Archive for the ‘Army’ Category
Ben Hattem reports in Politico:
On the evening of July 19, 2010, Major General Dana Pittard, the new commander of Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, got a call from the base’s 24-hour duty officer. A SWAT team had been sent to the house of a young sergeant named Robert Nichols. Nichols was inside with a gun, threatening to kill himself.
Pittard arrived at the soldier’s home just in time to see the soldier step out of the house, put the gun to his chest and fire. Neighbors and police crowded the street, but Pittard was the only officer from the Army base at the scene. He went home, where his boxes were still packed from his move 10 days before, feeling disturbed and helpless.
Nichols was the first of Pittard’s soldiers who died under his command at Fort Bliss. Others followed. A soldier from Fort Bliss’ 11th Air Defense Artillery brigade, which had recently returned from a tour in the Middle East, committed suicide. Another from the same brigade soon overdosed on prescription drugs.
The rash of deaths caught Pittard off guard. He knew that suicide was a growing concern for the military, which had spent millions of dollars to tackle the crisis and had issued dozens of reports—including a 350-page study that called suicides and deaths linked to high-risk behavior an “Army-wide problem.” But going in Pittard hadn’t planned to focus on the issue. That changed quickly. With suicides mounting at his base—a sprawling complex of 30,000 personnel, larger than Rhode Island—he realized he wanted to make stopping what he saw as preventable deaths a top priority.
He conferred with the brigade commanders. Then, he told his sergeant major, only half in jest, that they should put a moratorium on death at the base. “People laughed,” says Pittard, “but I said, ‘no, seriously, let’s look at the roots and causes and do all we can to make it preventable.’”
His solution had the hallmarks of a commander confronted with a stubborn enemy: decisive action and situational adaptability. Pittard aggressively expanded mental health services at the base. He increased the number of mental health staff, created new social spaces and nighttime services, treatment for substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder. And Pittard made the services available to all soldiers—whether or not there was any reason to believe they were at risk of killing themselves—because he believed everyone was vulnerable to suicide. It was a position that put him at odds with commonly held views in the Army, which tends to regard suicide as something that only a small number of abnormal soldiers are at risk of trying.
His belief was rooted in a personal struggle. He later made public, in a radically un-Army-like moment, something that could have seriously jeopardized a career that some say was destined for the upper echelons of the military: that he had sought mental health care for depression. People who worked at the fort say Pittard’s openness made it easier for soldiers to seek treatment. “I admired him sharing that story,” said Jamie Spanski, a staff sergeant who was stationed at Fort Bliss from 2012 until she left the Army in 2015. “No matter who you are or what rank you are, we’re all just human beings and sometimes you need help.”
And his efforts seemed to work. In 2010, Fort Bliss had 12 suicides, according to published media reports. The next year there were seven. In 2012, when the suicide rate for the Army as a whole peaked at 29.9 deaths per 100,000 people—Fort Bliss had five. It was the lowest suicide rate of any major Army installation in the world. The Defense Department touted Pittard’s accomplishments in news releases and internally; the Pentagon still highlights Fort Bliss’ example as one of the military’s most successful prevention programs.
Experts say the initiatives Pittard implemented at Fort Bliss demonstrate exactly the types of programs required for the Army to turn back its high rate of suicide. But four years after Pittard was transferred, many of the reforms he installed at Fort Bliss have been discontinued, and the base’s suicide rate has climbed again. And the high-ranking officials who pronounced suicide an Army-wide crisis—and who recognized Pittard for his success—haven’t adopted his approach.
Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, called Pittard’s services a “model program.” But, she added, “these things have to be continued to be effective.”
Military suicides used to be rare. Throughout the 20th century, the suicide rate among active-duty service members was lower than the population at large. But after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the numbers began to climb. In 2006, for the first time, the Army’s suicide rate, routinely the highest among the branches of the armed services, surpassed that of the national population. By 2010, suicide had become a military crisis. That year, there were 163 suicides in the Army, an 87-percent increase from five years before.
It is a population that is especially vulnerable: Many service members return from combat with some degree of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, both of which can contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts. Easy access to guns, which prove fatal much more often than other means of attempting suicide, may exacerbate the problem.
The Army struggled to respond to the surge in suicides. [But obviously it did not struggle very hard at all, since it effectively ignores and then cancels programs that work. – LG]
Two interesting things about the Dakota Access Pipeline protest: First, it’s growing. Second, the NY Times and Washington Post are giving it very little coverage. I did a search of the NY Times, for example, and it seemed that most reports were secondhand: from Reuters or Associated Press. The Times apparently doesn’t think it’s worth sending their own reporters there. The mission of the Times seems increasingly to protect power.
PressTV has a report, with photos. From their report:
According to reports, as many as 3,500 veterans are joining protests against the multibillion-dollar oil pipeline project near a Native American reservation.
Thousands of veterans have already arrived at the Oceti Sakowin Camp near the small town of Cannon Ball in North Dakota.
The veterans, organized under the banner “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock,” said on Saturday they will put their bodies on the line to assist thousands of activists who have spent months demonstrating against plans to route the pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Invoking the nonviolent protest tactics of Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the veterans pledged to peacefully support the unarmed Native American protesters.
“In the ultimate expression of alliance, we are there to put our bodies on the line, no matter the physical cost, in complete nonviolence,” wrote the group’s in its “operations order.”
“Our mission is to prevent progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline and draw national attention to the human rights warriors of the Sioux tribes,” the group added.
The Army has warned that it would close the camp and force out the protesters, who have been staying there in the region’s freezing cold temperatures.
When the Army is mobilized against American citizens, it’s always a bad sign—and generally indicates that the Powers That Be feel threatened.
But click the link to see the photos.
The crimes that Donald Trump claims that Mexican immigrants commit are absolutely nothing compared to what earlier immigrants did to Americans: the great genocide of Native Americans is a national crime on a level with institutionalized slavery.
Bill McKibbben comments in the New Yorker:
This week, thousands of Native Americans, from more than a hundred tribes, have camped out on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which straddles the border between the Dakotas, along the Missouri River. What began as a slow trickle of people a month ago is now an increasingly angry flood. They’re there to protest plans for a proposed oil pipeline that they say would contaminate the reservation’s water; in fact, they’re calling themselves protectors, not protesters.
Their foe, most directly, is the federal government, in particular the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has approved a path for the pipeline across the Missouri under a “fast track” option called Permit 12. That’s one reason the Dakota Access Pipeline, as it’s known, hasn’t received the attention that, say, the Keystone XL Pipeline did, even though the pipe is about the same length. Originally, the pipeline was supposed to cross the Missouri near Bismarck, but authorities worried that an oil spill there would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. So they moved the crossing to half a mile from the reservation, across land that was taken from the tribe in 1958, without their consent. The tribe says the government hasn’t done the required consultation with them—if it had, it would have learned that building the pipeline there would require digging up sacred spots and old burial grounds.
In fact, the blade of a bulldozer cut through some of those burial grounds on Saturday—during a holiday weekend, days before a federal judge is supposed to rule on an emergency petition filed by the tribe which would slow the project down, and immediately after the tribe identified the burial grounds’ locations in a filing to the court. The company building the pipe—Energy Transfer Partners—has already constructed more than half the pipeline, which, when completed, would stretch from Stanley, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, to Patoka, in southern Illinois. It apparently wanted to create facts on the ground in North Dakota—wanted to do so badly enough, it seems, that it was willing to employ a private security force, which used dogs to confront the Native Americans who tried to prevent the desecration of old graves. Tribal officials said that the dogs bit six protesters, including a small child. (The company did not respond to requests for comment, but had previously stated that demonstrators “attacked” their workers and the guard dogs. It has stressed in the past that it has been “constructing this pipeline in accordance with applicable laws, and the local, state and federal permits and approvals we have received.”)
Pictures from that confrontation recall pictures from Birmingham circa 1963. But the historical parallels here run much deeper—they run to the original sins of this nation. The reservation, of course, is where the Native Americans were told to live when the vast lands they ranged were taken by others. The Great Sioux Reservation, formed in the eighteen-sixties, shrunk again and again—in 1980, a federal court said, of the whole sad story, “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.” In the nineteen-fifties and early sixties, the Army Corps of Engineers—the same Army Corps now approving the pipeline—built five large dams along the Missouri, forcing Indian villages to relocate. More than two hundred thousand acres disappeared beneath the water.
Sioux history, and Native American history, is filled with one massacre and battle after another. Most of us have never heard of some of those encounters—the Whitestone, or Inyan Ska, massacre, for instance, not far from the present encampment, where at least three hundred Sioux lost their lives when Brigadier General Alfred Sully attacked men, women, and children feasting after a buffalo hunt. Some we do remember, albeit differently: . . .
When the U.S. uses a drone-fired missile to kill an entire wedding party, how do you think the surviving family members feel? I suppose in part the answer depends on how you feel about your own family members and how you would feel if a foreign power fired a missile into a group of them. But I think many would take it hard.
And how would feel about being imprisoned and tortured by soldiers from a foreign nation, and being humiliated in your own country? Or what would you feel if that happened to a relative or friend? Again, you might accept that such things happen, but I can easily imagine that some might carry a serious grudge.
Joshua Eaton reports in The Intercept:
In February 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The prison was about to become international news, but the prisoner would remain largely unknown for the next decade.
At the time the man was brought in, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was finalizing his report on allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib’s Hard Site — a prison building used to house detainees singled out for their alleged violence or their perceived intelligence value. Just weeks later, the first pictures of detainee abuse were published on CBS News and in the New Yorker.
Today, detainee US9IZ-157911CI is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. His presence at Abu Ghraib, a fact not previously made public, provides yet another possible key to the enigmatic leader’s biography and may shed new light on the role U.S. detention facilities played in the rise of the Islamic State.
Experts have long known that Baghdadi spent time in U.S. custody during the occupation of Iraq. Previous reports suggested he was at Camp Bucca, a sprawling detention facility in southern Iraq. But the U.S. Army confirmed toThe Intercept that Baghdadi spent most of his time in U.S. custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib.
Baghdadi’s detainee records don’t mention Abu Ghraib by name. But the internment serial number that U.S. forces issued when they processed him came from the infamous prison, according to Army spokesperson Troy A. Rolan Sr.
“Former detainee al-Baghdadi’s internment serial number sequence number begins with ‘157,’” Rolan said, describing the first three digits of the second half of Baghdadi’s serial number. “This number range was assigned at the Abu Ghraib theater internment facility.”
The details of Baghdadi’s biography have always been murky, and his time in U.S. custody is no exception. In June 2014, the Daily Beast reported that the United States held Baghdadi at Camp Bucca from 2005 to 2009, citing Army Col. Kenneth King, the camp’s former commanding officer. However, King backtracked after U.S. officials told ABC News that Baghdadi was out of U.S. custody by 2006.
Days later, the Pentagon confirmed that Baghdadi was only in U.S. custody for 10 months, from February to December 2004. The Department of Defense told the fact-checking website PunditFact in a statement that Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca. “A Combined Review and Release Board recommended ‘unconditional release’ of this detainee and he was released from U.S. custody shortly thereafter. We have no record of him being held at any other time.”
In February 2015, the Army released Baghdadi’s detainee records to Business Insider, in response to a records request. They showed that . . .
Continue reading. There’s more worth reading.
Later in the article:
. . . In the occupation’s first few years, U.S. facilities like Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca developed a reputation as “jihadi universities” where hard-line extremists indoctrinated and recruited less radical inmates. Analysts have long suspected that Baghdadi took full advantage of his time at Bucca to link up with the jihadis and former Iraqi military officials who would later fill out the Islamic State’s leadership.
In November 2014, the Soufan Group, a private intelligence firm, published a list of nine Islamic State leaders it said had been detained at Camp Bucca. The list included Baghdadi and Hajji Bakr, a former Iraqi military official who became head of the Islamic State’s military council and is widely reported to have spent time in Bucca. . .
And yet no officer will suffer any sort of accountability, I am sure. C.J. Chivers reports in the NY Times:
The under secretary of the Army on Wednesday apologized for the military’s treatment of American service members exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq, and announced new steps to provide medical support to those with lingering health effects and to recognize veterans who had been denied awards.
Under Secretary Brad R. Carson acknowledged that the military had not followed its own policies for caring for troops exposed to old and abandoned chemical munitions that had been scattered around Iraq, and vowed improvement. He also said that the Army had reversed a previous decision and approved a Purple Heart medal for a soldier burned by sulfur mustard agent, and that he expected more medals would be issued to other veterans after further review.
“To me the scandal is that we had protocols in place and the medical community knew what they were, and yet we failed in some cases to implement this across the theater,” he said. “That was a mistake, and I apologize for that. I apologize for past actions and am going to fix it going forward.”
Mr. Carson was appointed last fall by Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, to lead a Pentagon working group to identify service members who had been exposed to chemical weapons and offer them medical screening and other support. The effort was in response to an investigation in The New York Times that revealed that the American military had secretly recovered thousands of old and often discarded chemical munitions in Iraq.
The report found that insurgents had used some of the weapons in roadside bombs, that most of the episodes had never been publicly acknowledged and that many troops who had been wounded by the blister or nerve agents had received substandard medical care and denied military awards.
Mr. Carson said the working group’s new instructions, which were distributed to the military services in recent days, would ensure that hundreds of veterans identified by the services, or who have called a hotline set up at Mr. Hagel’s order, would be screened and properly treated. The steps, Mr. Carson said, would also cover troops exposed to chlorine, which insurgents repeatedly used as a makeshift chemical weapon.
“My ambition, and what I am committed to, is to make sure that any person who was exposed to a weaponized chemical or a chemical weapon is addressed through this process,” he said. . . .
Bottom line: The Army did everything in its power to cover up the problem and to let the victims simply suffer on their own, offering no help, but when the story began to get out, the Army (VERY belatedly) responded and said it would help. This is what the military means by “honor”: cover up problems and let the troops suffer, but if you’re about to get caught apologize. No one will be punished.
Related coverage, with links in the sidebar of the main article.
The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons OCT. 14, 2014
More Than 600 Reported Chemical Exposure in Iraq, Pentagon Acknowledges NOV. 6, 2014
A Veteran’s Chemical Burns Expanded Military Doctors’ Knowledge, but His Care Faltered DEC. 30, 2014
Thousands of Iraq Chemical Weapons Destroyed in Open Air, Watchdog Says NOV. 22, 2014
Reporters’ Notebook: Examining a Rare Nerve-Agent Shell That Wounded American Troops in Iraq DEC. 4, 2014
C.I.A. Is Said to Have Bought and Destroyed Iraqi Chemical Weapons FEB. 15, 2015
It’s notable that the officer has no support from the men in his own platoon. Whatever the cause, his actions and words are strongly reminiscent of what we know of SS officers in WWII. Dave Philipps writes in the NY Times:
Nearly two dozen soldiers from an Army platoon were on patrol in a dangerous valley in southern Afghanistan when a motorcycle sped toward them, ignoring commands to stop.
As he tells it, First Lt. Clint Lorance, the platoon leader, ordered his men to fire just seconds before the motorcycle bore down on them that July day in 2012. But the Afghans were unarmed, and two died. The next year, Lieutenant Lorance was found guilty at a court-martial of second-degree murder, one of the few times an American soldier has been convicted of a crime for actions in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. He is serving a 19-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
But the case is far from over. Mr. Lorance, who was dismissed from the Army, has become a cause célèbre for conservative commentators, including Sean Hannity of Fox News, who say the Obama administration punished a soldier for trying to defend his troops. Three Republican representatives — Duncan Hunter of California, Matt Salmon of Arizona and Ryan Zinke of Montana — have asked the secretary of the Army to review the case. And more than 124,000 people have signed a petition to the White House demanding a pardon.
“The warfighter doesn’t always have the benefit of time, given lives are always at risk in a war zone,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter, sent in January, saying the case “deserves a high level of attention and scrutiny.”
That chorus of supporters, however, is notable for what it lacks: members of the platoon itself.
Though many members of the platoon have never publicly expressed their views of the case, nine came forward to testify against Mr. Lorance at his trial, and in interviews several of those soldiers have contradicted Mr. Lorance’s account of a split-second decision to protect his troops. The picture those soldiers paint is of a young lieutenant who, during just three days in command, ordered soldiers to fire repeatedly on unarmed Afghans, tried to falsify reports in order to cover up his actions and so alienated and outraged his troops that they refused to follow orders and turned him in.
“War is hard, there is collateral damage. I get that — I’ve got my own stories,” Staff Sgt. Daniel Williams said in an interview. But Sergeant Williams, who was on his third tour in Afghanistan and was a squad leader in the platoon, added, “That’s not what this was; this was straight murder.”
Mr. Lorance’s lawyers have cast doubt on the platoon members’ accounts, noting that the nine soldiers who testified against him were granted immunity. The lawyers also point to newly uncovered evidence suggesting that the men on the motorcycle may have had ties to enemy bomb makers — a detail that was not revealed to the defense before the trial.
“If the entire evidence had been turned over, this case would be decided differently,” said John Maher, Mr. Lorance’s lawyer. He is appealing the conviction and asking the Army to grant clemency.
Mr. Lorance is barred by the Army from speaking to reporters. But he denied any wrongdoing in an August 2014 letter to the general presiding over his court-martial, saying, “My sole purpose during my tenure as a platoon leader was to bring my men home safely.”
The events of that day continue to haunt many members of the platoon. Some, stalked by anger and regret, say they have trouble sleeping. One cried while talking about how the episode tore apart the platoon. One recently checked into a clinic for post-traumatic stress disorder, saying the calls to free Mr. Lorance had revived disturbing memories.
In 2012, the platoon — part of the Fourth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment — was based in an outpost overlooking a mud-brick village amid fields of grapes in Kandahar Province. . .
Megan McCloskey reports for ProPublica:
The longtime scientific director of the problem-ridden Pentagon agency charged with identifying the remains of service members missing from past wars is out of a job.
At a recent Korean War family update meeting in Washington, Tom Holland announced he would soon be leaving as head of the laboratory at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or J-PAC.
“You’ve heard about the reorganization, and I found out last week that I’m not a part of the reorganization,” Holland told the group in August.
Holland’s impending departure is the first leadership change to come to light as part of the major overhaul of the mission announced by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel last spring in response to increasing criticism. J-PAC and a second agency involved in the effort will be consolidated starting Jan. 1 in an effort to streamline the inefficient process. An investigation by ProPublica and NPR in March found the agency’s efforts to be rife with outdated science, duplicative bureaucracy and poor leadership.
Holland, who led the lab for nearly 20 years, was the focus of ProPublica’s story, which found he served as an arbiter of identifications and established procedures that set an exceedingly slow pace at the lab. With 9,400 service members still buried as unknowns around the world, his restrictive policies were seen as overly cautious. Under his leadership, only one out of every 10 cases considered was ever approved for disinterment to attempt identification.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost wouldn’t comment on personnel moves. . .