Thursday, September 20, 2012

White House spin dissolves: It was terrorism

From NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

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Brian Williams:  It won't bring back the U.S. Ambassador or the three other Americans who were murdered -- including two former Navy Seals, but tonight: What happened the night they died?  The storming of that U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya is being labeled an act of terrorism by the White House.  That was not the initial story and some in government have given conflicting versions for what happened there that night.  We begin tonight with tonight with what it does mean.  Our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell in our D.C. bureau tonight. Andrea, good evening.

Andrea Mitchell:  Good evening, Brian.  And tonight the White House confirmed that the attack was an act of terror -- officials say by al Qaeda  sympathizers.  But big questions remain about when it was planned and why initial reports were wrong?

What went wrong?  Obviously the White House lied.  With the press obsessing stupidly over Mitt Romney's remarks and failing to do their job, what purpose did it serve a White House that wants re-election to step up and say, "Uh, it was really terrorism"?

I'm doing a full transcript so do not worry if you cannot stream or need closed captioning for the video report.

Andrea Mitchell:  Under heavy guard,[U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton's number two, Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns arrived in Libya today to attend a memorial service for the four Americans that were killed there.  Now that the F.B.I. is on the scene, U.S. officials acknowledge the first reports of a protest gone wild were wrong.  On Air Force One, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, "It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack." President Obama was asked about that at a Univision forum today.  

White House spokesperson Jay Carney: What we do know is that, uh, the national protests, uh, that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they could also directly harm U.S. interests.

Andrea Mitchell: Intelligence officials now believe it could have been a planned attack all along, masquerading as a protest.  Today officials briefed top members of Congress.

U.S. House Rep.  Howard "Buck" McKeon: I think the story now is that there was not a demonstration, that this was a pre-planned attack.

Andrea Mitchell: But after the killings, the administration blamed it on protests sparked by that anti-Islamic video.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice: What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.

Andrea Mitchell: Visibly frustrated by those accounts, [U.S. Senator] John McCain lashed out at the administration today for not immediately pointing to al Qaeda affiliates.

U.S. Senator John McCain:  Saying that they thought it was some kind of spontaneous demonstration?  It shows the level of -- the abysmal level of their knowledge about fundamental aspects of terrorists attacks and militant operations.

Andrea Mitchell:  He also said he was worried about [the late] Ambassador Chris Stevens' safety, especially when he was with him on election night in Libya.  Hillary Clinton announced she's convening a review board to investigate what went wrong as she's required to by law while in Coronado, California today, another funeral for Tyrone Woods, one of the two former Navy Seals assigned to Benghazi.  U.S. officials say that this could have been a long planned attack taking the opportunity of a protest or no protest at all.  They are now investigating all possibilities including why the initial accounts were wrong?

Imagine the outrage if Bully Boy Bush had waited days to call the attacks on N.Y.C. and D.C. in 2011 terrorism.  The White House should have made the announcement along time ago and stopped trying to spin it and pretend it was something else.

The White House looks irresponsible tonight and unable to protect its own citizens.  This is not a good night for the country.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Thursday, September 20, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Kim Rivera is arrested, where in Iraq was the US flag burned Tuesday (better question: by who?), Nouri shuts down more night clubs in Baghdad by sending his thugs in to bust them up, and more.
Iraq War veteran and US war resister Kimberly Rivera was arrested today after being forced out of Canada despite support rallies taking place around Canada.  The Canadian Press notes of the Toronto rally, "Wednesday evening's rally in Toronto also attracted faith groups, local activist organizations and veteran associations. David Milne, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, said he attended the protest because he had witnessed the brutality of war in three trips to Iraq."  Miles Howe (Halifax Media Co-op) covers the Halifax demonstration and notes, "The contingent had gathered over 200 signatures from Nova Scotia supporters of Rivera and her quest to remain in Canada, where she has resided since 2007 with her husband and four children, the two youngest of whom were born in Canada. Rivera, who signed up for the United States military when she was 24, has built a life with her family in Canada. She has been an active member in her community, doing volunteer work and educating others about the Iraq War."  Her story was told today on CBC News: Morning.
Heather Hiscox:  The first female war resister in Canada is scheduled to be deported today but there's still a last gasp effort underway to keep the US Army Private in this country and some well known people are rallying behind her.  Michael Serapio has the details.  Michael, this deportation order looming for Kimberly Rivera?

Michael Serapio: That's right Kimberly is an America, you see here in the photo and also in this video here.  Now Kimberly Rivera, we should point out, is originally from Texas and when she was 24-years-old, she joined the US Army.  Now this was in the wake of 9-11.  And she joined the US Army thinking she could help make the United States a safer place.  She was -- after enlisting -- deployed to Iraq and to Baghdad and after serving time there and spending more and more time there, she -- It occurred to her that the casualties were really mounting in terms of civilian death numbers and so she figured she could no longer fight this war with any conscience so she, in 2007, came to Canada.  She came as a conscientious objector, asking to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds.  And after  a number of years of fighting back and forth, the Immigration Ministry has decided to deny her request to stay in this country and it is that denial of application that has led to the protests that we've seen in the last 24 hours trying to maybe have some kind of an 11th hour rescue for Kim Rivera.  Now we should point out that she has been ordered to leave Canada today.  She says that she and her family will comply.  This despite that Parliament has twice voted to allow War Resisters like her to stay in Canada and despite human rights activists -- some fairly famous ones -- advocating on her behalf, including the Bishop Desmond Tutu out of South Africa.  Take a listen to what he has to say about Kim Rivera: "The deportation order given to Ms. Rivera is unjust and must be challenged.  It's in times when people are swept up in a frenzy of war that it's most important to listen to the quiet voices speaking the truth.  Isn't it time we begin to redress the atrocity of this war by honouring those such as Ms. Rivera who had the courage to stand against it at such a cost to themselves?"  But despite that, Heather, she will be deported today.

Heather Hiscox:  Yeah, interesting to read the words of the government saying it doesn't consider these to be international -- like not genuinely refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term.  So it looks like this will go ahead despite these high profile supporters.  What will happen to her, Michael, when she return to the US?

Michael Serapio:  Well there is a group called War Resisters Canada that have been rallying not only for Kim Rivera but for other American soldiers that came here as conscientious objectors.  They note that the last two Americans sent to the United States were both given prison sentences.  In Kim Rivera's case, they expect her to be court-martialed, to spend at least one year in prison.  And she says the hardest part of it is the separation she will face -- separation from her family, not only her husband but her four children, as you see here in this photo, two of whom were born right here in Canada.

Diana Mehta (Canadian Press) reports, "Kimberly Rivera complied with a deportation order and presented herself at the border at Gananoque, Ont., on Thursday.  The War Resisters Support Campaign -- which issued multiple warnings that Ms. Rivera would likely face a court martial and jail time on her return -- said the mother of four was immediately arrested, detained and transferred to U.S. military custody."  Dan Burns (Reuters) adds that Kim "was taken into custody at the Thousand Islands Bridge border station about 30 miles north of Watertown, N.Y., said Michelle Robidoux, spokeswoman with the War Resisters Support Campaign."
Canada's United Steelworkers issued the following statement:
TORONTO – "Kim Rivera's deportation is an international tragedy," says Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers (USW) National Director.
"This gives Canada a black eye on the international stage. Our country's once-proud tradition as a safe haven for conscientious objectors has been destroyed with Kim's deportation," says Neumann.
"Kim should have been able to count on her safety by coming to Canada. I, along with her Steelworker supporters, decry her deportation to the U.S. today," says Neumann.
"Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had the opportunity to show compassion and do the right thing, and he refused to act," says Neumann. "Two of Kim's children were born here, yet the process for deporting her failed to consider the wellbeing of her family."
Rivera presented herself at the Canada-U.S. border in Gananoque, Ont., today, complying with her deportation order issued by the Harper government. In the U.S., the mother of four children faces a prison sentence of two to five years.
The USW has supported U.S. Iraq War resisters since 2004 when the first war resister arrived in Canada. The Toronto Steelworkers Hall is offered for the War Resisters Support Campaign's public meetings.
During the Vietnam War, 100,000 war resisters came to Canada and more than half of them remain here today. Many of them served in the military, and like Kim, later developed moral objections to the war that they could not ignore. In the 1970s, conscientious objectors who had voluntarily joined the U.S. military were accepted as permanent residents here without distinction from those who were drafted.
Public opinion polling shows that a majority of Canadians want our government to continue that tradition today. A 2008 Angus Reid poll found that 64% of Canadians would let U.S. military deserters stay in Canada.

More information:
Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers National Director, 416-544-5951
Bob Gallagher, United Steelworkers, 416-434-2221,
While Kim was being ripped from her family, Nouri al-Maliki (aka Little Saddam) was again attacking freedom.  Alsumaria reports that the federal police stormed social clubs in Baghdad yesterday, shutting them down and expelling patrons and owners. More than any other recent actions, this one has Nouri being called a dictator. The raids echoed earlier ones in Baghdad this month in which clubs were shut down and patrons and owners attacked. From the September 5th snapshot:

In other violence, Alsumaria reports that armed forces in police uniforms attacked various social clubs in Baghdad yesterday, beating various people and firing guns in the air. They swarmed clubs and refused to allow anyone to leave but did make time to beat people with the butss of their rifles and pistols, they then destroyed the clubs. AFP adds, "Special forces units carried out near-simultaneous raids at around 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Tuesday 'at dozens of nightclubs in Karrada and Arasat, and beat up customers with the butts of their guns and batons,' said an interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'Artists who were performing at the clubs were also beaten,' the official said." The assaults were ordered by an official who reports only to Nouri al-Maliki. In related news the Great Iraqi Revolution posted video Friday of other attacks on Iraqi civilians by security forces and noted, "Very important :: a leaked video show Iraqi commandos during a raid to Baaj village and the arrest of all the young men in the village .they threatened the ppl of the village they will make them another Fallujah and they do not mind arresting all village's men and leave only women . they kept detainees in a school, and beating them, u can see they burned a car of one of the citizens"

And from the September 6th snapshot:

Alsumaria notes that Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, has called out the assault on the social clubs and states that it is violation of the Constitution as well as basic human rights. Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoun al-Damalouji called on the security forces to respect the rights of the citizens. Tamim al-Jubouri (Al Mada) adds that the forces working for Nouri attacked many clubs including Club Orient which was established in 1944 and that the patrons including Chrisitans who were surprised Tuesday night when Nouri's forces entered and began breaking furniture, beat patrons and employees and stole booze, cell phones and clothing. So they're not only bullies, they're also theives. Kitabat notes that the people were attacked with batons and gun butts including a number of musicians who were performing live in the club including singer Hussein Basri. Alsumaria adds that the Baghdad Provincial Council states that they were not informed of the assaults on social clubs.

Earlier this month, Al Mada attempted to make sense of the confusing stories. Nouri's spoksesperson maintained September 6th that these actions were done to carry out a court order. The Iraqi Supreme Court September 8th denied such an order. If such an order would have been issued, it would make sense to use the police. Of course Baghdad Province was never informed of the raids so that left them and their forces out. The Ministry of the Interior announces they knew nothing of the raids until the news covered it and that their forces did not take part in the raids. An unnameded, high-ranking Ministry of the Interior source states that the order was from Nouri and Nouri alone, that he issued the order and based it upon his role as commander-in-chief. Iraq has a struggling economy already with many people left unemployed with an official unemployment rate of 15.2%. In such a climate, shutting down a vibrant social scene -- and the jobs it creates -- is pretty damn stupid. Also true, it doesn't make anyone want to travel into Iraq to Baghdad. Better to book Erbil or any other location in the KRG. Nouri's Iraq has serious business problems.
Ranking Member Richard Lugar: His experience with managing large embassies is especially critical given the US mission in Iraq is the biggest embassy in the world. The operation includes the huge embassy in Baghdad, several outlying facilities, in Baghdad about ten security cooperation police training sites and consulates in Barsa and Erbil. Employees number approximately 1600 US-direct-hires, 240 Iraqis, thousands of contractors. Iraq sits aside the Sunni-Shia divide that's been the source of great conflict. Politically, Iraq remains fractured along sectarian lines and those divisions appear to have deepened in the last year. Iraq's stability depends on it being integrated with responsible neighbors and the world community. It's longterm future depends on its willingness to stand on the side of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Iraq's political fragmentation and corruption also present fundamental challenges to its economy. An annual World Bank report that analyzes the ease of doing business and the protection of property rights across 183 economies ranked Iraq 164th in 2012 -- down five slots from its 2011 ranking. Despite Prime Minister Maliki's claims that Iraq is open for business, most interested investors and trade partners are challenged to get a visa or definitive answer from the government about tender and bidding processes. According to the World Bank, Iraq last year implemented policies that made it more difficult for Iraqis themselves to do business.
That's Ranking Member Richard Lugar speaking at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday where the senators heard testimony from Robert S. Beecroft who is nominated to be the new US Ambassador to Iraq.  Yesterday, we noted Committee Chair John Kerry and Senator Mark Rubio's questioning.  Today, we're noting Ranking Member Richard Lugar and Senator Bob Casey who was Acting Chair for the bulk of the hearing. 
Lugar spoke movingly of the late US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens who was one of four Americans (Glen Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods are the other three who were) killed in an attack on the embassy in Libya last week.  Kerry, Beecroft and others at the hearing noted Stevens' passing and his service but Lugar spoke of working with him when Stevens had been a Pearson Fellow with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2006 and 2007 and how he had made a point to stay in touch with the Committee. 
On that attack, earlier today Kathleen Hennessey of the Los Angeles Times reported, "The White House is now describing the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi as a 'terrorist attack,' a shift in emphasis after days of describing the lethal assualt as a spontaneous eruption of anger over an anti-Islamic film made in California."  Today in Tripoli, the US State Dept's Deputy Secretary William J. Burns presided over a ceremony honoring Stevens, Doherty, Smith and Woods (link is text and video)
From Lugar's questions:
Ranking Member Richard Lugar:  Let me just follow on Senator Kerry's questioning because what he and you have described is a country which clearly is a sovereign country but without the hydrocarbons law which was anticipated so that the oil, the basic revenue for a good part of managing the government never came into being and therefore deals have been made by the Kurds on occassion with companies outside of Iraq, the sort of -- Commerce is proceeding, with or without the hydrocarbons law and therefore some dispersion of the wealth of the country, quite apart from some questions about how the Kurds fit in to this Iraq situation. Now, as you point out, two important laws, hydrocarbon and the Constitution basically. And the question, therefore, that Iraqis must have, quite apart from Americans, sort of getting back to testimony that we used to hear before this Committee in which some people were advocating that there really were three different countries or we ought to recognize really the realities of Iraq as opposed to having this fiction that there was one country and somehow or other this oil and this constitutional framework representing three major groups -- and others -- would come into being. How does a country operate given these divisions? Granted that Maliki has authority but from time to time there are reports of terrorism in Iraq against Iraqis -- quite apart from the Kurd situation which is hard to describe. And you mention these are still to happen but how do they move towards happening at all? Is there an impetus in the country towards unity, towards cohesion that we should say -- given patience and given time -- this is going to work out? Or is the trend maybe the other way given events in the Middle East, given the ties with Iran, whatever they may be, or the problem of Sunnis and Shi'ites everywhere? Is this really a solid country?
Charge d'Affaires Robert S. Beecroft: Thank you, Senator Lugar. Yes, I think it is. There's a solid basis for the country to go forward and succeed here. While there are forces that would pull Iraq apart, what we continue to see and what's encouraging is that Iraqis continue to-to resolve their differences through dialogue, through negotiation and so when they do have disputes, which they have frequently, to be perfectly honest, they find ways to resolve them peacefully and as part of this democratic process. Our job is to continue to encourage that and to support them as they do that and point out ways where they can do it more effectively. Hydrocarbons law, as you point out, is one way to do that, strengthening the legislative process is another way of doing that. Focusing on key -- helping them to focus on key laws that they need to pass as part of that legislative process -- For example, the, uh, law on the Higher Electoral Comission, putting new commissioners in place. These are the things that will help unify the country over time. Right now, I think it is headed in the right direction. But with plenty of ups and downs on the trend lines. We need to keep the trend line going and try to minimize the downs.
Ranking Member Richard Lugar: Is your counsel appreciated? Our enthusiasm in the United states is obviously for a unified, whole Iraq --
Charge d'Affaires Robert S. Beecroft: I think by and large, it -- We're listened to very closely. Most Iraqis will say the United States continues to have a role to play in Iraq and I think most Iraqis are committed to the same thing we're committed to which is a unified, federal and democratic Iraq.
Ranking Member Richard Lugar: Now you mentioned the relative security of our embassy and what have you. In the past, there's been considerable discussion, not only among diplomats but among the American public about the size in Iraq. There was discussion when this was first built -- a monumental structure, to say the least. I remember at one conference, I suggested in fact that this structure is so big that it might really serve as a unifying purpose for Middle Eastern countries -- a sort of united forum in which they would all come together -- or like the Hague or what have you. And some people found some interest in this even if the Iraqis did not necessarily nor could our government since its our embassy. But what is the future, simply of all of the real estate, all of the responsibilites? They're huge and this is going to be an ongoing debate, I'm certain, in the Congress as we come to budget problems in this country.
Charge d'Affaires Robert S. Beecroft: Uhm, thank you very much. We-we recognize that this is an issue we started with an embassy that was staffed to address all possible contingencies, to follow up on the wonderful work that the US military had done in Iraq. Since that time, and again starting with Ambassador [James] Jeffrey, and it's something that I personally am continuing and have been very closely involved in and we will pursue -- We're calling it a "glide path exercise" where we're looking at what our objectives are and how we are resourced and staffed to meet those objectives. And what we've found is that we can prioritize and can focus our mission and will continue to do that on what we really need to accomplish. And as we do that, we're able to reduce personnel. Since the beginning of the year, we have reduced personnel by more than 2,000. We're now somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 personnel in Iraq -- down from over 16. Facilities? We have given back in the last couple of days, facilites we had in Kirkuk, had an airbase up there, and facilities we had in Baghdad for police training center. And we have another facility in the next few days which we'll give back also in Baghdad.  So we're reducing not just the number of personnel but we're reducing the number of pieces of property we occupy and use and we are very mindeful of the cost that it takes to support the mission in Iraq and I personally am dedicated to reducing those costs by again focusing on the mission on what we really need to achieve.
It continues but we're stopping him there. Yesterday, he got to have his say in the snapshot. We didn't fact check him because he's a diplomat and hopefully he doesn't believe half the happy talk he's saying but feels its necessary for relations should he be confirmed.
So when he claims that Iraq is resolving differences through politics, we just roll our eyes, think of the still unimplemented Erbil Agreement and chuckle.
But now we're to the part where his statements require a fact check.
If Republicans wanted to lodge an objection to the nomination -- they don't -- this is where it would come from:
Facilities? We have given back in the last couple of days, facilites we had in Kirkuk, had an airbase up there, and facilities we had in Baghdad for police training center. And we have another facility in the next few days which we'll give back also in Baghdad.  So we're reducing not just the number of personnel but we're reducing the number of pieces of property we occupy and use and we are very mindeful of the cost that it takes to support the mission in Iraq and I personally am dedicated to reducing those costs by again focusing on the mission on what we really need to achieve.
Do you see the problem?
Members of the Senate might not but House members most likely would immediately. It's not often the State Dept gets both caught lying in a hearing and fact checked in a hearing but that happened at the June 19th House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations. The State Dept's Patrick Kennedy was confronted with the fact that the US government was using land in Iraq that they had not secured lease agreements for. That's why the police training facility in Bahgdad was turned over. Kennedy lied and thought he could get away with it. Apparently he forgot who was on the second panel: the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts, the State Dept's Acting Inspecting General Harold Geisel, DoD's Special Deputy Inspector General for Southwest Asia Mickey McDermott, USAID's Deputy Inspector General Michael Carroll and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen Jr.
Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a
discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities
we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest
eport as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?
Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of
the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes.
But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use
agreements or leases.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat. So what does
that mean? They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that
basically what those are? Or is there some force of law to those notes?

Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement. And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis
required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites. And that was at one of the
sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much
more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.

After the elections, the House Oversight and Government Reform needs to hold a hearing about this. 
We have given back in the last couple of days, facilites we had in Kirkuk, had an airbase up there, and facilities we had in Baghdad for police training center. And we have another facility in the next few days which we'll give back also in Baghdad.
Unless something's changed since June, these facilities are being handed over for free.  And they're being handed over because the administration did not secure land-lease agreements.  The US taxpayer footed the bill.  And Beecroft is talking about how "we have another facility in the next few days which we'll give back also in Baghdad."  In June, Patrick Kennedy didn't give that impression.  In fact, he stated that the police training center in Baghdad was the only thing being given away and he lied that there were land-lease agreements for all properties.  Patrick Kennedy needs to be called before the Committee and asked why his testimony in June is in so much conflict with what's taken place in September.  If it were earlier in the year, it might happen.  But it will be hard to schedule the hearing in the brief amount of time left.  (October means all House members seeking re-election return home to campaign.  All 435 seats in the House are being elected.)  Possibly after the election, they can ask Patrick Kennedy to return and explain himself to the Committee?
Beecroft  told Lugar that protests in Iraq -- similar to others against the video in the region -- were mild.  I don't think that's an accurate description.  More to the point, he seemed unaware of a Tuesday action Dar Addustour reported.  An American flag was burned.  How is that any different from any other protest?  Well it was burned by an MP.  An elected official, a member of the Parliament burned it.  He is Hussein Aziz al-Sharifi.  And we're not done.  He didn't burn it in the streets of Basra, he burned it outside the US Embassy in Baghdad.  As a member of Parliament, he can enter the Green Zone.  So he was able to go in front of the US Embassy in Baghdad and burn the flag.  The Committee should have been informed of that.  Since Beecroft is acting US ambassador currently, he should have been informed of what happened outside the US Embassy on Tuesday before he testified to the Senate on Wednesday.  Let's remember what he told John Kerry about the safety in Iraq.
Charge d'Affaires Robert S. Beecroft: For some time now and all the more so in light of recent events we have taken a very cautious and careful look at our security on a regular basis.  We have our own security at the Embassy.  We think it is sizable.  It is robust.  And we're very confident that it's what we need at this time.  At the same time,  we're fully engaged with Iraqi officials both poltiical and security officials at the most senior levels to make sure that they give us the cooperation that we feel we need and so far they have done that.  They have pledged to protect us and we're doing everything   to ensure that they keep to that pledge and that we meet our part of it by ensuring that we're as safe as we can be on our terms.  At the same time, I'd comment, we enjoy geographic advantages.  The Embassy is located inside the International Zone, the Green Zone, as you know, and there are a number of checkpoints that are closely guarded getting into it.  It's not a place where demonstrations usually take place.
"It's not a place where demonstrations usually take place."  Chuckle implied.  But on Tuesday, a member of Parliament staged a protest, burned the US flag outside the Embassy.  That's a huge insult but, more importantly, it raises serious security questions.
And now we'll turn to a monumental moment for Congress in the continued Iraq War.  This took place during an exchange with Senator Bob Casey and try to remember when there were actual expectations for Iraq.
Acting Chair Bob Casey: I want to also ask you about the politics of Iraq.  We sometimes don't have a chance to spend enough time on an issue like that.  But I was struck when I was there in July -- I guess it was July of 2010 -- Senator [Jeanne] Shaheen and Senator Ted Kaufman from Delaware, the three of us were there.  Our visit to Iraq just happened to overlap with a visit from the Vice President [Joe Biden] so we had a moment -- probably a two hour window -- where we could actually sit with him and he had just come from a series of meetings with various Iraqi officials trying to work out the politics and the difficult management of that, doing everything he could to bring the sides together.  As you know a lot better than I, it's one thing to have political ideological differences, it's another thing when it has its origin in ethnicity and all kinds of other divisions, it's particularly difficult to bring the sides together.  Now the concern -- and I was also struck by how capable the Vice President was in dealing with that because he spent a lot of time with all these players. There's still a real concern that those politics haven't worked out as well as we'd  hoped.  And, in particular, there's a concern -- or maybe an allegation, that might be too strong of a word -- that Prime Minister Malaki is becoming more and more authoritarian.  And I wanted to get your sense of that and your sense of the overall politics because that of course will be the underpinning of progress.  They can't make progress to the extent that we would hope unless they can manage those political differences. So I wanted to get your sense of that and maybe what you could do to further advance those -- those areas of cooperation or consensus.
Charge d'Affaires Robert S. Beecroft: Thank you.  There clearly are divisions within Iraq and different interests in Iraq but what we see and what's encouraging is that the parties -- when they have disputes, when they have differences -- that at the end of the day, they come together to talk and negotiate this -- their differences.  And they continue to function as democracy, they continue to work in the legislature, in the Council of Ministers and outside it in in formal processes or official processes and find their way forward.  Now it's often times a slow protracted process. It certainly does not move at the pace that we would like to see or at the efficiency that we would like to see.  But as I see it, our role is largely to encourage this, to point -- to be helpful in pointing out ways forwards, ways things might be done, the way they might be able to compromise or reach consensus on issues.  And then to be as helpful as possible to help them avoid any backsliding on those agreements and to find ways to help consolidate them.  And we'll continue doing that as best we can.  But, again, I'd like to reiterate that the encouraging thing is that Iraq has not fallen apart, that it has held together.
The encouraging this is that Iraq has not fallen apart?  Do you really think the US government would have had such a 'cakewalk' of selling the illegal war in 2002 and 2003 if they'd told the American people that "success" would be measured by the fact "that Iraq has not fallen apart."  Wow.  What a lowered expectation.  The encouraging thing is that Iraq has not fallen apart?
Ranking Member Richard Lugar noted early in the hearing, "Though some significant down-sizing has occurred, the Iraq operation continue to be enormously expensive. How does the administration define US goals in Iraq? What are the prospects for achieving these goals? And what resources will be required over the long term?"  Those are important questions.  They weren't answered in the hearing -- and no nominee could have been expected to answer them.  But the administration needs to.  Bush had to come up with benchmarks to justify the continued spending of US tax dollars.  Barack should have to as well.
And, no, Iraq 'not falling apart' doesn't justify a billion, a million or even a single penny for a continued US mission.
Nouri al-Maliki is not a thin man. He'd probably best be described as stocky (not fat, stocky). In a sign of just how large Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, now is, the photo Dar Addustour runs indicates it would take over three Nouris to make one Jalal. Talabani just returned to Iraq this week from Germany, where's he been since June following knee surgery.  His huge girth isn't healthy and that would explain why Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports Nouri was checking on Jalal's health with the visit and why  All Iraq News reports Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi phoned Talabani today to check on Jalal's health.  The outlet also notes that the National Alliance's Ibrahim al-Jaafari visited Jalal in Sulaymaniyah.  Accompanying Nouri to Sulaymaniyah and then to Najaf, Alsumaria reports,  was the human clutch purse Saleh al-Mutlaq.  No doubt, Saleh walked behind Nouri as he played Jiang Qing to Nouri's Chairman Mao.
Chairman Mao's rule was characterized by a wave of purges.  Nouri has so much in common with Mao.  Alsumaria reports tribal elders in Salahuddin Province are saying that the work of the Justice and Accountability Commission should be concluded and that a law should be passed dissolving the commission.  And their demand is correct.  The Justice and Accountability Commission was not supposed to be a standing committee.  It was supposed to term out.  Nouri, in fact, in 2007 promised it would do just that.  That was part of the benchmarks he signed onto.  It wasn't supposed to exist in 2010 -- remember how Saleh al-Mutlaq decried it, especially after it banned him -- but was used to eliminate political rivials.  It's not supposed to exist today and, as long as it exists, the damaging de-Ba'athification of Iraq continues.  (De-Ba'athifcation refers to the policy Paul Bremer implemented in Iraq on behalf of the Bush White House.  This policy was repeatedly and widely condemned by British officials testifying to the Iraq Inquiry in London.)  In related news, Dar Addustour reports that the Chair of the Parliament's Commission on Security and Defense, Hassan Sinead, has signed an order allowing MPs to purchase personal weapons because, as the document notes, members of Parliament don't trust the so-called security forces to protect them.
And who can trust Nouri?  Alsumaria reports State of Law is attempting to collect signatures to force KRG President Massoud Barzani to submit to an interrogation before Parliament.
Earlier this week a drone the Turkish government got from the United States crashed in Dohuk.  All Iraq News reports that the PKK is stating they shot the drone down.  In other shooting news, Al Rafidayn reports that 1 government employee was shot dead in Baghdad and that a police officer with counter-terrorism survived a Tikrit assassination attempt (bombing).  All Iraq News adds that 1 person was shot dead in Mosul.  Alsumaria notes a suicide bomber blew his/herself up in Diyala Province (no one else was injured), 1 member of the Association of Muslim Scholars was shot dead in Nineveh,  and 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul.
In the US, Jill Stein is the Green Party presidential candidate.  Her campaign issued the following today:
Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced plans to challenge Monday's federal court ruling protecting American liberty from the NDAA. In response, Dr. Jill Stein issued the following statement today:
It is important for everyone concerned with the preservation of liberty in America to stand up now against the Obama administration's attempt to defend the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Thanks to a lawsuit brought by journalist Chris Hedges and others, a federal judge ruled that indefinite detention is unconstitutional.  The judge said that it could allow a president to indefinitely imprison journalists - or anyone else they considered to be in some way assisting the enemy in the War on Terror - without charging them with a specific crime or giving them a chance to defend themselves in court.  The judge noted that this would have a chilling effect upon journalists reporting stories that displeased the government.
The judge told the Obama administration that they could not use the law.  The response of the Administration was to file for an emergency measure to keep the law in effect while they appeal the ruling.

Indefinite detention without trial is used to suppress dissent by dictators around the world.  It is the type of oppressive executive power that our Constitution was written to forbid.   It's time to tell President Obama that it doesn't belong in America.

Please don't let this pass without raising your voice.  Once your rights are taken away, it will be too late to protest.

This isn't just a matter for the lawyers to decide.  This threat to our constitutional rights is arising from a "look tough" political strategy adopted by the Obama administration.  The Administration needs to understand that continuing down this path will exact a political price.  They must be told that Americans resent their attempts to defend a law that undermines the constitution.

I and my running mate, Cheri Honkala, have opposed the indefinite detention provision from the time President Obama signed it.  We also urge people to
join us in signing the "First Amendment Pledge" against the use of military-style police tactics to intimidate people demonstrating against government policies (See ).  We will continue to speak up against the ongoing attempts to militarize our justice system and undermine our rights of free speech.