Archive for ‘Armed Forces’

May 26, 2014

The Marine who was a Jedi


By Jim Fromm

Memorial Day 2014

Trigger warning. This piece includes content about suicide and rape.

Ever since we were kids, my friend Kythe declared they would be a Jedi Knight. Their most distinctive feature was their eyes: big, brown, and mischievous. Kythe was the funniest kid I knew.

We ate lunch together in high school, at the freaks’ table. We were small town outcasts, sharing what we had from brown bags and Free Lunches. Castle Rock High School is located between a trailer park and a junkyard, across the street from a cow field. You get the idea. Not an easy place to grow up as an atheist.

We ran together, daily, thousands of miles through forest trails. We fought many an epic LAN games of Spaceward Ho! and Total Annihilation in Computer Club. We enrolled in community college at the same time. We tore open books like escape hatches. I really mean that. To escape into fantasies, to nurture hopes of better lives. Everyone who grows up in Castle Rock dreams of leaving, but Kythe dreamed of more, to respond to the suffering and ugliness in the world by fighting for good. By graduation, they remained a self-proclaimed Jedi. After high school we parted ways.


I have three treasures.

I keep and treasure them.

The first, mercy,

the second, moderation,

the third, modesty.

If you’re merciful you can be brave,

if you’re moderate you can be generous,

and if you don’t presume to lead

you can lead the high and mighty.


But to be brave without compassion,

or generous without self-restraint,

or to take the lead,

is fatal.


Compassion wins the battle

and holds the fort.


The United States Department of Defense is the largest employer on Earth. Soldiers experience intense forms of exploitation and unique hazards of employment: rape culture, toxic waste exposure, combat, PTSD. This helps explain the often-cited statistic that U.S. soldiers are committing suicide at an average rate of one per day.

Kythe’s day was June 17th, 2011. It was the day before their 22nd birthday.

I learned this at the end of that summer. It was that year’s first day of autumn rain. Northwest standard-issue drizzle-gray. I was in Olympia, meeting our friend Jesse for a ride to Castle Rock. Buckling in, Jesse asked if I’d heard about Kythe. They handed me a white memorial card, emblazoned with the star-and-wings symbol of the Jedi Order. Inside was a photo of Kythe in U.S. Marine dress blues. Later I found out Kythe had married, and had had a child.

Kythe loved their dream of heroism. To every one of us they gave their friendship, their wit; we shared what little we had. They were my friend, faithful and just. When people cried out at injustice, Kythe listened. When comes such another?

I remember Kythe every day.


In the degradation of the great way

comes benevolence and righteousness.

With the exaltation of learning and prudence

comes immense hypocrisy.

The disordered family

is full of dutiful children and parents.

The disordered society

is full of loyal patriots.


Weapons are unhappy tools,

not chosen by thoughtful people,

to be used only when there is no choice,

and with a calm, still mind,

without enjoyment.

To enjoy using weapons

is to enjoy killing people,

and to enjoy killing people

is to lose your share in the common good.


Our generation learned, brutally, that governments don’t contract soldiers to fight injustice. The historian James Jones described U.S. military training as the “path of the soldier evolving toward acceptance of their death…the discipline, the daily humiliations, the privileges of ‘brutish’ sergeants, the living en masse like schools of fish, are all directed toward breaking down the sense of the sanctity of the physical person, and toward hardening the awareness that a soldier is the chattel (hopefully a proud chattel, but a chattel all the same)” of the state.

Recruiters don’t talk about that. Nor do recruiters talk about the inevitability of civilian deaths when heavy weapons are used in urban areas. Nor do recruiters talk about the U.S. military’s role at the heart of rape culture.

One public health journal estimated the sexual trauma rate at 22% for female veterans and 1.2% for male veterans. When U.S. military contract DynCorp threw a party to bribe Afghani officials, DynCorp bought bacha bazi, boy prostitutes, for entertainment; the story didn’t come out until it was leaked by Private Chelsea Manning. Manning was sentenced to 35 years of prison. DynCorp faces no penalty. In May 2013, Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, head of the Air Force’s rape prevention program, was outed as a rapist. Krusinski faced a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for attempted rape—but was acquitted.

Anthony Swofford wrote in their memoir of the Gulf War:

We’re carrying on our backs the overseas sins of generations of fighting American GIs—gang rapes in Vietnamese jungles, the same in Seoul and Pusan, pregnant Englishwoman abandoned after World War II, Japanese women raped and impregnated and abandoned during the occupation, thousands of French whores filled with syphilitic cocks while the Great War raged on.

You can add torture and rape of POWs in the dungeons of Abu Ghraib. Yes, in Iraq, American women proved just as capable of “serving their country,” as Secretary Hillary Clinton proved women just as capable to manage U.S. policy. Female veterans are now the fastest growing demographic among the homeless, proving U.S. policy is just as capable of using and tossing aside female soldiers.

The U.S. is “Number 1” in military and economic power, yet far behind most countries in any other indicator—health, life expectancy, literacy, poverty, environment, safety, and so on. But those are indicators of a society’s care for people, and care is a female duty. Breadwinning and defending the home (or homeland) are male duties, and so America values guns and bombs, income and GDP. Half your federal tax dollars go to military spending. Decades ago, the Italian women’s group Rivolta Femminile argued that if the unpaid domestic worker, or the sweatshop seamstress, is the epitome of feminine roles, the soldier is the epitome of masculine roles—and both suffer for it; youthful rebellion and refusal are attempts to escape these respective nightmares.

Kythe’s dream became one of those nightmares.

Militarism is more than a set of institutions. It is a culture of obedience, discipline, submission, and negation of individuality, with deep roots in American life. Militarism is hierarchies of order-givers and order-takers; the ability to perceive people as abstractions, body counts, resources. Of course militarism and rape culture are deeply linked.

Most American soldiers enlist, not for patriotism or patriarchy or bloodlust, but with honest intentions, because we grew up without opportunity, because we actually believed in the humanitarian mission of the wars. We believed that all this, the state and the blood spilled and the resources wasted while our neighbors starve, were necessary to protect the people we love.


Where the army marched

grew thorns and thistles.

After the war

come the bad harvests.

Good leaders prosper, that’s all,

not presuming on victory.

They prosper without boasting,

or domineering, or arrogance,

prosper because they can’t help it,

prosper without violence.


People are starving.

The rich gobble taxes,

that’s why people are starving.


People rebel.

The rich oppress them,

that’s why they rebel.


People hold life cheap.

The rich make it too costly,

that’s why people hold it cheap.


But those who don’t live for the sake of living

Are worth more than the wealth-seekers.


Kythe wrote this self-description on Facebook:

Grew up in Washington, joined the Marine corps, waiting to get out and move on to things that might actually better my life.

A thousand small things led to this. Like all the times we didn’t question our rulers, didn’t question the lobotomized corporate media, didn’t question the institutions and culture we live with. Many will pay for wars in tax dollars, and the poor will pay in blood.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Law never made people a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.”

Remember Chelsea Manning. Remember the soldiers around the world drafted by force or economic coercion; especially those in jail right now for resisting.

Remember Kythe. It doesn’t really matter whether Kythe pulled the trigger or someone else. Truth is, it was the officers, and generals, and politicians, and weapons makers, who let Kythe die, and even profited.

Kythe had a dream to do good. The betrayal of their dream was deadlier than any weapon. That betrayal murdered their spirit; then burst their mighty heart.

A Jedi fell.











November 2, 2013

The Strange Case of Vahid Brown, Counter-Terrorism Trainer and Clueless Hipster


Contributed by Kristian Williams:

After revelations that he had trained FBI agents at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, Vahid Brown found himself suddenly unwelcome in Portland’s radical scene.

October 4, 2013

Military-Industrial Complex A-Okay As U.S. Shutdown Enters Fourth Day

With a government shutdown, the vast majority of U.S. spending is now on military and police.

U.S. Federal Discretionary Budget from the War Resisters League



By Frank Robins


“Government Shutdown” — the words are blocked across every paper in the country this week. It sounds like a good idea — and how great it would be if it were this simple! But the majority of federal discretionary spending, deemed essential, continues unabated:  the military, all 116 federal prisons, border enforcement, surveillance, and federal law enforcement. (Except for labor law enforcement, of course. Goodbye OSHA inspections; time for some direct action.)

October 3, 2013

Heads up Portland: Watch out for FBI Trainer Vahid Brown


Vahid Brown was or is an FBI instructor at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, who has recently been attempting to integrate himself into radical and activist scenes in Portland. 

April 27, 2013

Bradley Manning is off limits at SF Gay Pride parade, but corporate sleaze is embraced


By Glen Greenwald of The Guardian:

News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.

March 13, 2013

One of First Iraq Veterans to Publicly Oppose War Will Die for Our Sins


Tomas Young visits Ground Zero in the film Body of War. (Photo: Ellen Spiro / Mobilus Media)

Taken from TruthOut – by Chris Hedges:

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

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

April 18, 2012

The U.S. Poured So Many Toxic Weapons on Falluja in 2004 That Residents Still Pay the Price

Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1000 births, compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait

Michael Kelley Apr. 18, 2012. Business Insider

The increases in cancer, infant mortality and perturbations in birth sex ratio in Fallujah are significantly greater than those recorded for survivors of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasakiin 1945, according to a study and reported by Karlos Zurutuza of Inter Press Service (IPS).

The study, released by the Switzerland-based International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, shows that in the years following Operation Phantom Fury there has been a 4-fold increase in all cancer, including a 12-fold increases in childhood cancer in those aged 0-14. 

According to hospital spokesman Nadim al-Hadidi, Fallujah hospital cannot offer any statistics on children born with birth defects because there are just too many.

May 24, 2011

Could Osama’s Death Really Mean the end of Afghanistan’s Occupation?

“Late Sunday night local time, two U.S. helicopters from Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and carrying Team Six SEALs flew in low from Afghanistan… The raid began on the smaller of two buildings in [Bin Laden's] compound, where [Bin Laden's] couriers were believed to live. The raid then moved to the larger three-story building.

“Two Bin Laden couriers were killed, as was Osama Bin Laden’s son Khalid and a woman. Two women were injured. Children were present in the compound but were not harmed. U.S. officials said that bin Laden was asked to surrender but did not. He was shot in the head and then shot again to make sure he was dead.”

- ABC News

News this month of Osama Bin Laden’s death sparked widespread celebration. Thousands of Americans, enthralled that the U.S.’s number one most wanted criminal had been liquidated, marked the occasion by gathering in public places and waving the American flag.

As is custom with any popular political event, both Democrats and Republicans pushed hard in the days following the raid to claim responsibility for the kill.

But Bin Laden’s death, however popular it was, is having some unintended political consequences as well – it is refocusing the American people’s attention on the longest war our country has ever fought.

Now that Bin Laden is Dead, the media is abuzz with the question: could this mean the end of the war in Afghanistan?

A Decade of Occupation

The U.S. Government first invaded Afghanistan in 2001, allegedly to displace Al Qaeda following the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers.

U.S. Soldiers pose in front of Bagram Theater Internment Facility

Since the initial invasion, the U.S. Government has been immersed in controversy. Critics have lambasted both the Bush and Obama administrations for the extremely high costs of the war, the ruinous impact it has had on Afghan civilians, and for a host of human rights abuses – perhaps most notably at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, where many Afghan prisoners later found to be innocent were subjected to excruciating physical and mental strain at the hands of their American captors, and where at least two prisoners were found to be chained to a wall and beaten to death by guards.

The U.S. Government, when it has bothered to acknowledge international criticism at all, maintains that the cost Afghan civilians have paid, while high, will be more than justified given the order which will be brought by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – the U.S. backed central government which replaced the Taliban following the invasion.

Further, maintains Obama,“[The] war began only because our own cities and civilians were attacked by violent extremists who plotted from that distant place, and it continues only because that plotting persists to this day.”

Facts and Fictions:

The rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan – that it was the country from which “violent extremists… plotted” attacks on American civilians, is dubious at best.

To begin with, Afghanistan was by no means the center of either the plotting for the september 11th attacks, nor was it the permanent headquarters of al-Qaeda.

Of the thousands of militants which al-Qaeda was estimated to have had in 2001 – we had no accurate way of measuring – perhaps only as many as 1,500 were actually based in Afghanistan at the time. That number as of 2009 , estimates a senior U.S. military intelligence official, is now probably closer to 100.

FBI Director Robert Mueller conceded that even though the “idea” of the september 11th attacks likely came from leadership in Afghanistan, “investigators believe… the actual plotting was done in Germany.”

al-Qaeda has historically been a rather decentralized organization (both logistically and geographically), so much so that many government officials, intelligence analysts and academics heatedly contest the idea that we can classify it as a single organization at all.

Since its inception, in fact, the group considered to be al-Qaeda’s leadership has moved from Yemen to Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Militants associated with them have operated in over 40 countries, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Our nations “gravest threat,” it turns out, is a bit hard to identify, once we’ve looked a little closer.

December 30, 2010

Wikileaks’ “Afghan War Diary” as Litmus Test for Media Bias

Reposted from tiresiasspeaks:

On July 25th the organization known as WikiLeaks, a confidential resource for whistleblowers who wish to release secrets to the public,  released tens of thousands of classified documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan. The Afghan War Diary, as it is called provides an unfiltered look at the war in Afghanistan as told by coalition forces on the ground. Not surprisingly, these documents paint a somewhat different picture of the war than what the American public is used to hearing from American journalists and politicians. According to an interview WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange had with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, the documents (some of which have not yet been released by WikiLeaks) even reveal dozens of potential US war crimes against innocent civilians. At a minimum The Afghan War Diary reveals numerous civilian deaths, problems with unmanned drones, Pakistan’s possible support of the Taliban, and the corruption and unreliability of Afghan government officials as well as military and police forces.  However,  what is perhaps more revealing than the leak itself, is the opportunity it has provided to gauge media bias.

WikiLeaks did an interesting thing when they decided to release The Afghan War Diary- before going entirely public with the leak they gave three major newspapers a sneak preview: The New York Times in the US, The Guardian in the United Kingdom, and Der Spiegel in Germany. All three papers received the WikiLeaks documents three days before they went up on the WikiLeaks webpage and agreed not to publish anything about them until WikiLeaks’ official release date on July 25th. Two days later Eric Johnson broke a fascinating story in the Huffington Post about how differently The New York Times and The Guardian had covered the leak. In essence, he found that the two papers ran entirely different stories about the same exact material.

Johnson relied on a method called content analysis when comparing the two papers. This method involves both recording the number of instances a certain word or phrase appears in an article as well as determining the broader intention of the text. However, the simple truth is you don’t need a scientific approach to realize the vast differences between the two stories. It’s obvious. All you have to do is look at the most prominent article in The Guardian with the headline, “Afghanistan war logs: Secret CIA paramilitaries’ role in civilian deaths” versus the most prominent article in The New York Times with the headline, “Pakistan Spy Service Aids Insurgents, Reports Assert.” The difference between the two papers’ coverage of the leak is plain to see: The Guardian focused on civilian casualties and The New York Times focused on the connection between Pakistan and the Taliban. For an interesting example from Johnson’s article:

“Of the twenty times the word “civilian” is used in The Times only nine uses are in reference to casualties resulting from combat operations (four of these are clustered in a single section midway down the page and two were at the hands of Afghan soldiers or police). The Guardian‘s coverage used the word “civilian” 41 times in their primary coverage and 37 of these uses referred specifically to civilian casualties (two cases occurred in each newspaper concerning hypothetical casualties and these have not been included). The difference between The Times and The Guardian is dramatic and represents a ratio of 2:1.”

Johnson goes on to explain that after he factored in the differences in word count between the two articles it became apparent that The New York Times had actually focused seven times less attention on civilian casualties than The Guardian. So, why is there such a discrepancy in the coverage?

Johnson writes that the fact that The New York Times chose not to emphasize civilian casualties, “suggests a political motive to avoid discussing the human impact of the war. This is consistent with the hypothesis that a close association between journalists and American political, economic, and military officials would influence reporters in the direction of those same officials.” In other words, this sort of bias is the inevitable result of journalists and editors constantly rubbing shoulders with (as well as needing to maintain access to) the very politicians they are theroretically supposed to be holding accountable.The New York Times’ own Note to Readers on July 25th reaffirms this hypothesis in that it reveals that the paper’s editors spoke with White House officials prior to making a decision regarding what they would publish.  This sort of voluntary censorship coupled with an article that almost completely omits what many believe to be the primary significance of The Afghan War Diary is disturbing to say the least. It would seem that the United State’s most prestigious newspaper is doing US government officials a favor by trying to garner public support for an increasingly unpopular war.

None of this is to say that The Guardian is a more honest paper. The fact of the matter is that if The Guardian were addressing an issue as central to British politics as the Afghanistan war is to politics in the United States you could probably expect a similar result. While it focused much more on the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even The Guardian’s story dramatically underestimated the number of civilian deaths revealed in the documents. To quote Johnson again:

“In The Guardian‘s article entitled “Logs Reveal Grim Toll on Civilians” they state that the documents show “144 entries in the logs recording…hundreds of casualties.” However, this was only in the so-called “blue on white” events (those cases where US and NATO forces acknowledged firing on civilians). Further analysis of the data show that these are only a small percentage of the overall impact on the Afghan population. In the category labeled High Severity there are 1,539 pages including 50 military reports on each page. A search for CIV KIA (military code for civilians killed in action) among the first 5,000 reports brings a total of 796 hits. In other words, an average of one in six reports contains evidence of a civilian death, and most involve more than one.”

All of this demonstrates the incredible importance of what Julain Assange and WikiLeaks are doing. By releasing actual reports detailing what the war is really like as told by actual reports from coalition forces the American public is empowered to ask not only, why is the war in Afghanistan being spun to us? But also, who’s doing the spinning?

October 19, 2010

US Judge Dismisses Hearing into Guantánamo “Suicides”

Reposted from the blog, Tiresias Speaks.

A US federal Judge dismissed a complaint Wednesday (9/29) brought by the families of two Guantanamo prisoners that alleged that the circumstances surrounding the men’s deaths had been covered up when they were declared suicides by the Pentagon in June of 2006.

The families of Saudi prisoner Yasser al-Zahrani and Salah al-Salami of Yemen were asking US District Judge Ellen Huvelle to reexamine the case in light of new testimony from military personnel working at Guantánamo at the time of the “suicides” that directly contradicts official accounts.

A third prisoner, Mani al-Utaybi of Saudi Arabia also died the same night, but his family has not filed a complaint.

At the time of their deaths, Al-Zahrani, 22, and Al-Salami, 33, had been held at Guantánamo without charges for four years at the US naval base. According to the Pentagon, on the night of June 9th, 2006, Al-Zahrani, Al-Salami, and Utaybi were found at approximately the same time hanging from makeshift nooses in their cells. They were then rushed to the camp’s infirmary where they were shortly pronounced dead.

The following day the commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, put the base on lockdown. He ordered almost all reporters on the base to leave and told those already en route to turn back. He officially declared that the deaths were “suicides,” and he went on to say, “I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”

But new first-hand accounts from soldiers on duty at the base on the night of June 9th suggest that Admiral Harris’ and the Pentagon’s version of events is false and that the men may have actually died as the result of torture at a site off base known as “Camp No.” According to the petition, this site was called Camp No because if soldiers were asked if it existed the were supposed to say no.

Army officer Joe Hickman says that he was supposed to log every vehicle that exited or entered the base. Even when Senator John McCain came to visit the base Hickman ensured that he was properly logged in and out. However, there was one windowless paddy wagon that was sometimes used to transport prisoners that he was not supposed to keep any log of. He and other soldiers say that they saw this van pick up three prisoners and drive them to Camp No on the evening of June 9th.

When the van returned to base later it did not return the prisoners to their cells, instead it backed up to the infirmary. A medical officer told Hickman they had been sent to the infirmary, “because they had rags stuffed down their throats, and that one of them was severely bruised,” the petition said.

When Hickman heard the official cause of death was suicide by hanging the next day he talked with the other guards who would have had to of seen if any bodies had been transported from the cells to the infirmary, but no one had seen any bodies being moved.

The families of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami demanded an independent autopsy, but when the bodies arrived they had already had all of their vital organs surrounding their throats removed making it impossible to 100% verify the cause of death.The medical examiners they had hired made requests for the organs to be sent from Guantánamo, but their requests were ignored.

In her ruling Wednesday, Judge Huvelle did not really address any of these issues raised in the petition. Instead, she cited a decision by a federal appeals court in Washington stating that conditions at Guantánamo should not be investigated by the courts and should remain the purview of Congress alone due to national security concerns.

In light of this ruling, it is unlikely that all of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Al-Zahrani, Al-Salami, and al-Utaybi will ever be discovered. The Obama Administration has already made it clear that it not interested in looking backwards to investigate potential war crimes and there is no reason to think that Congress would investigate the Pentagon’s official account.

The whole incident and yesterday’s ruling in particular serve as a stark reminder of Obama’s broken promise to close Guantánamo within one year of taking office. Even if Obama does end up closing Guantánamo down, it is difficult not to wonder how much of its true history will remain forever unknown?


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