In the midst of juicier scandals, Edward Passetto's apparent suicide went pretty well unnoticed (although I mentioned it on 5x8 yesterday) outside of the community in which he tried to live after returning from war.
And that's too bad because if the nation wants a scandal, this one is it. Today, 22 veterans will take their own life. Tomorrow, 22 more will join them.
This is not new, and you've probably heard it before. A soldier returns from Afghanistan or Iraq, seeks help and gets stuck in a bureaucracy while politicians wear the flag pins, talk about supporting troops and do nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence of a growing problem.
Then the soldier kills himself.
This has been going on for years, now, and yet nothing seems to be changing. Passetto's situation was particularly unique because he was a public advocate to solve the problem, willingly discussing the woe that he and thousands of other returning soldiers are experiencing alone.
His hometown newspaper -- the Berkshire Eagle -- let it rip in an editorial today:
In chronicling his unsuccessful two-year battle with the VA office in Boston to get his disabilityclaim resolved, Mr. Passetto undoubtedly wrote for many veterans across the county, state and country. In an open letter to President Obama that he apparently never sent but was posted by a friend on Facebook, he wrote of the months waiting for his claim to advance, time interrupted by occasional calls from the VA office telling him he would have to wait a few months longer. Although he was suffering from PTSD, haunted by his memories of the horrific helicopter accident, and dealing with mounting debt, joblessness and a family crisis, Mr. Passetto said in his letter to the president that he was told by the VA office he would "have to show proof of eviction or homelessness to qualify for extreme hardship consideration for your claim."
While the specifics of Mr. Passetto's dealings with the VA office are unknown, the generally shabby treatment of veterans since they began returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is well known. It has been chronicled on The Eagle's editorial pages and throughout the media, most recently on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" last Sunday. While the war hawks of Washington can find plenty of money for foreign military adventures, the deficit hawks of Washington (most of whom also are war hawks) cannot find the funds to help returning warriors, many afflicted with grievous physical and psychological ailments, heal and make the transition back to society. They should not have to wait until they hit rock bottom and are homeless to receive expedited treatment. What a great jobs program it would be to train and hire people (with veterans a priority) to work in VA offices to bring two-year-old claims like Mr. Passetto's up to date and clear this indefensible backlog.
Suicides by military veterans have reached horrific proportions in recent years, and Mr. Passetto is the latest casualty. His sense that, as he wrote in the letter to the president, he was "abandoned by my own country" is undoubtedly shared by many veterans. It would honor Edward Passetto's memory and the memory of other forgotten veterans if Americans insisted that their appointed and elected officials do justice by the soldiers who are too often abandoned once they set foot again on U.S. soil.
A man trying to solve the problem, profiled on 60 Minutes last week, asked a simple question: "How do we let that happen?"(2 Comments)
The world is full of people just trying to do the right thing. This ring is proof:
Rick Dunn of Easton, Penn., haggled a bit with a merchant who had it in his shop in Vietnam.
"For me, this is only about returning the ring to its owner especially if it was tied to the war back in the early '70s," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press earlier this week.
He mailed it back to the school from where it came, probably around 1970. And there it sits, on the desk of a school official in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. Efforts to find the owner -- alive or dead -- have gone nowhere, the AP reports.
It's one of two class rings in a developing mystery. The other one is in the possession of an Ohio man, who got it from a friend -- a former Vietnamese war pilot -- who bought it in a jewelry shop simply because he liked it. The ring has no identifying marks or initials. It only says Josten's which isn't much of a clue. The Minnesota company is the largest maker of class rings.(0 Comments)
After awhile, apparently, it's not a lot of fun getting together with a smaller and smaller group of people to wait out who will be the last one alive.
The Rochester Post Bulletin reports the Last Man Club is disbanding.
"I mean, there's no sense of only four or five of us getting together once or twice a year when we started out with almost 100," Kendall Heins, 95, told the PB.
"It's something that comes along, and you take care of it," he said.(1 Comments)
One day you're working in the oil fields of North Dakota. The next day the president of the United States is putting a medal around your neck, telling you you're one of the very few recipients of the nation's highest honor.
For Clint Romesha, the opportunity to become a hero came because someone else made a terrible decision to put an outpost in Afghanistan where it didn't belong.(0 Comments)
The United States has operated a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia for two years, it was revealed today.
That's not necessarily the story. This line in the BBC account of the story is the story:
The US media had known of its existence, but had not reported it until now.
It's not clear the extent to which this is true and which news organizations conspired to keep wars secret. The New York Times has focused attention on the "clandestine" drone war the United States is waging in the Middle East.
It only hinted that some reporters have known about the extent of the administration's efforts to kill what it considers to be enemies, even if they are American:
American officials have never explained in public why the C.I.A. and the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command are carrying out parallel drone campaigns in Yemen. Privately, however, they describe an arrangement that has evolved since the frantic, ad hoc early days of America's war there.
The first strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration, in December 2009, was by all accounts a disaster. American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children. Another strike, six months later, killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.
In its coverage today, ABC News didn't sound like a news organization that's been withholding details it knew, although there were hints of agreements to keep it secret:
The CIA declined to comment, but a former national security official confirmed the base's existence to ABC News. "It's been an open secret that it was there," the official said. England's The Sunday Times included Saudi Arabia in a 2011 report about a series of secret drone bases in the region, citing a Gulf defense source.
But late this afternoon, a spokesman for the Associated Press revealed that the news agency knew, and kept it secret:
The Associated Press in 2011 agreed to withhold the location of a secret U.S.-run drone base located inside Saudi Arabia after U.S. officials contended that revealing the location would make the base a target of extremists, endangering people directly, and would badly endanger counterterror efforts. The AP did report at the time on secret drone operations operating from the region, targeting extremists in Yemen.
The AP on rare occasions withholds information when officials offer a compelling argument that the information could imperil national security or specific individuals. When the location of the base was made public Tuesday night, the AP felt national security concerns no longer applied and published the location.
Let's take this last line again:
When the location of the base was made public Tuesday night, the AP felt national security concerns no longer applied and published the location.
The public knowing the existence of the bases no longer constituted a threat to national security? Think about that for a second. If the public knowing something doesn't constitute a threat to national security, how can a news organizations keep a secret on the basis that the public knowing about it does?
Perhaps there's unlikely to be any pushback against news organizations that buy into a government's insistence that wars need to be secret in the interest of national security. Whether that becomes fodder for public debate depends on whether U.S. citizens bother to wonder what else the nation's news media is keeping from them.
In Washington, this afternoon, there's a media feeding frenzy to try to find out who kept what from whom and why? One news organization that's off the hook? FoxNews.(4 Comments)
When a soldier dies, a governor orders flags lowered, we newspeople run a story, a town says "goodbye," and then everyone moves on.
In the last week, two American soldiers died in Afghanistan.(2 Comments)
Another effort is underway in Minnesota to allow veterans of one of America's secret wars to be buried in state veterans cemeteries.
The Hmong fighters were recruited, trained, directed,supported, and paid by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to fight in their native Laos during the Vietnam war. But they've not been able to get buried in U.S. veterans cemeteries.
A similar bill was filed at the Legislature last year by Rep. Bob Dettmer. It got one hearing and then died. No Senate companion bill was filed.
Minnesota is believed to have about 400 Hmong veterans, the largest of any state.
At the time, the head of the Minnesota National Guard suggested what the Hmong did wasn't any more special than other allies of the U.S., according to the Star Tribune.
In a letter made available to committee members, Minnesota Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito, himself a Vietnam veteran, acknowledged the role Hmong fighters had in the secret war in Laos, and pointed out that the state has proclaimed a special Royal Lao Armed Forces Day each year. But, Shellito said, granting special rights for Hmong fighters would represent a precedent, and any honor bestowed on Hmong veterans would have to be provided equally to others, such as Vietnamese, Iragis, Afghans, and Somalis.
"As you know, the Laotians are not unique in having served alongside U.S. Forces in the past," he wrote.
Seventy years is a heck of a long time to wait for a medal you deserved from the U.S. military.
Lawrence Huschle of St. Cloud never got his Purple Heart. He's a World War II veteran whose B-17 (he was a gunner) was shot down. He survived the crash and was held as a POW for two years.
Why didn't he get the medal?
"The requirement for the Purple Heart is to be wounded in action against an enemy of the United States," Maj. Gen. Jerry Lang told the St. Cloud Times. "Bailing out of a shot-down aircraft qualifies for that, however, the other requirement ... is there has to be proof of medical attention from the United States government."
Mr. Huschle got his medal yesterday, after his family worked far harder than they should have had to to help him get it.(1 Comments)
Some things never get old.
This is the video NBC News didn't want you to see earlier this week:
It's a YouTube video that showed reporter Richard Engel and his team in the custody of a pro-Syrian-government militia. NBC asked YouTube to take the video down, as it sought to crush any news of the kidnapping/detention for fear of Engel's life. YouTube agreed.
NBC issued two statements today acknowledging that everyone is out of Syria, signalling the go-ahead to report the story.
Ian Rivers, NBC News technical support staff, has left Syria.
He got separated from the rest of Richard Engel's production team in the midst of the firefight which resulted in the NBC team's escape from captivity. Until now, Rivers' whereabouts in Syria have been unknown.
Rivers is said to be in good condition and will be evaluated in Turkey.
Statement from NBC News President Steve Capus:
Now that Ian Rivers has been reunited with Richard Engel's entire production team, all of us at NBC News can breathe a huge sigh of relief and express our deep appreciation to all who helped secure their freedom. At the same time, our thoughts and concerns are with those who remain missing inside Syria and we hope for their swift and safe release.
A Syrian opposition group didn't wait, posting an interview with Engel recounting his team's ordeal after crossing into Syria from Turkey...
We had with us one young guy from the revolutionaries, and after we arrived at the farm they executed him. I heard him shout.... I also heard someone was looking for gasoline. I think he also wanted to burn him, to set him on fire. But they didn't have any gasoline.
After that, they moved us from house to house to house to house. Every day, they threatened us and every day we thought it was our last day. They didn't let us go to the toilet. It was psychological torture. I went for 30 hours without the toilet, and that is not normal.
The New York Times translated the entire interview and Engel's gripping account of his release from captivity, an account which makes it fairly clear he very easily could be dead.(0 Comments)
When the media is the story, the media often has a different approach to covering that.
We saw that from the New York Times kept a lid on a story about its reporter's kidnapping in Afghanistan. David Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban in in 2008. Not until he escaped did news organizations, who knew about the situation, report it. That sparked a debate on whether there's an inconsistency with the approach of news organizations to similar situations not involving a reporter.
"I think that is a weak spot in the underbelly of the decision making in these cases. We show a preference for one of our own in journalism generally by holding back a story or elements of a story compared to how we might cover the kidnapped oil field worker or diplomat or tourist. In those cases, we might not bring as serious a deliberative process to how we're going to cover it," the Poynter Institute's Bob Steele told the Christian Science Monitor after Rohde escaped in 2009.
The debate is sparked anew today after Gawker reported that NBC reporter Richard Engel is missing in Syria, or at least hasn't checked in since Thursday. Gawker agreed to keep the situation secret, but has now spilled the story after it was printed in a Turkish newspaper.
But NBC News has been asking every reporter who inquires about the report to participate in a news blackout. It has also taken to Twitter and asked people who repeated the Turkish reports there to take them down. You can see here a screengrab of the Twitter account @NBCComm asking a Twitter user who had mentioned the reports to urgently call a cell phone number (that account has since been taken down).
NBC News declined to comment for the record about Engel's whereabouts, but asked Gawker not to report what it characterized as "rumors" about Engel's current status.
In 2002, Wall Street Journal officials chose to publish details of the kidnapping of reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. He was beheaded.
Update 12/18 7:35 a.m. - Engel has been freed from captivity.(0 Comments)
As a baby boomer, war has always been pretty cut-and-dried with me. Vietnam does that to people.
It's not real hard to see issues of war that aren't hard to figure out in the first place. When people are putting lawn signs out to "liberate Iraq," the message is pretty clear: If significant foreign policy decisions are going to be based on lawn signs and bumper stickers, sending people off to war might be something you want to think about a little longer.
The most powerful blog post I've read today comes from Erin Kotecki Vest, who writes as Queen of Spain. Today, she writes about the morning ritual in her house, waking her 7-year-old up for school and encountering a 7-year-old who doesn't want to get up and go to school.
So she told her daughter, instead, to "get up for Malala," the young Pakistani girl targeted by the Taliban in Pakistan for wanting girls to get an education.
And I held her face in my hands, and I looked into her eyes.
Do you understand why you need to go to school today? And every single day?
And with a resolve I see ONLY in my daughter, especially when she's angry, she nodded.
We then went about our usual morning. Breakfast. Shoes. Backpacking grabbing...and we headed out the door.
As we left in the car I caught her in my review mirror. She was looking out the window.
Honey, are you ok?
I'm fine Mom. I'm mad.
I'm mad too.
Being a girl shouldn't be hard.
No, it shouldn't.
Years before we had a reason to go to war in Afghanistan, human rights advocates were trying to tell us what was happening to girls there, and for the most part, nobody much cared.
Then 9/11 happened and we all know the rest.
And we're justifiably tired of a war that doesn't seem to have any end, and seems intent on bankrupting the nation, as it did the the Soviet Union before us.
During last week's vice presidential debate, I thought of that as I heard both candidates try to claim the high ground in their fight, by talking about the 2014 deadline for leaving Afghanistan. Both sides, basically, favor leaving. I favor leaving, too. War stinks and it's easy to run against it most when it's lasted for 10 years.
But there's something about this war that doesn't necessarily lend itself to easy answers, and debates on the subject are closer to lawn signs and bumper stickers rather than well-considered complexities of foreign policy.
The fact is, sadly, Malala Yousufzai wasn't the first girl to be punished for wanting an education.
The Taliban, whether in Pakistan or Afghanistan, will stop at nothing to prevent it from happening.
"People are crazy," Razia Jan, founder of a girls' school outside Kabul, told CNN last month. "The day we opened the school, (on) the other side of town, they threw hand grenades in a girls' school, and 100 girls were killed.
Few people are mentioning this on the rare occasion when the war comes up in the presidential debate. Staying guarantees the deaths of more U.S. soldiers. Leaving probably increases the likelihood of more Malalas.
When is war worth fighting? What is the cost-benefit analysis of protecting girls anywhere from those who would deny them something as basic as an education? Is it our problem?
For many people, perhaps, the answer is as easy as figuring out which side "their guy" is on. But as people who watched last week's debate figured out, "their guy" doesn't seem to have an easy answer.
And I know exactly how they feel, although I'll actually say the words they won't: I don't know.(7 Comments)
Did I mention earlier that this was the last story from Bus 52's stop in Minnesota couple of weeks ago? Nope. This is.
In Waverly, Minnesota, women veterans who have returned from duty are finding the support and friendship essential to their recovery from the wounds, both emotional and physical, they sustained in combat. This healing is being achieved not primarily because of therapy but thanks to the horses at Freedom Farm.
It happened in South Carolina on Saturday. The young family of a soldier was on the sidelines for a tribute to the off-in-the-service soldier father/husband -- pretty much the sort of thing we see at sporting events around here these days.
But we don't usually see this...
The family is originally from South Carolina, but has moved around as the military transferred Sgt. 1st Class Scott Faile from one post to another. Of late, he's been in Korea. They've been in Georgia.(1 Comments)
We pause from our usual Friday activities (pretty much a combination of staring out the window and staring at the clock) to announce that there's still a war in Afghanistan going on.
And this video, uploaded this week, is a startling look at what it's like. (Language warning)
According to a description attached to the upload ...
" I got a hit a total of 4 times. My helmet cam died and i made it down the mountain on my own. I was also hit in the side of my helmet and my eye pro was shot off of my face. We were doing overwatch on the village to recon and gather intel. I was point heading down the face of the hill with the LT. when we got hit. the rest of the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. I didn't start the video until a few mins into the firefight for obvious reasons. I came out into the open to draw fire so my squad could get to safety."
"A round struck the tube by my hand of the 203 grenade launcher which knocked it out of my hands. When I picked the rifle back up it was still functional but the grenade launcher tube had a nice sized 7.62 cal bullet hole in it and was rendered useless. "
The video also leads us to this question: When the last time you saw war footage on TV news?(12 Comments)
Chances are, most of us couldn't name Chris Stevens as the ambassador to Libya before he was killed overnight.
So here's an introduction to who he was. It was an introductory video for Libyans to understand who he is.
On the Tripoli embassy's Facebook page, Libyans are posting condolences...
Meanwhile, sources in Washington are reporting the U.S. is sending drones to the country as President Obama has promised "justice" for Stevens' death.(7 Comments)
"It was the clash of two great cultures that first found common ground, and then divided in fear, hatred, and misunderstanding."
I'm not entirely sure who wrote those words, read by Garrison Keillor in this tremendous TPT 1993 documentary about the Dakota Conflict of 1862 (we're guessing it was Kristian Berg). But it doesn't sound particularly irrelevant in 2012.
As Minnesota stopped this week to observe the 150th anniversary of the conflict, it's not a bad time to ask what parallels may/may not exist in 2012?
Over the years, I've posted several pictures from Arlington National Cemetery, each has shown the scars of war in its unique way.
Yesterday, Sgt. Richard L. Berry was carried to a gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed by an IED in Afghanistan last month.
Unlike previous photographs of similar occasions, the picture of this ceremony is somewhat different. There were relatively few people in the photo itself.
There's a war going on, but you wouldn't know it by the presidential campaign. Why?
The world, broadcast last night on MPR, had a compelling segment on this question.
"Right now, the U.S. is pledging billions and billions of dollars each year from now until 2024 to train and support the Afghan government and the Afghan army.I i think it's appropriate for the American people to be asking their candidates running for office exactly what we're getting for all of that money and for all of those lives being put on the line," analyst Joshua Foust said.
You can also find the interview here.
It's a sad story today that highlights the effects of PTSD on returning war veterans, but it also raises a question that might not be popular to ask: Should vets with PTSD be allowed to drive?
"They'll do things like drive in the center of the road. This was something they were taught to do, to stay away from the sides. They'll drive very fast, they'll sometimes go through red lights," Dr. Steve Woodward, who is directing a study in Palo Alto.
It's the anniversary of D-Day. Sixty-eight years ago, 78,000 Americans were among those who hit the beaches in Europe.
It won't be long before there's no one left to tell the story firsthand. But today is not that day.
Veterans in Park Rapids are about to right a wrong for a deceased Medal of Honor recipient.
An American Legion member was doing an inventory of veterans' graves in the local cemetery when he discovered there was nothing at the graveside of Lloyd Hawks to indicate he'd been awarded the nation's highest military honor.
Here's the citation from President Roosevelt:
For gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. On January 30, 1944, at 3 p.m., near Carano, Italy, Pfc. Hawks braved an enemy counterattack in order to rescue 2 wounded men who, unable to move, were lying in an exposed position within 30 yards of the enemy. Two riflemen, attempting the rescue, had been forced to return to their fighting holes by extremely severe enemy machinegun fire, after crawling only 10 yards toward the casualties. An aid man, whom the enemy could plainly identify as such, had been critically wounded in a similar attempt. Pfc. Hawks, nevertheless, crawled 50 yards through a veritable hail of machinegun bullets and flying mortar fragments to a small ditch, administered first aid to his fellow aid man who had sought cover therein, and continued toward the 2 wounded men 50 yards distant. An enemy machinegun bullet penetrated his helmet, knocking it from his head, momentarily stunning him. Thirteen bullets passed through his helmet as it lay on the ground within 6 inches of his body. Pfc. Hawks, crawled to the casualties, administered first aid to the more seriously wounded man and dragged him to a covered position 25 yards distant. Despite continuous automatic fire from positions only 30 yards away and shells which exploded within 25 yards, Pfc. Hawks returned to the second man and administered first aid to him. As he raised himself to obtain bandages from his medical kit his right hip was shattered by a burst of machinegun fire and a second burst splintered his left forearm. Displaying dogged determination and extreme self-control, Pfc. Hawks, despite severe pain and his dangling left arm, completed the task of bandaging the remaining casualty and with superhuman effort dragged him to the same depression to which he had brought the first man. Finding insufficient cover for 3 men at this point, Pfc. Hawks crawled 75 yards in an effort to regain his company, reaching the ditch in which his fellow aid man was lying.
Dave Anderson, an American Legion post historian, contacted his family, got permission to construct a memorial at the gravesite, and then raised the money to make it happen. It'll be dedicated tomorrow, the Pioneer Journal reports.
There are many pictures, the composition of which we've seen so many times, one would expect it would lose its effect. This is the exception:
It's the family of Sgt. Nicholas Dickhut of Stewartville, who buried him on Tuesday. In a week dominated by football fans and politicians, MPR News' editors made a fine choice in selecting this image at the top of their Photos of the Week presentation this week.
The expressions are haunting, and they're shared by the families of other recent war victims.
Like Ronald Herbert Wildrick Jr. of New Jersey...
David A. Johnson of Mayville, Wisc. He was 24...
Brig. Gen. Terence J. Hildner...
Sgt. William C. Stacey, 23, of Redding, Calif ...
and Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II.8 Comments)
Twenty years ago tomorrow, the war in Bosnia started with the siege in Sarajevo. It's an anniversary that's mostly being ignored by many news organizations. The CBC is not one of them.
Today, it's presenting a compelling documentary about the effects of the war, forgotten by many, but not forgotten by many women. They can't forget. Their children are the result of a campaign of rape.
Warning: This is not easy listening.
It's bad news any time an American soldier is killed overseas. But there's some comfort in this: Word of the death of a Rhode Island National Guardsman arrived (on my desk, anyway) via a tweet from Lotfullah Najafizada, an Afghan journalist who spent some time in the Twin Cities last year as a fellow with the World Press Institute. Lotfullah linked to a CNN story about the death of Dennis Weichel:
The official Pentagon news release says he died "from injuries suffered in a noncombat related incident." But there is much more to the story. Weichel, 29, of Providence, died saving the life of a little girl. ...
Some children were in the road in front of the convoy, and Weichel and other troops got out to move them out of the way.
Most of the children moved, but one little girl went back to pick up some brass shell casings in the road. Afghan civilians often recycle the casings, and the girl appeared to aim to do that. But a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle was moving toward her ... .
Weichel saw [the] massive truck bearing down on the girl and grabbed her out of the way. But in the process, the armored truck ran him over ... The little girl is fine. Weichel died a short time later of his injuries.
Specialist Weichel's death, and those of three others reported last week, brought the number of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan to at least 1,788. Of that number, 1,489 were the result of enemy action. One of the reports says Weichel's death resulted "from injuries suffered in a noncombat-related incident," which gives no hint of the heroism he displayed.
I recently sent Lotfullah a message asking him to write a commentary for MPR News on the March 11 massacre of civilians in southern Afghanistan. I haven't yet heard back from him about that. But maybe his tweet about Weichel's sacrifice is all the commentary we need.
-- Eric Ringham
An investigation into why the remains of some war dead were sent to a landfill in Virginia was met mostly with a shrug today until someone determined that the unidentified remains of victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon were sent there, too.
According to the Washington Post:
At a news conference, (retired Army Gen. John P. ) Abizaid said he could not quantify how many remains of Sept. 11 victims were disposed of in a landfill. He said his panel was directed to examine current operations at the Dover mortuary and make recommendations for improvements, not investigate past problems.
"You'll have to ask the question elsewhere," he said when reporters pressed him to elaborate on how the remains of Sept. 11 victims were handled, as well as other incidents of malfeasance at Dover that were flagged in his report. "What we didn't do was go back and take a detailed look at the records to see what went on."
Still, an appendix to Abizaid's report lists several previously undisclosed incidents of mismanagement, mishandled body parts and other botched cases at the Dover mortuary, dating back for a decade.
"There was no indication that remains from the attack on the World Trade Center in New York were involved," the Associated Press reports.
Maybe not there, but remains from the World Trade Center were sent to a landfill. I reported on that as far back as 2004. The remains were eventually moved and now the controversy is over whether some of them should be placed in the new 9/11 museum in New York.
But lost in the interest of 9/11 victims, are the mistreated remains of soldiers returned home.
Stars and Stripes reported the people in charge of the work weren't very skilled or professional:
Among the initial findings: body parts packaged in plastic bags were mislabeled and lost; cremated remains wrer thrown in a Virginia landfill; and one fallen Marine's mangled arm was sawed off, without family notification, so the body would fit in the casket.
Today's report concluded that embalmers should have the most up-to-date training. The new version should make clear that the remains of people killed in the service of their country should not be treated like the trash.
So far, the only area of the military that seems to be affected by the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is the homecoming.
In December, two women made the news with the first lesbian kiss when a sailor's ship pulled into port...
Over the weekend Sgt. Brandon Morgan and his partner Dalan Wells shared a welcome-home moment in Hawaii.2 Comments)
The Legislature might be about to wade into an emotional issue, if it takes up a resolution aimed at Congress and President Obama.
The resolution, filed today, calls on Congress and the president "to amend federal veterans cemetery law to expand eligibility for burial in state veterans cemeteries developed with federal funding to include allied Hmong-American and Lao-American veterans of America's Secret War in Laos."
This is not currently an allowed practice, although a separate bill was also filed by the resolution's authors to allow Hmong veterans and their spouses to be buried in state veterans cemeteries.
The effort dovetails with similar efforts in Congress to open up national cemeteries, such as Arlington and Fort Snelling, to the Hmong veterans. A bill was filed in Congress last October that would open the cemeteries up to 6,900 Hmong veterans, although Rep. Jim Costa says fewer than 3,000 would likely be interested.
Currently, these benefits extend only to American military personnel and members of the Philippine Armed Forces.
The issue gained more prominence more than a year ago when Gen. Vang Pao, who led the Hmong insurgents in Laos on behalf of the CIA, was refused burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
Costa's bill has gone nowhere since it was filed last October.(6 Comments)
I don't think there will ever be a day when I unfold this picture and fail to stare at these faces for a long, long time. I've carried it in my wallet for a couple of decades now. If you're a long-time NewsCut reader, you know the whole story.
(© John Francis Ficara)
"For all the talk of glory and purpose," The Toledo Blade wrote in an editorial in 1991, "a war is still a war. A president may call the fight just, a protester may argue it is not. But when the talk has passed, the reality of that picture from Arlington remains: In war, soldiers and civilians die. And little boys... fight battles none of us should ever have to face."
One of my first introductions when I moved to Minnesota Public Radio as an editor in 1992, was passing the photo around at a news staff meeting. People looked at me funny, more so than they normally do.
It took many, many years before I was able to find the story of this particular family, the family of Capt. Jonathan "Jack" Edwards, the first Marine killed in the Gulf War of 1991 in Kuwait.
He died 21 years ago today.
His son, Spencer (on the right at age 13), sent me an e-mail today to tell me his family is doing well. His sister, sitting on a lap in the photo, is expecting a baby boy. She'll name him "Jack." Brother Bennett just got engaged and apparently Spencer is about to get married, too, because his soon-to-be father in law stumbled on the NewsCut post (link above) and showed it to him.
"The loss of my father shattered our world and gave us a taste of how unforgiving war is to all," Spencer said in his e-mail, which I hope he doesn't mind me sharing with those of you who've shared this story. "Living in Virginia Beach we are surrounded by a huge military population, and I have seen again and again the effects of war. It never gets easier to swallow. I just wanted to thank you for keeping my father in your heart and mind for so many years. "
When I talked to her a few years ago, Capt. Edwards' mother told me that what the family saw in front of them at Arlington were dozens of photographers invading their grief.
Few photographers show up at Arlington anymore, even though the casualties of war keep arriving. The next will be Will Stacey of Seattle, who was killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday. He was the 1,890th to die.
Someone should put his picture in a wallet.
If a Marine makes a plea deal to cut short a trial on charges he killed innocent people in Iraq, has he been exonerated?
Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, Conn., led the Marine squad in 2005 that killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha after a roadside bomb exploded near a Marine convoy, killing one Marine. Wuterich had told those under his command to shoot first and ask questions later.
According to the Associated Press:
Prosecutors said he lost control after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb and led his men on a rampage in which they stormed two nearby homes, blasting their way in with gunfire and grenades. Among the dead were women, children and elderly, including a man in a wheelchair.
The most serious charges were dropped against Wuterich, leaving only a single "derelection of duty" charge.
The sergeant could have received life in prison had his trial proceeded. Instead, he'll serve three months in confinement.
After the deal, his attorney let loose on the media:
"No one denies that the events ... were tragic, most of all Frank Wuterich," defense attorney Neal Puckett told the North County Times. "But the fact of the matter is that he has now been totally exonerated of the homicide charges brought against him by the government and the media. For the last six years, he has had his name dragged through the mud. Today, we hope, is the beginning of his redemption."
Puckett's comments mirror those on a website set up to raise money for Wuterich, which claimed the charges were the result of "media bias."
Three years ago, he told his story to 60 Minutes:
Last month, the New York Times discovered many of the documents from interviews with Marines in Haditha that might've been used in the trial, in a junkyard.
(Photo: Maliya Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, whose father and other relatives had been allegedly killed in a fatal U.S. Marines raid, shows the picture of her mother Khameesa Toama Ali, age 65, who was killed in the raid. Photo by Akram Saleh/Getty Images)
An Iowa native and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor has died.
John Baker, born in Davenport, died Friday at his home in South Carolina.
He was a larger-than-life soldier who, it turns out, was only 5'2.
Only 239 soldiers in Vietnam received the Medal of Honor.(1 Comments)
Several pictures from today's bombing in Baghdad have haunted me. None of them show the actual bombing and its aftermath, about which it's easy to become desensitized.1 Comments)
We note with awe the passing of Michael Colalillo, who died today at a nursing home in Duluth, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
Mr. Colalillo, 86, born in Hibbing but a Duluthian through and through, was also the last living World War II veteran from Minnesota to receive the Medal of Honor.
He was awarded the medal by Harry Truman.
Private First Class Mike Colalillo, 2d Squad, 2d Platoon, Co. C, 1st Battalion, 398th Infantry, 100th Infantry Division was pinned down with other members of his company during an attack against strong enemy positions on 7 April 1945 in the vicinity of Untergriesheim, Germany. Heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire made any move hazardous when he stood up, shouted to his company to follow, and ran forward in the wake of a supporting tank, firing his machine pistol. Inspired by his example, his comrades advanced in the face of savage enemy fire. When his weapon was struck by shrapnel and rendered useless, he climbed to the deck of a friendly tank, manned an exposed machine gun on the turret of the vehicle, and, while bullets rattled around him, fired at an enemy emplacement with such devastating accuracy that he killed or wounded at least 10 hostile soldiers and destroyed their machine gun. Maintaining his extremely dangerous post as the tank forged ahead, he blasted three more positions, destroyed another machine gun emplacement and silenced all resistance in this area, killing at least three and wounding an undetermined number of riflemen as they fled. His machine gun eventually jammed; so he secured a submachine gun from the tank crew to continue his attack on foot. When our armored forces exhausted their ammunition and the other to withdraw was given, he remained behind to help a seriously wounded comrade over several hundred yards of open terrain rocked by an intense enemy artillery and mortar barrage. By his intrepidity and inspiring courage Private First Class Colalillo gave tremendous impetus to his company's attack, killed or wounded 25 of the enemy in bitter fighting, and assisted a wounded soldier in reaching the American lines at great risk to his own life.
His friends never let him get a big head about the medal. "They said 'How could a little twerp like you get the Medal of Honor?'" he told MPR's Mark Steil in a 2008 interview. Unfortunately, you'll need the RealPlayer to hear it. Heroes last longer than some technologies.
His story above, and the story of Jeno Paulucci, who died in November, are also great reminders of how the tough neighborhoods of Duluth cranked out impressive people ready to take on the world.
Today, the United States declared the Iraq War officially over (although 2,600 Minnesota National Guard members will remain in Kuwait until May). To mark this event, Jeff Jones and Jeff Severns Guntzel, part of American Public Media's Public Insight team, have been asking Iraq War veterans one simple question: What did you leave behind in Iraq? Jeff Jones shared this story with us:
Raymond Camper left something in Iraq. A lot of things, actually. But one thing comes immediately to his mind. A pocket Constitution. The same little book that members of Congress hold up all the time in floor debates or when they talk to school kids.
"Being deployed to Iraq really made me reexamine what it meant to be an American and what we were supposed to be standing for and all these things we say we believe in and try to do and hold as truths. I decided I really needed to figure out what that was, exactly, and if we were in fact doing those things."
The Constitution he picked up in college helped him do that. And it helped him start conversations with other soldiers at the base in Ramadi.
"I'd ask my fellow soldiers and Marines there, 'Why are we here? Have you thought about that?' And it really surprised me how few people had actually been thinking about that."
He struck up a friendship with a Marine. They discussed and debated why the war started and what America's role was in the country.
"He revealed to me one day that he had never actually read the Constitution. And I was like, 'You know what? Here you go.' For some reason it meant a lot to me that people actually read that document and kind of understood it."
So Raymond handed over his pocket Constitution and left Iraq not long after. He has no idea if the Marine still has it or if he passed it on to someone else.
Raymond speaks out against the war now, in part because of the messages of human equality he sees in America's founding documents. He knows that other people may read those documents very differently. He's mostly glad they're reading them at all.2 Comments)
We didn't intend for the first two posts of the day to be about military drones. Sometimes things just happen that way.
Wired's excellent Danger Room blog is posting rare photos of destruction believed to have been caused by U.S. drones in Pakistan. Danger room warns that some of the photos are disturbing. Excerpt:
The CIA may have launched 70 drone strikes in tribal Pakistan in 2011 alone. But Americans, like the rest of the world, have no idea what the area looks like, or who lives there.(5 Comments)
One resident of North Waziristan wants to expose the conflict. Noor Behram has spent years photographing the aftermath of drone strikes, often at personal risk. Working with Islamabad lawyer Shahzad Akbar and London-based human rights activist Clive Stafford Smith, who are helping get his photos to the outside world, Behram provided Danger Room with dozens of his images, none of which have ever been published in the United States.
Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and coauthor of "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,'' today assesses the Iraq war in the Boston Globe.
She points out the ongoing cost after the last soldier leaves, a nation unprepared to absorb veterans into the economy, health costs that are underfunded, and the increase in the price of energy.
All that said, she says there's no telling where all the money went:
We urgently need a system to track military and war spending. The Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, Pentagon inspectors general, and others have repeatedly complained that we lack the basic accounting systems necessary to understand where money is spent. Since 2001, the regular Pentagon budget has increased by some $800 billion in addition to war spending. Yet the Air Force and Navy have smaller and older fleets than before, while the Army and Marines are roughly the same size. Where has all the money gone? The Pentagon's accounting systems are so flawed that there is no way even to perform an audit. The result is a legacy of rampant waste and cost overruns, war profiteering, co-mingling of war and non-war related funds, and an inability to tally the true cost of war.
4,486 Americans have died in the war. There are only 18,000 soldiers left there, most have the same goal: Not to be the last soldier killed in the war.
If they're successful, that distinction will go to Pvt. David Hickman
"I'd tell him: 'You shouldn't have broadcast that everybody would be out by the end of the year. It made them targets. You should have slyly got them out,' '' his mother, Veronica, told the Los Angeles Times when asked what she'd like to tell President Obama.
He was supposed to come home last Thursday.(2 Comments)
It was just another quip from an official in an otherwise typical dog-and-pony show. Peter Rogoff, the head of the Federal Transit Administration, was in St. Paul on Wednesday to drop some money on the state for expanding transit options for returning veterans.
Then he said this:
"Our fighting men and women are more likely to die of suicide after they return home than they are in the battlefield overseas. That means the battle for the lives of our American servicemen and women are being fought right here at home."
That's a shocking and sobering assertion that certainly made me sit up and listen to a story I otherwise might have ignored. Is it true? It's difficult to say. Are we talking about all living veterans or just the ones who went to Iraq or Afghanistan? Over what time frame? A soldier was more likely to die in Iraq, for example, in 2008 than in 2011.
Army Times reported that there were "1,621 suicide attempts by men and 247 by women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan." But only 94 were successful. Presumably, the number of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans was higher than the number of people actually serving in Iraq/Afghanistan at that time. Three-hundred-seventeen U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan alone in 2009. Another 150 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in 2009.
That's 467 deaths in the war in 2009. That's certainly much lower than the number of suicide attempts reported by the Veterans Administration during that period -- 6,570 -- but it's far more than the number of people who actually took their own lives.
Over a longer period, 1995 to 2007, there were almost 2,200 suicides of active duty soldiers, according to CBS News. That's That averages about 120 a year. In 2004, that many soldiers -- and more -- were killed in just one month twice. And that's just Iraq.
In a paper published just last month, the Army Public Health Department reported the increasing soldier suicide rate of 22 per 100,000 in 2009 -- a figure that had risen from 9 per 100,000 earlier in the decade. That's a rate that appears to be lower than the rate at which soldiers were being killed in the wars, especially since about one-third of the military personnel who kill themselves, have never been deployed to a war zone.
It is true that last year more soldiers died from suicide than war, but that still doesn't necessarily suggest the rate of suicide was higher.
Asked about the information for Mr. Rogoff's assertion, a spokesman for the Federal Transit Administration said he was attempting to locate the source.
There's no question at all that suicide among veterans is a growing problem and one that deserves all the attention it can receive. Reconnecting soldiers with their community, even if it's just improving transportation options, is certainly an important and acknowledged part of preventing suicide. At the same time, there's no real indication that the biggest threat to a service member's life isn't a war zone.
At least, not quite yet. But if you're aware of data that says otherwise, I'd be grateful if you'd post it here.
The decision to bring all the U.S. troops from Iraq has now become the latest issue in the presidential race. Some Republican candidates have said the troops should stay.
"Once again we see how critical a commander in chief is to the successful creation and implementation of national security policy," conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote today in the Washington Post, calling it a "dishonest withdrawal."
"The presence of foreign troops, no matter how well-intentioned, can grate on a nation and create problems of its own," The Anchorage Daily News said in its editorial. "In the end, it's up to Iraqis to build and define their nation."
That pretty much spells out the politics of the issue, an issue that -- as this video today shows -- isn't all about politics.
There's a compelling video circulating today, responding to a Rush Limbaugh monologue that he delivered Friday, criticizing U.S. intentions to send soldiers to Uganda to help fight the rebel group, Lord's Resistance Army (NPR story here).
This was part of Limbaugh's statement:
Lord's Resistance Army objectives. I have them here. "To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people." Now, again Lord's Resistance Army is who Obama sent troops to help nations wipe out. The objectives of the Lord's Resistance Army, what they're trying to accomplish with their military action in these countries is the following: "To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people; to fight for the immediate restoration of the competitive multiparty democracy in Uganda; to see an end to gross violation of human rights and dignity of Ugandans; to ensure the restoration of peace and security in Uganda, to ensure unity, sovereignty, and economic prosperity beneficial to all Ugandans, and to bring to an end the repressive policy of deliberate marginalization of groups of people who may not agree with the LRA ideology." Those are the objectives of the group that we are fighting, or who are being fought and we are joining in the effort to remove them from the battlefield.
Limbaugh's statement said President Obama was sending troops to "kill Christians."
Today, however, Evelyn Apoko, a survivor of atrocities at the hands of the LRA, told her story.
You can find more of her story here.
(h/t: Boing Boing)(1 Comments)
As part of a war on terrorism, an American president is faced with a decision: Kill a suspected terrorist or try to bring him to justice within the recognized laws of the country?
President Obama considering the killing of al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen? No, Jed Bartlett in the NBC drama West Wing.
If yesterday's killing of Awlaki via a drone strike sounded familiar, it might be because of the eerily similar story line in the NBC series in 2002.
In the episode, defense minister Abdul Shareef of the fictional country Qumar, plans terrorist attacks against the U.S. In the season finale, President Jed Bartlett orders Shareef's assassination after a fight with his conscience and his chief of staff. (You can scroll ahead to 4:16)
Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald verbalized yesterday in writing about al-Awlaki's killing what West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin might've been thinking in writing his story line about the assassination of Abdul Shareef:
What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.
"I'm not going to have any objection saying the Pledge of Allegiance tomorrow," President Bartlett's chief of staff responds to his boss' reluctance to order the kill.
That mirrors the comment of an unnamed Obama administration official when pressed on the al-Awlaki killing:
"As a general matter, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target high-level leaders of enemy forces, regardless of their nationality, who are plotting to kill Americans both under the authority provided by Congress in its use of military force in the armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces as well as established international law that recognizes our right of self-defense," the official said.(12 Comments)
Someone was going to say it sooner or later, I suppose. It's September 8th, and there's still three days to go until September 11. There's pushback to the near non-stop coverage of a 10-year-old event that is more about reliving it than remembering it.
Dave Zirin, writing on The Nation, focuses on the National Football League's plans for marking the anniversary on Sunday, but one gets the strong sense his barbs are aimed at a wider group.
From the now ubiquitous presence of military flyovers and honor guards at every game, to the armed forces recruitment stations set up outside preseason contests, to having war-gourmands like General David Petraeus toss the coin before the Super Bowl, to staging Fox's NFL pregame show from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan (with Terry, Howie and the gang dressed in fatigues), the league has treated our era of endless war as an odious exercise in corporate branding.
The NFL's plan for this Sunday, according to the league commissioner, is to help the country unite and recover from 9/11.
The last decade has more resembled a sweat-soaked fever-dream than anything resembling a "recovery." The statistics boggle the mind. More than 6,000 US troops have been killed. Over 550,000 soldiers have put in claims for disability. Among those unfortunate enough to have been born in the countries the United States has invaded and occupied, the death toll has been estimated to be as much as one million lives lost. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons reaches almost 8 million people. The economic cost to the United States has been estimated by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to be as high as $5 trillion. Now everyone in Washington, DC, is shocked that a decade of tax cuts and war has led to record deficits, and working people are told to "tighten our belts." It's been an awful decade of lies and loss, and its reality will go unacknowledged this Sunday.
In all the scurrying to make sure "9/11 NFL Sunday" is a day to remember, one name is strikingly absent from the press release trumpeting the day's events: Pat Tillman. After 9/11, Tillman took the extraordinary step of leaving the NFL to join the Army Rangers. His experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan pushed him to question the official rational for the "Global War on Terror." He read antiwar authors. He told friends that he felt the war in Iraq was "f--in' illegal." Then he died at the hands of his fellow Rangers in an instance of what was deemed "friendly fire." The Pentagon and the Bush administration hid this reality from Pat Tillman's family. The NFL, for its part, inaugurated a USO center at Bagram Airfield in Pat Tillman's name without hinting at the complicated realities of either Tillman's service or his betrayal at the hands of those he trusted. The NFL's failure to highlight Tillman in this Sunday's 9/11 tributes is in some ways a relief, but it also reads like an act of cowardice. His story is a polarizing one that Roger Goodell wants to avoid on this day of "unity."(7 Comments)
It's unlikely we'll see a more discouraging headline today than this one from the Daily Mail:
Father slit throats of three daughters in 'honour killing' after they were raped by Qaddafi's troops
The story was lifted from a deeper report into human rights violations in Libya published by the group, Physicians for Human Rights. You can find the full report here.
It apparently occurred in Misrata, just as rebels were ousting the forces of Col. Qaddafi. Several of the reports of atrocities come from a resident identified only as Mohamed.
Mohamed regularly passed Alwadi Alahdar elementary school on one of Tomina's rural roads enroute to the front line. Mohamed reported that he heard the cries of women and girls on several occasions while passing the school. He reported seeing tanks and other military vehicles at this school in April 2011. On one occasion, in the quiet of the night, he heard drunken laughter through the open windows of the school building. He heard women cry out in pain and a man yell, "Shut up you dogs!"
Mohamed is convinced that Qaddafi troops forcibly detained these women and girls and gang raped them. He said he heard directly from five separate male heads of nearby households and close friends that some of their daughters and wives had been raped by Qaddafi forces.
One father confided in Mohamed that his three daughters aged 15, 17, and 18 had gone missing after Qaddafi troops arrived in Tomina. They returned to the family in late April and told their father that they had been raped in the Alwadi Alahdar elementary school for three consecutive days. In what is known as an "honor killing,"96 Mohamed related to PHR investigators, this father slit each of his daughters' throats with a knife that day and killed them.
Mohamed also noted that some in Tomina have stood up against this practice, including a well-known Sheik who has publicly advocated for raped women and girls to be seen as brave and bringing honor to their families.
Another long-time Tomina resident and mother of three corroborated these "honor killings"97 and estimated that Qaddafi forces had raped at least 50 women and girls from the small village of Tomina. She told PHR investigators that military wearing green uniforms "took men and women away and did bad things to them." One of her neighbors reported that while her husband was away fighting on the front line, she was alone with her 15-year-old daughter. A group of military in green uniforms forcibly moved in to her home and made her cook for them. They took her daughter into the front room of the house and repeatedly raped her for days. When rebel forces took control of Tomina on 12 May 2011, the daughter was found mute and nearly dead. The mother reported that she suffered recurrent nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks. She exhibited pressured speech and hypervigilance while recounting these recent events.
The report says Libyan women will not go to a gynecologist, and indicates that Qaddafi used rape as a weapon, knowing that they would be followed by honor killings.
"If Qaddafi destroys a building, it can be rebuilt. But when Qaddafi rapes a woman, the whole community is destroyed forever. He knows this, and so rape is his best weapon," an informant said.
Libyan law considers honor killing a crime, but the practice has a strong foothold in the country, citing reduced sentences for those convicted of so-called honor killings compared to other forms of murder," the report from the Boston-based group said.
(Photo: Libyan pupils sing the new national anthem at Takadoum school on July 2, 2011 in the Libyan port city of Misrata. Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)(4 Comments)
Posted at 12:51 PM on August 25, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: War
Col Gaddafi's whereabouts are unknown. Rebels have told BBC News they think he is still in or around Tripoli. The AP released video from Gaddafi's network of tunnels under Tripoli. The video shows an extensive network of tunnels that includes a bank of phones, sleeping areas and a stockpile of food.
Additional photos from the tunnels.
Tripoli Rebel by ssoosay, on Flickr
As rebels celebrate in Green Square in Tripoli, fighting continues elsewhere in Libya.
The influence machine in Washington, DC is changing gears.
After years spent working under the radar, public-affairs firm Brown Lloyd James and the consultancy Monitor Group this summer disclosed millions of dollars earned working on behalf of Qaddafi's government, according to disclosures filed retroactively with the Justice Department.
On the other side of the fight, Patton Boggs and the Harbour Group have signed on with the Libyan Transitional National Council, which the United States, Canada, Britain, Spain, and Germany now recognize as the country's legitimate government. Both firms worked to help the council gain that recognition after being retained this spring. (National Journal)
Foreign corporations are maneuvering to get access to Libya's rich oil fields.
Oil analysts said it was likely that oil companies, particularly Total and Eni, would compete fiercely for contracts on the best oil properties, with their respective governments lobbying on their behalf. But first the rebels will have to consolidate control over the country. ...(2 Comments)
Oil analysts say that most reports from the oil service companies, which continued to pay their Libyan crews through the war, indicate that there has been relatively little damage to most oil facilities. That suggests that production could begin to increase in a matter of weeks. (New York Times)
I spent last week near Akeley, Minn., more concerned with the rise and fall of the air pressure in my bike tires than with the ups and downs of the stock market. When the bike trail is beckoning and the loons are singing, only the biggest and baddest headlines merit attention. Like the revelation on Thursday that two Minnesotans had been among the casualties when the Taliban shot down a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan.
That news was playing in my head as I poked around the Akeley cemetery. In a town that has shrunk to about 400 people, where another storefront seems to go dark every year, the cemetery is a place of tradition and permanence. It tells the history of the town - the children who died early in the 1900s of diseases that we now regard casually; the old people who lived most of a century and saw it all.
This year, the veterans' memorial in the cemetery struck me as especially poignant. It stands at the rear of the cemetery, as though on guard duty. Then my eye happened to fall on the tombstones of two Vietnam veterans who died within a few months of each other: James Olson, who passed away in 2005 at age 60, and John Dunham, who followed in early 2006 at age 58. Their epitaphs say "Gone fishing" and "He loved life," which in that part of the state mean pretty much the same thing.
In a town that size you can bet they knew each other, but I wondered whether they had been friends, whether they had known each other in the Navy, whether they had lived their whole lives in Akeley or merely retired there. And I wondered about John Faas, 31, and Nick Spehar, 24, the Navy SEALS from Minnesota who were killed last week: Were they friends?
I hope they were, and I hope that all four of them - Olson and Dunham in their day, and Faas and Spehar in theirs - felt appreciated by those of us who don't have much to worry about besides our bike tires.(2 Comments)
There will be no media coverage when the bodies of 31 soldiers, killed in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan over the weekend, are returned to Dover Air Force Base.
For the Pentagon, which made the announcement this afternoon, it's a return to the policy of the Bush administration, which forbid photographs of the coffins of dead soldiers.
"Because the remains are unidentified at this point, next-of-kin are not in a position to grant approval for media access to the dignified transfer," Capt. Jane Campbell said. "Therefore, in accordance with DoD policy, no media coverage of the arrival and dignified transfer is permitted. "
The Pentagon Press Associated is protesting the decision.(5 Comments)
A Blaine man who hijacked his neighbor's Wi-fi and then made threats to Joe Biden and distributed child pornography using his victim's identity has been sentenced to 18 years in prison. It's just one more nasty incident -- albeit a very small one -- in the long war between forces of good and evil online. And it's a war that cannot be won, according to a prominent security expert.
Anti-virus pioneer Evgeny Kaspersky tells Der Spiegel about his fear of a worse fights ahead. Excerpt:
SPIEGEL: You and your company are the winners of a new era in warfare.
Kaspersky: No, because this war can't be won; it only has perpetrators and victims. Out there, all we can do is prevent everything from spinning out of control. Only two things could solve this for good, and both of them are undesirable: to ban computers -- or people.
SPIEGEL: You once described yourself as an extremely paranoid person. What is the worst possible disaster that a computer viruses could cause?
Kaspersky: In the Soviet days, we used to joke that an optimist learns English because he is hoping that the country will open up, that a pessimist learns Chinese because he's afraid that the Chinese will conquer us, and that the realist learns to use a Kalashnikov. These days, the optimist learns Chinese, the pessimist learns Arabic...
SPIEGEL: ...and the realist?
Kaspersky: ...keeps practicing with his Kalashnikov. Seriously. Even the Americans are now openly saying that they would respond to a large-scale, destructive Internet attack with a classic military strike. But what will they do if the cyber attack is launched against the United States from within their own country? Everything depends on computers these days: the energy supply, airplanes, trains. I'm worried that the Net will soon become a war zone, a platform for professional attacks on critical infrastructure.
SPIEGEL: When will that happen?
Kaspersky: Yesterday. Such attacks have already occurred.
What's your computer security story? What's the worst thing that's happened to you online?(2 Comments)
Connie Scott, of Owatonna, Minn., would like the nation to be as proud of her son's sacrifice for his country as her family is. She knows it's not, however. Her son, Pfc. Brian Matthew Williams, 20, killed himself and until today, the nation didn't honor the death of soldiers who served and died by suicide.
"There's been a lot of disappointment and anger that we don't receive the same recognition that those killed in action receive," she told me this afternoon. "When people find out that a family has lost someone in the military in combat, there's immediately a response. There are recognitions and honors, awards, parades, medals, reporters, and memorial events. When it's announced that another soldier ends his life, it's still uncomfortable."
President Barack Obama did not make a public announcement in ending the government's policy of not sending a condolence letter to the families of soldiers who kill themselves. He issued a press release, instead:
"As Commander in Chief, I am deeply grateful for the service of all our men and women in uniform, and grieve for the loss of those who suffer from the wounds of war -- seen and unseen. Since taking office, I've been committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war, which is why I've worked to expand our mental health budgets, and ensure that all our men and women in uniform receive the care they need.
"As a next step and in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the military chain of command, I have also decided to reverse a long-standing policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to a combat zone. This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly.
"This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn't die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn't get the help they needed must change. Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation."
Brian Williams was stationed at a combat outpost in Ramadi, Iraq when he was sent home on leave for the Christmas holiday in 2007. His unit had lost several men and his fiancee wrote him that she loved someone else.
"He didn't talk to me about it," his mother said. "He talked to his siblings and told them a couple of stories. His grandmother asked him how it was and he said it was worse than anything you can imagine."
His job in Iraq was maintaining electronic gear, but he often went out on patrol with his unit. "He was led to believe that he would be keeping the equipment in working order. But he was also part of doing the night patrols where they would go into Ramadi and kick in doors, looking for insurgents," Scott told NPR in a 2010 story.
The day before he was to return to Iraq, Williams took his own life.
"Suicide is rarely about just one issue, and Brian was dealing with several difficult situations in addition to combat," Connie Scott wrote on the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA website. "His eyes were glassy, his completion was gray, and he was restless and unable to eat or sleep. But on the last day of his leave things seemed to change. He talked with all of his friends and family, shared his plans for the future, and he seemed OK, in fact better than ever. We didn't know then what that meant."
Scott, who served on the Department of Defense task force on soldier suicide, does not expect to receive a letter from President Obama and isn't sure whether it would make a difference now if she did. "For surviving families, it's the constant up-and-down that never ends," she said. "How I feel about it today may not be how I feel about it tomorrow." She believes, however, that a presidential condolence letter will bring some comfort to many families.
"What makes a person a hero is the day they sign up, the day they enlist," she said. "Because at that point, they are giving themselves to the government to be used in whatever way the government chooses."
No one has yet figured out how a growing number of Somali young men from Minneapolis are ending up as suicide bombers in Somalia, but Laura Yuen's excellent story this morning on Farah Mohamed Beledi certainly makes it clear that his path in particular is more of a mystery because his closest family members were no longer in his life long before he went to Somalia.
Whether that was by design or merely the confluence of events is unclear.
From accounts, he was a troubled kid who ran with gangs and then got sent away to prison.
This paragraph in reporter Yuen's story tells a significant tale:
Court records show Beledi pleaded guilty in 2007 to stabbing a man in the neck and his side during a soccer game at Central High School in St. Paul. Family members say he was locked up for about two years. No one from the family visited him in prison, his mother said. By that time, their relationships with him were already strained.
But when he got out of prison, his appearance at a mosque in Minneapolis seemed to suggest he had changed, possibly for the better...
Farah Beledi also started counseling troubled youth as an outreach worker in the Somali-American community. He met young men at the Somali malls, using his own record of bad choices and hard time as an example. One community member said Farah Beledi was effective in his message because he had the street cred to back up his cautionary tales.
And yet, the family and the young man did not communicate, the story says:
Abdulahi Beledi said the last time he saw his little brother was seven years ago. And their mother says it's been at least three years since she's spoken to Farah Beledi. Once Farah Beledi turned 18, the family doesn't know where he lived or what crowd he hung out with. Farah Beledi never knew his father, who died when he was a baby.
The FBI clearly believes someone is "radicalizing" the Somali men, someone with obvious influence in their lives.
It would be interesting to go back over the lives of the other men who've disappeared to see if there's also a pattern of "strained" relationships at home.
The news media is trying to get the Osama bin Laden death photos, filing a Freedom of Information request to liberate them.
"We would like to obtain images from the raid because we believe they would have significant news value," the AP's director of media relations, Paul Colford, tells the Atlantic Wire. "However, we would decide about publishing all or some on the images based on our own editorial standards, which include such factors as tastefulness and whether they could cause harm or danger to others."
We already know -- if you can believe the government -- that the guy's eye was shot out and part of his head was blown off. What part of tastefulness does that fit?
Politico has also filed a Freedom of Information request with the Pentagon. Keep in mind, the photos have been classified.
A couple of conservative groups have also filed FOIA requests.
Will the release of the photos put an end to conspiracy theorists? Not likely. Hitler's suicide photos -- alleged suicide photos -- actually provided plenty of ammunition for people who insist that it was a double.(3 Comments)
Perhaps it's because we've gotten so accustomed to vague answers to specific questions from government officials, or maybe it's simply because of the compelling story of the death of Osama bin Laden, but today's performance before the bright lights by a White House national security adviser was an extraordinary briefing to behold.
Over the course of 45 or so minutes, John Brennan skillfully outlined the details of the raid on bin Laden's compound, and provided the occasional opportunity to read between the lines.
His briefing will be sliced up into small sound bites over the next news cycle or so, which is a shame because the only way to appreciate the information he shared was to watch (or listen) to the entire thing.
Meanwhile, the White House has released this photograph showing officials following the raid on Sunday.1 Comments)
A Midmorning caller, who says her sister died at the Pentagon on 9/11, called the program today to say the death of Osama bin Laden doesn't provide the closure that the experts say it should be bringing to the families of 9/11 victims.
"Catherine" says it still bothers her that something was missing from the FBI's "wanted" poster for bin Laden: A mention of 9/11:
"I would not be concerned," John Radsan, a professor of law and director of the National Security Forum at William Mitchell College of Law. He said the upcoming trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four accused accomplices, will provide plenty of proof that al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11.
For what it's worth, the FBI updated its poster today.
The noble history of civil disobedience and protest took a sharp turn in the United States today, when protesters interrupted a speech by Barack Obama to sing about jailed Army Pvt. Bradley Manning. Manning is suspected of being the source of classified information disclosed on the WikiLeaks website.
You don't need passion to join in the protest; you just need to need money. The protest was funded by The Fresh Juice Party, which says it pays people to protest Manning's incarceration by singing the song, which -- let's face it -- isn't exactly Joan Baez material.
The prizes being offered and the requirements:
* $50 in a public forum showing at least 20 people in surrounding areas within earshot of the song. Clearly show us your audience and venue in the video.
* $75 for singing in a costume in a public forum showing at least 20 people in surrounding areas within earshot of the song. Clearly show us your audience and venue in the video.
* $100 for singing the song in a Bradley Manning mask and t-shirt in a public forum showing at least 20 people in surrounding areas within earshot of the song. Clearly show us your audience and venue in the video.
* $100 for singing within the legal peramaters (sic) of the steps of your State Capitol Building, the U.S. Capitol Building or the White House.
War photographer Tim Hetherington was killed today in Libya. A mortar struck where he was working in the city of Misrata,
His work in Afghanistan led to his creation of the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo.
"I try to keep myself out of the way and out danger," he told PBS NewsHour in this 2010 interview.
"We do these young men an injustice in not fully documenting their reality," Hetherington said.(2 Comments)
Bob Ingrassia via Twitter alerts us to this video from the parents of a Rosemount native, killed in Afghanistan in February. "It was the least interesting thing about him," his father says about the fact his son was gay.
Even the comments on the YouTube page are worth reading.
While the world paid its attention to Libya this week, six U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan.(2 Comments)
If the U.S. news media had worked less hard to shield readers from the photographs of the Kill Team, the military unit in Afghanistan that killed innocent people for sport, would there be more discussion about it? Rolling Stone, as Germany's Der Spiegel did earlier, published some of the images the unit along with the story of the unit's depravity this week. Yet, it hardly registered for public discussion.
Jim Frederick, who authored a book on the brutality of war, thinks that maybe that will change with Rolling Stone's publication...
I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. I recently spent three years researching and writing the tale of the breakdown of one platoon from the 101st Airborne Division during its 2005-06 deployment to South Baghdad. Suffering from horrific losses, near daily combat and a breakdown in leadership, the platoon I chronicle in Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death descended into a tailspin of poor discipline, brutality and substance abuse that culminated in a heinous war crime: four members of the platoon raped a 14-year-old girl, then killed her, her parents and her 6-year-old sister.
The similarities are striking. Both tales describe a war-torn platoon that included members who, not long after their deployment began, turned against the locals and the mission and gave into some of their basest instincts and hatreds. Both units operated in a dramatic leadership vacuum during which the chain of command tragically malfunctioned. Both crime sprees had at their center a soldier who was known by his peers to be particularly bloodthirsty. And so far, disciplinary actions have been taken only against the enlisted men who committed the crimes; neither episode has resulted in any known punitive measures against the commanding officers who allowed a climate to exist in which it was possible for such crimes to take place.
Earlier today, Rolling Stone's Eric Bates, the magazine's executive editor, appeared with Kerri Miller on MPR's Midmorning. He said the idea that this was a case of "isolated sociopaths," misses the larger point of the story...
Today, Afghanistan's president spoke out against the Kill Team because, he said, "the world has to finally wake up."
The original article in Der Spiegel will be published i English online on Thursday.(4 Comments)
The American news media -- and rightfully so -- put a lot of pressure on the Pentagon a few years ago to allow the photography of the return of dead soldiers to American soil. But you don't see many pictures like this anymore and it's not because they've stopped coming.
This is Sgt. James Malachowski, who was killed Sunday during his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was from Maryland.
Staff Sgt. Travis M. Tompkins, 31, also arrived back in his hometown -- Lawton, Oklahoma -- this week.
Two more soldiers will be arriving at Dover soon. Sgt. Joshua S. Gire, 28, of Chillicothe, Ohio and Michael C. Mahr of Homosassa, Florida were attacked and killed on Tuesday. They were six days from completing their tours of duty.
Two NATO soldiers were killed today.(1 Comments)
Now that the U.S. is involved in another war, it might be a good time to revisit an old one that isn't getting much attention anymore.
You'll not likely hear a finer piece of reporting than the story today from NPR of Brock Savelkoul. He was one of five soldiers profiled in an ongoing Pro Publica/NPR series on soldiers with brain injuries in a single blast in Iraq.
Last September, after his discharge, he was standing on a road in North Dakota, looking at a roadside full of cops with guns drawn:
Savelkoul, 29, walked slowly toward the officers. He gestured wildly with his gun. "Go ahead, shoot me! ... Please, shoot me," he yelled, his face illuminated in a chiaroscuro of blazing spotlights and the deepening darkness. "Do it. Pull it. Do I have to point my gun at you to ... do it?"
Savelkoul, the Pro Publica story says, joined the Army in 2003 because he realized one day he didn't want to spend his life building fences in Fargo.
One of his jobs was scanning roadsides for explosives. In 2005, a Humvee was destroyed by an IED on a road he'd just scanned. Several soldiers died.
"Dad, I'm responsible for those deaths," Brock told his father.
After that, his family noticed he'd changed. He suffered a psychotic breakdown in Hawaii and was hospitalized, though officials won't comment on what type of treatment he received.
Later, the Army sent him to a treatment center in California, but he walked away after a few months, according to Fred Gusman, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder, who ran the facility. "The problem in this country is that we haven't accepted the hard reality that we can train people to be in a war. ... But we can't train somebody in how they're going to respond," he said .
The Army discharged Savelkoul. He moved in with his father in Minot, the story goes on.
Savelkoul's family noticed how much he had changed. He couldn't remember birthdays, anniversaries or even the date his mother had died. On a shopping trip with Angie, he didn't recognize the house where they had grown up. He seemed uncoordinated and had trouble playing catch with his nephew. Trips to the Minot Zoo and a Minnesota Twins baseball game ended in disaster when he grew panicked at the crowds around him.
Last September, Brock started a shopping list. After writing "butter," he wrote, "No hope for me. Love you so much."
He robbed a convenience store, and the chase was on.
Megan Christopher, a two-year veteran of the North Dakota State Patrol was among the first on the scene, and did everything to save his life, the story says.
Finally, at about 9:30 p.m., more than three hours after the chase began, Savelkoul aimed his gun toward the open prairie and fired a round. Then, the videotape shows, he walked toward Christopher. After she promised to give him a cell phone if he put down the gun, he placed it at his feet. Christopher walked toward him, holding the cell phone in front of her, her own weapon holstered. Her voice broke as she neared him. "I'm kinda new at this. Sorry," she said. "I think I'm going to cry."
Suddenly, Savelkoul turned toward her. Two coiled, white wires unspool through the night air. Another officer, believing that Savelkoul was turning to attack, had fired his Taser, a weapon designed to shock a person into incapacitation. Savelkoul stiffened and fell to the ground. Police officers ran toward him from all sides, their knees on his back, arms, legs. They handcuffed Savelkoul. Christopher walked toward him and knelt. She put her hand to his cheek.
"I'm Megan," she said, "I'm glad I get to meet you."
He's finished in-patient treatment at the St. Cloud VA. Under a plea deal this month, the charges against him will be dropped if he meets a series of conditions. He's back in Fargo, undergoing outpatient treatment at the VA.
"They teach us how to get over there," he told ProPublica. "Now they need to teach us how to get back."
It took a lot to get Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democrat Senate Leader Harry Reid on the same page. It took Frank Buckles dying.
Buckles was America's last surviving World War I veteran. He died last month at 110 and his family had the idea that he could lie in repose beneath the Capitol dome in Washington. It would, they said, be a symbolic way to honor all of the Great War's veterans.
Boehner and Reid have denied the request, without saying why, the New York Times reports.
It's not unheard of to have a non-politician lie in state. Two Capitol Police officers have, as has Rosa Parks.
"It was a war that changed the world, in effect, and it should be recognized. I hope and I think it is going to happen," former Sen. Bob Dole told the National Journal.
With uprisings continuing to sweep across the Middle East, there wasn't much in today's first hour of MPR's Midday to make us think someone at the Pentagon isn't dusting off plans to take over Saudi Arabia's oil fields. You know, just in case.
Michael Barnett, author of "Dialogues in Arab Politics," seemed to stun even host Gary Eichten -- and, presumably, much of the listening audience -- today when he matter-of-factly described a scenario for any uprising in Saudi Arabia by forces not friendly to the United States.
"What defense strategists have planned," Barnett said, "is if we were to see a rebellion ... If the Saudi government were to topple, it would not necessarily break in a way that the Americans would favor. The contingency plans would be to try to go in and... not take over the government, but try to protect the oil fields. So the expectation then is that American troops would be dispatched to protect those oil fields and control them and basically claim jurisdiction over them until you can begin to have a stable government that is moderately pro-U.S. or at the very least is willing to sell Americans oil."
Those have been the plans since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, according to Barnett. "That's not a new strategy," he said. No, but it's one that seems more possible these days.
The good news, according to an NPR report today, is that Saudi Arabia is a different beast than other nations in the region:
Thomas Lippman, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations who has written extensively on Saudi Arabia, says he strongly doubts that there will be unrest in the kingdom "because no one questions the legitimacy of the regime, and the king is personally popular." Yes, Saudi Arabia has problems, Lippman says, "but the place is not stagnant as Egypt was. Everyone knows there is going to be change in the next few years" as the older members of the royal family die off.
There have been a few, very limited signs of unrest in Saudi Arabia -- isolated reports of Saudis demonstrating for better pay, some criticism of the royal family on the Internet, heated political discussions among the country's large Shiite minority. These incidents, and the general sense of uncertainty hanging over the entire Middle East, are already driving the price of oil upward.
Barnett's segment on Midday is well worth listening in its entirety, if only to begin to understand the complexities facing the United States and the realities it faces in the region. For example, one caller -- Hassan -- called to say Libya presents a "great opportunity" for the United States to show the Arab world that it cares about people by intervening militarily in the strife (mighty generous with other people's kids, there, Hassan).
"If you intervene in Libya, then why aren't you intervening in Bahrain? Or are you simply giving encouragement to the green revolution in Iran, and encourage protesters in Iran to believe there might be an American intervention and embolden them when in fact the United States might have no interest in intervening militarily to protect protesters in Iran," Barnett said.
"I'm all for the U.S. being a force for good," another caller said, "I wonder about the extent to which the U.S. is viewed in the world, if we were to plop down 20,000 soldiers in Libya, I think it would be widely perceived as a power grab for Libya's oil."
"If the Americans were to go charging in, they'd be stigmatized," Barnett acknowledged. He said the U.S. would have to take a backseat to the Europeans, who don't like taking "a command position."(1 Comments)
Now that the access to the Internet has been eased somewhat in Egypt, more video is starting to make its way out of the country.
This one, posted this morning, shows a van driving into demonstrators...
Another similar incident was captured here(4 Comments)
Viewed from afar what's happening in Egypt presents a simple choice of what side to support. But domestic policy in other nations and their international policy are two very separate things and for decades, America has been willing to look the other way on one for the sake of the other. Those days are over. Americans, if they choose, are getting the unbelievable opportunity to watch a revolution live via the Internet, despite the relative disinterest of the major domestic TV news organizations (For a guide on how to do it, see this Wired article).
Things are following a predictable course. Late this morning, the military in Egypt started getting involved, according to Al Jazeera.
U.S. news organizations are struggling to find the relevancy of the story. Christine Amanpour, who knows plenty about the Middle East, did a fine job this morning explaining the reality. Taking down a corrupt and authoritarian government in Egypt and Yemen, she points out, could give rise to something equally bad "if it's not managed properly."
But revolutions are hardly manageable things, and the U.S. is clearly paralyzed in trying, as Time's Tony Karon points out:
The Obama Administration's dilemma over how to respond to Egypt's democracy movement became a little more acute on Thursday when the country's largest opposition party, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, declared its intention to openly participate in Friday's protests. Years of operating in conditions of twilight legality have given the Brotherhood an unrivaled organizational network -- its members expect to be arrested and roughed up by the regime -- and it is widely viewed as by far the most popular party in the opposition. That's a problem for the U.S., given its singular allergy to Islamist parties in the Arab world, particularly those that challenge its longtime allies.
By the way, this afternoon on the U of M campus, students will rally in support of the protesters.
Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of Somalia's last president, Mohamed Siad Barre. Since then the country has been reduced to a battle zone with its image overshadowed by war and conflict.
The BBC Africa Have Your Say program is asking what role young Somalis hope to play in their country's future.
The program will be broadcast from the Horn of Africa community center in west London, and will link an audience in Mogadishu with an audience at MPR's headquarters in St. Paul. Young Somalis "will be able to talk about their sense of identity, and their relationship with their homeland under the most trying of circumstances."
Is Somalia simply ungovernable? Is there hope?
The program begins on air and online at 10 a.m. CT tomorrow. I'll be live-blogging it here.
The panelists in St. Paul are:
>> Mukhtar Osman. an engineer with MNDOT.
>> Hoodo Hassan, studying psychology and English literature at the University of Minnesota
>> Zuhur Ahmed, a pre-med student at Concordia University. She also hosts the radio program Somali Community Link on KFAI. (She was part of MPR's >)
>> Ruqia Mohamed is a student at the University of Minnesota majoring in political science and global studies.
Cpl. Sean Osterman, 21, of Princeton was shot by a sniper in Afghanistan on Dec. 14. He died two days later at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
He was buried today at Arlington National Cemetery.
In this Associated Press photo, Deborah Mullen, wife of Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, right, offers her condolences to Kelly Hugo during burial services for her son.(1 Comments)
The long-awaited study of whether openly-gay people should be allowed to serve in the military is out, and there's plenty in it for both sides of the issue to point to to support their position.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said opposition is strongest in male-dominated combat units. He also said the upper crust of the military is "less sanguine" about repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" than he is.
That might be enough to kill the effort to repeal it, although Gates insisted "a repeal would require some changes of regulation, training, education, and strong principled leadership up and down the command."
About 19 percent of military members surveyed said they would think about leaving the military if gays are allowed to serve. The number, however, rises to 38% among the Marines only.
One in five spouses of military members said they would try to move off base if gay people were allowed to live on base.
Just before indicating that 40 to 60 percent of combat units object to homosexuals in their ranks, Gates described repeal as having "low risk."
Gates urged Americans to "resist the urge to lure our troops into the politics of this issue."
You can find the full report here.
It's been a week since Sgt. Sal Giunta received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama. I don't know about you, but I haven't gotten tired of hearing from him. He was on David Letterman's show last night.
At last night's Timberwolves game, this recently-returned Minnesota soldier was honored with the largest gift ever from the Timberwolves. He's getting married and the team spent the last year putting together a wedding package for him and his soon-to-be-wife... $50,000 worth.
I didn't catch his name but it really doesn't matter. As Sgt. Giunta pointed out, these things are really honoring thousands of others.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving and thanks for stopping by News Cut once in awhile.
Brian Fischer, an official with the American Family Association, is getting some well-deserved criticism today for criticizing recent recipients of the Medal of Honor because they were honored for saving lives, not taking them.
Fischer wrote on his blog yesterday that the award for heroism has been "feminized."
So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?
I would suggest our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery. We know instinctively that we should honor courage, but shy away from honoring courage if it results in the taking of life rather than in just the saving of life. So we find it safe to honor those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies.
Perhaps Mr. Fischer would like to give Minnesota's Leo Thorsness a call. The Walnut Grove native got his Medal of Honor the way Mr. Fischer objects to: by saving lives.
Here's the citation from his Vietnam service:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In tile attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness' wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew's position and that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew's position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness' extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.
Fischer wouldn't be able to call Kenneth Olson of Willmar, because the Medal of Honor recipient was killed in Vietnam, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp4c. Olson distinguished himself at the cost of his life while serving as a team leader with Company A. Sp4c. Olson was participating in a mission to reinforce a reconnaissance platoon which was heavily engaged with a well-entrenched Viet Cong force. When his platoon moved into the area of contact and had overrun the first line of enemy bunkers, Sp4c. Olson and a fellow soldier moved forward of the platoon to investigate another suspected line of bunkers. As the 2 men advanced they were pinned down by intense automatic weapons fire from an enemy position 10 meters to their front. With complete disregard for his safety, Sp4c. Olson exposed himself and hurled a hand grenade into the Viet Cong position. Failing to silence the hostile fire, he again exposed himself to the intense fire in preparation to assault the enemy position. As he prepared to hurl the grenade, he was wounded, causing him to drop the activated device within his own position. Realizing that it would explode immediately, Sp4c. Olson threw himself upon the grenade and pulled it in to his body to take the full force of the explosion. By this unselfish action Sp4c. Olson sacrificed his own life to save the lives of his fellow comrades-in-arms. His extraordinary heroism inspired his fellow soldiers to renew their efforts and totally defeat the enemy force. Sp4c. Olson's profound courage and intrepidity were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Richard Sorenson of Anoka suffered the same fate, doing the same thing:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with an assault battalion attached to the 4th Marine Division during the battle of Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, on 1-2 February 1944. Putting up a brave defense against a particularly violent counterattack by the enemy during invasion operations, Pvt. Sorenson and 5 other marines occupying a shellhole were endangered by a Japanese grenade thrown into their midst. Unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Pvt. Sorenson hurled himself upon the deadly weapon, heroically taking the full impact of the explosion. As a result of his gallant action, he was severely wounded, but the lives of his comrades were saved. His great personal valor and exceptional spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
And so did Dale Wayrynen of Moose Lake:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp4c. Wayrynen distinguished himself with Company B, during combat operations near Duc Pho. His platoon was assisting in the night evacuation of the wounded from an earlier enemy contact when the lead man of the unit met face to face with a Viet Cong soldier. The American's shouted warning also alerted the enemy who immediately swept the area with automatic weapons fire from a strongly built bunker close to the trail and threw hand grenades from another nearby fortified position. Almost immediately, the lead man was wounded and knocked from his feet. Sp4c. Wayrynen, the second man in the formation, leaped beyond his fallen comrade to kill another enemy soldier who appeared on the trail, and he dragged his injured companion back to where the point squad had taken cover. Suddenly, a live enemy grenade landed in the center of the tightly grouped men. Sp4c. Wayrynen, quickly assessing the danger to the entire squad as well as to his platoon leader who was nearby, shouted a warning, pushed one soldier out of the way, and threw himself on the grenade at the moment it exploded. He was mortally wounded. His deep and abiding concern for his fellow soldiers was significantly reflected in his supreme and courageous act that preserved the lives of his comrades. Sp4c. Wayrynen's heroic actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the service, and they reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
According to his biography, Mr. Fischer did not serve in the Armed Forces. He went to a seminary.
You can read all of the citations for every Medal of Honor winner here.(7 Comments)
We don't know whatever happened to Marine Pvt. Travis Hafterson, the Circle Pines soldier who went AWOL last year because he allegedly wasn't getting treatment for his Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. His family stopped returning my messages after the Marines, having arrested Hafterson minutes before a Minnesota court intervened to get mental health treatment, claimed he'd never seen the combat he claimed he had. The military won't say, and the few Minnesota politicians who tried to intervene on his behalf refused to answer questions, too.
We know today, however, that Pvt. Hafterson's story isn't unusual. Spc. Jeff Hanks called CBS News today to say his "treatment" for PTSD from the Army is "going nowhere."
His story sounds just like Hafterson's. He went AWOL, went to civilian doctors who said he was suffering the effects of his service, then turned himself in to the military, which ignored the diagnosis.
Hanks said he showed the Army counselor three evaluations from civilian therapists diagnosing Hanks with emotional problems and recommending that he be tested for PTSD, but the counselor rejected them.
"'Those don't matter,'" Hanks said the counselor told him. "The military doesn't look at civilian diagnosis."
Here's a piece CBS did on the soldier last week.
It's easier to track the mental health treatment veterans are getting than the treatment -- or lack of it -- that active duty soldiers are.
At an event in San Francisco yesterday to help veterans get some services.
Today's first hour of Midday is highly recommended listening. Award-winning military correspondent Joe Galloway joined Gary Eichten for a riveting hour about being a photographer and reporter at war.
Galloway criticized the fact that most people in the country "have no skin in the game" when it comes to waging war. "I think we are more inclined to go to war when the people who are doing the voting don't know the true cost of war and who pays the price. This is the way of war," he told Gary Eichten.
Here's one other photo from this Veterans Day.
Chad Young of Rochester, Illinois made it home today.(1 Comments)
Robert Baldwin of Muscatine, Iowa was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last month. This is one of his four children.
What you don't see in the picture are the protesters from Westboro Baptist Church, who were on their way to the Supreme Court for yesterday's arguments about whether they have the right to protest at the funerals of soldiers. The church celebrates the deaths of soldiers, saying it's God's retribution for American policies toward homosexuals.
Here are the court transcripts of the oral arguments.(6 Comments)
When you think of all the things that get people worked up in an election year, for some reason the treatment of American soldiers by the U.S. military rarely is mentioned.
Today, NPR and ProPublica provided an investigative report that shows that U.S. military commanders regularly deny Purple Heart medals to soldiers who suffer brain injuries in combat.
It would require a lot of medals. The report says 90,000 soldiers have sustained mild traumatic brain injuries in the war in Iraq.
"It's an outrage," said Paul Sullivan, a former Department of Veterans Affairs official who now heads Veterans for Common Sense, an advocacy group. "What I'm afraid of is that the military intentionally is concealing casualties in order to conceal the enormous human costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan war."
Take 10 minutes to watch the Frontline video and visit the Web site NPR has put together for the story. It's a fine piece of work.(2 Comments)
Is the National Guard still able to help out in times of emergency back home?
"The National Guard provides a number of things in our local communities besides just disaster work," one local official told NPR today. "But certainly from our perspective, that's when we need them the most. And you have to sit up and take notice of those numbers being someplace else."
NPR noted that no National Guard troops were used in the flooding in Iowa a few weeks ago, contrasting that to 2008 when 4,000 troops were dispatched to local communities. In fairness, the 2008 flooding was much worse than 2010.
"There is no such program in Minnesota," according to Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, the director of public affairs for the Minnesota National Guard.
He says Minnesota has a much larger National Guard force than Iowa. There are about 14,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard.
"Even with a projected large deployment next year (up to 2,700), there are sufficient forces in Minnesota to meet any state requirement," according to Olson..
(Photo: U.S. Soldiers assigned to the Iowa Army National Guard construct a 7-foot levee to protect an electrical generator from rising floodwaters in Hills, Iowa, June 14, 2008. Iowa National Guard Airmen and Soldiers have been activated to work with state and local agencies to provide security and help recover areas damaged by widespread flooding. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Oscar M. Sanchez-Alvarez, U.S. Air Force via Flickr.)
A heartbreaking voice from the grave.
Tom Little was an optometrist who was among 10 members of a medical aid group found shot to death in Afghanistan on Friday by suspected Taliban members.
Little was profiled in a May 2003 report from NPR's Michael Sullivan.
"It seemed dishonest and shameful," Little said when he was asked why he didn't leave Afghanistan . The interview was far from an embracing of the U.S. role there.
He'll be buried in Afghanistan.
From the "Is That a Good Thing?" desk.
Now that WikiLeaks is a household word, let's take a moment to ponder what it represents. It is an avowedly stateless news organization. When it released its dump of approximately 80 quadzillion documents relating to the Afghanistan war, it relied on its decentralized structure to protect itself -- in effect, forcing any government that would try to censor it to play whack-a-mole. Journalism expert Jay Rosen explains:
"If you go to the WikiLeaks Twitter profile, next to 'location' it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world's first stateless news organization. I can't think of any prior examples of that. ... WikiLeaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That's what so odd about the White House crying, 'They didn't even contact us!'
"Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what WikiLeaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But WikiLeaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new."
The trouble is, a lot of what we ordinarily think of as journalism ethics (let alone the national interest) has no place in "the logic of the Internet." Is an off-the-record briefing ever appropriate? Should the media ever withhold information about troop movements? Should a news organization ever decline to name a suspect who hasn't been charged? Under the "logic of the Internet," those conventions are going to become positively quaint. Not to mention extinct.
I'm not saying that the release of these documents was wrong. It may turn out to be a great benefit. But it would be nice to know that somebody, somewhere, was weighing the pros and cons, and taking responsibility for the judgment calls. Somebody like -- oh, I don't know -- journalists.
The big air show opened in Farnborough, UK today. Unlike the one that opens at Oshkosh next week, this one is all about selling the latest commercial jet, or the latest weapons system.
A video released today is bound to strike some terror into the hearts of, well, just about anyone.
It's a laser weapon:
The Star Wars-like weapon was made by Raytheon.
At face value, such a weapon would appear to have little use in either of the two most recent wars fought by the U.S.(7 Comments)
The wars in the Middle East have claimed a fair number of military careers.
Is it possible that we're so used to these stories now that we just accept it as the way things are?
When it comes to treating brain injuries in war, the U.S. isn't getting any better at it, an investigation by NPR and Pro Publica shows.
In a series that begins today, investigators found military doctors routinely misdiagnose "mild traumatic brain injuries."
But it's the final conclusion of the series that remains the most troubling. Even after they're injured in service to their country, U.S. soldiers have to fight for appropriate treatment, especially in the face of the occasional doctor who thinks a soldier is faking it.
"One of the first things you learn as a soldier is that you never leave a man behind," said soldier Michelle Dyarman, 45. "I was left behind."
What is upsetting about the report is that it repeats in astonishing clarity, the situation before Congress vowed to change things. They dedicated $1.7 billion to research and treatment of traumatic brain injury and PTSD. They passed a law requiring the military to test soldiers' cognitive functions before and after deployment so brain injuries wouldn't go undetected, according to NPR.
But, the report says, the military did little to try to overcome the "gung ho" attitude of soldiers to "shake injuries off" and stay with their comrades.
Here's a preview of the series, which can be heard this afternoon on All Things Considered.
What always struck me about this iconic Iraq War photograph (2004) of Sgt. Theresa Flannery was the entirely different expressions on her face from those of her colleagues (click the image for a larger version).
She and other U.S. soldiers were trapped on a roof in Najaf when militiamen attacked. "A bullet meant for her struck one of her companions. She helped to care for the wounded, and their blood soaked her clothing," McClatchy News reported.
She died in her sleep a few days ago. Her father is convinced it's the result of the war:
She had nightmares, he said, and she went through periods of deep depression. Memories of Iraq could send her into tears. Her father said she was invited to speak at a military memorial event in Richmond, Ky., a few years ago, but she became too emotional to finish her speech.
"There were a lot of ups and downs," he said. "They would put her on some drug for a few months and it would help. Then, it would stop working and they would switch to another drug. It was really hard for her, particularly trying to raise her son."(2 Comments)
To anyone who lived through the Vietnam War, today's Associated Press poll on Vietnamese attitudes toward their economy has to sting a little bit. The war ended 35 years ago Friday, when Saigon fell. Here in the United States, we still debate whether America could've "won" the war had it been waged differently, and whether the loss of 50,000 American lives -- 1,100 of them from Minnesota -- was worth it.
That's not happening in Vietnam, the poll shows. Life is good, especially when compared to, say, ours, according to the Associated Press:
Under a single-party Communist government, the country has embraced market-oriented reforms and lifted tens of millions out of poverty.
Eighty-five percent said the economy is stronger than it was five years ago, and 87 percent said they expect it to be even stronger in another five years. Eighty-one percent said the country is moving in the right direction.
Their optimism stands in stark contrast to the widespread pessimism in the United States, where recent polls show many Americans believe their nation is on the wrong track.
Fifty-six percent of the people who responded to the survey said they rarely -- if ever -- think about the Vietnam War.
Back in St. Paul, someone is still thinking about it:
This fresh-flower wreathe provides the only indication that anyone has stopped by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial recently.
On a day when word came that a soldier from Rochester has been killed in Afghanistan, the head of the government for whom he and others have died reportedly has threatened to join the Taliban.
"He said that 'if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban'," Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarharm, told the Associated Press about a weekend meeting. "He said rebelling would change to resistance," Marenai said.
The U.S. and other NATO countries are pressuring Hamid Karzai to clean up corruption in his government.
Over 1,000 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan so far.(2 Comments)
Edith Lichtenstein Morgan picked a good time to return to Minnesota. The Massachusetts woman is in the state this week to talk about her experience escaping from the Nazis and emigrating to the United States, drawing parallels with today's immigrants. She's on her way to St. Cloud this afternoon, a city that -- for whatever reason -- is gaining a reputation for intolerance.
"I get concerned when there's talk about rounding up people and when there's talk about any kind of war... but I think a lot of the American public is concerned when the subject is immigration. We almost didn't get in because the country had very strict quotas, and the Jewish quota was filled when we tried to get," she told me today. "The public goes hysterical whenever anything happens and looks for some group to blame, and I think we're approaching another one of those hysterical periods."
Which group will it be? "It looks like it's going to be Muslims or Middle Eastern groups, Syrians and Egyptians and Pakistanis. Most Americans, I don't think, can tell the difference," she said.
The recent problems in St. Cloud are not limited to that city or Minnesota, she points out. "In Massachusetts we've had several recent cases of desecration of synagogues and I'm not always sure whether it's just a bunch of (kids) looking for attention or whether it's skinheads or something worse, although it doesn't get much worse than them," she said. "I'm concerned about the militias and what appears to be a growing violence that has been sort of generalized but is probably going to focus in the near future unless we can do something to stop it."
Mrs. Morgan's "something" is telling her story, to draw a parallel between history and current events.
"My father was a federal judge and Jewish, which was a double-whammy because he was also progressive," she said. "They fought the Nazis every way they could but by January 1933, they put my father under house arrest and when he wouldn't stay home, they imprisoned him. When my brother was born, they allowed him out for just a few days, but we took a train to the Black Forest, but got off on the Swiss border. But we couldn't stay there. We were resettled in Paris, lived there for three years before the Germans followed us there. We got mixed in with the retreating French army. Finally, the armistice was declared and a small slice of France was left free, but it was only a matter of time before they got us so we had to leave there. They got my grandmother, and they got my mother's sister; my grandmother died in a cattle car."
Her family eventually made it to the U.S., thanks to a Swiss family "who gave us their life savings," and American Quakers, who sent the Lichtensteins to the Scattergood Hostel near Iowa City. Her father found work at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Only recently has Edith Lichtenstein Morgan started telling her story. "I'm not sure why," she said. "I married a Midwest American and it didn't come up that much. I probably wasn't ready to deal with a lot of that stuff so I didn't talk about it that much."
Her tour through Minnesota this week is sponsored by the TRACES Center for History and Culture, which "gathers, preserves and presents stories of Midwesterners' encounters with Germans or Austrians between 1933 and 1948. Out of that legacy, it documents the effects of hatred and war, and explores alternatives to intolerance and armed conflict. Above all, it offers educational outreach."
Edith Lichtenstein Morgan will be a guest on MPR's Morning Edition on Friday.
· The reason for her visit. (Listen)
· Her path from Nazi Germany (Listen)
· Why she's telling her story. (Listen)
Posted at 11:59 AM on March 23, 2010
by Bob Ingrassia
Filed under: War
Plenty of runners can handle a brisk little 5K to raise money for charity.
How many would tackle a 26-mile slog through the desert with a 35-pound pack on their back?
Thousands of soldiers and civilians accepted the challenge this week by completing the Bataan Memorial Death March on the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Participants march along a trail during the Bataan Memorial Death March in 2007. (Photo from BataanMarch.com)
Among this year's marchers was Army Sgt. Nicholas Ranstad, a native of Battle Lake, Minn. The Fergus Falls Daily Journal profiled Ranstad today.
Ranstad and a team that included four other soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., completed the march Sunday in 8 hours 24 minutes. Team members had to finish within 20 seconds of each other.
The event commemorates the suffering and lives lost in 1942 as Japanese troops forced American and Filipino prisoners to march through the Philippines. Death estimates range from 6,000 to 21,000.
An Army ROTC unit at New Mexico State University launched the memorial march in 1989, with about 100 soldiers taking part that first year. More than 5,000 soldiers and civilians now complete the event each year. There are a number of events now, including the 26-mile course and a 15-mile march.
Ranstad made a name for himself in Afghanistan with an incredible sniper shot. The Daily Journal notes that he holds the U.S. Army record for the longest confirmed sniper kill -- a 1.3-mile shot. The world record for a confirmed-kill sniper shot is 1.5 miles, set in 2002 by a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Spc. Nicholas Ranstad (right) during a military exercise at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, on Nov. 6, 2008. (U.S. Department of Defense photo from Visual Intel)
Posted at 11:33 AM on March 19, 2010
by Bob Ingrassia
Filed under: War
The "shock and awe" bombing that kicked off the Iraq War began seven years ago.
More than 4,300 U.S. troops have died during the war. At least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, according to an Associated Press tally. The U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion.
The war's start is a mile marker in my life. I'll always remember where I was when the Iraq War began: inside the razor wire at an American military base in northern Kuwait.
I was a reporter for the New York Daily News, tagging along with the 4th Infantry Division as an embedded journalist.
It's strange to consider how my feelings about that period have changed. At the time, I was disappointed that the invasion had begun without me.
Here I was killing time in an air-conditioned tent in the desert with the unlucky 4th Infantry Division while other reporters were filing exciting tales from the front. I felt like I was stuck in traffic outside the big game.
It was supposed to have been different. The 4th Infantry Division had initially planned to lead the northern prong of a dual invasion, charging from Turkey toward Baghdad. That plan fell apart when Turkey balked at letting the United States marshal its troops on Turkish soil.
So "my division" got re-routed through the Persian Gulf to Kuwait. The delay meant the 4th Infantry Division missed out on most of the initial ground fighting.
By the time the 4th ID rolled into Iraq, U.S. troops already had taken Saddam International Airport. Vehicles in my unit convoyed from Kuwait to Baghdad with their headlights on, not even trying to be sneaky.
Along the road, there were a lot of waves from Iraqis. Kids tried to sell soldiers worthless Iraqi bills. Even then, though, you'd see groups of young men who stared coldly at the passing invaders. Many of them inevitably became the "insurgents" who made the U.S. effort such a mess for so long.
My unit camped out at the Baghdad airport. Soldiers who arrived earlier had already looted the airport bars and gift shops.
Oddly enough, it was probably safer for journalists in Baghdad in the first week after the fall than it was in the following years. I rode in an unarmored Humvee from the airport into the heart of Baghdad, taking snapshots along the way. A lot of Iraqis smiled at the Americans. But seeing men gathered on side streets behind barricades of debris hinted that all was not right.
In a week, the Daily News called me home. My editors had decided that having me watch U.S. troops "mop up" wasn't going to be a great story. Little did we know that the real fight lay ahead.
Looking back, of course, I'm grateful I didn't get hurt in the war zone. My disappointment at "missing the war" has given way to disbelief that the war is still going on and that so many civilians and soldiers have been killed.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy had a meltdown on the House floor today, calling the press "despicable" for not covering "the most important national issue of the day," which he says is Afghanistan.
There's two press people in this gallery," Kennedy yelled during a debate over an anti-war resolution. "We're talking about Eric Massa 24-7 on the TV, we're talking about war and peace, $3 billion, 1,000 lives and no press? No press."
It's true, as I indicated on 5x8 this morning, that the 24-hour cable TV news crowd is weirdly obsessed with tickle fights, but he's wrong that "the press" isn't covering things. But after awhile, talking about ending a war isn't quite as newsworthy as actually ending one.
And, by the way, most reporters who monitor all the talk on the House floor don't do so in person. They do it by watching TVs in their cubicles.
As for "despicable," here's the front page of today's New York Times:
And how many press releases on "the most important issue in the nation" has Rep. Kennedy posted on his Web site since his last election? None.2 Comments)
The New York Times came in for a fair amount of criticism last June when it kept secret that one of its reporters had been taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan last summer.
"We show a preference for one of our own in journalism generally by holding back a story or elements of a story compared to how we might cover the kidnapped oil field worker or diplomat or tourist," one media ethicist said.
Would the Times keep secrets if it didn't involve one of its own? Yes, as it turned out. They did this week.
The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's #2 commander, was kept secret at the request of the White House.
Here's Times executive editor Bill Keller on PRI's "The Takeaway" today.(1 Comments)
Whatever happened to Pvt. Travis Hafterson, the Marine who went AWOL from Camp Lejeune last fall, allegedly because he couldn't get treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder, and whom the Marines whisked away from authorities here, just as they were about to civilly commit him (at his request) for treatment?
The short answer (and also the long one) is: I don't know. The family went quiet after the Marines got tough and issued a claim that Hafterson was not in combat (after refusing to return calls for more than a week). It said he did not have PTSD, even though an independent psychologist here said he did.
Either way, he was clearly a Marine with problems, and most people in these parts didn't much care.
One of his claims was that other Marines at the camp weren't getting help for their PTSD. Minnesota's congressional delegation didn't intervene but now it turns out there may be some whistleblowing fire behind the young Marine's smoke.
A North Carolina congressman has been raising a fuss about it since a whistleblower, a brain trauma specialist, raised concerns about the Marines' treatment of PTSD sufferers there and got blackballed for his trouble.
In December, Dr. Kernan Manion described treatment of Marines at the camp in almost the same terms that Hafterson did.
"If not more Fort Hoods, Camp Liberties, soldier fratricide, spousal homicide, we'll see it individually in suicides, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, family dysfunction, in formerly fine young men coming back and saying, as I've heard so many times, 'I'm not cut out for society. I can't stand people. I can't tolerate commotion. I need to live in the woods,'" Manion said. "That's what we're going to have. Broken, not contributing, not functional members of society. It infuriates me - what they are doing to these guys, because it's so ineptly run by a system that values rank and power more than anything else - so we're stuck throwing money into a fragmented system of inept clinics and the crisis goes on."
Salon.com reported last week that the Marines doctored Dr. Manion's performance evaluations after he blew the whistle:
Internal documents and e-mails show that Navy officials unfavorably doctored a psychiatrist's performance record after he blew the whistle on what he said was dangerously inept management of care for Marines suffering combat stress at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The internal correspondence, obtained by Salon, also includes an order to delete earlier records praising the work of the psychiatrist, Dr. Kernan Manion, who was fired last September after lodging his complaints.
Now, the Associated Press reports, Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican whose district includes the Marine camp, has pressured the Defense Department to investigate the treatment the Marines are receiving.
"There are very serious questions about how the system is working and how that system is supposed to be helping the Marines and their families," Jones told the AP. "There are some issues there. We're taking a giant step with this investigation."
Long before Dr. Manion blew the whistle, however, a Circle Pines Marine and his family were telling Minnesota politicians, the media, and anyone else who would listen, the same thing, shortly before he went back into the secrecy of Camp Lejeune.
The group Mental Health America today called on President Obama to reverse an unwritten policy against sending presidential letters of condolence to families of soldiers who commit suicide.
"The lack of acknowledgment and condolence from the President can leave these families with an emotional vacuum and a feeling that somehow their sacrifices may not have been as great as others who died while in the military," a resolution from the organization says.
The White House has been reviewing the policy, which dates to the Clinton administration.
"Regardless of what happens, nothing lessens the amazing contribution and sacrifice that's made. I think that's what the president would ... tell that family and would tell ... other families," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last month.
What's the big deal? Some say suicide should be a stigma. As recently as 1974, suicide was a crime in eight states. Psychiatrist Paul Steinberg, a former director of the counseling and psychiatric service at Georgetown University, says a presidential letter runs the risk of "glorifying" suicide.
The hard truth is that any possible glorification of suicide -- even reports of suicide -- make the taking of one's life a more viable option. If suicide appears to be a more reasonable way of handling life's stresses than seeking help, then suicide rates increase.
Certainly, a presidential condolence letter after one's death is not exactly the same encouragement for suicide as the purported Muslim promise of a gift of 72 virgins after death. But the increasing number of suicides in the military suggests that we need to find the right balance between concern for the spouses, children and parents left behind, and any efforts to prevent subsequent suicides in the military.
Last month, the Navy reported one of every 35 sailors attempts suicide, the highest rate of any military branch.(5 Comments)
Do we have the ability to follow two wars at once?
The blog Baghdad Observer suggests not:
The once-huge international press corps here has shrunken significantly, with many verteran war correspondents decamped to Afghanistan. Major U.S. TV networks have pulled out, or are in the process of doing so. Other news organizations are hanging on until after the elections, which have been delayed from January to at least late February or March. (McClatchy, I am proud to say, plans to maintain a presence in Baghdad).
The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism tracks the attention news organizations give to stories. Its latest has Iraq nowhere in sight.
The last time Iraq was in the top five stories in a given week was at the end of June.(4 Comments)
Attorney General Eric Holder went before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today to explain why the government will try the alleged mastermind of 9/11 in civilian court.
Opponents of the idea are worried the trial will provide a platform for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Based on the lack of coverage by news organizations of the hearing today, that doesn't seem likely. CNN dropped its coverage after Holder's initial statement. CSPAN was more interested in a ceremony honoring Sen. Robert Byrd. Even Public Radio didn't carry the hearing.
Besides, in TV, video is king and federal courts don't allow cameras in the courtroom. Is that a big deal? Go back to South Africa at the height of protests over apartheid. South Africa's president banished the TV cameras, and the story disappeared from America's living rooms.
But back to Holder. Here are his "money quotes."
"I have every confidence that the nation and the world will see him for the coward that he is. ,I'm not scared of what Khalid Sheik Mohammed has to say at trial -- and no one else needs to be either."
"We need not cower in the face of this enemy. Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready."
Sen. Jeff Sessions disagreed:
Separately, it probably says something -- though I'm not sure exactly what -- that the best place to get coverage of a significant issue before the country, is YouTube.(2 Comments)
Should single mothers of young children be allowed to serve in the military and be deployed to war?
It's the case of Spc. Alexis Hutchinson, an Army cook and the mother of a 10-month old son in Georgia. She's refusing to deploy to Afghanistan because, she says, there's nobody to care for her child. She's afraid the Army will force her to put her son in foster care.
A spokesman for Hunter Army Airfield said the Army would not deploy a single parent who had nobody to care for his or her child.
According to the group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, more than 40-percent of enlisted women have children, and more than 30,000 single mothers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The current operational tempo has created considerable pressure to change the Defense Department's maternity policy. According to the GAO, "about 10 percent of women in the military become pregnant each year, and 75,000 military offspring are younger than one," as of 2002. The military gives new mothers six weeks of maternity leave before they have to return to work or training. However, each service branch has its own post-birth deferment-from-deployment policy. The Army, which has the longest tours of duty at 12 months, gives women just 4 months to stay stateside with their newborns before deploying to the war zone, leaving little time to bond with or nurse
their infants. Other military branches grant longer stays and have shorter deployment lengths. For example, the Marines offer 6 month deferments and their tours average
According to Maj. Gen. Gayle Pollock, former acting Army surgeon general, the Army should increase its maternity deferments to at least 8 months, with 12 months
being the most ideal: "We need to look at the fact that many women want to serve but they also want to be mothers.
It's a medical issue, it's a mental health issue. Your ability to bond with your children is...very important." Congress has also asked the Pentagon to fix the disparity that exists between the service branches, but no official action has been taken to date."
If you've ever attended a Twins game and sat upstairs behind home plate at the Metrodome, the chances are pretty good that you know Wally Englund, 85, of Richfield. For 14 years he was an usher at the Dome and other sports facilities in the Twin Cities.
But only his wife, a few family members and some season ticket holders who've become his close friends over the years know the secret that, until recently, he couldn't talk about: He is still suffering from an incident in the South Pacific during World War II.
Eileen Smith (center below), one of the Twins' season ticket holders, contacted me about Wally. She only found out about his struggle during an enlistment ceremony at the Metrodome in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. "You walked back in the well and said 'they have no idea what they're getting into,'" she said today as we sat in his living room.
Wally told me his story because he doesn't want returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq to live with the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that began in August 1943, about a year after he graduated from high school in Alexandria and convinced his parents to allow him to enlist and go to war.
"Things were hot and heavy in the South Pacific, so they were sending everybody. I took a bus over the San Francisco bridge, and sailed under the San Francisco bridge in August 1943. About the beginning of November, I was down in the engine room with some motor machinist mates and some electricians, and a guy all of a sudden appeared -- I didn't know who he was -- I knew everybody by their faces but not everybody by their name. And he says, 'You don't belong here. Go upstairs.' So I obeyed his command and then just seconds later the ship went down real fast and heavy. A few of us jumped into the water and then the ship went down real fast and most of the guys were sucked down with the ship. I saw a piece of board or something and I swam to that and hung on for several hours until I was rescued." (Listen)
Englund knew everybody on the ship. But he'd never seen the person who saved his life. There were about 100 men on board the U.S.S. Artisan ( AFDB-1) -- a floating dry-dock -- but only he and one other man survived.
"Everything happened so fast. It was early in the morning; I don't know if we hit a mine or what. It happened fast and all hell broke loose," he said.
When the war ended and he returned to Minnesota, he tried to tell his mother and father about the morning that was now haunting him at night. Every time he'd try, he'd start to cry. And men don't cry. Today, he fought tears each time he remembered. (Listen)
"I was having these nightmares and flashbacks in the middle of the night and when I first came back, I'd try to tell people my story and I'd start crying. So I thought, 'I'm a man now, I'm not supposed to cry,' so I quit sharing. And the longer I did that, the worse it got. I kept shoving it down and down, and I went through all these years with flashbacks and anger came in, and guilt and all kinds of things. I had a rough time for many, many years," he said.
"I lived and I was one of two survivors. All the rest of the guys that I talked to 'em the night before and the next morning they were gone. We were like family. We worked together; we slept together. Ate together. We were a pretty close outfit."
It wasn't until 1950, the year he and his wife, Katie, were married, that he was able to tell his story to someone. (Listen)
"One of the nights in bed , the next morning Katie says, 'Wally what's going on, the bed was just shaking all night. Are you holding something inside you're not sharing?' I told her the whole story and cried like a baby. What a release it was. I didn't care whether I cried or what happened."
And that was the last he spoke of it for more than 40 years. About 20 years ago he got a letter from the other survivor, who described a similar suffering to what he was going through. But he lost the letter and couldn't write back.
About 10 years ago, he tried to talk to his older brother, Bob, about it.
"His ship was sunk in the South Pacific, not too far from where I was about the same time," he said. "He was a few days in a life raft and he was rescued, and they took him to Hawaii and he spent one month in the hospital and all he did was cry every day.
"I asked Bob a few years ago about our experiences. I says, 'Bob, how are you doing with your experiences when that ship was sunk?' And he said, 'I'm fine.'
"I said, 'How do you do that, I'm still having problems?' and he says, 'I don't think about it.' I said, 'Well, I don't either but it's still there.'"
Sadness, depression, anger, guilt. Wally felt them all. But since he had no obvious wounds, he didn't know the Veterans Administration could've helped him. A few years ago, however, another stranger -- he thinks it was someone at a Twins game -- showed him the path out, telling him the VA could help him.
And it did.
"I love the VA; they helped me so much. I want to say to these guys coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan, I want to say if they've gone through an experience like I have, get help right away. Don't wait as long as I did," he said.
He now sees a psychologist every other month. He also found out he's not the only World War II veteran still suffering from the wounds of war.
"After 60 years I thought time would heal and it still hasn't," he said. "But it's much better."
His grandson is in the Marines. Wally says he's told him his story, but never tried to change his mind.
"I still don't tell many people," he said
(Click for larger image)
You probably know someone with an interesting life's journey. News Cut loves to tell their stories. Contact me.
"This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in the time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known," President Barack Obama said this week at the memorial service in Fort Hood. "They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war."
While Obama was speaking before a nation at attention, Michele and Robert Jersak stood before a nearly-empty classroom at Century College in White Bear Lake on Tuesday to finish his sentence.
"When they come back, they are not the same," Robert Jersak, a communications professor at the college said.
"I come from a military family," his wife, Michele, a counselor at the college, added, "and I naively believed that once you're home, you're safe."
Their talk, "Returning Home After Combat: Challenges and Contributions," was part of a week-long celebration at the school, where about 200 former soldiers are enrolled. A handful of faculty attended along with a man whose son is due home soon. "I want to know what to expect," he said.
A single student said he was there because his best friend is ex-military and lost. "I need to figure out how to help him," he said.
The apparent lack of interest by the student body in the topic, however, was matched by the absence of any recently deactivated veterans. There's more to supporting soldiers than waving a flag or putting a yellow ribbon magnet on the car. You have to actually talk to them.
"This war is so different," Michele Jersak said. "People forget about it. We can switch it off." She trains Minnesota state college counselors to understand returning soldiers, and is, herself, at the front lines of the war. As a counselor, she handles the "re-entry" shock of veterans. And every one has it, she suggested. Most don't like to talk and non-veterans aren't anxious to inquire and -- when they do -- they often ask the question Ms. Jersak says they should never ask: "Did you kill anyone?"
"We'll take a citizen and turn them into a warrior," her husband said. "They go from security to chaos. From trust to mistrust." It can take six months to train them but they can go from a war zone to civilian life in a matter of hours, not always successfully. She laments one student in her class who was only days removed from fighting in Falujah, Iraq. "He didn't stay in class because I didn't catch him early enough," she says.
She made it clear to me and the few others attending that she wasn't referring to post traumatic stress disorder. Instead, she was talking about, "normal reactions to abnormal events."
I thought about that this afternoon when a Facebook e-mail from an old high school classmate arrived, telling me about the priest who married her and her husband and who was a Marine chaplain with service in Vietnam and Iraq. He also suffered from depression, the outgrowth of post traumatic stress syndrome.
A month or so ago, he jumped off a bridge in Rhode Island.
Nobody comes back the same.
Here. Here's a Kleenex.
And this blog has a great collection of family reunions. If by "family" you mean a dog.
(h/t: Jonah Keri)
I'm working on a short piece on veterans returning from active duty. Few come back to civilian life unchanged.
It becomes a clash of cultures.
For you veterans -- or families of veterans -- what was it like readjusting to civilian life? What were the challenges and surprises? Who was closer to you upon your return - families or fellow vets? What do non-vets not know about returning vets that they should know?
The White House is disputing reports today that President Obama has agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan.
His top commander in the field, General Stanley McChrystal, wants to send 40,000 more troops. Unlike the buildup in Iraq, however, the "surge" in Afghanistan would take almost a full year, rather than five months.
"I have gained confidence that there's not an important question out there that has not been asked, and that we haven't asked -- that we haven't answered to the best of our abilities," President Obama said.
Presumably, that includes "why not just bring everybody home?"
But the answer has yet to reach Clifford Taylor of Two Harbors, Minn., whose son, Aaron, was killed in Afghanistan last month. He wrote to MPR's Tim Nelson today:
"It's been 4 weeks now since our son, Marine Ssgt Aaron Taylor died in Afghanistan. The nightmare begins again every morning when we wake up and realize it's not a dream.
We went to Camp Pendleton for a memorial service for Aaron on Oct. 28th.
After the service, they took us out to lunch. The C.O. invited us to his house for dinner the following evening. Nice guy, nice family. He has a wife, 2 young daughters and a dog. I told stories about Aaron and all the good times we shared. The whole thing lasted precisely 2 hours and then we were outta there. 'Thanks for coming. We're so glad to have met you. Here's some cookies and a bottle of water.' All very precise. Of course, that's how the Marine Corps is. Very rigid and precise. It was a nice 2 hours. I bragged about my son and they all listened intently.
But it seemed like it was something they'd done many times before. A young man's life. Gone in the blink of an eye. A promising future of prosperity, a wife, children and lots of good times ahead. Gone. Poof. I can imagine them saying after we left, 'Geez, nice family. What a shame. Ah well...'
Shortly after, we heard about the 16 more lives lost in Afghanistan because of the helicopters that went down and I thought of the ripple effect it would have on all the families involved. I never realized how many lives are effected by the loss of one single individual until my son was gone.
The other day, Senator Amy Klobuchar called to convey her condolences, and after a short chat about Aaron, she gave me the phone number of her "go to guy" in case we have any issues. I told her I have an issue right now.
She asked what it was and I said, 'Get our guys out of there! Now! Please!
Before more families have to go through this Hell.' She said, 'I wish it were that simple.'
One young man's life touched so many people. Every day we hear about dozens of civilians being killed by suicide bombers and our military personnel being killed by roadside bombs. Each victim touched so many lives.
Such a huge ripple effect. The solution seems pretty simple to me."
(h/t: Tim Nelson)
The Wednesday lunch at St. Paul's Central Presbyterian Church is a staple of the MPR News Department. It's one of the best lunch bargains in the Twin Cities. Sometimes you run into newsmakers there.
Today we stumbled on Kathryn Koob. She was one of only two women among the 52 Americans who spent 444 days as hostages in Iran.
Ironically, she was just profiled in a segment on Iowa Public Television. And today is the 30th anniversary of the day "students" took over the American embassy in Tehran.
All Things Considered is interviewing her and you can hear it tonight on the program.(1 Comments)
I'm sure Bob wishes he could have written this post, as it follows up on a story which, for quite a while, it seemed as though he was the only one following.
Briefly: Marine Pvt. Travis Hafterson has been diagnosed with PTSD — post traumatic stress disorder. He left the Marines to seek treatment in Minnesota, and was set to be voluntarily committed to a mental health facility. The Marines got to him first and he's currently in the brig in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The Marines had not commented on the Hafterson matter beyond confirmed that he was in their custody, until today. Here is the full text of a statement from Marine spokesman Maj. Kelly Frushour.
In late September and early October there was a spate of reporting by news agencies in Minnesota regarding the case of Marine Pvt. Travis Hafterson.
Much of this reporting centered on Hafterson's claims of suffering as a result of his deployments to Iraq.
Marines are trained in and abide by the Law of Armed Conflict and take any violations of these laws seriously. After reading statements in these news stories which alleged law of war violations (the alleged killing of a wounded Iraqi), the Marine Corps investigated the claims.
The result of that investigation concluded the following:
Hafterson was not present when a lieutenant in his command was wounded.
Hafterson did not engage in any combat while deployed.
Hafterson did not kill anyone while deployed.
Hafterson never fired his weapon while deployed.
Hafterson does not have a Combat Action Ribbon.
When returning from a deployment, Marines undergo a post-deployment health assessment. This assessment is an inclusive review of a Marines' combat experiences, living conditions and environmental exposures while deployed.
This assessment becomes a part of the Marines' medical record. Due to privacy concerns I cannot state the particulars of Haftersons' medical information but please know the Marine Corps is committed to the health and welfare of its service members and has myriad support resources available to
help Marines, Sailors and their family members.
MPR's Elizabeth Dunbar has the full story of today's response from the Marines, including reaction from Hafterson's side.
Pvt. Hafterson's attorney, Ron Bradley, said Thursday that he was "surprised and skeptical" of the Marines investigation, noting that a psychologist and psychiatrist in Minnesota had both found that Hafterson suffers from PTSD. Bradley also said Hafterson was part of an infantry unit, which he said makes it likely that he engaged in combat.6 Comments)
"Can I prove anything? No. I have no firsthand knowledge. Do I believe the military? No," Bradley said. "I believe my client."
Every now and again -- when I'm speaking to some group -- someone will ask, "how do you determine what news is?" They're looking for a definition I can't give them. It's not an algorithm (sorry, Google); it's a feeling from your heart to your head. You know it when you see it or when you feel it.
You have to be some sort of heart-dead or brain-dead person not to see the stories within the story of Pvt. Travis Hafterson, whom I've been writing about this week (here, here, here, and here). The 21-year-old Marine from Circle Pines left Camp LeJeune in North Carolina on leave last month only to find out his orders had been rescinded. He was looking for help for post traumatic stress disorder and his mother suggested he come home to get it.
We can argue -- and we have, respectfully, in the posts I've made on News Cut this week -- about whether he should have done that, but one thing cannot be denied: Travis Hafterson is a broken human in need of help and we did this to him.
We sent a kid off to war -- twice -- with all the bravado we could muster on lawn signs, bumper stickers and radio talk shows, and while we lived a comfortable life supporting our troops here with our yellow-ribbon magnets, Hafterson and thousands of other combat soldiers were accumulating memories that turn into nightmares.
Here's just one of several I lifted from a psychological report he underwent last Saturday:
"He watched as an Iraqi police member opened the door of the house, only to have the back of his head explode from enemy fire. He tossed a grenade into the home. ... Though (the enemy) had lost limbs, he was still alive. So Hafterson had no choice but to kill him with a knife through the throat."
Hafterson's primary story isn't the only one that went largely unreported this week. So was the amazing story of how Minnesota's system worked. Psychologists and psychiatrists gave up their days off last weekend, social workers stepped in, attorneys donated their time, court-appointed experts reacted with diligence, a Ramsey County judge and the staff of the Civil Commitment Court acted swiftly, sensitively, and urgently, purely because they recognized the need to help a kid -- "one of our own," you might say -- who came home for help.
On Thursday, the Marines swept in, grabbed Hafterson before he could get it, and sent him to a military prison. He's disappeared into the closed society of the military again, and the public symptoms of a wider mental-health scandal disappeared with him.
The Marines couldn't have done it without the indifference of the news media in the Twin Cities.
Almost a year ago to the day, another Minnesota soldier also had a problem. Gwen Beberg befriended a dog in Iraq but had to leave "Ratchet" behind when she returned to the states. The local media sprang into action. The local newspapers carried the story on page one. Local TV news personalities wouldn't let the story die, and finally the military relented. When the dog came home for a happy reunion, the TV stations were there live.
No such luck for Pvt. Hafterson or, for that matter, the hundreds or maybe thousands of soldiers like him who may exist if only we in the news media were interested enough to find out. No TV station picked up the Hafterson story this week. The Pioneer Press was the only newspaper to do so. The Star Tribune, which announced a "military affairs" beat just a week ago, ignored Hafterson's plight. The Associated Press took a pass. The Huffington Post rejected the story as did National Public Radio. The alternative online news sources around here who fancy themselves the future of journalism -- MinnPost, The Uptake, and City Pages, for example -- proved that they can shrug their shoulders as well as the big boys. Of all alternative online sources of news, only Rick Kupchella's new Bring Me the News "covered" the story.
If the news media here had treated Pvt. Travis Hafterson like a dog, it would've been an improvement.
While the Hafterson story was playing out in the Twin Cities this week, a summit on the future of journalism was being held in San Francisco, where the San Francisco Chronicle noted the theme:
Key to survival in the digital media age is rapidly responding to the preferences that consumers reveal every time they click a link, view an ad, read a story or post a comment, said Michael Franklin, professor of computer science at UC Berkeley. He is also the founder of Truviso, a San Mateo company that creates tools for analyzing consumer data.
Each online action represents clues that media companies can use to customize content, products and ads to particular consumers. That, in turn, can increase customers' engagement with the site and the likelihood of responding to marketing, he said.
Fancy talk, indeed, but it leaves out the two most important elements of journalism. It needs to employ people who give a damn and it needs to make you look, when your instinct is to turn away.
At some future point, the PTSD story will resurface in the form of some tragedy, and the media wags will ask "how could this happen?" When it comes time to ask the question, we should be looking in the mirror.(11 Comments)
We have a little more information now on the fate of Marine Pvt. Travis Hafterson, 21, of Circle Pines, who was whisked away by the Marines on Thursday before he could be voluntarily committed to a Minnesota facility for treatment of his post traumatic stress disorder. Today he's being held in a military prison in North Carolina on "suicide watch."
Hafterson called his mother this morning to say he was held by Marines in Minnesota until 3:30 p.m. yesterday. That's two hours after Judge Steven D. Wheeler, saying he met all the definitions of a man with mental illness, ordered Hafterson committed to Regions Hospital in St. Paul (See my post on this from yesterday).
Hafterson suffers from PTSD as a result of two tours of duty in Iraq. He returned to Minnesota on leave last month to seek treatment, but he was arrested at Fort Snelling on Monday on a warrant charging him with desertion (See my Wednesday post on this). Since then, his family has been trying to get him mental health treatment, convinced the Marines are interested in punishing him rather than treating him.
Marine officials and an expert on PTSD at Fort Snelling, to whom Haftersen intended to turn himself in on Monday, have not returned phone calls seeking comment.
"He said, 'I'm on survival mode. I will make it through this, I promise,'" Jamie Hafterson told me this afternoon about the phone call from her son. "He said he's 'going to the brig. I need to get in general population. My thoughts are killing me, they're tearing me apart. I can't take it no more; all I have is my thoughts.'"
"It's too late to help Travis now, but there are thousands of guys just like him and maybe we can help them," Hafterson's fiancee, Lindsey Moore, said this afternoon after talking with Hafterson. "Travis asked for help after his first deployment and he didn't get it. He asked for help after his second deployment and he didn't get it. He left to try to get some help; it's not like he went on vacation. If the Marine Corps had given him some help when he asked for it, he wouldn't be in trouble."
Moore says she's concerned that once the "story dies down," people will stop caring about returning combat infantry soldiers. "It's devastating for people who fought for this country," she said, "and the Marines just don't care. They should be getting help while they're still in (the service) and not just when they get out. It's not fair to the soldiers, it's not fair to society when these guys return to the world.
Moore says she thinks returning combat soldiers -- the front-line troops -- should be "required to talk to somebody" when they get home.
(Photo courtesy of Jamie Hafterson)
From the MPR archive:
Midmorning: PTSD is on the rise
Morning Edition: Catching combat stress: Physicians learn the signs
News Cut: Why Journalism Matters
Pvt. Travis Hafterson, a Marine from Circle Pines, was within hours today of getting the help for post traumatic stress syndrome that he's been trying to get since the first of two tours of duty in Iraq (See my earlier posts here and here). Then the Marines stepped in.
Hafterson, 21, has been held at the Ramsey County jail since he was arrested at Fort Snelling, where he arrived on Monday with assurances he'd get help for PTSD. He's wanted on charges of desertion.
Armed with an evaluation from social workers and experts, who said he is suicidal and desperately in need of mental health treatment for PTSD, Ramsey County officials moved up a Monday hearing to this afternoon to civilly commit him to Regions Hospital.
The Marines were notified of the hearing, and about two hours before it was scheduled, a Marine "chaser unit" showed up at the jail, took custody of Hafterson and are carrying him back to Camp LeJeune in North Carolina to face charges, instead.
"We almost got him back," his mother, Jamie, told me before the scheduled hearing. "I just hope they treat him."
Few of the attorneys and experts involved in the case seem to think they will. The hearing went on as scheduled, and after Atty. Patrick Cotter, a court-appointed attorney for Hafterson, described his meeting with the Marine at the jail yesterday, Judge Steven Wheeler quickly ordered him committed in absentia. "There's more than an adequate basis to find this young man meets all the (symptoms) of mental illness and should be committed," Judge Wheeler said.
Travis Hafterson is now a pawn in a very high-stakes game. The Marines want to punish him. Minnesota wants to treat his mental illness.
"This is not just a Travis thing anymore," his mother said. "There are lots of boys just like him. He told me 'if you can't save me, maybe you can save them.'"
"I'm not trying to lash out at no one," she said. "I'm mad. But I'm not mad at no one. The Marines have their thing, tool. He's going back as a deserter, not as a person with PTSD."
Jamie Hafterson met with Patrick Cotter after the hearing.
"He's a heck of a good kid," he told her.
"He's a heck of a good Marine," she said.
Hafterson's family has tried to get area politicians to help, but have had little luck. Jamie Hafterson left two voicemail messages with Sen. Amy Klobuchar that haven't been returned. A relative, Atty. Ron Bradley, contacted Rep. Michele Bachmann's office, filled out some paperwork and then was told there wasn't anything she could do. "He's kind of Marine property," Bradley said Bachmann's aide told him.
This afternoon, Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview, had picked up Hafterson's cause in an effort to get Sen. Al Franken's office involved.
As for Hafterson, his whereabouts are unknown. The Marines have confirmed, however, that he'll spend tonight in the brig at Camp LeJeune.
"I am ashamed of the USMC, as it appears they intentionally interfered with potentially life-saving treatment. I am ashamed of how the Corps has treated one of their own," Atty. Bradley said in an e-mail to a Marine liaison in Hafterson's Wounded Warrior Battalion this afternoon.(31 Comments)
I just got word that a Ramsey County judge has agreed to hear the case today of Pvt. Travis Hafterson, the Circle Pines Marine who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder whom I've written about here and here.
His family is trying to get him civilly committed in Minnesota, rather than taken by Marines back to North Carolina where he is facing charges of desertion.
I'll try to update the story this afternoon.
After Lance Cpl. Travis Hafterson returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq in April 2008, he wore his dress blue Marine uniform to church in Circle Pines with pride. Then he went to a brunch where someone, apparently an opponent of the war, called him "a piece of shit," his mother, Jamie, recalled today. "I found him curled up in the fetal position in his bedroom just bawling," she said. His dress blues were in a pile on a corner. She knew he needed help. He knew he needed help. Instead, the Marines sent him back to Iraq for a second tour of duty last March.
Jamie Hafterson's son is a killer. She doesn't want him to be his next target.
Hafterson's son, who has post traumatic stress syndrome, is sitting in a Ramsey County jail on charges of desertion (See my earlier post) from the U.S. Marine Corps. His mother says a jail guard asked him this week, "Are you the deserter?" Then he called him "a chickenshit," she says.
His mother and the rest of now-Pvt. Hafterson's family are trying to get him treatment for PTSD. The military apparently has other ideas.
After her son returned from Iraq a year and a half ago, Mrs. Hafterson moved to Virginia to try to get help for her son. "I had to. In my heart, I knew he was going to die," she told me this afternoon. She says every morning, dozens of Marines like him missed reveille to line up for access to psychiatric help. Each day, only five or six would get help. The rest, she says, went on report for missing reveille.
"He watched as an Iraqi police member opened the door of the house, only to have the back of his head explode from enemy fire. He tossed a grenade into the home. ... Though (the enemy) had lost limbs, he was still alive. So Hafterson had no choice but to kill him with a knife through the throat."
For Hafterson, it was just another day in Iraq; another nightmare to have later.
After his second tour this year and a court martial on marijuana charges, Hafterson was put in an undeployable unit. "It's a battalion of people with PTSD and criminals," his mother said. "And everybody's forgotten about them."
Hafterson's odyssey to Minnesota in the last month began after the Marines, rather than treat him for his illness, asked him to re-enlist and be deployed -- again -- to Iraq or Afghanistan, his mother says. Hafterson said he would if he could be reunited with his former unit. The Marines said "no." Hafterson left for Minnesota, unaware, his mother says, that his leave had been canceled. The Marines had apparently reneged on promises to provide him with chemical dependency treatment.
"He's a trained killer," his mother says. "He didn't have to go into the infantry. He didn't have to 'run point.' And then to put him in a job cleaning offices. He came back to find Travis. He felt lost and betrayed. He was here to try to get treatment."
When he turned himself in at Fort Snelling on Monday, he was arrested and sent to Ramsey County's adult detention center. "The next time you see me, I'll be in 12 pieces," he yelled to his mother. He was referring to the fate of a friend in Iraq, who was killed by a roadside bomb.
She says her son has "been belittled" by the Marines since trying to get help. "He was told, 'You're just trying to milk the government by getting a disability check,'" she said.
She spent most of the day on Wednesday on the phone to anyone who might be able to get him treatment. Calls to politicians -- she lives in Rep. Michele Bachmann's district -- haven't been returned. She tried Rep. John Kline, a veteran, and was told he couldn't help because she didn't live in his district. She says she even ran around a golf course today because she'd heard there was someone there playing golf who knew an elected representative who might help.
"There are lots of services here for veterans," she says she's found out today, "but nothing for active duty personnel."
The family is worried the Marine Corps will take him back to Camp LeJeune and he'll be swallowed up in the military justice system, where he'll end up killing himself. Instead, they're asking a Ramsey County judge to provide a civil commitment to a psychiatric facility here, but a conference on the request won't be held until Monday.
His mother hasn't told him yet that his unit returned from Iraq this week.(8 Comments)
A Pew Research survey shows the problem U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan have selling a escalation of the war there to the American people.
Republicans (84%) and Democrats (76%) mostly agree that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan represents a threat to the United States, but they sharply differ over whether U.S. troops should stay there to prevent it, the survey said. Fifty-six percent of Democrats said the troops should be removed. Only 25% of Republicans said that.
Meanwhile, President Obama is in New York today, trying to hold together support for the war among America's allies.
Politically, Germany is in focus of those monitoring public sentiment. Earlier this month, an al Qaeda video surfaced that threatened "a rude awakening" for Germans if they do not force their leaders to pull troops from Afghanistan. Germany holds national elections on Sunday.
Today's Question here on MPR NewsQ is asking whether Afghanistan is worth the cost. So far the overwhelming answer seems to be "no."
Remember the video of the father of Marine Sgt. Kendall Waters-Bey when interviewed about his son's death early in the Iraq war? Carrying a picture of his son, he wailed, "President Bush, take a look at this man, because you took my only son away from me."
It was uncomfortable and powerful and it ignited a backlash against the man.
Without the tears, the father of Jared Monti delivered the same message today
"Instead of putting the troops and equipment and money into Afghanistan, they went to Iraq. And that cost my son his life," Paul Monti of Massachusetts said today during an interview with a network TV host:
A few hours later, Monti and his wife received their son's Medal of Honor from President Obama (above).
There are many worse ways to spend the next 4:42 than watching this video about Monti's son. Particularly troubling in the story is that the soldier Monti gave his life to save -- along with a medic -- died when the cable that was hoisting them onto a helicopter snapped.
By the way, as of this afternoon, not one word about the Medal of Honor ceremony had been posted on the White House Web site. But click the extended entry to read the citation.
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Of all the news stories out there today, none is as painfall as the one from Niagara Falls where a family was told their son was killed in Afghanistan. He wasn't. And the story has the elusive Minnesota connection.
Robin Jasper said her husband was responding to a message left on his phone by the civilian liaison with whom they had talked once before. That liaison is located in Duluth, Minn.
"She said, 'Call me as soon as you can,' " Robin Jasper said, explaining that the family heard the worst upon calling back. "She said, 'This is a red-line message. I have to read it to you exactly as it says.' "
Then, according to the Jaspers, the voice on the other end of the phone told Raymond that his son had died Saturday, along with a 23- year-old soldier from Kansas.
"I said to [my husband], 'Is he hurt -- how bad?,' " Mrs. Jasper said. "He said, 'He's dead,' and he dropped the phone."
Family and friends posted messages on Facebook. The soldier's girlfriend saw them and called the parents. "He's not dead. I just talked to him," she said.
The military isn't talking.
What might have happened here? A 2008 USA Today profile of the volunteers who make phone calls might have a clue.
After the Army officially notified next-of-kin about a soldier's death, Bana Miller had to inform other families in Bravo Troop about the loss of life -- calls known as red-line message.
"The first that I made I was breaking down," she says. Co-workers drove her home.
Back home in Bryn Mawr that Thanksgiving, her family saw her react to news reports of casualties. "I mean she was shaking, physically shaking immediately after the news segment," recalls her younger brother, Hume Najdawi.
It's quite possible the volunteer in Duluth got a name wrong and was in the process of telling other families about a death in their son's platoon, and the father heard the call incorrectly.
Sgt. Tyler A. Juden, of Winfield, Kan., who was in the soldier's unit, was killed on Saturday.
The rescue of a New York Times reporter in Afghanistan is providing a glimpse into how several news organizations have different headline takes on the same story.
Sometimes, apparently, there are different views within the same organization.
The headline on the New York Times around 6:30 this morning said "New York Times Reporter Freed in Afghanistan." But only within the story itself was it noted that Stephen Farrell's translator was killed. That, Al Jazeera notes, is a huge part of the story.
At 9:50 a.m., the headline was changed.
NPR, using Associated Press copy, went with the "freed reporter" headline.
The translator's death was below the headline.
But even that only tells part of the story. A British soldier was killed, too. The Guardian, on the other hand, views the story differently... from its perspective:
But that's not the whole story, either. The BBC -- and apparently only the BBC -- played the story without injecting a perspective.
The number dead is not entirely clear. It's lost in a hail of other parts of the story. Whose bullets killed whom? And how did the women die?(1 Comments)
What does a country leaving a war look like? In Maj. Art LaFlamme's world at the moment, it looks like this: A pickup truck full of fabric that's been sent to northern Iraq by quilters around the globe.
LaFlamme, a California native, is on his third tour of duty in Iraq, but he says he's been "involved with Iraq" since 1990. A few weeks ago, he says, he and some others in his office were talking about the drawdown of American troops and what would happen to machinery and supplies the U.S. has sent to Iraq, "and wouldn't it make sense if we could convert some of the stuff into good over here for people who have needs."
"We started talking about Ramadan, which we're now in. Generosity is a key component, looking inwards and looking outwards to helping others and how that's a big part of this culture," he told me in a call from Iraq this afternoon. (Listen)
Surplus war equipment and fabric for quilting is quite a leap. But LaFlamme comes from a family of quilters (Listen) and his desire to leave something useful behind led him to start the Iraqi Bundles of Love project. "Sewing fanatics and quilters and knitters tend to have stashes that far exceed their actual needs, and sewing fanatics and quilters and knitters are passionate both about sewing / quilting / knitting, and about sharing with others," he wrote on his blog. So he asked them to send the excess to Iraq for Ramadan. They did.
These sorts of efforts tend to take on a life of their own and this one is no exception. LaFlamme figured if he got a few dozen boxes of fabric, that'd be fine. "I just handed over a good 80-85 of the first group that arrived," he said. "I thought this was going to be a relatively minor project -- in the tens. I don't think they were quite ready when I said (to his colleagues), 'I've got about 100 for you guys to pick up.'" (Listen)
"It'll go out in the area where I'm based. Some will go to individuals who have had grants and loans for things like fabric-related businesses or sewing co-ops, some will go to widows and orphans in the area, people in need. The sheer volume of bundles that are going to be involved in this have us relooking at our distribution plan," LaFlamme said.
The project will end when Ramadan does -- in the third week of September. A few weeks after that, Major LaFlamme will come home.
(h/t: Heather Heimbuch)(8 Comments)
Journalists in the U.S. complained for most of the Bush administration that they weren't allowed to photograph the returning caskets of U.S. soldiers. They alleged the ban sanitized war.
Now that the Obama administration is allowing -- with permission of families -- the photographing of the homecomings, journalists have taken to sanitizing war on their own.
The images are compelling, disturbing and, of course, sad. The captions below the photographs are not.
Take both of the Twin Cities Daily newspapers.
The Star Tribune documented the arrival of the body of Army Specialist James Wertish on over the weekend.
Said the caption: "An Army team carried a transfer case containing the remains of Army Specialist James Wertish on Saturday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Wrtish, 20, of Olivia, Minn., was one of three Minnesotans who died Thursday in Basra, Iraq.
Transfer case? It sounds like something you'd put groceries in. Not a body. Not a human. Transfer cases are part of the transmission of four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Another Minnesotan, Daniel Drevnick of Woodbury, arrived home on Saturday.
Said the Pioneer Press: "An Air Force team removes transfer cases containing the remains of Minnesota National Guard members Spc. Carlos Wilcox, Spc. James Wertish and Spc. Daniel Drevnick on Saturday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware."
Both papers used transfer cases. Both described the people carrying them as a team
Back before the Bush administration, we called them coffins or caskets; words which may be technically insufficient, but made clear that someone's son, brother, or husband was inside, and he is dead.
Instead of "teams," they were referred to as "honor guards," reinforcing that the dead deserved no less.
Other dead soldiers coming home got almost the same sanitized treatment:
An Army carry team carries a transfer case containing the remains of Pfc. Nicolas Hugh Joseph Gideon at Dover Air Force Base, Del., July 7, 2009. - Anchorage Daily News.
An Army carry team carries a transfer case containing the remains of Spc. Chester W. Hosford of Hastings, Minn. Wednesday July 8, 2009 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. - Minnesota Public Radio.
An Army Corps carry team carries the transfer case containing the body of U.S. Army Pfc. Justin A. Casillas, 19, of Dunnigan, during a transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Monday, July 6. - Woodland (Calif.) Democrat
This is what George Carlin called "soft language."
"I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse."
(Photos: Associated Press)(15 Comments)
Minnesota's commander-in-chief of the National Guard looked soldier-like in the U.S. Army images of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's meeting with the troops in a surprise visit to Iraq over the weekend. The governor wore an Army-olive t-shirt and blended in with the troops.
Pawlenty is traveling with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon who went with khaki:
And Gov. Jim Gibbons of Nevada, who went with the golf shirt and jeans look:
(Above photo from Red Bulls south newsletter)
Federal officials are clamming up about the indictment of two men -- one from Brooklyn Park -- on terrorism charges, leading to questions about whether it may have something to do with the disappearance of Somali men in Minneapolis, several of whom have been killed back in their homeland's civil war.
The feds could answer that question with a "yes" or "no," but they didn't.
"He was indicted on one count of material support to terrorism, a count of conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure in a foreign country and two counts of making false statements," said FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson. He said he cannot confirm the indictment has something to do with the missing men.
Here's the indictment. It said two men conspired with each other and others to "kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons outside the United States." It didn't say what persons or where, but noted the two took a Northwest Airlines flight to Amsterdam with a final destination of Somalia.
Stephen Smith, an attorney for an unnamed client, says Maruf tried to recruit his client to fight in Somalia. Smith is advising people who have been questioned about the disappearances by the FBI.
He says Maruf's "status" made it difficult to say "no."
"He was someone who people looked up to, in the sense that he was kind of cool. He sort exuded his own independence. And so, when [my client] is asked this question in such a direct fashion, it's like talking to an older sibling you might look up to. There's no question he wasn't going to participate in it, but how do you say it?"
From the looks of things, it's starting to appear as though no single person is responsible for the disappearances. Over the weekend, the New York Times said the missing men "appear to have been motivated by a complex mix of politics and faith, and their communications show how some are trying to recruit other young Americans to their cause."
Last week, Yuen reported on a November 2007 rally, in which one speaker -- Zakariah Abdi -- exhorts the audience:
"Enlist yourselves. Come to see us in Asmara," Abdi said to the crowd. "Let us get to know each other. We will offer training. Then whoever wants to fight for two months, like the Eritreans used to do, can then go back to school."
How much -- if any -- the speech contributed to the decision of the men to return to Somalia we don't know.
The Times said it analyzed records and Facebook pages and determined that the missing men "seem caught between inner-city America and the badlands of Africa, pining for Starbucks one day, extolling the virtues of camel's milk and Islamic fundamentalism the next."
If there's one story that's yet to strike a significant nerve with folks outside of Washington, it's the revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency had a secret counterterrorism program that it didn't tell Congress about.
Oh, and it didn't tell Leon Panetta, who is director of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Panetta, who says he ended the program when he heard about it on June 23 after he heard about.
As befits Washington, it's Republicans on one side; Democrats on the other, according to National Public Radio's All Things Considered on Saturday..
Details of the program have not been released. Some Republicans say the revelation is no big deal, and that Democrats are playing politics. A man at the center of the controversy -- Democrat Silvestre Reyes of Texas, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- tells NPR's Guy Raz that his committee has pinpointed numerous instances where it was not given "full and complete information" and in at least one case, "we were deliberately lied to."
But wait, there's more, according to the New York Times, which cites its sources claiming it was under orders from former VP Dick Cheney that withheld information about the program from Congress:
The disclosure about Mr. Cheney's role in the unidentified C.I.A. program comes a day after an inspector general's report underscored the central role of the former vice president's office in restricting to a small circle of officials knowledge of the National Security Agency's program of eavesdropping without warrants, a degree of secrecy that the report concluded had hurt the effectiveness of the counterterrorism surveillance effort.
Amid all the controversy over who knew what, we still don't know what the counterterrorism program was. The Times says it didn't involve domestic spying, or waterboarding and that it never became fully operational.(3 Comments)
Two unrelated stories in the terrorism front:
1) On Thursday Mohamed Warsame, a Canadian citizen of Somali descent, was sentenced to about seven and a half years in prison. He's been awaiting trial for five years on terrorism-related charges. With credit for time served, he'll be deported to Canada next spring. He apparently attended what he contends were religious camps but the government says were terrorism camps. David Kris, a spokesman for the Justice Department, told MPR's Elizabeth Stawicki the Warsame case serves as "a reminder of the continuing threats the nation faces." Since the case never went to trial, we don't really know much about the threat the nation faces, at least as it pertains to Mr. Warsame.
2)Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil is one of the Guantanamo detainees the Pentagon says has gone back to a life of terrorism. But he often has meetings with the U.S. backed government in Afghanistan. "For six years, I was ready to go to court and defend myself. They should show the world their proof against me," Wakil told McClatchy News. "I am ready to answer any question."(1 Comments)
It's been a long, long time since we've seen such a compelling picture. It was the homecoming for an Alabama soldier who was killed in northern Iraq. He was supposed to come home next month.
There are more pictures from photojournalist Bernard Troncale and the story from the Birmingham News at al.com.
There have been 4,227 soldiers killed in Iraq since 2003.(2 Comments)
My paternal grandparents, Dorothy (nee Anderson, 1Lt) and Quentin Eric Lundquist (Tsgt) both served during WWII, and were married before returning to the U.S. My grandfather was an orderly and my grandmother was a nurse. There was one story in particular where a patient had shimmied up a drainpipe and my grandfather had gone up after him. After scuffling around my grandmother went up too (presumably to protect Grampa). The patient said "I will not fight a woman" and went down.
They were in the 217th General Hospital in England, then France. After getting permission to marry, they were married in France in 1945, then returned to Iowa after the war to farm and raise 5 children. They went and talked to my sisters' classes about their experiences and showed their albums and uniforms. We were able to find a newsreel showing a POW after coming back comparing his wrist to my grandmother's and the difference is staggering.
- Phillip Lundquist
South St. Paul, MN/
This is a two-part post. The first part below was written on Friday afternoon. I asked people on Twitter and Facebook to help me track down the family below. Within an hour, I found information I've been searching for for several years. That story is the second part of the post.
(© John Francis Ficara)
This picture of the family of one of the first soldiers killed in the first Gulf War is tattered because it's been folded up and put in and taken out of my wallet occasionally for the last 18 years.
I cut it out of a Newsweek magazine in 1991 for personal and professional reasons. At the time, the news media described the cost of the war as "light." Few soldiers were killed. I cut it out to remind me -- as a writer of news -- that there's no such thing as "light casualties" when it comes to reporting on war.
I also kept it in case my then-young children ever expressed a cavalier attitude toward war. They never did.
The problem is I don't know who these people are. I didn't cut out the accompanying caption. The photographer, John Ficara, didn't remember the name of the family when I contacted him a couple of years ago, and every now and then, he drops me an email to see if I've made any progress. I haven't.
Every few months, someone writing a paper for school stumbles across a post I made on my personal blog two years ago and also asks if I've been successful in locating the family, to find out whatever happened to them? I tell them I'm still looking.
One of these days, what with Twitter and Facebook and the viral nature of the Internet, I'm hoping someone will recognize them. It's impossible to look at their faces on this day, and not hope for the best.
Update - Thanks to the power of Twitter and Jodie Gustafson (via comment below) we've found the name -- Gayle Edwards and her sons, at the funeral for Marine Capt. Jonathan 'Jack' Edwards. Armed with that, I've been able to find that he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on February 15, 1991. They were from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was killed Feb. 2 when his AH-1 Cobra helicopter crashed in the desert near the Saudi border with Kuwait as it escorted another helicopter with injured. He was the first Marine killed in the war. His mother is Sally Marsh Edwards of Williamstown, KY.
When Sally Marsh Edwards said "freedom is not free" to me when I talked to her on the phone this evening, it didn't sound like a bumper sticker slogan. It sounded like the truth; it cost her her son, Captain Jonathan "Jack" Edwards, the first Marine killed in the Gulf War of 1991.
Once I found out the name of the family in the photo above, some minor investigating found the name of Capt. Edwards' mother, and some campaign contribution records revealed her address and city. The phone book did the rest.
"Jack is our hero," she told me when I called. He graduated from high school as a junior. He did so well on his ACTs that "the principal called and said 'please let me graduate Jack now.'" He did and not longer thereafter, Jack walked into her house with a uniform on. He'd enlisted.
He'd actually left active duty when the Gulf war known as "Desert Storm" -- more recently referred to by some as "the good war " -- broke out, but was recalled to fly helicopters.
On the day he was buried (above) at Arlington National Cemetery, the wind chill was 16 below zero. "Gayle has a flag on her lap (in the photo) and the general gave me one and I remember that his tears were frozen on his cheeks," she said.
"I got my miracle that day," she said. As befits the military, graves are dug in proper order. One area fills up, they move on to the next area. As she paused at her son's grave that day, however, she realized he had been buried -- apparently by chance -- head to toe to her own aunt, a secretary during World War II to Dwight Eisenhower, and Generals Bradley and Marshall. "There shouldn't have been an open space available" there, she said. But there was.
The picture above, she says, "was on the cover of every newspaper in the country" the next day. She and her husband, who was severely handicapped by Multiple Sclerosis, were driving home and stopped at a rest area restaurant on the way home to Cincinnati. "I screamed when I saw it," she said.
She's not in the picture. She was in a van nearby with her husband. But another grandchild -- a girl -- is being held on the lap of her sister in the second row.
The youngest son, Ben, is wearing his father's jacket. He spent some time in college after receiving a full scholarship to study art, and now owns a tattoo parlor in Virginia Beach. Older brother, Spencer, is in the sales business.
"Cincinnati was very good to us," she said. The community raised money for Captain Edwards' children.
He was the first killed in Kuwait. But someone had to be the last. "I wrote to the family of a soldier who died on the last day of the war," she told me. "And we became the best of friends."
Her husband died in 2000. He, too, was an historic figure in the battles of the Mideast. He was a pilot for Pan Am Airlines. In September 1970, he piloted Pan Am Flight 93, hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Three other planes were hijacked that day, with intentions to fly them to an airstrip in Jordan. But the 747 was too big to land there, so it flew to Cairo, where it was emptied, and then blown up.
Mrs. Edwards is 75 now, and still working as a lawyer. She helps disabled people get the Social Security benefits to which they're entitled. Many are disabled veterans.
She visited her son's grave early this year. Out of the glare of the media that consumed her family's privacy in 1991, a ceremony each year remembers those who died in the Gulf War. It's mostly underwritten by the government of Kuwait.
News Cut will present stories about those who served in whatever capacity and have died. Please send me a few paragraphs about them and, if possible, a picture and I'll be sure to add it here.(14 Comments)
The image -- the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War -- is also one of the most misunderstood. It's often described as the scene atop the U.S. embassy. But it actually was an apartment building that housed CIA operatives. No matter, really. It captured the drama perfectly.
A local newspaper rejiggered the wire-service-supplied obituary today to say the photo was the most famous photograph of the war. Was it?
Just off the top of my head, here are a couple of competitors in the category.
I can't pick just one.(4 Comments)
The government in Kabul handed out piles of cash today to families of 140 people killed in a U.S. airstrike.
Grieving relatives got the equivalent of $2,000 for each person killed and $1,000 for each one injured.
In Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson's story on All Things Considered this afternoon, though, one paragraph -- intentionally or not -- hits like a cold bucket of water:
Many of those interviewed say they will use the money to rebuild their homes and buy new brides and livestock.
No other mention was made in the story of the life of the women of Afghanistan.
For that, we have the Peoria Journal Star which this week carried a blistering editorial that suggested one of the original -- if secondary -- goals of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was no longer a concern.
Much has been written in the last few weeks about a law passed by the Afghan parliament governing how members of the Shiite minority may treat women. It explicitly spells out the limited circumstances under which a woman can leave her home, backsliding toward the draconian restrictions imposed by the Taliban. But that rule alone is mild compared with another element of the measure, which effectively legalizes marital rape by mandating that Afghan women must submit to their husbands' demands for sex. The law offers only a few exceptions for women, but no exception would make the odious measure more acceptable.
When Karzai gave it his approval it sparked an outcry, particularly given the reputation he's cultivated as a leader interested in improving human rights for women. There were street protests in Kabul and Western leaders widely condemned the change, with President Obama calling it "abhorrent." In the face of such pressure, Karzai froze its enforcement and put it through a judicial review, which is slated to wrap up next week.
Meanwhile, reports out of Afghanistan today said five young girls slipped into comas, and 100 have been taken to a hospital, after a gas attack on their school. It's the third such attack of late and an official said he doesn't think the Taliban are responsible.(3 Comments)
As a baby boomer, Vietnam still seems like only yesterday to me. Maybe that's why I'm one of the few people in this newsroom of mostly younger people who still finds the images of a former Navy pilot standing at Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi, where he was shot down in the war, so stunning, and something to contemplate.
The photo was distributed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office. Shown are Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
McCain is urging stronger economic and military ties with Vietnam.
Posted at 3:13 PM on February 11, 2009
by Than Tibbetts
Filed under: War
Members of the 34th Infantry Division — known as the Red Bulls — are preparing for a one-year deployment in Iraq. The division held a departure ceremony last night at Roy Wilkins Exhibition Hall.
A developing story today highlights the difficulties that President Barack Obama faces with his order to close the Guantanamo Bay jail for suspected terrorists: What to do with the people who are there now?
The New York Times reports that a released "terror detainee" is now a commander of al-Qaida in Yemen. Said an Associated Press report:
Al-Shihri was released by the U.S. in 2007 to the Saudi government for rehabilitation. But this week a publication posted on a militant-leaning Web site said he is now the top deputy in "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula," a Yemeni offshoot of the terror group headed by Osama bin Laden. The group has been implicated in several attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital Sana.
The story raises a couple of immediate questions:
Unclassified Pentagon documents on his case listed plenty of reasons -- and evidence -- for keeping him in custody.... somewhere. But the reasons listed for his release presumed he wasn't lying. He was.
There's a little something for both sides of the Guantanamo Bay issue, a casual read of blogs and Web sites reveals this afternoon. On the one hand, some Republicans point to Al-Shihri's renewed terrorism career as a reason why Guantanamo Bay should stay open. Some Democrats point out that incompetence led to a terror leader "returning to the fight."
An aside: Do you suppose anyone in Republican circles clipped the front page of Friday's Star Tribune -- the one with the misleading headline -- to be used in an ad for the 2012 presidential campaign?
I want to make sure the story of a Sleepy Eye family that aired on the national edition of Morning Edition on Thursday doesn't get lost.
It's the story of Robert Sprenger, whose Humvee was blown up in Iraq. He spent months in the hospital and when he made it back to Sleepy Eye, he and his mother made a surprising discovery, according to National Public Radio.
The government compensated him, but his mother says the money wasn't anywhere near enough to cover his family's expenses. So Sprenger and his family swallowed their pride, as a growing number of veterans have done, and went cyberbegging: They posted their story on a Web site and asked strangers to help.
"That was the most horrible-est thing," says Robert's mother, Vicky Sprenger. But she says they had no choice. "I wouldn't ever cut the Army down for any reason whatsoever," she says. "I just think ... it kind of stinks, you know, that we do have to struggle the way we do."
A Web site, USA Together, publicizes the needs of similar families.
The request from Specialist Sprenger goes far beyond any current definition of "touching."
I am Specialist Robert Sprenger and I was wounded in Iraq. I was a gunner in a humvee that was hit by an IED. I was burned on 40% of my body. One week before my injuries, my sister was diagnosed with Bipolar/Borderline personality disorder and put in placement. Since then my mom lost her job in Nov and had to take a job at the local grocery store making $8.50 an hour with no insurance. She had taken too much time off from her previous job taking care of me and my sister. She spent three months down in San Antonio (BAMC) taking care of me. Due to her job situation we have fallen behind on our monthly bills. My mom has sacrificed a lot to help me. I am still on Medhold waiting for a discharge from the Army. When I am better, I will be able to help our family.
He requested a washing machine. Mission accomplished. They've got one now.
Tara H needs help with her mortgage:
My squad was working out of Baghdad on Valentine's Day 2006, when an IED ripped through the passenger side door of my truck and the super heated shrapnel almost completely severed my right leg about six inches above my knee. My assistant squad leader saved my life and the rest of the injured soldiers in my vehicle. After resuscitation in the Blackhawk and again in the operating room, the doctors later determined that I suffered slight brain damage from lack of oxygen during these events. After countless surgeries in theater, and here in the USA I was fittted with a prosthesis. I am still unable to walk well due to balance and improper bone growth.
My husband was flown out of Iraq with me when I was injured, but is currently deployed back to the region. In the future, I plan on finishing my degree in business administration and owning a small business centered around pets.
Privately, a high ranking official in the American Legion calls the soldiers' need to go cyberbegging "pathetic," according to the story.(4 Comments)
If there was ever a subject for which there's no upside for a news blogger, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is it. People have, naturally, strong beliefs on the issue and will detect sympathy for the other side's cause if things aren't written exactly as they expect.
Israel's attacks on Gaza over the weekend have again sparked the reactions on both sides of the issue that surprise no one and from the safety of the News Cut cubicle, I'm in no position to say what version of the truth is closest to the truth. (Programming note: Talk of the Nation to delve into the issue in today's first hour.)
Instead, I'm reading blogs, trying to get a better feel for what life is like for people in the region.
Mona El-Farra, a Red Crescent physician, for example, wrote a piece on Christmas Eve, on the blog From Gaza, With Love. El-Farra wrote from the UK, where El-Farra's daughter is marooned after leaving to visit the UK and was not allowed to return to Gaza. But even a hopeful Christmas Eve post became a forum for accusations of insults past and present.
Laila El-Haddad, a journalist who writes the blog Raising Yousuf and Noor: diary of a Palestinian mother, is trying to keep in touch with her family back home from her home in North Carolina.
A little later I called my mother, only to hear her crying on the phone. "The planes are overhead" she cried "the planes are overhead". I tried to calm her down- planes overhead mean the "target" is further away. But in such moments of intense fear, there is no room for rationality and logic.
Sameh A. Habeeb, who describes himself as a photojournalist & peace activist, writes the blog, Gaza Strip - The Untold Story. He wrote yesterday that his news updates have been sporadic because of limited access to the Internet. A commenter points out that in all of his writing, Habeeb did not mention rocket attacks on Israel.
David Bogner, author of treppenwitz picks up the theme:
Unlike Hamas, which has been perpetrating ongoing war crimes against Israel by deliberately targeting civilian population centers with kassams, ketyushas and mortars (even as recently as ten minutes ago!), Israel has made an Herculean effort to make sure that only military targets are hit. Heck, we're even taking their wounded over the border and treating them in Israeli hospitals! Try that in the other direction and see if anyone comes back alive!
Chayyei Sarah, described as "an Orthodox Jewish thirty-something is living,playing, writing, and dating in Jerusalem," said it had to be.
Yesterday I was at the home of my friends C and M, and we heard planes overhead. M went to the window and said "looks like we're about to attack somebody. Those were military planes, and they weren't doing training." There was a pause, and C pointed out "you know things are very bad when even Meretz [a far-left political party that is very into making peace with the Palestinians] say that we have to take military action."
The blog Israelicool is live-blogging the war, saying 60 rockets have been fired into Israel today.
All in all, a glance at the blogs reveals what most people already knew -- there's no hope of any solution to the conflict anytime soon.
(Photo: Getty Images)(5 Comments)
This picture that I posted here on Wednesday is the poster for the attacks in Mumbai.
NPR commentator Sandip Roy says the image has haunted him since the violence started on Wednesday. "His message was loud and clear. He said to India, 'pay attention to me,'" Roy said.
What happened to this one? I don't know, of course, but I think I found another picture of him today in the Boston Globe's excellent slideshow.
And another one a few seconds later.
I'm pretty sure it's the same guy. The picture was taken by Mumbai Mirror photo editor Sebastian D'souza, and they're a good reminder that news photographers are either brave, foolish or a little of both
The Independent (UK) tracked him down:
But what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back."
As the gunmen fired at policemen taking cover across the street, Mr D'Souza realised a train was pulling into the station unaware of the horror within. "I couldn't believe it. We rushed to the platform and told everyone to head towards the back of the station. Those who were older and couldn't run, we told them to stay put."
The militants returned inside the station and headed towards a rear exit towards Chowpatty Beach. Mr D'Souza added: "I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera."
Other notes from Mumbai: Sen. Satveer Chaudhary got plenty of coverage in India's Economic Times with a statement that the attacks will hurt the U.S. economy........ AFP quotes a Minnesota backpacker who was on the scene..... Delta/Northwest resuming flights to Mumbai on Saturday.
I rarely do a blind callout via News Cut to potential subjects of a story, but this time I'll make an exception. I'm looking for people who (a) Are in the National Guard and have to juggle deployments with a fulltime job and (b) I'm looking for an employer who has to constantly juggle losing an employee to deployments. (Use this form)
Not everyone in the unit is going. About 300 of the unit's 1,000 members will ship out for a tour of anywhere from a month to 90 days.
"It's a different construct than the Army," International Falls resident Brian Briggs, the state's Air National Guard command chief to the International Falls Daily Journal. "It is done in a way to minimize the impact that the individual has with their absence from employers and gives them a sense of predictability when they will go."
It's no picnic for the unit, of course, but I wonder if some of the unsung heroes of the last few years have been the employers and other workers who have also had to sacrifice?
Over in Milwaukee, for example, Aurora Health System has lost a dozen employees to deployments. "What we do is rely upon the staff that we have that many times are working additional shifts we may hire someone from the outside on a temporary basis," said Dwight Morgan, vice president of human resources services for Aurora told WISC TV.
Last year MPR's Tim Post profiled a similar problem faced by the St. Cloud Police Department and other employers in that area. In that story, the head of the Minnesota National Guard seemed to suggest employers are getting fairly tired of the situation.
The new world order -- born in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union as a superpower -- was to be accompanied by an unprecedented wave of freedom and democracy across the planet.
So what happened?
The Boston Globe's Joshua Kurlantzick today uses Thailand as an example of a receding wave. The streets of Thailand have been crammed with protesters wearing the color of the former monarchy, demanding an end to the reign of the democratically elected prime minister. Last week, they got their wish.
The events unfolding in Thailand are part of a gathering global revolt against democracy. In 2007, the number of countries with declining freedoms exceeded those with advancing freedoms by nearly four to one, according to a recent report by Freedom House, an organization that monitors global democracy trends.
How could this be? Blame the middle class, Kurlantzick says.
As a country develops a true middle class, these urban, educated citizens insist on more rights in order to protect their economic and social interests. Eventually, as the size of the middle class grows, those demands become so overwhelming that democracy is inevitable. But now, it appears, the middle class in some nations has turned into an antidemocratic force. Young democracy, with weak institutions, often brings to power, at first, elected leaders who actually don't care that much about upholding democracy. As these demagogues tear down the very reforms the middle classes built, those same middle classes turn against the leaders, and then against the system itself, bringing democracy to collapse.
"Elected dictators" are not just a problem in Thailand, but Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Indonesia, and -- the big one -- Russia, the poster child for tension between pro- and anti-democracy forces.
Which leads us to the obvious question: How does the U.S. respond to this?
Asked last week if the U.S. should go to war with Russia if it invades Georgia, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said, "Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help."
How serious is the wane of democracy? Serious enough that even some of the most conservative Republicans are willing to ignore it... and the consequences of battling it. "If the Russians are ready to go to war on its borders -- and they are -- and the United States is not prepared to wage war on their borders -- and we're not -- we ought to just stay out of it," commentator Ben Stein said this morning on the CBS program, Sunday Morning.
With fewer than 50 days until the presidential election, how to respond to the end of the democratic wave might be worth talking about.(3 Comments)
Most of the articles in the paper this morning seem to be focusing on the effect of a every-man-for-himself Pakistan in the terror war. But isn't there another important question that few people seem to be asking?
Who's got the nukes?
The country reportedly has 24-48 nuclear warheads. A 2001 report from the Defense Department contained this chilling summary: "no one has been able to ascertain the validity of Pakistan's assurances about their nuclear weapons security."
Judging by the news coverage, there aren't a lot of people on this side of the Atlantic who seem terribly concerned. "Experts say a 10-member committee makes decisions on how to use them and only a complete meltdown in governance - still a distant prospect in Pakistan - could put the atomic bomb in the hands of extremists," the Associated Press reported last week.
Last fall, the New York Times reported that the U.S. is intimately involved in guarding Pakistan's nukes. But it's a "highly classified" program and who knows what a collapsed government's effect on the program is?
A more recent story in the Times -- last week -- indicated U.S. officials have been unable to scrutinize security procedures in Pakistan.
Perhaps the greatest concern is what one senior Bush administration official recently termed "steadfast efforts" by the extremist groups to infiltrate Pakistan's nuclear laboratories, the heart of a vast infrastructure that employs tens of thousands of people. Some of the efforts, officials said, are believed to have involved Pakistani scientists trained abroad.
With a Russian general suggesting a nuclear response to the U.S. - Poland deal on missiles, and a member of the nuclear club under assault by the surrogates for Osama bin Laden, shouldn't this subject have a higher profile in the presidential race than who the vice presidential picks are going to be?
Photo: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images(5 Comments)
The war between Russia and Georgia -- and more importantly, the effect on the relations between Russia and the United States -- didn't provide any more comforting moments today .
Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that relations between the U.S. and Russia could be strained for years. But he did say there's no chance the U.S. is going to get involved militarily.
Still, it appears to be a situation that will be one of the first to end up in the lap of a new president.
John McCain, speaking in Michigan, called for a complete review of U.S. relations with its Cold War enemy, the International Herald Tribune reported.
McCain said there should be heightened security arrangements for Ukraine, the Baltic states and Poland. But he offered no specifics, and ruled out military action against Russia or a return to the cold war.
Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, condemned the Russia invasion and called for a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Here are the statements of both candidates:
As for Minnesota politicians, I asked an official in Rep. Michele Bachman's office for an interview today. I got a statement from the congresswoman instead:
"Obviously, the Russia-Georgia conflict is very disturbing and I am monitoring it very closely. In fact, this afternoon, I expect to participate in a conference call with Republican leadership on this matter.
"I was pleased to see that the President is taking a firm stand with Moscow and that he's dispatched Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi. This is a volatile region and I am hopeful that tough diplomacy and humanitarian aid are all that will be needed to keep the conflict from spreading."
So far, only Sen. Norm Coleman, Bachmann, and Rep. Jim Oberstar have provided reaction to the ongoing events.
Update 6:03 p.m. Rep. Betty McCollum has issued a statement:
"I strongly condemn Russia's coordinated assault and invasion of the sovereign, democratic Republic of Georgia. In an attempt to re-establish control over its neighbors through military force, Russia is sending a worrisome signal to the international community that its vision of the future looks like the troubled Soviet past.
"As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State Department and Foreign Operations, I support the Bush Administration's commitment to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to relieve the Georgian peoples' suffering. The United States and our European allies should now initiate high-level, persistent diplomatic talks with Georgia and Russia, focused on restoring and sustaining a cease-fire."
Bombs are dropping in Tblisi, in what we used to call Soviet Georgia. While everyone was focused on the Beijing Olympics, the Russians and Georgians (correction) have started a war.
This is an ongoing thread with some of the highlights:
It's not all bombs. It's also a battle on the Internet. The Russians have reportedly launched a massive cyberwar, hijacking the routing of communications and attacking government Web sites.
Russia -- or more specifically, Russia Today -- is using YouTube to get its message out. And it's one of peace, the latest video insists:
There is some information getting out from Georgia. The Georgia Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a blog on Google's blogspot service. The images are quite disturbing. There's also a minute-by-minute account of the war being posted.
A similar blog -- Russia and George At War -- exists here, although its pedigree is unclear. Another blog -- The State Minister for Reintegration -- also has images and information from a Georgia perspective.
But back to the Russians. Siberian Light, which bills itself as "The Russia Blog," isn't carrying a word about the hostilities. Its top story is the Russian space shuttle floating toward a museum in Germany.
I've sent an e-mail to the writer to ask why he's not covering the war. I'll let you know what I hear back.
Update: The response is:
Yes. I'm on holiday in an isolated Cretan village with only expensive mobile phone Internet access. I'm watching events as closely as I can, but won't be able to blog again for at least two weeks.
Russia blog, on the other hand, is tackling the story head-on, and clearly writing to an American audience:
What would have United States done if a bordering country (let's say Mexico) slaughtered 1,400 U.S. citizens and 10 U.S. soldiers overnight, leaving U.S. citizens by the tens of thousands without food and water?
If you are following other blogs, feel free to post their links below.
However, if you don't know html, just send the URL it to me, please.
Update: Here's a really good list.(3 Comments)
On her blog, Baghdad Observer, Leila Fadel writes today:
Every day I pass by the same buildings destroyed during the U.S. led invasion in my neighborhood in Baghdad. Every day they look exactly the same, a pile of rubble. The electricity problem seems to be getting worse; Iraqis have an average of about four hours of electricity a day. While there is talk of reconstruction, a bridge here, flowers planted there the people don't feel a change.
She then links the situation to a report today from the General Accounting Office on Iraq oil profits (pdf version here), suggesting that money is pouring into Iraq but not making it to whatever level it takes to provide basic essentials.
Here are some factoids I've pulled from the report:
If something happens often enough, eventually we'll stop noticing it. National Guard deployments to Iraq have happened often enough that, for the most part, the deployment ceremonies go unnoticed.
But not today.
Editor & Publisher Magazine reports that Joseph Patrick Dwyer died last week of a drug overdose. The North Carolina Army medic was "made famous by a photograph that showed him carrying an injured Iraqi boy during the first week of the war," the Web site said.
Now the test: Do you remember this picture?
It was an odd day in American journalism today. A story about the war in Iraq made the front page. "Report rips post-surge planning for Iraq," said the Pioneer Press. "Progress in Iraq, but it's tenuous, U.S. audits find," said the Star Tribune. Of course, both stories about Iraq did not come from Iraq.
What's going on in Iraq? Good luck finding out.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that "In the first three months of 2008, coverage of the campaign outstripped coverage of the war by a margin of nearly 11-to-one (43% of the newshole compared to 4%). In an environment in which newsroom cutbacks and decreasing resources may make it more difficult for news outlets to stay atop two ongoing mega-stories, the media, for now, have made their priorities clear."
On this morning's Midmorning, MPR's Kerri Miller tried -- mightily -- to find out why this is.
"The campaign has taken up the news hole," one guest said. But how's this for circular reasoning? According to the tens of thousands -- 669,916 as of this morning -- of people who have taken MPR's Select A Candidate, it is ranked as the most important issue of the campaign. So how can the most important issue of the campaign not be covered because journalists are too busy covering the campaign?
David Folkenflik, National Public Radio media correspondent, responded to Kerri asking why she's not hearing Anne Garrels on the air much anymore (side note: Has it really been five years since she did her media tour through the Twin Cities?) by saying it's too dangerous for reporters to go out, something that doesn't seem to be stopping Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
The excuses continued to the frustration, I'm guessing, of most listeners. One suggested that because Americans haven't been asked to sacrifice, they're not interested in the war. But don't 99.4% (that's an actual statistic!) of the people who rated it on Select A Candidate as important or very important tell us that's not it, either?
Finally, Sean Aday, a professor of media and public affairs and international affairs at George Washington University, offered this: Once the surge started working (At least in terms of reduced violence, many of the goals of the surge have not been met), Democrats stopped talking about it.
And reporters stopped asking.