Saturday, June 27, 2009

No change






Violence continues this morning in Iraq. Alissa J. Rubin and Campbell Robertson (New York Times) explain a Baghdad motorcycle suicide bombing which has claimed multiple lives. Nizar Latif (The National) reports the bomb was "packed with nails and ball-bearings, designed to make the blast even more deadly". CNN counts the dead to be 15 with another forty-six injured. Abdul Rahman Dhaher, Missy Ryan, Michael Christie, Tim Cocks, Sophie Hares and Bill Trott (Reuters) add, "Shredded shoes and bits of bloody clothing were scattered around the twisted frames of motorbikes. The blast site was swiftly sealed off by Iraqi soldiers and police."
The motorcyle bombing was the second in Baghdad this week. The first was Wednesday's which resulted in at least 78 deaths. That wasn't a suicide bombing, however, the bomber was said to have fled the motorcyle (used to pull explosives hidden beneath produce) before it exploded. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the third took place Friday night in Baghdad and resulted in the death of 1 man and left three more injured. In other violence . . .

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and wounded two more. Reuters notes Thursday included a Mosul car bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldiers, a Baghdad overnight mortar attack which left four people injured and a Baghdad roaside bombing which injured two people.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Iraqi security forces in Mosul shot dead a suspected bomber. Reuters drops back to the Thursday to note: "Gunmen wearing military uniforms attacked a convoy carrying a senior criminal judge in Mosul on Thursday, wounding one of his bodyguards, police said. The judge was not hurt."

Today the Defense Department announced a death (one MNF never reported): "Spc Casey L. Hills, 23 of Salem, Illinois died June 24 in Iraq of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over. He was assiagned to the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, Pago Pago, American Samoa. The circumstnaces surrounding the incident are under investigation." The announcement brought the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4315.

Turning to the US, yesterday's Free Speech Radio News featured a report on the latest Winter Soldier by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Click here for the segment.Manuel Rueda: At home Iraq Veterans Against the War, a grassroots organization of vets opposed to US wars, continues to organize Winter Soldier hearings across the country. It´s a venue where veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan can tell stories from their war days, in a venue where veterans can tell stories from their war days in an environment that's safe and supportive. Leo Paz reports from Los Angeles. Leo Paz: Ryan Endicott is a former Marine Corporal who did multiple tours in Iraq and returned to the US in 2006. He talked about what it's like for US marines to enforce martial law in a foreign country. Ryan Endicott: Young boys 18 to 22 are having martial law over a group of people. It's complete oppression and it actually borders on the line of terrorism. I mean you strap dead bodies to your Humvee and drive around a city with it, that's terrorism. That's scaring a group of people into your beliefs -- into your belief system and structure and that's exactly what we're doing, we're terrorizing them.Leo Paz: Corporal Endicott who was in Ar Ramadi Iraq says these were not isolated incidents but daily occurrences. Ryan Endicott: Every single day, every time you kick in a door and drag a man out of his bed in the middle of the night, that's terrorism. That's not -- we're not saving people that's not liberation. You don't liberate people by -- by kicking in their doors in and arresting people by mass numbers by shooting them that's not liberation, that's occupation. Leo Paz: Some of the soldiers recalled the harsh treatment of Iraqi civilians stopped at the numerous checkpoints installed by the US throughout the country. Former Marine Corporal Christopher Gallagher compared the checkpoints in Haditha and Falluja to herding cattle. Christopher Gallagher: If any Iraqis voiced their opinion for the way they were being treated the Iraqi police -- we had a checkpoint -- would handle the situation by harassing and assaulting them. Leo Paz: According to Gallagher when the US military went door to door in the middle of the night, raiding homes to eliminate any resistance to the occupation, Iraqis held massive protests. Gallagher described the typical US response to this protest. Christopher Gallagher: In 2004 the Iraqis would hold protests in the town of Haditha against the occupation typical response for this was to have fighter jets fly over the crowd and scare them away. Leo Paz: Corporal Endicott questioned the sanitized version of war portrayed in mainstream American media. Ryan Endicott: What should be on the media is the thousands of doors that are kicked in every day and the thousands of people that are terrorized by the US soldiers that are pumped up on adrenaline and just looking to kill people. I mean there's plenty of people that joined the military just to kill people. Leo Paz: Endicott is one of many vets who denounced the indiscriminate shooting of civilians by US military. Devon Read a former Marine infantry Sgt who took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw comrades anxious to fire at whatever came in their path. He told people at winter soldier about driving through Nazaria, speeding on the way to Baghdad, on the back of a Humvee and Marines in his unit shooting randomly at people in houses. Devon Read: You know, none of the grunts that wanted to shoot people really cared about that. If it was an opportunity to shoot someone, they'd be shooting. So there's two of us on my side of the vehicle and three guys on the other side of the vehicle and we're facing outboard and suddenly the guys on the other side of the vehicle start shooting and I'm curious what the heck they're shooting at but I can't really look because I'm paying attention to my side and the other guy that's with me decides to switch sides, switches over to the other side and starts shooting also. And I finally take a moment to look and I'm looking and they're all just shooting wildly. Leo Paz: Sgt. Reed was appalled by the random gunfire and wondered how many civilians had been shot by US troops that day. Devon Read: There's, you know, people in windows way off in the distance, who really knows? Plenty of civilians with their -- poking their heads out of the window but its just someone to shoot at and there's shooting going on so no one's going to ask any questions if they start pulling the trigger too. So everyone starts shooting randomly and I talk to everyone after and none of them had any idea what they were shooting at or why. Leo Paz: Many Vietnam war vets showed up to support the IVAW and the Iraq veterans in denouncing war and violence. Ed Garza an army gunner with the 173rd airborne Brigade still has nightmares forty years after the war. Ed Garza: I remember the dead bodies and I remember seeing them and I remember we used to kill the Vietnamese and we'd put our patch on them To remind the other Vietnamese in the area that uh that we were there, the 173rd airborne. So those are some of the things I remember. Leo Paz: According to a study conducted by Iraqi doctors, and published in a British medical journal, Iraqi dead are in the hundreds of thousands since the US invasion in 2003, Afghan civilians are estimated at more than 10,000 dead. Now into the 8th year of the war, more than 5,000 soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan according to the US military. Leo Paz, FSRN.

Staying with resistance to illegal wars, Australia's The Guardian (The Worker's Weekly) carries an interview by Elsa Rassbach with war resister Andre Shepherd who is appealing for asylum in Germany after having served one tour of Iraq already.

Elsa Rassbach: Since the "war on terror" began, there have been many US soldiers who have spoken out and many who have refused to serve. But you are the first so far to apply for asylum in Germany. What are the grounds on which your application is based?

Andre Shepherd: Well, it's very simple: In the war of aggression against the Iraqi people, the United States violated not only domestic law, but international law as well. The US government has deceived not only the American public, but also the international community, the Iraqi community, as well as the military community. And the atrocities that have been committed there these past six years are great breaches of the Geneva Conventions. My applying for asylum is based on the grounds that international law has been broken and that I do not want to be forced to fight in an illegal war.

Elsa Rassbach: In your asylum application, you mention the Principles of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which were incorporated in the UN Charter. In Nuremberg, the chief US prosecutor, Robert H Jackson, stated: "To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." In opening the trial on behalf of the United States, he stated that "while this law is first applied against German aggressors, this law includes and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment." What does Nuremberg mean to you?

Andre Shepherd: The Nuremberg statutes are the foundation of many US soldiers' refusal of the Iraq war and to some extent of the Afghanistan war. The United States with its allies after World War II crafted these laws stating that even though you've gotten orders to commit crimes against humanity, you don't have to follow them, because every person has their own conscience. That was more than 60 years ago. Today the US government seems to be under the impression that those rules do not apply to it. In invading Iraq, they did not wait for a UN mandate, they didn't let the inspectors do their job, and they made up stories about who's a real threat. This is totally violated everything stated in the Nuremberg statutes. The US Constitution states that the US is bound to our international treaties, for example with the UN. When we ignore the UN, we are violating the US Constitution, which every US soldier is sworn to uphold. And the US must also respect our own very strict laws against war crimes and torture. Since the Obama administration refuses to investigate and prosecute the previous administration, it's clear to me that the Obama administration is an accomplice to the previous administration's crimes. They're setting a very dangerous precedent for the future of the world, something I don't want to see. The German people are well aware of the history; it is here that the Nuremberg tenets were first set down. Now we have to find a way to restore those tenets, to actually respect the Nuremberg tenets as well as the Geneva Conventions. Germany needs to tell the US, "Look, you guys helped create these laws, and now you guys should abide by your own rules."

On Iraq, the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show featured Michael Hersh of Newsweek, Elise Labot of CNN and Warren Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers and Iraq was addressed early on.

Diane Rehm: Michael Hirsh, there have been bomb attacks all across the country in Iraq this week. What's going on?

Michael Hirsh: Well you have what remains of the insurgency trying to forment sectarian violence and war to get them back to -- very close to the civil war in Iraq they were at in 2006 as the US prepares for this dramatic withdrawal from Iraqi cities which is really effectively the end of George W. Bush's surge. The surge was all about putting American troops on the front-line in the cities. It worked along with other aspects of change policy. So this is a -- this is a very, very critical moment, perhaps the most critical moment since the beginning of the insurgency in Iraq War.

Diane Rehm: But why this week is it an attempt to get the US to change it's mind? is it a protest, what is it, Warren?

Warren Strobel: I think it's an attempt to portray the US withdrawal as a retreat by the insurgents. We saw similar stuff happen in Gaza a few years ago when the Israelis withdrew and Hamas was trying to do this, so that's -- that's part of it. I totally agree with Michael. I think this at least the most critical moment in Iraq since the surge began -- if not since the insurgency began. I mean this is a really, really critical point and uh it's -- we're going to see whether the Iraqi security forces all the money and training we've thrown into them can handle this.

Diane Rehm: That's a huge question, Elise.

Elise Labott: And it's not just the American troops that are leaving. They're taking with them this whole infrastructure of support and logistics and intelligence that the Iraqis have come to rely on. I mean you have intelligence satellites, cameras, bomb-sniffing dogs, medical evacuations. All of these things that the Iraqis have kind of come to rely on that they're not going to have anymore. And I think on Warren and Michael's point, it's not just about trying to portray it as a retreat, I think it's also trying to show, um, that the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki is not suit -- able to handle this. And I think what we need to see right now is whether you're going to start to see the development of militias that we saw in 2005 when there was a lack of confidence in the government to be able to protect the people.

Michael Hirsh: There will continue to be a quiet presence of the US special forces and intelligence

Diane Rehm: Yes --

Michael Hirsh: In addition --

Diane Rehm: -- in what numbers?

Michael Hirsh: We don't know. As well as uh obviously surveillance from the skies And let's not forget either that uh, you know, Maliki has an air force, the US air force which is actually both his artillery and his air force and proved to be very effective when he first began cracking down on the militias as he did in Basra. So it's not a total withdrawal nor will it be, I believe, even when we supposedly fully pull out at the end of 2011. But it is a real, real test for Maliki's leadership and, as Warren said, the training of the Iraqi forces.

Diane Rehm: So what is the mood of the Iraqi people as the US prepares to withdraw, Elise?

Elise Labott: Well I think they're kind of ambivalent about it. On one hand they're ready to see the Americans go. I mean this is the last true symbolism of their sovereignty but at the same time, the reports that we hear from Iraq is that a lot of Iraqis aren't really looking for the United States to leave, they're worried as to whether the government can handle this and I think it is, it's going to be looking to the government to pick up the slack. They're not sure if Nouri al-Maliki is able to do it.

Warren Strobel: Well I think they wanted us to leave [laughing] until we actually started to leave. And now some at least Some people are having second thoughts.

Elise Labott: You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Warren Strobel: Exactly. And there was this guy quoted in the paper from Sadr City, a huge Shi'ite neighborhood in Baghdad, expressing great concern about the pull-out of a specific, I guess it was a US security station maybe it was a joint-security station there, about what would happen next. I mean I agree with Michael that we're still going to have a lot of US assets there but the American ability to influence the situation has been steadily declining and it's going to decline a lot more in the coming months.

Elise Labott: I think you also started to see the US and the Iraqis working to implement of the US withdrawing from the cities but maybe trying to fudge the lines of what the city constitutes so that some forces could stay but at the same time technically they're outside of the cities. And the US acknowledges that it's very difficult because it's time for the Iraqis to stand up on their own. The longer the Americans are there, the Iraqis are going to become dependent on them they need to be seen as leaving for the Iraqis to step up.

Diane Rehm: What about rebuilding those cities? To what extent might that begin to take place? And do the Iraqis themselves have to go about doing that? Where do they get money, Michael?

Michael Hirsh: Well I mean obviously the oil, their oil industry is back on line to some degree. Accompanying this development of US withdrawal you finally have serious interest by US oil companies and wri-- agree to contracts that they have been unwilling to do up until now because of the violence. So they'll be getting additional revenues from that but this is -- this is also a very good test for Maliki. One is security, the other is rebuilding. You still have long periods of blackouts in Baghdad. You know, six years or more into this, you have very, very poor infrastructure and a lot of unhappiness among the Iraqis.

Diane Rehm: Michael Hersh of Newsweek, Elise Labot of CNN, Warren Strobel of McClatchy.

As for the pull-out from Iraqi cities, Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reveals, that instead of being in the cities, US forces will "encircle them," "put in place in the belts around those cities and in areas that are potential flashpoints of Kurdish-Arab tension. . . . The plan keeps US advisers within the cities, and in Mosul redeploys battalions that had been within the city to the surrounding areas." Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that while "[t]housands of U.S. combat troops will remain at a handful of bases in Baghdad and on the outskirts of other restive cities, such as Mosul and Kirkuk, in nothern Iraq, past the June 30 deadline" and that this has US military officials worried that US service members as well as Iraqis will be put at risk in the new holding pattern Barack's created. Stop the holding pattern, just bring the troops home.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"14 dead in Baghdad bombing this morning"
"Iraqis and US troops at risk"
"I Hate The War"

"Bully is . . . petulance"
"Gay and Lesbian Pride Month"
"Two deaths"
"3 Bean Salad in the Kitchen"
"Farrah, LGBT pride month"

"the laughs keep coming with gordo!"
"Farrah and childhood memories"
"Bob Somerby, etc."
"Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity"
"Stonewall and Beyond"
"One death hurts, the other . . . . eh"
"Pillow Talk"
"Farrah, Iraq, Iran"
"What's around the corner"
"Perv on the bench"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Perv on the bench





Starting in the US where Barack Obama likes a scripted press conference. As noted yesterday, Dana Milbank (Washington Post) broke the story on Arianna-toy Nico Pitney being a plant in Barack's press conference. As Cedric and Wally noted in their joint-post yesterday, CBS News' Peter Maer raised the issue to portly Robert Gibbs in yesterday's White House press briefing.

PETER MAER: All right. I've got a procedural question about yesterday's news conference. What led to your decision to plant a designated hitter right here to ask the President a question? And what kind of a message do you think that sends to the American people and to the world about the kind of free-flow and pure questioning that's been expected at presidential news conferences? MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it did nothing more than underscore that free-flow. Peter, that was a question from an Iranian in Iran, using the same type of manner and method to get that information as, I guess, many of you and virtually every one of your outlets has done, because in this country we enjoy the freedom of the press.In Iran, as many of you know, your colleagues have been dismissed. They've been kicked out. Some of them have been rounded up. There aren't journalists that can speak for the Iranian people. What the President did was take a question from an Iranian. That's, I think, the very powerful message that that sent just yesterday. PETER MAER: Couldn't he have accomplished that without you guys escorting someone through here and planting him the room? MR. GIBBS: Did you get a question yesterday from an Iranian that you had hoped to asked the President? PETER MAER: No, I did not. MR. GIBBS: Well, then I guess the answer to that would have been, no. PETER MAER: Is this going to become a regular feature of President Obama's news conference, that you all are going to bring people in here that you select to ask questions? MR. GIBBS: Well, let's understand -- let's be clear, Peter. I think you understand this, so -- but I'll repeat it for your benefit. There was no guarantee that the questioner would be picked. There was no idea of what the exact question would be. I'll let you down easily: A number of questions that we went though in prep you all asked. Iran dominated the news conference, not surprisingly. But Peter, I think it was important and the President thought it was important to take a question using the very same methods, again, that many of you all are using to report information on the ground. I don't have any -- I won't make any apologies for that.

Today Peter Baker (New York Times) attempts to cover the story and misses the major point. He tries to cover his based. He gets the Arianna Huffington to self-importantly blather -- between cobbling together George Clooney quotes to pass off as his 'writing' and between posting 'jokes' about special-needs children -- on with remarks like: "This was an exciting moment for new media and citizen engagement. It's a pity so many in traditional media didn't get it." No, it's a pity that an Aging Socialite whose husband decided to come out of the closet dumped her on the rest of the (unsuspecting) world.

Let's break it down for the dithering, money grubbing, wanna-be Gabor whose face appears assembled out of bits of chicken fat. The US is engaged in three wars currently -- Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the undeclared war on Pakistan. Iraq is non-stop violence these days. It was SHAMEFUL and it was EMBARRASSING that the president of the United States was setting up questions but even more distressing than that was WHAT the question was about: Iran. How nice of Huff & Puff to allow Barry O to gas bag on a topic that's not about his own performance, not about his own obligations and allows him to offer more 'inspirational' words. How nice of Huff & Puff to give Barry a foot rub as opposed to hold his tootsie to the fire.

Citizen engagement, which Arianna knows nothing about -- serving off brands to guests, that she knows about -- would have been little Nico breaking from the script and asking a question that put Barack on the spot. Arianna knows damn well if this was a George W. Bush moment, she'd be screaming her head off. Instead, today's she's her own Jeff Gannon. And how nice of Huff & Puff to prove that they don't give a damn about Iraq. The website could have brought that issue into the press conference. It chose not to do so. Remember that the next time Arianna tries to pretend she cares about anything other than the cold hard cash. Drop a twenty on the dresser and thank her for her time, she's done.

Currently at Newt Gingrich's former girlfriend's website it's tabloid city. New media? That smut's been available in the supermarkets for years, usually under the banner of Weekly World News.

In the real world, Iraq was rocked by violence again today. CNN observes, "Violence is unnerving Iraqis, with attacks increasing as the United States works toward withdrawing combat troops." Susan Webb (People's Weekly World) notes, "The killing spree began June 20 with a series of car bombings and other attacks in several cities, including a massive suicide truck bombing that killed 82 people in a mainly Shiite town near the northern city of Kirkuk, a scene of ongoing ethnic strife." Al Jazeera notes, "At least seven people have died in a new wave of attacks in Iraq amid funerals for some of the victims of a bomb explosion in a busy Baghdad market the previous day." The number's risen to at least nine dead with twenty-eight Iraqis injured. Today's reported violence?

[. . .]

"Any change, any legislative change increases the risk to August 1st," declared the VA's Director from the Office of Education Service Keith Wilson. "There's no question about it. We wouldn't know the full impact until we could sit down and evaluate what the volume of individuals would be."

He was appearing this afternoon before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and replying to US House Rep John Boozman's question about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which "has those killed on active duty into Chapter Thirty Two, I'm sorry, Chapter Thirty Three would something like that would that cause delay in payment?" Wilson stated anything would. The meeting was about the Post-9-11 GI Bill which requires new payments starting August 1st. US House Rep Harry Teague chaired the subcommittee (filling in for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin) and noted in his opening remarks:

Today we will continue with our series of oversight hearings on the VA's implementation plans for the Post 9-11 GI Bill. It is important that we continue to provide the VA the opportunities to update the subcommittee on their implementation effort for the short-term and long-term solutions. This hearing will also give the VA the opportunity to ask for Congressional assistance if it is required. Since the passage of the Post-9-11 GI Bill, many items of concern have been raised about this very complicated program. I'm sure our Chair and Ranking Member will agree that this Subcommittee will continue to seek answers to the implementation but also veteran outreach, university partnerships and other items of concern. While there was tremendous Congressional support for the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, responsiblity does not end after a bill is signed into law. As our panelists know, this Subcommittee will continue to work with the adminsitration to ensure that our veterans receive their educational benefits in a timely manner.

Ranking Member Boozman noted this was the fifth hearing providing oversight on the implementation of the bill and encouraged the VA to come forward with problems as they arise so they can be addressed.

August 1st is the start date in order to begin making payments for the fall 2009 semesters. These payments, like other government payments, will be issued via computer programs so today's hearing focused on the IT aspects of it.

Keith Wilson was the only witness appearing before the Subcommittee today. He was accompanied by the VA's Stephen W. Warren and Mark Krause. (Warren handled the slide presentation -- he provided the narration of the steps on the flow chart, etc.) Wilson stated that there were two strategies, short-term and long-term. The programs will handle processing and delivering (addressing) the payments and allowing payments to be calculated. This system, however, vanishes December 2010 when a new system replaces it. (That system hasn't been developed yet and will be created with SPAWAR Systems Center.)

Keith Wilson: On May 1, 2009, VA began accepting applications to determine eligibility for the Post- 9-11 GI Bill. We've received more than 75,000 applications, and the RPOs have fully processed approximately 35,000 of these claims. On July 6, 2009, we will start accepting enrollment certifications from school certifying officials and begin processing claims for payment. The first payments will be released by US Treasury Department on August 3, 2009. Approximately 530 claims examiners have been hired under term appointments to support the implementation of the short-term strategy. All employees completed training of Phase 1 of the short-term solutions on June 15th. Phase 2 training started on June 8th and is expected to be complete no later than July 3rd. VA authorized the RPOs to hire 230 additional claims examiners. All of the employees are expected to be on board by August 31, 2009.

Those are hard numbers and in the above and when asked questions, Wilson actually had answers. A rare thing for a witness from the VA. Wilson referenced the VA's GI Bill website as a resource. For those with limited internet access or who would prefer the human interaction, the toll free number is 1-888-GI-BILL-1 or 1-888-442-4551. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) has a webpage that gives you a historical overview and also allows you to locate a VFW service officer who can assist veterans with the application process. Those are resource provided by the VFW and they're a resource many veterans may need to consider utilizing because, at present, Wilson stated they were surprised that the applications coming in are not as high as expected (at present, the VA is able to process more applications each day than it is receiving, according to Wilson). Teague noted his surprise at the low number of applicants and suggested stronger outreach efforts may be needed.

US House Rep Harry Teague: You may recall that with the leadership of Ranking Member Boozman, Congress authorized the VA to conduct mass media outreach services. Today I have not been made aware of the VA using mass media as an outreach option. Will you be using mass media such as television or radio to advertise the new GI Bill benefit?

Keith Wilson: We will. We have, underway right now, a acquistion process to bring a, uh, professional media firm on board specifically for that purpose.

One reason for the delay may be that next week the VA will be providing a list of an estimated 700 colleges who will be part of the Yellow Ribbon Program. Wilson explained those colleges would have "a matching contribution program between VA and IHLs to assist eligible veterans in covering tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate." How much is covered is an issue even in good economic times and some may be waiting on the VA to release that date before beginning the application process.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"At least 78 Iraqis dead in yesterday's Baghdad bombing, 9 US soldiers wounded today"

"Gordon Brown's U-turns"
"Gay and Lesbian Pride Month"
"Journal entry"
"gordon brown on the ropes"
"Comics, the disgusting Laura Flanders"
"Senate Foreign Relations Committee"
"Marge Maloney & Minnie Bruce Pratt, Glen Ford"
"Not interested in Free Speech Radio News tonight"
"State of the left"
"Kenneth J. Theisen, Boston Phoenix"
"You water plants, you don't feed them questions"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You water plants, you don't feed them questions





PETER MAER: All right. I've got a procedural question about yesterday's news conference. What led to your decision to plant a designated hitter right here to ask the President a question? And what kind of a message do you think that sends to the American people and to the world about the kind of free-flow and pure questioning that's been expected at presidential news conferences?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it did nothing more than underscore that free-flow. Peter, that was a question from an Iranian in Iran, using the same type of manner and method to get that information as, I guess, many of you and virtually every one of your outlets has done, because in this country we enjoy the freedom of the press.
In Iran, as many of you know, your colleagues have been dismissed. They've been kicked out. Some of them have been rounded up. There aren't journalists that can speak for the Iranian people. What the President did was take a question from an Iranian. That's, I think, the very powerful message that that sent just yesterday.

PETER MAER: Couldn't he have accomplished that without you guys escorting someone through here and planting him the room?

MR. GIBBS: Did you get a question yesterday from an Iranian that you had hoped to asked the President?

PETER MAER: No, I did not.

MR. GIBBS: Well, then I guess the answer to that would have been, no.

PETER MAER: Is this going to become a regular feature of President Obama's news conference, that you all are going to bring people in here that you select to ask questions?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's understand -- let's be clear, Peter. I think you understand this, so -- but I'll repeat it for your benefit. There was no guarantee that the questioner would be picked. There was no idea of what the exact question would be. I'll let you down easily: A number of questions that we went though in prep you all asked. Iran dominated the news conference, not surprisingly. But Peter, I think it was important and the President thought it was important to take a question using the very same methods, again, that many of you all are using to report information on the ground. I don't have any -- I won't make any apologies for that.



Starting in England with the planned inquiry into the Iraq War. "As the prime minister said last week," Foreign Minister David Miliband declared in the House of the Commons today, tapping the table twelve times for emphasis, "it is not an inquiry that has been set up to establish civil or criminal liability. It is not a judicial inquiry. Everything beyond that is within it's remit. It can uh praise or blame whoever it likes. It is free to write its own report at every stage." [BBC has a clip here currently.] The House of Commons debated many topics including the Iraq inquiry. BBC News live blogged it here. The Daily Mail dubs it the latest "U-turn" from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet: "It is the latest climbdown on the inquiry, which was only unveiled by the Prime Minister last week as he attempted to restore his authority." Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) also calls it a U-turn and observes, "After watching David Miliband open today's debate on the subject in the Commons this afternoon, I've counted at least five U-turns." Sparrow then reviews the five U-turns. U-turn was also the phrase shadow foreign secretary William Hague used (BBC has clip here): "A U-Turn executed in stages as painful to watch as a learner driver doing a six-point turn, having started off the wrong way down the motorway. And they have performed this U-turn by getting the chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, to announce changes we have all been demanding but to announce them himself so that no minister has had to come back to the House and admit that the government were in the wrong. Indeed Sir John is now -- I will give way in a moment -- indeed sir John is now busily engaged in the very process of consultation with opposition parties and other -- others -- that a prime minister doing his job properly would have carried out before hand."

In addition to the issue of apportioning blame, Philippe Naugton (Times of London) highlights another issue about the inquiry that was raised during the debate, "Mr Miliband was also pressed by MPs from all sides on how the inquiry could take evidence on oath -- as Mr Brown had said he hoped it would -- if it was not established on a statutory footings. The Foreign Secretary eventually told them: 'I am reliably informed that you don't need a statutory power to administer an oath'." Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson ( report that the debate followed a motion put forward by the Conservative Party that the inquiry be a public one. BBC reports the vote was 260 for a public inquiry and 299 against. Joe Murphy (Evening Standard) notes that Milband also "confirmed that Tony Blair will be questioned in public about his role" and that Hague promised if his party wins the upcoming elections (his party is the Conservative party) they will "beef up" the inquiry Brown's proposing if it has not finished its work (the report from the commission will not be released until after the election -- whether or not it will be finished with the investigation before the election has not been addressed).

A lengthy exchange can be found here (YouTube) in an ITN video. Here are two excerpts:

William Hague: We said that the membership of the inquiry, while encompassing people we have no call to criticize seem to us to be too narrow and that in particular some experience of ministerial office was desirable. And the following Monday my right honorable friend, the leader of the opposition, also made the point that military experience was desirable. And we further pointed out that the inquiry as proposed by the government consisted of four nominees -- none of whom was a woman. The government went a small way to meeting a part of these objections by adding Baroness Prasha to the inquiry membership. And I hope the Foreign Secretary will also acknowledge that his statement on the Today program -- that these five people were approached and then the cabinet secretary went to talk to the opposition parties -- was also inaccurate. Because the fifth, Baroness Prasha, was only added when it was pointed out to ministers that they proposed an inquiry to narrow in its membership.

David Miliband: At various points there have been allegations, for example, that the inquiry would not be able to look at the run-up to the war or the decisions in Basra in 2006 to 2008. These concerns, Mr. Speaker, are not well founded. The Chilcot inquiry has the widest possible remit. The committee will be free not just to examine all the evidence as I will document below but also do what it considers to be the most important issues the scope is deliberately not limited. As the prime minister said last week no inquiry has looked at such a long period and no inquiry has the powers to look in so much breadth. Second, Mr. Speaker, independence. The prime minister wrote Sir John Chilcot on the 17th of June assuring him of the government's commitment to a thorough and independent inquiry Sir John confirms in his repo - reply of the 21st of June, "I welcome the fact that I and my colleagues are free to decide independently how to -- how best to fulfill our remit.

The Socialist Party issued the following statement by Sean Figg:

There are many unanswered questions surrounding the invasion: the Blair government's rush to war, twisting and turning to justify an attack on Iraq, using the most spurious of arguments to get the invasion they had already decided upon. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed as a result, along with over 4,600 US, British and other coalition soldiers. Massive destruction and devastation has also been wrought on Iraq.
Brown has tried to pose the inquiry as part of a new 'openness' in politics following the MPs' expenses scandal. But given his initial stance that the inquiry should be behind closed doors, clearly Brown is still unsure exactly what 'openness' means!
There has since been an 'establishment rebellion' amongst MPs, civil servants, and top military brass over a secret inquiry. In response, Brown announced a partial retreat last week asking the inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, to consider opening a few sessions to the public - far from a complete climbdown.
The truth is that on Iraq, Brown is in up to his neck. He still has everything to lose from an 'open' inquiry. He voted for the invasion, was part of Blair's war cabinet and has been a consistent supporter of the occupation. Brown could point to the reduction of British troops in Iraq since he took over as prime minister to try and improve his image, if he wasn't for escalating the war in Afghanistan instead!
The news that Tony Blair had intervened in an attempt to keep any inquiry secret will anger people further.
But even if there is a fully open inquiry, its chairman Sir John Chilcot - chairman of the Police Federation and a member of the unelected, unaccountable Privy Council - is clearly part of the establishment. And when establishment figures are left to investigate other establishment figures, even if not directly involved in the events they are investigating, there are still many vested interests in ensuring not too much damage is done.
And while an inquiry may bury itself in details of government shenanigans, the real motives for the war - securing oil resources and geopolitical control of the region by western imperialism - will be conveniently ignored.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg has declared, "We need an independent process to decide exactly what evidence is heard in private. This decision should not be down to the whims of Prime Ministers past and present. The burden of proof must be on the Government to demonstrate a clear impact on national security of specific evidence before any session can be held in private." Anne McElvoy (This is London) observed this morning, "The PM has havered and obscured his own position on Iraq because he did not want to pick a fight with Mr Blair at the time or, more cynically, concluded as the UN resolution unravelled, that the fallout was more likely to precipitate his predecessor's time in office than extend it and so kept shtoom. It is, when you consider the breadth of Mr Brown's other international interests and emphasis on the the 'big picture', an odd thing not to have a position on -- even now. What do you remember the Prime Minister saying at all about Iraq since the war? Nope, me neither." The Stop the War Coalition has issued a call for a full inquiry:

Nothing less than a full public inquiry into Iraq war
Contact your MP: We need a full public inquiry. Write, phone, fax your MP. Download letter . . . The revelation that Tony Blair -- who led Britain into the illegal war in Iraq -- is behind Gordon Brown's decision to hold an inquiry in secret won't surprise the anti-war movement and will further fuel the anger of MPs, peers, military leaders, former civil servants and bereaved families appallbed by the plan to hear evidence in private. Read more. . . . No surprise either that a leaked memo proves that Tony Blair met with George Bush in January 2003 to hatch a plot to go to war, whatever the United Nations decided. Read more . . . . A full public inquiry would reveal the secrets and lies in Blair's rush to war. What chance of that with Brown's inquiry panel of four knights and a baroness, some of whom were pro war?

[. . .]

This afternoon in DC, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's DAMA Subcommittee held a hearing. Subcommittee Chair John Hall opened the hearing by allowing US House Rep Joe Donnelly to offer his statements -- as part of the first panel -- because he had another commitment.

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson spoke, as part of the first panel, on behalf of the legislation she is sponsoring (HR 2774, the Families of Veterans Financial Security Act" whic would allow veterans to receive Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) for two years. This takes place at present; however, it is set to expire shortly. Halvorson's legislation makes the two years permanent and in need of no additional legislation to renew it.

Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I would like to ask -- well it seems to make a lot of sense of course to permanently extend the coverage for SGLI for two years since service members who are disabled are going through a very difficult and trying time. Have you had any feedback from service members or their families who have benefitted from this coverage and what did they think?

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Well what I've heard -- and we're talking here about service related, totally disabled veterans and these are the veterans that often can't find any other commercially offered insurance -- and I have a veterans' advisory committee and this is one of the things that came to my attention as something that they find very, very important as they're making these informed decisions with their family.

The second panel was composed of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors' Bonnie Carroll and Disabled American Veteran's Joe Wilson. Wilson noted DAV supported Donnley's bill and had no objections to Halvorson. Joe Donnelly's proposed legislation addresses out of date tables being used today, specifically a 1941 mortality chart used to set premiums -- a table that has continued to be used despite being out of date.

US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrik arrived as Wilson and Carroll were breifly speaking and, following the second panel being dismissed, Kirkpatrik proposed legislation is HR 20968 and she explained:

I introduced this bill with Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina to do just one thing: To make the group life insurance offered to veterans and service members both fairer and more consistent with commercial life insurance Under both veterans groups' life insurance and service members' group life insurance, when a veteran or a service member is terminally ill, they can elect to receive up to half of their coverage while they are still alive. They can use this accelerated benefits option to pay medical bills, improve their quality of life or in any way they see it. However, current regulations require VGLI and SGLI to decrease the pay-out these veterans and service members collect by a percentage based on the prevailing interest rates. In recent years, this has amounted to a decrease in as much as $6,000. By contrast, most commercial life insurance policies that allow ABO withdrawals do not decrease this pay-out to claimants. We can and must do better for our veterans. This simple, common sense, bipartisan bill removes this deduction so that we might better serve terminally ill veterans and service members at the most financially vulnerable time for them and their families. Removing this deduction can be accomplished using the life insurance premium veterans and service members currently pay. This means that we can accomplish this important change without any additional cost to veterans service members or tax payers and without pay-go implications.

The third panel's only witness was the VA's Thomas Lostowka. He insisted that VGLI is competative with private practice and that everyone raises their premiums every five years -- every one. VA's raising has to do with the mortality table, remember that? Subcommittee Chair Hall wanted to know why a 1941 mortality table was being used and Lostowka agreed that it was out of date but insisted there would be a "higher cost to government if you were to change the table at this time." So when could the table be changed? According to Lostowka, never.

The father of a veteran who had traveled to DC for the hearing stopped us (Wally, Ava, Kat and myself) to ask why Lostowka knew so little? He shared that if someone was coming to offer opinions on proposed legislation -- as Lostowka was -- it seemed to him they should be able to answer basic questions. That is not a minor point and it's one that can be made whenever VA sends witnesses (I think we've made it here). His House Rep sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee but not the Subcommittee and he intended to raise that issue with his rep's staff. It's a question the White House and Congress should be raising with the VA. The embarrassingly poor performance of Lostowka's was all the worse when you grasp that he felt the need to "brag" (his word) on the VA and to pat himself on the back stating "so we're doing quite a good job." No, Lostowka, you're not and you might need to meet with the families of veterans if you don't grasp that.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Nordland provides some realities, Stars and Stripes is censored"
"Iraq inquiry demands increase, Barack stages press conference"
"DMZ: The Hidden War"
"gordon brown, wonder woman"
"Naoki Urasawa's Monster"
"G.B. Trudeau Talk to the Hand!"
"Heroes Volume Two"
"Mark Evanier's Mad Art"
"Warren Ellis' No Hero, ACLU"
"Barack caught in another lie"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barack caught in another lie











Starting in England where Prime Minister Gordon Brown remains desperate and eager to spin. Today he gave a highly confusing interview to BBC Radio 4's World at One in which he meant to say that there would be a scope for people to provide testimony but he actually stated there was no scope for it and in which he appeared to hint that Mid-East countries surrounding Iraq would be harmed from a public inquiry because they had been working with England on the Iraq War.

Gordon Brown: The Iraq inquiry was always going to be difficult because we're looking at, uhm, eight years of -- of events. We're looking at the causes of the conflict, what happened during the conflict, we're looking at the reconstruction that's taking place after the conflict. And there are many, many views on this and it has been a very controversial issue for Britain over a period of -- a period of time. I want that review to able to take all the evidence that is -- that is necessary, including having before it the security information, the confidential information. We've got to be careful, of course, about our relationships with other countries and what is made public about our relationships for examples with countries in the region which have got to be strong after the inquiry as well. But I think we've got to position with Sir John Chilcot where he has written to me yesterday saying he sees some hearings that we could do in public consistent with national security. He has responded to my invitation that he take into account the needs of the family. He has also responded to my invitation that as chairman of the inquiry he looks at whether there's an oath or some kind of undertaking on giving evidence. And I think -- I think we're making progress on an inquiry that I hope for the public is not just to get to the truth of what's happened -- that's important. It's also to learn lessons and lessons I think the whole public wants to learn what happened during that period.

Shaun Ley: But it looks as though you have been forced into a change of position by the reaction. A week ago you told the House of Commons you wanted the evidence to be heard in private for the reasons you've just outlined. Then you get people like Lord Butler saying this will add to mistrust, John Major says people will perceive it as a whitewash, John Chilcot writes to you and you respond and say 'actually I accept your advice as much as possible should be held in public.'

Gordon Brown: Hold on. Hold on.

Shaun Ley: And they get --

Gordon Brown: Hold on. Hold on.

Shaun Ley: -- a sense then that --

Gordon Brown: Hold on. Hold on.

Shaun Ley: -- perhaps the public's mood on this kind of issue.

Gordon Brown: Hold on. You --you've got to put what happened in its proper, uh, context.

Shaun Ley: I'm trying to do that.

Gordon Brown: I, uh, I actually wrote to Sir John Chilcot my-myself. I asked him, as chairman of the inquiry, to consider a number of issues related to the conduct of the inquiry -- some of the issues that you've just raised.

Shaun Ley: But after you made your statement to the MPs.

Gordon Brown: Yes, but I said at the time that I was inviting Sir John Chilcot to talk to all the leaders of the parties and all the chairman of the select committees, and that we were going to have a process of consultation with them about the conduct of the inquiry. So Sir John Til--Chilcot looks at the thoughts I put to him -- including thoughts about how we deal with the vex question of how the families are properly consulted and do they want to -- to give evidence in private or public. and rightly Sir John Chilcot then replies to me. I'm trying to find a way to get an inquiry that can satisfy people that we're doing everything in our power to get to the truth while at the same time I think everybody understands because people were asking for a Franks-style inquiry and Franks meant

Shaun Ley: On the Falklands War.

Gordon Brown: Yes you've got to take into account national security considerations and that you've got serving military --

Shaun Ley: Indeed.

Gordon Brown: -- who want to give evidence want to give evidence sometimes in private.

Shaun Ley: At what point did you refer to this question of the giving evidence on oath? Will that in your view now happen? Does that have to happen? Does that need to happen?

Gordon Brown: Well Sir John Chilcot has written back to me -- I requested this -- he's written back to me. He is suggesting that he does think there's a way that people can give at least an undertaking that what they're saying is truthful and complete and full and I think that's --

Shaun Ley: So not a kind of hand on the Bible or hand on the Crown kind of thing?

Gordon Brown: You see, the -- the point of this inquiry --

Shaun Ley: An honorable statement saying I am giving truthful evidence.

Gordon Brown: Of course, yes. The point of this inquiry, this was an eight-year-long uh episode in -- in British history, our troops are just leaving Iraq, it is ripe to learn the lessons. Now I think the way we're doing it allows those people that have got something to say sometimes that is confidential or effects our relationships with other countries to be able to say it directly to Chilcot he then has the chance to look at all the papers the security papers as well as confidential and private papers but at the same time there is no scope for people to give evidence in public if that is -- if that is what he chooses.

Note that the program is only available for the next seven days. Tom Whitehead (Telegraph of London) notes that Brown's backtracking (prior to the interview -- the interview was only more backtracking) was "further humilitation" and that Conservative Party members are saying the New Labour prime minister is doing a "U-turn in slow motion". At the US Socialist Worker, Mark Steel offers his thoughts on the inquiry:It's unlikely anything so interesting will come out of the inquiry into the Iraq war announced by Gordon Brown. Because it will be held entirely in secret, and is not allowed to "apportion blame," as this will prevent the inquiry being "clogged up by expensive lawyers."
Apparently, this will encourage those called to be "more candid" about their behavior. So why not change the whole legal system for similar reasons? Murderers would be so much more candid in a trial if they weren't weighed down by the thought of their comments being made public. "Between you and me I strangled the lot of them," they'd laugh, whereas once they're in that big room with lawyers and blame getting in the way they're bound to clam up. How much quicker the law could be resolved without all that paraphernalia of cross-examining and working out who was telling the truth and other money-wasting nonsense. Just ask someone whether they did it, and if they say "Not really," or "I had to kill them because I'd heard they had some destructive weapons," the judge could say, "Well, that's pretty much cleared it up--who's next?"

This Wednesday, the Stop the War Coalition is rallying Wednesday. "Protest at parliament against holding Iraq enquiry in private" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reports the demonstration will be "outside parliament at 2pm this Wednesday, demanding 'No Whitewash, No Cover Up', in the Iraq enquiry." Independent Catholic News notes that Justice and Peace groups have created a petition "to urge MPs to vote in favour of a public enquiry." Click here for the petition.

Meanwhile in Germany, a whitewash has concluded. Deutsche Welle reports the nation's investigation into "whether former chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder helped oust Saddam Hussein" -- an investigation that's taken three years, heard from 140 witnesses, produced a final report that numbers 2,500 pages -- was unable to "clear up key questions" and had only "meagre results." If that judgment seems harsh, it's not my judgment. It's Seigfried Kauder's judgment and Kauder was the committee chair of the investigation. Friday The Local reported that "the parliamentary investigation split along party lines over whether [Frank-Walter] Steinmeier had been truthful when he said that Germany's help to US forces consisted only of intelligence on how to avoid bombing civilian targets." The amount of pressure put on the British inquiry ahead of it commencing will determine how much of a whitewash it is or isn't.

Gordon Brown has additional troubles and they could end up being big problems for the US government. As Rebecca explained last night, May 2007 saw five British citizens kidnapped and held hostage. Over two years ago. Two turned up over the weekend and they were dead. The families are outraged. As Rebecca points out:

had the british government tried anything (diplomacy or force) and it gone bad, you could say, 'well they tried.' you could be miserable over the results but you knew they were acting.instead, gordon brown took the attitude that he could just ignore the hostages. that's what he did and that's why he wanted the families to be silent. not to protect the hostages but to keep them nameless so england wouldn't be able to put a name to each 1 and demand their safe return.

He did nothing. Two are dead. The other three? No one knows at this point. What is known is that the US negotiated with terrorists. That does happen and it's not uncommon. But they did so for the five British citizens. In fact, they released two men, two brothers, thought to be the ringleaders in an assault on a US base in Iraq in which five US service members were killed. They released these two suspected ringleaders and the deal was supposed to be that the organization the brothers belonged to released the five British hostages. Thus far only two have been released and they were dead. Should all five prove to be dead, look for extreme outrage over an action the US government has been able to semi-quiet up to this point.

Staying with the topic of US clampdowns, Heath Druzin is an American journalist employed by Stars & Stripes. You might think he'd easily be able to embed with US troops in Iraq but that was not the case. David Axe (Wired) reports the US army said no and did so "in part, because he 'refused to highlight' good news on previous stints with the military." Terry Leonard, the editorial director of Stars & Stripes, declares this is "censorship." (I agree with him.) Stars & Stripes is reporting on the refusal to allow Druzin to report:

Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces.
"Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news," Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin's embed request.
Bellard also alleged that Druzin used quotes out of context, "behaved unprofessionally" and persisted in asking Army officials for permission to use a computer to file a story during a communications-blackout period.
Additionally, Col. Gary Volesky, the 3rd Brigade's commander, asserted that Druzin "would not answer questions about stories he was writing."
Terry Leonard, editorial director of Stars and Stripes, said Druzin's reporting in Mosul had been consistently accurate and fair and he denied all of the Army's allegations. Leonard noted, for example, that reporters are not required to answer a commander's questions about their plans for future stories.
He said the newspaper had spent more than three weeks appealing Druzin's banishment to senior commanders in Iraq as well as public affairs officials at the Pentagon, but had been repeatedly rebuffed.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Yesterday's bombing, tensions in Nineveh"
"Gordon loses control of his inquiry"
"Building Bridges "
"The 9 day old story won't go away"
"the do-nothing gordo brown"
"Out FM"
"Sandra Bullock, John Kass"
"Roey Thorpe's a liar, a damn liar"
"Cindy Sheehan, Sandra Bullock, Ava & C.I."
"Chris Hedges, Third and Isaiah "
"When he gets behind closed doors . . ."

Monday, June 22, 2009

When he gets behind closed doors . . .






Starting with England where Prime Minister Gordon Brown's been the topic of the week all last week. Fresh from nearly losing his prime minister post and on the heels of the spending scandals in Parliament, Brown promised a new age of transparency only to turn around last Monday and offer the long promised inquiry into the Iraq War . . . as a back-door, hidden-from-public view song and dance. The Irish Independent observes, "Brown's reputation has been hit by his disastrous handling of the planned inquiry into the invasion of Iraq." Today John Chilcot -- appointed by Brown to lead the Iraq inquiry -- makes a statement. BBC reports that Chilcot has sent Brown a letter which includes this statement: "More broadly, I believe it will be essential to hold as much of the proceedings of the inquiry as possible in public, consistent with the need to protect national security and to ensure and enable complete candour in the oral and written evidence from witnesses." Haroon Siddique (Guardian) adds, "One reason why Brown is thought to have agreed to a private inquiry may have been pressure from the former prime minister, Tony Blair. The Observer reported that Blair pressed Brown to hold an inquiry behind closed doors because he feared he would be subjected to a 'show trial' if it were open to the public." This morning on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show, Marr spoke with Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg:

Nick Clegg: If his [Gordon Brown's] inquiry is to have any legitimacy it must first be held in public with only some exceptions made for evidence heard in secret. Andrew Marr: Do you think Tony Blair should be giving evidence in public? Nick Clegg: And second I'll be saying if the inquiry is to have any legitimacy, the prime architect of the decision to go to war in Iraq, along side George Bush, should give his evidence in public under oath. I think anything less will make people feel this is just a grand cover up for, after all, what was the biggest foreign policy mistake this country has made since has made since Suez. Andrew Marr: And what about Cabinet documents and documents that have been private before like, for instance, the one you mentioned from The Observer which suggest that there was a discussion [between Bush and Blair] about sending a plane over Iraq to see if they'd shoot it down as an excuse for starting the war? Nick Clegg: I think all of that should be made possible with, of course, some exceptions where you, for instance, endanger the lives of intelligence officers -- if you reveal through a public session where they're working how they're getting their intelligence. Just like the 9-11 inquiry in the United States. Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, some of these key players, they gave evidence in public and we should do exactly the same thing with only very small exceptions for evidence held in secret. I think, look, diplomats think it should be held in public, military figures do, the public clearly do, the families of the soldiers -- the brave service men and service women who've lost their lives, most political opinion thinks we should hold this in public. The only two people who don't are Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair because they want to cover up their tracks. We shouldn't have this inquiry determined by precisely the people who risk being most embarrassed by it.
Nick Clegg was asked of Jamie Doward, Gaby Hinsliff and Mark Townsend (The Observer) report on a January 31, 2003 memo ("almost two months before the invasion") which is a "record of a meeting between President Bush and Tony Blair before the invasion of Iraq, outlining their intention to go to war without a second United Nations resolution". Let's drop back to June of 2005 when Michael Smith (Times of London) reported:

A SHARP increase in British and American bombing raids on Iraq in the run-up to war "to put pressure on the regime" was illegal under international law, according to leaked Foreign Office legal advice. The advice was first provided to senior ministers in March 2002. Two months later RAF and USAF jets began "spikes of activity" designed to goad Saddam Hussein into retaliating and giving the allies a pretext for war. The Foreign Office advice shows military action to pressurise the regime was "not consistent with" UN law, despite American claims that it was. The decision to provoke the Iraqis emerged in leaked minutes of a meeting between Tony Blair and his most senior advisers -- the so-called Downing Street memo published by The Sunday Times shortly before the general election.

The two War Hawks were admitting that WMD might not be found and that they needed other ways to force the war with Iraq. Blair doesn't want to testify in private and has argued against it. Jason Beattie (Daily Mirror) adds, "Tony Blair sparked fury yesterday over claims that he tried to 'muzzle' the Iraq War inquiry. The former PM is reported to have told Gordon Brown the probe would have become a 'show trial' unless it was kept behind closed doors." Jane Merrick and James Hanning (Independent of London) surmise, "A public appearance by Mr Blair before the Chilcot inquiry would also damage his ambitions of becoming EU president, a role that needs the support of European countries that opposed the war." The New Statesman explains, "Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, is said to have communicated Blair's anxieties to Brown. Yesterday the Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward, confirmed that Blair had discussed the inquiry with O'Donnell." The reaction to former Prime Minister and always Bush Poodle Tony Blair attempting to circumvent the process resulted in a backlash even among Labour (Blair and Brown's party). William Hague (Daily Mail) argues, "He is the last person who should be setting the rules for an inquiry that will largely be concerned with decisions and events during his time in office." Nigel Morris (Independent of London) reports, "The Labour rebels' anger was intensified by the disclosure yesterday that Tony Blair, likely to be the key witness, had consulted with the Cabinet Secretary on the form of the inquiry. They want him to give evidence under oath."

This anger may be apparent in the increasingly public role of Education Secretary Ed Balls. Balls backed a public inquiry last week when he was caught by surprise with the question during a live interview. James Chapman (Daily Mail) notes, "Ed Balls today signalled that the Government would perform a U-turn and hold the Iraq War inquiry in public. The Education Secretary said it would be a 'good thing' to hold some of the hearing in public after Gordon Brown faced fury from Labour backbenchers over his initial decision to keep them private." Blair's not helped by news of an upcoming interview to run in Esquire. Rachel Cooke (Daily Mail) quotes Blair saying, "I've no regrets about that decision" to start an illegal war with lies "because it was difficult to get rid of Saddam, but leaving him would also have been difficult, and when I look at the region now, I think it would be a lot more complicated [were he still there]". And would over a million Iraqis have died? Would 173 British service members have died? Would 4315 US service members have died? Tony Blair sent what members of his own family into Iraq?

In the BBC interview, Nick Clegg mentioned Alastair Campbell. James Chapman (Daily Mail) observes, "Like ghosts at the feast, the sulphurous spirits of Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell loom large over Gordon Brown's latest political disaster. . . . Mr Campbell, who helped draw up the infamous Iraq War dossiers as Mr Blair's chief spin doctor, remains a major player behind the scenes and a conduit between the two men. He too speaks regularly to Mr Brown by phone and makes frequent visits to Downing Street." Bruce Anderson (Independent) advocates even further opening of the inquiry, "Crucial decisions were taken in the closest partnership with the Americans. Condi Rice, then the National Security Adviser, was in daily contact with David Manning, her nearest equivalent in No.10. It would be impossible to understand the UK role without the US dimension. That requires long interviews with President Bush, Secretaries Powell, Rice and Rumsfeld, plus a score of lesser names. The Chilcot report will not be complete unless it contains a chapter entitled: 'Mr Blair becomes a neo-conservative'." Lucien Rajakarunanayake (Sri Lanka's Daily News) also argues for expanding the scope:

The facts of the UK's involvement in the invasion of Iraq, it would show there is every reason to call for a fully independent and international probe into why the UK went to Iraq, what it did there and what it has left the Iraqi people with.The reasons are compelling. They went to a foreign land. They went there uninvited by its people. They went under false pretexts, having lied to their own legislature, the House of Commons, that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of acquiring WMD. They spun and twisted intelligence reports to mislead their own legislature, and even worse, together with those in Washington who misled both Houses of Congress about Iraq and WMD, also misled the UN Security Council on the same matter. They fooled the UN into endorsing the invasion of Iraq, which was in fact an illegal and criminal act. The entire invasion was a war crime of the highest order. All the bloodshed there was a humanitarian catastrophe - bloodbaths aplenty that no one in the UN warned about. But what do we have instead. Gordon Brown, David Miliband and the other pathetic caricatures of true Labour politicians, eating off the hands of a so-called Tamil Diaspora that promises them vote banks and plenty of undeclared stuffed brown paper envelopes, have announced a probe into the UK's participation in the war against Iraq, to be held in private. An international atrocity of such magnitude is to be probed in private, without even the media present to report what happens, at least to the British people, if not the world. Such is the level of transparency practised by those who demand the very extremes of public disclosure from us.

This Wednesday, the Stop the War Coalition is rallying Wednesday. "Protest at parliament against holding Iraq enquiry in private" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reports the demonstration will be "outside parliament at 2pm this Wednesday, demanding 'No Whitewash, No Cover Up', in the Iraq enquiry."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Do journalists learn English grammar?"
"Iraq inquiry shouldn't be determined by those at risk of embarrassment"
"Sandra Bullock number one at the box office"
"And the war drags on . . ."
"The US military announces another death, at least 70 Iraqis dead in Kirkuk"

Truest statement of the week
A note to our readers
Editorial: It's not over
TV: Fiction
The curse
Hey there! Marilyn Monroe is using Twitter.
Clooney's Dark Secrets
Summer reads
The Dumb Ass Hour every Saturday morning
The wedding day
The house
The literary ranter
"He never works"