Thursday, September 23, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, some senators (including Democrats) are bent out of shape that the Agent Orange Act results in payments for illnesses and it gets uglier than anything outside of a Jon Tester and Jim Webb nude pictorial for Playgirl magazine, more contractors are now dying in Iraq than US service members, sometimes it snows in September, and more.
"Today," declared US Senator Daniel Akaka this morning, "much of our focus will be on Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange. However, it is important to note that the same process is already in place with respect to presumptions related to the first Gulf War. And, as many know, we are just beginning to hear about the consequences of exposures to potential toxins in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and exposures at miitary installations -- such as Camp Lejeune and the Astugi Naval Air Facility." Much, much earlier this morning, Mother Jones published Kate Sheppard's "Does KBR Have a Secret Get-out-of-Court-Free Card?" which opens:
After a group of Oregon National Guard troops sued KBR in 2009, claiming they'd been exposed to toxic chemicals at Iraq's Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility, an unusual deal between the military contractor and the Army came to light. Tucked inside its multibillion-dollar contract to rebuild the facility was a clause, the contents of which remain classified, that could shield the contractor from legal liability -- in essence, what could amount to a get-out-of-court-free card.
The deal raises questions about why the Army agreed to insulate KBR -- and how many other contractors might have similar agreements in place -- and for months, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has pressed the Pentagon for answers. On Thursday, he plans to introduce legislation that would require the Pentagon to inform Congress whenever indemnity agreements are made, which he hopes will effectively put an end to the kind of secret deal that KBR appears to have secured. "Our war contracting process does too little to ensure that contractors act with the best interests of our troops and taxpayers in mind, and we're going to change that," he says.
Today's hearing was on an important topic and it's one that never is out of the news for long. Senator Akaka is the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee and his office notes of today's hearing:
COMMITTEE EXAMINES PROCESS FOR CREATING PRESUMPTIVE DISABILITIES
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing today on the existing VA process for presuming service-connection for veterans' disabilities. Looking beyond the recent expansion of Agent Orange-related presumptions, witnesses and committee members discussed potential improvements to the process to be used in connection with possible exposures to future generations.
"By granting 'presumptions,' VA creates a blanket assumption of service-connection for a group of veterans, bypassing the standard process for disability claims. The process Congress set in place for Agent Orange presumptions serves as a precedent for Gulf War Illness. We have a responsibility to set up an appropriate process for potential toxic exposures from Iraq, Afghanistan, and on military bases where there may be environmental hazards. It is critical that the process for establishing presumptive disabilities is sound, science-based, and transparent," said Akaka.
The Committee's witnesses included Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and former-Secretary Anthony Principi, as well as medical and scientific experts.
More information about the hearing including statements, testimony and the webcast is available here: veterans.senate.gov
Communications Director and Legislative Assistant
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman
In opening remarks, Senator Patty Murray explained that she supported DoD and VA coming up with a registry to track and document the effects that various exposures cause. We're pointing that out because next month it will be one year since Senator Evan Bayh testified at a mark up hearing advocating for a registry to aid Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That proposal has not left the Comittee. It needs to, it needs to go to a floor vote although, honestly, as this late date and with money being what it is in elections, it's doubtful it could pass the full Senate.
Senatator Bernie Sanders: What we are talking about today is the ongoing costs of war. This is what war is about. And war is about more than bullets and guns and airplanes. War is about making sure that we care of the last veteran who served in that war and that we do that person justice. And if we don't want to do that, don't send them off to war. But if you make that decision that's the moral responsibility that we have.
Nice words and I don't doubt that Sanders means them. I also don't doubt that benefits are on the chopping block. Jordan Fabian (The Hill) reported at the start of the month, "Alan Simpson, the GOP co-chairman of President Obama's fiscal commission, on Tuesday questioned some disability benefits paid to veterans, saying they are 'not helping' the nation's debt crisis." That's the Catfood Commission (Ruth has credited Corrente's Lambert with coming up with that phrase). The Committee that Congress refused (rightly) to create so Barack did it without them. It plans to attack Social Security -- not at all surprising considering the make up of that Commission -- and it does aim to go after military benefits. May 19, 2010 the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing where a bit of reality started to show and Senator Scott Brown suddenly changed the topic and no one brought it back up. From that day's snapshot:
Senator Scott Brown: I'm wondering if you could just tell me what benefits might be at risk at this point and time? Any specific issues that we need to focus on that we're missing or falling through the cracks?
Thomas Pamperin: Benefits that are currently being delivered that might be taken away?
Senator Scott Brown: Right. Things that we -- that you're saying, "You know what? We got to keep our eye on this."
Thomas Pamperin: Uh - uh, we'd be glad to - to give you a more extensive response in - in the future. Uh . . . My - my concern is that the nation clearly --
Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second?
If you're thinking Brown wanted to explore the cuts Pamperin appeared to be anticipating, you're wrong. Here's what happened:
Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second? I may have kind of thrown that out there. I guess what I'm concerned with is making better use of current law, the things that we have in place that we may not be exhausting properly, we may not be getting the full benefit of.
The potential 'cost-cutting' measures were not discussed then although the witness appeared prepared and willing to do so. Today we heard US Senator Jim Webb babble on and, when he's insincere, his voice cracks. It was like the episode of The Brady Bunch where the kids are set to record a song but Peter's voice begins changing and won't stop cracking. As he used opening remarks to recount his entire resume at length -- everything but working the counter one night and giving a veteran a free milk shake -- that voice cracked and cracked. Why was that such a hard thing for him. "We have a duty," Webb insisted as he added coughs to his bag of tricks. And "this is not simply a cost item." Oh, now you may be getting why Webb was freaking out.
WAVY reports (link has text and video) that victims of Agent Orange (specifically Vietnam era veterans) could recieve addition beneifts for B-Cell Leukemia, Parkinson's disease and coronary heart disease. Could? A US Senator is objecting to the proposed changes by VA. Jim Webb has written VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that ". . . this single executive decision is estimated to cost a minimum of $42.2 billion over the next ten years. A regulatory action of this magnitude requires proper Congressional review and oversight." Besides, Webb wrote, "Heart disease is a common phenomenon regardless of potential exposure to Agent Orange." That is really embarrasing and especially embarrassing for the Democratic Party (Webb is a Democrat today, having converted from a Reagan Republican). It also goes a long way towards explaining Webb's refusal to get on board with Senator Evan Bayh's bill to create a national registry that would allow those Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans to be able to receive treatment for their exposures without having to jump through hoops repeatedly.
And if you doubted that Webb was about to try to pull out the axe on Vietnam veterans benefits, you had to only give him a few more seconds as he began bemoaning that the law was written one way (yes, he is a 'framers' intent' and 'original construction' type politician) and then expanded (to "dual presumptioms both based on very broad categorizations"). What are the expansions? It's been expanded to allow payments to Vietnam Veterans suffering from Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and hairy cell leukemia. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is not someone we praise blindly here (to put it mildly) but the hearing was really about Shinseki's 'performance,' specifically with regards to expanding the categories -- based on medical and science evidence -- qualifying for payments.
There's a whole dance going on beneath the hearing that few will ever notice. If there was anything sadder than Webb's remarks it was Senator Jon Tester who felt the need to praise Webb "for asking some very tough questions." To watch some of the senators today was to be aware they appeared to think leukemia, heart disease and Parknson's is little more troubling than adult acne.
Senator Roland Burris was one of the most straightforward and it's too bad that the Democratic Party establishment loathed him because, as usual, when veterans needed an advocate on the Committee, Senator Burris could be counted on. "There's no price that we could put on what we can do with those veterans suffering from those chemicals that were sprayed throughout that country." "Budget shortfalls," Burris noted, were no excuse for not providing for veterans. Was it telling that Jon Tester walked out while Burris was making that statement? Maybe he was just needed elsewhere. Although that certainly doesn't explain the ugly glare visible on his face as he left, now does it?
In his opening remarks, Shinseki made it clear that it was "my decision" to expand the presumptions. (He varied from his written remarks -- starting with his first sentence which, as written, thanked Ranking Member Richard Burr who was not present and instead Shinseki thanked Johnny Isakson -- who wasn't present in the room at that time but did take part in the hearing.) Shinseki noted that VA was directed by the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to expand presumptions when any "positive association" could be determined.
Senator Mike Johanns wanted to know "how much of it [Agent Orange] was used in Vietnam?" Shinseki stated that "19 million gallons of Agent Orange was dispersed over Vietnam" ("according to our best records") and it was done via spraying from planes. (Jim Webb does not believe that much was used. He is pretty sure at least some was used, apparently approximately one heaping tablespoon but other than that . . .) Senator Sanders noted that the Vietnamese and their exposure was intentionally ignored and his belief was that a thorough study on the impact of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese was not done by the US government because the government wanted to have the default position of "We don't know" when confronted with veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange. (For those too young to have lived through it, the 1991 act on Agent Orange is the best example of how the US government repeatedly and consistently ignored the needs of veterans. And prior to the act being passed, there were years and years of veterans being told it was all in their head or they were faking or they really weren't sick.)
"I looked at these nine studies that you referred to in your testimony," Webb stated and then pretended to be qualified as to evaluate them. I wasn't aware that Webb had an MD. Maybe he's a WebMD?
Shinseki pointed out that "Congress had an opportunity to review my decision and decide to do its part" and obviously agreed. So what was the hearing for? It was a waste of time because Webb wanted to have a hissy. Please note, we never got a hearing by the Committee in trying to determine why fall 2009 tuition payments to veterans under the Post 9/11 GI Bill arrived as late as March and April 2010. That effected people's lives. That effected veterans' children. And there was no oversight, there was no hearing. But Webb and Tester wanted to pitch a fit. Tester being convinced that 'bad' veterans are hidden away somewhere who "pounds a couple of packs of cigarettes a day and a like amount of alcohol" to get extra monies from the government claiming heart disease. I'm not really sure what "a like amount of alcohol" is to a "couple of packs of cigarettes" -- one is liquid. Is Tester that stupid, really? And could he next hop on a scale since we're paying his medical bills as well since he serves in the US Congress and since, when he was in profile returning to his seat, he so closely resembled William Conrad. What are you pounding, Tester? And why are we paying for it? If you want to talk risk factors on veterans and claim that its your playground to do so because of tax payer monies, let me repeat, we the tax payers pay for your health care Jon Tester -- for the rest of your life. Maybe it's time we started imposing penalities on Congressional members with "risk factors"? Especially those who know they can't win an argument against Agent Orange exposure so they try to create this little side dialogue that's both meaningless and insulting.
Washington, D.C., September 22, 2010 – Following instructions from President George W. Bush to develop an updated war plan for Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks in November 2001 to initiate planning for the "decapitation" of the Iraqi government and the empowerment of a "Provisional Government" to take its place. Talking points for the Rumsfeld-Franks meeting on November 27, 2001, released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), confirm that policy makers were already looking for ways to justify invading Iraq – as indicated by Rumsfeld's first point, "Focus on WMD."
This document shows that Pentagon policy makers cited early U.S. experience in Afghanistan to justify planning for Iraq's post-invasion governance in order to achieve their strategic objectives: "Unlike in Afghanistan, important to have ideas in advance about who would rule afterwards."
Rumsfeld's notes were prepared in close consultation with senior DOD officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. Among other insights, the materials posted today by the National Security Archive shed light on the intense focus on Iraq by high-level Bush administration officials long before the attacks of 9/11, and Washington's confidence in perception management as a successful strategy for overcoming public and allied resistance to its plans.
This compilation further shows:
- The preliminary strategy Rumsfeld imparted to Franks while directing him to develop a new war plan for Iraq
- Secretary of State Powell's awareness, three days into a new administration, that Iraq "regime change" would be a principal focus of the Bush presidency
- Administration determination to exploit the perceived propaganda value of intercepted aluminum tubes -- falsely identified as nuclear related -- before completion of even a preliminary determination of their end use
- The difficulty of winning European support for attacking Iraq (except that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair) without real evidence that Baghdad was implicated in 9/11
- The State Department's analytical unit observing that a decision by Tony Blair to join a U.S. war on Iraq "could bring a radicalization of British Muslims, the great majority of whom opposed the September 11 attacks but are increasingly restive about what they see as an anti-Islamic campaign"
- Pentagon interest in the perception of an Iraq invasion as a "just war" and State Department insights into the improbability of that outcome
Rumsfeld's instructions to Franks included the establishment and funding of a provisional government as a significant element of U.S. invasion strategy. In the end the Pentagon changed course and instead ruled post-invasion Iraq directly, first through the short-lived Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and then through Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Jack Rice: The Obama administration -- and even the Pentgon to some degree as well -- has basically looked at the political side of this. They can't continue this indefinatly. They can't. And so they've looked at what the American people want. Everybody wants this war to be done in the United States. The problem is it's not done. I mean, a lot of the problems that we faced and a lot of the problems that the Iraqis themselves faced in the past, they're still there. And the schisms that you're finding within the country still exist. The problems within their legislature still exist. Violence still exists. Just because it's under the surface, doesn't men it's disappeared -- just that we desparately want it to disappear. So we relable it, shine it up and say,you know,: 'MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.' Unfortunately, a lot of the things that we thought were going to be major shifts in the Obama administration simply turned out to be more of the same. Specifically I recall the argument of transparancy of this war and both wars and how we deal with the war on terror. And I was in the room, in the White House, in the Situation Room as they were talking about this. And what they talked about at the time was that there was going to be more transparency and then his people came out and said, 'Well, we've decided to continue with the Bush administration on those same policies. So the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
Maya Schenwar: Since the end of formal combat operations in Iraq, you've been speaking out against the continuing presence of US troops and increasing presence of American mercenaries there. How do you respond to those who say the continued presence is necessary for security reasons?
Dennis Kucinich: America's invasion of Iraq has made us less secure. Before the entire world we invaded a country that did not attack us - that had no intention or capability of attacking us - and that, famously, did not have weapons of mass destruction. The subsequent occupation has fueled an insurgency, and as long as we have troops there, the insurgency will remain quite alive. The very idea that somehow the war is in a new phase needs to be challenged. Insurgents don't differentiate between combat troops and noncombat troops; any of our troops who are out there are subject to attack. And the insurgencies will continue to build, with the continued American presence, resulting in the death of more innocent civilians. Every mythology about our presence in Iraq is being stripped away. The idea that we can afford it? We can't. That Iraq will pay for it? It shouldn't and couldn't. That somehow we'd be welcomed there? By whom? That there's some kind of security to be gained in the region? We have destabilized the region. That it would help us gain support from moderates in the Muslim world? We are undermined throughout the Muslim world. Every single assertion of this war, and every reason for this war, has been knocked down. And yet it keeps going.
MS: Then, is a complete, immediate withdrawal in order - right now?
DK: That's what we have to do. We should have done it a long time ago. Is it likely that there will be conflict when we leave? Yes. We set in motion forces that are irrevocable. You cannot simply launch a war against a country where there were already factions - Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds who were at odds with each other - and think that you can leave there without difficulties. That's going to happen no matter what. But the fact that the conflict that we helped to create is still quite alive does not justify staying there. War becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of continued war, unless you break the headlong momentum by getting out.
The Iraq War continues. Lauren King (Virginian-Pilot) reports, "About 400 soldiers have received a mobilization order for active duty in Iraq, according to a statement from the Virginia National Guard." They'll go to Fort Hood in Texas next year (February) for training before deploying to Iraq. Julie Sullivan (Oregonian) reports, "Just weeks after President Obama declared an end to combat, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry headquartered in La Grande mobilized Tuesday for Iraq. Their mission has a new name: Operation New Dawn, but an old and dangerous undertaking: guarding convoys and U.S. bases, supporting the Iraqi army and police. More than 500 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers heading to Iraq have a clear mission, so does the governor."
The Iraq War continues and moves towards outsourcing to do off-the-books-combat with, Barack hopes, the end-result being that Americans will no longer care and instead happily embrace the myth that the war is over. Federal News Radio reports new estimates show a 40% jump "from 2008 to the second quarter of 2010" in the deaths of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan with more dying in both countries this year than US service members. The numbers can be found in the [PDF format warning] report entitled "Contractors and the Ultimate Sacrifice" written by George Washington University Law School's Steven L. Schooner and Collin D. Swan. From the start of the Iraq War through June 2010, 4,400 US service members died while serving and, during this same period, 1,487 contractors were killed in Iraq. (There are also Afghanistan figure, we're focusing on Iraq.) During that same period, the authors of the study count 12,766 US troops injured compared to 36,023 contractors wounded in Iraq. As Figure 4 on page 17 of the report charts, each year has seen an increase in the number of contractors killed except for one year. 2010 is slighly less than 2009; however, the study only documents deaths for six months (January through June) of 2010. The last three months (this is me, not the report) already saw the 2010 number pass the 2009. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, the most recent identified contractor death was that of Iraq War veteran Karl Bowen, the UK soldier who returned to Iraq as a contractor and died September 14th. Rogene Fisher Jacquette (New York Times) notes:
There were 207,600 private contractors employed by the Department of Defense, 19 percent more than the 175,000 uniformed personnel members employed by the department, according to a July report by the Congressional Research Service. In Iraq and Afghanistan, contractors make up 54 percent of the Defense Department's workforce, according to the report.
And, let's repeat, the findings today come from the two at the law school. We have to be clear because some people aren't. I'm thinking of one person in particular who credits the findings to ProPublica. Related: Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported on children from forced marriages (and rape?), whose fathers were al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and forced their way into Iraqi women's lives. Lacking the official paperwork required, the children don't exist, don't even have Iraqi citizenship. Ahmed Jassim warns, "It's dangerous because in the future they might hurt the society that hurt them." She did that this week. How is it related? F-A-D-E-L. That's how you spell her name. The same NPR (yes, the outlet) reporter/blogger/producer who doesn't know who did the study today also earlier this week praised Leila's reporting, or rather, praised "Leila Fadhil of the Washington Post, one of the best people covering Iraq at the moment." That was Tuesday. Considering the thin-skinned nature of some at NPR (some of whom are friends) with regards to what goes up here, might I point out that NPR is a news outlet and this is now the second big error of the week (none of the errors have been corrected).
Maybe it's a correction stalemate? Day Press reports, "In a speech at the opening of the seventh Conference of the Interior Ministers of Iraq's neighboring Countries on Wednesday, Syrian Interior Minister Said Sammour said that Syria supports Arabism and territorial integrity of Iraq and forming a national unity government representing all spectrums of Iraqi society. Syria also reaffirms its support of the efforts exerted to achieve stability and security of Iraq." Middle East Online adds, "The interior ministers of the countries neighbouring Iraq have called on Baghdad to form a government as soon as possible and pledged increased cooperation in fighting terrorism." Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Al Boulani believes that time is not in the interest of Iraqi parties, urging political powers in Iraq to accelerate the formation of a new Iraqi government. Government formation delay is a main reason for surge of recent terrorist attacks, Al Boulani said." While Iraq's neighbors met to discuss the issue of forming a government, the stalemate continued.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and sixteen days with no government formed.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombng claimed 1 life (police officer) and left three people injured, the offices for the Dujail Scientific Research Dept were blowng up and a mortar attack on the Green Zone. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "It was the latest in a series of attacks on the Green Zone this week. Mortar rounds fell in the heavily fortified area on Sunday and Monday." Reuters notes that 1 woman was stabbed to death outside her home in Mosul, a Mosul home invasion resulted in one death, Lt Col Hazim Salith of the Council of Ministers was shot dead in Taji and his wife was left injured and, dropping back to yesterday, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured "an employee at the Industry Ministry" and claimed the life of 1 passenger.
Tunring to War Hawk Tony Blair whose still attempting to hawk his bad book. Last week, he appeared on ABC's The View and the 'ladies' made sure the world got just what little War Whores they were. Not only did they have a hodge podge of countries they wanted attacked (yes, even Whoopi and faux 'liberal' Joy), they refused to fact check Tony. They let him lie. They're useless. Ava and I called them out at Third and noted all of his lies including his claim that he showed 'respect' to all who disagreed with him. No, he called them conspiracy theorists to give just one example. Former UN humanitarian Coordinator Hans Von Sponeck (at The New Statesman) offers another example of how Tony Blair never achieved that 'actualization' he pretends he has:
You suggest that you and your supporters - the "people of good will", as you call them - are the owners of the facts. Your disparaging observations about Clare Short, a woman with courage who resigned as international development secretary in 2003, make it clear you have her on a different list. You appeal to those who do not agree to pause and reflect. I ask you to do the same. Those of us who lived in Iraq experienced the grief and misery that your policies caused. UN officials on the ground were not "taken in" by a dictator's regime. We were "taken in" by the challenge to tackle human suffering created by the gravely faulty policies of two governments - yours and that of the United States - and by the gutlessness of those in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere who could have made a difference but chose otherwise. The facts are on our side, not on yours.