[Marxism] Who Will Be Sent to Afghanistan?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 9 14:13:02 MST 2009

Tomgram: Jamail and Lazare, Who Will Be Sent to Afghanistan?

In a grim November 3rd Wall Street Journal piece (buried inside 
the paper), Yochi Dreazen reported record suicide rates for a 
stressed-out U.S. Army. Sixteen soldiers killed themselves in 
October alone, 134 so far this year, essentially ensuring that 
last year's "record" of 140 suicides will be broken. This 
represents a startling 37% jump in suicides since 2006 and, for 
the first time, puts the suicide rate in the Army above that of 
the general U.S. population.

After eight years of two major counterinsurgency wars (and various 
minor encounters in what used to be called the Global War on 
Terror), with many soldiers experiencing multiple tours of duty, 
with approximately 120,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq and almost 
70,000 in Afghanistan, with the Afghan War clearly in an 
escalatory phase, commanders in the field calling for 
40,000-80,000 more American troops, and base construction on the 
rise, the military's internal problems are clearly escalating as well.

As Dahr Jamail, author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse 
to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Sarah Lazare report, under 
these circumstances, the Army is digging deep for deployable 
troops; in fact, it's dipping into a pool of soldiers who have 
already been damaged or even broken by their experiences in our 
war zones -- and that's just to meet present deployment needs. 
Perhaps it's not surprising then that Dreazen included this 
striking passage in his report: "At a White House meeting Friday, 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged President Barack Obama to send 
fresh troops to Afghanistan only if they have spent at least a 
year in the U.S. since their last overseas tour, according to 
people familiar with the matter. If Mr. Obama agreed to that 
condition, many potential Afghanistan reinforcements wouldn't be 
available until next summer at the earliest."

In translation (if Dreazen is correct), that means, in a private 
brainstorming session with the president, the Joint Chiefs have 
evidently put the brakes on implementing the full-scale plan of 
Centcom Commander David Petraeus and Afghan War commander Stanley 
McChrystal to send a massive infusion of new troops to Afghanistan 
any time soon.

It's worth asking -- though no one, as far as I can tell, yet has 
-- whether this may be a modest Afghan equivalent of the "Shinseki 
moment" before the invasion of Iraq. (Then, Army Chief of Staff 
General Eric Shinseki warned in Congressional testimony that, if 
we invaded, we would need "several hundred thousand" troops -- 
numbers not available -- for the occupation to follow. He was 
laughed into retirement by the Bush-appointed civilian leadership 
of the Pentagon.)

At the same time, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike 
Mullen, has just made it clear that the Pentagon will once again 
request supplemental war-fighting funds sometime next year, over 
and above the $130 billion Congress appropriated only a month ago 
in the Defense Department budget. These will be based, in part, on 
a calculation that each 1,000 new troops sent to Afghanistan must 
be supported by an extra billion dollars in funds. (You can do the 
math yourself on those 40,000 troops and then wonder just where 
all that money is going to come from.)

We are, in fact, facing an ongoing disaster not just for the U.S., 
but for the U.S. military. Read the following piece and ask 
yourself: What state would a military have to be in to consider 
sending such men back into a war zone? A desperate military is, of 
course, the answer -- a military rubbed raw and, as the shocking 
mass murder spree at already stressed-out Fort Hood may indicate, 
on edge in a way that perhaps no one has quite grasped. Tom


     Where Will They Get the Troops?
     Preparing Undeployables for the Afghan Front
     By Dahr Jamail and Sarah Lazare

     As the Obama administration debates whether to send tens of 
thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan, an already overstretched 
military is increasingly struggling to meet its deployment 
numbers. Surprisingly, one place it seems to be targeting is 
military personnel who go absent without leave (AWOL) and then are 
caught or turn themselves in.

     Hidden behind the gates of military bases across the U.S., 
troops facing AWOL and desertion charges regularly find themselves 
in the hands of a military that metes out informal, open-ended 
punishments by forcing them to wait months -- sometimes more than 
a year -- to face military justice. In the meantime, some of these 
soldiers are offered a free pass out of this legal limbo as long 
as they agree to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq -- even if they 
have been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

     In August 2008 at TomDispatch.com, we reported on the 
deplorable conditions at the 82nd Replacement Barracks at Fort 
Bragg, North Carolina. There, more than 50 members of Echo Platoon 
of the 82nd Airborne Division's 82nd Replacement Detachment were 
being held while awaiting AWOL and desertion charges. 
Investigations launched since then -- in part in response to our 
article -- have revealed that the plight of members of Echo 
Platoon is not an isolated one. It is, in fact, disturbingly 
commonplace on other bases throughout the United States. And it is 
from these "holdover units," filled with disgruntled soldiers who 
have gone AWOL, many of whom are struggling with PTSD from 
previous deployments in war zones, that the military is hoping to 
help meet its manpower needs for Afghanistan.

     Nightmare in Echo Platoon

     On August 16th, determined to put an end to unbearable mental 
and psychological pain, Private Timothy Rich, while on 24-hour 
suicide watch, attempted to jump to his death from the roof of 
Echo Platoon's barracks (where he had been held since being 
arrested for going AWOL). Prior to his suicide attempt, Rich had 
been offered amnesty by the military in exchange for agreeing to 
deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq.

     He had already been through a hellish year awaiting a 
discharge and treatment for mental health problems. "I want to 
leave here very bad," he explained. "For four months they have 
been telling me that I'll get out next week. I didn't see an end 
to it, so I figured I'd try and end it myself."

     He fell three stories, bouncing off a tree, before hitting 
the ground and cracking his spine. The military gave him a back 
brace, psychotropic drugs, and put him on a renewed, 24-hour 
suicide watch.

     While he has recently been discharged from the military, Rich 
was not atypical of the soldiers of Echo Platoon, some forced to 
wait a year or more in legal limbo -- in dilapidated buildings 
under the authority of abusive commanders -- for legal proceedings 
to begin, and many struggling with mental illness or PTSD from 
previous deployments. As Specialist Dustin Stevens told us last 
August: "[It's] horrible here. We are treated like animals. Some 
of us are going crazy, some are sick. There are people here who 
should be in mental hospitals. And the way I see it, I did nothing 

     Shortly after our story was published, Stevens told us that 
at least half a dozen soldiers in the platoon, including him, were 
suddenly given trial dates. Although he was likely to be found 
guilty and face punishment, Stevens claimed to be "relieved" to 
have an end in sight. Soon after, according to Echo Platoon 
informants, their barracks were condemned as a result of a 
military investigation of the site and, on October 19th, the 
platoon itself was disbanded.

     Recently, due possibly to the attention his story drew to the 
mistreatment and indefinite detention soldiers were facing in Echo 
Platoon, Stevens was informed by the military he would be 
"chaptered out" -- in other words, given an administrative 
discharge from the Army -- and will not be forced to serve formal 
prison time.

     James Branum, Stevens' civilian lawyer, as well as the legal 
adviser to the G.I. Rights Hotline of Oklahoma and co-chair of the 
Military Law Task Force (MLTF), summed developments up this way: 
"After repeated complaints and congressional inquiry, Echo Platoon 
was shut down. The whole place was shut down. Everyone was 
scattered to other units. If your old unit still exists, they are 
sending you to your old unit. We know that at least one of the 
NCOs [non-commissioned officers] in charge of Echo Platoon was 
fired. I think this is a positive thing."

     Echoes of Echo

     The troubling state of affairs in Echo Platoon may only have 
been the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Army holdover units. 
Evidence suggests that soldiers being held on other bases in the 
United States for AWOL and desertion face similar apathy or 
intentional neglect – and that they, too, are often left with the 
choice between living in legal limbo or agreeing to be sent to a 
war zone.

     Scott Wildman, a former Army Specialist, went AWOL in 2007 
when he was unable to receive adequate help for severe PTSD 
sustained after a 15-month deployment to Iraq. In February 2009, 
he finally turned himself in at Fort Lewis in Washington State, 
only to find himself lost in a labyrinthine bureaucracy. For the 
first four months, he was not allowed to leave a confined area and 
was forbidden even to walk around by himself.

     Here's how he describes his experience: "I was flipping out. 
My wife had left me while I was over there. I hadn't seen my kids 
in a couple years. I came home and tried to get help. At Fort 
Lewis, they do not care about you. I had been diagnosed by 
civilian and military doctors with severe depression, PTSD, and 
severe anxiety. When you are at the unit, they make fun of you. 
They crack PTSD jokes. They all have it too, but they're too cool."

     During the eight months he has been held at Fort Lewis, 
Wildman claims he has suffered verbal abuse and substandard mental 
healthcare. "The command treated me like dirt. My commander 
ignored me for the first couple months until my roommate jumped 
me. They'll make sure you're in the room and call you a 'bunch of 
PTSD pussies.'"

     Four weeks ago, Wildman was informed that he would be 
court-martialed, but was not given a trial date. Feeling he had no 
other choice, he went AWOL again and remains so today.

     "I'd been going to see some military counselors, but we 
weren't making progress on the real problem…. They give us classes 
on calm and peacefulness, but they are right near the shooting 
ranges. There's gunfire and explosions all around, people being 
screamed at all the time because it's infantry. It's not a good 
place for someone with [mental health] issues."

     At one point, despite a confidentiality protocol that should 
have prevented it, Wildman's commanders went through his medical 
evaluations and found out that he had been involved in the 
accidental killing of two little girls in Iraq. They proceeded to 
needle him by threatening to write him up for war crimes.

     Explaining why he once again went AWOL, Wildman says, "I 
didn't know what was going to happen next. I had to remove myself 
from that situation."

     "Examples of how the military is treating soldiers, like the 
case of Wildman, are common," comments Kathleen Gilberd, co-chair 
of the MLTF. She also points out that the Army, stretched thin by 
years of multiple deployments to two war zones, has taken to 
downplaying potentially severe medical conditions to keep soldiers 
eligible for service overseas. It is commonplace, she reports, for 
formerly AWOL soldiers to be "bribed" with offers of having all 
charges, or potential charges, dropped, as long as they accept 
deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

     "A lot of folks who are under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed are 
being deployed second and third times," she adds. "Barrier 
mechanisms that should prevent this from happening are being 
routinely ignored... If someone is on psychotropic medication or 
is diagnosed with a fresh psychiatric condition, there should be a 
90-day observation period and delay, under DOD [Department of 
Defense] policy."

     Remarkably, that sometimes-ignored 90-day hold period for 
military personnel on psychotropic medications does not always 
apply to soldiers who are diagnosed with traumatic brain injury 
(TBI) of a sort commonly caused by roadside bombs. According to an 
Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center analysis, reported in the 
Denver Post in August 2008, more than "43,000 service members -- 
two-thirds of them in the Army or Army Reserve -- were classified 
as nondeployable for medical reasons three months before they 
deployed" to Iraq. The process, if anything, only seems to be 
accelerating when it comes to Afghanistan.

     Deploying the Undeployables

     Not all soldiers go AWOL in order to save their minds and 
bodies. Some are trying to save their families. One soldier held 
in Bravo Platoon, a holdover unit of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry 
Division at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs (who did not want his 
name made public) disclosed that, having returned from service in 
Iraq, he was told he would soon be redeployed there. Because his 
mother was ill, he refused and was threatened with a court martial.

     "When I turned myself in, I submitted a binder with letters 
from my mom's doctors and state officials that made clear that I 
needed to be home to take care of my mother. At that time, they 
had me on restriction and lockdown 24/7 to keep me from leaving 
again. Later they punished me. I was assigned extra duty and 
received a rank reduction from E3 to a private. I was treated like 

     He and the other soldiers in his holdover platoon were 
subjected to verbal abuse and made to do menial jobs. He claimed 
that he was threatened daily with being sent to the United States 
Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the military's 
maximum security correctional facility -- and then was urged to 
agree to go back to Iraq instead. It made no difference that he 
had "no-go" orders from doctors at Fort Carson exempting him from 
overseas deployment.

     His commander promised him a clean slate if he would redeploy 
to Iraq, insisting that the only alternative was a court-martial. 
Despite a regimen of humiliation, he stood his ground and was 
finally discharged for family hardship in September 2008. There 
were at least 11 other soldiers then in Bravo Platoon. Like their 
counterparts in Echo, most were told that their records would be 
wiped clean once they agreed to redeploy. The alternative was a 
non-judicial punishment, followed by a court-martial some months 
down the line.

     As he tells it, Sergeant Heath Carter, originally based at 
Fort Polk, Louisiana, found himself torn between pressing family 
needs and an indifferent military command. On returning from the 
invasion of Iraq, he discovered his daughter living in what he 
believed to be an unsafe environment. Heath and his new wife 
started consulting attorneys in order to secure custody of the 
child. Precisely during this time, the military began changing 
Carter's duty station. He was moved from Fort Polk to Fort 
Huachuca, Arizona, then on to Fort Stewart, Georgia, reducing his 
chances of gaining custody.

     Convinced that this was a crucial matter for his daughter, he 
requested compassionate reassignment to Fort Leavenworth, 
Missouri, about two hours away from her. His appeals to the 
military command, to his chaplain, even to his congressman failed. 
In May 2007, having run out of options, he went AWOL from Fort 
Stewart, heading home to fight for custody, which he won.

     This January 25th, however, he was arrested at his home by 
Military Police, who flew him back to Fort Stewart where he has 
been awaiting charges for the past eight months. Being a sergeant, 
he is in a regular unit, not a holdover one. Initially, his 
commander assured him he would be sent home within a month and a 
half. Several months later, the same commander decided to 
court-martial him.

     Carter feels frustrated. "If they had done that in the 
beginning, I would have been home by now. It's taken this long for 
them to decide. Now I have to wait for the court-martial. If we 
had known it would take this long, my family could have moved down 
here. Every time I ask when I'll have a trial, they say it's only 
going to be another two weeks. I get the feeling they're lying. 
They've messed with my pay. They're trying to push me to do 
something wrong."

     His ordeal has forced Carter to reflect on America's wars. 
Once, he admits, he was proud of his mission in Iraq. Now, he sees 
things differently. "I don't think there is any reason for us to 
be there except for oil."

     His wife, who witnessed her husband's callous treatment, 
says, "He's been there [Iraq], done that, and seen horrible, 
terrible things, so of course he doesn't want to go back."

     While the Obama administration decides how many thousands of 
troops to send to Afghanistan, service men and women are already 
facing repeated deployments, oftentimes while having already been 
diagnosed with medical conditions that should render them unfit 
for deployment.

     Nothing has changed for these beleaguered troops, except the 
venue of their maltreatment and the desperation with which the 
military is now struggling to make the necessary deployment 
numbers as it continues to fight two endless wars.

     Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of The 
Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and 
Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: 
Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq 
(Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for 
nine months, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey 
over the last five years.

     Sarah Lazare is the project coordinator for Courage to 
Resist, an organization that supports troops who refuse to fight 
in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is also a freelance writer.

     Bhaswati Sengupta contributed to this report.

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