Then I went to yesterday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing and realized that Mr. Ackerman is nothing but a pompous ass. He managed to say one offensive thing after another. If there is a group he did not offend in his 'six minutes,' I would be surprised.
He opened by apologizing to the witnesses, the State Department's William Burns and Thomas Nides.
For what did he apologize?
That they had to face a Congressional Committee.
Yes, that is their job. Yes, providing oversight is Congress' job. Maybe Mr. Ackerman did not seek re-election because his mind is blown?
Mr. Ackerman insisted that they were there for a "ruse." Really, I thought they were there because the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was attacked and four Americans (Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith and Chris Stevens) were murdered.
He never mentioned the names of the dead, of course.
He told the witnesses they were merely foils.
As if he could afford to tick off anyone else, Mr. Ackerman then went after reality dwellers by declaring of the Republican Party and the recent 2012 election, "the voters didn't object to your policies, they rejected your attitude."
He was serious.
You sort of sense even his support from Yellow Dog Democrats just cratered after that.
He was an embarrassment.
How sad that this was how he chose to leave the Congress, how sad.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Friday, December 21, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri uncorks The Crazy, the New York Times rushes to cover for him and invents their own set of 'facts,' Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc both call Nouri out, the leader of Sahwa calls him out, top US officials insult Iraq by refusing to issue a statement from the President or Vice President or Secretary of State note that the President of Iraq is ailing and hospitalized, we go back to the Benghazi hearings yesterday, and more.
In Iraq, it's seasonal tidings. Yes, that time of the year when Nouri uncorks The Crazy. How bad is it? So bad that rumors attach War Criminal Henry Kissinger's name to the current crisis. Or, with a take from a different angle, conservative Max Boot (Commentary) proclaims, "Ho hum, another holiday season, another power grab by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki." AFP says the new crisis "threatens to reignite a long-running feud between the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc" and Nouri and his State of Law political slate. What the heck are we talking about? Look at this Reuters photo (individual photographer is not credited by the news agency or we'd note him or her by name) of the thousands who turned out to protest in Falluja today demanding Nouri al-Maliki resign as prime minister.
After morning prayers, Kitabat reports, protesters gathered in Falluja to protest the arrests and Nouri al-Maliki. They chanted down with Nouri's brutality and, in a move that won't change their minds, found themselves descended upon by Nouri's forces who violently ended the protest. Before that, Al Mada reports, they were chanting that terrorism and Nouri are two sides of the same coin. Kitabat also reports that demonstrations also took place in Tikrit, Samarra, Ramdia and just outside Falluja with persons from various tribes choosing to block the road connecting Anbar Province (Falluja is the capitol of Anbar) with Baghdad. Across Iraq, there were calls for Nouri to release the bodyguards of Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi. Alsumaria notes demonstrators in Samarra accused Nouri of attempting to start a sectarian war.
So what happened yesterday? Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports:
Iraq's Finance Minister Rafei al-Essawi said Thursday that "a militia force" raided his house, headquarters and ministry in Baghdad and kidnapped 150 people, and he holds the nation's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, responsible for their safety.
Mustafa Habib (Al Mada) notes that Nouri al-Maliki's targeting Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with terrorism charges and calling for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq have many noticing that both are members of Iraqiya and political opponents of Nouri and that while the political crisis has revealed a diminished role for the US it has underscored that the Kurds remain the heart of the country's political process. Dar Addustour reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi announced the postponement of the scheduled meeting yesterday of the political blocs while Nouri's spokesperson floated the notion that there are other charges waiting in the wings. Reportedly this includes charging the Minister of Finance, Rafie al-Issawi, with terrorism, specifically with killings in Falluja back in 2006. Like Tareq al-Hashemi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, Rafie al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya. Dar Addustour also notes Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister, issued a statement declaring the matter should have been resolved by the political blocs but has instead played out in the press. Al Mada adds that Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani and US Ambassador James Jeffrey spoke yesterday and are calling for a meeting among the political blocs and that State of Law was whining about the Friday meet-up, whining that Iraqiya is boycotting Parliament but they want to attend the meet-up. Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Iraqiya bloc leader Iyad Alawi described recent events in Iraq as 'liquidation of differences', warning an explosive era waiting Iraq in the coming days, according to an interview with Arabia TV late yesterday (Friday)." Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) report that Moqtada al-Sadr is proposing a "14-point 'peace code'" and attempting to present himself as a leader.
Last December, he waited until the bulk of US troops had left the country to uncork The Crazy. This December, he waited until Jalal Talabani had a stroke and was out of the country. Nouri is paranoid. When we made that point in 2006 and 2007 and 2008, you could ignore it. You could ignore it when I'd say, "State Dept friends say . . ." But thanks to WikiLeaks release of the US State Dept cables, there is now proof that the State Dept found him paranoid, called him paranoid in one cable after another and at what point does the US government stop stroking the crazy and start demanding justice for the Iraqi people?
Alsumaria notes that Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling for Iraqiya to withdraw from Parliament, the government and the political process if there is not an immediate investigation into what was done and Rafie al-Issawi is not protected. al-Mutlaq says it's a question of sovereignty and the law. (Nouri's attempt to oust al-Mutlaq were abandoned by last May due to the fact that Nouri could not get the votes in Parliament needed to oust the Deputy Prime Minister). Patrick Mareky and Rasheem Salman (Reuters) note:
Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, said late on Thursday that more than 100 bodyguards and staff were snatched illegally by militias, and blamed Maliki for orchestrating the raids to target opponents.
Maliki's office said only six bodyguards were arrested under counter terrorism laws.
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi remains Vice President. Let me repeat that: Tareq al-Hashemi remains Vice President of Iraq. The New York Times has wrongly stated this evening that he is no longer vice president. I'm sorry but the New York Times is a newspaper, it is not a governing body. It would do well to stick to facts. I'm sorry that facts are so hard for it. Tareq al-Hashemi is a Vice President of Iraq. Until his term expires, until he is removed from office before his term expires, until he dies or resigns before his term expires, he remains Vice President. Tareq al-Hashemi was convicted of terrorism by the Baghdad 'court,' yes. So you can say he is the only convicted Vice President in the world. Or you can say he's the only sitting Vice President who has been sentenced to death -- five times, not three as the New York Times also wrongly states. AFP noted last Friday (December 14th), "An Iraqi court has handed down a fifth death sentence on the country's fugitive Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on a weapons charge, Iraqiya state television reported on Thursday." Al Arabiya carries that AFP report here. Xinhua reported, "An Iraqi court on Thursday issued for the fifth time a death penalty verdict in absentia against the fugitive Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, a judicial source said." Adam Schreck, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reported:
Also on Thursday, an Iraqi court handed the country's fugitive Sunni vice president a new death sentence after finding him guilty of possession, transportation and using silenced weapons. It is the fifth death sentence since trials against Tariq al-Hashemi began last spring, according to his defense team leader, Muayad Obeid al-Ezzi.
Do I need to continue or is the point established that the New York Times is 100% wrong when they claim Tareq was "sentenced to death three times." Did you also notice everyone calls him the "fugitive vice president." Not the former vice president. He's not been removed from office. Iraqiya has not turned on Tareq. (Ayad Allawi made that clear in a video interview earlier this month that we'll try to link to before the end of this month.) The Kurds have not turned on him. To say that last year he "was then a vice president," Tareq remains a vice president. I'm sorry that the New York Times doesn't care about accuracy. I'm actually more troubled that the same outlet that covered for Nouri's attack on protesters and journalists at the end of February 2011 is yet again slanting things for Nouri instead of playing it down the middle.
Maybe Tim Arango shouldn't be reporting on Iraq from Vermont? Maybe it's not Tim's fault, maybe it's the co-writer? (As a general rule, an Iraqi writer gets several strikes before I call them out here. That reporter just had their first strike and I'm not mentioning their name.) I don't know but I know the report is factually wrong -- as we've already noted and could continue to note -- and it is offensive. To note an alleged "confession" and not note the history of torture in Nouri's Iraq -- well documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International -- or that last March saw the death of Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi while in Iraqi custody -- the man was tortured to death and they can't even note that he died. I try to avoid the New York Times, it's too frustrating but then I've got a voice mail, NYT friend, "We've got an Iraqi story can you link to it?" Can you read it to me? Can you tell me how that crap made it into print? The second question they never can answer.
Nouri didn't have the votes to oust him either. Nouri does control the kanagaroo court in Baghdad -- which declared Tareq guilty in a February press conference, months before the trial even began. But according to the law, the conviction and the five death sentences Tareq received were really not received. Tareq would have to first be stripped of his office to be tried. Due to the targeting, Tareq left Baghdad and then the KRG and now resides in Turkey. All Iraq News reports Tareq states today that Nouri's actions aren't surprising (they aren't) and that this is futher targeting of political rivals because Nouri does not want to share power. He also notes that what's happening was completely expected.
And he's correct there as well. So the question is, how much longer is the US going to support the tryant Nouri who they know has repeatedly run secret prisons in which Iraqis have been tortured? He's run these secret prisons since first being installed by the US as prime minister in 2006?
Secret prisons, broken contracts, targeting of political rivals, corruption and so much more.
And in the US, there has been a Republican occupant of the Oval Office (Bully Boy Bush) and now an elected President (Barack Obama) from the Democratic Party and both men have supported and backed thug Nouri -- a thug so sick and disgusting that he spent the start of this year demonizing and targeting Iraqi youths -- Emo and LGBT and those suspected of being either. He had his Ministry of Interior draw up warnings about these groups, he had them to go to school and demonize these people and the deaths followed and only international attention stopped it.
This is what two different US administrations have embraced. It's disgusting and it needs to stop.
But reporters don't even call it out. At today's US State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Patrick Ventrell was finally asked about Iraq at the very end of the press conference.
QUESTION: Change topics? Iraq?
MR. VENTRELL: Iraq? Sure.
QUESTION: With the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the hospital, tension seems to be rising between the KRG and the central government. Is our – your ambassador in consultation or in talks with both parties to sort of mitigate these tensions?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks for the question, Said. We're absolutely engaged. Since learning of the reports, we've been engaged across the political spectrum. We've urged Iraqi leaders to uphold their commitments to due process and the rule of law as enshrined in their constitution. Any actions from any party that subvert the rule of law or provoke ethnic or sectarian tension risk undermining the significant progress Iraq has made toward peace and stability and important work that the United States and Iraq are doing together. So we've absolutely been engaged on this, certainly from our Embassy in Baghdad, and we will continue to be engaged.
QUESTION: One of the most daunting issues between the two, the KRG and the central government, is actually the oil law, the hydrocarbon law. What have you done? Sort of what kind of progress is being made in that area, and what kind of assistance are you giving?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, suffice to say our – this is a longstanding policy of the U.S. that we support a constitutional solution to disputes over the management of Iraq's hydrocarbon resources. So this is something that we continue to urge both sides to reach an agreement on, but I have no update for you on our policy in that regard.
Since we're on the US State Dept, let me ask a question -- am I the only one bothered that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama have all failed to issue any statement regarding Jalal Talabani? Other heads of states and organization have issued statements wishing the Iraqi President a speedy recovery. The Obama administration just seems to ignore Iraq day after day. This while they continue to spend billions in Iraq and while they are planning to ask for more billions for the next fiscal year. Yes, for example, Hillary was injured over the weekend and has been working from her home. But she had plenty of time today to issue a statement about Senator John Kerry being named to replace her as Secretary of State. Barack's issued a ton of statements as well, Joe's last statement issued was December 17th. What must Jalal Talabani's wife think of America? She's probably too busy to think of it now but when things calm down and she reflects on which leaders and officials reached out and which didn't, there's going to be a lot of hurt there. The US government can throw all the (taxpayer) money at Iraq that it wants to, until it demonstrates that it actually gives a damn about Iraqi people, that money is useless. And while I feel very sorry for the offense and bad manners the US government is showing to the First Lady of Iraq, I think we also need to remember that the silence is also an insult to the people of Iraq.
Jalal Talabani is in Germany having been medically transported there yesterday. Al Mada interviewed First Lady Hero Ibrahim Ahmed on the plane en route to Germany yesterday. She stated that her husband's condition was stable and that he was able to gesture. Seh stressed that the President was giving his all to bring peace in Iraq (Jalal has been mediating on several of the crises Nouri al-Maliki's created in the last two years -- ongoing crises). She explains that Talabani returned to Baghdad solely to address the crisis involving the stand-off between the Peshmerga and Nouri's forces in the disputed areas. She stated everyone knows that the president was willing to do anything to resolve the issue, even sacrifice his own health. The couple has been married for over thirty years.
On Monday evening, following a meeting with Nouri, Jalal was taken to Baghdad Medical Center Hospital for what the prime minister's office has said was a stroke but the president's staff has left it as an unidentified health condition. The news broke on Tuesday. Wednesday, Iraqi doctors were joined by British and German doctors. It was felt that Talabani was in stable enough condition and could be transferred to Germany. Al Mada reports he is at Berlin's Charite University Hospital which is one of Europe's largest hospitals and was established in the year 1710.
Of Jalal's role in Iraqi politics, AKE Group's John Drake tells AFP, "While on paper his role is somewhat limited, his influence and mediation skills have gone a long way in smoothing over the country's troubled political scene. Some may describe his position as 'ceremonial' but he has made it a lot more active, simply through dialogue and discussion, which play a strong role in Iraqi politics."
US House Rep Mike Kelly: Ambassador Burns, when you talk about resources -- only 1% of the budget -- so what is 1$ of the budget? So what is our budget?
Thomas Nides: Our budget is $50 billion.
US House Rep Mike Kelly: Fifty-billion dollars.
Thomas Nides: That's right. Approximately 8% of the defence budget.
US House Rep Mike Kelly: Okay. So when people hear "1%" it doesn't sound like a lot of money but fifty billion is certainly a lot of money. When we talk about resources -- and I'm trying to understand because I've listened to a couple of different briefings, I've heard Mr. Pickering and Adm Mullen, I've heard you gentlemen today and think maybe you're not the folks that should be here because, as Mr. Johnson pointed out, you weren't really part of the decision making process. But what I'm trying to understand, what I can't get my mind wrapped around is everybody says this was a very unstable and highly volatile area. Then why, for God's sake, would we take out the best trained people we have? Why? Why did we move the SST team? Was it because of money?
That's from yesterday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. We noted it in yesterday's snapshot. Last night, Ava covered it with "Howard Berman's fuzzy figures (Ava)" noting that Howard Berman wanted to talk about how underfunded the security for security was . . . by talking about global warming funding -- he couldn't find the figures for security apparently (suprising since Senator Barabara Boxer was able to and to cite them in yesterday morning's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing). You can't talk money without talking waste and Wally's "Waste at the State Dept. is okay (Wally)" last night addressed the State Dept witnesses William Burns and Thomas Nides being confronted (by two different House Reps) with a long list of money spent on non-necessary items and events and Nides chose to respond that there is waste in the private industry as well. Yes, there is. But the private industry doesn't run on taxpayer funds. Ruth's "Benghazi questions must still wait" covered so much including how accountability got lost as US House Rep Karen Bass went on in the hearing about how she said no one should be called out until an investigation was conducted but now that it was conducted and released, she didn't want to focus on accountability, she wanted to figure out what to do? And you wonder why no one is ever held responsible for their actions?
Ruth also notes US House Rep Jean Schmidt and I'd planned to include that section of the hearing in full. Maybe next week. We've gutted 30K, the original opening of the snapshot, because it was 150K, we've got to lose some more. We're going to note an exchange by Committee Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen instead and then discuss that.
Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen: Secondly, who specifically changed Susan Rice's public talking points by eliminating references to al Qaeda and why? If there was a national security concern, what was it? When did the inaccurate, spontaneous protest narrative originate? Where did it originate? And why was that story deemed more fit for publication than the accurate terrorism evidence? And if Ambassador Rice had little knowledge of the facts on the ground in Benghazi, why was she selected by the administration to be the spokesperson on this subject? Ambassador Burns?
William Burns: Well, Madam Chair, on your second question, and then I'll turn it over to Tom on the first with regard to the budget, what happened in Benghazi on September 11th was clearly a terrorist attack. Secretary Clinton addressed that directly the following morning in her first public statement when she talked about an assault by heavily armed militants on our compound. Later that same day, President Obama talked of an act of terror. What was not clear that day was who exactly was involved? Which terrorists were responsible? What their motives were? How exactly this terrorist attack came about? Whether it was planned well in advance or more of a target of opportunity? I am confident that the senior administration officials who spoke to this issue and the intelligence community experts -- on whom they relied -- acted in good faith throughout this period. Their focus was on trying to be as factual as possible. Their focus was on actions because, Madam Chair, as you know, there were a number of other concerns in this period. Over that period of days, we had mobs coming over the walls in our embassies in Cario, in Tunis and in Sinai and that was a very heavy focus for Secretary Clinton and for people across the administration.
What? I'm referring to Sinai. The attack in Sinai was on September 14th (a Friday) and shouldn't have required focus from the State Dept -- it wasn't a State Dept facility it was a military outpost that some US forces were at, but it was an international outpost. It was not a US facility. If you're new to that attack, read this Times of Israel report. And after you do, explain to us all why an attack on the Multinational Force and Observers headquarters in Sinai required State Dept attention? The Telegraph of London noted in a live blog of the attacks, "A little more about the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) based in Sinai. There are 1,656 troops stationed at bases throughout the area. Twelve nations contributed soldiers to the force but the largest contingent is from the United States. Their mission is to monitor and enforce the 1979 peace agreement that ended the conflict between Israel and Egypt." Rawya Rageh (Al Jazeera) called it "a camp for the UN multinational peacekeepers in Sheikh Zuwayed town."
William Burns: As we were able to clear up, the inaccuracies in the original assessments, because, as the ARB points out, there was no protest or demonstration before the attack took place. But it did take the intelligence community some days to determine that that was inaccurate as they debriefed the survivors of the attack on Benghazi. I'm sure our colleageus in the intelligence community wish that they could have cleared up those inaccuracies sooner. They did it as quickly as they could and were then in direct touch with the Congress and briefed you on it.
[Thomas Nides then speaks to Ros-Lehtinen's budget question.]
Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen: Thank you. On the specific questions regarding Susan Rice, do you have anything further to add about the talking points and references? Because in e-mails, as the attacks were under way, the Diplomatic Operations Command Center was calling it a terrorist attack, as it was under way. So it's not like the picture was clearer several days later -- while the attack was taking place, in e-mails.
William Burns: Madam Chair, as I said, both the Secretary and the President, on September 12th addressed, I think, in very clear terms what happened and what the nature of the attack was. Second, the talking points that you refer to were produced by the CIA. I think the CIA has briefed a number of people on the Hill about the process that they went through and I'm sure that they'd be able to come out --
Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen: Thank you.
What confuses those of us who have attended all the public hearings on that September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack which killed Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Chris Stevens with regards to Susan Rice's presentation is that it was not confusing. Schmidt establishes that. The State Dept's Patrick Kennedy, in an October hearing, covered that he was in the halls of Congress the day after the attack, speaking to Congress members and their staff, and explaining it was a terrorist attack. He made a point to state that he and the State Dept did not refer to a spontaneous protest or flash mob or any such nonsense. We have sat through these hearings as the State Dept officials have been repeatedly clear that they never passed that on to Congress, that they presented it as a terrorist attack from the very first. So now Schmidt and the Committee Chair are both talking about the observations -- recorded observations -- of those present. Ros-Lehtinen referred to e-mails, Schmidt referred to a report filed that called it a terrorist attack -- and did so before any US official with the administration ever spoke. These are the first-hand observations of those people on the ground in Benghazi. [See Wally's "THIS JUST IN! BAD NEWS FOR BOBBY!" and Cedric's "Somerby's big lie gets rejected" from earlier this week on those who can't grasp what the Congress has been told.]
So when Susan Rice goes on five different live television programs on one Sunday morning and repeatedly talks about a video and about a protest -- no connection to the video, no protest took place -- her words were not just inaccurate, they were misleading. Whether she's a liar or a dupe is something to take up with her. But repeatedly, we have watched and heard the State Dept raise their hands in a don't-shoot-me-posture and say, "We never did that. We always knew."
Susan Rice may be the stupidest person in the world. It's possible. Or she may have lied. I don't think the American public will get the truth anytime soon. But to pretend -- and to lie -- as so many have in recent weeks that 'no one could have guessed,' no one could have known better is a lie. And since there were people who were first-hand observers, I think if I were entrusted with conveying the truth to the American people about what had happened in Benghazi and since all survivors had been transported (first to Germany, then to the US) days before Susan Rice went on TV, I think I would have asked to speak to at least one of them before going on camera to 'explain' what happened. I think her failure to do so goes to either her eagerness to lie or to her own gross incompetence. When you are about to go before the American people to discuss what happened and you weren't there and it's not your area, you speak to everyone you can, not just a few handlers who help you hone some talking points. Susan Rice is not fit to serve in government. She's damn lucky she's been able (thus far) to keep her current post as Ambassador to the United Nations. We will be covering the hearing more next week.