Thursday, July 17, 2008

The court-martial of the kill-team whistle blower

Chris Kenning's "Soldier pleads guilty to leaving unit in Iraq: Left Iraq to protest tactic, fled to Canada" (Courier-Journal) which reports on James Burmeister's court-martial yesterday and the sentence of jail (six months), reduction in rank (busted down to private), dishonorable discharge (bad conduct) and "a loss of pay." From the article:

Burmeister's military defense attorney, Capt. Tyson McDonald, argued in court that the prosecution was pursuing the case only because Burmeister had spoken to multiple media outlets about the "small kill teams," which he said were later halted.
"They're not happy that dirty laundry was getting aired," said McDonald, who argued Burmeister did "the wrong thing for the right reason."

[. . .]
In court yesterday , soldiers, reporters, anti-war activists and Burmeister's parents gathered for the four-hour trial. Testimony included discussion about Burmeister's media interviews while in Canada.
Burmeister told The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper last year that he had participated in a team that put out cameras labeled as U.S. property, giving the team the right to shoot whoever tried to take it. He also spoke with Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and other news outlets.
"I know going AWOL was wrong, but I thought it was the best way to stop the small kill teams," said Burmeister, who left his wife and child in Germany to spend nearly 10 months in Canada.
Although the Army has declined to discuss specific methods of combat, including the "small kill teams" or "bait and kill," as the practice was known, their existence has been detailed in several national newspaper articles. Yesterday, Burmeister said wire, AK-47s or other objects were placed in the open as soldiers laid in wait.
Burmeister's attorney said that e-mails from his unit indicate that the practice was stopped earlier this year.

A few comments on the above. 1) NOW on PBS needs to update their story -- online or on television. Since Burmeister's remarks about the kill teams were entered into the record, it sure would be nice if NOW could 'kill' the embargo they placed on that portion of the interview Burmeister gave them to them last year. 2) Amy Goodman and all the other pathetics in 'independent' media never made time for Burmeister's story. If they had, they could have scooped the Washington Post. From the July 16, 2007 snapshot:

Starting with war resistance. James Burmeister is a war resister who went to Canada after serving in Iraq. He, his wife, Angelique, and their son, Cornell, now live in Ottawa. Mark Larabee (The Oregonian) reports on Burmeister and notes the "traps" were an issue -- setting out the fake carmera or other equipment so that someone would go for it and then shooting them for touching US property -- with James Burmeister declaring, "As soon as anyone would mess with it, you were supposed to lay waste to them. I completely disagreed with that tactic. I can't see how that's helping anyone whatsoever"; and on Iraq, "I though people needed to be free there. But when I went there it was all about captures and kills and it felt like we messed things up over there." For some reason, J.E. McNeil is quoted in the story and really doesn't know the first thing about the topic. I'll call out McNeil the same way I would a right winger. McNeil's area of expertise and area of interest is C.O.s and that's the topic McNeil should stick to. I find McNeil's remarks (and ingorance) damaging. It takes only a few seconds to say, "C.O.s is my focus. Have you considered calling the War Resisters Support Campaign?" A voice who does know something on the subject, Helen Burmeister, mother of James, whom Larabee reports is proud of her son and declares, "I don't support the war. I don't know anybody who supports what's going on in Iraq. . . . It took guts for him to do what he did."

Here's Ruth from a report she did here on September 29, 2007:

By mid-week, I knew there was not much to report. By mid-week, the U.S. "kill teams" operating in Iraq had been avoided by every radio program I caught and I was streaming all over, from Pacifica to Pacifica and even NPR.
"Kill teams" were not a new development to this community. When war resister James Burmeister went to Canada and began speaking of them, they were noted here, months ago. But while Canada's CBC did a wonderful interview with Mr. Burmeister, independent media in the U.S. ignored him.They ignored him again this week which is why the narrative is being dictated by the mainstream on "kill teams" and why the narrative is, to no one's surprise, one that does not explore but scrapes the frost off the top of the ice.

From the September 26,2007 snapshot:

Meanwhile Josh White and Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) report on the "Kill Teams"
noting, "Officers described the program, in unclassified statements obtained by The Post, as involving the placement of the items in insurgent areas and killing those who picked them up." And
Kim Sengupta (Indepent of London) reports, "A US military source said "baits" had been left by a number of units. 'The guys picking them up are sometimes bad guys. But how do you know each time?' Robert Emerson, a British security analyst, said: 'This seems a highly arbitrary and suspect way of carrying out counter-insurgency operations'." But neither outlet notes war resister James Burmeister who went public about the "Kill Teams" in June. And, in fact, cited them as one of the reasons he decided to self-checkout and move to Canada with his family.

From the September 27, 2007 snapshot:

Starting with war resistance. Big news! Canada cannot be reached by either phone or e-mail! The apparent blockade must explain why All Things Media Big and Small in the US are unable to contact James Burmeister who served in Iraq and was publicly speaking of "kill teams" of US forces who intentionally left items (not just items that were weapons or could be used for making weapons -- as the mainstream narrative likes to insist) out in public so that Iraqis could be shot for touching "US property." Apparently the blockade also includes Canada's borders being heavily guarded and Ottawa being ringed with armed guards -- possibly from the US mercenary company Blackwater. In times long since past, independent media would have been all over this story instead they're all apparently imposing some self-gag order when it comes to the words: "James Burmeister."

As noted before, as appalling (and illegal) as the program is when guns and materials that might be used for making bombs are, public outrage is mitigated by the fact that some in the US will tell themselves, "Well, if they're touching it, they probably are guilty!" Telling the truth (something independent media has a real problem with these days -- as evidence by the elevation to sainthood of a five times busted thug) would have Americans asking serious questions about the program (which already appears to be fading from public knowledge) because a camera, for example, is not a weapon. But what should have been the minute where independent media stepped up to the plate, grabbed the spotlight and demonstrated just how important they could be instead became a time for travelogue. Remember that when they next beg for money.

From the September 28, 2007 snapshot:

On the subject of the US military's "kill teams," the press continues to avoid the fact that war resister James Burmeister was publicly speaking of them months before the press stumbled onto them this week. Paul von Zeilbauer (New York Times) reported this morning on the court-martial of Jorge G. Sandoval and noted that Anthony G. Murphy had testified in July that there was a sense of sense "of disappointment from field commanders seeking higher enemy body counts" and that "Soldiers also testified that battalion commanders authorized a classified new technique that used fake explosives and detonation wires as 'bait' to lure and kill suspected insurgents around Iskandariya, a hostile Sunni Arab region south of Baghdad." AP reports that Sandoval was acquitted today of some charges; however, "the panel decided he had placed a detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look as if the man was an insurgent."

From a September 29, 2007 entry:

Another war resister in Canada is James Burmeister and he's been avoided by all US independent media. Apparently KvH's cowardice is contagious -- there she is now, entertain us -- which is a real shame because this week's 'big' story about the US utilizing 'kill teams' in Iraq was actually revealed in June of this year by anyone bothering to cover Burmeister. If KvH hadn't issued her royal edict, she could be doing another one of her crowing blog posts where she insists that "We at The Nation" were covering ___ forever ago. The way she did yesterday on Blackwater citing Jeremy Scahill's work but failing to note that the work on Blackwater began while he was at Democracy Now! and that Scahill established his bonafides on the topic long before he moved over to the magazine. Well, if you were in charge of a magazine and running it so badly that "I wish Victor would come back" has been replaced with chatter of "Victor's coming back," you'd want to skirt the truth as well.
Mina Al-Oraibi does what KvH refuses to let anyone at The Nation do, reports on Burmeister today. From "Escaping War: America's Refugee Soldiers" (Asharq Alawsat):

He revealed that going to Iraq last year was his first military combat experience, saying that the suffering he had endured there was unexpected. "It's nothing like what we see in the movies or what we are told. You go looking for trouble and you don’t see it for weeks, then suddenly there is so much chaos," he said in reference to the targeting of US troops in Iraq.
Burmeister arrived in Canada in May 2007 from Germany where he had been in the American military hospital [Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC)] recovering from an injury he had suffered following a bomb explosion that targeted his convoy in the Iraqi capital. Following three months of lengthy treatment and surgery for a head injury, the US Army issued an order to send Burmeister back to Iraq. "They wanted to send me back there on crutches and taking anti-depressants," he said.
Burmeister spoke at length of the psychological effects the war had on him, saying "I realized how my mind was changing while I was in Iraq, I just wanted to kill. I had to step back, it was frightening."This is when Burmeister knew that returning to Iraq was not an option. He went to Toronto with his German wife whom he had met during the time he was based in Germany before his first trip to Iraq. After he contacted volunteers from the War Resisters Support Campaign, he relocated to Ottawa where he stayed with a volunteering family since all the houses of the volunteers in Toronto were occupied by other soldiers.
Burmeister feels a certain sense of guilt towards his comrades who remain in Iraq, thinking at times about returning to his country. "Because I feel it's the right thing to do -- even if I face prison or a dishonorable discharge from the army," but added, "I can't go back to the killing."Burmeister says he refuses to participate in the practices of what he described as "small kill teams", which include "four of five soldiers, with a couple of snipers, who would go out on the streets and put something out, like a camera. Then they'd put a sign out [that said] if anyone touched it, they would be killed. But a lot of these people do not read English, so they would touch it to see what it is, and then they would be shot. [This is justified by] saying the American army has the right to shoot anyone trying to steal its property."

The kill teams. As the illegal war drags on, let's all stop pretending that a fiery editorial once a year qualifies as being part of the peace movement. Victor led the magazine in the opposition to the illegal war. His successor likes to talk "peace and security" when pressed but left to her own inclinations would be dashing off another 16 magazine style gush over American Idol (which -- after the sugar high wore off or was it the circulation high? -- would embarrass even her so she would have hit it 'disappeared' -- it still lives on online). Sadly, Victor running is just a rumor at this point (a hugely repeated one, but still just a rumor).

Are you getting how pathetic Panhandle Media truly is. Take Tom-Tom who took-took to the pages of The Nation again for another one of his half-lies, half-delusion pieces on Barack this week. Tom-Tom wants to be seen as the 'leader' of the 'anti-war' movement (Heaven, help us all). So he could have written about the judge's decision in Joshua Key's favor July 4th, or he could have written about Corey Glass being allowed to stay in Canada (at least though his appeals), or he could have written about the impending deportation of Robin Long. Instead, Tom-Tom's gas bagging about Barack -- again. James Burmeister was passed over Panhandle Media. They always had something 'better' to do; however, to consumers, it just appeared they had found yet another way to waste time. On that, if nothing else, they were successful.

Begging time is upon us again from Panhandle Media and it's really past time to wonder exactly what it is we are paying for. It's not news, it's not information. I'll bite my tongue on what it is (Ava and I'll cover it Sunday at Third). But you need to grasp how Panhandle Media fails -- and it certainly failed James Burmeister. Or, as Panhandle Media would say, "Who?"

From yesterday's snapshot:

July 4th, Louisville's WHAS11 reported (text and video) on James Burmeister

Renee Murphy: . . . But first here, our top story, we're looking at the charges being brought against a US soldier. Supporters say that Private 1st Class James Burmeister should be back in Oregon with his family this Fourth of July holiday but instead he is being held at Fort Knox facing a court-martial on AWOL and desertion charges. WHAS11's Kelsey Starks joins us now ith more on our top story. Kelsey?

Kelsey Starks: 23-year-old James Burmeister is being held at Fort Knox for five months now. He is charged with deserting his army unit while on leave from Iraq. Yesterday he got a court-martial date but his friends and family say because he suffers from head injuries Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after surviving a roadside bomb attack in Iraq, they're hoping some of those charges can be dismissed.

Helen Burmeister: My son is an Iraqi War veteran. And I'm very proud of him today. He fought bravely in Iraq. He followed orders. He was wounded in a roadside bomb. And he's been diagonsed with PTSD and a possible brain injury.

Kelsey Starks: Video blogger James Pence followed Helen Burmeister to Fort Knox last week where she was fighting for her son, hoping to get him out of Fort Knox. PFC James Burmeister enlisted in the army in June of 2005. Two years later while on leave he went AWOL -- Absent Without Leave -- to Canada. After ten months, he turned himself in to Fort Knox.

Nina Benson: He went AWOL after six months of being there when he was back in Germany on his rest and recuperation because he didn't feel that the treatment that he was getting for his injuries were proper -- were up to par with what he should be getting.

Kelsey Starks: Fort Knox is one of only two processing centers for army deserters. Nearly 5,000 army army soldiers were charged with deserting last year -- that's a number up 92% from 2004.

Harold Trainer: They really do need to find more solutions.

Kelsey Starks: Harold Trainer and his wife Carol [Rawert-Trainer] are following James' case very closely here in Louisville. They both served in the military during Vietnam.

Carol Rawert-Trainer: It's not rare that there are so many suffing from PTSD today that aren't getting help. That part's not rare. And it's not even rare that we have AWOLs anymore. The rare thing is how aggressive the army is going after James instead of just giving him a discharge.

Harold Trainer: Those young men and women give our country and our government a blank check when they sign to go into the military. The country and the government really needs to give them a blank check back to take care of them.

Kelsey Starks: Now a Fort Knox spokesperson did not return our phone calls this afternoon. If James is convicted of desertion, he could get a dishonorable discharge and even face time in prison. His court-martial date, by the way, is scheduled for July the 16th. Kelsey Starks, WHAS11 News.

I'll add Nader to the morning entries and a press release later.

Added: Independent journalist David Bacon continues to explore the issue of immigration. And his latest is "THE RIGHT TO STAY HOME" (New American Media):

For almost half a century, migration has been the main fact of social life in hundreds of indigenous towns spread through the hills of Oaxaca, one of Mexico's poorest states. That's made the conditions and rights of migrants central concerns for communities like Santiago de Juxtlahuaca.
Today the right to travel to seek work is a matter of survival. But this June in Juxtlahuaca, in the heart of Oaxaca's Mixteca region, dozens of farmers left their fields, and women weavers their looms, to talk about another right, the right to stay home.
In the town's community center two hundred Mixtec, Zapotec and Triqui farmers, and a handful of their relatives working in the U.S., made impassioned speeches asserting this right at the triannual assembly of the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB). Hot debates ended in numerous votes. The voices of mothers and fathers arguing over the future of their children, echoed from the cinderblock walls of the cavernous hall.
In Spanish, Mixteco and Triqui, people repeated one phrase over and over: the derecho de no migrar - the right to not migrate. Asserting this right challenges not just inequality and exploitation facing migrants, but the very reasons why people have to migrate to begin with. Indigenous communities are pointing to the need for social change.
About 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca live in the US, 300,000 in California alone, according to Rufino Dominguez, one of FIOB's founders. These men and women come from communities whose economies are totally dependent on migration. The ability to send a son or daughter across the border to the north, to work and send back money, makes the difference between eating chicken or eating salt and tortillas. Migration means not having to manhandle a wooden plough behind an ox, cutting furrows in dry soil for a corn crop that can't be sold for what it cost to plant it. It means that dollars arrive in the mail when kids need shoes to go to school, or when a grandparent needs a doctor.

Two months from now (September), Bacon's latest book is released Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press).

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