their house, people who have water-proof ammunition. I mean, I always say I come from rural parts of Maine. That's probably most of my family.
Chris Hedges: It's a very short step to adding the obstructionist tactics of the Occupy movement.
Michael Smith: Well that's what we've wanted to ask you because we've thought all along with the beginning of this war on terrorism that ultimately these laws stripping us of our Constitutional rights would be used against the social protest movements at home and the latest development is absolutely chilling and we wanted to ask you about that.
Chris Hedges: We don't know what the motives are. We do know that all the intelligence agencies as well as the Pentagon opposed this legislation. Robert Muller, the head of the FBI, actually went before Congress and said that if it was passed it would make the FBI's work in terms of investigating terrorism harder because it would make it harder to get people to cooperate once you hand the military that power. So I think it's interesting, to say the very least, that the various agencies that are being pulled into domestic policing -- especially the Pentagon -- didn't push for the bill. I don't know what the motives are but I know what the consequences are and that is that it hands to the corporate state weapons, the capacity to use the armed forces internally in ways that we have not seen for over two centuries. That is the consequence of the bill. What are the motives? You know I haven't gone down and reported it in Washington.
Heidi Boghosian: Chris, you know I'm thinking of the Supreme Court Case Humanitarian Law Project and the notion "providing material support." [Center for Constitutional Rights analysis here -- text and video.] And in that case it was also very vague and things that seemed benign could be construed as providing support but it strikes me that under this piece of legislation also the notion of associating with others that the government may deem terrorists becomes possibly vague.
Chris Hedges: Well it is vague. And that's what's so frightening. And the lawsuit was proposed by Civil Rights attorneys Carl Mayer and Bruce Afran who approached me and said that I needed a credible plantiff. Now because I had been the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times and because I was in the Middle East for seven years I spent considerable time with both individuals and organizations that are considered by the US State Dept to be either terrorists or terrorist groups. That would include Hamas, Islamic Jihad in Gaza, the Kurdistan Workers Party -- or the PKK as it's known in southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq. All of these organizations -- I mean, I used to go to Tunis and have dinner with Yasser Arafat [President of the Palestinian National Authority from 1996 until his death in 2004] and Abu Jihad [the PLO's Khalil al-Wair] when they were branded as international terrorists. And there are no exemptions in this piece of legislation for journalists. And the attorneys felt that I was a credible plantiff because of that. We have already seen under the 2001 law, a persecution of not only Muslim Americans in this country but Muslim American organiations -- in particular charity organizations and mostly charity organizations that support the Palestinians. And under this legislation, it is certainly conceivable that not only -- many of these organizations have been shut down, their bank accounts have been frozen, their organizers have been persecuted -- but under this legislation they're essentially able to be branded as terrorists, stripped of due process, thrown into a military brig and held, in the language of the legislation, until the end of hostilities -- whenever that is.