Thursday, April 17, 2014

Promoting a "Right to Heal" from Ft. Hood to Abu Ghraib

Excellent article by Phyllis Bennis from Foreign Policy in Focus:

Promoting a “Right to Heal” from Ft. Hood to Abu Ghraib

(Photo: Joseph Holmes / Flickr)
This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and
The recent shootings of soldiers at Fort Hood and other U.S. military bases have once again brought to public attention the challenge of making sure that soldiers returning from war zones find security and support at home. The Washington Post calls the pressures on veterans “the next war.” But whatever war comes next, those existing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their consequences continue.
The exploding rates of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the escalating numbers of soldiers turning their weapons on each other as well as themselves, and theendemic spread of PTSD all are linked to the wars themselves. Wars of aggression and occupation have an enormous, terrible effect on the young women and men ordered to fight them.
And that’s just on the U.S. military side. We also have a moral and legal responsibility to respond to the wars’ even more devastating impact on millions of Afghans and Iraqis.
Last March, a hundred or so people filled a local Washington, DC church, reprising a scene more common several years ago—an examination of the impact of the U.S. war in Iraq. That night, the young soldiers of Iraq Veterans Against the War (and some of their parents) joined Iraqi women’s rights and labor leaders, along with U.S.-based lawyers, epidemiologists, and activists, to build a campaign demanding what they call the Right to Heal. The veterans’ demands begin with the urgent need to end the military’s practice of sending soldiers diagnosed with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other related wounds back into battle. That need is linked directly to dealing with the suicides, homicides, domestic violence, and other problems facing the high numbers of veterans returning from the post-9/11 wars with serious mental injuries.
But IVAW linked its demand for better care for U.S. veterans to the need to respond to the deep destruction left in Iraq and Afghanistan—social, environmental, and medical—that continues to plague the violence-riven countries.
U.S. troops were redeployed out of Iraq two-and-a-half years ago. But the United States’ nearly decade-long occupation—which followed not only the 2003 invasion, but also the Pentagon’s 1991 war and 12 years of crippling U.S.-led sanctions—destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, despoiled the country’s environment, and shredded its social fabric. The consequences of the U.S. war remain embedded in the shattered cities, polluted rivers, carcinogenic military burn pits, and in the bodies of hundreds of thousands or millions of Iraqis, as well as of tens of thousands of U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, in an all-too-rare front-page feature documenting the Afghanistan War’s ongoing impact on Afghans, the Washington Post recently dissected the consequences for the “rising number of children … dying from U.S. explosives littering Afghan land.” The Postset a scene similar to post-occupation Iraq: “As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan,” it reported, “it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells. The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked.” Ominously, it adds, “Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.”
Back at the Washington church, with film producer and longtime television host Phil Donahue moderating, IVAW members detailed their experiences. The mother of Joshua Casteel, an army interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison who died of a rare cancer in August 2012, described the toxic nature of the military’s burn pits—which are filled with plastics and other chemical materials—100 yards from where Joshua lived, worked, and breathed thick black smoke for seven months in 2004.
U.S. environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani documented the cancers, birth defects, and other health crises among Iraqis, particularly in areas where “the Iraqi public has been exposed to toxic compounds, such as lead and mercury.” She noted, “I would like to see large-scale environmental testing in Iraq.”
Iraqi women’s rights advocate Yanar Mohammed called for “reparations for families facing birth defects, areas that have been contaminated. There needs to be clean-up…. The U.S. has to be held to account for this.”
Such accountability—to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and to the U.S. forces returning from years of war and occupation—would go much further to protect U.S. troops and veterans than better gun control at Fort Hood.
Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Back in Cougar Country at Crockett HS

Tami, Hart, Susana, Alejandro and I were glad to have a SOY table today at Crockett HS.  Our stenciled t-shirts went quickly to students who did all four things:  named the 5 basic First Amendment freedoms, tried a Peace Pull-up, did the Penny Poll and tried the Peace Wheel of Fortune.  Today being Tax Day made the Penny Poll even more pertinent.  The "Education" category got the most penny votes by far, followed by "Health Care" and "Environment."  Once again, it is clear that if elected officials listened to the voices of students, we would have much different government priorities, with higher education and health care affordable for all.
We were glad to see peace posters designed by the XY Zone, a group for young men sponsored by Communities in Schools, and other student art in a "Peace it Together" display.


We really liked these posters by the XY Zone

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Iraq Veterans Against the War response to Ft. Hood shootings

This excellent statement was released today by Iraq Veterans Against the War in response to the tragic shootings at Ft. Hood yesterday:

Last night, President Obama stated that he is "heartbroken" about the shooting on Fort Hood Army base in Killeen Texas. We, too, are heartbroken, because this shooting could have been prevented.
The United States military is an institution that teaches us to devalue the lives of others and to devalue ourselves. When combat stress and other injuries are added to that environment, the result is volatile.
Fort Hood's base commander, General Mark Milley, would like us to believe that this incident is about one unique individual and his inability to shoulder the stress of combat. Based on our own experiences and 4 years of extensive research and analysis, we are well aware that there is nothing particularly unique about Ivan Lopez's story. A full report on this research will be released next month on Memorial Day.
When we first went to Killeen in 2010, we met with many soldiers who were suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from combat and from sexual trauma. Instead of being treated, their commanders overturned their doctors' orders and sent them back to war. In some cases, those who reported these injuries were punished or given bad discharges, which create a permanent barrier to care. It is no wonder that this phenomenon manifests as rage and violence. We cannot allow this to continue - U.S. service members must be provided the right to heal from the invisible wounds of war. 
Lopez was already being treated for common symptoms of PTSD - anxiety, depression, and insomnia - and was being evaluated for PTSD. Even after his death, the leadership at Fort Hood is going out of their way to deny any relationship between Ivan Lopez's mental health and his actions. The army claims that PTSD is difficult to diagnose. It would be much more accurate to say that it's difficult for veterans and service members to get a diagnosis from a military or VA doctor. 
The U.S. government and the Department of Defense are doing everything they can to avoid paying - whether in dollars or labor - for the invisible injuries they have caused to those they use to fight on their behalf. The number of US service members who suffer from PTSD due to (often concurrent) deployments ranges from 20% - 50% depending on the source. A lifetime of care for that many veterans is incredibly expensive. Affirming high numbers of incidences of PTSD requires acknowledging that trauma is a common and normal response to war, not a unique and individualized affliction that results from personal weakness and failure. 
We collected testimony from 31 soldiers during our time at Fort Hood and are confident that these experiences are quite common. One of these soldiers, Rebekah Lampman, testified about attempting to get mental health support and justice after being sexually assaulted near the end of her 7 years at Fort Hood. She stated, "I went and did everything I possibly could to advocate for myself. And I was getting the run-around, people were telling me that they were working on it, and the paperwork was delayed. They just gave me excuses. And in the meantime, they kept reprimanding me for my emotions and my actions and for everything."
As long as soldiers continue to be punished for seeking care, tragedies will continue to occur.
We must demand the right to heal.
In Solidarity,

Joyce, Matt, Maggie, and Julia
IVAW Staff

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Women soldiers: "The Things She Carried"

From yesterday's NY Times opinion page:

The Opinion Pages|Op-Ed Contributor

The Things She Carried

Credit Wesley Allsbrook

THE injury wasn’t new, and neither was the insult. Rebecca, a combat veteran of two tours of duty, had been waiting at the V.A. hospital for close to an hour when the office manager asked if she was there to pick up her husband.
No, she said, fighting back her exasperation. She was there because of a spinal injury she sustained while fighting in Afghanistan.
Women have served in the American military in some capacity for 400 years. They’ve deployed alongside men as soldiers in three wars, and since the 1990s, a significant number of them are training, fighting and returning from combat.
But stories about female veterans are nearly absent from our culture. It’s not that their stories are poorly told. It’s that their stories are simply not told in our literature, film and popular culture.
Women have the same issues as men upon return, from traumatic physical injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder. One young combat veteran told me a harrowing story of crushing a little boy beneath the wheels of her speeding Humvee. I am sure she hears the sound of that vehicle hitting his small body every day of her life.
In addition, as many as a third of all women serving in the military are raped by fellow soldiers during their tours of duty, compounding whatever traumas they may have experienced in combat.
And yet Rebecca’s experience at the V.A. hospital is common. I’ve talked with many women veterans, and like all soldiers, they’ve recounted the firefights, moral confusion and compassion for those whose lives are torn apart by war.
Each had a different experience, and each bore her pains differently. But there was this simple, common thread: their stories of being unrecognized at home, which always carried with it a separate kind of frustration and incredulity.
Male soldiers’ experiences make up the foundation of art and literature: From “The Odyssey” to “The Things They Carried,” the heroic or tragic protagonist’s face is familiar, timeless and, without exception, male. The story of men in combat is taught globally, examined broadly, celebrated and vilified in fiction, exploited by either side of the aisle in politics.
For women it’s a different story, one in which they are more often cast as victims, wives, nurses; anything but soldiers who see battle. In the rare war narratives where women do appear, the focus is generally on military sexual assault, a terrible epidemic of violence that needs to be revealed and ended, but not something that represents the full experience of women in the military.
Homecoming isn’t easy for anyone, but traditional domestic expectations can make it particularly challenging for women.
Feelings of wanting to be alone, of alienation, are more difficult, as women are expected to be patient nurturers who care for spouses and children. Parenting under the best circumstances can test a person’s patience, but parenting after life under fire is more than most of us could take. Studies show women experience elevated anxiety about caring for their families upon homecoming, including an increased fear that they may hurt their own children.

Lack of recognition is also a problem. I’ve stood next to my uniform-wearing brother, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, in a grocery store while three separate strangers approached to thank him for his service. Women veterans are rarely stopped by people who want to shake their hands. Even wearing fatigues and boots and carrying duffel bags standing in a bus station or at the airport, somehow they go unrecognized as returning warriors.

The sense of emptiness that can follow unacknowledged accomplishments and unacknowledged trauma makes women soldiers feel invisible and adds yet one more insult to injury. Depression, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and suicide do not just affect male soldiers, though theirs are the stories we see. Women who have served in the military are three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts.
I can’t help but think women soldiers would be afforded the respect they deserve if their experiences were reflected in literature, film and art, if people could see their struggles, their resilience, their grief represented.
They would be made visible if we could read stories that would allow us to understand that women kill in combat and lose friends and long to see their children and partners at home. They would be given appropriate human compassion if we could feel their experiences viscerally as we do when reading novels like “All Quiet on the Western Front,” or seeing films like “The Hurt Locker.”
Society may come to understand war differently if people could see it through the eyes of women who’ve experienced both giving birth and taking life. People might learn something new about aggression and violence if we read not just about those fighting the enemy but about those who must also fight off assault from the soldiers they serve beside or report to.
Female veterans’ stories clearly have the power to change and enrich our understanding of war. But their unsung epics might also have the power to change our culture, our art, our nation and our lives.
Cara Hoffman is the author of the novel “Be Safe I Love You,” about a female veteran.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Peaceforce at Bowie HS

We were glad to table again today at Bowie HS, and we had a great crew of 5.  The t-shirts went fast, with students doing research on the spot to name the five basic First Amendment freedoms.  Bowie's JROTC students were required to wear uniforms or JROTC t-shirts today, and several of those students came to the table to see what we were about.  There was good interest, especially during the first lunch, and two teachers shook our hands and thanked us for coming.  Thank you, Bulldogs!

Stenciled by hand on recycled t-shirts

Thanks to Susana, we got a new stack of these cards from the Fellowship of Reconciliation

Students can sign these and send them in for the FOR to keep on file.

Some cool hall posters.  Sounds like a great class!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

50 Israeli draft resisters: "We refuse to Serve in the Occupation Army"

Just got this good news about a new group of Israeli draft resisters:

50 Young Israelis Send a Letter to Netanyahu:
“We Refuse to Serve in the Occupation Army”

Yesterday morning, dozens of young Israelis sent Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, a letter in which they declared their refusal to serve in the Israeli military[*]. This is the largest group of Israeli draft refusers in the history of Israel; it is the first act of its kind in five years, but follows a long tradition of communal conscientious objection. The current Israeli government is trying to widen the army draft to all ethnic groups within Israel against their will and young people from all over the country are reacting by refusing to serve in the Israeli Army.

The purpose of this statement is to protest against the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories where, according to the signatories “human rights are violated and acts defined by international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis.” They are also protesting the way in which the army influences civilian life, deepening the sexism, militarism, violence, inequality and racism present in Israeli society.

Mandy Cartner, a 16 years old signatory from Tel Aviv said: "The actions of the army distance us from finding a solution and from creating peace, justice and security. My refusal is a way of expressing my opposition to the wrongs done daily in our name and through us."

Shaked Harari, a 17 years old signatory from Bat Yam, said: "The army serves the people in power and not the civilians, who are only a tool. My friends and I refuse to be cannon fodder."

Roni Lax, a 20 year old signatory from Bnei Brak: “We stand in solidarity with the ultra-orthodox youth and the Arab youth – Christian and Druze, some of whom are currently in an army prison.”

Contact Info:
Dafna Rothstein Landman – 0522470123 –
Itamar Bellaiche - 0547484248 -

[*] The following is their statement:

"We, citizens of the state of Israel, are designated for army service.
We appeal to the readers of this letter to set aside what has always been taken for granted and to reconsider the implications of military service.

We, the undersigned, intend to refuse to serve in the army and the main reason for this refusal is our opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories. Palestinians in the occupied territories live under Israeli rule though they did not choose to do so, and have no legal recourse to influence this regime or its decision-making processes. This is neither egalitarian nor just. In these territories, human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis. These include assassinations (extrajudicial killings), the construction of settlements on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity and water. Any form of military service reinforces this status quo, and, therefore, in accordance with our conscience, we cannot take part in a system that perpetrates the above-mentioned acts.

The problem with the army does not begin or end with the damage it inflicts on Palestinian society. It infiltrates everyday life in Israeli society too: it shapes the educational system, our workforce opportunities, while fostering racism, violence and ethnic, national and gender-based discrimination.

We refuse to aid the military system in promoting and perpetuating male dominance. In our opinion, the army encourages a violent and militaristic masculine ideal whereby 'might is right'. This ideal is detrimental to everyone, especially those who do not fit it. Furthermore, we oppose the oppressive, discriminatory, and heavily gendered power structures within the army itself.

We refuse to forsake our principles as a condition to being accepted in our society. We have thought about our refusal deeply and we stand by our decisions.

We appeal to our peers, to those currently serving in the army and/or reserve duty, and to the Israeli public at large, to reconsider their stance on the occupation, the army, and the role of the military in civil society. We believe in the power and ability of civilians to change reality for the better by creating a more fair and just society. Our refusal expresses this belief.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ft. Hood sex assault prevention officer charged in prostitution ring

This is an awful case of sexual abuse within the armed forces at nearby Ft. Hood, TX.    Note, too, that the victims, who were enlisted women, are described as being "cash-strapped."  That is certainly part of the problem: military pay is not as high as most enlistees think it will be, and many recruits wind up in financial difficulty.  The US Senate vote yesterday was very disappointing.  What more evidence do legislators need to show that the chain of command structure is a major factor in military sexual assaults continuing at such high rates?  The last sentence of this article is something every woman or man thinking of enlisting should think very hard about.

Fort Hood sex assault prevention officer charged in prostitution ring

Army officials on Friday charged a former Fort Hood sexual assault prevention officer with 21 counts of abusive sexual contact, pandering, conspiracy and adultery among other charges in a case that had focused national attention on the issue of military sexual assault.
Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen is accused of setting up a prostitution ring at Fort Hood and recruiting young, cash-strapped female privates to have sex with older soldiers. At the time he served as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention officer for a battalion within Fort Hood’s III Corps headquarters. He has since been suspended from that post.
According to investigative documents obtained by the American-Statesman, the alleged ring was revealed when a young private told authorities McQueen tried to recruit her and then sexually assaulted her during what she termed an “interview.” The soldier said another female soldier told her she made “like $400-$500” at Fort Hood parties, according to the documents.
The private later told a staff sergeant that McQueen “preys on young females who are in bad financial situations and that he keeps their pictures on his cell phone,” according to a sworn statement.
In December, Master Sgt. Brad Grimes, who was accused of taking part in the ring, was found guilty of conspiring to patronize a prostitute and solicit adultery. He was ordered reprimanded and reduced in rank one pay grade.
A pre-trial evidentiary hearing is scheduled to begin March 20 that will determine whether McQueen faces a court-martial on the charges. It wasn’t immediately clear Friday what McQueen’s maximum punishment could be.
When the investigation into McQueen was first revealed last year, it helped spur efforts to revamp the military’s rules on prosecuting sexual assault cases. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would have removed prosecution of such cases from the purview of military commanders and put it in the hands of military prosecutors.
Critics say the change would have resulted in the reporting of more sexual assaults. A Pentagon study showed that almost 90 percent of military sexual assaults aren’t reported.