Saturday, July 11, 2009

He'll get to work one day







Yesterday the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Joint Readiness, Air and Land Forces and Seapower and Expeditionary Forces met to take testimony from General James Amos with the Marines and General Peter Chiarelli with the Army. Amos' big news is that all the marines equipment will be out of Iraq at the end of 2010 but not all of the marines. The press has maintained otherwise. We will be out of Iraq, the marines will be," declared Amos, "with the exception of just a few, by this time next year, the equipment will be out of Iraq, being repaired and going to the home stations."

Repaired? With regards to Chiarelli and the army, the big news appeared to be that money was being wasted because military equipment being reset is not also being repaired. This was referred

Roscoe Bartlett: I want to follow up with a question asked by Mr. Forbes, the army's 2010 request for reset is about $11 billion which nearly 8 billion -- 7.9 billion is for operations and maintenance and 3.1 billion for procurement. Now from 2007 to 2010, the O and M portion has been pretty constant at about 8 billion but the procurement portion has dropped to less than fifty percent of what it was in '07. I know '07 was a bit higher than it might have been because we were short in '06. But at just the time when we need more money because of all this reset, now we have less money. And if we're going to justify this on the basis of this new rule that you can't upgrade when you're repairing the equipment than I have a problem with that because what an opportunity we have when it's in there for maintenance repair why can't we upgrade? It seems to me to be very short sighted and I'm wondering why the money wasn't there? Did the army ask for more than 11 billion and 11 billion was all you could get?

Peter Chiarelli: My understanding is no, sir, we did not. We understood with the new overseas contingency operations rules were going to be, that amount, that three-billion-plus in procurement can only be used for washouts or vehicles or aircraft that are destroyed. And for the most part -- although like all these rules, they change -- for the most part, the recap -- or adding on -- is not allowed in FY10 and that drove down the amount of money we needed for procurement.

Roscoe Bartlett: But sir, why not? Isn't it our goal to have a better and better military? To support our people? Why shouldn't we upgrade? And isn't this a very short sighted program?

Peter Chiarelli: Sir, you'd have to ask the folks who wrote the new rules. Uhm. I-I think that it makes a lot of sense to upgrade when we can. It's kind of like paving a road. Uh, you know, it's better to put the sewer system in before you pave the road. It's-it's not a good idea to, in fact, pave the road and then decide to dig it up to put the sewer system in. So when we have equipment in and are able to do that -- that was a plus and allowed us to recap equipment. But the new rules are that we cannot do that.

Roscoe Bartlett: Well I think Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says that the Congress makes the rules. And, Mr. Chairman [Ortez], I think we need to take a look at that. Thank you very much and I yield back.

Solomon Ortez: Chairman Abercrombie.

Neil Abercrombie: I want to follow up, General, on what Mr. Bartlett just was dealing with when he says the Congress makes the rules. I'm not clear from your answer to Mr. Bartlett. What-what part of what the Congress wants you to do is being thwarted by whomever is making these rules? Who made this rule?

Peter Chiarelli: Sir, my understanding is they come out of OMB

Neil Abercrombie: I'm sorry?

Peter Chiarelli: Sir, my understanding is they come out of OMB. They write --

Neil Abercrombie: So you -- this is very important to me -- you take orders from OMB and not from the Defense Bill?

Peter Chiarelli: I, um, I can only tell you what I know now right now, sir, is the rules -- and I don't question who makes rules --

Neil Abercrombie: Well maybe rules is the wrong way. I'm not trying to be argumentative here at all. But this is serious business because the questions I have have to do with inventory and our capacity to do an accurate inventory so that I can make from -- Mr. Bartlett and I, I should say, because we do this together -- make recommendations to our subcommittee members and the committee as a whole. We try to this in a way that reflects your needs and if you're telling me that -- or telling Mr. Bartlett -- that someone in the Office of Management and Budget is able to countermand, I guess, what we're doing, how on earth are we supposed to make an accurate assessment, let alone recommendation, to follow up on, uh, requests that you're making today, let alone what has been made in the past. I'm not quite sure about your answer. Are you saying that your present -- your present course of action, when you make decisions with regard to the context established by Mr. Bartlett, that you're not paying any attention to the Defense Bill?

Peter Chiarelli: I'm not saying that. I'm saying --

Neil Abercrombie: Then why -- I really need to know what it is that we're dealing with here.

Peter Chiarelli: I can only tell you what the people I trust to put together our request to Congress have indicated to us: In FY10, as a general rule, we are not allowed to recap equipment. And that has brought down the amount of money that we requested for procurement as part of reset.

Neil Abercrombie: So you don't need additional funds? Is that right?

Peter Chiarelli: I am telling you --

Neil Abercrombie: Because we could reallocate funds. Believe me, I've got requests, Mr. Bartlett has requests right now, if your answer is is that you don't need this money and that which was represented to us -- whether I was in the minority or the majority because we've been on this subcommittee for some period of time now -- so those estimates from before were inaccurate?

Peter Chiarelli: Let me be perfectly clear --

Neil Abercrombie: I hope so.

Peter Chiarelli: -- this --

Neil Abercrombie: Because believe me I'll make some recommendations for re-allocations. Absolutely, I will.

Peter Chiarelli: We are in fact able -- with the budget we have and what we've requested to you to do what you asked me to come here and talk about today and that is reset our equipment. That is bring our equipment up to 1020 standards and 1020 standards meaning that it is fully capable to do its mission with minor deficiencies at best. We do not bring it to a recap situation. We are able to reset our equipment exactly as defined with the money we've been given by Congress.

Neil Abercrombie: Okay, if that's the case then, what do -- what system is in place then, whether it's from the OMB or yourself, to accurately asses inventory. The reason that I ask this question, in following up on Mr. Bartlett's observations and inquiry, is that just in shipping containers alone, you read the GAO reports, shipping containers alone, we can't get, our subcommittee staff, is unable to get an accurate answer as to what we need even from containers for equipment because we can't get a handle on your inventory. What inventory process is in place right now? And do you have confidence in it?

Peter Chiarelli: I have confidence in our inventory. I have confidence not only that commanders down range like I was twice maintaining inventory of both their TO and E equipment that they bring over with them plus the troop provided equipment. Uh, we have had many looks at our equipment down range to make sure that accountability standards are high. Uh, and they are. Uh and we feel very, very good that we know what we've got down range and what we will in fact be bringing back and what is in troop provided -- theater provided equipment which they issue to units when they arrive in theater

Neil Abercrombie: So the GAO reports on the capacity for you to accurately assess inventory is incorrect.

Peter Chiarelli: I believe --

Neil Abercrombie: I'll send it to you.
Peter Chiarelli: Thank you, sir.

Neil Abercrombie: And I would appreciate your response. This is a serious question because, again, this involves numbers, including billions of dollars. Believe me, we are looking right now for billions of dollars possibly for reallocation because of other demands. So-so if you don't need this money and you're sure your inventory assessment is absolutely correct seems to me I'm going to have a hell of a lot more flexibility than I thought I had.

Peter Chiarelli: Uh, we too understand the tru-tremendous fiscal re - crisis that our country has gone though. The economic situation. And one of the reasons why there's no question as long as we can reset our equipment we understand because of fiscal requirements it may be in the best interest of our country as a whole to cut back on the amount of recap we're doing so it did not seem odd to me --

Neil Abercrombie: Okay, excuse me. In the fiscal interests, is that the basis? Are you in conversations with these folks at OMB?

Peter Chiarelli: I have not, sir.

Neil Abercrombie: Who would have had these conversations?

Peter Chiarelli: It would have taken place at the Office of Secretary of Defense, OSD.

Neil Abercrombie: So the Secretary of Defense is saying that you need -- at least from my calculations here -- approximately 2 billion dollars less than you said you needed previously with regard to reset on the basis of -- what was the phrase you used? Fiscal discipline or fiscal necessity?

Peter Chiarelli: We understand that we all have to be very, very careful with the dollars that we spend. And, uhm, people have made a decision that we will not recap equipment in FY10. That seems to me to be understandable.

Neil Abercrombie: Okay, it's understandable, yes. Do you think it's good policy?

Peter Chiarelli: If-if-if I had the ability to recap equipment, if we had the money to recap equipment I think it would make sense --

Neil Abercrombie: That's not the question I asked. Do you think you need the money to recap? In you professional judgment, that's what we're asking for today, not from a politician appointed in the OMB. I'm asking for your professional judgment today with regard: Do you need money to recap?

Peter Chiarelli: If I had the ability to recap, I would recap for all the reasons I have stated.

Neil Abercrombie: You think the policy then of not being able to do that which is reflected in your -- in the numbers that are given to us -- is not good policy?

Peter Chiarelli: I-I-I can't say that and I won't say that. And I won't say that because I understand that the people who make those rules, make those decisions, have to take many other things into consideration. And that is why --

Neil Abercrombie: Yes, they have to take into consideration what we say is in the Defense Bill because we're reflecting -- we are trying to reflect -- I'm trying to help you here. Because, believe me, if you give me this answer, I want to know, and right now what you're telling me is is that -- is that in your professional judgment the-the rules or the-the policy or the-the-the admonitions that you've been given or the directions that you're operating under reflects your professional judgment of what the necessities for the army are right now.

Peter Chiarelli: If I had the authority and the ability to recap, I would. I --

Neil Abercrombie: Okay, thank you. If Congress gives you the authority under the Defense Bill then that would reflect your professional opinion that you could use at least 13 billion dollars a year rather than 11 billion --

Peter Chiarelli: I can't -- I can't give you those numbers.

Neil Abercrombie: Well okay. You don't have to -- well, those are the numbers we have been given previously.

Peter Chiarelli: Previous years?

Neil Abercrombie: Yes.

Peter Chiarelli: I'd have to go back and ask the -- we just don't go --

Neil Abercrombie: I won't go further. Mr. Chairman, this is serious business. We're under the gun here in the Defense Bill to make accurate numbers and put them forward for everybody to consider and now we have to make a decision whether OMB does this because, what the hell, we don't need a committee here if-if-if somebody down in OMB, this is a political appointment. It's all political appointments and if we're going to do it on the basis of-of what somebody else decides in the executive is-is a budget number as opposed to what our obligation is which is to provide for you and the people who serve under you and under your command then we have a real dilemma here. I have a real dilemma because I can't accurately, I cannot in good conscience say to Chairman Ortiz or to the other members that we're giving a number that adequately responds to what you believe to be in your professional judgment a necessity. Understand my motivation here?

Peter Chiarelli: I hope you understand mine. I-I understand also that you have to take many other things into consideration when putting together our budget. That's all I'm saying to you.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Barry and his dresser





Yesterday violence made a strong impression in Iraq even if the press wasn't paying attention. (See Timothy Williams' article in today's New York Times which reduces the deaths to an aside saved for the final paragraph of the article and note that Williams was one of the few reporting on Iraq that you could find in a US paper today.) If the ongoing, never-ending illegal war has demonstrated anything over the last six years and counting, it's that reality always crashes into the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk. Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) counts 50 dead in Iraq today from bombings in northern Iraq and Baghdad. Ned Parker and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) report on two suicide bombers in Tal Afar where one bomber detonated outside the home of a police officer causing a crowd to gather, at which point, the second bomber detonated. Nada Bakri (Washington Post) adds that the police chief states the bombers wore police uniforms and, "The first suicide bomber managed to sneak inside the house of a counter-terrorism officer and blew himself up, causing the home to collapse. The attack took place in a neighborhood called al-Qala, inhabited by mostly Shiites. When neighbors gathered to help the family trapped inside, a second suicide bomber struck, increasing the bloodshed." Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) explains, "Tal Afar, a mostly Turkmen town about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Mosul, has been targeted by militans before. In March 2007, it was hit by one of the deadliest single attacks since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 when a suicide truck bomb killed more than 150 people." Jomana Karadsheh and CNN count 35 dead and sixty-five injured from the two bombings. The two Tal Afar bombings were not the only reported violence today . . .


Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad market bombing which claimed 7 lives and left twenty injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left five people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured two people, a Baghdad bicycle bombing which left four people injured, two Baghdad bombings which claimed 9 lives and left thirty-five people wounded and a Ramadi car bombing which claimed the life of the bomber and left four police officers wounded. Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing which injured one person and a Kirkuk roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left three injured.

Reuters notes one woman and one man were wounded in a Mosul attack by unknown assailants and 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead in Kirkuk.

Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD – A Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldier died July 8 after being found unresponsive at a Coalition forces facility. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of deceased service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Web site at . The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. MND-B will not release any additional details prior to notification of next of kin and official release by the DoD. The incident and cause of death are currently under investigation." It's the first US service member announced death in Iraq for the month and it brings the total number of US service members killed in the illegal war to 4322.

"I don't know the exact percentage but I'm sure it's well over 70% that want the US out as soon as possible," explains Mike Tharp in a video posted at McClatchy. He's speaking with Paul Jay for The Real News Network (click here for the clip at TRNN). Tharp states, "They've seen the last six years as an occupation, not as a liberation, not as bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq but instead the loss of tens of thousands of Iraqi lives as well as over 4300 American troop losses, a trillion dollars spent by the US, I don't know what estimates are put on the damage done to the Iraqi society and economy but it's incalcuable." On the topic of the physical damage done to Iraq . . .

Today the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has issued [PDF format warning] "FINAL REPORT on Damage Assessment in Babylon." The twenty page report prepared by the International Coordination Committee for the Saveguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Iraq explores the damage done by the US' decision to install a military base on an archaeological site in Babylon after the issue was raised by Iraq's Minister of Culture. The report explains the historical context:

Babylon is unquestionably one of the most important archaelogical sites in the world. It was the capital city of two of the most famous kings of antiquity, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) who introduced one of the world's first law codes, and Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC) who built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Alexander the Great chose Babylon as his new capital but died before he could implement this plan. The existence of Babylon is first mentioned in cuneiform texts of the Akkadian period (2371-2230 BC), but the city did not become significant until the time of Hammurabi. It was substantially enlarged in the Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BC) when it became the largest city of the contemporary world. Although its location was forgotten for centuries the fame of Babylon survived through a number of historical and religious texts. In view of the historical and archaelogical significance of Babylon, recent allegations of damage to the site during its occupation as a military camp are particularly serious.

Since 1935, Bablyon has been listed as an archaeological site. In 2003, the US invaded and the Iraq War started, the Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar museums were looted ("Fortunately, the objects in the two museums were plaster replicas rather than the origianls"). April 21, 2003, the US military created Camp Alpha -- a US base that continued through December 22, 2004 during which time the US military and contractors such as KBR "directly caused major damage to the city by digging, cutting, scraping, and leveling." Nine trenches and two pits were dug including on areas that had not been excavated. This was true of cuts, scrapings and leveling efforts by the US military and contractors as well. In addition the report notes:

The Ishtar Gate serves as a ritual gate leading into the northern part of the inner city. The damage to the gate includes smashed bricks on nine of the bodies of the animals adorning the gate. These animals depcit the legendary dragon-snake, the symbol of Marduk, the god of the city of Babylon. [. . .] Major damage can be observed in the southern part of the Proecessional Way, which was rediscovered during the Babylon Revival Project excavations in 1979. Starting from the Nabu-sha-Hare Temple, the effects of heavy vehicle wheels are clear, breaking the paving of the street. Three rows of 2-ton concrete blocks were placed in the middle of the Processional Way on top the paving by heavy vehicles, which is itself an encroachment. These blocks were removed by helicopter on November 29, 2004 to prevent further damage to the Processional Way. In addition, a row of HESCO containers with soil taken from the eastern wall of the sacred precinct were placed on the way, and barbed wire was attached by steel stakes to the wall itself and in the middle of Processional Way. There is also a cut in the wall itself with a length of 2.5 m, a depth of 50 cm, and a height of 1.5 m.

UNESCO's director of the Office for Iraq Moahmed Djelid states, "In view of Babylong's historical and archaeological significance, recent allegations of damage to the site during its military use were particularly serious. The report is key because it establishes a description of damages on which there is international agreement. Without pointing fingers, we now have a clear picture of the situation. It provides the starting-point for the major challenge of restoration and conservation."

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

You don't know how lucky you are







Today the Chair of the Joint chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, spoke at the National Press Club in DC.

Adm Mike Mullen: Clearly we're at a point now, in Iraq, where the violence level is down -- dramatically so. In fact, it's the lowest level of violence since 2003, 2004. And-and we are at a point -- we're on our plan to support the draw down which will start significantly really early in 2010, next year. And-and our ability to do all of this is, in great part, contributed to the 2.2 million men and women who-who served -- and so many so nobly, including those that uh paid the ultimate sacrifice and there isn't a day that goes by uh or uh very many issues that I'm dealing with where our young people uh in the best military I've ever seen aren't very much on my mind and I'm privileged to be with them. So as we move forward in Iraq -- and clearly that doesn't mean it's -- we still don't have our challenges. I think most of the challenges there right now are political challenges, economic challenges and that heavy focus in those areas is absolutely critical. And elections which come up next year, early next year, are vital and then after that my expectation is that we will draw down rapidly to get to about 35,000 to 50,000 troops in the August of 2010 and at that point certainly turn over -- we transition our combat forces totally uh to uh advisory and assistance forces. as you know the significant date last week was the 30 June date where we pulled out of the cities. The last two big areas were Mosul and Baghdad. That actually has gone very well. That doesn't mean that it isn't a vulnerable time -- uh times of transition al-always are -- but I'm confident right now that we've got the strategy right and the support of the Iraqi security forces.

Mullen is incorrect about the violence being low. AFP observes today that June's official death total (from Iraqi ministries) was 437 -- "the highest toll since July 2008." But it wasn't just AFP who fact checked him, it was also events on the ground in Iraq today.

He noted stresses on family members and service members and noted the suicide rate has been increasing for the military and otherwise focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports on the increase in service members' children seeking mental health treatment in 2008, noting that the number has doubled since the start of the illegal war. Mullen did not note that and no one asked about it.

The press? They did ask questions. They didn't ask about Iraq. When do they ever? The Iraq War is over -- or that's what they pretend. An exception being the Raleigh News & Observer which editorializes on the four most recent deaths in Iraq (Roger Adams, Juan Baldeosingh, Robert Bittiker and Edward Kramer) in "Four of the brave:"A war that is said to be "winding down" isn't winding down at all for those who remain in the middle of it. The N.C. Guard knows that well. It has lost 15 troops there since the Iraq war began in 2003. A strong military presence in North Carolina, with multiple bases, brings pride to the state, and in times of war, a keen and painful shared sense of what it takes to fight. (In 2004, the 30th was the first major National Guard unit in the country to be sent to Iraq. It lost five soldiers on that tour. And just this past May, three died because of a suicide bomber.) For the families of those in action, and all who know them and all who admire them, a war is not gauged merely by victory. It is about wives and children left behind, about all the good times shared, and all those that will never be shared.

As DC speeches go, Mullen's was a bust. Far better today, also at the National Press Club, was US House Rep Patrick Murphy who kicked off the Voices Of Honor campaign.

US House Rep Patrick Murphy: My name is Patrick Murphy, I'm a Democrat from the eighth district of Pennsylvania which is Bucks County and far north east Philadelphia. I am now a United States Congressman in my second term but prior to that I was in the military since 1993. I rose up to through the ranks to become a professor at West Point. And then when 9-11 happened, I served on two deployments. My first one with General [David] Petraeus and my second one as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004. That's why every day I wear the 82nd Airborne pin on my lapel, I don't wear the Congressional pin because 19 of my fellow paratroopers never made it home. I am proud to be the lead sponsor today of the Military Enhancement Readiness Act -- a bill that will finally repeal the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and are stretched dangerously thin. These men and women in our military understand what it takes to serve our country and the values that our military and our nation hold dear. They take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, yet the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy when it took effect in 1993 has discharged over 13,000 troops -- honorable men and women. That is the equivalent of three and a half combat brigades. They have been discharged not for any type of sexual misconduct but because of their sexual orientation. The policy is not working for armed services and it hurts national security. Attitudes on Don't Ask, Don't Tell have changed -- have changed in our military and have changed in the public at large. Up to 75% of Americans support repeal and the number is even higher in the age bracket of those we are recruiting from 18 years of age to 29. Former senior military leaders agree that it is time to re-evaluate and to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Opponents of lifting the ban arguing that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will be detremental to unit cohesion and morale. As a former Army officers and West Point professor, that is an insult to me and to all the troops serving in uniform. In Iraq, my men did not care what race, color, creed or sexual orientation their fellow paratroopers were. They cared, whether they could get the job done. We cared about serving with honor and coming home alive. Over 20 nations, include our two strongest allies, Great Britain and Israel, allow gays and lesbians to serve openly without any determental impact on unit cohesion or morale. Believe me, our heroes serving in the US military are the best fighting forces in the entire world. We are second to none. And we are just as good as those who serve in Great Britain and Israel. Our president, President Barack Obama, has stated that if Congress will get a bill to his desk repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, he will sign it into law. It is now our job, and my job specifically, to quarterback this through the Congress of the United States to do just that. I cannot tell you today how long it is going to take. All I can tell you is that paratroopers don't quit and paratroopers get the job done. To remove honorable, talented and committed Americans from serving in our military is contrary to the values that our military life holds dear. My time in Iraq and at West Point teaching the next generation of military leaders taught me that our military deserves and expects the best and the brightest that are willing to serve. I stand here today with these honorable and noble veterans. Together we will continue the fight to make our nation and our military stronger.

Meanwhile Iraq wasn't an issue at Mullen's appearance before the National Press Club -- wasn't an issue to the press (Mullen addressed it as the first topic when he spoke, it's the press that didn't give a damn). Somewhere after weaponry program questions (yes, they had time for that in both costs -- FY2010 and beyond -- and wide-eyed dreaming of future wars), in the final minutes of Mullen's appearance (the second to last question), it was noted he had "called for an evolution in the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy" and he was asked if he could write the new policy, what it would be. "Well I'm not a policy guy," Mullen began indicating he would punt on the issue and avoid addressing it. "Uh, uh, I'm charged with carrying out the law I'm charged with carrying out policy and right now the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and law from 1993 is in effect." He then started mentioning Obama and US Secretary of Defense of Robert Gates. And, no, he never answered the question. So, yes, he could have stopped at "I'm not a policy guy." Yet still he continued, splitting sentences, serving up fragments, uh and uhm. He repeated that he just follows the law, for anyone who might have missed it, and "like the law that exists now, should the law change, certainly we would carry it out." In other words, how would he change it? He never said. But he went to great lengths to say he follows orders. For any who were confused by that point, Mullen follows orders.

And the press refused to care about anything other than the meal on their plates. And dessert. They cared about dessert. Your working press corps in their natural habitat, up close and scary.

At the Voices of Honor Campaign press conference, retired US Navy Captain Joan Darrah, of the Sevicemembers Legal Defense Network, expressed her confidence in Murphy's ability to lead in the House on this issue and get the needed 218 needed votes and shared her story.

Joan Darrah: When I first joined the Navy, I didn't realize I was gay. By the time I figured it out, I had about 10-plus years of service. Based on my promotion record and fitness reports it was clear to me that the Navy felt that I was making a difference so I opted to stay. Now that I am retired and out from under Don't Ask, Don't Tell I realize how incredibly stressful and frankfully just plain wrong it is to have to serve in silence. Each day I went to work wondering if that would be the day of my last service. Whenever the admiral would call me to his office 99.9% of me would be certain it was to discuss an operational issue but there was always a small part of me that feared the admiral was calling me into his office to tell me that I had been outed, that I was fired and that my career was over. On September 11th, I was at the Pentagon attending the weekly intelligence briefing when American flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, I was at the Pentagon bus stop. The office I had been in seven minutes earlier was completely destroyed and seven of my co-workers were killed. The reality is if I had been killed, my partner would have been the last to know because her name was nowhere in my records and I certainly hadn't dared to list her in my emergency contact information. It was the events of September 11th that made me realize that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was taking a much bigger toll than I had ever admitted. On 1 June, 2002, a year earlier than originally planned, I retired. I am incredibly proud of our military and our country. And I know that we will be stronger once Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed. More than 26 countries have already figured this out and now allow gay people to serve openly. What we need now is for Congress to act and they must act now. Every day the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is delayed, more highly qualified, motivated, valuable service members are discharged simply for being gay. Our great country can do better than this.

Among the others speaking, Iraq War veteran Eric Alva.

Eric Alva: Six years ago on March 21, 2003 I was part of a logistical convoy with 3rd Batallion 7th Marines. My unit was part of the first wave of ground troops that entered the country of Iraq from Kuwait to start the ground invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I had been in Iraq no more than three hours when I stepped on a landmine near the city of Basra wuffering life threatening injuries. I had a broken left leg, a broken right arm with severe nerve damage and a badly injured right leg that doctors had to ampute it in order to save my life. I had become the first American injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was not until February 28, 2007 that I announced not only to the people of the United States but to the rest of the world that the first American injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom was a gay marine. I decided to be true to myself and my country by coming forward and announcing who I am. My coming forward was to tell the people of this country that as a patriotic American when I went to fight the war on terrorism it was for the rights and freedoms of every single person in this country not just selected individuals. That means every single individual regardless of who they are. I stand here today on two good legs again with my fellow service members and a courageous Congress member Patrick Murphy to show my support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. It is time to let people be judged for their merit, professionalism and their leadership. This is a time when we should not be firing anyone from their job in the United States Armed Forces for being gay.

Rep Murphy's office has released a statement on the confrence today. Voices of Honor is a partnership between the Human Rights Campaign the Servicemembers United. Emily Sherman (CNN) reports, "A 'Voices of Honor' tour, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, will travel across the country sharing stories of gay, lesbian and straight servicemen and -women in hopes of garnering support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the law that established the policy. The act would allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the military without concealing their sexuality." Sherman notes Colin Powell was the architect (Powell refused to go along with then President Bill Clinton's effort to allow gays and lesbians to serve in 1993 and made many threats about what would happen if the policy went forward -- it was the first step in the disrespect for the president among the military that Powell fostered and had he been punished for it, he might not have been able to lie to the UN in 2003). Sherman has a few mealy mouthed words from Powell today and he's only saying those because he realizes the shame that his actions and that policy carry. More pointing out Colin's role in Don't Ask, Don't Tell could force him to actually speak out in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military openly. He's desperate to (white)wash his image and he's trying so very hard to get himself back into the news cycle. Which is why, Sunday, Colin Powell made a fool of himself -- as is to be expected. On CNN's State of the Union today, Collie The Blot Powell, who lied to the United Nations in an attempt to make the case for illegal war, declared the mistake about the Iraq War was . . . not doing an escalation ("surge") sooner. He lied the nation into illegal war and he's never apologized for it. He did fret a bit over his blot for a little while. Now instead of hanging his head in shame, fueled by the Cult of St. Barack, he's attempting a comeback. Smart would be using his ambition against him to force him to take a stand.

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"Little Man On Campus"


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Little Man On Campus




"Good morning, everybody," declared US Senator Carl Levin bringing to order the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Military Commission and the trial of Detainees for Violations of the Law of War. "In its 2006 decision in the Hamdan case, the Supreme Court held that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convetions prohibts the trial of detainees for violations of the law of war unless the trial is conducted 'by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.' The Court concluded that 'the regular military courts in our system are the courts-martial established by congressional statutes' but that a military commission can be regularly constituted by the standards of our military justice system 'if some practical need explains deviations from court-martial practice'.'' His opening remarks set up the hearing so we'll also note this section.

Senator Carl Levin: Of great importance, the provision in our bill would reverse the existing presumption in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that rules and procedures applicable to trials by courts martial would not apply. Our new language says, by contrast, that: "Except as otherwise provided, the procedures and rules of evidence applicable in trials by general courts-martial of the United States shall apply in trials by military commission under this chapter." The exceptions to this rule are, as suggested by the Supreme Court, carefully tailored to the unique circumstances of the conduct of military and intelligence operations during hostilities. Three years ago, when this Committee considered similar legislation on military commissions, I urged that we apply two tests. First, will we be able to live with the procedures that we establish if the tables are turned and our own troops are subject to similar procedures? Second, is the bill consistent with our American system of justice and will it stand up to scrutiny on judicial review? I believe that those remain the right questions to consider and that language we have included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 meets both tests. Over the last three years, we have seen the legal advisor to the Convening Authority for military commissions forced to step aside after a military judge found that he had compromised his objectivity by aligning himself with the prosecution. We have had prosecutors resign after making allegations of improper command influence and serious deficiencies in the military commission process. We have had the Chief Defense Counsel raise serious concerns about the adequacy of resources made available to defendants in military commissions cases, writing that: "Regardless of its other procedures, no trial system will be fair unless the serious deficiencies in the current system's approach to defense resources are rectified." So even if we are able to enact new legislation that successfully addresses the shortcomings in existing law, we will have a long way to go to restore public confidence in military commissions and the justice that they produce. However, we will not be able to restore confidence in military commissions at all unless we first substitute new procedures and language to address the problems with the existing statute.

The hearing was composed of two panels. The first panel was composed of the Dept of Defense's Jeh C. Johnson, Dept of Justice's David S. Kris and JAG's Vice Adm Bruce E. MacDonald. The second panel was composed of Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, Retired Maj Gen John Altenburg Jr. and the American University's Daniel Marcus.

Senator Carl Levin: Let me ask you first, Mr. Johnson, I quoted from the Hamdan case in my opening remarks, saying that the Court in Hamdan said: "The regular military courts in our system are the courts-martial established by congressional statutes." But they also said that a military commission can be regularly constituted if there's a practical need that explains the ndeviations from court-martial practice. We have attempted in our language to do exactly that. And my question first of you is, in your view, does our bill conform to the Hamdan standards?

Jeh C. Johnson: Senator, as you, as you noted, Hamdan uh-uh requires -- and of course Hamdan was at a time that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 did not exist, as I recall. The holding of Hamdan was that military commissions -- and I'm not going to get this exactly right -- but that military commission should depart from UCMJ courts only in situations of evident practical need. The proposed legislation, uh, in our view definitely brings us closer to the UCMJ model and the circumstances under which the military commissions, uhm, contemplated by this bill and UCMJ courts differ are, in our judgment, circumstances that are necessary, uhm, given -- given the needs here. Uh, for example, uh, there is no Miranda requirement imposed by-by this-by this legislation. Article 31 UCMJ is specifically excluded from application here. Article 31 is what uh calls for Miranda warnings in uh UCMJ circumstances. The legislation also takes what I believe is a very appropriate and practical approach to-to hearsay. As you noted in your opening remarks, Mr. Chariman, the-the-the burden is no longer on the opponent to demonstrate uh-uh that hearsay should be excluded. There is a notice requirement in the proposed legislation and if the proponent of the hearsay can demonstrate reliability and materiality and that the declarant is not available as a practical matter given the unqiue circumstances of military operations and intelligence operations, the hearsy could be admitted.

And people make fun of the way Sarah Palin speaks? The Dept of Defense sends that stammering uh-uh dofus into a hearing? He's the Dept's General Counsel?

First off, Article 31 is not the military's Miranda. UCMJ's Article 31 predates Miranda by 16 years. Don't confuse the two. Article 32 is not a copy of Miranda. Miranda can be seen as a civilian copy of Article 32. What an idiot. And, no, he has no knowledge of the law. Admitting hearsay goes against everything the US justice system stands for and that includes the US military justice system. The Senate should be ashamed of himself for authoring legislation that shreds the US justice system. Let's not let them off (and I don't) but let's be clear that Johnson's a stammering fool who came off like a drunk barely able to keep his head up at the bar (you really needed to see the way Johnson's head dipped and swung to this side and to that side). David Kris was just as much of an ass as Levin's being but he could speak. What he had to say was frightening. Terrorism, Kris said speaking for the Dept of Justice, should be prosecuted in military courts, not civilian ones and proscuted, pay attention to this, by the Defense Department. Slippery slope is apparently a concept foreign to the idiots Barack's appointed. Senator John McCain, the Ranking Member of the Committee, wanted to know if there was a difference in the proceedings based on whether the trials were held in the US or at Guantanamo? Johnson fretted that "due process" would apply if held in the US and "that the courts have not determined applies -- applies now" at Guantanamo. Johnson had a real problem being concise. Not because he was adding detail but because he was restating the same thing over and over. He did that with Levin in Levin's first round of questioning (leading the Chair to note that there was only six minutes in the round) and he tried that with McCain who cut him off.

Senator John McCain: So what you're saying is that you believe that there could be some differneces in procedure if the trials were held in Guantanamo or the United States of America?

Jeh Johnson: I'm not sure I would be prepared to say significant difference, Senator.

Senator John McCain: It would be important for this committee to know what your view is? It might have something to do with the way that we shape legislation. If they're going to have all kinds of additional rights if they're tried in the United States of America as opposed to Guantanamo, I think that the committee and the American people should know that.

Jeh Johnson: One of the things that I mentioned in my prepared statement, Senator, is that when it comes to the admissability of statements, the administration believes that a volunatriness standard should apply on account of the reality of military operations and we think that that is something that uh due process may require particularly if military commissions come to the United States, that the courts may impose a voluntariness standard.

Senator John McCain: Well I hope that you and Mr. Kris will provide for the record what you think the difference is and the process would be as to the location of uh those trials. I think it's very important. Certainly is to me.

Vice Adm Bruce E. MacDonald made clear to Senator Lindsey Graham that the US has more restrictive use on hearsay than, for example, an international tribunal in Rawanda. Boo-hoo. What Constitution did MacDonald swear to uphold and is not coherent enough to grasp what oath he took? And someone tell the idiot to comb his hair. That fallen lock wouldn't play on a guy half his age and for a man showing up before Congress in military dress it was flat out embarrassing. (His hair was comparable to Paul Wolfowitz for any needing a visual. Only worse.) Senator Mark Udall praised Lindsey Graham and had nothing to add. Disappointing. If any Senator did a half-way decent job and seemed to have an understanding of the law it was Senator Jack Reed who did speak up for at least some civilian courts, at least some of the trials needing to take place in civilian courts and he also noted that a number of criminals are being glorified by having their actions, their crimes, inflated into something more than that. It was a very sad hearing and the first panel lasted about one hour and seventeen minutes. The second panel moved more quickly. Former Judge Advocate General of the Navy and Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson made it very clear that he was opposed to the notion of allowing the Defense Dept to begin conducting trials. He spoke of the US system of justice and it would be wonderful if the senators present had either stood up and applauded or slapped their heads in I-didn't-not-know-that gestures. Instead, his words appeared to sail over their clueless heads. We're going to note his remarks at length:

Even greater than democracy itself, the greatest export of all from the United States is justice. Daniel Webster once said, "Justice, Sir, is the greatest interest of man on earth. It's the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together." But justice is fragile and easily disparaged. It must be nurtured and handled with great care. I was an early and ardent supporter of military commissions. Initially, I was drawn to their historical precedents and, more importantly, I was confident that the United States Armed Forces could and would conduct fair trails even of reprehensible defendants. My own experience gained during 28 years in the Navy and our long history of providing due process while trying our own military personnel in courts-marital gave me this confidence. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the commissions that were created did not live up to the traditions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Predictably, they became a significant distraction for the military. I hasten to add that this was in spite of the stalwart, honorable effort of many, many military personnel themselves. Indeed, that is one of the great tragedies of this saga, and largely makes one of the points that I wish to underline. The primary role of the military is to fight and win our nation's wars or, stated more precisely, to provide the time and space necessary for real solutions -- economic, cultural, social, religious -- to take place. Prosecution of miscreants is an occasionally necessary sidebar to that mission but shouldn't distract from it. We have the UCMJ and the military court-martial system to expedite the legitimate role of the military, not interfere with it. If a sailor on a ship is alleged to have committeed a crime, we must expeditiously and fairly resolve that problem. Otherwise it can fester and interfere with unit cohesion and impede an effective fighting force. The UCMJ and the Manual for Courts Martial serve that purpose alone. They solves problems for the armed forces; not create them. Our recent history with military commissions has been the opposite. I've come to realize that even a perfect commission regime would be a distraction for the military. It's simply not part of its mission. I am very concerned when the military is called upon to perform functions outside of its core mission even when I'm confident that it can do it well. Preserving and ensuring justice in the United States is the primary mission of the Department of Justice, not the Department of Defense. If there will be criticism of our prosecution of alleged terrorists -- and there will be -- the Department of Justice and the US Federal Court system are equipped to deal with that criticism. Indeed, it is part of their responsibility to face it, address it and resolve it.

Monday Kat reviewed Regina Spektor's latest album. I should have noted that this morning but was in rush to get to the hearing (see, it's connected) and (still connected), Kat will share her thoughts on the hearing tonight so be sure to visit her site.

Turning to peace and justice news, infamous War Criminal and scourge of the globe Robert McNamara is dead. In an online discussion at the Washington Post (conducted by Robert G. Kaiser), Promise and Power author Deborah Shapley provided this context:

Washington, D.C.: Hi Bob -- I wrote a biography of McNamara, "Promise and Power," published in 1993. For the record, he told me he did not quit over the grim outlook in Vietnam because he wasn't that sure he was right, and because holding on could force Hanoi's hand politically, in his view. Therefore, the deaths of additional Americans at that time (1965 ff) were not in vain. My personal opinion is that his 1995 book "In Retrospect" gave the impression he thought the war was 'totally wrong' at the time -- which is not what his record shows -- at all! He went on telling the president they could bring off something-or-other, albeit in more pessimistic terms. Some people want to seem on the right side of history even when they were on what 'in retrospect' was the wrong side of history. Too bad for the servicemen that he misrepresented (or seemed to misrepresent) his own record.

In this decade, the War Criminal recast himself as a bra-less starlet followed around by professional gadfly Errol Morris for the mockumentary Fog Of War (aka The Bore Never Shuts Up). As with any Morris revisionary opus, the point of the mocumentary was that no one was really guilty. Alexander Cockburn (CounterPunch) observes:

He faded comfortably away. The last time we saw him vividly was in 2004 as the star of Morris's wildly over-praised, documentary The Fog of War, talking comfortably about the millions of people he's helped to kill.
Time and again, McNamara got away with it in that film, cowering in the shadow of baroque monsters like LeMay or LBJ, choking up about his choice of Kennedy's gravesite in Arlington, sniffling at the memory of Johnson giving him the Medal of Freedom, spouting nonsense about how Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam, muffling himself in the ever- useful camouflage of the "fog of war."

Danny Schechter (News Dissector) explains, "McNamara returned to his Waterloo (Hanoi) some years back for a conference on the "lessons of the war" with General Giap, the winner, and several American Generals, the losers. He was challenged by the feisty Vietnamese American documentary director, Tiana [Thi Thanh Nga], who made 'From Hollywood to Hanoi' and other films for all the deaths he caused. There is precious footage of him freaking out and arrogantly lecturing her. The Vietnamese government was too diplomatic to express its rage." On Democracy Now! today, Marilyn Young, Howard Zinn and Johnny Apologist Schell appeared to discuss War Hawk McNamara. Historian Marilyn Young (author of many books and recently co-editor of Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam) is worth noting. She explained of McNamara:

One of the legacies is that there is none, in a sense. The first clip that you ran, you could have run it now. About Iraq, several years ago, about Afghanistan today. It's as if it doesn't go anywhere. There is knowledge, and then it's erased in between McNamara should be kind of a morality tale. During his tenure as Secretary of Defense, he initially -- he was responsible really -- for the initial escalation. In 1964, he and Bundy gave -- '65, I'm sorry -- gave Johnson what's called "The Fork in the Road Memorandum," in which they said, "Now, we have really thought this over and we have two choices. We could increase military pressure or we could negotiate." And they strongly urged the increase of military pressure and Johnson went along with that. Not that he was, you know, I think he was a little unwilling, but that is another subject. Gradually, by later in 1965, by 1966, and certainly by 1967, he was completely disenchanted with the war. And he said it in public at the Senate hearings on bombing targets. And he said, "This bombing is just not going to work." The next thing he knew, he was out. And he said later he never knew whether he had quit or Johnson had fired him. And then, as Howard [Zinn] said, he was absolutely silent. You can imagine that the silence was expressed in onse sense by his opposition to nuclear weapons, which was very sincere and I'm sure Jonathan can talk about that. He and Bundy both focused on the dangers of nuclear war as if that attempt to prevent a future war was going to erase the war they had both just conducted. And then in 1995 he comes out with In Retrospect and everybody quotes, "We were wrong, terribly wrong." But if you read the full paragraph, what it says is: "We weren't wrong in our values and our intentions, we were wrong about our judgments and capabilities." And the book as a whole is an excuse. It's a struggle -- he almost comes to terms and then he runs away from coming to terms. And he does the same thing, I think, in Fog of War. And he did the same thing for the rest of his life -- and approach to what he had really been responsible for, and then a bouncing off it, too awful to face. And it happens over and over again. He says, for example, he lists all the terrible mistakes that he made -- that "they" made. He never says "I." He says "they." And he says, "We just didn't understand that Vietnam was about nationalism." He doesn't ask why they didn't understand that. There were internal critics. George Ball, Paul Capenburg, but also, he was surrounded, if you read the newspapers, by Lidman, by Morgenthau, by I.F. Stone, who was vigorously writing about the Vietnam war. By George Cain, a great historian of South East Asia. So, if he wanted to know what the upsurge, the insurgency in South Vietnam was about, he had lots of sources. He never comes close to explaining why he didn't pay attention to any of that. Instead he says, "Oh my God! We just didn't know they were nationalists." How come?

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