The Exact Opposite Part VIII

Memorial Day Edition

by Baron Dave Romm

The Exact Opposite series
Part I | Part II | | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Back to Political Links

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Memorial Day: Remembering fallen soldiers

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. We can't thank our fallen soldiers enough, but we can keep their memories alive by shining the spotlight on the misuse of our brave troops of today. Let us all hope that we have fewer newly dead soldiers to honor every year.

To those who fight on foreign soil: We've got your back. This column will try to keep you around to honor your living soul on Veteran's Day.


Support Our Troops -- Vote Democratic

Bush has convinced himself that he's a "War President" and an ever-shrinking number of gullible right-wingers get louder and smarmier in his defense. Yet the exact opposite is the case: He treats our soldiers like disposable pawns, then lets them rot in cockroach infested hospitals when they return.

Behind the walls of Ward 54, (requires Premium membership) salon.com coverage of mistreatment of wounded Iraqi War vets February 18, 2005:

Feb. 18, 2005 | WASHINGTON -- Before he hanged himself with his bathrobe sash in the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Spc. Alexis Soto-Ramirez complained to friends about his medical treatment. Soto-Ramirez, 43, had been flown out of Iraq five months before then because of chronic back pain that became excruciating during the war. But doctors were really worried about his mind. They thought he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving with the 544th Military Police Company, a unit of the Puerto Rico National Guard, the kind of unit that saw dirty, face-to-face combat in Iraq.
 
A copy of Soto-Ramirez's medical records, reviewed by Salon, show that a doctor who treated him in Puerto Rico upon his return from Iraq believed his mental problems were probably caused by the war and that his future was in the Army's hands. "Clearly, the psychiatric symptoms are combat related," a clinical psychologist at Roosevelt Roads Naval Hospital wrote on Nov. 24, 2003. The entry says, "Outcome will depend on adequacy and appropriateness of treatment." Doctors in Puerto Rico sent Soto-Ramirez to Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., to get the best care the Army had to offer. There, he was put in Ward 54, Walter Reed's "lockdown," or inpatient psychiatric ward, where the most troubled patients are supposed to have constant supervision.
 
But less than a month after leaving Puerto Rico, on Jan. 12, 2004, Soto-Ramirez was found dead, hanging in Ward 54. Army buddies who visited him in the days before his death said Soto-Ramirez was increasingly angry and despondent. "He was real upset with the treatment he was getting," said Ren Negron, a former Walter Reed psychiatric patient and a friend of Soto-Ramirez's. "He said: 'These people are giving me the runaround ... These people think I'm crazy, and I'm not crazy, Negron. I'm getting more crazy being up here.'

Two years later, the mainstream media suddenly find the story and is shocked -- shocked! -- at the revelations. Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility. Washington Post, February 18, 2007:

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses. This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.
 
They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.

But it gets worse. Army cuts rotation time for troops. Seattle Times, April 2, 2007:

WASHINGTON - For just the second time since the war began, the Army is sending large units back to Iraq without giving them at least a year at home, defense officials said today.
 
The move signaled how stretched the U.S. fighting force has become. A combat brigade from New York and a Texas headquarters unit will return to Iraq this summer in order to maintain through August the military buildup President Bush announced earlier this year. Overall, the Pentagon announced, 7,000 troops will be going to Iraq in the coming months as part of the effort to keep 20 brigades in the country to help bolster the Baghdad security plan. A brigade is roughly 3,000 soldiers.
 
The Army will try not to shorten the troops' U.S. time, "but in this case we had to," said a senior Army official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "Obviously right now the Army is stretched," the official said.

And worse. The Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq. (requires Premium membership) Salon.com March 11, 2007:

March 11, 2007 | COLUMBUS, Ga. -- "This is not right," said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. "This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers," he said angrily. "If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight."
 
As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.
 
On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.
 
The 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade is now leaving for Iraq for a third time in a steady stream. In fact, some of the troops with medical conditions interviewed by Salon last week are already gone. Others are slated to fly out within a week, but are fighting against their chain of command, holding out hope that because of their ills they will ultimately not be forced to go. Jenkins, who is still in Georgia, thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he said flatly.
 
That is what worries Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, who has long been concerned that the military was pressing injured troops into Iraq. "Did they send anybody down range that cannot wear a helmet, that cannot wear body armor?" Robinson asked rhetorically. "Well that is wrong. It is a war zone." Robinson thinks that the possibility that physical profiles may have been altered improperly has the makings of a scandal. "My concerns are that this needs serious investigation. You cannot just look at somebody and tell that they were fit," he said. "It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield."

And this is just sad, and not just because it has to be noted in News of the Weird. Just when we need to handle heavily wounded soldiers, some with PTSD and some with very serious injuries that are not being taken care of, the exact opposite is happening. Small disability claims whiz through the system while major claims get put in the In Basket. At a time when the returning wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan are meeting bureaucratic delays in getting their own disabilities properly compensated, Thousands of vets get payments for hemorrhoids, other minor claims. Scripps-Howard, March 28, 2007:

As it braces for a flood of war-disabled veterans, the nation's disability compensation system for former troops has become a $26 billion behemoth bloated and backlogged in part by overgenerous benefits for minor maladies barely tied to military service, if at all. Case in point: More than 120,000 vets from earlier eras are collecting lifetime benefits for hemorrhoids, which they are not required to show resulted from their military duty.
 
Thousands of more veterans are receiving monthly compensation for bumps on their faces from shaving or for scars so small they are hard to see _ and will for the rest of their lives.
 
In fact, hemorrhoids are the 11th most common disability for which U.S. vets are compensated, after such conditions as defective hearing, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension. A conservative calculation of the cost of the benefits to veterans for hemorrhoids alone could be $14 million a year or more. With the first wave of what could be as many as 700,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan already applying for benefits, worries grow that they could soon suffer from delays or a funding crunch because the system has expanded far beyond its initial intent of compensating veterans for loss of earning power due to service-related illnesses or injuries.
 
As a result, some critics estimate that perhaps 775,000 of the 2.6 million veterans on the rolls in 2005 are getting monthly checks for ailments that don't hurt their ability to work, often are treatable, are common in the civilian world, and frequently are the result of the ordinary aging process.
 
Darryl Kehrer, former staff director for the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on benefits, says the combat veterans of the "war on terror" will be ill-served by a system that some studies have shown spends $1 billion a year on such claims, which also contribute to the current 600,000-claim backlog. The average wait now for benefits is six months, a lag that could balloon to twice that, or more, once Iraq and Afghanistan vets fully enter the pipeline.
 
"This does a disservice to veterans who are truly disabled, (and) to the men and women coming back from combat," who now must get in the back of the line, Kehrer said.

Mercenaries mask the real number of troops in Iraq

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "you fight with the army you have, not the army you may want", but the exact opposite is happening. We are fighting with the army we can buy, as we outsource more and more of the support and fighting in Iraq.

Early on, the foreign press knew something was up. Who commands the private soldiers?. Guardian, May 17, 2004:

The US military has gone headlong for privatisation, urged on by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. One 2002 memo from the secretary of the army, Thomas White, suggests that as much as a third of its budget is going on private contractors, while army numbers are falling. The rationale is to save money on permanent soldiers by using temporary ones.
 
But the policy has other, political ad vantages. When a mortar shell lobbed at Baghdad airport earlier this year killed Corporal Tomasi Ramatau, 41, no one in the US media took much notice.
 
Names like his do not appear on the roll-calls of US soldiers killed in Iraq, solemnly enunciated on the daily TV shows. Ramatau was one of the unemployed men from the Pacific island of Fiji hired in their hundreds by another prominent private military firm, Global Risk of London, to take the bullets for the Pentagon.
 
The loose control of the 20,000-plus private-enterprise soldiers in Iraq has been thrown into painful relief by the accusations that hired civilian interrogators and translators encouraged obscene tortures at Abu Ghraib prison and that one even allegedly raped an Iraqi boy in his cell. No senator or congressman appears to have had the least idea until the scandal broke that the drive to privatise the military had gone so far as to use civilian contractors for such sensitive jobs.
 
Aides to Democrat congressman Ike Skelton were particularly incensed with a reply by Mr Rumsfeld to a demand last month for information about private mil itary firms in Iraq. Mr Rumsfeld produced a list of 60 companies, half a dozen of them British, but withheld all mention of two of the biggest and best-connected recruiting firms alleged to be at the centre of the torture scandal - CACI in Washington and Titan in San Diego, California.
 
One of the few people to have conducted a full-scale study of military privatisation, Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, said: "No lawmakers seemed to know that they were hiring civilians as interrogators. They had this concept that the civilians were there to mow lawns and answer phones." In his recent book, Corporate Warriors, he lists dangers in excessively privatised soldiering, such as cutting corners to save money, secrecy, and hollowing out the genuine military by poaching their troops. All have duly come to pass in Iraq.

How much do you know about Blackwater? I didn't know much. After a flurry of articles in 2004 when mercenaries started getting killed, the compliant press stopped talking about them much. Yet by some reports, the US has outsourced the Iraq War to private contractors like Blackwater which increase our actual presence by about a third.

Author tracks rise of U.S. secret army. Vermont Guardian book review, April 5, 2007:

As journalist Jeremy Scahill watched the U.S. armed forces lay waste the city of Fallujah in Iraq, he wondered to himself why such a strong response was prompted by the death of four mercenary soldiers.
 
"I watched the 37,000 air strikes on that city with utter horror," said Scahill. "How would the lives of four private soldiers be worth the death of an entire city and that's when I first heard of Blackwater, and then just months later I saw them openly operating on the streets of New Orleans."
 
Those were the two major incidents that made Scahill think to himself that the company deserved some scrutiny.
 
What he found was a private company with deep connections with the Christian Right, and with the Bush administration.
 
"It's a company that has made its fortunes on incredible suffering, war, misery, and violence," said Scahill.
 
The result is Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, an expose of the company, its principals, and the work it has been called upon to do by various departments of the U.S. government, and what it's plans are for the future.
 
Scahill will be in Burlington April 13 at the Unitarian Church as part of 35-city tour for the book. He will also take part in a limited seating discussion to benefit the Peace & Justice Center's Peace & Human Rights Project on April 14.
 
Key to Scahill's investigation is the growing role Blackwater, and other mercenary companies, are taking in the so-called "war on terror" and the Iraq War.
 
There are about 100,000 private contractors in Iraq, and almost half of them — 48,000 — are private mercenaries.

Just to recap: Your tax dollars are being spent on mercenaries and NOT on our troops. Recruitment is down, and soldiers are being sent back after too little rest, but that isn't enough. Republicans are masking a "surge" in troops by throwing money at it. Your money, but from a different "supplemental" budget line. For this, the rich got tax breaks and you have high gas prices?


Our soldiers were not told the truth: Prewar military intelligence warned of catastrophe in Iraq

After failing in Afghanistan, the warmongers said that intelligence gathered by this and other government leaves no doubt about WMD and we would be greeted as liberators. In fact, the exact opposite of both was the case. In reality, Mission Not Accomplished.

Bush and the radical right insist that they were operating under the best available intelligence in making such momentous decisions. In reality, the exact opposite was the case.

And they knew it. Bush, Cheney, Rice, et al weren't just incredibly inept, they were lying.

Report: Iraq Problems Were Anticipated. Intelligence warnings ignored in Bush's cherry-picking of facts. Forbes, May 25, 2007:

U.S. intelligence analysts predicted, in two papers widely circulated before the 2003 Iraq invasion, that al-Qaida would see U.S. military action as an opportunity to increase its operations and that Iran would try to shape the post-Saddam era.
 
The top analysts in government also said that establishing a stable democracy in Iraq would be a long, turbulent challenge.
 
Democrats said the documents, part of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation released Friday, make clear that the Bush administration was warned about the challenges it now faces as it tries to stabilize Iraq.
 
"Sadly, the administration's refusal to heed these dire warnings - and worse, to plan for them - has led to tragic consequences for which our nation is paying a terrible price," said Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
....
Among other conclusions, the analysts found:
 
_ Establishing a stable democracy in Iraq would be a long, steep and probably turbulent challenge. They said that contributions could be made from 4 million Iraqi exiles and Iraq's impoverished, underemployed middle class. But they noted that opposition parties would need sustained economic, political and military support.
 
_ Al-Qaida would see the invasion as a chance to accelerate its attacks, and the lines between al-Qaida and other terrorist groups "could become blurred." In a weak spot in the analysis, one paper said that the risk of terror attacks would spike after the invasion and slow over the next three to five years. However, the State Department recently found that attacks last year alone rose sharply. _ Domestic groups in Iraq's deeply divided society would become violent, unless stopped by the occupying force. "Score settling would occur throughout Iraq between those associated with Saddam's regime and those who have suffered most under it."
 
_ Iraq's neighbors would jockey for influence and Iranian leaders would try to shape the post-Saddam era to demonstrate Tehran's importance in the region. The more Tehran didn't feel threatened by U.S. actions, the analysts said, "the better the chance that they could cooperate in the postwar period." _ Military action to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would not cause other governments in the region to give up such programs.

PDF file of the Select Committee On Intelligence in the US Senate, May 8, 2007: Prewar Intelligence Assessments About Postwar Iraq.

Ah, but America has a very short memory. Gullible conservatives have reality drummed out of them by Hate Radio and a 24 hour news cycle that cares more about slutty celebrities than battlefield deaths. What about now?


We should take the Iraqi invitation... to leave

Bush claims we're In Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, May 24, 2007:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You say you want nothing short of victory, that leaving Iraq would be catastrophic; you once again mentioned al Qaeda. Does that mean that you are willing to leave American troops there, no matter what the Iraqi government does? I know this is a question we've asked before, but you can begin it with a "yes" or "no."
 
THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It's their government's choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.
 
Q -- catastrophic, as you've said over and over again?
 
THE PRESIDENT: I would hope that they would recognize that the results would be catastrophic. This is a sovereign nation, Martha. We are there at their request. And hopefully the Iraqi government would be wise enough to recognize that without coalition troops, the U.S. troops, that they would endanger their very existence. And it's why we work very closely with them, to make sure that the realities are such that they wouldn't make that request -- but if they were to make the request, we wouldn't be there. David.
 
Q Mr. President, after the mistakes that have been made in this war, when you do as you did yesterday, where you raised two-year-old intelligence, talking about the threat posed by al Qaeda, it's met with increasing skepticism. The majority in the public, a growing number of Republicans, appear not to trust you any longer to be able to carry out this policy successfully. Can you explain why you believe you're still a credible messenger on the war? THE PRESIDENT: I'm credible because I read the intelligence, David, and make it abundantly clear in plain terms that if we let up, we'll be attacked. And I firmly believe that.
 
THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It's their government's choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

It's always difficult to separate out the numerous lies. Bush doesn't have a moral compass, and he doesn't seem to let reality impair his "vision". It's like he's talking to a five year-old... it's like his handlers are talking to a five year-old. Reality doesn't intervene as long as he can repeat his Big Lie over and over. Let me pull out a few statements to shoot down:

As demonstrated above, "leaving Iraq would be catastrophic" is the exact opposite of the conclusions drawn by prewar intelligence sources. Going into Iraq was predicted to be a disaster, and it is. The "catastrophic" consequences are due to the Republican-pushed invasion of Iraq, the exact opposite of what Bush still tells people.

The "we broke it, we have to fix it" argument might have credence if the people saying this haven't been wrong in every previous occasion.

As further demonstration of the right's complete divorce from reality, another of Bush's lies in the interview above is "We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government" and "but if they were to make the request, we wouldn't be there". Bush's English isn't good enough to say precisely what he means by that last sentence, but clearly the exact opposite of his statements are true.

Poll: Iraqis out of patience. USA Today, April 28, 2004. More than three years ago, the Iraqis people wanted us out:

BAGHDAD Only a third of the Iraqi people now believe that the American-led occupation of their country is doing more good than harm, and a solid majority support an immediate military pullout even though they fear that could put them in greater danger, according to a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll. (Graphic: Iraqis surveyed)
 
By Khalid Mohammed, AP
 
The nationwide survey, the most comprehensive look at Iraqi attitudes toward the occupation, was conducted in late March and early April. It reached nearly 3,500 Iraqis of every religious and ethnic group.
 
The poll shows that most continue to say the hardships suffered to depose Saddam Hussein were worth it. Half say they and their families are better off than they were under Saddam. And a strong majority say they are more free to worship and to speak. (Related item: Key findings)
 
But while they acknowledge benefits from dumping Saddam a year ago, Iraqis no longer see the presence of the American-led military as a plus. Asked whether they view the U.S.-led coalition as "liberators" or "occupiers," 71% of all respondents say "occupiers."
 
That figure reaches 81% if the separatist, pro-U.S. Kurdish minority in northern Iraq is not included. The negative characterization is just as high among the Shiite Muslims who were oppressed for decades by Saddam as it is among the Sunni Muslims who embraced him.

How did this translate to the new Iraqi Democracy? Hey, it might be working after all...

Majority of Iraqi Lawmakers Now Reject Occupation. Alternet, May 9, 2007:

On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition.
 
It's a hugely significant development. Lawmakers demanding an end to the occupation now have the upper hand in the Iraqi legislature for the first time; previous attempts at a similar resolution fell just short of the 138 votes needed to pass (there are 275 members of the Iraqi parliament, but many have fled the country's civil conflict, and at times it's been difficult to arrive at a quorum).
 
Reached by phone in Baghdad on Tuesday, Al-Rubaie said that he would present the petition, which is nonbinding, to the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and demand that a binding measure be put to a vote. Under Iraqi law, the speaker must present a resolution that's called for by a majority of lawmakers, but there are significant loopholes and what will happen next is unclear.
 
What is clear is that while the U.S. Congress dickers over timelines and benchmarks, Baghdad faces a major political showdown of its own. The major schism in Iraqi politics is not between Sunni and Shia or supporters of the Iraqi government and "anti-government forces," nor is it a clash of "moderates" against "radicals"; the defining battle for Iraq at the political level today is between nationalists trying to hold the Iraqi state together and separatists backed, so far, by the United States and Britain.
 
The continuing occupation of Iraq and the allocation of Iraq's resources -- especially its massive oil and natural gas deposits -- are the defining issues that now separate an increasingly restless bloc of nationalists in the Iraqi parliament from the administration of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government is dominated by Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish separatists.

Let's see how the US media spins this story. Are they critical of Bush? Do they quote his speeches and point out just where he is lying? Oh no, heaven forbid. They use the will of the people and government of Iraq to come down on... the Democrats, just like Karl Rove said to in the memo.

Iraq Timeline Runs Out, The Nation, June 11, 2007:

It's beginning to look like Congress should take lessons in democracy from the Iraqi Parliament. The majority of Iraqi parliamentarians have signed a draft bill that would establish a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. Iraqi politicians are responding to popular sentiment in their country, as reflected by polls that show 65 percent of Iraqis want the occupation to end. Would that American politicians were as responsive to public opinion here; a recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 64 percent of Americans want out. But the Democratic majority in Congress is so razor-thin that in late May it finally gave up the attempt to pass a funding bill establishing a timeline for withdrawal. The caucus was further undermined by internal disunity, as the defection of Carl Levin, Steny Hoyer and others prevented House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid from forcing a timeline on the Administration.

To recap: Bush lies about the reasons to go to war in Iraq, the Iraqi people want us out and the conservative news media blames the Democrats. Unfortunately, it's our brave soldiers who are dying so sphincter conservatives can avoid any questions about their corruption and incompetence.


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