Saturday, November 22, 2008

Our Veterans

For some reason I'm most deeply moved when ever I hear reporting about the situation of military veterans. I just listened to last week's podcast of Bill Moyers Journal hosted by Deborah Amos, which ended with a piece acknowledging Veteran's Day. At the end, I literally shed a tear.

I think my emotions relate to my sense of injustice. This is a sentiment that moves me on most issues, including the shaft the common working person is experiencing with an economic system that has been tilted in favor of the elite and a bailout that is also tilted that way.

Many military people aren't informed about the political factors that determine their fate. Some do, however, take the time to learn what Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler learned. They learn that most members of the military are pawns in a rich man's game. But that's not the theme of this essay.

Deborah Amos asked: "How should the rest of us who don't serve in the military honor the service of those who do?" She posed the question to veterans, and here are their responses.

JOHN CAMPBELL: Once the parades are over, then what happens? How do you fill in? How do you really continue to bring support for people that feel, in a lot of ways, so isolated? That's what we really think we're missing is this sense of community.

ANDREW ROBERTS: Putting the yellow ribbon in the window is great, but that's not supporting the troops. Right now- you know, if you look at World War II, there was all sorts of different things that were going on. There were little kids were running around collecting the rubber off their pencils to contribute to the war in some way. To support the troops in some way. And you just don't see that going on right now.

CARLOS LEON: First thing they could do is go to your local VA's and volunteer, or just go to say "hi" to a veteran. For a guy that's laying, or for a woman, that's laying in bed and can't really do much, and a total stranger comes by and says "I just wanted to come by and say good afternoon or good morning," that's a big deal.

DREW BROWN: Even just a handshake. Just "hey man, welcome home, and thank you for your service." That usually is enough. That warms my heart more than you know. And it's a huge thing, because veterans always feel this sense of separation from the society that they protect.
If you just take that little bit of time, you know, to just write a letter or, you know, get a care package or put little things in like, you know, a comic book for some of the guys or, you know, a magazine, that's more than enough. And it's very well appreciated.

KRISTEN ROUSE: A really important lesson that I learned in the military, is that you have to help people where you can. If you can do something for somebody, then do it. Whether that be, you know, serving the public in one way or another, military service, community service, political service, medical ser--, you know, whatever it is that you can do to help other people in this country and in other countries too.

ANDREW ROBERTS: There are many organizations out there that really work very hard, every single day, to support the troops in some capacity.

Sometimes just being a member of those organizations makes them more powerful. That's supporting the troops. That's actually doing something.

GENEVIEVE CHASE: The best thing people can do is be aware. Pick up the newspaper and read about what's going on.

ROMAN BACA: So many children are uneducated about the military, and I have kids walking up to me all the time and say "You're in the military? What's it like? What'd you do? Did you shoot somebody?" Parents need to get involved and educate their kids about a lot more.

ANDREW ROBERTS: I mean, I haven't even heard a call to service to join the military at all. So I think that that's an important first step to help galvanize the American population.

DON BUZNEY: I know when I came back from Vietnam, I was told that I could not be hired because I'd spent four years in the military. And my civilian counterparts had more civilian-type experience.

So, overcome that. Recognize the talent, the skills, the training that the men and women in uniform have and they bring back to. So, find a veteran. Give them a hug, and find them a job.

GENEVIEVE CHASE: I really encourage Americans who can to take a minute to write a letter to their congressman or to their senator, and say, "Can you please remember our vets?"

ANDREW ROBERTS: We just have to continue to remind our leaders that these are our veterans, and they've made tremendous, tremendous sacrifices for our nation. They ask for very little in return. But we owe it to them to make sure that we get them what they need when they come back.


Bill Moyers Journal, Honoring Our Veterans, November 14, 2008.

Originally posted on GDAEman Blog


There's more: "Our Veterans" >>

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Retired Generals and Admirals Call for the Repeal of DADT

Via Andrew Sullivan:

More than 100 retired generals and admirals called Monday for repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays so they can serve openly.
I knew a good number of gay servicemembers and veterans both when I served and afterward when I worked with the military in Iraq and at Ft. Huachuca; and counted many as friends. I saw no difference in their abilities, and saw very little threat to "unit cohesion" by their presence.

Among those I have known was one of the 12 female victims of a "witch hunt" at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in 1999--she was a friend of my then-wife, who was also at DLI at the time. She came over to the house several times, once so that we could show her The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I used to lamely joke was what pushed her over the edge (she had not come out yet, bet we had our suspicions). She was, of course, no different than any of the other servicemembers we knew in terms of ability, professionalism, dedication and esprit des corps, but she was gay, so her services were not needed, not even after September 11.

The fundamental injustice of her discharge, of a policy that demands servicemembers remain in the closet, was only too obvious to me then as it is now. There is no good reason gays cannot be allowed to serve openly in the military. Any "unit cohesion" problems can easily be addressed by the military's current sexual harrassment regulations. Most of the people I knew in Iraq, especially the grunts, had no problem serving with homosexuals and almost everyone it seemed knew one personally who was relatively open about his or her sexual orientation.

Sure, the faggot and cocksucker comments flew unfettered through many a conversation, but never in my presence were they directed at gays. This does raise the sticky issue of widespread homophobia, at least in talk, in our military, but fortunately the military has an almost ideal system for rooting out prejudice.

In Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO in 1995, I was forced to meet and work alongside people whose subcultures I had never known. In my 8-person (we were among the first gender-integrated Basic Training cycles at Leonard Wood) squad were a stereotypical white redneck from the Georgia hills, an black soldier from Detroit and a Puerto Rican female from, well, Puerto Rico, alongside myself, a white boy from an agricultural town in California. Would we have ever come into contact with all of those people in one place had the military not forced us to work together? Likely not. But I remember having a private conversation toward the end of the 8-week cycle with that stereotypical redneck about race. He brought it up, because he just had to tell someone how strange it was to him that he could have so much in common with a black man. I told him I was astonished to discover how much he and I shared.

This epiphany can happen, and has happened, for those who believe they could never work with a homosexual. All it requires is for the military to tell its recruits, "shut up, put your differences aside, and learn to work together." They might also add, "keep your hands off each other," as they already do in gender-integrated units.

If you're at all concerned about the results of Prop 8 in California or the grossly unequal treatment of homosexuals in our society, you should be hopeful about this development. Just as racial integration of the military 60 years ago was a watershed event in the struggle for equality, lifting the ban on gays in the military will serve a similar purpose.

Twenty years from now, we may look upon this as the canary in the coalmine of legal anti-gay discrimination in America. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has made it easy foryou to write your representatives about this issue. Please do so.

(Cross-posted at Decline and Fall.)

There's more: "Retired Generals and Admirals Call for the Repeal of DADT" >>

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The War on People

This is about collateral damage, aka the killing of civilians during war. The "war on terror" is really a war on people. Those people are not easily categorized, but I know who they aren't. They aren't white, they aren't rich, they aren't American, and they don't usually speak English. The exception to this are the few accused 'leaders' of terrorism which the U.S. says it wants to capture; bin Laden is presumably wealthy but the hunt for bin Laden has been declared phony more than once recently. (They need a Bad Guy or the war on terror itself is phony). So if the war on terror is phony, that means the war on terror is really a war on people who are "Other" than American. That's like our government saying, "World, watch your back!"

The following is a good book review for a new book on collateral damage. I heard the two authors discuss this last week on CSPAN for the Miami Book Fair. (You can watch the whole panel here). It's written by Chris Hedges (a pro-peace independent journalist) and Laila Al-Arian. From their discussion of their book, and what I have read in the last 4 years, it's obvious to me that the 'war on terror' has desensitized the American people to conclude that killing people in far-away countries in order to keep us safe, whatever that means, is perfectly OK. Proof of anything about their threat to our safety is optional. And unfortunately, this war on people is not going to end with a new administration.

Obviously the war-keeps-us-safe point of view overlooks the fact that we have never been, and will never be, "safe". We could cross the street and be hit by a car, or our house could be burglarized tomorrow, or a neighbor's dog could attack us. We could lose our jobs and our health insurance. Surely these situations all threaten peoples' safety. Women in the U.S. know they are never safe, and never will be, as domestic violence and rape and dying in childbirth are always a threat. So a war to keep us safe seems as ridiculous as promising us "heaven" or 72 virgins after we die. It's a fantasy.

There's more: "The War on People" >>

Tiny figures represent huge Iraq toll

Nearly 100,000 hand-fired clay figures, representing lives lost in the Iraq war, will be the backdrop on Friday for an Iraq Moratorium action in the California community of Aptos, near Santa Cruz.

The display is the work of artist Kathleen Crocetti, a high school art teacher, who told the San Jose Mercury News :

"I'm doing this to help people visualize the number of people killed in the Iraq war. We need a physical connection to that number. I thought we went into the war under false pretenses, and I can't sanction pre-emptive war.

I feel such shame and sadness in my name as an American," she said. "I feel responsible for the pain and grief because of this war."
The 4,000-plus small white clay figures, each holding a U.S. flag, represent dead American soldiers. The 92,000 dark clay figures, behind the Americans like a shadow, represent Iraqis. She uses the number from Iraq Body Count, which includes documented civilian deaths. It is a very conservative number; others estimate the count could be as high as a million.

On Friday, as individuals and groups across the country interrupt their regular routines to mark the Iraq Moratorium and call for an end to the war and occupation, people in Aptos will peacefully protest the war during rush hour on the sidewalks in front of the Resurrection-Aptos cemetery where the figures are displayed. The evening's vigil, with music and poetry will be near the memorial in the cemetery.

The action is one of many taking place on Friday, Iraq Moratorium #15. Despite the election, despite a proposed new US-Iraq agreement, the war drags on and on.

The President-elect and the new Congress need to know that we want our troops home -- and not in three years.

The Iraq Moratorium website includes a list of actions planned across the country on Friday, and suggestions for individual action. If you can't make time to take part on Friday, consider a donation. The killing has to stop, and we have to stop it.

There's more: "Tiny figures represent huge Iraq toll" >>

Iraqi Cabinet Approves SOFA With U.S.

How long it will last is anybody's guess. Is a civil war Bush's parting gift to Iraqis?

The Real News analyzes the agreement in a discussion with Sabah al-Nasseri, Professor of Political Science (Middle East Politics) at York University, Toronto, and previously Lecturer of Political Science at the J.W. Goethe University, Frankfurt.

Real News: November 18, 2008 - 12 minutes
Iraqi cabinet accepts US agreement

Sabah al-Nasseri: Strong nationalist movement has mobilized against the agreement, and they have guns.

The Iraqi cabinet agreed by a vote of 27-1 on Sunday to approve the newest US draft of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries.

The agreement speaks to a variety of issues concerning the occupation, including the complete withdrawal from Iraq of US forces by the end of 2011. Moreover, it includes a promise from the US to not use Iraqi territory as a launch pad to attack inside other Middle-eastern countries, as it did in late October during a raid on a village inside Syria.

Sabah al-Nasseri believes that the Iraqi parliament will eventually turn down the agreement for political reasons, in the interests of securing one with Barack Obama when he comes to power in January.

The timing is important as the Iraqi provincial elections, which are extremely significant given the power granted provinces under the Iraqi constitution, will take place on January 31.

Sabah believes that the importance of fairing well in those elections will force the parliament to reject an agreement which has received the rebuke of numerous groups, both religious and secular, who have organized massive protests over recent weeks.

One piece of the agreement that very few people are talking about, which Sabah believes has angered many nationalists of all stripes, is the labeling of any armed resistance against occupation forces as terrorists, thereby criminalizing their activities under Iraqi law.

Sabah believes that the most recent violence in Iraq was carried out by secular nationalists who are opposed to the deal, given that the targets of the attacks were all US and Iraqi government elements.

Sabah, who was born and raised in the Southern Iraqi city of Basra, reiterates his support for an immediate withdrawal of all foreign occupiers, believing that the violence in Iraq stems from the occupation.
On the flip, Tina Susman reporting from Baghdad for the LA Times, has put together A guide to the U.S. security agreement with Iraq:

As Iraq's parliament plans to vote on a deal that would set Dec. 31, 2011, as the end date for U.S. occupation, The Times answers questions about the pact.
By Tina Susman, LA Times Staff Writer
November 18, 2008
Reporting from Baghdad -- Iraq's parliament Monday began considering a security agreement that will determine the future of American forces in the country and, if approved, set Dec. 31, 2011, as the end date for the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The Cabinet approved the pact Sunday. The next step is a vote on the accord by the 275-seat legislature, expected in the next week. Here are answers to some of the questions most often asked about the pact.

What is the agreement?

The Status of Forces Agreement, commonly known as SOFA, is the legal documentation needed for American troops to remain in Iraq past Dec. 31 of this year, the date the United Nations mandate governing their presence expires. SOFA deals strictly with the security aspects of the U.S. presence. A separate agreement known as the Strategic Framework covers economic, cultural, technical and other issues. It is part of the package of legislation before the Iraqi parliament that includes SOFA.

How was the deal reached?

The process began more than a year ago when leaders of both countries declared their commitment to drafting the framework for a long-term relationship. Formal talks were launched in March. At the end of May, the talks reached what both sides have described as a dead end over contentious issues. Negotiators began fresh discussions that lasted through the summer and led to a SOFA draft in October. Iraq's Cabinet demanded about 100 changes to the draft, some small and some large. After more negotiations, a final deal was reached this month. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his Cabinet gave their approval over the weekend and passed it on to the parliament.

What were the sticking points?

The major ones involved timing for the withdrawal of American forces, and the question of whether American troops could be prosecuted by Iraqi courts for alleged crimes committed against Iraqis. Other areas of disagreement involved the future of Iraqi detainees held by U.S. forces in Iraq, and the question of whether Iraq has the right to inspect weapons and other packages arriving in the country for American troops.

How were the main issues resolved?

U.S. officials made a major concession on the timing question. They originally rejected a firm withdrawal date and suggested a vague "time horizon" for the U.S. pullout, based on conditions on the ground. They also spoke of extending the U.S. presence until 2015. The final plan calls for U.S. combat troops to pull out of Iraqi cities, towns and villages by next July, and for all U.S. troops to be gone from the country by Dec. 31, 2011. The dates are not "conditions-based." Iraq gave way on jurisdiction, dropping its demand for the right to try American troops for alleged crimes committed against Iraqis. Instead, a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee will examine individual cases involving Americans accused of committing such crimes while off base, and decide who has jurisdiction. The Americans agreed to relinquish control to Iraqi authorities of about 16,000 Iraqis held in U.S. custody in the country; and Iraq won the right to inspect incoming packages.

Who opposes the pact and why?

The leading critics are Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr; the main Sunni Arab political bloc in parliament; and Iran and Syria. Sadr has long demanded the ouster of American forces and says they should leave when the U.N. mandate expires next month. Iran and Syria, which Washington accuses of fomenting violence inside Iraq, also want U.S. forces to leave as soon as possible. Sunni leaders have said the pact is too important a matter not to be voted on in a public referendum.

Could opponents derail the plan?

It's doubtful they could stop it in parliament, because neither the Sadr bloc nor the Sunnis have enough seats to vote it down. However, the Sadrists made it clear Monday that they would attempt to stall debate by demanding legislation that could require a two-thirds majority vote, rather than a simple majority, to approve the pact. The Sunnis could derail the pact if Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni who sits on the nation's three-member Presidency Council, opted to use his veto powers to prevent it from being signed into law once passed by parliament. That would force U.S. and Iraqi officials to scramble for an alternative plan.

Does the pact affect non-U.S. troops in the country?

No. There are only a few thousand non-American troops here now, and most plan to leave by the end of the year. The biggest non-U.S. force is Britain's, which numbers about 4,000 and is negotiating its own pact with Iraq.

What happens now?

Parliament had its first "reading" of the pact Monday, when it received the package but did not discuss it. Debate begins this week, with a vote anticipated by Nov. 25.

What if it fails?

If it fails, U.S. forces will have to halt operations in Iraq at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, unless the U.N. mandate could be extended beforehand.

There's more: "Iraqi Cabinet Approves SOFA With U.S." >>

Monday, November 17, 2008

Only 3 more years in Iraq? Such a deal

Iraq and the United States have signed an agrement requring the US to withdraw its troops by the end of 2011.

So the war and occupation, already more than five and a half years old, could be over in three more years. How about that?

That actually is progress of sorts. And there are some positive things about the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by Iraq's Parliament. (Interestingly, it does not need Congressional approval.)

UPDATE: David Swanson says it is a treaty that does, indeed, require Senate ratification, and that we should insist on it. Link.

But you'll have to excuse us if we don't call off Friday's planned Iraq Moratorium actions across the country. In fact, there are signs of renewed and increased interest in antiwar activity. We definitely need to keep the heat on the new Congress and the Obama administration.

Some bright spots:

== The end of 2011 is the longest US troops could stay. The Iraq government could move up the timetable if its security forces are ready and insist that US troops leave sooner. Presumably the US also could decide to leave sooner; that should be the goal of the antiwar movement.

== U.S. forces must withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30. That may save the lives of many civilians.

== Iraqi authorities are granted extensive power over the operations and movements of U.S. forces.

== The U.S. cannot use Iraqi territory to attack Iraq's neighbors, including Syria and Iran.

== Iraq can try U.S. soldiers and defense contractors in the case of serious crimes committed off-duty and off-base.

== It will restore Iraqi sovereignty and end the ability of US troops to arrest Iraqi citizens (or anyone else they find) at will.

In some ways it is amazing that the Bush administration, which insisted that a timeline for withdrawal would mean The End of the World As We Know It, agreed to this. It happened because the Iraqi government stood up on its hind legs and insisted. They want the US out, and in the meantime they want to run their own country. What an idea.

So, it's far from time for the antiwar movement to declare victory and turn its attention elsewhere. There is a lot of work to be done to shorten that three year timeline.

Let's start on Friday, Iraq Moratorium day, a day to interrupt business as usual and do something, individually or collectively, to call for an end to the war and occupation of Iraq.

On the website, you'll find a list of actions planned across the country, ideas for individual action, and more.

Do what you can. But do something.

There's more: "Only 3 more years in Iraq? Such a deal" >>

"Never Forget", by Marc Ash

A few hours ago today Marc Ash posted this at Truthout. There is little if anything that I could add that would do justice to Marc's words...

Never Forget
Monday 17 November 2008
by: Marc Ash, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

An American soldier lies on an operating table. in Ramadi after being wounded in an IED blast.
Iraq 2006. (Photo: Lucian Read /

When they say to you that "mistakes were made," never believe that. Mistakes are always made, but mistakes did not lead us on the road to Baghdad. We were taken to Iraq by those who knew exactly, precisely what they were doing. Or believed so anyway.

Do not be persuaded to believe that "bad intelligence" was the problem and war was the unfortunate result. No one who made this war believed themselves what they told the nation. They knew quite well and they went anyway. And they took us with them.

When it is said that an "insurgent" has killed or been killed always ask who that was, and why. More often than not, it was someone who lived there, but would not live under foreign rule.

Do not be seduced into thinking of torture as harsh interrogation. The hour is late and we must confront the torturers among us.

If you are the slightest bit concerned that we have crushed freedom here and in other lands in the name of freedom, be more concerned. We have.

Never forget or let your children forget that it was all a lie, told with purpose.

Many of us believed that Vietnam was a catharsis, a moving beyond a point to which we could never return. It took only 28 years to get from Saigon to Baghdad. And we took the exact same road. Don't be too ashamed the trick we fell for was the same one Mark Twain warned of when he wrote, "Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor ..." "All you have to do ...," said Hermann Goering "... is tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

It has worked in our country. Again.

At the end of any battle, the last man holding a sword is the judge. But Nuremberg forgot Dresden. Will we forget Abu Ghraib? Will the world forget what we have done? In the year 2001, we believed that it did not matter who won the presidential election. What do we believe now?

We have sacked Babylon. Only a fool would believe there will be no day of atonement.

We stand at the precipice of a new age of political pragmatism. Realists, making realistic decisions. Let it be listed among those things that are real the danger of ignoring the enormous crimes of these last eight years. Lest we come to ask for whom the bell tolls.
The Iraq debacle will never end until the perpetrators sit in a prisoners dock at their war crimes trials.

There's more: ""Never Forget", by Marc Ash" >>

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maliki Schooled Bush

After opposing "timelines for withdrawal" from Iraq on principle for years now, the Bush Administration has agreed to one. One of the things that struck me about the article was the way time constraints led to the Administration giving in on one of its key lines in the sand. My guess is that Iraqi officials stalled, and Bush blinked:

The U.S. government has lobbied hard for the status-of-forces agreement, which would replace a United Nations mandate authorizing the U.S. presence that expires on Dec. 31. Without some legal umbrella, the 150,000 U.S. forces would have to end their operations in Iraq in a few weeks' time, military officials said.


One issue is timing: The notoriously slow-moving Iraqi parliament is scheduled to adjourn on Nov. 25 for a three-week break to allow lawmakers to make the hajj pilgrimage. "We have a limited window of time," warned Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister.

America has been generally belligerent toward the nascent Iraqi state, treating their clear wishes, such as timelines, as the suggestions of politicians clearly out of their depth.

This paternalism is the sort of thing that hawks believe projects strength, but by refusing to budge on Iraq's (and the rest of the world's) demands for more autonomy, reductions in U.S. forces, legal accountability for the actions of U.S. military and civilian personnel and a timeline for withdrawal, America has backed itself into a corner where the only options were "leave soon" or "leave now." America could have spent the last five and a half years working in good faith with Iraqi officials to transfer authority as soon as possible, but instead Bush insisted on calling the shots, thus weakening his position when the inevitable day came when America had to negotiate.

Maliki was aware of this, but the Administration seemed to be oblivious. Another example of the grotesque hubris and myopia that have characterized the Bush years. Basically, Maliki schooled Bush.

(Cross-posted at Decline and Fall.)

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