Tuesday, January 8, 2008

WSI 2008: It's In The Details

The IVAW media folks must be getting swamped. I sent them an e-mail over a week ago (12/27) asking a few questions, and they haven’t had time to get back to me. Here is the text:


I would hope that you can take the time to answer a few questions re: your WSI next March:

Will there be accomodations and permission by pre-arrangement for live-blogging the event?

Understanding that IVAW will not disclose names (other than those testifying, I presume) of people below the ranks of O3 and E8, will those providing testimony give locations for the events testified to (whether in Iraq or Afghanistan), dates and military units involved?

Will there be a full compilation of all the testimony, not just excerpts, made available? On the Net, perhaps?

Will IVAW attempt to have this WSI testimony entered into the Congressional Record, as was done by Senator Hatfield for the initial WSI in 1971? If so, would Senator Kerry be the likely choice to have this done?

If crimes are attested to, will those testifying sign legal depositions or affidavits and otherwise cooperate with criminal investigations? I know that is probably a sticking point, but you also must know the question is coming. If not, how do you indend to handle that?

Thanks in advance for any assistance..."

It is that last question that I would most like to hear from them about. The 1971 WSI was a travesty for many reasons, and that was a primary one: the testifiers would not enter into any legally binding depositions or affidavits regarding their charges. That impedes investigations, protects them from charges of perjury if they are telling falsehoods and is morally and legally indefensible.

I came upon this about the obligations of soldiers whe dealing in situations where atrocities or war crimes may have happened:

"The U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) states clearly that the observance of this Code is fully and equally binding upon U.S. personnel, in whatever capacity they may be serving, whether capturing troops, custodial personnel, or any other. The UCMJ applies equally to all detained or interned personnel, whether their status is that of prisoner of war, civilian internee, or any other.

It may be added here that it applies regardless of whether they are known to have, or are suspected of having, committed serious offenses that could be characterized as war crimes. The administration of inhumane treatment, even if committed under stress of combat and with deep provocation, is a serious and punishable violation under national law, international law, and the UCMJ.

Soldiers who murder Iraqis are not the only ones violating the UCMJ. All those who are witness to the atrocities but fail to report them to concerned authorities are to be held equally guilty of violation.

The UCMJ clearly states that violations of this Code may result in an individual being prosecuted as a war criminal, and that anyone observing a violation of law, or suspecting one has happened, has a positive legal obligation to report it to appropriate authorities. Failure to do so is a violation in itself."

What is striking about that is that the writer was - Dahr Jamail!

Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette correctly made this observation a while back:

"The IVAW boys and their fellow travelers will get some airtime on this, and tell some more stories about unnamed units and unnamed "superiors" - the answer to which is simply to demand names and specific details. If they have real information on crimes of this nature it's criminal for them to participate in a cover-up."

Jamail wrote of an interview with IVAW members in August 2005, about which he wrote:

"I type furiously for three hours, trying to keep up with the stories each of the men shared….about the atrocities of what they saw, and committed, while in Iraq."

Jamail managed to write that dispatch without revealing a single detail of any such atrocity. Did he inquire of those IVAW members if they had reported these, and advised them of the UCMJ requirements and potential legal penalties if they had not done so?

I also had asked IVAW if a full transcript of all the charges will be made public. On IVAW's site they say this:

"IVAW will also arrange to make available copies of the Winter Soldier transcript highlights to support the various efforts of the antiwar movement."

That is pretty brazen stuff! "Highlights" to support the antiwar movement, but what about details, not just highlights, so that justice may be done, and crimes investigated and transgressors punished? Ivaw also states:

"To the extent possible, IVAW will attempt to corroborate veterans’ testimony, and there will be some video and photographic evidence at the event..."

Extent possibe? What does that mean? Run it by experts like Dahr Jamail, who was in Iraq, and knows all these people, and who wrote about Jesse MacBeth's claims that "I have never seen this level of honesty from a US soldier who directly participated in the slaughtering of Iraqis"? Some video and photographic evidence? Videos and photographs have never, ever been put under oath. They are not subject to legal penalty for lying.

Greyhawk is right! The biggest weakness they will have is being pressed on the pesky details. IVAW members do not have a very good record of having their stories hold up when that is done.


Army Sergeant said...

Mr. Keohane,

While not in any paid position with IVAW media, obviously, given my other employment, I may be able to help on this question.

Winter Soldier is being handled by a specific group of IVAW, and media@ivaw.org was actually not the best way to contact if you would like to honestly do material regarding Winter Soldier.

If you would like to email me (sgtivaw@gmail.com), with what you are interested in doing, what you would like to acquire permissions for, and what questions you have, I can attempt to answer them or pass your email on to those who can. I give you my word that I will ensure someone gives you an answer.

However, I will say now without consulting anyone that it is strongly unlikely that the entirety of the testimony will be made available in transcript form immediately after Winter Soldier-not for nefarious reasons, but simply because it is likely to be a high volume of material, and we simply may not have the manpower. I do not doubt it will all be made available eventually, but it is much more likely to be released in video format first.

Denis Keohane said...

Hi army sergeant,

You already have the questions, and it's not about me, or me alone.

I do hope you understand that there is a huge credibility problem brewing for you folks! You are going to claim atrocities, but you are not planning on spending the time to make sure all the "testimony" about them is made available????? Sarge, I am very familiar with people dong transcription typing from tapes. It's fast. Matter of fact, here's a rock solid offer: you guys merely tape record the "testimony", and I'll contact and arrange for a host of media resources to immediately transcribe it all and post it on the Net! Run that by IVAW. No charge! Then copies of individual's testimonies can be sent to those who gave them, and they can sign them with witnesses and make them legally binding depositions. In that way, legal and criminal investigations can be done!

The IVAW approach of not releasing such would naturally make this a propaganda media event rather than any kind of moral search for truth and justice.

And I am puzzled about why the e-mail address on the IVAW site for their media contact is not the best way to contact IVAW media people if I were being "honest"! There is a shortage of honesty there, but not on my part.

If someone sees a teenager break a neighbor's window and calls the cops, the cop or deputy who comes to take a report is going to ask that person to sign a report. That's the law. Is IVAW really planning to speak publicly about supposed war crimes and atrocities they either committed or witnessed, and they are not prepared to provide signed and complete testimony?

Sarge, you have to know this stinks, and reeks of the same agiprop that smeared a previous generation! It is morally and legally indefensible!

It is one thing to oppose the war. That can be done on entirely reasonable grounds. It is quite another to try to oppose policy by seeking to brand your own nation's government as war criminals by the expediency of charging that our troops have been committing widespread atrocities. Sarge, how come IVAW never seems to find the soldier or Marine who will tell how they did not return fire or call in artillery or an air strike, and put themselves at risk, because civilians were in harm's way?

You do realize, Sarge, that a whole lot of stuff coming out of the mouths of IVAW members charging atrocities gets translated immediately into Arabic and other languages and sent to the Middle East as recruiting materials! IVAW's de facto media man, Dahr Jamail, helps with that.

The questions are here, and you know the site. You can get answer, post them here, and I'll make sure parties interested will see them.

Army Sergeant said...

Admittedly, I'm not a professional, but my own attempts to do transcription typing from tapes has not been fast-not at all.

Again, while this is my own answer, as it's a little early to talk to anyone else yet, it is my understanding that journalists will have the opportunity to ask questions-thus, copies of the testimony and responses could not possibly be available in advance, because you're not dealing with a scripted scenario. Precisely because it's not going to be like a press release is the problem with getting transcripts out fast.

I will run your offer by the folks who would handle that stuff. However, you do understand that IVAW has no legal power whatsoever to compel sworn statements, even if they wanted to? We are not in any way a legal body, we are an organization of veterans and active duty members. Now, if any active duty member testifies, I'm sure their commander can likely press them for a sworn statement.

The reason why the IVAW media address is not the best way to contact Winter Soldier IVAW media is because it is a larger event and has more people working on it than simply the usual media person(nel). Again, it's hardly a well-funded organization. Vets and active duty don't make a lot of money, nor do they have a lot of money to give. Most of the time it's people working on a shoestring budget because they believe in what the organization stands for.

Personally, it doesn't stink to me that IVAW has not come out with a stand forcing sworn statements. I guess that's because I have a higher belief in the amount of honor someone has to possess to serve in the military. If I say something, and give my word it is the truth, it doesn't have to be a sworn statement-I simply will not lie, and especially not about the military service I love so much.

I don't think anyone is arguing that the type of incident you cite never happens. I can tell you categorically that it does-I'm in the Army, I definitely hear enough bitching about it. A lot of people are bitter about not taking targets out due to possible civilians. But then, you do have the other side.

I don't think anyone is arguing that all atrocities committed are committed on a widespread scale and directly authorized by higherups. I think the argument being made is that these things are happening, and in some cases are the results of policy, whether at battalion, brigade, or even higher level. And sometimes, because the policy isn't politically correct, soldiers get fried while officers write them off. Again, see the 'baiting' program. Soldiers following orders may pay a high price, because it was judged not politically expedient to acknowledge those orders were given. That is flat-out wrong, and not accepting personal responsibility for leadership. Or the authorization of 'coercion'. That's going to bite us in the ass in twenty years or more.

I recognize that many statements are translated and sent over, but I think that to refrain from speaking what you believe to be the truth simply because other people in other countries might hear it is a bad idea. A far better idea would be to fix the country you love so that those things don't happen anymore.

I didn't mean to rant, though. On the questions about bloggers: I am not sure how much media is going to be allowed into the room as of yet. I suspect that if bloggers are allowed, though, it would be less a blanket permission, and more a case by case basis. If I were running the show, at least, it would be those individuals who showed themselves capable of reasonable discourse, had proven capable of admitting when they were wrong in the past, and had immense respect for the military. Remember to look at things from the opposite view: you have a large number of people testifying about things, some of which are likely PTSD triggers. It is undoubtedly going to be a very uncomfortable environment, and someone incapable of being respectful is unlikely to be welcomed. I would hope you could understand that, at least.

I will try to have answers back for you by next Wednesday.

Denis Keohane said...

Thanks, Sarge, for your efforts and commitment. I also understand that it is not solely up to you.

I will ask you to consider this one thing, about what could be called an "investigation".

If someone were proposing to do an investigation, and one that is targeting the possible commission of very serious and even heinous crimes, and there will be repercussions from the findings, no matter what they are, which would be the course that a moral man would deem proper:

One, determine the conclusion that the investigation will find beforehand, and then seek out the "testimony" that supports that conclusion, or...

Two, dig deeply into all the relevant information possible and after accumulating it, draw a conclusion?

Which would you answer if you were a Black man under suspicion in the Jim Crow South of the 1930s? Which would you answer if you were a factory worker in Stalin's Soviet Union when yet another Five Year Plan failed and the state was already talking about that being the fault of saboteurs, and not state planning?

All over the Internet the IVAW is making it plain that they've already reached the conclusion:

"This spring, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is revealing the reality of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan...eyewitnesses will share their experiences in a public investigation called Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan...IVAW members are standing up to make their experiences available to all who are concerned about the direction of our country.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time America has needed its Winter Soldiers, in 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently...these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same...war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan...Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars."

Sarge, that is a judgement already arrived at as to cause and effect and assignment of responsibility, pre-testimony!

I'd also like you to just take a look at this, from th IVAW questionnaire for WSI:

"Veterans should give as much detail as possible concerning dates, places, and
units involved. However, we are not interested in naming individual soldiers below the rank of O-3. This is not a trial.
Individual soldiers should not be made scapegoats for policies designed at the highest levels of government. Instead, the
responsibility for war crimes should be placed where it truly belongs: upon the politicians and generals that dictate military

Again, the conclusion has been reached before the investigation! Continuing:

"Methodology - Ideally, the collection of testimony should be done in person. Use the questionnaire to get a general
sense of the veteran's wartime experiences. The preferred format for collecting the testimony is an audio or video
recording in digital or analog accompanied by a typewritten transcript. If you don’t have the capacity to transcribe the
interview send us the recording along with pages 2 thru 4 and we will have it transcribed. If you cannot record it try to take
as detailed notes as possible. Include details: dates, locations, number of times events occurred, presence of any
NCOs/officers, and a brief description for each response to the best of your ability. DO NOT include names of any military
personnel with the rank of O-3/E-8 or below. Ask the veteran to review and sign the consent form before the interview.
Provide them with a copy as well."

Sarge, that sure as heck reads like IVAW plans to have signed and transcribed testimonies BEFORE the events in March, and further, that transcription is not a problem for IVAW!

Yeah, Sarge, it's not your job to answer and I appreciate that you've stepped up and into the breach, but when a person is witness to or a participant in crimes, there is a moral obligation to come forward, and let and facilitate the investigation to go where the facts dictate - not to a preconceived conclusion while withholding information! It is an honor thing.

Be well and safe, Sarge, and hope to hear back from you next week!

Army Sergeant said...

Let me take back my previous statement: now, I can speak for at least the blogging issue. I am officially in charge of at least dealing with the bloggers and milbloggers. I will be putting together a statement on my blog today about what the criteria for selection will be, and how it will be handled, in the interests of full transparency.

On your other question: I view the investigation more in the light of, say, to use an example you're familiar with, Adam Kokesh's investigating officer. He had a reasonable idea that a UCMJ offense had been committed, and so he wrote a letter letting the man know he would be the investigating officer, and would be soliciting testimony. He didn't necessarily know what he would turn up, and there was still the possibility of innocence, but he had enough evidence to suggest that wrongdoing might have been going on.

I also believe the collection of testimony that you are talking about is just pre-testimony, to give an idea of what is going on, so that initial verification can happen.

On your other questions, still working it.

Denis Keohane said...

Well done, Sarge!

And as an aside, Kokesh should have known better than to reply as he did, for goshakes! I read the officer's letter, and he was official but polite, and embraced Kokesh as a Marine, and those folks take such seriously. Kokesh gives the impression of being a bit of a loose cannon.

Thanks, Sarge, and I've already begun to do my part to get the word out to the milblogging community.

Zero Ponsdorf said...

How does one actually sign up?

I meet the criteria. And will there be Wifi available?

Army Sergeant said...

Fortunately, I'm still tracking this post! You come over to my blog, ask any questions (such as the wifi) in comments, and email me privately as to your qualifications and specifics, whether you need financial help as well, etc.