Thursday, April 18, 2013

Look who's da pouty little boy







We'll start in DC.

US House Rep Ed Royce:  And needless to say, given Washington's chronic budget deficit, wasteful spending is intolerable.  But even good programs must be subject to prioritization.  We can't do everything.  Along those lines, it is inexcusable that the State Department has been operating for four-plus-years without a presidentially-nominated, Senate-confirmed Inspector General.  This Committee is committed to its responsibility for overseeing the spending and other operations of the State Department -- and that is a bipartisan commitment I am pleased to join Mr. Engel in carrying out.

Ed Royce is the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and he was speaking at this morning's hearing  on the State Department's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014.  Appearing before him was Secretary of State John Kerry.   Engel is US House Rep Eliot Engel who is the Ranking Member.  Other than his remarks beating the drums on Iran -- and praising US President Barack Obama for the same ("Over the past four years, President Obama has unified the international community against this threat and signed into law the strongest-ever sanctions against the regime in Tehran."") -- his opening remarks really don't require noting here nor do even of his remarks during questioning.  If you believe a House members greatest duty is to serve Israel, then I've short changed you.  If you believe a US House member needs to be covering US issues, Eliot Engel has short changed you. 

The issue Royce raised is not a minor one.  We first noted it December 7, 2011 when US House Rep Jason Chaffetz raised it in a hearing.  We've noted this lack of oversight many times since including last month with "Media again misses story (lack of oversight)."  Maybe if the press had covered it, the position wouldn't have remained vacant for this record length.

Chair Ed Royce:  I'd also like to call your attention to the State Department's Inspector General's Office.  This is the key independent office looking at waste and fraud.  Mr. Secretary, as of today, there has been no permanent State Department Inspector General for over five years.  This includes President Obama's entire first term.   The Committee raised this issue in a bi-partisan letter sent to you in February and we would like to see an immediate appointment to this position.

Secretary John Kerry:  On the IG, you're absolutely correct.  We're -- we're trying to fill a number of positions right now, the IG among them.  The greatest difficulty that I'm finding now that I'm on the other side of the fence is frankly the vetting process.  And I've got some folks that I selected way back in February when I first came in and it's now April and I'm still waiting for the vetting to move.  I've talked to the White House.  They're totally on board.  They're trying to get it moved.  So I hope that within a very short span of time, you're going to see these slots filled.  They need to be.  And that's just the bottom line.  It's important and I commit to you, we will.

Chair Ed Royce:  I think this is the longest gap that we've had in the history of this position.  So if you could talk to the President about this in short order, we would very much appreciate it. 

Secretary John Kerry:  I don't need to talk to the President, we're going to get this done.  We know it and we're trying to get the right people.  Matching person to task and also clearing all the other hurdles, as I am finding, is not as easy as one always thinks.  But we'll get it done.  

For those obsessed with whether Hillary Clinton will run for president or not, right there's one hurdle for her.  She will either have to divorce herself -- a real break -- from Barack Obama or she'll have to tell the American people that there was no independent oversight -- oversight required by law -- of her entire four year term because she didn't want any.  If she choose the latter, it's going to be real hard for her to then assure people that she will have an open presidency.  If she fails to divorce herself from Barack, this feeds into the media's existing notions of her as secretive and controlling.  They will bring the health care fiasco, they will bring up everything.  The only answer for her is to put the blame where it goes: On Barack Obama.  And she'll need to do that before she announces her run.  The longer she would wait to do that, the more it would fall into the media narrative of "She'll say anything to be elected!"  In Monday's snapshot, I called the Green Party out for the sexist attack on Hillary.  And I will continue to call those things out.  I also noted that she's not above criticism and that, should she choose to run and should we be up and running still here, I'll be one of her harshest critics.  Not because I want to but because, unlike the press, I paid attention.  I know the issues from her time at State that could  cripple a run for the presidency.

With respect to John Kerry's remarks to the Committee?

The administration has a vetting problem?  Who could have ever guessed that?  Maybe Isaiah who, February 15, 2009, offered "The Rose Ceremony" featuring Judd Gregg, Nancy Killefer, Bill Richardson and Tom Daschle.  Yeah, it was obvious back then there was a vetting problem.  That's only become more obvious with recent examples including Brett McGurk (Barack's third nominee to be US Ambassador to Iraq who never made it out of the nomination process).

Forgetting that there was no independent oversight of State in Barack's entire first term, this position doesn't require a massive search.  If there's someone wanted for the post, then vet him or her.  However, for the last years, Harold W. Geisel (Deputy Inspector General) has done the job without the title and without the pay.  Also without the independence that having the title would grant him.  If there's no one in mind for this position, why isn't Geisel handed it?

Or is the White House saying that for four years, they've had someone doing that job that wasn't capable of doing it?

This is an important issue.  Another issue raised in the hearing was the Ashraf residents.  Background, approximately 3,400 people were at Camp Ashraf when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  They were Iranian dissidents who were given asylum by Saddam Hussein decades ago.  The US government authorized the US military to negotiate with the residents.  The US military was able to get the residents to agree to disarm and they became protected persons under Geneva and under international law.

Despite that legal status and the the legal obligation on the part of the US government to protect the residents, since Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, Nouri has ordered not one but two attacks on Camp Ashraf resulting in multiple deaths.  Let's recap.  July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."

Under court order, the US State Dept evaluated their decision to place the MEK on the terrorist list and, September 28th, they issued the following.

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
September 28, 2012
The Secretary of State has decided, consistent with the law, to revoke the designation of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its aliases as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under the Immigration and Nationality Act and to delist the MEK as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. These actions are effective today. Property and interests in property in the United States or within the possession or control of U.S. persons will no longer be blocked, and U.S. entities may engage in transactions with the MEK without obtaining a license. These actions will be published in the Federal Register.
With today's actions, the Department does not overlook or forget the MEK's past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992. The Department also has serious concerns about the MEK as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members.
The Secretary's decision today took into account the MEK's public renunciation of violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade, and their cooperation in the peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf, their historic paramilitary base.
The United States has consistently maintained a humanitarian interest in seeking the safe, secure, and humane resolution of the situation at Camp Ashraf, as well as in supporting the United Nations-led efforts to relocate eligible former Ashraf residents outside of Iraq.

February 9th of this year, the Ashraf residents were attacked at the new 'home' of Camp Liberty.

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: And lastly, Mr. Secretary, I have two questions for written reply to allow the Camp Liberty residents in Iraq to go back to Camp Ashraf.  The double-layered T-walls that were protecting the camp were removed and now the residents are vulnerable to armed attacks as they were on February 9th when 8 residents were killed.  Will the US ask the Iraqi government to adequately protect the residents in Camp Liberty?

Ros-Lehtinen had a series of questions.  We'll pick up Kerry's response in the middle, when he gets to Camp Ashraf.

Secretary John Kerry:  Was the Camp Ashraf for written [reply]?

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  It was for written but if you'd like.

Secretary John Kerry:  Well I'll just tell you very quickly, I met with Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki a few days ago.  This concern there about what's happening at Camp Liberty was very much on our minds in terms of security.  We are working with them now in terms of trying to do interviews.  We've actually run into some problems with that.  There was an Albanian offer to take some people.  That was turned down.  So we're working through a complicated situation.  I'll give you a full written answer on that.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher also noted the Camp Ashraf residents and the attack that killed eight people, how "the structures that were protecting them have been taken down.  Are we -- The question is, are we going to hold the Maliki government responsible for their safety and, if there is another attack, and more of them are murdered, are we going to -- will the administration withdraw its request for aid to a regime that's murdering innocent refugees in a camp that we helped put there?"

Secretary John Kerry: I raised this issue -- I raised this issue directly with the prime minister when I was there a couple of weeks ago.  We are deeply engaged in this.  I am very concerned about the potential of another attack.  We are trying very hard to find a place to resettle everybody.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher: Okay.

Secretary John Kerry: I'll tell you [cross-talk] the answer is we are looking for accountability and we are working very hard to provide safety.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Accountability for the Iraqi government is important on this issue

Secretary John Kerry:  It's the Iranian government that I believe was behind the attacks.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Well I would have --

Secretary John Kerry:  But we need the Iraqi government to provide security.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Maliki's coziness to the mullahs in Iran is disturbing and this may reflect that.

Ruth will be covering an aspect of the hearing at her site tonight.  Ava will fill in for Trina tonight and cover another part of today's hearing.
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