Monday, December 20, 2010

DADT Repeal: Its Double-Barreled Significance

Ahem, Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, thank you for coming today. I have a statement from the Director for you regarding the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Then we'll be happy to take your questions and comments.

Statement by Chuck Fager, Director of Quaker House, Fayetteville NC, on the repeal of DADT:

I've been calling for repeal of DADT for some time, and welcome it.

This change has two important effects, I think:

First, it will enable thousands of present and future soldiers to pursue their careers on their merits, which is only as it should be.

Second, beyond these individual cases, repealing DADT strikes an important blow to the identification of war with masculinity, with heterosexuality, with America, and all three with God.

This identification is idolatry, pure and simple. But it is all too widespread in American Christianity, and it is way past time for it to be broken up.

Ending DADT will move that breakup forward.

Thanks be to God, the Congress, and the White House.

(And a special thank you to the one reporter who actually did call, and keeps this from being 100 per cent self-indulgent.)

And in another vein, a few days ago a Friend wrote:

Chuck, Am I the only Quaker who is conflicted about this legislation to eliminate Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell so that it will be easier to recruit and keep non heterosexuals for the US military machine?

My reply, which I'd like to share:

I haven't heard from any other Quakes about this recently, but I expect you're not alone. Indeed, I feel some of this ambivalence too, but come out clearly in favor of repeal.

Sure, I'd prefer that nobody signed up. But beyond the matter of respecting personal choices, and believe me, some people (gay & straight) really love being in the military - there looms the issue of the military as one of the major cultural (and religious) bastions and icons of American homophobia.

Breaking through that, in my view, has implications far beyond whether a few thousand LGBT folks get to sign up openly. It punches a gaping hole in the institutional support system for religious and cultural systems that identify masculinity with war, hetero with masculinity (yes, I think this is 99% about males), America with both, and God with all three. To me this is a big freaking deal.

So I can understand your ambivalence, but at the end of the day for DADT, all I can say is:

Onward Christian LGBT soldiers. In Quaker parlance, if thee feels thee must wear that sword, then wear it as long as thou canst, and as what thou really are: out and proud. Be ALL that thou can be.

But one thing more: when thee has second thoughts about WAR, as distinct from being gay, give us a call at the Quaker House GI Rights Hotline, 1-877-447-4487. We've been there for you during DADT, and we'll be there after it's gone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Female GI Likely Homicide Victim

The Good News is: it's been awhile since a female GI from Ft. Bragg was murdered by her peers.
The Bad News: It's apparently happened again.
The Predictable additional bad news: looks like another Army coverup has been in pl

Fayetteville NC Observer - November 17, 2010 .

Murder in Iraq? -- Soldier’s death not an accident

By John Ramsey, Staff writer

The death in July of a Fort Bragg paratrooper in Iraq was originally considered an accident, but investigators say they’re now treating it as a homicide.
Spc. Morganne Marie McBeth, 19, died in Asad, Iraq, on July 2, according to Army news releases that first announced her death.
Investigators were first told the death was accidental, said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, also known as CID.
“However, as the criminal investigation progressed, our special agents came to disbelieve the report of an accident,” Grey said in an e-mail response to questions. “We take the death of this soldier very seriously and are investigating it as a homicide.”
McBeth deployed to Iraq in August 2009 as a combat medic assigned to the 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. During its yearlong deployment, none of the brigade’s soldiers died in combat.
McBeth’s parents, Leonard and Sylvia McBeth of Fredericksburg, Va., said they’re frustrated that authorities have been slow to charge for their daughter’s death.
Sylvia McBeth said she’s now been told three different stories about how their daughter died.
The first soldiers who notified the McBeths told them that Morganne McBeth had accidentally stabbed herself while playing with a knife in a tent.
Later, they were told she was tossing a knife against a board with two other soldiers. The knife got lodged in the board, and one of the soldiers accidentally stabbed McBeth when pulling out the knife.
Finally, Slyvia McBeth said, investigators told them she was murdered. The suspects were friends of McBeth’s, Sylvia said.
Sylvia McBeth said investigators told them one soldier will be charged with murder, conspiracy and obstruction of justice while another will be charged with conspiracy and obstruction.
Those soldiers may be at Fort Bragg.
Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team returned to Fort Bragg in August.
An 82nd Airborne Division spokesman confirmed that no arrests have been made and directed all other questions about the investigation to CID.
“As far as we know, these individuals are not arrested, they are not charged with any crime. They told us they are not a danger to anybody or themselves and they are not a flight risk,” Sylvia McBeth said. “We don’t know what the problem is, why they’re not being charged or why they’re not being held accountable for what they did.”
She said investigators haven’t updated the family in more than two months. That’s why she and her husband decided to start talking to reporters.
McBeth said she spoke to her daughter days before her death. She said McBeth was unhappy with her unit and planned to seek another assignment after the deployment ended.
McBeth joined the Army on July 9, 2008, and had been stationed at Fort Bragg since Feb 25, 2009.
Sylvia McBeth said investigators told her that her daughter was able to give a full statement to military police before she died. She said she hasn’t been told what her daughter said, except that there was some type of struggle.
Grey, the CID spokesman, said family members are kept in the loop on investigations, but for investigative purposes he couldn’t discuss details of what they were told.
He said the first death notification to the family would have come from Army notification officers, not crime investigators. Grey said he has no way of knowing what those soldiers told the McBeth family.
As the criminal case progressed, Grey said, the reports to family members would have changed to reflect new findings.
“Keep in mind that only at the conclusion of the investigation will there be conclusive findings based on final lab results, witness statements and other issues that significantly affect a death investigation of this importance,” Grey said.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wikileaks & Torture: Hold The Mayo?

Our local paper published this piece today. Feel free to pass it on if you are so moved.
Fayetteville NC Observer –Thursday November 4, 2010
Op-ed: An order of war news, hold the mayo
By Chuck Fager
Fayetteville NC

Tom Ricks was a heckuva war reporter in his Washington Post days. He's
the furthest thing from a peacenik, but his book, "Fiasco," told the awful truth about the Iraq occupation's disastrous early years, and earned him mountains of respect.

Now he runs his own influential blog, "The Best Defense," where he's still telling it like he sees it.

And what Rick saw in the big Wikileaks document release [about the Iraq War] was, in a word, "crap."

"Maybe I'm going soft," he wrote recently, "but the Wikileaks dump kind of makes me ill."

Why? "If the leaks brought great revelations," he wrote, "I might think
differently, but so far I don't think I have been surprised by a single thing I've read."

But that's too mild. Tom's ultimate verdict is that "adding mayonnaise doesn't turn chicken [poop] into chic
ken salad. Here's my test: Tell me one thing we didn't know last week that we know now about the Iraq war."

Well, I hate to differ with one of my war reporter heroes, but here I have to stop and ask: Just who is included in this "we" you're talking about, Tom? Who knew all this already?

No doubt war-weary veteran reporters such as Ricks know tons more about what's happened "dow
nrange" than I ever will.

But I have been paying attention these last eight years. And since the Wikileaks cascades, I've learned many things I didn't know before. To judge by the reaction of informed observers in many places, a lot of other people learned things, too, beyond what Ricks shrugged off as an "Iraqi version of a dog bites man story."

Here's a short list of some items this other "we" just learned, from the Wikileaks disclosures:

-- That U.S. forces were keeping detailed track of civilian casualties, even while loudly denying it. Which makes the denials a pack of lies, Tom. (OK, there were lots of such packs.)

-- That these civilian casualties were much higher than previously reported. So much higher that eve
n the Iraq Body Count, always very conservative in its estimates, is adding more than 15,000 to its total. Is that truly a so-what, Tom? Fifteen thousand extra dead civilians, and counting?

-- Then there's the documentation of massive torture and murder of civilians, not by insurgents but by U.S. "allies," including many women and children. And that U.S. commanders turned the victims over wholesale to Iraqi units notorious for such barbarous savagery.

-- More, we learned that this neglect of torture was a matter of policy, with top-down instructions for U.S. troops to ignore the carnage.
But wait a minute - could that mean it wasn't just a few low-rank "bad apples" such as the hapless Lynndie England and the sadistic Charles Graner, who were responsible for "abuses"? Really? Did Ricks know that, too?

Which brings us to the subject of power drills. No doubt Tom was aware of their deployment as instrum
ents of torture and murder.

Actually, I knew about them too, since the months of 2005-06 when I monitored dozens of obscure news reports every night for news of my doomed hostage friend, Tom Fox. I recall that particularly, because it was also when the Pentagon was consistently denying that there was a civil war raging around Baghdad.

But those were the bad guys, right? The ones our forces were there to stop? Only now I learn that the power drills were widely in use by U.S. "allies" against thousands of Iraqis, mainly civilians.

OK, I admit it: homicide-by-power drill gives me the creeps. Maybe I'm going soft.

If so, that Wikileaks video of the laughing helicopter massacre had something to do with it. Sure, people get killed in war, and trigger judgments are often split-second. But face it - the laughter is what pushed that video past horrible to shameful.

So maybe the U.N. torture investigator's call for a U.S. investigation of all this is just showboating. But then again, maybe not.

Ricks worries that "great newspapers are getting played" by all the Wikileaks fuss. And no doubt many documents do no more than confirm the adage, "War is hell."

But that chestnut can be a truth, or it can be an excuse.
For my part, dismissing the new hellish depths Wikileaks exposed sounds more like an excuse. No amount of mayonnaise will sweeten that verdict.

And by the way, what does mayonnaise do to a power drill?

Chuck Fager is director of Quaker House in Fayetteville NC.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The New Lavender Peace Movement??

The New Lavender Peace Movement?

October 31, 2010

[Fayetteville/Fort Bragg NC]--For antiwar folks and peaceniks, there was a welcome, if hidden surprise in the weekend’s news.

You had to dig for it, though. It was buried in a letter about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT), which was sent in September but just surfaced in an Associated Press report out of Raleigh NC.

The letter to the president and the Pentagon was signed by 66 retired military chaplains. It urged the officials to maintain the DADT policy.

DADT has led to the expulsion of 13000-plus servicemembers since 1993, and the policy has been targeted for repeal, by the courts, Congress and the White House, and seems likely to succumb to whichever actually has the nerve to pull the trigger first.

The chaplains’ letter, along with a whole cache of other pro-DADT and anti- gays-in-the-military materials, have been usefully collected on this website:

It was among this collection that the good news for peace folks was unearthed.
This news is not about the arguments over DADT itself; those have been pretty well laid out, to the point of tedium.

No, what caught my eye were a couple of solemn prophecies by some of these military weighties on the probably effects of DADT’s repeal.

Taken together, these add up to the best news this peacenik has heard in a long time.

The first piece was in a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-gay litigation group based in Kansas. (The full letter is here: )

“Historically, the values taught by chaplains-like honor, duty, self-sacrifice, courage, sexual fidelity, and complete commitment to goals and truths that are bigger than anyone person-directly supported those of the military. Perhaps the only recent example of tension between the combat arms and the chaplaincy was during the later phases of the Vietnam War, when a few chaplains aligned with pacifistic teachings were perhaps overly enthusiastic in facilitating the discharge of conscientious objectors. But a far more serious conflict will arise if homosexual behavior is officially normalized by the military: For the first time in American history, the military's moral policies on sexual conduct would directly conflict with the official doctrines, moral teaching, and ethical standards of every major faith group in the chaplaincy--Christian, Jewish, and Islamic.”(Emphasis added.)

Wait a minute: some chaplains during the Vietnam war were “overly enthusiastic in facilitating the discharge of conscientious objectors”? And “a few” of them were even “aligned with pacifistic teachings”???

That’s news to me; tell me more!

Sure, I’m aware that there were lots of COs during Vietnam; and why not, when an immoral war and the military draft combined to bring tens of thousands of thoughtful young men up close and personal with the moral canyon that yawned between their values (such as honor and courage) and the pointless carnage they were expected to join?

So that’s no surprise. But pacifistic chaplains helping them out with enthusiasm, excessive or otherwise? I want to know more about that, right now.

For the letter’s authors, however, this unsubstantiated reference to troublesome peacenik chaplains is but the lead-in to the prophecy, that ending DADT will create “a far more serious conflict” within the chaplaincy corps and the military itself.

(Does it leap out at you, as it did me, that the private sexual behavior of a small segment of loyal troops is seen here as a much more serious problem than the impact of an immoral war on a much larger segment of the force, not to mention millions of innocent civilians the war left dead and maimed? But for now we can only take note of the incongruity.)

What will this ostensibly cataclysmic change mean for the DADT-free military? Here’s where the prophecies come in. One is from Roy L. Bebee, a retired Navy chaplain and “Executive Director/Endorsing Agent” for the “Evangelical free Church of America.” Bebee says,

“I foresee the day when the military may have problems retaining some of its best chaplains if the repeal is approved. Furthermore, I will be reluctant to endorse chaplains to serve within an institution that embraces and affirms immoral conduct. Approximately 60-75% of all 3300+ of military chaplains and chaplain candidates align themselves with evangelical churches and their beliefs and values. Most chaplains have serious concerns for any Repeal of DADT; I represent nearly 102 of them within our endorsing body and the 1,460 sending churches.”

If DADT goes, Bebee predicts, so will a sizable chunk of the two-thirds plus of chaplains who are doctrinally committed to the anti-gay version of biblical teachings. This prediction (threat?) has been echoed by some other denominations as well.

But that’s not all. Next up is that largest of U.S. Protestant denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which last June adopted a “Keep DADT” resolution. This declaration included the assertion that if DADT goes,

“Military recruiting will be crippled because:
(1) those segments of the American population most represented in the armed services are also those segments most likely to have moral convictions against homosexual behavior,
(2) a great many of those who have served in the military since 1993 say they would not have served if required to live on intimate terms with open homosexuals,
(3) should current law be repealed, a large percentage of currently serving military personnel say they will not reenlist or will end their careers early, and
(4) should current law be repealed, many parents will not entrust their sons and daughters to superiors who require them to live on intimate terms with open homosexuals . . . .”

So there is it. If Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is repealed, we are advised, not only will much of the most conservative military chaplains leave, the military itself will shrivel drastically.

Now I ask you, for a peacenik, in all of this, what’s not to like?

Some of us have been laboring for decades to find ways of shrinking the military, and rolling back the crusader mentality joined with biblicist homophobia in an ever-growing chunk of the chaplaincy and officers corps.

And suddenly, here it is: kill DADT, and presto, job done, or almost.

Where anti-DADT advocates merely thought they were reaching for equality of service in a hazardous occupation, according to these veteran seers, it will turn out that they were actually the vanguard who dealt the Military Industrial Complex a nearly mortal blow. What all our petitioning and mass marches and civil disobedience and tax resistance couldn’t accomplish, the Lavender brigades will achieve by a stealth attack.

Well, if that’s how it turns out, I say, Here's to Irony, and God bless every gay or lesbian who ever hit on a recruiter.

[Sigh.] But what these letter-writers see as a guaranteed nightmare scenario evokes a pleasant daydream that keeps me smiling – for about fifteen minutes.

Then an artillery blast out on Fort Bragg rattles the windows for the nth time today, and snaps me back awake. With that, realism sets in again.

Alas, almost all of this huffing and puffing is just that. Trust me: there will be no US military collapse if DADT goes. Nor will the chaplain corps be emptied out.

The reason none of this will happen is quite simple; in fact, it reduces to a single four-letter word:


Chaplaincy slots are jobs. The pay is good, the bennies generous; pensions beckon after as few as twenty years. And preachers, when you get past the motley of clerical garb and the jumble of doctrines, share one key ecumenical feature: they are all people who need jobs. As too many of us have noticed, jobs are hard to come by today.

So maybe a few will toss away their chaplain’s officer perks and head off to the mission fields. But I confidently predict their numbers will be few -- and that for every one who leaves, many equally evangelical but currently underemployed preachers will be waiting in the wings to take their places, and paychecks.

The same goes for the troops themselves. Overwhelmingly, new recruits come from places where decent civilian jobs are scarce, a fact which happens to overlap heavily with Southern Baptist territory. Recruiters there are still exceeding their quotas this year, even with reduced budgets, given the boost of the unemployment rate.

Besides which, the Southern Baptist resolution made me laugh out loud with its prissy harumphing about “many parents will not entrust their sons and daughters” to a post-DADT military.

Did they think the army is a scout troop, or a Bible camp? Had no one told them that a Baptist youth of only seventeen, though unable to legally vote, drink, get a driver’s or marriage license, can still enlist in the military to kill or be killed, without parental consent? (And once in, Mom, there's no do-overs. Well, unless you want to call our GI Rights Hotline at 1-877-447-4487; then we’ll talk.)

Post-DADT, the more affluent Baptist kids will go off to college, as usual. For the less affluent, unfortunately, military recruiters will still have considerable appeal, until and unless the job outlook gets a whole lot better.

As for the chances of a gay and lesbian “invasion” vanquishing a US military that no force, from the British in 1776, to Al Qaeda in 2010, has able to destroy -- this scenario reads like a bad movie script, and not one from Mel Gibson. More like Mel Brooks.

Oh well; it was nice while it lasted. Back to the grind.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Torture Accountability Update - June 2010

Each month for over a year, I've been visiting the meetings of the Johnston County NC Commission. This body has oversight of the Johnston County Airport, home to Aero Contractors, the notorious "torture taxi" company.

I've been urging the County Commission to investigate the allegations of involvement in torture, kidnapping and other war crimes.

Needless to say, they have been refusing. But I'm not giving up.

In recent months, I've prepared a printed update for the Commissioners, highlighting the important developments on the accountability front during the previous weeks.
This month, I'm putting this update here as well, with links to the full articles excerpted in it.

The work of accountability is moving slow. That's as we expected. But even so, much is happening. This summary is by no means comprehensive.

Here we go:


Torture and rendition:
Inquiry expected to expose officials who colluded
Disclosures made by press about the way British facilities used
during US programme of extraordinary rendition

Ian Cobain, Thursday 20 May 2010

The judicial inquiry announced by the foreign secretary into Britain's role in torture and rendition since September 2001 is poised to shed extraordinary light on one of the darkest episodes in the country's recent history.
It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.
William Hague's decision follows a series of reports in the Guardian and other media over the last five years about the manner in which British intelligence officers were told they could interrogate terrorism suspects they knew were being tortured, and the way in which that secret policy was used in effect to subcontract torture to overseas intelligence agencies.
There has also been a steady drip of disclosures about the way in which British territory, airspace and facilities have been used during America's programme of extraordinary rendition and about orders that led to British special forces in Iraq handing over detainees to US forces, despite fears they were to be tortured.
Finally, the British army has been forced to admit that at least eight people died in its custody in Iraq, including a number who were being interrogated using illegal techniques including hooding.
Those who have been most bitterly resisting an inquiry – including a number of senior figures in the last government – may have been dismayed to see the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition formed, as this maximised the chances of a judicial inquiry being established.

More here

'Second jail' at Afghan air base
By Hilary Andersson
BBC News – May 11, 2010

The US airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan contains a facility for detainees that is distinct from its main prison, the Red Cross has confirmed to the BBC.
Nine former prisoners have told the BBC that they were held in a separate building, and subjected to abuse.
The US military says the main prison, now called the Detention Facility in Parwan, is the only detention facility on the base.
However, it has said it will look into the abuse allegations made to the BBC.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that since August 2009 US authorities have been notifying it of names of detained people in a separate structure at Bagram.

More here

More on Afghanistan:

From The Atlantic Online:

What We Know About Now-Confirmed 'Black Site' Prison at Bagram

By Max Fisher on May 11, 2010

In November, the New York Times and Washington Post reported the existence of a secret "black site" prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The site, unconfirmed by the military and separate from the main prison at Bagram, was reported based on interviews with human-rights workers and people who claimed to be former detainees.

Now the BBC reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed the site's existence with the military. The U.S. official in charge of Afghanistan detention, Vice Admiral Robert Harward has denied that the prison, reportedly called the Tor Jail after the Urdu word for "black," exists. What do we know?
Tor Jail Conditions BBC's Hilary Andersson reports, "In recent weeks the BBC has logged the testimonies of nine prisoners who say they had been held in the so-called 'Tor Jail'. They told consistent stories of being held in isolation in cold cells where a light is on all day and night. The men said they had been deprived of sleep by US military personnel there." The cells are filled with a constant noise and guards regularly wake prisoners to prevent them from sleeping.
Tor Jail Detainee Speaks Andersson records an account from one detainee. "Mirwais was watering his plants one night when American soldiers came to get him. He is still missing half a row of teeth from the beating he says he got that night and he says he cannot hear properly in one ear. US troops accused him of making bombs and giving the Taliban money."

More here


From the “No Comment” blog
By Scott Horton
May 12, 12:39 PM
Arrest of 13 CIA Agents Sought in Spain

Prosecutors attached to the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid are reportedly requesting that Judge Ismael Moreno issue an order for the arrest of thirteen CIA agents involved in an extraordinary rendition operation from 2004, the newspaper El PaĆ­s reports this afternoon, citing sources within the court.
The case relates to Khaled El-Masri, a greengrocer from Neu-Ulm, Germany, seized by the United States as a result of mistaken identity while he was on vacation in the former Yugoslavia. El-Masri was placed on a CIA-chartered jet that arrived in Macedonia from Palma de Majorca in January 2004, en route ultimately to Afghanistan. It appears that Majorca was used regularly as a refueling and temporary sheltering point for the CIA, with the knowledge of the prior conservative government. While held in the notorious CIA prison known as the Salt Pit, El-Masri was apparently tortured during extensive interrogations before intelligence officers realized that they had seized the wrong man.

More here


Washington Post SpyTalk Blog May 14, 2010
How will the CIA deal with 'rendition' supervisor?

The CIA is apparently standing by the counterterrorism official who supervised the “extraordinary rendition” and harsh treatment of an innocent man six years ago, even as Spanish prosecutors stir up new interest in the case with their request for the arrest of 13 of her underlings.
The woman, whose identity is being withheld at the CIA’s request, has been promoted twice since the abduction of Khaled el-Masri, a Muslim of Lebanese descent who had become a German citizen in 2003, according to intelligence sources.
Masri was picked up at her urging in 2004, when she was the CIA’s “hard-charging” al-Qaeda unit chief, and bundled off to a secret prison in Afghanistan, according to published accounts in The Washington Post and elsewhere.
But right away, the CIA rendition team “had a strange feeling about Masri,” according to an account by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer in her book, “The Dark Side.”
“He wasn’t acting like a terrorist.”
The CIA’s Kabul station chief “was incensed” that he’d been handed “an innocent person” and protested to the Counterterrorism Center, Mayer wrote in an account that echoed earlier reporting by The New York Times and others.
“But the CTC officials sent back word that the head of the Al Qaeda Unit wanted Masri held and interrogated. She thought he seemed suspicious.”
“She always did these cases based on her gut,” a CIA counterterrorism veteran told SpyTalk, with disdain. "She'd say, 'this guy's bad, that guy's dirty,' because she had a 'feeling' about them."

More here

Check back for more Accountability updates.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell" - An Exchange

I don't recall ever seeing an article in our local paper, the Fayetteville Observer, that was affirmative of GLBT issues, or in particular, supported the pending repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.

This doesn't mean that the paper is a font of homophobic verbiage; but when anti-gay articles do appear, they usually go unanswered.

That silence is consistent with the general atmosphere of the community. Racial integration has been the policy of the military for sixty years, and federal law for almost fifty; racism surely still exists here, but it skulks in corners and speaks in code.

Homophobia is another matter. I am acquainted with a number of gays and lesbians here, some of whom are quite active in the community. But there is no visible gay presence in the city. No "Gay Pride Day," no vocal organizations, and the gay bars keep a very low profile.

Hence when an Op-Ed appeared in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, the chances were that it would go unanswered. The text of that commentary, by retired Chaplain Ronald Crews, is below, for reference.

But this communal closeting has long been a burden to me, and I decided to speak up for my own convictions, and perhaps those of some others who did not feel safe to speak.

My Op-Ed response was published in the Observer on Thursday June 3. It is posted here as well.

As advocacy goes, my piece is pretty mild. that reflects an effort to take the immediate audience into account. A couple of the online comments for the paper's website are also pasted in here, to give an idea of the response.

So, here first is the original piece, by Ronald Crews, published May 26, 2010:

Let military decide gay issue
By Ronald A. Crews

President Barack Obama announced early in his administration his desire to repeal the law commonly known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to accomplish the president’s desire and make a 180-degree change in military policy.
The Pentagon asked for a year to review the impact of repealing the policy that has been codified since the Clinton administration. Without waiting for this review, Congress has already begun hearings on the bill to fast-track this legislation.
As part of the Pentagon review, endorsing agents, those responsible for providing chaplains to our armed forces, were asked to submit information about the impact of this repeal on chaplains and their ministry. Grace Churches International currently endorses 14 chaplains on active duty with others in the pipeline to become chaplains.
As a retired Army chaplain, having served 29 years on active duty and in the reserve system, I am concerned about how the repeal of this policy will affect not only the ministry of chaplains, but also the morale and welfare of our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines.
We believe that military leaders, not politicians, should make this decision. This decision should be based on military needs and not a political agenda or payback to a special- interest group. Our military should not be used as a social experiment.
Further, this push is a distraction from providing the resources needed by our fighting forces as they continue one of the longest continual combat missions of our nation’s history. This is not the time for such a radical change. We propose that Congress should be debating ways to support our men and women in uniform, not debating whether to make this radical change.
Grace Churches International chaplains, along with chaplains from other faith groups, serve the men and women of our armed forces regardless of their faith background or sexual practices. However, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will impose a policy of how they serve a certain portion of the military population. This raises the following questions.
Preaching/teaching sound doctrine regarding sinful conduct: Like other Evangelical Christians, we believe that homosexual behavior is inconsistent with a Christian lifestyle. Our chaplains must be able to address sin as they see it, knowing that sinful behavior is harmful to individuals and to society at large. Chaplains must be able to speak against sin from the pulpit, as well as within a counseling session. Chaplains must also remain free to use the scripturally accurate depiction of the sinful nature of homosexual relations when necessary. Impact: Will chaplains be free to preach and counsel their convictions?
Counseling of soldiers who are affected by the conduct of homosexual personnel: Chaplains must feel free to validate a soldier’s faith-based view of homosexuality as sin within the counseling environment. Chaplains must also be free to advise commanders in addressing the needs of soldiers who feel such conduct has violated their rights. Impact: Will chaplains be free to advise soldiers that they can maintain their convictions concerning homosexual behavior? Will chaplains be free to advise commanders of how soldiers have been adversely impacted by the homosexual behavior of peers and/or supervisors?
Strong Bonds: Strong Bonds marriage retreats are part of the commander’s program for assisting married soldiers after deployments. Commanders will be required by law to protect the rights of homosexuals in their command to have equal access to the programs and services that a chaplain provides, leaving a chaplain’s ministry vulnerable to Equal Opportunity violations. Impact: Will chaplains be required to include cohabiting homosexual couples in Strong Bonds events? If chaplains refuse to include homosexual couples, will they be guilty of Equal Opportunity violations?
Chaplains are often given chapel duties that require working with persons of different faith groups. One of the strengths of the Chaplain Corps has been the collegiality and respect for chaplains from other faiths. That said, chaplains often find themselves not able to share pulpit responsibilities with chaplains from faith groups they deem inconsistent with their belief system. Impact: Will chaplains be required to share pulpit duties with homosexual chaplains or lay-leaders?
Other considerations:
Adultery: Since most states and federal law still define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, will homosexuals living together open the door to the legitimization of adultery among all ranks in the military?
If homosexual soldiers can share rooms together in a barracks, will the same accommodation be afforded to heterosexual men and women?
If the Department of Defense maintains that same-sex relationships have the same value, dignity and honor as heterosexual relationships, will DoD seek to restrict or limit the recruitment of clergy from denominations that embrace the traditional teachings of Judaism and Christianity on this subject?
Will tolerance and promotion of same-sex relationships become a discriminator on officer and NCO efficiency reports?
Grace Churches International will not endorse chaplains who hold hatred toward any person, regardless of lifestyle. We believe in the commandment to love and serve all people. But muzzling chaplains and forcing them to preach a politically correct gospel would ultimately violate that commandment, and so we oppose replacing the military’s current policy with special protections for homosexual behavior. May God grant His wisdom to our political leaders as they consider this radical change to military policy.
Ronald A. Crews, the executive director of Grace Churches International in Fayetteville, is a retired Army chaplain.

Now for my response:

Op-Ed: Policy's death a boost for morale

By Chuck Fager

Ronald Crews ("Let military decide gay issue," May 26) decries the likely end of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and fears the impact of the change upon certain evangelical chaplains.
I'm all for ending DADT, for many reasons - and one of them is that Crews has much less to worry about than he thinks.
Crews insists that the military "should not be used for a social experiment." But isn't this much the same objection raised to desegregating the military 60 years ago? And didn't that "experiment" turn out rather well?
Crews also is worried about "the morale and welfare" of the troops, and calls DADT repeal a "distraction from providing the resources needed" for them.
Actually, repealing DADT will improve the morale and welfare of the troops. Especially that of the thousands of homosexual servicemen and women.
They're an important "resource," too. It will improve their welfare by removing an unnecessary risk from their lives - so they can better face the real ones, of which there are plenty.
For that matter, it will also improve the morale of many commanders. Enforcing DADT is a useless "distraction" they don't need. No question, the sooner DADT is gone, the better off all the services will be.
Chaplain conundrum
Yet, Crews wonders whether ending DADT will prevent some chaplains from preaching what they regard as "sound doctrine." Especially regarding the "scripturally accurate depiction of the sinful nature of homosexual relations when necessary."
But don't various churches already differ about many other issues? Are chaplains "muzzled" when it comes to, say, the hotly disputed issue of abortion? Or evolution? This should be no different.
But maybe there's a point here that needs a closer look. The doctrinal statement of Crews' Grace Churches International asserts that the whole Bible is "free from error in the whole and in the part," and I'm sure that is part of their preaching.
I note, however, that in both the Old Testament (Leviticus 21:9) and the New (Romans 1:32) it teaches that homosexuals deserve to be put to death. And we know that in Uganda, for instance, there's currently an effort to enact those commandments into law.
On principle, I support the free speech of any military chaplain who feels obliged to uphold such "scripturally accurate" doctrines.
I swallow hard when saying that, but I do.
Even so, I hope the chaplain would add that acting on these "scripturally accurate" strictures is against U.S. military and civil law today, and could lead to a long prison sentence or even capital punishment. Full disclosure.
Crews asks whether post-DADT chaplains will "be free to advise commanders of how soldiers have been adversely affected by the homosexual behavior of peers and/or supervisors?"
The answer is that, post-DADT, sexual harassment and assaults, regardless of orientation, will still be crimes.
But if one of Crews' flock simply dislikes serving alongside open homosexuals, there's another adage which is applicable. It is not biblical, but I'm told it has something of scriptural weight in military circles.
It is: "Suck it up and drive on, soldier. Follow your orders."
Yet, as it also says in 1 Corinthians 12:31, there is a "more excellent way."
Crews himself pointed to it, when he stated that one of the "strengths of the Chaplains Corps has been the collegiality and respect for chaplains from other faiths."
This is good to hear, especially when we consider that several large U.S. Protestant denominations already accept homosexuals as members and clergy. Two of the three largest Jewish communities do, too. All are represented in the chaplaincy.
I suggest that the solution for the evangelical chaplains Crews is concerned about is straightforward: simply extend the "collegiality and respect" accorded to these other chaplains to all the troops, whether homosexual or not.
Or to put it another way: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7).
That should take care of it, really.

Chuck Fager is director of Quaker House in Fayetteville.

And finally, here are a few of the comments from the paper's blog:

Lumbee Against La Razists Chuck,
using the Bible, of all things to validate the queer lifestyle and trying to normalize this behaviour that was once medically considered an abnormality of the brain is deplorable and cheap.
Let's consider the following medical conditions that will have to be addressed in a deployment, as if there aren't enough serious injuries that need the attention of the physician in the field. Come, let us reason together. Isn't that in the Bible too?
Check this out. A doctor wrote it. I copied and pasted it for you. All facts. All medical conditions that accompany this lifestyle that heterosexuals do not encounter on a regular basis. I feel that an open policy will greatly destroy the cohesive nature of military duty, especially in the field. I feel that resources that would be better used on injury caused by enemy fire will be wasted on injury caused by the promiscuity that defines this "gay" sick lifestyle. Please read the following carefully. Again, these are medical facts:

The Health Risks of Gay Sex
(A long listing of awful diseases, all seen as consequences of gay sex; text deleted here for brevity)

- - - - - - -

Rev. Jeffrey C. Long Another bad idea. But coming from Mr. Fager and Quakerhouse, this is not at all surprising.

It is an especially cheap shot to try and equate "homosexual rights" with the Civil Rights movement and the opening of military service to Black Americans. As has been stated, this is of another category entirely. After all, being born dark skinned is what you are...being a homo is "what you DO," some of which as has been amply and disgustingly described above for us--lest we forget!

Furthermore, Mr. Fager, et al., most Black Americans take special umbrage at gays forever presuming to stow away on the Selma "freedom train." I will remind you that Seventy percent of them voted against prop 8 in California. Don’t play the “race card” where it in no way remotely applies!

As a former Army officer I am appalled enough the way it is WITH DADT!

Open homosexuality is a threat to the morale, morals, and cohesion (not to mention the physical AND mental health) of any social unit and this is particularly true in a military unit. The corruption of the German Armed Forces by homosexual cadres is well documented and should serve as a warning to us in America today.

Unfortunately, Obama and most Democrats are hell bent to defy the lessons of history, believing they can escape their consequences, and this all as a matter of political payoff to extremist groups who have given them their support.

It is NOT being “Christian” to witness the pending destruction of men and women -- which would be the inevitable entailment of such a ill-begotten policy—without raising a voice against it.
- - - - - -

It's 2010 people, grow up! You're making an arguement about diseases and sexual practices which apply to BOTH homosexuals and heterosexuals. Besides, whether gay or straight these people are fighting for your freedom. How dare you criticize and judge someone who lays their life on the line so that you can live your life of ignorance.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Letter to the Next Director of Quaker House

A Note from the Quaker House Board: This past year, Quaker House celebrated its 40th anniversary in Fayetteville/Fort Bragg, NC.  But now another milestone for QH is quickly approaching. Chuck Fager, QH director for the past 8 years, informed us three years ago that his work at QH will conclude at the end of November 2012. 

We're grateful that Chuck has given us plenty of notice to plan for QH’s next chapter. It is a formidable task to find qualified leadership for this historic Friends peace witness.  We know it will take time to find a successor with Chuck's tenacity, vision, and the fundraising skill that has kept QH viable even in hard economic times.    

In his letter to the “Next Director of Quaker House” below, Chuck lays out for prospective director candidates the many challenges of the job.  His letter is an earnest call for those who want to do significant work in the peace movement to look long and hard at this opportunity.  

  Our call, too, is for a new Director who will be aligned with and dedicated to the Quaker peace witness, and who can see the potential and significance of upholding this light in a U.S. military town. We look forward to the upcoming search.

From Chuck Fager

Dear Friend,

My work with Quaker House will conclude by the end of November 2012. So in a few months, we'll start looking for you in earnest. I'm relieved that the Quaker House (QH) board plans to give this search plenty of time, because frankly, I think it will be a challenge. Carrying out the QH mission is a unique and grueling task.

Here's the job description in a nutshell: as the next Director of Quaker House, besides managing a small non-profit, you will be called on to continue a protracted, hand-to-hand combat with the Spirit of War, operating behind the lines of one of its main strongholds, far from most Quaker bastions, and largely on your own.

Where in Quaker circles are Friends being prepared to take on such a mission? Frankly, I don't know, so the QH Board will be casting the net far and wide.

Let's break down the Director's job description a bit. Many of the routine tasks are familiar, basic to small nonprofits: designing and running the program; reporting to the board; keeping the supporters informed; supervising a small staff; and of course, raising the budget.

All necessary, but not the heart of the matter.

The central skills grow out of the unique setting of Quaker House, and have a lot to do with temperament as well as actual capabilities.

Topping the list is the ability to live for extended periods outside one's cultural comfort zone (or CCZ).

It's a truism that American society has become balkanized along cultural, political, religious and other lines; more and more we hang out with people who talk and think like ourselves, we stay in our CCZ. And among these divergent “zones,” no chasm is deeper or wider than that between Civilian America and Military America.

Friends, particularly liberal Quakers, are no exception to this trend; and in this particular respect, we are almost all located deep in the heartlands of the civilian side of the gap, culturally if not geographically.

This is not said to criticize, but to underline a fact: to live at Quaker House, on the doorstep of Fort Bragg, is to leave that Quaker milieu behind. In place of a pacifist heritage and a culture of civilian quiet, you'll step directly into the maw of the war machine: it's all around, not only outside, but rattling the windows when you're inside. War is the main industry in this company town. Goodbye, cozy Quaker CCZ.

Is there any other domestic Quaker project that's similarly situated? Not that I'm aware of.

And the specter of war is more than a matter of uniforms or equipment; you will also have to confront the human cost of war on a daily basis. Its victims haunt the streets, fill the news columns, huddle in the bars and churches.

Speaking of churches, there are 300+ Christian congregations in the Fayetteville area, some quite large and visible. Among these, Quaker House is the only one willing to declare in public that when Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," maybe he meant it. This is said less as a point of pride than an indicator of isolation.

To be sure, it's just as possible to see and speak to the Inner Light in military folks as in any other children of God. Our motto here is “YES to the troops, NO to the wars,” and as Director you will have ample opportunity to practice it. Plus there is a remnant of peace-minded folks in Fayetteville who can offer support; I have found good friends here. And Fayetteville Meeting is a tiny but tenacious Quaker bastion.

So the isolation is not total. But make no mistake: Quaker House is a mission outpost in foreign territory. So much so that you will soon find that very few Quakers from outside are prepared to venture from their CCZs to come to Fayetteville and ease your marginal status.

Indeed, there is a grim joke here, about how the distance from any of the region's established Meetings to Fayetteville must be much, much farther than that from Fayetteville to them.

Nevertheless, Quaker identity and connections are critical to QH and its mission. So if few Friends will come to you, then you will plan to go to them. Expect to spend much time on the road, especially in summer, visiting yearly meetings, monthly meetings and other gatherings.

More than spiritual support depends on these connections. They are also important to one of the Director's make-or-break practical capabilities, namely fundraising.

Apart from visits, our fundraising is mainly done on paper, via newsletters and appeals; so an effective Director will be a good writer. The internet is encroaching on print, so some web facility is also appropriate; but ink on paper will still be central to the fiscal health of QH for a long time to come.

Now, as to program: for as small an operation as we are, QH has fingers in many pies. This should be no surprise; militarism has seeped into every corner of our culture. No matter how much we do here, we can't keep up.

So as Director you'll be learning about some of the hundreds of regulations and policies involved in our GI Hotline counseling. Then there's the military recruiting apparatus to monitor. It's formidable and ubiquitous. It is abundantly financed and deploys top-flight marketing talent with great flexibility.

Recruiters also work hard -- many of them too hard, in ways that put their families and even their lives at risk. Witness the four suicides in one unit in 2007-2009.

This data points up another piece of the QH workload, one we did not seek but could not escape: what we now call Violence Within the Military.

It first came to my notice as an epidemic of domestic violence, especially shocking spousal murders. In the past year or so, these have receded, but only to be replaced by a surge of soldier suicides, which in 2009 exceeded the number killed in actual combat. These and associated phenomena are military-wide, with the heaviest toll in the Army.

In addition, there is another, even more ominous side of the military centered around Ft. Bragg: what we call the Torture Industrial Complex. Most of the known "rendition" flights that carried victims to secret prisons and Guantanamo took off from near here. The brutal and illegal "enhanced interrogation techniques" were taught here to the masters of Gitmo, and "migrated" from there to Abu Ghraib, Bagram and elsewhere. Further, several of the military's most secret and lethal units -- Delta Force and the Joint Special Operations Command -- are based and trained here.

As if all this isn't enough, there's one more important unit at Ft. Bragg, less colorful perhaps but very important nonetheless: the 4th Psychological Operations Group, a centerpiece of the Army's far-flung campaigns of "psychological warfare."

This unit's motto, "Words Conquer," points to a lot more than simply dropping leaflets on a battlefield urging enemy soldiers to surrender. It applies as much or more to the "homeland" as to any foreign adversary, and its principal, abiding "target" is us: the US citizenry, thee and me.

After all, Americans do not automatically start each new year resolved to spend more than half their tax money, and the lives of thousands here and abroad, to support a vast war machine: we need to be persuaded of that "necessity" and nobility, again and again.

Furthermore, when "Words Conquer" at home, the conquest depends as much on which words can be prevented from becoming part of public discourse as it does on inserting particular terms into it.

Many examples of such domestic psychological warfare could be listed here. Some of the most intensive skirmishes, however, involve issues that are close to our work: the tide of violence within the military (it must be downplayed at all times) and the programs of torture (which must never be admitted as such).

In my years here, this concentrated, relentless propaganda effort has had a major wearing effect. As much a course of self-deception as one of misleading others, it at once conceals, justifies and promotes the organized destruction and self-destruction that is our "military industrial complex."

And here we have named our principal adversary, and a formidable one it is: this “complex,” combines reinforcing elements of massive destruction, secrecy, torture, propaganda and deception into a machinery so vast and entrenched that it seems almost to run by itself. Indeed, the most useful image or metaphor for it to me is that of the biblical "principalities and powers." That is, forces that operate within and yet behind the visible components and institutions, moving the parts and the people within them.

As individuals, those caught in this web are as personally virtuous, or not, as anyone else. Yet this power encompasses all their individual wills (and in large measure ours too). And it bends the whole ineluctably in the direction of war and death.

This "Spirit (or Power) of War" is a metaphor, surely, and one drawn from a two-millennium old myth. And yet, at Quaker House this “myth” feels as tangible as the huge oak tree at the foot of the front lawn. For if its mechanisms have worldwide reach, many of the key cogs mesh and grind right here in eastern North Carolina. It can be heard rumbling through the woods; its priests and acolytes carry on their rituals in the open; its sacrificial victims stare out from the pages of our local paper.

At Ft. Bragg, for instance, more than three hundred soldiers had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2009, and several thousand gravely wounded. In addition, dozens more have killed themselves or their spouses, and untold numbers bear the psychic wounds of what they have done in combat.

And how many Iraqis and Afghans have been killed, maimed or made homeless as these troops carried out their orders? Hundreds of thousands at least. In the CCZs, this appalling toll of death can be kept at a safe abstract distance. In Fayetteville, the windows rattle and one foregoes that luxury.

Now we approach what has been the most challenging part of the Director's mission, which brings together all the elements previously mentioned: namely, the call to see, name, and challenge this "spirit of war." Not just once, as amid the camaraderie of a springtime Washington peace march; but day in and day out, week in and year out. Thus the job demands both tactical skill and stamina.

Stamina: one of the most glaring defects of recent US wars is the near-total ignorance of our forces, from top to bottom, of the nations and cultures they are fighting. It takes time and commitment to develop the cultural competence for effective operations in a different society.

The same goes for peace work and Quaker House: it takes time for a Director to learn the “language” of a military town; it takes time to become established as a credible actor on the local scene. In my view, this means a new Director needs to stay for at least five years, and preferably longer. This is not a position for job-hoppers, or the unseasoned.

Nor, for that matter, for the faint of heart. Taking on this Spirit of War is what the same biblical texts which speak of such powers call "spiritual warfare" against them. And while this is another old metaphor, it too evokes an all-too-real combat.

In much popular religious writing, such "spiritual warfare" is typically reduced to calls for lots of prayer, and/or donations to some melodramatic preacher's ministry. Without disparaging either prayer or donations, taking on the "spirit of war" at Quaker House is a much more concrete contest. In taking it up, you will have more to learn from Sun Tzu than Pat Robertson.

I've written elsewhere of the value of studying classical military strategy and developing long-term planning and tactical agility in Quaker peace work; all this is intensified in Fayetteville. If the language, and still more the grim reality of such concepts and the struggles they signify are difficult for you, it will be advisable to look elsewhere for opportunities.

One other aspect of this strategic task is to regularly re-assess and recalibrate Quaker House's relationship to what is called the "peace movement." In 2002-3, for instance, we were happily a mere dot in a vast tide of antiwar protest. A couple of years later, QH and Fayetteville became movement focal points. Such occasions put dealing with police and press as additional items on the Director's skills list.

Since then we have watched this movement tide recede virtually out of sight, leaving Quaker House flashing our stubborn beacon like a lonely lighthouse across a deserted beach.

Yet if there's a lull elsewhere, QH is still plenty busy. And a broader surge may someday rise again. How will Quaker House relate usefully to it? The answer will be up to you, the next Director, and the QH board.

Ideally, the Board hopes to pick you from among a number of highly qualified Friends. And this is where the work of finding you could get tough. There are many places to pick up the basics of non-profit management and fundraising. But when it comes to learning to live outside the CCZ, up-close-and-personal with the war machine for extended periods, I don't know where in Quaker circles such training is available. Volunteer service projects once provided a path toward it, but this function was tragically abandoned a generation ago, and only a few now remain.

Nevertheless, there is much about the work of the Spirit among the Society that is beyond our ken. So during the many months of seeking that lie ahead, we can hope not only that you are in fact out there, but that our paths will cross, and the unique ministry of Quaker House can continue, in a manner that upholds "the Reputation of Truth."

I look forward to welcoming you to Quaker House.

In Friendship,
Chuck Fager

Monday, March 22, 2010

March 20 Peace Vigil/Rally a Rousing Success

March 20 marked seven long bloody years since the US invaded Iraq. Bloodshed and instability continue there even as some US troop are pulled out, most shifted to Afghanistan.

There was a march and rally in Washington to mark this tragic anniversary, but little public notice was taken in this region.

Not so in Fayetteville, where Quaker House organized a vigil and rally downtown. Quakers from Durham joined in, as did Vets for Peace, and just plain veterans; NC Stop Torture Now and Code Pink were also represented.

In recognition of National Women's Month, the event featured woman participants reading the names of the more than 120 women US servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far.

There was also special notice taken of the death toll among civilians in these wars: plausible estimates for Iraq range from a low of 95,000 to over a million. (Not counting about four million Iraqis made refugees, half inside and half outside the country.)

The vigil was favored with wonderfully warm and sunny weather. This combined with the infectious and insistent rhythms of Original Nature, a renowned local drumming group, to attract many newcomers from the surrounding downtown area.

“We faced a lot of hostility when we started our vigils about Iraq, seven years ago,” Quaker House Director Chuck Fager said. “But now we get many more positive responses from people going by than negative ones. A great many people here are sick of these wars. The troops and their families have paid a terrible price – and for what?”

The rally ended with a loud chorus of “War –What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing!” joined in lustily by those on hand.

News of the rally turned up in a photo in the Sunday Fayetteville Observer, and on Channels 11 and 14 news shows. Not bad for our small but intrepid band.

Here's the URLs to the TV clips and transcripts:
Channel 14 News Carolina.

and Channel 11 ABC News.

And next March? Roberta Waddle, president of the Fayetteville NOW chapter, said she hoped to hold another rally, to mark a definite end to the war.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

For Heaven's Sake-- Join Us On March 20!

March 20 Peace Rally: Come As you Are!

Exciting drum group "Original Nature" to highlight Fayetteville Peace Rally Saturday March 20.
1-4 PM at the Market House downtown -- Spread the Word!

Favorites of Fayetteville's "Fourth Friday" evening festivals,ORIGINAL NATURE makes music for the heart, the mind, and the soul. This “eclectic orchestra” utilizes drums, flutes, blocks, chimes, and a variety of other indigenous instruments to invoke the ’natural ’ spirit of music.

ORIGINAL NATURE’S performances are enlightening, motivating, and inspiring, with each song being created in tune with the moment and emotions of the group. Therefore, each performance is different, and each song has the distinction of being made just for you---the audience. The nature of the performance is presented in its purest form, thus the performance is truly “Original.”

Great Weather, great music, and standing up for peace.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 20: A Tragic Anniversary

A shameful photograph

It was before dawn on March 20, 2003 when the US invasion of Iraq began.

Seven years ago.

We will mark this tragic anniversary with a vigil & rally at the Fayetteville Market House on Saturday March 20, 2010, 1-4 PM, rain or shine (but the weather forecast is for sunny & warm). We invite all sympathetic persons to join us.

Since then, more than 4400 US troops have been killed. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war vary widely; but none is small. Here are some of them:

Iraqi casualties March 2003 to...

Iraq Family Health Survey: 151,000 violent deaths. June 2006

Lancet survey: 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths. June 2006

Opinion Research Business survey: 1,033,000 violent deaths as a result of the conflict. August 2007

Associated Press: 110,600 violent deaths. April 2009

Iraq Body Count: 94,902 – 103,549 violent civilian deaths as a result of the conflict.
December 2009

(Source: wikipedia: )

Approximately 4 million Iraqis have been made refugees, about half inside and half outside Iraq.

The cost of the war to the US Treasury is estimated to be at least $1.9 trillion

Our position has been that this war is illegal and immoral. The best support for US troops is to bring them home now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Peace Vigil/Rally March 20, 2010 - Fayetteville

Who Says the Peace Movement Is Dead??

Not Here!

Quaker House announces a vigil-rally for peace:

March 20 2010, 1-4 PM
At the Market House, Market Square, Fayetteville.

Rain or SHINE!
(The Market House has a covered atrium to keep us dry if need be.)

Spread the WORD!

REAL Support for the Troops -- Bring them HOME Now!

On the 7th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion
Call for an end to the Iraq Occupation & the Afghanistan-Pakistan war

Join a Peaceful, legal vigil/rally at Market Square-Fayetteville NC
Bring Your Friends, Your Spirit, Your Signs,
Your Demand for Peace --
(Leave the Teabags at home)

Plenty of parking nearby. See a MAP here.

Visit our Facebook page here

See you there -- and
Spread the WORD!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Toms In The Times On Torments in Iraq

Tom Friedman, the globe-trotting, incessantly name-dropping NY Times columnist, who was a big cheerleader for the US Iraq invasion. Now, after his latest hobnob with various poohbahs there, he's worried. From his Feb. 24 column:

"Alas,” he writes, ”some seven years after the U.S. toppled Saddam’s government, a few weeks before Iraq’s second democratic national election, and in advance of the pullout of American forces, this question still has not been answered. Will Iraq’s new politics triumph over its cultural divides, or will its cultural/sectarian divides sink its fledgling democracy? We still don’t know.”

This question arises, he says, because “we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.”

To be sure, we “gave” the Iraqis that “chance” to be like us unbidden, under a rain of bombs and artillery shells, and at the cost of a million or so civilians dead, several millions made homeless, a civil war there, the legitimization of torture here, and a few other bumps in the road.

What does one call this in Friedman-speak? “Tough-love philanthropy” maybe? How hollow this kind of commentary must ring in the ears of so many of its putative "beneficiaries"!

I see the situation a bit differently, with the help of Scripture, specifically the harsh words of the prophet Hosea 8:7. In Iraq the US has amply “sown the wind,” but in typical American fashion, are hoping we can yet avoid “reaping the whirlwind” there, by sliding out, having our victory parades, re-electing whoever is in power here, and then forget the whole thing -- before the bloody consequences of this orgy of destruction become too obvious.

This is more cynical than Friedman would cop to, but it's not that far from what he is hoping for. Yet he's very worried that the whole thing will blow up first.

And he's not alone. Tom Ricks, former ace Washington Post reporter, shared similar anxieties on the same OpEd page the day before, on Feb. 23:

In 2006 Ricks published “Fiasco,” one of the best, most honest, and hence most disturbing books about the manifold early horrors of the Iraq invasion/occupation. But honest reporting of a disaster didn't make Ricks an antiwar activist, and since then he has come to feel that the occupation might turn out better than anyone imagined.

Or maybe worse.

His OpEd piece in the New York Times was a plea for US fores to stay there longer. Ricks is worried about the pace at which the current administration is withdrawing US troops from Iraq

His main fear, similar to but more starkly stated than Friedman's, is that, “An Iraqi civil war would likely be a three- or four-sided affair, with the Shiites breaking into pro- and anti-Iranian factions. It could also easily metastasize into a regional war.” Further, he fears that “A regional war in the middle of the world’s oil patch could shake the global economy to its foundations and make the current recession look mild.”

So he hopes the administration will keep 50,000-plus US troops there, essentially indefinitely, to stave off this outcome until – until what? Until a miracle happens, I guess.

Nevertheless, the real kicker in his piece comes very near the end:

“The best argument against keeping troops in Iraq,” he says, “is the one some American military officers make, which is that a civil war is inevitable, and that by staying all we are doing is postponing it. That may be so, but I don’t think it is worth gambling to find out.”

But evading this "gamble" means keeping a major US troop force there indefinitely, as in generations.

I too wish I knew a way for the US to escape these awful consequences of our illegal and immoral invasion of that country. But I don't. Sooner or later those chickens will be coming home to roost. But like Ricks, I think they will look a lot more like buzzards.

God forgive us for this monumental folly, which is still unfolding.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Op Ed Re: Gitmo "suicides"/Homicides

Fayetteville NC Observer
– Published, Sun Jan 31, 2010

Latest Gitmo shocker makes waves

By Chuck Fager

Who would have guessed it?

The case of the three Guantanamo prisoners found dead in June 2006, who were originally called suicides but maybe weren't, has many angles.

And one unexpected twist is that it might bring long-parted schoolmates together again.

In the early 1970s, "Billy" McRaven and Scott Horton were students at Theodore Roosevelt High School in San Antonio.

I talked with Horton in New York City last week. He explained that he and Billy were both from military families. McRaven wound up in the Navy while Horton went to law school. Each advanced in his profession.

Today, McRaven is an admiral. And he's commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.

JSOC, as it's called, may be the most secretive of the many secret groups based at Fort Bragg.

JSOC reputedly brings together such units as the Army's Delta Force, the Air Force's combat controllers and other clandestine units for missions the rest of us are never supposed to hear about.

Keeping busy

While details are few, indications are that, in recent years, JSOC has been particularly busy.

And how are they doing? Well, when the Washington Post's Bob Woodward asked the former president in his book, "The War Within," the reply was simply, "JSOC is awesome."

Whatever that means operationally, JSOC has also been extremely adroit in avoiding media or congressional scrutiny.

But could that start to change? This is where Adm. McRaven's old schoolmate enters the story.

Since high school in Texas, Scott Horton has successfully practiced international law, including human rights cases in many countries.

But he is no radical. When the "war on terror" began after 9/11, he told me, he was not an antiwar skeptic or a pacifist.

In fact, he had friends in both the military and intelligence agencies.

It was the off-the-record, uneasy reports from these contacts that got his attention - alarmed talk of disappearances, torture, secret prison sites, a disregard for all the laws and rules of war. A cascade of deeds to make any honorable American soldier ashamed.

"This wasn't a question of occasional abuse," Horton told me. "In any prison system, you'll have some abuses. But this was a matter of torture as policy. Policy coming down from above."

And torture, as has been noted in this paper before, is a federal felony. It's also a war crime under international law.

These informal reports were followed by one public shock after another. There was Abu Ghraib, torture flights (most taking off from North Carolina), "black site" prisons, coverups (Pat Tillman, anyone?).

Following up these and other cases turned Scott Horton into one of the most determined and tenacious human rights attorneys and investigators working the ongoing "torture beat."

Dropping a bombshell

You ask me, we need more like him. The official probes of torture, such as they may be, are proceeding at a languid crawl behind tightly closed doors. Either that or they have yielded reports most notable for coverups, blackouts and whitewash.

Then earlier this month, Horton dropped a triple-barreled investigative bombshell into this set of polite croquet matches.

It came in a detailed report for Harper's Magazine, charging that the 2006 deaths at Guantanamo were not suicides at all.

Instead (Bombshell No. 1), the three prisoners had been murdered, probably during torture.

Furthermore (Bombshell No. 2), the killings likely occurred at a previously undisclosed "black site," on the edge of Gitmo itself. It's been dubbed "Camp No," as in, "No, it does not exist." But it does.

And not least, as for where the culpability lies, Horton says all fingers of available information point at (Bombshell No. 3) JSOC.

Which brings us around to Adm. McRaven, Horton's old classmate.

Horton's report has been featured in hundreds of papers around the world (including this one). But so far it has been met with shifty "non-denial-denials" in Washington, and the SOP of stony silence from JSOC itself.

Horton's charges were backed up by the testimony of conscience-stricken soldiers, former Gitmo guards. They knew about Camp No, and they also knew that the original suicide story was false.

Horton told me he's since talked to more potential witnesses.

But despite this persistence, will Horton's new report get any real traction?

So far, the U.S. torture impunity express has been chugging along without a bump, scarcely noting the change of conductors a year ago this month.

To Congress?

Horton says he's hoping for public hearings in Congress. If his witnesses had the chance to tell their version of what happened, it might break through the coverup. And JSOC might even be obliged to answer some uncomfortable questions in public.

If it did, though, and abuses were uncovered, Horton told me he would want them fixed. He's not out to get JSOC abolished. "There's a proper place for it in limited, very dangerous wartime situations," he insisted.

"But it looks as if JSOC's been shielded from scrutiny and accountability, so when mistakes have been made, they haven't been corrected."

Congress seems a weak reed to lean on these days, but Horton is not giving up.

I wish him luck. But maybe a more direct approach would also be worth a try. Here's my scenario:

"Adm. McRaven, your old homey Scott Horton is on the line. Yes, that Scott Horton.

"Sure, he's got some issues. But like your former commander in chief, he too says that JSOC is awesome.

"It's just that the truth, especially about Camp No - that, sir, would be awesomer."

Chuck Fager, the director of Quaker House in Fayetteville, is the author of the books "Selma 1965: The March That Changed The South" and "Eating Dr. King's Dinner: A Memoir."