Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The low standards for the child candidate

Starting with war resistance.  Richard Marcus (BlogCritics) reviews the new DVD Deserter which offers a a 30 minute look at "a deserting soldier and his young wife as they flee across the country to seek refugee status over the Canadian border.  As they move from safe house to safe house, we get to know Ryan and Jen -- two shy, small-town kids from the Central Valley who joined the military because there were no jobs, and find they must make a heroic stand in order to escape an illegal and immoral war.  'Deserter' is a political movie with one of the few happy endings that this war has given us." Ryan and Jen are Ryan and Jen Johnson and they entered Canada in June 2005. Marcus writes, "All the way across America there operates a new Underground Railway, but now instead of helping runaway slaves they are helping young Americans escape from having to serve in what they consider an unjust war.  Ryan and Jen are passed from having to serve in what they consider an unjust war.  Ryan and Jen are passed from safe house to safe house until just before the border they phone the contact they have for Toronto.  They've already been coached on how to get through the border corssing, but that doesn't stop them from being nervous; there is the risk that they could check Ryan for outstanding warrants and find out that he is a deserter."
Meanwhile war resisters in Canada wait to find out whether they will be granted safe harbor.  The Canadian Parliament will debate a measure this month on that issue.  You can make your voice heard. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pm@pm.gc.ca -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Logan Laituri, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum. 

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).  
Last month Iraq Veterans Against the War's Winter Soldier took place and KPFA has a live program coming up April 22nd:

Live On Air and Online at kpfa.org!            
April 22 from 10am-1pm                    
Join us on April 22nd for this very important follow up to Pacifica's groundbreaking Winter Soldier live coverage. We will be following the San Francisco trial involving wounded vets and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In this first class action lawsuit U.S. Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder sue the VA, alleging a system wide breakdown in the way the Government treats those soldiers.
During this special broadcast we will be bringing our listeners live updates from the San Francisco federal courthouse, we'll speak with wounded Veterans attorney Gordon Erspamer, (taking this case pro bono because his father was permanently disabled in World War II and never received proper health care) and speak with Veterans advocates including Veterans for Common Sense, and Vets for America.
Read more about the broadcast here.              
That announcement will appear in the snapshots until the broadcast.  If you missed Winter Soldier you can stream online at Iraq Veterans Against the War, at War Comes Home, at KPFK, at the Pacifica Radio homepage and at KPFA, here for Friday, here for Saturday, here for Sunday. Aimee Allison (co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None) and Aaron Glantz were the anchors for Pacifica's live coverage. 
Moving to the US Congress.  Today the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held hearings on proposed legislation.  Committee chair Michael Michaud noted, "The six bills before us cover a wide range of topics that are germane to veterans' healthcare.  Issues addressed in today's bills include Spina Bifida, epilepsy research centers, substance use disorder treament and prevention, expansion of dental care, timely access to care, and a bill of rights."
The first panel offered testimony from members of Congress. Committee chair Michaud offered testmony on substance use noting, "Our legislation will require the VA to provide the full continuum of care for substance use disorder, and it will require this full spectrum of care to be available at every VA medical center.   Our legislation will also direct the VA to conduct a pilot program for internet-based substance use disorder treatment for veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.  This will enable our newest generation of veterans to overcome the stigma associated with seeking treatment and receive the necessary care in a comfortable and secure setting."  US House Rep Christopher Carney focused on the issue of the dental care and, in his opening statement, provided reasons why this area should not be dismissed including: "The cost of this bill is a cost of war; it is an investment in our way of life and our future. As every member of this subcommittee knows, to ensure a ready fighting force tomorrow we need to take care of our veterans today. I would also like to point out that conditions such as missing teeth and cavities can be barriers in seeking employment and I believe every effort must be made to ensure that there is a smooth transition for our military members who are entering the civilian work force. We must also ensure that disabled veterans from wars past are also given every tool to keep a meaningful job and this includes dental care."  US House Rep Ginny Brown-Waite was concerned with the issue of wait time and noted "if a veteran can't see a physician in 30 days she or he should be allowed to see a private doctor." She later pointed that "healthcare delayed is healthcare denied." Rep Phil Hare noted that it's not a "how can we afford" issue with veterans healthcare, "If we make a promise to our veterans . . . we have to keep that promise or we have no business making it."  US House Rep Shelley Berkley agreed with that, explaining "For me the cost of the war" includes the "cost of taking care of our veterans" and if that's considered incorrect "then you ought not send them over" to begin with. 
Berkley also noted the issue of costs in terms of funding, "If we're going to continue to pile more responsibilities on the VA . . . we better provide the VA with the necessary amount of money that they're going to need to carry out our will and so far I haven't seen that happen. . . . We're playing catch up now. . . .  Unless we have a national recognition" of this priority "then we better just forget the whole thing.  And thank you for listening to my soapbox."  Berkley also noted that the US spends $3,919 a second in Iraq "and if we're going to spend that kind of money" there, Congress ought to be able to fund veterans healthcare.  She noted doctors in Nevada who contracted to perform veterans healthcare and "they have not been paid in over a year."  If this continues, she noted, "You're not going to get any doctors" who'll be willing to go through this process and take on patients.  On the issue of substance abuse, she thought (most will agree) that the idea of treating it via the internet was a bit off the mark and was informed that the internet aspect is just a pilot program. Considering the rural areas that will not benefit why the pilot program is even being started might need to be questioned.  (That's me, not Berkley).  She noted the son of two of her constituents who served in Iraq.  After returning home, he developed a sustance abuse program and was addicted to "five medications".  Going for treatment at the VA resulted in him being put on a sixth medication "and he o.d.ed in the facility and he died in the VA."  She cautioned, "We better make sure the VA has the tools" and that when someone "checks into a VA, there should be an expectation there" that they those conducting the treatment know what they are doing. 
US House Rep Bob Filner focused on the need for an Epilepsy Center for Excellence.  US House Rep Ed Perlmutter noted that he has a daughter with epilepsy and the need for the VA "to provide the military veterans coming back that will develop seizures and that develop epilepsy . . . with the best service possible."  He reminded the committee of the large number of head injuries in combat and that "some of them are goign to have seizures." (Also offering testimony were US House Reps Brad Ellsworth and Ed Perlmutter.)  The second panel offered five witnesses.  Disabled American Veterans' Joy J. Illem spoke on the Epilepsy Centers of Excellence (HR 2818) and noted, "The bill would establish a peer review panel, consisting of experts on epilepsy and complex multi-trauma associated with combat injuries, including post-traumatic epilepsy, to assess the scientific and clinical merit of proposals submitted by VA facilities for consideration to be designated as Epilepsy Centers of Excellence under this bill.  The peer review panel would be required to report its assessment of such proposals to the Under Secretary for Health, presumably to strengthen the Secretary's decision to designate Centers on the basis of merit -- but the bill does not specify this peer review as a precursor to the Secretary's designations.  The Subcommittee may wish to make that minor modification to the bill to ensure the best proposals are considered by the Secretary as determined by the peer review panel. "  Ilem felt it should be paired with a TBI center.  Veterans of Foreign Wars' Christopher Needham stated "we need an emphasis on this."  Chair Michaud asked the five witnesses at the second panel to name the two things the legislature should focus on fixing currently.  Ilem stated substance abuse was the issue.  Needham stated the same and added "hand in hand is funding issues."  American Legion's Joseph L. Wilson stated TBI and blind eye issues. While Vietnam Veterans of America's Bernie Edelman noted "a lot of these health issues are interwoven" and also spoke of the "stigma associated with seeking help".  Vietnam Veterans of America's Richard F. Weidman spoke of the diseases today (throughout the second panel) and the impacts on the future.  He noted the issue of children of veterans developing diseases and the concerns many veterans had over this issue.  Agent Orange was a frequent topic (brought up by many) and an important issue to keep in mind is that Agent Orange (it's effects on future generations) could have been dealt with during Vietnam (it never should have been used to begin with).  It wasn't.  Veterans of Vietnam have had to fight and fight and fight some more year after year.  In terms of the current illegal war,  funding, research, etc. needs to take place now.  After the Iraq War ends it will be very, very difficult to get the interest of the bulk of Congress or the bulk of the American people on this issue.  Vietnam veterans can talk at length about their struggles for basic healthcare and how they're still fighting. 
Last week, in the midst of The Petraeus and Crocker Variety Hour, the House Veterans Armed Service committee held a hearing on April 9th and Trina wrote about itRead her post, she did an excellent job covering it.  Pressed for time, but veteran Michelle Saunders needs to be noted because she advocated very well in that hearing.  She knew her facts, she was confident and presented very well.   Boiling her points down to the briefiest, veterans can help veterans.  She's pursuing that now and attempting an organization that will provide the training/preparation needed for post-military life.  She noted that you get weeks of boot camp when you enlist, but when you discharge, it's bye.  From her opening statement:
When I left the conference, I was so eager to get in the trenches and start figuring the best strategic approach on how to stop the bleeding, but little did I know it was like trying to put a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. I soon started to see the blackness of bureaucracy from the inside as opposed to being the victim on the outside. I started to see how a "success" was measured by a number, how a problem would disappear when it was time to report to the higher chain of command, how the "collaborating" agencies would point fingers at each other of all the pitfalls and the hic-ups, but would leverage each other for the "successes". After reading that, one may ask or presume I am bitter. The answer is, I am not bitter, I am disappointed and I am embarrassed. I am disappointed because I stand next to people every day who are in the positions to make effective change, who make six plus figure salaries a year and are able to go home at night and provide for their families just to start over the next day. I am embarrassed because I can't financially afford to bite the hand that feeds me. For me, it's a little different, I go home at night and I am in pain because I know that my brothers and sisters who once stood by my side at arms and always covered me, are gasping for air because they're worried about where the next pocket of money is coming from, their VA appeal claims, their lack of credentials, because of what their families may think of their, once proud American soldier. These are the parts of the transition that holds the needed healing of the broken soul, how do you heal when you can't stop firing squad?

We are still repeating history in a sense that during the 1970's and 1980s, our streets were crawling with Vietnam War veterans with the same issues. The only difference today is our veterans are not being ignored by society and the government is being held accountable. For the first time Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are being recognized as issues and they are abnormal conditions caused by combat trauma and combat stress. We live in a society that does not accept murder as something "normal". We live in a society that is spiritual and compassionate by nature regardless of religious beliefs. When these horrific acts are witnessed or are performed by an American soldier in a time of war, it breaks the spirit in a way that can't be defined. However, we are expected to act "normal" when we arrive back to our home soil. In addition our peers are forced to look at us different and weak because of the mentality of our senior military leadership, we are "STRONG" warriors that aren't supposed to feel, yet we must follow the rules of the Geneva Convention because our morals and beliefs as a nation dictate. Yes there are services in place for those who "need it" but there is a silent voice that is extremely loud that puts those who "need it" in a corner. Fortunately, the American population as a whole is finally pushing back because they understand what our eyes see across the water is not "normal" however; there is still an uncomfortable stigma that is associated with this. Society as a whole wants to help, but that help must happen away from their children and their neighborhoods. We are making a difference however, the flood gates have been opened and an enormous amount of water has fractured the backbone of our infrastructure. It is up to those who can speak for the ones who can not. WE MUST INFORM, EDUCATE AND PROMOTE AWARENESS. The blind eye approach is NOT working; it is MUCH bigger than us, so we must take a different approach.
Turning to Iraq.  Refugee International released a study, authored by Kristele Younes and Nir Rosen, entitled "Uprooted and Unstable: Meeting Urgent Humanitarian Needs in Iraq" [PDF format warning, click here]. In the opening, the report notes, "Five years after the US-led invasion, Iraq remains a deeply violent and divided society.  Faced with one of the largest displacement and humanitarian crises in the world, Iraqi civilians are in urgent need of assistance.  Particularly vulnerable are the 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis who have fled their homes for safe locations inside Iraq.  Unable to access their food rations and often unemployed, they live in squalid conditions, have run out of resources and find it extremely difficult to access essential services."
On the issue of returning the report notes the fact that abandoned homes have been taken over and that when there has been a conflict with a family returning, the local militias have sometimes been the ones 'hearing' the dispute.  Those who are 're-settled' face the realities of the rations program which does not serve many of the internal refugees (often due to paperwork or lack of it, often due to the the fact that the internal refugees are not in their original home neighborhoods).  The report clearly warns: "All relevant actors should discourage returns until the violence subsides and people can receive adequate assistance and protection."  That warning echoes the United Nations and Red Crescent's warnings. 
On the issue of the militias, the report notes how they are actually weakening the govenrment and how this is with US cooperation (whether US agents/actors are aware of it or not).  Control of electric plants is one way in which the militias can determine who gets power and who does not.  Control of aid also strengthens the militias while weakening the central government.  The report notes Refugees International workers seeing the Baghdad based offices of the Sadr Movement dispensing "clothing, milk, oil, rice, sugar, clothes and fuel for heating and cooking when supplies are available."  The NGOs would be one means to counter the weakening of the government but the US and Iraqi governments are little concerned with and little aware of these organizations.  A visit by Refugees International to Baghdad's region where Palestinians currently reside led to the discovery that "the community" of 15,000 residents "has not had an international visitor since 2005."  The Haifa Club provides assistance to that area.  Ethar Associates provides assistance to 5,000 families in Amriya (a section of Baghdad where internally displaced Sunnis have moved) as well as to 4,000 families in Taji and 1,500 in Rashdiye.  "When Refugees International mentioned the groups to UN agencies and international NGOS," the study notes, "it became clear that nobody knew of them, despite the important role they play."  
In terms of the 'central-government,' Refugees International "observed close cooperation between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi Police, Iraqi National Police and the Facility Protection Services that often protect ministries and are notorious for their lawlessness.  Visiting Iraqi ministries and government offices in January and February of 2008, during the Shiite holy month of Muharam, there were overt symbols of Shiite tradition, such as flags and banners, hanging on buildings and walls, as well as television and radio stations playing Shiite religious prayers and songs.  The lack of separation between the state and the Shiite denomination intimidates Sunnis and creates the impression of Shiite ownership of government institutions."
On the subject of militias, the report notes that the "Awakening" Council is abosrbing males who have relocated from other areas of Iraq.  Leaving the report, Nouri al-Maliki (puppet of the occupation) has questioned the loyalty of the "Awakening" Councils (Sunni militias).  US Senator Barbara Boxer raised that issue last week during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when she pointed out that the US is paying the "Awakenings" $182 million a year, $18 million month, and that now the White House, via US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, "are asking us for millions more to pay off the militias and, by the way, I have an article here that says Maliki recently told a London paper that he was concerned about half of them".  So the questions about their loyalties/ties to the central government in Baghdad is in question.  But Refugees International's study raises another issue.  Due to the fact that these are displaced Sunni males from other areas, their loyalties/ties are also not to the local government.  The organization spoke with members in mutliple areas and "found that displaced men have joined armed groups.  In some cases locals complain that the displaced are more aggressive and radical than local men who have joined the same groups."  In Dora, they're informed by two members of "Awakening" Councils that they came on board for two reasons "money and the desire to take action against Shiites." So (leaving the report)  the US government is arming and training these militias and not only are they not loyal to the central government in Baghdad (few Iraqis see al-Maliki as a legitimate leader) they aren't even loyal to their regions and one of the selling points from the Bully Boy and the US military brass is that these militias are "local" forms, "local" bonds.  That argument tries to state that the "Awakening" Council is a strengthening force for the Iraqi government and that, being local, it strengthens the local government and that travels upward. But that's not at all what Refugees International found.  The "local" militias aren't exclusively "local" and there are little tes to the local government or to the neighborhood.  The report notes: "Like the Mahdi army, these Sunni militias also have political goals and are attempting to unite to become a larger movement that will be able to regain Sunni terriotry and effectively fight the Shiite militias and the Shiite dominated government, which they call and 'Iranian Occupation.' In some ways their attitude is, 'The Americans did not buy us, we bought them'." The central government in Baghdad is an installed government.  As US Senator Joe Biden noted last Thursday in the Senate Foreign Relations Comittee hearing, the White House wants to negotiate a treaty (Status of Forces Agreement) with the central government but "there is no Iraqi government that we know of that will be place a year from now -- half the government has walked out."  Refugees International's study notes that the Shi'ite versus Shi'ite struggles currently going on take place as Sunnis who feel disenfranchised plan what to do when the US does pull out. 
In the meantime, the Iraqi refugees are being denied entry.  That may make you think of the US government's refusal to accept Iraqis or of the borders being closed in countries bordering Iraq.  However, Refugees International explains that of Iraq's eighteen provinces, eleven have shut their borders to Iraqi refugees from other provinces.  As the report notes "eleven Governoates inside Iraq, as well as neighboring countries Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt no longer admit displaced Iraqis.  In the event of an increase in violence, vulnerable Iraqi civilians will have nowhere left to go.  One imperative for the international community is to consider such a scenario, and start planning for it."
The report demolishes the Myth of the Great Return.  Throughout November the lie was repeated in media outlet after outlet (credit to Damien Cave and Cara Buckley of the New York Times who were among the first American reporters to report the reality -- among the first and among the only).  "Iraq is safer!" went the lie.  "Iraqis are returning by the busloads!"  The figures didn't grow naturally.  You had CBS News repeat a figure on the weekend that, by Monday afternoon, had more zeroes added to it.  It was a publicity campaign by the puppet government and the White House.  It was wrong and it was deadly.  Before we get to the report on that, we need to all grasp how wrong that myth was.  Iraqis seeking shelter outside of Iraq were being lied to, told it was safer and that they should come back.  The Iraqi refugee crisis is already a crisis of global proportion but lying to refugees outside the country to trick them into coming back to Iraq is inhumane and criminal.  That point needs to be stressed because Refugees International's study includes this: "According to a UN official, the Bush administration is also putting enormous pressure on the UNHCR to conduct a viability survey and declare Iraq safe for returns."  Point, The Myth of the Great Return could strike again.  Panhandle Media sat it out in November (and December and January).  Real media didn't include many stepping up to the plate (even after Buckley and Cave had reported realities).  The report notes that "the Ministry of Migration's return strategy document from late 2007 clearly states that returns, should they occur, would demonstrate the success of the current US-Government of Iraq overall security strategy in Iraq.  The return strategy also underlines the necessity for the Government of Iraq to engage in an active media campaign to counter warnings that the potential for returns will adversely impact a security situation already extremely fragile."  The Myth of the Great Return existed solely as a p.r. move.  After Syria was asked to close their border to Iraqi refugees, a few returned, those whose funds had run out.  The report documents this. 

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