• Waiting (for Memorial Day)

    May 28, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    There will be a lot of thanking of veterans this Memorial Day weekend, and that is not altogether out of place. We ask a lot from the people in the military, and in return many would like us to understand what they endure, so when we thank them it is not just a bumper sticker but a thank you that comes from some understanding. From understanding comes empathy, and from there it’s a hop, skip and jump to sincerity. Excerpted from my book, We Meant Well, I offer this meditation on what it means to wait this Memorial Day.

    Soldiers did a lot of waiting. They waited for orders, they waited for trucks to arrive, they waited for chow, they waited for someone to explain why they were waiting. Not as bad as prisons, nursing homes, and shipwrecks, but it was an artificial way to live. Soldiers learned how to ingest time as if it were a physical thing. They became Zen masters of boredom, always waiting.

    They waited, too, back home. We regularly had communications blackouts, when the Army cut off the Internet and the phones. The blackouts lasted two or three days and were usually after a soldier was killed and the Army did not want anyone calling his or her family or the media or posting online until the next of kin had received official notification. For our spouses and children, panic set in when the e-mails and Skype stopped suddenly. They knew it meant someone had died, and they held their breath and waited until they learned who. That was hard, so we usually figured out which one of us had a cell phone with international dialing that worked outside the Army system. There were a lot of ten-second calls to say the dearest words a soldier can utter to a waiting loved one, “Can’t talk, but I’m OK.”

    In our war, communication was omnivorous-present, and waiting was done at Internet speed. Facebook did not exist when the Iraq war started (war, March 2003; Facebook, February 2004), but it sure as hell was here now. Even in the smallest dirt hole there was a sat phone or some kind of Internet connectivity or someone with the right Jetsons iPhone that got a cell signal in a place that did not even get daylight some weeks.

    It started off as a good thing. We don’t have to wait for the mail! Hey, I can call you from the war! OMG frm #iRaQ LOL. Sometimes it was cool. But a lot of times it meant two worlds that had nothing in common but the soldier collided. Why the hell was she Skyping from home about a small problem with the backyard fence when I’ve just come in from six hours in 110 degrees looking for an arms cache site? What to do about the leak in the basement? You call a plumber, burn down the house, I don’t care, we just took a mortar round and I’m going to miss my only real food of the day in five minutes.

    Other times it was worse. No one picks up at 3:00 a.m. back home in a house that is supposed to contain a sleeping wife. Kids answer the phone, distracted by the Disney Channel, and have nothing to say. You worry after three deployments that the substitution of a phone call for a birthday party grows old even for weary preschoolers. The attempt to reconcile a life out here with a life over there fails again and again and again, until you quit trying. Yeah, the lines were down, or I guess you weren’t home when I called, or maybe I’ll call in a week or so or never. Sometimes after they’d hung up you watched guys unable to say it earlier whisper “I love you” to the dead phone, maybe waiting for a response.

    Of course, many nights it was different and you wanted to sit with the phone to your ear and hear the voice at the other end talk about anything, nothing, forever, your world collapsing into the wire. You clung to a wife complaining about the dry cleaner because that represented somewhere better than where you were and today your head was screwed on tight enough to realize it. You had to store up the good stuff when you could get it because you couldn’t count on it coming when you needed it. Like sleep, you wished there was a way to bank it.

    The availability of communication sometimes forced on me more than I wanted to accept. I was waiting to go home, waiting to hear from my child, waiting for my turn to use the phone, and had no strength left to share everyone else’s burden. I walked past a stranger on the phone in the calling center and heard him say “I want to touch you” to a girl somewhere else. I saw a man listening to a six-year-old recite lines from a play seven thousand miles and a world away, using the speakerphone so he had both hands free to cover his eyes. It was too much to be plunged this deeply into the lives of people I didn’t know, and I wished at those times that phones and e-mail and Facebook and Twitter would just go away.

    Outside the calling center I saw an orange dot poking a hole in the darkness and smelled cigarette smoke. I heard another guy crying in the latrine, buttoned up into some of the only privacy available. He couldn’t wait for the moment of his breakdown— technology thrust it onto him. That’s when I knew it was bad. I stopped sleeping for a while and started just waiting for my own mornings to come.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    Well, That Didn’t Take Long

    December 19, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    As all the false statements by Obama, Panetta and the neocon stenographers who tried to justify the war by claiming Iraq is a democratic, stable society drifted off into space, a day later Iraq’s Sunni-backed bloc suspended its participation in parliament accusing Prime Minister Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government of concentrating power. The move by the Iraqiya parliamentary bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, intensifies political jostling among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs who form Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government.

    Iraqiya said in a statement it was “suspending its participation in parliament … until further notice,” accusing Maliki of stalling on promises to form a partnership government.

    The bloc complained Maliki is delaying filling key positions such as the ministries of defense and security, posts which have been empty for a year because of political squabbling. Supported strongly by minority Sunnis, Iraqiya won the largest number of seats in the March 2010 national election but failed to muster a governing majority. Maliki put together a coalition with Iranian help that included the Sadrists.

    “We think there are new indications of a new attempt to create a dictatorship,” said Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. “We are really worried that the country is being led into chaos and division and the possibility of civil war is there.”


    It gets better, or maybe worse.

    A brewing confrontation in the province of Diyala underscored the risk that violence could erupt. After the mostly Sunni leadership of the province declared last week that it intends to seek regional autonomy under the terms of Iraq’s constitution, Shiite militiamen surrounded the provincial council headquarters and set fire to the Sunni governor’s home.

    The governor and most members of the provincial council have fled to northern Kurdistan, and on Saturday, the main highway linking Baghdad to the northern city of Kirkuk was blocked for a third day by Shiite militiamen who, residents said, belong to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

    And finally….

    An arrest warrant was issued for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi for being the mastermind behind the recent bombing targeting the parliament. He has been banned from leaving the country, and three of his body guards have been arrested on terror charges related to the car bombing which took place on November 28.

    According to the Iraqi government, evidence pointed at al-Hashimi’s embroilment in the parliament blast incident after deriving confessions from four arrested Islamic Party members.

    So…

    “As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” and the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world,” said Leon Panetta.

    But wait…

    There are new stories from Iraq that the Maliki government is no longer issuing passes for journalists to enter the Green Zone. If true, that, plus the general withdrawal of Western media from Iraq now that the “big story” of the troop withdrawal is over, will limit what the world knows about events. Sorry.

    And thus…

    Gonna be an interesting 2012 in Iraq. What is most significant here is not the events– though they are shattering in scope and negative potential– but the timing. Both sides barely waited for the last US soldier to cross the border before beginning the unraveling. No decent interval here, just a contemptuous display of how little the US accomplished.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    Write to Bradley Manning

    November 22, 2011 // 5 Comments »

    Bradley Manning can receive mail and (money order) donations now, with some very specific restrictions/conditions. However, if you wish to contact him you can. Follow the rules on his lawyer’s website.

    After over 530+ days in captivity, Manning gets his first appearance, albeit at a military court, next month. Ironically, the appearance is simply a placeholder formality to determine if grounds exist to move forward. Yeah, right, after all this time, maybe it was all just a mistake, right?

    From my own experience with prison correspondence rules, they are very specific and the people who administer them are very particular. Think about it– that is not a job sought by free spirits and creative thinkers. If the restriction says no more than five pages, they mean it. Prison administrators will either return the entire six page letter to you, destroy it, or at least throw away the last page. Don’t waste time writing in to Bradley’s busy lawyer (as people are doing on his blog) asking about exceptions, or “what five pages” really means.

    Also, prisoners pretty much anywhere can’t receive goods. If you want to help Bradley with pens, stamps or whatever, follow the rules and send him a money order he can use at the prison store.

    The good news is that this means Bradley is aware of the support he is receiving outside, as well as having some minimal situational awareness of what is going on in the world around him.

    More info also from the Bradley Manning Support Network.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    New Interview: With Peter B. Collins of KGO San Francisco

    October 30, 2011 // Comments Off



    Listen in on my conversation with KGO San Francisco’s Peter B. Collins, now online. Here’s how Collins sums it all up:


    Diplomats are masters of spin and doublespeak, but Van Buren is not so diplomatic as he details his role in funding reconstruction and nation building projects in Iraq. Not only is Van Buren a brilliant writer–his colorful narrative is tight but rich, laced with snarky humor–his verbal commentary is just as compelling. We talk about the $6.6 billion in lost funds recently “found”; about how he “volunteered” for a tour in Iraq; the roles of contractors, from armed merceneries to third world crews of cooks and service workers; the contrast between his forward operating base and the unreal scene in the Green Zone and much more.

    Van Buren talks about the power struggle between Defense and State over reconstruction, offers comments on our ambassadors, and is blunt about Obama’s October 21 announcement that he is keeping his campaign promise, and almost all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this year. “The decision…..was made in Baghdad,” said Van Buren, and he added that he thinks there will be thousands of US troops returning to Iraq by next summer.

    If you only buy and read one book this year, make it this one. It’s important, and very well written.



    Catch the whole interview, now online.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    4479: Soldier Death in Iraq Same Day Obama Announces Pullout

    October 27, 2011 // Comments Off

    Too much irony for one war.

    The Department of Defense announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq.

    Private First Class Steven F. Shapiro, 29, of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., died Oct. 21 in Tallil, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

    Steven died the same day Obama announced the US troop pullout, stating “ALL troops would be home by the holidays.”

    Sorry Mr. President, too late. Steven is not coming home.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    Voices from the PRT Diaspora

    October 9, 2011 // 13 Comments »

    A comment from another former PRT contractor:

    I was in Iraq as an adviser from about March 2004 to August 2005 and I know what you mean. I have been an idealist all my life and went to Iraq to turn it to the next Germany, Japan etc through a Marshall Plan sort of aid program. I thought my lifelong dream to be one of the idealist Americans who changed the world has finally come.

    I hate the Middle Eastern regimes that treat woman so ruthlessly and thought that if we can use Iraq as a base to show how wonderful it is to have a civilized free enterprising democracy then we can change the whole world. As you can imagine I was so depressed by the time I chose to call it quits (after many bouts of fights with almost everybody there) and return to the USA. There was no leadership, there was no vision.

    Yet have to say that I met some idealistic people who worked so hard but the rest of them were trying their best to give money (welfare) to US corporations through some gimmick. I worked with some military (especially a General) who I thought was remarkable, shared my view and worked hard under harsh conditions risking their lives. So there are heroes in this effort and my love for the USA increased many folds because of people like that. That’s the only positive thing came out of that experience.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    October 6, 2011 // Comments Off



    Defense.gov news tells us:

    American forces’ efforts in Iraq “have given the people of Iraq a huge gift” through the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a democratic society, a senior U.S. commander said today.

    “We have given them freedom and liberty that they’ve never known, and we have given them the potential to have a democracy in this part of the world … where it would be a unique institution,” Army Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, commander of U.S. Division-North and the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, told Pentagon reporters.


    Aswat al-Iraq, which was or maybe still is, partly funded by the US and thus not the most radical of reporters, has the following stories on its web site:

    Press Freedoms Observatory condemns detention of TV Channel’s reporter
    9/29/2011 6:55 PM

    URGENT: Three killed, 79 injured in Kirkuk explosion
    9/29/2011 6:34 PM

    12 persons injured in Kirkuk booby-trapped car blast
    9/29/2011 12:22 PM

    Policeman killed, officer injured, in Baghdad attack
    9/29/2011 11:30 AM

    Iraqi officer, his bodyguard killed, 3 soldiers injured in Kirkuk attack
    9/29/2011 9:38 AM

    URGENT / Diala’s al-Sahwa Council leader detained on terrorism charge
    9/28/2011 5:19 PM

    Two armed men killed while planting an explosive charge in Kirkuk
    9/28/2011 12:15 PM

    Iraqi Parliament delegation in Kirkuk on fact-finding mission after stepping up of assassinations
    9/28/2011 12:13 PM

    Five civilians killed, 7 injured in Anbar attack
    9/28/2011 12:10 PM

    Iraqi civilian killed, officer injured in Baghdad attack
    9/28/2011 9:50 AM

    Five injured in 2 explosive charges blast in west Baghdad
    9/28/2011 9:24 AM

    8 Civilians injured in Baghdad booby-trapped car blast
    9/28/2011 9:04 AM

    Conference on land-mines and war victims held in Arbil
    9/27/2011 6:17 PM

    15 civilians injured in bomb attacks in central Mosul
    9/27/2011 5:48 PM

    Civilian killed by unknown gunmen in west Baghdad
    9/27/2011 5:45 PM

    Turkish warplanes resume bombardmen​t of Kurdistan’​s border areas
    9/27/2011 5:02 PM

    Turkomen Front charges Parliament with security deterioration in Kirkuk
    9/27/2011 11:50 AM

    Mosque Imam escapes assassination, his companion killed in Diwaniya
    9/27/2011 11:12 AM

    High-ranking Iraqi Army officer assassinated in Baghdad
    9/27/2011 10:39 AM

    URGENT: Kurdish Peshmerga man killed in clash with Mosul village inhabitants
    9/27/2011 9:36 AM




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    Contractors in Iraq Never Held Responsible

    July 8, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    If my child does something wrong, as a parent I’m responsible for interceding. If an employee does something wrong, the employer steps in to fix things. If a US Government contractor in Iraq does something wrong, anything from torture to sexual harassment to murder, nobody is held responsible. By law, it seems.




    Torture

    The latest get out of jail free card was issued by the Supreme Court last week, when they let stand the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that employees of two defense contractors took part in the torture and abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. The justices rejected an appeal by a group of 250 Iraqis seeking to reinstate their lawsuit against CACI International Inc, which provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc’s Titan unit, which provided interpreters to the U.S. military.

    The lawsuit was filed in 2004 on behalf of the Iraqis who said they or their relatives had been tortured or mistreated while detained by the US military at Abu Ghraib. They said contractor employees participated in the abuse. The justices declined to review a federal appeals court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit because the companies had immunity as government contractors. The Obama administration supported the companies and said the appeal should be denied. Free at last, I guess.

    Rape

    Another case to make the news concerns the alleged rape in Iraq of KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones by another KBR employee (Ms. Jones’ name and picture have been prominently featured around the web, so we are not “outing” anyone here). The criminal case got lost in immunities, and KBR’s insistence that the allegations be dealt with through the employee arbitration proceedings spelled out in Jones’ employment contract.

    After six years of legal fussing and fighting, the courts eventually sided with Jones, who is pursuing the matter as a civil complaint. Details are complex, and what really happened seems unclear—a good break down of the evidence is on Mother Jones. The claimed attack took place in 2005; ultimate source of all contractor legal matters Ms. Sparky has pages of details on the legal events since then.

    Sexual Harassment

    The problem of contractor liability is not new, nor is it going away. As a reminder, we’ve written previously about the problem women interpreters claiming sexual harassment at the hands of their contractor employment face– it is almost impossible to successfully sue any of America’s finest contractors for things that may have happened in Iraq.

    Murder

    We also wrote about KBR, the contractor who runs the backstage portion of our wars, setting up the chow halls, building the offices, running the power lines and maintaining the plumbing. It is the latter task that resulted in a slip and fall lawsuit just settled after a federal judge ruled that KBR cannot be sued by someone who slipped in a toilet it maintained at Camp Shield. KBR argued against their having any liability for anything they ever did, citing cases as significant as the Supremes’ 1803 hit Marbury v. Freaking Madison in their defense.

    Ironic Comparison to the UK

    No blog post here is complete without an ironic comparison, this time to the way the UK has treated human rights abuses by its soldiers (Ok, yeah, not exactly the same as contractors, but…).

    The European court of human rights on July 7 issued two landmark rulings on UK abuses in Iraq. In the first (al-Skeini and others) it found that Britain had violated the rights of the families of four Iraqis killed by British forces (and one other case in which responsibility for the killing is disputed) by failing to ensure independent investigations into their deaths. In the second (al-Jedda) it ruled the UK had violated the rights of a man it had interned for three years without trial or any real opportunity to challenge his detention, on vague grounds of security.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers

    May 16, 2011 // Comments Off

    My thanks to the dozens of sites that picked up my article on embedding with the military (“Warrior Pundits and War Pornographers”). If you haven’t read it, please visit one of the sites below and have a look:

    TomDispatch

    Diplopundit

    Salon

    Huffington Post

    The Nation

    American Empire Project

    American Conservative Magazine

    Mother Jones

    Michael Moore

    Jezebel

    Le Monde

    Daily Kos

    Myfiredoglake

    Rethink Afghanistan

    Middle East Online

    Guernica

    …and many more I haven’t been able to catalog yet. My thanks to everyone!



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    Freedumb They Died For

    April 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    Another example of the good use of American lives and taxpayer dollars to bring freedom to those oppressed by an evil dictator (episode 875):

    An Iraqi Army force has surrounded al-Ahrar (Liberals) Square in central Mosul on Monday, to prevent demonstrators from reaching the square that witnessed a sit-in demonstration over the past few days.

    “An Iraqi Army force has surrounded al-Ahrar Square since Monday morning, preventing demonstrators to reach the square,” a security source said, adding that the Army closed all the streets leading to the square, where about 3000 demonstrators gathered.

    He said the Army force opened fire in the air and used water hoses to disperse the demonstrators.

    Mosul had witnessed broad sit-demonstrations in al-Ahrar square since April 9th, demanding the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, release of detainees and carrying out public reforms.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    109,738

    April 14, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Free Iraqi ChildSimon Peres said “America is unique. One nation in history laid down hundreds of thousands of lives and took no land — no land from Germany, no land from Korea, no land from Japan.” Colin Powell added, “The only land we took after the last great conflict was enough land to bury our dead.”

    Both Simon Peres and Colin Powell lied.

    (more…)

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    PrePub Alert: LibraryJournal.com

    April 11, 2011 // Comments Off

    LibraryJournal.com

    An early review from the nice folks at LibraryJournal.com:

    Van Buren, Peter. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. Metropolitan: Holt. Oct. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780805094367.

    A Foreign Service officer for more than two decades, Van Buren led the State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team in its effort to win over the Iraqis through invigorating social projects—like sports murals in violence-wracked neighborhoods and pastry-making classes to help folks supply goods to nonexistent cafés on rubble-strewn streets without water or electricity. Talk about the arrogance of trying to remake a world in our image without even knowing the world we are trying to remake. Billed as bitingly funny, though I’m not sure I’m laughing; an important book from someone who was there.

    My book also beat out one by Ozzy Osbourne to be a “Pick” of the editor.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military

    Location of Permanent Bases

    April 10, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    Iraq Base Locations With all the talk of SecDef Gates in Iraq trying to secure some sort of US military presence after the official “withdrawal” date of New Year’s Eve 2011 (“Mother of all New Year’s Eves,” MONYE, pronounced “money”), I’ll lay down a marker on which bases will be kept alive:

    (more…)

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in * Most Popular, Military