Saturday, July 26, 2008

Military Women Get Ready to Rock the Boat

By Jennifer Hogg, Women's Media Center. Posted July 25, 2008

Female service members often remain silent about the dangers they face. Now is the time to break the culture of fear that keeps them quiet.

For women in the military, this election season has the potential either to focus a spotlight on long-neglected needs or to continue rendering us invisible. Due to our military training, we often struggle to exercise our right to speak out, but now we need systemic and systematic change, both to do justice to service members and to create healthier communities for everyone.

I was still in high school in 2000 when I joined up, looking for a fuller life than I saw available to me in blue-collar Buffalo, N.Y. But would I have ever joined the military if higher education were not so hard to fund? Would the young, the poor, the single mothers feel their only option was to enlist if adequate housing, jobs and health care were more readily available?

These are fundamental social inequalities that funnel people into the military. We hope to escape the injustice of racism, sexism and homophobia by proving ourselves -- by being able to say, "I served. I earned my place here." And service does earn us praise, but only as long as we don't rock that boat.

For the military, this election has heavy stakes, with two occupations taking place simultaneously, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and a third waiting in the wings. Such high stakes tend to push aside other issues, and we risk being forced into silence for fear that the boat may capsize. But if it's that close to going under, isn't it time for a better boat?

Female veterans know this feeling all too well. All service members are taught to never question a mission. For female service members, this silence can have particularly dangerous consequences. When I began basic training, I never expected the culture of fear that service women take pride in living through. From a young woman ready to stand for what was right, I was being turned into a person who shrugged off injustice. When I helped another female recruit report a physical assault, I saw her become the target of widespread verbal harassment. The lesson? Bearing indignity silently in private is far better than risking public ridicule from those who choose to make you a target.

Imagine if those flashy recruiting commercials showed the real dangers a woman can face while serving in the military, living her formative years in a hazardous work environment where racism and homophobia are tolerated for the sake of "getting by" and sexual harassment goes unreported so you don't "ruin his career." All this while women work twice as hard to prove themselves as soldiers -- more than just a "bitch," "dyke," "whore."

I recently read a news story that highlighted service women who spoke of working twice as hard as the men in order to be seen as equal. That only made them appreciate the military, they said. These stories make me cringe because I remember very keenly boasting about unnecessary hardship -- we thought it made us tough. But now such pride seems more like a coping method, one that allows negligent and sometimes criminal behavior to go unpunished. It pits women against one another, with those who are sexually assaulted seen as weak -- as if strength alone and not luck allows one to avoid rape or assault.

Buried within this news story was an unfortunate example, a soldier named Spc. Kamisha Block, reported dead in Iraq of a "non-combat related injury." This injury turned out to be gunshot wounds inflicted by a male soldier who had a record of three previous assaults against her. It is obvious Block was not silent, yet her reports only resulted in her harasser being moved five minutes away from her in Iraq, allowing him the access to murder her before turning the gun on himself. When political candidates this season talk of foreign aggressors, they miss the largest threat military women face. By May 2004 there were already 112 reports of sexual assault and rape in Iraq and Afghanistan. New Department of Defense policies make reporting easier, but what does it matter if complaints fall on deaf ears?

Sadly, these are only secondary concerns in politics, at the VA and the Pentagon, or even in the anti-war movement -- if they are issues at all. The current occupation of Iraq has left 97 women dead, the most so far of any American military intervention. Forty percent -- 39 -- of those are attributed to non-combat related injuries. Still uncounted in these numbers are suicides and murders that happen in the United States or on military bases post-deployment. Block was reported to have died of friendly fire, so it is hard to extrapolate how many such deaths were actually murders. We need to know more about Pfc. Tina Priest, whose apparent suicide followed a rape allegation that was dropped after her death, and about Pfc. Lavena Johnson, who was beaten, set on fire and doused with acid; her death was somehow ruled a suicide. Their families are still trying to find answers.

One begins to understand why some women in Iraq -- marked as targets by both their uniform and their womanhood -- carry weapons for protection against fellow service members. We need to make these stories public, so that female service members find communities to amplify their voices when they speak out against these injustices. The Pentagon must be convinced that cover-ups will be uncovered with due haste. We need to ask other women, those who may feel like just one unworthy case, if they have stories to tell.

And we must look at the way post-traumatic stress disorder affects men if we really want to address the role of women in the military, both as service members and partners of male soldiers. It's easy to vilify men who turn on women with violence to escape their own powerlessness. Yet once again we don't have a flashy military recruitment video that shows the real effects of war, seeing your friends blown up, being forced to kill. A whole generation of young service men is becoming emotionally shut off -- for fear of seeming "weak" if they show signs of cracking under the enormous pressure of bloody combat.

The PTSD women experience in association with military sexual trauma (MST) must also be treated seriously. The title itself, post-traumatic stress disorder, suggests an abnormal reaction to combat or sexual assault. We continue to reinforce the idea that one is a broken person when experiencing PTSD -- something wrong with the individual rather than with what happened to them. Women also lose out because current combat PTSD care is often geared toward men since women are officially barred from the combat zone, as though the military could sustain the occupation without women playing combat roles. If a woman is experiencing both combat and MST-related PTSD, she may be directed to male-filled PTSD groups or MST groups with no combat support. She has nowhere within the VA to find the care she needs.

If we are going to create any meaningful change for service women, it will require that as a country we begin to truthfully recognize our military. As it stands, the occupation of Iraq has become more of a far-away sound bite than a tangible situation that real people face every day. Our media must do its job. Sen. Barack Obama's trip to Iraq should afford a valuable glimpse into the reality of the occupation for our female service members. Listen to their firsthand accounts. It's a real opportunity to highlight the dangers they face.

This is no time to relegate these concerns to the status of "women's issues" in election campaigns. When any candidate is questioned on the gaps in VA health care, they cannot be allowed a free pass to render MST and female service members invisible. The candidates vying for commander in chief must be held accountable by the media for a full understanding of that job in the 21st century, when women in the military are a reality.

Female veterans and service members are bravely bringing these issues to light, breaking the code of silence. Their acts of courage mean there is no longer an excuse for inaction at any level of our media or government. I have found a voice in SWAN, the Service Women's Action Network, which allows me to share my story and help other women share theirs. The healing and subsequent strength gained from this regained visibility needs to happen for our country as well. Too often I am asked if my military battle dress is a boyfriend's, as if it were not possible that the uniform was once my work clothing. Instead of asking such questions, it's time to listen.

See more stories tagged with: women, military, sexual harassment, discrimination

Jennifer Hogg is a co-founding member of SWAN, the Service Women's Action Network, and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

* Suicide or Murder?

Three Years After the Death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq, Her Parents Continue Their Call for a Congressional Investigation

*Three years ago, on July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson was found dead in Balad, Iraq.

Her body was found in a tent belonging to the private military contractor KBR. She had abrasions all over her body, a broken nose, a black eye, burned hands, loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals, and a bullet hole in her head. The Army labeled Johnson's death a suicide.

But her parents never believed that story. They think she was raped and murdered and are now demanding a full congressional investigation into their daughter's death.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Electrical Risks at Iraq Bases Are Worse Than Said

The New York Times
July 18, 2008


WASHINGTON — Shoddy electrical work by private contractors on United States military bases in Iraq is widespread and dangerous, causing more deaths and injuries from fires and shocks than the Pentagon has acknowledged, according to internal Army documents.

During just one six-month period — August 2006 through January 2007 — at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged American military facilities in Iraq, including the military’s largest dining hall in the country, documents obtained by The New York Times show. Two soldiers died in an electrical fire at their base near Tikrit in 2006, the records note, while another was injured while jumping from a burning guard tower in May 2007.

And while the Pentagon has previously reported that 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq, many more have been injured, some seriously, by shocks, according to the documents. A log compiled earlier this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis.

Electrical problems were the most urgent noncombat safety hazard for soldiers in Iraq, according to an Army survey issued in February 2007. It noted “a safety threat theaterwide created by the poor-quality electrical fixtures procured and installed, sometimes incorrectly, thus resulting in a significant number of fires.”

The Army report said KBR, the Houston-based company that is responsible for providing basic services for American troops in Iraq, including housing, did its own study and found a “systemic problem” with electrical work.

But the Pentagon did little to address the issue until a Green Beret, Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, was electrocuted in January while showering. His death, caused by poor electrical grounding, drew the attention of lawmakers and Pentagon leaders after his family pushed for answers.

Congress and the Pentagon’s inspector general have begun investigations, and this month senior Army officials ordered electrical inspections of all buildings in Iraq maintained by KBR.

“We consider this to be a very serious issue,” Chris Isleib, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday in an e-mail message, while declining to comment on the findings in the Army documents.

Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, would not comment about a company safety study or the reports of electrical fires or shocks, but she said KBR had found no evidence of a link between its work and the electrocutions. She added, “KBR’s commitment to the safety of all employees and those the company serves remains unwavering.”

In public statements, Pentagon officials have not addressed the scope of the hazards, instead mostly focusing on the circumstances surrounding the death of Sergeant Maseth, who lived near Pittsburgh.

But the internal documents, including dozens of memos, e-mail messages and reports from the Army, the Defense Contract Management Agency and other agencies, show that electrical problems were widely recognized as a major safety threat among Pentagon contracting experts.

It is impossible to determine the exact number of the resulting deaths and injuries because no single document tallies them up. (The records were compiled for Congressional and Pentagon investigators and obtained independently by The Times.)

The 2007 safety survey was ordered by the top official in Iraq for the Defense Contract Management Agency, which oversees contractors, after the October 2006 electrical fire that killed two soldiers near Tikrit. Paul Dickinson, a Pentagon safety specialist who wrote the report, confirmed its findings, but did not elaborate.

Senior Pentagon officials appear not to have responded to the survey until this May, after Congressional investigators had begun to ask questions. Then they argued that its findings were irrelevant to Sergeant Maseth’s electrocution.

In a memo dated May 26, 2008, a top official of the Defense Contract Management Agency stated that “there is no direct or causal connection” between the problems identified in the survey and those at the Baghdad compound where Sergeant Maseth died.

But in a sworn statement, apparently prepared for an investigation of Sergeant Maseth’s death by the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division, a Pentagon contracting official described how both military and KBR officials were aware of the growing danger from poor electrical work.

In the statement, Ingrid Harrison, an official with the Pentagon’s contracting management agency, disclosed that an electrical fire caused by poor wiring in a nearby building two weeks before Sergeant Maseth’s death had endangered two other soldiers.

“The soldiers were lucky because the one window that they could reach did not have bars on it, or there could have been two other fatalities,” Ms. Harrison said in the statement. She said that after Sergeant Maseth died, a more senior Pentagon contracting official in Baghdad denied knowing about the fire, but she asserted that “it was thoroughly discussed” during internal meetings.

Ms. Harrison added that KBR officials also knew of widespread electrical problems at the Radwaniya Palace Complex, near Baghdad’s airport, where Sergeant Maseth died. “KBR has been at R.P.C. for over four years and was fully aware of the safety hazards, violations and concerns regarding the soldiers’ housing,” she said in the statement. She added that the contractor “chose to ignore the known unsafe conditions.”

Ms. Harrison did not respond to a request for comment.

In another internal document written after Sergeant Maseth’s death, a senior Army officer in Baghdad warned that soldiers had to be moved immediately from several buildings because of electrical risks. In a memo asking for emergency repairs at three buildings, the official warned of a “clear and present danger,” adding, “Exposed wiring, ungrounded distribution panels and inappropriate lighting fixtures render these facilities uninhabitable and unsafe.”

The memo added that “over the course of several months, electrical fires and shorts have compounded these unsafe conditions.”

Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, tens of thousands of American troops have been housed in Iraqi buildings that date from the Saddam Hussein era. KBR and other contractors have been paid millions of dollars to repair and upgrade the buildings, including their electrical systems. KBR officials say they handle the maintenance for 4,000 structures and an additional 35,000 containers used as housing in the war zone.

The reports of shoddy electrical work have raised new questions about the Bush administration’s heavy reliance on contractors in Iraq, particularly because they come after other high-profile disputes involving KBR. They include accusations of overbilling, providing unsafe water to soldiers and failing to protect female employees who were sexually assaulted.

Officials say the administration contracted out so much work in Iraq that companies like KBR were simply overwhelmed by the scale of the operations. Some of the electrical work, for example, was turned over to subcontractors, some of which hired unskilled Iraqis who were paid only a few dollars a day.

Government officials responsible for contract oversight, meanwhile, were also unable to keep up, so that unsafe electrical work was not challenged by government auditors.

Several electricians who worked for KBR have said previously in interviews that they repeatedly warned KBR managers and Pentagon and military officials about unsafe electrical work. They said that supervisors had ignored their concerns or, in some cases, lacked the training to understand the problems.

The Army documents cite a number of recent safety threats. One report showed that during a four-day period in late February, soldiers at a Baghdad compound reported being shocked while taking showers in different buildings. The circumstances appear similar to those that led to Sergeant Maseth’s death.

Another entry from early March stated that an entire house used by American troops was electrically charged, making it unlivable.

Since the Pentagon reports were compiled, more episodes linked to electrical problems have occurred. In late June, for example, an electrical fire at a Marine base in Falluja destroyed 10 buildings, forcing marines there to ask for donations from home to replace their personal belongings.

On July 5, Sgt. First Class Anthony Lynn Woodham of the Arkansas National Guard died at his base in Tallil, Iraq. Initial reports blamed electrocution, but his death is being investigated because of conflicting information, according to his wife, Crystal Woodham, and a spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard.

Suspect Soldiers: Did Crimes in US Foretell Violence in Iraq?

by Russell Carollo

Before Army Sgt. 1st Class Randal Ruby was accused in Iraq of beating prisoners and of conspiring to plant rifles on dead civilians, he amassed a 10-year criminal record in Colorado and Washington state for assaulting his wife and in Maine for a drunken high-speed police chase, for which he remains wanted.

Before Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes stabbed an Iraqi private to death, angering the soldier’s unit of coalition soldiers, he was hospitalized after threatening suicide in high school, accused of assault, disorderly conduct and trespassing, and, in the months leading up to deployment, twice linked to drug use.

Before Army Spc. Shane Carl Gonyon was convicted of stealing a pistol at Abu Ghraib prison, he was convicted twice on felony charges and arrested four times, once for allegedly giving a 13-year-old girl marijuana in exchange for oral sex. He enlisted weeks after his release from a federal prison in Oregon.

A yearlong examination of military and civilian records by The Sacramento Bee involving hundreds of troops who entered the services since the Iraq war began identified 120 cases of people whose backgrounds should have raised the suspicions of military recruiters, including felony convitions and serious drug, alcohol or mental health problems.

Of those, 70 later were involved in controversial or criminal incidents in Iraq.
Ruby, Holmes and Gonyon were among those cases.

“These guys are out there carrying weapons, fighting on the streets with drugs in their pockets,” said Tressie Cox, whose son, Lee Robert, had a history of drug and mental problems before he was charged with selling drugs in Iraq. “Shame on my son, but shame on all you people out there who are policing this and allowing this to continue to happen.”

The 70 were among the tens of thousands of military personnel recruited or retained as the armed services, entering the sixth year of the Iraq war, lowered educational, age and moral standards and granted a growing number of waivers to applicants whose backgrounds previously would have barred them from serving.

From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of Army recruits receiving so-called “moral conduct” waivers more than doubled, from 4.6 percent to 11.2 percent. Others, The Bee found, were able to enlist because they had no official criminal record of arrests or convictions, their records were overlooked or prosecutors suspended charges in lieu of military service - akin to a now-defunct Vietnam-era practice in which judges gave defendants a choice between prison and the military.

“How in the hell can they legally possess a gun?” asked Montgomery County, Ala., Sheriff D.T. Marshall, when questioned about a soldier from his county.

That soldier, Eli C. Gregory, was convicted in an attempted home invasion and of felony theft in Alabama, making him ineligible to legally possess a firearm there. Yet the military gave him a rifle and sent him to Iraq, where he was convicted by the Army of assault and battery on a fellow soldier and discharged.

Gregory, who returned to Alabama after his court-martial, said during an interview that he still cannot legally possess a firearm in the United States.

The military defended its recruiting policies, including granting more waivers for past conduct.
“Standards in our society have changed over the years; we are a reflection of those changes,” said Douglas Smith, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command. “Considering offering a waiver to otherwise qualified recruits is the right thing to do for those Americans who want to answer the call to duty.”

Earlier this month, the Department of Defense announced a new system to categorize waivers by the severity of prior offenses to allow the services to analyze the link between waivers and future military behavior.

The examination looked at only a fraction of the 1.4 million people in uniform and was conducted largely without benefit of sophisticated criminal databases available to the military.
Still, The Bee linked dozens of soldiers and Marines with criminal records and other questionable backgrounds to misconduct in the military. In some cases, past misconduct appeared to forshadow future behavior.

“Criminal history is the best predictor of future behavior,” said Shawn Bushway, a criminology professor at the University of Albany, N.Y., School of Criminal Justice. “Any time you lower your standards, you’re going to raise the risk. No question about it.”

Nine months before the death of the first of three Iraqis that Army sniper Michael A. Hensley was accused of murdering, members of a San Diego-area family witnessing his actions in Seward, Alaska, were so concerned about what they saw that they videotaped him.

The family, sharing a third-floor hotel room in Seward, awakened to screams from the parking lot below and peered out to see Hensley threatening a woman inside a Jeep, pounding on the vehicle with his fists.

“He obviously wasn’t stable, just from seeing him the 20 minutes I did,” said Alex Elling, who was 18 when he videotaped the incident.

Hensley “had bloody knuckles, and the windshield of the Jeep was broken,” a Seward Police Department report said. Hensley, who had previously served six months’ probation on a drunken-driving conviction in Georgia, pleaded no contest to the Alaska charges of disorderly conduct.

In Iraq, the military found Hensley guilty of planting an AK-47 on the body of an Iraqi he was accused of killing, but not guilty in any of the three killings.

In the months surrounding his enlistment into the Army in 2000, Ricky Allen Burke was the subject of two court cases for unpaid debt, and, according to Monticello, Ky., Police Chief Ralph Miniard, he was involved in two vehicle accidents. His wife, who left him before their second anniversary, claimed in a domestic violence petition filed in March 2000 that he threatened to kill her, causing her to flee to a police station.

Two months later, court records say, Burke confronted his wife again at a relative’s house, and police cited him for violating the domestic violence order.

A domestic violence conviction could have triggered a federal law precluding Burke from possessing a firearm. But seven days after he enlisted, the criminal case was continued, one of several continuances before it was dismissed in 2002.

Three years later in Iraq, Burke shot and killed a wounded insurgent he claimed had moved toward a weapon. But soldiers contradicted his story in statements to investigators.

“(Burke) said to me, ‘Let me shoot him. Let me shoot him. I got payback coming,’ ” Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein said, adding that he repeatedly ordered Burke not to fire since the insurgent was injured and Nein saw no weapon nearby.

Despite the testimony against him, Burke was found not guilty of the killing by a military court.
In December, the National Guard quit granting felony waivers. The Guard’s chief recruiting officer, Col. Mike Jones, was quoted in the Army Times calling the previous policy “a risk,” but he later told The Bee an increased number of applicants made the policy no longer necessary.

Of the more than 120 soldiers and Marines with questionable pasts examined by The Bee, at least 18 had felony arrests or convictions or histories of mental illness. At least eight of the 18 later were connected to incidents in Iraq, and a ninth fatally shot himself while on guard duty in Kuwait.

The military refused to disclose who required waivers to enter the military, citing privacy, but waivers were not required of all convicted felons.

Gregory, the Alabama felon prohibited from possessing a firearm, said he was allowed to join without a waiver because he was convicted of stealing less than $500, so the Army didn’t technically consider the crime a felony. The Army confirmed that it does not require waivers for some felonies in which the crime loss is less than $500, but a spokesman noted that a felony waiver is required for larger amounts.

Spc. Shane Gonyon had four felony arrests and two convictions, but he had only to lie to avoid rejection.

Shortly after he was discharged from the Air Force in Wyoming for drunken driving in 1998, Gonyon was arrested in Colorado on suspicion of pointing a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol at a homeless man who had accused him of theft.

The following year, he admitted to stealing more than $10,000 in equipment from an Air Force base, and months later, he was accused of providing marijuana to a 13-year-old girl in exchange for oral sex, triggering a felony charge that resulted in a guilty plea to misdemeanor child endangering.

Nineteen days after he walked away from a federal prison, Gonyon applied for the Michigan National Guard, claiming he had worked at a wood supply company during the period when he actually was incarcerated. He was accepted the following month, in January 2003.

Since Gonyon had previously served in the military, the Guard didn’t require a complete background check. That practice also ended earlier this year, after a guardsman with a past felony conviction shot and killed four civilians.

Gonyon wasn’t confronted about his criminal record until 2006, after an incident at Abu Ghraib prison, where he processed detainees. In late March or early April 2006, Gonyon stole a 7 mm pistol from a translator. He was caught trying to mail it to the United States.

“I deliberately concealed my arrest(s) and convictions,” Gonyon told a court-martial panel, which convicted him of theft and other charges.

The military is required to screen applicants for drug or alcohol abuse, mental health history and prior criminal conduct.

Recruiters, however, are not required to call former employers, research all information held by law enforcement agencies, check civil court files or, unless a security clearance is involved, attempt to contact relatives, former spouses, schoolteachers and neighbors - all techniques used by law enforcement agencies to screen applicants.

Such checks could uncover applicants not necessarily fit for service, even though they lack serious criminal convictions.

The additional checks might find criminal defendants not prosecuted in exchange for agreements to join the military, for instance, or defendants in criminal cases who had their charges dropped or reduced in exchange for providing information to police.

When the military did its standard criminal background check on David Crawford, who entered the Army at age 18 in 2006, he had only a minor juvenile record, Cincinnati police said. A request to police for a more thorough check would have revealed much more.

“I would have told them he was a suspect in a murder case,” said police Spc. John Horn, who questioned Crawford about the killing days before he left for boot camp. “When I interviewed him in September 2006, he admitted, because he was sniffling, that he was on a three-day cocaine binge.”

Crawford was arrested by Cincinnati officers for the crime when he returned from boot camp in 2006, and the following year, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 28 years to life.
Asked why someone like Delano Holmes was allowed to deploy to Iraq, Marine Capt. Brett Miner, a prosecutor at Holmes’ court-martial, said: “We’re kind of short on bodies.”

Indianapolis police records show that on Jan. 13, 2002, when Holmes was 16, officers dispatched an ambulance to his high school after Holmes threatened to kill himself.

Fifteen months later, Holmes was arrested for disorderly conduct at an Indianapolis mall and banned from returning there for a year. He returned 10 minutes later and was arrested on a trespassing charge.

Then, on April 14, 2004, a college student told police that Holmes had shoved him onto a bed and hit him in the forehead during a dispute over a vehicle.

Weeks later Holmes left for boot camp in San Diego.

In the months leading up to his 2006 deployment to Iraq, civilian police found Holmes in a pickup containing marijuana residue and drug paraphernalia. In a separate incident, the military disciplined him for failing a drug test given to members of his unit preparing to deploy to Iraq.

Section 6210.5 of the Marine Corps Separation and Retirement Manual says Marines confirmed to have used illegal drugs “will be processed” for separation. A Marine Corps spokeswoman said the regulation does not give a time limit for completing that separation process, but she acknowledged that commanders had not even started the process for Holmes.

Three months after he deployed, Holmes was standing guard at an outpost in Fallujah when he pulled out a 13¼-inch bayonet and repeatedly stabbed Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin, whose Iraq army unit was serving alongside U.S. Marines. An autopsy found Hassin suffered 17 stab wounds, 26 cuts and a severed spine.

Holmes then fired Hassin’s AK-47 rifle to make it appear he had killed him in self-defense, the prosecutor told The Bee. Defense attorneys said the fight started when Hassin refused to put out a cigarette, which Holmes feared might alert insurgents.

A military panel at Camp Pendleton, Calif., found Holmes guilty of negligent homicide and making a false statement and sentenced him to 10 months in jail or, in effect, time served.

Holmes did not testify during his military trial, but read a statement. He stood silent for several minutes, turning pages in a notebook. Then his eyes filled with tears so large that they could be seen falling on the lectern from across the room.

Between sobs and silence, he finally spoke, calling himself a warrior and a Christian.

“I believe we are all products of our experiences,” Holmes said. “God gave me more than I could handle.”

Holmes’ criminal record was not part of his court-martial, and media accounts identified him as a college student. The prosecutor acknowledged in a subsequent interview that he was aware of Holmes’ record.

“I think that his character for violence was a contributing factor to the death of Private Hassin,” Capt. Miner said.


For years the military was warned about applicants with criminal backgrounds.
A 1996 Pentagon study of more than 100,000 California recruits found that those with arrest records left the service at a rate 70 percent higher than those without such histories. A 2003 study warned that destructive behavior by troops with criminal histories or troubling backgrounds “could have the most serious consequences.”

An October 2007 Army study shows that although recruits requiring conduct waivers re-enlisted at a higher rate, were promoted to sergeant faster and received more awards, they had a higher rate of desertion, misconduct and failure to complete alcohol rehabilitation.

Hassin, the Iraqi soldier killed by Holmes, had a relative assigned to the same post. His death angered the Iraqi soldiers serving with the Marines there.

“They took it pretty personal,” Capt. Javier Torres testified at Holmes’ court-martial. “After the incident, the Iraqis did not want to assume (their) post.”

In another well-publicized incident, Army Spc. Mario L. Lozano Jr. fueled anti-war protest across Italy when he mistakenly shot and wounded an Italian journalist and killed her bodyguard at a checkpoint in Iraq. The shooting of Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent, and journalist Giuliana Sgrena, whose freedom Calipari had help secure, bolstered anti-war sentiment in Italy credited with helping elect a new government, which pulled its troops from Iraq in late 2006.

Though the shooting was the subject of hundreds of news accounts, including a “60 Minutes” segment, and described in two books, The Bee uncovered criminal records on Lozano not previously made public.

In 1994, for instance, a man who repossessed Lozano’s car told Hollywood, Fla., police that Lozano threatened him.

“My Rottweiler was barking,” Lozano explained in an interview. “I look out my window, and there’s a guy rolling the car back. So I came out. I grabbed a bat.”

Lozano joined the Army in 1998. Two years later, his wife dialed 911 and told Hollywood police that Lozano had hit her in the face with his open hand because she had been seeing another man.

“I’ve never done anything like that to any female,” Lozano responded. He left after the incident and was back at his military post in Alaska in a day, he said, because “I know that … even if she dials 911 and hangs up, the cops are going to come.”

A domestic violence conviction could have ended Lozano’s military career, but with Lozano in Alaska, records indicate, authorities had trouble pursuing the case. His wife subsequently filed for divorce.

In Alaska, Fairbanks police twice sought Lozano regarding threats to a man there, he was accused of writing bad checks, and eventually owed child support of more than $5,500, prompting a Florida court to take legal action.

Lozano left the active duty Army in 2001 but joined the National Guard in July 2003. Less than two years later, he was sitting atop a Humvee parked near a road leading to the Baghdad airport, manning an M-240B belt-fed machine gun that can fire 10 large-caliber rounds per second.

Lozano said he shone large lights on the vehicle carrying the Italians before firing, but Sgrena’s book, “Friendly Fire,” said the illumination and the shots came simultaneously.

An Italian court threw out the murder charge against Lozano, his attorney said, after realizing the United States is allowed to prosecute its own soldiers.

Lozano blamed the journalist for the shooting. “If it wasn’t for her, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “It was her idea to go over there and mingle with terrorists.”

Lozano said he left the Guard after commanders refused to let him deploy to Afghanistan.
“They got like 5,000 Italian soldiers over there,” he said. “They don’t want to create no kind of problems.”


Like Lozano, several other soldiers and Marines linked to incidents in Iraq had questionable histories - obtained not as civilians, but as members of the armed services. They, too, were nonetheless deployed.

Three years after Randal Ruby joined the Army in 1985, civilian police near his post at Fort Lewis, Wash., arrested him on a charge of assault after Tacoma police officers reported finding him pacing amid belongings scattered across his living room. The officers reported that the left side of his wife’s face was swollen.

Six months later, Ruby’s wife again called officers, who found her scalp and forehead red from an apparent attack, and, in 1991, she obtained a restraining order after alleging Ruby “struck me several times.”

Ruby was transferred to Fort Carson, Colo., and civilian police were called to the couple’s home after his wife accused him of choking her.

He filed for bankruptcy protection in 1997, the same year he led three police officers in Maine on a high-speed chase that ended when he lost control of his pickup and crashed.

Ruby was indicted in that case on charges of eluding an officer, drunken driving, speeding more than 30 mph over the limit and driving without a license.

A warrant remained outstanding when he deployed to Iraq, where he was accused in 2006 of “drop kicking” one detainee and allowing a translator to beat another with a Kevlar vest.

“What was Sergeant Ruby doing when he (the detainee) started crying after he beat him in the head with a Kevlar?” a defense attorney asked Sgt. Justin Stubblefield during a military proceeding in 2007.

“He was laughing,” the soldier responded.

Soldiers, including Ruby’s driver, testified that the unit kept AK-47 rifles, known as “packages,” in Humvees to plant on civilians killed by mistake. Once, Pfc. Nathan Huhn testified, Ruby ordered a “package” after telling his men to open fire and calling in an airstrike on an area populated by civilians.

Once the firing started, Huhn testified, “We maneuvered up there and still didn’t see nobody … a crowd of women, children and men, but nobody with weapons or like that. Sgt. Ruby told Staff Sgt. (Armando) Cardona (Jr.) to go ahead and send the package.”

Cardona testified: “I grabbed an AK, walked up around my truck, looked for a spot” to throw it, then realized he couldn’t reach across a canal.

Ruby, who said in an interview that he ordered his men to stop firing as soon as he realized civilians were in the area, was charged with nine offenses but found guilty of only one: disrespecting a superior.

That superior, Lt. Neale Shank, was found dead in a suspected suicide weeks before Ruby’s court-martial.

Ruby was sentenced to a reprimand, in which a general wrote: “Your behavior is a disgrace to the Army.”

Now retired and living in Kentucky, Ruby denied ever planting weapons, and said his soldiers were pressured to testify against him, especially after Shank’s death. He also maintained that his civilian charges “have nothing to do with Iraq.”

“I never robbed a bank or a 7-Eleven or smoked dope or any of that stuff that they’re letting kids in the military for today because there’s no draft,” Ruby said. “I served my country honorably.”

© 2008 McClatchy

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Report: Bush administration milked untruths about Tillman, Lynch during sour times

Nick Juliano
Published: Monday July 14, 2008

The Bush administration willfully pushed fictional portrayals of Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan and Jessica Lynch's capture in Iraq to create "compelling public narratives" at times when public opinion was starting to sour on the wars, Congressional investigators have found.

The House Oversight Committee on Monday released a draft report on the sagas of Tillman and Lynch.

The public did not learn that friendly fire had killed Tillman, a former NFL player, until more than a month after his death, and an apocryphal tale of Lynch bravely battling her Iraqi captors circulated for more than two months before key aspects of it were revealed to be false.

"Our nation also has an inviolate obligation to share truthful information with a soldier’s family and the American people should injury or death occur.... That standard was not met in either Corporal Tillman’s or Private Lynch’s cases," the report says."Neither case involved an act of omission. The misinformation was not caused by overlooking or misunderstanding relevant facts.

Instead, in both cases affirmative acts created new facts that were significantly different than what the soldiers in the field knew to be true. And in both cases the fictional accounts proved to be compelling public narratives at difficult times in the war."

The committee reviewed scores of e-mails and interviewed officials at all levels of the government. When their inquiry took them inside the White House though, it was stymied by a spate of faulty memories.

The Committee’s investigation adds many new details to the Tillman story. But on the key issue of what senior officials knew, the investigation was frustrated by a near universal lack of recall.

The Committee interviewed several senior officials at the White House, including Communications Director Dan Bartlett, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, and chief speechwriter Michael Gerson. Not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response.

Similarly, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Committee: “I don’t recall when I was told and I don’t recall who told me.”

The highest-ranking official who could recall being informed about Corporal Tillman’s fratricide was former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, who said, “I knew right at the end of April, that there was a possibility of fratricide in the Corporal Tillman death.”

General Myers testified that it would have been “logical” for him to pass this information to Secretary Rumsfeld, but said “I just don't recall whether I did it or not.”

Regarding Tillman's death, which came toward the beginning of President Bush's re-election campaign, the report found the White House was eager to portray the former Arizona Cardinal who joined the Army Rangers as a hero.

The apparent desire within the White House was so strong that they did not bother to even verify Tillman's death with the Pentagon before commenting, nor did Bush administration officials recognize a standard 24-hour delay the military observes before commenting on a soldiers' death to give families time to grieve privately.

Bush/Cheney campaign advisers also were eager to help with the response, the committee found.

Several high-level staff members of President Bush’s reelection campaign contacted White House officials to suggest public responses to Corporal Tillman’s death. Matthew Dowd, the campaign’s chief strategist, sent an e-mail to Mr. Bartlett, writing, “You hear about pat tilman? Potus should call his family or go to Arizona or his hometown.”

Mark McKinnon, the campaign’s media advisor, also e-mailed Mr. Bartlett, saying: “Realize President really shouldn’t do anything that he hasn’t done for any other soldier killed in the military, but certainly think he could say something about he exemplifies the ultimate in humility, heroism and sacrifice.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Media Continues to Give Little Play to 'Noncombat' Deaths in Iraq--and Contractor Abuses

By Greg Mitchell Published: July 12, 2008 3:00 PM ET

NEW YORK (Commentary) For more than five years now, I have written often here about a subject that once got no coverage, and now gets far too little: so-called "noncombat" deaths among U.S. troops in Iraq. Included are those who die from illness, accidents and suicides.

One case I have followed lately involves Cheryl Harris, whose son Ryan Maseth was electrocuted and died in Iraq not long ago.You May remember: The military lied and told her he had carried an electrical appliance into the shower. I helped her trace a total of at least a dozen other electrocutions and she had been instrumental in getting Congress, and the Pentagon, to probe the issue -- and she finally testified before Democrats (and some Republicans) in Congress yesterday.

She is also suing KBR, the contractors in charge, and two former KBR people also blew the whistle yesterday.

Another mother, Larraine McGee, who lost a son in Iraq accused KBR of "homicide" yesterday."It is about time we got some answers ... at long last," said Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa.

He released a letter to Gen. David Petraeus asking why his command had only recently ordered "theaterwide" technical inspections of military facilities despite being alerted to widespread wiring problems in Iraq installations more than three and a half years ago in a report filed by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers safety specialist.

Cheryl Harris accused KBR yesterday of "extreme recklessness and a total disregard for public safety." I've written so much about Cheryl and her heroic quest, let me concentrate here on the two former KBR electricians who accuse the company of shoddy and negligent management practices in its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Debbie Crawford of Oregon, who worked for KBR in Baghdad, told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee that the company failed to provide its electricians with basic tools and equipment, and routinely farmed out jobs to local and "third-country" subcontractors who knew nothing about U.S. standards and often had no electrical experience at all.

"Time and time again we heard, 'This is not the United States... OSHA doesn't apply here. If you don't like it, you can go home,'" she said.Jeffery Bliss, who worked for KBR in Afghanistan, said the company was dominated by a "good-old-boy network" in which "communication was poor and professionalism nonexistent."

After he spending two and a half months at one base doing nothing he was finally assigned "the task of building a dog house."

A third non-KBR witness, Rachel McNeill of Wisconsin, who served as an Army Reserves heavy construction equipment operator in Iraq, said soldiers in her unit often received shocks in shower facilities -- but "it made no sense" to report the situation to KBR because the firm "had a reputation for taking a long time to address repairs."

Besides Cheryl, another mother who lost a son to electrocution in Iraq testified. "Anger has taken over my grief," said Larraine McGee of Texas.She later told the AFP news service, "I don't know that I want to go so far as to say they're murdering our troops, but in essence if you take something that is so easy to fix but you don't even though you know there's a problem, that is homicide, in my mind."

Cheryl Harris said her son's "burnt and smoldering" body was discovered lying in electrified water on the shower stall floor by a soldier who kicked down the door to get in.

"One of the soldiers who attempted to rescue Ryan was himself shocked," she added, "because the electrical current was still running through the water in the pipes in Ryan's bathroom...."It is unacceptable that extreme recklessness and total disregard for public safety has deprived the Army of this exemplary young soldier and deprived my family of our son and brother."

Members of the committee, which has held 17 hearings in the past two years on waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, accused the Pentagon of stonewalling congressional inquiries about its ongoing investigations of possible negligence on the part of the its main construction contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan -- Kellogg, Brown and Root.

The hearing was titled "Contractor Misconduct and the Electrocution Deaths of American Soldiers in Iraq." KBR officials were invited to the hearing but did not attend.

*Greg Mitchell's book "So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq" includes several chapters on "nonhostile" deaths in Iraq.

Greg Mitchell ( is editor.

2 Marines charged in nurse's death due in NC court


FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The husband of an Army nurse who worked in the maternity ward at Fort Bragg's hospital was charged Monday with murder in her death, a day after her body was discovered by authorities.

Marine Cpl. John Wimunc, 23, was also charged with first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit arson in the death of his wife, Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, of Dubuque, Iowa. Her body was found Sunday, three days after a suspicious fire at her Fayetteville apartment.

In May, Wimunc secured a temporary restraining order against her husband. She told authorities he got drunk and held a loaded handgun to her head and his. At the time of her death, the couple was going through a divorce.

"You start with people who are closest to the spouse and you work your way out from that," Fayetteville Detective Jeff Locklear said of the investigation.

Authorities also charged Marine Lance Cpl. Kyle Alden, 22, with first-degree arson, conspiracy to commit arson and accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. Both were arrested at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps base about 130 miles southeast of Fayetteville where they are stationed as combat engineers.

Wimunc's body was found in a wooded area near the southern border of Camp Lejeune late Sunday afternoon, not far from Alden's residence. The body had been there several days and there is evidence she was dead upon arrival, said Onslow County District Attorney Dewey Hudson, who wouldn't elaborate. The men were arrested late Sunday night after police interviewed Alden.

"We were able to corroborate a lot of the things he told us," Locklear said. "We used that information, interviews with witnesses ... to get the arrest warrant."

Both men are currently being held without bond in the Cumberland County jail and are scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear if they had attorneys. John Wimunc's father declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press, but Alden's mother said her son's only involvement was giving a friend a ride to Fayetteville.

"He had no idea what was going on. He didn't do this," Connie Johnson said in a phone interview from her home in Pequot Lakes, Minn.

Fayetteville police began searching for Wimunc when she didn't show up for work Thursday. Co-workers could not find her at her apartment, but smelled what they suspected was a fire and called police. Once inside, investigators found evidence of arson.

Sgt. Chris Corcione said Monday that investigators found several points where the fire was started, but the blaze was concentrated in the apartment's rear bedroom. While the interior walls of the burned room were black with soot, Corcione said, the fire burned itself out and left behind useable evidence.

Holley Wimunc, 24, was commissioned by the Army Nurse Corps in 2007. Her first duty assignment was at Fort Bragg, where she worked in the mother and baby unit at Womack Army Medical Center.

Corcione said Wimunc was last seen alive the night of July 8, when she went out with friends and used her ATM card. Police believe she was dead when she was taken out of the apartment, but they are not yet sure when her body was taken to Onslow County.

Hudson said an attempt to burn the body set off a brush fire that drew the attention of authorities, and the body was located by Division of Forest Resources personnel. He said detectives likely would never have found her body had it been burned in a brush-free area about 100 feet away.

"It seems that someone tried to torch the body in the shallow grave," Hudson said.

Maj. Cliff W. Gilmore, a spokesman with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, said both suspects are assigned to the division's 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. John Wimunc has served one tour in Iraq from February to September 2006. The base said Wimunc also deployed to a non-combat zone from July 2007 to January 2008.

Alden deployed to Iraq from April to November 2007, the base said.

"All he wanted to do was defend our country," said his mother. "He has a wonderful, loving heart."

Holley Wimunc's father in Dubuque, Jesse James, said his daughter was a St. Ambrose University graduate, and excited about nursing and her career in the U.S. Army. She also had a son and daughter.

John Wimunc was not the father of Holley Wimunc's two children, and they were not in Fayetteville when the fire was reported. She had sent them to live with her father because of "the domestic situation," Corcione said.

Wimunc's death is the third homicide of a young North Carolina-based female service member in the past seven months.

In January, the body of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, of Vandalia, Ohio, was found in the back yard of a fellow Marine, Cpl. Cesar Laurean. He fled to Mexico and was captured in early April, and is charged with murder in her death.

Last month, the decomposing body of Spc. Megan Touma, of Cold Spring, Ky., was discovered in a motel near Fort Bragg. Authorities have made no arrests in that case, but stressed Monday it has no connection to Wimunc's death.

Associated Press writers Estes Thompson and Mike Baker contributed to this report from Raleigh.

Widow Sues Chantix Maker Over Husband's Suicide

Widow Sues Chantix Maker Over Husband's Suicide

Yesterday as the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs was holding a hearing on why veterans were being given the "suicide-inducing drug" Chantix, an Alabama attorney was busy filing the first product liability lawsuit against Chantix maker, Pfizer.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Canadian soldier found dead at Camp Mirage

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan
July 5, 2008 at 8:22 AM EDT

A Canadian soldier was found dead in the sleeping quarters at a support base on Friday, and the military has launched an investigation.

Corporal Brendan Anthony Downey, a military policeman from Dundurn, Saskatchewan, was serving at Camp Mirage at an undisclosed location in southwest Asia.

His body was discovered at 4:15 a.m. in an accommodation room for the Theatre Support Element, which serves as a link for moving staff and cargo between Canada and Afghanistan.

The military will examine the incident, but so far enemy action has been excluded as a possible cause of death. Few other details were released, and Cpl. Downey's family sent a request through the military asking for privacy.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Corporal Downey during this difficult time,” a military statement said. “Our focus over the next number of days will be to provide the best possible support to the family of our airman and to his colleagues.”

Camp Mirage has served as a major supply post and staging base for Canadian warships and aircraft, and its location is widely known but officially secret. Rules for Canadian journalists embedded in Afghanistan forbid the publication of its whereabouts.

The Globe and Mail has previously reported that senior Canadian officials have a verbal agreement with leaders of the country that hosts the base, promising to keep quiet about its location.

A total of 86 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died in the Afghan mission. The largest number died in bombings, but at least four others were considered non-combat deaths. The body of Bombardier Jeremie Ouellet, 22, was discovered in an accommodation room at Kandahar Airfield on March 11.

Major Raymond Ruckpaul, 42, was found dead of a bullet wound at his Kabul sleeping quarters in August; his death was later ruled a suicide by the military's National Investigation Service.
Master Corporal Anthony Klumpenhouwer, 25, died after falling from a communications tower in April, 2007.

Corporal Kevin Megeney, 25, died in hospital last year after suffering a gunshot wound in his tent in March, 2007.

The overall number of Canadian deaths in the Afghan mission has been lower this year than last; 12 have died this year as compared with 22 as of the same date in 2007. The rate remains higher than 2006, however, when eight had died as of July 4.

Lower casualties among the Canadians are likely caused by a more cautious approach by the Canadian military in the last 12 months, as troops have pulled back from outlying districts and focused on protecting major population centres and hard-won positions in Zhari and Panjwai districts. Casualties among NATO forces in general have increased, as more foreign soldiers were killed in Afghanistan last month than in Iraq.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Veteran Suicides: 18 every day, 1,000 attempts per month

Eighteen American war veterans kill themselves every day.

One thousand former soldiers receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs attempt suicide every month. More veterans are committing suicide than are dying in combat overseas.

These are statistics that most Americans don't know, because the Bush administration has refused to tell them. Since the start of the Iraq War, the government has tried to present it as a war without casualties. In fact, they never would have come to light were it not for a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth on behalf of the 1.7 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two groups allege the Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically denied mental health care and disability benefits to veterans returning from the conflict zones.

The case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, went to trial last month at a Federal Courthouse in San Francisco. The two sides are still filing briefs until May 19 and waiting for a ruling from Judge Samuel Conti, but the case is already having an impact.

That's because over the course of the two week trial, the VA was compelled to produce a series of documents that show the extent of the crisis effecting wounded soldiers.

"Shh!" begins one e-mail from Dr. Ira Katz, the head of the VA's Mental Health Division, advising a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

"Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" the e-mail concludes.

Leading Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee immediately called for Katz's resignation. On May 6, the Chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Bob Filner (D-CA) convened a hearing titled "The Truth About Veteran's Suicides" and called Katz and VA Secretary James Peake to testify.

"That e-mail was in poor tone but the content was part of a dialogue about what we should do about new information," Katz said in response to Filner's questions. "The e-mail represents a healthy dialogue among members of VA staff about when it's appropriate to disclose and make public information early in the process."

Filner was nonplused and accused Katz and Peake of a "cover-up.""We should all be angry about what has gone on here," Filner said. "This is a matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was handled. If we do not admit, assume or know then the problem will continue and people will die. If that's not criminal negligence, I don't know what is."

It's also part of a pattern. The high number of veteran suicides weren't the only government statistics the Bush Administration was forced to reveal because of the class action lawsuit. Another set of documents presented in court showed that in the six months leading up to March 31, a total of 1,467 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claim would be approved by the government. A third set of documents showed that veterans who appeal a VA decision to deny their disability claim have to wait an average of 1,608 days, or nearly four and a half years, for their answer.

Other casualty statistics are not directly concealed, but are also not revealed on a regular basis. For example, the Pentagon regularly reports on the numbers of American troops "wounded" in Iraq (currently at 31,948) but neglects to mention that it has two other categories "injured" (10,180) and "ill" (28,451).

All three of these categories represent soldiers who are so damaged physically they have to be medically evacuated to Germany for treatment, but by splitting the numbers up the sense of casualties down the public consciousness.

Here's another number that we don't often hear discussed in the media: 287,790. That's the number of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who had filed a disability claim with the Veterans Administration as of March 25th. That figure was not announced to the public at a news conference, but obtained by Veterans for Common Sense using the Freedom of Information Act.

Why all the secrecy? Why is it so hard to get accurate casualty figures out of our government?

Because the Bush Administration knows if Americans woke up to the real, human costs of this war they would fight harder to oppose it.

Think back to 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, when leading neoconservative thinker and Donald Rumsfeld aide Ken Adelman predicted the war would be a "cakewalk."Or consider this statement from Vice President Dick Cheney. Two days before the invasion, Cheney told NBC's Tim Russert the war would "go relatively quickly, (ending in) weeks rather than months."

Today, those comments are gone but the motivation behind them remains. This is why the VA's head of mental health wrote "Shh!" telling a spokesperson not to respond to a reporters' inquiry.

But all the shhing in the world cannot stop the horrible pain that's mounting after five years of war in Iraq and nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan.

Unpleasant Facts According to an April 2008 study by the Rand Corporation, 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans currently suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury, physical brain damage. A majority are not receiving help from the Pentagon and VA system which are more concerned with concealing unpleasant facts than they are with providing care. In its study, the RAND Corporation wrote that the federal government fails to care for war veterans at its own peril, noting post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury "can have far reaching and damaging consequences."

"Individuals afflicted with these conditions face higher risks for other psychological problems and for attempting suicide. They have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, overeating, and unsafe sex and higher rates of physical health problems and mortality.

Individuals with these conditions also tend to miss more work or report being less productive," the report said. "These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may extend the consequences of combat trauma across generations."

"These consequences can have a high economic toll," RAND said. "However, most attempts to measure the costs of these conditions focus only on medical costs to the government. Yet, direct costs of treatment are only a fraction of the total costs related to mental health and cognitive conditions. Far higher are the long-term individual and societal costs stemming from lost productivity, reduced quality of life, homelessness, domestic violence, the strain on families, and suicide. Delivering effective care and restoring veterans to full mental health have the potential to reduce these longer-term costs significantly."

Bush and Congress have the power to stop this problem before it gets worse. It's not too late to extend needed mental health care to our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans; it's not too late to begin properly screening and treating returning servicemen and women who've experienced a traumatic brain injury; and it is not too late to simplify the disability claims process so that wounded veterans do not die waiting for their check. As the Rand study shows, this isn't only in the best interest of veterans, it's in the best interest of our country in the long run.

To start with, the Bush Administration needs to give us some honest information about the true human costs of the Iraq War.Aaron Glantz, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, is the author of two upcoming books on Iraq: The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans (UC Press) and Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (Haymarket). He edits the website

--submitted by Lois Vanderbur