Sunday, May 27, 2007
Encouraging National Day Of Remembrance
For Murder Victims
September 25th Marks Occasion For Americans To Honor Memory Of All Murder Victims Washington, DC- Today, Congressman John Shadegg (R-AZ) announced the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution (H. Res. 223) he co-authored with Rep. Steve Chabot that encourages the establishment of September 25th of each year as a “National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.”
“Too often, victims’ families are left alone to cope with their loss and feel overwhelmed by the bureaucratic complexities of the criminal justice system. This resolution not only encourages the establishment of a National Day of Remembrance, but honors organizations such as the Valley of the Sun chapter of Parents of Murdered Children that provide support services and grief counseling to loved ones of murder victims,” said Rep. Shadegg. “Long after the story of a homicide fades from newspapers and television programs, victims’ families and friends are often left to mourn their loved ones in isolation. Today I have asked Members of Congress to join me in letting these families know they are not alone, and that as a nation we will remember the legacy of so many lives tragically cut short.”
Congressman Shadegg noted there are established days of remembrance for many occasions, including one for September 11, 2001 and the April 19, 2005 Oklahoma City bombs. “These are solemn times in our nation’s history. However, Americans are murdered every day and their families endure untold suffering. Every 10 weeks 3,000 people in our country are murdered, the same number of Americans brutally murdered on September 11, 2001. Congress must encourage establishing a day that honors the memory of all murder victims,” said Rep. Shadegg.
The vote was 369-0.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Nancy Ruhe, Executive Director, 1-888-818-POMC
Dan Levey, National President, (602) 364-2235
For Immediate Release
May 14, 2007
CONGRESS ENACTS RESOLUTION HONORING MURDER VICTIMS
Cincinnati, Ohio--- The United States Congress overwhelmingly today approved House Resolution 223, which 1) Supports the goals and ideals of a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims and 2) recognizes the significant benefits of the organizations that provide services to the loved ones of murder victims.
The designation of a National Day of Remembrance For Murder Victims on September 25th of each year provides an opportunity for the people of the United States to honor the memories of murder victims and to recognize the impact on surviving family members.
The House Resolution was co-authored by Representative John Shadegg, (AZ) and Representative Steve Chabot (OH) to ensure that homicide survivors and their families are not forgotten. Representative Shadegg said “These are solemn times in our nation’s history. However, Americans are murdered every day and their families endure untold suffering. However, every 10 weeks 3,000 people in our country are murdered, the same number of Americans brutally murdered on September 11, 2001. Congress must encourage establishing a day that honors the memory of all murder victims.”
Dan Levey, the National President of Parents Of Murdered Children, Inc said “this day will serve as a important yearly reminder to the rest of the country of our loved ones who were murdered and it will help ensure our loved ones will always be remembered and never forgotten.” Levey, also added “we thank both Rep. Shadegg and Rep. Chabot for their unwavering commitment to seeing this resolution through the legislative process and for seeing its importance to survivors.”
September 25th was chosen as the date for the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims to honor Robert and Charlotte Hullinger of Cincinnati, Ohio who founded the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, Inc, (POMC) in 1978 after the murder of their daughter Lisa, who was killed on September 25th.
Each year in the United States over 16,000 people are murdered.
www.pomc.com (Parents of Murdered Children)
-- submitted by Lois Vanderbur
Saturday, May 26, 2007
A Vicenza, Italy-based soldier, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005, died as a result of horseplay that went horribly wrong, according to an Army Criminal Investigation Command report.
Pfc. Joseph Cruz, 22, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, was shot in the head on Oct. 15, 2005, while in his barracks room at Orgun-E.
More than 200 pages of the CID report were received by Stars and Stripes this week, just as the last elements of Cruz’s former unit — the 173rd Airborne Brigade — make their way back to Afghanistan for another rotation.
Spc. Jason Alipio, a member of the same company, was eventually charged in the death, which the Department of Defense announced as “non-combat related injuries sustained in an accident.”
Alipio was found guilty of negligent homicide in a court-martial in Vicenza last June. He was reduced in rank to E-1, forfeited all pay and was given a bad-conduct discharge. Stars and Stripes was not informed of the court-martial, and the results were not released until Friday.
All names except for Cruz’s are redacted in the CID report. But according to testimony — which can be determined to be Alipio’s because he was charged in the death — the incident began with Alipio and Cruz were joking around over a video game.
According to the report, Alipio approached Cruz while he was lying on his bunk, playing a video game. He asked Cruz if he wanted to go with him to the exchange. Cruz refused, saying he hadn’t finished his game. After Alipio pretended to turn off the game, Cruz grabbed his 9 mm weapon and playfully aimed it at Alipio. Alipio then took control of it. He said he was handing it back to Cruz, with the barrel pointed at Cruz’s head, when Cruz grabbed at the gun, causing him to pull the trigger, according to the report.
Cruz, struck in the head, received immediate medical attention from several other soldiers in and around the barracks room who heard the shot. He later received more treatment on base before being flown by helicopter to Bagram air base, where he was pronounced dead on Oct. 16.
Alipio acknowledged in the report that soldiers are told not to aim weapons at anyone they’re not prepared to shoot. And that it was against policy to have a loaded magazine chambered in a weapon on base. He said he believed both he and Cruz thought the magazine was empty.
“I made a mistake that night that resulted in the death of my best friend,” he wrote in a sworn statement. “This was a tragic accident caused by negligence. This was not intentional. He was my best friend.”
Sunday, May 20, 2007
US military casualties from the occupation of Iraq have been more than twice the number most Americans have been led to believe because of an extraordinarily high number of accidents, suicides and other non-combat deaths in the ranks that have gone largely unreported in the media.
The unreported cost of war: at least 827 American wounded Iraq ...Iraq veteran wins blog prize as US military cuts web access ... suicides and other non-combat deaths in the ranks that have gone largely unreported in the ...
--submitted by Patti Woodard
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Contact: Susan McAvoy 202-226-7694 firstname.lastname@example.org
Iowa Congressman Commended for Leadership in Congress on Behalf of America's Veterans
Washington, D.C. - Today the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition recognized Iowa Representative Leonard Boswell for his leadership in securing the passage of the "Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act" by naming him "Blue Dog of the Week." As the original sponsor, Rep. Boswell worked diligently to secure House passage of the bill, which aims to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"By taking the lead on such an important piece of legislation, Rep. Boswell has demonstrated his commitment to the brave men and women who risk their lives everyday to defend our country," said Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), Blue Dog Co-Chair for Communications. "As members of the Blue Dog Coalition, we are dedicated to the health and safety of our men and women in uniform - during their time in the field and after they return home."
"With one out of five suicides in the U. S. being a veteran, we must treat their psychological injuries as well as their physical ones," said Rep. Leonard Boswell. "Joshua Omvig took his own life after returning from his tour in Iraq. When I heard about his situation and after speaking with his parents, I knew something had to be done. One life lost to suicide is one too many. We treat our veterans' physical injuries, now it is time to treat the wounds that are not visible."
"With more and more veterans returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, new issues have arisen regarding the care of veterans' mental health. Some estimates have found that almost one thousand veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs commit suicide each year and one out of five suicides in the United States a veteran. We must do better for our veterans, and I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction," said Rep. Boswell.
Rep. Boswell and his Blue Dog colleagues have also introduced H.Res.97, "Providing for Operation Iraqi Freedom Cost Accountability." The resolution focuses on four crucial points including: calling for more transparency on how Iraq war funds are spent; creating a Truman Commission to investigate the awarding of contracts to look into reports of war profiteering; calling for future funding of the Iraq war to be done through the normal appropriations process and not through hiding the costs of the war in so- called "emergency" supplementals; and, demanding greater responsibility of the Iraqis for their own security and internal policing operations.
The fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1995 with the goal of representing the center of the House of Representatives and appealing to the mainstream values of the American public. The Blue Dogs are dedicated to a core set of beliefs that transcend partisan politics, including a deep commitment to the financial stability and national security of the United States. Currently there are 43 members of the Blue Dog Coalition. Rep. Boswell is currently featured on the Blue Dog Coalition website, located at http://www.house.gov/ross/BlueDogs/
--submitted by Patti Woodard
by Gregor McGavin
They paid the ultimate price on the battlefields of Iraq -- some killed by the enemy, others by their own side.
For that sacrifice, some families of slain troops say the U.S. military has paid them back in lies and a lack of information.
Two years after the official end of a war in Iraq hailed for its few incidents of fratricide, a Press-Enterprise investigation has revealed that twice as many troops as reported might have fallen to "friendly fire."
But the U.S. military -- which vowed after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 to both curb and be more open about its deadly mistakes -- is still keeping secret a report designed to lessen the risk of repeating them.
"It's not right to keep it a secret," said Dorothy Halvorsen, whose son Chief Warrant Officer Erik Halvorsen was one of six soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in central Iraq on April 2, 2003.
Since then, Halvorsen has gotten varying accounts from the military of what happened that night, and she and other relatives of the slain troops have had to fight for information.
"They're putting more restrictions on what we can know," she said. "And we have a right to know."
Across the country, many mothers and fathers, wives, siblings and grandparents -- including some who remain staunchly pro-war -- say they feel they've been kept in the dark. These families question the military's commitment to decreasing friendly fire, and to telling them the truth of how their loved ones died.
Recent news reports that the military deliberately concealed that Pat Tillman -- a professional football player turned Army Ranger, and one of the highest-profile casualties -- was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan have amplified those questions.
The "lessons learned" report from U.S. Joint Forces Command is said to provide the final word on all suspected fratricide incidents and steps to avoid repeating them. The report, completed more than a year ago, has yet to be declassified, or made available to the public.
It is "the Department of Defense look at friendly fire," said Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a department spokesman. "I don't know that there is any intention to release the lessons-learned report."
The Press-Enterprise investigation, meant to parallel the work of military investigators, uncovered that as many as 24 Marines, soldiers and sailors -- 18 percent of the 139 combat deaths during major fighting from March 19 to May 2, 2003 -- might have been killed by their own side.
The numbers rival those from the Gulf War in 1991, when 35 U.S. troops, or 24 percent, were killed by fratricide. Relatives of Gulf War friendly fire victims had to wait nearly six months to learn the circumstances of their loved ones' deaths.
In light of those casualties -- the highest percentage of friendly fire deaths ever recorded by U.S. forces -- and the delay in informing relatives, the military promised to do better on both fronts.
But two years after the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom -- the official war in Iraq -- the military still has publicly acknowledged only 12 possible fratricide deaths. Military leaders have claimed those low numbers showed their anti-fratricide efforts have paid off.
The yearlong Press-Enterprise investigation, based on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, official military releases and interviews with scores of families, was limited to the same period covered by the military's lessons-learned report. About 1,600 U.S. troops have died to date in Iraq; it is not known how many might have been killed by friendly fire since the war ended and the occupation began.
It has been two years since his helicopter crashed in the Iraqi desert, but Lila Lipscomb says she still doesn't know what killed her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Pedersen.
The casualty officers came to her Flint, Mich., home to tell her Pedersen was dead, along with Halvorsen and the four other soldiers aboard. In the months that followed, she would get more calls and letters from the military.
Each time, the story seemed to change.
First, it was a hostile incident that brought the Black Hawk down, less than two weeks into Operation Iraqi Freedom. Then it was nonhostile, a catchall term that includes accidents. The pilot's spatial disorientation, they said next. And from the start, the families wondered if it was friendly fire.
Worse for Lipscomb than her fear that Pedersen and his comrades might have been killed by their own side was the growing belief that the U.S. military was not telling her and other families the truth.
"It is an attempt to keep us uninformed," said Lipscomb, part of whose story was featured in the Michael Moore documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Some experts say the military has long been plagued by an institutional unwillingness to own up to its mistakes. Others say defense officials have taken misinformation to new levels, "spinning" casualties to downplay the negative.
"They've gone into a turtle shell, and they only want to talk about the good things that happen in the war," said Steve Robinson, a veteran Army Ranger who now heads the National Gulf War Resource Council, a military watchdog group in Washington, D.C.
Robinson, who has done extensive research on this war and past conflicts, said the Pentagon has engaged in a public-relations campaign.
"It's part of the strategy in war, and it's something we employ in Iraq to gain the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people," Robinson said.
"And in some cases it looks as if the Department of Defense is employing information warfare at home by not releasing accurate information or making it difficult to obtain information," he said.
Robinson said he thinks now the military is covering up the number of troops killed by friendly fire.
Defense officials bristle at such claims.
"We don't have an issue of people covering things up," said Venable, the defense spokesman. "I know the accusations. That may have been true back in the Vietnam War and other eras."
It is not true today, he said.
"Is there a policy of keeping quiet about friendly fire incidents? No, they're investigated fully," Venable said. "The results are released once the investigation" is completed.
The military's final report on the incident that killed Lipscomb's son came to her more than a year later and only after she had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The parts that weren't blacked out said the soldier flying the Black Hawk might have become disoriented and lost control.
The report said the six soldiers were killed, not by friendly fire, but by an accident. Lipscomb still doesn't know whether to believe it.
Lipscomb, 50, originally from Big Bear Lake, comes from a military family -- her father, grandfather and brothers all served in the military. She was proud of that. She encouraged her son to sign up as a way to serve his country and earn money for college.
Friendly fire is an unavoidable part of modern warfare, military officials and experts agree.
No matter what training and high-tech systems are used to combat fratricide, experts say some troops will be lost in the so-called "fog of battle" -- the cloud of dust and smoke and fatigue and urgency that hangs over the battlefield.
"It will never go to zero. It's never going to go away," said Ivan Oelrich, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. "You've got lots and lots of guys out there with guns, and they're shooting them. Mistakes are always going to happen."
But critics say even the language the military uses in discussing casualties is purposely confusing.
One hundred and thirty-nine U.S. troops were killed during the period of major combat operations -- March 19 to May 2, 2003. Of those, 115 were classified as hostile, the others nonhostile.
The military lists as nonhostile those deaths not directly attributable to enemy or friendly fire, or terrorist activity. They include accidents such as vehicle crashes, as well as suicides and homicides.
Casualty reports include categories such as combat and noncombat deaths, the first being those related to direct or indirect fire from the enemy, even if the victim is killed by something other than that fire. Thus, a soldier killed in a jeep that crashes after swerving to avoid a hand grenade is a combat death.
It all makes for a confusing picture, critics say.
'It Takes Time'
Venable said defense officials do their best, often with limited information from the battlefield, to let families know the fate of their loved ones.
Each soldier's death sparks a "line of duty" investigation by that unit's chain of command.
Once relatives are notified, the names of the dead are announced publicly, Venable said. More detailed investigations can follow, often ordered by U.S. Central Command, which oversees all combat forces.
"I can understand a sense of frustration. You want answers, and you want them quick," Venable said. "But you've got to understand, these things are complicated and they're detailed. It takes time."
Though families speak highly of the casualty officers who deliver the bad news, many -- even those who supported the war -- say they don't think the military has been straight with them.
A Patriot missile brought down Navy Lt. Nathan White's fighter jet on April 2, 2003, killing the 30-year-old from Mesa, Ariz.
"In spite of everything, his father still supports the president and our troops," said Dennis White, Nathan's father.
The military acknowledged that it was friendly fire that killed White, but his father said he has not gotten any straight answers from the military or the government as to why the Air Force is still using the Patriot, which has caused several friendly fire deaths of U.S. and allied troops.
Others say they believe the government has lied to them.
"I don't believe anything the government says," said Johnny Burkett, a Vietnam veteran whose nephew, Lance Cpl. Tamario Burkett, was one of 18 Marines killed at An Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.
Burkett and nine other Marines were hit by so much enemy and friendly fire that it was impossible to tell which killed them, a military investigation concluded.
Robinson said the Defense Department has a history of not coming clean.
Defense officials "lied, misled and withheld critical information" about Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, he said, and he believes they did so again regarding Gulf War veterans' exposure to chemical and biological warfare agents.
Friendly fire became a military priority after the first Gulf War, when the number of victims prompted the Pentagon to pour billions of dollars into satellite and computer technology aimed at giving troops a better view of the battlefield.
Critics say the military recommitted itself to eliminating friendly fire only after several high-profile incidents -- including one at An Nasiriyah and another in Afghanistan in 2001 that killed four Canadian soldiers.
"They had been very concerned after Desert Storm, and then it kind of wore off," said John Pike, who heads the military think-tank GlobalSecurity.org. "I think it is back on their screen."
Army Spc. Donald Oaks Jr., Sgt. 1st Class Randall Rehn and Sgt. Todd Robbins died on April 3, 2003, when an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle dropped a bomb on the multi-launch rocket weapon they manned for the Army's C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 13th Field Artillery regiment.
U.S. Central Command announced within days that the incident was under investigation, but the findings were not officially released.
"I don't think they've learned anything at all since the first Gulf War," grandfather Sam Oaks, 63, said of military officials.
The younger Oaks, a 20-year-old from Erie, Pa., had joined the Army for college money, his grandfather said. He and the other relatives of the three men were told it might have been friendly fire, but it took more than a year for the final report confirming that suspicion to be delivered.
"His grandma told him when he went over to Iraq, 'Be careful for friendly fire,' " the elder Oaks said. "We talked about it all the time, because we know what happened in the first Gulf War."
Rehn, 36, was married with a 3-month old daughter when he shipped out to Iraq.
Back home in Longmont, Colo., his brother Joe said he remains in favor of the war, which he says is necessary to combat terrorism. But he thinks the military had other reasons for delaying its report.
"I'm sure it wasn't at the top of their priority list to figure out what went on, if you know what I mean," Rehn said. "The No. 1 priority is to make sure more people don't know, not to figure out what went on."
Joint Forces Command focuses on research, experimentation and training.
In June, more than 28,000 U.S. service members and troops from Britain, Canada and other allied nations took part in Joint Forces Command exercises at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune. In simulated combat, they tested anti-fratricide technology that could one day be used on the real battlefield.
Joint Forces Command spent nearly a year developing its report on lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"They identified friendly fire as one of those things which need substantial improvement," Venable said.
Lipscomb and other loved ones of the six soldiers killed in the Black Hawk crash say they feel they may never know what really happened.
"Some days I think, 'Oh, maybe I can buy this,' " she said of the military's finding of pilot disorientation. "Other times it just doesn't add up to me. There's a lot of covering up, I'm sure. Sometimes you have to say, 'I'll never know.' "
© 2005, The Press-Enterprise Company
-- submitted by Patti Woodard
Sunday, May 13, 2007
-- from the NY Times
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Untold Stories from the Pat Tillman / Jessica Lynch Hearings
War vs. Democracy
By DIANE FARSETTA
What does it mean to be a nation at war? Is it possible to exercise democratic control over a wartime government that dismisses honest criticism as unpatriotic? What should citizens do when members of their military not only commit crimes -- as happens during every war -- but also rely on propaganda to hide mistakes and to embellish or even create victories, as happened in the cases of Army Ranger Pat Tillman and Private Jessica Lynch?
Those are big questions, but a few things are clear. One is that the secrecy, deception and constraints sought by wartime administrations are anathema to the transparency, accountability and freedom necessary to democracy. As James Madison warned, "Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other."
Another truism is that citizens retain the right to receive information and provide guidance to their government during wartime. The last is that, while security concerns may legitimately restrict what information can be shared when, maintaining civilian oversight of war operations helps ensure that human rights standards are upheld.
Perhaps the most important effort to provide oversight of ongoing U.S. wars was the April 24 Congressional hearing on battlefield misinformation. The hearing focused on the wounding, capture and rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq in March 2003, and on the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in April 2004. For more than four hours, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard a remarkable amount of information. There were often emotional first-hand accounts; analyses by a medical doctor, dedicated family members and military inspectors; and many questions from members of Congress.
Ideally, news media would have covered the hearing in depth and hosted wide-ranging discussions and debates of the issues raised. Instead, the overwhelming majority of news outlets only showed, quoted or described the opening remarks of the hearing's first witness panel, and then moved on to their next story.
What went unreported were shocking truths about the Lynch and Tillman incidents and the many remaining questions, as well as new insights into military misinformation. The exchanges highlighted below, drawn from testimony given throughout the hearing, fill in these blanks. (For an analysis that places the hearing in the context of news coverage at the time of the incidents, see Robin Andersen's article, "'Mission Accomplished,' Four Years Later.")
Other Soldiers, Other Questions
Perhaps the most under-reported aspect of the hearing was the list of U.S. soldiers whose injuries or deaths remain mired in secrecy. Pat Tillman's brother and fellow Army Ranger Kevin Tillman advocated strongly for other families still waiting for answers. Kevin told the stories of the following soldiers, all of whom were killed in Iraq:
* First Lieutenant Ken Ballard: "His mom, Karen Meredith, was told that Ken was killed by a sniper on a rooftop," recounted Kevin. "Fifteen months later, she found out that he was killed by an unmanned gun from his own vehicle."
* Private Jesse Buryj: "His family was told he was killed in a vehicle accident. A year later, they received the autopsy report, and they found that he was shot in the back. The Army was forced to concede that he was accidentally shot by a Polish soldier. Just recently, out of nowhere, a Lieutenant showed up at their family's house and told them that an officer in his own unit had shot him."
* Staff Sergeant Brian Hellerman: His wife, Dawn Hellerman, called Kevin Tillman late one night. "She was tired of receiving new official reasons why her husband had died. She was desperate for help. ... The system had failed her."
* Sergeant Patrick McCafferty: "The family was told, it was -- quote -- 'an ambush by insurgents.' Two years later, they found out that those -- quote -- 'insurgents' happened to be the same Iraqi troops that he was training. Before his death, he told his chain of command that these same troops that he was training were trying to kill him and his team. He was told to keep his mouth shut."
Members of Congress named other soldiers whose families have received misleading information:
* Sergeant Eddie Ryan, who was wounded in Iraq: "He sustained two gunshot wounds to the head and, thankfully, is still alive," said House Oversight Committee Chair Henry Waxman. "He didn't find out the truth about his injuries until five months later, even though his fellow Marines knew immediately that his injuries were due to friendly fire."
* First Lieutenant Sarah K. Small, who died during a military training exercise in Egypt.
* Private First Class LaVena Johnson, who died in Iraq from what the Army says was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a claim contradicted by multiple pieces of evidence. "For almost two years, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson have been trying to get at the truth about what happened to their daughter," said Rep. William Clay. Later in the hearing, Clay listed the key information requested from the Army, on behalf of the Johnsons: "A CD containing the original photos from the criminal investigation into Private Johnson's death and the original autopsy photos, missing medical records from Private Johnson's file, all psychological evaluations that may have been made of Private Johnson, and the identity of the lead investigator into her death."
Private Johnson's family has filed a Freedom of Information Act request, as have the Small and Ballard families. But it's unclear whether these requests -- and the memory of their loved ones -- will be honored by the Pentagon.
Creating the Narrative
Most of the Congressional hearing focused on Private Jessica Lynch and Corporal Pat Tillman. In addition to uncovering new information and raising unanswered questions, the Lynch and Tillman testimony showed how well -- and, at times, how irresponsibly -- the U.S. military manages the media.
Shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Lynch became renowned as a plucky young soldier who bravely resisted an enemy ambush, but was seriously wounded and captured. After U.S. soldiers rescued her in a nighttime raid, Lynch's story became an allegory for the courageousness and righteousness of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Except that it didn't quite happen like that. British reporters quickly debunked Lynch's rescue as a staged media event, and, once she was well enough to realize and respond to the narrative, Lynch herself disavowed the rest. During the hearing, Rep. Waxman added another wrinkle -- evidence that the "rescue" operation had been delayed, for publicity purposes:
Rep. Henry Waxman: The military had an opportunity to rescue you, when you were captive for ten days. But there was a whole day, before they captured you, when they were preparing not just to rescue you, but to videotape the rescue. Were you aware of that, or aware of it now?
Private Jessica Lynch: Not at the time, I wasn't aware that they were videotaping me, no. But after the fact, yeah I knew about it and now, you know, I kind of understand why they did it.
Waxman: Well, maybe you understand it. ... I come from Hollywood. I expect show business in Hollywood, not from the military and not to support a story that was a fabrication. ... Our staff interviewed Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic communications at CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command). He informed us of the plans of your rescue operation. He informed the press operation a full day before it happened.
Waxman later questioned Lt. Col. John Robinson, who was a CENTCOM spokesperson during the Lynch incident:
Rep. Henry Waxman: Lt. Col. Robinson, you were interviewed about this rescue video by the Washington Post. ... Your statement, according to the Post, was -- quote -- 'We let them know, if possible we wanted to get it. We'd like to have' the video. 'We were hoping we would have good visuals. We knew it would be the hottest thing of the day. There was not an intent to talk it down or embellish it because we didn't need to. It was an awesome story.' You say you let them know that you wanted to tape the rescue. Who is the 'them' you were referring to -- the rescue team, the operations folks? ... Do you recall the quote?
Lt. Col. John Robinson: No, sir, I don't remember speaking to them about Jessica Lynch, but I can tell you where the visuals would have come from. The visuals would have come from an officer who was assigned to the SOP [Special Operations] unit, who had an additional duty of providing visuals back to the press center. These were not the only visuals that we received from this unit. And we got visuals all day, every day, throughout that particular operation. And so, these visuals that we received would have been visuals that we would have requested as soon as we found out that there was a potential rescue.
Much like the dramatic rescue footage was essential to the Lynch story, the televised memorial service and posthumous award given Corporal Pat Tillman cemented and promoted the false narrative around his death.
That football hero turned soldier Pat Tillman had been killed by his fellow troops in Afghanistan was known immediately, and rapidly reported up the chain of command. However, for more than a month, Tillman's family and the U.S. public were told that Pat had been killed by the enemy, while bravely protecting other U.S. soldiers.
During the House hearing, Rep. Bruce Braley asked Specialist Bryan O'Neal and the Acting Inspector General of the Defense Department, Thomas Gimble, about the statements used in Tillman's Silver Star Award:
Rep. Bruce Braley: In addition to being an eyewitness to Corporal Tillman's death and reporting this incident up the chain of command, you were also involved in writing a statement that was used to award Corporal Tillman the Silver Star. Do you remember that?
Specialist Bryan O'Neal: Yes, sir.
Braley: ... Was this a situation where they gave you a sheet of paper and told you to write down, in your own words, your best recollection of the events that had happened, or did someone prepare a statement for you to review and sign?
O'Neal: What happened, sir, was I got sat behind a computer and I was told to type up my recollection of what happened. And as soon as I was done typing, I was relieved to go back to my platoon, sir. And that was the last I heard of it.
Braley: So when you finished typing your statement, it was in a digital format that had not been printed out. Is that correct?
O'Neal: Roger that, sir.
Braley: ... Did you ever sign, in your handwriting, a statement that you had reviewed and verified the authenticity of?
O'Neal: Negative, sir.
Braley: Now I want to ask you about the statement that was ultimately used in the Silver Star commendation. ... This version of the statement also says you -- quote -- 'engaged the enemy very successfully' -- end quote. That the enemy moved most of their attention to your position which -- quote -- 'drew a lot of fire from them.' Did you write these sentences, claiming that you were engaged with the enemy?
O'Neal: No, sir.
Braley: Do you know who made the changes to your statement, to make it appear as if you were receiving fire from the enemy, rather than from your own platoon?
O'Neal: No, sir.
Braley: Mr. Gimble, the Inspector General's office investigated these alterations to the witnesses' statements and flagged these differences as well. But in the course of your investigation, did you ever discover who specifically changed this language and why that language was changed?
Hon. Thomas Gimble: ... The citations that we got were part of the package that we got of the General Jones investigation [into Tillman's death]. And they were not signed, it just had stamped as 'original, signed.' And my investigators went back to Specialist O'Neal and the sergeant and said, 'Did you write these?' And they said no, that they did not. ... We were unable to determine who in the chain of command actually did the alterations.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen White was a friend of Pat Tillman's and the only active-duty military member to speak at the televised memorial service. During the hearing, White explained that he based his memorial service speech on the altered Silver Star documents:
Rep. William Clay: You were not with Corporal Tillman in Afghanistan when he was killed. Is that correct?
Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen White: That's correct, sir.
Clay: Then how did you become aware of the details surrounding his death?
White: The initial, sporadic stuff that I got was from Kevin [Tillman, Pat's brother] himself. The morning of the memorial, I don't recall exactly how I got word but, I knew that they wanted me to ... let the family know, that he was going to be presented with the Silver Star. In order to do that in the presentation, I wanted to, basically, to surmise what had happened on the target site. I called an enlisted person whose name I cannot recall. I believe he was with the 75th Ranger Battalion. The morning of, he read the citation to me, over the phone. I summarized in my own words, asked him if that was an accurate summarization. He said it was, and that's what I went with in my speech.
Hiding the Truth
For false narratives to gain currency, the truth must be suppressed. In Private Jessica Lynch's case, her injuries kept her from correcting the public record for some time. But her doctor was another matter.
Dr. Gene Bolles, a neurosurgeon and military contractor at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, was one of the first people to examine Lynch following her "rescue." During the Congressional hearing, he said it was clear that Lynch had no bullet wounds -- contrary to already widely-reported stories of her combat heroism -- and that her wounds were consistent with a serious vehicle accident. Then Rep. John Yarmuth asked Bolles whether he had been restricted in his public remarks at the time:
Rep. John Yarmuth: Did you have to sign any kind of nondisclosure agreement?
Dr. Gene Bolles: Yes, I did.
Yarmuth: ... Were you asked to sign this specifically for the Lynch case?
Bolles: ... Before she left, the day before or the day of, I was asked to sign something to say that this would not be discussed, also.
Yarmuth: And you had never been asked to sign anything like that, involving any other patient of yours?
Bolles: No, sir.
Yarmuth: ... Did you think it was peculiar, that you were asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement for one patient?
Bolles: At the time, no. I'm not sure I do now. ...
Yarmuth: Looking back at it now, are you suspicious? ... What do you think was behind their action?
Bolles: I really don't think I have an opinion on that, sir. It may have been standard procedure for a highly visible situation such as Private Lynch was. I don't know.
With regard to Corporal Pat Tillman's death, eyewitness accounts and reports quickly relayed up the chain of command blatantly contradicted the U.S. military's preferred narrative. During the House hearing, Rep. Elijah Cummings described what is known about these high-level communications:
Rep. Elijah Cummings: We have an email that was written on April 28, 2004, six days after Pat Tillman's death. ... It describes how the White House was asking for information about Corporal Tillman, for the President to use in a speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. ... The next day, April 29, 2004, an urgent communication was sent to the highest levels of the Army command structure, alerting them that friendly fire was the suspected cause of death. This communication is called a Personal Four, that is P-4, memo. ... It [the P-4 memo] goes on to express concern that the President or Defense Secretary might suffer -- quote -- 'public embarrassment, if the circumstances of Corporal Tillman's death become public' -- end of quote. ... When the President spoke at the Correspondents' Dinner, he was careful in his wording. He praised Pat Tillman's courage, but carefully avoided describing how he was killed.
During the hearing, several members of Congress and witnesses asked: Which military and government officials were rapidly informed that Tillman had been killed by "friendly fire," but kept that truth from his family and from the public for more than a month?
Reps. Cummings and Waxman wondered if President Bush's cautious words at the White House Correspondents' Dinner indicate that he, or someone in his office, knew. Based on then-CENTCOM chief John Abizaid's trip to Afghanistan shortly after Tillman's death, the number of high-ranking military officers who definitely knew, and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's previous correspondence with Tillman, Pat's mother Mary Tillman said she believes that Rumsfeld knew the real cause of Pat's death.
The hearing also brought to light a chilling account of the "friendly fire" incident, which Mary Tillman paraphrased from an investigation by Brigadier General Gary Jones:
Mary Tillman: At this particular moment, they [the soldiers who shot and killed Pat] got excited. They were not afraid. When they were asked about this particular engagement, not once did they say they were afraid.
Not once did they say they were being fired upon. They said they were excited. Or one said, I wanted to be in a firefight. General Jones asked, 'Did you PID [positively identify] your target?' 'No, I wanted to be in a firefight.' When they asked, 'Did you see waving hands?' 'Yes, we saw waving hands.' 'What did it look like,' General Jones asked. 'It looked like they were trying to say, hey, it's us.' And yet, they fired at them.
Strangely, the Army's criminal investigation found that the soldiers who killed Tillman had not broken the rules of engagement.
Civilians Are People, Too
Following the hearing, Oversight Committee Chair Waxman sent letters to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and White House Counsel Fred Fielding, asking for documents clarifying "how and when" high-ranking Defense Department and White House officials "learned of the circumstances surrounding Corporal Tillman's death."
Of course, battlefield misinformation doesn't just surround U.S. soldiers. Many more Afghan and Iraqi civilians have died under questionable circumstances. The New York Times recently reported new information about U.S. military assaults on civilians in Haditha, Iraq and in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
The Haditha revelations eerily echo the circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman's death. Immediately following the November 2005 U.S. assault, the Iraqi civilian deaths were reported up the chain of command.
However, that information was suppressed, because the Haditha killings represented, in the words of the Times report, "a potential public relations problem that could fuel insurgent propaganda against the American military."
U.S. soldiers also attempted to deny the truth about the March 2007 Jalalabad killings, destroying photos and video that journalists had taken at the scene. A military official explained that "untrained people" might "capture visual details that are not as they originally were." Two months later, the U.S. military apologized and paid $2,000 to the surviving family members of the 19 civilians killed.
What happened in Jalalabad and Haditha, to Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch and LaVena Johnson, and to many other soldiers and civilians caught up in U.S. wars isn't due to malicious intent. Tragedies and lies happen whenever human beings are put into a war zone. This doesn't excuse them. It does mean that U.S. citizens should accept a share of the responsibility, and insist upon truth and accountability, lest our democracy become wartime "collateral damage."
Diane Farsetta is a Senior Researcher, Center for Media & Democracy, publisher of PR Watch. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Friday, May 11, 2007
By Galina Stolyarova
A drafted soldier with less than a month to serve at his detachment at the village of Sertolovo near St. Petersburg died Saturday at the city’s Military Medical Academy from severe head injuries, apparently sustained in a hazing incident.
“The recruit was delivered to the hospital’s brain surgery ward in a coma on April 27 and died on Saturday night without regaining consciousness,” said Colonel Yury Klyonov, an aide to the chief military commander of the Leningrad Military District.
The recruit was named as Sergei Zavyalov, 23.
Zavyalov’s mother, Nadezhda Zavyalova, told St. Petersburg-based human rights group Soldiers’ Mothers that she had learned about her son’s death in a phone call from his detachment.
“They told me that Sergei fell and fatally struck his head,” his mother recalls. “It seemed contrived and unbelievable to me. I think he was killed and I am sure that it was deliberate. I am determined to find the people who did it and bring them to trial.”
Zavyalov last spoke to his mother by telephone on April 26.
The circumstances of Zavyalov’s injuries remain obscure.
Klyonov said the Leningrad Military Prosecutor’s office has promptly launched a criminal case and a fellow recruit had already been detained in connection with the death.
“We are carrying out our own investigation and we know that Sergei had been unconscious for some time; he had also been left without medical aid almost five hours before being sent to the Military Medical Academy,” said Ella Polyakova, chairwoman of Soldiers’ Mothers.
“It is beyond my understanding why no immediate effort was made to save his life.”
A native of Vologda, a small town in Northwestern Russia, Zavyalov was drafted in June 2005 and served in military detachment No.11255. His two years of conscription would have expired by the end of this month.
The Defense Ministry estimates that between 500 to 1,000 recruits die from non-combat-related causes each year in Russia.
But human rights groups contest official statistics and claim the actual number is as high as 3,000.
Ruslan Linkov, head of the liberal political organization Democratic Russia, said that the military authorities often try to “make a scape-goat of another recruit.”
“Look at all recent hazing scandals and you will see that officers routinely escape punishment,” he said. “It has become a trend. Recruits are more vulnerable and deprived than the officers and burdening them with full responsibility kills two birds with one stone: the corrupt system is protected, while the human rights groups and the relatives are presented with a nominal figure to blame.”
Polyakova is convinced Zavyalov’s death could have been prevented had qualified medical aid been provided to him earlier.
“It looks like either a tremendous neglect of human life, or an equally tremendous fear that Sergei, if he had survived, would tell a story nobody was going to like,” she said.
Polyakova pointed to the case of another St. Petersburg conscript, Roman Rudakov, who has been awaiting a partial intestine transplant at Moscow’s Burdenko hospital since mid-January.
Rudakov was kept in the emergency ward of military hospital No. 442 in St. Petersburg after doctors removed his small intestine on Sept. 30, 2006, following a severe beating to the abdominal area.
“In his letters home, Roman even contemplated suicide; he considered slitting his wrists so bad had the bullying become,” Polyakova said. “Information about the beatings which had been present in the original medical report was then mysteriously removed, and if his sister had not kept the original, we would never have been able to prove the fact that the beating led to the removal of the intestine. Worse, it took more than four months and the intervention of our organization before he started getting appropriate treatment.”
A rapid investigation into Rudakov’s case established that fellow recruit Maxim Lomonin was responsible for the beating. He received a three-year suspended sentence in the resulting trial.
However, no officer was punished or reprimanded in the case.
Linkov accused the military of being scared of publicity.
“They typically try to hush things up and therefore avoid, whenever possible, dealing with civil doctors because it would bring to light mishaps in treating and handling patients,” he said.
“Germany, France and Israel have offered to help with Rudakov’s operation but Russia has rejected all the offers.”
Story date: 05/09/2007
By Judi Finn
Barbara Day and the governor Eleven months after her son Capt. Patrick Damon, 41, died in Afghanistan where he served in the Maine National Guard, Barbara Damon Day of Newcastle had a proud and bittersweet moment of triumph on Friday, when she stood side by side with the Governor to announce groundbreaking legislation meant to protect those who serve their country in the military.
At a press conference with veterans and state officials, LD1889, “An Act to Protect the Lives and Health of Members of the Maine National Guard”, was formally introduced as an emergency bill by Gov. John Baldacci at the State House in the Hall of Flags. Supporting LD1899 are 155 legislative sponsors, rarely seen on any bill.
Gov. Baldacci said, “I’m proud to be standing here with Barbara,” and that the new law came about through her commitment “to protect the health of people who protect us.” He said, “From here on in Maine, we will take care of our own.”
Supported along the way by Damon’s State House colleagues, Day worked for months to get to this point, in hopes of preventing another family from going through similar heartache.
Day said that the State House was her son’s passion and joy. He was chief of staff for Speaker of the House Pat Colwell in 2002-2004 and served on other speakers’ staff.
He was known by many at the ceremony and remembered fondly and respected for his dedication to public service as well as for his Maine National Guard duty.
Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings said, “As Speaker of the House today, I see the legacy that Pat Damon left and I know that we lost a person of great value. We can’t bring Pat back, but we can make a difference by passing this legislation to protect the health and lives of Maine’s citizen soldiers.”
“When he died in Afghanistan last June 15th, it was reported that ‘he died of a heart attack’,” Day said. Addressing the media she said, “I implore you to correct the record once and for all. One thing the autopsy did show is that Capt. Pat Damon did not die of a heart attack.”
Wearing her son’s dog tags and only losing her composure once, Day said the Vaccine Healthcare Center at Walter Reed is still looking at Damon’s death as possibly vaccine related. She said, “While the military lists Pat’s death as ‘sudden unexpected’ I call it ‘prolonged and preventable’ and have photos to back it up.”On the day he was deployed to Afghanistan, Jan. 25, 2006, Damon said goodbye to his wife and two children with a swollen face. In a photo taken July 12, 1999, after receiving eight vaccinations against eight diseases and a TB test, his face also shows swelling.
A photo of him with Colwell in 2003 as a healthy man is a remarkable contrast. Day believes her son died as a result of reactions to vaccines and medications.
The new law forms a partnership between the Maine National Guard and the Maine Center for Disease Control to protect the health of guardsmen by setting higher standards for preventative medical practices and health screenings than currently exist.
A commission will be set up to track healthcare treatment of guard members and to make recommendations for improvements. It will review all health care treatment practices and protocols and the vaccinations and medications administered to guard members.
Day said, “This will also provide an access point for family members and the men and women who are members of the Maine National Guard, who may be victims of non-combat death or disability – a place for them to be heard, get support and some answers, and to know that the crack that their loved one fell through will be closed.”
The commission will meet four times a year and be comprised of Maine’s Adjutant General of the National Guard, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, Director of the Bureau of Maine Veterans’ Services, a doctor, a pharmacist, a psychologist, a family member of a deceased military person, a retired Maine veteran and a disabled Maine veteran.
The first report from the commission is due Dec. 15, 2008.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
6:00 a.m. May 8, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Military prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the death of a Russian soldier that allegedly resulted from abuse by fellow servicemen, officials said Tuesday.
Investigators were looking into the allegations of abuse against Sgt. Sergei Zavyalov, who died in a hospital over the weekend, said district military prosecutor Igor Lebed.
The Russian military has been plagued by rampant abuse of conscripts by fellow servicemen, making the compulsory draft extremely unpopular.
Officials initially said Zavyalov had injured himself accidentally, but Soldiers Mothers, a leading rights group, claimed he had been brutally beaten by fellow soldiers on April 27.
Ella Polyakova, the head of St. Petersburg's branch of Soldiers Mothers, said that an officer with the soldier's unit saw Zavyalov's condition but told him just to go to bed.
As Zavyalov's condition worsened, officials sent him to a nearby military hospital where doctors were not qualified to treat his grave head injuries, Polyakova told The Associated Press. When Zavyalov was finally sent to the St. Petersburg Military Medical Academy, the city's top military clinic, he fell into a coma and doctors were unable to save his life, she said.
She described Zavyalov's case as the latest example of widespread bullying of soldiers by fellow servicemen in the nation's military.
“The cases of abuse and murder of soldiers in Russian army are endless now,” Polyakova told the AP. “Serious measures should be taken now to stop this situation.”
The Defense Ministry reported 554 non-combat deaths last year, about half of the number in 2005. It said that last year's figure included 27 deaths from bullying and abuses by other servicemen and 210 suicides.
So far this year, the ministry reported 110 non-combat deaths as of mid-April, including five deaths from abuse by fellow soldiers and 65 suicides.
Soldiers' rights groups say that many of the suicides also resulted from bullying and other abuses.
All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve in the 1.2 million-member military, but only about 9 percent typically are drafted. The rest avoid the feared conscription by signing up for college, being excused for health reasons – often falsified – or simply paying bribes.
A recently passed law cut the current two-year conscription term to 1½ years starting this spring and will further reduce it to one year beginning in 2008, but it will also cancel most existing deferments.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
No. 530-07May 04, 2007
The Department of Defense today released key findings from the latest Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT-IV) survey, the fourth in a series of studies since 2003 to assess the mental health and well-being of the deployed forces serving in Iraq.
The MHAT-IV, conducted in August and October of last year, assessed more than 1,300 soldiers and for the first time nearly 450 Marines. The commanding general of Multinational Force, Iraq, also requested a first-ever study of battlefield ethics with the participation of soldiers and Marines currently involved in combat operations. Survey participants were not selected to be representative of the entire deployed force. Units were specifically targeted for this survey because they experienced the highest level of combat exposure. If a representative sample of the total deployed force had been selected, the findings would have likely been very different.
The significant findings include:
Soldiers who deployed longer (greater than six months) or had deployed multiple times were more likely to screen positive for a mental health issue.
Approximately 10 percent of soldiers reported mistreating non-combatants or damaging their property when it was not necessary.
Less than half of soldiers and Marines would report a team member for unethical behavior.
More than one-third of all soldiers and Marines reported that torture should be allowed to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine.
The 2006 adjusted rate of suicides per 100,000 soldiers was 17.3 soldiers, lower than the 19.9 rate reported in 2005, however higher than the Army average of 11.6 per 100,000 soldiers. However, there are important demographic differences between these two soldier populations that make direct comparisons problematic.
Soldiers experienced mental health problems at a higher rate than Marines.
Deployment length was directly linked to morale problems in the Army.
Leadership is key to maintaining soldier and Marine mental health.
Both soldiers and Marines reported at relatively high rates - 62 and 66 percent, respectively - that they knew someone seriously injured or killed, or that a member of their team had become a casualty.
Implementation of recommendations and remedies to support soldiers and Marines has already begun. The Army has addressed the MHAT-IV findings with:
Scenario-based battlefield ethics training.
Revised suicide prevention training.
Behavioral health awareness training in junior leader development courses.
Small-group BATTLEMIND training during both pre- and post-deployment.
Offer BATTLEMIND training to spouses at pre- and post-deployment sessions.
BATTLEMIND training for Warriors in Transition.
A new Army Web site, http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil , includes instructional materials required to conduct BATTLEMIND training. While training brigades have not yet formally instituted BATTLEMIND training at mobilization stations, all have incorporated mental health training during the mobilization process.
The overall findings of MHAT IV confirm information from previous MHAT reports and existing knowledge of the effects of combat and operational stress conditions. The MHAT program provides invaluable information that leaders can use to improve the overall behavioral health of military members and their families.
The redacted MHAT IV report will be available on the Army Medicine website at http://www.armymedicine.army.mil/news/mhat/mhat.html . Point of contact in Army Public Affairs is Lt. Col. Bob Tallman, (703) 697-5343, firstname.lastname@example.org .
Friday, May 04, 2007
by JoAnn Wypijewski
Accidents,” Alexander Cockburn once wrote, “are normalcy raised to the level of drama.” The same may be said for scandal, the shocking event that turns out not to have been so shocking after all once the tape is rewound, the warning signs exquisitely detailed and the “big picture” filled in. The scandal du jour is the rampage of Cho Seung-Hui, a “quiet” boy, “no trouble at all” until he killed 32 people at Virginia Tech and others began to recall that, why yes, there were those creepy actions and creepier plays, those diagnoses of mental illness, the telltale trail of every scared, sick loner who one day snaps, adding his victims to the 30,000 Americans killed with guns in far more ordinary circumstances each year.
“Thanks to you I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people,” Cho said in his video. It is as if he had been reading from the scripts of school-shooters past, every one of whom had been taunted as a wuss, or rejected by a girl, or was lonely and withdrawn, or had written harrowing stories of mayhem and slaying. Like them, Cho was finally notable for his orgy of slaughter and the demented aspect of his immortality fantasy; otherwise, he merely supplied the latest dramatic uptick in the long-running saga of the marriage of weakness and cruelty.
Today Cho; yesterday Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The injured soldiers at the center of that earlier scandal certainly qualify as weak and defenseless people, except that the object of fascination while they dominated the 24/7 churn of cable news was not their career as killers or the preparations that readied them to kill. They were the victims in the scandal. About the perpetrator, Walter Reed, the question “How could this have happened?” was not answered with any of the searching examination the press brings to the biography of mass murderers. Naturally, we aren’t meant to think of soldiers as trained killers or of any military installation as part of an institution of mass murder. It might help if we did. Certainly it would help aspiring recruits better understand what they are getting into, and help wounded veterans understand why they would be degraded as soon as they’d outlived their usefulness to the trade.
The truth is, a system dedicated to transforming psychologically healthy people into people capable of performing what in any other setting is considered a pathological act can’t help behaving badly-not all the time or in all of its realms, not monolithically so that everyone associated with it is scathed. But inevitably the ends deform the means, and inevitably someone pays. No one is talking about it, but what happened at Walter Reed to soldiers injured in war is not shocking at all if one ponders what happens at Army posts to soldiers injured in basic training.
“LIKE BEING INCARCERATED”-Basic training is one of those regimens of cruelty that people have come to accept as normal. The Army has officially eliminated some of its most abusive practices, along with its theory of “breaking them down to build them up,” the classic humiliation of recruits by a drill sergeant, designed to make them into soldiers capable of acting as a unit, following orders and killing. This reshaping remains essential; it is simply meant to be accomplished with more respect now. In all events, weakness is to be despised, which means that the 15 to 37 percent of men and the 38 to 67 percent of women who sustain at least one injury due to the rigors of basic training at Fort Sill, Fort Knox, Fort Jackson, Fort Leonard Wood or Fort Benning are in trouble.
A year ago I visited Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where the son of a friend had suffered stress fractures during basic training and was then in the post’s Physical Training and Rehabilitation Program. PTRP is where the Army, desperate for bodies in a time of war, puts broken enlistees whom it is committed neither to curing nor to releasing, nor even to respecting as soldiers and human beings. Basic training takes nine weeks; PTRP can warehouse soldiers for months, in anticipation of the time they manage to recuperate, pass the grueling PT (physical training) test and go on to battle-readiness; or fail the test, try again, stumble through the bureaucratic labyrinth until the point at which they are chaptered out or medically discharged. As trainees, all have yet to be granted “permanent party” status in the Army. In the military hierarchy, this makes them lower life-forms, which is how they were being treated at Fort Sill.
It was Family Weekend when I visited, and the PTRP command was on its toes because for weeks my friend, Pat deVarennes, had been writing a blog exposing the routine abuses of injured soldiers there. As a result of her persistence, the Army had initiated an investigation into the actions of a drill sergeant who had kicked a soldier in his bad knee, sending him to the floor screaming, and who had punished and terrorized the soldiers in numerous other ways. That weekend these men, on crutches and painkillers, wearing casts or moving gingerly, were not being called “fakers,” “lady men,” “shitsacks,” “malingerers”-the names that, at other times, were regularly hurled at them. The command met with parents and wives and told them their loved ones would be getting individualized medical attention, something many had not had for months, and reassured them that the soldiers’ well-being was their chief concern.
A week later, on March 19, 2006, one of those soldiers, Pfc. Matthew Scarano, 21, was found dead in his bunk. He had been in the program for more than a year with a shoulder injury and excruciating pain. It was unlikely he would ever be fit for battle, but he could not get out. Shortly before he died he wrote to deVarennes: “I liken being here to being incarcerated. And it often helped during the bleaker points in PTRP history to think of it as such: I’m far from being any kind of expert on the subject, but perhaps it was a psychological self-defense mechanism to try to perceive what was going on as being punitive in nature.”
Over the months of Scarano’s confinement to the program, his shoulder got worse, and so did he. “The Army has me on Ambien, seroquel, tylox and oxycontins. I also get trazadone to take the edge off,” he wrote his family. At the time of death he was on Fentanyl, described in medical literature as an analgesic patch 80 times more potent than morphine. The Army said an overdose had killed him, and then, although his injured comrades said that dispensing drugs was as strictly controlled as every other aspect of life in PTRP, it essentially blamed the dead man as a doper and the others as slackers for not reporting his drug problem. In fact, some had reported it, and nothing happened. His condition, moreover, was hardly a secret to the command, since often he was so zoned out he could barely stand in formation.
After Scarano’s death, the Army initiated an investigation and issued policy changes. It had done something similar two years earlier when another PTRP inmate, Pvt. Jason Poirier, 22, died in the same Fort Sill barracks from acute methadone intoxication. It’s doubtful that the adjustments since Scarano’s death will do any more than those after Poirier’s to alter fundamentally the treatment of injured soldiers.
FEAR OF REPRISAL-Immediately after Scarano’s death I published a story in CounterPunch detailing the abuses at Fort Sill and sent it to every mainstream journalist I knew urging them to follow up. Readers wrote in droves telling me of their own PTRP experiences at other posts. Some sent the story to their Representatives, and Scarano’s father was calling for a Congressional inquiry. Nothing happened. Ralph Blumenthal of the New York Times wrote an excellent piece on the case, and in it Army officials chalked up the 21-year-old’s unfortunate end to lessons learned.
A year later letters continue dribbling into my e-mail box. “Ft. Sill still doing it,” read the subject line of a February letter from a woman who said her nephew was sick with pneumonia and asthma and had been kicked in the chest by a drill sergeant. When I asked for more information, she didn’t reply. “You must never use our names,” wrote a mother whose son had been in Fort Benning’s PTRP last year and was then forced to do basic training twice. Actually, she never gave me the names, not of herself or her son or the soldier he said had committed suicide while he was there. People don’t want to give names to journalists for the same reason they don’t complain to the higher-ups, which makes challenging higher-ups on their behalf difficult.
DeVarennes spoke up because she was scared that if she didn’t, someone might die at Fort Sill. Her son had told her about a soldier who came into PTRP with a broken finger. It didn’t heal properly for some reason and ended up deformed, his hand at less than 100 percent and his ability to do push-ups impaired. He was in PTRP for about nine months trying, and failing, to pass the PT test. One day, he cut himself all over with a razor, smeared himself with excrement, marched naked out of the barracks and was put in a psych ward on suicide watch. Afterwards, no doubt pumped with antidepressants, he was made to try the test one more time, and to fail one more time, before officials moved to discharge him.
He didn’t die. Neither did deVarennes’s son, Pvt. Richard Thurman. Richard got stress fractures and couldn’t run, it was determined, because he had flat feet. Once upon a time flat feet disqualified one from military service. After months in the netherworld of PTRP, Richard still couldn’t run but was cleared for active duty. He is now in Iraq.
WOUNDED, UNWANTED-I thought of Scarano and the others when I read the stories about Walter Reed. The Washington Post’s riveting account of February 18 included the story of Cpl. Jeremy Harper, 19, who had seen three of his buddies die in Iraq and was at Walter Reed for severe PTSD. He refused his medals and kept to his room in the dark, heavily medicated, which everyone noticed. On New Year’s Eve 2004 he was seen wandering in the lobby of one of the Walter Reed buildings, looking for a ride home to West Virginia. The next morning he was found dead in his bed of alcohol poisoning.
After the Post’s story came out, a familiar sequence of firings, testimony and reform commenced. In April the House passed the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act to streamline administrative processes, create a toll-free hotline for complaints, increase the number of VA doctors, etc. In March it passed the Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (suicide is epidemic, and psychological services are grossly strained). The Senate initiated similar measures. About nine Congressional investigations are under way; the president has appointed a special committee, and his 2008 budget increases VA health spending by 9 percent. Being a bureaucracy, the military should benefit some from such bureaucratic adjustment.
Different protocols may have saved Scarano and Harper through more rigorous control of their medications. On some deep level, though, the weakling who would never make a warrior and the weakling who recoiled from the warrior’s reality, rejecting its wretched honors and demands, were done in long before the toxins killed them. Fighters who would not, or could not, fight, they flouted the institution’s sacred principle by their very being. It had to punish them.
“At the military’s upper levels, abuse is widely believed to be not only desirable but absolutely necessary to have a disciplined, effective military and keep everyone in line,” a former Army enlisted man, Tim Moriarty, wrote to me. “Instilling in someone the ‘fear of God’ (or rather, the fear of the Army) is the first thing one encounters when joining the Army. It’s a lesson drilled down deep into the psyche, and it’s meant to last for life, or at least the duration of one’s enlistment.”
And the essence of that fear? It is the knowledge, another former soldier, called Morley, explained, “that the people in front of you [i.e., the enemy] and the people in back of you pointing a revolver at you to keep you from running away [i.e., your own command] are all trying to kill you, and they succeed all too frequently with your friends and buddies. But you can’t desert to the enemy, because all combat troops shoot prisoners, no matter what is said in the books, because prisoners are like the wounded, someone has to look after them.” And no warrior institution wants to.
After the Walter Reed scandal broke, the media fastened on the mold in Building 18, the rodents and bad food and nightmare of paperwork. But it was the Post’s description of formation, the 7 a.m. lineup of injured soldiers, necessary to “maintain some discipline,” that most unnerved me. Every morning, regardless of weather, the injured assemble. Umbrellas are forbidden, uniforms required. Some soldiers “are so gorked out on pills that they seem on the verge of nodding off.” Shades of Scarano. They are reminded to keep warm, and avoid beating their spouse and children. Sometimes they are berated for the condition of their rooms or their uniforms or their attitude. There were no soldiers with missing limbs or concave skulls or rearranged faces at Fort Sill, but the condescension and barely concealed cruelty were the same. For the injured soldier, formation enacts the military’s ritual of belonging while expressing its disdain. In this single act the institution tells them that it is taking care of them and that it hates having to do so.
Before he was cashiered as commander of Walter Reed, Gen. George Weightman told the Post that the reason injured soldiers stay so long in the military/medical limbo is that the Army needs to hold on to as many soldiers as it can. It patches up the damaged to send them back into battle, as Mark Benjamin reported in Salon from Fort Benning in March, redeploying troops who, doctors say, are medically unfit, altering medical profiles so that they can kill again. It pushes antidepressants on the psychically damaged in the field to keep up the numbers, as Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman stunningly detailed in the Hartford Courant last May. It displays the injured at basic training posts as a demonstration to the healthy of its caring, and as a warning.
On April 20, I received an e-mail from a 24-year-old new recruit from Illinois named Travis Meyers. He had arrived at Fort Sill on February 6, he said, and on his third day there he sat down with a member of post personnel for “a medical moment of truth.” Recruiters don’t bother to assess the medical fitness of the people they sign up. At basic training, Army personnel have to ask about pre-existing conditions, but once presented with a warm body in uniform they are loath to accept any truth that might send that body home. Meyers revealed that a doctor once told him he has heart disease. “The reason that I came forward,” he told me, “is because the push-ups that we were forced to do and the stress of being yelled at and degraded at any chance had made my chest start hurting extremely bad.” He said he had not taken the warning from his civilian doctor seriously before because the condition had never affected him in this way. After dueling EKGs and contradictory medical opinions, Fort Sill decided Meyers was fit for basic training.
“The medical moment of truth is ridiculous because they really don’t care,” Pvt. Travis Meyers wrote of his introduction to the Army at Fort Sill. “There was a kid that got shipped to basic [training] with two of the four valves of his heart closed. . . . I talked to a kid at the TMC-troop medical clinic-who had one of his instructors jump on his back and injure him, and it was done twice not just once. . . . There was a Drill Sgt. who kicked a kid in the ribs while he was trying to do push-ups.”
On March 5, Pvt. Travis Meyers went AWOL. When he wrote he said he was soon to turn himself in: “I’m scared, but not as scared as I would be to go through basic with the way my heart is.” His is a normal story, in which the prospect of prison is a step up.
JoAnn Wypijewski is a writer living in New York City. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Malevolent Power at Fort Sill: The Army Slays Its Own (Counterpunch)
Army Acts to Curb Abuses of Injured Recruits (The New York Times)
Thursday, May 03, 2007
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 2, 2007; 10:40 PM
SAN DIEGO -- A Marine has been charged with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty in the accidental shooting death of a comrade during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton last fall, according to a report.
Sgt. Caleb P. Hohman is accused of failing to remove live ammunition from his rifle and replace it with blanks for the Oct. 30 exercise. Authorities say Hohman shot Sgt. Seth M. Algrim twice.
The Marine Corps could also take administrative action against several other Marines for supervisory and safety failures, according to the report, released Tuesday.
"The death was the result of individual and small-unit negligence and a lack of supervision," Maj. Gen. John Paxton Jr. wrote in the report. "The tragedy could have been prevented."
Investigators found a "declining respect" at Pendleton for ammunition that is not accounted for. That mind-set likely formed in the Anbar province of Iraq, where members of the battalion did combat tours and where accountability of ammunition "has dulled," the report said.
Paxton recommended a review of live-fire safety and training procedures at Pendleton.
The report recounts events that led to Algrim's death, beginning 10 days before the shooting, when Hohman, 23, became ill during a training exercise with live ammunition.
Hohman left his rifle in his platoon's tent and was treated in the emergency room at Camp Pendleton's hospital. His rifle was moved from the tent to the site of the next training exercise, an urban-combat simulation with blank bullets, but no one checked to see whether the gun was still loaded.
On the night of the Oct. 30 exercise, Algrim was playing the role of an insurgent. Hohman shot Algrim once in the arm and once in the head, killing him instantly, the report said.
Marine spokesman Capt. Mike Alvarez could not confirm where Hohman is stationed or whether he has an attorney.
Algrim, 22, of Garden City, Kan., was a highly respected sniper who served with the Marine's elite 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in Afghanistan, according to the report.
Link to story
-- submitted by Lois Vanderbur
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
29th April 2007, 14:01 WST
Suicide by returned Australian soldiers may be on the rise and needs urgent government action, an Australian medical association says...
-- submitted by Patti Woodard
Chaplain (LTC) O. Wayne Boyd, the Army's Behavioral Health Program Manager has recently invited me, and other suicide survivors, to help
set up and participate in a postvention site for the army. He is
looking for people to participate, which may include a filmed
interview. So far there are only two people, myself included,
available to him. We need to get the word out and recruit more.
The idea of a postvention site resulted from army recognition that
help is needed for troops with suicidal ideation and suicide
survivors. Chaplain Boyd has a film crew located in San Antonio,
Texas ready to travel to your location for the filming. If you live
near or travel there it would make filming very simple.
Unfortunately, last week I was only a short distance from San Antonio
without knowing about the film crew.
This is a golden opportunity to do something positive in honor of
your loved one, getting your story out to help others.
You may contact Chaplain Boyd for more details at,
firstname.lastname@example.org. When and if you contact Chaplain Boyd,
please let me know with a cc. of the email or email me directly.
This is to give me an idea of how many have responded.
Additional contact information for Chaplain Boyd:
CH (LTC) O. Wayne Boyd
Behavioral Health Program Manager
Directorate of Health Promotion and Wellness
U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine
5158 Blackhawk Rd, APG, MD 21010-5403
Phone: 410-436-6250; Cell: 410-652-9769; Fax: 410-436-7381
-- submitted by Richard Stites