Archive for the ‘Vietnam and Iraq’ Category

A Film that Honors the Heroism Of Daniel Ellsberg and Connects to the Current Wars…

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

I found the following story about the film that chronicles the life and times of Daniel Ellsberg this morning and was very moved by its ideas.  I have known that Mr. Ellsberg is one of the major players in bringing down the dreadful presidency of Richard Nixon and that his courageous exposure of the Pentagon Papers was a key development in getting us out of Vietnam.  I did not know as much about his on-going activism and the film is apparently enabling its audience, which is cutting across many dividing lines, to see parallels between the war he protested against in the ’60’s and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Subterfuge and lies are at the root of all three wars and this is apparently made abundantly clear in this film, which has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary.  The article reveals that we shall all have numerous opportunities to see the film in theaters and on television, so it is my hope that at least some who view it will respond like the college students who wanted to know what they could do when the film ended to change the world.  Here’s the story about the film as it appeared this week on


by Tamara Strauss

On first impression, Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” is the kind of documentary that no Sarah Palin-loving red stater would be caught dead seeing.

[Daniel Ellsberg is the subject of the Oscar-nominated film. (Photo: Mill Valley Film Festival) ]Daniel Ellsberg is the subject of the Oscar-nominated film. (Photo: Mill Valley Film Festival)

It is made by Berkeley lefties. It is a tribute to a man who leaked 7,000 pages of top-secret Vietnam War documents, revealing that our highest public officials were liars and essentially murderers. Its subtext is that we are awash in government deception again.

But the documentary – which follows Ellsberg’s path from Harvard wunderkind to Marine commander to White House and Defense Department consultant to political pariah – has been embraced by old and young, dove and hawk, earnest leftist and ardent right-winger as an inspiring story of patriotism and moral courage. Even stranger, the film has widely been described as entertaining.

Oscar nomination

Ehrlich and Goldsmith, who are preparing for the film’s opening in their hometown of Berkeley on Feb. 19, are both thrilled and exhausted by its initial success. “The Most Dangerous Man” has been nominated for an Academy Award for best feature documentary, and has received the Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and Audience Awards at the Mill Valley and Palm Springs International Film Festivals. It will be seen around the globe this year, at festivals, in theaters and on TV.

Yet the filmmakers say they feel especially rewarded by positive reactions from young Americans. “They’re very, very savvy, and immediately get the parallels to today,” said Goldsmith. “They get as much as older audiences, maybe more so, that this isn’t a film about the past. This is a film about the present.”

Ehrlich, who recently showed the film to 1,000 students from the Palm Springs, Fla., area, said, “One hundred hands went up after the screening. They said, ‘How can I be a better citizen?’ ‘How can I change this country?’ ”

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not directly addressed in the film, but Ehrlich and Goldstein say the parallels to Vietnam were the main reason they both jumped into the project. They are also tremendous fans of Ellsberg, becoming charged with emotion when they talk about the personal risks he took 40 years ago and his work since to support whistle-blowers and anti-war activists.

“What has struck me about his character is that he doesn’t give himself a break for not doing more,” said Goldsmith, noting that Ellsberg has been arrested 79 times for acts of civil disobedience. “I think he’s so personally engaged in trying to do all he can to stop injustices and wars that he’ll never rest.”

Ehrlich and Goldsmith were among a handful of award-winning documentary filmmakers who wanted to make a movie based on Ellsberg’s 2002 memoir “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.” Errol Morris was first in line, but when he opted out the two started courting Ellsberg.

“Dan had been an adviser on my film about World War II conscientious objectors and on Rick’s film about (journalist George) Seldes,” said Ehrlich. “He knew our work, so he decided we would give him a fair shake.”

Editorial control

Among the inevitable criticisms of Ehrlich and Goldsmith’s film is that Ellsberg is the main subject, star and narrator. In other words, it’s as if Ellsberg hired the two to make the movie. But the filmmakers are quick to defend their choices and to point out that although Ellsberg was allowed to have input, they wrote the script, included 20 other people in the film and exercised full editorial control.

“For the story, we had to have someone who was on the inside, someone who was in the halls of power,” said Goldsmith. “Dan was next to McNamara. He was next to Johnson. He was attacked by Nixon. He was in the middle, so I don’t think it’s inappropriate to have him tell a lot of the story.”

Ehrlich also feels that if Ellsberg were sidelined, the movie would not tell a universal story of personal transformation – about “an individual who had this tremendous change of heart and found his conscience and did something that went against everything he was trained to do.” Plus, she said, “Dan is an amazing narrator – good as any actor I have ever worked with, if not better.”

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers: Co-produced and co-directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. Opens Feb. 19 in San Francisco and Berkeley.


Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The following article appeared in the April 7th issue of THE NATION. It was written by Laila Al-Arian, who is a freelance journalist and author, with Chris Hedges, of the forthcoming COLLATERAL DAMAGE: AMERICA’S WAR AGAINST THE IRAQI CIVILIANS based on their 2007 Nation article “The Other War”. Ms. Al-Arian was witness to the recent Winter Soldier gathering in D.C. and her article chronicles some of what she heard. It is difficult to read, though the testimony of the Iraqi veterans was even more disturbing and painful to watch, but the stories need to be heard for there to be a chance that the public will prevent a continuation of business as usual if McCain were to be elected president. I particularly appreciated her including a quote from a “former marine Scott Camil, 61, who spoke at the first Winter Soldier event, and attended the conference along with seven fellow Vietnam-era witnesses. ‘When we came home, the World War II and Korean War veterans did not support our activities. I know how that feels,’ Camil said quietly. “We’re not going to let it happen to these guys.”

So, if you can bring yourself to read the article, please find ways to share its contents with anyone who continues to believe in “the mission”. Eyes need to be opened. Truth needs to be told about what is really taking place in our name. I am also making available some of the video interviews that were conducted by Ms. Al-Arian during the hearings. Please feel free to forward any of this material.

Winter Soldiers Speak


[from the April 7, 2008 issue]

While on tank patrol through the narrow streets of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, Pfc. Clifton Hicks was given an order. Abu Ghraib had become a “free-fire zone,” Hicks was told, and no “friendlies” or civilians remained in the area. “Game on. All weapons free,” his captain said. Upon that command, Hicks’s unit opened a furious fusillade, firing wildly into cars, at people scurrying for cover, at anything that moved. Sent in to survey the damage, Hicks found the area littered with human and animal corpses, including women and children, but he saw no military gear or weapons of any kind near the bodies. In the aftermath of the massacre, Hicks was told that his unit had killed 700-800 “enemy combatants.” But he knew the dead were not terrorists or insurgents; they were innocent Iraqis. “I will agree to swear to that till the day I die,” he said. “I didn’t see one enemy on that operation.”

Hicks soberly recounted this bloody incident to a packed auditorium in Silver Spring, Maryland, as part of Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, a summit hosted March 13-16 by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Modeled after the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation–in which Vietnam veterans testified in Detroit about US atrocities in Vietnam–this incarnation featured more than fifty veterans and active-duty service members testifying about engaging in or witnessing atrocities and war crimes against Iraqi and Afghan civilians. As a precondition for participation, IVAW required veterans to provide corroborating evidence such as photographs, videos and additional witnesses. Former marine Scott Camil, 61, who spoke at the first Winter Soldier event, attended the conference along with seven fellow Vietnam-era witnesses. “When we came home, the World War II and Korean War veterans did not support our activities. I know how that feels,” Camil said quietly. “We’re not going to let it happen to these guys.”

Soldiers and marines at Winter Soldier described the frustration of routinely raiding the wrong homes and arresting the wrong people. It was common for unarmed Iraqis to be killed at US checkpoints or by US convoys, they said. Many said they were congratulated on their “first kill.” Some even desecrated Iraqi corpses. Spc. Hart Viges said he refused to pose in a photograph with a corpse when his fellow soldiers prodded him. “I said no–not in the context of, That’s really wrong on an ethical basis,” he said. “I said no because it wasn’t my kill. You shouldn’t take trophies for things you didn’t kill. That’s where my mind-set was back then.”

Several veterans said it was common to carry a stash of extra automatic weapons and shovels to plant near the bodies of unarmed civilians they had killed to make it look as if they were combatants. Others described the surreal sensation of committing cold-blooded murder without facing any consequences. Jon Michael Turner, who served as a machine gunner with Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Eighth Marines, said he shot an unarmed Iraqi in front of the man’s father and friend. “The first round didn’t kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend…and I said, ‘Well, I can’t let that happen.’ So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family.” Later, Turner pointed to a tattoo on his right wrist of the Arabic words for “fuck you.” “That was my choking hand,” he explained. “And any time I felt the need to take out aggression, I would go ahead and use it.”

Watch The Nation‘s video coverage of this event in an original documentary by Laura Hanna and Astra Taylor:

“This is not an isolated incident,” the testifiers uttered over and over, to the point of liturgy, insisting that the atrocities they committed or witnessed were common. The hearings were not organized to point fingers at “bad apples” or even particular squads, several testifiers said.IVAW issued an impassioned statement that condemned not only US military tactics but the occupation itself. “The military is being asked to win an occupation,” the statement read. “The troops on the ground know this is an impossible task…. We have a political problem that cannot be solved with a military solution. This is not a war that can be won. It is an occupation that can only be ended.”

While the Winter Soldiers offered a searing critique of the military’s treatment of civilians, which they described as alternately inhumane and sadistic, they also empathized with fellow soldiers thrust into a chaotic urban theater where the lines between combatants and civilians are blurred. “It’s criminal to put such patriotic Americans…in a situation where their morals are at odds with their survival instincts,” said Adam Kokesh, who served as a Marine sergeant in the raid on Fallujah in 2004.

For active-duty soldiers and veterans, testifying about combat duty carries new risks–including the possibility of being charged in military court for complicity in war crimes or in federal court under the War Crimes Act of 1996. But such concerns were not enough to silence their voices. “If it’s a choice between sitting in cowardice and not speaking up against things that are wrong or being court-martialed, I’ll take the court-martial,” said Selena Coppa, 25, an active-duty military intelligence sergeant and one of several women who spoke at the hearings.

During the last day, photographs of nameless Iraqi dead flashed on large screens. Army Sgt. Kristofer Goldsmith took the photos on May 15, 2005, a day he remembered as “very hot, uncomfortable and miserable.” Goldsmith was ordered to photograph a dozen Iraqis who were presumably murdered and dumped in a large landfill. But the photos were not taken to identify the dead or assist the Iraqi police investigation. “They were used for morale purposes,” Goldsmith remarked bitterly. “[Soldiers] bombarded me to copy my pictures. They made videos of them to send home to their friends and families to brag, ‘This is war. This is what we did to the Iraqis.'”

The Winter Soldier hearings also featured Iraqi testifiers like Salam Talib, a 33-year-old computer engineering student. Though Talib said he was encouraged to see so many US veterans describing their experiences in frank terms, the testimonies were not much of a revelation for him. “What the American soldiers are talking about is everyday life for Iraqis. They’re not even talking about 10 percent of what’s happening there,” Talib remarked with a shrug. “They are simply giving credibility to the stories that have been told over and over from Iraq by journalists, Iraqis and humanitarian organizations. The American soldiers are saying, ‘We’re here, we did it and it’s true.’ ”

New Film, “STOP-LOSS”, Tells the Story – and Demands Action!

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

A new film is dramatizing the effects of our government’s backdoor draft policy.  “STOP-LOSS” is playing in theaters around the country and those opposed to the mistreatment of America’s soldiers who are fighting and dying in the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and being re-deployed, are seeing it as an opportunity to raise awareness and take action against the STOP-LOSS policy. A petition is circulating to tell Defense Secretary Robert Gates to end the stop-loss backdoor draft.  A flyer is circulating on-line ( for those who are wanting to participate in this action to hand out at theaters.  I hope this encourages folks to see this film and to take action to end these wars.

Here’s what I received this morning that alerted me to the film and to the action being requested:

Once in awhile a film comes along that makes you want to tell everyone you know. Starring Ryan Phillippe as a soldier ordered to leave home and go back to Iraq, “Stop-Loss” is a new film dramatizing the practice of stop-loss — the forced extension of service members’ enlistment contracts.

Spread the word.  The petition to Secretary Gates is available at

Please see this movie and help spread the word and increase awareness about the stop-loss policy and its tragic effects.

In the words of Iraq veteran and chairman of veterans’ organization Jon Soltz,
“Stop Loss has been one of the most painful Pentagon policies for those who have served in Iraq. While the film examines how the policy might affect one soldier, this issue affects thousands and thousands of those who serve our nation, in a very similar way. Longer and more frequent deployments have been linked to depression and even suicide among our troops and veterans. We must rally behind our troops, and end this destructive policy.”

Thank you for working to build a better world

Will Easton, Activism Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

WINTER SOLDIER REVISITED – The Original Hearings and Film about Vietnam and the Upcoming Testimony about the Iraq War

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

    Several days ago I received an important reminder of two events that are related to the original WINTER SOLDIER hearings during the Vietnam War.  Here is the letter sent to me by a dear friend:

From March 13-16, Iraq Veterans Against the War will hold “Winter Soldier—Iraq & Afghanistan” in Washington D.C. with testimony from vets about the wars there and the atrocities being committed under direct or covert orders from those in command.  Some or all of the testimony will hopefully be screened live here in the Valley.

This event comes 37 years after the first “Winter Soldier Investigation,” held by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.  During three days in 1971, over 100 veterans gathered and gave testimony about the wrongdoing and war crimes they had witnessed or taken part in – war crimes that were part of the policy of the military.  The website to obtain additional information and to support this event is:  You can write letters of support, make donations and check out all of the other offerings connected to this event and to Iraq Veterans Against the War.

The film of that first “Winter Soldier Investigation” will be shown in our valley two times.
On Wednesday, March 5, at 8 pm, it will be shown at UMass, in the Campus Center, Rm 165.  A member of the new local chapter of IVAW will also speak.
On Friday, March 7, at 7 pm, it will be shown at the Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St, Northampton.

This film is very powerful.


Some background on these events is in order.  Here is the origin of the term “winter soldier” as described in an article by Fiachra Ó Luain, daughter of Joe Bangart who was a member of the Winter Soldier Collective who made the film “Winter Soldier”:

The name ‘Winter Soldier’ is actually never stated, but rather implied in a homage U.S.A. founding father Thomas Paine wrote in his publication, CRISIS, in December of 1776:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

The article with this famous quote was read to those at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where the American Continental army wintered from 1777 through to 1778. This was a time of great suffering for George Washington’s army, but it was also a time of retraining and rejuvenation. The fighters at Valley Forge were suffering terribly from hunger, frostbite, and missing their families. Many deserted. In a mood of desperation and despair, George Washington called in the best of the revolution’s writers -Tom Paine- to raise people’s sprits in the middle of the winter, which is when he left to the imagination the term “Winter Soldier” to describe the few men who remained in the trenches of the revolution through the toughest of times.


It turns out that the upcoming Washington hearings are already filled to capacity.  Evidently, however, for those who want to see what is transpiring during these extraordinary hearings, there will be live feeds, which can be seen on television.  Here is the schedule:

Winter Soldier Schedule
All times below are Eastern Time. Schedule subject to change.
Thursday, March 13 Streaming video only
7:00PM-9:00PM Winter Soldier and the legacy of GI Resistance
Friday, March 14 Satellite TV, internet video, internet audio, radio
9:00AM – 10:45AM Rules of Engagement: Part One
11:00AM – 12:30PM The Crisis in Veterans’ Heathcare
2:00PM – 3:30PM Corporate Pillaging and Military Contractors
4:00PM – 6:00PM Rules of Engagement: Part Two
7:00PM – 8:30PM Aims of the Global War on Terror: the Political, Legal, and Economic Context of Iraq and Afghanistan
Saturday, March 15 Satellite TV, internet video, internet audio, radio
9:00AM – 10:30AM Divide To Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military
11:00AM – 1:00PM Racism and War: the Dehumanization of the Enemy: Part One
2:00PM – 3:30PM Racism and War: the Dehumanization of the Enemy: Part Two
4:00PM – 6PM Civilian Testimony: The Cost of War in Iraq and Afghanistan
7:00PM – 8:30PM The Cost of the War at Home
Sunday, March 16 Internet video, internet audio, radio
10:00AM – 1:00PM The Breakdown of the Military
2:00PM – 3:15PM The Future of GI Resistance


Finally the London Times published a comprehensive look at the upcoming hearings with several first person accounts of the kind of testimony that will be heard starting next week.  It is very well done, indicative of much research and a commitment to telling the whole story of what’s in store with these momentous hearings including the backlash of several veterans’ groups that are already seeking to discredit those who speak out.  The same tactics were used against the Vietnam Veterans Against the War 37 years ago.  John Kerry was among those who participated in those original testimonials and the criticism against his words resurfaced to derail his election campaign in 2004.   There are still those who strongly believe his failure to answer his critics whose lies and distortions were outrageous, resulted in his defeat.

So here is the London Times story in its entirety:


After Vietnam, American veterans testified to the atrocities they witnessed. Now soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are about to do the same
Ariel Leve
Some of them will be okay. They will live with the secrets. They can dissociate from what happened in combat because it was part of the job. It was what they signed up for. They will keep the secrets out of duty – the silence is part of a code, and they honour that code above all else.

But for others, the secrets they keep are like a poison, slowly releasing toxins of shame and remorse. Who can they tell anyway? They talk to each other – other veterans who have seen what they’ve seen, done what they’ve done, and who can relate to the burden of carrying these secrets for the rest of their lives.

In 1971, the protest group Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered at a hotel in Detroit. More than 100 veterans talked about the atrocities they had witnessed in southeast Asia.

The event lasted for three days and was named Winter Soldier after Thomas Paine’s famous article. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he wrote of the terrible winter of 1776, when Washington’s ragtag, demoralised army turned the tide of the War of Independence.

The Vietnam vets, spurred on by the court martial of Lt William Calley, who had ordered the infamous My Lai massacre, wanted to turn a tide too – against public opinion, to demonstrate that the execution of hundreds of innocent villagers in 1968 was not an isolated incident as so many believed. The Winter Soldier event received little coverage in America, but was the subject of an internationally acclaimed documentary of the same name.

This month, for four days in Washington, DC, beginning on March 13, there will be a second Winter Soldier gathering – 37 years after the first. Organised by the protest group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 attack on New York will testify about their experiences. They will present photographs and videos, recorded with mobile phones and digital cameras, to back up their allegations – of brutality, torture and murder.

The veterans are not against the military and seek not to indict it – instead they seek to shine a light on the bigger picture: that the Abu Ghraib prison regime and the Haditha massacre of innocent Iraqis are not isolated incidents perpetrated by “bad seeds” as the military suggests, but evidence of an endemic problem. They will say they were tasked to do terrible things and point the finger up the chain of command, which ignores, diminishes or covers up routine abuse and atrocities.

Some see it as their responsibility to speak out – like Jason Washburn, a US marine who did two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq; Logan Laituri, a US Army forward observer in Iraq; and Perry O’Brien, an army medic deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. They believe that, as veterans, they are the most credible sources of information. They say they were put in immoral and often illegal positions. They will speak about what they saw, and what they were asked to do.

) ) ) ) )

Jason Washburn, 28, grew up in San Diego, California. He always wanted to do something to make a difference, and he enlisted in the US marines in December 2001. He wasn’t itching to go into combat, but he wanted the training.

He fought in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 where, he says, he met little resistance. Most people were surrendering.

“There were massive amounts of artillery strikes before we even invaded. We saw the results of that. Streets full of bodies – women and children – body parts, extremely indiscriminate. I’m talking about rolling through villages here, not military encampments.”

He was told there was a military structure in one village. “I didn’t see it. I didn’t see any army uniforms. Or weapons. All I saw were civilians.”

Washburn speaks slowly and with obvious discomfort. This was his introduction to Iraq.

“I still believed everything we were force-fed: weapons of mass destruction and possibly even a nuclear weapon. We felt, like, we’re going to go in, overthrow this evil dictator and give these people some peace, finally. We thought we were doing a good thing.”

Over the course of his three tours, there were more home raids than Washburn can remember. He explains how it worked. “Usually it was based on a tip – we’re told someone in the home is an insurgent. We would pick up people who had nothing to do with anything, keep them locked up until they came up with something.”

He is glad that he didn’t witness some of the techniques used to get them to talk. “That’s not something I want on my conscience.”

It was not a scientific process. Most tips came from people with personal grudges. Washburn and his platoon would kick down the doors in the middle of the night. He was warned not to be complacent. There could be weapons in the children’s beds. In all of the home raids, too many to count, he never found children with weapons. They would take the father away and they never knew what would happen after that.

By the time Washburn served in Haditha he was on his third combat tour. He was there on November 19, 2005, the day of the massacre when 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed, including women and children.

“My squad was doing medivacs out of the town. I was not there to witness the shooting, but I know many marines who were.”

It was a squad in his unit that went on the rampage after their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).

“I have a lot of feelings about this incident. A friend of mine from my first two tours was in that squad. He was the guy they gave immunity to to testify against the squad leader.

“The people on the ground are looking at serious prison time. Like life. The people who were giving orders were only relieved of command. And I don’t think that’s right.”

Washburn says Haditha was not an isolated incident. “It’s the one that just happened to be uncovered.”

) ) ) ) )

The establishment view is that war is hell and terrible things happen for the greater good. That killing is necessary. That there are those individuals acting on their own who will always smear the honourable actions of the military – men like Washburn, traumatised by war, who are emotional casualties whose testimony is to be mistrusted. Some regard him and the Winter Soldiers of 2008 as traitors for daring to question their commanders and for prosecution of the war.

But there are too many like Washburn to shout down. Many of the orders that combat soldiers were given were not written – but they were understood. At the Winter Soldier event, veterans’ stories will be corroborated by other veterans; backed up by the volume of testifiers who have witnessed the same things – in different units, years apart and in different countries.

There will be up to 100 veterans and, at present, 80 of them have submitted testimonies. Most will be enlisted men and women: privates and sergeants. They have been made aware of the consequences of taking part. Not just that they are likely to be denounced by their fellow veterans, but the psychological and perhaps legal consequences they may face by admitting to witnessing, or even perpetrating, war crimes. The National Lawyers Guild, an organisation of civil-rights attorneys, has volunteered to offer advice. Mental-health professionals will also be on hand to offer counselling. Organisers stress that the goal is to hold the policy makers accountable, not their immediate commanding officers. Nobody is permitted to name anyone below the rank of captain.

After the hearings, all the testimonies will be entered into the congressional record. There will be a live video stream on the web. There will also be panels of journalists and scholars to provide context and history.

Perry O’ Brien, who served as a medic in Afghanistan in 2003, is one of the Winter Soldiers on the verification team, which will ensure the testimonies are watertight, lest falsehood undermine the message. The order that O’Brien’s team is hearing most from the testifiers is the “shovel order”.

“Anyone carrying a shovel or any sort of implement that could be used to bury an IED could be considered a target,” he says. “After dark, you can shoot anyone who is outside. Or anyone who puts anything on the side of the road can be considered a target. You won’t find it in writing, but it’s an order indicated to soldiers.”

If not in writing, how can it be proven? “If we have enough soldiers testifying, it will be.”

Washburn says the most dangerous job in Iraq “has to be a taxi driver”. He tells two stories of taxi drivers being shot, both innocent victims. One driver was deaf and didn’t hear the command to halt. The other was at a checkpoint in the Haditha area.

“It was the mayor of one of the towns who was driving, and he was shot and killed. They found out after they shot him. My squad had to apologise to the family. We paid reparations. I don’t know the exact amount. But let’s see: money or a dead husband and father and mayor? People weren’t happy about that.”

During Washburn’s first Iraq deployment in 2003, his unit was told to capture a “rabble rouser”. “We kick down the door and all we find are a few women holding babies and a couple of kids. We were ordered to take the babies away and put sandbags on the women’s heads, tie their hands behind their backs, put them on their knees facing the wall. Here I am zip-tying these women, and my buddy is standing next to me holding these babies asking what do I do with these kids? We stood there, like, oh shit, what do we do? The squad leader came in and shouted, ‘Everybody is bagged and tagged – everybody!’ So we did it.” The babies were put down on the floor. After a few hours everyone was untied.

Inappropriate and immoral actions weren’t just aimed at Iraqi civilians. There was frequent hazing – the mistreatment of soldiers by their comrades. Some were exercises in pure humiliation, common in most military units, like singing I’m a Little Teapot while others stand around laughing. But some were brutal physical punishments, such as callisthenics in a sleeping bag with a gas mask on in scorching heat.

“It’s one thing to do 20 push-ups. It’s another to burn us to the point of exhaustion in combat theatre. There were guys that tried to speak out about it and that made it worse. That would get punished more.”

The futility of speaking out was bolstered by knowledge that complaints would get as far as the commanding officer of the company and no further. “They kept everything in-house.”

Another incident he describes was a step beyond hazing. He and another marine had had a disagreement. The punishment was that they were tied together – and sent out on patrol.

“Outside of the camp, in a war zone tied together, patrolling? Insane,” he says.

Washburn’s anger comes from a feeling of betrayal. “I thought I was signing up to do something honourable.

“What happened at Abu Ghraib,” Washburn says, “is those orders came from the top. If the policy makers and the commanders can dehumanise their own troops, why wouldn’t they dehumanise the Iraqi people?”

) ) ) ) )

So far, the most vocal opposition to the Winter Soldier event has not been from the government, but from pro-war groups such as Vets for Freedom, the largest veterans’ organisation in America.

Their executive director, Pete Hegseth, a veteran who served in Baghdad and Samarra with the 101st Airborne Division, has criticised the Winter Soldier event. In an article in The Washington Independent, he asks:

“Did your company commander tell you to shoot women and children, or to maximise casualties? No! We don’t do that. To talk about systematic brutality is essentially indicting the military as being complicit in war crimes.”

But, as we shall see, there are ways to encourage illegal actions other than direct orders.

Hegseth suggests that speaking out might have more serious consequences: homes in the Middle East have internet access, this kind of information will reach them and affect the attitude towards US troops still over there. But Perry O’Brien doubts that speaking out will foster more anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and Iraq than the killing of civilians and the dismantling of the infrastructure. After serving in Afghanistan for eight months, there was a slow revelation that triggered his shift.

“Everything that we were doing seemed almost designed to create more terrorists. To turn people against America. I couldn’t understand how we were liberating anyone. But I could understand how an Afghan person who was ambivalent about America could easily become an extremist based on their interaction with American soldiers.”

Resolute pro-war organisations such as Gathering of Eagles are gearing up, getting ready to make their presence felt. They are chartering bus-loads of protesters to show up at the event to confront and harass the “traitors”.

The veterans who will be testifying at Winter Soldier are prepared for their integrity and credibility to be called into question.

Before anyone can testify, they must go through the verification process and be interviewed by a team of combat veterans whom they hope will be able to instinctively detect lies. IVAW is particularly vigilant since Jesse Macbeth joined in 2006 and represented them publicly at various events. Macbeth’s accounts of military service as a veteran of Iraq were false, which he admitted in federal court in 2007.

Since then the organisation has demanded proof of service, and every member must have a DD-214 – their Pentagon-issued personal-service record, which proves where and with whom they have served.

Members are asked to complete a detailed questionnaire. Under the heading Killing or Wounding Noncombatants, Prisoners or Unarmed Combatants, they are asked: “Did you witness or participate in any of the following: Civilians hurt or killed at checkpoints? Purposeful killing of civilians or unarmed combatants? Killing or wounding of prisoners? If yes, was this unit SOP [standard operating procedure] or common practice?”

Some other headings include: Mishandling and Mutilation of War Dead; Torture or Abuse; Rape, Sexual Assault or Harassment; Theft or Fraud.

When the testimonies begin on March 13, we shall discover how damaging or revelatory their stories will be. Perry O’Brien has confidence in the process. “Someone coming into our organisation and trying to pretend they observed something they didn’t – they can only maintain that for so long.”

Once the stories are told, each is to be researched by interviewing other members of the soldier’s unit. The verification team has recently decided that anyone fabricating their experience or pretending to be a veteran will be handed over to the authorities and charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act, a law signed by President Bush in 2006.

) ) ) ) )

Perry O’Brien admits that he had hero fantasies. He was born on March 24, 1982, and grew up on a small island off the coast of Maine. After two years studying philosophy at university, he decided to enlist in the army as a medic in 2001 – two weeks before 9/11. It was a coming-of-age-ritual, influenced by the movies. He had the romantic idea that he wanted to save lives.

He did not come from a military background. His father works at a hardware store and his mother writes and illustrates children’s books.

In January 2003, O’Brien was deployed to Afghanistan for eight months. While he was there, he had many experiences that made him uncomfortable. Several times he witnessed an Afghan civilian die on the operating table after treatment from a mobile military surgical unit. Rather than prepare the corpse for the family, O’Brien witnessed the surgeons and the medics use the body to practise on.

“One doctor said, ‘Come up and feel his heart!’ This is what a heart feels like.’ ”

Half the platoon, if not more, participated. Daniel Paulsen, 27, was there and corroborates this story. There are photographs as well. Someone had grabbed O’Brien’s digital camera and taken photographs of the heart and the medics walking around and poking it. These photographs were taken for fun.

Eventually the chest of the corpse was closed up. “It was a total violation of our medical oath to use a corpse for medical training,” says O’Brien. “What’s particularly terrible is that these were all doctors that had practices back home – they were familiar with the law and the Hippocratic oath. There was such a huge disconnect between the way they treated Afghans and the way they treated American patients.

“When Americans died, the corpses became these sacred objects that were treated with tremendous care. There was this solemn funerary attitude around them. When an Afghan died, it was [as if they were] treating them like they weren’t human.

“My goal is to expose that these things are happening. And that they are the result of military leadership – part of an unofficial policy of dehumanisation.”

In 2004, while still on active duty, O’Brien attended a protest at Fort Bragg. There he met Mike Hoffman (a founder of IVAW) and joined the organisation shortly after leaving the army. He felt relieved. “Suddenly I knew that I wasn’t the only veteran who was questioning what I had seen and done.”

) ) ) ) )

Kelly Dougherty, 29, is a co-founder and executive director of IVAW. In 1996 she enlisted in the National Guard as a medic while she read biology at the University of Colorado.

On January 10, 2003, she received a call; she had been transferred to a military police unit – and she was being deployed to Iraq.

Dougherty was opposed to the war and surprised by her deployment.

In February 2003, she arrived in Kuwait and then moved to Iraq in March. Her unit was stationed in the south near Nasiriyah, where she often did convoy escorts and patrols.

“You put it out of your mind when you’re over there. And then you get back and reflect on it…

“The soldiers and marines are just doing their jobs, doing what they were trained for or what they were told to do when they got over there. Things that seem really horrible just become routine – and they are implicitly or explicitly condoned, or encouraged, by the commanders and the policy-makers.”

The offices of IVAW in Philadelphia are humble but busy. The group now has more than 700 members in 49 states, Washington, DC, Canada, and on military bases overseas.

I meet Logan Laituri there one afternoon and we sit down over a soft drink to talk. He has a gentle and sensitive manner. His enlistment wasn’t a patriotic stand, but more of a pragmatic decision. He didn’t know what else to do.

He became a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg. “I had no accomplishments outside the military. I didn’t feel that I would be missing out on much.”

There was also a financial incentive. “Every soldier knows that you earn a crap-load of money in combat. Above and beyond my pay cheque I earned $800 a month – and all that’s tax-free. And everything is paid for in Iraq. You can save every single penny. That’s a lot of money you can save for your future.”

He was deployed to Iraq in January 2004, having switched to the 25th Infantry Division. When Laituri got to Samarra, they kicked down the doors of a building and found a police officer in uniform. “Through his interpreter he was telling us that he’d been waiting, and he had all the records. I thought to myself it was great initiative and it displayed insight.

“We handcuffed him and someone took it upon themselves to punch him in the stomach – what made me feel worse was watching it and not doing anything about it.”

As he talks, Laituri seems visibly troubled that he stood by watching this man beaten up. And he admits that so many of his feelings of being in Iraq are wrapped up in what he didn’t do: “What I saw happen and I didn’t say or I didn’t correct. I survived at the expense of Iraqis. I could have said something.”

But the fear of being isolated from the platoon prevailed. Beating up prisoners, abusing the bodies of Afghans, innocents shot dead in the crossfire of fear and threat – these things get lost in the mayhem of war – but other acts, if they become institutionalised, can “try the souls of men” and cannot be so easily dismissed.

Laituri was in Fort Irwin, California in May 2006 during a pep talk at the National Training Center. He alleges that a commander made a speech to his company, and that he “made it clear to us that if an innocent person was shot he would stage a scene to protect us”.

The explicit message was: “We would make sure there was a weapon found at the scene.”

Units go into combat believing that they will be protected from any repercussions. They feel like they have a licence to kill and often they do.

In 2007, the officer was relieved of his command after a death on June 23 last year in the vicinity of Kirkuk. He is not currently a suspect and was never charged – but two soldiers who were under his command have been charged with premeditated murder.

Last month a top army sniper testified in military court – under immunity – that he had ordered a subordinate to kill an unarmed Iraqi man, then planted an AK-47 assault rifle near the body to back up a false claim of returned fire.

But who is ultimately responsible: the individual or the officer? The combatant or the culture? And why is it always the junior ranks who are charged?

) ) ) ) )

On a February morning at a cafe in Brooklyn, New York, Perry O’Brien is explaining the difference between the “book way” and the “real way”, and the significance of the “three-stomp signal” that is used to differentiate between the two.

“If someone is giving a briefing and they stomp their foot three times after what they are saying, it means ‘disregard what I just said’. For instance, ‘Make every effort to avoid civilian property damage,’ stomp stomp stomp – [means] ignore that. The idea is that when you get back [from combat], anything that you did the book way can be spoken about – but not what was done the real way.”

It isn’t just between the book way and the real way, he says; it’s become between the honourable way and the immoral way.

Perhaps even more tragic is that now, for many, these lines have blurred. “People join the military wanting to be honourable. They follow a code of conduct – they have to. It’s what separates them from mercenaries.”

The common denominator that links all of these veterans’ stories is a profound disillusionment about the war. All of these soldiers signed up with a belief that what they were doing was noble. Despite the lessons of Vietnam, or maybe because of them, they wanted to participate.

“The book way was we treat everyone the same…” Perry smiles and taps his foot three times. “You are ordered to do things that are clear violations of our conscience and what we know to be moral. It’s not even what’s prescribed by the Geneva conventions. It’s what every human being knows to be right and wrong. We’re asked to do things that violate that and told it’s about the war, but you can never tell anyone because we need to protect them from that.

“I think that certainly it’s our duty to protect American civilians from the physical reality of wars. That’s our goal. To prevent the American public from having to participate in war and get hurt and put their lives at risk. That’s what we volunteer to do.

“But I don’t think we’re protecting America if we’re not telling our stories and keeping what we do secret.”

A Remarkable Film – “Across the Universe”

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Last night my wife, Susan, and I watched a film that has not received the attention it deserves.  The Beatles music – 33 songs – that is woven into the fabric of this unique movie musical is what it has become known for, but what we discovered is that it is a powerful anti-war film.  Set in the mid to late ’60’s it chronicles the evolution of our culture and in so doing presents the Vietnam War as the debacle it was with its cataclysmic effects on a generation and a country.  If musicals don’t work for you – even when the music is beautifully rendered versions of Beatles’ classics – then this film may not be the one for you, but its vivid depiction of the ways in which its characters adapt to the extraordinary times is well worth checking out.  One additional recommendation comes from my 16 year old son who is watching it for a second time this morning after having seen it with a group of friends in the theater.  I believe that this film does a remarkable job of bridging the generational divide and teaching about a time when anti-war activism was commonplace.  We could certainly use a dose now!  That the draft features prominently in what drives some of the protest is unavoidable conclusion, but just seeing young people protesting against a war is a good way for our youth to spend their time…

I found a “viewer comment” on the web to be particularly thoughtful so I am including it herein.  I appreciated his reference to the film’s giving him, “as an activist some badly needed renewed vigor.”

The 1960’s Counterculture In All Its Glory!, 1 October 2007

Author: liberalgems from Baltimore, Maryland
As someone who was literally a child of the mid – late 60’s & and a student of the time period, I first want to thank everyone who had anything to do with the making of this film! Your timing could not have been better! You helped me to remember the fervor, passion and idealism that made up the mid-late 60’s. It’s been many years since I have burst out sobbing in a movie theater! Thanks for helping to lift the fog a bit! As an activist, you have collectively given me some badly needed renewed vigor!

I also feel so very, very sorry for all the critics of this movie who don’t have a clue about what it all this means, or whose hearts have grown so hard with such bitterness, cynicism or despair; or have just simply sold-out; or plain no longer care! All your ranting and raving and nay saying won’t do a thing to take away one moment of the adventure, creativity, experimentation, excitement or passion that made this time in history so great!

I also want to thank the brilliant filmmakers for paying homage to so many great cultural icons, organizations and events of the period: Walter Cronkite, the greatest broadcaster of the 20th century. Baba Olatunji, the Nigerian Drummer and social activist, his double looked like he came right off the Drums of Passion album cover! I can now see him smiling from heaven! The tremendous scene with Bread and Puppet, a living, breathing, direct link to 1960’s radicalism, warmed my heart! You even went up to their stronghold in Glover, Vermont, to film part of the scene! Bravo! The SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), which did not advocate violence, and the much smaller splinter-group that morphed into an organization advocating extreme measures, called the Weather Underground. The brave Martin Luther King, Jr. and his intervention in a labor dispute, which cost him his life. The historic occupation of the Ivy League, Columbia University by its students protesting both the Vietnam war and the intense poverty that surrounded the school. Ken Kesey and his legendary bus. The Jimi Hendrix & Janice Jopplin characters who show such dignity, and a passion for music. And, of course, the Beatles! Their music reaches deep into my soul. You gave me insights into the meaning of their tunes that after all these years never crossed my mind!

I also enjoyed being bathed in all the very colorful special affects. The 60’s and early 70’s were a time of outrageously bold colors and design. Something brilliantly portrayed in “Across the Universe”! The only film I intend to purchase on DVD that has been released this year!

Another Travesty/Tragedy in Iraq

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

There is yet another horrible example of the mismanagement of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that has exploded into the media’s sights these past few days. This time it involves a request for the type of vehicle that could have been protecting American troops from IED’s for the past several years had the request been granted. Instead deaths and maimings have resulted that could have been prevented and the source of this report is the military itself. The first sentence of the article tells the tragic story and conjures up the same kind of “gross mismanagement” that resulted in countless veterans of the Vietnam War paying endlessly for their service as they suffered from Agent Orange poisoning. “Hundreds of U.S. Marines have been killed or injured by roadside bombs in Iraq because Marine Corps bureaucrats refused an urgent request in 2005 from battlefield commanders for blast-resistant vehicles, an internal military study concludes.”


WASHINGTON (AP) — Hundreds of U.S. Marines have been killed or injured by roadside bombs in Iraq because Marine Corps bureaucrats refused an urgent request in 2005 from battlefield commanders for blast-resistant vehicles, an internal military study concludes.

The study was written by a civilian Marine Corps official and obtained by The Associated Press.

It accuses the service of “gross mismanagement” that delayed deliveries of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks for more than two years.

Cost was a driving factor in the decision to turn down the request for the MRAPs, according to the study.

Stateside authorities saw the hulking vehicles, which can cost as much as a $1 million each, as a financial threat to programs aimed at developing lighter vehicles that were years from being fielded.

After Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared the MRAP the Pentagon’s acquisition priority in May 2007, the trucks began to be shipped to Iraq in large quantities.

The vehicles weigh as much as 40 tons and have been effective at protecting American forces from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the weapon of choice for Iraqi insurgents. Only four U.S. troops have been killed by such bombs while riding in MRAPs; three of those deaths occurred in older versions of the vehicles.

The study’s author, Franz J. Gayl, catalogs what he says were flawed decisions and missteps by midlevel managers in Marine Corps offices that occurred well before Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld in December 2006.

Among the findings in the January 22 study:

• Budget and procurement managers failed to recognize the damage being done by IEDs in late 2004 and early 2005 and were convinced the best solution was adding more armor to the less-sturdy Humvees the Marines were using. Humvees, even those with extra layers of steel, proved incapable of blunting the increasingly powerful explosives planted by insurgents.

• An urgent February 2005 request for MRAPs got lost in bureaucracy. It was signed by then-Brig. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, who asked for 1,169 of the vehicles. The Marines could not continue to take “serious and grave casualties” caused by IEDs when a solution was commercially available, wrote Hejlik, who was a commander in western Iraq from June 2004 to February 2005.

Gayl cites documents showing Hejlik’s request was shuttled to a civilian logistics official at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in suburban Washington who had little experience with military vehicles. As a result, there was more concern over how the MRAP would upset the Marine Corps’ supply and maintenance chains than there was in getting the troops a truck that would keep them alive, the study contends.

• The Marine Corps’ acquisition staff didn’t give top leaders correct information. Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, was not told of the gravity of Hejlik’s MRAP request and the real reasons it was shelved, Gayl writes. That resulted in Conway giving “inaccurate and incomplete” information to Congress about why buying MRAPs was not hotly pursued.

• The Combat Development Command, which decides what gear to buy, treated the MRAP as an expensive obstacle to long-range plans for equipment that was more mobile and fit into the Marines Corps’ vision as a rapid reaction force. Those projects included a Humvee replacement called the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and a new vehicle for reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

The MRAPs didn’t meet this fast-moving standard and so the Combat Development Command didn’t want to buy them, according to Gayl. The study calls this approach a “Cold War orientation” that suffocates the ability to react to emergency situations.

• The Combat Development Command has managers — some of whom are retired Marines — who lack adequate technical credentials. They have outdated views of what works on the battlefield and how the defense industry operates, Gayl says. Yet they are in position to ignore or overrule calls from deployed commanders.

An inquiry should be conducted by the Marine Corps inspector general to determine if any military or government employees are culpable for failing to rush critical gear to the troops, recommends Gayl, who prepared the study for the Marine Corps’ plans, policies and operations department.

No comment from the Marine Corps

The study was obtained by the AP from a nongovernment source.

“If the mass procurement and fielding of MRAPs had begun in 2005 in response to the known and acknowledged threats at that time, as the (Marine Corps) is doing today, hundreds of deaths and injuries could have been prevented,” writes Gayl, the science and technology adviser to Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who heads the department.

“While the possibility of individual corruption remains undetermined, the existence of corrupted MRAP processes is likely, and worthy of (inspector general) investigation.”

Gayl, who has clashed with his superiors in the past and filed for whistle-blower protection last year, uses official Marine Corps documents, e-mails, briefing charts, memos, congressional testimony, and news articles to make his case.

He was not allowed to interview or correspond with any employees connected to the Combat Development Command. The study’s cover page says the views in the study are his own.

Maj. Manuel Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman, called Gayl’s study “predecisional staff work” and said it would be inappropriate to comment on it. Delarosa said, “It would be inaccurate to state that Lt. Gen. Natonski has seen or is even aware of” the study.

Last year, the service defended the decision to not buy MRAPs after receiving the 2005 request. There were too few companies able to make the vehicles, and armored Humvees were adequate, officials said then.

Hejlik, who is now a major general and heads Marine Corps Special Operations Command, has cast his 2005 statement as more of a recommendation than a demand for a specific system.

The term mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle “was very generic” and intended to guide a broader discussion of what type of truck would be needed to defend against the changing threats troops in the field faced, Hejlik told reporters in May 2007. “I don’t think there was any intent by anybody to do anything but the right thing.”

The study does not say precisely how many Marine casualties Gayl thinks occurred due to the lack of MRAPs, which have V-shaped hulls that deflect blasts out and away from the vehicles.

Gayl cites a March 1, 2007, memo from Conway to Gen. Peter Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which Conway said 150 service members were killed and an additional 1,500 were seriously injured in the prior nine months by IEDs while traveling in vehicles.

The MRAP, Conway told Pace, could reduce IED casualties in vehicles by 80 percent. He told Pace an urgent request for the vehicles was submitted by a Marine commander in May 2006. No mention is made of Hejlik’s call more than a year before.

Delivering MRAPs to Marines in Iraq, Conway wrote, was his “number one unfilled warfighting requirement at this time.” Overall, he added, the Marine Corps needed 3,700 of the trucks — more than three times the number requested by Hejlik in 2005.

More than 3,200 U.S. troops, including 824 Marines, have been killed in action in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. An additional 29,000 have been wounded, nearly 8,400 of them Marines. The majority of the deaths and injuries have been caused by explosive devices, according to the Defense Department.

Congress has provided more than $22 billion for 15,000 MRAPs the Defense Department plans to acquire, mostly for the Army. Depending on the size of the vehicle and how it is equipped, the trucks can cost between $450,000 and $1 million.

As of May 2007, roughly 120 MRAPs were being used by troops from all the military services, Pentagon records show. Now, more than 2,150 are in the hands of personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marines have 900 of those.


Monday, January 21st, 2008

Northampton chose to honor MLK’s memory by focusing this year on his extraordinary speech about the War in Vietnam – “Beyond Vietnam” – and its effect on civil rights, the War on Poverty, men of color, America’s standing in the world and  our country’s morale.  The events that I attended this afternoon included a remarkable film by a 13 year old filmmaker from Amherst who connected the dots and showed those in attendance that the same reasons Dr. King protested against the Vietnam War are involved in the Iraq War – squandering America’s resources, sacrificing its soldiers, preventing our country from addressing its enormous needs – education, healthcare, jobs, housing, infrastructure, mistreating our veterans.  Then late this afternoon I received an e-mail from my dear friend, Steven Trudel, whose story appears on this blog.  He included not only his own words connecting Dr. King’s anti-war stance to the domestic violence work he has been embarked upon for many years, but he also sent a short speech from a woman who speaks about the connections between the Iraq War, domestic violence and Dr. King’s message.  So tonight I am including Steve’s letter, Dahlia Wasfi’s  speech at a Martin Luther King Community Dinner in Denver, and Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.  I will place Dr. King’s in a separate post.  Of course, as always, your reactions are welcomed…


As I prepare for my group tonight I am thinking about MLK and the message of nonviolence today.

In the Men Overcoming Violence Program we are seeing the connection that is written about in the speech below. Of course, we assume a connection between trauma and violence at baseline, but the contemporary strategies of war, whether practiced on the  assumed enemy or the civilians we are to be protecting in Iraq and Afghanistan, are certainly directly related to the domestic abuse in the families of soldiers who have made it home alive.

I began my work against domestic abuse soon after the Vietnam War had ended, because I believed that was the next war to focus on. Though I did not understand as well as I do today, the practical connections between war and domestic abuse, I can say, with sorrow, that I will be working ( for years) until the end of my career, with an acute understanding of one of the less thought about commitments to supporting our troops.

Dahlia Wasfi speaks at Martin Luther King event

Dahlia Wasfi is a well-known speaker and activist on social justice focusing on Iraq. Her father was born in Basra, Iraq, and her mother is an Ashkenazi Jew from New York. Wasfi is educated as a medical doctor but has devoted herself as a full-time activist in the struggle to end the war. She has been to Iraq twice, as much of her father’s family still resides there. Wasfi calls for the immediate and total withdrawal of U.S. troops from her father’s homeland. The following are excerpts from her talk at the Martin Luther King Community Forum in Denver on Jan. 7.

Many members of our law enforcement are war veterans who are psychologically destroyed from their experiences overseas. They are traumatized and they are used to treating communities of color as subhuman.

In Iraq daily house raids are taking place at every hour of the day. Some units have a soft knock policy, which is basically where they knock on the door and then they will give a few seconds for someone to answer. But many of us are more familiar with the hard knock policy, which is where they kick the door in. Veterans who are willing to share their experiences talk about the terror that they induce when they perform these daily house raids.

This is not a war on terror, this is a war OF terror, that is happening from our inner city streets all the way to Afghanistan and Iraq. For those individuals who have been trained to give less respect for human life overseas, they will then come home and get jobs in law enforcement. They also have become traumatized and won’t get the help that they need from the Veterans Administration and therefore they will self-medicate, abusing drugs and/or alcohol.

This leads to domestic violence, crime in the streets and homelessness. There are already veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who are homeless on our city’s streets. In this country, which is seen by many people of the world as a land of great opportunity—and certainly we are standing here with electricity and potable water so we are doing much better than most of the rest of the world—but the reality of the American dream is that it is real for a very few … and built on the nightmare of everybody else.

Of the homeless on the streets, 38 percent are veterans. When they talk about supporting the troops, please by all means bring them home; get them out of harm’s way so we can take care of them when they get here.

But they will come back and not get treated and vent their angers and frustrations on their families. Or, if they are in law enforcement, on their victims, whether they are working the streets or they are working the prisons, and of course the prison system in this country has a long history of humiliation and degradation. You don’t have to go to Abu Ghraib to see the horror of that.

These are the problems we are seeing only a trickle of right now. I devote most of my efforts to convincing people to bring the troops home. We now have just a handful of soldiers who have come home. They are here only temporarily before they are sent back on their second, third or fourth tour of duty.

When this occupation does end, which will hopefully be soon, we will start reaping what we have sown, because then we will have close to 200,000 who have served overseas, who are psychologically traumatized, who are supposed to come back here and resume a normal life, and we are going to pay for it one way or another.

Now, I’m not excusing the treatment of anyone who has been abused and victimized in their homes by Denver police or any other city’s police, but it’s all connected and it’s all part of a cycle. At some point I am willing to bet those police officers were victimized, whether it was as children and the state wasn’t available to protect them, or as soldiers, but at some point this all comes around. This does not excuse it, but it does make it understandable.

We are all in this together. It’s interesting and a sad irony to have a Martin Luther King Day parade where they have said, “No anti-war messages.” Dr. King gave a landmark speech with an anti-war statement at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967. That’s when he starting criticizing the Vietnam War and that’s when he needed to be silenced. And he was killed one year later.

He said he could no longer condemn the violence in the ghettos without criticizing “the greatest purveyor of violence, my own government,” and unfortunately that stands today. But we still stand here and every one of us as an individual is making a difference.

I know we may feel anonymous but right here is a room of revolution and we celebrate being here. Even this is a small but big step. Every day individuals and groups like this make it easier and easier to support the Iraqi resistance. I spoke with a war photographer who was in Iraq and he said he wished he had an audio recorder because of the number of soldiers who are saying, “If I lived here I’d be an insurgent.”

Not that it’s that hard to figure out, as you might be labeled an insurgent based on where you live and the color of your skin. We are all making a difference, however small. Even though there is never a winner in the situation, with the destruction Iraqis are experiencing and the pain that American troops are suffering as well, no matter how they feel about the politics, every single ounce of resistance in Iraq matters. And although the Iraqis are hungry and disarmed, they are defeating the most powerful military nation in the world.

Although we’re celebrating Martin Luther King, I’m a personal fan of Malcolm X, so I will close with a quote by him: “Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. You don’t need anything else.” Thank you and I will see you all on the 21st.

Tell Bill O’Reilly He’s Wrong…

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I received an e-mail from IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA this evening describing Bill O’Reilly’s latest disastrous lie.  This time he has denied that there are hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans and I am enclosing the request within the letter to let O’Reilly know how his misrepresentation has the power to diminish the attention so desperately needed to be paid to the injustices – lack of care, benefits, employment and housing – visited upon those who do our dirtiest work…

Dear Tom,
Last night, Bill O’Reilly raised an important topic on his television show: the plight of homeless veterans.

Unfortunately, he got the facts wrong.

O’Reilly: “They (homeless veterans) may be out there, but there’s not many of them out there. Okay?…If you know where there is a veteran, sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately, and we will make sure that man does not do it.”

Despite O’Reilly’s doubts, the facts are irrefutable. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, almost 200,000 veterans sleep on our nation’s streets each night. And Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are joining those ranks at an alarming rate.

Click here to sign an open letter to Bill O’Reilly, telling him that he needs to set the record straight as soon as possible. This issue is far too important to be swept under the rug. You can also learn more about the issue of homeless veterans, and find out what you can do to help.

As an IAVA Supporter, you’re more familiar with this issue than most people. Sadly, many Americans still don’t realize that veterans make up about one-third of the adult homeless population.

No matter how you feel about Bill O’Reilly, there’s no denying the fact that he has a huge audience – an estimated 2.3 million people tune in each weekday night. So take a minute to urge Bill O’Reilly to correct his mistake. He has a great opportunity to help homeless veterans by bringing more attention to the issue, and you can urge him to be part of the solution.

Thank you for standing with us.


Paul Rieckhoff
Iraq Veteran
Executive Director
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

P.S. The site also includes more background information on the issue, along with details on how you can get involved.


Friday, January 11th, 2008

    I received the following article yesterday.  On one level it conveys an acknowledgment of the hell our servicepeople are being put through in Iraq and on another level it feels like one more insult being heaped upon them as they are subjected to conditions that are inevitably traumatizing.  As the presidential campaigns steal the headlines and Iraq recedes from our daily consciousness it is even more important that stories like this penetrate our country’s numbed state.  That the article was written by a woman whose husband took his own life after serving in Vietnam merely serves to once again connect these wars.  Penny Coleman’s book, FLASHBACK: POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, SUICIDE AND THE LESSONS OF WAR, was released on Memorial Day, 2006.  Her blog is Flashback.

Big Pharma: Drug Troops to Numb Them to Horrors of War
By Penny Coleman, AlterNet
Posted on January 10, 2008, Printed on January 10, 2008

In June, the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health acknowledged “daunting and growing” psychological problems among our troops: Nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and half of National Guard members are presenting with serious mental health issues. They also reported “fundamental weaknesses” in the U.S. military’s approach to psychological health. That report was followed in August by the Army Suicide Event Report (ASER), which reported that 2006 saw the highest rate of military suicides in 26 years. And last month, CBS News reported that, based on its own extensive research, over 6,250 American veterans took their own lives in 2005 alone — that works out to a little more than 17 suicides every day.

That’s all pretty bleak, but there is reason for optimism in the long-overdue attention being paid to the emotional and psychic cost of these new wars. The shrill hypocrisy of an administration that has decked itself in yellow ribbons and mandatory lapel pins while ignoring a human crisis of monumental proportion is finally being exposed.

On Dec. 12, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called a hearing on “Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges Within the Department of Veterans Affairs.” At that hearing suggestions were raised and conversations begun that hopefully will bear fruit.

But I find myself extremely anxious in the face of some of these new suggestions, specifically what is being called the Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007 and use of the drug propranalol to treat the symptoms of posttraumatic stress injuries. Though both, at least in theory, sound entirely reasonable, even desirable, in the wrong hands, under the wrong leadership, they could make the sci-fi fantasies of Blade Runner seem prescient.

The Psychological Kevlar Act “directs the secretary of defense to develop and implement a plan to incorporate preventive and early-intervention measures, practices or procedures that reduce the likelihood that personnel in combat will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other stress-related psychopathologies, including substance use conditions. (Kevlar, a DuPont fiber, is an essential component of U.S. military helmets and bullet-proof vests advertised to be “five times stronger than steel.”) The stated purpose of this legislation is to make American soldiers less vulnerable to the combat stressors that so often result in psychic injuries.

On the face of it, the bill sounds logical and even compassionate. After all, our soldiers are supplied with physical armor — at least in theory. So why not mental? My guess is that the representatives who have signed on to this bill are genuinely concerned about the welfare of troops and their families. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., is the bill’s sponsor, and I have no reason to question his genuine commitment to mental health issues, both within and outside of the military. Still, I find myself chilled at the prospects. To explain my discomfort, I need to go briefly into the history of military training.

Since World War II, our military has sought and found any number of ways to override the values and belief systems recruits have absorbed from their families, schools, communities and religions. Using the principles of operant conditioning, the military has found ways to reprogram their human software, overriding those characteristics that are inconvenient in a military context, most particularly the inherent resistance human beings have to killing others of their own species. “Modern combat training conditions soldiers to act reflexively to stimuli,” says Lt. Col. Peter Kilner, a professor of philosophy and ethics at West Point, “and this maximizes soldiers’ lethality, but it does so by bypassing their moral autonomy. Soldiers are conditioned to act without considering the moral repercussions of their actions; they are enabled to kill without making the conscious decision to do so. If they are unable to justify to themselves the fact that they killed another human being, they will likely — and understandably — suffer enormous guilt. This guilt manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it has damaged the lives of thousands of men who performed their duty in combat.”

By military standards, operant conditioning has been highly effective. It’s enabled American soldiers to kill more often and more efficiently, and that ability continues to exact a terrible toll on those we have designated as the “enemy.” But the toll on the troops themselves is also tragic. Even when troops struggle honorably with the difference between a protected person and a permissible target (and I believe that the vast majority do so struggle, though the distinction is one I find both ethically and humanely problematic) in war “shit happens.” When soldiers are witness to overwhelming horror, or because of a reflexive accident, an illegitimate order, or because multiple deployments have thoroughly distorted their perceptions, or simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time — those are the moments that will continue to haunt them, the memories they will not be able to forgive or forget, and the stuff of posttraumatic stress injuries.

And it’s not just the inherent conscientious objector our military finds inconvenient: current U.S. military training also includes a component to desensitize male soldiers to the sounds of women being raped, so the enemy cannot use the cries of their fellow soldiers to leverage information. I think it not unreasonable to connect such desensitization techniques to the rates of domestic violence in the military, which are, according to the DoD, five times those in the civilian population. Is anyone really surprised that men who have been specifically trained to ignore the pain and fear of women have a difficult time coming home to their wives and families? And clearly they do. There were 2,374 reported cases of sexual assault in the military in 2005, a 40 percent increase over 2004. But that figure represents only reported cases, and, as Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, commander of DoD’s Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response pointed out, “Studies indicate that only 5 percent of sexual assaults are reported.”

I have thought a lot about the implications of “psychological Kevlar” — what kind of “preventive and early-intervention measures, practices or procedures” might be developed that would “reduce the likelihood that personnel in combat will develop post-traumatic stress disorder.” How would a soldier with a shield against moral response “five times stronger than steel” behave?

I cannot convince myself that what is really being promoted isn’t a form of moral lobotomy.

I cannot imagine what aspects of selfhood will have to be excised or paralyzed so soldiers will no longer be troubled by what they, not to mention we, would otherwise consider morally repugnant. A soldier who has lost an arm can be welcomed home because he or she still shares fundamental societal values. But the soldier who sees her friend emulsified by a bomb, or who is ordered to run over children in the road rather than slow down the convoy, or who realizes too late that the woman was carrying a baby, not a bomb — if that soldier’s ability to feel terror and horror has been amputated, if he or she can no longer be appalled or haunted, something far more precious has been lost. I am afraid that the training or conditioning or drug that will be developed to protect soldiers from such injuries will leave an indifference to violence that will make them unrecognizable to themselves and to those who love them. They will be alienated and isolated, and finally unable to come home.

Posttraumatic stress injuries can devastate the lives of soldiers and their families. The suicides that are so often the result of such injuries make it clear that they can be every bit as lethal as bullets or bombs, and to date no cure has been found. Treatment and disability payments, both for injured troops and their families, are a huge budgetary concern that becomes ever more daunting as these wars drag on. The Psychological Kevlar Act perhaps holds out the promise of a prophylactic remedy, but it should come as no surprise that Big Pharma has been looking for a chemical intervention.

What they have come up with has already been dubbed “the mourning after pill.” Propranalol, if taken immediately following a traumatic event, can subdue a victim’s stress response and so soften his or her perception of the memory. That does not mean the memory has been erased, but proponents claim that the drug can render it emotionally toothless.

If your daughter were raped, the argument goes, wouldn’t you want to spare her a traumatic memory that might well ruin her life? As the mother of a 23-year old daughter, I can certainly understand the appeal of that argument. And a drug that could prevent the terrible effects of traumatic injuries in soldiers? If I were the parent of a soldier suffering from such a life-altering injury, I can imagine being similarly persuaded.

Not surprisingly, the Army is already on board. Propranolol is a well-tolerated medication that has been used for years for other purposes.

And it is inexpensive.

But is it moral to weaken memories of horrendous acts a person has committed? Some would say that there is no difference between offering injured soldiers penicillin to prevent an infection and giving a drug that prevents them from suffering from a posttraumatic stress injury for the rest of their lives. Others, like Leon Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, object to propranolol’s use on the grounds that it medicates away one’s conscience. “It’s the morning-after pill for just about anything that produces regret, remorse, pain or guilt,” he says. Barry Romo, a national coordinator for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, is even more blunt. “That’s the devil pill,” he says. “That’s the monster pill, the anti-morality pill. That’s the pill that can make men and women do anything and think they can get away with it. Even if it doesn’t work, what’s scary is that a young soldier could believe it will.”

It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to see the problem with both of these solutions. Though both hold the promise of relief from the effects of an injury that causes unspeakable pain, they do so at what appears to be great cost. Whatever research projects might be funded by the Psychological Kevlar Act and whatever use is made of propranolol, they will almost certainly involve a diminished range of feelings and memory, without which soldiers and veterans will be different. But in what ways?

I wish I could trust the leadership of our country to prioritize the lives and well-being of our citizens. I don’t. The last six years have clearly shown the extent to which this administration is willing to go to use soldiers for its own ends, discarding them when they are damaged. Will efforts be made to fix what has been broken? Return what has been taken? Bring them home? Will citizens be enlightened about what we are condoning in our ignorance, dispassion or indifference? Or will these two solutions simply bring us closer to realizing the bullet-proof mind, devoid of the inconvenient vulnerability of decent human beings to atrocity and horror? And finally, these are all questions about the morality of proposals that are trying to prevent injuries without changing the social circumstances that bring them about, which sidestep the most fundamental moral dilemma: that of sending people to war in the first place.

Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. © 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Mental Health Problems of Iraq Veterans May Be Delayed and Some Reflections

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

I recently received an article from my friend, Nick Warren, concerning a study of the mental health problems of returning Iraq War veterans, which goes a long way towards accounting for “why the Department of Defense’s mental health system is overwhelmed”. The article follows and is followed by my reflections on what it means about our treatment of veterans and about what our government wants to believe and wants us to believe about the effects of this horrendous war. It also inevitably brings up comparisons between the MIS-treatment of vets now and during the Vietnam War…

Mental Health Problems of Iraq Veterans May Be Delayed

By Neil Osterweil, Senior Associate Editor, MedPage Today
Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
November 15, 2007
Charles Milliken, M.D.
Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

SILVER SPRING, Md., Nov. 15 — For soldiers returning from Iraq, the full extent of mental health problems may take six months or more to surface, Pentagon investigators reported.

This could explain, in part, why the Department of Defense’s mental health care system is overwhelmed, asserted Charles S. Milliken, M.D., and colleagues, of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research here, in the Nov. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Action Points

* Explain to those who ask that this study suggests that mental health problems among returning veterans may be more pervasive than originally thought, and that reservists seem to be affected in larger numbers than active-duty soldiers.

Among more than 88,000 U.S. soldiers back from Iraq who had an immediate post-deployment screening, a follow-up about six months later revealed a higher number of positives for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), interpersonal conflicts, and referrals for mental health problems, they found.

In all, after the second screening, one-fifth of all active-duty soldiers back from Iraq and two-fifth of all reservists were found on screening to have a mental health concern requiring treatment.

“Reserve and active soldiers reported similar rates of potentially traumatic combat experiences (69.6% versus 66.5%), hospitalization during deployment (6% versus 5.3%), and overall mental health concerns on the post-deployment health assessment (17.5% versus 17%),” the investigators wrote.

“However, by the time of the post-deployment health reassessment, National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers reported substantially higher rates of interpersonal conflict, PTSD, depression, and overall mental health risk (35.5% versus 27.1%, odds ratio: 1.48; 95% CI: 1.44 to 1.53; P<0.001).”

Although the Walter Reed group reported 20 months ago that 19% of returning Iraq veterans had mental health problems, the same authors now say they may have seriously underestimated the scope of the problem.

The largest increase from one screening to the next was in concerns about interpersonal conflict, which went from 3.5% to 14% among active-duty personnel, and from 4.2% to 21.1% of reservists.

Similarly, PTSD-positive screens increased from 11.8% to 16.7% among regular forces. Among reserves, the PTSD-positive increase jumped from 12.7% to 24.5%.

Depression was seen in 4.7% of active-duty forces at the first assessment and 10.3% at the reassessment, with depression among reserves rising from 3.8% at screening 1 to 13% at screening 2.

“A recent congressionally mandated task force found the existing Department of Defense mental health system to be overburdened, understaffed, and underresourced,” the investigators wrote. “This study suggests that the mental health problems identified by VA clinicians in more than a quarter of recent combat veterans may have already been present within months of returning from war.”

Other investigators have found that a quarter of all veterans treated at VA hospitals after returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought mental health problems home. When psychosocial and behavioral problems were thrown into the mix, nearly a third of these veterans who sought care at aVA facility had a diagnosis of a mental health-related disorder.

Additionally, more than half the returning vets who had a mental health diagnosis were found to have two or more mental health disorders, wrote Karen H. Seal, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of California at San Francisco and the San Francisco VA, and colleagues in the March 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Another study showed that only one in five veterans returning from combat duty in Iraq or Afghanistan with signs of posttraumatic stress disorder is actually screened for it, the Government Accountability Office reported in May of 2006. (See: A Quarter of Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Show Mental Health Problems)

The Walter Reed investigators reported in JAMA in March of 2006 that 19.1% of soldiers and Marines who returned from Iraq met risk criteria for a mental health concern, compared with 11.3% for those deployed to Afghanistan and 8.5% for those sent to other locations. The adjusted odds ratio for service personnel sent to Iraq compared with other deployment locations was 2.72 (95% confidence interval: 2.63 to 2.80, P<0.001).

Now, these authors say, they may have seriously underestimated the size of the problem.

In the current study, the Walter Reed team reported on a population-based, longitudinal descriptive study of the initial large cohort of 8,235 U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who completed both a Post-Deployment Health assessment and a Post-Deployment Health Reassessment, with a median of six months between the two.

The main outcome measures were a positive screen for PTSD, major depression, alcohol abuse or misuse, or other mental health problems, as well as referrals for and use of mental health services.

They found that at the second assessment soldiers reported more mental health concerns and were referred at significantly higher rates compared with their immediate post-deployment assessment.

The authors found that soldiers indicated more mental health distress on the reassessment than on the first screening, and were referred at higher rates.

National Guard and reserve soldiers were also more than three times as likely as active soldiers to be referred for mental health concerns at the second assessment, when referrals from employee-assistance programs were included (36.2% versus 14.7%, odds ratio for reservists: 3.29, 95% CI: 3.19 to 3.40, P<0.001).

When the authors combined data from both and from employee assistance referrals, they found that clinicians had identified 20.3% of active soldiers and 42.4% of reservists as either needing referral or already being under care for mental health problems.

They also found that although soldiers frequently reported alcohol concerns, few were referred to an alcohol treatment program, and that most soldiers who used mental health services did so on their own, without a referral, even though the majority sought care within 30 days of being screened.

In addition, although soldiers were much more likely to report PTSD symptoms on the reassessment rather than on the initial screening, 49% to 59% of those who had PTSD symptoms identified on the first screening had improvement of symptoms by the second screening, and there was no direct relationship of referral or treatment with symptom improvement.

“Rescreening soldiers several months after their return from Iraq identified a large cohort missed on initial screening,” the investigators wrote. “The large clinical burden recently reported among veterans presenting to Veterans Affairs facilities seems to exist within months of returning home, highlighting the need to enhance military mental health care during this period.”

They noted that the reported increases in interpersonal conflict underline the lack of available services for the families of returning soldiers, and the higher rates of referral at second assessment for reservists may reflect concerns about their ongoing health coverage.

The research was funded by an intramural program of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.
Additional Anxiety & Stress Coverage

Primary source: Journal of the American Medical Association
Source reference:
Milliken CS, et al “Longitudinal assessment of mental health problem


I find myself trying to imagine what the factors are
that contribute to the significant increase in symptomatic vets after
the second six month later screening. I am thinking that there is likely a halo
effect of feeling relief immediately upon returning (thus a crazy time
to test and to come up with conclusive
results) vis a vis being alive, excitement for reunions with loved ones,
reduction of fear experienced during deployment, and possibly a desire
to believe one is all right or will soon become so This intrigues me as
do statistics about greater incidence of mental health issues with
reservists. I am on-goingly sad about the lack of appropriate services
for these veterans and their families. When I think about Vietnam vets and the care and support that
they never got I am even more aware of their feeling the anguish and
hopelessness that led so many of them to suicide. It ultimately feels
like we are mistreating these men throughout the process:
– they enlist because the system convinces them that the military will
make things better for them, which has been a terrible lie since at
least the start of the current wars
– they face an enemy they cannot identify using weapons they cannot
defend against, including IED’s and suicide bombers.
– they are on an impossible and totally thankless mission to bring
democracy to folks who cannot stand one another and our military
– they come back from the above scarred emotionally and psychologically,
at least, with profound therapy needs – as is true for their family
– the care they are offered is inadequate and often does not take into
consideration their needs or else they receive no care
– they suffer from PTSD and other mental health conditions that we do
not want to acknowledge in the numbers they are presenting themselves
and they also fear the stigma our society will place upon their
reputations if they seek therapy/support.
And, most terrifyingly, those in power exhibit no learning about
the huge mistreatments of the past…