Thursday, July 17, 2008

Proud parents














Starting with war resisters.  US war resister James Burmeister was court-martialed yesterday.  AP ridiculously offers, "Burmeister said he was disturbed by a military tactic of planting equipment to lure Iraqis -- presumably insurgents -- who American snipers could then kill."  No, not insurgents.  They can't even do their own reporting and they can't even the damn facts right.  What took place at Fort Knox yesterday was "The court-martial of the kill-team whistle blower."  Here's how Mark Larabee (The Oregonian) reported it, "But once in Iraq, he was assigned to a 'small kill' team that set traps for insurgents.  They'd place a fake camera on a pole with a sign labeling it as US property, giving the team the right to shoot anyone who messed with it."    [The Oregonian link does not currently work and the story does not show up via a search.  The section quoted here was quoted here on July 16, 2007.  The story ran that day and was entitled "Soldiers still go over the hill even in an all-vounteer Army."] [Add this anywhere, on the paper's blog, they've just reposted Larabee's story.]  The CBC reported it June 29,2007 (link has text and also a listening option), "Instead he said he became part of a team that set up traps for Iraqis using an object such as a fake camera as a lure" and quotes James stating, "If the Iraqis would go and touch it they [the soldiers] could shoot 'em because if anyone messes with the U.S. government property, they're allowed to fire at 'em."  It could have been news then -- the "kill teams."  It should have been.  But instead Panhandle Media chose to ignore reality.  They're never very concerned with Iraq.  Real Media got on the story in September, via Josh White and Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) reporting on Jorge Sandoval "As he and two other snipers face charges of killing Iraqis, legal experts are debating how large a role a classified program of "baiting" their targets played in the cases. The soldiers in the unit had the spool of wire, defense attorneys said, only because the Army's secretive Asymmetric Warfare Group had given it to them -- along with other items, such as plastic explosives and AK-47 rounds -- so the snipers could boost the number of suspected insurgents they killed by shooting whoever picked up the materials. . .  Retired Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, a former judge advocate general for the Army, said the group's baiting program, as described publicly, opens up the possibility for indiscriminate shootings -- based on little information -- that could lead to the death of scavengers or curious passersby. He said that when troops kill civilians by mistake, it can harm the war effort."  Kim Sengupta (Independent of London) summarized it, "US soldiers are luring Iraqis to their deaths by scattering military equipment on the ground as "bait", and then shooting those who pick them up, it has been alleged at a court martial."  Sengupta then quoted an unnamed "US military source" stating,  "The guys picking them up are sometimes bad guys. But how do you know each time?"  The difference should be very clear to the AP which, after all, reported of Sandoval September 28th, "He was found not guilty of the two murder charges, but the panel decided he had placed a detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look as if the man was an insurgent."  But today AP wants to say "presumably insurgents"?


August 24th Maria Hinojosa spoke with James Burmeister for NOW on PBS (she also spoke with Agustin Aguayo for the same segment)


HINOJOSA: During his many missions, James was caught in three road-side bombings... And amazingly, a fellow soldier caught one of the explosions on camera.

BURMEISTER: We were in a five humvee set. Rolling down a--down a main street in Baghdad in our sector.  I'm the gunner on top of this humvee...  Just a big bomb goes off. And it's so fast, you don't--you don't see the bomb. You're scared. You're checking your body parts to see if you're missing anything.  A few days after that, I had actually passed out in my room. Passed out, just hit the floor.

HINOJOSA: James says that was the first sign of his post traumatic stress disorder. He says doctors thought he also may have sustained a traumatic brain injury, so he was sent to Germany on medical leave.  Two months later, while still on medication, he was ordered back to Iraq.

BURMEISTER: They were desperate for people to get back there. They just needed people in Baghdad. They just need bodies to man the guns and the equipment.

HINOJOSA: James saw only two options: either go back to Iraq...or go AWOL, Absent Without Leave, a crime punishable by jail time and even court-martial.

BURMEISTER: I got back home--talked to my wife. You know, I said, "I think I'm gonna leave." It was like a 15 minute decision that I'm--I'm gonna leave--I'm gonna leave the Army.

HINOJOSA: On May 4th of this year James fled to Canada, a familiar haven for over 55,000 Americans during the Vietnam War. But times have changed and Canadian immigration laws are much stricter now. When James arrived in Ottawa he realized his only viable option to legally stay in Canada was to apply for refugee status.  We were with him and his family the day they put in their application.

BURMEISTER: Today I am here at the immigration office to file my refugee claim, and starting the whole process today and hope everything goes well.

HINOJOSA: Up until now James and his family had been living underground.  During this war about 300 U.S. soldiers are known to have fled to Canada and around 50 have applied for refugee status. None to this day have been granted but no one has been sent home either. They, along with James, wait to see if Canada will take them in permanently.


Speaking to the CBS June 29th, he explained:  "Our platoon in particular would set up small groups called small kill teams maybe a group of four, five people, some snipers and we would set up fake cameras.  We would put 'Property of US Government' in English and Arabic and we would wait for an Iraqi to come up and touch it because that gives the US the right to kill them, so they say.  That would be the typical thing we'd do. . . . I didn't see how that was helping at all."  Following the roadside bombing caught on tape (which wasn't the only bombing James endured), he was put on 'leave' when he should have been sent to a hospital.  The military didn't want to take responsibility for that and expected him to get (apparently brief) medical treatment while he was on so-called 'leave.'  Mina Al-Oraibi (Asharq Alawsat) reported, "Following three months of lengthy treatment and surgery for a head injury, the US Army issued an order to send Burmeister back to Iraq" and James explained to her, "They wanted to send me back there on crutches and taking anti-depressants."  James told the CBC that he was being threatened and told to lie about his status because he was wanted back in Iraq which is when he made his decision:


Like I said, I was back on leave, just taking care of my hospital stuff. My commander of my company told me that I had two days to get ready to head back to Baghdad.  They gave me 24-hours duty on the first day so I couldn't go home and tell my wife so I was -- when I got back after the 24-hours -- just was looking on the internet about Canada and I heard a lot of stories about Vietnam war resisters coming up to Canada so the idea just popped into my head to look on the -- look on the internet.  And I also included 'refugee" in that search.  Came across the website and called them up and asked what kind of options I had.  You know, they told me I should look at all my options before just running up to Canada but at that point I had already looked at a lot of them, I had already talked to my commander about consientious objector status and they just said no to that.  So that day I bought the ticket and next day flew out from Nuremberg Germany to Toronto and made my way up here. 

[The audio clip at CBC is an interview Burmeister did with Rob Benzie.  More from the interview -- for those who can't stream online or with hearing disabilities -- can be found in the September 25th snapshot.]


Burmeister left Canada and returned to the US where he turned himself in on March 4th.  Camilla Mortensen (Eugene Weekly) reported  on his return and noted, "His father fears the Army wants to keep Burmeister quiet about the 'bait-and-kill' teams the he alleges have been used to kill Iraqi civilians.  While James Burmeister awaits the Army's decision, his father [Erich Burmeister] is fighting to bring him home." In May, James Burmeister's father Erich wrote about his son at Courage to Resist


He is not a kid anymore.  When he joined the army, he was a typical poor kid, naive kid, painted himself in a corner kid.  A typical young man high on testosterone low on common sense, he brought the recruiter's line of crap and fine-print flim flaw, and was coached on how to assure his induction despite medical conditions that would have disqualified him.  
So the army trained him how to kill efficiently in urban warfare situations and shipped his naive butt over to Baghdad to carry out the orders of his commander and chief, the Warrior Prince Bush, our president, brave military veteran of Vietnam.  So my son was forced to take part in and was witness to acts of human cruelty beyond his wildest imagination.  He killed other young men just like him.  In another place in another time, they could have been friends, they could have worked side by side and shared their dreams, now their ghosts will haunt his dreams, like the dreams of this brand new generation of "winter soldiers".  For the matter of a few feet, or maybe even a few inches, my son's brains would have been spilled out on a Baghdad street.  My nightmare of a soldier's dad, of cradling my son's blown up head in my lap while I try to put it back together, it would have become reality like the nightmares of the families of those soldiers who have already died, and those who will die next week, next month, and next year.  
So now my son sits in Army custody, brain injured by a roadside bomb and struggling mightly with PTSD while he awaits court-martial for desertion, because he refused redepolyment to combat in Iraq in May 2007 in protest over the war crimes he was ordered to engage in.  He married a fifty-caliber machine gun atop a hummer providing perimeter security for one of the now infamous small kill teams. 


In June, his mother Helen Burmeister spoke at a rally outside Fort Knox.



Helen Burmeister: I'm Helen Burmeister and I'm here today to support my son Prviate 1st Class James Burmeister.  My son is an Iraq War veteran and I'm very proud of him today.  He fought bravely in Iraq.  He followed orders.  He was wounded in a roadside bomb and he's been diagnosed with PTSD and a possible brain injury.  Our request today is that the army release James.  We want James to be able to put this traumatic experience behind him so he can begin to heal -- both emotionally and physically.  I believe my son has done his part.  Now it's time for him to be given the recognition he deserves.  Short of that, we are requesting that he be allowed to go home to Oregon.  And thank you.  Thank you to everyone for all your support today.  


Chris Kenning (Courier-Journal) reported on Helen Burmeister's efforts and spoke with US war resister Darrell Anderson who also went to Canada.  Anderson returned September 30, 2006 to turn himself in October 3rd.  Like Burmeister, he suffers from PTSD and he also lost his benefits.  He told Kenning, "It wasn't the easy choice, it was the hard choice.  I lost my GI Bill, my veteran's benefits . . . but I did what's right, and I've still got my pride."


Today Chris Kenning (Courier-Journal) reports on James Burmeister's court-martial yesterday and the sentence of jail (six months), reduction in rank (busted down to private), dishonorable discharge (bad conduct) and "a loss of pay" and quotes Burmeister's military attorney, Captain Tyson McDonald, stating of the military, "They're not happy that dirty laundry was getting aired."  Nick Kyonka (Toronto Star) quotes Vietnam vet and Vietnam Veterans Against the War's Carol Rawert-Trainer stating the court-martial took four hours and, "It's quite a shock to everybody.  We all thought they were going to take it easy on him because he turned himself in, but it doesn't look that way."  She also spoke at the rally last month to show support for James Burmeister:


Carol Rawert Trainer: I am a Vietnam Era veteran and my husband is a retired USAF officer and Vietnam Veteran.  We belong to Lousiville Peace Action Community and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, two great organizations that work for peace and justice.  I learned of PFC James Burmeister through my involvement with the GI Rights Hotline.  We are disgusted at the way the government treats our returning war heroes and we will not sit by and watch it happen.  You hear the slogan 'Support Our Troops.'  Well that is why we have come here today.  I have personally heard too many horror stories of veterans in the Lousiville area who return from war and do not receive proper medical care or benefits or counseling for PTSD which is all too prevalent in this war.  The Army seems to care more about their retention at any cost to the soldier and family than they do about the care of the soldiers affected by this war.  Too many soldiers are battling their physical and emotional problems alone.  The suicide rates have risen dramatically.  This is obscene.  We are here today to demand that the army grant James a discharge in lieu of court-martial.  We are watching what the army is doing.  James served honorably in Iraq and carried out his duties as commanded.  He received head injuries and shrapnel in his face in the 3rd attack on his convoy.  He also has PTSD and seizures and is on many medications as a result of his experience.  When he was recuperating in the hospital in Germany he realized that what he was commanded to do -- killing innocent people, sometimes in bait-and-switch schemes, was immoral.  The army trains these troops from basic to kill, kill, kill and does not differentiate between innocent Iraqis or insurgents.  James could not, would not, do it any longer.  He had to live with himself and his actions for the rest of his life.  The army does not care about the lifelong problems these honorable soldiers face.  In fact they were going to send James back to Iraq even though he was on medications for high blood pressure, depression, sleep problems and more.  At least James is one of the lucky ones who realized he needed help before it was too late.  Going back to Iraq would be dangerous to his life as well as to those who served with him.  We are here today to support James and his family in their struggle for justice!  James' family has suffered through other family circumstances that dictate that James be home to help them.  We hope the army will grant James an immediate discharge not only for his own personal needs but for his families' needs.  Even though he would not receive medical benefits which he needs, he would be home in a safe and loving environment.  This is what is fair.  This is what is just.  James was there when the army needed him.  Now the army must be there for James and the countless other heroes who need assistance and support as they cope with their war-induced problems.


War Resisters Support Campaign Lee Zaslofsky tells Kyonka regarding the verdict, "In that case, his post-traumatic stress disorder and some of the other problems that he has won't be dealt with properly.  I just hope this isn't an ill omen for some of the other (resisters)."


Turning to news of Robin Long.  Or how about "Huh?"  "The Morning Show discusses Canadian government's decision to expel an American war resistor, then Jane Mayer . . ."  It does?  No, KPFA's The Morning Show did not.  Despite the summary and announcing it on air.  Kind of like, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, "And US war resisters may see refuge in Canada."  Which should have been noted as taking place on Tuesday.  Or rather not taking place.  Probably not a good idea to self-pat yourself on the shoulders, in the midst of your latest round of begging, when you're unable to deliver on what you have promised and appear to think that, as the program ends, you can just pretend you never promised the segment.  Or if you let Aileen pimp the most embarrassing segment of the week as "independent, listener sponsored media," don't expect people to be in a hurry to toss a few coins at you -- not even to get you to be quiet.


Heath Druzin (Idaho Statesman) reports, "Long, who has a child with a Canadian woman, has been considered absent without leave since he fled the U.S. Commanders at Fort Carson will decide whether he should be discharged from the military, returned to duty, court marshaled or given a less severe punishment, Fort Carson spokeswoman Karen Linne said."  Monique James (KTVB) notes, "He's been living in British Columbia for the past three years and has a two-year-old son there.Long's sister, Christine, says she fears for her brother now that he's back in the U.S. 'When I heard what was going on I'm kind of freaked out because he's my brother, I don't want anything to happen to him,' said Christine Long."

Robin is the father of a Canadian child.  It's not a minor issue.  It is, however, an issue that Judge Anne Mctavish should have to explain overlooking.  Apparently dizzy from the high altitude of the bench, she forgot the law: Robin, as the father of a Canadian citizen, should not have been deported.  It's not just the common sense that it splits up a family (which it does), it's also that the immigration policies are very clear regarding children and parents.  Judge Mctavish needs to be asked what gave her the right to override precedent and law in making her decision to evict Robin from the country? Also covering Long? The Idaho Examiner runs a summary of the article here while The Seattle Times does so hereKBOI News files a brief summary.  The Chicago Tribune files a small brief on Long here.  Iran's Press TV covers his story here. And Susan Bourette (Christian Science Monitor) observes of the decision to deport Robin,  "In a country that provided refuge to an estimated 90 percent of some 100,000 deserters and draft dodgers who went into exile during the Vietnam War, it's an unprecedented decision -- though perhaps not unexpected, given the political temper of the times in Canada."


Free Speech Radio News filed a report yesterday:


Aura Bogado: When more than 50,000 people made their way from the US to Canada to avoid fighting in the Viet Nam war, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau welcomed them, declaring Canada a "refuge from militarism". Today, while much smaller in number and largely unnoticed in the US, a new generation of "deserters" are fighting for the same sanctuary -- including Robin Long, who came to Canada in 2005 seeking refugee status. But as FSRN's Sarah Olson reports, Canadian government officials have not extended the same welcome to these modern war resisters.


Sarah Olson: A federal judge in Vancouver ruled that Robin Long must go home, saying Monday that the 25-year-old had failed to provide clear and non-speculative evidence that he'd be singled out for harsh treatment if he returned to the United States. By Tuesday afternoon, despite two federal court victories, last month's Parliamentary resolution welcoming Iraq  war resisters and the support nearly two-thirds of Canadians have shown for US war resisters,  Long became the first Iraq Warwar resister to be deported from Canada.  Bob Ages with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Vancouver.


Bob Ages: We think they have expedited what amounts to kidnapping and extraordinary rendition precisely to try to set a precedent to take the wind out of the sails of a campaign of support which has been growing in strength both in terms of our legal arguments and our political support.


Sarah Olson: To understand the legal landscape Long is navigating, one must examine three other cases.  First, the Hinzman-Hughey case.  Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey arrived in Canada in 2004 and in 2005 became the first US soldiers to petition for refugee status.  They were denied but appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada which declined to intervene in November of last year.  Attorney Alyssa Manning represents deserters now living in Toronto.  Her client, Corey Glass, won a stay of removal last week based largely on how dramatically Hinzman-Hughey changed things.


Alyssa Manning: We argued that it established new law in the area of Canadian refugee law and that is that if you are fearing the persecution of the state itself as opposed to some other actor in your country of origin then you have to seek protection from that state before you can get refugee protection. Before the Hinzman decision, it wasn't thought that you had to seek state protection if it was actually the state that was persecuting you.


Sarah Olson: The second case is army private Joshua Key.  Unlike Hinzman and Hughey, Key was an Iraq veteran. In 2005, the refugee board found that although Key had received orders which violated the Geneva Convention disobeying these orders didn't entitle Key to refugee status.  A federal court heare his appeal earlier this month.  Key's attorney, Jeffry House.


Jeffry House: The federal court said that the right to refuse inappropriate orders is larger than what the refugee board had thought.  It isn't simply that a soldier can refuse to commit war crimes, a soldier can also refuse to commit violations of the Geneva Convention if that's required of him or her on a systematic basis.  The court held that if the United States were to prosecute Joshua Key for refusing to violate the Geneva Conventions then that would give rise to a refugee claim.


Sarah Olson: This July 4th decision was the first legal victory for Iraq War resisters and House says it could have substantial implications.


Jeffry House: Any case in which it was alleged by the person concerned that he or she was required to commit inappropriate acts on a systematic basis probably would have a right to have their case re-heard. 


Sarah Olson: Finally there is national guard Sgt. Corey Glass.  Glass arrived in Canada in 2006 after going AWOL while home on leave in the middle of an 18-month deployment.  His bid for refuge was also rejected.  His legal appeals unsuccessful.  And his deportation seemed so likely he gave up his apartment and quit his job.  But thanks in part to the Key decision the federal court stayed his removal last week while his legal team presents new evidence. Attorney Alyssa Manning.


Alyssa Manning: The really interesting thing about the reason coming down in Corey's case is that it will be the first decision that will consider all of the evidence that we gathered about what has happened to simarly situated individuals in the United States -- people like Stephen Funk or Camilo Mejia, people who spoke out against the war and then were court-martialed and imprisoned. 


Sarah Olson: This makes Robin Long's removal yesterday all the more unfortunate.  Long is expected to be sent to Fort Carson, Colorado  where his tanker unit is based.  Despite the Canadian court's assertion that most deserters don't even face a court-martial or prison time, the percentage of soldiers facing prosecution is much higher when the soldier is on record opposing the war. And this has Long's US supporters concerned. For Free Speech Radio News, I'm Sarah Olson, Oakland, California.


There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Megan Bean, Chris Bean, Matthis Chiroux, Richard Droste, Michael Barnes, Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Jose Vasquez, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Logan Laituri, Jason Marek, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).



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