Friday, February 23, 2007
Murder is the premeditated unlawful killing of a human being. Glenn Reynolds, the well-known University of Tennessee law professor who authors one of the Internet's most popular blogs, recently advocated the murder of Iranian scientists and clerics.
"We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists . . . Basically, stepping on the Iranians' toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq," Reynolds wrote.
Of course Iran is not at war with America, but just as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he's now dutifully repeating the administration's claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq's civil war.
Moreover, even if Iran were at war with the United States, the intentional killing of civilian noncombatants is a war crime, as that term is defined by international treaties America has signed. Furthermore, government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.
How does a law professor, of all people, justify advocating murder? "I think it's perfectly fine to kill people who are working on atomic bombs for countries - like Iran - that have already said that they want to use those bombs against America and its allies, and I think that those who feel otherwise are idiots, and in absolutely no position to strike moral poses," Reynolds says.
Now this kind of statement involves certain time-tested rhetorical techniques. First, make a provocative claim that happens to be false. In fact, no Iranian government official has ever said Iran wants to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. Then use this claim to defend actions, such as murdering civilians, which would remain immoral and illegal even if the claim happened to be true. Finally, condemn those who object to using lies to justify murder as "idiots," who don't understand the need to take strong and ruthless action when defending the fatherland from its enemies.
The use of propaganda to help bring about the murder of people you would like to kill has been especially favored by fascists. Fascism is marked by, among other things, extreme nationalism, contempt for legal restraints on state power, and the worship of violence.
And while it would perhaps be an exaggeration to call people like Reynolds and his fellow law professor Hugh Hewitt (who defended Reynolds' comments) fascists, it isn't an exaggeration to point out that these gentlemen sound very much like fascists when they encourage the American government to murder people.
All this raises several interesting questions. For instance, does academic freedom insulate a law professor from any institutional consequences when he advocates murder? Reynolds and Hewitt, after all, certainly didn't object when University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill's celebration of the murder of American civilians raised serious questions about why the university had chosen to employ and tenure such a person, and led to an investigation of Churchill's academic record.
Indeed, Hewitt and Reynolds both went out of their way to publicize the Churchill affair, as an example of left-wing extremism in our universities.
Why does right-wing extremism in our universities, as represented by such things as law professors calling on the Bush administration to commit murder, get so much less attention?
Certainly, it's worth asking Reynolds' administrative superiors at the University of Tennessee what limits, if any, the terms and conditions of Reynolds' employment put on his behavior. After all, if the American government were to follow Reynolds' advice, his employer would have an accessory to murder on its payroll.
That seems like an especially peculiar item to find on a law professor's résumé.
Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
BarbinMD wrote about this on Wednesday, but I want to bring it up again because it represents, yet again, one of the central incompetences of the Bush administration. Dick Cheney says:
With respect to Iraq, I think he's dead wrong. I think, in fact, if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we'll do is validate the al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people -- in fact, knowing they can't win in a stand-up fight, try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they win because we quit.
What's infuriating, here, is that Richard Cheney is one of the three or four men in America most responsible for validating the al Qaeda strategy. Through his strategizing, along with that of Donald Rumsfeld and whatever stray thoughts manage to rattle their way loose of George W. Bush himself, he has managed to hand Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda the closest thing to post-9/11 successes they could have possibly asked for. And the key word, in this entire debacle, is Afghanistan.
Like most Americans, I considered American actions in Afghanistan to be a dismal but necessary act. An attack on United States soil requires, unequivocally, a disproportionate response; a valid military response in this case would have indeed been a removal of the Taliban from power, the complete and total removal of al Qaeda from Afghanistan and in any other countries in which they had found refuge, and a generous reconstruction of Afghanistan in such a fashion as to ensure al Qaeda's continued inability to function there, thus demonstrating that terrorism against the United States would both fail in its purpose, and would result in disproportionate damage to the terrorists and hostile nations responsible. That's how you prevent terrorism: you make the consequences worse than the possible upside.
That proposition, supported by nearly all Americans, lasted mere months, however, before the Bush administration's eyes wandered away from the actual fight against al Qaeda and supporters and towards a large scale proxy war advocated by Rumsfeld and by neoconservative strategists looking to transfer American attention to the war they had wanted to fight, rather than the war they were actually in. The relatively small number of troops that had been committed to Afghanistan were drawn off to prepare for a larger Iraq conflict, including special forces tasked directly with tracking bin Laden. At no point was Afghanistan on the road to sure recovery: the Taliban remains a force in the country to this day.
From the start, Iraq was at minimum a distraction from al Qaeda. But in practice, it was clearly and predictably worse, and Dick Cheney was one of the prime architects of the strategic American failure that followed.
Al Qaeda had several major goals, if you believe most non-neocon experts, in their terrorist attacks on America, and primary among them was to provoke a widespread war with the United States in the Middle East. Such a war could act as a focus for Arab nationalism, a tool of jihad to rally the religious, a recruitment device for building a larger al Qaeda, and in the end a nexus point around which Arabs could build bin Laden's particular religious and nationalistic vision of a dominant Muslim state.
Iraq, of course, was exactly the kind of response they dreamed of provoking. And it worked in spectacular fashion, and through U.S. incompetence worked better than they could have ever hoped. As Dick Cheney has pointed out over and over, bin Laden especially believes that Americans can be defeated as the Russians were, because America is not willing to commit the kind of resources to the Middle East that would outlast nationalistic Arab fighters. Cheney and Rumsfeld proved his point, more than any other Americans. They proved that the U.S. administration did not have the willpower to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan; did not have the attention for it; would not commit the resources to it; would not take the necessary actions to prevent an al Qaeda and Taliban return. This will be, if we face a new generation of al Qaeda-based terrorism, the primary legacy of the Bush administration.
In Iraq too, however, the Rumsfeld doctrine was largely one assured to end in fiasco. In Iraq, too, an entirely insufficient force was dedicated to the job: while the initial tactical victory was assured from the beginning, each of the subsequent neoconservative premises failed, like dominoes, throughout the rest of the conflict. There were insufficient coalition forces to police the nation, resulting in reprisal killings and rising unrest in nearly all regions of the country. The complete disbanding of the Iraqi Army removed one of the few potential stabilizing forces. Reconstruction efforts were handled so badly as to have not even kept up with the continuing destruction of infrastructure. And sectarian religious divisions were, it seems, entirely discounted as a possible outcome. Even the current "surge" is nothing more than more of the same: a token shuffling of forces in numbers seemingly having no relation to the actual scope of the problem; a single garden hose tasked with stopping a raging forest fire.
Even if you bought the premise shared by both al Qaeda and the neoconservatives -- that a proxy war in Iraq was a damn fine idea -- there is no credible way to examine the administration strategy in Iraq and declare it sound. Each and every failure of the war was predicted in advance by war critics: none were surprising. if we were to accept the premise of the centrality and critical importance of the Iraq war, we would have expected it to have been executed in a competent fashion and with tactical metrics for success that consisted of something more substantive than "not leaving." The only thing more criminal than starting a war is being unable to finish one. Even if you presume for some small moment that there is some small good to be done from prosecuting a war, whatever promise of "good" you may assert evaporates with every life lost, on either side.
Given that, we cannot look at the administration-led tactics in Iraq as anything but bungling. They either do not believe the war to be as central as they argue it to be, or they do believe it to be central, and yet are incompetent in the execution.
Here, then, is the most damning condemnation of administration policy in Iraq, and why Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kristol, Feith and others have no cause for presuming any Americans have been of anywhere near the assistance to al Qaeda that they themselves have been. In Iraq, we have chosen to fight the fight al Qaeda wanted to fight. In Afghanistan, we were fighting al Qaeda on their own doorstep, dismantling their own bases of support and safe haven. Even before the last shots fell to the ground at Tora Bora, though, our own administration lost apparent interest in the outcome.
It is the height -- the height -- of military fiasco to withdraw from a fight at the gates of the enemy's core base and turn your attention to fighting them in a proxied war of attrition far away from their infrastructure and vital networks of support. No military commander worth the polish on his shoes would propose such a thing: anyone who actually executed such a bungling move would be removed from the ranks of leadership forthwith and put back to captaining a laundry ship. And yet America and the neoconservatives have chosen exactly that proxied war, a war destined to do the core of al Qaeda and other extremists little possible harm and have myriad possible benefits for them, and have bungled even that.
You could not have done al Qaeda a better favor if you had actively tried. The neoconservatives have walked, entirely on their own accord, into handing terrorism two separate victories: the victory of making an attack on American soil a survivable achievement, for a terrorist movement, and the victory of subsequently engaging the terrorists in the very action they had been attempting to provoke.
Pundits and politicians continue, stupidly, to presume American lack of support for the Iraq debacle to either be born of pacifism or partisanship. Neither is true, as was clearly demonstrated in the widespread support for the American actions Afghanistan directly precipitated by 9/11. Lack of support for the Iraq war was and still is predicated on the rather simple observation that our actions in Iraq have been at best ancillary to, and at worst devastatingly wounding to the actual "war on terrorism".
One of my own motivations for a withdrawal from Iraq is for the goal of refocusing the "war on terror" to cells of actual terrorism, including returning the necessary number of troops to Afghanistan to solidify an anti-Taliban government there permanently -- if it, too, is not too late. At this point, it may well be.
In any case, Dick Cheney has, as a national security strategist of any sort, proven to be an absolute and abject failure. The strategy against terrorism implemented by the Bush administration has gone from mildly half-assed to concretely destructive, all captured on videotape so that the entire planet can see it, and in the meantime, Cheney of all people has the audacity to opine on the intelligence and patriotism of those that point out his own incompetence.
Add simple human indecency to the charges history will level against the man, then. There is no reason to believe his personal character to be of any higher fiber than the rest of him.
In another low moment for American justice, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that detainees held at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to be heard in court. The ruling relied on a shameful law that President Bush stampeded through Congress last fall that gives dangerously short shrift to the Constitution.
The right of prisoners to challenge their confinement — habeas corpus — is enshrined in the Constitution and is central to American liberty. Congress and the Supreme Court should act quickly and forcefully to undo the grievous damage that last fall’s law — and this week’s ruling — have done to this basic freedom.
The Supreme Court ruled last year on the jerry-built system of military tribunals that the Bush Administration established to try the Guantánamo detainees, finding it illegal. Mr. Bush responded by driving through Congress the Military Commissions Act, which presumed to deny the right of habeas corpus to any noncitizen designated as an “enemy combatant.” This frightening law raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions. And it gives the government the power to take away habeas rights from any noncitizen living in the United States who is unfortunate enough to be labeled an enemy combatant.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which rejected the detainees’ claims by a vote of 2 to 1, should have permitted the detainees to be heard in court — and it should have ruled that the law is unconstitutional.
As Judge Judith Rogers argued in a strong dissent, the Supreme Court has already rejected the argument that detainees do not have habeas rights because Guantánamo is located outside the United States. Judge Rogers also rightly noted that the Constitution limits the circumstances under which Congress can suspend habeas to “cases of Rebellion or invasion,” which is hardly the situation today. Moreover, she said, the act’s alternative provisions for review of cases are constitutionally inadequate. The Supreme Court should add this case to its docket right away and reverse it before this term ends.
Congress should not wait for the Supreme Court to act. With the Democrats now in charge, it is in a good position to pass a new law that fixes the dangerous mess it has made. Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, have introduced a bill that would repeal the provision in the Military Commissions Act that purports to obliterate the habeas corpus rights of detainees.
The Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties does not end with habeas corpus. Congress should also move quickly to pass another crucial bill, introduced by Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, that, among other steps, would once and for all outlaw the use of evidence obtained through torture.
When the Founding Fathers put habeas corpus in Article I of the Constitution, they were underscoring the vital importance to a democracy of allowing prisoners to challenge their confinement in a court of law. Much has changed since Sept. 11, but the bedrock principles of American freedom must remain.
Conservatives are using a U.N. report released today to instigate a confrontation with Iran. Drudge headlines “Iran Nuke showdown.” In a speech at the University of Nebraska, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) tamped down on such rhetoric, arguing the way forward must involve diplomatic engagement. The first step, he argued, is to make clear we do not see “regime change in Iran”:
The United States must be resolute and clear-headed in our dealings with Iran…just as the Administration has been in the latest round of the Six Party Talks regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The agreement that Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill reached on February 13 with his colleagues from China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia reflects the power of adept diplomacy, supported through regional coordination, strengthened by financial pressure, and our military presence in South Korea, Japan and across the Asia-Pacific region.
The United States must employ similar, wise statecraft to redirect deepening Middle East tensions toward a higher ground of resolution. We must be clear that the United States does not seek regime change in Iran. We must be clear that our objections are to the actions of the Iranian government…not the Iranian people.
In the last month, the Bush administration has deployed an additional carrier group to Iran, stormed Iranian government offices in Iraq, and accused the “highest levels” of the Iranian government of funneling weapons into Iraq. Today, Hagel warned that “careless rhetoric” and “flawed intelligence” risk triggering a military confrontation with Iran:
The United States needs to weigh very carefully its actions regarding Iran. In a hazy, hair-triggered environment, careless rhetoric and military movements that one side may believe are required to demonstrate resolve and strength…can be misinterpreted as preparations for military options. The risk of inadvertent conflict because of miscalculation is great.
The United States must be cautious and wise not to follow the same destructive path on Iran as we did on Iraq. We blundered into Iraq because of flawed intelligence, flawed assumptions, flawed judgments, and questionable intentions.
Read the full speech here.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
At the National Press Club last night, White House spokesman Tony Snow sat down for a chat with what appeared to be some of his best friends -- our nation's elite "journalists" assigned to the White House -- and they all sat around amicably bemoaning how terribly unfair the criticism is that is directed at them by blogs (h/t Atrios). Apparently, one of the most pressing media problems in America is . . . that bloggers demand too much of the national journalists who are assigned to report on the activities and claims of the Government.
Special attention is warranted for the remarks last night of Newsweek's so-called "Senior White House Correspondent," Richard Wolffe. After Snow asserted that when you "open" a blog, "this wonderful, imaginative hateful stuff  comes flying out" and that therefore "you probably shouldn't believe your opposition's blogs," he turned to Wolffe and asked: "what do you think, Richard?" Wolffe instinctively replied to Snow: "I totally agree."
Wolffe then proceeded to expound on Snow's attacks on bloggers by complaining that blogs are engaged in a "witch hunt" against the poor, besieged White House correspondents, which is terribly unfair because -- and, honestly, this is really an actual quote from Wolffe: "the press here does a fantastic job of adhering to journalistic standards and covering politics in general." Wolffe then adopted his most sneering and patronizing tone to observe with bewilderment that there are actually these "blogs duly devoted to media criticisms, which is itself kind of interesting given all the things you could comment on."
That is such a great point. Really, what kind of warped and obsessive American would devote themselves to such an unnecessary task as "media criticism," as though our elite national journalists -- who are doing such "a fantastic job of adhering to journalistic standards and covering politics in general" -- need anyone, let alone bloggers, telling them how to do their job.
Besides, Wolffe patiently explained that bloggers who are criticizing journalists have no understanding of the real function of journalism, just as the NYT's Michael Gordon lectured Democracy Now's Amy Goodman when Goodman had the audacity to criticize Gordon's pre-Iraq War "reporting" on Iraq's aluminum tubes. Gordon sniped: "I don't know if you understand how journalism works." Wolffe similarly enlightened the confused, misguided critics of journalists as follows:
They want us to play a role that isn't really our role. Our role is to ask questions and get information. It's not a chance for the opposition to take on the government and grill them to a point where they throw their hands up and surrender.See, all journalists are supposed to do is ask questions of their friends -- like that great guy, Tony Snow -- and that is how they "get information." Then, they pass it along. That's it. That's their job (that echoes what Gordon told Goodman: "the way journalism works is you write what you know, and what you know at the time you try to convey as best you can").
Those who think they should actually do more than that -- as embodied by the demand of bloggers that they actually be adversarial and skeptical about the information-gathering process, and that they actually investigate and scrutinize what the Government tells them, rather than mindlessly pass it along -- is all just a lamentable by-product of how unpleasantly political and angry bloggers are. Wolffe explained what we fail to understand:
It's not a political exercise, it's a journalistic exercise. And I think often the blogs are looking for us to be political advocates more than journalistic ones.The reality, of course, is that most media-criticizing bloggers do not want journalists to be "political advocates." They want them to do what journalists are supposed to do -- which is not, contrary to Wolffe's belief, sit around with their good, trustworthy, nice-guy friends in the White House and simply "ask questions" and "get information," but instead to scrutinize that information, treat it with doubt, investigate it before passing it along to determine whether it's true.
And the reason bloggers want them to do that, the reason that bloggers demand more of journalists like Wolffe, is not because bloggers are enraged, confused, unreasonable partisans. It's because bloggers are American citizens who are deeply concerned about what has happened to their country over the last six years and criticize the press and demand more of it because Wolffe's overly-friendly relationships with Bush officials like Tony Snow, and Wolffe's simplistic and lazy conception of what a reporter does, produces extremely destructive and shoddy "journalism" like this:
By Richard Wolffe -- Financial Times -- August 1, 2002 (via Lexis)
Iraq's military poses a substantial threat to US forces if the Bush administration orders an attack to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, military and Iraqi experts warned yesterday.By Richard Wolffe -- Financial Times, September 14, 2002
However, without US intervention, Iraq is likely to develop nuclear weapons within two years, as part of an intensive and covert weapons programme, a Senate committee heard.
The expert warnings to the Senate foreign relations committee reinforce similar concerns by senior administration officials that renewed weapons inspections by the United Nations are unlikely to detect the full extent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The Pentagon believes that Iraq is developing missiles with a range of up to 1,500km that could be operational within the next three years. . . .By Richard Wolffe - Newsweek -- December 11, 2002
The Pentagon sought to reinforce those warnings yesterday by detailing both Iraq's links with terrorist groups and its development of chemical and biological weapons. In recent days the White House has distanced itself from the suggestion that Iraq was linked to the hijackers responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks last year. But the administration insists that there is a serious threat to world security posed by the overlap between terrorists and rogue states developing weapons of mass destruction.
A senior Pentagon official said yesterday that there was evidence of continued development of chemical and biological weapons. "We continue to see suspicious activities at sites that we believe are related to their CW (chemical weapons) and BW (biological weapons) programmes," the official said.
"In '62 you could have Adlai Stevenson producing pictures of missile sites being constructed in Cuba," said one senior administration official in the Roosevelt Room, with more than a hint of disappointment. "In the last 40 years, countries like Iraq have become practiced in denying us the ability to collect these types of information and have invested great resources in that type of objective."By Richard Wolffe and Michael Hirsh -- February 3, 2003 -- Newsweek cover story
So if you're waiting for a smoking gun at the U.N., don't hold your breath. This is not your father's missile crisis.
While the French argued that U.N. inspectors had "frozen" Iraq's weapons programs, Powell was blunt and dismissive. "Inspections," he told reporters categorically last week, "will not work."By Richard Wolffe - Newsweek, February 5, 2003
One senior State Department official explains Powell's change of heart as a gradual awakening: "People ask why Powell is becoming increasingly hard-line. It's because every day, when we wake up in the morning, the facts are clear that Iraq has gone back to its old ways and is refusing to disarm, and trying to prevent the inspectors from disarming them. It's a big decision, especially for a former general who knows what this is all about."
All this came after Powell made a compelling presentation--not just against Iraq, but against the inspections process itself. Playing tantalizing intercepts of conversations between Iraqi military officers, Powell made what seemed to be a cast-iron case of Iraq's concerted efforts to hide its weapons from the U.N. inspectors.By Richard Wolffe - Newsweek - February 17, 2003
Satellite pictures showed convoys of trucks outside what Powell called chemical-weapons plants. Warheads were being hidden in groves of palm trees. Biological materials were being produced in rail cars and cargo trucks. If Iraq is hiding so much, how could the inspectors ever lay their hands on Iraq's illegal weapons?
As Powell cranked up the pressure to go to war, America's threat barometer was moving in the same direction. At the end of the week, the administration raised its official threat level to Code Orange--the second highest security alert--based on fresh warnings of Qaeda attacks on American targets. Intelligence sources say the planned attacks appear to be timed to take place between the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, in mid-February, and the start of war in Iraq.That is the absolutely "fantastic job" which Wolffe did -- all by "asking questions" of his administration friends, "get[ting] information," and then dutifully passing it along -- and doing little else.
"Our reporting strongly suggests that Al Qaeda has completed preparations for multiple attacks with spectaculars set for the United States and probably Saudi Arabia, and is delaying them until just before or just after a war begins with Iraq," says a classified FBI bulletin obtained by NEWSWEEK. "In that situation, Al Qaeda attacks will be described as an effort to defend Iraqi Muslims against the attack of the U.S.-led Crusaders."
NEWSWEEK has learned that one of the administration's most immediate concerns is the possibility of multiple attacks on American Jewish groups and businesses. Late last week FBI field offices across the country began contacting Jewish leaders and rabbis and urging them to enhance security. Other threats include reports of an attack using chemical, biological or radiological materials. "We had much more information on chem-bio stuff," says one senior law-enforcement official. "That really unnerved me."
And, as Wolffe explained last night -- with the narrow, slothful, and self-defensive mentality of a low-level bureaucrat -- that is his only job. They're not supposed "to take on the government and grill them" -- that would be terribly impolite, very "political," and beyond his job description. Bloggers who think that Wolffe should have done more than regurgitate what he was told by a war-hungry administration are the real problem here -- not Wolffe and his gullible journalistic colleagues who are doing a "fantastic job," nor the administration officials who fed them these falsehoods.
And just for good measure, this is one "fantastic" paragraph which Wolffe told his readers in September, 2002:
The constitution gives the president the right to declare war but it gives Congress ways to counter that power. In 1973, Congress passed the war powers act in response to public alarm that unchecked presidential prerogative during the Vietnam war had led to an unacceptable toll on American lives.Maybe his good friends in the White House told him that the power to declare war lies with the President, and nobody has grounds to complain about Wolffe's reporting because he just passed along what he was told, and that is his job.
Reporters like Wolffe develop such close affection for the people that they are covering that they see themselves as part of the Government -- which is what they become -- rather than watchdogs over them. As Eric Alterman recounted when reviewing a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi:
If you want your mystery summed up in a single sentence, it would be hard to outdo Wolffe: "The Gore press corps is about how they didn't like Gore, didn't trust him.... Over here, we were writing only about the trivial stuff because [Bush] charmed the pants off us."It is truly astonishing that the people who enabled the administration to spew one falsehood after the next -- and who aided and abetted the worst strategic disaster in our country's history by mindlessly passing those falsehoods along to their readers, completely failing to investigate any of it, but instead obediently validating it all with journalistic approval -- now want to sit around in the most self-satisfied way and pronounce that they are doing an absolutely "fantastic job" and complain about the vulgar masses who disrupt their tranquility by criticizing them for being insufficiently vigilant.
And to those American citizens who remain rather angry about the complete failure of the press to scrutinize the war-justifying claims made by their friends in the government -- and who wake up every day and devote themselves to trying to prod the press into performing its intended adversarial watchdog role so that our Government has at least some checks on what it can say and do -- people like Richard Wolffe have nothing to say other than to agree with Tony Snow that they are vulgar and hateful and to lecture them -- in his snidest and most condescending tone -- that they are just ignorant, confused, and unreasonably demanding.
Truly, the spectacle of watching our country's leading White House journalists sitting there next to Tony Snow -- all of them oozing pomposity and self-satisfaction -- while Snow engineers the entire discussion and treats them like the friendly puppets that they are (Snow: "What do you think, Richard?" Richard: "Yeah, uh, well . . . I totally agree."), is quite difficult to endure, but is nonetheless truly revealing. How can someone who authored the above-excerpted articles, in which they disseminated to the world patent falsehoods that helped to unleash a grotesquely unnecessary and grotesquely brutal war, all on false pretenses, now parade around in public touting what a great job they have done and attack bloggers for criticizing them?
With rare exception, could our national press corps be any more self-regarding, empty, corrupt and worthless? Given that our national media is composed of "journalists" like Richard Wolffe (and Michael Gordon) -- who look at their behavior and conclude that they are doing a "fantastic job" and that the real problem lies with the ignorant, dirty barbarians who dare to criticize them -- is it really any wonder that our political discourse and our political institutions are as fundamentally degraded and as broken as they are?
UPDATE: Marvel at another "fantastic job" by Wolffe -- this one in regurgitating a January, 2005 Newsweek profile of George Bush -- based exclusively on interviews with "Bush's aides and friends" -- which literally would not have been more adoring had it been written by Laura Bush, or even Hugh Hewitt (h/t El Tiburon and sysprog). This was Newsweek's understated headline for Wolffe's article:
He's hands-on, detail-oriented and hates 'yes' men. The George Bush you don't know has big dreams -- and is racing the clock to realize themFrom the "fantastic" Wolffe, we "learned":
* Other presidents might leave the tough stuff to subordinates, but Bush wanted to do the job himself.There is, literally, a complete absence of a single negative or even balancing comment. It is three Newsweek pages pulsating with pure, tongue-wagging, unadulterated praise, all based on Bush-loyal sources. But the only ones who could possibly find that objectionable are the partisan, idiotic bloggers who do not understand the lofty function of journalism [although an intern at Salon, several months after publication of the Wolffe homage, documented that actual reporters had discovered just how false were the glorifying depictions of Bush fed to (and then obligingly spewed out by) Wolffe].
* Bush's leadership style belies his caricature as a disengaged president who is blindly loyal, dislikes dissent and covets his own downtime. In fact, Bush's aides and friends describe the mirror image of a restless man who masters details and reads avidly, who chews over his mistakes and the failings of those around him, and who has grown evermore comfortable pulling the levers of power.
* Bush has always thought big, and always believed you earn political capital by expending it.
* In laying out his second-term agenda, Bush is building on the big ideas he launched in Austin.
* "When he wants to be, he's a real stickler for details," says one Republican senator. "When he calls you to talk about a bill, he knows the nitty-gritty. You don't get the sense he's been reading the Cliffs Notes guide to an issue."
* Another popular misperception: that Bush doesn't read. Aides describe numerous debates inside the Oval Office, where the president digs deep into his briefing books. "I've seen it time and time again," says Rove. "We all get the briefing papers the night before, we've all read them, and he'll inevitably have thought about three steps ahead of anyone in the room."
* Judging from the press coverage of his new cabinet, you'd think Bush's guiding principle was to put yes men in positions of power. But Bush draws a sharp line between people who can get things done, and those who simply agree with anything he says. His style in policy briefings is to narrow the debate with a series of questions, crystallizing the competing opinions and exploring the disagreements between his staff.
* To hear his friends tell it, Bush hates toadies, and loves to mock sycophantic remarks . . ."If anyone is too much of a suck-up, the president is the first one to call them on it," says Card.
* It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Bush doesn't worry about the consequences of his decisions, especially in Iraq. Behind the scenes he was intimately involved in the details of the Fallujah offensive last year, keeping close tabs on strategic decisions and getting regular updates on the troops' progress. "He thinks long and hard about it, particularly where American lives are at risk," says one confidant, "including the postwar plan, the role of the former Baathists and the number of troops."
It is also worth noting in passing the depravity of Tony Snow's complaints (endorsed by the agreeable panel) about the "hateful stuff" that allegedly spews forth from blogs. Contrast Snow's complaint with that Beacon of Civility whom Snow and other administration officials have chosen as their personal interviewer. But it would be entirely unreasonable to expect any of the Senior White House Correspondents on the friendly panel to have mentioned that because their role is simply to ask questions, not to be "political" or to "grill" the administration.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
GOP Donor Hit With Terror Charges
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A New York man accused of trying to help terrorists in Afghanistan has donated some $15,000 to the House Republicans' campaign committee over three years.
Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari pleaded not guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to charges that include terrorism financing, material support of terrorism and money laundering.
From April 2002 until August 2004, the man also known as "Michael Mixon" gave donations ranging from $500 to $5,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to Federal Election Commission reports and two campaign donor tracking Web sites, http://www.politicalmoneyline.com and http://www.opensecrets.org .
The NRCC did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday about whether it would return the donations.
In the federal indictment, the government said Alishtari, 53, of Ardsley, N.Y., also known as Mixon accepted an unspecified amount of money to transfer $152,000 to Pakistan and Afghanistan to support an Afghanistan terrorist training camp. He also stands accused of causing the transfer of about $25,000 from a bank account in New York to an account in Montreal, money the government says was to be used to provide material support to terrorists.
Also, the indictment says, Alishtari schemed to defraud investors by obtaining millions of dollars in a loan investment scheme that he called the "Flat Electronic Data Interchange" and that promised high guaranteed rates of return.
The charges carry a potential penalty of 95 years in prison.
Alishtari was detained pending a court appearance this week. Prosecutors said he was a danger to the community and a flight risk.
On campaign finance forms, Alishtari identified his occupation as either the owner, president or chief executive of a business called Global Protector Inc., or GlobalProtector.Net, Inc. In some filings he listed the business as being located in the Bronx and in other filings in Scarsdale, N.Y.
A resume listed in his name and posted on an MSN group Web site on Jan. 8, 2007, identifies him as being an "industrialist and philanthropist" and references previous connections to the Republican Party.
The resume says that in 2003 Alishtari was named a National Republican Senatorial Committee "Inner Circle Member for Life" and was appointed to the NRCC's "White House Business Advisory Committee." The resume also says Alishtari was named the NRCC's New York state businessman of the year in 2002 and 2003.The 2007 resume identifies him as the founder of IDPixie LLC, which is described as an "ID theft protection agency."
IDEX-2007, touted as the world’s largest military defense exhibition, began yesterday in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The conference — which brings together “key decision-makers from across the world, defense ministers, chiefs of staff and senior officers from army, navy and air force to network” with defense contractors — is attracting a great deal of attention from Persian Gulf states.
The recently-released National Intelligence Estimate assessed that increasing violence and unrest in Iraq “have heightened fears of regional instability and unrest and contributed to a growing polarization between Iran and Syria on the one hand and other Middle East governments on the other.” And Iraq’s neighbors are equipping themselves for potential battle. The AP reports:
Deep fears about the war in Iraq and growing tension between the United States and Iran are driving the wealthy oil states of the Persian Gulf to go on shopping sprees for helicopters, ships and tanks, officials say. …
Helicopters and electronic warning sensors are expected to be hot sellers. For example, seaborne early warning radar can can detect rogue vessels approaching ports or oil terminals. …
In particular, the Saudi military is looking for air defenses and helicopters and perhaps naval frigates. … The Emirates’ shopping list includes ship-to-ship missiles.
States in the Gulf region which have invested little in “rearming” in the “last 15 years,” are now eager to see what others are buying and how they might “defeat those capabilities.” As one analyst said, “The shopping lists are directly correlated to the threat perception.”
Defense contractors attending the summit — including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing — are more than happy to oblige the Arab nations’ demands. The Gulf states’ “weapons buying binge” is expected to rake in sales that will “soar past” the $2 billion in contracts offered at IDEX in 2005. According to U.S. Ambassador to the UAE, Michele Sisson, U.S. companies are expected to “clinch” a significant portion of the profits.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Making Martial Law Easier
A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.
The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president’s use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.
The newly enacted provisions upset this careful balance. They shift the focus from making sure that federal laws are enforced to restoring public order. Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”
Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate. The president made no mention of the changes when he signed the measure, and neither the White House nor Congress consulted in advance with the nation’s governors.
There is a bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, and backed unanimously by the nation’s governors, that would repeal the stealthy revisions. Congress should pass it. If changes of this kind are proposed in the future, they must get a full and open debate.
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 18, 2007; A01
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.
This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.
They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.
Not all of the quarters are as bleak as Duncan's, but the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded, according to dozens of soldiers, family members, veterans aid groups, and current and former Walter Reed staff members interviewed by two Washington Post reporters, who spent more than four months visiting the outpatient world without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. Many agreed to be quoted by name; others said they feared Army retribution if they complained publicly.
While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles, with medical advances saving more soldiers than ever, the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.
On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of "Catch-22." The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.
Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.
"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."
Soldiers, family members, volunteers and caregivers who have tried to fix the system say each mishap seems trivial by itself, but the cumulative effect wears down the spirits of the wounded and can stall their recovery.
"It creates resentment and disenfranchisement," said Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker at Walter Reed. "These soldiers will withdraw and stay in their rooms. They will actively avoid the very treatment and services that are meant to be helpful."
Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, said soldiers "get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved," but, "Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, 'You saved me for what?' The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger."
This world is invisible to outsiders. Walter Reed occasionally showcases the heroism of these wounded soldiers and emphasizes that all is well under the circumstances. President Bush, former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and members of Congress have promised the best care during their regular visits to the hospital's spit-polished amputee unit, Ward 57.
"We owe them all we can give them," Bush said during his last visit, a few days before Christmas. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service."
Along with the government promises, the American public, determined not to repeat the divisive Vietnam experience, has embraced the soldiers even as the war grows more controversial at home. Walter Reed is awash in the generosity of volunteers, businesses and celebrities who donate money, plane tickets, telephone cards and steak dinners.
Yet at a deeper level, the soldiers say they feel alone and frustrated. Seventy-five percent of the troops polled by Walter Reed last March said their experience was "stressful." Suicide attempts and unintentional overdoses from prescription drugs and alcohol, which is sold on post, are part of the narrative here.
Vera Heron spent 15 frustrating months living on post to help care for her son. "It just absolutely took forever to get anything done," Heron said. "They do the paperwork, they lose the paperwork. Then they have to redo the paperwork. You are talking about guys and girls whose lives are disrupted for the rest of their lives, and they don't put any priority on it."
Family members who speak only Spanish have had to rely on Salvadoran housekeepers, a Cuban bus driver, the Panamanian bartender and a Mexican floor cleaner for help. Walter Reed maintains a list of bilingual staffers, but they are rarely called on, according to soldiers and families and Walter Reed staff members.
Evis Morales's severely wounded son was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for surgery shortly after she arrived at Walter Reed. She had checked into her government-paid room on post, but she slept in the lobby of the Bethesda hospital for two weeks because no one told her there is a free shuttle between the two facilities. "They just let me off the bus and said 'Bye-bye,' " recalled Morales, a Puerto Rico resident.
Morales found help after she ran out of money, when she called a hotline number and a Spanish-speaking operator happened to answer.
"If they can have Spanish-speaking recruits to convince my son to go into the Army, why can't they have Spanish-speaking translators when he's injured?" Morales asked. "It's so confusing, so disorienting."
Soldiers, wives, mothers, social workers and the heads of volunteer organizations have complained repeatedly to the military command about what one called "The Handbook No One Gets" that would explain life as an outpatient. Most soldiers polled in the March survey said they got their information from friends. Only 12 percent said any Army literature had been helpful.
"They've been behind from Day One," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who headed the House Government Reform Committee, which investigated problems at Walter Reed and other Army facilities. "Even the stuff they've fixed has only been patched."
Among the public, Davis said, "there's vast appreciation for soldiers, but there's a lack of focus on what happens to them" when they return. "It's awful."
Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, said in an interview last week that a major reason outpatients stay so long, a change from the days when injured soldiers were discharged as quickly as possible, is that the Army wants to be able to hang on to as many soldiers as it can, "because this is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution."
Acknowledging the problems with outpatient care, Weightman said Walter Reed has taken steps over the past year to improve conditions for the outpatient army, which at its peak in summer 2005 numbered nearly 900, not to mention the hundreds of family members who come to care for them. One platoon sergeant used to be in charge of 125 patients; now each one manages 30. Platoon sergeants with psychological problems are more carefully screened. And officials have increased the numbers of case managers and patient advocates to help with the complex disability benefit process, which Weightman called "one of the biggest sources of delay."
And to help steer the wounded and their families through the complicated bureaucracy, Weightman said, Walter Reed has recently begun holding twice-weekly informational meetings. "We felt we were pushing information out before, but the reality is, it was overwhelming," he said. "Is it fail-proof? No. But we've put more resources on it."
He said a 21,500-troop increase in Iraq has Walter Reed bracing for "potentially a lot more" casualties.Bureaucratic Battles
The best known of the Army's medical centers, Walter Reed opened in 1909 with 10 patients. It has treated the wounded from every war since, and nearly one of every four service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The outpatients are assigned to one of five buildings attached to the post, including Building 18, just across from the front gates on Georgia Avenue. To accommodate the overflow, some are sent to nearby hotels and apartments. Living conditions range from the disrepair of Building 18 to the relative elegance of Mologne House, a hotel that opened on the post in 1998, when the typical guest was a visiting family member or a retiree on vacation.
The Pentagon has announced plans to close Walter Reed by 2011, but that hasn't stopped the flow of casualties. Three times a week, school buses painted white and fitted with stretchers and blackened windows stream down Georgia Avenue. Sirens blaring, they deliver soldiers groggy from a pain-relief cocktail at the end of their long trip from Iraq via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Andrews Air Force Base.
Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, 43, came in on one of those buses in November 2004 and spent several weeks on the fifth floor of Walter Reed's hospital. His eye and skull were shattered by an AK-47 round. His odyssey in the Other Walter Reed has lasted more than two years, but it began when someone handed him a map of the grounds and told him to find his room across post.
A reconnaissance and land-navigation expert, Shannon was so disoriented that he couldn't even find north. Holding the map, he stumbled around outside the hospital, sliding against walls and trying to keep himself upright, he said. He asked anyone he found for directions.
Shannon had led the 2nd Infantry Division's Ghost Recon Platoon until he was felled in a gun battle in Ramadi. He liked the solitary work of a sniper; "Lone Wolf" was his call name. But he did not expect to be left alone by the Army after such serious surgery and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had appointments during his first two weeks as an outpatient, then nothing.
"I thought, 'Shouldn't they contact me?' " he said. "I didn't understand the paperwork. I'd start calling phone numbers, asking if I had appointments. I finally ran across someone who said: 'I'm your case manager. Where have you been?'
"Well, I've been here! Jeez Louise, people, I'm your hospital patient!"
Like Shannon, many soldiers with impaired memory from brain injuries sat for weeks with no appointments and no help from the staff to arrange them. Many disappeared even longer. Some simply left for home.
One outpatient, a 57-year-old staff sergeant who had a heart attack in Afghanistan, was given 200 rooms to supervise at the end of 2005. He quickly discovered that some outpatients had left the post months earlier and would check in by phone. "We called them 'call-in patients,' " said Staff Sgt. Mike McCauley, whose dormant PTSD from Vietnam was triggered by what he saw on the job: so many young and wounded, and three bodies being carried from the hospital.
Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands -- most of them off-post -- to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical recordkeeping databases.
The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn't find a record of her service.
Shannon, who wears an eye patch and a visible skull implant, said he had to prove he had served in Iraq when he tried to get a free uniform to replace the bloody one left behind on a medic's stretcher. When he finally tracked down the supply clerk, he discovered the problem: His name was mistakenly left off the "GWOT list" -- the list of "Global War on Terrorism" patients with priority funding from the Defense Department.
He brought his Purple Heart to the clerk to prove he was in Iraq.
Lost paperwork for new uniforms has forced some soldiers to attend their own Purple Heart ceremonies and the official birthday party for the Army in gym clothes, only to be chewed out by superiors.
The Army has tried to re-create the organization of a typical military unit at Walter Reed. Soldiers are assigned to one of two companies while they are outpatients -- the Medical Holding Company (Medhold) for active-duty soldiers and the Medical Holdover Company for Reserve and National Guard soldiers. The companies are broken into platoons that are led by platoon sergeants, the Army equivalent of a parent.
Under normal circumstances, good sergeants know everything about the soldiers under their charge: vices and talents, moods and bad habits, even family stresses.
At Walter Reed, however, outpatients have been drafted to serve as platoon sergeants and have struggled with their responsibilities. Sgt. David Thomas, a 42-year-old amputee with the Tennessee National Guard, said his platoon sergeant couldn't remember his name. "We wondered if he had mental problems," Thomas said. "Sometimes I'd wear my leg, other times I'd take my wheelchair. He would think I was a different person. We thought, 'My God, has this man lost it?' "
Civilian care coordinators and case managers are supposed to track injured soldiers and help them with appointments, but government investigators and soldiers complain that they are poorly trained and often do not understand the system.
One amputee, a senior enlisted man who asked not to be identified because he is back on active duty, said he received orders to report to a base in Germany as he sat drooling in his wheelchair in a haze of medication. "I went to Medhold many times in my wheelchair to fix it, but no one there could help me," he said.
Finally, his wife met an aide to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who got the erroneous paperwork corrected with one phone call. When the aide called with the news, he told the soldier, "They don't even know you exist."
"They didn't know who I was or where I was," the soldier said. "And I was in contact with my platoon sergeant every day."
The lack of accountability weighed on Shannon. He hated the isolation of the younger troops. The Army's failure to account for them each day wore on him. When a 19-year-old soldier down the hall died, Shannon knew he had to take action.
The soldier, Cpl. Jeremy Harper, returned from Iraq with PTSD after seeing three buddies die. He kept his room dark, refused his combat medals and always seemed heavily medicated, said people who knew him. According to his mother, Harper was drunkenly wandering the lobby of the Mologne House on New Year's Eve 2004, looking for a ride home to West Virginia. The next morning he was found dead in his room. An autopsy showed alcohol poisoning, she said.
"I can't understand how they could have let kids under the age of 21 have liquor," said Victoria Harper, crying. "He was supposed to be right there at Walter Reed hospital. . . . I feel that they didn't take care of him or watch him as close as they should have."
The Army posthumously awarded Harper a Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq.
Shannon viewed Harper's death as symptomatic of a larger tragedy -- the Army had broken its covenant with its troops. "Somebody didn't take care of him," he would later say. "It makes me want to cry. "
Shannon and another soldier decided to keep tabs on the brain injury ward. "I'm a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, and I take care of people," he said. The two soldiers walked the ward every day with a list of names. If a name dropped off the large white board at the nurses' station, Shannon would hound the nurses to check their files and figure out where the soldier had gone.
Sometimes the patients had been transferred to another hospital. If they had been released to one of the residences on post, Shannon and his buddy would pester the front desk managers to make sure the new charges were indeed there. "But two out of 10, when I asked where they were, they'd just say, 'They're gone,' " Shannon said.
Even after Weightman and his commanders instituted new measures to keep better track of soldiers, two young men left post one night in November and died in a high-speed car crash in Virginia. The driver was supposed to be restricted to Walter Reed because he had tested positive for illegal drugs, Weightman said.
Part of the tension at Walter Reed comes from a setting that is both military and medical. Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, the squad leader who lost one leg and the use of his other in a grenade attack, said his recovery was made more difficult by a Marine liaison officer who had never seen combat but dogged him about having his mother in his room on post. The rules allowed her to be there, but the officer said she was taking up valuable bed space.
"When you join the Marine Corps, they tell you, you can forget about your mama. 'You have no mama. We are your mama,' " Groves said. "That training works in combat. It doesn't work when you are wounded."Frustration at Every Turn
The frustrations of an outpatient's day begin before dawn. On a dark, rain-soaked morning this winter, Sgt. Archie Benware, 53, hobbled over to his National Guard platoon office at Walter Reed. Benware had done two tours in Iraq. His head had been crushed between two 2,100-pound concrete barriers in Ramadi, and now it was dented like a tin can. His legs were stiff from knee surgery. But here he was, trying to take care of business.
At the platoon office, he scanned the white board on the wall. Six soldiers were listed as AWOL. The platoon sergeant was nowhere to be found, leaving several soldiers stranded with their requests.
Benware walked around the corner to arrange a dental appointment -- his teeth were knocked out in the accident. He was told by a case manager that another case worker, not his doctor, would have to approve the procedure.
"Goddamn it, that's unbelievable!" snapped his wife, Barb, who accompanied him because he can no longer remember all of his appointments.
Not as unbelievable as the time he received a manila envelope containing the gynecological report of a young female soldier.
Next came 7 a.m. formation, one way Walter Reed tries to keep track of hundreds of wounded. Formation is also held to maintain some discipline. Soldiers limp to the old Red Cross building in rain, ice and snow. Army regulations say they can't use umbrellas, even here. A triple amputee has mastered the art of putting on his uniform by himself and rolling in just in time. Others are so gorked out on pills that they seem on the verge of nodding off.
"Fall in!" a platoon sergeant shouted at Friday formation. The noisy room of soldiers turned silent.
An Army chaplain opened with a verse from the Bible. "Why are we here?" she asked. She talked about heroes and service to country. "We were injured in many ways."
Someone announced free tickets to hockey games, a Ravens game, a movie screening, a dinner at McCormick and Schmick's, all compliments of local businesses.
Every formation includes a safety briefing. Usually it is a warning about mixing alcohol with meds, or driving too fast, or domestic abuse. "Do not beat your spouse or children. Do not let your spouse or children beat you," a sergeant said, to laughter. This morning's briefing included a warning about black ice, a particular menace to the amputees.
Dress warm, the sergeant said. "I see some guys rolling around in their wheelchairs in 30 degrees in T-shirts."
Soldiers hate formation for its petty condescension. They gutted out a year in the desert, and now they are being treated like children.
"I'm trying to think outside the box here, maybe moving formation to Wagner Gym," the commander said, addressing concerns that formation was too far from soldiers' quarters in the cold weather. "But guess what? Those are nice wood floors. They have to be covered by a tarp. There's a tarp that's got to be rolled out over the wooden floors. Then it has to be cleaned, with 400 soldiers stepping all over it. Then it's got to be rolled up."
"Now, who thinks Wagner Gym is a good idea?"
Explaining this strange world to family members is not easy. At an orientation for new arrivals, a staff sergeant walked them through the idiosyncrasies of Army financing. He said one relative could receive a 15-day advance on the $64 per diem either in cash or as an electronic transfer: "I highly recommend that you take the cash," he said. "There's no guarantee the transfer will get to your bank." The audience yawned.
Actually, he went on, relatives can collect only 80 percent of this advance, which comes to $51.20 a day. "The cashier has no change, so we drop to $50. We give you the rest" -- the $1.20 a day -- "when you leave."
The crowd was anxious, exhausted. A child crawled on the floor. The sergeant plowed on. "You need to figure out how long your loved one is going to be an inpatient," he said, something even the doctors can't accurately predict from day to day. "Because if you sign up for the lodging advance," which is $150 a day, "and they get out the next day, you owe the government the advance back of $150 a day."
A case manager took the floor to remind everyone that soldiers are required to be in uniform most of the time, though some of the wounded are amputees or their legs are pinned together by bulky braces. "We have break-away clothing with Velcro!" she announced with a smile. "Welcome to Walter Reed!"A Bleak Life in Building 18
"Building 18! There is a rodent infestation issue!" bellowed the commander to his troops one morning at formation. "It doesn't help when you live like a rodent! I can't believe people live like that! I was appalled by some of your rooms!"
Life in Building 18 is the bleakest homecoming for men and women whose government promised them good care in return for their sacrifices.
One case manager was so disgusted, she bought roach bombs for the rooms. Mouse traps are handed out. It doesn't help that soldiers there subsist on carry-out food because the hospital cafeteria is such a hike on cold nights. They make do with microwaves and hot plates.
Army officials say they "started an aggressive campaign to deal with the mice infestation" last October and that the problem is now at a "manageable level." They also say they will "review all outstanding work orders" in the next 30 days.
Soldiers discharged from the psychiatric ward are often assigned to Building 18. Buses and ambulances blare all night. While injured soldiers pull guard duty in the foyer, a broken garage door allows unmonitored entry from the rear. Struggling with schizophrenia, PTSD, paranoid delusional disorder and traumatic brain injury, soldiers feel especially vulnerable in that setting, just outside the post gates, on a street where drug dealers work the corner at night.
"I've been close to mortars. I've held my own pretty good," said Spec. George Romero, 25, who came back from Iraq with a psychological disorder. "But here . . . I think it has affected my ability to get over it . . . dealing with potential threats every day."
After Spec. Jeremy Duncan, 30, got out of the hospital and was assigned to Building 18, he had to navigate across the traffic of Georgia Avenue for appointments. Even after knee surgery, he had to limp back and forth on crutches and in pain. Over time, black mold invaded his room.
But Duncan would rather suffer with the mold than move to another room and share his convalescence in tight quarters with a wounded stranger. "I have mold on the walls, a hole in the shower ceiling, but . . . I don't want someone waking me up coming in."
Wilson, the clinical social worker at Walter Reed, was part of a staff team that recognized Building 18's toll on the wounded. He mapped out a plan and, in September, was given a $30,000 grant from the Commander's Initiative Account for improvements. He ordered some equipment, including a pool table and air hockey table, which have not yet arrived. A Psychiatry Department functionary held up the rest of the money because she feared that buying a lot of recreational equipment close to Christmas would trigger an audit, Wilson said.
In January, Wilson was told that the funds were no longer available and that he would have to submit a new request. "It's absurd," he said. "Seven months of work down the drain. I have nothing to show for this project. It's a great example of what we're up against."
A pool table and two flat-screen TVs were eventually donated from elsewhere.
But Wilson had had enough. Three weeks ago he turned in his resignation. "It's too difficult to get anything done with this broken-down bureaucracy," he said.
At town hall meetings, the soldiers of Building 18 keep pushing commanders to improve conditions. But some things have gotten worse. In December, a contracting dispute held up building repairs.
"I hate it," said Romero, who stays in his room all day. "There are cockroaches. The elevator doesn't work. The garage door doesn't work. Sometimes there's no heat, no water. . . . I told my platoon sergeant I want to leave. I told the town hall meeting. I talked to the doctors and medical staff. They just said you kind of got to get used to the outside world. . . . My platoon sergeant said, 'Suck it up!' "
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.