Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What Happens When Johnny Comes Marching Home?

It seems that for the first four years or so of the Iraq war many on the far political right tried to confuse the issues of "supporting the war" and "supporting the troops". However, since revelations have surfaced about sub-standard conditions at military hospitals; the lack of body armor; homeless veterans; military personnel becoming ill from water supplied from government contractors; and, other stories of ill-treatment of the military, you don't hear too much of that rhetoric anymore. In fact, now that it has become clear that many of the most vocal supporters of the war have been shown to be mostly talk and very little action, the calls to provide real support for military troops are coming from those who want to end the war asap.

But what is being done to prepare for the day when the troops are finally brought home?

Many of today's servicemen and women will come home in need of physical, mental, emotional and financial support. Meeting these needs alone will present a daunting challenge. But what do we do with the returning rapists and gang members? Yes, Rapists & Gang Members!

By now you've probably either read or heard about the
op-ed piece that Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) wrote for the LATimes which discussed the high levels of rape committed against US service women.

In the event, that you haven't read the article yet, here is a brief excerpt:

" Numbers reported by the Department of Defense show a sickening pattern. In 2006, 2,947 sexual assaults were reported -- 73% more than in 2004. The DOD's newest report, released this month, indicates that 2,688 reports were made in 2007, but a recent shift from calendar-year reporting to fiscal-year reporting makes comparisons with data from previous years much more difficult.

At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through 'nonjudicial punishment,' which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of 'insufficient evidence.' "

I was I could say that I am surprised by this report but sadly, I'm not. In May 2007, Paula Zahn hosted a series on CNN called "Gangs in the
Military" which brought to light what appears to be the military 's new "turn a blind eye" to open gang membership by service personnel. In the opening moment of that broadcast one former serviceman was quoted as saying,

"When these cats come back from -- these gang members come back from Iraq, we are going to have some hell on these streets.”

As a December, 2006 article by Nick Turse for the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

"After falling short of its goals last year, military recruiting in 2006 has been marked by upbeat pronouncements from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claims of success by the White House, and a spate of recent press reports touting the military's achievement of its woman- and manpower goals.

But the armed forces have met with success only through a fundamental transformation, and not the transformation of the military -- that 'co-evolution of concepts, processes, organizations and technology' that Rumsfeld is always talking about either.

In 2004, the Pentagon published a 'Moral Waiver Study,' whose seemingly benign goal was 'to better define relationships between pre-Service behaviors and subsequent Service success.' That turned out to mean opening more recruitment doors to potential enlistees with criminal records.

In February, the Baltimore Sun wrote that there was 'a significant increase in the number of recruits with what the Army terms 'serious criminal misconduct' in their background' -- a category that included 'aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and making terrorist threats.' From 2004 to 2005, the number of those recruits rose by more than 54 percent, while alcohol and illegal drug waivers, reversing a four-year decline, increased by more than 13 percent.

In June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that, under pressure to fill the ranks, the Army had been allowing into its ranks increasing numbers of 'recruits convicted of misdemeanor crimes, according to experts and military records.' In fact, as the military's own data indicated, 'the percentage of recruits entering the Army with waivers for misdemeanors and medical problems has more than doubled since 2001.'

One beneficiary of the Army's new moral-waiver policies gained a certain prominence this summer. After Steven Green, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, was charged in a rape and quadruple murder in Mahmudiyah, Iraq, it was disclosed that he had been 'a high-school dropout from a broken home who enlisted to get some direction in his life, yet was sent home early because of an anti-social personality disorder.' "

While I am not intimately familiar with any gang members, I feel fairly certain that theirs is not an environment that is particularly respectful or accepting of women. In fact, if many of the lyrics in so-called "gangsta rap" are any indication the attitude towards women is misogynistic. So are we surprised that one of the results of the military's lower conduct standards is the abuse of its service women. Of course, not all of the rapes committed by Americans in Iraq have been committed by gang members or even US military personnel.

Former Haliburton/KBR employee Jamie Lee Jones reported that in 2005 she had been gang raped at a KBR compound in Baghdad. In December 2007 Jamie testified before Congress:

As Cynthia Samuels stated in her article for Political Voices of Women:

" Anyone who pays any attention to this issue, or even who’s ever watched LAW AND ORDER knows that rape is a crime of dominance and hate, not a sexual crime. That means that every one of those rapes is an act of rage against a woman — and a fellow soldier. And that in all the years that women have been part of active military duty, we haven’t dealt with that rage. And that if it’s that prevalent in the military, it’s probably still floating around out here in the rest of the world at a hefty rate too. And apparently, however far we’ve come as women in and out of the military, just below the surface is something big, angry and very scary indeed."
Of course the vast majority of US service personnel are honorable and moral men and women. But when the small percentage of soldiers and contractors who have been allowed to vent their anti-social and violent behaviors in an atmosphere of war without fear of punishment, returns home will our society be ready?

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