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 Dahr Jamail, was posted to Truthout, July 21, 2009.
US Army Specialist Victor Agosto, who publicly refused to deploy with his unit to Afghanistan, was to receive the harshest court-martial possible for his decision - one that would land him in jail for up to one year, followed by a dishonorable discharge. However, within hours of the publication of a Truthout report about his story, Agosto received word from the military that his court-martial had been reduced.
The military had at first agreed to a less punitive court-martial for Agosto, but then, in a move that surprised both he and his lawyer, opted to push for a more stringent court-martial.
Agosto’s lawyer, James Branum, who is also the legal adviser to the GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, was in negotiations with the Army in efforts to seek a lower-level court-martial, so that Agosto would suffer the minimum penalties possible.
“We were working with the Army’s Trial Defense Services (TDS), and Victor has a military lawyer on his side as well, which I recommended he have,” Branum told Truthout during a July 10 phone interview.
“TDS had communicated to the prosecution for me that we were willing to accept an Article 15 and do a month of extra duty, then if he [Agosto] got a summary court-martial we’d take it - which would mean Victor would serve a maximum of 30 days in jail, and receive an Other Than Honorable discharge,” Branum explained, “So TDS said they took this offer to the CG [Commanding General] who was to sign off on it, but they said he made a mistake and wrote ’special’ rather than ’summary’ on the court-martial and sent it back down.”
Branum explained that “a summary court martial is little more than an Article 15. Supposedly there was an ‘honest’ mistake made by them handing down this special court martial, but I think they are playing games with us.”
Branum, angered by the turn of events, explained the difference between the types of court martial, “They [the Army] are not acting in good faith here. What this still means is the cap went from 30 days [of possible jail time for Agosto with a summary court martial] to a year [with a special court martial], so a pretty big jump I would say, and a leap from an Other Than Honorable discharge [summary court martial] to a bad conduct discharge [special court martial], which means once he is convicted his pay would stop.”
Due to the perceived breach of good faith by the Army during the negotiating process, Branum felt he had no choice but to up the stakes in Agosto’s upcoming court-martial. “Now we’re going to put the war on trial with their special court-martial,” Branum said, “They had their chance to keep this quiet and move on, but now we’re going to pull out all the stops and put the war on trial, and show how the whole thing is illegal.”
Truthout published Agosto’s story on July 14. Agosto, speaking to Truthout on July 18, explained what happened: “A couple of hours after the article was published, I got a phone call from my team chief, and he told me I needed to go to TDS because my attorney needed to speak to me. She [Capt. Jocelyn Stuart] told me the government wants the original deal, and that basically General Lynch was going to recommend the summary plea deal, so a few days later that was confirmed and I signed off on the last piece of paperwork that I needed to sign off on Friday [July 17].”
When asked what he thought about the military’s decision, Agosto told Truthout, “I think it’s great. It shows what a determined group of people can do. The power of the alternative media is evident. In a way I have mixed feelings about it - it would have been nice to put the war on trial.”
When Agosto refused to deploy to Afghanistan, the Army issued him a Counseling Statement (a punitive US Army memo) on May 1, which outlined actions taken by the Army to discipline Agosto for his refusal to obey a direct order from his company commander, Michael J. Pederson. Agosto wrote on the form, “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect,” and posted it on his FaceBook page.
On another Counseling Statement dated May 18, Agosto wrote, “I will not obey any order I deem to be immoral or illegal.”
On May 27, rejecting an Article 15 - a nonjudicial punishment imposed by a commanding officer who believes a member of his command has committed an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Agosto demanded to be court-martialed instead.
Agosto’s lawyer, Branum, told Truthout during a phone interview on July 10 that, contrary to mainstream opinion that believes Afghanistan to be a “justified” war, the invasion and ongoing occupation are actually in violation of the US Constitution and international law.
“Victor is approaching this from the standpoint of law and ethics,” Branum explained, “It’s his own personal ethics and principles of the Nuremberg principles, that the war in Afghanistan does not meet the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter, which says that member nations who joined the UN, as did the US, should give up war forever, aside from two exceptions: that the war is in self-defense, and that the use of force was authorized by the UN Security Council. The nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban may have, but the nation and people of Afghanistan did not. And under US Law, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, any treaty enacted by the US is now the ’supreme law of the land.’ So when the United States signed the UN Charter, we made that our law as well.”
The Supremacy Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution, Article VI, Paragraph 2. The clause establishes the Constitution, Federal Statutes and US treaties as “the supreme law of the land.” The text establishes these as the highest form of law in the American legal system, mandating that state judges uphold them, even if state laws or constitutions conflict.
Branum is now pleased with the Army’s decision. He told Truthout on July 20, “I think the Army did the right thing. I’d have preferred Victor get no jail time at all, but it could have been far worse. I would have loved a not-guilty plea, but as far as the potential punishment, I am pleased with how this has turned out. It was clear the Army screwed up. Since they decided to do a special court-martial, we were going to put the war on trial. They saying they made a mistake - there is no way of knowing whether that is true or not. When we went public and said it was their mistake and we’re going to put the war on trial, at that point they realized they made a really big mistake and agreed to re-submit a summary court martial.”
Agosto told Truthout that his TDS lawyer told him she had “never heard of General Lynch signing off on a summary court-martial before” and “I think it was in response to your article.”
Agosto believes he will be put through a summary court-martial this week, then expects to be placed in a rear-detachment company after he serves his sentence, which will be a maximum of 30 days in a County Detention Center in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood where he is currently stationed.
“I thank everyone who has supported me through this, particularly the folks at the Under the Hood GI resistance cafe,” Agosto said, “If it wasn’t for their support for my resistance, the consequences would have been much greater.”
Branum explained that the defense “is allowed to present other matters within a short time after the trial to the general. Then the general has the power to approve the sentence as it is, or lower it. So we’re going to ask him to lower it, and present the 1,000 plus signatures from Victor’s petition, and letters from experts about the illegality of the war … this is our chance to continue to make it clear that we think it should be no days in jail, and this is our chance to have this information on the record.”
Branum told Truthout that he feels Agosto’s victory sends a clear message to other soldiers who are considering resistance.
“It sends a message to be bold,” he said. “There is a high likelihood that by being bold, it helps your own case. Be smart, of course, but the Army screws people over by keeping it ‘in house.’ My challenge is to be bold, shine the light. When the military is confronted with it, they are sometimes stunned by their own injustice. Appeal to their humanity and conscience, and if that doesn’t work, scare them.”
This article, by James Glanz, C. J. Chivers and William Rashbaum, was published by the New York Times, February 15, 2009
Federal authorities examining the early, chaotic days of the $125 billion American-led effort to rebuild Iraq have significantly broadened their inquiry to include senior American military officers who oversaw the program, according to interviews with senior government officials and court documents.
Court records show that last month investigators subpoenaed the personal bank records of Col. Anthony B. Bell, who is now retired from the Army but who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 when the small operation grew into a frenzied attempt to remake the country’s broken infrastructure. In addition, investigators are examining the activities of Lt. Col. Ronald W. Hirtle of the Air Force, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004, according to two federal officials involved in the inquiry.
It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, and both said they had nothing to hide from investigators. Yet officials say that several criminal cases over the past few years point to widespread corruption in the operation the men helped to run. As part of the inquiry, the authorities are taking a fresh look at information given to them by Dale C. Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was killed in Iraq in late 2004.
Before he was shot on a road north of Baghdad, Mr. Stoffel drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel: tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper sacks that were scattered in “dead drops” around the Green Zone, the nerve center of the United States government’s presence in Iraq, two senior federal officials said.
Mr. Stoffel, who gave investigators information about the office where Colonel Bell and Colonel Hirtle worked, was deemed credible enough that he was granted limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his information, according to government documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with officials and Mr. Stoffel’s lawyer, John H. Quinn Jr. There is no evidence that his death was related to his allegations of corruption.
Prosecutors have won 35 convictions on cases related to reconstruction in Iraq, yet most of them involved private contractors or midlevel officials. The current inquiry is aiming at higher-level officials, according to investigators involved in the case, and is also trying to determine if there are connections between those officials and figures in the other cases. Although Colonel Bell and Colonel Hirtle were military officers, they worked in a civilian contracting office.
“These long-running investigations continue to mature and expand, embracing a wider array of potential suspects,” a federal investigator said.
The reconstruction effort, intended to improve services and convince Iraqis of American good will, largely managed to do neither. The wider investigation raises the question of whether American corruption was a primary factor in damaging an effort whose failures have been ascribed to poor planning and unforeseen violence.
The investigations, which are being conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Justice Department, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and other federal agencies, cover a period when millions of dollars in cash, often in stacks of shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills, were dispensed from a loosely guarded safe in the basement of one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.
Former American officials describe payments to local contractors from huge sums of cash dumped onto tables and stuffed into sacks as if it were Halloween candy.
“You had no oversight, chaos and breathtaking sums of money,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who helped create the Wartime Contracting Commission, an oversight board. “And over all of that was the notion that failure was O.K. It doesn’t get any better for criminals than that set of circumstances.”
In one case of graft from that period, Maj. John L. Cockerham of the Army pleaded guilty to accepting nearly $10 million in bribes as a contracting officer for the Iraq war and other military efforts from 2004 to 2007, when he was arrested. Major Cockerham’s wife has also pleaded guilty, as have several other contracting officers.
In Major Cockerham’s private notebooks, Colonel Bell is identified as a possible recipient of an enormous bribe as recently as 2006, the two senior federal officials said. It is unclear whether the bribe was actually offered or paid.
When asked if Major Cockerham had ever offered him a bribe, Colonel Bell said in a telephone interview, “I think we’ll end the discussion,” but stayed on the line. Colonel Bell’s response was equally terse when asked if he thought that Colonel Hirtle had carried out his duties properly: “No discussion on that at this time.”
The current focus on Colonel Bell is revealed in federal court papers filed in Georgia, where he has a residence and is trying to quash a subpoena of his bank records by the Special Inspector General. The papers, dated Jan. 27, indicate that Colonel Bell’s records were sought in connection with an investigation of bribery, kickbacks and fraud.
Colonel Bell said that he sought to quash the subpoena not because he had anything to hide, but because the document contained inaccuracies. “If they clean it up, I won’t have a problem,” he said, suggesting that he would cooperate. He declined to detail the inaccuracies, although his handwritten notations on the court papers indicated that the home address and the bank account number on the subpoena were incorrect.
Asked whether he knew why the records had been subpoenaed, he said, “That is not for me to direct what they’re going to do.”
Another case that has raised investigators’ suspicions about top contracting officials involves a company, variously known as American Logistics Services and Lee Dynamics International, that repeatedly won construction contracts for millions of dollars despite a dismal track record.
One contracting official committed suicide in 2006 a day after admitting to investigators that she had taken $225,000 in bribes to rig bids in favor of the company. At least two other former contracting officials in Iraq have admitted to taking bribes in the case and are cooperating with investigators. It is unknown what information they may have provided on Colonel Hirtle, a high-ranking contracting official in Baghdad. But Colonel Hirtle signed the company’s first major contract in Iraq in May 2004, a roughly $10 million deal to build arms warehouses for the fledgling Iraqi security forces, according to a copy of the contract and federal officials. The warehouses went largely unbuilt. Investigators said the inquiry into the Lee case was continuing.
“I can’t talk to any media right now, because I don’t know anything about this and I’ve got to do some research on it,” Colonel Hirtle said when reached by phone in California, before abruptly hanging up.
The next day, Colonel Hirtle said he had been “taken aback” by questions about an investigation involving himself. “I try to keep things as transparent and aboveboard as I can,” he said, referring questions to an Air Force public affairs office.
The Air Force referred questions to the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, where a spokesman, Christopher Grey, said the command “does not discuss or confirm the names of persons who may or may not be under investigation.”
An extraordinary element of the current investigation is a voice from beyond the grave: that of Mr. Stoffel, who died with a British associate, Joseph J. Wemple, in a burst of automatic gunfire on a dangerous highway north of Baghdad in December 2004 as he returned from a business meeting at a nearby military base.
A previously unknown Iraqi group claimed responsibility for the killings, which remain unsolved. The men may simply have been unlucky enough to be engulfed in the violence that was then just beginning to grip the country.
On May 20, 2004, a little more than a week after Colonel Hirtle signed the Lee company’s warehouse contract, Mr. Stoffel was granted limited immunity by the Special Inspector General for what amounted to a whistle-blower’s complaint. Copies of the immunity document were obtained from two former business associates of Mr. Stoffel.
The picture of corruption Mr. Stoffel painted, including the clandestine delivery of bribes, was “like a classic New York scenario,” said a former business associate.
“Fifty thousand dollars delivered in pizza boxes to secure contracts,” said the former associate, a consultant in the arms business with whom Mr. Stoffel sometimes worked in the former Eastern bloc. “Of course, it just looked like a pizza delivery.”
It was Mr. Stoffel’s experience with Eastern bloc weaponry that helped him win a contract to refurbish Iraq’s Soviet-era tanks as part of a program to rebuild Iraq’s armed forces. Mr. Stoffel’s company remains locked in a dispute over payments it says are owed by the Iraqi government.
His problems with American officials were what led him to make the accusations of corruption. Mr. Stoffel, the associate said, “was trying to do this as quietly as possible, to blow the whistle.”
“He knew enough about what was going on, and he was getting pretty frustrated.”
This article, by Julie Sell, was published by The Bellingham herald, February 15, 2009
A U.S. military lawyer blitzed London last week, calling for the immediate release of her client, who allegedly was trained in an al-Qaida terrorist camp, from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Claiming that Binyam Mohamed, a former British resident who's on a hunger strike at Guantanamo, will leave prison "insane" or "in a coffin" if he's not released soon, Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley has made herself a thorn in the side of her military superiors, her commander in chief and other officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
All the charges against Mohamed have been dropped, and in a private meeting on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Bradley - and subsequently the news media - that the Obama administration had agreed to make reviewing Mohamed's case a "priority." A British delegation plans to visit Mohamed in prison "as soon as possible," and it will include a doctor who can assess his ability to travel, Miliband said.
Part of Bradley's reception in London stems from her "novelty," said Clive Stafford Smith, a member of Mohamed's legal team and the director of the human rights group Reprieve. She's an African-American woman and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who doesn't flinch when she describes her client's treatment or criticizes her country's policies.
"I think this comes as quite a shock to a lot of people in England that a serving military officer would say the things she says," Stafford Smith said. "It illustrates the very best about America."
Bradley, 45, who calls herself "a lawyer and a soldier" and a "lifelong Republican," told McClatchy Newspapers in an interview that she blames the Bush administration for Mohamed's arrest and for his treatment in captivity. Asked if she thinks her client is innocent, Bradley replied that he "was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"If 9/11 never happened, this whole series of events would never have happened," Bradley said. "This was an experiment that failed. It is a shame and a legacy that will follow (the United States) in its history."
Bradley, who grew up near Philadelphia, got her law degree at Notre Dame two decades ago and began practicing law in the Air Force. She joined the military, she said, because it would expose her to different types of law and give her a chance to travel. She spent six years on active duty, including a stint on a U.S. airbase in Saudi Arabia.
She then took a job in a federal public defender's office representing convicts on death row, where her most notorious client may have been Harrison "Marty" Graham, a convicted serial killer in Philadelphia. "I was glad there was a piece of glass between Marty and I," Bradley recalled.
She continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve, which normally involves a commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks a year, and after about six years in the federal public defender's office, she set up a solo law practice in the leafy Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore.
In 2005, Bradley, then a major, got a call from Col. Dwight Sullivan, the chief defense counsel for Guantanamo Bay inmates at the time.
"He said he had the perfect case for me," she recalled. Partly because of her work with inmates on death row, she said, Sullivan wanted to partner her with Stafford Smith, who also had defended death row inmates and was already working on Mohamed's case.
Stafford Smith, who has dual British and American citizenship, recalled that he initially was wary about working with a Republican military lawyer.
Now obviously fond of Bradley, who spent this weekend at his home in southern England, Stafford Smith added: "That just goes to show you how wrong we were - almost every stereotype you can think of turns out to be wrong."
Her views have changed dramatically since she joined Mohamed's legal team in 2005. She said that when she was assigned to his case, she was "a true believer" in America's campaign against terrorism.
Bradley recalled that after she got a call to defend Mohamed at Guantanamo Bay in 2005, she was ready to shut down her law practice in suburban Philadelphia. "I knew these were war crimes," she said of the charges against her client.
Then she received orders that her assignment would last 90 days. "That should have been my first warning that something was wrong," she said. "I can't try a small possession of marijuana (case) in 90 days, let alone a major war crime."
When Bradley first visited Mohamed at Guantanamo Bay, she recalled, she was "scared," although as a federal public defender she'd represented a serial killer and other murderers on death row. "I believed my government when they told me he was a terrorist," she said.
She flew to Cuba and met with Stafford Smith. She let him do most of the talking and wore civilian clothes rather than a military uniform to avoid frightening her client. She remembers meeting a "baby-faced" young man who seemed quiet and shy.
"I was thinking, 'This guy's supposed to be the worst of the worst; we're going to try him as one of the first 10 cases? What the hell are we doing down here in Guantanamo?' "
She left Mohamed's cell feeling "upset and confused," she said.
A review of Mohamed's charge sheet raised more questions. "I was waiting for the blood on his hands, the trigger finger, links to the dirty-bomb plot," she said. Instead, over time, she came to believe that "his story was all spun out by the CIA" after Mohamed was held in several countries, including Afghanistan and Morocco - and, he alleges, tortured.
Bradley's defense of Mohamed has ruffled feathers and nearly landed her in trouble.
Stafford Smith and Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University who also was on Mohamed's defense team when Bradley joined it, recall an incident early in the case when she was nearly held in contempt of court.
Under the rules that governed military commissions at the time, a client's defense was "reduced to a script relegating counsel to being a potted plant, but Yvonne was not going to put up with that," Margulies said.
Bradley had a "heated exchange" with the judge, Margulies recalled. "He ordered her, and she wouldn't back down." As a superior military officer, the judge could've held Bradley in contempt. "We thought she was going to be taken into custody right then and there," Margulies said.
At the next break in the proceedings, Margulies said, he and Stafford Smith huddled with Bradley. "She was completely unruffled," he recalled.
To avoid trouble with the judge, though, they urged her to plead the Fifth Amendment.
"That's not something I've had to do for a fellow lawyer before," said Stafford Smith. "I don't think Binyam (Mohamed) could ask for a more dogged advocate."
"She didn't win any Miss Congeniality awards that day," Margulies said, "but at that moment her client understood that he had a lawyer there."
Asked what her relationship is with Mohamed now, Bradley paused. "Uncertain trust," she said. "I trust him, but I'm not sure he trusts me." A turning point came about a year ago, when Mohamed wrote her a thank you note. "I thought 'Yes, Binyam.' He had finally realized."
Bradley told McClatchy that she was hopeful, based on what Foreign Secretary Miliband had told her, that Mohamed might be released soon. She's due to leave London on Monday, but was trying to extend her stay in case he's flown back to London.
Still, her optimism remains guarded.
"I've been lied to so many times, deceived so many times, until Mr. Mohamed is in the UK," she said, her voice trailing off. "It's not over until he's here."
(Sell is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent.)
ABOUT BINYAM MOHAMED
Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia 30 years ago and moved as a young man to Britain, where he converted to Islam. He traveled to Pakistan in 2001, Bradley said, because he was "enthusiastic about his new religion" and wanted to escape "the drug culture" in London.
In 2002, Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan while he was trying to board a flight to London. U.S. officials said they suspected that he'd trained with al-Qaida and was involved in plotting to attack America with a radioactive "dirty" bomb.
He was arrested and subsequently sent to Morocco, where he claims he was tortured and interrogated with the involvement of the FBI, the CIA and MI5, Britain's international intelligence agency.
He was sent to Guantanamo in 2004, where he was interrogated further. All charges against him have since been dropped. He's been on a hunger strike since late December, and is one of many detainees who're being force-fed by prison authorities.