November 10, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri continues his assault on a free press, KBR gets more lawsuits, Human Rights Watch releases a report on minorities in Iraq, and more.
Today in a huge blow to freedom of the press and a boost to thug Nouri al-Maliki, a Baghdad court declared the thug a winner. Martin Chulov and Julian Borger (Guardian) report: "An Iraqi court has ordered the Guardian to pay Nouri al-Maliki damages of 100m dinar (£52,000) after supporting a complaint by the Iraqi prime minister's intelligence service that he had been defamed by a Guardian story in April describing him as increasingly autocratic. The ruling ignored testimony by three expert witnesses from the Iraqi journalists' union summoned by the court, who all said that the article was neither defamatory nor insulting and argued that no damages were warranted." Charles Tripp (Guardian) observes Nouri got a cash award despite the fact that he wasn't an injured party and goes on to sketch the rise of Thug Nouri:
Throughout 2008 he used the Iraqi armed forces to reconquer the provinces of Iraq, projecting himself as the leader whose only thought was the unity of the country. This was the image he wanted to convey in the January 2009 provincial elections. So to make sure he got a good press, he promised that thousands of journalists would be awarded grants of land for a nominal price, or for free. He was reviving a form of land patronage long used by his predecessors to cement officers, officials and now journalists to their retinue.
Some welcomed it and others were appalled. But for those who persisted in investigating awkward questions, the government had no hesitation in using the courts. More journalists found themselves fighting charges of libel or of endangering national security -- a charge levelled at foreign news media, particularly from the Arab world.
There is a pattern here, in which the wires of the "shadow state" are again being assembled, leading to the hands of one man: intelligence services run from the prime minister's office, staffed mainly by "awlad al-Hindiyya" ["the lads from Hindiyya", Maliki's home region]; dismissals, promotions and transfers in the ministries of interior and defence that insert his loyalists at the expense of others; the introduction of censorship of imported books and control of the internet; the recent closure of Mustansiriya University and its reopening under the watchful eye of the Baghdad operations command, controlled by his office.
Nouri has a long history of attacking the press. In the summer of 2006, he had a 'plan' for security -- a four-plank 'plan' -- but the press reduced it to three in much of their coverage, bypassing the third plank which dealt with journalims (aaah, Thuggy's first effort at attacking freedom of the press). It has been non-stop attacks ever since with Nouri most recently -- in an attempt to stop live transmissions -- has demanded outlets get a government license. (This is done to keep them from reporting on bombings. Within a few hours, Iraqi forces usually prevent the press from having access -- often prevent via violence -- and the licenses are an attempt to prevent any broadcasting before the forces can secure the area.) Martin Chulov (Guardian) notes the Journalists Freedom Organisation sees this as "part of a wider crackdown against media outlets designed to discourage scrutiny of public officials" (they are correct) and quotes JFO's Jabar Dharad stating, "Legal cases have flooded from all sides into publishers and media outlets throughout Iraq. This is a very effective tactic to silence dissent. A key reason for the diminishing status of private media here is that parliament hasn't passed a law to protect journalists in Iraq. They are deliberately delaying doing so." The truth telling article that so enraged Nouri is Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's "Six years after Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq" (April 30, 2009).
Meanwhile Timothy Williams (New York Times) reports Nouri's flunky Ali al-Alak states they want to force the MEK, Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf, out of the country, "A standoff has been in place since the deaths in July, through both Iraqis and members of Camp Ashraf worry about a new round of violence if a solution is not found soon. Among other complaints, members of the camp say that the Iraqi Army intermittently blocks fuled and food from reaching them and prevents them from cmoing and going. Iraq has prohibted news organizations and most humanitarian groups from entering Camp Ashraf since the July raid, but the government allowed a reporter and photographer inside the camp last week to interview its members and their relatives." And yet another political rival of Thug Nouri has been arrested. Caesar Ahmed and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report Sahwa leader Mustafa Kamal Shibeeb was arrested "in connection with the deaths of five known members of the group Al Qaeda in Iraq who were killed in 2007 in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, where Shibeeb commanded paramilitary fighters better known as the Awakening."
All of the deaths in Iraq and for what? To install a new Saddam named Nouri?
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Deng Shasha (Xinhua) reports a Baquba motorcycle bombing left two people injured.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person was shot dead in Mosul. Deng Shasha (Xinhua) reports 2 police officers were shot dead in Aziz Balad and 1 'suspect' shot dead by Iraqi forces in al-Mu'atasim.
Staying with wounded and deaths, many US service members and contractors are physically ill due to exposure to various chemicals in Iraq. (And many Iraqis will be ill and will have birth defects due to those same hazardous wastes.) E. Thomas Wood (Nashville Post) reports on the lawsuit against KBR (and its various offshoots) brought by attorneys (Burke O'Neil LLC) for soldiers Anthony Ray Johnson and David Michael Rohmfeld. From Wood's article:
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, describes "burn pits" at U.S. bases in both military theaters that contain "every type of waste imaginable." Reading like a postmodern version of Jonathan Swift's Description of a City Shower, the catalog of rubbish in the pits includes:
"Tires, lithium batteries, Styrofoam, paper, wood, rubber, petroleum-oil-lubricating products, metals, hydraulic fluids, munitions boxes, medical waste, biohazard materials (including human corpses), medical supplies (including those used during smallpox inoculations), paints, solvents, asbestos insulation, items containing pesticides, polyvinyl chloride pipes, animal carcasses, dangerous chemicals, and hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles."
"Flames shoot hundreds of feet into the sky" as the huge pits are set ablaze, the Nashville lawsuit claims.
Donna Goodison (Boston Herald) reports Iraq War veterans and Massachusetts Army National Guard members Jeffrey Cox and James Garland have also filed suit against KBR over the burn pits and that Cox has developed "a chronic cough and respiratory issues" while Garland "developed respiratory issues and was diagnosed with a rare form of carcinoma". Disclosure, I do know Susan Burke (and think she's a wonderful person and a brilliant attorney). I haven't spoken to her about this issue. In a press release, Burke O'Neill LLC notes there are 16 lawsuits against KBR "filed during the past week in federal courts throughout the nation by Burke O'Neil LLC and co-counsel on behalf of military veterans and private contractors. The suits allege that round-the-clock hazardous emissions from the burn pits caused illnesses such as multiple cancers, respiratory disease, pulmonary complications, chronic coughing, debilitating headaches, and neurological and skin disorders. KBR is accused of allowing thick, noxious smoke, coming off of flames sometimes colored blue or green by burning chemicals, to hang over U.S. bases and camps across Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004. According to the complaints, the burn pits are so large that tractors are used to push waste onto them and the flames shoot hundreds of feet into the sky. KBR allegedly burned waste such as biohazard materials including human corpses, medical supplies, paints, solvents, asbestos, items containing pesticides, animal carcasses, tires, lithium batteries, Styrofoam, wood, rubber, medical waste, large amounts of plastics, and even entire trucks."
KBR's burn pits were the subject of a hearing, see Friday's snapshot, by the Democratic Policy Committee. Senator Byorn Dorgan chaired the hearing. Video is posted at the Democratic Policy Committee website. And Kat's "Democratic Policy Committee" went up Friday. Sunday, at Third, we noted some of the testimony the committee heard but that Staff Sgt. Steven Gregory Ochs and Staff Sgt. Matt Bumpus did not testify at Friday's hearing. They couldn't because both men are dead. October 8th, Ochs' sister Stacy Pennington testified to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on behalf of her brother and her family and on behalf of Bumpus and his family.
Stacy Pennington: Both of these brave soldiers you see before you dodged bullets, mortar attacks, roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Eventually their tours of duty would take their lives. The ultimate sacrifice for a soldier, for his country, is death. However, their deaths did not show up in the manner you may assume. In Balad is the site of the infamous enormous burn pit that has been called by Lt Col Darrin L. Curtis, USAF and Bio-environmental Engineering Flight Commander, as "the worst environmental site" he had ever visited. Staff Sgt Ochs and Staf Sgt Bumpus were both stationed in Balad and war, as strategic as it is, followed them home. Death lay dormant in their blood and waited for them to return safely home and into the arms of their loved ones. Like every silent ticking bomb, it eventually exploded. On September 28, 2007, just months after Steve's return home from his third tour, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, also known as AML. He spent the next ten months as a patient -- more like a resident -- at Duke University Hospital. Doctors at Duke said his aggressive form of AML was definitely chemically induced and, like Steve, both agreed it was due to the exposures he experienced while in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the doctors refused to go on record citing as the reason that they could not prove it. The aggressive AML that Steve endured was similar to bullets ricocheting in the body causing torturous pain. The graphic images embedded in my mind are of Steve's last screams for air as he was rushed into ICU. Steve waved goodbye to my husband. Steve, with very little strength, said, "I love you, sis" and my mom kissed his forehead and said, "We will see you when you get comfortable." Five minutes later, while in the ICU waiting room, the nurse came in to tell us Steve went into cardiac arrest and they were working on him now. My mom ran into ICU -- fell to her knees as she realized her son was dying. Screams filled the air as we begged God to keep Steve here with us. We know Steve heard us as tears were in Steve's eyes. Doctors and nurses pumped on Steve's chest trying to revive him. But I knew immediately he was gone. His spirit that surrounded my dear, sweet brother was gone. We were left alone with Steve's body for hours as we were all in pure shock. My mom looked upon my brother's face and wiped away the tears puddled in his eyes. And at that very moment, our lives were changed forever. Steve died on July 12, 2008. Two weeks later, on the opposite of the coast, Staff Sgt Bumpus would succumb to the same fate. For Staff Sgt Matt Bumpus, the ticking time bomb exploded with a vengeance on July 31, 2006. Matt was rushed to the hospital by ambulance with acute appendicitis. In Matt's own words, I quote, "The next thing I remember is hearing that I had been diagnosed with AML." Doctors declared that there was chromosome damage due to exposures he must have come in contact with while in Iraq. Matt ended his prestigious service to the Army one short year before the war zone chemical warfare showed signs of its presence. As if this was not enough suffering, Staff Sgt Bumpus' family was met by the VA with harsh claims of denial to benefits. This battle continues to this day as Lisa, Staff Sgt Bumpus' wife, is left alone with two small children to raise with no VA or military benefits for her family. The aggressive assault of the AML in Matt's body was taking claim. Jo, Matt's mother, recalls the haunted look in Matt's eyes as he revealed to her that the AML invasion was back. Matt's mother will never forget the discouragement and sadness that overwhelmed Matt as the realization that promises he made to his wife and children to provide for his family, to love and protect them, and that his sacred word would be broken. He knew now that the battle was over and he would be leaving his family behind. Tuesday, July 29, 2008, Matt once again entered the hospital with fever and septic infection that discharged throughout his body. Doctors notified the family that it would just be days before his demise. Matt was heavily sedated as the pain and incubation was unbearable. Nate, Matt's ten-year-old son, bravely entered his father's hospital room to lay on his daddy's chest as he said his final goodbye. Nate curled up by his dad and cried and cried. Despite Matt's heavy sedation, Matt too was crying. Matt, being a devoted Christian, appropriately passed away on a Sunday morning, surrounded by his wife, mother, father and sister as they expressed to Matt their everlasting love. They, too, were in shock and stayed with Matt's body as the realization overwhelmed them that Matt would not be going home. Matt died on August 3, 2008.
Today Human Rights Watch released a new report entitled [PDF format warning] "On Vulnerable Ground: Violence against Minority Communities in Nineveh Province's Disputed Territories" which explores issues for minorities caught in the territories disputed by the KRG and the Baghdad based 'government'. To write the report, HRW took part in "a three-week fact-finding mission" visitng Arbil, Bashiqa, Bartalah, Qaraqosh, al-Qosh, Sulaymaniyah and Tal Usquf and speaking with 57 members "of the Chaldo-Assyrian, Yazidi, and Shabak communities." The report gets lost -- for a large section -- on year-old rumors that detract from valid complaints of abuse. The report would have benefitted from a little more pre-publication scrutiny. One example of where more care should have been taken? An August bombing which they have the wrong date for in their report. The report is strongest when detailing actual claims of abuse. It's at its weakest when offering that people have received many threats but never bothering to tell readers what those threats are.
The report notes the historical issues including the Arabization of the region by "previous Iraqi governments" which forced Kurds and other ethnic groupings out of the region. "After more than three decades," HRW states, "of forced expulsions, and in the aftermath of the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein, an emboldened KRG leadership insists it is entitled to claim this land as part of the territory that Kurds have historically lived in, which stretches from the western villages of Sinjar near the Syrian borader all the way to Khanaqin near the Iranian border in the east." Noting the ethnic diversity that has historically been part of the region -- including populations of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Shabaks, Turkmens and Yazidis, HRW's watch argues for a way for Kurds to find "redress for the crimes committed against them" which does not confuse the "rederss for past wrongs" with "the current struggle for political control over the dispuated territories". It goes on to argue, "The six-year US-led occupation of Iraq failed to resolve the tensions over the disputed territories in northern Iraq, or to provide redress for the victims of the arabization policies. The US-led coalition paid scant attention to the tensions there, and a drawn-out UN mediation effort has done little to bridge the gap between Arabs and Kurds." The report then refers to "a constitutionally-mandated referendum on the future of the disputed territories". Historically the report also notes, "Iraq made a declaration, on gaining independence and joining the League of Nations in 1932, that it would protect the rights of minorities -- the first non-European state to so declare." It also notes that the 2005 Constitution also includes "various provisions guaranteeing the rights of minority groups."
The report zooms in on Nineveh Province where "[m]any of these minorities -- weary after generations of subjugation at the hands of Arabs -- now fear being subjugated by the Kurds, who ironically share a common history of oppression by previous Iraqi government." From the report:
To consolidate their grip on Nineveh and to facilitate its incorporation into the Kurdistan Region, Kurdish authorities have embarked on a two-pronged strategy: they have offered minorities inducements while simulaneously wielding repression in order to keep them in tow. The goal of these tactics is to push Shabak and Yazidi communities to identify as ethnice Kurds, and for Christians to abide by the Kurdish government's plan of securing a Kurdish victory in any referendum concering the future of the disputed territories. Kurdish authorities have tried to win favor with the minority communities by spending millions of Iraqi dinars to build a pro-Kurdish system of patronage in minority communities, financing alternative civil society organizations to compete with, undermine, and challenge the authoritiy of established groups, many of which oppose Kurdish rule. The KRG also funds private militias created ostensibly to protect minority communities from outside violence, but which in reality serve to entrench Kurdish influence. Finally, the Kurdish leadership has enriched the coffers of some minority religious leaders, and paid for expensive new places of worship in order to win over minority religious establishments.
The report goes on to note minority self-reports of being threatened and KRG denials of making threats. What are the threats? That would make for a stronger report. This gets skipped and the report instead immeidately moves into assertions by "some minority representatives and Arab officials" of Kurds being involved in violence such as the assaulst on the Christian community in the second half of 2008 and bombings. That's a problem, for the report that's a problem.
The Kurds may have been involved -- may have led -- the assault on the Christians. If so, there is no proof of it. Over a year later, there is no proof of it. Why bring that into the report to begin with? It's now dismissed (fairly or unfairly) as paranoia. By bringing it in after referring to self-reported threats, HRW weakens the self-reported threats. And by not even offering an example of one of these threats (threats of your home being burned to the ground, threats of being killed, threats of what), it weakens the self-report. Again, the KRG may have directed and led the assaults on the Christian community in the second-half of 2008. There were some Chrisitans who publicly stated in October and November 2008 that they believed the Kurds were behind the assault and doing it to create a need for a strong-figure to protect Christians -- meaning that the Kurds created the violence so that they could be the hero who saved the day. That was a charge and it was widely made. If that charge was correct, it was never proven. And a year later it's seen (rightly or wrongly) as a baseless charge and one resulting from the paranoia of a persecuted people.
Even though it was never proven, it could be used in the report as an example of underlying tensions. For example, "Beliefs that the Kurds may have been behind the 2008 assault has led to many tensions . . ." But to put it with what are presumably real threats?
Further into the report (page 25) its noted that the finanical offers from the KRG are viewed with suspicion and an unnamed priest is quoted stating, "Before 2005, no one cared about our communities or churches and then overnight we started to receive funding. The Kurds have a hidden agenda and are using money to co-opt Christians -- it's not because they want to help our people . . . I beleive that anyone who disagrees with their agenda puts their life at risk." Other unnamed persons complain that financial assistance comes only when someone signs what is basically a loyalty oath. The KRG's Minister for Extra-Regional Affairs, Muhammad Ihsan, tells HRW, "We are not angels, we are politicians, and this is politics. Join with me and I will give you this and that." Some may see that statement as practical, some may see it as mercenary.
Some may see the fact that, as late as page 34, the rumor of Kurds carrying out the 2008 assualt are still being yammered on:
As evidence of Kurdish involvement, proponents of this theory point to the fact that the attacks happened in the part of Mosul relatively free from insurgent activity and controlled by the Iraqi army, which was dominated by a high percentage of Kurdish officers in that area. Some of the killigns happened in areas secured by Iraqi army checkpoints and, in some cases, in close proximity to them, leading some to believe that Kurdish officers or their proxies had a hand in the attacks. Kurdish authorities have rejected these assertions and accused Sunni Arab groups of having carried out the attacks to sow intercommunal tensions. In a rare disavowal, the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization comprising a number of insurgent groups including al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has denied responsibility for the killings. More recently, Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman blamed militias loyal to Prime Minister al-Maliki for being behind the violence. None of these allegations has been backed up by clear and convincing evidence.
What is clear, however, is that the attacks were systematic and widespread. Human Rights Watch interviewed family members of seven Christian victims murdered between late August and early October 2008. While other Christians have since returned to Mosul, these families remained in Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains, too fearful to return to their homes in the city. Some witnessed the murders themselves; others spoke to witnesses who saw the perpetrators killed their loved ones. Their accounts suggest an orchestrated and targeted campaign of violence intended to have maximum impact in devastating the community.
Based on these interviews, Human Rights Watch found no evidence suggesting that Kurds were directly invovled in that campaing of violence against Christains. According to the witnesses, the gunmen spoke fluent Iraqi Arabic, which appeared to be their mother tongue (in contrast to Kurds, whose native languages is Kurdish, but speak Arabic as a second language). The assailants had an Arab appearance and dress, and made it clear that they were attacking Christians on religious grounds. For example, one of the victims, mechanic Afnan Daoud Saeb al-Hadad, answered his door at 10:30 a.m. on September 28 in Mosul. A masked man demenaded that al-Hadad show him his identification. When al-Hadad asked who the person was, the masked man responded in Arabic, with a Mosul accent, "Don't be afraid, Ummu [uncle], I am with the secret police." After checking his identification, the masked man asked al-Hadad whether he was a Christian, to which al-Hadad said yes. The perpreator then fired several shots from an Iraqi-made 9mm Tariq pistol into al-Hadad's lower body, killing him. His family remained in Mosul for a week, until the funeral, and then fled to Qaraqosh.
Did you catch that? No evidence. A lot of pages for something with no evidence. Lot of referring to rumors for something with no evidence. Shabacks pop up on page 37. The group is estimated to be 200,000 to 500,000 people who predominately reside in Nineveh. Though they're Shia, they aren't seen as 'pure' Shia by some such as al Qadea in Mesopotamia which posted flyers in 2007 stating 'good' Shia were obliged to kill Shabacks. The report notes:
In one of the worst attacks in the Nineveh Plains since 2003, on August 11, 2009, two large trucks packed with bombs exploded simultaneously at around 5 a.m. in the Shaback village of al-Khazna, which is under the control of Kurdish peshmerga forces. The force of the blast destroyed the town, leaving 65 houses in heaps of rubble mixed with bed frames, mattresses, furniture, and bloodstained pillows. Most villagers were asleep at the time, many of them on their rooftops to escape the summer heat. The final casualty toll was at least 35 killed and almost 200 wounded.
The report notes that the attacks were then used for political football by both the Baghdad based government or 'government' and the KRG. And, for the record, that bombing took place August 10th. Yazidis Khalil Rashu Alias and Wageed Mendo Hamoo report they were tortured by Kurds during a six month imprisonment:
According to Hamoo, on May 1, 2007 at 4:30 a.m., Kurdish intelligence officers broke down the door to his home in Sinjar and stormed in. They told him that the intelligence unit's central command had ordered his detention without further explanation. The officers arrested Hamoo, an active member of the Yazidi Movement for Progress and Reform (YMRP) who had been arrested twice before for political activies, and placed his wife and children in the corner of a room while they searched his house. The officers then proceeded to the house of Alias, head of the YMPR's centeral committee, and arrested him as well.
At a military camp in Sinjar, the intelligence officers interrogated the two separately. During these interrogation sessions their captors gave Alias and Hamoo two options: accept that they were Kurds and denounce the YMPR, or confess that they were "terrorists." The pair described how their guards bound them hand and foot and hooded them, and took turns interrogating and beating them separately with fists, shoes, shovels, and cables for a period of about five hours. As a result of the ordeal, for more than a month Alias was unable to stand unassisted. He said his arms turned black from the bruising he sustained. Alias also said his captors initally refused to allow any treatment for his diabetic condition.
Four days after detaining the, Kurdish officials transferred the pair to a military camp, Kesik, between Mosul and SInjar. After 17 days, Kurdish officials separately interrogated the two again with their hands tied and eyes blindfolded. His Kurdish interrogator asked Hamoo, "What is your language?" When Hamoo replied, "Yazidi," the interrogation officer responded, "No, Yazidis have no language! Yazidis speak Kurdish." Hamoo said he replied, "Even if you kill me a hundred times I won't say that I'm Kurdish." The Kurdish officer told the guards to take him out to "teach him some manners." Outside the guards placed what felt like a piece of metal, maybe a knife, at the back of his neck. They ordered him to say a phrase prohibited by the Yazidi religion. If he failed to comply, he was told, "We're going to behead you just like the terrorist do with your people." When he refused, numerous guards severely beat him, he said. They took him back to his cell and told him, "If you want to live you have to confess to either being Kurdish or a terrorist." When he refused both, the beatings resumed; Hamoo said he lost count of how many officers beat and kicked him, breaking one of his ribs. At 4 a.m. the beating stopped and he was thrown back into his cell.
Alias told Human Rights Watch that in another cell four Kurdish officers beat and interrogated him, accusing him of being a "terrorist" responsible for attacks against police as well as Iraqi and US forces. The interrogating officer told him that if he quit the Yazidi reform movement and denounced its principles and agenda, he would be released. After he refused, he said, they laid him on the floor and beathim relentlessly on the soles of his feet and his stomach, shoulders, and chest.
On May 18, Kurdish authorities transferred the two back to the military camp in Sinjar, from where they were moved again the next day to the Lefoog al-Bogag prison. After an Iraqi judge reviewed the case, he ordered them released, but the two remained in various prisons until October 28, 2007. There has been no investigation of their alleged torture.
Which is pages 45 and 46. So the question is, when two people self-disclose torture, why toss that at the back of the report? This should have been moved to the front.
In July, US citizens Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd were visiting northern Iraq. They allegedly crossed over into Iran while allegedly hiking. The Chicago Tribune notes this morning that the three are now charged with espionage by the government of Iran. Iran's Press TV notes that Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, has stated the three should be released and dismissed the charges stating, "We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever. And we would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them so they can return home. And we will continue to make that case through our Swiss protecting power, who represents the United States in Tehran." The family of the three Americans have set up a website Free The Hikers which is down currently. Chris Carrassi (The Daily Californian) reports, "At a press conference held Monday during an overseas trip to Turkey, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the hikers face a potentially harsh sentence, and will have to prove their innocence in court."
Yesterday we noted Nathanel Bodon being discharged from the army for the 'crime' of being gay. Pelin Sidki (CNN -- link has text and video) reports on another veteran who was discharged for the 'crime' of sexuality:
Darren Manzella: I'm Darren Manzella. I was in the United States Army from 2002 until 2008. My division deployed to Iraq and I served a year in the streets of Baghdad doing combat patrols. After returning from my first deployment in Iraq, after seeing death and violence, losing friends and comrades, really made me look over my life. I looked over some issues I had always had trouble with. You know, I had always debated, 'Am I gay?' Growing up, I never had that conflict because I didn't know anybody that was gay. I had my two brothers and I did everything they did. We worked on the farm together, we played football. But after returning from Iraq, I decided to come out to myself. Having a boyfriend -- it makes it very hard when you're at work, you can't talk about your significant other if it's the same sex. But I started, soon after I began this relationship, getting these e-mails and these phone calls from different people who were saying I was being investigated for being gay. So I told my supervisor about the phone calls, about the e-mails and what had happened was he went to the legal department and turned me in for breaking Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So after a month of the investigation, my commander called me in and said the investigation was closed and, despite my admission, they were told that they found no proof of homosexuality. In 2006, we deployed back to Iraq again and I was able to serve that entire deployment -- nearly 15 months -- openly. But it's something that nearly 65,000 men and women serving in the military that are gay, lesbian or bi-sexual, they couldn't do.