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History > 2009 > USA > War > Iraq (II)





Michelangelo Iaffaldano


When the Mind Is a Casualty of War



















Brain Power

In Battle,

Hunches Prove

to Be Valuable Assets


July 28, 2009
The New York Times


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 that morning.

“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 mock exercises.

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 threats.

“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 simulations.

“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 large.

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 average.

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 suggest.


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, experts say.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/28/health/research/28brain.html?hp






As wars' death toll nears 5,000,

Dover shows quiet dignity


19 July 2009
USA Today
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 largest mortuary.

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 in print?

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 has arrived."

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 always wanted.

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 truck.

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 the families.

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 forward.

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 something.

That night she, Beau and her 21-year-old daughter, Sascha, took the red-eye to Philadelphia.


Final salute

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 the ritual.

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 40.

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 doors!"

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 casket.

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 Afghanistan:

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, http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2009-07-19-wardead_N.htm






Vets’ Mental Health Diagnoses Rising


July 17, 2009
The New York Times


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 or depression.

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 Health.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/health/views/17vets.html






Hussein’s Gun

May Go on Display

at Bush Library


July 6, 2009
The New York Times


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 II.

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 there.

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 in 2006.

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 friend said.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/06/us/06gun.html?hp






U.S. Leaves Iraqi District

Where Anger Lingers


June 30, 2009
The New York Times


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 forces.

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 said.

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 war remain.

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 the Sunnis.

“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 abandoned.

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 neighborhood.

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 age.

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 to see.

“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, said.

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 waiting.”


Duraid Adnan contributed reporting.

    U.S. Leaves Iraqi District Where Anger Lingers, NYT, 30.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/world/middleeast/30iraq.html?hp






American Troops

Hand Over Control

in Iraqi Cities


June 29, 2009
Filed at 10:38 p.m. ET
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 Sovereignty Day.''

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 Iraqis.

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 party.

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 reconciliation effort.

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 other cities.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/29/world/AP-ML-Iraq.html?ref=middleeast






Truck Bomb Kills Dozens

in Northern Iraq


June 21, 2009
The New York Times


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 wounded.

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 challenge.”

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 April.

“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 places.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/world/middleeast/21iraq.html?hp






US Commander:

US to Stick

to Iraq Withdrawal Date


June 15, 2009
Filed at 11:10 a.m. ET
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 a year.

''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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/15/world/AP-ML-Iraq.html






Bomb Kills G.I. in Baghdad

as Attacks Keep Rising


May 28, 2009
The New York Times


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, officials said.

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 cities.

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 under investigation.

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 Iraqis.

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 Iraqi government.

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 was named.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/world/middleeast/28iraq.html?hp







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 military.

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 unending war.

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 Government Relations.

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.

Wes Poriotis
Ray Healey
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 not believed).

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 discharge.

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.

Eric Mihan
Oxford, Md., May 19, 2009

    When the Mind Is a Casualty of War, NYT, 25.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/25/opinion/l25herbert.html?hpw






At Least 22 Killed in Iraq Attacks


May 25, 2009
The New York Times


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 officials said.

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 there said.

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 critically.

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 Falluja.

    At Least 22 Killed in Iraq Attacks, NYT, 25.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/25/world/middleeast/25iraq.html?ref=middleeast






Fate of Iraqis Gone Missing

Haunts Those Left Behind


May 25, 2009
The New York Times


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 returned.

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 coins.

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 continue.

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 alone.

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 four years.

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 needs evidence.”

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 accident.

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 neighborhood.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/25/world/middleeast/25missing.html?hp







Gets Life Sentence

for Iraq Murders


May 22, 2009
The New York Times


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 fellow villagers.

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 showed.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/us/22soldier.html?hp







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.

Paulette Cohen
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 flames?

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 terrorists.

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.

Josephine Donovan
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.

Michael Chimenti

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.

Kenneth Watman
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 used again.

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 progress!

Thomas Murphy
Venice, Fla., May 19, 2009

    Shining a Bright Light on Torture, 19.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/20/opinion/l20torture.html?_r=1






Images, the Law and War


May 17, 2009
The New York Times


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 reform.

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 there.

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 sufficient.

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 happened?

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, NYT, 17.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/weekinreview/17liptak.html?ref=opinion






Op-Ed Columnist

War’s Psychic Toll


May 19, 2009
The New York Times


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 profound.

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 protected.

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 tour.

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 into.”

    War’s Psychic Toll, NYT, 19.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/opinion/19herbert.html?hpw






Among 5 Killed,

a Mender of Heartache

and a Struggling Private


May 17, 2009
The New York Times


They came to the clinic at the base in Iraq for reasons as different as their ranks.

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 said.

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 it.

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 in 1994.

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 Sherman.

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 patients.

“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 tragic.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/world/middleeast/17clinic.html?hpw







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 soldiers.

Further, we need to stop discussing whether torture gets results. Whether it does or not, it is immoral, period, and should never be considered.

John Williams
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.

Claude Cookman
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 atrocity photographs.

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 acceptable ones.

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?

Melissa Macauley
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. black sites.

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 safety record?

Scott Miller
St. Louis, May 12, 2009

    Pictures of Torture, the Fact of Torture, NYT, 14.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/opinion/l15torture.html?hpw






Obama Moves to Bar

Release of Detainee Abuse Photos


May 14, 2009
The New York Times


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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/us/politics/14photos.html?ref=politics






Counseling Was Ordered for Soldier

in Iraq Shooting


May 13, 2009
The New York Times



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 in place.”

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 their families.

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 seen.”

“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 counseling.

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 soldier’s weapon.

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 contributed reporting.

    Counseling Was Ordered for Soldier in Iraq Shooting, NYT, 13.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/13/world/middleeast/13shoot.html






U.S. Soldier

Kills 5 of His Comrades in Iraq


May 12, 2009
The New York Times


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 ago.

“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 terrible tragedy.”

The names of the soldiers have not yet been released pending notification of their relatives.

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 staff members.

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 razor wire.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/12/world/middleeast/12iraq.html







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 collect pensions.

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 government.

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 period.

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 troops.

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.

Still Unfinished Business, NYT, 4.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/opinion/04mon1.html