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 Jeremy Schwarz, was posted to the Austin American Statesman, August 15, 2009.
KILLEEN — Past the barber shops advertising $6 military cuts, weapons stores and used car lots, an anti-war coffeehouse occupies a small wooden house on a corner of Texas' biggest Army town. Six months after opening, the Under the Hood cafe has become home to a growing number of veterans and active-duty soldiers who are beginning to question America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Less than a mile from the gates of 53,000-troop Fort Hood, the cafe is a place where soldiers, many of them fresh off of multiple deployments, can swap stories and ideas without fear of retribution, its supporters say.
It has also become a refuge for soldiers who are refusing to deploy — or are thinking about it — including Spc. Victor Agosto, who last week was sentenced to 30 days in jail for refusing an order. Another Fort Hood soldier, Sgt. Travis Bishop, an Iraq veteran who has applied for conscientious objector status, was sentenced Friday to a year in federal prison for refusing to deploy with his unit to Afghanistan.
Not since the heyday of the Oleo Strut coffeehouse, the hub for the anti-war movement in Killeen during the Vietnam War, has such an enterprise thrived here. But unlike its predecessor, which closed in 1972, Under the Hood has for its driving force a newcomer to the peace movement, a 17-year Army wife with no history of activism.
The cafe is run by Cynthia Thomas, a former stay-at-home mom who didn't become politically active until 2007, when her husband, a Fort Hood soldier, was sent on his third deployment to Iraq. Thomas said she was furious about his deployment; she said her husband was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies from a previous tour. When her stepson decided to join the Marines, she said she felt compelled to take a stand against the war.
At first she sought to connect to a group in Killeen. But finding no anti-war organizations in her adopted hometown, she stumbled on Code Pink, a group of anti-war activists from Austin. She became involved with the group and eventually crossed paths with former and current Fort Hood soldiers active in a local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
With help from an original staff member of the Oleo Strut, they hatched the idea of a coffeehouse near the Army post. But making it happen proved harder than Thomas imagined.
"We went through four Realtors and just got stonewalled," Thomas said. "At the end we just said we wanted to do an outreach center, which was true, because if you said a peace house they didn't want anything to do with it."
Despite the initial resistance, Thomas said the response has been positive at the cafe, a homey place lined with couches and a help-yourself coffee bar.
"We've had no negativity from the soldiers that come in," she said. "At first they come in and they're looking around and a little uncomfortable, but then they come back. They feel they can come and talk to the regulars and get that peer support."
Most of the soldiers at Under the Hood are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder; some are suicidal or self-medicating heavily with alcohol or drugs, Thomas said. The most extreme cases are referred to a counselor in Austin.
Others just need a place to curl up on the couch for a few hours or feel safe from the ridicule they say they would receive in their barracks for talking about their feelings and ideas.
"If you come home and you don't feel anything about (what you've gone through), then there's something wrong with you," said Malachi Muncy, who served two tours in Iraq with the Texas National Guard and is a regular visitor to Under the Hood. "It's helped me get over my issues, mainly by talking with people with the same issues. It's nice to be around other soldiers who aren't going be like, 'Suck it up.' "
Muncy drove a 42-wheel super heavy equipment transporter during his first tour of Iraq in 2004, as U.S. troops began seeing a surge in roadside bombings. "It was a really bad time to be driving a truck," he said.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and says he struggled to adjust when he returned. He eventually decided to volunteer for a second deployment.
"I said, 'I don't have to adjust; I can just go back to Iraq,' " he said.
Bobby Whittenberg is another Iraq war veteran who often talks with active-duty soldiers at the coffee shop. A former Marine who now lives in Austin, Whittenberg was shot in Iraq in 2004 and said he faced harassment and ridicule when he sought help for his post-traumatic stress disorder from military officials.
"They were like, 'You're letting your brothers down; you're scared to go back,' " said Whittenberg, a Purple Heart recipient.
After leaving active duty in 2006, Whittenberg moved to San Antonio to be closer to the Veterans Affairs hospital there. He has become something of a mentor to younger soldiers.
"I personally try to challenge them to think for themselves," he said. "They're in a very authoritarian, hierarchical lifestyle where it becomes very difficult to challenge authority."
Several active-duty soldiers at Fort Hood who go to Under the Hood said that despite the Army's efforts to reduce the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder, soldiers who seek help are still labeled bad apples by some superiors. One soldier, who would not give his name because he feared retribution, said the Army needs to do more to support soldiers when they return from war.
"When you get back, you're released, and it's like, drink as much as you can and party," he said. "No one tells you that just makes you feel more depressed."
In recent years, military officials have sought to place more attention on the mental health of returning soldiers. At Fort Hood, officials have opened a Spiritual Fitness Center, which seeks to help soldiers and their families deal with the stresses of multiple deployments. That's part of a larger Resiliency Campus, which Army officials say will help combat alarming numbers of soldier suicides. And Fort Hood's commander, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, has also talked frequently of removing the stigma associated with soldiers seeking mental health help.
But some solders say places like Under the Hood play a vital role.
"I know soldiers who said, 'If I didn't have the coffeehouse, I would have killed myself,' " said James Branum, an attorney who has represented about 20 war resisters around the country.
Bishop, the sergeant who was court-martialed for refusing to deploy, said the coffee shop provided much-needed friendship.
"They support you whether your decision is to deploy or to resist," he said. "People think that it's an anti-military place. That's not true at all. It's incredibly pro-soldier. They are just against these wars."
Under the Hood is among a handful of what supporters hope is a growing number of GI coffeehouses around the country. Similar cafes have opened outside of Fort Lewis in Washington state and Fort Drum in New York.
It's still a far cry from the Vietnam era, when some 20 GI coffeehouses such as the Oleo Strut sprang up near military bases around the country and were credited with crystallizing the GI anti-war movement. The Killeen coffeehouse operated from 1968 to 1972, receiving visitors such as Jane Fonda and a young Stevie Ray Vaughan and producing an underground newspaper, according to Thomas Cleaver, a member of Oleo Strut's original staff who helped Under the Hood get on its feet.
Supporters at Under the Hood say the current conflicts are different: During Vietnam, many soldiers were draftees and more likely to be open in their opposition to the war.
"We know this is a different time and a different war," said Fran Hanlon, an Under the Hood board member from Austin. "We had trepidation (about opening the cafe), but we were also really excited about the potential."
This article was originally posted to antiwar.news, February 4, 2009
The results of Iraq’s provincial elections could be released as soon as tomorrow, and many in the government have praised it as a rousing success. But while it has been presented as a testament to the progress made by the United States in propping up the Iraqi government, serious irregularities have left the results in serious doubt, and violence may result.
The US warns that those who lose in the elections may take out their frustrations with violence, and Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin says “my hope is that those who are not elected will support those who are.”
But there is more at issue than just sour grapes. Tens of thousands of voters were turned away on election day, and a top Sunni leader claims to have hundreds of documents proving electoral fraud in Anbar. The number of complaints has risen to the point that the Iraqi electoral commission is promising to investigate.
While hardly the only place where fraud is being alleged, Anbar seems to be the biggest flashpoint. Officials imposed a curfew over protests, and the government has announced it will recount the ballots.
This article, by Shawn Pogatchnik, was originally published by the Asociated Press, January 26, 2009
European Union leaders said Monday they were willing to take in prisoners being released from the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay — but stressed that American authorities must show ex-inmates pose no security threat before they can be resettled.
Foreign ministers from the 27-nation bloc discussed the fate of up to 60 Guantanamo inmates who, if freed, cannot be returned to their homelands because they would face abuse, imprisonment or death. The prisoners come from Azerbaijan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Chad, China, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The EU's foreign and security chief, Javier Solana, said Europeans wanted to help on humanitarian grounds.
But he said no EU state could act until President Barack Obama's administration gets its Guantanamo case files in order and can demonstrate that prisoners do not pose credible security risks.
A report in Monday's Washington Post said many case files of Guantanamo inmates were in disarray, suggesting that any candidates for resettlement in Europe could be months away from security vetting.
"We have not received any demands yet from our American friends," Solana said as foreign ministers discussed the fallout from Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo camp within the next year. "This is an American problem that they have to solve, but we'll be ready to help if necessary."
"Whenever they ask for help, I think the European answer will be: Yes," Solana said.
But foreign ministers from several EU states sounded lukewarm or reluctant on the prospects. They stressed the need for any refugees to pass through rigorous security checks before they could resettle on European soil — and only if it was absolutely certain they couldn't return to their homelands for fear of persecution.
Some said their own countries — long critical of the Bush administration's operation of Guantanamo — would be accused of hypocrisy if they didn't take at least one ex-prisoner and were seen to be helping Obama with the shutdown.
"There is no question that chief responsibility to do with solving the problem of this detention center lies with those who set it up, the Americans themselves," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "But it is also a question of our credibility — of whether we support the dismantling of this American camp or not."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain had its plate full in dealing with its own nationals in U.S. custody and ruled out taking ex-prisoners from other nations.
He said Britain had already taken nine British nationals and three foreigners who have British residency rights, while the cases of two others still in Guantanamo were being processed.
"We feel that is already a significant contribution," Miliband said. "We're happy to offer our experience to other European countries, as they think about what steps they want to make, to help in the closure of Guantanamo Bay."
Finland's foreign minister, Alexander Stubb, said Guantanamo inmates would become eligible for resettlement only once they passed through U.S. scrutiny and courts and were granted official status as political refugees.
"Then, we'll have to have a look at that individually," said Stubb, who also is chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "If there are people who are not tried and are let free, but they can't go back to their own countries, I think we in Europe should take our responsibility."
But Stubb emphasized the widespread view that the U.S. administration was not yet in position to clear any terror suspects.
"We are jumping the gun here a little bit, because the Americans haven't given us an offer or required us to take anyone on board," Stubb said.
This article, by Gordon Lubold, was publishedby the Christian Science Monitor, January 26, 2009
Washington - President Obama's plan to bring American troops home from Iraq is beginning to jell, but whether he keeps his campaign promise to do it in 16 months may depend on logistics, security needs in Afghanistan, and the political dynamic he confronts at the Pentagon.
Ultimately, the decision rests with the new commander in chief, who will either lean on a timeline-oriented departure to meet political goals or a conditions-based plan more pleasing to military commanders that could take two years or more.
Mr. Obama is expected to meet this week with the heads of the four services, including the Army and Marine Corps, who are eager to move beyond Iraq. Obama will weigh their views with those of senior commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both of whom are inclined to take more than 16 months to withdraw from Iraq.
"We have ... been looking at several options, and obviously 16 months is one of them," Mr. Gates told reporters Thursday.
The rate of departure may be first determined by what the president decides should now be the American security posture in Iraq. Many foreign-policy experts say the US has a strategic interest in leaving a sizable force there for years to come, and some believe that could mean as many as 60,000 troops remain in noncombat-related roles. The Bush administration has signed a "status of forces agreement" that requires most troops to be out of Iraq by 2011.
But other factors are at play. One is logistics: the ability to rapidly remove as many as 143,000 uniformed personnel, some 60,000 aircraft and vehicles, 120,000 trailer-sized containers, and 150,000 private contractors from nearly 50 bases and installations.
The military must decide what equipment stays and what goes. Gifting thousands of used Humvees or old generators to the Iraqis, for example, would cut down on what is shipped home. But it could also lead to more decisions about helping the Iraqis maintain the equipment. And then, who would pay for it?
The military has already been quietly moving materiel out of Iraq over the past 18 to 24 months, says a military official who requested anonymity. He adds, "We think right now we're about the right size we need to be."
The Marines have also been shipping as much as possible out of Iraq in anticipation of redeployment orders, Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters Friday. General Conway, who wants to send new forces to Afghanistan, has pushed for a reasonable but speedy redeployment. Obama is also looking to send more forces from Iraq to retool the mission in Afghanistan.
After the first Gulf War, an additional 6,000 National Guard and Reservists were sent to Kuwait to help get all the equipment out in about nine months, says Gus Pagonis, a so-called "logistical wizard" who, as a three-star Army general, oversaw the withdrawal from that conflict.
But Mr. Pagonis points out that he had "no terrorist threat and no threat of security." Withdrawal from Iraq, on the other hand, is expected to invite insurgent attacks and may require extra time.
Security will be on Obama's mind as he makes his decision. "The commander in chief cannot be political," says Pagonis. "To the average American, he is making the decision as president, but to the armed forces, he is making the decision as commander in chief."
If Obama slides on his 16-month withdrawal plans, he can use logistical and security concerns for political cover.
"Arguably, Iraqi security forces are improving fast enough that, absent a major disruption to the system, we could try to leave on Obama's 16-month schedule," says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. But Mr. O'Hanlon says it would be a mistake to rush out of Iraq, ignoring the political realities, unresolved issues, and ethnic dissension that still exists there.
"The drawdown pace should be gradual this year and can then accelerate next year," he says.
More streamlined processes mean that Iraq does not have the "iron mountains" of stockpiled equipment that posed enormous logistical challenges in the first Gulf War, say military officials. Still, whatever decision Obama makes will require planners to move figurative mountains to get it done. "It will be tough, but it will not be insurmountable," says the military official.