History > 2009 > USA > War > Iraq (II)
When the Mind Is a Casualty of War
to Be Valuable Assets
July 28, 2009
The New York Times
By BENEDICT CAREY
The sight was not that unusual, at least not for Mosul, Iraq, on a summer
morning: a car parked on the sidewalk, facing opposite traffic, its windows
rolled up tight. Two young boys stared out the back window, kindergarten age
maybe, their faces leaning together as if to share a whisper.
The soldier patrolling closest to the car stopped. It had to be hot in there; it
was 120 degrees outside. “Permission to approach, sir, to give them some water,”
the soldier said to Sgt. First Class Edward Tierney, who led the nine-man patrol
“I said no — no,” Sergeant Tierney said in a telephone interview from
Afghanistan. He said he had an urge to move back before he knew why: “My body
suddenly got cooler; you know, that danger feeling.”
The United States military has spent billions on hardware, like signal jamming
technology, to detect and destroy what the military calls improvised explosive
devices, or I.E.D.’s, the roadside bombs that have proved to be the greatest
threat in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, where Sergeant Tierney is training
soldiers to foil bomb attacks.
Still, high-tech gear, while helping to reduce casualties, remains a mere
supplement to the most sensitive detection system of all — the human brain.
Troops on the ground, using only their senses and experience, are responsible
for foiling many I.E.D. attacks, and, like Sergeant Tierney, they often cite a
gut feeling or a hunch as their first clue.
Everyone has hunches — about friends’ motives, about the stock market, about
when to fold a hand of poker and when to hold it. But United States troops are
now at the center of a large effort to understand how it is that in a
life-or-death situation, some people’s brains can sense danger and act on it
well before others’ do.
Experience matters, of course: if you have seen something before, you are more
likely to anticipate it the next time. And yet, recent research suggests that
something else is at work, too.
Small differences in how the brain processes images, how well it reads emotions
and how it manages surges in stress hormones help explain why some people sense
imminent danger before most others do.
Studies of members of the Army Green Berets and Navy Seals, for example, have
found that in threatening situations they experience about the same rush of the
stress hormone cortisol as any other soldier does. But their levels typically
drop off faster than less well-trained troops, much faster in some cases.
In the past two years, an Army researcher, Steven Burnett, has overseen a study
into human perception and bomb detection involving about 800 military men and
women. Researchers have conducted exhaustive interviews with experienced
fighters. They have administered personality tests and measured depth
perception, vigilance and related abilities. The troops have competed to find
bombs in photographs, videos, virtual reality simulations and on the ground in
The study complements a growing body of work suggesting that the speed with
which the brain reads and interprets sensations like the feelings in one’s own
body and emotions in the body language of others is central to avoiding imminent
“Not long ago people thought of emotions as old stuff, as just feelings —
feelings that had little to do with rational decision making, or that got in the
way of it,” said Dr. Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity
Institute at the University of Southern California. “Now that position has
reversed. We understand emotions as practical action programs that work to solve
a problem, often before we’re conscious of it. These processes are at work
continually, in pilots, leaders of expeditions, parents, all of us.”
Seeing What Others Miss
The patrol through Mosul’s main marketplace never became routine, not once, not
after the 10th time or the 40th. A divot in the gravel, a slight shadow in a
ditch, a pile of discarded cans; any one could be deadly; every one raised the
same question: Is there something — anything — out of place here?
Clearing a road of bombs is one of the least glamorous and most dangerous jobs
on the planet. It is also one of the most important. In May, coalition forces
found 465 of them in Afghanistan and 333 in Iraq. The troops foiled more than
half the traps over all — but about 10 percent of the bombs killed or maimed a
soldier or a Marine.
“We had indicators we’d look for, but you’d really have to be aware of
everything, every detail,” said Sergeant Tierney, whose unit was working with
the Iraqi police in that summer of 2004.
In recent years, the bombs have become more powerful, the hiding places ever
more devious. Bombs in fake rocks. Bombs in poured concrete, built into curbs.
Bombs triggered by decoy bombs.
“On one route sweep mission, there was a noticeable I.E.D. in the middle of the
road, but it was a decoy,” said Lt. Donovan Campbell, who in 2004 led a Marine
platoon for seven months of heavy fighting in Ramadi and wrote a vivid book,
“Joker One,” about the experience. “The real bomb was encased in concrete, a
hundred meters away, in the midst of rubble. One of my Marines spotted it. He
said, ‘That block looks too symmetrical, too perfect.’ ”
Lieutenant Campbell had the area cleared and the bomb destroyed.
“Unless you know what rubble in that part of Iraq looks like, there’s no way
you’d see that,” he said. “I had two guys, one we called Hound Dog, who were
really good at spotting things that didn’t fit.”
The men and women who performed best in the Army’s I.E.D. detection study had
the sort of knowledge gained through experience, according to a preliminary
analysis of the results; but many also had superb depth perception and a keen
ability to sustain intense focus for long periods. The ability to pick odd
shapes masked in complex backgrounds — a “Where’s Waldo” type of skill that some
call anomaly detection — also predicted performance on some of the roadside bomb
“Some of these things cannot be trained, obviously,” said Jennifer Murphy, a
psychologist at the Army Research Institute and the principal author of the
I.E.D. study. “But some may be; these are fighters who become very sensitive to
small changes in the environment. They’ll clear the same road every day and
notice ridiculously subtle things: this rock was not here yesterday.”
In a study that appeared last month, neuroscientists at Princeton University
demonstrated just how sensitive this visual ability is — and how a gut feeling
may arise before a person becomes conscious of what the brain has registered.
They had students try to pick out figures — people or cars — in a series of
photos that flashed by on a computer screen. The pictures flashed by four at a
time, and the participants were told to scan only two of them, either those
above and below the center point, or those to the left and right. Eye-tracking
confirmed that they did just that.
But brain scans showed that the students’ brains registered the presence of
people or cars even when the figures appeared in photos that they were not
paying attention to. They got better at it, too, with training.
Some people’s brains were almost twice as fast at detecting the figures as
others’. “It appears that the brain primes the whole visual system to be
strongly sensitive to categories of visual input,” kinds of things to look for,
said Marius V. Peelen, a neuroscientist at Princeton and a co-author of the
study with Li Fei-Fei and Sabine Kastner. “And apparently some people’s visual
system processes things much faster than others’.”
Something in the Air
A soldier or Marine could have X-ray vision and never see most I.E.D.’s,
however. Veterans say that those who are most sensitive to the presence of the
bombs not only pick up small details but also have the ability to step back and
observe the bigger picture: extra tension in the air, unusual rhythms in Iraqi
daily life, oddities in behavior.
“One afternoon I remember turning down a road in Baghdad we were very familiar
with, and there’s no one out — very creepy for that time of day,” said Sgt. Don
Gomez, a spokesman for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who took
part in the invasion and later, in 2005, drove a general in and around Baghdad.
Trash was heaped in a spot along the street where Sergeant Gomez and other
drivers in the convoy had not seen it before, so they gave it a wide berth.
“We later called it in to an explosives team and, sure enough, they found one
and detonated it — the thing left a huge crater,” he said.
As the brain tallies cues, big and small, consciously and not, it may send out
an alarm before a person fully understands why.
In a landmark experiment in 1997, researchers at the University of Iowa had
people gamble on a simple card game. Each participant was spotted $2,000 and had
to choose cards from any of four decks. The cards offered immediate rewards, of
$50 or $100, and the occasional card carried a penalty. But the game was rigged:
the penalties in two of the decks were modest and in the other two decks were
The pattern was unpredictable, but on average the players reported “liking” some
decks better than others by the 50th card to the 80th card drawn before they
could fully explain why. Their bodies usually tensed up — subtly, but
significantly, according to careful measures of sweat — in a few people as early
as about the 10th card drawn, according to the authors, Dr. Damasio; his wife,
Dr. Hanna Damasio; Dr. Antoine Bechara; and Dr. Daniel Tranel.
In a study published in May, researchers at King’s College in London did brain
scans of people playing the gambling game used in the University of Iowa study.
Several brain regions were particularly active, including the orbitofrontal
cortex, which is involved in decision making, and the insula, where the brain is
thought to register the diverse sensations coming from around the body and
interpret them as a cohesive feeling — that cooling sensation of danger. In some
brains, the alarm appears to sound earlier, and perhaps more intensely, than
Gut feelings about potential threats or opportunities are not always correct,
and neuroscientists debate the conditions under which the feeling precedes the
conscious awareness of the clues themselves. But the system evolved for
survival, and, in some people, is apparently exquisitely sensitive, the findings
Mastering the Fear
One thing did not quite fit on the morning of Sergeant Tierney’s patrol in
Mosul. The nine soldiers left the police station around 9 a.m., but they did not
get their usual greeting. No one shot at them or fired a rocket-propelled
grenade. Minutes passed, and nothing.
The soldiers walked the road in an odd silence, scanning the landscape for
evidence of I.E.D.’s and trying to stay alert for an attack from insurgents. In
war, anxiety can run as high as the Iraqi heat, and neuroscientists say that the
most perceptive, observant brain on earth will not pick up subtle clues if it is
overwhelmed by stress.
In the Army study of I.E.D. detection, researchers found that troops who were
good at spotting bombs in simulations tended to think of themselves as
predators, not prey. That frame of mind by itself may work to reduce anxiety,
The brains of elite troops also appear to register perceived threats in a
different way from the average enlistee, said Dr. Martin P. Paulus, a
psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, and the V.A. San Diego
Healthcare System. At the sight of angry faces, members of the Navy Seals show
significantly higher activation in the insula than regular soldiers, according
to a just-completed study.
“The big question is whether these differences perceiving threat are natural, or
due to training,” Dr. Paulus said.
That morning in Mosul, Sergeant Tierney gave the command to fall back. The
soldier who had asked to approach the car had just time enough to turn before
the bomb exploded. Shrapnel clawed the side of his face; the shock wave threw
the others to the ground. The two young boys were gone: killed in the blast,
almost certainly, he said.
Since then, Sergeant Tierney has often run back the tape in his head, looking
for the detail that tipped him off. Maybe it was the angle of the car, or the
location; maybe the absence of an attack, the sleepiness in the market: perhaps
the sum of all of the above.
“I can’t point to one thing,” he said. “I just had that feeling you have when
you walk out of the house and know you forgot something — you got your keys,
it’s not that — and need a few moments to figure out what it is.”
He added, “I feel very fortunate none of my men were killed or badly wounded.”
In Battle, Hunches Prove
to Be Valuable Assets, NYT, 28.7.2009,
As wars' death toll nears 5,000,
Dover shows quiet dignity
19 July 2009
By Rick Hampson
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Tonight, as always, the passengers stop talking
when the van makes a sharp left on the tarmac and rolls toward the rear hatch of
the C-17 transport. Now they see its cargo: two gleaming, 7-foot-long aluminum
cases, each covered with an American flag.
Aaron Fairbairn, 20, and Justin Casillas, 19, who met at Army basic training
last year in Georgia and died together this Fourth of July in Afghanistan, rest
side by side on a lonely runway under a nearly full moon.
Aaron's half-brother, Beau Beck, is in the van with other members of the two
privates' families. They have traveled across the continent to witness one of
war's rawest moments — the return of the fallen to native soil.
Since hearing the news, Beck has half-believed there had been a mistake, that
Aaron wasn't really killed in a Taliban attack. But now, seeing the cases, he
almost gasps. This was the kid to whom he'd spoken on the phone 72 hours ago.
"At first you don't want to believe it," he said. "You think, 'It's not true,
it's not true.' But that sight made it true. It was final."
The nation is approaching a combined total of 5,000 military deaths in Iraq,
where the pace of U.S. casualties is declining, and in Afghanistan, where it is
rising. All the remains have come through this air base, site of the nation's
Since April, journalists have been permitted to cover what the military calls
"dignified transfers" of bodies from incoming flights to the mortuary. And, in a
less-publicized change at the same time, the government began to pay for
relatives' travel here for such arrivals.
News organizations' interest or ability to cover routine transfers quickly
faded; only the Associated Press regularly assigns a photographer.
But relatives — who previously were not encouraged by the military to attend the
arrivals and rarely did — now are coming to more than 70% of them.
On one level, the families' presence has changed nothing.
Each transfer is carried out with the same exacting choreography, regardless of
who's watching. But in feel, if not form, their presence changes everything.
His brother's homecoming was the toughest sight of Beau Beck's 32 years, but
he's glad he was there.
"There was this overwhelming sense of honor and respect. You didn't have to know
those two kids on the flight line to feel that," Beck says.
The blue van pulls up behind the transport plane, 25 feet off the tail. To the
left, through the tinted windows, the soldiers' relatives can see a few
journalists standing on the tarmac.
Because the families will watch while standing on the other side of the van, the
journalists can't see them.
Fairbairn's mother and sister would decline to discuss the transfer, and efforts
to reach Casilla's relatives for comment were unsuccessful. Beau Beck later
agreed to talk, explaining, "It was terrible, but it was amazing."
'The Dover Test'
During the Vietnam War, images of flag-draped cases arriving at Dover (and
Travis Air Force Base in California, until 2001 the military's other domestic
mortuary) symbolized the war's terrible cost.
After Vietnam, American leaders contemplating military action began referring to
"the Dover Test:" How would Americans react to those grim sights on the air and
During the Gulf War, the first Bush administration prohibited news media
coverage of returning casualties, supposedly in the interest of privacy. When
the policy continued during the Iraq war, critics cried coverup.In 2004, Joe
Biden, then a senator from Delaware, said the fallen "are essentially snuck back
into the country under the cover of night, so no one can see that their casket
This year the Obama administration re-opened the arrivals to journalists,
provided families approve. (About seven in 10 have.)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates had expressed concern that if the news media
covered transfers at Dover, relatives would feel compelled to attend — a
financial hardship for some who lived far away. So his department decided to pay
and help arrange travel, food and lodging for up to three people per family.
Beck was surprised by the offer, which he and his family quickly accepted.
To his right tonight on the tarmac is a white truck, waiting to move the
transfer cases to the base mortuary. Beck thinks it looks like a bread truck.
Seven members of an Army ceremonial unit — six bearers and a team leader — march
past him and up a ramp into the hold of the huge steel-gray aircraft.
They're joined by a chaplain, an Air Force colonel and an Army brigadier general
from the Pentagon, Francis Mahon.
Mahon is director of the Army's Quadrennial Defense Review — a big-picture guy,
who works far from the battlefield.
He's there because the Army chief of staff has ordered that a general officer be
present for the arrival of every soldier's remains.
"This reminds you there are lives at the end of decisions," Mahon says.
"Everything you do affects a soldier."
In 30 years in the Army, Mahon has seen a lot of pomp — 21-gun salutes, Taps,
flag presentations. This is different.
It's not a ceremony, in military terminology, but a "dignified transfer."
The remains are not in coffins but "cases." They are escorted not by an honor
guard, but a "carry team."
Everything is functional — no speeches, music or dress blues. The carry team
wears camouflage fatigues, combat boots, black berets and, in one concession to
ceremony, white gloves.
That, Beck thinks, is what makes this so powerful — it's so real.
'America cares deeply'
In the cargo hold, a chaplain, Maj. Klavens Noel, reads a prayer over the bodies
of Fairbairn and Casillas, which have come from Afghanistan via Kuwait and
Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
The families cannot hear but see heads bent in prayer as Noel begins: "Almighty
God, we thank you for the freedom we enjoy in our nation as we welcome Privates
Casillas and Fairbairn home this evening. We pray that they may rest in peace.
We pray for their family members, that they may find comfort in knowing that
America cares deeply. We pray for their comrades on the battlefield ..."
Time to move the cases. First is Casillas, a former high school football lineman
from Dunnigan, Calif., who always played bigger than his 175 pounds, and played
hurt if he had to.
Friends and former teachers recall the teen's patriotism — he hung a flag in his
room — and passion for the military.
A month before he left for Afghanistan, he dropped by his high school. His
coach, Roy Perkins, said he thought it was good to see someone achieve what he'd
Packed with ice, his case weighs about 400 pounds. The team leader calls,
"Ready, lift" and the team members, facing each other, grasp the case. On
"Ready, up" they straighten, lifting it. On "Ready, face," three soldiers do a
left face, the other three a right face. Now all are facing toward the tail and
out into the night, toward the bread truck, whose doors are open, waiting.
On "Ready, step" the team moves forward toward the ramp.
On the ground, the colonel says "Present, arms!" His voice is low, crisp. Each
military servicemember slowly lifts a right arm in salute — three seconds up —
and holds it as the team carries the case 46 steps across the tarmac to the
Their pace is exaggeratedly — almost agonizingly — slow.
The families stand behind a rope line, like outside a nightclub. They've been
told not to try to come forward to touch the case. But they never take their
eyes off it.
This is the moment in the transfer when knees buckle and hearts flutter, when
children wail and mothers scream. Tonight, there are racking sobs — "the sounds
that ring in my nights," says David Sparks, a military chaplain standing with
Most of the relatives, he says, arrive on the flight line still in shock:
"Someone's come to the door and told them something, but they don't really
believe it until they see for themselves." They haven't even begun to grieve, so
he doesn't go much beyond a greeting, a hug and, 'I'm so very sorry.' "
As the carry team approaches the truck, they stop, march in place, turn toward
each other and, on the command, "Ready, step!" push the case forward into the
truck and onto its metal rollers, which make a clanging sound as the case moves
At the command, "Order, arms" salutes are lowered — three seconds down.
The team takes six steps back, does an about face and marches back to the plane
for the second case — Aaron's.
'Always with a smile'
Aaron Fairbairn joined the Army because he wanted to make a difference, because
he wanted to learn a skill and because he didn't really have any better options.
"He was just a nice kid — hard-working, fun-loving, always with a smile," Beck
says. Because he was 12 years older and Aaron's biological father was "out of
the picture," Beck says he felt as much like the kid's dad as his brother.
Aaron had drifted a bit after high school, working at a pizza shop and a car
dealership. When Aaron told him he planned to enlist, Beck was surprised and
unenthusiastic: It was wartime.
"He wasn't gung-ho," Beck recalls. "He was a pretty peaceful kid. He didn't want
to fight unless he had to. He just wanted to do his job. ... He'd do what you
told him to do, and he wouldn't show a lot of emotion."
Aaron left for Afghanistan in March and wound up at a combat post in the eastern
province of Paktika. Except for one mission early on, he told his family that
military life consisted mostly of post duty, watching videos they'd sent him and
working out. He was never athletic but had bulked up to 155 pounds from his
induction weight of 115, and boasted of bench-pressing 275 pounds.
Beck got a call from Aaron late Friday afternoon, July 3. Things were quiet; the
action was down south, in Helmand province, where the Marines were on the march.
If anything, he was a little bored.
Later that day, the Taliban attacked.
Saturday morning, an Army chaplain and sergeant were on his mother's porch in
Aberdeen, Wash. When she saw them standing there, Shelley Masters thought that
because it was Independence Day, maybe they were there to raise funds or
That night she, Beau and her 21-year-old daughter, Sascha, took the red-eye to
When the last case is placed in the bread truck, Senior Airman Joseph Holton
must close the truck's door — given its symbolism, the most sensitive part of
Transfer detail team members are selected by their predecessors, after watching
them perform a test drill. Holton and another airman were chosen from a group of
He must make unnaturally slow movements look natural, even though the tendency
is to speed up — especially with the families and the news media watching, and
his adrenaline pumping.
So as he walks, Holton later explains, he paces himself by counting in his head.
He times his steps to his breathing — inhale on heel down, exhale on heel up. He
moves so deliberately as to seem to extend time itself.
Without appearing to, Holton must brace for the unforeseen, such as a gust of
wind that could blow the door shut.
He tries to block out anything that might distract him from the precise
execution of his otherwise workaday task, including the families. Recently, a
mother fell to the tarmac, pounding the ground and screaming, "Don't close the
Holton tries not to look, but he sees the relatives when he does a left face to
close the left door and a right face to close the right door.
Finally, the doors are closed. When the driver turns the ignition, the colonel
orders, "Present arms" to signal a final salute. The truck rolls forward. At
"Order arms" the salutes are lowered.
The truck rolls slowly off to the mortuary, where the bodies will be scanned for
explosives, checked for personal effects, positively identified, autopsied,
embalmed, dressed in a blue Class A dress uniform bearing the Purple Heart,
Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and airborne wings, and placed in a steel
Back on the tarmac, Aaron Fairbairn's mother, brother and sister form a tight
circle, hugging and sobbing. Their soldier is home.
Toll of Iraq, Afghanistan wars
Milestones in the combined U.S. death tolls for the wars in Iraq and
Death Milestones Iraq death toll Afghanistan death toll
1,000 deaths/ July 24, 2004 909 91
2,000/ Aug. 8, 2005 1,832 171
3,000/ Oct. 4, 2006 2,729 271
4,000/ Aug. 5, 2007 3,654 348
4,996/ Friday 4,328 668
Source: Defense Department
Contributing: Paul Overberg
As wars' death toll
nears 5,000, Dover shows quiet dignity, UT, 19.7.2009,
Vets’ Mental Health Diagnoses Rising
July 17, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO
A new study has found that more than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan war
veterans who enrolled in the veterans health system after 2001 received a
diagnosis of a mental health problem, most often post-traumatic stress disorder
The study by researchers at the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs
Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, also found that
the number of veterans found to have mental health problems rose steadily the
longer they were out of the service.
The study, released Thursday, was based on the department health records of
289,328 veterans involved in the two wars who used the veterans health system
for the first time from April 1, 2002, to April 1, 2008.
The researchers found that 37 percent of those people received mental health
diagnoses. Of those, the diagnosis for 22 percent was post-traumatic stress
disorder, or PTSD, for 17 percent it was depression and for 7 percent it was
alcohol abuse. One-third of the people with mental health diagnoses had three or
more problems, the study found.
The increase in diagnoses accelerated after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the
researchers found. Among the group of veterans who enrolled in veterans health
services during the first three months of 2004, 14.6 percent received mental
health diagnoses after one year. But after four years, the number had nearly
doubled, to 27.5 percent.
The study’s principal author, Dr. Karen H. Seal, attributed the rising number of
diagnoses to several factors: repeat deployments; the perilous and confusing
nature of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no defined front lines;
growing public awareness of PTSD; unsteady public support for the wars; and
reduced troop morale.
Dr. Seal said the study also underscored that it can take years for PTSD to
develop. “The longer we can work with a veteran in the system, the more likely
there will be more diagnoses over time,” said Dr. Seal, who is co-director of
the mental health clinic for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the San Francisco
veterans medical center.
The new report joins a growing body of research showing that the prolonged
conflicts, where many troops experience long and repeat deployments, are taking
an accumulating psychological toll.
A telephone survey by the RAND Corporation last year of 1,965 people who had
been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan found that 14 percent screened positive for
PTSD and 14 percent for major depression. Those rates are considerably higher
than for the general public.
“The study provides more insight as to just how stressed our force and families
are after years of war and multiple deployments,” said René A. Campos, deputy
director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of
America. “Our troops and families need more time at home — more dwell time,
fewer and less frequent deployments.”
The study was posted Thursday on the Web site of The American Journal of Public
Dr. Seal cautioned that, unlike the RAND study, the results from her research
could not be extrapolated to the roughly 1.6 million veterans who have served in
Iraq or Afghanistan because about 60 percent of them were not receiving health
care through the veterans system.
But she noted that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans receiving
care through the veterans system was at a historic high, 40 percent, potentially
making the study’s results more universal.
The study also found that veterans older than 40 with the National Guard or the
Reserves were more likely to develop PTSD and substance abuse disorders than
those under 25. A possible reason, Dr. Seal said, is that older reservists go to
war from established civilian lives, with families and full-time jobs, making
combat trauma potentially more difficult to absorb.
“It’s the disparity between their lives at home, which they are settled in, and
suddenly, without much training, being dropped into this situation,” she said.
In contrast, the study found that among active-duty troops, veterans under 25
were more likely to develop PTSD and substance abuse problems than those over
40, possibly because those younger troops were more likely to have been involved
in front-line combat, Dr. Seal said.
Vets’ Mental Health
Diagnoses Rising, NYT, 17.7.2009,
May Go on Display
at Bush Library
July 6, 2009
The New York Times
By DON VAN NATTA Jr.
Many American presidents have kept prized possessions within reach during
their White House years. Franklin D. Roosevelt cherished a 19th century ship
model of the U.S.S. Constitution. One of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s favorite gifts
was an engraved Steuben glass bowl from his cabinet. And sitting on John F.
Kennedy’s desk in the Oval Office was a paperweight made from a coconut shell he
had carved with a distress message after his PT-109 was sunk during World War
The objects have been bequeathed to the American public, accessible through a
visit to each man’s presidential library and museum. And so when the library for
George W. Bush opens in 2013 on the campus of Southern Methodist University in
Dallas, visitors will most likely get to see one of his most treasured items:
Saddam Hussein’s pistol.
The gun, a 9 millimeter Glock 18C, was found in the spider hole where the Iraqi
leader was captured in December 2003 by Delta Force soldiers, four of whom later
presented the pistol to Mr. Bush. Among the thousands of gifts Mr. Bush received
as president, the gun became a favorite, a reminder of the pinnacle moment of
the Iraq war, according to friends and long-time associates.
Before Mr. Bush left the White House in January, he made arrangements for the
gun to be shipped to a national archives warehouse just 18 miles north of his
new home in Dallas. His foundation said a final decision had not been made on
including the gun in the presidential library. But his associates and visitors
to the White House said Mr. Bush had told them of his intention to display it
For nearly five years, Mr. Bush kept the mounted, glass-encased pistol in the
Oval Office or a study, showing it with pride, especially to military officials,
they said. He also let visitors in on a secret: when the pistol was recovered,
it was unloaded.
“We were getting ready to leave the Oval Office, and he told us, ‘Wait a minute,
guys, I want to show you something,’ ” recalled Pete Hegseth, the chairman of
Vets for Freedom, who described a July 2007 visit. “The president moved back
into his private study and he came out with the gun, inside this glass case. He
said, ‘The Delta guys pulled it off Saddam.’ He was very proud of it.”
Mr. Bush also showed Mr. Hegseth another item: a brick from the Iraq safe house
where the Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by an American air strike
The gun is among 40,000 artifacts and gifts the Bushes had collected, including
the bullhorn Mr. Bush used to address rescue workers at ground zero and a
special edition Cooperstown baseball bat signed by every living Hall of Famer.
Douglas Brinkley, an author and history professor at Rice University, said the
pistol opened a psychological window into Mr. Bush’s view of his presidency.
“It represents this Texas notion of the white hats taking out the black hats and
keeping the trophy,” Mr. Brinkley said. “It’s a True West magazine kind of pulp
western mentality. For President Bush, this pistol represents his greatest
moment of triumph, like the F.B.I. keeping Dillinger’s gun. He wants people
generations from now to see the gun and say, ‘He got the bad guy.’ ”
Mr. Bush once said his favorite biography was of Sam Houston, the Texas hero who
would have kept a gun from a vanquished enemy, Mr. Brinkley said. The fact that
Mr. Hussein’s gun was unloaded was an amazing “irony,” he added.
Mark Langdale, the president of the George W. Bush Foundation, said the library
would use items to highlight 25 of Mr. Bush’s presidential decisions. “The gun
is an interesting artifact, and it tells you that the United States captured
Saddam Hussein and disarmed him literally,” Mr. Langdale said. “How we fit that
into the decision to go to war, we haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
One longtime friend of Mr. Bush, who like the others spoke on condition of
anonymity, said the gun had become as important to Mr. Bush as the police shield
given to him by Arlene Howard, the mother of a New York Port Authority officer,
George Howard, who died on Sept. 11. He still keeps the shield with him, the
The George W. Bush Presidential Center will cost $200 million. More than $100
million has already been donated, according to several of Mr. Bush’s friends.
The former president has raised much of the money, usually at small luncheons
and dinners. Some donors have given as much as $5 million, the friends said.
“The president is working very hard, and the money is rolling in,” one friend
said. “People love the man, they think he did a great job, and they know the
library is very important to him.”
The odyssey of the gun began on Dec. 13, 2003, when Mr. Hussein was discovered
in the 8-foot-deep hole on a farm near Tikrit. Delta Force soldiers did not see
the gun at first, said Steve Russell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who
helped lead the mission and is now a Oklahoma state senator.
Mr. Russell said Mr. Hussein had been crouched on all fours, the gun on the
floor. The soldiers kept the rare pistol, which can fire bullets automatically,
with two AK-47s found in the farmhouse, he said.
In early 2004, one of the soldiers came up with the idea of presenting the gun
to Mr. Bush. On March 1 that year, the Delta Force men surprised the president
with the pistol at an Oval Office meeting.
“That was a great day,” Mr. Bush told the Pentagon Channel in December. “I’ve
had a lot of beautiful days in office; some not so happy. But my best days have
come when certain milestones have been reached, and I love to share those
milestones and those days with the people who actually made them happen.”
Hussein’s Gun May Go on
Display at Bush Library, NYT, 6.7.2009,
U.S. Leaves Iraqi District
Where Anger Lingers
June 30, 2009
The New York Times
By MARC SANTORA
BAGHDAD — When Americans first set up a base in the Baghdad neighborhood of
Ghazaliya more than two years ago, their first foot patrol lasted 20 minutes.
Wading through sewage, they were shot at by snipers three times. They made it
only four blocks.
They called the base the Alamo.
This month, as American soldiers prepared to withdraw from such outposts as part
of a security agreement with the Iraqi government, the last stand was drawing to
a close. The base, renamed Casino, will eventually become part of an Iraqi
National Police garrison. To meet a deadline Tuesday, three other bases in the
neighborhood have been dismantled altogether or turned over to Iraqi security
With attacks in the neighborhood down to a fraction of past levels, there was
little for the hundred soldiers in one of the last remaining combat units in
Baghdad to do. When Lt. Brandon Stevenson, 25, joined his Iraqi Army
counterparts on a rare joint patrol in mid-June, the only surprise during their
three-hour walk was coming upon an Iraqi soldier carrying a rocket-propelled
grenade launcher on his shoulder — “for looks,” his commanding officer said.
In this one western Baghdad neighborhood, it is possible to see the story of the
American “surge” in troop strength up close.
Compared with two years ago, before the surge began, the gains are striking,
with attacks in Ghazaliya lower than at any time since Americans began tracking
violence in the city — averaging 1.77 attacks a day for the last month, down
from about 6 or 7 a day as late as last October, American military officials
Schools are open, including one where a teacher had been strung up by her feet
and had her face cut off by extremists. For the first time since the outbreak of
the war, major thoroughfares are lit up at night. Streets where raw sewage once
streamed are now merely battered and strewn with trash.
But beneath the calm, the original sectarian tensions that exploded into civil
Few displaced families have moved back into their houses, with Shiites living in
the northern half and Sunnis in the south. Responsibility for security is also
equally divided — the National Police for the Shiite area and the Iraqi Army for
“Right now we are balanced on a knife’s edge,” said Hamid Majeed, a Sunni
speaking near the rubble of a Shiite mosque that was blown up in 2006. “We do
not like the Americans, but we also thank God when we see them with the Iraqi
Army, because we know we can trust them more than the government forces.”
The lingering resentments and fears that run through interviews with security
officers, residents and former fighters on both sides of the sectarian divide
help explain why the tenuous peace still depends on an overwhelming display of
force — with nearly one Iraqi security officer for every four residents. “There
are armed groups just waiting for the Americans to pull out,” said Staff Sgt.
Nasar Jubeir Mutar of the National Police, citing intelligence reports.
Baghdad remains a fortress city, and in Ghazaliya the sheer number of people
working for the security forces is astounding.
There are more than 500 army soldiers, 700 National Police officers and 400
members of the Sunni Awakening, which allied itself with the Americans to help
restore order across Iraq, as well as several hundred regular Iraqi police
officers, the secret police and armed traffic police officers.
There is no reliable survey of the number of people living here, but
conservative estimates put it at about 13,000. Over the course of several weeks
visiting the neighborhood, it appeared that every fifth house or so remained
Two young men, Ahmed, a Shiite connected to the local militia, and Aham,
involved with local Sunni insurgents, recalled how sectarian battle lines were
drawn over the construction of a Shiite mosque in southern Ghazaliya in 2004.
“When they were building the mosque, extremists in the neighborhood warned them
that it would be blown up,” said Ahmed, who declined to give his last name for
fear of retaliation.
They did so in February 2004, and Shiites exacted revenge 10 days later,
executing two people they believed had been responsible.
Both sides agreed this was the spark that led to an all-out war for control of
the neighborhood. Ghazaliya was strategically important for Sunni fighters
because it straddles the main highway into Baghdad from the west — where Sunni
insurgents held many strongholds.
“Originally, the Shiites were forced from their homes so the Sunnis could
control access to the main highway leading into Ghazaliya,” he said.
Early on, Sunnis were ascendant, taking control of almost all of the
But in 2006, a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra was bombed, and days later the
rebuilt Shiite shrine in Ghazaliya was destroyed for the second time.
“There was no more patience,” said Ahmed. The Shiite militias stepped up
recruitment, using block leaders to sign up nearly every young man of fighting
They began reclaiming the neighborhood, forcing out Sunni families. By January
2007, it was clear that the Sunni side was losing.
Seizing on the desperation of Sunni insurgents, foreign fighters were able to
entrench themselves in the neighborhood. Those fighters, who Ahmed said were
aligned with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a mostly homegrown Sunni insurgent group
that American intelligence says is foreign-led, were not only brutal in battling
Shiites but also in enforcing control over Sunni residents.
When Americans set up their base, they came across a female teacher at a Sunni
school who had been raped, murdered, mutilated and strung up by her feet for all
“She was an English teacher, and Al Qaeda thought that meant she could be a spy
for the Americans and wanted to set an example,” the other young man, Aham,
Although local Sunni residents were increasingly upset about such harsh tactics,
they did not dare to approach the Iraqi security forces for protection, because
they were viewed as an extension of the Shiite militias.
So after the Americans set up their outpost in January 2007, they were able to
convince many local Sunnis to work with them, as part of the Sunni Awakening.
Col. Ra’ad Ali, a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s Special Forces, said a
group of former officers warily approached the Americans. “If anyone went to the
base to sit with an American and talk with them, they say he is a spy and they
kill him,” he said. “So every day when we go, we try and take six or seven guys
from the neighborhood just to act as witnesses.”
Over the past two years, Americans built on those early contacts and forged deep
ties with many in the neighborhood, both Sunni and Shiite.
Entrusting those intelligence sources to Iraqi forces is one of the greatest
challenges still facing Capt. Matthew Todd, the local American commander.
Americans are turning over all their contacts, but since they do not reveal the
identities of their sources, they must help foster a link between them and Iraqi
security forces — a continuing challenge, since the Shiite government believes
many of the Sunni militias are little more than cover for insurgents.
“I don’t want to assign any of them to be in my force,” said Capt. Ishan Falah
Hassan of the National Police. “In my opinion, and this is not the government
opinion, many of them should be arrested.”
He said the American strategy of paying them for doing little more than stopping
their attacks on them was clever, but it was time for the whole system to end.
Still, he worries there are networks of extremists waiting to attack. Last week,
Iraqi forces raided the neighborhood and arrested a man who some high-ranking
Iraqi officials said had been involved in the assassination of the top Sunni
politician in Iraq, Harith al-Obaidi, in a possible signal of an internal
struggle for control over the Sunni bloc.
“The terrorism cells were sleeping and they are ready to attack,” Captain Hassan
said. “Many of the bad guys have been eliminated, but there are many more
Duraid Adnan contributed reporting.
U.S. Leaves Iraqi
District Where Anger Lingers, NYT, 30.6.2009,
Hand Over Control
in Iraqi Cities
June 29, 2009
Filed at 10:38 p.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other
cities Tuesday after American troops handed over security in urban areas in a
defining step toward ending the U.S. combat role in the country. A countdown
clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for
U.S. combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities.
''The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after
everything they sacrificed for the sake of security,'' said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a
senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. ''We are now celebrating the
restoration of sovereignty.''
The Pentagon did not offer any comment to mark the passing of the deadline.
Fireworks, not bombings, colored the Baghdad skyline late Monday, and thousands
attended a party in a park where singers performed patriotic songs. Loudspeakers
at police stations and military checkpoints played recordings of similar tunes
throughout the day, as Iraqi military vehicles decorated with flowers and
national flags patrolled the capital.
''All of us are happy -- Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on this day,'' Waleed
al-Bahadili said as he celebrated at the park. ''The Americans harmed and
insulted us too much.''
Al-Maliki declared a public holiday and proclaimed June 30 as ''National
Midnight's handover to Iraqi forces filled many citizens with pride but also
trepidation that government forces are not ready and that violence will rise.
Shiites fear more bombings by Sunni militants; Sunnis fear that the
Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces will give them little protection.
If the Iraqis can hold down violence in the coming months, it will show the
country is finally on the road to stability. If they fail, it will pose a
challenge to President Barack Obama's pledge to end an unpopular war that has
claimed the lives of more than 4,300 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of
The gathering at the Baghdad park was unprecedented in size for such a postwar
event in a city where people tend to avoid large gatherings for fear of suicide
bombers. They ignored an appeal by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to stay away
from crowded places during the U.S. pullback, which has seen more than 250
people killed in bombings over the past 10 days.
Security at the party was stifling, as it was throughout much of Baghdad where
increased checkpoints dotted the streets and identity checks were methodical.
Police using bomb sniffers searched every man, woman and child who attended the
In a ceremony rich with symbolism, the top U.S. military commander in Baghdad,
Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, gave his Iraqi counterpart the keys to the former
defense ministry building, which had served as a joint base.
''On the eve of the 30th of June 2009 in accord with a security agreement
between Iraq and America, Iraqis take the lead in Baghdad,'' Bolger said.
The withdrawal, required under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, marks the first major
step toward withdrawing all American forces from the country by Dec. 31, 2011.
Obama has said all combat troops will be gone by the end of August 2010.
Despite Tuesday's formal pullback, some U.S. troops will remain in the cities to
train and advise Iraqi forces. U.S. troops will return to the cities only if
asked. The U.S. military will continue combat operations in rural areas and near
the border, but only with the Iraqi government's permission.
The U.S. has not said how many troops will be in the cities in advisory roles,
but the vast majority of the more than 130,000 U.S. forces remaining in the
country will be in large bases scattered outside cities.
There have been some worries that the 650,000-member Iraqi military is not ready
to maintain stability and deal with a stubborn insurgency.
Privately, many U.S. officers worry the Iraqis will be overwhelmed if violence
surges, having relied for years on the Americans for nearly everything.
''We think they are ready,'' U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill told The
Associated Press in an interview Monday. He said his main concern was that a
lack of progress in efforts to reconcile Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds was feeding
the violence that still marks the daily lives of many Iraqis.
''Frankly they need to pick up the pace,'' Hill said of the national
The commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, Gen. David Petraeus, expressed
concern about the spate of high-profile bombings but said the average daily
number of attacks remained low at 10 to 15 compared with 160 in June 2007.
''While certainly there will be challenges -- there are many difficult political
issues, social issues, governmental development issues -- we feel confident in
the Iraqi security forces continuing the process of taking over the security
tasks in their own country,'' said Petraeus after meeting with Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
Despite some concerns, al-Maliki appears eager to see the Americans leave and
has urged Iraqis to hold steady against any rise in violence. Ahead of national
elections next year, al-Maliki is portraying himself as the leader who defeated
terrorism and ended the U.S. occupation.
Iraqi officials said they are expecting some violence but would not allow it to
trigger the sectarianism that nearly sparked a civil war in 2006-2007.
At that time, death squads roamed the streets, slaughtering members of the rival
Muslim sect. Bombs rocked Baghdad daily -- until thousands of U.S. troops poured
in, establishing neighborhood bases and taking control of the Iraqi capital and
While the U.S. troop surge strategy was successful in stemming the bloodshed,
many Iraqis also saw it as an affront to their national pride.
On a visit to Ramadi, a Sunni city 70 miles west of the capital, Interior
Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, told the AP that when the sun rises on
Tuesday ''Iraqi citizens will see no U.S. soldiers in their cities. They will
see only Iraqi troops protecting them.''
Associated Press Writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Ramadi contributed to this report.
American Troops Hand
Over Control in Iraqi Cities, NYT, 29.6.2009,
Truck Bomb Kills Dozens
in Northern Iraq
June 21, 2009
The New York Times
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
BAGHDAD — A truck bomb exploded in a volatile region of northern Iraq on
Saturday, killing at least 49 people and wounding scores more, even as Prime
Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki pledged that attacks like it would not stop or
slow the withdrawal of American troops.
The bombing occurred shortly after noon prayers outside a mosque in Taza, a town
south of Kirkuk, the capital of an oil-rich region that lies on the tense ethnic
fault line between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds, according to officials and witnesses.
The force of the blast gouged a crater in the ground and badly damaged dozens of
homes, burying victims in the rubble, people and officials at the scene said,
expressing fear that the death toll would rise. At least 138 other people were
The area is populated largely by Turkmens, the third largest ethnic group in
Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, who have their own territorial claims in the region.
In what was either a coincidence or ominous timing, the bombing took place only
hours after Mr. Maliki spoke before a daylong conference of Turkmen political
leaders at the Babel Hotel in Baghdad to discuss territorial disputes in Kirkuk
and other issues ahead of national elections now scheduled for January.
Mr. Maliki called for unity among Iraq’s ethnic groups and warned that “those
who move in the dark” wanted “to affect the upcoming elections on the behalf of
malicious motives and destructive goals.”
As he has in recent weeks, he also championed a June 30 deadline for the
withdrawal of most American combat forces from Iraq’s cities — though he
referred only broadly to “foreign forces” on Saturday, as he has been wont to do
lately — and called the date both a day of “national unity” and “national
He vowed that the latest attacks would not force Iraq to reconsider the deadline
for American withdrawals, negotiated under the security agreement that took
effect this year and affirmed by President Obama when he visited Iraq briefly in
“Even those who were talking about getting the occupiers start to call for
keeping foreign troops,” he said, without specifying whom, “but we are saying to
them that those forces cannot stay.”
He urged Iraqis not to “be upset if a violation happens here or there” and
pledged that the government would maintain security.
“We will not retreat,” he said.
Although violence has declined significantly since the worst of Iraq’s sectarian
conflict in 2006 and 2007, attacks continue almost daily against Iraqi and
American forces, while an intermittent pattern of major attacks continue to
wreak havoc, often aimed at civilians in markets, mosques and other public
On June 10, a car bomb killed at least 28 people at a market in Al Batha, near
Nasiriya in largely Shiite southern Iraq. On May 20, a car bomb struck a popular
takeout restaurant in a Shiite neighborhood in western Baghdad.
Many of the attacks appear intended to stoke sectarian tensions, and all have
raised concerns — and increasingly anger — that Iraq’s security forces are not
prepared to provide more security as American support steadily diminishes.
Mustafa Abdullah Zain al-Abedeen, 28, a farmer, said he had returned home for
lunch near the site of Saturday’s bombing when the windows shattered and part of
the ceiling collapsed.
“Then I got out of the house to find my neighbors’ house had been damaged,” he
said in a hospital in Kirkuk, where many of the wounded were taken. “Smoke, fire
and dust were everywhere. It was the first time in my life I saw such a scene.”
Abeer Mohammed contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of
The New York Times from Taza and Kirkuk.
Truck Bomb Kills Dozens
in Northern Iraq, 21.6.2009,
US to Stick
to Iraq Withdrawal Date
June 15, 2009
Filed at 11:10 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
BAGHDAD (AP) -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday that he remains
''absolutely committed'' to pulling back all combat troops from urban areas by
the end of the month, as provided for in a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement.
Gen. Ray Odierno said a limited number of advisers and trainers will remain in
the cities to work with Iraqi security forces, leaving unanswered questions
about how many U.S. troops would remain and where they would be located.
''We will not get into any specific numbers, but it is a very small number,''
Odierno told a joint news conference with key Iraqi officials.
Odierno said the pull back of combat troops would also extend to the northern
city of Mosul, where Sunni insurgents still pose a threat.
Earlier this year, he said Mosul might be one of the cities where combat troops
might remain. Odierno said violence and tensions in Mosul have declined.
''I feel much more comfortable with the situation in Mosul now,'' Odierno said.
Under the Iraqi-U.S. security pact, American combat troops must withdraw by June
30 with all U.S. forces out of the country by the end of 2011. President Barack
Obama has said all combat troops will leave Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving up to
50,000 troops in training and advising roles.
The withdrawal from the cities will be a major test for Iraq's army and police,
which failed to stem a wave of Shiite-Sunni slaughter in 2006. That prompted the
U.S. troop surge of 2007 which is widely credited with quelling the violence.
Many Iraqis are happy to see foreign soldiers off their streets but fear their
own security forces may not be up to the challenge.
Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called June 30 a historic day that ''will be
written in Iraqi history.''
''The American troops will complete withdrawal by leaving some technical limited
members for training purposes of Iraqi government,'' al-Dabbagh said.
He also said the U.S. role in Iraq would be limited.
''There will be no combat missions unless by the invitation of the Iraqi
government,'' al-Dabbagh said.
Violence has declined dramatically in Iraq, though sporadic attacks with high
body counts continue to plague the country.
During the press conference, Odierno also said the number of foreign fighters
coming into Iraq has dropped in the past 10 months to ''just a trickle.''
Odierno credited the decline to better security along Iraq's borders and efforts
by Iraq's neighbors including Syria to curb illegal traffic.
The security agreement also requires the U.S. to release all detainees or
transfer them to Iraqi custody by the end of the year.
Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi said the U.S. has released more than
3,000 detainees and handed over 750 more to Iraqi authorities.
Detainees loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have begun a hunger strike to
protest alleged abuse in Iraqi prisons, according to the spokesman of the
Sadrist movement, Salah al-Obeidi, who is unrelated to the defense minister.
More than 300 detainees from al-Sadr's movement began a hunger strike Sunday at
the Rusafa prison in eastern Baghdad, he said.
Complaints about mistreatment of inmates in Iraqi prisons gained widespread
attention last week when a Sunni lawmaker who was a champion of prisoner rights
was killed after delivering a sermon at a Baghdad mosque.
They're hoping to draw attention to their plight and force Iraqi officials ''to
find solutions for their suffering inside the prison,'' al-Obeidi said.
Al-Obeidi said most of the detainees have been held without charge for at least
''Their cases are still unsettled,'' he said. ''Some officers demand bribes to
complete their cases and release them.''
Later Monday, the Iraqi army's Baghdad command announced that four judges would
be sent to the Rusafa prison to look into detainee complaints.
US Commander: US to
Stick to Iraq Withdrawal Date, NYT, 15.6.2009,
Bomb Kills G.I. in Baghdad
as Attacks Keep Rising
May 28, 2009
The New York Times
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
BAGHDAD — An American soldier and four Iraqi civilians died Wednesday when a
bomb exploded on a Baghdad street as a United States military patrol drove past,
The death of the soldier, whose name was not released, brings to at least 20 the
number of American soldiers who have died this month, the most since September
2008, when 25 service members died.
In recent months, there has been an uptick in attacks against Iraqi civilians
and United States forces, leading to concerns that insurgents are regrouping
before the June 30 deadline for American combat troops to withdraw from Iraqi
The attack on Wednesday occurred about 2 p.m. as an American convoy was passing
through the Abu Ghraib district in western Baghdad. As the patrol moved past a
roadside market, the explosion occurred, said an Iraqi security official,
speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak
publicly. Ten Iraqi civilians were wounded, the official said.
The American military confirmed the death of the soldier in a brief statement on
Wednesday, but provided few other details except to say that the attack was
Abu Ghraib, once dominated by Sunni insurgents, is the site of the prison where
Iraqi detainees were abused by American jailers who also took photographs of
their actions. The jail is now called Baghdad Central Prison and is run by
The military also said Wednesday that Cmdr. Duane G. Wolfe of the Navy was one
of the three men killed by an explosive device this week near the city of
Falluja. Commander Wolfe was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers, and was in
charge of its office in Anbar Province, the military said in a statement.
Also on Wednesday, Iraq’s Commission of Integrity, which monitors government
corruption, said only 34 members of Iraq’s 275-member Parliament had submitted
their mandatory financial disclosure forms. Parliament and Prime Minister Nuri
Kamal al-Maliki have announced anticorruption campaigns in recent weeks in an
effort to curtail what is commonly believed to be widespread corruption in the
Mr. Maliki, according to the commission’s report, was among the officials who
had submitted a disclosure form.
Earlier this week, Mr. Maliki’s trade minister, Abdul Falah al-Sudani, resigned
after Parliament summoned him to answer questions about corruption and
mismanagement in the ministry. On Wednesday, Mr. Maliki’s office announced it
would take over administration of the ministry’s affairs until a new minister
The Trade Ministry oversees the food ration card program, which most Iraqis use
to buy heavily subsidized food items like rice, sugar and cooking oil.
In northern Iraq on Wednesday, the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government
began exporting crude oil for the first time after reaching a settlement on the
issue with the government of Iraq this month. The first exports were to start
June 1, but Asim Jihad, a spokesman for Iraq’s Oil Ministry, said Wednesday
evening that 10,000 barrels of oil had been pumped from Tawke field in Kurdistan
via an Iraqi government-owned pipeline to Turkey, where it would be sold.
The field will eventually produce 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day, Mr. Jihad
said. The revenue will go to the Iraqi government, which will divide it among
its provinces and regions, including Kurdistan, officials said.
Though the Oil Ministry has granted approval for the exports, it has refused to
recognize the roughly two dozen oil contracts that Kurdistan has signed with oil
companies, meaning that Kurdistan may have to pay oil companies out of the
revenue it receives back from the Iraqi government.
Mohamed Hussein, Anwar J. Ali and Duraid Adnan contributed reporting.
Bomb Kills G.I. in
Baghdad as Attacks Keep Rising, NYT, 28.5.2009,
When the Mind Is
a Casualty of War
May 25, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
I applaud Bob Herbert’s insightful column “War’s
Psychic Toll” (May 19).
Having served as a Navy psychiatrist during another unpopular war, Vietnam, I
want to underline that much of the political and mental health fallout that we
are seeing from this war is the unintended consequence of an all-volunteer
Because there is no draft, the sons and daughters of most of our citizens are
not being pressed into danger. Our leaders are largely insulated from the
political consequences of having involved this country in a pointless and
The small size of our forces and the length of the war make repeated deployments
inevitable. It has been clearly documented that two tours is the limit that most
of our soldiers can take without serious psychic damage. With each tour after
that, serious mental health problems increase exponentially.
In addition, the very real stigma regarding mental health issues prevent many
from seeking treatment. In a professional army, one visit to a psychiatrist, or
one prescription for Prozac, can ruin a career.
We have put our people in an impossible situation. Voices like that of Bob
Herbert will push our leaders to take this seriously.
Robert L. Pyles
Wellesley, Mass., May 20, 2009
The writer is chairman of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Committee on
To the Editor:
We at Veterans Across America have watched with dismay as the Iraq and
Afghanistan conflicts have dragged on, knowing the grim result: that thousands
of badly scarred (physically and psychologically) young veterans will struggle
to readjust to civilian life, wrestling with depression, homelessness, suicide —
or murderous rage.
Bob Herbert mentions the “psychic stress of the wars,” which he rightly links to
multiple tours of service. We would add that a significant portion of “psychic
stress” is often economic stress — which can be overwhelming for returning
veterans. The Army sergeant accused of five killings at a counseling center in
Iraq, John Russell, had fallen into debt on a $1,500-a-month-mortgage, and
feared losing his paycheck and pension.
In our experiences with returning veterans, the stresses of remaking life after
military service — in the face of unemployment, lost jobs, crumbling marriages,
home foreclosures, long delays in psychological treatment, and the psychic
ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder — can make life on the home front just
as terrifying as life in a battle zone.
We have conducted research on the need for business mentors as an economic
lifeline for returning veterans. As a nation, we owe it to service members to
ensure that the overwhelming stresses on them are substantially reduced.
New York, May 20, 2009
The writers co-founded Veterans Across America in 2002.
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert’s assessment of the psychic toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
should open the eyes not only of the military in its handling of these cases,
but also those of the public.
Unfortunately, the stigma of psychological illness and diagnosis plagues our
troops. Mental illness is still treated differently than a physical illness. A
number of men and women in the military do not get treatment because
post-traumatic stress disorder and depression that develop in war have no quick
fixes, and they cannot be seen like an amputated limb and so go undiagnosed (or
Until there is parity in treatments for all disabilities, both physical and
psychological, we will continue to see terrible incidents like the one at the
counseling center in Iraq.
Gail T. Waters
Durham, N.C., May 19, 2009
To the Editor:
In psychoanalysis, a good interpretation can have the effect of shaking an
analysand out of his defensive slumber. Bob Herbert’s column did just that. Mr.
Herbert courageously directed our attention beyond the body count of war to the
often hidden psychological effects that can persist long after peace treaties
have been signed.
The need for mental health services for our veterans and their families is
crucial. Mental health providers must understand the hidden impacts of trauma on
families, particularly on developing children, and the potential for the
intergenerational transmission of trauma.
One of the difficulties with post-traumatic stress disorder is that the
readiness or need for treatment may emerge years after the trauma. Therefore,
veterans and their families need long-term treatment options and long-term
access to treatment, even if symptoms are not present at their time of
William H. Braun
New York, May 19, 2009
The writer is a psychoanalyst.
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert says a lot of correct things in “War’s Psychic Toll,” but none more
accurate than that “we should all be engaging in some form of serious sacrifice,
and many more of us should be serving.” After decades of “volunteer service,”
producing the psychological morass we find many of our troops in, it’s past time
to reconsider the draft.
Like solving the future of Social Security and Medicare, the draft has been a
third rail our leaders will not touch. I believe that if they addressed these
problems, they would find, instead of a resentful electorate, one thankful that
the veil of doubt and fear of an unknown future is lifted.
Oxford, Md., May 19, 2009
When the Mind Is a
Casualty of War, NYT, 25.11.2009,
At Least 22 Killed in Iraq Attacks
May 25, 2009
The New York Times
By ROD NORDLAND
BAGHDAD — On the same day that military spokesmen gave a rare briefing in
Baghdad to announce a continued drop in overall violence, insurgents killed at
least 22 people in eight attacks in Mosul and Falluja on Sunday, using roadside
bombs, drive-by shootings, suicide bombers and execution-style killings, police
One of the dead was a 2-month-old whose house in Falluja was hit by a hand
grenade, which also wounded his parents and another child, a police official
In Mosul, insurgents surrounded a home where two officers of the National Police
lived, shot it up, then entered and killed them, according to a police official
at the Nineveh Province operations center. Police spokesmen commonly decline to
be identified by name, in line with official policy.
Baghdad, however, was calm after a number of recent suicide bombings.
At a briefing in the new and seldom used media center in Camp Prosperity, the
main American base in central Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the
Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, and Maj. Gen. David Perkins, top spokesman for
the United States military in Iraq, both emphasized that a recent increase in
spectacular attacks ran contrary to the overall norm, which they described as
fewer and less effective attacks.
Gone are the days when insurgents could mount coordinated attacks, sometimes
involving many gunmen, General Atta said. “We have not witnessed a direct
confrontation since 2007 on Iraqi security forces,” he said. He put the current
frequency of attacks at 20 to 25 a week, compared to 450 a week in 2007.
General Perkins, while acknowledging the surge in violence beginning in April,
also said that May so far had half as many attacks as last month. “From a macro
point of view, the attacks trend down,” he said.
The deadliest attack on Sunday came in the northern city of Mosul, one of the
few remaining strongholds of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely Iraqi group with
some foreign leadership.
A suicide bomber in a van packed with explosives appeared to be aiming at an
American patrol but detonated the bomb after the patrol had moved out of range,
the police official said. The blast destroyed a restaurant and several shops in
the Dawasa Kharij neighborhood, killing 8 people and wounding 26, some of them
Elsewhere in Mosul, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi Army patrol, killing two
soldiers and wounding six others in the neighborhood of Al Zahraa. In another
neighborhood, Al Andalus, gunmen ambushed and killed a university teacher near
his home. And a group of gunmen surrounded a home in the Palestine neighborhood
of Mosul, killing a woman and her daughter inside.
The Mosul attacks all took place in daytime.
In addition, the police found the bullet-riddled bodies of two men and two
women, dumped overnight on a back road. At least one of the victims was a
Christian, a teacher.
Besides the home bombing in Falluja, the city was the site of an ambush by
gunmen, of a man and his wife who were driving through the city. Falluja has
been quiet for many months now, with American troops largely gone from the city.
Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Mosul and
At Least 22 Killed in
Iraq Attacks, NYT, 25.5.2009,
Fate of Iraqis Gone Missing
Haunts Those Left Behind
May 25, 2009
The New York Times
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
and SUADAD AL-SALHY
BAGHDAD — During the worst of Iraq’s sectarian violence three years ago, Anam
Diham’s 13-year-old son went out to buy vegetables one afternoon. He never
Since then, Ms. Diham has exhausted her family’s life savings trying to find the
boy, who spent his days with his father searching Baghdad’s streets for dropped
She has traveled to big American prisons and small-town Iraqi cemeteries. And as
have hundreds of other people, mostly women in black abayas, she often waits
patiently in line outside government offices, waiting to meet with officials she
hopes will have news. They never do. After all this time, no one can say whether
her son is dead or alive.
“All I need is to find some clue about him,” Ms. Diham, a mother of seven, said
recently as she pored over hundreds of photographs of unidentified bodies at a
morgue. “I’d like to build a grave to visit him. Nothing more than that.”
She made it through about a quarter of the photos before she left, too upset to
Ten thousand Iraqis are listed as missing since the American invasion six years
ago — although the Iraqi government acknowledges that its figures are probably
only a small fraction of the actual number. Most of those who disappeared are
believed to be dead. But even those whose bodies have been found are not always
identified quickly; Dr. Munjid Salah al-Deen, the manager of Baghdad’s central
morgue, said his staff was working to identify 28,000 bodies from 2006 to 2008
The authorities are hampered by some of the cruelties of war and the poverty it
brings: some bodies are mutilated and hard to identify, and there is little
money for new forensic workers to handle the huge caseload.
But families also question the Iraqi government’s resolve in investigating
cases, and groups like the Red Cross have become involved on the issue. “The
problem of the missing is enormous,” said Dibeh Fakhr, a spokeswoman for the
Iraq office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. “Families have the
right to know, and governments have an obligation to help find out what happened
to their loved ones.”
In some cases, the missing have been kidnapped and are released after ransoms
are paid. Other times, their bodies are found years after they disappeared,
after being fished out of a river or dug up from one of the mass graves that
continue to be discovered around the country every few weeks.
Relatives say the lack of information from the government has left them in
limbo: not wanting to admit that a loved one has probably been killed, but not
believing that he or she is still alive either.
The toll of not knowing is not just emotional; in Iraq’s male-dominated society,
there is also a practical consequence.
In most cases, until a missing male head of a household is declared dead by the
government, the wife is unable to collect benefits, hold a funeral, remarry or
gain access to the family’s bank account, usually in the husband’s name, for
Some families have resorted to claiming a body they know is not their loved
one’s, so the women can get access to the money they need to live, a Baghdad
morgue official said.
Kamil Amin, a director at Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights, the agency charged
with helping people track the missing, said recently that he believed that more
should be done to aid the families of those who disappeared, especially those
whose primary wage earners are missing.
His ministry, Mr. Amin said, is doing its best to cope with a heavy caseload.
“The government is morally responsible to these families,” he said. “We think
almost all of the missing have been killed by terrorists, but the legal system
There are a variety of factors contributing to the delays in solving cases,
according to aid organizations and the government. Iraq has only one DNA lab and
a limited ability to freeze samples; almost half of the country’s provinces have
no forensic pathologists; and a lack of coordination among government agencies
means that the Iraqi Army and the police frequently remove bodies from graves
without first informing the Human Rights Ministry, often losing valuable
identifying evidence in the process.
Further, Iraq has no central database to try to link the more than 15,000
unidentified bodies that have been buried anonymously in the past few years with
a list of names of the missing. There is also no record of victims of sectarian
violence who have been buried informally in unmarked plots.
Even if family members think they have found a missing relative, they often need
the help of government labs to be sure. Many victims of sectarian violence were
beheaded, had limbs amputated or had holes drilled into their skulls, making
them less recognizable.
The bodies of others have decomposed, leaving only bits of bone, tattered
clothing and plastic sandals as clues.
Identification sometimes comes down to a guess, a dim memory of a shirt worn the
day a husband disappeared or of which tooth a son had lost years before in an
Ghaniah Ayed Mudhi, who lives in the industrial city of Baiji, in northern Iraq,
has had a brother, two cousins and two brothers-in-law disappear since 2006.
Her brother, Muhammad Ayed Mudhi, left behind 4 children and 11 other
dependents. He disappeared after being pulled out of his truck at a checkpoint.
Later, a stranger came to the family’s house demanding the equivalent of $7,000
for his return. The family paid the ransom, but Mr. Ayed Mudhi, who would be 29
if alive, remains missing.
In the Shuala neighborhood of Baghdad, Fadhilah Harfish has kept the room that
belonged to her 25-year-old son, Muhammad, as he left it — just a little tidier.
The bed is made. The curtains are drawn. His shirts hang neatly in a closet.
Relatives removed photos of Muhammad from the house because Ms. Harfish
sometimes spent hours crying over them. The family has visited morgues, prisons
and graveyards, and has even communicated with members of Al Qaeda in
Mesopotamia and the Mahdi Army militia, to no avail.
Muhammad, who trained as a teacher, had been working as a taxi driver, a common
job for Iraqis who cannot find career-oriented work. Driving cabs was also among
the most dangerous jobs during the height of the sectarian killings. He
disappeared one morning in December 2007, early in his workday.
“I can’t sleep at night,” said Ms. Harfish, sobbing. “I can’t forget him. He’s
like my breath.”
The family of Ms. Diham, whose 13-year-old son disappeared while buying
vegetables, has been squatting at a former army base in Baghdad’s Amiriya
They survive by recycling aluminum cans scavenged from a large garbage dump a
few dozen yards away.
The glass on their windows has been knocked out by explosions from car bombs,
and there is no proper front door, only a strip of white cloth.
One of the rooms is filled with piles of empty cans waiting to be bagged. Among
the family’s few possessions are two white mules and a television set.
Ms. Diham said she had decided to give up looking for her son, Meethaq, out of
frustration and fatigue. But her husband, Basim, who cries at the mention of the
child’s name, vowed to keep searching.
“This case has exhausted our money,” he said, sitting on a worn carpet. “But I
won’t stop until I find something.”
Fate of Iraqis Gone
Missing Haunts Those Left Behind, NYT, 25.5.2009,
Gets Life Sentence
for Iraq Murders
May 22, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO
A jury in Kentucky sentenced a 24-year-old former soldier to life in prison
without parole on Thursday for raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdering
her, her parents and a younger sister in Iraq.
The verdict spared the defendant, Steven D. Green, death for a crime that
prompted Iraqi demands for retribution and raised questions about Army oversight
of its combat-stressed forces.
After deliberating for just one day, the 12-member jury, sitting in Paducah,
Ky., declared itself hung late Thursday afternoon, resulting in the lesser
sentence, said Dawn Masden, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney for the
Western District of Kentucky, based in Louisville.
The verdict seemed likely to anger Iraqis who had argued that Mr. Green and the
other soldiers involved in the murders should have been tried by an Iraqi court
and who had asserted that only a death penalty could satisfy the family and
At least four other soldiers have pleaded guilty or were convicted in military
courts for their roles in the rape and murders. While most received long prison
terms, none are facing the death penalty, and all will be eligible for parole in
10 years or less.
Mr. Green’s trial was the first capital punishment case tried under a 2000 law
allowing federal criminal courts to try crimes committed overseas by former
members of the military, military dependents, contractors and other civilians,
legal experts said. Mr. Green left the Army, with an honorable discharge on a
diagnosis for a personality disorder, just weeks before he was arrested in 2006.
The March 2006 murders in Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, were so bloody
that American and Iraqi authorities first thought they were the work of
insurgents. The American soldiers were implicated after at least one
acknowledged to fellow soldiers a role in the crimes.
At the time, the Iraq insurgency was near its violent apex, and American forces
were suffering heavy casualties. Private Green’s unit, Bravo Company, First
Battalion, 502nd Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne
Division, was sent to a particularly violent area that soldiers called the
Triangle of Death soon after arriving in Iraq in the fall of 2005.
The battalion quickly suffered casualties, including a sergeant close to Private
Green. In December, Private Green, along with other members of his platoon, told
an Army stress counselor that he wanted to take revenge on Iraqis, including
civilians. The counselor labeled the unit “mission incapable” because of poor
morale, high combat stress and anger over the deaths, and said it needed both
stronger supervision and rest. It got neither, testimony at Mr. Green’s trial
On March 11, 2006, after drinking Iraqi whiskey, Private Green and other
soldiers manning a checkpoint decided to rape an Iraqi girl who lived nearby,
according to testimony. Wearing civilian clothing, the soldiers broke into a
house and raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. Soldiers in the group testified
that Private Green killed the girl’s parents and a younger sister before raping
and then shooting the girl in the head with the family’s own AK-47, which it had
kept for self defense.
At his trial, Mr. Green’s lawyers built a case intended less to deny his role in
the crime than to plant questions about whether he deserved the death penalty.
Mr. Green, who was reared in Midland, Tex., came from a broken and chaotic home,
defense witnesses testified, and despite scoring well on intelligence tests, was
highly impulsive and did poorly in school. He got into the Army in 2005 on a
so-called morals waiver, having had problems with alcohol and drug abuse.
On May 7, the same jury that issued the life sentence convicted Mr. Green on 17
counts, including premeditated murder.
In the sentencing phase of the trial, the Army stress counselor, Lt. Col. Karen
Marrs, a mental health nurse practitioner, testified that Private Green was
disturbed by deaths in his unit and had expressed a desire to hurt Iraqi
civilians. But Colonel Marrs also said such sentiments had been expressed by
other members of the unit and were not uncommon among troops in combat. On
questioning from the prosecution, she also said that she thought Private Green
clearly understood that hurting civilians would be wrong and that he had no
plans to act on his anger.
The defense argued that the Army should have provided stronger leadership to
Private Green’s unit and should have removed Private Green from front-line duty
for more intensive mental health care.
The prosecution strenuously rejected that argument, saying that many combat
troops faced the same kinds of trauma and stress as Private Green and his
platoon, but that few committed atrocities.
“The defendant failed to live up to his duty to protect the innocent people of
Iraq,” Marissa Ford, one of the federal prosecutors, said near the beginning of
the penalty phase.
After the sentencing, Doug Green, 28, Mr. Green’s brother, told The Associated
Press: “I do think it gives him a chance to have some semblance of a life. We’re
grateful for that.”
The team of defense lawyers, Scott Wendelsdorf, Darren Wolff and Patrick
Bouldin, said in a statement: “The defense thanks the jury for their careful
consideration and ultimate decision. There are no winners in a case like this
that is tragic on so many levels.”
Ex-Soldier Gets Life Sentence for Iraq
Murders, NYT, 22.5.2009,
Shining a Bright Light on Torture
May 20, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Images, the Law and War” (Week in
Review, May 17):
There is never a good time to release graphic images of torture. It is always
troubling to look at abuse carried out in our name, and there is no timing, or
excuse, that will make it any more palatable. But this does not mean that the
country has the option to bury the past, resolve to do better, and hope that
this national nightmare just disappears. This is denial and wishful thinking at
its worst. If we do this, it will come back to haunt us.
The concern about the negative impact of releasing a new batch of horrific
images is real — but there are ways to address this concern. One recourse is to
just release a list of the pictures (including date, venue, personnel and
detailed description) to the general public. The actual images would then be
made available to hearings and commissions in Congress, and investigations in
the Department of Justice.
But by far the most effective way to combat the fallout from releasing the
pictures is transparency and accountability. The country needs to know what
happened and how it happened, and it needs to see that those responsible for
committing crimes are held accountable.
If we want the world to respect us as a democracy, we must act like one.
New Haven, May 17, 2009
To the Editor:
The focus of the debate on releasing images of American mistreatment of
prisoners seems to me misplaced. If a person shines a flashlight that
illuminates the terrible actions that others try to hide in the dark, we don’t
condemn the flashlight-holder; we condemn the people doing terrible things.
This is a pragmatic as well as idealistic argument. The contention that
releasing the images would “further inflame anti-American opinion” is naïve:
Iraqis and Afghans know well the behavior of Americans in these wars, so
releasing the images would give no new knowledge. But with information
suppressed, how much worse behavior than what exists may be rumored to fan those
Conversely, what if pictures that some would wish to remain hidden were
available, along with ones we are proud of? If such openness were repeatedly
demonstrated, the United States would stand out in contrast to repressive
regimes rather than in their company.
Nancy M. Henley
Cockeysville, Md., May 18, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “Photographs and Kangaroo Courts” (editorial, May 17):
You are quite correct in suggesting that President Obama’s unexpected turn
toward President George W. Bush’s rationale for violating constitutional and
humanitarian principles in the name of fighting terrorism would actually demean
(traditional American) civilian and military justice and make martyrs of
This nation cannot violate its democratic principles in the name of saving them,
for such hypocrisy is too convenient, building our house upon sand.
Arthur H. Gunther III
Blauvelt, N.Y., May 17, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “In Interrogation Furor, Republicans Land a Rare Blow to Pelosi” (news
article, May 16):
Whether or not Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew that detainees were being tortured is a
side issue. The real issue is how American officials acquiesced in the use of
torture. One would have thought that abhorrence of torture was so ingrained in
the American character that no one, from the president on down, would have even
considered its use.
Portsmouth, N.H., May 16, 2009
To the Editor:
It looks as if President Obama is finally forced to accept a concept that he
avoided as a candidate: reality. His recent reversal on every Bush terror policy
from wiretapping to Gitmo to military tribunals is nothing short of an apology
and an admission that President Bush had it right all along.
Let’s just hope that Speaker Nancy Pelosi puts up the closing notices soon and
we can get on with the business of saving this country from its own ruin.
Oakland Gardens, Queens
May 18, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “Bitter Start to a Hearing on Interrogation Tactics” (news article, May 14):
Speaking for myself alone, I find that often people opposed to the use of
torture on terrorist suspects use three arguments: Torture is illegal, immoral
and ineffective. We should note that the inclusion of “effectiveness” of torture
is inconsistent with arguments based on legality and morality. Is murder less
immoral or illegal when it is effective in some sense?
If effectiveness is a criterion for evaluating torture, it follows logically
that first we consider whether there are ways of making it more effective. The
logical conclusion is that there are only two reasons to oppose torture: its
illegality and immorality. Arguments based on its apparent ineffectiveness lead
in an entirely different and unpleasant direction.
Washington, May 19, 2009
The writer is director of preparedness policy, planning and assessment, Federal
Emergency Management Agency.
To the Editor:
It is incredible that our elected officials in Washington are wasting our time
on “who was told about the details of torture and when were they told.” If we
want to know about how our country tortured and who authorized it, it is time to
appoint a 9/11-type commission to get at the facts, so torture will never be
I know a bit about this: my son was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11,
and I’m certain that we were smart enough at the time to determine who did it
without resorting to torture.
If a commission is appointed, I’m volunteering; I’m an ordinary citizen who is
not a lawyer but who has broad experience as an involved American.
Let’s get past the current smokescreens and on to matters that can help all
Americans and improve their lives. We are tired of the politics and want
Venice, Fla., May 19, 2009
Shining a Bright Light
on Torture, 19.5.2009,
Images, the Law and War
May 17, 2009
The New York Times
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — It was a hypothetical question in a Supreme Court argument, and
it was posed almost 40 years ago. But it managed to anticipate and in some ways
to answer President Obama’s argument for withholding photographs showing the
abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What if, Justice Potter Stewart asked a lawyer for The New York Times in the
Pentagon Papers case in 1971, a disclosure of sensitive information in wartime
“would result in the sentencing to death of 100 young men whose only offense had
been that they were 19 years old and had low draft numbers?” The Times’s lawyer,
Alexander M. Bickel, tried to duck the question, but the justice pressed him:
“You would say that the Constitution requires that it be published and that
these men die?”
Mr. Bickel yielded, to the consternation of allies in the case. “I’m afraid,” he
said, “that my inclinations of humanity overcome the somewhat more abstract
devotion to the First Amendment.”
And there it was: an issue as old as democracy in wartime, and as fresh as the
latest dispute over pictures showing abuse of prisoners in the 21st century. How
much potential harm justifies suppressing facts, whether from My Lai or Iraq,
that might help the public judge the way a war is waged in its name?
The exchange also contained more than a hint of the court’s eventual calculus:
The asserted harm can’t be vague or speculative; it must be immediate and
concrete. It must be the sort of cost that gives a First Amendment lawyer pause.
As it happened, Mr. Bickel’s response outraged the American Civil Liberties
Union and other allies of the newspaper in the Pentagon Papers case, which
concerned the Nixon administration’s attempt to prevent publication of a secret
history of the Vietnam War. They disavowed Mr. Bickel’s answer and said the
correct response was, “painfully but simply,” that free people are entitled to
evaluate evidence concerning the government’s conduct for themselves.
Which is a good summary of the interest on the other side: Scrutiny of abuses by
the government enhances democracy because it promotes accountability and prompts
Justice William O. Douglas, in a 1972 dissent in a case about Congressional
immunity, described his view of the basic dynamic. “As has been revealed by such
exposés as the Pentagon Papers, the My Lai massacres, the Gulf of Tonkin
‘incident,’ and the Bay of Pigs invasion,” he wrote, “the government usually
suppresses damaging news but highlights favorable news.”
Indeed, the Nixon administration successfully opposed the use of the Freedom of
Information Act to obtain the release of documents and photographs concerning
the killings of hundreds of South Vietnamese civilians in 1968 at My Lai. (The
decision led Congress to broaden that law.)
Disclosure of abuses can also provoke a backlash. The indelible images that
emerged from the Vietnam War helped turn the nation against the war, and may
have steeled America’s enemies. And earlier photographs of abuse at the Abu
Ghraib prison in Iraq were used for propaganda and recruitment by insurgents
How, then, to apply the lessons of history and law to the possible disclosure of
additional images of prisoner mistreatment by Americans in the current wars?
On Wednesday, when Mr. Obama announced that the government was withdrawing from
an agreement to comply with court orders requiring release of the images, he
said there was little to learn from them and much to fear. But he offered
speculation on both sides of the balance.
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our
understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of
individuals,” he said. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them,
I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our
troops in greater danger.”
The first assertion, which the Bush administration also made, is not universally
accepted. In a 2005 decision ordering the release of the images, Judge Alvin K.
Hellerstein of the Federal District Court in Manhattan said they may provide
insights into whether the abuses shown were indeed isolated and unauthorized.
And the claim that harm would follow disclosure — that terrorists, for example,
would exact revenge — is hard to measure or prove. “The terrorists in Iraq and
Afghanistan do not need pretexts for their barbarism,” Judge Hellerstein wrote.
In the Pentagon Papers case, too, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of
publication, saying, in essence, that speculation about potential harm was not
There are, of course, profound differences between the two cases. One concerned
the constitutionality of a prior restraint against publishing information
already in the hands of the press; the other is about whether civil rights
groups are entitled to obtain materials under the Freedom of Information Act.
But both involve contentions that serious harm would follow from publication.
Justice Stewart’s answer, in his concurrence in the 6-to-3 decision, was that
assertions are not enough. “I cannot say,” he wrote, that disclosure “will
surely result in direct, immediate and irreparable damage to our nation or its
people.” In other contexts, too, the Supreme Court has endorsed limits on speech
only when it would cause immediate and almost certain harm to identifiable
people. More general and diffuse consequences have not done the trick.
In 1949, for instance, the court overturned the disorderly conduct conviction of
a Chicago priest whose anti-Semitic speech at a rally had provoked a hostile
crowd to riot. Free speech, Justice Douglas wrote, “may indeed best serve its
high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with
conditions as they are or even stirs people to anger.”
Fear of violence, however, was enough to persuade many people that publication
of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad should be discouraged or forbidden.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who has handled terrorism cases,
said the only prudent course in the current case is to withhold the images. “If
you’re in a war that’s been authorized by Congress, it should be an imperative
to win the war,” he said. “If you have photos that could harm the war effort,
you should delay release of the photos.”
But Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the civil liberties union, said history favored
disclosure, citing the 2004 photographs from Abu Ghraib and the 1991 video of
police beating Rodney King in Los Angeles.
But the touchstone remains the Pentagon papers case. It not only framed the
issues, but also created a real-world experiment in consequences.
The government had argued, in general terms, that publication of the papers
would cost American soldiers their lives. The papers were published. What
David Rudenstine, the dean of the Cardozo Law School and author of “The Day the
Presses Stopped,” a history of the case, said he investigated the aftermath with
an open mind.
“I couldn’t find any evidence whatsoever from any responsible government
official,” he said, “that there was any harm.”
Images, the Law and War,
War’s Psychic Toll
May 19, 2009
The New York Times
By BOB HERBERT
I couldn’t have been less surprised to read last week that an American G.I.
had been charged with gunning down five of his fellow service members in Iraq.
The fact that this occurred at a mental health counseling center in the war zone
just served to add an extra layer of poignancy and a chilling ironic element to
the fundamental tragedy.
The psychic toll of this foolish and apparently endless war has been profound
since day one. And the nation’s willful denial of that toll has been just as
According to authorities, John Russell, a 44-year-old Army sergeant who had been
recognized as deeply troubled and was on his third tour in Iraq, went into the
counseling center on the afternoon of May 11 and opened fire — killing an Army
officer, a Navy officer and three enlisted soldiers. The three enlistees were
19, 20 and 25 years old.
This is what happens in wars. Wars are about killing, and once the killing is
unleashed it takes many, many forms. Which is why it’s so sick to fight
unnecessary wars, and so immoral to send other people’s children off to wars —
psychic as well as physical — from which one’s own children are carefully
The fallout from the psychic stress of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been
vast, but there was no reason for its destructive effects to have surprised
anyone. There was plenty of evidence that this would be an enormous problem.
Speaking of Iraq back in 2004, Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, who had been an assistant
secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, said, “I have a very
strong sense that the mental health consequences are going to be the medical
story of this war.”
I remember writing a column about Jeffrey Lucey, a 23-year-old Marine who was
deeply depressed and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D.,
when he returned from Iraq after serving in the earliest months of the war. He
described gruesome events that he had encountered and was harshly critical of
himself. He drank to excess, had nightmares, withdrew from friends and wrecked
the family car.
On the afternoon of June 22, 2004, he wrote a note that said, “It’s 4:35 p.m.
and I am near completing my death.” He then hanged himself with a garden hose in
the basement of his parents’ home.
Because we have chosen not to share the sacrifices of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, the terrible burden of these conflicts is being shouldered by an
obscenely small portion of the population. Since this warrior class is so small,
the same troops have to be sent into the war zones for tour after harrowing
As the tours mount up, so do the mental health problems. Combat is crazy-making
to start with. Multiple tours are recipes for complete meltdowns.
As the RAND Corporation reported in a study released last year:
“Not only is a higher proportion of the armed forces being deployed, but
deployments have been longer, redeployment to combat has been common, and breaks
between deployments have been infrequent.”
Recent attempts by the military to deal with some of the most egregious aspects
of its deployment policies have amounted to much too little, much too late. The
RAND study found that approximately 300,000 men and women who had served in Iraq
and Afghanistan were already suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression. That’s
nearly one in every five returning veterans.
The mass-produced tragedies of war go far beyond combat deaths. Behind the
abstract wall of RAND’s statistics is the immense real-life suffering of very
real people. The toll includes the victims of violence and drunkenness and
broken homes and suicides. Most of the stories never make their way into print.
The public that professes such admiration and support for our fighting men and
women are not interested.
Other studies have paralleled RAND’s in spotlighting the psychic toll of these
wars. A CBS News survey found that veterans aged 20 to 24 were two to four times
as likely to commit suicide as nonveterans the same age. A Time magazine cover
story last year disclosed that “for the first time in history, a sizable and
growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants
to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
We’re brutally and cold-bloodedly sacrificing the psychological well-being of
these men and women, which should be a scandal. If these wars are so important
to our national security, we should all be engaging in some form of serious
sacrifice, and many more of us should be serving.
But the country soothes its conscience and tamps down its guilt with the
cowardly invocation: “Oh, they’re volunteers. They knew what they were getting
War’s Psychic Toll, NYT,
Among 5 Killed,
a Mender of Heartache
and a Struggling Private
May 17, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO
and PAUL von ZIELBAUER
They came to the clinic at the base in Iraq for reasons as different as their
Maj. Matthew P. Houseal, a 54-year-old psychiatrist and father of seven in the
Army Reserve, was there to counsel, having requested an Iraq deployment to
support soldiers struggling with the heartache and hardship of war.
Pfc. Michael E. Yates, 19, was there to talk, perhaps about the pain he was
feeling about being separated from his girlfriend and infant son, relatives
And Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, was there because he had to be. After 15 years in
the Army, he had fallen into debt and out of favor with his commanding officer,
who took away his weapon and sent him for counseling.
It was in that clinic, a low-slung building at Camp Liberty on the outskirts of
Baghdad, that Sergeant Russell used a weapon that he seized from an escort last
Monday to shoot and kill Major Houseal, Private Yates and three other people,
Army officials say. He has been charged with five counts of murder in the
deadliest case of soldier-on-soldier violence involving the American military in
the six-year Iraq war.
That the shootings, which remain under investigation, happened in a clinic
intended to be a quiet oasis from combat has in no small way underscored how
stressful the nation’s two wars have become for its stretched military forces.
Army studies and surveys show that multiple deployments and long deployments
contribute to higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and
marital problems. And soldiers on their third or fourth deployment are at
significantly higher risk than soldiers on their first or second ones for mental
health problems and work-related problems, according to the Army Mental Health
Advisory Team Report released last year.
Though it is far from clear what motivated the shootings, the Army announced
last week that it would undertake extensive reviews of whether it was providing
adequate mental health services for troops in Iraq.
“If we’ve learned anything in this war,” Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger said in Iraq
last week, “is that, you know, not all injuries are physical.”
The clinic, known as a restoration center, is where troops can go for
counseling, classes, therapy or rest, whether at their own volition or on
orders. Within its air-conditioned environs are a lounge equipped with chairs
and board games and a residential area where troops can stay for up to four
days. Private rooms are available for individual therapy or group classes in
anxiety and anger management, smoking cessation or sleep hygiene.
Sergeant Russell, of the 54th Engineering Battalion based in Bamberg, Germany,
may have received counseling from a chaplain, Army officials said, but his
commanders determined that he needed more intensive care. Precisely what
prompted those concerns is unclear, but his friends and family said that he had
grown increasingly disenchanted with the Army and anxious about his future in
In an interview with a television station in Sherman, Tex., Sergeant Russell’s
father said his son had a learning disability and had problems holding good jobs
before he joined first the National Guard in 1988 and then the active duty Army
But that career seemed in jeopardy, Sergeant Russell recently told his father,
because of tensions with his commanding officer, and the sergeant feared he was
being sent for counseling as a prelude to being drummed out. The Army, Wilburn
Russell said, was his son’s “whole identity.”
Losing his job would effectively end his chances of receiving a military
pension, Mr. Russell said, and Sergeant Russell could little afford that: he had
fallen behind on the $1,500 per month mortgage payments on a house he bought in
There were other pressures. Sergeant Russell’s father-in-law was “dying of
cancer,” and a cyst had been found on the liver of his 20-year-old son by a
previous marriage, Mr. Russell said.
“All these things weigh on him,” Mr. Russell told KXII, a North Texas station.
Though Mr. Russell described his son as “the most stable guy in the world,” two
men who served alongside Sergeant Russell said he was unhappy with Army life.
Michael Hanna, who served with Sergeant Russell in Ramadi in 2005 and 2006,
described him as largely keeping to himself, smoking and watching bootleg DVDs
in his spare time. A communications specialist, he was frequently criticized by
his superiors and berated by younger soldiers who assumed that he had been
passed over for promotion, said Mr. Hanna, now a civilian.
“There was never one uplifting conversation that I have ever had with that guy,”
Mr. Hanna said. “He wasn’t saying, ‘I’m gonna kill myself.’ It’s just a general,
‘I hate this place,’ times 10.”
It is unclear whether Sergeant Russell had gone to the clinic before the
shooting. But if he had, he might have seen one of the two men who were killed
there last week, Major Houseal and Cmdr. Charles K. Springle, a licensed
clinical social worker.
Both men had spent time in their home communities helping returning troops and
veterans with mental health problems, Major Houseal as a psychiatrist for Texas
Panhandle Mental Health Mental Retardation in Amarillo and Commander Springle as
director of the Community Counseling Center at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
In his free time, Commander Springle, 52, also advised health care workers in
dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome among reservists.
Major Houseal had served in the Navy years ago but joined the Army Reserve in
2007 and volunteered to go to Iraq, friends said. It was typical behavior from a
man who had been swift to offer aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina and was
known to fly himself to remote parts of the Panhandle to treat indigent
“The irony is, Dr. Houseal and those others were there to help,” said Edward
Schertler III, executive director of the Panhandle organization. “It’s just
Private Yates, one of three enlisted men who died at the clinic, was among the
people Dr. Houseal might have tried to help.
Private Yates, of Federalsburg, Md., came from a military family: a brother and
sister had served, as had his stepfather. Though he seemed to take to the Army
at first, he struggled when he returned to Iraq after a home leave last month,
deeply missing his girlfriend and 1-year-old son, his sister said. So he took
himself to the clinic, relatives said.
“Just had a great conversation with the girl of my dreams,” Private Yates wrote
on his MySpace page on May 9, two days before the shooting. “Baby you mean so
much to me i miss you and cant wait to come home to you.”
Lizette Alvarez contributed reporting.
Among 5 Killed, a Mender
of Heartache and a Struggling Private, NYT, 17.5.2009,
Pictures of Torture,
the Fact of Torture
May 15, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Obama Reversal on Abuse Photos” (front page, May 14):
While release of the photos depicting torture by United States military
personnel may “further inflame anti-American opinion” and endanger troops, the
torture itself is what truly inflames our enemies and allies.
Anything less than full disclosure endangers all Americans, for only by fully
confronting the extent of these immoral and illegal practices can we properly
assess what it will take to prevent future administrations and military
personnel from weakening our legal and ethical footing and endangering our
Further, we need to stop discussing whether torture gets results. Whether it
does or not, it is immoral, period, and should never be considered.
New York, May 14, 2009
To the Editor:
It isn’t hard to understand or appreciate the fine line that President Obama
seeks to walk in the reversal of his previous decision to release more detainee
abuse photos: on the one hand, the prospect of those in the previous
administration who formulated and approved torture policy getting off scot-free
is frustrating to many; on the other hand, doesn’t the prospect of revenge being
perpetrated against our troops make releasing the photos too risky?
As Republicans continue their efforts to bring the president down, at least to a
level where they can gain some upward traction, President Obama continues to
wrestle with the many issues of the day, juggling them, at least now, more
skillfully than his predecessors, thinking things through even after making a
decision, and unafraid to reverse himself if he feels it is necessary.
President Obama will be criticized either way. That is in large part
specifically because of the nature of the new Republican Party, and only partly
because that is the nature of a democracy.
Patricia A. Weller
Westminster, Md., May 14, 2009
To the Editor:
When Allied forces liberated the Nazi death camps in World War II, Gen. Dwight
D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander, ordered German citizens to walk through the
concentration camps to see the victims’ bodies. He wanted them to witness what
their government had done as proof against denials the Holocaust had occurred.
President Obama should follow Eisenhower’s example and let Americans confront
the visual evidence of the horrors committed in our name. Verbal accounts are
not enough to silence those who will deny or minimize this abuse.
Bloomington, Ind., May 14, 2009
The writer, an associate professor in the Indiana University School of
Journalism, is a historian of photography who has published on the My Lai
To the Editor:
Re “Rogue Diva of Doom,” by Maureen Dowd (column, May 13):
Dick Cheney presents Americans with the false choice of the ideologue: if we
don’t torture, Americans will die. Ideologues propose false choices because the
tactic rhetorically transforms their radical ideas into the only plausible and
Our choice is not between torturing and dying. Americans expect their government
to do all that is necessary to protect the nation as long as it is done within
the tradition of American freedom and justice. Freedom and justice can be
preserved only by courageous people, however.
No one is asking most of us to storm the beaches at Normandy or march across a
bridge in Selma, Ala. But we do need to be courageous enough to uphold a
heritage that was built on the enormous sacrifices of generations of Americans.
If Americans are too afraid to champion American ideals, who will?
Princeton, N.J., May 13, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “The Torture Debate: The Missing Voices” (editorial, May 7):
There are other crucial voices missing from the torture debate, particularly
those civilians who were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, tortured and then
released months or years later without being charged. This happened in
Afghanistan, Iraq (remember Abu Ghraib) as well as in Guantánamo and at C.I.A.
In the Physicians for Human Rights 2008 report “Broken Law, Broken Lives,” my
colleagues and I documented the profound physical and psychological suffering
resulting from the torture and abuse of 12 people, all of whom were ultimately
released without charges, but not before being subjected to beatings, sexual
humiliation, sleep deprivation, death threats and extremes of heat and cold. In
other words, they were tortured.
In several instances, health professionals were complicit. Then there are the
voices of torture survivors, like my patients at the Bellevue-N.Y.U. Program for
Survivors of Torture, subjected to brutalities in their home countries eerily
similar to what we did. Their voices must be heard along with those of innocent
civilians living under despot regimes who now face greater risk of torture
because of our misguided policies.
There needs to be an independent and complete investigation.
Allen S. Keller
New York, May 8, 2009
The writer, a medical doctor, is director of the Bellevue-N.Y.U. School of
Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture and a member of the advisory board of
Physicians for Human Rights.
To the Editor:
As the debate over torture heats up, it seems the Republican response is always
to remind us that Bush & Company “kept us safe since 9/11.” That’s terrific, and
the Bush administration surely gets some credit for that. But wouldn’t it have
been even better if it had also kept us safe on 9/11? Why is it that 9/11
doesn’t count when Dick Cheney and the Republicans are bragging about their
St. Louis, May 12, 2009
Pictures of Torture, the
Fact of Torture, NYT, 14.5.2009,
Obama Moves to Bar
Release of Detainee Abuse Photos
May 14, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY
and THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — President Obama said Wednesday that he would
fight to prevent the release of photographs documenting abuse of prisoners in
Iraq and Afghanistan by United States military personnel, reversing his position
on the issue after commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly
backlash against American troops.
The administration said last month that it would not oppose the release of the
pictures, but Mr. Obama changed his mind after seeing the photographs and
getting warnings from top Pentagon officials that the images, taken from the
early years of the wars, would “further inflame anti-American opinion” and
endanger troops in two war zones.
The decision in effect tossed aside an agreement the government had reached with
the American Civil Liberties Union, which had fought to release photographs of
incidents at Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other prisons. The Justice Department
informed the United States District Court in New York, which had backed the
A.C.L.U.’s request, that it would appeal the ruling, citing “further reflection
at the highest levels of government.”
To explain his position, which was sharply criticized by the A.C.L.U., Mr. Obama
spoke at the White House before flying to Arizona to deliver a commencement
address. He suggested that the new mission in Iraq and Afghanistan could be
imperiled by an old fight.
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our
understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of
individuals,” Mr. Obama told reporters on the South Lawn. “In fact, the most
direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame
anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he had changed his mind about releasing
the photographs, and suggested the president did as well, because of the strong
views of the top commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen.
David D. McKiernan, who is being replaced.
In Iraq, American combat forces are withdrawing from urban areas and reducing
their numbers nationwide. In Afghanistan, more than 20,000 new troops are
flowing in to combat an insurgency that has grown in potency ahead of national
elections in August.
The A.C.L.U. had prevailed in the case at the federal trial court level and
before an appeals court panel. The photographs were set to be released on May 28
under an agreement with the Pentagon and the White House. But as that date
approached, military officials expressed growing unease to Mr. Gates, who then
discussed the issue with the president.
Officials who have seen the photos describe them as falling into two categories:
Abu Ghraib-style personal snapshots taken by soldiers; and photos taken by
military criminal investigators documenting allegations of abuse, including
autopsy photos of prisoners who died in custody.
Many of the photos may recall those taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq,
which showed prisoners naked or in degrading positions, sometimes with Americans
posing smugly nearby, and caused an uproar in the Arab world and elsewhere when
they came to light in 2004.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the decision to
fight the release of the photos was a mistake. He said officials had described
them as “worse than Abu Ghraib” and said their volume, more than 2,000 images,
showed that “it is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These
were policies set at the highest level.”
One Pentagon official involved in the discussion said the photos showed
detainees in humiliating positions, but said they were not as provocative as
pictures of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. The official said that the photos
showed detainee nudity, and that some included images of detainees shackled for
transfer. Other photographs showed American military personnel members with
weapons drawn, pointing at detainees in what another official said had the
appearance of “a war trophy.”
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe photographs that are
the subject of continuing litigation.
During the court case, Pentagon officials had fought the release of the
photographs, connected with investigations between 2003 and 2006, on the grounds
that their release could harm American military personnel overseas and that the
privacy of detainees would be violated. But the United States Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit, in upholding a lower court ruling, said the public
interest involved in release of the pictures outweighed a vague, speculative
fear of danger to the American military or violation of the detainees’ privacy.
Last month, the administration said it had agreed to release the images, in part
because it did not believe it could persuade the Supreme Court to review the
case. But Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that the
president did not believe that the government had made the strongest possible
case to the court about the ramifications of releasing the photographs,
particularly on “what the release of these would do to our national security.”
The release of these detainee photographs, Pentagon and military officials said,
could provoke outrage and, in particular, be used by violent extremists to stoke
attacks and recruit suicide bombers. Military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan
were said to be particular targets of such attacks, but officials said civilians
also might be extremists’ targets.
Several left-leaning groups, which had been fierce critics of the Bush
administration, said they were stunned by the decision. Human Rights Watch
called it a blow to transparency and accountability. And Mr. Romero, the
executive director of the A.C.L.U., suggested that the Obama administration was
“covering up not only for the Bush White House, but for itself.”
Asked whether release of the photos might not help Al Qaeda or provoke violence
in the Muslim world, Mr. Romero said, “The greatest recruitment tool for Al
Qaeda and violent jihadis has been the use of torture.”
In his remarks at the White House, Mr. Obama spoke out forcefully against
torture and said he had impressed upon military commanders “that the abuse of
detainees in our custody is prohibited and will not be tolerated.” But as
commander in chief, he said, the well-being of American forces carrying out his
strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq outweighed the call to release the images.
“Moreover,” he said, “I fear the publication of these photos may only have a
chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”
Elisabeth Bumiller and Scott Shane contributed reporting.
Obama Moves to Bar
Release of Detainee Abuse Photos, NYT, 14.5.2009,
Counseling Was Ordered for Soldier
in Iraq Shooting
May 13, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO
and LIZETTE ALVAREZ
He was a career Army man who joined up because it was a steady job, but he
had fallen into debt paying off a $1,500-a-month mortgage, his father said. Now,
just weeks from finishing his third tour in Iraq, Sgt. John M. Russell was in
trouble with his commanding officer, who ordered him to turn in his gun and
receive psychological counseling.
On Monday, after a confrontation with the staff at a clinic at Camp Liberty, a
sprawling base on the outskirts of Baghdad, Sergeant Russell returned with a
weapon, possibly wrestled away from his armed escort, and killed five people,
Army officials said. It appeared to be the worst case of soldier-on-soldier
violence among American forces in the six-year Iraq war.
Sergeant Russell, 44, of the 54th Engineering Battalion, based in Bamberg,
Germany, has been charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated
assault in the shooting, said Maj. Gen. David Perkins, a spokesman for the
military in Iraq.
The dead included an Army officer and a Navy officer on the clinic staff, and
three enlisted soldiers who were at the clinic.
On Tuesday, details of the shooting remained unclear, with the Army conducting
both a criminal investigation and a review of how Sergeant Russell obtained a
weapon. But the multiple strains on Sergeant Russell’s life began to emerge in
lengthy remarks by his father to a Texas television station.
In the interview, with the station, KXII, Wilburn Russell said his son had
recently angered a commanding officer, who had “threatened” him.
When the officer ordered Sergeant Russell to undergo counseling and relinquish
his weapon — a major rebuke in the military — he became nervous that the Army
was “setting him” up to be discharged, Mr. Russell said.
Having recently built a house in Sherman, Tex., a town of about 37,000 people
north of Dallas, Sergeant Russell was deeply anxious that he could lose not only
his steady paycheck but also his military pension, his father said.
“If a guy actually goes to the clinic and asks for help, they think of him as a
wimp and he’s got something wrong with him and try to get rid of him,” Mr.
Russell said. “Well, he didn’t go and ask voluntarily for help. They scheduled
him in, and they set him up. They drove him out. They wanted to put as much
pressure on him as they could to drum him out.”
He added: “I think they broke him.”
Sergeant Russell joined the Army National Guard in 1988 and the active duty Army
in 1994, military records show.
A spokesman for the Army in Washington declined to comment on Mr. Russell’s
remarks, citing the continuing investigation. But earlier in the day, General
Perkins said the Army had handled the case appropriately.
“The tools were all being used,” General Perkins said. “They thought that he
needed a higher level of care than the unit could provide, so they sent him to
the clinic. I mean, you see, all the kind of things that we’re taught to do were
The Navy identified its dead officer as Cmdr. Charles Keith Springle, 52, of
Wilmington, N.C., a licensed clinical social worker. The Army on Tuesday night
had not released the names of the other shooting victims pending notification of
The shooting has renewed debate over the stresses placed on troops that have
deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, the Army had about
140 confirmed suicides, a record since the service began tracking the statistic
in 1980. Many experts say that repeat deployments to combat zones are a factor
behind the higher rate, along with financial and marital problems.
Army studies and surveys show that multiple deployments and long deployments
also contribute to higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression
and marital problems.
It is unclear whether Sergeant Russell came under fire in Iraq or witnessed the
death of a fellow soldier. Eight soldiers from the 54th Battalion have been
killed in Iraq, data compiled by The New York Times show.
But Mr. Russell said that his son’s job entailed salvaging and rebuilding robots
that set off roadside bombs, and that as a consequence he probably saw “a lot of
carnage and a lot of things that he shouldn’t have seen, that nobody should’ve
“It affects you,” Mr. Russell said. “Nobody should have to go three times. They
should’ve realized that.”
Still, experts point out that the number of cases of violence against soldiers
by fellow soldiers is much lower in the current wars than in the Vietnam War.
Most soldiers in Iraq who visit combat stress control teams go voluntarily. But
some are ordered by their commanding officers to get help or be evaluated after
their behavior prompts concern about their mental health, as happened in the
case of Sergeant Russell.
“A lot of times when the command would refer it was usually because of problems,
the soldier was acting out,” said Ronald Parsons, a retired Army lieutenant
colonel who served on a combat stress team at Camp Liberty and is now a nurse
case manager for Veterans Affairs in Boston.
Camp Liberty is one of four bases that also offers soldiers a place to go when
they need more intensive counseling and rest.
These so-called large restoration centers offer service members three hot meals
and a cot to sleep in for up to four days to recharge. While they are there,
they receive more rigorous care, including individual or group mental health
Soldiers who visit a clinic or restoration centers are asked to secure their
weapons in a rack. Therapists typically have their unloaded weapons with them.
Sergeant Russell was at Camp Liberty’s restoration center when the shooting
occurred, although it is unclear whether he was in the restoration program or
just seeking outpatient services.
It is unusual for a commander to take a soldier’s weapon away in Iraq, and it is
often prompted by concerns that the soldier said something about the possibility
of suicide or harming somebody else.
Mental health specialists can also make the determination to take away a
The weapon would be returned only after a behavior health provider re-evaluated
the soldier. If a soldier’s mental health did not improve, the soldier could be
put on medication, hospitalized or, ultimately, evacuated from Iraq.
Dr. Daniel Lonnquist, a clinical psychologist with the Department of Veterans
Affairs who deployed twice to Iraq as part of a stress control team, said that
if the situation did not improve within two weeks or a month, the soldier was
usually shipped out.
“Most commanders would say, at some point, this soldier is not an asset to me,”
Dr. Lonnquist said.
Camp Liberty, a sprawling installation, has 14 behavioral health specialists,
including two psychiatrists, who see about 500 patients a month.
Lt. Col. Edward Brusher, the deputy director of behavioral health proponency for
the surgeon general, said in March that there was one provider for 640 service
members in Iraq.
“There are currently enough behavioral health providers,” Colonel Brusher said.
Alain Delaqueriere, Andrew W. Lehren, Anahad O’Connor and Campbell Robertson
Counseling Was Ordered
for Soldier in Iraq Shooting, NYT, 13.5.2009,
Kills 5 of His Comrades in Iraq
May 12, 2009
The New York Times
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
BAGHDAD — Five American service members were killed at a counseling center on
an American military base in Baghdad on Monday, gunned down by a fellow soldier
who was later taken into custody, military officials said.
The shooting took place at Camp Liberty, which is part of a sprawling complex of
American military bases where thousands of soldiers are stationed and is near
Baghdad International Airport.
The killings appear to be the single deadliest episode of soldier-on-soldier
violence among American forces since the United States-led invasion six years
“Anytime we lose one of our own, it affects us all,” Col. John Robinson, a
United States military spokesman in Iraq, said in a statement. “Our hearts go
out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this
The names of the soldiers have not yet been released pending notification of
The center where the shootings occurred offered counseling services to soldiers
seeking help. It was not immediately clear, however, why the shooter or the
victims were at the center at the time, or whether some of the victims had been
About one in six soldiers returning from Iraq show signs of post-traumatic
stress disorder or other emotional difficulties, according to a study published
in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2004.
At a Pentagon news conference on Monday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said the shootings occurred “in a place where individuals were
seeking help” for combat stress.
The violence, he said, was a tragic reminder of the need for greater “concern in
terms of dealing with the stress” and also “speaks to the issue of multiple
deployments” as well the need for finding ways of “increasing dwell time,” so
that military personnel spend more months at home between deployments.
President Obama said in a statement that he was “shocked and deeply saddened to
hear the news from Camp Victory this morning.” The Camp Victory base complex
includes Camp Liberty.
“I will press to ensure that we fully understand what led to this tragedy, and
that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our men and women in uniform
are protected as they serve our country so capably and courageously in harm’s
way,” he said.
Typically, soldiers not on duty are required to remove the ammunition from their
weapons while at American military facilities in Iraq. It was not known why the
shooter had a loaded weapon. The base is heavily fortified with blast walls and
The killing of Americans by their fellow soldiers has been uncommon in Iraq, but
not unheard of.
Most recently, in September 2008, an American soldier was arrested after the
shooting deaths of two comrades at their patrol base near Iskandariya, about 25
miles south of Baghdad. The soldiers had been assigned to a unit based at Fort
Stewart, Ga. The case is currently in military court.
In June 2005, two officers serving with the New York Army National Guard at a
base near Tikrit died after an antipersonnel mine was placed next to a window,
and a supply specialist was charged in the deaths. The supply specialist was
acquitted in military court last year.
In April 2005, Sgt. Hasan Akbar, of the 101st Airborne Division, was sentenced
to death for a grenade attack on fellow soldiers in March 2003 in Kuwait, at the
beginning of the American-led war in Iraq.
Sergeant Akbar, who was the first American since the Vietnam era to be
prosecuted on charges of murdering a fellow soldier in wartime, was convicted of
premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder after he threw grenades
into tents and then opened fired on soldiers. He killed two officers and wounded
14 soldiers at Camp Pennsylvania.
The death toll from Monday’s shooting was the highest for American service
members in a single attack since April 10, when a suicide truck bombing killed
five near the police headquarters in the northern city of Mosul.
This month, two American soldiers died after being shot by a man wearing an
Iraqi Army uniform at an Iraqi military training center south of Mosul.
In April, 18 American military personnel members were killed in Iraq — double
the number in March and the highest since September 2008, when 25 were killed.
During the past two years, violence has dropped sharply in Iraq, but a recent
rash of bombings has raised questions about security before the United States is
scheduled to withdraw combat troops from Iraq’s cities by June 30.
Camp Liberty will not be among the bases closing June 30, however, because Iraqi
officials have agreed to consider the Camp Victory base complex as outside
Baghdad’s city limits, even though it actually straddles the line.
The Camp Victory base complex houses about 20,000 troops on four bases. It is
where Mr. Obama gave a speech to American troops in April, and where an Iraqi
journalist hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press
conference in December.
The American military also announced on Monday that an unidentified United
States soldier died on May 10 in Basra Province, in southern Iraq, after his
vehicle was struck by an explosive device. No other details were given.
Also on Monday, Brig. Gen. Abdul Husain Muhsen al-Kadhumi, a high-ranking Iraqi
police official in charge of traffic operations, was fatally shot while driving
to work in Baghdad, said an Iraqi police official, who spoke on the condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington, and
Sharon Otterman from New York.
U.S. Soldier Kills 5 of
His Comrades in Iraq, NYT, 12.5.2009,
Still Unfinished Business
May 4, 2009
The New York Times
President Obama has correctly refocused American attention on Afghanistan and
Pakistan, the real front in the war on terror. But the recent surge in bombings
is an alarming reminder of all of the unfinished business from President Bush’s
unnecessary war in Iraq.
As American troops begin to hand combat posts over to the Iraqi Army, Sunni
insurgents are trying to exploit any weakness. In April, more than 300 Iraqis
died, up from under 200 in January. Eighteen American troops were killed, the
highest toll in six months.
The problem isn’t Mr. Obama’s order to end America’s longest-running war. It is
the failure of Iraq’s Shiite-led government to make the political changes that
are the only chance for holding the country together.
We had hoped that the clear timetable for an American withdrawal would focus the
attention of Iraq’s leaders. So far it hasn’t — or at least not enough.
Washington needs to be pressing them a lot harder, using all of the levers it
has, including aid and Baghdad’s appetite for American-made military equipment.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has reneged on a commitment to find
government jobs for tens of thousands of members of the Sunni Awakening
Councils, the former insurgents whose decision to switch sides helped change the
course of the war. His government has also failed to implement a year-old law
that would allow former members of the Baathist Party — who were banned from
government service after the 2003 invasion — to return to their positions or
Old rivalries and hatreds are difficult to put aside. The decline in oil revenue
makes it especially hard to expand government employment right now. But Iraq
will pay a much steeper price if disaffected Sunnis turn again on the
Ethnic tensions are also growing in the north where the Kurds are pressing to
annex oil-rich Kirkuk to their semiautonomous region. Turkmen and Arab residents
insist on staying with the central government. United Nations mediators have
proposed compromises, like making Kirkuk an autonomous city run by all three
ethnic groups. If an agreement cannot be crafted, Washington, Baghdad and the
Kurds may have to consider outside, possibly U.N.-led administration for some
Ways must also be found to mitigate frictions in Nineveh Province, a hotbed of
Sunni insurgency. Sunni Arabs sat out the 2005 elections, leaving the Kurdish
minority to run virtually unopposed. The Sunnis won big in January’s provincial
elections and now dominate the provincial council, its budget and patronage
jobs. An Iraqi government spokesman said Sunday that an Iraq-United States
security agreement would not be modified to allow American troops to stay in
Mosul, the provincial capital, past the June 30 deadline. But if violence
escalates, that may have to be revisited.
For two long months, Washington had no ambassador in Iraq. Now that Christopher
Hill — the veteran diplomat who led negotiations with North Korea during the
Bush years — is finally in place, he must move quickly to tackle these and other
challenges. Iraq’s government must be pressed to finally adopt a long-delayed
oil law to equitably manage oil fields and share profits. There is still no plan
for returning home the estimated four million Iraqis who are refugees or
displaced inside Iraq.
Washington must also find a way to work with Iran and other of Iraq’s neighbors
to try to limit outside meddling as American troops prepare to go. The Pentagon
has made progress building up Iraq’s army and police, but there is much more
training and equipping to be done before they can take over from American
Even then, there will be no chance of a durable peace without a lot more
political and economic reform and the participation of Iraq’s neighbors.
Business, NYT, 4.4.2009,