Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Vets for Rethinking Afghanistan

This account by retired US Marine Corporal, Rick Reyes, was published last month in The Nation magazine:

What Was I Fighting For?
by Rick Reyes

I was on liberty in Australia, dancing at a club I can't remember sometime around midnight, when it happened. The music shut off and an announcement came on: "America is under attack. Head back to your ships." This was the worst--the impossible. This was September 11, 2001.

Back at my ship, ambulance sirens blared. Hundreds of Marines stood on deck, anxiously awaiting word. Someone said the Pentagon had been attacked. My platoon sergeant stood up and delivered a fiery speech filled with "No one [expletive] with America!" and "We're going to kick some ass!" Later that night, the same sergeant turned to me asked me if I was ready.
Without giving it a second thought, I replied, "This is what I joined for."

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, as I recalled those words testifying before Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I sat where a young Kerry was once seated as he awoke the nation to the grim realities of war in Vietnam.

I explained to the committee that I always desired to serve my country, ensure basic freedoms and fight for justice and the American way. This had been my dream since childhood, a way to honor my Mexican immigrant parents who worked tirelessly to give my family a better life, a way out of an East Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by gang violence. Yet what I witnessed and experienced during a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan followed by another in Iraq has forever shattered this once noble ambition.

As an infantry rifleman in the Marines Corps, I saw so much of these wars through nightly patrols. We were trained to approach a point of interest on foot, coordinating with translators whose sole vested interest in supplying us intelligence was to earn money and aid. We would gather information that often proved faulty, and question locals to the point we felt comfortable conducting a raid. After receiving an order, we would ransack homes, destroying windows and doors, chairs and tables, families and lives--detaining and arresting anyone who seemed suspicious. The problem, of course, was that it was impossible to distinguish militant Taliban members or Al Qaeda from innocent civilians. Everyone became a suspect.

In one instance, my squad leader gave me orders to pursue possible terrorists leaving the scene in which we had established a perimeter. My four-man fire team and I followed these suspects undetected for about 100 yards along an exposed ravine. When we were four feet from them, I drew my M-16 and pointed it directly at their faces, yelling, "Get down on the ground!" We beat them in search of nonexistent weapons, breaking limbs in the process. Later that day, I learned these men were innocent. Another time, my squad and I detained, beat and nearly killed a man, only to realize he was merely trying to deliver milk to his children. These raids compelled me to tell Congress we have been chasing ghosts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Amazingly, these patrols were all the same, whether I was in the desolate desert near Camp Rhino--the US-led coalition's first strategic foothold in Afghanistan--or stationed outside Basra in Iraq. The terrain was different, but what remained the same was the manner in which we carried out missions, the unconscionable acts of violence and collateral damage that followed, and the ever-present paranoia that every Muslim could be a terrorist. These raids even ended the same way. We would compensate the family whose home we had invaded, offering to fix or pay for broken furniture before moving on to the next village, where kids would throw rocks at us and give us the finger. To my knowledge, I never detained or arrested anyone guilty of a crime.

I witnessed firsthand the ineffectiveness of US military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, I didn't fully grasp the extent of these failed foreign policies or our government's deception until I returned home from war. Realizing there never were weapons of mass destruction, and that we would have difficulty tracking terrorists even if we had committed all the troops in our military, I felt as though my patriotism had been exploited for political gain. A select few were profiting from these wars, while the majority of Americans shouldered the enormous tax burden.

To me, the lesson learned in Afghanistan and Iraq was that the US flexed way too much muscle. We have ships, planes, helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts, trucks, Humvees--everything imaginable. But how effective is such military might against extremists who blend in with innocent civilians and fight guerrilla warfare? Moreover, how effective can it be when we leave civilians little alternative but to support extremists?

That is why the proposed $94.2 billion supplemental war-funding bill will be a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, as we continue to pursue a military solution for a political problem. Similarly, the 21,000 additional more troops will be a "drop in the bucket" in Afghanistan, as my esteemed colleague Andrew Bacevich has said. Bacevich, a retired colonel who served in Vietnam and lost a son in Iraq, sat next to me at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. He urged Congress to question the effectiveness and immense cost of fighting the "Long War" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Congress must hear more voices like ours before escalating the war in Afghanistan any further. More veterans need to speak out, and as a society we must get beyond the public perception that veterans are a product of war. We are not a product. We took an oath to serve and protect, to make sacrifices for the greater good. It's an oath everyone ought to honor, and not just by thanking us for our service. In my mind, we are not seeing more veterans speak out because there is a sense that if they do, they will be letting go of something they truly believe in; they will be going back on their oath and their sacrifices will have been in vain. That is not the case.

A number of veterans and I are forming a group called Vets for Rethinking Afghanistan. We will voice our dissent in Congress, testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and meet with any Representatives willing to listen. We will raise awareness about how our military occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq have been counterproductive. We will express the dire need for the Obama administration to provide both an exit strategy and a more clearly defined mission and we will explain how dangerous it is for the US to use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip to advance a flawed military agenda without giving diplomacy a real chance. Please join me in this cause.

Rick Reyes, a retired corporal in the US Marine Corps, served in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and is now a businessman in Los Angeles.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Live Green, end war

Summer is here. We had an active year of outreach in Austin's high schools, doing tabling during lunch and career fairs, as well as some classroom presentations. We will be gearing up for the fall '09 semester at the end of the summer.

I will be representing NOY and participating in a panel at the National Counter-Recruitment And Demilitarization Conference, July 17 - 19 in Chicago. It should be a great event, drawing lots of youth activists.

Have a GREEN summer, you all. The greener we live, the more obvious that war must end.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The rights of the child: freedom from recruitment

Very interesting news from Northern California, as residents of Eureka and Arcata strive to uphold in court the protections they've worked toward to keep recruiters from initiating contact with minors:

June 4, 2009



On Tuesday, June 9 at 1pm, in Courtroom 3 at the Oakland Federal Courthouse, Federal Court Judge Saundra Armstrong is scheduled to hear oral arguments regarding the Arcata and Eureka Youth Protection Acts. These ordinances prohibit military recruiters from initiating contact with minors for the purpose of recruiting them into any branch of the military. They were approved as ballot initiative Measures F and J, on November 4, 2008 by margins of 73% in Arcata and 57% in Eureka.

Judge Armstrong is scheduled to hear oral arguments on two motions by the United States Department of Justice.

One motion is the plaintiff's (United States') motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, in which the US is arguing that, as a matter of law, Measures F and J are both invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. Such a motion can only be granted if the Court believes that all of the Cities’ arguments in defense of the measures lack any substance worthy of a hearing. A ruling in favor of the Federal Government on this motion would effectively invalidate the ordinances without further opportunity to defend them, subject to possible appeal by the Cities.

The second motion is the plaintiff's motion for Dismissal of the Cities' Counterclaims. The Cities' Counterclaims assert that the United States recruiting practices are themselves invalid because they are in conflict with International Treaty obligations that prohibit the military recruiting of minors. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, as ratified by the United States Senate, has the standing of the Supreme Law of the Land, on equal footing with the US Constitution and any federal laws regulating military recruiting. The U.S. argues that the Cities do not have standing to bring the counterclaims, based on a lack of harm to the Cities themselves.

Ironically, the U.S. argues this in the face of the recent ruling by Judge Armstrong that the proponents of the initiatives passed by the voters do not have the right to intervene in the case. She based her ruling on the assertion that the Cities are able to present a full defense of the measures without the participation of the proponents in the case. If neither the Cities nor the proponents have standing to defend the measures, then how will the people who voted for them be represented in defending their right to protect youth from the excesses of recruiters?

The Cities have argued that, under the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution, people have a right to privacy and to protect their children from uninvited or inappropriate advances by anyone, including military recruiters. Further, under the Tenth Amendment, they have the right to enact and enforce ballot initiative ordinances.

The City of Arcata is represented by Brad Yamauchi of the San Francisco firm of Minami and Tamaki, LLP, and by the Law Offices of Michael Sorgen, and City Attorney, Nancy Diamond. The City of Eureka is represented by their City Attorney, Sheryl Schaffner, and by San Francisco attorney, Dennis Cunningham. All non-city attorneys are offering their services pro-bono.

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing, the people of Arcata and Eureka continue to demand that the United States of America “Stop Recruiting Kids!” in their communities.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The roots of PTSD

"The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight."

-- Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges was a war correspondent for the New York Times and other publications for nearly 20 years.

Read his full article here