From prison, Chelsea Manning speaks out

I don’t know about you, but I found this as surprising as it is heartening.

In accepting the Sam Adams Integrity Award from a task force of intelligence experts, Chelsea Manning issues what feels like her first political statement — a comment on the White House’s refusal to provide information about on the drone war.

In her statement, Manning quotes a judge who recently ruled that the administration had no obligation to do so:”The judge also wrote candidly about her frustration with her sense that the request  ‘implicate[d] serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States,’and that the Presidential ‘Administration ha[d] engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of fAmerican] citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways.’ In other words, it wasn’t that she didn’t think that the public didn’t have a right to know-it was that she didn’t feel that she had the “legal” authority to compel disclosure.”

manning-480x299Given the MONTHS of haggling over classification in Manning’s own trial, Manning then speaks with authority as she adds: “This case, like too many others, presents a critical problem that can also be seen in several recent cases, including my court-martial. For instance, I was accused by the Executive branch, and particularly the Department of Defense, of aiding the enemy-a treasonable offense covered under Article lll of the Constitution. Granted, I received due process. I received charges, was arraigned before a military judge for trial, and eventually acquitted. But, the al-Aulaqi case raises a fundamental question: did the American government, and particularly the same President and Department, have the power to unilaterally determine my guilt of such an offense, and execute me at the will of the pilot of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle?

I’m intrigued beyond measure that her lawyer (still fighting for clemency) approved this statement, and curious as to how she sees her role evolving as a public dissenter. Of course, the award itself gives her hints, given the honor roll of its recent recipients

The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance, former US Army Sgt; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence; Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks: Thomas Drake, of NSA; Jesselyn Radack, formerly of Dept. of Justice and now National Security Director of Government Accountability Project; Thomas Fingar, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Director, National Intelligence Council, and Edward Snowden, former contractor for the National Security Agency.

Speaking of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower congratulated Manning on the award this week, noting Manning’s “extraordinary act” and that Manning’s bravery (and his treatment) helped forge his own blockbuster revelations.

I’d love to see a conference convened where they share their perspectives, and add to its roster so many of my book’s figures — from Camilo Mejia to Jeff Sharlet (editor of VIETNAM GI though represented by his brilliant nephew) to Ray McGovern, who I met during Manning’s trial and provided the link to the speech. I’d be honored just to witness it.

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Veterans Day musings on moral injury

Note: I know it’s been awhile since I posted here: reasons too boring. But it made sense to share today’s Veterans Day op-ed — which focuses on a theme that ties together s0 much of why I wanted to write this book in the first place.

Air Force analyst Heather Lea Linebaugh never deployed, but she still saw combat, as a participant in the newest layer called “drone warfare.”  “I have nightmares to this day of women I have seen killed, children I have seen lost in vain, fathers who will never return to their families, and soldiers who will never say goodbye to their families,” Linebaugh wrote this past June, not long after I saw her speak at Fort Meade, Maryland. I contacted her almost immediately thereafter; she was voicing an ache I’d rarely heard articulated so well in years of working with and writing about soldiers and vets.

I knew, therefore, that Linebaugh would be my first Veterans Day voice this year.

Rita-BrockClose by would  be that of Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock (left), described in a New York Times  profile as “tending the spiritual wounds of warriors, seeking theological answers to the condition among veterans called ‘moral injury.’”

Daughter of a World War II veteran and Vietnam War  medic, Brock helped create the Soul Repair Center to go beyond the clinical in approaching these questions. Now based at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, the Center has attracted Iraq vets like Michael Yandell, 28, who worked on a bomb disposal team is now a seminarian at Brock’s school, telling the Times “It’s not that you lose your ability to tell right from wrong, but things don’t seem so clear anymore. For me, it’s whether or not what I did, did any good.”  Yandell, like Linebaugh, is among the new generation refusing to call combat trauma a mental illness.

Moral injury, writes former Army surgeon general Elspeth Ritchie, is  “an important concept to help understand the experiences of our service members.” The  term was first coined by psychiatrist and MacArthur Award-winning “genius” Jonathan Shay, in his iconic Odysseus in America:  “Betrayal of ‘what’s right’ in a high stakes situation by someone who holds power.” Shay knew from his decades of work with Vietnam vets that “the consequences for those still on active duty range from a loss of motivation and enjoyment, resulting in attrition from the service at the next available moment, to passive obstructionism, goldbricking, and petty theft, to outright desertion . . . sabotage, fragging, or treason. In a war, the consequences are catastrophic.”  And afterward, he wrote two years ago in Daedalus, that betrayal puts land mines in a soldier’s heart: “The body codes moral injury as physical attack and reacts with the same massive mobilization” in response.

Amid the current epidemic of suicides among veterans (at last count, 22 per day), the Veterans Administration has started to notice the injury. The VA’s Shira Maguen  distinguished it from the more-familiar-sounding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: “There is no threshold for establishing the presence of moral injury,” she wrote. “Rather, at a given point in time, a Veteran may have none, or have mild to extreme manifestations. Furthermore, transgression is not necessary for a PTSD diagnosis nor does PTSD sufficiently capture moral injury, or the shame, guilt, and self-handicapping behaviors that often accompany moral injury.”  Those words and Shay’s definitions of the term even made it into this terrific NPR graphic essay, and vets are being able to raise these issues with people around them.

Most essentially,the new generation  challenges us to look at our own moral injury in these wars. “Moral injuries are not about benefits or blame. They’re not about treatment or medications. They’re not about disability. They are about our society and our moral values,” writes Tyler Boudreau, author of Packing Inferno: the Unmaking of a Marine in the Massachusetts Review. “A moral injury is not inherently the same thing as a war crime, though clearly the two ideas overlap. But when we talk about war crimes, we seek justice; when we talk about moral injuries, we seek a deeper understanding of our humanity.Like Heather Linebaugh, Boudreau is less interested in his own trauma than in its implications in our war-besotted nation.

Other new vets are making common cause with veterans overseas, reaching out to Combatants for Peace in Israel, which works to end the occupation of the West Bank along with  Breaking the Silence, which has posted nearly 1,000 testimonials   on what they saw when serving there. All of these newer groups emphasize that it’s not about the vets own personal trauma, at least not exclusively. Avner Gvaryahu from Breaking the Silence, in a recent interview, used the Hebrew phrase yorim u’vochim, “shooting and crying,” to describe the limits of such testimonials for enacting change. “It’s easy to find people having regrets – saying ‘they forced us to be evil.’ The vast majority of soldiers will admit that,” he said. “We are aware of the fact that many more testifiers suffered from moral injuries,” he added, “but we’re also aware of the fact that we are not victims but rather the victimizers.”

Thus, Gvaryahu’s Breaking the Silence “has a political goal: to create a constituency in Israel for ending  the occupation of the West Bank.  Tyler Boudreau founded founded the Iraq Veterans’ Refugee Aid Association (IVRAA), and in 2010  testified along with hundreds of other young vets at the Truth Commission on Conscience and War. And  last month, Heather Linebaugh co-founded Front Lines International, an international media-based initiative which presents equally stories from both sides of the “front line.”

These days, Linebaugh is training to be a massage therapist, doing yoga and taking care of herself — which for her includes her work with Front Lines International. As she told Facebook in August, “[After]  finishing my shifts at my normal job, I’m heading straight home to do work for my cause and [my] research for my mission to educate on peace and ending cultural misunderstanding and needless violence due to the War and Violence paradigms that exist in our time. This, at times, can be exhausting, but I am more alive, enlightened and in love with the world than ever before in my life.  I will never stop.”

Chris Hedges doesn’t need me to re-blog him. But here’s my bit so that Tomas Young isn’t forgotten too soon.

LeakSource

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03/13/2013

I flew to Kansas City last week to see Tomas Young. Young was paralyzed in Iraq in 2004. He is now receiving hospice care at his home. I knew him by reputation and the movie documentary “Body of War.” He was one of the first veterans to publicly oppose the war in Iraq. He fought as long and as hard as he could against the war that crippled him, until his physical deterioration caught up with him.

“I had been toying with the idea of suicide for a long time because I had become helpless,” he told me in his small house on the Kansas City outskirts where he intends to die. “I couldn’t dress myself. People have to help me with the most rudimentary of things. I decided I did not want to go through life like that anymore. The pain, the frustration. …”

He stopped abruptly and…

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PTSD in 1945: let there be truth

I was excited to see Paula Span’s piece today in the Times, “No End to Trauma for Some Older Veterans.” She follows one 80-something vet in his struggles and notes that seeking help wasn’t popular in his war: “The prevailing medical advice — even for someone like Mr. Perna, who had fought in North Africa, Italy and France, who had been wounded and spent six months in a German P.O.W. camp — amounted to “put it all behind you.”

And as much as that may be true, I did feel she left out an important element, as well as the role played by one of the ‘stars’ of ‘my’ World War II chapter.

I said so in a comment  I made on the Times website. Below is the one I first wrote, which takes a stab at explaining why the truth has been so long suppressed.

The piece  is wonderfully thoughtful, and tells me tons I didn’t know. Thank you – and thanks to Mr. Pena, who agreed to go on the record.

Let_There_Light_001-550wI do wish you’d been able to slip in a reference to the John Huston film ‘Let There Be Light.’  In 1945, the Army sent Huston to Mason General Hospital in Brentwood, Long Island, to film a veterans’ psychiatric unit at there.  (One of its long-term inhabitants was Dr. Jacob Ochs ( a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge), long before his son Philip sang “I ain’t marching anymore!”)  The film is a little hokey by today’s standards, earnest young men learning to call their illnesses “psycho-neurotic anxiety disorders” while assured by doctors that “we’re conducting an education campaign” to erase the stigma. Instead, just as with San Pietro, the Pentagon moved quickly to suppress Let There Be Light. “They wanted to maintain the ‘warrior’ myth, which said that our American soldiers went to war and came back all the stronger for the experience.”

The truth was probably in between, but after seeing the film the Army immediately suppressed it from public viewing for 30-plus years.The Cold War was beginning, after all, so no call for admitting any kind of “weakness” in American men.

Interestingly, the film was just included as an “extra”  in the DVD release of The Master,  whose protagonist  is a traumatized WWII vet.

Thanks again for this piece. I hope it gets some families to seek help.

I watched the film when I was just starting out on this book, before learning that Phil Ochs’ dad had been a patient there.  I look forward to seeing it again,and posted the whole thing here in case you don’t want to spring for the Blu-Ray.

In the news today

RWR-CharterMember-FTAarmy9jNot to turn this into a videolog. but with so much to do it’s hard to avoid sometimes — and this is too good not to share.

A new docu about Occupy features one of my favorite VVAW pranksters, Ward Reilly (you saw him in this Fort Meade account a while back). He’s so much of a firecracker now, I can only imagine when he was an infantryman stirring up trouble in 1974.

At left, Reilly’s self-customized dog tag. You know what the acronym stands for.

 

 

 

 

these might be giants: report from Fort Meade

I went back to Fort Meade this week, more than two years after  Manning was first brought to court. Now in dispute during these last pre-trial motions before the court martial, now scheduled for June 3: those two-plus years.

If there’s not another delay, that means that Bradley Manning’s court-martial will begin almost exactly three years after he was first detained in Kuwait, on May 26, 2010. Please excuse the bold/italics: that’s  three years which already have felt plenty long in actual life — without imagining I’d spent them in military detention, much of it in a single cell without all my clothes.

All of this despite the fact that the Uniform Code of Military Justice includes a guarantee of “speedy trial” that must begin within 120 days of arrest. And much of last week’s proceedings were about that — whether all the delays were due to inevitable national-security issues, and whether the government is obligated to cooperate with the defense and share what it found in its long investigation. There were also some interesting rulings — including how much the trial will cover Manning’s motivations for his actions, something important when someone is  charged with “aiding the enemy.”

But I won’t write much about the hard news here: I’ve been hired by Boston Review to do that (yay!) so you’ll have to wait. In the meantime, check out summaries from Ed Pilkington at the Guardian, Julie Tate at the Washington Post, and Hari Sreenivasan of PBS’s Newshour  (who delivers his report in that worried middle-of-the-road tone we all know so well).

David-Coombs-attorney-for-0071You should definitely check out Scott Shane’s profile of David Coombs, seen at right exiting the Fort Meade courthouse.

When I decided what to title this post, Lt. Col. Coombs is one of the two people I meant. I never got a chance to see William Kunstler or Clarence Darrow at work, but I now feel I kind of know how that feels.

Shane’s coverage of the case itself is predictably bland. But he manages, if you look at it closely, to convey some of the slyness of the veteran advocate:

Mr. Coombs, 43, is deep into one of the most high-profile American military cases in recent years, leading an aggressive, if unorthodox, defense. In weeks of pretrial hearings, the tall, crew-cut lawyer, flanked by uniformed military lawyers who make up the rest of the defense team, has attacked the government’s case on every conceivable ground, even as he conceded that Private Manning was the WikiLeaks source.

Coombs, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, served 12 years in the Army before leaving active duty and opening a military-oriented defense practice in 2009 in Providence, R.I. He has worked, both in court and in a public speech last month, to frame Private Manning’s disclosure of documents not as a reckless act of national security vandalism but as a deed of conscience, intended to expose government misdeeds and defend the public’s right to know.

It was an honor to watch Coombs deliver his speedy-trial brief, in which he countered the government’s catalog of everything they’d been doing by enumerating the ways in which it could have acted with more alacrity, adding on every single week in which he saw government inaction “while Pfc. Manning remained in pre-trial detention.”

Each individual omission added up like layers of paint on a canvas, until Coombs closed by citing the Rule of Court-Martial 707(d):”The accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial have been violated. And the sole remedy for such a speedy trial violation is dismissal [of the affected charges] with prejudice.”

The whole presentation led to a super-caffeinated rebuttal by the prosecutor, which told me that it was as brilliant as it had looked.

The other giant I met this week was someone I knew only from her posts at Firedoglake, without realizing who she was: Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who gives her take on the trial below.

jesselyn_radackWith all my attention around soldiers who dissent, I find I’m sorely ignorant of much of the history of civilian whistleblowing, and had forgotten about Radack in specific. And I’m not sure I ever knew her full story, as one of the few employees in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department who actively questioned its behavior in the aftermath of 9/11.  The photo is from the Brown alumni magazine around that time, when she refused to help interrogators corners in the questioning of John Walker Lindh.

Radack has been offering legal and logistical support to Manning’s defense, adding him to the Government Accountability Project’s Whistleblowers honor roll. I hope I can go to DC to meet with her and the rest of GAP, to explore what whistleblowing really means in the 21st century. (And maybe ask how she’s kept her  multiple sclerosis at bay, since with her it’s still the invisible kind).

One of the most fun, and humbling, things about this project is how often I come into contact with such giants. Though it has me listening to this band, so much that I had to include the video below. Tell me the lyrics to the song don’t get you hoping for a whistleblower of your own.

Men and MST: getting to the core of it


!  airplaneAce-croppedAnother military rape scandal — this one at Lackland Air Force Base.  A very few of you might have guessed my first thought: “Ground Hog Day. When will they learn?”

I say that because it’s nearly 18 years since a similar scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground changed my  job description and catalyzed the formation of the short-lived Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAAMP— the link is to its ghost site at archive.org, since STAAAMP stopped existing as a nonprofit org a decade ago.) Back then, scandals at Tailhook, the Air Force Academy (the 1993 one), and a monumental 1995 Veterans Administration study had cracked the ice somewhat, and I was already talking to survivors of what we now call MST every week. Then came December 1996, when those brave young basic-training women came forward. Above, the image I chose to illustrate the peerless Kathy Gilberd‘s article about it all, for a magazine I edited.

A lot has changed since then for the good, of course. Congress mostly gets it, which is why they scheduled hearings on Lackland for January 23. Columbia University’s Helen Benedict wrote an iconic book on the subject.Visionary filmmaker Kirby Dick made the documentary those brave survivors deserved, which has been nominated for an Oscar this year.  And  STAAAMP has largely been replaced by the super-competent Service Women’s Action Network and the grassroots VetWOW and Protect Our Defenders.

And still, per the LA Times:

Hearings began this week for Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jaime Rodriguez, a Houston recruiter facing life on charges of rape and pursuing illicit relationships with 18 women, according to Air Force Times.

Last week, Staff Sgt. Christopher Jackson, 29, became the sixth basic training instructor convicted of sexual misconduct since April. Jackson received 100 days in jail, 30 days’ hard labor and was demoted to airman first class,  but was allowed to remain in the Air Force.

Ten others are headed to court, including Master Sgt. Jamey Crawford, who waived an evidentiary hearing this week, and faces up to 22 years in prison is convicted on charges sodomy, adultery and giving a false official statement, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

At least now, when it happens, even the current Defense Secretary (thanks to that film!) knows the problem is both endemic and systemic. And next week’s hearings will feature both SWAN and a multi-generational group of MST survivors, including the impressive Jenny McClendon (seen here when the scandal first broke).  McClendon has”cautious optimism” about the hearings, she  told reporters this week.

But as my dear friend Lily Casura (founder of Healing Combat Trauma.com) points out in San Antonio News-Express, the hearings will lack one important ingredient: representation from male Lackland victims. None have yet come forward. Yet the national numbers imply  that there must be some. Casura reflects on the possible reasons:

It’s hard for men (or women) to talk about it, and apparently even more so for men. Of the same active-duty males of every service surveyed who were assaulted, more than four in every five (85 percent) didn’t report.

Men don’t report for reasons ranging from thinking it wasn’t important enough or not wanting anyone to know, to doubting the report would stay confidential, or being afraid of retaliation, reprisal, being labeled a troublemaker, or concerns about affecting promotion.

But there’s also personal shame involved when a man is assaulted. I recently interviewed a former Marine, one of the few men featured in “The Invisible War” documentary on MST. He was gang-raped on active duty by other Marines he worked with. Did he report? Absolutely not. “I was embarrassed, scared, didn’t know what to do at the time, so I denied everything,” he says. “Big mistake.”

He also went back to work after the assault. “I sucked it up like a man,” he said, adding, “I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I know the culture.”

I know the culture. That sentence summarizes why, I think, the issue has been stinking up the military for so long — despite all the earnest commissions and exposes. There’s deep work to be done on making the system’s jurisprudence and reward system more just, and SWAN and POF are right to fight for it.  But I fear that there’s a far broader conversation about military “masculinity” that few are ready for yet, and without it you might get no more than  cosmetics.

Still, I wish them all – the survivors, the groups,  Congress — godspeed on trying to move this forward. And the reporters covering these hearings should also ask the probable new Secretary of Defense how he plans to confront this, especially as these wars wind down.