We’ll know soon whether Bergdahl will be subject to court martial.

x_bergh_attorney_140807Email today from defense counsel Eugene Fidell, also founder of the National Institute of Military Justice:

At 1:30 p.m. today, Lieutenant Colonel Mark A Visger, the Army judge advocate who served as preliminary hearing officer for Sergeant Bergdahl’s case,submitted his report to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Q. Burke, the special courtmartial convening authority at Fort Bragg, NC. Copies were furnished to the defense.

Given the ongoing battle I mentioned in the last post —  to have all documents relevant to the case released to the public– Fidell is waiting until the Army makes the announcement, emphasizing that the report is unclassified.  This is tense. Stay tuned.

Newsflash: New York Times + Buzzfeed sue FORSCOM re Bergdahl, and don’t tell anyone

foi-900x500I’m going back and forth between a legal filing I received this weekend and my newswires, which show no signs that some of the major news organization have filed a request with General Abrams, commander of Fort Bragg — politely demanding the public release  of its investigation of Bowe Bergdahl.

I’ve written here before about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who burst into public consciousness last year after 5 years of being held prisoner by the Taliban. I titled that post “Bergdahl=Rashomon,” given the wildly contrasting, quite-firmly-held views of the case expressed by people who knew nothing about what happened that day in Afghanistan that Bergdahl disappeared, Most recently he’s been a public whipping boy for Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has planted his flag in the Bergdahl’s a traitor camp even before the Army has decided on a court-martial.

As the public debate over this very complex case rages, Bergdahl’s civilian defense has begun to demand that all investigations be released, even taking the unusual step of releasing the transcript of last-week’s preliminary hearing into the matter. So you’d think it would be news that General Abrams, of the U.S. Army Forces Command, has just been served with a legal “request to intervene” filed by:


With such a list of heavyweight press outlets asking, you might think one of them would mention it. I do expect that to happen eventually, once their national-security legal divisions  have vetted it.

I also expect that later today, Guernica Magazine will be running my own piece on Bergdahl; I’ll add the link later, and also write more about the news that is not yet news.

Update: Here it is, with a title out of CJR. Let me know what you think, and welcome if you came from this blog from there.

Dear Mr. Snowden

I wrote this letter nearly a year ago, in the hope that Edward Snowden — unlikely to talk to a minor journo like me – would answer some questions to help me make my portrait of him as accurate as possible, (if not as three-dimensional as Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning one, or Oliver Stone’s will be). Posted now as part of that effort, and in the hope you might know some of the answers too.AintMarchincoverbyAlex

Dear Mr. Snowden,

I can only write this as a letter to you — as a writer to whom your story is important, both for what it’s done for our democracy AND as part of the story in a book I’ve been working on for far too long. At the bottom of this memo are some questions based on what I’ve already gleaned; if you could say anything in response to them, I’d be even more in your debt than I already am as a U.S. citizen.

About the book, and why I think you belong in it: I first signed a contract (with University of California Press) in 2007 for the book, entitled I Ain’t Marching Anymore. It’s a history of soldiers who dissent, whose honor roll starts with the War of 1812 and includes Dan Ellsberg, Chrlsea Manning, Bobby Seale and Bayard Rustin. I’ve long been intrigued by people who at one point or another in their lives was part of the U.S. military and went on to make real social change; that fascination started when I was a counselor on the G.I. Rights Hotline, where my job was to answer questions from young men and women who’d signed up to be part of something bigger by enlisting in the miitary.

By the time they talked to me they usuallly wanted out, for reasons ranging from conscience to medical issues to abuse, and taught me there wasn’t that much difference between me (an idealist writer-activist) and these folks who were equally earnest and needed help.

Ain’t Marchin began when, years later, I proposed to folks at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism that I write a book about the Hotline, and was instead charged with a history that includes the vets I worked with, John Kerry et al., and the newest generation of post-9/11 vets.(A sense of my overall approach is in this piece I did for the Ochberg Society for Trauma Journalism: http://www.ochbergsociety.org/soldierswhodissent/.)

The book has required hundreds of interviews, document research, and reporting on the post-9/11 scene. When you first met with Laura Poitras and the others, I was trekking back ans forth to Fort Meade, MD, as trial proceedings began in the trial of Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning. So many of these servicemembers and vets have often used language similar to yours in interviews, insisting that the country they signed up to serve live up to the values they learned doing so.

As instinctively supportive of your work as I was from the beginning, it took awhile for me to piece together,from press reports, that I could include you, since your career of service began with you brief time training for the Special Forces before you were injured and went to the CIA. I’m writing to ask if i can learn some more from you on that experience. and what parts of it remained with you as your own story moved forward

I know you don’t identify as a soldier, but I do think you’d find some common ground with the Iraq/Afghan vets I’ve been talking to for years — like those in this Al-Jazeera America op-ed http://america.aljazeera.com/opinis/2014/11/iraqveteransagainstwarisis.html. I know an interview is near-impossible, but it felt irresponsible for me not to TRY to touch base with you before I finished writing narrative that includes you.

In addition to those provided, you can see other clips on my portfolio site at http://chrislombardi.me; I can also give you references from Samuel Freedman at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (in whose Book Seminar the book was conceived) to editors at The Nation and my agent Sam Stoloff of Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

Thank you so much for reading this far. And for responding to the questions below, in as much detail or not as you care to. If you wanted to just talk your answers instead of writing them and could somehow get Ben or Jessamyn to send me the audio file, I swear I’d guard it with my life. I could also find a land line for you or someone (Ben?) to call into, if writing your responses just feels like too much work.

These questions are roughly in chronological order. I look forward to including Ed the soldier in my book to the fullest extent possible.


Growing Up/Family

Your dad was a Coast Guard warrant officer; what was that like, growing up in a Coastie house? (My partner’s dad was also a CG warrant officer, much earlier).

  • Did he ever talk about it as a career path for you?

  • Did he ever tell you those CG Values of“honor, respect, devotion to duty?”

  • As your career has taken this maverick path, did he ever refer to his military background? How about when you were considering enlisting in 2004, or when you were in HI contemplating your most recent actions?

Recruitment and Training

  • Where exactly did you enlist? What were your ASVAB scores? How did they pitch Special Forces to you?

  • You were 20, and had been deeply impacted by the 9/11 attacks. You have said that “I still very strongly believed that the government wouldn’t lie to us, that our government had noble intent, and that the war in Iraq was going to be what they said it was, which was a limited, targeted effort to free the oppressed. I wanted to do my part.” Were you also deeply impressed with President Bush as commander-in-chief?

  • Did the recruiters mention specifically becoming a “ Special Forces Communications Sergeant,” so you could use your technical skills?

  • What are your initial memories of Fort Benning? How aware were you of areas outside your OSU – the reception battalion, the Warrior Transition Units, the School of the Americas?

  • How big were your drill sergeants?

  • Did they drill hard on those ‘Army Values’ – loyalty, duty, respect, personal courage, integrity, honor, selfless service? How seriously did you or they take them? Have you had occasion to think of them in the decade since? (Many of the young vets I know will rattle their “Values” off with a mixture of irony and not.)

  • Did you get to meet any serving SOF troops or Army Rangers? What were your impressions?

  • Did you have any opportunities to excel?

  • You’ve spoken of your disappointment w/yr fellow recruits: “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” you told Greenwald et al. Did you talk to anyone about your feelings – yr 1st Sgt or the chaplain?

  • When did the recruits learn the word “hajji” as shorthand for the enemy? Did they use it in training exercises?

  • Any particular chants stand out in your memory?

  • Were you ever bullied – either by peers or superiors? Were subsets of your training company ever singled out? Was there any sexual abuse going on w/that particular class of recruits?

  • Were your DIs or peers aware of your dissatisfaction with the racism you saw in some of training?

  • Did you break your legs in AIT or airborne? Any details you felt OK to share could be important.

  • What was your overall medical condition by this time, were you mostly fit?

  • How long did the discharge process take? Was there talk of recycling or transferring anywhere?

  • Did you stay in touch w/your family throughout training? How did they help you thtough?

  • What was your exact discharge characterization? Any chance I could see your DD214 (unlikely, I know…)

After discharge

  • You told WIRED that your military experience helped you get the job as a security guard at the CIA, which then discovered your IT potential. Was the mention of Ft. Benning on your resume mentioned when they hired you, then? Were those hiring you veterans?

  • At Langley, did you have access to SIPRNET and CIDNE?

  • You were in Geneva when the Iraq war started; you’ve said that many CIA ops were opposed to it, not just you. Were any of them veterans, or have kids serving?

  • When you went to Tokyo w/the CIA, where did you live? How aware were you of anti-U.S. sentiment on Okinawa and elsewhere?

  • What was your early response to the Wikileaks disclosures, and to the arrest of Private Manning?

  • You were in HI when Manning was held in isolation, forced to sleep naked, etc. Did any of his treatment bring on flashbacks to the worst aspects of BCT? When you were considering your own disclosures, how did his treatment influence your actions, if at all?

  • Was Booz Allen Hamilton full of ex-military types? What was that like for you?

Too many questions, I know, and some pushing the limits. Thank you for reading them and considering my request.

Congratulations again on all the well-deserved accolades for your incredible public service.

The real reason Chelsea Manning could face solitary: It’s about power


I wonder when we’ll know what actually happened at today’s hearing. Leonard, below, explains why that might be hard.

Originally posted on Fusion:

Chelsea Manning has, in her recent past, faced the most serious charges that can be brought against a person in this country. At one point, the whistleblower faced an “aiding the enemy” charge, which can carry capital punishment. This week, by contrast, Manning will defend herself against disciplinary charges including acts as ostensibly innocuous as possessing unapproved reading material and storing expired toothpaste. The potential punishment is outrageously harsh: Indefinite solitary confinement (a form of torture, according to the United Nations).

We should not be surprised by the pettiness of the charges and the extremity of the punishment. Prisoners in the U.S. are regularly isolated for far less — failure to return food trays, for example. The punishment within prisons for the tiniest violations represent what philosopher Michel Foucault called “micropénalité,” or the microphysics of power — the production of docile bodies through the monitoring and control of everyday…

View original 542 more words

45 years ago, people learned what had happened in My Lai

mylainewsweekAnd all  earlier drafts of my book included a sort of big-picture retelling of those events, focusing on signature dissenters like Hugh Thompson and Ron Ridenhour. Now that I’ll be referring to those events ONLY in a leaner, character-based narrative, I wanted this blog to have this version, of which I am pretty proud.

I do wonder now who’s followed up with the quieter dissenters – the guys who said no. Any miilitary reporters want to tell me?

But these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir”

At the end of 1969, reports flooded the U.S. newspapers about an incident not dissimilar to what had apparently happened at Liberty Bridge, bearing color photos by Army photographer Robert Haeberle, taken on March 16, 1968 in the hamlet of My Lai.

Nowadays, the name “My Lai” evokes Auschwitz, calling to mind images with which the mind has trouble coping, and Nurnberg, the small city where Nazi war ctiminals were put on trial. But the story of My Lai is often also a story of a string of dissenters.

Warrant officer Hugh Thompson didn’t plan to be one, flying over the province in support of Task Force Barker, 1st Infantry of the Americal Division. Formed in 1942 to defend the South Pacific island New Caledonia, Americal was remembered at Guadalcanal, Papua New Guinea and Quang-Tri.

The week of March 15, Task Force Barker’s mission was relatively straightforward: to wipe out the Vietcong 48th Infantry. “The operation was to commence at 0725 hours on 16 March 1968 with a short artillery preparation, following which C/1-20 Inf was to combat assault into an LZ immediately west of My Lai (4) and then sweep east through the subhamlet.”i

Despite the copies of the Geneva Conventions soldiers were instructed to carry, the Division was also operating under orders that which exempted “hot spots” like My Lai from the Conventions’ protection. Directive 525-3 from the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), “Combat Operations: Minimising Noncombatant Battle Casualties,” carefully noted that “Specified strike zones should be configured to exclude populated areas, except those in accepted VC bases.ii

As he flew over the area, Thompson knew that Charlie Company had just lost 34 men in a single grenade attack. He also knew that orders since Tet named women and children as possible Vietcong. But Thompson and his crew were still astonished at what they saw from their helicopter on the 16th: “Everywhere we’d look, we’d see bodies. These were infants, two-, three-, four-, five-year-olds, women, very old men, no draft-age people whatsoever.”iii As one platoon turned their guns full force on a farmer, U.S. Army photographer Haeberle was horrified: “”They just kept shooting at her. You could see the bones flying in the air chip by chip.” Haeberle carefully photographed those corpse-filled huts in full color, even before Thompson arrived.

Thompson also left the task of investigating what had happened to his superiors: the command, he reasoned, “didn’t need me there to court-martial these renegades.”iv One of Calley’s sergeants, Michael Bernhardt, said that they were expecting an investigation, but “Some colonel came down to the firebase where we were stationed and asked about it, but we heard no further.” v The action’s official post-operation Army communique made no mention of civilian casualties, numbering the Viet Cong body count at 128 and noting that Charlie Company had recovered two M-I rifles, a carbine, a short-wave radio and enemy documents. vi

As for Charlie Company, “[Capt. Ernest ]Medina …called me over to the command post and asked me not to write my Congressman,” said Bernhardt,vii said one of a handful of Charlie Company soldiers who had not taken part in the massacre. The “lawful disobedience” practiced by this group was as varied as the war itself.

Sgt. Bunning told his squad leader that “I wasn’t going to shoot any of these women and kids.” Stephen Carter refused to shoot a woman holding a baby coming out of her hut. Paul Meadlo, who did participate when pressured by Calley, was described as “sobbing and shouting and saying he wanted nothing to do with this.” viii A year later, Meadlo told reporters who asked how: “From the first day we go in the service, the very first day, we all learned to take orders and not to refuse any kind of order from a noncommissioned officer.” Their roles that day appears to have been influenced by multiple factors including their age, whether their MOS had them were carrying light, trigger-easy M16s, their proximity to the actual giving of the illegal orders, and their personal perspective on the issue of war crimes.ix

But even the refusers never told the outside world to what had happened. It took a year before that year-long embargo was broken.

Spc. Thomas Glen, from the 11th Light Infantry, had tried in late 1968, writing the staff of Gen. Creighton Abrams that such behavior “cannot be overlooked, but can through a more firm implementation of the codes of Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the Geneva Conventions, perhaps be eradicated.”x Abrams never responded, but his assistant Major Colin Powell reprimanded Glen for speaking so vaguely, and added that “There may be isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians and POWs, [but] this by no means reflects the general attitude throughout the Division.” Just as Powell was writing, Corporal Ron Ridenhour was preparing to prove him wrong.

Ridenhour had learned the news from an old friend who had joined Charlie Company a few months earlier: “ Hey man did you hear what we did at Pinkville?…. Men, women and kids, everybody, we killed them all….We didn’t leave anybody alive, at least we didn’t intend to.” xi

Seized by “an instantaneous recognition and collateral determination that this was something too horrible, almost, to comprehend and that I wasn’t gonna be a part of it,” Ridenhour tracked down members of Charlie Company one by one. “They couldn’t stop talking,” Ridenhour said later. “They were horrified that it had occurred, that they had been there, and in the instances of all of these men, that they had participated in some way.”

In March 1969, Ridenhour wrote a letter as specific as Glen’s was vague, naming every soldier he’d interviewed and detailed their accounts, including that Capt. Medina had warned soldiers never to speak about My Lai. “I remain irrevocably persuaded,” he told the Joint Chiefs, the President and every TV network, ‘that … we must press forward a widespread and public investigation of this matter. “xii

At the closed set of hearings that resulted, Hugh Thompson and others identified the man directing the massacre as Calley. Calley insisted that he was implementing the mission set forth by his commander Captain Medina, but he was still the only one indicted for the murder of “one hundred and nine Oriental human beings.”

A freelance Pentagon reporter named Seymour Hersh soon saw the indictment. “My first thought was not wow this will end the war, but What a story!” When he went to Fort Benning to find Calley, Ron Ridenhour “gave me a company roster, and I began to find the kids.”

The resulting interviews and photos ran nationwide — the week of the moon landing in July 1969. So it took some time for all of us to get this glimpse of what we know now was standard operating procedure during that war.

It certainly didn’t get mentioned during all the laudatory moon-shot retrospectives. But attention still, I think, must be paid.

(Photo: Stephen Carter and My Lai, Newsweek)


ii Via Gareth Porter, “ My Lai Probe Hid Policy that Led to Massacre.” Interpress Service, March 15, 2008.

iii From remarks at “My Lai 25 Years After: Facing the Darkness, Healing the Wounds,” Tulane University, 1994. Accessed via University of Missouri (Kansas City) digital resource, “Famous American Trials: The My Lai Courts-Martial,1970.” http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mylai/mylai.htm, December 2008.

iv Fall 2003 Lecture, Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis MD.

v Seymour Hersh, Hamlet Attack Called “Point-Blank Murder”. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 20. 1969.

vi Seymour Hersh, “Lieutenant Accused of Murdering 109 Civilians.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1969, p. A1.

vii Hersh, November 20. op. cit.

viii Peers final report….

ix Rives Duncan, “What Went Right at My Lai: An Analysis of Habitus and Character in Lawful Disobedience.” Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1992. I owe Major Duncan full credit for use of the term “lawful disobedience,” here and elsewhere.

x Via Robert Parry and Norman Solomon, “Colin Powell and My Lai.”Consortium News, October 1996.

xi “My Lai 25 Years After,” op.cit.

xii Ibid.

. Saluting 4,000 vets on the White House lawn

No, not in 2003. Not in 1971. In  1932.

The data caught up on me Friday, but May 29, 1932 was when the Bonus March arrived in Washington, D.C. — and laid the groundwork for how the U.S. currently pays veterans for their service in war.

These were veterans of the ‘Great War’,World War I: from our first really national army, two million strong. Many of these would push for justice, a stumbling, angry presence across class and race lines, even as the twenties were “roaring” around them.

And among them was Walter Waters, who would become the ‘commander’ of the BEF after losing his cannery job in 1929.By March 1932, he wrote years later, “we were not only penniless but had nothing left except a very scanty wardrobe.There were many days that winter when we experienced actual hunger.”

While job-hunting, Walters discovered many men like him – another ‘lost generation,’ rootless since the Armistice. “I found that a large percentage of these men in Portland were, like myself, ex-service men…Among these men there was profound discontent with conditions. There was a ravaging desire to change them but a complete and leaden ignorance of the way to do it….These men did think and talk a great deal about the so-called Bonus.”

Thus did Waters enter into another ongoing national debate: whether former soldiers deserved a permanent pension or a lump sum, known as “adjusted compensation” (usually expressed in its shorthand, “the bonus”). Veterans groups had long been split on the issue – the labor-oriented World War Veterans favored the bonus, while the anti-labor American Legion backed a proposal to pay it all out in government bonds. When the stock market crashed in 1929 the promise of those bonds seemed to evaporate, and with it the hopes of veterans who’d not been able to find their way.

Little of this veterans’ discontent traced back into opposition to war itself, especially as Adolf Hitler’s rise in Europe began to be notice. The Red Scare had dampened much of the progressive energy that had fueled much prewar resistance. But Waters was among those who didn’t let this one go, pulling together what became called the “Bonus Expeditionary Force.”

When thousands of veterans began to converge on Washington, D.C. in 1932, for a “bonus march,” their chant was more satiric than political, and set to the tune of the last decades’ greatest hit:

Over there, over there

Tell the world to beware

Cause the Yanks are starving, the Yanks are starving….

They marched in rleans, Poughkeepsie. Black and white veterans sometimes marched together. It wgroups of ten, of thirty, of several hundred; they marched from San Francisco, New Oas a march against invisibility, and an ever-escalating demand for recognition, as much as for a permanent pension. By the eve of a May 29 vote on a comprehensive package of veterans assistance, there were 4,000 veterans out in front of the White House, with an additional 3,000 on the way.

Calling their fort “Camp Marks,” the group published several issues of the newspaper BEF News.The national organizing committee included the Workers Ex-Servicemen’s League, a Communist front group that carried on the tradition started at Fort Leavenworth nearly 20 years earlier.

After six months, the growing and ever-more-militant protest moved Hoover to order colonel Douglas MacArthur to move against the encampments in 1933, claiming that the encampments endangered public safety. MacArthur went further than his orders, chasing down veterans all over the capital and leaving scores injured, actions that may have helped doom the Hoover administration in the 1933 elections.

When the next wave of bonus marchers got to Washington the following year, the Roosevelt administration was working to implement its New Deal and reserving spots in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for “Great War” veterans – thus treating them, as has been true ever since, like just another special-interest group. In turn, the veterans’ demands fueled the drive in Congress to provide some level of social insurance, to prevent war veterans from becoming a privileged class unto themselves.

Some of you may recognize the voice in the video, saluting the ragged vet troops: Maj. Gen, Smedley Butler, who went on to write War is a Racket. I’d originally conceived of this piece as drawing more explicit connnections to contemporary vets’ issues, from the VA to “pension reform.” But for now, I’ll take my cue from Butler and just call this a salute: To those sweaty, determined men whose struggle changed our world forever, even if the most fundamental of their demands remains unmet.

a bridge for Memorial Day

(The guy who sang the song above didn’t serve, but his dad Ernest sure did, spending the rest of his life in nightmares.)

The piece behind yesterday’s photos went up today at the Inquirer, with a small amount of reader mail. Ak of the latter (so far) was respectful, and some of it was of the sort that reminds one why this profession is worth something.  More than one was from people who were themselves soldier-dissenters —  some others local Quaker types, one of whom writes:

I really like your commentary.  It makes me feel better, more patriotic about Memorial Day.  It’s the sort of thing that’s needed annually to bridge us to those of us who oppose wars of choice and support defense with those who feel all wars we fight ought to be supported.

I guess that’s the point: you can say “Happy Memorial Day” if you note the huge losses the day was meant to honor.

Have a great weekend.