War & Conflict

The Obama era is over. Here’s how the military rates his legacy


11th Jan 2017

President Barack Obama will step down after eight years as commander in chief with one of the most influential tenures leading the U.S. military, but not necessarily the political support of service members.
His moves to slim down the armed forces, move away from traditional military might and overhaul social policies prohibiting the service of minority groups have proven divisive in the ranks. His critics have accused him of trading a strong security posture for political points, and for allowing the rise of terrorists like the Islamic State group whom the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to silence.

But Obama’s supporters define him as the Nobel Peace Prize winner who ordered the elimination of Osama bin Laden and refocused military strategy while wrestling with an uncooperative Congress and unprecedented budget restrictions. They insist the military is more nimble now, and more prepared to deal with unconventional warfare against non-traditional threats across the globe.

More than half of troops surveyed in the latest Military Times/Institute for Veterans and Military Families poll said they have an unfavorable opinion of Obama and his two-terms leading the military. About 36 percent said they approve of his job as commander in chief.

Their complaints include the president’s decision to decrease military personnel (71 percent think it should be higher), his moves to withdraw combat troops from Iraq (59 percent say it made America less safe) and his lack of focus on the biggest dangers facing America (64 percent say China represents a significant threat to the U.S.)

But more than two-thirds support Obama’s mantra that securing America means building strong alliances with foreign powers. And more than 60 percent think his use of drones and special forces teams for precision strikes — instead of large-scale military operations — has helped U.S. national security.

That’s a conflicted response to a president who entered the White House vowing to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan but instead leaves as the first American president to oversee two full terms with combat troops deployed to hostile zones.


full article here: http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/obama-legacy-military?

America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016. What a bloody end to Obama’s reign


10th Jan 2017

Most Americans would probably be astounded to realize that the president who has been painted by Washington pundits as a reluctant warrior has actually been a hawk. The Iran nuclear deal, a herculean achievement, and the opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba unfortunately stand alone as President Obama’s successful uses of diplomacy over hostility.

While candidate Obama came to office pledging to end George W Bush’s wars, he leaves office having been at war longer than any president in US history. He is also the only president to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.

President Obama did reduce the number of US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he dramatically expanded the air wars and the use of special operations forces around the globe. In 2016, US special operators could be found in 70% of the world’s nations, 138 countries – a staggering jump of 130% since the days of the Bush administration.

Looking back at President Obama’s legacy, the Council on Foreign Relation’s Micah Zenko added up the defense department’s data on airstrikes and made a startling revelation: in 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped at least 26,171 bombs. This means that every day last year, the US military blasted combatants or civilians overseas with 72 bombs; that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

While most of these air attacks were in Syria and Iraq, US bombs also rained down on people in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. That’s seven majority-Muslim countries.

One bombing technique that President Obama championed is drone strikes. As drone-warrior-in-chief, he spread the use of drones outside the declared battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, mainly to Pakistan and Yemen. Obama authorized over 10 times more drone strikes than George W Bush, and automatically painted all males of military age in these regions as combatants, making them fair game for remote controlled killing.

President Obama has claimed that his overseas military adventures are legal under the 2001 and 2003 authorizations for the use of military force passed by Congress to go after al-Qaida. But today’s wars have little or nothing to do with those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

The twisted legal architecture the Obama administration has constructed to justify its interventions, especially extrajudicial drone killings with no geographic restrictions, will now be transferred into the erratic hands of Donald Trump.

What does the administration have to show for eight years of fighting on so many fronts? Terrorism has spread, no wars have been “won” and the Middle East is consumed by more chaos and divisions than when candidate Barack Obama declared his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

While the switch from US troops on the ground to airstrikes and special forces has saved US lives, untold numbers of foreign lives have been snuffed out. We have no idea how many civilians have been killed in the massive bombings in Iraq and Syria, where the US military is often pursuing Isis in the middle of urban neighborhoods. We only sporadically hear about civilian killings in Afghanistan, such as the tragic bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that left 42 dead and 37 wounded.

Pushed to release information about civilian deaths in drone strikes, in July 2016 the US government made the absurd claim it had killed, at most, 116 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya between 2009 and 2015. Journalists and human rights advocates said the numbers were ridiculously low and unverifiable, given that no names, dates, locations or others details were released. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has tracked drone strikes for years, said the true figure was six times higher.

Given that drones account for only a small portion of the munitions dropped in the past eight years, the numbers of civilians killed by Obama’s bombs could be in the thousands. But we can’t know for sure as the administration, and the mainstream media, has been virtually silent about the civilian toll of the administration’s failed interventions.

In May 2013, I interrupted President Obama during his foreign policy address at the National Defense University. I had just returned from visiting the families of innocent people killed by US drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan, including the Rehman children who saw their grandmother blown to bits while in the field picking okra.

Speaking out on behalf of grieving families whose losses have never been acknowledged by the US government, I asked President Obama to apologize to them. As I was being dragged out, President Obama said: “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.”

Too bad he never did.




Combat veterans with genital injuries find little help


9th Jan 2017

Five months after his 32nd birthday, Aaron Causey stepped on a bomb. The newlywed from Alabama was on his second overseas Army deployment, working as an explosives technician in Afghanistan. That morning in 2011, Aaron was on the hunt, peering inside tunnels for improvised explosive devices.

Before he saw the small bundle of plastic and copper wires, he had stepped on it. The blast ripped off his legs and traveled through his groin. One testicle was destroyed, only two-thirds of the other remained.

Four days later in a German hospital, Kat Causey walked into her husband’s hospital room. “Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up,” she told herself. The words repeated in her head as she stared at Aaron. How can he still be alive, she wondered. Her husband was in pieces. Surely their plans for having a baby were shattered.

The blast from an IED hits from below. It can hollow out a soldier’s pelvis, shredding the shaft of the penis, obliterating testicles and destroying the bladder and the tubes that carry urine and sperm.

Fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan means hopping out of trucks to walk on foot in terrain too rugged for military vehicles. Experts say service members are more vulnerable to IED blasts than ever before.

That could explain why more than 1,400 U.S. troops suffered injuries to the penis, testicles or bladder from 2001 to 2013 while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their average age was 24. Experts describe the rise of genital injuries from combat as “unprecedented.”

Blasts powerful enough to amputate legs and genitalia used to mean almost certain death. These days, advanced medical care in the field and quick evacuation to specialist trauma centers means soldiers who suffer severe blast injuries have a better chance of surviving.

Surviving means repeat surgeries, re-imagining relationships and wondering if you’ll ever enjoy sex or have children. And while there are more conversations about brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder in troops, experts and families say there’s not enough discussion about the men who return home with the most taboo of injuries.

Counting the injured

At his office in the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Army Maj. Steven Hudak tracks the number of wounded military service members. When he’s not treating the injured — Dr. Hudak is a reconstructive urologist — he studies the Department of Defense Trauma Registry to learn what kinds of injuries are afflicting military members across the services.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Urology, Hudak and colleagues wrote that there are more U.S. service members surviving with genitourinary injuries than ever before in the history of war. They described the different types of genital trauma suffered by young military men and said the range of trauma to the penis and testicles is varied.

“There’s no characteristic pattern among the men who have penile injuries,” Hudak says. “Really every service member that I’ve treated for a penile injury had a different kind of injury.”

Of the more than 1,400 men who suffered injuries to the genitals while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan over a 12-year period, 75 men died from their wounds and were excluded from the analysis.

Hudak found that of the 1,367 wounded service members who survived, 3 out of 4 had injuries to the penis, scrotum or testicles. A third had injuries that were classified as severe and 84 suffered severe injuries to the penis.

In a separate study of soldiers injured in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom between 2001 and 2011, Hudak’s team found 501 men suffered genital and urinary system injuries and that 1 in 5 of them had an injury to the penis.

Overall, the greatest number of severe injuries were among those who had testicular damage, says Hudak. “That obviously has a different set of ramifications with regards to long-term fertility potential.”

Families upset the Army used their loved ones bodies for IED blast testing without consent


28th Dec 2016

Dying at the age of 74, Doris Stauffer had suffered from dementia in her later years. During her time alive, she was cared for by her son, Jim Stauffer.

When the time came to put his mother to rest in 2013, Stauffer made the choice to donate he brain to medical research, hoping to possibly help find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Not knowing where to turn, Stauffer took the advice of a nurse and contacted the now-defunct Biological Research (BRC), a company that brokers donations of human remains for the purposes of research. Signing a series of forms (including one prohibiting military, traffic-safety and other non-medical experiments), he watched as his mother was carted away by a BRC vehicle driver.

Ten days later, Stauffer received Doris’ cremated remains, not being told how they were used.

An investigation by Reuters would later show that the ashes Stauffer received were not that of a whole body- but just the hand of his mother. The rest, records show, went to a taxpayer-funded research project for the US Army, testing the effects of roadside bomb blasts (also known as IEDs) on human beings.

Dying an aging civilian in her 70s, Doris Stauffer’s body suffered the fate similar to that suffered by many young service members over the past decade- and then some.

Informed by a Reuters reporter instead of the US Army or the BRC, Jim Stauffer made attempts to hide his horror as he clutched his wife’s arm.

“We did right,” his wife, Lisa, told him. “They just did not honor our wishes.”

Internal records from the BRC and US Army show that 20 other bodies were used in the blast experiments without donor/relative permission, violating US Army policy. The bodies were sold by BRC for a little under six grand each.

Reuters reports that over 20,000 body parts from 5,000 corpses have been sold by BRC in over a decade, eventually resulting in the company going under- with CEO Stephen Gore pleaded guilty to fraud in 2015.

In a statement to Reuters, Gore said he tried to honor the wishes of donors and sent forms when researchers asked for them.

“This was an industry that had no formal regulations,” he said. “Many times I was simply overwhelmed and I tried to do the right thing but often did not.”

Army officials claim never received the consent signed forms from donors or their families, relying on assurances from BRC that families had consented to let the bodies be used in such experiments.

While the case into BRC is a long one, the US Army experiments were a little more cut-and-dry.

In the wake of two long, brutal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, blast research has been a hard-fought and crucial learning curve in the study of IED blasts on the human body. What has been learned so far is that the most vulnerable body parts are those in contact with the inside surfaces of the vehicle.

“It’s your feet, your butt in the seat, and to some extent your back,” said Army project director and civilian engineer Randy Coates, who works at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground.

While crash dummies were initially useful, they were unable to properly collect data on all angles of a blast effect, being unable to determine the effect of blasts from under a vehicle.


Aberdeen Test Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, employs an expansive inventory of “anthropomorphic test devices,” otherwise known as crash test dummies, to ensure armored vehicles will protect their occupants from roadside bombs. (Photo Credit: Aberdeen Test Center )

Enter the medical cadaver, which was able to sufficiently collect data from all angles. However, while cadavers were better at measuring blast effects, they could not replicate wounds- which prompted the US Army to create a test dummy that could show the effect of explosions. The US Army project that used Stauffer’s mother was such an experiment, which included more than one hundred deceased bodies and included researchers from nine universities.

Coates said that while donated bodies are not obliterated in explosions, the blasts do break bones and spines. In one experiment, two bodies wired to 100 biosensors flailed about but were left intact.

While the US Army has a policy requiring donors and next of kin to consent to the experiments, less than half of 34 people who were donated/self-donated were not informed of the experiments. Of those families, 16 did not want military experiments conducted. Twelve had explicitly rejected violent experiments and four made no choice.

Many families are outraged, including Marla Yale, whose grandfather -Army veteran Kurt Hollstein- had explicitly rejected being used by the government, an act of protest against the poor treatment he was provided by the VA. He died of cancer in 2013.

“This is almost beyond belief that his entire body went somewhere else without his permission, and especially to a place that he absolutely did not want to be,” Yale said after Reuters informed her of her grandfather’s fate. “To go to the Department of Defense is absolutely mind-boggling.”

Coates has rebutted that the Army acted in good faith, as it had believed that the consent forms they received from BRC were valid. When it was discovered that BRC was not acting within the law, the US Army halted the experiments and sent an officer to investigate.

“The Army was a victim of BRC business practices,” he said.

BRC head Stephen Gore had previously worked as an insurance salesman prior to creating his company and had no higher education credentials at the time of the company’s founding.




source: http://popularmilitary.com/families-upset-army-used-loved-ones-bodies-ied-blast-testing-without-consent/

Experts urge blood banks to stop accepting blood contaminated with chemicals in Defence Force land scandal

23rd Nov 2016

CHEMICAL experts say blood banks should stop accepting donated blood containing high levels of the potentially deadly chemicals at the centre of the Australian Defence Force contamination crisis.

However, Red Cross Blood Service spokeswoman Rebecca DiGirolamo insists there is “no evidence” to suggest donations with large amounts of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) pose a risk to recipients.

But contamination experts disagree and are urging blood banks to immediately cease using donations containing high levels of the toxins.

The warning came after Adelaide man Geoff Fuller, who had a 36-year career as a firefighter at airports including Adelaide Airport, was informed by the blood service last week that he was no longer allowed to donate blood.

Mr Fuller, a regular donor, said he was told so after tests revealed he had high levels of PFOS and PFOA — part of the per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) group of toxins — in his system.

However, two days later Mr Fuller, of Underdale, was contacted by the service and told staff at the blood bank had overreacted and would resume accepting his blood.

PFOS and PFOA, which have contaminated more than a dozen army, navy and air force bases, including the Edinburgh RAAF base, have been linked to cancer in people and animals in numerous studies across the world.

The toxins, which do not break down in the environment, were used in firefighting foam at defence bases and airports until the early 2000s.

Professor Ravi Naidu, from independent contamination research and assessment organisation CRC Care, was adamant blood banks should not accept donations from people with high levels of PFOS and PFOA in their system.

He warned there was “significant risk” associated with transfusing blood contaminated with the toxins.

“Donations from people who have been exposed to PFAS and who demonstrate presence of PHAS must not be accepted,” Professor Naidu said.

Dr Marianna Lloyd-Smith, from the National Toxics Network, agreed blood donations should not be accepted from people who have been exposed to high levels of PFOS and PFOA.

“They have significantly higher levels and you really wouldn’t want them to be giving blood,” she said.

“I would suggest that they speak to their blood donation officers and tell them. I (also) think the blood banks need to be proactive and ask people.”

Blood testing of some aviation firefighters has found their levels


source: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/news-story/ec49c3164e9343b5773ce8f807af4140

Witnesses report return of white phosphorus as weapon of war


31st Oct 2016

THEY called it Willie Pete during WWI and WWII but the innocent name conceals a far more sinister reality.

This is a weapon of war favoured by those aiming to inflict the most misery on their targets.

Its signature is a loud bang and a plume of bright white smoke, but its effects are felt most when long white streams carrying chemicals start falling from the sky.

Those within the fallout zone will suffer such severe burns that if they ever recover they’ll be scarred or crippled for life. Victims have recounted being burned through flesh and bone.

Willie Pete’s other name is WP, or white phosphorus, and it’s being used again after years on the sidelines.

In Iraq, where Islamic State and a US-led coalition are locked in a tense stand-off, white plumes are again filling the air. Experts say those fleeing the conflict are the most at risk. Human rights groups say use of the weapon is bordering on a war crime.


A New York Times photographer captured an image last week of smoke above a town near Karemlesh, east of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Amnesty International reports the dispersal pattern is consistent with a US-made white phosphorus munition capable of spreading the deadly chemicals over an area between 125-250m wide.

It’s not clear who fired it because US-led forces, Peshmerga forces and Iraqi central government forces are all taking the fight to ISIS there. Whoever it is, human rights groups say it has to stop.

“White phosphorus can cause horrific injuries, burning deep into the muscle and bone,” Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, said.

“It is possible that some of it will only partially burn and could then reignite weeks after being deployed.”

That’s what happened to an eight-year-old girl named Razia who was badly burned when a white phosphorus shell landed on her home in June, 2009.

Human Rights Watch reported that as doctors began treating her, the oxygen mask on her face began to melt. They said flames appeared when doctors began scraping at dead tissue.

Pictures of Razia show her crying out in pain with burns across most of her face. She survived, and she’s one of the lucky ones.


White phosphorus — also used in rat poison — is so revered because it can lay dormant in the ground, on clothing and even on skin. When the chemical is exposed to air, it immediately ignites.

There’s a big problem with banning it, too. The use of incendiary weapons against civilians in general is illegal and has been since signatories declared it so in the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Protocol III. But the protocol’s definition of an incendiary weapon does not specifically refer to white phosphorus bombs.

The reason for that is white phosphorus has other valuable uses: militaries around the world use it to create a smoke screen and to mark targets, but it’s not yet clear why a bomb was spotted over Mosul.

The US has previously condemned the use of WP. In 2009, weeks after Razia was badly burned, a spokeswoman for the US Army said white phosphorus was being used against US troops in Afghanistan.

“This pattern of irresponsible and indiscriminate use of white phosphorus by insurgents is reprehensible and should be noted by the international human rights community,” Major Jenny Willis said.

She said the weapon could cause “unnecessary suffering”, as defined in the laws of warfare.

WARNING: Graphic image below


It was used by Israel during the Gaza conflict prior to 2009. A report, titled “Rain of Fire”, documented witness accounts of 22 days of constant shelling between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009.

One man told Human Rights Watch he saw a victim stumbling in an alley. When he got closer, he saw first hand the effects of the chemical weapon.

“My daughter told me there was a car on fire with people in it,” he said.

“I looked out and saw a young man who had lost control of himself trying to push his way into the burning car. When I got to the car he had fallen down and he was on fire.
“The shelling was ongoing and I dragged him to an alley and tried to talk to him, but he couldn’t talk. One of his eyes had burned away and he was horribly injured.”

Russia was accused of using the controversial weapon in 2015 in Aleppo, Syria, a city besieged by ongoing war.

Karemlesh is the latest city under fire. Amnesty’s Ms Rovera said civilians there are at risk in the coming days and weeks.

“It is absolutely imperative that the forces using white phosphorus publicise details of areas potentially contaminated by the substance,” she said.

“Such information is also crucial for medical professionals operating in Iraq so that they are aware of the kind of injuries they are treating. Tragically we witnessed people dying in Gaza because doctors were not aware that their patients’ burns were caused by white phosphorus and were thus not able to dispense the right treatment, resulting in the wounds deteriorating.”

More than 10,000 people have been displaced from Mosul but it’s believed more than 1.5 million remain trapped inside the city and on its outskirts.




Thousands of California soldiers forced to repay enlistment bonuses a decade after going to war


23rd Oct 2016

Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war.

Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.

Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.

But soldiers say the military is reneging on 10-year-old agreements and imposing severe financial hardship on veterans whose only mistake was to accept bonuses offered when the Pentagon needed to fill the ranks.

“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received. “People like me just got screwed.”

In Iraq, Van Meter was thrown from an armored vehicle turret — and later awarded a Purple Heart for his combat injuries — after the vehicle detonated a buried roadside bomb.

Susan Haley, a Los Angeles native and former Army master sergeant who deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, said she sends the Pentagon $650 a month — a quarter of her family’s income — to pay down $20,500 in bonuses that the Guard says were given to her improperly.

“I feel totally betrayed,” said Haley, 47, who served 26 years in the Army along with her husband and oldest son, a medic who lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan.

Haley, who now lives in Kempner, Texas, worries they may have to sell their house to repay the bonuses. “They’ll get their money, but I want those years back,” she said, referring to her six-year reenlistment.

The problem offers a dark perspective on the Pentagon’s use of hefty cash incentives to fill its all-volunteer force during the longest era of warfare in the nation’s history.

Even Guard officials concede that taking back the money from military veterans is distasteful.

“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard. “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.”

Facing enlistment shortfalls and two major wars with no end in sight, the Pentagon began offering the most generous incentives in its history to retain soldiers in the mid-2000s.

It also began paying the money up front, like the signing bonuses that some businesses pay in the civilian sector.

“It was a real sea change in how business was done,” said Col. Michael S. Piazzoni, a California Guard official in Sacramento who oversaw the audits. “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”

The bonuses were supposed to be limited to soldiers in high-demand assignments like intelligence and civil affairs or to noncommissioned officers badly needed in units due to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon agency that oversees state Guard organizations,  has acknowledged that bonus overpayments occurred in every state at the height of the two wars.

But the money was handed out far more liberally in the California Guard, which has about 17,000 soldiers and is one of the largest state Guard organizations.

In 2010, after reports surfaced of improper payments, a federal investigation found that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were given to California Guard soldiers who did not qualify for them, or were approved despite paperwork errors.

Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three officers also pleaded guilty to fraud and were put on probation after paying restitution.


Instead of forgiving the improper bonuses, the California Guard assigned 42 auditors to comb through paperwork for bonuses and other incentive payments given to 14,000 soldiers, a process that was finally completed last month.

Roughly 9,700 current and retired soldiers have been told by the California Guard to repay some or all of their bonuses and the recoupment effort has recovered more than $22 million so far.

Because of protests, appeals and refusal by some to comply, the recovery effort is likely to continue for years.

In interviews, current and former California Guard members described being ordered to attend mass meetings in 2006 and 2007 in California where officials signed up soldiers in assembly-line fashion after outlining the generous terms available for six-year reenlistments.

Robert Richmond, an Army sergeant first class then living in Huntington Beach, said he reenlisted after being told he qualified for a $15,000 bonus as a special forces soldier.

The money gave him “breathing room,” said Richmond, who had gone through a divorce after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003.

In 2007, his special forces company was sent to the Iraqi town of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad in an area known as the “Triangle of Death” because of the intense fighting.

Richmond conducted hundreds of missions against insurgents over the next year. In one, a roadside bomb exploded by his vehicle, knocking him out and leaving him with permanent back and brain injuries.

He was stunned to receive a letter from California Guard headquarters in 2014 telling him to repay the $15,000 and warning he faced “debt collection action” if he failed to comply.

Richmond should not have received the money, they argued, because he already had served 20 years in the Army in 2006, making him ineligible.

Richmond, 48, has refused to repay the bonus. He says he only had served 15 years when he reenlisted, due to several breaks in his Army service.

He has filed appeal after appeal, even after receiving a collection letter from the Treasury Department in March warning that his “unpaid delinquent debt” had risen to $19,694.62 including interest and penalties.

After quitting the California Guard so the money wouldn’t be taken from his paycheck, he moved to Nebraska to work as a railroad conductor, but was laid off.

He then moved to Texas to work for a construction company, leaving his wife and children in Nebraska. With $15,000 debt on his credit report, he has been unable to qualify for a home loan.

“I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill,” Richmond said bitterly. “We want somebody in the government, anybody, to say this is wrong and we’ll stop going after this money.”

Though they cannot waive the debts, California Guard officials say they are helping soldiers and veterans file appeals with the National Guard Bureau and the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, which can wipe out the debts.

But soldiers say it is a long, frustrating process, with no guarantee of success.

Robert D’Andrea, a retired Army major and Iraq veteran, was told to return a $20,000 bonus he received in 2008 because auditors could not find a copy of the contract he says he signed.

Now D’Andrea, a financial crimes investigator with the Santa Monica Police Department, says he is close to exhausting all his appeals.

“Everything takes months of work, and there is no way to get your day in court,” he said. “Some benefit of the doubt has to be given to the soldier.”

Bryan Strother, a sergeant first class from Oroville north of Sacramento, spent four years fighting Guard claims that he owed $25,010.32 for mistaken bonuses and student loans.

Guard officials told Strother he had voided his enlistment contract by failing to remain a radio operator, his assigned job, during and after a 2007-08 deployment to Iraq.

Strother filed a class-action lawsuit in February in federal district court in Sacramento on behalf of all soldiers who got bonuses, claiming the California Guard “conned” them into reenlisting.

The suit asked the court to order the recovered money to be returned to the soldiers and to issue an injunction against the government barring further collection.

In August, Strother received a letter from the Pentagon waiving repayment of his bonus.

“We believe he acted in good faith in accepting the $15,000,” a claims adjudicator from the Pentagon’s Defense Legal Services Agency wrote in the letter. He still owed $5,000 in student loan repayments, it said.

Within weeks, lawyers for U.S. Atty. Phillip A. Talbert in Sacramento petitioned the court to dismiss Strother’s lawsuit, arguing that it was moot since most of his debt had been waived. A federal judge is supposed to rule on the government’s motion by January.

“It’s a legal foot-dragging process to wear people out and make people go away,” said Strother. “It’s overwhelming for most soldiers.”

Indeed, some have just given up, repaying the money even before exhausting their appeals.

“It was tearing me up, the stress, the headaches,” said Van Meter, the former Army captain from Manteca who paid off his $46,000 debt by refinancing his mortgage. “I couldn’t take it anymore. The amount of stress it put us through financially and emotionally was something we wanted to move past.”


source: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-national-guard-bonus-20161020-snap-story.html

Not even US president can legalize torture, Abu Ghraib inmates allowed to sue – court ruling


22nd Oct 2016

A federal court has ruled in favor of four former Abu Ghraib detainees intending to sue a US military contractor for its alleged role in torturing them. The decision also said laws against torture apply to all branches of government, even the executive.

On Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a former ruling that claimed torture to be a “political question” out of the court’s hands. It also reinstated a lawsuit against CACI Premier Technology that alleges their employees abused and tortured four men during interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the early years of the Iraq occupation.

The ruling is a major breakthrough for the eight-year long lawsuit for the Abu Ghraib inmates who were told last June that legal action would involve second-guessing military officials in a war zone. Therefore, the judge believed that the claims could not be litigated in the judicial system.

However, Friday’s unanimous ruling determined that contractors employed by the CACI Premier Technology were subject to the same anti-torture laws that govern the country and were not allowed to circumvent or interpret the laws differently due to their positions.

While executive officers can declare the military reasonableness of conduct amounting to torture, it is beyond the power of even the president to declare such conduct lawful,” wrote appellate Judge Barbara Keenan.

This is the fourth time this case has reached the appeals court, the Intercept reported. From here, it will return to the district court for reconsideration.

CACI denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement released on Friday: “We’ll proceed with our expectation unchanged: exoneration for CACI. Nothing in today’s decision changes our view of the ultimate outcome.”




As many as 44 Afghan troops go missing while on US military training visits – Pentagon


6th Oct 2016

In an effort to find illegal work and settle permanently in America, at least 44 Afghan troops visiting the US for military training have gone missing since January 2015, Pentagon officials said. It raises concerns about procedures for such programs.

Eight Afghan troops have left military bases without authorization since September alone, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told Reuters, disclosing the total number of Afghan troops who have gone missing for the first time.

“The Defense Department is assessing ways to strengthen eligibility criteria for training in ways that will reduce the likelihood of an individual Afghan willingly absconding from training in the US and going AWOL [absent without leave],” Stump said.

The Afghan Army has previously been occasionally infiltrated by Taliban militants who carried out attacks on Afghan and US troops. Rogue shootings of foreign troops claimed lives of nearly 40 soldiers in several dozen attacks in 2012.

Before being allowed into the US, Afghans are carefully vetted for security reasons, to make sure they have not been involved in human rights abuses and are not affiliated with militant groups, the Pentagon spokesman said.

Some 2,200 Afghan troops have received military training in the United States since 2007. Other foreign troops on US military training visits have sometimes run away too, but a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the frequency of Afghan troops going missing was concerning and “out of the ordinary.”

According to the official, there was no evidence any of those who had run away had carried out crimes or posed a threat to America.

Since 2002, Washington has earmarked over $60 billion “to build, equip, train, and sustain” the Afghan troops, a quarterly report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in late July. Money has failed to buy security, however, with the internal US report saying that the NATO-trained Afghan military only controls about two-thirds of Afghanistan’s districts and keeps losing territory to the Taliban.

The US mission in Afghanistan has dragged out much longer than originally anticipated, with President Barack Obama canceling the initial plan to withdraw the majority of troops in 2014 in exchange for a blueprint to scale back forces by early 2017.

America’s combat mission in Afghanistan “came to a responsible end” a year-and-a-half ago, Obama said in July. Forces there are now focused on “two narrow missions”: training and terrorism prevention. “But even these narrow missions continue to be dangerous.

In July this year, Washington announced that the US will leave 8,400 troops through the end of the Obama administration, citing an increase in Taliban attacks.

Low morale and lack of training to fight the Taliban could partially explain dozens of the troops leaving.

“They face a formidable enemy, with very limited resources and many Afghan troops aren’t getting paid on time,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, told Reuters.

The US bears full responsibility for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, who served as Russian envoy to Afghanistan in 2004-2009, said earlier this month.

Washington “cut back their presence [in Afghanistan] and did not resolve a single issue and created more problems. They carry political and moral responsibility for what is taking place in Afghanistan now,” he noted.


source: https://www.rt.com/news/361784-afghan-troops-missing-us/