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:

HEARST NEWSPAPERS LLC; THE ASSOCIATED PRESS; BLOOMBERG L.P.; BUZZFEED, INC.; DOW  JONES & CO., INC; FIRST LOOK MEDIA; GANNETT CORPS; MCCLATCHY CO; THE NEW YORK TIMES CO; REUTERS AMERICA; AND WP COMPANY LLC, D/B/A THE WASHINGTON POST

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.

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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.

How long does the pain last – forever?

I’m far from the only one to have shared that heartrending New York Times essay by Shannon Meehan, entitled “Constant Wars, Distant Ghosts.”  And perhaps as a result, veterans of all generations raised their voices and became this piece on “War and Conscience.” Some bits that hit the hardest:

As a former World War II combat infantryman, I really appreciated this piece — especially for how well it was written. Sixty-five years later, I still remember the sight of my first enemy corpse (I hadn’t killed him) and the thoughts are still with me of what his death had meant to a family like mine in another country….

—-

I never killed anyone or even fired my weapon in anger. I was trained to do it and I believe I would have done it but who knows for sure when until the moment is upon them? At one time, I agonized over the fact that I did not have “combat vet” on my resume. Thirty five years later, and uncounted reminiscences like Captain Meehan’s, I think maybe I should be grateful that I never had to be in that position.

And one that I’ll be mulling over awhile, from a young woman:

I served in the 1st Cavalry as well and witnessed that which I pray my children never have to. However I like to believe that I returned from Iraq with a higher regard for human life, not an eroded one. Facing your own mortality and living in the shadow of those who did not survive changes a soldier. But not always for the worst. It is so very often assumed that the soldier always comes back broken from their experiences. We may not come back the same but that doesn’t mean that we always come back worse. I am a better parent to my children, a better spouse to my husband but most of all an even more grateful human being because I know what it is like to have lost so very much. I never lost regard for my own life. The deaths of my peers, if anything, instilled in me a greater regard for my life and the promised life that awaited me once I left that hell hole…..

Those voices swirl and debate, but without the animus that keeps me out of most comments sections. Go read the whole thing.

Bring back the draft? A-gain?

Last time there was a national call to resume conscription, it came from former Marine and zillion-term Congressman Charles Rangel (left), who fought on the famous Hill 902 during the Korean War.

Rangel’s bill to do so, introduced on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion, was mostly meant to highlight the still-deep inequity between the people who decide to start wars and those who die in them. (The book at right is only one of many others, including by Civil War historian David Williams and Vietnam-War sociologist Christian Appy, whose titles are nearly identical to that World War I-themed volume.) But the buzz this week is about a piece in Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, author of  the iconic 2006 “A Failure in Generalship” (a blast at Rumsfeld first highlighted for me by Capt. Luis Montalvan). Yingling has kept up the pressure ever since, as noted last month by Tom Ricks in his Foreign Policy blog The Best Defense.)

In the new piece, Yingling gives a brief history of the Founding Fathers’ view of how war would be conducted before noting:

Many of the difficulties in civil-military relations today are attributable to our departure from the elegant system of checks and balances established in the Constitution. Congress has all but abdicated many of its war powers, including raising forces, confirming the appointment of officers, providing oversight to operations and declaring war. This has made the U.S. weaker by allowing hasty, ill-considered and poorly supported executive actions to imperil national security. The remedy for these failures requires not innovation, but rather a return to the time-tested principles of America’s founding.

And part of that return, Yingling adds, is a full return to the citizen soldier.

The U.S. should therefore abandon the all-volunteer military and return to our historic reliance on citizen soldiers and conscription to wage protracted war. This approach proved successful in both world wars and offers several advantages over the all-volunteer military. First and most important, this approach demands popular participation in national security decisions and provides Congress with powerful incentives to reassert its war powers. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force of citizen soldiers would ensure that the burdens of war are felt equally in every community in America. Second, this approach provides the means to expand the Army to a sufficient size to meet its commitments. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force would not rely on stop-loss policies or an endless cycle of year-on, year-off deployments of overstressed and exhausted forces. Third, conscription enables the military to be more discriminating in selecting those with the skills and attributes most required to fight today’s wars. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force would not rely on exorbitant bonuses and reduced enlistment standards to fill its ranks. Finally, this approach would be less expensive. Unlike the world wars of the 20th century, today’s dangers will not pass quickly, allowing for a return to a smaller and less expensive military establishment. Imposing fiscal discipline on the Pentagon would not only strengthen America’s depleted finances, but also constrain executive ambitions for adventures abroad and congressional appetites for pork-barrel projects at home.

Yingling does not, for all his historical spin, acknowledge that the Founding Fathers also considered a place for conscientious objectors, nor does he think of military conscription in the context of a broader national service requirement as others have done. I just deleted my own comment on where I stand on this, though you might be able to guess.

It can be argued that “A Failure of Generalship” was incredibly influential (see the “surge.”). Will this one be? Will it at least create a debate that lives in more hearts than his, ours and a handful of historians and military families?

get well soon, Rep. Murtha.

Slightly buried yesterday under the DADT news was this: “Murtha hospitalized after gallbladder surgery complications.”  The news about the 77-year-old chairman of the Armed Services Committee, whose spokespeople were by this morning refusing to give updates, was regarded mostly as (sigh) political news, exemplified by the head given by Chris Cilizza at The Fix: John Murtha hospitalized, political future in doubt? noting that “Republicans believe Pennsylvania is shaping up as very friendly territory for them.” That’s a hell of a thing to bring up when the man’s not conscious yet.

And the NY Times’ Caucus blog, while playing the headline straight, ended with this odd hybrid sentenc: “The chairman of the House’s defense appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Murtha has been openly skeptical of President Obama’s plan to pour more troops into Afghanistan and is known to be close with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

Only CNN and Fox even mentioned, as one of Murtha’s attributes, that he was the first Vietnam veteran to be elected to Congress. That was back in the throw-the-bums-out election of 1974 — unlike John Kerry, he’d supported the war, though he soon joined forces with Kerry and the emerging veterans’ community by speaking out angrily when Congress denied former deserters the opportunity to upgrade their discharges to honorable. By then, he was already on the committee he now chairs: so that the speech that made him part of my book title came from thirty years of visiting Walter Reed and trying to judge when the price was worth it.

Godspeed and get well soon, Rep. Murtha.

all enemies foreign and domestic

A shocker even from the always absorbing Home Fires, from a former 82nd Infantry officer recalled from the IRR to serve in Afghanistan. Roman Saskow offers us this is one of the most elegant glimpse you’ll see of a dissenting soldier’s interior:

Tragically, over time, I became infected with the belief that our foreign, undeclared wars and endless militarism were destroying America, and this made rolling the dice again extremely difficult. A gigantic void occupied the part of my gut where my patriotism used to be. I needed a principle to be my guiding light, and the colonel’s fit nicely alongside my fragmented and contradictory memories of oaths and creeds I had sworn to long ago: Recognizing the hazards of my chosen profession … Against all enemies foreign and domestic …

Read the rest; you won’t regret it.