DEBATING IRAQ: HINDSIGHT VS. REALITIES – RESPECT FOR VETERANS

Lane Filler, in his opinion piece in the January 8, Newsday titled, “The tragedy of Iraq, a decade later,” attempts to extract a pound of flesh even from his own belief that going into Iraq in April of 2003 was the right thing to do. Regarding weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein had everyone fooled on that, including the U.N. Security Council and 86 countries that supported going into Iraq; Saddam had used chemical weapons in Iraq’s war with Iran and against his own people (thousands of Iraqi Kurds in March, 1988). Fuller lists numbers of people killed. What about the people saved, which can never be measured?

Saddam harbored terrorists (Abu Abbas, highjacker of an Italian cruise liner resulting in the death of American Leon Klinghoffer, found in a Baghdad suburb in 2003), trained, supported and financed international terrorists, and murdered an estimated 250,000 of his own people with his paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam. He invaded Kuwait, attacked Saudi Arabia and Israel during the First Gulf War, and had chemical warhead artillery ammunition ready to fire against U.S. Troops.

The only thing wrong with our military operation in Iraq is that we left. We’re still in countries we defeated in WWII, and Germany (chemical decontamination unit), Japan (transportation unit) and Italy (support troops) all supported the Iraq operation, continue to allow U.S. military bases, and are among the world’s economic leaders. Our relationship with these countries allows us to better protect our friends, and ourselves and to project our power and influence around the world.

Barack Hussein Obama’s quitting Iraq had the effect of destabilizing the Middle East and creating a security vacuum that is now exacerbated by the influence of Iran, Russia and China. Al Qaeda has re-invaded Fallujah and Ramadi, and Iraq is precipitously on the brink of destabilization; a festering sore in Obama’s failed Middle East policies and practices.

As a Global War on Terror veteran who served in Iraq in 2004-2005, I am appalled and offended by Lane Fuller’s ignorance about the geopolitical significance of Iraq, and his insensitivity towards those who served and gave their lives and livelihoods there in order to keep this great nation safe.

HOW COULD SACRIFICING ONE’S LIFE FOR 50 OTHER HUMAN BEINGS NOT BE WORTHY OF THE MEDAL OF HONOR?

Imagine this, if you can: you’re a Marine, stationed at a check point at the entrance of a Forward Operating Base in Ramadi, Iraq. Your mission is to protect the base and check every incoming vehicle and personnel.

It’s hot, it’s boring, and with each incoming person and truck you are expected to be alert, professional and vigilant, because  death could be lurking behind innocent looking eyes. There are 31 American Marines and 23 Iraqi police behind you, depending on you to do your job.

Then, one truck ignores the signs and shouts, the flares and warning shots to slow down and stop. The Iraqi police flee the scene after detecting extreme danger. But you, instead of fleeing, bear down on your weapon and fire it cyclically, as you were trained to do, aiming and striking center of mass on the incoming threat. The vehicle finally stops, mere feet from your position. Then, it hits: the concussion blast from a 2,000 pound vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

For his actions on April 22, 2008 day, 19-year-old Marine Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter, and his battle buddy, Cpl. Jonathan Yale, received the Navy Cross, among other posthumous awards.

Military Honors: How You Can Help Recognize an American Hero

The highest ranking officials have mentioned him in speeches, including this quote from President Barrack Obama on Jan. 27, 2009 at Camp Lejeune, N.C.:

Semper Fidelis: it means always being faithful, to the Corps, and to the country and to the memory of fallen comrades like Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter.

And this from Gen. James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, in his 234th Marine Corps birthday video message, holding Haerter and Yale up as ideal examples of “carrying on a legacy of valor.”

There is a petition now, initiated by loved ones of Jordan to put in motion a process for him and Jonathan to receive the recognition they truly deserve: a Medal of Honor. Since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, only 12 service members have received the Medal of Honor, seven of which were posthumously awarded.

Haerter’s mother, JoAnn Lyles said in a recent interview regarding the White House petition, that she would “certainly support an appropriate review for a higher award.” But also said, “I don’t want to push for it if it’s not warranted.”

How could sacrificing one’s life for 50 other human beings not be worthy of the Medal of Honor, the highest tangible recognition of valor America has to offer?

There is probably no honor that could adequately memorialize or quantify the sacrifices made by Haerter and Yale that hot April day in 2008, but the Medal of Honor would help preserve their memory and their actions to the highest possible degree. This would give an added level of comfort to their families, loved ones and comrades, and preserve for future generations of Americans the idea that such sacrifices will not be forgotten and will never be marginalized.

If you agree then maybe we could all make a difference by signing the White House petition via Change.org. The petition does not authorize the award for the men; it would initiate a process whereby the President could decide to ask for a review for the award.

It seems the least we can do to honor the last full measure of these young men’s lives, which they gave willingly for each of us, as well as for 50 of their colleagues that day.

It’s easy to sit back and simply watch the world go by and tsk-tsk this or that and say, “someone else can do something for these young men,” but why would a red-blooded American patriot let someone else take on a responsibility we all have, individually to do whatever we can for those who did more for us than we could ever do for them?

Sign. You won’t regret it, and maybe down the road someday, if the medal is awarded, you could be one of those who can stand tall and say you had a small but significant part in it.

Semper Fidelis.

Releasing The Enemy Won’t Help Win Our Struggle Against Islamists

There has been criticism of the military medical staff at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, over the ordered release earlier this month of Ibrahim Idris, a native of Sudan who has been held as an unlawful combatant at Gitmo for over 11 years.

Idris was captured with al Qaeda fighters in 2001. Shortly after arriving at Guantanamo in 2002, he was diagnosed by a U.S. Army psychiatrist as being schizophrenic. Islamist apologists are seizing on this gesture of humanitarian compassion and practical military efficiency by saying Idris should have been medically released soon after his diagnosis.

What the al Qaeda fighter’s apologists and sympathizers don’t realize is that two entities must recommend release of a detainee who may be suffering from a medical condition which may render him less of a threat to repeat his aggression against the United States, one is the medical command (not just at Gitmo, but at the highest levels of the U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD)), and the other is the intelligence command.

Back in 2002, when I was serving at Guantanamo Bay as the ranking AMEDD officer with the Joint Detainee Operations Group (JDOG), Joint Task Force (JTF) 160, I was selected to participate in the very first repatriation of a Gitmo detainee, an Uzbek Afghani national named Abdul Razeq.

We nicknamed Razeq “Wild Bill,” due to his bizarre behavior in Camp X-Ray, where he would take bites out of his flip-flops, hang objects from his genitals, and generally cause frequent verbal disruptions. Eventually, the military medical staff diagnosed Razeq as schizophrenic, but, by his own admission to me, during a long break in his release journey to the Leeward airport at Guantanamo, Razeq offered another source for his symptoms.

Razeq admitted to being a heroin addict who had picked up an AK-47 in the fall of 2001 for the Taliban in order to sustain his habit. Some of the bizarre behavior, as it turned out, was due to his violent withdrawal from his heroin addiction.

But this behavior and diagnosis alone were not sufficient to get him a trip back to Afghanistan. He had to be declared not only a low risk of returning to the enemy, but also had to be determined not to be of any further intelligence value. Lastly, even if these two criteria are established, the country from which the detainee originated, or his national country of origin, must be able and willing to take him back.

The Sudan, in Idris’ case, was not a stable enough place in the past for him to be returned to, and still may not be. The Geneva Conventions stipulate that even lawful combatant Prisoners of War (POWs) may be held without charge, “until the end of hostilities.” During WWII the U.S. held over 400,000 German and Italian lawful combatant POWs without one call for extra legal privileges for them, or for medical releases back to their countries of origin. Even now, with a combined 28.9% recidivism rate (reported by the Director of National Intelligence, September 2013 http://www.lawfareblog.com/2013/09/september-2013-guantanamo-recidivism-report-from-dni/) of confirmed and suspected recidivists amongst released Gitmo detainees, it may not be wise to release any of the Gitmo detainees who aren’t facing war crimes charges in the Military Commissions there.

How much more blood on his hands will it take before the domestic threat of Islamist terror hits home for Barack Hussein Obama (Boston, Ft. Hood, 13 defeated terror plots on Manhattan alone)? How many more recidivists (Abu Sufian bin Qumu, alleged mastermind of the Benghazi jihadi attack, and former Gitmo detainee) will it take before he realizes we are in a war with Islamists who want us all dead and not in a game of “Capture the Flag?”

Idris may be harmless now, and I appreciate why he was released, but why take that chance while the Global War on Terror (GWOT) still rages? This fantasy that Islamist terrorists should be treated like common criminals and then arbitrarily released is literally killing us, and feeding the flames of Arab uprisings and civil wars (Egypt, Syria, et. al.).

Giving up the high ground in the GWOT by abandoning Iraq, in the face of overwhelming success of keeping the peace by keeping troops in the countries we liberated and defeated in WWII, was perhaps the President’s most myopic and deadly foreign policy blunder to date, which has grown from ripples of internal Middle East strife, into a tsunami of destabilization in the region today.

Today, we have troops in over 70 countries in our struggle with Islamists who want to kill us, including Germany, Japan and Italy, countries we defeated in WWII and who are now world economic leaders, peaceful, and prosperous because we stayed, economically and militarily. Leaving Afghanistan would seal the fate of that region to the Iranians, Taliban and al Qaeda, just like throwing Iraq to those wolves has done.

When will we learn from our past in a way that teaches every new generation that the only way to truly defeat an enemy is to take away the means and will for them to fight? Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War,” said, “100 victories in 100 battles is not the most skillful, subduing the enemy’s military without battle is the most skillful.” We cannot hope to influence the enemy “without battle” if we are not willing to remain close enough to him to do so. And we certainly can’t hope to do that by releasing more than 600 from our military detention facility, only to meet them again on the battlefield and on our streets. “Until the end of hostilities,” is soon enough for me.

It was cold. Desert cold.

It was cold.  Desert cold.  Probably in the low 70’s, but after a day near 100 in the shade, it was cold.  Some wore their uniform to the shower, some went in PT’s.  Almost all went wearing flip-flops.

There is no light (light discipline, don’t you know?).  You cannot see.  You’ve been this route so many times before you could do it with your eyes closed, so it doesn’t really matter.  Your body is on auto-pilot anyway, counting the steps without you, and then up the stairs of the trailer (you’re lucky; on this FOB you have a trailer).  Your arm reaches up, your hand turns the knob and FLASH!  You’re blinded by the light.

The trailer is air conditioned.  You freeze.  Shivering, you wait for the water to warm up.  It never does.  You suck it up, quickly poking in, and then out of the water.  You soap up.  Liquid ice rinses you off . . . until: “Hey, that’s not cold.” “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!”

The scalded parts of your body are red.  As you stumble out of the trailer, and the door self-closes behind you, you almost fall down the stairs because now you are completely blind.  The large gravel hurts under your flimsy .99 cent PX flip-flops.  The siren goes off.  You run to the bunker, losing a flip-flop on the way.  Now the gravel REALLY hurts.

The mortars fly in.  One here.   One there.  You feel the WHOOSH of the concussion, and the sound is right next to you, but it could be a mile away.  You’re either dead, or you’re not.  You remember your first “incoming” in-country.  You waited for the all-clear.  And you waited.  Until it occurred to you that there was no such thing as “all clear” in-country.  It’s never safe.

You make it back to your hooch.  Fall into your bed (you have a BED, not a cot in a tent, like you had for six months out THERE).  It’s so soft.  Your head hits your pillow, or does it?

Your mind wanders.  Instantly you are alone, in a space craft, small as an Indy car, tight, but cozy.  You’re warm now, and it’s dark, but you see the stars through your canopy, some rushing by, some so far away they look still, very still.  You focus on one, one far away, and it’s blue, and green, and white.

You are getting sleepy in your dream.

You feel a warm tingle, an excitement almost.  You know . . . you are going home.  And you weep.  You weep as only you can when you’re alone, and feeling alone, amidst a billion stars.

As you remember having set the auto-pilot, cryogenics takes over.  You feel safe, and warm, and good.  Home.  You’re going home.

“Captain!”

“Who said that?”  You whisper a scream.  You keep your eyes closed, because you know if you open them, well, it won’t be good.

“Captain!”  The drill sergeant-like voice roars.

You know who said it now.  And you still don’t want to open your eyes.

The fist of the drill sergeant-like voice is now pounding on the door of your hooch.

You know they know you know.

“Damn!”  What did I forget now?

“Mail.”  The voice is sane now.

You fly out of bed, open the door and snatch the letter.  “Letter?”  It’s smooth.  It’s cool.  The blast of heat from outside says it’s nearly midday.  You slept.  You slept hard, for the first time since . . . .

You don’t have to read the return address.  The smell tells you who it is and you just sniff it.  The envelope flies off the  folded page inside, and there it is:  Cursive, perfect, writing.  Curled and curved beautifully; and slanted just so.  The words don’t even matter.  You crumble around it, pressing it to your nose and face, letting it become part of you, tears staining the page.

“I Love You,” it said.  “I Love You,” you say.

It’s so hot it hurts to hold your 16.  You hate wearing the Nomex gloves because, well, damnit, because it’s just too damn suffocating is all.  If you’re not in a fire-fight . . . you’re not in a fire-fight.  You’re back on the FOB, how long now, weeks?  Out THERE.

You have to take a convoy in to Anaconda to coordinate some psych services for the boys who saw their buddy die yesterday.  You need a ”Team” or a member of a team.  You could do it yourself, but you know you’re not a professional at it.  But you could do it.  Sit there, looking at them looking at you.  Blank stares, but stares full of . . . full of a lifetime, or at least a life.  A life taken, snatched; kidnapped under fire, under explosion, under blood.

The trip takes four weeks, or an hour, or somewhere in between.  It doesn’t matter because you’re there now.

You walk around aimlessly, but find who you’re looking for.  Tell them what you need to tell them, and then walk into the MWR.  It has the feel of a renovated airplane hangar.  The inner room is a theater, pitch as a moonless night.  Outside the room, sit/lay grunts.  They are dusty, dirty, sweaty.  They are toast, from the toaster of the bright orange heat tab in the sky.  You know that “tired.”  You have been that tired.  You are that tired.  You go into the theater and seek refuge.  You seek protection.

It is pitch as a moonless night.  Quiet as a mouse, except for the voices coming from the screen, and the soft gentle chorus of snores.  There are no seats left, and everyone is . . . asleep.

Detainees Earned No Extra Legal Privileges

Over 400,000 lawful Prisoners of War were held in the United States during World War II without one call for extra legal privileges for them.  Habeas corpus was suspended then for dry foot German saboteurs, who were captured, tried by military commission, and then most executed, all within four weeks time.  Why is it then, when all Americans have been targets for Islamist extremists since the death of Marine CPL Stephen Crowley in Islamabad, Pakistan, back on November 21, 1979, when he was murdered by one when the U.S. embassy there was stormed by bussed-in radicals (later to be funded by Osamma bin Laden) on false news reports the U.S. had seized the mosque at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and after Iranian “students” had seized the U.S. embassy in Teheran, Iran weeks before, on news that the Shah of Iran had been allowed into the United States for treatment of an illness, and fast forward to today, when we have troops in 75 countries (including those we defeated in WWII), CIA in over 90 countries, and Diplomatic Security Service in over 200 countries, that we pay so much attention to a comparative handful of UNLAWFUL COMBATANT Islamist extremists who want to kill us?  These detainees BROKE Geneva Convention rules, and our own Law of Land Warfare (US Army Field Manual 27-10 Warfare http://ac-support.europe.umuc.edu/~nstanton/FM27-10.htm ) during war time, and BY LAW have earned NO EXTRA LEGAL PRIVILEGES.  Also BY LAW, they can be held “until the end of hostilities.”  Where is the sanity in even discussing what should become of them?  They have ZERO rights, according to LAW.  But, because they are held by the benevolent, kind, generous, and moral United States of America, they are treated within the spirit of Geneva, and in accordance with DoD policy (by which they have due process rights – see Military Commissions Act  http://www.defense.gov/news/commissionsacts.html ), and in accordance with U.S. Army Regulations governing the care and treatment of detainees. All Gitmo detainees are lucky to be alive, let alone realistically hoping to receive extra legal privileges.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have told me on two separate occasions, once in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and once in Iraq, that “nobody does [detention operations] better than the U.S.”  The detainees are at Gitmo so long as they either pose a risk or are suspected of having valuable information that may aid us in our effort to win the Global War on Terror (Struggle Against Islamist Extremists).