Saturday, August 04, 2007

Ruth's Report

Ruth: I followed the weeks in California with a family vacation and this was noted in places at different community sites as well as this one but for those visitors who missed it, I am "still around."

In terms of radio, two programs stand out the most from last week.

Friday on Uprising, which airs on KPFK at 8:00 am PST, a conversation took place that I give credit to both the host, Sonali Kolhatkar, and the guest, Stephen Zunes, for having. I might need to say, "Especially in light of the previous Friday's broadcast"?

The previous Friday, Ms. Kolhatkar was speaking with a scholar when it was time for Glen Ford's Black Agenda Report radio commentary. After that, Ms. Kolhtkar asked the scholar to speak of Mr. Ford's points. The scholar was off in Hillary Clinton Is The Devil Land. Which was rather strange because Mr. Ford's commentary was "Barack Obama's Game: Erase the 'Black Problem'." The issues Mr. Ford raised related to Senator Obama were shoved aside as the scholar rushed to list all of Senator's Clinton's negatives.

Yesterday, Ms. Kolhatkar specifically raised the issue of Senators Clinton and Obama to Professor Zunes who was able to address the issues she raised. He did not feel either was that different from the other though Senator Obama's imperialism came with a happy stamp. While it was amazing that a real conversation of the two Senators could take place, it should be noted that I have never heard Professor Zunes stammer or hesitate so much in any interview. By his answers, he had obviously given considerable thought to the issue so I will chalk his nervousness down to the fact that there is a strong push to deny reality when it comes to Senator Obama.

Reality about Senator Obama is that he was against the illegal war before it began, and before he was a member of the U.S. Senate. Reality is also that, by the time he began campaigning for the U.S. Senate, he was publicly against withdrawal from the war he was against. Reality is also that, as former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel pointed out in the Democratic Presidential Candidates YouTube discussion, Senator Obama is funded by corporations. Reality even includes the New York Times explaining a few weeks back that Senator Obama's alleged "small donors" are not donating monies to his campaign. Those small amounts are actually no more than concession sales from his rallies. As the Times explained, and small media ignored, every t-shirt, every bumper sticker, every $4.95 for a key chain is chalked up as a "donation." No, that is not the Howard Dean phenomenon. As the paper pointed out, no other campaign is known to do that or to have ever done that.

Hopefully Friday's discussion is a sign that if we must have non-stop 2008 election coverage, we can at least have reality in the discussion. For that to take place, it will probably be helpful to remove the likes of Patricia J. Williams whose Obama campaigning, passed off as a KPFA interview, included her not only snarling at at a caller with a Mid-Eastern accent and correcting the caller who was, in fact correct, but it also included Professor Patti flying her elitist flag as she gushed repeatedly over the thought that someone who was president of the Harvard Law Review could run for president.

The second program that stood out most strongly was WBAI's Law and Disorder which aired last Monday. C.I. has written about it here and here and Mike has written about it here. The hosts Michael Ratner, Michael Smith and Dalia Hashad used the hour to examine resistance and spoke with Iraq Veterans Against the War's Adam Kokesh, his attorney, and CO and war resister Camilo Mejia who has recently published his account in Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia.

Sgt. Kokesh, speaking of the military's attempt to punish him for taking part in street theater against the war specifically but for speaking out against the illegal war in any form, connected the dots for listeners between the attempts to silence him and the attempts to silence Liam Madden and Cloy Richards also of IVAW. Ms. Hashad rightly noted that the accounts of Sgt. Kokesh's actions in D.C. with the street theater and with the kangaroo court passing itself off as military 'justice' were rife with errors. It is equally true that when not getting it wrong, the press pretty much ignored the story. Which is how you ended up with bright, intelligent and active attorneys needing Sgt. Kokesh to explain who Cloy Richards is.

After the broadcast, Rebecca and I discussed that specifically as we tried to figure out how the three hosts could be unfamiliar with Mr. Richards or Mr. Madden? Then we remembered that Tina Richards has gotten the word out on her son and largely been shut out of independent media. Rebecca pointed out that when Liam Madden held a press conference on Thursday the coverage was non-existent so much so that C.I. ended up writing a first-hand report of the press conference in a Friday snapshot. She and I were surprised that the three hosts did not know about the cases but the more we thought about the lack of coverage of the events, as Rebecca pointed out, "It's surprising even we know about them."

[C.I. note: Ruth noted the silence in this report back in June.]

Mike has noted that Sgt. Kokeh's attorney might have been nervous during his solo interview. That may be. It's also true that C.I. has steadfastly avoided addressing that segment, a sure sign that the guest was disappointing. The attorney is in the military and possibly a civilian attorney would have been better for Sgt. Kokesh's case? Were the case not ongoing, Sgt. Kokesh is appealing, I would not mention that fact. But if an appeal is lost in a few months, I want to have at least raised the issue that a civilian attorney knowledgeable in the Supreme Court needs to be brought onto the team.

The kangaroo version revolved around what those discharged from the military and placed in the IRR, Inactive Ready Reserves or Individual Ready Reserves, are allowed to do? They are not considered part of the military and they are not considered reserves. They do not report for duty. You are not discharged from the IRR, you simply are placed in there for the duration of your contract and then out when your contract expires. Before you are placed in there, you are discharged. This appears to have led to back and forth legal dickering in court.

Credit to Elaine and C.I. for leading the way in this community repeatedly on the issue at stake here: Can the military punish anyone for taking part in street theater while wearing a generic uniform?

Sgt. Kokesh had stripped away all the decorations and insignias from the camos he wore to the protest. In 1970, the Supreme Court answered the question with their verdict in Schacht v. United States which found the military had no standing in theater productions, they had no right or say. Those who want to quickly say, "This wasn't Sunday Park in the George staged on Broadway!," no, it was not. Nor was a Broadway production the reason the Supreme Court had to weigh in. Wearing uniforms, Daniel Schacht and others re-enacted the war in Vietnam outside a military recruiting station. Schacht v. United States specifically addresses street theater and notes this political speech is protected and out of the U.S. military's dominion.

Sgt. Kokesh's attorney was not able to convey those basics clearly when speaking with the three hosts. If, with a receptive audience, he is unable to address it, I do fear how he has and will address it in court.

C.I.'s response on the court case was, "Oh, Ruth, that was weeks ago, who remembers?" In her own phone call, Elaine noted, "That's the whole hog the blame, pass on the credit mentality." Elaine stated she had completely forgotten the court case and is not surprised that others have as well.

"We were working on the feature for The Third Estate Sunday Review," Elaine explained, "and C.I. said an expletive and explained it was going weak and that it was only a shade of what the mainstream media could do. Jim asked what we needed to do differently? C.I. responded use ourselves because what we bring to whatever is what it makes it unique and then C.I. starts saying there was some court case. No one remembers, including me, and C.I., we were on conference call, calls me on my cell. C.I. pinpointed the case down to the years 1969 through 1972. So what we were doing, forever, was trying to remember the various issues we were raising awareness and money on during that time. At some point, I think I mentioned another Dan and that's when C.I. remembered the case. As soon as the title of the case was tossed out, I remembered it as well. We then discussed the case at length and were ready to take that back to the ongoing conference call, I thought, but C.I. wanted to be sure what we were saying was legally sound. I will thank Jess' mother for taking my early morning phone call and listening to the legal points and modifying them. I won't thank the attorney C.I. has on retainer because that's why he's on retainer. So then we compared notes again and brought it back to the group. We were tired and I'm not sure how that went over, the writing, but I do think that then and since we made the point much stronger than was made by Kokesh's attorney in that segment so I share your concern."

Elaine also wanted me to include one other thing, "In terms of the hosts not being familiar with the Supreme Court case, Hashad didn't live through the period so she gets a pass right there. In terms of Ratner and Smith, though I'm not an attorney, I had forgotten it. Jess' mother belongs to many of the legal organizations that the hosts belong to, did live through the time, and she will tell you she had completely forgotten the case herself. As she explained, it's not something that has come up since until now. So I don't fault Ratner or Smith for not knowing of it. I raised money on this in particular and we, C.I. and I, worked that issue on campuses repeatedly and I forgot about. The issue only came out now because we are in another prolonged, illegal war and you once again have it dragging out long enough that the public is again seeing that while the brass is gung-ho, the ones actually doing the work on the ground are both exhausted and appalled by what they are seeing."

The third segment was Camilo Mejia and, as Mike noted, he is a very soft-spoken person. Sgt. Mejia is the first combat veteran of this war to refuse to continue serving. Last Sundy, the gang noted in "Where Have All the War Resisters Gone?:" "Camilo Mejia self-checked out only after the US military ignored their own regulations (and a decision by the military) that non-US citizens could not exceed an eight-year contract, they could not be stop lost or the victims of a backdoor draft. Why did Mejia have to self-checkout and why has that detail not only not been explored but lost from the telling of his story by the media?" Sgt. Mejia stressed the fact that he was one of the many in the military's stop-loss during this interview as well as in on this week with Matthew Rothschild on Progressive Radio. It is an important point and since it has not been addressed in much of the coverage, I will note the following.

From page 189 of Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia:

Not long after listening Mirable's speech, I wrote a letter to Captain Warfel requesting to be sent hom. The letter explained in detail my legal status as a soldier in the U.S. Army without American citizenship -- that prior to our deployment I had been in the military just short of eight years, and by the army's own rules and regulations, eight years represented not only the end of my contract, but also the maximum amount of time a non-U.S. citizen could lawfully be in the armed forces. I also pointed out that my green card was about to expire.

The U.S. military ignored that. Mejia was eventually passed on to "a Captain Mohammad" with JAG. Capt. Mohammad repeatedly avoided the issue until Sgt. Mejia insisted upon asking, "What if my U.S. residency expires? Could the army still keep me then?" At which point, Capt. Mohammed had to admit that they could not. On page 194, Captain Warfel decides that a Colonel Masters in Florida can answer the question for them. While on the phone he learns of " a congressional inquiry" into Sgt. Mejia's case. From pages 196 - 197:

"Hello, sergeant, my name is Kathy Tringially; I work at the Florida National Guard headquarters," she said, without mentioning a military rank, which made me think she was a civilian. "I'm going to ask you a few questions."
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "But how do you know my first name?"
"Well, there is a congressional inquiry on you. Your mother sent a letter to Senator Bill Nelson, from Florida, and he requested an investigation of your case. Now, let me ask you, sergeant . . ."
"Yes, go ahead, sorry." I was really eager to hear what she was about to ask.
"Have you applied for citizenship?"
"No, I haven't."
And when was the end of your eight-year contract with the army?"

"It was May of this year," I said, thinking she had looked at the regulation I had mentioned in my letter to the captain.
It was the third week of September, and my contract with the military had officially ended almost four months earlier.
"Well, then you have to be discharged from the military immediately," she said.
"What about the stop loss?" I asked, referring to the military term for involuntary extension during war.
"You cannot be extended," she said, "unless you have applied for your citizenship and have a court date for becoming naturalized."
"What about the fact that there is a war?" I was both excited and in denial simultaneously.
"The regulation is very clear, sergeant. You have to be discharged from the service. Once you become a citizen, you may reenter the military, but right now you have to be discharged."
"Well, can you say that to my commander?" I asked my beloved Ms. Tringially.
"Yes, sure," she said. "Put him on the phone."
"OK, thank you." I wanted to kiss her. "She says I have to be discharged," I said to the captain, handing back the phone.

"What?" he said with a still deeper frown. "Hello, Kathy? Hello, hello. Kathy, are you there? I lost the signal," he said to me, turning the phone off with his thumb and putting it in the right pocket of his desert pants.
After speaking with Triangially without a problem the entire time, it seemed odd that he'd lost a good signal.

That does seem odd. It even seems unbelievable. More than likely, Capt. Warfel did not want to hear from his good friend "Kathy" at that point. Sgt. Mejia was serving in Iraq in the U.S. military on a contract that had expired months ago and the U.S. military knew that they could not extend, or 'stop-loss,' the contract of a non-citizen. A number of people who slam war resisters want to point to those very same contracts but never seem at all concerned when the U.S. military breaks their contract.

Back in the United States on leave, to address the custody of his young daughter, Sgt. Mejia explained to Matthew Rothschild, he finally had the time to seriously contemplate what he was witnessing and taking part in. It was at that point that he applied for CO status. Later, when he would be court-martialed, the military would attempt to pressure him into rewriting his CO application because he specifically mentions abuses, including abuses of prisoners, and the Abu Ghraib prison story was in the news. The fact that the military had refused to investigate Sgt. Mejia's charges would not look good. But that is another part of his story that falls out in most retellings.

I had intended to note the May-June issue of Extra! this report but, as Rebecca pointed out, another issue is already out. I may pick up Peter Hart's "Transmission Accomplished: Propagandizing the short-lived Iraq War 'victory'" (pages 11 - 13) from the May-June issue when I note the July-August issue.

For now, I will urge you to read a report by the fourth co-host of Law and Disorder,
Heidi Boghosian It is entitled Punishing Protest and put out by the National Lawyers Guild. It is availabe online in PDF format for free or in book form for three dollars via the National Lawyers Guild website.