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!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This article, by Rebecca Santana, was posted to After Downing Street, October 14, 2009
BAGHDAD – Iraq's government said at least 85,000 people were killed from 2004 to 2008, officially answering one of the biggest questions of the conflict — how many perished in the sectarian violence that nearly led to a civil war.
What remains unanswered is how many died in the 2003 U.S. invasion and in the months of chaos that followed it.
A report by the Human Rights Ministry said 85,694 people were killed from the beginning of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008 and 147,195 were wounded. The figures included Iraqi civilians, military and police but did not cover U.S. military deaths, insurgents, or foreigners, including contractors. And it did not include the first months of the war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The Associated Press reported similar figures in April based on government statistics obtained by the AP showing that the government had recorded 87,215 Iraqi deaths from 2005 to February 2009. The toll included violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings.
Until the AP report, the government's toll of Iraqi deaths had been one of the war's most closely guarded secrets. Both supporters and opponents of the conflict have accused the other of manipulating the toll to sway public opinion.
The 85,694 represents about 0.3 percent of Iraq's estimated 29 million population. In a sign of how significant the numbers are, that would be akin to the United States losing about 900,000 people over a similar period.
The ministry's report came out late Tuesday as part of a larger study on human rights in the country. It described the years that followed the invasion, which toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, as extremely violent.
"Through the terrorist attacks like explosions, assassinations, kidnappings and forced displacements, the outlawed groups have created these terrible figures," it said.
Violence in Iraq has declined dramatically since the height of the fighting but almost every Iraqi family has a story of relatives killed, maimed or missing. One Baghdad resident, Ali Khalil, 27, from the Sadr City neighborhood whose father was shot in late 2006 by gunmen said he was not surprised by the government's figures.
"I expect that the real numbers of the people killed are higher than this," Khalil said. He added that he did not think the country would return to the high numbers of dead in the future because security has improved. "We have already lost dear ones, and we hope that our sadness and losses will cease."
Iraq's death toll continued to climb on Wednesday when three near simultaneous blasts struck the southern Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing at least six people.
According to the ministry's report, the dead included 1,279 children and 2,334 women. At least 263 university professors, 21 judges, 95 lawyers and 269 journalists were killed — professions which were specifically targeted as the country descended into chaos.
According to the report, 2006 was the deadliest year with 32,622 killed or found dead. The toll for 2004 was 11,313, rising to 15,817 the next year. The second deadliest year in the period covered was 2007 with 19,155 killed or found dead. The toll fell to 6,787 in 2008, the lowest yearly count for the period.
The count also included 15,000 unidentified bodies that were buried after going unclaimed by families. An additional 10,000 people were also listed as missing although Human Rights Ministry official Kamail Amin said it was not known whether there was overlap between the missing and unidentified counts.
Amin said the missing figures were based on people who came to the ministry to report a missing relative, something that many Iraqis, who feared reprisals and were hesitant to draw attention to themselves, were loathe to do.
Significantly the report does not contain figures from 2003, a period during which there was no functioning Iraqi government.
"The situation was chaotic and there was an absence of government institutions. The whole country was in total anarchy," Amin said.
The violence that has gripped Iraq made it increasingly difficult after 2003 to independently track death figures. Records were not always compiled centrally, the brutal insurgency sharply limited on-the-scene reporting. The U.S. military never shared its data.
At best, the numbers released by the Human Rights Ministry and those obtained by the AP are a minimum of the number who died.
Emmanuel d'Harcourt from the New York-based International Rescue Committee, who's participated in mortality surveys in such places as Sudan and Sierra Leone, said the figures are undoubtedly low and that considering the challenges associated with counting those killed in the Iraq conflict, a true figure might never be reached.
"I would think that Iraq would be one of the most difficult places on Earth to count the dead," he said.
The official who provided the data to the AP at the time estimated the actual number of deaths was 10 to 20 percent higher.
Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war and an in-depth review of available evidence by the AP, the figures showed that more than 110,600 Iraqis had died in violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and up through early 2009.
The most recent numbers from Iraq Body Count, a private London-based group that has tracked civilian casualties since the war began, puts the number of civilian casualties as of Oct. 14 at 93,540.
The toll released Tuesday was based on death certificates issued by the Health Ministry. The tolls measure only violent deaths — people killed in attacks such as the shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and beheadings that have ravaged Iraq. They exclude indirect factors such as damage to infrastructure, health care and stress.
Some experts favor cluster surveys, in which conclusions are drawn from a select sampling of households. The largest cluster survey in Iraq was conducted in 2007 by the World Health Organization and the Iraqi government. It concluded that about 151,000 Iraqis had died from violence in the 2003-05 period, but that included insurgents.
A more controversial cluster study conducted between May and July 2006 by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, published in the Lancet medical journal, estimated that 601,027 Iraqis had died due to violence.
Critics argue that such surveys are flawed in Iraq because the security situation prevents a proper sampling. They also have margins of error that could skew the numbers by the tens of thousands.
While the Pentagon maintains meticulous records of the number of American troops killed — at least 4,349 as of Wednesday — it does not publicly release comprehensive Iraqi casualty figures. American units around the country do compile figures, drawing them mostly from the Iraqi military. They are not released publicly but are used to determine trends.
This announcement was posted top the IVAW website, September 2009
Iraqi Labor leaders hope to make their case about the lack of labor rights in Iraq to audience of U.S. union reps and war veterans in Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
In celebration of Labor Day, Five Iraqi labor federation leaders (bios below) representing the largest unions in Iraq will make their case for expanded labor rights in their country to U.S. Labor leaders, war veterans and peace groups. During the tour, they also will collect signatures on a petition to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, calling on her to speak out about Iraqi labor rights and press the Iraqi government to respect and protect the rights of workers and unions. The tour is being hosted by U.S. Labor Against the War and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
September 8, 7:00 - 9:00 PM at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street, SW, Washington, D.C.
September 17, 7:00 - 9:00 PM - 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 310 West 43rd Street, New York, NY
September 18, 12:00 - 2:00 PM - 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 310 West 43rd Street, New York, NY
September 21, 7:00-9:00 pm at Friends Meeting House, Address: 4th & Arch Streets, Philadelphia, PA
Interpreters will be available at all events.
BRIEF BIOS on IRAQI LABOR LEADERS
Hassan Juma’a Awad, President, Iraq Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU)
Hassan Juma’a has worked in the Southern Oil Company's technical unit in Basra for 36 years. He was elected President of the General Union of Oil Employees in 2003, and became President of Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions in 2006. He was among 20 activists who formed the first union committee in the Southern Oil Company in the first 11 days after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Falah Alwan, President, Federation of Worker's Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI),
Falah Alwan was an underground labor activist throughout the 1990s, working in textile and factories and retail stores until the invasion in 2003. Alwan was among the founders of the Union of the Unemployed and subsequently of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, of which he now serves as President. He is currently employed as a store keeper at the General Company of Cotton Industries in Baghdad (part of the Ministry of Industry).
Rasim Al-Awady, President, General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW)
Rasim Al Awady has served as President of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) since 2005. Prior to this post, Al Awady was President of one of the three federations created by workers after the 2003 invasion of Iraq that later merged to form the GFIW. In the 1970s he served as Vice President for the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU) in Cairo, and later as International Affairs Officer for an Iraqi labor federation
Nabeel Mulhim, Foreign Affairs Officer, Kurdish General Workers Syndicates in Iraq (KGWSI)
Nabil Mulhim is a member of the Executive Committee of the Kurdish General Workers Syndicates in Iraq and also serves as the Foreign Affairs Officer at the federation. Born in Erbil, he speaks fluent Arabic along with Kurdish which is his mother tongue.
Sardar Mohammed, President, Iraqi Kurdish Workers Syndicates and Unions (IKWSU)
Sardar Mohammed, President of Iraqi Kurdish Workers Syndicates and Unions, lives in Suleimaniya. He has recently been elected to be a workers representative in the Kurdistan Parliament and is determined to play a role in promoting labor rights and raising awareness, especially for workers in the public sector.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s 1987 law barring labor unions and collective bargaining in all public sector and enterprise workplaces has remained in effect. Iraqi unions have organized without the protection of a basic labor law, even though the Iraqi constitution requires one and Iraq is signatory to the International Labor Organization Convention on the right to organize and bargain. Union leaders and activists have faced harassment, beatings, detention, torture and even assassination. Union offices have been raided and vandalized by US and Iraqi troops. Union bank accounts and assets have been frozen. Iraqi unions have managed to continue organizing despite these obstacles.
In March 2009, Iraq Veterans Against the War representative, Aaron Hughes, joined with a delegation organized by U.S. Labor Against the War to attend the First Iraqi Labor Conference in Erbil, Iraq. Over 200 labor leaders from labor unions representing various sectors of the Iraqi economy Iraq attended, including energy and agriculture. There, they heard first-hand about the conditions of workers in Iraq post-U.S. invasion, and the role of unions in re-building Iraqi infrastructure and promoting civil society and democracy while still under U.S. occupation.
This video is a mix of the Army Strong video produced by the army to entice young women and men to join the military. The other video is produced by Displaced Films which is a series of films produced for the Iraq Veterans Against the War http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier
The series of films can also be seen here http://www.vimeo.com/5448532
You can make a donation to Jeriko Films here http://jerikofilms.wordpress.com/about/
The military has a budget of $459 million in advertising revenue which is the amount it spent in 2005. Please help us provide an honest picture of war by making a donation. Here is further information from, David Zeiger who requested we include the following information.
Hello Cindy and All
I am so happy that you used episodes from our series, This is Where We Take Our Stand, for your Army Strong video. It's incredibly powerful, and getting out to a lot of people. You did a great thing with it, and this is what the series is for.
I have a very important request, though. Please make it much more clear on your site and in the piece that the material is from the web series This is Where We Take Our Stand, and that the entire series can and should be seen at http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/ There are still two episodes that will be posted this monday and in two weeks, and then the entire series will be available as a single piece as well.
First of all, it's important that people see the whole series. But along with that, it's been a tremendous struggle to get the story made and told, and we are still in the midst of trying to get the funds to complete a television film as well. So it is crucial that both the name of the series and the people who made it be very prominent whenever it is used. It's also important to include that it is from the people who made Sir! No Sir! I'm sure you understand all of this.
We are linking Army Strong to http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/, and will do what we can to help get it out there.
This review, by Steven Lendman, was posted to Global Research, July 7, 2009.
Marjorie Cohn is a Distinguished Law Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego where she's taught since 1991 and is the current President of the National Lawyers Guild. She's also been a criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels, is an author, and writes many articles for professional journals, other publications, and numerous popular web sites.
Her record of achievements, distinctions, and awards are many and varied - for her teaching, writing, and her work as a lawyer and activist for peace, social and economic justice, and respect for the rule of law. Cohn's previous books include "Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice" and "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law."
Her newest book just out, co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd (a recognized expert on military administrative law), is titled "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent." It explores why US military personnel disobey orders and refuse to participate in two illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also explains that US and international law obligate them to do so.
Cohn and Gilberd write:
"Rules of engagement limit forms of combat, levels of force, and legitimate enemy targets, defining what is legal in warfare and what is not. (They're also) defined by an established body of international (and US) law" that leave no ambiguity.
Nonetheless, in past and current US wars, virtually no "Rules" whatever are followed. Soldiers are trained to fire at "anything that moves," place no value on enemy lives, and often treat civilians no differently from combatants. It results in massive civilian casualties, dismissively called "collateral damage." It also gets growing numbers in the ranks to resist - to challenge so-called "Rules" they believe are illegal and immoral.
"Rules of Disengagement" "discuss(es) the laws and regulations governing military dissent and resistance - the legal rules of disengagement (and offers) practical guidelines (that include) political protest to requesting discharge from the service."
Today, growing Iraq and Afghanistan casualty counts are enormous as well as the disturbing toll on the GIs involved - including long and repeated deployments, often leaving permanent debilitating effects, physical and/or psychological.
US soldiers have a right and duty to dissent and resist, and today it's easier than ever through all the modern ways of communicating, including blogging, sharing stories, photos, videos, and "developing new ways to speak out to fellow soldiers and civilians online and in the media."
"Rules of Disengagement" goes into courtrooms where military personnel "have spoken out, arguing that (today's) wars are illegal (and immoral) under international (and US) law." It's a "practical guide" providing "specific discussion(s) of applicable regulations and laws" for readers "to form their own conclusions and consider their own options." Above all, it's a way for honorable young men and women to dissent, resist, and disengage from two illegal, immoral wars, in hopes many others will follow their example. Resisting Illegal Wars
Every US war since WW II has been illegal. Article 51 of the UN Charter only permits the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."
In addition, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 (the war powers clause) authorizes only both houses of Congress, not the president, to declare war. Nonetheless, that process was followed only five times in our history and last used on December 8, 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Yet many judges won't apply "the law to the wars, and then to service members' refusal to take part" in them. They say it's "not their role, not a matter under their jurisdiction, or not 'relevant.' " In case studies the authors use, court-martial judges, juries, and the public increasingly accept these arguments but also recognize that "men and women of conscience have put their futures on the line for their opinions and actions against illegal wars (and) orders."
It hasn't shown up in court-martial decisions except in more lenient sentences, indicating growing respect for those brave enough to resist on matters of conscience and their opinions regarding the law. Pablo Paredes for one.
The Navy petty officer third class and weapons-control technician refused duty on the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf on December 6, 2004 to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was charged with unauthorized absence and willfully missing his ship's deployment. On May 10, 2005, Paredes avoided jail and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge when the court-martial judge dismissed the former charge, convicted him on the latter one, sentenced him to two months restriction, three months of hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank from E-4 to E-1.
Lt. Cdr. Robert Klant denied expert testimony on the war's illegality, but let Cohn testify as an expert witness, at the sentencing hearing. At its conclusion, Klant astonished attending spectators by saying:
"I believe the government has successfully demonstrated a reasonable belief for every service member to decide that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal to fight in." Paredes benefitted from that view. Others have as well, but not often or easily. Modern Conscientious Objectors (COs)
They're persons who refuse to perform military service, and request noncombatant status or discharge on grounds of religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs with regard to wars and killing. Objecting on the basis of conscience is 'a long and honorable" tradition going back to the beginning of the republic. It was used frequently during the Vietnam war.
Objectors help others by expanding the right to resist and dissent. Under DOD regulations, "the military must grant CO status to any service member who (consciously opposes all) war(s) in any form, whose opposition is founded on religious training and beliefs, and whose position is sincere and deeply held." This position "must have developed or become central to the CO's beliefs after entry into the military," and applicants must provide "clear and convincing evidence that he or she is a CO."
US Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was the first Iraq War veteran to refuse further involvement on matters of conscience after serving in it earlier from April - October 2003. Following leave, he failed to rejoin his National Guard unit and filed for discharge as a CO on grounds that the invasion and occupation were illegal and immoral. The Army then charged him with desertion to send a strong message to others who resist.
His May 2004 court-martial was a kangaroo-court show trial, widely broadcast to all military personnel worldwide on internal Pentagon television, radio and newspaper outlets. At trial, the military judge disallowed prepared defense testimony under Army Field Manual 27-10, the Constitution, and established international law.
Mejia was found guilty of desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty. He was sentenced to a year in prison, reduction in rank to E-1, one year's forfeiture of pay, and a bad conduct discharge after which Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, its highest honor.
After the verdict, international law expert Francis Boyle was allowed to testify during the sentencing phase - but under strict limitations imposed by the judge. He cited relevant domestic, international, and military law, reviewed crimes of war and against humanity under them, and explained the culpability of commanders and government officials to the highest levels for abusing and torturing prisoners.
Mejia served nine months in prison and in August 2007 was elected chairman of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Hundreds of others have filed for CO status while many more go AWOL or refuse deployment to combat zones. The military never makes it easy, yet the illegitimacy of two illegal wars and the immense hardships on young GIs and their families makes growing numbers resist and dissent. Still many others aren't aware that they qualify for CO status.
Current CO stereotypes stem from the Vietnam era when they were viewed as subversives and cowards. Other myths are that wars must be ongoing for those in the military to apply, the process is lengthy, discharges, if granted, won't be honorable, and federal benefits will be lost as well as eligibility for government jobs. "Needless to say, these myths are not true," but exist to discourage applicants and impede the process.
Various civilian organizations provide good information on CO rights, regulations on them, and procedures on how to apply. Also, the "CO process is one of the most legally protected of discharge proceedings - COs have greater rights than those who seek discharge for family hardship or similar reasons." Yet command hostility exists and rights are often denied. "Success rates vary among the services." Some COs are discharged for other reasons. Many applications are rejected. Some go AWOL as a result, and others do or don't succeed through court intervention. Imperial America doesn't make it easy, so applicants have to persist all the harder. Winter Soldier
Iraq and Afghan veterans willing to come forward provide the most compelling evidence of "war crimes beyond imagination." Yet those familiar with Vietnam, WW II, and other US wars have heard it before. John Dower's powerful WW II book, "War Without Mercy," documented how both sides in the Pacific war depersonalized the opposition, abandoned the rules of war, and fought with equal savagery.
Later examples include:
Winter Soldier 1971 - the Vietnam My Lai massacre killing around 500 civilians was a mere skirmish compared to death squad campaigns like Operation Phoenix that contributed to an estimated 80,000 deaths from around 1968 - 1971. Numerous other stories documented mass murder, torture, rape and other atrocities - the same kinds committed earlier and today;
Winter Soldier 2008 - "traumatized" veterans today tell similar horrors stories to ones from past wars, including Vietnam, Korea, and WW II; Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) offer testimonies as ammunition for their three unifying principles:
immediately ending the Iraq and Afghan wars and occupations and withdrawing all troops;
paying reparations to Iraqis; and
providing proper medical care for all US war veterans.
Short of these, all imaginable atrocities will continue, including mass killings, torture, rape, destruction, and much more. Wars are ugly business, and laws or no laws, the worst of abuses happen routinely by a military command teaching rank and file soldiers to commit them with impunity. And they're besides the harm done to GIs, many of whom are never the same from the experience - if they survive. Vietnam destroyed an entire generation of American youths, and today's wars are doing it again.
The rules of engagement are stipulated in various laws of war - the Constitution, Hague and Geneva Conventions; UN Charter; Nuremberg Charter, Judgment and Principles; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Supreme and lower Court decisions; US Army Field Manual 27-10; and the Law of Land Warfare (1956). They state that nations must abide by the laws of war. No exceptions are ever allowed, and failure comply constitutes a crime of war and/or against humanity.
At the Nuremberg Tribunal, chief US prosecutor Robert Jackson cited wars of aggression as the "supreme international crime against peace differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Yet this standard indicts America on all its wars since WW II.
And young GIs are affected. Winter Soldiers 2008 say "they were subject to amorphous and contradictory rules of engagement - often free-fire zones where they could shoot at anything that moved (including noncombatants). These rules, or lack thereof, led to the commission of atrocities and war crimes," not occasionally but often.
Aside from the 2001 Afghanistan bombings and March 2003 "shock and awe" attack, the worst of them took place in April and November 2004. In retaliation for the killing and mutilation of four Blackwater mercenaries, the first and second Fallujah Battles waged some of the fiercest urban combat since the 1968 Battle of Hue in Vietnam. Several thousand or more were killed, mostly civilians. Major war crimes were committed. Illegal weapons were used. Vast destruction was inflicted. The city was held under siege. Free-fire zone rules applied. A "shoot-to-kill" curfew was imposed, and according to Adam Kokesh: "we changed our rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear."
Winter Soldiers 2008 speak out publicly over what they saw and did in their tours, including in testimonies to Congress. "So far (none of them) have been prosecuted for their testimony, though some active duty witnesses were harassed by superiors." Dissent and Disengagement
Resistance includes refusing illegal orders, objecting on the basis of conscience, requesting a discharge, demonstrating, picketing, dissenting as the Constitution allows, attending rallies, petitioning Congress, going underground, taking refuge abroad, speaking out publicly, and through the media. It's acting according to one's principles and morality and not backing down when the going gets tough.
Lt. Ehren Watada's case is instructive. In June 2006, he refused to deploy to Iraq and publicly said why - that "as an officer of honor and integrity, (he could not participate in a war that was) manifestly illegal....morally wrong (and) a horrible breach of American law." He became the first US military officer to face court-martial for his action and was charged with:
one specification under UCMJ article 87 - missing movement;
two specifications under article 99 - contempt toward officials (for making public comments about George Bush); and
three specifications under article 133 for conduct unbecoming an officer.
If convicted on all charges, he faced possible dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and seven years in prison. A military equivalent of a grand jury convened on August 17, 2006 to review the charges and rule on their justification. Watada called three expert witnesses in his defense:
former UN Iraq Humanitarian Coordinator (1997 - 1998) Denis Halliday who resigned under protest because he was "instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide (and already) killed well over one million individuals, children and adults;"
US Army Colonel Ann Wright who resigned her commission as a State Department foreign service officer in March 2003 to protest a "war of aggression (in) violat(ion) of international law;" and
Professor Francis Boyle, international law and human rights expert, activist, and author of numerous books, papers, and articles on these topics.
On August 22, the Army reported on the proceeding and recommended all charges be referred to a general court-martial. It began in February 2007 under very constricted rules - denying a First Amendment defense, disallowing one's questioning the legality of the war, and refusing to allow expert testimony, including from Cohn.
However, legal issues couldn't be excluded as they directly related to charges brought, so the prosecution introduced them at trial. In addition, Watada firmly stated before testifying that he refused to deploy because of the war's illegality.
Unable to stop him from saying this, judge John Head declared a mistrial. He'd lost control of the proceeding, knew Watada was on solid ground, and had to prevent his evidence from being introduced to avoid the embarrassing possibility of an acquittal on one or all charges. If it happened, the war's illegality would be exposed and its continuation jeopardized.
Under the Fifth Amendment's "double jeopardy" clause, Watada can't be retried on the same charges. It states no person shall be "subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Watada's triumph by mistrial was a powerful tribute to his convictions and spirit. It's also an inspiration to civil resisters and all members of the military to follow in his footsteps.
On October 22, 2008, US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle agreed with Watada's double jeopardy claim and dismissed three of the five counts against him. In mid-May, beyond the timeline of Cohn and Gilberd's book, the Department of Justice dropped plans to retry him on two remaining counts, but his legal problems continue as the Army is still weighing further action. Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said the base's leadership is considering "a full range of judicial and administrative options that are available, and those range from court-martial on those two remaining specifications, to nonjudicial punishment, to administrative separation from the Army."
If they can't win one way, they may keep harassing Watada and make him pay by attrition. Millions of war resisting Americans may have other ideas, and organizations like Project Safe Haven, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War are united with others in demanding an end to Watada's persecution as well as two illegal wars and occupations.
They also support "high-visilbility demonstrations, protests and street theater," along with the right to resist and dissent. The law supports them "to speak out on a broad range of issues" using all means of technology to do it. Military regulations also "can be powerful weapons for service members who choose to dissent."
DOD Directive 1325.6 Guidelines for Handling Dissent and Protest Activities among Members of the Armed Forces describes basic rights for "dissident and protest activities" with guidelines pertaining to:
possession and distribution of printed materials;
off-base locations allowed;
publishing underground newspapers and materials;
off-base demonstrations and protests; and
rules for military personnel participation.
Resisters have the law and regulations on their side if they conform to their provisions therein - "consistent with good order and discipline and the national security." But going up against the Pentagon and Department of Justice is never easy, and even winning exacts a great toll.
But fundamentally, "GIs do in fact have the right to express their opposition to the wars verbally and in writing, share that position with the media, state it on the Internet, distribute it to other GIs in newspapers or leaflets, say it from the microphone at national antiwar rallies, and show it by marching in off-base antiwar demonstrations and picket lines" - as long as they're off-duty, off-base, and out of uniform.
Imperfect as it is and getting worse, it's still America, and growing numbers of GIs, their families and friends are resisting two illegal wars and occupations, demanding they end, and the nation returned peace. Those goals are worth everyone's time to fight for, and it's high time more among us did it.. Challenging Racism
For many decades, young recruits are taught to kill by portraying enemies as subhuman. So the Japanese were called "Japs" and portrayed in cartoons as apes or savage gorillas; North Koreans, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were called "gooks;" and Arabs are called "rag-heads," "camel jockeys" and "sand niggers." As a result, extreme racism is a pervasive problem in the military. But it's a proved effective way to motivate soldiers to fight and kill by viewing Westerners as superior to nonwhite enemies globally.
Many Winter Soldiers (2008) "discussed the pervasiveness of racist behavior," admitted using racial epithets, and "engag(ing) in brutality that dehumanized Iraqis and Afghanis." However Vietnam-era history "shows that organizing and protests by African American, Latino, and other minority GIs (with support from other service members)" offer the best chance of achieving real change. But success depends on ending the Pentagon's proven way to teach young recruits to kill, so getting the top brass to abandon it won't be easy. Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Military
Teaching recruits "sexism and sexual imagery" works the same way as indoctrinating racism. Soldiers are taught to equate "strength and discipline in combat (to) sexual prowess," military violence to the sexual kind, and "disobedience, nonconformity, or weakness as feminine."
Today, sexism is so embedded in military culture that female soldiers pay the price. They're discriminated against in training, assignments, promotion, much else, and are frequent victims of harassment and sexual assault - the former through "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors," and other similar behavior; the latter includes "rape and other forcible or unwanted sexual contact...."
In a male-dominated military, this behavior is embedded, ritualized, and symbolic of male power. The highly-publicized September 1991 Tailhook incident is a prominent example but a rare one that made headlines. It involved a group of Naval aviators sexually assaulting 26 women at one of their annual gatherings. They cornered and surrounded them, passed them down a gauntlet, jeered, taunted, grabbed, fondled, and tried to strip them.
Similar incidents are all too common, and for years top brass knew of and tolerated them. They have documented evidence that half or more of women in all branches have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. It shows a profound contempt many military men (including top brass) have for women in the ranks, at the enlisted and officer levels.
Complaints, studies, hearings and regulations do little to halt these practices. Reports surface often about harassment, assaults, rape and other demeaning behavior in basic training, the service academies, duty assignments of all kinds, and in combat. The military today is no safer for women than it ever was. It never will be unless the Pentagon changes its ideology, how it trains GIs, and if it's willing to impose stiff penalties to offenders. The Medical Side of War
The state of the military's health care system is deplorable. Pressed to fund and fill the ranks for two illegal and unpopular wars, Congress and the Pentagon pay scant attention to the injured, sick, and psychologically damaged. It's further testimony to a nation defiling its principles - ones observed only rhetorically, hardly ever in practice, and not at all once the usefulness of combatants is over.
The Iraq and Afghan wars have produced an epidemic of psychological wounds that for many end up permanent. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is frighteningly common, yet care delivered is minimal, inadequate, and dismissive of a major problem afflicting many tens of thousands of returning vets.
Others from the Vietnam era retained their scars, and it's happening again today. Many couldn't find work then or now, abused their spouses, and too often ended up homeless or committed suicide (before or after coming home). An uncaring nation didn't notice nor does it today. The real crime is that the Pentagon and Congress are well versed on these problems, yet do little to address them. Only unbridled militarism, advancing imperialism, filling the ranks, funding numerous weapons systems and munitions, and enriching war-profiteers matter.
The result for hundreds of thousands returning from past and current wars is untreated medical needs, an uncertain future, and the knowledge that the nation they fought for doesn't care when they're no longer needed. Vietnam vets know it, and so do ones today from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Without a draft, the military needs volunteers to fill the ranks. The result is the stop-loss practice of involuntarily extending enlistment terms and frequent redeployments, even for those with serious physical or psychological injuries.
The Pentagon denied the affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the existence of Gulf War Syndrome from the first Iraq war. In 1990 - 91 and now, its likely cause was the widespread use of depleted uranium (DU), the proliferation of other toxic substances, and the illegal use of dangerous vaccines in violation of the Nuremberg Code on medical experimentation. No rules apply in our war fighting, nor does the health and welfare of our recruited men and women matter - enlisted to be used, then discarded when their service ends. It's especially evident in the "medical side of war" when those most in need are largely ignored and forgotten.
How the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handles disability claims highlights a problem reaching epidemic levels. In early May 2009, the Veterans Benefits Administration and Board of Veterans Appeals at VA had a backlog of 915,000 claims, and their rate is growing so fast it may now be approaching or past one million and climbing.
Things are so bad for returning vets that most face an average six month wait for benefits and up to four years to have their appeals heard when they're denied - which is often. It's in addition to the shameful treatment GIs get for their health needs - many serious and requiring extensive, expensive treatment, often not gotten from an uncaring nation. Discharges
Many GIs become disillusioned when they learn promises made are hollow. Some seek early discharges that can be gotten honorably but not easily most often with the nation at war on two fronts and needing all the troops it can get. Still numerous reasons qualify for an Expiration of Active Obligated Service (EAOS), including CO status, disability and illness.
family hardship or dependency factors;
parenthood for single parents or in cases where husbands and wives are in the military;
pregnancy or childbirth;
inadequate performance or conduct during the first six months of training;
qualification under the "don't ask, don't tell" for gays and lesbians;
specific personality disorders;
other physical or psychological factors that don't qualify for medical discharges;
erroneous enlistments, including contract violations and recruiter fraud;
alien status; especially relevant at a time undocumented Latinos (mainly Mexicans) are recruited with promises (then broken) of a green card for them and their family as well as free education, medical care, and post-service employment;
being a sole surviving family member;
unsatisfactorily performing duties;
"separation from the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)" that entraps "youths still in school or the Delayed Training Program (DTP)" for enlistment in the reserves; and
less than honorable discharges for misconduct, drug abuse, court-martial, and other undesirable factors.
Other administrative discharges are also available, all honorable, including "general" ones under honorable conditions. But recruits get little information during training. Those requesting them are told discharges are impossible, so to get the facts civilian sources must be consulted. It takes time, and following proper procedures is essential. But the payoff is worth the trouble for those willing to do it and counseling is available to help.
A GI Rights Network has a toll-free hotline, and there are other organizations as well. They're in it "for the long haul" to instruct today's military how to exit honorably from two illegal wars and avoid the risk of death or disabling injuries. The Families
America's wars harm families as well as GIs. They must cope with the same problems of long, repeated deployments, possible death or permanent impairment, and the lasting affects of war-related trauma that afflict even those visibly or otherwise unscathed.
Some families go public against the Iraq and Afghan wars, recruiter lies and misconduct that entrap their loved ones, and as civilians they're free to speak publicly with no restrictions on what they may say.
Gold star mothers spoke out against the Vietnam War, and today Cindy Sheehan (whose son Casey was killed in Iraq five days after he arrived) and other parents who lost sons and daughters founded Gold Star Families for Peace. They say honor our lost loved ones by ending these illegal wars and occupations, stop invading other countries, and return the nation to peace.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) is the largest organization of its kind against the Iraq war with chapters in 29 states. They support their loved ones, demonstrate, speak out publicly, and lobby Congress the way some of their members did earlier against the Vietnam war. "These courageous families....endure unspeakable suffering....join together to support one another....work to end the war....(and represent) the power of collection action."
They're "a powerful force in the effort to end these wars. They can tell the truth to counter recruiters' deceptions." They can effectively represent their loved ones and help others through a common effort to free us all from the scourge of war. Conclusion
America's Iraq and Afghan wars are illegal and immoral. Every service member is obligated by law to disengage, resist, and refuse any longer to participate. US and international laws support them, and as Ehren Watada stated in his defense: "An order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself. So my obligation is not to follow the order to go to Iraq."
Increasing numbers of others are deployed as part of America's permanent war and occupation agenda - continuing no differently under Obama than George Bush. To know what's planned for Iraq, Afghanistan and future US targets, think Korea. US forces arrived in 1950 and never left. Think Japan as well. They've been there as well since WW II, on the mainland and choicest real estate of the country's southern-most and poorest prefecture - Okinawa.
Further, since the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, America has had no enemies anywhere - except those invented to advance a global imperial agenda at the expense of our nation's youths and their families, other loved ones, and friends at home. Wars guarantee new ones and a permanent cycle of violence, death and destruction, the only winners being profiteers who benefit hugely.
As a result, growing numbers of GIs, veterans, families, and the general public are opting to "disengage" and resist. Together they represent power enough to impact "whether or not the United States is able to carry out these and future wars of aggression."
Most Americans oppose the Iraq war and its continued toll on GIs and their families. It's just a matter of time until opposition to Afghanistan is as great and with luck whatever new conflicts the administration plans. Those sent to fight them and their families end up losers. Their choice is clear and unequivocal - absolutely refuse any longer to participate and with enough sharing that view, they'll end. With overwhelming homeland needs unmet at a time of grave economic crisis, honor and necessity must dictate our future course. It's up to mass public activism to demand it.
The events told in this film took place in 2008, and the interviews taken in 2009 near the end of the same deployment. I ask that when you watch, do not think of them as "the people over there" or as "just Iraqis". But imagine them as if it was your neighborhood that was hit, your family members that where killed.
You are now watching: Episode One: For Those Who Would Judge Me
March 13, 2008: As hundreds of veterans and over a thousand supporters gather just outside Washington, DC for three days of testimony, the pressure is high and questions intense. How is the testimony verified? What will people think of veterans and soldiers for being here? What good will this do? Without hesitation Geoff Millard (US Army National Guard), Steve Mortillo (US Army), and Adam Kokesh (US Marine Corps) respond to “those who would judge me” with a clear purpose and their chilling stories.
This article, by Dahr Jasmail, was published by IPS, February 20, 2009
BAGHDAD, Feb 19 (IPS) - "We only want a normal life," says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years.
Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad.
Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls.
"Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," Um Qasim told IPS. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here."
She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped.
"I don't like being afraid all the time," says one of Um Qasim's daughters. "But my mother tells us to always be careful, and I can see her fear, so it scares me."
The compound, which was the headquarters of former dictator Saddam Hussein's son Qusay Hussein, was heavily damaged by U.S. air strikes during the invasion in March 2003. Buildings like this became shelters for thousands displaced then and later.
In all 135 families, about 750 people, live in this compound.
"It is living in misery," says Um Qasim. Home is a bare concrete room shared by eight of her family members. "The government gives us 50 litres of heating and cooking oil each month, but we run out of it very soon, and then we have to try to find money to buy more so we can cook and try to stay warm."
The bombed building is in a state of total disrepair. Concrete blocks hang precariously from metal bars, many ceilings are partially collapsed, and all of the outer walls are gone.
There is no water, no electricity, no sewage, and no garbage disposal. Piles of garbage, diapers, decaying food scraps and human excrement are scattered around the area.
"We have no water, no money, and no work," says Ahmed Hussein, 15. "How can a human live in this misery? We are so tired."
Opportunities to find a way out are few. Unemployment across Iraq is high, between 40-65 percent. And the price of oil, the source of 90 percent of government revenue, has fallen. The government has not much to give out.
Last month the government decided to evict all people who have been squatting in government buildings or on government land since the invasion. Local NGOs estimate that more than 250,000 squatters live on the streets or in such shelters all over Baghdad.
"The Iraqi Cabinet has decided to evict all squatters in or on government property - land, houses, residential buildings or offices. They will be given financial help to find alternative places to live," said a government statement Jan. 4.
The government gave squatters 60 days from Jan. 1 to leave or face legal action, but later decided to give them more time. No one knows when the next order might come.
"We want help from the Iraqi government," says Nasir Fadlawi, 48, unofficial manager of Qasim's compound. "I am asking the government to care for us, as we are the sons and daughters of Iraq. We would not be here if they would help us."
Fadlawi says most people in the area are either economic refugees, or those displaced from their homes during the sectarian violence that racked Baghdad in 2006. "The Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army often come here and threaten us," he said. "But we have a right to live."
Fadlawi says it is difficult to find work or alternative places to live in also because of the corruption. The last time he applied for a job he was asked for 700 dollars. "Where am I going to get that money when I don't have a job to begin with."
The government may have to delay plans to build new housing. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration is reported to have postponed some new housing projects until 2010.
"We asked for 40 billion Iraqi dinars (34.2 million dollars) for the ministry's investment budget but we were told that only 8 billion (6.85 million dollars) could be allocated," said Ali Shaalan, head of the Ministry's planning directorate in a statement Jan. 4. "This could prevent us from achieving our goals for this year."
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released a report Jan. 1 that estimated there are 1.6 million internally displaced persons in Iraq. The report said that almost two-thirds, just over a million, live in Baghdad, more than half of them women or girls. The report pointed out that displaced women are more prone to rape and other forms of sexual violence.
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 article, the first part of Salon's series Coming Home by Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna, February 9, 2009
Feb. 9, 2009 | FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The day before Halloween 2008, Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman swallowed handfuls of prescription pain pills and psychotropic drugs. Then he picked up a can of black paint and smeared onto the wall of his room in the Fort Carson barracks what he thought would be his last words to the world.
"I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED!" Lieberman painted on the wall in big, black letters. "IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!"
Soldiers called Lieberman's unit, the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, the Death Dealers. Adam suffered serious mental health problems after a year of combat in Iraq. The Army, however, blamed his problems on a personality disorder, anxiety disorder or alcohol abuse -- anything but the war. Instead of receiving treatment from the Army for his war-related problems, Adam faced something more akin to harassment. He was punished and demoted for his bad behavior, but not treated effectively for its cause. The Army's fervent tough-guy atmosphere discouraged Adam from seeking help. Eventually he saw no other way out. Now, in what was to be his last message, he pointed the finger at the Army for his death.
It would be a voice from beyond the grave, he thought, screaming in uppercase letters. The last words, "THAT TOOK MY LIFE!" tilted down the wall in a slur, as the concoction of drugs seeped into Adam's brain.
Late last month the Army released figures showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. The Army says 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008 with another 15 still under investigation. "Why do the numbers keep going up?" Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Pentagon news conference Jan. 29. "We can't tell you." The Army announced a $50 million study to figure it out.
It is not just the suicides spiraling out of control. Salon assembled a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers over the past four years, by no means a comprehensive list. In-depth study of 10 of those cases revealed a pattern of preventable deaths. In most cases, the deaths seemed avoidable if the Army had better handled garden-variety combat stress reactions.
Interviews, Army documents and medical records suggest that Adam might not have attempted suicide if he had received a proper diagnosis and treatment. His suicide attempt seems avoidable. But the Army's mistreatment extended well into its aftermath.
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At the last minute on Oct. 30, Lieberman stumbled out of his room and dialed 911. He lived.
Five days later Adam's mother, Heidi Lieberman, sat opposite the desk of Lieberman's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Lance Kohler, at Fort Carson. Nobody from the Army had bothered to call her in Rochester, N.Y., to tell her about Adam's suicide attempt. There was no requirement to alert parents of an attempt, the Army said, only a successful suicide.
Heidi had watched her son's mental health deteriorate precipitously after he returned from Iraq in late 2006. He had suffered from a laundry list of symptoms typical of post-traumatic stress disorder, including insomnia, depression, panic attacks and flashes of violent anger.
Two days after he swallowed the pills, Adam called his mother himself from the hospital. With her son still slurring his words from the effect of the meds, Heidi could barely understand him. When Heidi asked him where he was, Adam had to ask someone.
Sitting across from the lieutenant colonel's desk, Heidi wanted to know why the Army had not moved her son into a unit supposedly dedicated to healthcare where he might get better treatment.
"Well, he has legals," Kohler told her. Legal trouble. She knew Adam was struggling. Mostly Adam had been silencing his demons with 30 beers a day plus some Jameson. He'd puke in a bucket and start over. Mental health professionals call it self-medicating when a soldier comes back from war and turns to booze when he can't get help, another typical reaction. Just as predictable is the bad behavior that comes with it.
To Heidi, Kohler's response showed that the Army considered Adam a discipline problem, but didn't seem particularly concerned about why.
"What legals?" Heidi asked.
Adam had broken into a candy machine, so petty larceny. He had also gone AWOL for a short time to say goodbye to an Army buddy in Texas headed off to a second tour in Iraq. The Army denied Adam's request for leave. He went anyway.
"And defacing government property," Kohler added to the list.
"When did he do this?"
"Within the last couple of days," Kohler responded, staring.
Heidi thought. No. Couldn't be.
"What did he deface?"
Kohler stared. "The wall in his bedroom."
Heidi met his stare, exasperated. "You mean his suicide note?" Kohler just looked at her.
The next day Heidi called Adam's company commander, Capt. Phelps.
"You know," Heidi fired at Phelps, "I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that my son is being charged with defacing government property and you people are more concerned about your wall than my son," she stammered. Then she threatened, half jokingly, "I will paint that wall and make this stupidity go away."
A pause, and then Phelps snapped, "We'll contact supply and have them bring you the matching paint."
And so, the Army allowed a mother to paint over her son's suicide note. Heidi's handicapped sister helped.
"I was kind of surprised that they took me up on that," she said late last year sitting at her dining room table in her home in Rochester, N.Y. Heidi's sister took photos of her, paint roller in hand, erasing what was supposed to be her son's last message. "He agreed that if I painted that wall that charge would go away," she recalled about her talk with Adam's captain. "It didn't."
Just before Christmas, MPs fingerprinted and booked Adam for defacing government property.
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A blondish crew cut tops Adam Lieberman's lanky, lumbering 6-foot-6 frame. He makes little eye contact. Adam joined the Army at age 17. In late 2005 he deployed to Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division as a forward observer, a radioman. He is all of 21 now.
More than two years after his return from Iraq, where several close explosions rocked his skull, his memory sometimes fails him. He carries a notebook to keep track of appointments. He still writes the occasional letter backward.
Adam is now at the stage of digesting (or at least sharing) his experiences in Iraq in a passive tense -- he describes things happening to him and around him, rather than by him. He arrived at the scene of a roadside bomb attack on other U.S. troops in Sadr City in Baghdad. "A guy's face was blown off from his nose to his chin," he said as we sat at his dining room table with Heidi while he was home on leave recently. The U.S. soldier was gagging, drowning in blood without a mouth or nose. A medic performed an emergency tracheotomy. The soldier died anyway.
Adam didn't even bother to inspect the nearby Humvee that took a direct hit. He could see through the windows that inside the vehicle, "It was blood soup."
During another engagement a gunner atop Adam's Humvee suddenly collapsed in Adam's lap. Only a thin flap of skin attached the gunner's head and torso. Beheaded. Adam vomited.
He once saw the lower half of a friend's body sheared off by a roadside bomb. In the seconds that followed before he died, his friend still moved his right arm and tried to talk. He looked at Adam. Adam described the look in his eyes as "terror."
Adam once took a sniper's bullet to the chest. It shattered his digital camera and hit his body armor. On two separate occasions he lost consciousness because of head blows.
Heidi noticed a difference in Adam when she met him at the airport in December 2006. "When he got off the plane and we were walking, I saw his eyes shifting through the crowd," she remembered.
Crowds freaked him out. Adam had a panic attack in a Wal-Mart. He started getting into fights at bars. He couldn't sleep. "You become a new person," he explained. "You are raised as a person and they send us over there and we become a new person."
The Army "screened" Adam for mental health problems upon his return from Iraq, a process Adam describes as, "You stand in a line and go to a bunch of tables where people are sitting." He filled out some forms. Some soldiers aren't yet aware of their problems at that point. Some lie because they just want to go home with their wives. Others say they report problems but receive little follow-up.
"Nobody is willing to help anybody," he said about his experience at Fort Carson after returning from Iraq. "You have to understand. We are just pieces of equipment."
The Army says it is working hard to erase the stigma of seeking mental healthcare. It isn't working at Fort Carson. Adam says he was actively discouraged from looking for help.
"If you have a problem, you are going to be a problem," he explained. "You don't ask for help -- ever. That is just the Army's way. Always will be."
A document obtained from another unit at Fort Carson supports Adam's description of a culture that discourages "weakness." Someone in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team prepared a mock official form called a "Hurt Feelings Report," and left a stack of copies near a sheet where soldiers sign out to see a doctor.
"Reasons for filing this report: Please circle Yes or No," the Hurt Feelings Report directs. Options include: I am thin skinned; I am a pussy; I have woman-like hormones; I am a queer; I am a little bitch; I am a cry baby; I want my mommy; All of the above. A blank appears after, "Name of 'Real Man' who hurt your sensitive feelings."
Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, the Fort Carson commander, admits that the attitude of Army personnel toward mental healthcare needs work. "Because of the focus we have had on behavioral health, we have seen an increase in soldiers coming forward to get help," he told me. "Is it as many as we think are out there? No, it is not. Do I think that we still have a stigma challenge here? Absolutely, we do."
By December of 2007, Adam was getting increasingly violent. "I fucking punched a guy," he recalled about a fight in the barracks. "I dragged him out of my room and threw him down the stairs." On Dec. 20, 2007, he filled out an Army "PTSD checklist." He checked off being "extremely bothered" by flashbacks, nightmares, bad memories, emotional numbness, insomnia and angry outbursts. He also reported panic attacks and jumpiness, among other things.
Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the Army's top psychiatrist, ticks off a series of initiatives to improve Army mental healthcare, including the hiring of 250 new mental health providers through civilian contracts and more than 40 marriage and family therapists since the spring of 2007. Ritchie said an August 2007 Army directive ensures PTSD screenings for soldiers with disciplinary problems so serious the Army wants them out. She added that the Army surgeon general issued a memo in May 2008 requiring additional review of any diagnoses short of PTSD to make sure the Army gets it right. "We've really tried to enhance our access to care," she said in a telephone interview.
Though Adam filled out his checklist in late 2007, the initiatives Ritchie describes did not trickle down to him. Throughout this entire period, Adam's medical records show, the Army focused almost completely on his misbehavior, like drinking and fighting, and demoted him from specialist to private, but did not address the root cause. The Army enrolled Adam in an Army substance abuse program he called a "joke." The Army wanted him to work on anger management. "I was like, 'I don't have anger problems. You people are causing me to be angry.'"
By the spring of 2008, Adam's condition had deteriorated. "He called me in April and said he really wanted to die," Heidi recalled. "He told me he had his Mustang up to 120 and pointed at a cliff. I told him he needed to get help now. No more dealing with it on his own."
This time Adam checked himself into a private facility. A doctor soon informed him he had PTSD from his experience in Iraq. "That's when I started figuring it out myself," Adam told me. "I realized I was not an alcoholic, I was just self-medicating."
After a few weeks, however, Adam had to return to Fort Carson, where the Army still basically considered him a drunk and a discipline problem.
That's contrary to proper treatment of PTSD. "The best way to treat it is to identify it appropriately," said Dr. Anthony Ng, a psychiatrist and board member of Mental Health America.
In addition to hundreds of pages of medical records he gave me, Adam agreed to hand over a copy of his illustrated journal. An undated entry from after his private hospitalization notes that, "Since returning from the hospital my ball of twine has been unraveling fast. ... The woman at [Fort Carson's] mental health dismissed me as if I were a bum asking for money," he wrote, and then recorded one of those flashes of anger common to soldiers with PTSD. "I wanted to rip her jaw off and scrape the skin off her face with her Goddamn teeth."
"But I wasn't surprised," Adam's entry continues. "That's Army health care."
In June or July 2008, he got a call from an Army psychologist. "She didn't even know my name," he told me. "I'd seen her three times. How is she going to help me if she can't even remember my name?"
The Army also seems to have resisted recognizing Adam's likely traumatic brain injury, given his head blows in Iraq and subsequent memory loss and other symptoms. The Army put him through a battery of tests on Oct. 15 to determine if he might be eligible for disability pay for a brain injury. Adam tested "within normal limits," his medical records show. "There is no evidence of clinically significant cognitive impairments."
(Civilian neurosurgeons generally say that doctors should stash the tests and MRI exams for the most part, since TBI is notoriously difficult to pin down that way, and look to behavior instead. Patients with a history of head trauma who present with obvious symptoms should receive swift treatment for TBI).
Adam's Army medical records from Oct. 30, the day of his suicide attempt, look similar to all of his Army medical records. The Army psychologist noted "alcohol dependence with continuous drinking behavior," depression and anxiety disorder -- his problems, not the Army's.
A diagnosis of PTSD from combat would require the Army to pay Adam a lifetime of benefit checks. The Army would not have to pay if a doctor were to find instead that his mental problems were preexisting and/or unrelated to his Army service. Adam said his Army psychologist "has been trying to give me a personality disorder since Day One, that I wanted to kill people before I got into the Army." Soldiers also don't get benefits if they are ushered out the door with dishonorable discharges for misbehaving.
On Oct. 30 the Army psychologist noted "homicidal ideation," or thinking about murder, but "no homicidal plans." She also noted "no suicidal ideation."
Adam admitted he lied on that one. He had made up his mind. "I didn't want her to interfere," he said. "I was thinking about killing myself, but I was restricted to post for drinking on duty so I could not get my gun. I went to my room and swallowed all my pills."
Adam painted his note on the wall. And then he changed his mind. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. He "remember[s] them trying to get me to drink this charcoal stuff" at the hospital, but not much more. "I woke up and I was chained to the bed."
Nine days after Adam's suicide attempt, the Army psychologist changed her diagnosis, according to Adam's medical records. He had "chronic post-traumatic stress disorder." It was the first time the Army seemed willing to admit that a year of war caused Adam's problems. "It took me trying to kill myself for her to put it on there," Adam told me.
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Unfortunately, the problem likely goes beyond Fort Carson. Maj. Gen. Graham, the Fort Carson commander, makes noted efforts to recognize and address the problems. "Our goal is to get in front of this," Graham said in a telephone interview. "Instead of doing the investigation following a suicide, to find out how this happened and how we could have prevented it, what we want to do is actually prevent them and get in front of this and figure out how you help a soldier before it gets to a point of critical mass and something horrible is going to happen," he added. "Are we perfect? No. Are we trying? We are. Can we do better? Of course we can."
Graham's power to do better is limited, however. The Army Medical Command runs medical care at Fort Carson and other Army posts. MEDCOM reports to the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, not Graham.
And some Army fighting units, or "line" units, stationed at Graham's post have failed to incorporate the prevention, recognition and treatment of combat stress into their wartime mission. At Fort Carson a mental problem from combat is still a scarlet letter.
Meanwhile, the deaths keep coming. At least three Fort Carson soldiers died in apparent suicides in January. (Fort Carson quibbles with this statistic, claiming that one of the three had not completed the paperwork to be officially stationed at Fort Carson. The death of a second soldier, found dead in his home from a "drug interaction," is still under investigation.)
This article, by David Cronin, was published by IPS, February 10, 2009
BRUSSELS, Feb 10 (IPS) - The intimate involvement of the private sector in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq received international attention in September 2007, when staff with the security firm Blackwater shot dead 17 civilians in the vicinity of Baghdad's Nisoor Square.
Though the U.S. has made the most extensive use of such companies in the history of modern warfare, it is in Europe where they originated. Back in 1967, senior political and military figures in Britain formed Watchguard International as a response to a left-wing coup in Yemen five years earlier. Now recognised as the world's first private security firm, its original intention was to shore up governments that could otherwise be overthrown.
Four decades later, the European Union is being urged to introduce regulations so that better oversight of private security firms can be guaranteed.
According to Chris Kinsey, an academic with King's College in London who has studied private security firms for the past 10 years, such companies are easy to set up.
"You only need yourself, probably a fax machine, and to know how to bid for government contracts," he said at a debate in the European Parliament Monday.
While most of the firms in question work in parts of the world where they can be tried for any misdemeanours by local courts, they have been operating in something of a legal vacuum in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia during recent years. In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority that took charge after the country's president Saddam Hussein was toppled, went so far as to issue an order providing immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for international contractors.
The British government, meanwhile, has procrastinated in subjecting private security firms to tougher rules. This is despite the recommendation in a government policy paper in 2002 that "sound legislation" be developed in this area. That recommendation followed the so-called Sandline affair during the late 1990s, in which a private firm was implicated in breaking a United Nations embargo on providing weapons to Sierra Leone.
About 85 percent of private security firms are based in either Britain or the U.S., though the industry has also spread to France, Israel, South Africa, China and the former Soviet Union. Amnesty International has complained that Britain's private security firms can evade responsibility for human rights violations they are accused of as they cannot be tried in British courts.
Kinsey believes that the 27-country EU is better placed than national administrations to ensure that regulation occurs. Clearer rules are needed, he suggested, as private security firms are eager to widen the scope of their activities to include humanitarian and development aid tasks, increasing the potential for human rights violations.
"Regulation at national level allows companies to move around," he said. "If regulation is very restrictive, they will simply move to another country."
The International Committee of the Red Cross, perhaps the world's best- known humanitarian group, has joined with the government of Switzerland to study how private security firms can be monitored. Some 17 countries have taken part in their discussions so far.
Stéphane Kolanowski, a legal adviser to the Red Cross, described the granting of immunity from prosecution to certain private security firms as an "unjustified idea."
Among the most egregious breaches of human rights attributed to private security companies has been the involvement of their personnel in the administration of Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison in Iraq which has become synonymous with photographs of detainees being tortured.
Kolanowski raised questions about the delegation of tasks normally performed by public sector employees to private firms. "States cannot escape their obligations by the hiring of a private company," he said. "Some activities cannot be subcontracted - such as the power of an officer in charge of a prisoner of war camp or a place where civilians are interned."
J.J. Messner from the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington-based umbrella group for the private security industry, indicated that he would welcome being subject to more stringent laws. "The private sector desires clear rules and guidelines," he said. "Grey areas create unnecessary complications. The European Union is in a pivotal position to impress upon its member states the importance of regulation."
Hélène Flautre, a French Green member of the European Parliament (MEP), suggested in the course of the debate that all EU military operations should have officers who liaise between soldiers and private firms that have been hired to provide particular services.
"Where subcontractors are allowed, this shouldn't represent an evasion of international humanitarian law," she said.
Michael Gahler, a German Christian Democrat MEP, said: "It is very important that we shouldn't give private security companies a law-free area. Employing them should not be a way of avoiding international law. That has to be the yardstick."