Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Richard Lee, was posted to The Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
To Barack Obama:
Let’s have a military buildup! You can show those crazy-ass generals at the Pentagon that you aren’t just a chicken-shit weenie from Harvard.
You gotta do it right, however. Stop waffling about a measly 40,000 or 44,000 troops and do it like you mean it! I know you have never fought for or against anything. (That squabble with the Court Clerk to get your papers filed doesn’t count.) But you can do it! Don’t forget to keep that HOPE and CHANGE thingy going, so we won’t see what is really happening behind the curtain.
Since you don’t have a clue how to go about it, you should go back and dust off the template that the power-drunk cowboy used way back when. Turn to the record of his build-up, covering March 8, 1965, through, say, the end of January, 1966. Yep, that’s right I’m talking about Vietnam (they told me you were smart); don’t let that slow you down, a buildup is a buildup and you can do it in Afghanistan just like Lyndon and Waste-more-land did it back then.
You’ve already got 68,000 troops and an untold number of mercenaries... uh, contractors there so maybe you can forgo the photo op of the Marines stomping ashore like at Da Nang, or maybe you can arrange something like that, it was a good photo. No one will call you on it; the ignorance of the American people knows no limits. Don’t forget to include the Afghani ARVN; they’ll do you a lot of good.
That done, throw caution to the wind, fire anyone who counsels caution, and begin a real buildup!
Expect casualties. Lyndon was told to expect civilian casualties of 25,000 dead, about 68 men, women and children a day, mostly from “friendly fire” and 50,000 wounded. That was an estimate for the one year the generals said it would take to bring the Vietnamese “to their knees” and initiate their surrender; one year, or maybe 18 months at the most. That number was good enough for Lyndon, so don’t let anybody’s numbers scare you. In 1968 there were 85,000 civilians wounded.
Next, establish free fire zones. Once you get all those troops there, they will need some place to fire off all their ordnance. Go to an inhabited area, drop leaflets or have USAID workers visit and tell the population to get on the road and become refugees. Those who are too old or too infirm to go, or who come up with the excuse that Afghanistan is their country and they ain’t going; well, those are Viet Cong... I mean, Tally Band.
What good is a free fire zone if it doesn’t have any targets to shoot at anyway? While you are busy changing “Viet Cong” to “Taliban," change the name “free fire zones” to Specified Strike Zones; those pesky Congressional liberals will feel better about it. It worked when Lyndon did it.
Get an air war going. Crank up the SAC B-52’s, they don’t have anything to do now that the Russians opted out of the Cold War. One B-52 at 30,000 feet can drop a payload that will take out everything in a box five eighths of a mile wide and two miles long. You can still call it “Operation Arc Light”; no one will remember that’s been used before.
Don’t forget to let the other planes in on the fun! Fighter bombers can deliver ordnance too. Lyndon, in that first 10 months, got it up to 400 sorties a day, add in the B-52’s and they were able to drop 825 tons of bombs a day. Some even hit their targets.
Drop more than bombs. I hate to suggest a return to Agent Orange. Military science must have come up with better stuff in the last 50 years. If not, then use the leftover Agent Orange, the residual effect is worth it. Not only will those enemy Afghanis (or friendly ones, for that matter) not be able to plant food crops in target areas for decades, but “Taliban fighters” will keep dying from it for years after we’re gone.
During the 10-month Vietnam build-up, specially equipped C-123’s covered 850,000 acres, in 1966 they topped that, “defoliating” 1.5 million acres. By war’s end they’d dropped 18 million gallons of Agent Orange, in addition to millions of gallons of less notorious but still deadly poisons code-named for other colors -- Purple, White, Pink, and more -- over 20% of the south of Vietnam.
To help keep the buildup affordable, take no costly precautions with our own troops; it’s hot in Afghanistan, so let them take off their shirts while spraying. The afflicted Vietnam vets sued the government over it, they won! My brother Tommy was one of them. What did they win? Well, when they die, they get $300.00 from the government. You can forget about the vets anyway when the war is over, that’s S.O.P.
Now, a buildup ain’t all in the air. Howitzers, Long Tom Cannons and mortars expended enough high explosive and shrapnel in Southeast Asia to equal the tonnage dropped from the air.
And it’s not just troop strength that you’ll need to build up. Your friends The Masters of War have probably already told you that. A build-up is troops and MATERIAL. See how Waste-more-land did it, and more or less copy that. Brown and Root are still in business; have a sit down with them; they can help you sort it out.
Build airfields. With hundreds of thousands more troops you will need lots of airfields. Jet airfields are best for business. Lyndon had three in Vietnam before he started, he quickly built five more. So, discount what you have and get cracking! A 10,000 foot runway to start, and then add parallel taxiways, high speed turnoffs, and tens of thousands of square yards of aprons for maneuvering and parking. Use aluminum matting at first; you can replace it with concrete later. You gotta build hangers, repair shops, offices and operations buildings, barracks, mess halls, and other buildings. Don’t stint on the air conditioning!
Build deep water ports. What? Don’t have an ocean? Kee-rist, what kind of a country are we liberating anyway? Well, you still gotta build ports! Guess you can build them in Kuwait and other countries and truck all the shit through Iraq, they will be pacified by then and welcoming us with open arms and goofy little dances. Pakistan might like one or two, it would be good for business and we can just pay them to be our friend like we do now... only more.
Ports were dredged to 28 feet back then, but the newer boats draw 40 feet. It may be only mud to you, but its gold to the contractors. Half a dozen new ports should get you started.
But wait, there’s more. Four or five central supply and maintenance depots and hundreds of satellite facilities, build them along the lines of the prison gulag you are building in the U.S.
Build thirty more permanent base camps for the new combat and support troops you are sending. Another fifty or so tactical airfields long enough to hold C-130’s. Build two dozen or more hospitals that have a total of nine to ten thousand beds. Be sure there are new plush headquarters buildings for the brass and about four or five thousand staff. Everything has to be connected by secure electronic data systems, secure telephones, two or three hundred communications facilities around the country. Tens of thousands of new circuits will be needed to accommodate the built-up war machine.
You are a smart guy, Mr. President, so I won’t belabor an explanation of each thing. But here is a quick list of bare necessities: Warehouses, ammunitions stowage areas, tank farms for all the petroleum, oil and lubricants, new hard top roads, well ventilated and air conditioned barracks with hot water and flushing toilets (think 6-10,000 septic tanks). Food, not just MRE’s, but for all those REMF’s who will need fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products. Thousands of cold lockers to store this, and you need to build a milk reconstitution plant, maybe two or three, and ice cream plants.
All this is going to take a lot of electricity, so you will need thousands of permanent and mobile gas-driven generators (better add another tank farm). PX’s, not just for cigarettes and shaving cream, but all the things that the consumer army you will be sending is used to having: video game consoles, blackberries, microwave ovens, computers, slacks and sport shirts (to wear on R&R -- could omit that by having no R&R), soft drinks (better build a bottling plant), beer, whiskey, ice cubes (more generators?). Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, steaks.
Be sure to stock candy, lingerie, and cosmetics to improve the standard of living of the local women. They will also need to buy electric fans, toasters, percolators, TV’s, CD and DVD players, room air conditioners, and small refrigerators.
Movie theaters, service clubs, bowling alleys... will the list ever end? No!
Well, that will get your buildup started. I haven’t even addressed the more and more and more troops the generals will want, that is way too heavy for me!
In re-creating Johnson’s buildup, it will be better to skip over the second week in November, 1965, and all that stuff about the Drang River Valley, that’s just for historians. Close the book when you get to the end of January, 1966. Don’t read through April, with all those dreary reports from Khe Sanh. Don’t read about Tet 1968. Just remember it was the press and the Congress and the people who lost their will that lost that war, and not the stupid blundering generals or the presidents who didn’t give a shit how many they killed on either side.
One last thing: get your architects busy designing the Bush/Obama wall to put opposite ours on the Mall. Maybe you can even have your vets pay for it themselves like we had to.
I go there whenever I am in that stinking city. I sit on the edge of the grass just before sundown and sometimes I talk to the wall. The wall stands silent then; they are still waiting for an answer to the question of why we went to Vietnam. When it gets dark, sometimes the wall talks back. They say a lot of things, but they never say, “God bless my Commander-in-Chief.”
Richard Lee, Vet (Veterans Day, 2009)
This documentary was released in six parts, between February and August 2009, by Robert Greenwald. As the President considers his options, following a blatantly fraudulent Presidential election and an ever increasing US/NATO/Afghan death toll, the same group of chicken hawks (the Project for a New American Century and their Coterie of neo-conservative war-mongering fools and high ranking brass who were responsible for the Iraq war are now calling for a massive increase in US troops beyond the 17,000 mentioned in the film, the questions and issues raised in this film are brought into sharp focus.
Part One: Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe
President Obama has committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This decision raises serious questions about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. After witnessing the absence of oversight regarding the Iraq war, we must insist Congress hold hearings on Afghanistan.
Part Two: Pakistan: "The Most Dangerous Country"
The war in Afghanistan and its potentially catastrophic impact on Pakistan are complex and dangerous issues, which further make the case why our country needs a national debate on this now starting with congressional oversight hearings.
Part Three: "Cost of War"
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn't made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Part Four: "Civilian Casualties"
When foreign policy is well-reasoned, we see attention given to humanitarian issues like housing, jobs, health care and education. When that policy consists of applying a military solution to a political problem, however, we see death, destruction, and suffering. Director Robert Greenwald witnessed the latter during his recent trip to Afghanistan--the devastating consequences of U.S. airstrikes on thousands of innocent civilians.
The footage you are about to see is poignant, heart-wrenching, and often a direct result of U.S. foreign policy.
We must help the refugees whose lives have been shattered by U.S. foreign policy and military attacks. Support the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an organization dedicated to helping women and children, human rights issues, and social justice. Then, become a Peacemaker. Receive up-to-the-minute information through our new mobile alert system whenever there are Afghan civilian casualties from this war, and take immediate action by calling Congress.
Part Five: "Women of Afghanistan"
Eight years have passed since Laura Bush declared that "because of our recent military gains, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes" in Afghanistan. For eight years, that claim has been a lie.
The truth is that American military escalation will not liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead, the hardships of war take a disproportionate toll on women and their families. There are 1,000 displaced families in a Kabul refugee camp, and they're suffering for lack of food and blankets. A few weeks ago, you generously gave $6,000 to help and $9,000 more is needed to take care of all 1,000 families. Thats a donation of $15 per family to provide the relief necessary for their survival.
Here's what your money will buy:
Part Six: "How much security did $1 trillion buy?"
The war in Afghanistan is increasing the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack.
Part 6 of Rethink Afghanistan, Security, brings you three former high-ranking CIA agents to explain why.
There is no "victory" to be won in Afghanistan. It is the most important video about U.S. Security today.
This poem, by Jennifer Pacanowski, wass posted to Facebook by Michael Kern, August 27, 2009
WE ARE NOT YOUR HEROS
We are not your heros.
Heros come back in body bags and caskets.
We are now society’s burden,
We are displaying our pain.
Begging for help that falls onto the VA’s deaf ears.
Pill popping to silence us into numbness and dead eyes.
WE ARE NOT YOUR HEROS.
We are now a mental diease.
NO VACCINATIONS FOR PTSD.
NO CURE for Post traumatic stress disorder.
We fight for our cure with our
We are hurting ourselves,
Letting society watch our pain and suffering.
WE ARE NOT YOUR HEROS.
We are your BURDEN
Smacking you in the face with our honesty of this needless war.
So you have the freedom to JUDGE us.
I wish I never came back.
This article, by William Fisher, was published by IPS, February 17, 2009
NEW YORK, Feb 16 (IPS) - With growing public support for a public investigation of crimes that may have been committed by the administration of former president George W. Bush in waging its "global war on terror", policy makers and legal experts are deeply divided on how to proceed - and President Barack Obama seems ambivalent about whether to proceed at all.
The president has said his view is that "nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards."
Before his nomination to be Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder appeared to take a stronger view.
He said, "Our government authorised the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance against American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution... We owe the American people a reckoning."
But at his confirmation hearing before the Senate, Holder tempered his responses to adhere more closely to Obama's position.
The president initially refrained from commenting on a proposal from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, for a "truth commission" to investigate abuses of detainees, politically inspired moves at the Justice Department, and a whole range of decisions made during the Bush administration. At the time, Obama said he had not seen the Leahy proposal, although he has not explicitly ruled it out.
Such a "truth commission" is one of several ideas being offered by those who see a comprehensive look-back as essential to cleansing the U.S. justice system and restoring the U.S.'s reputation in the world.
Leahy said the primary goal of the commission would be to learn the truth rather than prosecute former officials, but said the inquiry should reach far beyond misdeeds at the Justice Department under Bush to include matters of Iraq prewar intelligence and the Defence Department.
The panel he envisions would be modeled after one that investigated the apartheid regime in South Africa. It would have subpoena power but would not bring criminal charges, he said.
Among the matters Leahy wants investigated by such a commission are: the firings of U.S. attorneys, treatment and torture of terror suspect detainees, and the authorisation of warrantless wiretapping. He said that witnesses before such a commission might have to be granted limited immunity from prosecution to obtain their testimony.
Other Democrats have called for criminal investigations of those who authorised certain controversial tactics in the war on terror. Republicans have countered that such decisions made in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks should not be second-guessed.
An arguably stronger measure has been proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, and nine other lawmakers. The measure would set up a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties, with subpoena power and a reported budget of around 3.0 million dollars.
It would investigate issues ranging from detainee treatment to waterboarding and extraordinary rendition. The panel's members would come from outside the government and be appointed by the president and congressional leaders of both parties.
This body would be much like the 9/11 Commission, set up after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, to examine failures within government anti-terror efforts. The commission's investigation did not lead to any prosecutions.
Human rights advocacy groups and many legal experts have been more forceful in their proposals.
For example, Amnesty International is urging its supporters to press lawmakers to investigate the U.S. government's abuses in the war on terror and hold accountable those responsible. The organisation is calling on Obama and Congress to create an independent and impartial commission to examine the use of torture, indefinite detention, secret renditions and other illegal U.S. counterterrorism policies.
But the organisation does not necessarily see a conflict between a 9/11-type body and a "truth and reconciliation" commission. In answer to a question from IPS, Amnesty International's Tom Parker said, "I don't think the two approaches are mutually exclusive. Both could go forward at the same time. The immunities that may have to be granted by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not be absolute."
Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, does not favour the "truth and reconciliation" approach.
She told IPS, "As President Obama said, 'No one is above the law.' His attorney general should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Bush administration officials and lawyers who set the policy that led to the commission of war crimes. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are used for nascent democracies in transition. By giving immunity to those who testify before them, it would ensure that those responsible for torture, abuse and illegal spying will never be brought to justice."
A similar view was expressed by Peter M. Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University. He told IPS, "The immunities that might be granted in connection with a congressional or commission investigation of the Bush administration could well compromise the prospects for criminal prosecution, as our experience with the Iran-Contra affair demonstrates. There is likewise reason to fear that justice cannot be completely served without recourse to prosecution."
"On the other hand," he said, "I believe our paramount need as a country is for a full and fair airing of the historical record; democracies depend, I think, on an unblinking understanding of their past."
"One would hope that immunity might be granted as narrowly as possible and that efforts would be undertaken to allow the Justice Department to preserve its investigative integrity based on independently developed evidence. Should push come to shove, however, I think history is more important than prosecution," he added.
Brian J. Foley, visiting associate professor at Boston University law school, takes a harder line. He told IPS, "Until we have Truth and Reconciliation Commissions rather than prosecutions for drug offenders and others accused of non-violent crimes whom we promiscuously throw into our overcrowded prisons, we should not bestow 'justice lite' on our political leaders. It appears that laws designed with government actors in mind were broken. There should be prosecutions."
And Georgetown University's David Cole, one of the country's preeminent constitutional lawyers, believes the Obama administration or Congress "should at a minimum appoint an independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to investigate and assess responsibility for the United States' adoption of coercive interrogation policies."
It should have "a charge to assess responsibility, not just to look forward", he said.
This divergence of viewpoints - from doing nothing to appointing a special prosecutor - is putting President Obama in an uncomfortable position. The most recent Gallup Poll shows that a sizable majority of citizens favours an investigation into Bush-era misconduct.
But Obama appears reluctant to take any action that might further divide the country. Moreover, he may be loath to antagonise Republicans, whose support he may need on many other issues in the future.
The Democratically-controlled Congress does not need the president in order to act - it can hold extensive hearings, grant itself subpoena power and in effect take whatever action it desires short of legislation, which would require the president's signature. But Congressional Democrats may well be reluctant to overtly defy the wishes of the president, who is the leader of their party.
So the form of the Bush-era retrospective - if there is to be one - is yet very much a work in progress that will continue to put pressure on the young Obama administration.
This article, the second part of Salon's series Coming Home by Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna, was published February 10, 2009
Feb. 10, 2009 | FORT CARSON, Colo. -- It was unseasonably warm for November in Colorado as Heidi Lieberman approached the door of the Soldiers' Memorial Chapel at Fort Carson. She walked past a few of the large evergreens that dot the chapel grounds and then entered the blockish, modern beige and brown chapel topped with a sharp, rocketlike steeple.
Inside, the chapel was hushed. Camouflage-clad, crew-cut young men packed the pews. Up in front, an empty Army helmet hung on the butt of an upright M16. A pair of brown combat boots sat below, as if they had been tucked under a bunk. A soldier handed Heidi a program for a memorial service. On the front was the image of a soldier, kneeling in prayer below an American flag and illuminated by a beacon of light from above. The inscription just below the kneeling soldier read, "Lord, grant me the strength ..."
It had been five days since Heidi's son Adam, 21, a soldier at Fort Carson, swallowed handfuls of prescription sleeping pills and psychotropic drugs in the barracks, trying to die. With a can of black paint, Adam brushed a suicide note on the wall of his room. The Army, Adam wrote, "took my life."
Adam had lived. Pfc. Timothy Ryan Alderman wasn't so lucky. Alderman had been found dead of a similar drug overdose in his room in the barracks at Fort Carson in the early-morning hours of Oct. 20, 10 days before Adam Lieberman made his suicide attempt.
Heidi, who was at Fort Carson to deal with the aftermath of her own son's suicide attempt, had decided to attend Alderman's funeral although neither she nor her son had known him. She sank into a pew and tried to reconcile two warring thoughts.
"On the one hand I was thinking, How dare the Army?" she told me later. "It is almost a slap in the face for the Army to present this lovely memorial service. It just seemed so hypocritical. Here was a kid who was screaming for help. He killed himself and they are making nice-nice?"
"On the other hand," she recalled thinking as she scanned the pews for family of the dead soldier, "I was thinking, God, this could have been me."
Both men were 21. Both served long combat tours in Iraq. Both overdosed on drugs. Both had sought help from the Army, and the Army had failed them. Sadly, however, their stories are far from unique.
Late last month, the Army announced data showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008. Another 15 deaths are still under investigation as potential suicides. And suicide is only one manifestation of the mental health ills coming home with U.S. troops. Four years after Salon first exposed problems with healthcare at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that ultimately became a national scandal, the situation, at least at some Army posts, has only deteriorated. For the "Coming Home" series, in which today's two entries are the second installment, Salon put together a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers since 2004. A close study of 10 of those cases exposed a pattern of avoidable deaths, meaning that a suicide or murder might well have been prevented had the Army better handled the predictable and well-known symptoms of combat stress. (Read the introduction to the "Coming Home" series here.) As Alderman's death shows, part of the problem is an apparent tendency of Army doctors to substitute large doses of prescription medication for adequate mental healthcare.
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Timothy Ryan Alderman grew up in Mulberry, a central Florida town of just 3,200 people, a speck on the map 30 miles inland from Tampa. Though Florida is often thought of as a state full of transplants, Alderman, who went by his middle name, Ryan, had roots in Mulberry. His father had also been raised there, and some of Ryan’s teachers had been his father’s schoolmates. Growing up, Ryan was an avid outdoorsman, hunting rabbit and squirrel and catching bass and bluegill. He was also a passionate skateboarder and surfer. Skateboarding became snowboarding when Ryan joined the Army just after his 18th birthday in 2005 and was stationed at Fort Carson.
Ryan served over a year in Iraq as an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, part of the 2nd Infantry Division. His tour, including service in Ramadi, site of some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq, began in October 2006. Soldiers at Fort Carson say he served on 250 missions and had 16 confirmed kills, though it is difficult to independently verify those figures.
It was by all accounts an active and bloody combat tour. His medical records show that when he was in Iraq he did not think he would suffer combat stress afterward, because he "mostly had fun killing people and getting paid for it." If that sounds monstrous, it is actually not unusual for war veterans to describe combat as simultaneously horrifying and thrilling.
Ryan did receive at least three battalion commander "coins for excellence." Some units hand out the engraved, bronze-colored coins as on-the-spot awards for good performance or valor. Correspondence from Ryan's battalion to his family shows that Ryan received one, for example, for extracting another wounded soldier under fire during an ambush.
While Ryan's medical records show he reported no serious mental problems before Iraq, things unwound upon his return in late 2007 and got worse as time passed. In June 2008 Ryan showed up at Fort Carson's hospital and filled out a "behavioral health questionnaire." He reported being "extremely bothered" by disturbing memories, nightmares, panic attacks, trying not to think about the war, emotional numbness, irritation, angry outbursts and jumpiness, among other symptoms.
He reported on the form that his problems began in February 2008, soon after his return from Iraq. On a scale of 1 to 10, Ryan ranked the severity of his situation as an 8. When the form asked, "What are you seeking from this service?" Ryan filled in, simply, "help."
Soldiers face considerable stigma for seeking mental healthcare in some Army units. Old habits die hard, according to the Fort Carson commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, a man with a reputation for working to fix these problems at his post. "We are trying to say that it is a sign of strength and not weakness to come forward and get help."
"What I tell the [officers and non-coms in combat units] is, 'You are not medical professionals. You are not the people that can treat and diagnose this.' So, [their job] is to be caring and compassionate for our soldiers and make sure they get the medical care they need."
"I do think we are making some progress," said Graham, describing the erasure of the stigma for seeking mental healthcare as a top priority. "It is certainly not fast enough for any of us ... It takes time and it takes consistency from the entire Army."
"Any death is regrettable," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the Army's top psychiatrist, in an interview. "And certainly suicide -- which is something I've been looking into very closely -- is extremely tragic for all concerned and we always go back and say, 'How could this have been prevented? What could we have done better?'" Ritchie reels off a laundry list of initiatives for improving Army mental healthcare, like the establishment of a 24-7 hotline for soldiers to help arrange counseling and a new policy, started in the spring of 2008, to ensure that seeking mental healthcare won't mess up a soldier's security clearance. The Army's most recent study of mental health issues in Iraq and Afghanistan showed improvements on decreasing stigma. "The trend is the direction we'd like it to go in," said Ritchie.
At least one of Alderman's superiors apparently didn't get the message. There is a saying that the most powerful man in the Army is a sergeant. That's because when a low-ranking soldier needs just about anything, he has to go to his first sergeant. A former roommate of Alderman's who fought beside him in Iraq took Alderman to his first sergeant to get him mental healthcare. "I escorted Ryan to the first sergeant's office," Alderman's buddy told Salon. According to the friend, the first sergeant "blew [Alderman] off" and said, "Everybody sees what you saw" in Iraq. At one point, alleged the friend, another sergeant told Alderman, "I wish you would just go ahead and kill yourself. It would save us a lot of paperwork."
"The Army treated Ryan as if he was the problem," said the friend, "not that he had a problem."
Alderman's medical records show that in June 2008 he had "homicidal ideation" toward his first sergeant. By August, he was "feeling suicidal." Alderman was hospitalized in June, in August and then finally in October because of his symptoms. Records show doctors saw crosshatch lacerations on his arms. The cuts, Alderman would later reveal, were from self-mutilation.
The records show doctors, however, "ruled out" PTSD as the cause of Alderman's problems, and did so without any recorded explanation. As in Adam Lieberman's case, doctors determined that Alderman's problems were his own, and were not related to his Army service. At various times, doctors instead blamed anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, alcohol abuse, depression "NOS" (not otherwise specified) and anxiety "NOS" -- anything but the war.
Records show that during the summer of 2008, Alderman admitted to doctors that he sought out medication to "numb my feelings." The Army put Alderman in the same substance abuse program as Adam Lieberman, the one Lieberman would later call a "joke."
Alderman's father, Tim, also noticed the change in his son after Iraq, just as Heidi Lieberman noticed a change in Adam. Tim thought Ryan might suffer from PTSD.
Ironically, the Army had educated Tim on PTSD. While his son was in Iraq, the Army had sent Tim "Down Range: To Iraq and Back," by Bridget C. Cantrell and Chuck Dean, a book about PTSD. Tim thought his son's symptoms upon his return made him a prime candidate. He didn't understand why the Army couldn't see the same thing. "I read the book and I knew what to look for," Tim said in a telephone call from his home in Florida. "But he wasn't in my house, he was in their house," he said, referring to the Army.
Tim visited his son in the first week of October during Ryan's last hospitalization. Tim said the visit left him worried that the Army cared little for damaged soldiers. They got pills while being processed out of the military, but not much more. "It looked like a slaughterhouse operation to me," he told me. "Get 'em in. Get 'em out. Get 'em to Iraq."
Ryan's medical records from that period describe his father as "genuine and supportive and tearful at times." Tim also expressed some alarm: His son seemed dangerously stoned on his meds. "Dad noted that Ryan seemed 'out of it' and 'over-medicated,'" according to the records.
Just prior to his death, Ryan Alderman planned to do something about his shoddy treatment at the hands of the Army. He joined a small group of soldiers who wrote and signed sworn statements explaining their predicaments. The plan was to seek some sort of legal help. Salon obtained Alderman's statement from the family of another Fort Carson soldier.
He describes "traumatic events" in Iraq, including the death of friends from roadside bombs and a friendly-fire incident in which U.S. Marines fired on his post. "Upon returning from Iraq, seeking help was discouraged," Alderman wrote in his sworn statement. "So I self medicated and started cutting myself to relief (sic) the pain." (Self-mutilation is a relatively common phenomenon among people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It literally cuts through the emotional numbness, allowing the PTSD sufferer to feel something.)
"I still have nightmares about the war and Staff Sgt. Hager," Alderman wrote in his sworn statement, referring to the bloody death of Staff Sgt. Joshua Hager by roadside bomb on Feb. 23, 2007, in Ramadi. Friends say Alderman pulled Hager's dismembered corpse from the wreckage of a vehicle. "I am seeking help but I feel like I'm not being treated right. I mean mental help. I struggle every day with it."
Alderman dated the sworn statement Oct. 13, 2008. He died seven days later.
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While the Army claims Alderman committed suicide, evidence suggests he might just as well have accidentally overdosed on a massive concoction of prescription drugs the Army gave him, plus a couple of his own.
Possible overmedication is a theme running throughout Alderman's hospitalization and care at the hands of the Army. On Oct. 6, one caregiver wrote in his records that Alderman "appears to be heavily medicated," could not complete sentences and was dozing off. A note on Oct. 8 says Alderman was "very dependent on his medications." On Oct. 11, one caregiver on the evening shift described him as being in a "stupor."
By mid-October, the records describe Alderman as "very much drug seeking." Doctors replaced his Valium and Percocet with alternatives. Alderman responded by demanding to be released from the hospital.
On discharge, records show, doctors had Alderman on 0.5 mg of Klonopin for anxiety three times a day; 800 mg of Neurotin, an anti-seizure medication, three times a day; 100 mg of Ultram, a narcotic-like pain reliever, three times a day; 20 mg of Geodon for bipolar disorder at noon and then another 80 mg at night; 0.1 mg of Clonodine, a blood pressure medication also used for withdrawal symptoms, three times a day; 60 mg of Remeron, for depression, once a day; and 10 mg of Prozac twice a day.
Salon contacted an Army psychiatrist who requested anonymity and read him that list of drugs and the dosage amounts. "Oh God," he said. "That's shitty. That breaks all the rules. He was overmedicated. That's bad medicine."
An Army psychologist at Fort Carson examined Alderman on the day of his discharge from the hospital. She described him as "overly sedated and slurring his words." (The Army psychiatrist Salon called said, "Of course he was.") Despite his heavy prescription load, Alderman still wanted pain pills. The Fort Carson psychologist described Alderman as depressed, anxious and sad, but not contemplating suicide or murder. The psychologist sent Alderman on his way to the barracks. It is the last entry. Alderman was found dead five days later.
Col. Kelly A. Wolgast, the commander of Evans U.S. Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson, declined comment on any specific cases, citing privacy law. "I feel for families who have lost a soldier, no matter how it happened," she said in an interview at her office. "We grieve with them. We will completely pledge to those families that we are doing everything that we possibly can to see that never happens to another soldier. Their sacrifice, we believe, is not in vain."
Alderman's autopsy report blames "multiple drug intoxication" for his death. The cause: suicide. In addition to his meds, Alderman took some Xanax and morphine, adding to the toxic combination, but there is little evidence he meant to die. Tim Alderman thinks his son's body succumbed to the onslaught of drugs, more Heath Ledger than Kurt Cobain. In this case, the cocktail included some drugs supplied by the Army, some abused by Ryan. "His body just shut down," claimed Tim. "It was overloaded."
Ryan's former roommate and battle buddy blames the Army for Ryan's death. "I know he didn't commit suicide," he told me. "I don't think he should have been released from the hospital. I know for a fact the Army killed my friend," he added. "I want something done. The Army is killing people left and right and nobody cares."
The Army ruled Ryan's death a suicide, in part, because he had pinned a letter to his wall addressed to his mother who died of an illness years earlier. Tim shared the note with Salon, along with hundreds of pages of medical records.
The affectionate letter doesn't read much like a suicide note. Ryan pledges that, "You will always be in my heart and soul." Tim said Ryan told him about that letter some time ago. Ryan's medical records show he was writing similar letters to sort out his feelings.
Ryan's intentions in the early hours of Oct. 20, however, seem beside the point. A clear-eyed assessment of his war-related problems might have saved him.
The stakes are always high whenever a parent loses a child. They were especially high for Ryan's father, Tim. Tim's wife died in 2004 from illness. His eldest son, Ryan's older brother, died in 2006 in a car crash. Now Ryan, his last surviving child, is gone. "It was the end of [the] family tree," Tim said about his younger son's death. "Everything I started is gone."
This report was posted by Paul Reickoff on, to IAVA.org February 12
Earlier this week, I told you about an amazing group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that were coming to Capitol Hill for a historic trip to Congress, to advocate on behalf of their fellow vets. Today, I want to tell you just one of their extraordinary stories. Rey Leal served as a Marine in Fallujah during some of the heaviest fighting, earning a Bronze Star with valor as a Private First Class, an almost unheard of accomplishment for a soldier of his rank. But when he returned to southern Texas, he needed help coming home from war. Instead of having resources at his fingertips, his closest VA hospital was over five hours away. Rey’s a tough Marine, and a boxer, but he shouldn’t have to fight to get care at a veterans’ hospital. And at his nearest outpatient clinic, there was just one psychologist, taking appointments only two days a week.
The psychologist only works two days because that Texas clinic, like many VA clinics and hospitals, has to stretch its’ funding to make sure the money lasts the whole year. They don’t know how much funding they’ll have next year because the VA budget is routinely passed late. In fact, 19 of the past 22 years, the budget has not been passed on time. As a result, the VA is forced to ration care for the almost 6 million veterans that depend on its services.
For the millions of veterans like Rey, we must fix this broken VA funding system.
Imagine trying to balance your family’s budget without knowing what your next paycheck will be. That’s what we’re asking of the largest health care provider in the nation to do. And it doesn’t work.
The good news is that there is a solution. “Advance appropriations,” approving the VA health care budget one year in advance, would supply timely and predictable funding, and it’s an effective way to ensure the highest quality care that our veterans deserve. It doesn’t make for a sexy news story. But it is a critical, comprehensive way to tackle many of the challenges facing vets ranging from PTSD, to homelessness to military sexual trauma. And it wouldn’t cost a dime. That is not something you hear much down in Washington lately.
While the lack of cost is highly unusual, advance appropriations is not a new concept for how the federal government does business. Low-income housing and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting already depend on the advance appropriations process to plan their programming. If this policy is good enough for Big Bird, then it should be good enough for vets like Rey.
That has been our message all week in Washington. Now this week, in the face of a surge of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from across the country, Congress has rapidly responded. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA), the chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, are introducing bipartisan legislation to provide advance appropriations for the VA. And Rey and the rest of our Storm the Hill team of young veterans will be there to support this historic change.
It’s reassuring to know that in these tough fiscal times, Congress is not only listening to Wall Street CEOs, but that they are also listening to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
And Senator Akaka and Congressman Filner are not alone in supporting advanced VA funding. It has a broad coalition of support. President Obama and Senator McCain both backed the idea during the 2008 campaign, and new VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has signaled early support for the concept.
Every major veterans’ organization in America is also on board. The IAVA crew in Washington this week represents the first wave of veterans’ groups hitting Capitol Hill to push for advance appropriations in 2009. This week, the young vets have boldly taken the beach. And in the coming days and weeks, other generations of veterans will follow. We are coordinating our political fire—just like we did on the battlefields of Baghdad and Normandy. Together, we will show Capitol Hill, the media, and the entire country, that 25 million veterans of all generations stand united behind the right solution to fix VA health care funding once and for all.
This essay, by Norman Soloman, was published in the Truthout, February 3, 2009
The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. "The war on terror" has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.
For the crimes against humanity committed on September 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological "sophistication" and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.
W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."
Stanley Kunitz: "In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking."
And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington's certainty, Richard Farina wrote: "And death will be our darling and fear will be our name." Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.
The US war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring "war on terrorism," chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.
Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired US Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program and told viewers: "Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism."
But the "war on terrorism" rubric - increasingly shortened to the even vaguer "war on terror" - kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so: "We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war."
There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize - or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.
The new US "war on terror" was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.
Now, in early 2009, we're entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president's escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence.
And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration's reported plan to double US troop deployments in that country within a year.
"This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced," Norman Mailer wrote in his book "Why Are We at War?" six years ago. "It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void ..."
Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002: "This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion.... There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist."
And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just as there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.
It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America - but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.
For anyone who believes that the war in Afghanistan makes sense, I recommend the January 30 discussion on "Bill Moyers Journal" with historian Marilyn Young and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey. A chilling antidote to illusions that fuel the war can be found in the transcript.
Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about "the war on terror." Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed.
And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.
These book reviews, by Gerald Nicosia, were published in The San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2009
The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans, By Aaron Glantz, University of California Press; 254 pages; $24.95
Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, By Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz, Haymarket Books; 236 pages; $16 paperback
Get ready, America: The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are starting to make their voices heard. Just as it took decades for us to learn the full extent of the damage wrought by the Vietnam War, we are just now starting to glimpse the hurt and suffering and enduring wounds created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With "The War Comes Home" and "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan," independent journalist Aaron Glantz puts himself at the forefront of those who are bringing this new generation of veterans into public view. Not only did Glantz spend several years in Iraq, covering the war and reporting on the lives of Iraqis, but he was deeply affected by the conflict to the point of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned.
What makes "The War Comes Home" such a powerful plea is that Glantz admits his initial bias against the vets - they were the ones who caused all the misery among the poor Afghans and Iraqis. But his eventual realization that both reporter and soldier are common victims of a government that wages such wars allowed him to identify with the vets and to empathize with their struggles.
Like the Vietnam vets, these vets return to face their own people who wish to put these unproductive wars behind them. One of the most poignant observations comes from Shad Meshad, a Vietnam veteran who spent decades counseling troubled vets. Meshad tells Glantz: "When I go through airports I see soldiers just sitting up against a wall - you may see hundreds of them in a large airport - just by themselves. No one goes up to them, that positive energy toward them is faded ... No one is spitting or shouting, but they're still left with the fact that they're responsible for what they did or didn't do and they're supposed to think about that alone."
Depression, suicide, homelessness, jail, PTSD - the statistics for the veterans are as staggering as they were for Vietnam vets. A 2008 Rand Corporation study claims that "at least 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, while another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury." It also claims that "a majority of the injured are not receiving help from the Pentagon and VA."
The scandal over the horrible conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was the most dramatic manifestation of what is daily reality for most vets seeking treatment: A VA backlog of tens of thousands of claims, interminable waits to see a doctor and general bureaucratic apathy. In one of the more wrenching stories, Glantz relates how the parents of Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Lucey watched helplessly as his mental health deteriorated after his return from Iraq - while the VA refused to treat him for PTSD because of his chronic drunkenness - until one day Lucey's father found him hanging dead from a garden hose tied to a beam in their cellar.
The vets are victims not of some sinister plot, but of a government forced to cut back VA staffing and programs to pay for the very war that is disabling so many of them. Glantz shows that the problem stems ultimately from the way our society uses, then discards, its warriors.
"Nobody really knows how to deprogram a soldier," Glantz quotes former Army instructor Karl Risinger. Even more to the point are the words of a veteran who spent 15 years homeless and in prison: "I needed to learn how to live again." The military, as Glantz points out, teaches well how to kill and how to survive in the most adverse and threatening circumstances, but not at all how to get a job, keep a family together, or live "life on life's terms."
The reader will get a concentrated, almost unbearable dose of soldiers' pain in "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan," a book that Glantz put together with the help of the organization Iraq Veterans Against the War. The book comprises selections of the testimony given by about 50 veterans at a four-day event staged by IVAW in Silver Spring, Md., in March. IVAW modeled its hearings on the Winter Soldier Investigation held by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Detroit in 1971, whose goal had been to show that atrocities such as the My Lai massacre had not been freak occurrences perpetrated by a "few bad apples," but the product of official military policy. Similarly, IVAW wanted to show that "high-profile atrocities like the torture of prisoners inside Abu Ghraib and the massacre of twenty-four innocent civilians at Haditha were ... part of a pattern of increasingly bloody occupations."
The vets' words in "Winter Soldier" are at times so shocking that many Americans will not want to believe them. In fact, the public got no chance to assess the truthfulness of the testimony because most of the national media refused to cover the hearings. But all of the vets who testified were checked out ahead of time. Moreover, the terse, understated way that many of the vets related unthinkable horrors testified to the banality of these experiences.
Not all of the stories related in "Winter Soldier" are gruesome, and it may be hard sometimes to tell whether the shelling of a mosque, say, or the tearing apart of an old woman's house in the middle of the night were "atrocities" or simple military necessity. But in a way that is what the "Winter Soldier" hearings set out to show: that in this endless so-called war on terror, the "rules of engagement" eventually loosened to the point where American soldiers were told they could use lethal force against any Iraqi showing "hostile intent."
Like "The War Comes Home," "Winter Soldier" makes us feel the pain and despair endured by those who serve in a military stretched to the breaking point by stop-loss policies, multiple combat tours, and a war where the goals and the enemies keep shifting. But these books also make us admire the unbreakable idealism and hope of those men and women who still believe that by speaking out they can make things better both for themselves and for those who come after them.
"We were all good people," said Army scout Steven Casey. "We were just in a bad situation and we did what we had to do to get through."