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Suicide of Prominent Iraq, Afghanistan Vet Highlights “Sham” of Pentagon Statistics

4:48 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Clay Hunt, widely known and respected for his work in multiple groups assisting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, took his own life on March 31. Hunt’s death is particularly tragic because he appeared in a Public Service Announcement for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and generally was a voice for veterans getting the help they need for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. From the IAVA obituary:

It is with unspeakable sadness that IAVA staff and members across the country mourn the loss of Clay Hunt. Clay took his own life on March 31st. Clay served in the Marine Corps for 4 years before being honorably discharged in 2009. He served in an infantry squad in Iraq in 2007 where he was wounded in action, receiving the Purple Heart Medal, and then in Afghanistan in 2008 as a Scout-Sniper.

Clay was an incredible advocate for our generation of veterans, a person of tremendous character and a fierce believer in the value of service. He was a leader for IAVA, participating in Storm the Hill 2010 and playing a critical role in the Ad Council campaign. In addition to his involvement with IAVA, he was active with Team Rubicon and Ride to Recovery. Clay believed his mission in life was to serve both in and out of the military. That is something that we will never forget.

Equally tragic is that the Pentagon will not count Hunt’s death among the spiraling figures for military suicides. From CNN:

“In my mind he is a casualty of war,” she [Hunt's mother, Susan Selke] said. “But he died here instead of over there. He died as a result of his war experience. There is no doubt in my mind.”

But Hunt’s death will not be counted by the Pentagon as an official military suicide, since he left the Marines in 2009.

“That is a complete sham in my opinion,” [Hunt's sniper school partner Jake] Wood said. “Part of Clay was killed in Iraq. Part of Clay was killed in Afghanistan and the rest of him was killed in Houston, Texas. And if that is not reflected in military statistics, it’s a shame.”

Last September, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen addressed the increased rate of military suicides:

A dramatic surge in troop suicides has become the Pentagon’s top “emergency” issue, though the brass doesn’t know how to curb the tragedies. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while suicides have been on the rise since 2004, the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they have really jumped recently, forcing he and his top aides to look for a solution.

“The emergency issue for me right now is the suicide issue,” he said at a media roundtable breakfast today. Just last week, he added, five Army soldiers took their lives. “It’s a very difficult problem. There’s not a national solution,” he said.

After admitting that the rate is likely to increase further before declining, Mullen then acknowledged that returning vets also are at risk:

What’s more, he added, the surge in troops coming home may encounter troubled families when they arrive back home. “I think we’re going to see a significant increase in the challenges that we have in terms of our troops and our families because they are going to have some time [together at home] and if things have been pent up or packed in or basically suppressed or sucked up, what ever term you want to use, we’re going to see that as well,” Mullen said.

So the Pentagon knows that returning vets face a high suicide risk and yet the Pentagon refuses to include these deaths among the official suicide figures. This means, of course, that the suicide figures actually are even much higher than the Pentagon admits.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this whole situation is that the Obama administration launched its effort to support military families this week. Sadly, however, the program being launched is being used as a vehicle to rehabilitate the image of war criminal Stanley McChrystal, against the wishes of Pat Tillman’s family, who suffered greatly from McChrystal’s role in covering up the friendly fire aspect of Tillman’s death. Furthermore, the program is being administered by the Center for a New American Security, which is funded by military contractors and is involved in a campaign to sell the idea of extending the Iraq war. At a time when it should be stepping up real services for both active military personnel and for veterans, the Obama administration is playing the worst sort of cynical politics with military families. There are no words to describe the evil of this situation.

Obama Appoints War Criminal McChrystal to Support Military Families, Sell Iraq War Extension

4:42 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Late last month, I jokingly suggested that Barack Obama could emulate his “hero” Ronald Reagan by doing a progressive version of Reagan’s signature move of making appointments that are the exact opposite of the goals of the position by nominating Dennis Kucinich as Secretary of Defense and Donald Daniel Ellsberg to head the CIA.  Sadly, Obama seems to have taken a garbled version of this suggestion, as word came Sunday that Obama is creating “a high-profile initiative in support of military families” and has put war criminal and Pat Tillman cover-up leader Stanley McChrystal in charge of this operation. This is a truly Reaganesque appointment, as it is hard to imagine a military figure who has done more to harm families around the world, and now he is leading the charge to put a happy face on the devastation ten years of war has wreaked on the very small number of US families who have borne the brunt of the death and other sacrifices by our all-volunteer force.

The key point to note in examining this new program for military families is how it will be administered.  The New York Times describes it in this way:

The Joining Forces program will be guided and coordinated by the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan policy institute. The center, which is led by two military veterans, has published a series of reports analyzing stress on service members an part of its study of “military wellness.”

But it is not quite true that the Center for a New American Security is “nonpartisan”.  It is an operation founded by Democrats but is completely pro-war.  Late last month, Nathan Hodge had a revealing profile of CNAS at The Nation, which he titled “Coalition of the Shilling“.  Hodge provides this about the funding of CNAS:

But Jaffe’s argument begs the question of whether think tanks, even centrist ones, truly offer the same independence that newspapers purport to have. CNAS is an instructive case. Two former Clinton administration officials, Michèle Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, founded CNAS in 2007 as a way for centrist Democrats to reclaim a place in the national security debate ahead of the 2008 presidential race. It was an expert triangulation: Flournoy, Campbell and their associates staked out a hawkish (or, as they would term it, a “pragmatic and principled”) position on Iraq, opposing early deadlines for withdrawal. After Obama’s election, CNAS would emerge as a key feeder for the new administration’s national security team. No fewer than fourteen CNAS grads would land slots in the Defense and State departments. Flournoy now occupies the number-three post at the Pentagon, and Campbell is the head of the State Department’s Asia bureau.

How exactly did Flournoy and Campbell conjure up a think tank out of thin air? In addition to support from foundations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Ploughshares Foundation, CNAS received heavy backing from the military industry. Its list of donors includes major weapons manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and BAE Systems. It also receives contributions from private security firms like Aegis Defence Services, as well as from KBR, the logistics support contractor notorious for overbilling the Pentagon for its services in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it generates income from research contracts with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, as do others like the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

So, in reality, CNAS is a front group for the Pentagon and military contractors making sure they keep their gravy train running.  But even more informative from Hodge’s article is the information in the very first paragraph, where we see the role of CNAS in selling the idea that the US needs to keep combat forces in Iraq:

On February 25 journalist Thomas Ricks published an important scoop on his blog at ForeignPolicy.com: Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, had requested keeping a brigade in northern Iraq beyond President Obama’s deadline for the withdrawal of combat forces. The timing of the story was intriguing. Just two days earlier, Ricks had published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for US troops to remain in Iraq long term. “I think leaders in both countries may come to recognize that the best way to deter a return to civil war is to find a way to keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come,” he wrote. The op-ed coincided with a policy brief by Ricks issued by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the Washington think tank where he is a senior fellow.

Now Obama’s choice of McChrystal fits into a neat package developed by CNAS.  They want the Iraq war extended, they know this will cause a lot of grief to military families, they have worked extensively with McChrystal in the past (documented also by Hodge in the article), McChrystal needs a new job to rehabilitate his image and so they have created a job for him selling the idea of extending the Iraq war to military families.

What could possibly go wrong with this plan?  Jason Leopold suggested on Twitter last night that the Tillman family might not be so pleased about this move:

Amazing that Obama admin wld appoint McChrystal 2 anything having 2 do w/military families after wht he put Pat Tillman’s family through

From the CBS story accompanying the video above, here is Pat Tillman’s mother describing her efforts to contact Obama and prevent McChrystal being elevated to head the military effort in Afghanistan when he was nominated in the summer of 2009:

Mary explained, “I wrote the book, came out in 2008, and I indicate that McChrystal was involved in orchestrating the cover-up. He falsified the Silver Star. He was very aware that Pat was killed by friendlies. And then, when he was going to be promoted to the head commander in Afghanistan, I had contacted President Obama, I e-mailed him and written a letter and contacted members of Congress, just trying to remind them that this man needed to be scrutinized very carefully. And in the end, it turned out that he was pretty much meant for that position. He was a shoo-in. Of course, he was promoted. And, that is part of the foreword.”

In 2009 Obama demonstrated that he was immune to the arguments presented by the Tillman family and he went ahead with appointing McChrystal to head troops in Afghanistan. How sad that Obama is now compounding that pain to the Tillman family by appointing McChrystal for a position which is on the surface meant to be addressing much of the harm that McChrystal himself has directly caused.

Obama now owns all of McChrystal’s war crimes by appointing him to an important position not once, but twice.

Let’s Plan the New Terror Threat Warning System

7:08 am in Terrorism by Jim White

Color-coded threat levels are just so 2001. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps because the threat level color has not changed since 2006, the Washington Post informs us that the Obama administration is considering dropping the color-coded threat levels that were the signature of the George W. Bush era. The replacement for the color-coded threats has not been fully divulged yet, so perhaps we have time to have an influence on the new system.

Here is the Post:

A proposal drafted by the Department of Homeland Security and submitted to the White House urges a shift toward more-tailored threat warnings and the dismantling of the five-color scheme that was often mocked for alarming people but providing little useful guidance on how they should respond, U.S. officials said.

“The goal is to replace a system that communicates nothing with a system that communicates precise, actionable information based on the latest intelligence to law enforcement, the private sector and the American public,” said a senior Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because deliberations are continuing.

/snip/

U.S. officials said the new system would assume a baseline state of heightened public awareness and would be built around two broad threat categories: elevated and imminent. The latter would be instituted for no more than a week at a time, officials said, and would be accompanied, when possible, by specific information on the nature of the threat.

I’m all in favor of having the alerts be more specific, but I also think that more needs to be done to place the threats in context. Each time a new threat warning is issued, DHS should be required to divulge how long it is until the next election and how the party currently in power is expected to fare in that election. Further, the Pentagon should be required to provide an update on current military efforts around the globe and how both the military and the public view these actions as progressing. Finally, and most importantly, the intelligence community should be required to provide an analysis that places the threat into perspective with previous efforts by whatever group is believed to be behind the threat. Especially important here is that the public should be informed about just how successful the presumed terrorists have been in the past with similar efforts.

Take the efforts to get bombs onto airplanes and to bring those airplanes down with the bombs. We now take our shoes off before boarding planes because Richard Reid tried to take an airplane down with a shoe bomb. He failed. So why do we still take our shoes off? Now we are being Rape-Scanned and gate rape-groped because the underpants bomber tried to bring down a plane last Christmas with a bomb in his shorts. He succeeded only in dousing the impending explosion with a mini-explosion of uric acid in aqueous solution. He failed. So why are we being ogled and groped? We now have taken the ridiculous step of banning toner shipments on some routes, because some folks in Yemen tried to take down planes with toner bombs. They failed. So why do we ban toner?

For the new system, I also propose that airport security should have its own rating system for the level of alert being employed on any particular day. The levels could be zero, one or two and would describe how many fingers the TSA agent will stick into each orifice of your body.

I’m sure the creative folks here at the Lake will have additional ideas that could be incorporated into the new warning scheme.  Let’s see your suggestions in comments.

McClatchy Refuses to Back Down from Pentagon, Still Naming Joshua Claus

6:57 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Freedom Press
Which way lies freedom for our press? (Photo: sara~ on Flickr)

On Thursday, the Pentagon banned four reporters from further on-site reporting of military commission trials at Guantanamo, because they published the previously known name of a witness that the Pentagon was trying to present as anonymous. The impact of this assault on press freedom can be seen immediately in the corporate news coverage of this event, as only McClatchy continues to name the witness in its coverage of the banning.

Here is how Spencer Ackerman, also present at Guantanamo, reported the banning:

Two weeks’ worth of proceedings in the pre-trial hearing of Omar Khadr found an unexpected meta-conclusion this afternoon as the public affairs shop in the Office of the Secretary of Defense banned four reporters from returning to Guantanamo Bay. Their offense: reporting the name of a witness whose identity is under a protective order.

The four journalists are Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Steven Edwards of Canwest, Paul Koring of the Globe & Mail and Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. They are not being thrown off the base, but, as of now, they are barred from returning.

Continuing, Ackerman describes the impact of the ban:

Those four reporters comprise much of the institutional knowledge of Guantanamo Bay and the military commissions, as their colleagues widely acknowledge. Shephard has written the most comprehensive account to date of Omar Khadr’s life and experiences in detention at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, in both her Star reporting and her book Guantanamo’s Child. Rosenberg is the single most diligent, consistent and experienced Guantanamo Bay reporter in the world, having carved out the Guantanamo beat steadily almost since the detention facility here opened in 2002 and traveled here more frequently than any other journalist. (I personally heard complaints about her from public affairs officers here five years ago — and those complaints amounted to whining about how dogged an investigator she was.) Koring and Edwards have also been invaluable resources about Khadr and Guantanamo to their colleagues these past two weeks.

Marcy Wheeler described the Pentagon action and asked questions about its impact:

Basically, the government is banning journalists for using a name they’ve used in reports in the past, a name that is publicly known.

Is this an attempt to prevent the public from making the connection between two Afghans who died in 2002–Dilawar and Habibullah–and Khadr’s treatment? And/or just an attempt to intimidate the press so the people who know the most about the Gitmo show trials (and particularly Khadr) don’t bring that knowledge to bear on their reporting?

We will have to wait to see on Marcy’s first question, but on her second, the Pentagon appears to have succeeded in cowering most of the corporate press. This AP article does not mention the name of "Interrogator No. 1". Reuters matches AP’s refusal to name, and goes even further by bragging about that refusal:

His name had been widely published during a 2005 court-martial in which he pleaded guilty to abusing prisoners at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. He had also allowed the use of his name in subsequent media interviews.

But the Guantanamo court declared his name to be secret during his testimony on Thursday in a hearing to determine whether a Canadian prisoner’s confessions to interrogators were coerced. He was identified only as Interrogator No. 1.

About a dozen news organizations covered the hearing and about half, including Reuters, did not identify the interrogator by name.

Among those large news organizations who did print the name, McClatchy stands out, especially since their Carol Rosenberg was among the banned:

At issue were news articles earlier this week that identified a witness at a hearing for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr as former Army Sgt. Joshua Claus. The Pentagon had asked reporters to identify him as Interrogator No. 1.

Claus has been the subject of news stories since 2005, when he was convicted by a U.S. military court martial of abusing detainees at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan in 2002, a conviction that earned him a five-month prison term.

He was first publicly identified as Khadr’s interrogator on March 13, 2008, during a hearing at Guantanamo. He subsequently gave an on-the-record interview to Shephard of the Toronto Star, one of the banned reporters, where he asserted that he’d never abused Khadr, who was 15 years old when he was taken captive by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002.

Just as they did in their reporting on the build-up to the Iraq war, McClatchy (and predecessor Knight Ridder) is willing to adhere to the principles of a free press that doggedly pursues the reality behind stories rather than serving as stenographers for government spin.

Hooray for the good guys and hooray for courage under pressure.

Update May 8: David Dayen informs us in comment 21 below that Daniel Froomkin reported Claus’ name in his story about about the banning. As I responded in comments, that raises an interesting question of whether Froomkin would have been allowed to do so if he were still at the Washington Post. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that CNN has joined the group of corporate media organizations naming Claus. See this article. Good on them.