Tag Archives: Soldiers

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Joining ISIS is Stupid. But Why Should It Be Illegal?

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“American Taliban” John Walker Lindh stripped nude and tortured after his capture.

 

There have been several high-profile arrests of wannabe jihadis who allegedly intended to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, including three New York City residents last week, charged with providing “material support and resources…to a foreign terrorist organization.” They each face up to 15 years in prison.

Over the last year the United States has intercepted and arrested at least 15 young Muslims for wanting to join ISIS.

If I went to Syria to join ISIS, I could be arrested and charged with felonies that carry long prison sentences.

Why?

As citizens of a supposedly free country, Americans ought to be able to travel anywhere on the planet, and fight for any army we please, as long as that force is not at war against the United States. This, by the way, has been American law for the last 120 years.

Neither ISIS nor the United States have declared war against one another. (Since the U.S. does not recognize ISIS as a nation-state, they wouldn’t be able to do so.) Anyway, ISIS is more of a frenemy: the Obama Administration was still funneling money, weapons and trainers to the insurgent factions that metastasized into the Islamic State in their war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad well into 2014. We still want them to beat Assad…or do we?

The Center for Constitutional Rights complains that the “material support” statute governing these prosecutions is overly broad because along with the USA Patriot Act it criminalizes “almost any kind of support for blacklisted groups, including humanitarian aid, training, expert advice, ‘services’ in almost any form, and political advocacy.” It’s downright absurd when the blacklisted “terrorist group” in question was a U.S. ally until last summer.

It ought to go without saying that I have no sympathy for ISIS. Their ideology is idiotic, medieval and repugnant. Among numerous other atrocities, they kidnap, torture and execute war correspondents — my colleagues. Last week’s video of ISIS fighters destroying archeological treasures at the museum in Mosul, Iraq had me shouting “barbarians!” at my screen. They’re disgusting.

But I am also disgusted by the U.S. government’s imperialistic campaign to trample the sovereignty of other nations in their attempt to dominate the entire world. Not only does the U.S. invade other nations without just cause, it routinely violates countries’ airspace with drones, airstrikes and assassination raids. The U.S. arrests non-U.S. persons for acts committed outside the U.S., kidnaps them, prosecutes and jails them in the U.S.

If you want to join the French Foreign Legion or the Australian Coast Guard or the Taliban or ISIS, it’s your stupid business — unless, as I said above, a formal state of war exists between them and the United States (which would be treason, punishable by death).

There is a long history of Americans traveling abroad to fight in foreign armies. American volunteers in the Abraham Lincoln Brigades defended the Republican government against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. In the 1980s thousands of American internationalistas fought on the Sandinista side in Nicaragua against American-backed right-wing death squads. Because they fought for left-of-center causes, they were accused of ideological subversion by reactionary government officials — but, thanks to an 1896 court ruling, they weren’t prosecuted.

Over 1000 Americans serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.

As with so many other basic legal precepts, your right to serve in a foreign army has been eroded since 9/11, marked by the prosecution imprisonment of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. Lindh joined the Taliban in 2000 and was captured by U.S. forces during the fall 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He received a whopping 20 years in federal prison for “providing services” to the Taliban and “carrying an explosive” (which, as a soldier in a war zone, is hardly unusual).

At the time I was one of the few pubic figures — perhaps the only one — who criticized the Bush Administration’s treatment of Lindh, who was brutally tortured by American troops. Lindh, I pointed out, joined the Taliban before 9/11. Even after 9/11, the U.S. never declared war against Afghanistan — so he should have been repatriated without punishment.

Prosecutions under the “material support” statute escalated following the media’s passive acceptance of the lengthy prison sentence for Lindh.

Locking people in prison for the crime of youthful idealism/naiveté is a perversion of law and morality. They are not a threat to the U.S.

Young men and women who successfully make it into Syria and join ISIS shoot at Syrians and Iraqis. The only Americans they might endanger are U.S. occupation troops assisting collaborationist Iraqis — who are there illegally, in an undeclared war. What we think of ISIS is irrelevant; many countries are ruled by vile despots.

From a practical standpoint in this war for hearts and minds, throwing kids who have never fired a shot into federal penitentiaries for ridiculously long prison terms confirms the narrative that the West is at war not with Islamic extremism, but with Islam itself.

As an American, I hate to see us lose another right.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Wimpy Cops and Scared Soldiers: Why Are Americans Such Cowards?

America has a problem that afflicts both her foreign policy and domestic affairs: cowardice.A nation of wusses. That’s us.

That’s not how we see ourselves, of course. Whatever our flaws – impetuousness, naïveté, our sense of exceptionalism – few Americans count pusillanimity among them. For conservatives bravery as a national trait is a given; if anything, progressives wish we’d walk it back a bit, toning down the testosterone in favor of a little humility.

From the outside, however, we look like a nation happy to inflict all manner of mayhem on people all over the world, yet unwilling to put our own precious skins in the game.

Drones are the ultimate manifestation of America’s newfound risk aversion. After more than 12 years of remote-controlled aerial killer robot warfare, the statistics are undeniable: unmanned aerial vehicles are a ridiculously sloppy assassination method that kills anywhere from 28 to 49 times more innocent civilians than targeted alleged terrorists. With the myth of accuracy thoroughly debunked, drones remain popular with the public for one reason: they don’t expose American soldiers to return fire.

What we see as an advantage, however, sparks contempt among foreigners that our adversaries in this war for hearts and minds exploit in their recruitment and fundraising efforts. You see it in the faces of the Afghans and Pakistanis I have interviewed: if the United States military had any honor, they say, it would come and face our warriors man to man, on the battlefield, rather than pushing a button thousands of miles away. Every “terrorist” we blow up makes us look worse.

Moreover, cowardice is unproductive on a psychological level.

During the early years of the American occupation of Iraq, British forces (who patrolled the region around Basra) suffered lower casualty rates in the zones under their control than their American counterparts. One reason, according to military psychologists, is that British troops presented themselves as more willing to expose themselves to the Iraqi public and less afraid of being hurt or killed. Whereas US forces wore wrap-around sunglasses and set up checkpoints behind sandbags and blast walls, sometimes identifying themselves only by shooting at approaching cars – which caused confused Iraqis to floor the gas, prompting US forces to kill them – the Brits acted more relaxed, like traffic agents standing right out on the road. Americans covered themselves with Kevlar and automatic rifles; the British wore formfitting uniforms, eschewed helmets and satisfied themselves with sidearms. Sunglasses were banned. The American approach seemed safer, but the opposite was true. It’s easier to shoot at something – the Americans looked like fascist robots – than someone.

For a country that used to pride itself on a certain stoicism, the United States has become a land of whiny little boys and girls.

Oh, how we cried after 9/11. 3000 dead! Those “Wounded Warrior” TV ads asking for donations to support Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans – excuse me, but why am I spending 54% of my federal tax dollars on defense if I also have to donate to a sketchy charity? – use the same melancholy tone and weepy delivery as Sally Struthers’ classic “save the children” messages. Obviously, it sucks to lose your arms and legs, but let’s grow a pair. Fewer than 7,000 Americans got killed invading two countries they had no business in in the first place.

Let’s put those numbers into proper perspective, shall we? The Soviet Union lost 20 million people fighting the Nazis (who invaded them, by the way). France lost 11% of its population during World War I — the equivalent for us would be 34 million Americans. But the Russians or French don’t bitch and moan as much as us.

Speaking of which, Americans have a lot of balls calling Frenchman “surrender monkeys” considering that nearly twice as many French soldiers were killed in in the 1940 Battle of France over six weeks as the United States lost in Vietnam over the course of a decade. Meanwhile, we’re still whining about the 58,000 we lost in – no, invading – Vietnam.

Here at home, we’re infested with wimp cops.

In recent weeks, we have been treated to grand jury testimony in the shootings of two black men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.

Both killer cops are bruisers — big, muscular guys. Most of all, they are cops. Cops have partners. They have the backing of the state. They carry tasers. They have nightsticks. They go to the police academy, where they train long hours in the art of subduing human beings. And as we well know, they have access to military style hardware and defensive gear.

As these two sniveling wimps tell the tales, however, they were in desperate fear of their lives.

From two guys, both now dead, who were morbidly obese.

Not to mention unarmed.

Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (6’4″ 210) claimed that Brown (6’4″ 292) terrorized him. “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” he testified. Brown “had the most intense aggressive face,” he said. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”

The NYPD’s Daniel Pantaleo told a grand jury that, after he got his arm around Garner, he was terrified that the two of them would crash through the thick glass window of a storefront they were leaning against.

Both grand juries declined to indict the cops.

Sure, these were the testimonies of two heavily lawyered defendants following a script that has gotten countless white policeman off the hook for killing unarmed black men in the past. But you still have to ask: aren’t those big “brave” policemen ashamed of themselves? I’m not sure which is worse, pretending to be afraid of an unarmed civilian – in the New York case, the guy wasn’t even resisting arrest – or the possibility that they actually were scared.

There’s nothing wrong with being scared in the face of danger. Bravery, after all, is the act of keeping cool in the face of danger.

In the United States in recent years, however, bravery has been in short supply – even in the face of very little danger at all.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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Baghdad 2014

As Iraq spirals into sectarian civil war, one of the recurring stories on American media outlets is the mixed feelings of the American veterans who served in the invasion and subsequent occupation. While it’s understandable that they are wondering whether their sacrifices were worth it (hint: no way), shouldn’t we be giving at least equal time to the Iraqis who are living through the consequences of our war there?

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Death Benefit

No expense is spared to retrieve dead bodies, whether it’s the victims of the Malaysian Flight 370 victims at the bottom of the Indian Ocean or the mudslide victims buried by sludge in coastal Washington State or the soldiers who cannot be left behind on the field of battle. Yet when we’re ALIVE, we can’t get help when, for example, we lose our jobs.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Suicide Kills More Americans Than Gun Violence

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As I waited for the body of a man who jumped in front of my train to be cleared from the tracks — less than a week before another train I was riding struck a suicide victim — it occurred to me that (a) I should check whether suicide rates are increasing due to the bad economy (they are, especially among men in their 50s), and that (b) talking about suicide is long overdue.

With modernity comes depression; depression sometimes leads to suicide. And it’s a global phenomenon. “The World Health Organization reports that suicide rates have increased 60 percent over the past 50 years, most strikingly in the developing world, and that by 2020 depression will be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world,” T.M. Luhrmann wrote in The New York Times recently.

Why are so many people opting out?

Can we eliminate or reduce the number of our brothers and sisters who kill themselves?

Disclosure: my best friend committed suicide when we were 15. Bill’s death, and his inability/unwillingness to find a reason to keep living among his friends and family, left me angry and confused, unable to process an unsolvable equation. No day passes without me thinking about Bill hanging himself. His death makes me question my own daily decisions to go on living. I am not in touch with anyone else who knew him, but I imagine their trauma was not wildly dissimilar from mine.

So, yeah, it’s a personal issue for me. Given that 30,000 Americans commit suicide and 800,000 attempt it every year, it’s personal for 5,000,000 survivors of close friends and relatives too.

Nobody talks about it, but suicide is a national epidemic. Suicide by gun kills more Americans — a lot more Americans — than gun violence committed against others. (Though research shows that having a gun in your house greatly increases the chance that you’ll shoot yourself.) More American soldiers have killed themselves than have died in the war against Afghanistan.

Perhaps public discussion is inhibited by the cultural myth of the rugged individual, personal responsibility, etc. — hey, it’s your choice to live or die — but we’re all in this together. We need to save as many people as we can.

One way to reduce the suicide rate would be to get rid of capitalism. Though not a truly communist state, citizens of the Soviet Union were far less likely to kill themselves before the collapse of socialism in 1991.

There is a relentless tendency toward monopoly, consolidation of wealth and rising inequality under capitalism. Inequality — specifically, awareness of inequality — kills.

Studies show that relative poverty — how much poorer you are than your societal peers — is strongly correlated to mental illness, including depression. Of course, you can find a study to support just about anything; there’s even a theory that country music prompts people to kill themselves. Still, as Lurhmann says: “We know that social position affects both when you die and how sick you get: The higher your social position, the healthier you are. It turns out that your sense of relative social rank — literally, where you draw a line on an abstract ladder to show where you are with respect to others — predicts many health outcomes, including depression, sometimes even more powerfully than your objective socioeconomic status alone.”

Being poor doesn’t bum people out. Being poorer than other people — people whose relative wealth you personally witness — does. Mali, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are poor countries. Yet their rates of inequality are low, similar to those of Germany and the Scandinavian countries. And so are their suicide rates.

“Overall life expectancy also tracks with inequality, with a bigger wage gap meaning shorter lives and worse health — for both rich and poor, though the poor are hit much harder,” Maia Szalavitz wrote in a much-cited 2011 Time magazine article. “Researchers suspect that this gradient is linked to stress caused by our place in the social hierarchy: Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky, for example, has found that even in baboons, lower ranked animals have higher levels of stress hormones and worse health. But when status conflicts are reduced, producing a more egalitarian situation, these differences are also reduced.”

In a famous 2003 experiment with monkeys, the animals refused to accept small food allotments than those offered to neighboring monkeys. They became angry at the researchers, throwing objects at them — apparently because they blamed them for unequal distribution of the treats.

Those monkeys were on to something. Better to turn our rage against those responsible for inequality than against ourselves.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Does the Military Treat Soldiers Like Children?

Why Doesn’t the Pentagon Let Its Employees Be All They Can Be?

The U.S. military isn’t supposed to allow child soldiers to enlist (though reality can differ). So why does it treat recruits like children?

Other than religious avocations, it’s impossible to think of another major employer that asks as much of prospective workers as the Pentagon, yet offers so little. Salaries are lower than for comparable private-sector jobs. The skills one acquires don’t translate easily to other fields. The risks couldn’t be higher. But most baffling, for a force supposedly dedicated to defending our freedom, is that they get little freedom of their own.

You’ve heard the drill sergeant line in movie boot-camp scenes: “You are now the property of the United States of America.” That’s true. Once signed up, soldiers and sailors can be assigned anywhere, to any job, completely at their commanders’ discretion. Sometimes they take your skills, desires or ambitions into consideration. Not always.

Active duty, recruiters tell young men and women, lasts two to five years — after which they’re supposed to wind up in the reserves, free to go home unless there’s a national emergency. But the President can invoke the “stop-loss” provision, which means you can get stuck as long as eight.

It’s time for the military to catch up to the modern workplace.

American workers are getting more of a raw deal in many ways: lower wages and benefits, companies that ignore the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, no more pensions. Yet the fraying of the postwar labor-management social contract has also provided employees with greater flexibility. You may have to work three crappy jobs to make ends meet, but crappy jobs are easy to replace. You can move to another city and probably find three crappy jobs there. You certainly don’t have to worry about one of your crappy employers shipping you off to Afghanistan, much less coming home in a coffin.

The military’s insistence on treating its workers like property to be disposed of at whim is obsolete, making it increasingly difficult — even in a high-unemployment economy — to compete for recruits.

One example making recent headlines is the Air Force’s increasingly severe shortfall of fighter pilots. A new signing bonus totaling nearly a quarter million bucks (albeit spread over nine years), isn’t enough to compensate for starting salaries ($34,500 to $97,400) — not when the airlines are paying a median salary of $103,210 to commercial jet pilots. Nor are benefits like lower taxes and on-base housing.

“The military is difficult on the family with all the moving around,” Rob Streble, a former Top Gun and an official of the union that represents US Airways pilots, told The Los Angeles Times. “I added more stability by joining the airline.”

“People have no idea how hard it is when you have to move your family all the time,” admits John Wigle, a former F-15 pilot who is now a program analyst in the USAF’s operations, plans and requirements directorate.

Freedom was a determining factor for me.

The recruiter manning the desk at the Army Recruiting Office in Kettering, Ohio was way into me when I walked through the door at age 18. I had what they’re looking for: I was human, sentient, and ambulatory. I was also a catch: a straight-A engineering student who’d gone to an Ivy League school on full scholarship. When Reagan slashed financial aid for me and millions of other college students, I considered other options.

I aced the Army aptitude test. This didn’t surprise me, considering the lugs sitting in the test center next to me. Anyway, I test great. I drew the attention of a big über recruiter for the entire Midwest who wouldn’t stop calling. He made a lot of promises. We’ll fast-track you for officer! When you get out, we’ll pay your college tuition! What’s that, you want to draw cartoons for Stars and Stripes, just like Bill Mauldin during World War II? Sure, why not?

As a child of divorce, I’d learned to get promises in writing. Which, of course, military recruiters can’t and won’t do. (At the time, the Army paid “up to” $5,000 a year for college. Columbia was $13,000.) Sure, despite Reagan’s efforts, we weren’t at war. So getting killed was unlikely. But they could send me anywhere in the world, assign me to any job they wanted (from a military website today: “The Military will make every effort to match your interests and aptitudes with its needs. However, job assignments are ultimately made based on Service needs, as well as individual skills and test scores”), and the bottom line was, there’d be nothing I could do but salute and say yessir. That was the end of my flirtation with a military career. I wanted the basic freedom to choose where I lived and what I did for work.

I’m not alone. 89% of young Americans say they’d never consider a military career.

It will be a bummer for military officers, by temperament the biggest control freaks ever, but sooner or later they’re going to have to face reality: slavery is over. If you want to find quality sailors and soldiers, you have to treat them like adults. Let recruits choose their positions and where they live. Act like they’re workers. Which they are. For example, why can’t soldiers put in for vacation as opposed to applying for leave? If their chosen job is no longer needed, fine — they should be free to go. Yes, even during wartime — at least during the optional wars of choice the United States has fought since 1945.

During an invasion or serious attack against the U.S. by another nation, obviously, all bets are off. But don’t worry — that hasn’t happened since 1812.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Self-Respect

President Obama signed a new law last week that broadens federal limits on protests at military funerals for members or former members of the Armed Forces. The changes cover services held in private places as well as military cemeteries. Apparently this excessive respect for the war dead only applies to dead Americans.

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Mini Drones

U.S. troops will soon carry six-pound “Switchblade” drones, a new generation of remote-controlled weapons whose tiny warheads can kill enemy soldiers with pinpoint accuracy. How small can we go?

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