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The Republican Party is a clear and present danger to American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light. 

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism. 

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 8:07 pm

A Scar on His Soul: A conversation with a Vietnam veteran

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Stephen Chamberlain has an interesting article on Medium, which begins:

Fifty years have passed and the trauma and memories of a 12-month hitch in Vietnam have not faded a bit.

John volunteered for the Army in 1969 when he was 19 years old. The war in Vietnam was raging and he knew it. Joining the Army was not something a kid did if he wanted to avoid combat. John knew he was signing up for trouble but did it anyway out of a sense of blind patriotism. There was no way a 19-year-old New York boy understood the politics or rationale for the war. Like so many of us he felt it was the right thing to do.

I wonder what he’d have done if he realized that although he’d survive the war, he’d carry the trauma with him for the rest of a long life. Would he still have signed up? Probably.

He was trained as a Combat Engineer, that is he drove a bulldozer, which served as a primitive method to remove landmines and clear roads.

John, now 71, enlisted in the army just before the Woodstock music festival and then requested a deferral until he could attend the event. The good old Army assented, affording him the opportunity to precede one life altering event with another. After seeing his favorite performer, Janis Joplin, on the stage he headed off to boot camp.

Woodstock to Saigon

Three months after Woodstock, shorn of his hair and his individuality, he was one of many young Americans about to be transported out of the world they had known to a violent, unfamiliar and bewildering world that would never leave them. Nothing that happened to John in the years prior to his tour in Vietnam or the decades after — including the loss of his son to a fentanyl overdose — would mark him more than 12 months in Southeast Asia — risking his life for unknown reasons, fighting people who were unknown to him in a place that was unknown to him.

Dozing for Mines

One of his duties was using the dozer to plow up potential landmines. He  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2021 at 10:27 am

Posted in Army, Daily life, Military

Tagged with

“The Cursed Platoon”

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One of the many horrific acts of Donald Trump was to pardon a convicted war criminal. The way the US no longer heeds the rule of law is another sign of decline. Greg Jaffe has a feature report in the Washington Post:

Only a few hours had passed since President Trump pardoned 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and the men of 1st Platoon were still trying to make sense of how it was even possible.

How could a man they blamed for ruining their lives, an officer the Army convicted of second-degree murder and other charges, be forgiven so easily? How could their president allow him to just walk free?

“I feel like I’m in a nightmare,” Lucas Gray, a former specialist from the unit, texted his old squad leader, who was out of the Army and living in Fayetteville, N.C.

“I haven’t been handling it well either,” replied Mike McGuinness on Nov. 15, the day Lorance was pardoned.

“There’s literally no point in anything we did or said,” Gray continued. “Now he gets to be the hero . . .”

“And we’re left to deal with it,” McGuinness concluded.

Lorance had been in command of 1st Platoon for only three days in Afghanistan but in that short span of time had averaged a war crime a day, a military jury found. On his last day before he was dismissed, he ordered his troops to open fire on three Afghan men standing by a motorcycle on the side of the road who he said posed a threat. His actions led to a 19-year prison sentence.

He had served six years when Trump, spurred to action by relentless Fox News coverage and Lorance’s insistence that he had made a split-second decision to protect his men, set him free.

The president’s opponents described the pardon as another instance of Trump subverting the rule of law to reward allies and reap political benefits. Military officials worried that the decision to overturn a case that had already been adjudicated in the military courts sent a signal that war crimes were not worthy of severe punishment.

For the men of 1st platoon, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, the costs of the war and the fallout from the case have been profound and sometimes deadly.

Traumatized by battle, they have also been brutalized by the politicization of their service and made to feel as if the truth of what they lived in Afghanistan — already a violent and harrowing tour before Lorance assumed command — had been so demeaned that it no longer existed.

Since returning home in 2013, five of the platoon’s three dozen soldiers have died. At least four others have been hospitalized following suicide attempts or struggles with drugs or alcohol.

The last fatality came a few weeks before Lorance was pardoned when James O. Twist, 27, a Michigan state trooper and father of three, died of suicide. As the White House was preparing the official order for Trump’s signature, the men of 1st Platoon gathered in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the funeral, where they remembered Twist as a good soldier who had bravely rushed through smoke and fire to pull a friend from a bomb crater and place a tourniquet on his right leg where it had been sheared off by the blast.

They thought of the calls and texts from him that they didn’t answer because they were too busy with their own lives — and Twist, who had a caring wife, a good job and a nice house — seemed like he was doing far better than most. They didn’t know that behind closed doors he was at times verbally abusive, ashamed of his inner torment and, like so many of them, unable to articulate his pain.

By November 2019, Twist, a man the soldiers of 1st Platoon loved, was gone and Lorance was free from prison and headed for New York City, a new life and a star turn on Fox News.

This story is based on a transcript of Lorance’s 2013 court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C., and on-the-record interviews with 15 members of 1st Platoon, as well as family members of the soldiers, including Twist’s father and wife. The soldiers also shared texts and emails they exchanged over the past several years. Twist’s family provided his journal entries from his time in the Army. Lorance declined to be interviewed.

In New York, Sean Hannity, Lorance’s biggest champion and the man most responsible for persuading Trump to pardon him, asked Lorance about the shooting and soldiers under his command.

Lorance had traded in his Army uniform for a blazer and red tie. He leaned in to the microphone. “I don’t know any of these guys. None of them know me,” Lorance said of his former troops. “To be honest with you, I can’t even remember most of their names.”

The 1st Platoon soldiers came to the Army and the war from all over the country: Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Indiana and Texas to name just a few. They joined for all the usual reasons: “To keep my parents off my a–,” said one soldier.

“I just needed a change,” said another.

A few had tried college but quit because they were bored or failing their classes. “I didn’t know how to handle it,” Gray said of college. “I was really immature.”

Others joined right out of high school propelled by romantic notions, inherited from veteran fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, of service and duty. Twist’s father served in Vietnam as a clerk in an air-conditioned office before coming back to Michigan and opening a garage. In his spare time Twist Sr. was a military history buff, a passion that rubbed off on his son, who visited World War II battle sites in Europe with his dad. Twist was just 16 when he started badgering his parents to sign his enlistment papers and barely 18 when he left for basic training. His mother had died of cancer only a few months earlier.

“I got pictures of him the day we dropped him off, and he didn’t even wave goodbye,” his father recalled. “He was in pig heaven.”

Several of the 1st Platoon soldiers enlisted in search of a steady paycheck and the promise of health insurance and a middle-class life. “I needed to get out of northeast Ohio,” McGuinness said. “There wasn’t anything there.”

In 1999, he was set to pay his first union dues and go to work alongside his steelworker grandfather when the plant closed. So he became a paratrooper instead, eventually deploying three times to Afghanistan.

McGuinness didn’t look much like a paratrooper with his thick, squat body. But he liked being a soldier, jumping out of planes, firing weapons and drinking with his Army buddies. After a while the war didn’t make much sense, but he took pride in knowing that his soldiers trusted him and that he was good at his job.

Nine months before 1st Platoon landed in rural southern Afghanistan, a team of Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.

Samuel Walley, the badly wounded soldier Twist pulled from the blast crater, wondered if they might be spared combat. “Wasn’t that the goal to kill bin Laden?” he recalled thinking. “Isn’t that checkmate?”

Around the same time, Twist was trying to make sense of what was to come. “I feel like the Army was a good decision, but also in my mind is a lot of dark thoughts,” he wrote in a spiral notebook. “I could die. I could come back with PTSD. I could be massively injured.”

“Maybe,” he hoped, “it will start winding down soon.”

But the decade-long war continued, driven by new, largely unattainable goals. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and many photos.

I wonder when President Trump will take notice of the fact that Russia has placed (and has paid) a bounty for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump doesn’t seem to care.

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2020 at 9:54 am

The richest American family hired terrorists to shoot machine guns at sleeping women and children

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Meagan Day writes in Medium:

The bloody history of the American labor movement has never really been taught in schools. Its antagonists are powerful entities who’d rather be remembered for their visionary contributions and largesse. Take the Rockefeller family, some of the most celebrated philanthropists in American history, whose heirs and business partners would like to be known for financial contributions to medical science — not for being responsible for the deaths of the children of striking miners who worked for the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Co.

The incident, known as the Ludlow Massacre, occured in April of 1914, and it sparked a 10-day battle in the coalfields of the American West. It was one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of American class conflict, and one of the closest things to war between compatriots since the Confederacy was defeated a half-century earlier.

The first labor unions arrived in Colorado nearly as quickly as the first coal miners. There were strikes in the Colorado coalfields in 1884, 1894, and 1904. But none rivaled the rebellion of 1914.

Between 1870 and 1910, Colorado’s non-Native American population had multiplied 20 times over. By then, Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. (CF&I) was the largest employer in the state. Its workers were a combination of American-born men of English and Scots-Irish descent and immigrants from places as far-flung as Greece and Japan. Working and living conditions for the thousands of miners were harsh and dangerous. Dynamite explosions, mine collapses, and premature death from work-related illness and injury were common. When an inspector visited the site of a mine explosion that had killed 56 in a coal town called Starkville in 1910, he was startled to see not just how the miners and their families had died, but how they’d lived, writing:

The residences or houses and living quarters of the miners smack of the direst poverty. Practically all of the residences are huddled in the shadow of the coal washers and the smoke of the coke ovens making the surroundings smutty with coal dust and coke smoke. Not all of the houses are equipped with water, and practically none have sewerage; they depend for their water upon hydrants on the streets. The people reflect their surroundings; slatternly dressed women and unkempt children throng the dirty streets and alleys of the camp. One is forced to the conclusion that these people must be very poorly paid, else they would not be content to live in this fashion.

They were not content. The miners agitated for better pay and conditions on their own, but they were repressed at every turn. In Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West, Scott Martelle writes, “They did not have a political voice. The courts and the local political structure in the south [of Colorado] were directly controlled by, or friendly to, the interests of mine owners. In elections, local mine superintendents often cast their workers’ ballots for them.” Companies like CF&I had undercover detectives and private security who would spy on union organizers and run them out of town. The mine operators would collude with one another, for instance sending letters with warnings like this one: “All superintendents: look out for Jack Nelson, commonly called the Big Swede. He has been working at Wooten and he is an organizer for the U.M.W. of A.” — that is, the United Mine Workers of America (UMW).

The company towns, writes historian Philip Foner, were “feudal domains with the company acting as lord and master. The ‘law’ consisted of company rules. Curfews were imposed, company guards — brutal thugs armed with machine guns and rifles loaded with soft-point bullets — would not admit any ‘suspicious stranger’ into the camp.” CF&I was the most restrictive of all, and its employees often lived 20 to a shack, in houses owned by the company itself.

In 1913, CF&I workers sought representation from the UMW, which had increased its presence throughout the region despite the attempts of company spies to drive them out. In September, after the company refused demands for an eight-hour workday and the elimination of company guards, the workers went on strike. The labor organizer Mother Jones gave a rousing speech in support of the strike, for which she was imprisoned for 20 days. In her autobiography she writes of her time in a Trinidad, Colorado, prison:

Day was perpetual twilight and night was deep night. I watched people’s feet from my cellar window; miners’ feet in old shoes; soldiers’ feet, well-shod in government leather; the shoes of women with the heels run down; the dilapidated shoes of children; barefooted boys. The children would scrooch down and wave to me but the soldiers shooed them off.

When she was released, she saw that the miners had been evicted from their shacks for attempting to strike. They were now living in tent colonies outside the towns of boarded-up shanties they had once called home. Not only that, but the company guards were arresting the newly homeless miners for vagrancy and forcing them to work for no pay as punishment. The miners were regularly beaten by the guards, but still they wouldn’t stop striking. They knew that the only way to get concessions from Rockefeller’s company was to hold out and watch the profits plummet.

utraged by the workers’ insubordination, CF&I gave its hired thugs — or “detectives,” working for a private security company called Baldwin-Felts — the liberty to try a new tactic: outright terrorism. The Baldwin-Felts detectives began to drive around at night and fire into the tents, terrifying, injuring, and on occasion killing the sleeping miners and their families. The miners organized armed patrols to ward off the detectives, but they were no match for the “Death Special.” That was the name Baldwin-Felts agents gave to the car, equipped with a machine gun, in which they roamed the coalfields at night.

In response to the terrorism of the agents, the miners and their families dug pits in the earth under their tents, in which they hid at night to avoid being sprayed by bullets. They endured this violence, living in their tents with their pits, all through the winter and spring. The few occasions they fired back at agents were used as justification for calling in the Colorado National Guard.

On April 19, the striking miners at Ludlow put on an Orthodox Easter celebration for the Greek families in their tent colony. On April 20, the Colorado Guardsmen came to Ludlow, claiming to be searching for a suspected criminal. It’s still unclear who fired the first shot, but a ten-hour gun battle between the armed striking miners at Ludlow and the Colorado National Guard ensued. Martelle described the scene, which would later come to be known as the Ludlow Massacre:

Seven men and a boy were killed in the shooting, at least three of the men — all striking coal miners, one a leader — apparently executed in cold blood by Colorado National Guardsmen who had taken them captive. As the sun set, the militia moved into the camp itself and an inferno lit up the darkening sky, reducing most of the makeshift village to ashes. It wasn’t until the next morning that the bodies of two mothers and eleven children were discovered where they had taken shelter in a dirt bunker beneath one of the tents. The raging fire had sucked the oxygen from the air below, suffocating the families as they hid from the gun battle. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Good photos at the link, including a heavy machine-gun aimed at the (US civilian) camp. I sense a continuity from then to the US today.


Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2020 at 5:10 pm

Burgess Meredith tells GIs in 1943 how to behave in a pub

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Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2019 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Army, Military, Video

The Great War disillusioned and decimated a generation

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Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen – born March 18, 1893; killed November 7, 1918
(4 days before the Armistice)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2019 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Army, Art, Daily life, Military

Another Remembrance Day story: How an Overweight, Failed Victoria BC Real Estate Agent Won the Great War

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Tristin Hopper reports in The Capital:

Victoria’s Arthur Currie wasn’t charming, well-connected or well-educated. He got crippling stomach pains during periods of high stress, which had caused him to miss the Boer War. In an era of wiry men with distinguished moustaches, Currie was doughy and clean-shaven; few would encounter him without mentioning his enormous girth. In the words of one author, he was “embarrassingly unassuming in appearance and bearing.”

The 40-year-old had been a disastrous real estate developer; on the eve of the First World War he was so ridden by debt that he would embezzle the equivalent of $250,000 from the reserve militia where he was an officer.

Within only two years, however, this was the man picked to stand as the most powerful Canadian who had ever lived. Currie was placed in supreme command of the deadliest army his home country has ever assembled. And in one of the most meteoric ascensions in Canadian history, a man who had exuded little more than stable mediocrity in Victoria would become an unparalleled bringer of death and destruction to Europe.

When Currie had first come to Victoria from Ontario in the 1890s, he had gotten work in Victoria and Sidney as a schoolteacher. He then left to get into real estate, following a path familiar to many modern Victorians: Effortless climbing a real estate bubble, only to be left overleveraged and in ruins when it burst.

But it was Currie’s extracurricular activities as a member of the local militia that would unwittingly place him in the limelight. Joining a Canadian militia in the 1890s was akin to joining a yacht club; it was mainly a good place to find business contacts and secure dinner invitations. But Currie ended up taking the militia far more seriously than most. He pored over military textbooks and absorbed every class or exercise the military could serve up. “When some of my associates were playing lawn tennis or swinging golf clubs, I was at the armouries or on the rifle ranges with the boys,” he would say later.

Under normal circumstances, Currie’s martial enthusiasm would have amounted to little more than an unusual hobby. But Currie lived in the early 20th century, just as Europe was descending into armed, mechanized chaos. As Canada scrambled for officers to command its rapidly swelling volunteer army for the Western Front, Currie found himself on a troopship in charge of the 2nd Infantry Brigade.

Once in Europe, the Victorian quickly rocketed through the ranks until he was commander of all Canadian soldiers in Europe. Not only did Currie keep orchestrating battlefield successes, including the legendary victory at Vimy Ridge, but in a war of tragically mediocre generals, fellow allies began to notice that the overweight Canadian seemed to be the only one who knew what he was doing.

“There was something great and terrible in his simplicity and sureness of judgment, and this real—estate agent … was undoubtedly a man of strong ability, free from those trammels of red tape and tradition which swathed round so many of our own leaders,” wrote the British war correspondent Philip Gibbs.

The British prime minister of the time, David Lloyd George, would call Currie “the only soldier thrown up by the British side who possessed the necessary qualifications for the position.”

n Victoria, Currie had been unable to hold together a minor real estate concern. But when thrown into the worst carnage humanity had ever seen, he thrived as a master of strategy, organization and calm.

“He has made war a business,” one British general would explain of the Canadian.  “He is the managing director; his working capital is the lives of 125,000 Canadians. He carefully watches his expenditure and mentally keeps a profit and loss account of each engagement, and his dividends are many.”

Currie was surrounded by fellow Allied commanders who refused to acknowledge the realities of modern war. Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, never abandoned the romantic notion that the war would be won with cavalry charges. French commanders had been so wedded to tradition that they had sent their soldiers into battle wearing bright red trousers. Even generals in the savvier German ranks had sent countless doomed infantry charges into machine gun fire.

But Currie approached war like a math problem. He had no military pedigree and hadn’t even attended Canada’s Royal Military College. His inexperience made him see the First World War for what it was; a completely new kind of war demanding a completely new kind of tactic.

He grilled fellow allied generals on strategy. He relentlessly picked apart prior battles and had a particular genius to determine what caused certain attacks to succeed and others to fail.

One of the most telling indicators of Currie’s eerie meticulousness came in the aftermath of the Battle of Passchendaele. Currie had attempted to resist Douglas Haig’s orders to capture the inconsequential Belgian village, arguing that it would cost 16,000 Canadian casualties. When he was overruled, he turned out to be almost exactly right; the battle ultimately cost 15,654 Canadian casualties.

Currie may have been fighting an analytical war, but it was no less brutal. He followed the cold calculus of killing as many Germans as he could – as often as he could – believing it the fastest way to restore peace to Europe and bring his men home. Under his leadership, the Canadian Corps became the most enthusiastic users of poison gas on the Western Front. Canadians shot at anything that moved, and bombarded rear German positions constantly. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 November 2019 at 11:42 am

Posted in Army, Military

One of D-Day’s most famous, heroic assaults seems to have been unnecessary

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Scott Higham reports in the Washington Post:

Pointe du Hoc, France — Seventy-five years ago Thursday, a battalion of elite U.S. Army Rangers scaled the 100-foot promontory here overlooking Omaha Beach, with nothing more than ropes and rickety ladders. As enemy gunfire and grenades rained down, picking them off as they climbed, the Rangers managed to secure the strategic high ground and silence a small battery of long-range German guns that had been moved inland.

The battle for Pointe du Hoc became one of the most heroic moments of the D-Day invasion. It was lionized by the legendary Hollywood film “The Longest Day” and by President Ronald Reagan, who stood on this hallowed ground to one of his most famous speeches, extolling the bravery of the “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on the 40th anniversary of the largest amphibious assault in the world’s history.

But a little more than three miles down the windswept Normandy coastline, an archaeological dig on a vast swath of farmland is starting to tell another story about what took place that day. A World War II artifact collector and historian accidentally stumbled upon a massive German artillery installation that was buried after the invasion. His discovery, along with a trove of declassified U.S. and British military documents, threatens to alter the narrative of Pointe du Hoc and its importance as a military objective during the D-Day invasion.

Only now are historians beginning to reckon with the implications. Depending on which is talking, the discovery of what is known as “Maisy Battery” either calls into question the wisdom of the entire Pointe du Hoc operation or is simply one more footnote in a war full of footnotes.

One thing is certain: The mythology of Pointe du Hoc is firmly established. Those who challenge the story do so at their own peril.

“Historians always shatter the idol, but let me tell you, when they do, they get a lot of pushback and angry emails in the middle of the night,” said Rob Citino, the senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans who has written 10 books about the war and only recently learned about Maisy Battery. “Pointe du Hoc is such sacred ground, it’s like bringing someone to Gettysburg and saying, ‘Actually, there was a much bigger battle fought just a few miles away.’ ”

The artifact collector and historian, Gary Sterne, 55, has received nothing but pushback since he found a map at a military flea market 15 years ago that led him to the discovery of Maisy Battery, a complex that covers 144 acres one mile inland between Omaha and Utah beaches — the prime objectives of the U.S. invasion forces. He has published a two-volume, 1,160-page encyclopedia full of photographs, military documents and interviews with Army Rangers who climbed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc.

His startling conclusion: The assault was unnecessary, the commander of the U.S. Army Ranger unit failed to follow orders, putting his men directly in harm’s way, and U.S. military leaders should have targeted Maisy and its battery of heavy artillery guns instead of Pointe du Hoc, which the Germans had largely abandoned by the time of the Normandy invasion.

“I have nothing but respect for the Rangers and what they did at Pointe du Hoc,” Sterne said in a recent interview from his home in England. “It was truly heroic. But the facts are the facts.”

‘A lightbulb moment’

Sterne has been collecting military memorabilia since he was child growing up near Manchester, England. It became a full-time pursuit after he purchased a home in Normandy. In 2004, he traveled to Louisville to attend one of the largest military flea markets in the world.

Beneath one of the 5,000 tables set up there, Sterne spotted a cardboard box. Inside was the complete uniform of a U.S. Army soldier who had fought in WWII. Sterne bought it for $180. Inside one of the pockets was a map of Normandy. The map was marked with hand-drawn circles, each with an “X” in the middle, and the words: “Areas of High Resistance.”

Sterne was confused. He knew the precise locations of those areas.

“I thought, ‘There’s nothing there. It’s just fields,’” Sterne recalled.

Back in Normandy, Sterne drove to the fields and started to walk through the tall grass. He came across a clearing and a large slab of concrete. At first he thought he had found the foundation of a building destroyed long ago. As he stepped off the slab, he tripped over a small chimney protruding from the concrete.

He was standing on the roof of a building, not the floor.

“I thought, hang on a minute,” Sterne said. “It was a lightbulb moment.”

Sterne and his brother grabbed some shovels and began to dig. They unearthed a perfectly preserved, bombproof German ammunition bunker. He and his son, Dan, have been digging ever since, uncovering bunkers and barracks and large concrete gun placements. They discovered a field hospital, a command and control center, evidence that an SS squad was embedded at the battery and the skeleton of a German soldier. All of it was buried by Allied forces after the invasion and Maisy was lost to history.

For nearly two years, Sterne kept his discovery a secret as he purchased dozens of tracts of land from their owners, quietly piecing together vast sections of Maisy for a World War II museum. When he went public with his findings in 2006 and opened the site to the public a year later, he said the backlash was ferocious. Other historians labeled him an opportunist, a fabulist, a “Mad Englishman.”

Sterne returned fire. He argued that Maisy, not Pointe du Hoc, should have been a primary target on D-Day. The guns at Maisy, he noted, were still firing three days after the invasion and capable of striking positions on Utah Beach, about five miles away. What he said next amounted to heresy in the military world.

Based on previously secret intelligence and field reports he obtained from military archives in the United States and Britain, Sterne said the 2nd Ranger Battalion commander of the Pointe du Hoc mission, Lt. Col James E. Rudder, knew that the Germans had removed their guns from Pointe du Hoc as the D-Day invasion neared. When Rudder and his men reached the top of Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1944, the guns were gone, some of them replaced with long wooden telephone poles resembling artillery cannons. The real guns had been moved inland. The Rangers found five guns that had been moved from Pointe du Hoc that morning and disabled them with thermite grenades.

Sterne went further. He said Rudder jeopardized the lives of his men by disobeying orders. The declassified orders show that the 2nd Ranger Battalion was tasked with attacking Pointe du Hoc, moving inland and knocking out the German artillery batteries at Grandcamp and Maisy. The orders, issued March 26, 1944, directed Rudder’s Rangers to “capture enemy batteries at GRANDCAMP and MAISY” after taking Pointe du Hoc.

Instead, Rudder attacked Pointe du Hoc, despite the reports documenting that the guns were being moved, and he remained in the area without advancing to Maisy. He later said he was ordered to hold the Grandcamp-Vierville Highway to prevent a German counterattack. But Sterne said he could find no orders in the thousands of records he has reviewed directing Rudder to remain at Pointe du Hoc and hold that highway. Of the Rangers who served under Rudder during the invasion, 77 were killed, 152 were wounded and 38 were listed as missing in action.

Rudder, who died in 1970, went on to become a war hero, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, and was later appointed president of Texas A&M University. One of the Rangers who said he fought under Rudder, Lt. George G. Klein, went on to become a world-famous narrator of the Pointe du Hoc story.

Klein frequently lectured about the assault, telling audiences that he was wounded by a German bayonet and had to be evacuated. During the 73rd anniversary of the invasion, Klein traveled to Normandy, where he was feted as “one of the great celebrities of the battle.” He signed autographs. He posed for pictures. He planted trees in Normandy villages.

But there was a problem: Klein never fought at Pointe du Hoc.

Sterne said Klein visited Maisy during one summer and told Sterne that “you have your history all wrong.” Sterne had written a book by then called “Cover Up at Omaha Beach.” It was a based on interviews Sterne had conducted with Rangers who fought at Pointe du Hoc.

Sterne said he asked Klein about the role he played that day. Klein told him he had destroyed a gun pit at Pointe du Hoc. But records show that the gun pit had been destroyed months earlier. Klein said he was a lieutenant in F Company of the 2nd Ranger Battalion. But F Company already had a full complement of lieutenants. Klein could not recall details of the battle. The Rangers Sterne had interviewed could never forget. Klein said he returned to his original artillery unit after he was wounded.

Sterne and other historians found the papers documenting the activities of that artillery unit during D-Day. Klein and his unit were in Ireland on June 6, 1944.

Klein eventually admitted that he had fabricated his military past and the tales he told about the attack. The story was picked up by news outlets around the world.

Klein, like Maisy, faded into history. Now 98 and living in Illinois, he did not return calls for comment.

‘The fog of war’

Each year, nearly 1 million tourists descend upon Normandy, many of them from the United States. Tour guides escort them to Omaha and Utah beaches, the American Cemetery and historic military sites, such as the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

The piece de resistance of any tour is Pointe du Hoc.

Adrian Ridley-Jones, 63, a top-rated battlefield guide in Normandy, has recently added a new site to his tour: Maisy Battery.

The former signal officer in the British Army said he has come to appreciate the significance of the Maisy discovery and the documents Sterne has obtained. It has become increasingly clear to him that as D-Day approached, the need to take Pointe du Hoc diminished. The guns were gone, the Germans were changing their positions, and the Pointe du Hoc mission would be perilous. He wonders why Rudder didn’t alert his commanders that the guns were being removed from Pointe du Hoc and urge them to make Maisy and Grandcamp the primary targets instead. Rudder never told his men that the guns had been removed, either.

“As archaeological evidence becomes clearer, history gets rewritten,” Ridley-Jones said. “Problems come as you do this. You upset preconceived ideas and entrenched positions. Instead of people looking at this dispassionately, it becomes a political hot potato.”

Ridley-Jones is careful to note the bravery of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. . .

Continue reading. The original article has quite a few interesting photos.

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2019 at 11:03 am

Posted in Army, Military

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The general who went to war on suicide

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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]

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2017 at 1:57 pm

3,500 US veterans ‘to put bodies on the line’ in pipeline protest

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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.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2016 at 10:53 am

A pipeline fight and America’s dark past when immigrants committed genocide against Americans

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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: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2016 at 11:51 am

How many terrorists does the U.S. itself create? ISIS leader was held in Abu Ghraib prison

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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. . .

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2016 at 2:43 pm

Army Apologizes for Handling of Chemical Weapon Exposure Cases

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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. . . .

Continue reading.

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

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2015 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Army, Medical, Military

Jailed US Army officer brings back memories of SS officers

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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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Army, Law, Military

Finally! Good riddance to bad rubbish…

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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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2014 at 3:22 pm

Oh, wow: the Medal of Honor scandal just took a turn decidedly for the worse

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You can search this blog on “medal of honor” and find previous stories. Basically, what seems to have happened was that a command decision was made that this Medal of Honor was for the Marines to get, and so the Army nominee’s paperwork was destroyed and they (quite successfully) pushed him aside, until news started to leak. I would imagine that there remains a cadre of officers to whom such conduct seem dishonorable and unbecoming, and I imagine some of those contacted McClatchy. As the publicity mounted, the stalled paperwork was found and, much later, Cpt. Swenson gets the MoH: an honor but the toll opretty much wrecked his life. At any rate, now we get more information from McClathcy in a report by Jonathan Landay (who surely must be going to write a book on this), including video:

In his memoir of the 2009 battle in Afghanistan that brought him the Medal of Honor, Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer describes how he reflexively switched from his machine gun to his rifle and back to his machine gun as he mowed down a swarm of charging Taliban from the vehicle’s turret.

“My mind was completely blank. I fired so many thousands of rounds I didn’t think what I was doing,” Meyer, then a corporal, wrote in his 2012 book, “Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.”

But videos shot by Army medevac helicopter crewmen show no Taliban in that vicinity or anywhere else on the floor of the Ganjgal Valley at the time and location of the “swarm.” The videos also conflict with the version of the incident in Marine Corps and White House accounts of how Meyer, now 25, of Columbia, Ky., came to be awarded the nation’s highest military decoration for gallantry.

The videos add to the findings of an ongoing McClatchy investigation that determined that crucial parts of Meyer’s memoir were untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated, as were the Marine Corps and White House accounts of how he helped extract casualties from the valley under fire. The White House and Marine Corps have defended the accuracy of their accounts of Meyer’s actions. The Marine Corps declined to comment on the videos.

Army National Guard Sgt. Kevin Duerst, the helicopter crew chief whose helmet camera recorded one of the videos, confirmed the absence of insurgents on the valley floor as the aircraft flew in on a first run to retrieve casualties.

“We totally flew over everything. . . . There was nothing going on down there,” Duerst said in a telephone interview Friday. “There was no serious gunfight going on.”

Former Army Capt. William Swenson, who’s to receive a Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on Tuesday for gallantry in the same battle, declined in an interview Sunday to directly address questions about the purported swarming of Meyer’s vehicle. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Ah, here’s why Swenson was the target of such underhanded treatment. From later in the story:

A nearby U.S. base failed to provide air support or adequate artillery cover to the Afghan and U.S. forces for 90 minutes. Two Army officers later received career-ending reprimands, while Swenson – in an interview with military investigators – accused senior U.S. commanders of imposing politically driven rules of engagement that were getting U.S. troops killed.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2013 at 5:17 pm

Investigation into why Medal of Honor recommendation was “lost” in processing

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I’ve blogged about how it appears some unethical (and illegal) steps were taken to “lose” a recommendation for a Medal of Honor. This earlier post describes what was known about this time last year, and it contains links to a couple of earlier posts on the incident. Jonathan Landay has a current report in McClatchy:

 A Pentagon investigation into how a Medal of Honor nomination was “lost” – possibly because of an improper effort to kill the award – is focused on its mishandling by members of the chain of command that included retired Army Gen. David Petraeus and other senior U.S. commanders.

The investigation is being conducted by the Directorate for Investigations of Senior Officials, a division of the Defense Department Office of Inspector General that handles cases involving top military and civilian defense officials.

“Specifically, officials within the Directorate for Investigations of Senior Officials are conducting an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the lost recommendation,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a Sept. 3 letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who pressed for the probe.

The review is the latest turn in the convoluted history of the Medal of Honor nomination of former Army Capt. William Swenson, who was recommended for the nation’s highest military decoration for valor for his actions on Sept. 8, 2009, in one of the most extraordinary battles of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Seattle native is scheduled to receive the medal from President Barack Obama on Oct. 15, nearly four years after he was first nominated and more than a year after his papers reached the White House.

The inspector general’s “investigation is looking at the approval process for Capt. Swenson’s award, specifically how the chain of command mishandled his nomination,” said Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter.

Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, declined to comment on the matter, saying she could not discuss any ongoing case.

The consequences of the investigation are unclear. Typically, the inspector general’s office refers cases in which allegations of regulation violations are substantiated to the secretary of defense or the service secretaries for further action. Cases in which evidence of crimes is found are sent to the Defense Criminal Investigative Service for further investigation, often in conjunction with the Department of Justice.

Swenson, 34, will be the first living U.S. Army officer to receive the medal in more than 40 years. He was recommended for his role in extracting a small group of American military advisers trapped in an eastern Afghanistan valley by a Taliban ambush and then leading U.S. and Afghan forces on repeated forays back into the valley to recover casualties while under vicious enemy fire.

Four U.S. servicemen, nine Afghan security forces and a translator died in the six-hour clash outside the village of Ganjgal. A fifth U.S. soldier, who was among some two dozen American and Afghan wounded, died two months later.

A slew of decorations were awarded to survivors of the battle, including a Medal of Honor for Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, and two Navy Crosses. Moreover, two Army officers were reprimanded for dereliction of duty for failing to provide air and artillery support for the Afghan troops and their American military advisers.

A chain of U.S. officers and senior officials – beginning in the field and ending with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta – were required to recommend approval or disapproval for Swenson’s nomination.

Petraeus, based in Kabul, commanded the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan in the summer of 2010, when Swenson’s original Medal of Honor packet – the telephone book-size package of sworn witness statements, maps and other documents supporting the nomination – went missing. Every electronic copy of the packet also disappeared from U.S. military computer systems, except for an incomplete version that was found on a classified network.

A duplicate file was assembled in July 2011 and sent up the chain of command. At the time, U.S. military spokesmen asserted that an internal investigation found that Swenson’s original packet was “lost” through bureaucratic bungling because of a high staff turnover rate at USFOR-A, the headquarters of the U.S. military contingent serving in Afghanistan.

But according to an Aug. 4, 2011, Memorandum of Record obtained by McClatchy, the “informal” investigation failed to pinpoint the reason why Swenson’s paperwork disappeared. Moreover, the probe was closed despite uncovering evidence of a possible attempt to kill Swenson’s award through an improper downgrade to a Distinguished Service Cross.

Under Defense Department and Army regulations, only the president of the United States has the authority to downgrade a Medal of Honor nomination to a lower award.

The memorandum – a report on the results of the internal investigation – said the probe “did not reveal any suspected criminal activity.”

It mirrored a U.S. military letter outlining those findings that McClatchy reported in August 2012. The memorandum, however, contains details that were not in the first document.

Petraeus, while serving as the CIA director, told McClatchy last year that he had “no recollection of seeing” Swenson’s packet. The memorandum noted that Petraeus signed Swenson’s packet on July 28, 2010. Petraeus didn’t respond to several email requests for a telephone call to discuss the discrepancy.

Another new detail: Briefing slides tracking the status of military award nominations in eastern Afghanistan showed that Swenson’s packet was one of two Medal of Honor nominations sent to USFOR-A on the same day, May 19, 2010.

The second nomination was from a separate battle, and the identity of the nominee was redacted. But both packets were processed concurrently, according to the memorandum. Yet while the second proceeded through the system, Swenson’s Medal of Honor packet disappeared.

The second packet “was logged and tracked through the same process,” said the memorandum. “It is reasonable to assume that had both . . . MoH packets been submitted at the same time, as indicated by the slides, both would have been tracked and processed in the same manner.”

A footnote on an Aug. 21, 2010, briefing slide uncovered by the internal investigation provided a clue to what happened to Swenson’s Medal of Honor packet. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2013 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Army, Military

You know already that they will find a lot more, if they are forced to look

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Things have come to a pretty pass when we already know that the details of the full email correspondence between Jill Kelly and Gen. Allen have been covered up? That the investigation was a whitewash job? That the entire aim was to exculpate all military personnel?

At any rate, Jillian Rayfield reports at Salon:

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., has called for a renewed investigation into potentially inappropriate emails exchanged between socialite Jill Kelley and Gen. John Allen.

“The fact that they didn’t even pursue accessing the private e-mails is very disturbing to me,” Speier said of the Pentagon’s inspector general report on the matter, in an interview with USA Today. “Because it would suggest that it was an incomplete investigation at the very least. At the worst: [they were] intentionally not pursuing an investigation into whether or not there was an inappropriate relationship, secrecy, national-security breaches. Classified information.”

The emails in question were the  thousands of exchanges between Gen. Allen and Kelley. Kelley was pulled into the spotlight when she complained to the FBI about harassing emails, eventually revealed to have been sent by David Petraeus’ biographer Paula Broadwell, which eventually led to revelations that Petraeus and Broadwell were having an affair.

From USA Today:

The FBI initially looked at Allen’s case and referred it to the Pentagon for further review. The inspector general told Speier that Allen and Kelley exchanged 3,000 e-mails from July 2010 to July 2012 on his government account. Allen served at Central Command from 2008 until July 2011 when he became the top commander in Afghanistan. Of those e-mails, 41 were reviewed more thoroughly, Speier was told.

“So that’s two years, 1,500 e-mails a year,” Speier, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said. ”I don’t think I communicate with my husband by e-mail more than 150 times a year. That’s a lot of e-mails. This is a four-star general in the middle of a war zone. The most disturbing part of my discussion with them was that they requested access to his private e-mail and were denied access and took it no further.”

Since the Petraeus scandal broke, Kelley has sued the Pentagon and the FBI, alleging . . .

Continue reading. We live in rather too interesting times.

I clicked the category “NSA” because of course NSA knew all about it—they were reading the emails, for Christ’s sake—in real time! And they tapped away, everthing read by NSA. In real time.

Talk about cover-ups! NSA knows all the scandals—even the ones we’ve not heard about and those we never will—and it’s just sitting on the data? Pull the other one.

Look: the one thing we do know is that the NSA has clearly lied, and in fact is still lying (vide the web site alterations, Clapper’s considered statement (he had a day to think it over) to Congress, et al.), and thus, we can reliably predict, will continue to lie. I think that we have to consider every statement from the Administration and the NSA and the intelligence community—including a lot of government sources who seem quite ready to leak classified information with some weird assurance that they can transgress the same law without penalty? Doesn’t that strike you as very Soviet-Unionish? That the intelligence agency whose activities are being exposed is able to break classification restrictions with impunity while accusing the whistleblower of breaking classification restrictions? Doesn’t that show a total moral imbalance? That Snowden will be imprisoned for life (most likely) for the very same crime that they committed with no accountability whatsoever? Something is enormously wrong with this picture.

The sci-fi-horror-fantasy analogue: Something foul has come to life in the bowels of government, and it’s taking over everything. I think that’s it, more or less.

UPDATE: Read through this short piece by David Sirota:

“James Clapper Is Still Lying”: That would be a more honest headline for yesterday’s big Washington Post article about the director of national intelligence’s letter to the U.S. Senate.

Clapper, you may recall, unequivocally said “no, sir” in response to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asking him: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper’s response was shown to be a lie by Snowden’s disclosures, as well as by reports from the Guardianthe Washington Postthe Associated Press and Bloomberg News (among others). This is particularly significant, considering lying before Congress prevents the legislative branch from performing oversight and is therefore a felony.

Upon Snowden’s disclosures, Clapper initially explained his lie by insisting that his answer was carefully and deliberately calculated to be the “least most untruthful”response to a question about classified information. Left unmentioned was the fact that he could have simply given the same truthful answer that Alberto Gonzales gave the committee in 2006.

Now, though, Clapper is wholly changing his story, insisting that his answer wasn’t a deliberate, carefully calibrated “least most untruthful” response; it was instead just a spur-of-the-moment accident based on an innocent misunderstanding. Indeed, as the Post reports, “Clapper sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 21 saying that he had misunderstood the question he had been asked” and adding that “he thought Wyden was referring to NSA surveillance of e-mail traffic involving overseas targets, not the separate program in which the agency is authorized to collect records of Americans’ phone calls.” In his letter, Clapper says, “My response was clearly erroneous — for which I apologize,” and added that “mistakes will happen, and when I make one, I correct it.”]

So Clapper first says it was a calculated move, and now he’s saying it was just an innocuous misunderstanding and an inadvertent error. With that, the public — and the Obama administration prosecutors who aggressively pursue perjurers — are all supposed to now breathe a sigh of relief and chalk it all up to a forgivable screw-up. It’s all just an innocent mistake, right?

Wrong, because in this crime, as Clapper’s changing story suggests, there remains a smoking gun.

Notice this statement from Sen. Wyden about Snowden’s disclosures — a statement, mind you, that the Post didn’t reference in its story yesterday (emphasis added): . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 2:03 pm

Army restricts access to the Guardian

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It is important, apparently, that our soldiery be kept in ignorance of what the country is doing—because they would not be so willing to fight for it? Hmm. Phillip Molnar reports in our local paper:

The Army admitted Thursday to not only restricting access to The Guardian news website at the Presidio of Monterey, as reported in Thursday’s Herald, but Armywide.

Presidio employees said the site had been blocked since The Guardian broke stories on data collection by the National Security Agency.

Gordon Van Vleet, an Arizona-based spokesman for the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, or NETCOM, said in an email the Army is filtering “some access to press coverage and online content about the NSA leaks.”

He wrote it is routine for the Department of Defense to take preventative “network hygiene” measures to mitigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

“We make every effort to balance the need to preserve information access with operational security,” he wrote, “however, there are strict policies and directives in place regarding protecting and handling classified information.”

In a later phone call, Van Vleet said the filter of classified information on public websites was “Armywide” and did not originate at the Presidio.

Presidio employees described how they could access the U.S. site,, but were blocked from articles, such as those about the NSA, that redirected to the British site.

Sources at the Presidio said Jose Campos, the post’s information assurance security officer, sent an email to employees early Thursday saying The Guardian’s website was blocked by Army Cyber Command “in order to prevent an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”

NETCOM is a subordinate to the Army Cyber Command, based in Fort Belvoir, Va., said its website.

Continue reading.

As you see, it’s merely the nitwit bureaucratic mind at work: even though the entire world knows, the information is (technically) still classified—it’s like those rules in the Manhattan Project, in which a foreign-born physicist was drafted to work on the bomb, but since he could not get security clearance, each page that he wrote was taken from him as soon as he finished and he was not allowed to see it again (because it was classified, you see: there’s a type of mind to which this makes perfect sense—avoid those people at all costs).

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2013 at 11:26 am

Posted in Army

The Insurgents

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James Fallows has an excellent review at The American Prospect of Fred Kaplan’s new book The Insurgents;

Fred Kaplan’s book is newsworthy, but not in the way you might assume. Kaplan’s years of research and writing for The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War had evidently come to their end shortly before November 9 of last year. On that date, Kaplan’s title character, the retired four-star general and national hero who had been renowned for his advocacy and management of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and dreamed of by many Republicans as an eventual presidential candidate, resigned as CIA director after the revelation of his affair with a much younger former Army officer, Paula Broadwell.

Kaplan alludes to the sudden, shocking collapse of the omni–competent, hyper-disciplined “mystique that had shrouded David Petraeus for nearly a decade” only in a page-long postscript to the book. In it he half-convincingly argues that although the affair took the military and political worlds by surprise, it should be seen as just one more of the very close mentor-apprentice relationships that had been indispensable to Petraeus’s own rise and to the spread of his influence within the military. With this little difference: “Unlike other protégés, Broadwell didn’t merely admire Petraeus, she adored him.”

Sooner or later we’ll surely get an account of how and when Petraeus decided to ignore his own oft–promulgated “Front Page of The Washington Post Rule.” (If you don’t want to see something on the front page of the paper, then don’t do it or say it, he would tell his associates—other than Broadwell, it seems.) What Kaplan has given us in this book is rarer than the latest reminder of the folly of powerful middle-aged men. He uses David Petraeus’s pre-Broadwell career as the narrative thread for what is really an authoritative and accessible overview of the ideas, insights and blind spots, successes and failures on the battlefield, intrigues, and alliances within the military and civilian bureaucracies, and all the other factors that have shaped what President Barack Obama recently called our “decade of war” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. As that decade ends, the defense budget will inevitably shrink, controversial practices like drone warfare and warrantless detention will apparently continue, and debates over the proper size and mission of the American military should begin. The Insurgents is a tremendously clear and informative guide to the strengths and weaknesses of the military we have today and to the decisions we are about to make.

The shorthand version of Kaplan’s richly detailed narrative is a tale of the military’s long struggle to repair its culture and reconceive its doctrine and tactics in the aftermath of its agonies in Vietnam. David Petraeus was part of the first post-Vietnam generation of officers. He grew up near West Point (though not in a military family—his father was an immigrant sea captain from Holland, and his mother was a librarian) and graduated from there in 1974, just as the American disengagement from Vietnam was nearly complete. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the military reflected upon what had gone wrong in Vietnam—putting less emphasis on stab-in-the-back betrayal by politicians than many civilians would guess and more on its own shortcomings in doctrine and leadership.

Kaplan does a particularly good job of describing the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 February 2013 at 9:49 am

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