Saturday, February 04, 2012

Sneak Peak at Fall Line Up






The online group/collective Anonymous is in the news cycle today as various sites -- including law enforcement -- are thought to have been hacked. Elizabeth Flock (Washington Post) reports on one non-confirmed hack: Anonymous states it has hacked the computer systems of the law firm Puckett Faraj who represented Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich in the Haditha case recently (In 2005, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by a number of US service members. Wuterich entered a guilty plea last month.) The group claims they will be releasing confidential communications regarding the case ("a massive archive of e-mails" as well as transcripts and faxes). Elinor Mills (CNet) notes they left a message on the law firm's website which included:

As part of our ongoing efforts to expose the corruption of the court systems and the brutality of US imperialism, we want to bring attenttion to USMC S Sgt Frank Wuterich who along with his squad murdered dozens of unarmed civilians during the Iraqi Occupation. Can you believe this scumbag had his charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter and got away with only a pay cut? Meanwhile, Bradley Manning who was brave enough to risk his life and freedom to expose the truth about government corruption is threatened with imprisonment. When justice cannot be found within the confines of their crooked court systems, we must seek revenge on the streets and on the internet -- and dealing out swift retaliation is something we are particularly good at. Worry not comrades, it's time to deliver some epic ownage.

Jaikumar Vijayan (Computerworld) adds, "According to Anonymous, the emails contain 'detailed records, transcripts, testimony, trial evidence, and legal defense donation records pertaining to not only Frank Wuterich, but also many other marines they have represented'." Adam Martin (The Atlantic) offers this evaluation, "Most of the emails from the Puckett and Faraj firm have nothing to do with Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, whose conviction without prison time sparked Anonymous's interest in his lawyers. We found some messages discussing unrelated evidence, some about the planning of office presentations, and some involving a car purchase. But nothing on Wuterich so far."
The political crisis continues in Iraq. The National Newspaper observes, "The political stand-off that began in Iraq last month is likely to escalate into a sectarian conflict that threatens the future of the entire political process and could throw the country once again into the furnace of sectarian violence that has reaped tens of thousands of innocent lives on all sides so far." How bad is it getting? Bushra Juhi (AP) reports that in a Karbala sermon today, Ahmed al-Safi, believed to be speaking on behalf of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, declared, "Politicians must work fast and make concessions to solve the crisis." Ahlul Bayt News Agency notes, "Ayatollah Sistani normally exerts his considerable influence through sermons and statements made by his aides." Hayder al-Khoei (Foreign Affairs) offers his take on the crisis which includes:
As for Maliki and Allawi themselves, they have as much as to worry about within their own coalitions as they do outside them. Both their respective blocs -- the National Alliance and Iraqiya -- were formed on shaky grounds and contentious issues such as the Hashemi warrant have exposed these cracks. In this fractious game of politics, Maliki is doing extremely well: not only has he managed to chip away at Allawi's support but he is also keeping his own allies at bay. In the government formation process that took up much of last year, Maliki managed to drive a wedge between two powerful movements in southern Iraq: the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Ammar al-Hakim, and its former military wing, the Badr Organization, led by Hadi al-Amiri. Both ISCI and Badr are part of the Shiite-dominated National Alliance. By enticing Amiri with a position as minister of transport last November, he frustrated Hakim and created confusion within ISCI and Badr -- a move that strengthened Maliki because he brought Badr to the table while ISCI remained reluctant in backing Maliki.
Now, Maliki is using a similar intra-sectarian ploy against another rival power base: the Sadrists. Under the pretext of national reconciliation, he is bringing the League of the Righteous (Asa'ib Ahlil Haq) into the political process. The League leader, Kais al-Khazali, was a former spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr but the two split in 2006, when Khazali decided to work independently of the Sadrists and instead coordinate directly with Iran. Perhaps one of the most well known of the Iranian-backed Special Groups, the League has reemerged in Najaf, under the auspices of Maliki, and is now engaged in war of words with the Sadrists. The two groups have skirmished in the past, and it possible that violence could break out again.
In both these cases, the factions that Maliki is bringing toward him are thought to have close ties to Iran, leading many analysts to conclude that with the United States out of Iraq, Tehran is increasing its influence over Baghdad. This may be true, but it is by design: Maliki recognizes these fissures and is playing on them as a means to survive. The Sadrists initially reacted against the arrest warrant on Hashemi, and their parliamentary bloc leader even talked about dissolving the parliament. Now, however, Maliki's moves have paid off, as the Sadrist rhetoric is more in line with the prime minister's own tone. The Sadrists now say that Hashemi should be put on trial in Baghdad and that his case should not be politicized.
Nouri al-Maliki has been on a power-grab since his first term. It continues. Over a year after he assumed his second term as prime minister, he's still refused to name heads to the security ministries (Defense, Interior and National Security). By refusing to name heads (nominate them, have Parliament vote on them), he controls the portfolios. He continues to target his political rivals (Iraqiya -- which beat him in the March 2010 elections). His political slate was State of Law. His political party is Dawa. Al Mada reports that Dawa is (loudly) insisting that they don't know why Ayad Allawi met with Iran's Ambassador to Iraq for three hours this week. Dawa's Walid al-Hilli went on TV to declare that Dawa has no idea why the meeting took place. In upcoming news, Dawa announces on TV that they have no idea whether Oswald acted alone. The Tehran Times notes, "The Iraqi news agency Al Nakheel has recently reported that Ayad Allawi, the leader of the al-Iraqiya List, will take a trip to Iran in the near future."

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is among the Iraqiya members Nouri is targeting. Aswat al-Iraq reports that alleged legal 'expert' Hatif al-Mussawi is stating the charges of terrorism Nouri has brought against al-Hashemi cannot be transferred to an international body. That's incorrect. There is nothing barring that in the Iraqi Constitution. That's the supreme law of the land (or is supposed to be) and trumps some provincial law (if al-Mussawi even has that on his side -- like most faux 'experts,' he's unable to cite a passage that backs him up). It's becoming an international incident. They could easily transfer it to an international body. That could be the UN. Equally true, the 'expert' might want to check out the written arrangement the government of Iraq signed with NATO. (For the Nouri apologists, Tareq al-Hashemi is actually very lucky. Nouri is charging terrorism from several years back. When Iraq was legally recognized as occupied. That occupied status has bearing on who can and cannot hear charges. It's a bit more complicated than supposed 'experts' would have you believe.) You might also want to check the numerous international pacts Iraq has signed off on, look at the huge rate of people being executed by the state of Iraq and grasp that what al-Hashemi is charged with can result in the death penalty if convicted. It's not as simple as the 'expert' would like it to be. al-Hashemi told AFP this week that it was "my right to go to the international judiciary." Roshan Kasem (The Majalla) has an extensive interview with al-Hashemi. Excerpt.
Q: It is said that you are to be referred, as an absentee, to the Criminal Court, according to the amended Article 121 of the Code of Criminal Procedure law of 1971. What is the worst you expect to happen during the investigation procedures and how intense would the measures to be taken against you be?
I am optimistic and have full trust is that a fair court will vindicate me. Thus, I have appealed for the proceedings to be transferred from Baghdad to Kirkuk.
Q: Do you have any suspicions that certain trade-offs would be made in regards to your case towards achieving political interests -- given the complicity of the political situation in Iraq?
I ought to be expectant of such incidents, especially when my case is solely, and extremely, political and not criminal in nature.
Q: To what extent does the Iraqi leadership in other respective parties support your appeal for a trial subject to Arab and international supervision?
The issue concerns me personally. The fact that the Judiciary is being politicized and its independence jeopardized leads me to seek necessary Arab and international involvement. I was obliged to make this decision. If an impartial investigation and a fair trial were an option, I would have preferred to have my case contained internally.

Another prominent Iraqiya member being targeted is Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq whom Nouri is demanding be stripped of his post.

Dar Addustour reports that Nouri's State of Law has made a deal with some elements in the National Alliance (a Shi'ite alliance that State of Law became part of after the elections but that Nouri refused to run with ahead of and during the elections) which agrees that they will not allow Saleh al-Mutlaq to return to his post (which he retains -- Parliament has not voted to strip him of it -- unless and until they do, al-Mutlaq remains Deputy Prime Minister). Not only will they not allow him to return, the deal supposedly is that they will not replace him with anyone and that they will also not replace Tareq al-Hashemi with anyone. That would leave only one vice president -- a Shi'ite. Iraq is supposed to have two vice presidents per the Constitution. Following the end of Political Stalemate I, Iraq ended up with three vice presidents. One resigned leaving two. (Adel Abdul Mehdi and Tareq al-Hashemi were Iraq's vice president during Nouri's first term. Both were renamed to the posts in the second term -- by President Jalal Talabani. Adel Abudl Mehdi quit the government over the corruption and dysfunction. He was a political rival of Nouri's and hoped/hopes to be prime minister himself. Khudayer al-Khuzaie is the third vice president and he's from Dawa). If State of Law has its way, there will only be one vice president.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Fake revealed




You join the National Guard or Reserves. The government calls you to active duty and deploys you outside the United States. This requires you to go on leave from your job for nine months. You make it through your deployment, return home and attempt to return to your job but despite the law protecting your job your employer's rigged it so that you no longer have a job. For some members of the Guard and Reserves, this has been a too common experience. For it to happen to even one member of the Guard or Reserves is unacceptable and against the law. In DC today, the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. US House Rep Marlin Stutzman is the Subcommittee Chair. US House Rep Bruce Braley is the Ranking Member.
Chair Stutzman: [. . .] [M]embers of the Guard and Reserves have born a significant share of the combat since 9-11. Clearly there are no longer weekend warriors -- if there once was. It also means that employers, especially small business owners, have seen labor challenges not seen since WWII and by and large have supported their employees. Unfortunately active duty call ups combined with a bad economy have created historically high unemployment rates among the guards and the reserves. Even more unfortunate, you will hear some employers have used what I believe are less than ethical tactics to terminate members of the Guard and Reserves. As the owner of a small business, I understand the pressures on employers that the loss of a critical employee creates. But in the end, the question I always ask is who is making the greater sacrifice? The employer or the service member who is literally going in harms way and that member's family who must cope with all the stresses of a deployment?
Wow. What a hearing that must have been, right?
The hearing was divided up into three panels. The first panel was the President and CEO of VetJobs Theodore Daywalt and The Manufacturing Institute's President Emily DeRocco. The second panel was composed of: MG Terry M. Haston, Adjutant General Tennessee National Guard; MG Timothy E. Orr, Adjutant General Iowa National Guard; BG Margaret Washburn, Assistant Adjutant General, Indiana National Guard; BG Marianne Watson, Director; Manpower and Personnel, National Guard Bureau; Richard Rue, State Chair, Iowa Employer Support of Guard and Reserve; Ronald Young, Family and Employer Program and Policy, Dept of Defense. The third panel was the Dept of Labor's Junior Ortiz.
You see veterans in that mix?
No, you don't. But we heard Daywalt and excuses and pleas and business needs this tax break and they need this and they need that and . . . Is VetJobs focused on employers or veterans? Yeah, if the federal government will subsidize private employer health benefits for members of the Guard and Reserves, they probably will get hired more often (and more often than civilians -- was he trying to create a two-tiered group of citizens?) but that's not addressing the issue. It's tossing money at it and if we want to do that, fine, but let's be honest about it and honest about what Daywalt's proposing will do.
It will mean that most employers would lay off not Guards and Reserves in order to save dramatically on medical expenses.
That will reduce veteran unemployment and it will aslo put a ton of people out of work.
How can you be the a subcommittee for the House Veterans Affairs and hold a hearing in which no one from the VA [Veterans Administration] and no veteran testifies?
This was a tactical error in terms of the press. There's really nothing for most people to write up or show on TV from the hearing. The stories that needed to be shared were the veterans stories and when they're not invited to the table, their stories aren't told.
This was an embarrassment. And that falls on the Subcommittee Chair Stutzman.
In addition, a witness and two members on the Subcomittee seemed unaware that it was against the law for companies to give away the jobs of the National Guard and Reserves. Since the US government allegedly isn't rolling in the dough (there's more than enough money for weapons and war), might the answer not be to prosecute existing laws instead of creating yet more write-offs for businesses?
They can start with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act which basically holds the job of the active-duty while he or she is serving. The Labour Dept is supposed to enforce this law. And Junior Ortiz could have educated them but after the snooze-fest that was the second panel, a number of Subcommittee members left (the eight members on the Subcomittee were reduced to five). But maybe he wouldn't have. In his opening statement, the only time he controls what he declares, he reduced enforcement to two passing sentences. Those sentences were: "The last piece I want to discuss is DOL's efforts to educate about and enforce the provisions of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Vets enforcement programs investigate complaints filed by veterans and other protected individuals under USERRA, assess complaints alleging violation of status requiring veterans' preference in federal hiring, and implement and collect information regarding veterans employment by federal contractors." Though he claimed he wanted to talk about it, the fact is in writing, this appears in the opening of the final section but although four more paragraphs follow, they have nothing to do with enforcement, he provides no figures on convictions or settlements. He has no interest in the matter.
Nor did members of the Subcommittee. Ranking Member Braley made time to joke with the witness about his use of "Junior." There's a time when Congress wouldn't have found that at all funny. They would have tolerated it from a citizen, but a government employee that came in wanting to be called by a nickname? They would have cited the status of the Congressional record and called him "Ishmael" Ortiz throughout the hearing.
But Braley had time to laugh about it and how it must be because everyone trusts a guy named "Junior." Thanks for wasting our time, Braley.
For 25 minutes Ortiz appeared before the Subcomittee -- appeared as the sole witness on the third panel -- and not one of the five men who chose to stay for the third panel had a question about whether the law was being enforced, what the law said, statistics on it, etc. They never mentioned the law. It only popped up in those two sentences as Ortiz read his prepared remarks.
What does Congress do?
The legislative branch passes laws.
Why is Congress passing laws if they hold a hearing where they express alarm that Guard and Reserves are returning from active-duty to find they have lost their jobs and no one wants to discuss the law?
You pass a law, it better need to be enforced or you've wasted tax payers time and money.
Is Congress bored with their job? If so, remember that all members of the House are up for re-election this November (unless they're not seeking re-election).
If the hearing was about Guard and Reserves losing their jobs, it failed by not providing a face to the issue (allowing those who had lost their jobs -- or had to fight to keep them -- to share those stories) and it failed by refusing to address if the laws are being enforced. And how stupid do you have to be to be on the Subcommittee. I'm being really kind and not naming names but it was more than one member who, by their own remarks during the first panel, demonstrated they were unaware that it was against the law to fire a Guard or Reserve member who was on active-duty. How do I know that for sure? Because the second time it came up, I stepped out during the first panel to call a friend at the Justice Dept and ask if the law had changed? (No, it had not.) I thought surely that members of Congress, hearing about an issue they supposedly cared about would know the basics of the law. I was very much wrong.
Remember the alarmist rate that some were applying to veterans unemployment and how, when we checked with the Labor Dept statistics, the statistics didn't back up the claims?
Ortiz testifed in his opening statements, "According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2010, recent Veterans who served during the post-9-11 era had an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent, compared to a 9.4 percent rate among civilian non-veterans. Unemployment rates were particularly high among recent Veterans who have served or continue to serve our nation in the National Guard and Reserve forces. These Veterans had an unemployment rate of 14 percent in July 2010, almost five points above the civilian unemployment rate."
That's 2.1 percent more for the overall rate for the year 2010, 2.1% greater. Now iin an ideal world, the two figures would be equal. But 2.1% more than the general population figure? That's not a crisis, that's not as alarming as it was repeatedly made to be in order to pass legislation. We heard figures as high as 16%. (Sometimes with a subgroup of post 9-11 veterans attached to it, sometimes.) Those figures came from somewhere but they didn't come from the Labor Dept. As we've repeatedly noted throughout the Great Recession, neither Congress nor the White House has pushed to do a damn thing for African-Americans. The highest unemployment rate for the Great Recession -- any year -- has been young, male African-Americans. But no one was troubled by that, no one was concerned, no one thought to address it with any programs or any monies. Among elected officials, no one cared. This summer, the unemployment rate for African-American teens (male and female) hit over 40%. And no one rushed to create a program or do a damn thing on the federal level.
In addition to calling out the claims on the actual rate, we also noted that no one wanted to give a break down on the numbers for female veterans. Ortiz didn't provide that information today. But US House Rep Linda Sanchez did raise the issue of female veterans in the hearing. It's really the only exchange worth noting from that hearing.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: I'm going to start with Mr. Day. You offered many suggestions in your written testimony to improve the National Guard unemployment rate. And I want to sort of focus in in this large group of National Guardsmen who are a group in need of ways to help them over some hurdles to unemployment. I want to focus actually on a subset of women veterans because I think they may experience unique possibilities of overcoming additional obstacles other than the fact that they are serving in the National Guard. And I want to talk about specifically the fact that that age group tends to be a group that may be mothers of future mothers. And sometimes that, in and of itself, is a barrier to employment for women. Do you think it's reasonable that a female National Guard member may face even greater obstacles when attempting to find a job because of those two factors combined?
Theodore Daywalt: On a case by case basis, yes, They probably have more things that they have to face. [. . .] And there are job boards that are out there just for women, in the civilian sector, identifies a need pretty fast and they can move quick. And many of us identied the fact that people weren't getting the help that they need when they came out. Many have said that TAP is broken, I'll let others make that decision but that's why Vet Jobs is there. And to the women, especially if it's a single mother. Maybe it's because I"m an old fart, I cannot imagine being a single mother, being in the Guard, trying to get a job and raising a child or two or three children all at the same time. I mean, my hat goes off to them.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Well I have to tell you I am the mother of a 2-and-a-half-year old. And I travel bi-coastally with him to do this job which is more than, you know, 40-hour-a-week job. And I have a respect for single mothers that do that. I think that they are super women in evvery sense of the word.
Theodore Daywalt: Yes they are.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: But what I'm trying to focus in on and this is something that kind of gets lost in the shuffle, you talk about the higher unemployment rate for National Guard members than the general unemployment rate in many of these states and I'm wondering if there's been an effort to try and extrapolate what that rate might be based on gender because I suspect -- and this is just a suspicion on my part -- that for young female National Guard member that unemloyent rate is probably even higher than it is for the general population?
Theodore Daywalt: Ma'am, two weeks ago, I remember seeing a press article and I remember that it did say -- and I'm sure they got their information from BLS -- that female veterans have a higher unemployment rate than male veterans.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Right. And I suspect because they face these additional obstacles. And the reason I raise that is because in my home state of California there was an Assembly bill that passed in 2004 which would essentially create a voucher system by which child care vouchers would be available to veterans seeking employment and it would be a way to try to help ease the cost of childcare and, you know, provide that. We're budget-challenged in California so that the funding hasn't necessarily been there but I'm thinking of these practical solutions and it seems to me that type of concept of helping with some of those barriers to employment which would be reliable and affordable child care might be something that we could do to reduce that.
Theodore Daywalt: When I get on the phone and counsel with a single mother, I generally try to point them to more forward-thinking companies that are labeled as a "employer of choice" something that their [. . .] group could stop. One thing that's in there and it's a fact that so many companies do offer child care on the premise in order to bring in qualified employees. And that's a smart employer that does that and we try to steer them towards the employers that do stuff like that. Trouble is, it's not always apparent who offers that and who doesn't and that's where vet jobs and some of the other military sites become the intermediary because we know these companies. Someone comes to me and says, "You know, you would reallly do well at UPS. They need secretaries or they need this or they need a manager and by the way they have child care on the premises." A lot of the health care have gone to that. It's the only way they can draw nurses and the health care people they need and they start offering child care and that's an ideal spot but they don't always know that that's out there.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Right.
Theodore Daywalt: So that's where we come in and try to --
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: And my suspicion would be that employers who would offer that generally are of a certain size, many small companies are excluded from that --
Theodore Daywalt: Very difficult for companies --
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: -- expensive. If the Chairman will indulge me for just one last, quick question. Ms. DeRocco, you mentioned efforts to partner with community colleges to help get the skills that veterans need in order to go into the skilled manufacturing sector. The district that I represent is very working class, urban and one of the things is that they would like to get those skills but the cost is a barrier for them so I'm intrigued when you talked about the paid internships and I'm sort of envisioning something where employers who have the need for skilled employees who have the soft skills of reliability and folks who will do what they're told. Is it crazy to think that maybe there might be some way to structure something that's almost like an apprenticeship system where employers would sort of finance an acquiring of those skills and they'd be working in the meantime while they're trying to complete those programs?
Emily DeRocco: Very insightful. A couple of points, we actually are beginning with [Oakland's] Laney College, a college in the Bay Area of Calfironia with the integration of these education pathways that are competency-based pathways to jobs in manufacturing because of the high concentration of small machine companies in that area which will offer extraordinary jobs. We spend about $18 billion a year in this country on workforce investment, workforce development, another $800 billion in public education. What we are doing is actually just directing a very small percentage of those funds to building the educational patheways in high schools and community college, the result is credentials which have value in the workplace labor market. So to date there's never been a question about money available to have the educational pathways in place. All federal aid programs cover any cost associated with the individual credentials and in every instance, employers are driving the educational reform by being full partners as facutly, curriculum development advisors, paid internships, mentors and even the equipment and requirements for the educational pathway to be successful. So, yes, we are encouraging much stronger business edcucation partnerships. Actually, it's the only we're going to change education in this country .
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Great. Thank you and I thank the Chariman.
Daywalt worded an early statement in such a way that it might have appeared to some he was saying that "most" employers offer child care. That's not true (nor is it what he was saying). For statistics you can refer to [PDF format warning] this Sloan Work and Family Research Network list.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

When ugly tries to be celebrity








"Time and time again," declared Michael Michaud this morning, "VA comes up here and testifies that it has wonderful policies in place. Unfortunately no one ever seems to follow these policies and procedures and they seem to be no consequences for the failure to follow these procedures."

He was speaking at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing which Chair Jeff Miller explained in his opening remarks, "I want to thank everybody for coming to hearing today entitled 'Examining VA's Pharmaceutical Prime Vendor Contract.' We started investigating PPVs and the contract well before the story on this hit the press and we found enough that questions were raised to warrant the hearing that we're going to hold today and possibly subsequent hearings in the future. Now a PPV contract, when written and executed correctly, is intended to ensure VA receive the needed medical pharmaceuticals at a competitive price and in a timely fashion. Medical facilities throughout the nation rely on this system to ensure that the patients get the best care. That the veterans get the best care that they need. they deserve and they've earned. The Committee's investigation began when discrepancies appeared in how VA ordering officials had been handling open market purchases of items not available on the PPV contract. These purchases go back much further than just the last year or two. In fact, they span multiple administrations showing many within VA chose to ignore whether than fix a problem they knew about."

Appearing before the Committee on the first panel was the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs W. Scott Gould (accompanied by the VA's John R. Gingrich, Glenn D. Haggstrom, Jan R. Frye, Philip Matkovsky, Steven A. Thomas and Michael Valentino), on the second panel the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations Office of Inspector General's Linda Halliday (with Mark Myer sand Michael Grivnovics) and on the third panel McKesson Corporations' Vice President on Health Systems' Sharon Longwell.

This was a hearing where first panel witnesses tossed around terms and words that were unfamiliar -- US House Rep and Dr. Phil Roe would stop a witness at one point and tell him no one understood what he was saying. And the issues could get complicated. So what you need to remember on this is that there are guidelines the VA must follow on ordering. Those guidelines exist for many reasons. The three primary reasons are (1) safety of the veterans, (2) ensuring that the government gets the best price possible, and (3) ensuring that cronyism or kickbacks are not taking place as the VA invents its own rules (or disregards those in place).
US House Rep Bob Filner is the Ranking Member of this Committee. He was not present at the hearing and Michaud served as the Ranking Member. He declared in his opening statements, "The VA admits that it did not follow all applicable laws and regulations for approximately 1.2 billion dollars in what was called Open Market Drug Purchases since 2004. VA assures us that changes have been implemented to fix deficiencies at hand. Frankly, Mr. Chairman, we've heard this before."

There was a lot of justifying and minimizing by the VA and, as Michaud noted, the claim that Congress need not worry, that the VA had already fixed everything on its own. Gould insisted that what took place "was not criminal and at no time were our veterans at risk." Miller asked him, "Is this a violation of the law?" Gould replied, "Yes."

Chair Jeff Miller: [. . .] When did senior leadership first learn of the unlawful purchasing? And I'd like to ask each individual at the table independently to let me know when you first heard about it and what you specifically did when you heard about it?

W. Scott Gould: Sir, to be responsive on that question, then each of us you will answer that. What you will see is a range of dates as the problem escalated through the system. To answer personally for the senior management team, I first knew about this issue in September of last year, September of 2011.

Chair Jeff Miller: And we'll start down here, Mr. Valentino?

Michael Valentino: I became aware of the issue with Open Market Purchases in December of 2010 when the clause was removed from the draft solicitation.

Philip Matkovsky: I became aware in September of 2011.

John Gingrich: I became aware in September of 2011.

Glenn D. Haggstrom: With respect to the improper use of the Open Market Clause, I became aware of it in March 2011.

Chair Jeff Miller: When did you hear about the illegal use?

Glenn D. Haggstrom: March of 2011.

Jan R. Frye: I became aware in March 2011, March 29th, to be exact.

Steven A. Thomas: And I became aware in January of '09 when a Logistics Manager from the CMA* identified this as an issue. At that point, I worked with general counsel, acquisition review, IG, other at the NAC [National Acquisition Center], VHA including PBM and the CMA to try to correct the issue for the CMA which we became responsible for at the National Acquisition Center in December of '08. I tried to add items to the federal supply schedule as much as possible to cover that gap. I tried to have additional things put on requirements, types of contracts, that we had limited success on. But the main thing I did was, I corrected the issue for the CMA. So the CMA follows appropriate procedures at that point. And that was the area of responsibility that I had.

W. Scott Gould: So, Mr. Chairman, today you've gone down the list to see what people knew, when they knew. The people at the table today collectively identified the problem, took action and we are collectively responsible for-for that fact.

Chair Jeff Miller: Mr. Thomas, you took great pains a second ago to talk about all the things that you tried to do. Can you explain why you were unable to do some of the things you wanted to do? Could you turn your mic on too, please?

Steven A. Thomas: Apologize. Yes, sir. I think what we have in this case is a changing industry to a certain degree. There are -- as you probably are aware, there's a lot of drug shortages that are currently going on right now. Uhm, there's the Trade Agreements Act that we have to be responsible for to make sure that products are coming from responsible countries and a lot of the manufacturing for drug -- for drugs right now are going overseas to India and China and those two countries are not trade agreement countries. So there's a number of issues going through there when we put our requirements contracts out for some of the generic products, we are able to award about a third of them as they came through. It didn't stop our efforts in that but it made us try to figure out how we could get more products on contract.

Thomas never shuts up. [*And I have no idea if he was saying CMA or what. He pronounced the term various ways throughout the hearing. I don't know it.] He offers a lot of blather about what he did for someone who broke the law. Miller wanted to know "how much was spent illegally after the 8th of November" 2011. Gould gave a response about how they didn't want the veterans to suffer. So Gould is arguing not only that the law was broken but that it was knowingly broken by the leadership composing the first panel. He went on for over two minutes and then swapped to Matkovsky and neither ever answered Miller's question as to how much was spent from November 8, 2011 through the end of the year?

Chair Jeff Miller: I apologize Mr. Secretary if I didn't hear you, but did you give me a number for what money was spent?

Philip Matkovsky: Two numbers. The first number for the month of December which we are still analyzing is roughly 1.4 million [dollars]. The total number of transactions which we are reviewing for ratification is 5,733 transactions.

Miller pointed out that this wasn't just about drugs, the spending. Gould admitted this was true.

Michaud asked if they had waivers for "the 1.2 billion in open market purchases dollars dating back to 2004" which led Gould to insist he needed to consult with the witnesses at the table followed by Frye stating, "Sir, I'm not familiar with your question. Waiver for what again?" Michaud attempted to jog their memories, "Waiver request for Open Market Purchases, that's required under the handbook." Still the panel was baffled by what he was talking about. Michaud then had to cite the rule specifically ("That's 7408.1") at which point it was immediately agreed that Michaud knew what he was talking about. But the waivers? Haggstron stated, "I'm not aware of any waivers."

The dummy up and pass the issue around was used repeatedly. So much that you might think they were trying to run out the clock on Michaud's questioning time.

US House Rep Phil Roe would ask a basic question, one that the witnesses should have known the answer to before they arrived at the hearing, "My second question is are there any penalties -- I know this is civil, not criminal -- but are there any penalties for the people who knowingly broke this law?"

The witnesses were unable to answer the second question and an attorney for the VA stood up and declared that "there are no penalties attached or sanctions attached." Had the VA fixed the problem -- as they claim -- and had they addressed it, then surely these seven VA leaders would have discussed whether or not criminal charges needed to be brought. The fact that they didn't know the answer indicates they never asked that question which would lead many to believe that they were only focused on damage control and not addressin the issues involved.

They played idiots very well. At one point, Chair Miller would ask them if they were aware, as they offered some interesting statements, that the Committee would have the documents in their possession and that a subpoena had been issued?

That would seem a rather basic question. But Gould especially (though not only) wanted to insist that there was no subpoena. He said there were Freedom of Information requests but no subpoena and wanted to argue this with the Chair.

Even after the Chair stated that US House Rep Darrell Issa issued the subpoena on January 19th (his Committee,on Oversight and Reform), they wanted to insist there was no subpoena. Then they wanted to add, maybe there was one, but it had not yet been received. After this ridiculous scene seemed in danger of never ending, "Counsel appears to be nodding to us that a subpoena has been issued." So, yes, there was a subpoena and that, yes, it had been received.

Again, the seven leaders at the table should have known that. Appearing before Congress to testify about records that the Congress is subpoenaing should be known. This group of leaders appeared completely disinterested in the topic being explored and not at all concerned about meeting oversight obligations.
"We need to fix this," Thomas said was the response in 2009 when the issue was first known (at least first known among the witnesses). "And we didn't fix it until recently?" Chair Miller asked. He received nothing resembling an answer.

Gould insisted that the 7 at the table (including himself) had identified the problem and "we addressed it in six weeks."

Chair Jeff Miller: Is it your testimony that the time frame between January of '09 and today is six weeks?

W. Scott Gould: No, Mr. Chairman, as I said a moment ago when you went down the list of folks here, when did senior management know? And I have testified that I knew in September. And by November 8th, the problem was solved.

Chair Jeff Miller: Does it bother you that you have somebody sitting at the table that knew of the issue in January '09 and you -- or somebody at that table -- did not know?

W. Scott Gould:Sir, of course it does and as I have testified that is a problem for which we are collectively responsible and accountable. I am very unhappy with this risk up the chain of command. All I'm saying is, that it did not happen and when it did it was absolutely solved by this team. We got together and resolved the issues and came up with a clear course of action to fix the problem.

But as Miller pointed out, the problem was known by at least Thomas in 2009. So, no, the issue was not dealt with in six weeks. As for taking accountability, a resignation or two would indicate that accountability was being taken. Instead, they want to pretend that the violation of the law doesn't matter because it's not criminal. And they want to pretend that taking nearly three years to address the situation after leadership first learned of the problem can be passed off as six weeks. There's no accountability, there's not even any honesty.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The poetic primary






The Iraq War destroyed the lives of many in Iraq, women, Christians, Jews and Palestinians among them. In 2006, Ken Ellingwood (Los Angeles Times) observed, "The civil war convulsing the country has raised worries about the fate of the approximately 20,000 Palestinians in Iraq, who are targeted by kidnappers and Shiite Muslim death squads because of what many Iraqis see as the group's favored status under former President Saddam Hussein." Ali Kareem (ICR) offered this background on Iraq's Palestinian population in 2009:
Many Palestinian families have roots in this country dating to the creation of Israel in 1948 and its subsequent wars with its Arab neighbours. Others came more recently. Following his defeat in the first Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein encouraged the migration of thousands of Palestinians to Iraq, promising jobs and preferential treatment in an effort to portray himself as a champion of oppressed Arabs.
According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, Baghdad was home to some 30,000 Palestinians at the time of the US-led invasion in 2003. Less than half remain in the city now.
Last fall, Saed Bannoura (International Middle East Media Center) explained that from a high of 35,000, the population had declined to approximately 7,000. A huge drop like that happens only because a population is living in fear and feeling that the government will not protect them. That has been the case for Palestinians in Iraq. The current prime minister is Nouri al-Maliki who has been prime minister since April 2006 and has done nothing to protect the Palestinian population. In fact, from 2006 to 2010 refugee camp Al Tanf housed hundreds of Palestinians who were caught in the desert, unable to move forward to Syria (Saddam Hussein did not consider them residents in or citizens of Iraq, they were "bretheren" and, as such had no legal documents that the Syrian government would recognize at the border) and unable to go back to their homes. They were left there by Nouri with no efforts made to assist them. The United Nations would set up temporary tents for the refugees. But Nouri did nothing. Offered no aid. Offered no verbal comfort. Just didn't give a damn. And when the Palestinians are attacked, the killers and kidnappers are never brought to justice. Nouri makes no public statements decrying the targeting. The message to Iraq's thug population has been, "Attack them. You will not face punishment."
And that thug population includes the security forces Nouri al-Maliki commands. 30-year-old Palestinian Emad Abdulsalam died last week. Ahlul Bayt News Agency reports the man was arrested in Doura three days ago and was tortured non-stop by Iraqi forces which notes the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq "said that Palestinians have been the target of 'Death squads and militias' over the past six years under the very eyes of the government." The International Middle East Media Center gives his name as Imad Abdul-Salaam Abu Rabee and notes that Iraqi police grabbed him after he left work and was heading home. Imad's family sought out a forensic center in Baghdad which determined "that their son was killed under interrogation." The International Middle East Media Center notes:

It is worth mentioning that Abu Rabee' is married and a father of two children. His brother was killed by insurgents in Baghdad last year. He was born and raised in Iraq; his family is from the Al Boreij refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip.
Sa'ad voiced an appeal to the Palestinian Authority to act on resolving the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq as soon as possible as they are being attacked and murdered by the Iraqi Police and by several militias in the country.
Ma'an News adds, "[The Society for Palestinian-Iraqi Brotherhood Imad Abdul Salam] Khalil said Palestinian refugees in Iraq have been targeted for sectarian reasons. International rights group Amnesty International says Iraqi forces use arbitrary detentions and torture to quell dissent." Nouri's forces have tortured another person to death. And it comes right as Nouri was hoping the news cycle would be dominated by the 16 "confessions" against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi which state-TV Iraqiya has been in a frenzy over. [Aswat al-Iraq: "Noteworthy is that the semi-official al-Iraqiya TV Satellite Channel had carried out an urgent report on Sunday, reporting that 16 members of Tariq Hashimy's bodyguards were charged with having been involved in terrorist acts, a report that was condemned, because it did not represent anything new in the series of charges against Hashimy and his bodyguards and office elements."]
Imad Abdul-Salaam Abu Rabee's death is part of the violence in today's news cycles. Reuters notes a Muqdadiya clash in which one police officer and one "civilian" were left injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left two Sahwa injured, 2 Mosul roadside bombings left one police officer and his son injured, a Mosul sticky bombing injured a police officer, a Baghdad sticky bombing injured a military officer and a Shirqat sticky bombing injured a police officer. So that's 1 death and nine injured for today.
Let's go over the monthy totals -- the number wounded are in parentheses. January 1st, 9 were reported dead (21). January 2nd, 0 were reported dead (3). January 3rd, 3 were reported dead (13). January 4th, 9 were reported dead (17). January 5th, 75 were reported dead (80). January 6th, 3 were reported dead (20). January 7th, 7 were reported dead (25). January 8th, 3 were reported dead (20). January 9th, 20 were reported dead (59). January 10th, 12 were reported dead (3). January 11th, 6 were reported dead (14). January 12th, 6 were reported dead (25). January 13th, 6 were reported dead (32). January 14th, 53 were reported dead (157). January 15th, 21 were reported dead (0). January 16th, 0 were reported dead (0). January 17th, 10 were reported dead (5). January 18th, 6 were reported dead (5). January 19th, 4 were reported dead (8). January 20th, 6 were reported dead (5). January 21st, 7 were reported dead (1). January 22nd, 7 were reported dead (6). January 23rd, 2 were reported dead (5). January 24th, 20 were reported dead (86). January 25th, 1 was reported dead (1). January 26th, 14 were reported dead (8). January 27th, 37 were reported dead (0), January 28th, 7 reported dead (10). January 29th, 7 were reported dead (20). January 30th, 10 reported dead (11). January 31st, 1 reported dead (9).
Check my math (always), that's at least 371 reported dead and 669 reported injured. Many deaths aren't reported in Iraq. Iraq Body Count currently lists "450 civilians killed" as of Monday for the month of January and that's about seventy more than they had for January 2011. (Go with their number, it's not covering every death but it's more comprehensive than our snapshots.) So comparing January in the two years, violence is not dropping, it has in fact increased.
During that entire year, please note, Iraq has had no Minister of Defense, no Minister of Interior and no Minister of National Security. Nouri al-Maliki has refused to nominate anyone and have Parliament vote. From the December 21, 2010 snapshot:
Shashank Bengali and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report point out the Cabinet is missing "the key ministries responsible for security and military affairs for now, because lawmakers haven't agreed on who should fill them. There's still no deal, either, on creating a yet-to-be named strategic council -- a U.S.-backed initiative aimed at curbing al-Maliki's powers -- which lawmarkers said could be weeks away." Liz Sly and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) explain, "Maliki appointed himself acting minister of interior, defense and national security and said the three powerful positions would be filled with permanent appointees once suitable candidates have been agreed on."
A Minister of a Cabinet is someone nominated by Nouri and approved by Parliament. Without the approval of Parliament, they are not a minister. Why does that matter? Nouri can't fire a member of his Cabinet without Parliament's approval. But 'acting' ministers (named by Nouri) are not approved by Parliament, are not real ministers and serve at the whim of Nouri. It's a power grab on Nouri's part as is his failure to name a "national strategic councill."
That is part of the Erbil Agreement. The US-brokered that agreement with Iraqi political blocs to end the political stalemate that had desceneded on Iraq and lasted eight months. Nouri signed off on that agreement. It's that agreement that allowed him to become prime minister. He created the stalemate after his State of Law came in second to Iraqiya and Nouri refused to give up the post of prime minister. The White House backed Nouri and that's the only reason Nouri remains prime minister. The White House talked Iraqiya and its leader into accepting the post of heading the "national strategic council." And yet, the day after the Erbil Agreement was reached, when Parliament held its first real (and full) session of Parliament, Nouri's State of Law announced they couldn't create it right away but it would come. A large number of Iraqiya's 91 MPs walked out at that point. They should have stuck to that walk out but they returned. And waited and waited. Nouri now says that the council can't be created. He claims the Erbil Agreement -- the thing that allows him to be prime minister right now -- is unconstitutional. The current political crisis is fueled by Nouri's refusal to follow the Erbil Agreement. Alsumaria TV reports today, "President of Kurdistan Region Masoud Al Barzani assured, on Monday, that Kurds may no longer play the mediator role in solving Iraq's issues. Barazani added that bases upon which the current government was formed are not being respected. The current government was formed to reinforce true partnership, comply with Iraqi Constitution, and fix disputes between Erbil and Baghdad, Barzani revealed."
He is prime minister because the White House chose to back him. And they knew he was a thug. The whole world did by that point. In fact, when the Cabinet was (partially) named at the end of December 2010, Liz Sly (Washington Post) was noting:
That Maliki has an authoritarian streak has been amply demonstrated over the past 4 1/2 years, critics say. Maliki, originally selected in 2006 as a compromise candidate assumed to be weak and malleable, has proved to be a tough and ruthless political operator who cannily subverted parliament to cement his authority over many of the new democracy's fledgling institutions.
In his role as commander in chief of the armed forces, he replaced divisional army commanders with his appointees, brought provincial command centers under his control and moved to dominate the intelligence agencies.
The widely feared Baghdad Brigade, which answers directly to Maliki's office, has frequently been used to move against his political opponents. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused him of operating secret prisons in which Sunni suspects have been tortured.

And thug Nouri had the support of the Bush administration before he had the support of the Barack administration. The "compromise" candidate Sly refers to? Iraqis didn't select him. They wanted Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The US told the Iraqi Parliament no in 2006. The Bush White House approved of Nouri. In 2010, the Barack White House made clear that there would be no new prime minister -- despite the will of the Iraqi voters and the Iraqi Constitution -- the Barack White House made clear that Nouri would remain as prime minister. They knew he was a thug. Democracy in Iraq and the Iraqi people mattered less to them than their oil puppet.
As the death toll mounts and does so under yet another US-installed puppet. William Fisher (The Public Record) notes:

Human Rights Watch is charging that, despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a "budding police state" -- cracking down harshly during 2011 on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating, and detaining activists, demonstrators, and journalists.
The organization's Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah Whitson, warns that "Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists, and torture detainees."

Last week, the Associated Press quoted Human Rights Watch's Sarah Leah Whitson stating, 'Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism. Despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy (in Iraq), the reality is that it left behind a budding police state'." She was referring to what Human Rights Watch found and documented in their [PDF format warning] World Report: 2012.

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Though US President Barack Obama has repeatedy attempted to portay the Iraq War as a success, reality has refused to play along. David Kerr (Catholic News Agency) reports today, "U.S. Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio says the collapse of Iraq's Christian population is among the legacies of America's invasion in 2003." He is quoted stating, "Yes, you can say in a certain sense that the invasion of Iraq did provoke this tremendous diminution of the Christian population in that country." Catholic Culture quotes him stating, "Before they were a minority that was protected but now they are a minority that is not protected." Meanwhile Mohammed Tawfeeq and Frederik Pleitgen (CNN) report Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is calling out Barack's description of Iraq as "free, stable and democratic," asking, "What sort of Iraq are we talking about? How the Americans will feel proud? How the American administration is going to justify to the taxpayer the billions of dollars that has been spent and at the end of the day the American saying, 'Sorry, we have no leverage even to put things in order in Iraq'?" In addition, Al Sturgeon (Sioux City Journal) weighs in with his opinion on whether the Iraq War was "'worth it?' Unless you can check reasoning and logic at the door, the answer seems to be a resounding 'no.'" Actress Kim Schultz wrote the play No Place Called Home to draw attention to the Iraqi refugee crisis. At Policy Mic, she points out:
Over 4 million Iraqis have been displaced since the 2003 invasion, a war that would not have taken place without the Bush administration's violent overreaction to 9/11. That's 4 million people; about 1 in 5 Iraqi citizens have been displaced. After travelling across the country to perform my play, I've learned that most Americans don't know this. And at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion. 100,000. These are big numbers.
Almost 3,000 innocent Americans died on 9/11, a tremendous loss. Yet the carnage in Iraq is far greater, and the 100,000+ innocent lives lost in Iraq in the wake of our invasion get scant attention, if any. These people were real mothers, sons, and daughters. What day commemorates the Iraqi father shot on the street? Or the kidnapped and beheaded uncle? Or the murdered Iraqi child?
Most Americans don't know these numbers or the stories behind the numbers, because it doesn't fit the narrative we tell ourselves about our war of "liberation," or what the news media told us about Iraq.
Last week, Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) was reporting on something troubling western rulers, "The political crisis engulfing Iraq's power-sharing government threatens to further dealy a landmark draft of its long-delayed oil law -- five years after the first version was submitted to parliament. [. . .] The first hydrocarbon draft law was agreed by Iraq's diverse political blocs in 2007, but it's approval has been held back by infighting among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish political groups, worrying investors seeking more guarantees for the industry." The war that was about oil couldn't let the hydrocarbons law remain in a state of limbo. CNN reports: US Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and spoke on Friday with Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi:

"The two Iraqi leaders described deliberations under way among all Iraqi political factions and parties in the run-up to a proposed national conference led by President Jalal Talabani," the White House statement said. "The vice president discussed with both leaders the importance of resolving outstanding issues through the political process. The vice president and Iraqi leaders agreed to stay in close touch as events unfold."

In addition the White House, the Iraqi Parliament also released a statement. KUNA reports, "A statement by the parliament said Biden and Al-Nujaifi, who is a member in the Iraqiya List, discussed ways of narrowing the gaps between the parties to end the political conflict. They also discussed the national conference that would bring about participation of political forces to discuss the political process."
After much intervention from the US, Al Rafidayn reports Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damluji announced Iraqiya was ending their boycott of Parliament. The paper notes deep divisions continue between the various blocs. Unlike the New York Times' sad report, Al Rafidayn does note the Erbil Agreement and the failure (by Nouri) to implement it. Aswat al Iraq adds, "The Chairman of Iraq's al-Ahrar (Liberals) Bloc, Bahaa al-Aaraji, has highly assessed the decision of al-Iraqiya Bloc, led by former Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, to resume attending the Iraqi Parliament's sessions and its acceptance of its call, calling on the Bloc to end its boycott to attend the sessions of the Council of Ministers as well." Al Mada reports that Iraqiya made its decision following a three hour meeting of various Iraqiya members. They are seeing their return to Parliament as a gesture of goodwill and state that the political crisis ends only by returning to the Erbil Agreement and releasing the innocnets who have been arrested while resolving the issues regarding Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Nouri has issued an arrest warrant for the vice president on charges of 'terrorism.' He's also demanded that al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post. Both al-Hashemi and and al-Mutlaq are members of Iraqiya which bested Nouri's State of Law in the March 2010 elections. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland declared (link is text with video option):
Well, first of all, we are encouraged by the decision of the Iraqiya bloc to end their boycott and to return to work at the Council of Representatives and also by the statements of other key blocs inside Iraq welcoming that decision. We're also encouraged that President Talabani has pledged to lead a process that's going to prepare a national conference that's going to focus on a political solution that protects the interests of all Iraqis within their constitution.
Our understanding is that the consultations leading to that conference are still ongoing. I think we've said here and elsewhere that we have been active, whether it's at the level of Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Jeffrey, in encouraging all of the Iraqi leaders to participate in this dialogue. We've been talking to all of them about their interest in preserving a unified Iraq and protecting their hard-fought constitution.
Alsumaria TV notes that only the boycott of Parliament has been ended and nothing has been said about the boycott of the Council of Ministers. But, of course, the Cabinet was no longer involved in the hydrocarbon process. Making that clear is Reuters report today that, "After five years in the making, Iraq's parliament could have a first reading of a landmark oil law by early February, a senior Iraqi energy official said on Monday."
RTT adds, "The development comes amid a Shia-Sunni power struggle triggered by a warrant issued for the arrest of Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi on terror charges. Hashemi is a senior leader of the Iraqiya bloc headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi." CNN has a video interview with al-Hashemi.
Tareq al-Hashemi: This case is politically motivated from the beginning. [. . .] For the prime minister to be chief in command [commander in chief], Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior and the Chief of Intelligence and the Chief of National Security, what else you could do that? My country, in fact, because of this unbelievable power consolidation that we are heading back to restore the same regime that prevailed before 2003.
Dar Addustour reports State of Law MP Nahida Daini is defending Nouri's failure to name a Minister of Defense by stating Nouri has left the post vacant because he is afraid of a coup. If you were afraid of a coup, you might actually fill the security ministries (Interior, Defense and National Security) but instead Nouri has left them vacant (despite the Constitutional requirement that a Cabinet be named in 30 days for someone to become prime minister). He's left them vacant for a year and a month. Soon to be a year and two months. Because, Daini insists with an apparent straight face, Nouri fears a coup. Daini does admit that the Erbil Agreement has been ignored.
The excitement over the oil law possibly coming to a vote may cause many outlets to ignore the targeting of al-Hashemi as well as the plight of 2 Iraqi women. Amnesty issued the following:
Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president.
Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January. Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges.
Al-Hashimi has denied the charges, saying the accusations are politically motivated.
"The arrest of the two women appears to be part of a wider move targeting individuals connected to Tareq al-Hashemi," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa.
"The Iraqi authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of Rasha al-Hussain and Bassima Kiryakos. At the very minimum they should have immediate access to their family and a lawyer.
"The circumstances of their arrest and their incommunicado detention when we know that torture is rife in Iraq can only raise the greatest fears for their safety," she said.
Security forces detained the two women without arrest warrants, informing the women's families that they were being taken away for questioning, without explanation.
Bassima Kiryakos called her husband on 20 January and informed him she was to be released the following day but neither woman has been heard from since.
Bassima Kiryakos was previously arrested and beaten in December but released without charge after three days in detention.
The two women worked for Vice-President Tareq al-Hashimi,who is accused of ordering his bodyguards to commit acts of terrorism.
"It is up to the authorities to provide convincing evidence that the two women have committed a crime. Otherwise they should be immediately released," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
A warrant for Tareq al-Hashimi's arrest was issued on 19 December shortly after his Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya party announced it would boycott Parliament, accusing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government of being sectarian.
Al-Hashimi is currently in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, a semi-autonomous area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
In December, state run TV channel Al-Iraqiya broadcast "confessions" by men said to be al-Hashemi's bodyguards saying that they had killed police officers and officials from ministries in exchange for payoffs from al-Hashemi.
This was followed by a wave of arrests of Sunni politicians.
On 19 January, the Iraqi authorities reported they had arrested Ghadban al-Khazraji, the deputy governor in charge of investment in Diyala province and a member of the Islamic Iraqi party. Several of al-Khazraji's bodyguards were also arrested.
In the last few years, hundreds of detainees have been shown on the Al-Iraqiyqa channel making "confessions" admitting responsibility for various terrorism related offences.
These confessions have invariably been extracted under torture and other ill-treatment. Many people were convicted by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq on the basis of these confessions.
While not bothering to cover this, the New York Times also misdirects on drones in Iraq this morning but are we surprised that the paper would intentionally get that wrong? Does any US paper have closer ties to the CIA? No. And the CIA and the FBI operate in Iraq. Strangely Ted Koppel can tell you that while the New York Times refuses to do so. Which is not to say the State Dept isn't operating drones in Iraq. They are. We covered that (an dobjected to it) when it was presented as wonderful to Congress. In addition, Turkey gave space on the Iraq border to the CIA for a base and they are supposed to receive drones in exchange for providing the land for the base. Iraq, which cannot patrol its own skies due to training and a lack of planes, has many drones flying over it. And that may be why Iraqis are objecting and noticing the drones especially. The State Dept indicaes to the paper that it is them but that's what the State Dept would do if it were FBI or CIA drones. Mark Thompson (Time magazine) sums it up best, "Somehow, the State Department has been able to shoot itself in the foot with an unarmed drone." At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland took questions and offered statements on the use of drones in Iraq.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let me tell you what I can on this situation. First of all, let me say that the State Department has always used a wide variety of security tools and techniques and procedures to ensure the safety of our personnel and our facilities. We do have an unmanned aerial vehicle program used by the State Department. These are tiny little things. They are not armed. They are not capable of being armed. And what they are designed to do is help give us pictures over our facilities to help in their protection. The operation of this program is extremely limited in scope. It is only going to even be considered in critical threat environments. I'm not going to get into the where for obvious reasons. We don't get into our precise security posture anywhere around the world. So I'm not going to divulge details. But just to repeat, we are talking about very limited use in critical threat areas of tiny, little, unarmed, unmanned aircraft which cannot shoot anything. They only take pictures to help us with embassy personnel and facility security.
QUESTION: How big is a tiny, little thing?
MS. NULAND: I haven't seen them, but I've seen pictures of people holding them.
QUESTION: Are we talking about, like, mosquitoes?
MS. NULAND: No, we're talking about like the size of --
QUESTION: That's not tiny.
MS. NULAND: -- my podium. Yeah, like that. Like that.
QUESTION: But when you said they are used to give us pictures over our facilities, is that – is it the case that they are only used over U.S. facilities? Or do they also get used, for example, when U.S. officials may travel?
MS. NULAND: They can be used to protect facilities and personnel, personnel who are moving.
QUESTION: So not just over U.S. facilities?
MS. NULAND: They can be used over the facilities or to track personnel who are moving, yes.
QUESTION: Not in the facilities, though, right, who are moving?
MS. NULAND: They can't see inside walls. No, they cannot. No, they don't have --
QUESTION: No. But I -- it goes to my next -- no, but my next question is sort of directly relevant. Either countries that are sovereign -- and some of us remember the sort of great enthusiasm with which a former administration talked about how Iraq had regained its sovereignty after the U.S. invasion -- either a country that is sovereign has control of its airspace or it doesn't. And so if you are letting these things not fly just over your embassy or your facilities, as you suggested, but in fact, they can roam elsewhere in the country, do you have any agreement or authorization from the Iraqi or from any government in the world to do that, to essentially give you access to their airspace?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just make a general statement in response to that, Arshad, and I think you will understand that, again, to protect operational security I'm not going to get into details. But we, the State Department, always work closely with host governments on the physical protection of our facilities and our personnel, and this was part and parcel of that.
QUESTION: But you can work closely with somebody and still not have their explicit agreement for you to use their airspace, correct?
MS. NULAND: Suffice to say that this is part and parcel of a larger security program where it is necessary and we do work closely with host governments.
QUESTION: Well, in each instance, and I'm not asking you where these are used and I understand you don't want to talk about exactly where they're used, but in each instance when they are used, do you obtain the agreement of the host country for use of their airspace?
MS. NULAND: In the context of our larger security posture, we always work with host governments.
QUESTION: That's not a yes. I mean, you can work with them. It doesn't mean you've gotten their permission.
MS. NULAND: We are talking about something that started as a pilot program, something that is now being bid out and looked at for broader use. So some of the questions that you are probing for are premature; but in the context of our general consultations with governments on security, those are ongoing and we always consult with hosts.
QUESTION: Does the -- consultation is a very different thing from obtaining their permission.
MS. NULAND: I understand. I don't have anything further on your precise question.
QUESTION: Last one on this for me, if I may.
QUESTION: What -- does the U.S. Government permit any foreign country to use unmanned aerial vehicles over -- in its airspace?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, Arshad, we have never received such a request from a foreign country.