Thursday, July 30, 2009

Will Pelosi Go Down In History As The Worst Speaker?

Will Pelosi Go Down In History As The Worst Speaker?

(Plus Some Serious Thoughts To Consider)

Pelosi Falls To The Back Of The Pack Of Speakers

http://www.sfexaminer.com/politics/52005447.html
July 30, 2009

In an era of symbolic breakthroughs, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is closing in on a dubious achievement — being the least effective leader of the House in the modern era.

Since the 1920s, when Speaker Nicholas Longworth rescued the position from a brief period of irrelevancy, the office of speaker has been held by political heavyweights.

The 17 speakers since Longworth have mostly maintained or enhanced the power and prestige of the post, but with a train wreck taking shape in the House, Pelosi may be remembered for diminishing the office.

And when historians inspect the record of the lady from California, they will find that hubris and empty talk sealed her fate.

In seven months, the House has taken up the largest spending package in history, new fees on carbon emissions, and the reordering of the American health care system. Any one of those would have been considered a signal accomplishment for a single legislative year.

But Pelosi embraced all three proposals from the White House. In addition to trying to manage a legislative load that would baffle the flight boss on an aircraft carrier, Pelosi pride fully picked a politically damaging fight with the CIA. Rather than concede she knew some of the rough stuff being tried on terrorists after 9/11, the speaker opened a range war with America’s spymasters.

If Sam Rayburn — the Texan who defined the position in the 20th century — had been faced with an impractical president who wanted too much too fast, Rayburn would have backed him down.

Rayburn was tight-lipped in public and careful never to make promises he couldn’t keep. When Rayburn was finishing the work of the New Deal for Franklin Roosevelt, few beyond the Red River Valley knew his name. He was wise enough to know that worked to his advantage.

But Pelosi, who learned her craft in the minority, believes that she is some sort of super spokesperson for the Democratic Party. When she could simply disparage George W. Bush and then hold another fundraiser, talk was enough.

But now President Barack Obama is doing enough talking for everybody, and Pelosi is still confusing status with power. She is constantly in the spotlight, snarling at her foes one day and backing down the next.

On Sunday, Pelosi made a pledge to pass health care legislation before the August recess that begins this week. On Monday she changed that deadline to “whenever.”

When told by Politico that she had sunk to a 25 percent approval rating, Pelosi said, “I don’t care.” But that seems rather unlikely for a person who seeks so much attention. Plus, she knows her unpopularity in the districts of moderate Democrats reduces her power as speaker.

A Blue Dog Democrat recruited to run in a deep-red district gets points for shunning Pelosi, not being browbeaten by her. So her unpopularity has compounded the problems caused by her indecision.

Minority Leader John Boehner likens serving in the Pelosi-led House to standing in front of a machine gun: There is always something coming at you and there’s no time to think.

But the casualties will likely be Pelosi’s fellow Democrats.

Having been arm-twisted into massive fees on greenhouse gasses, centrists balked at voting for a budget-shattering health plan. They saw that the Senate had cast aside their cap-and-trade bill, leaving their “yea” votes to molder until they reappear in a 2010 campaign commercial.

Pelosi said she would make her members walk the plank again on health care, but they refused. Unless the Senate passes a bill first, don’t expect any bold strokes from the House.

Had Pelosi told Obama that he could have health care but not global warming fees, she would have faced only one contentious vote, and would have done it on an issue with broader Democratic appeal than the new religion of global warmism.

Joining Pelosi in the bottom tier of speakers are Jim Wright, the Texas Democrat whose ethical lapses helped pave the way for the Republican takeover of 1994, and the passive Bostonian John William McCormack, who couldn’t respond to the changing political composition of the Democratic Party in the 1960s.

The months to come will decide if she remains in their company or takes sole position of the title of worst speaker.

LETTER: The C.I.A. And Congress - Published: July 29, 2009

To the Editor:

House Looks Into Secrets Withheld From Congress” (news article, July 18) tries to draw false parallels between statements I have made about the Central Intelligence Agency briefings to Congress and recent statements by Congressional Democrats, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has claimed the C.I.A. lies to Congress all the time.

While the article’s statement that I have “often complained about the C.I.A.’s failure to inform Congress of its activities” is correct, many such claims have been made by Congress about every government bureaucracy.

My position differs from my Democratic colleagues in that I believe that the C.I.A. strives to honor its obligation to keep Congress informed of its activities and is not in the business of regularly and systematically lying to Congress.

I also take issue with the article’s characterization of my views on the 2001 downing of a civilian plane over Peru; it claims that I accused the C.I.A. of a cover-up. The C.I.A. inspector general, in a summer 2008 report, concluded that in this case there had been a cover-up by C.I.A. officers and that Congress had been misled.

I responded to the inspector general’s report by demanding that the House Intelligence Committee start an investigation of this matter. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership of the committee has refused to do so.

Peter Hoekstra
Holland, Mich., July 21, 2009

The writer, from Michigan, is the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Some Dems Feel Betrayed by Health Deal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent half of Wednesday finalizing a deal with the Blue Dogs - and the other half quelling a brewing rebellion among progressives who think conservatives have hijacked health care reform.

Liberals, Hispanics and African-American members - Pelosi's most loyal base of support - are feeling betrayed after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) reached an agreement with four of seven Blue Dogs on his committee who had been bottling up the bill over concerns about cost.

The compromise, which still must be reconciled with competing House and Senate versions, would significantly weaken the public option favored by liberals by delinking reimbursement rates to Medicare.

"Waxman made a deal that is unacceptable," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of about 10 progressives who met repeatedly with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday.

"We signed a pledge to reject any plan that doesn't include a robust public option, and this plan doesn't have a robust public option," he added.

By sundown Wednesday, the outcry from the left had become so loud that Waxman was forced to scrap a scheduled markup of the compromise measure. He rescheduled the meeting for Thursday morning and convened a mass question-and-answer session for a deeply divided Democratic Caucus - a meeting that is expected to be extremely contentious.

Two months ago, most of the 80-plus members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus signed a pledge that they would oppose any health care bill that didn't contain a bona fide public option that would compete with private insurers.

On Wednesday, they seemed willing to stick to their promise.

CPC Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) emerged from her meeting with Pelosi to tell reporters that the Blue Dog deal needed to be "much stronger to get our support."

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) predicted that House liberals, who believe they have compromised away several core issues to further President Barack Obama's agenda, might finally buck leadership if they are force-fed a weakened public option.

"I don't think it would pass the House - I wouldn't vote for it," Frank, a CPC member, told POLITICO.

He answered "yes" emphatically when asked if progressives were willing to delay the entire process as the Blue Dogs have done.

Frank said liberals are becoming increasingly leery of the clout wielded by Blue Dogs and are learning from the success they have had in leveraging their numbers - a fraction of the liberals' - into real power.

"If you allow one wing of the House to exercise all this influence, you have to do something or you lose all of your influence," he said.

Pelosi, recognizing the threat, huddled with 10 liberal members an hour after the Blue Dog deal was announced. The meeting, which included Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) - her emissary to progressives - became heated at times, according to an individual who was present.

At one point, Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), a former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, expressed outrage that conservatives would insist on significant cuts and a weakening of the public option, arguing that many of the Blue Dogs were letting down their black constituents, who make up 25 percent to 40 percent of their voters, in some instances.

The group was scheduled to meet with the speaker again Thursday afternoon, followed by members-only meetings of the CPC, the CBC and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The CPC has been circulating a strongly worded protest letter for members' signatures, similar to one sent to Pelosi by the Black Caucus last week, according to Democratic aides.

"In recent days, some within the Democratic Caucus have raised spurious claims that te cost of reforming health care in America is something our nation cannot afford," CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee wrote in her letter to Pelosi and Obama - a swipe that sources said was directed at the Blue Dogs.

"I think there's a lot of resentment at the role [Blue Dogs] have played - that's where a lot of this anger is coming from," one CBC member said on condition of anonymity.

During her afternoon meeting with the liberals, Pelosi and her team downplayed the importance of the Blue Dog deal, a sharp contrast to how Democratic leaders were playing it in the media - as "a big breakthrough," according to Pelosi lieutenant Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

"Miller told them that the Energy and Commerce bill was only one of three health care bills passed by the House - and that it was the only one that has a public option plan we don't like," said a person who was at the meeting.

"He said they would have plenty of opportunities to change it back," said the source, who added that members left the meeting still agitated but "somewhat reassured."

CPC member Sam Farr (D-Calif.) emerged from the meeting a little confused and a tad annoyed but believing that his fellow liberals were not yet in open revolt.

"The progressives are in the room now," he said. "I think that's important."

Congressional Favorability Ratings: Most Voters Still Don’t Like Pelosi

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/congressional_favorability_ratings

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains America’s best-known – and least-liked - congressional leader, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters have an unfavorable view of the Democratic congresswoman from San Francisco, and 35% view her favorably. But those who have a very unfavorable opinion of Pelosi overwhelm those who regard her very favorably - by a five-to-one margin - 45% to nine percent (9%).

These numbers are little changed from last month and have been roughly the same since the new session of Congress began earlier this year.

Democrats naturally like Pelosi more than Republicans and voters not affiliated with either party. But there's an intensity factor here, too. While 17% of Democrats have a very favorable opinion of the speaker, that compares with 80% of Republicans and 45% of unaffiliateds who have a very unfavorable view of her.

Not that Pelosi seems to mind. She told the Washington newspaper The Poltico last week in response to similar poll findings, “I certainly want to be trusted. I’m not particularly concerned if I’m liked.”

But say this for the speaker, she is well-known to voters nationwide. Just eight percent (8%) don’t know enough about her to voice an opinion.

(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Twitter.

Twenty-six percent (26%) still are not sure what they think of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Nevada senator is viewed favorably by 26%, including just three percent (3%) with a very favorable opinion. Forty-eight percent (48%) have an unfavorable regard for Reid, with 30% very unfavorable. His numbers, too, have been largely the same for months.

Voters for months have been questioning Democratic congressional initiatives from the economic stimulus plan to the still-being-negotiated health care reform proposal.

For the last four weeks, Republicans have been out front in the Generic Congressional ballot, meaning voters in a district prefer the GOP candidate over his Democratic opponent. Last week also marked the highest level of support for Republicans in over two years.

However, voters are even less familiar with Republican congressional leaders. Forty-two percent (42%) do not have an opinion of either Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky or Ohio Congressman John Boehner, the House minority leader.

McConnell is seen favorably by 28%, including eight percent (8%) who are very favorable toward him, and unfavorably by 30%. Ten percent (10%) have a very unfavorable view of the GOP senator.

The story is virtually the same for Boehner: 27% favorables, with eight percent (8%) very favorable, and 31% unfavorables, including 12% very unfavorable.

Numbers for both men similarly have been hovering at these levels for months.

Forty-six percent (46%) of voters have a favorable opinion of Vice President Joe Biden, and 49% see him unfavorably. Voters who feel very unfavorably toward the former Delaware senator outnumber those who view him very favorably by more than two to one – 30% to 12%. This marks a modest shift toward a more negative opinion of Biden for the first time since he took office in January.

His months as vice president have been marked by a series of gaffes, and now just 31% believe Biden will be on the Democratic national ticket in the next presidential election. But the identical number (31%) say he will not be Obama’s running mate. A sizable number (38%) are not sure.


BILL BLUM: SPEECH AT “BUILDING A NEW WORLD” CONFERENCE

My assignment here today, as I understand it, is to enlighten you all on how to quickly end the war in Iraq. And how to prevent the United States from attacking Iran. Or Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia. In short, how to put an end to the American empire.

[READ FULL ARTICLE]

Also, how to impeach Bush and Cheney.

And, while I’m at it, maybe, how to end poverty once and for all, how to save the environment, and how to legalize marijuana.

Well, good luck to us all.

Actually, as fanciful as all that sounds, I think that if the radical left had abundant access to the mass media, for a year or so, we could do it. It wouldn’t even have to be sole access, just as much time on radio and TV networks as the conservatives and NPR-type centrists and liberals have.

As some of you may recall, two years ago Osama bin Laden, in one of his audio messages, recommended that Americans should read my book Rogue State. Within hours I was swamped by the media and soon appeared on many of the leading TV news shows, dozens of radio programs, and a long profile in the Washington Post. In the previous 10 years I had sent in dozens of letters to the Post mainly commenting on their less-than-ideal coverage of US foreign policy. Not one was printed. Now my photo was on page one.

A few people who called into the TV and radio programs I was on attacked me as if I and bin Laden were friends and I had asked him for the endorsement. I had to point out that he and I were not really friends; in fact, I hadn’t spoken to him in months.

Some of the media hosts wanted me to say that I was repulsed by bin Laden’s “endorsement”. But I did not say I was repulsed, because I wasn’t. What I said was: “There are two elements, involved here: On the one hand, I totally despise any kind of religious fundamentalism and the societies spawned by such, like the Taliban in Afghanistan. On the other hand, I’m a member of a movement which has the very ambitious goal of slowing down, if not stopping, the American Empire, to keep it from continuing to go round the world doing things like bombings, invasions, overthrowing governments, and torture. To have any success, we need to reach the American people with our message. And to reach the American people we need to have access to the mass media. What has just happened has given me the opportunity to reach millions of people I would otherwise never reach. Why should I not be glad about that? How could I let such an opportunity go to waste?”

But many, perhaps most, of those who called in were not hostile. During a 45-minute interview on C-Span and on some radio programs, several people called in to say how delighted they were to hear views expressed that they had never heard before on that station, or had never heard anywhere. I received more than 1000 emails from people I had never been in contact with before, most of which were supportive. I estimate that I sold about 20,000 copies of my book because of my increased exposure.

In summary, I think that there’s a very large audience of Americans out there just waiting for us to reach them. Many of them very much suspect that there are things seriously wrong with what the media, the White House, and the Pentagon tell them, but they don’t know enough to really be sure or to try to influence others. And they’re weighed down by the myths, the myths surrounding US foreign policy. I’ve gotten quite a few emails from people who tell me about friends and family who simply refuse to be swayed by the facts in my books or other sources. No matter how much these people are shown that what they believe is fallacious, they still refuse to reconsider their views. They say that the author must be quoting out of context or they simply don’t care what the argument is.

Now why is that? Are these people just stupid? I think a better answer is that they have certain preconceptions; consciously or unconsciously, they have certain basic beliefs about US foreign policy, and if you don’t deal with those basic beliefs you’ll be talking to a stone wall. Here are what I think are eight of those basic beliefs, or they can as well be called “myths”:

(1) US foreign policy “means well”. American leaders may make mistakes, they may blunder, they may lie, they may even on the odd occasion cause more harm than good, but they do mean well. Their intentions are honorable, if not divinely inspired. Of that most Americans are certain. They genuinely wonder why the rest of the world can’t see how benevolent and self-sacrificing America has been. The idea that the United States is seeking to dominate the world, and exploit it economically, and is prepared to use any means necessary, is not something that’s easy for most Americans to swallow. They see our leaders on TV and their photos in the press, they see them smiling or laughing, telling jokes; see them with their families, hear them speak of God and love, of peace and law, of democracy and freedom, of human rights and justice and even baseball … How can such people be called immoral or war criminals?

They have names like George and Dick and Donald, not a single Mohammed or Abdullah in the bunch. And they speak English. Well, George almost does. People named Mohammed or Abdullah cut off an arm or a leg as punishment for theft. We know that that’s horrible. We’re too civilized for that. But we don’t consider that people named George and Dick and Donald drop millions of cluster bombs on cities and villages, and the many unexploded ones become land mines, and before very long a child picks one up or steps on one of them and loses an arm or leg, sometimes worse.

I like to ask the question: What does US foreign policy have in common with Mae West, the Hollywood sexpot of the 1940s? The story is told of a visitor to her mansion, who looked around and said: “My goodness, what a beautiful home you have.” And Mae West replied: “Goodness has nothing to do with it.”

That’s one of the important points you have to make about US foreign policy — goodness has nothing to do with it.

If I were to write a book called The American Empire for Dummies, page one would say: Don’t ever look for the moral factor. US foreign policy has no moral factor built into its DNA. Clear your mind of that baggage which only gets in the way of seeing beyond the clichés and the platitudes they feed us all.

So when American officials state or imply benevolent motivations behind their foreign policy, we should not let them get away with claiming such intentions. Supporters of US policies have that rationale profoundly embedded in their thinking, and I find it very useful in discussions with such people to raise moral questions about the government’s motivations. These people are not used to hearing such an argument. The media almost never mentions it. It’s almost disorienting for Americans. Or I sometimes ask them what the United States would have to do abroad to lose their support? What for them would be too much? Try that.

(2) The United States is really concerned with this thing called “democracy”. Even though in the past 60 years, the US has attempted to overthrow literally dozens of democratically-elected governments, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, and grossly interfered in as many democratic elections in every corner of the world. Moreover, it would be difficult to name a brutal dictatorship of the second half of the 20th century that was not supported by the United States. Not just supported, but put into power, and kept in power, against the wishes of the population.

The question is: What do the Busheviks mean by “democracy”?

Well, the first thing they have in mind is making sure the country in question is hospitable to corporate globalization and American military bases; and if this means forcing a regime change, so be it. The last thing they have in mind is any kind of economic democracy, the closing of the gap between the desperate poor and those for whom too much is not enough.

(3) Anti-American sentiment in the Middle East comes from hatred of our alleged freedom and democracy, or our wealth, or our secular government, or our culture. George W. has declared this many times. But polls taken in many Middle East countries in recent years, by respected international polling organizations, show again and again that the great majority of those people really admire American society. There’s no clash of civilizations. It’s much simpler. What bothers them about the United States are the decades of appalling things done to their homelands by US foreign policy. That’s what motivates anti-American terrorists. It’s not the sex in American films and TV; it’s the American bombs dropping on their homes and schools. It’s not the alcohol and the miniskirts. It’s the American invasions and occupations; American torture; support of Middle East dictators; unmitigated support of Israel.

It works the same all over the world. In the period of the 1950s to the 1980s in Latin America, in response to a long succession of Washington’s awful policies, there were countless acts of terrorism against US diplomatic and military targets as well as the offices of US corporations. No one likes being invaded or bombed or tortured or having their government overthrown by a foreign power. Why should there be any doubt about this? But Americans have to be reminded of it.

I don’t think, by the way, that poverty plays much of a role in creating terrorists. The 9-11 hijackers, or alleged hijackers, were not a bunch of poor peasants; they were largely middle and upper class, and educated. Bin Laden himself is, or was, a millionaire. So we shouldn’t confuse terrorism with revolution.

(4) The United States has been pursuing a War on Terror. But the fact is the US is not actually against terrorism per se, they’re against only those terrorists who are not allies of the American empire. For example, there is a lengthy and infamous history of Washington’s support for numerous anti-Castro terrorists, even when their terrorist acts were committed in the United States. At this moment, Luis Posada Carriles remains protected by the US government in Florida, though he masterminded the blowing up of a Cuban airplane that killed 73 people. Venezuela, a key location in this murder plot, has asked Washington to return Posada to Caracas. But the US has refused. He’s but one of hundreds of anti-Castro terrorists who’ve been given haven in the United States over the years along with many other terrorists from Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other countries.

The United States has also provided support of terrorists in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran, Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, including those with known connections to al Qaeda. All to further foreign policy goals more important than fighting terrorism. What’s happened is that the War on Terror has served as a cover for the expansion of the empire.

Supporters of the War on Terror tell us that it’s been a success because there hasn’t been a terrorist attack in the US in the six -plus years since 9-11. Well, there wasn’t a terrorist attack in the US in the six-plus years before 9-11 either. So what does that prove? More importantly, since the first American bombs fell on Afghanistan in October 2001 there have been scores of terrorist attacks against American institutions in the Middle East, South Asia and the Pacific — military, civilian, Christian, and other targets associated with the United States, including two very major attacks in Indonesia with large loss of life.

But the worst failure of the War on Terror is that American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, including all the torture, have probably created thousands of new anti-American terrorists. We’ll be hearing from them for a terribly long time.

(5) If Saddam Hussein had in fact possessed all the terrible weapons the US claimed he had, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would then have been justified. Of the numerous lies we’ve been told about the war in Iraq, this is the biggest one, this is the most insidious, the necessary foundation for all the other lies. Think about it — What possible reason could Saddam Hussein have had for attacking the United States or Israel other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide? Because that’s what would have followed an Iraqi attack on the US or Israel — if not a nuclear devastation of Iraq, then a non-nuclear devastation of Iraq. But if in fact Iraq was not a threat to attack the US or Israel, then all we’ve been told about the war, before it began, and afterwards, is totally meaningless; all the accusations and discussions about whether the intelligence was right or wrong about this or that, or whether the Democrats also believed the lies, all meaningless.

And keep in mind, the same question applies to Iran: What possible reason could Iran have for attacking the United States or Israel other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide? Of course, what worries Tel Aviv and Washington is not so much the danger of such an attack, but the fact that some day Israel might not be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, a serious loss of their ability to dominate.

Sometimes, when I have a discussion with a person who supports the war in Iraq, and the person has no other argument left to defend US policy there he may say something like: “Well, just tell me one thing, are you glad that Saddam Hussein was overthrown?”

And I say “No”.

And he says “No?”

And I say: Tell me, if you went into surgery to correct a knee problem and the surgeon mistakenly amputated your entire leg, what would you think if someone asked you afterward: Well, aren’t you glad that you no longer have a knee problem? It’s the same with the Iraqi people. They no longer have a Saddam Hussein problem. In general, the great majority of Iraqis had a much better life under Saddam Hussein than they’ve had under US occupation. That’s been confirmed again and again.

(6) There are many who believe that invading and occupying Iraq has been a horrible mistake, but that doing the same in Afghanistan has been justified. Afghanistan has become “the good war”. It was to revenge the deaths of September 11, 2001, was it not? Of course — in a rational world — revenge should be taken against those responsible for what happened on that infamous date. But of the tens of thousands of people killed by the US and its allies in Afghanistan the past six-plus years, how many, can it be said, had anything to do with the events of September 11? My rough estimate is … none. So what kind of revenge is that?

Yes, Osama bin Laden had been living in Afghanistan and that’s where the attack had been partially planned. But consider … If Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the terrible bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, had not been quickly caught, would the government have bombed the state of Michigan or any of the other places McVeigh had called home and where he had planned his attack?

Whatever one thinks of the appalling society the Taliban created, they had not really been associated with terrorist acts, and the masses of Taliban supporters shouldn’t have been held responsible if their leader, Mohammed Omar, one person, allowed foreign terrorists into the country, any more than I would want to be held responsible for all the Cuban terrorists in Miami. And most of the foreigners had probably come to Afghanistan in the 1990s to help the Taliban in their civil war — a religious mission for them — nothing the US government should have been concerned about. And remember, Mohammed Omar offered to turn bin Laden over to the United States if Washington presented proof of bin Laden’s involvement in 9-11. The United States did not accept the offer.

(7) In the Cold War, the United States defeated what was known as the International Communist Conspiracy. The legacy of the Cold War is still with us; it keeps coming up, often used by conservatives in one way or another as an argument in support of the War on Terror.

Let me take you back a bit now. If you think what you have now is government lying and deceit, let me tell you that in my day, during the cold war, the big lie, the big huge lie they pounded into our heads from childhood on was that there was something out there called The International Communist Conspiracy, headquarters in Moscow, and active in every country of the world, looking to subvert everything that was decent and holy, looking to enslave us all. That’s what they taught us, in our schools, our churches, on radio, TV, newspapers, in our comic books — The Communist Menace, the red menace, more dangerous than al Qaeda is presented to us today.

The Communist Menace was international, you couldn’t escape it. And almost every American believed this message unquestioningly. I was a good, loyal anti-communist until I was past the age of 30. In fact, in the 1960s I was working at the State Department planning on becoming a foreign service officer so I could join the battle against communism, until a thing called Vietnam came along and changed my mind, and my life.

It was all a con game. There was never any such animal as The International Communist Conspiracy. What there was, was people all over the Third World fighting for economic and political changes which didn’t coincide with the needs of the American power elite, and so the US moved to crush those governments and those movements, even though the Soviet Union was playing hardly any role at all in those scenarios.

Washington officials of course couldn’t say that they were intervening somewhere to block social change, so they called it fighting communism, fighting a communist conspiracy, and of course fighting for freedom and democracy. Just like now the White House can’t say that it invaded Iraq to expand the empire, or for the oil, or for the corporations, or for Israel, so it says it’s fighting terrorism.

Remember: The cold war ended in 1991 … the International Communist Conspiracy was no more … no more red threat … and nothing changed in American foreign policy. Since that time the US has been intervening, bombing, and overthrowing governments just as often as during the cold war. What does that tell you? It tells me that the so-called “communist threat” was just a ploy, an excuse for American imperialism.

Keep this in mind:
Following its bombing of Iraq in 1991 — after the cold war was ended — the United States wound up with military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Following its bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the United States wound up with military bases in Kosovo, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Bosnia and Croatia.

Following its bombing of Afghanistan in 2001-2, the United States wound up with military bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Yemen and Djibouti.

Following its bombing and invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States wound up with Iraq.

This is not very subtle foreign policy. It’s certainly not covert. The men who run the American Empire are not easily embarrassed.

And that’s the way the empire grows — a base in every region, ready to be mobilized to put down any threat to imperial rule, real or imagined. 63 years after World War II ended, the United States still has major bases in Germany and Japan; 55 years after the end of the Korean War, tens of thousands of American armed forces continue to be stationed in South Korea.

(8) The last myth I’d like to mention has to do with the media, and it affects the political views of Americans as much as any of the previously mentioned myths. It’s the idea that conservatives and liberals are ideological polar opposites. In actuality, conservatives, especially of the neo- kind, are far to the right on the political spectrum, while liberals are ever so slightly to the left of center. Yet, we are led to believe that a radio or TV talk show on foreign policy with a conservative and a liberal is offering a “balanced” point of view. But a more appropriate balance to a neo-conservative would be a left-wing radical or progressive. American liberals are typically closer to conservatives on foreign policy than they are to these groups on the left, and the educational value of such supposedly balanced media can be more harmful than beneficial as far as seeing through the empire’s actions and motives. The listener thinks he’s getting more or less a full range of opinion on the topic and doesn’t realize that there’s a whole world outside the narrow box he’s being placed in.

The fundamental political difference between liberalism and Marxism is that liberalism sees a problem — such as America’s role as the world’s bully — simply as bad policy, while the Marxist sees it as something that flows out logically from US economic and military interests.

When a liberal sees a beggar, he says the system isn’t working. When a Marxist sees a beggar, he says the system is working.

Ideology is a very important concept and I think that most people are rather confused by it, which is due in no small measure to the fact that the media are confused by it, or they at least pretend to be confused. The official ideology of the American media is that they don’t have any ideology.

So all this I hope is ammunition you can use in trying to win over new recruits for the cause. And don’t be shy about raising such points even when “preaching to the choir” or “preaching to the converted”. That’s what speakers and writers are often scoffed at for doing — saying the same old thing to the same old people, just spinning their wheels. That’s what some would say I’m doing at this very moment. You are part of the choir, are you not?

But long experience as speaker, writer and activist in the area of foreign policy tells me it just ain’t so. From the questions and comments I often get from my audiences, in person and via email, and from other people’s audiences as well, I can plainly see that there are numerous significant information gaps and misconceptions in the choir’s thinking, often leaving them unable to see through the newest government lie or propaganda scheme. They’re unknowing or forgetful of what happened in the past that illuminates the present. Or they may know the facts but are unable to apply them at the appropriate moment. Or they’re vulnerable to being confused by the next person who comes along with a specious argument that opposes what they currently believe, or think they believe. In short, the choir needs to be frequently reminded and enlightened.

So that’s your assignment. Go out there and educate, and agitate, and subvert. There’s no magical tactic, only persistence. As the Quakers are fond of saying: If not now, when? If not here, where? If not you, who?

I thank you very much.

Bill Blum is the author of Rogue State, one of the best eye-opening compendiums on US foreign policy. No sanctimonious self-congratulatory myth remains standing after sitting with this book for a few hours. Bill’s personal site is at http://killinghope.org/

Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling The Empire

The Obama administration's plan to end production of the F-22 Raptor has received plenty of press coverage, but the Pentagon budget itself, even though it's again on the rise, hardly rates a bit of notice. In fact, amid the plethora of issues large and small -- from health care reform to Gates-gate, from energy policy to the culpability of Michael Jackson's doctor -- that make up the American debate in the media, in Washington, and possibly even in the country, what Chalmers Johnson has called "our empire of bases" goes essentially unmentioned. Not that we don't build them profligately. At one point, we had 106 of them -- mega to micro -- in Iraq alone; right now, we have at least 50 forward operating bases and command outposts in Afghanistan to go with a few giant bases (and the Pentagon is evidently now considering the possibility of creating a single, privatized, mercenary force to defend them, according to theWashington Post).

This is all staggering expensive. In an era when the need for funds at home is self-evident, on purely practical grounds -- and there are obviously others -- the maintenance of our global imperial stance, not to speak of the wars, conflicts, and dangers that go with it, should be at the forefront of national discussion. Instead, it has largely been left to oppositional websites to keep this crucial issue alive.

Our military empire, and the vast national security state and bureaucracy that go with it, have been perhaps the central focus of TomDispatch since it launched in late 2002. This site has concentrated on our military bases, the Pentagon's blue-sky thinking about future weaponry, air war as the American way of war, the defense budget, and the out-of-control nature of the Pentagon, among many other related issues. Nick Turse, associate editor at this site and an expert on the Pentagon, has even put its properties on "the auction block."

Since Chalmers Johnson first wrote of that empire of bases at this site back in 2004, no one has more cogently analyzed the dangers of militarism, military Keynesianism, and a Pentagon budgetspun out of control. His trilogy of books on the subject, Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis are already classics, and assumedly on the shelves of all TomDispatch readers.

Today, he turns to the issue which should be, but isn't, central to our moment: dismantling the empire. Think of this as the American health care reform program that no one is discussing.Tom

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire

And Ten Steps to Take to Do So
By Chalmers Johnson

However ambitious President Barack Obama's domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there -- 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony -- that is, control or dominance -- over as many nations on the planet as possible.

We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past -- including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)

Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.

1. We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism

Shortly after his election as president, Barack Obama, in a speech announcing several members of his new cabinet, stated as fact that "[w]e have to maintain the strongest military on the planet." A few weeks later, on March 12, 2009, in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington DC, the president againinsisted, "Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world." And in a commencement address to the cadets of the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22nd, Obama stressed that "[w]e will maintain America's military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen."

What he failed to note is that the United States no longer has the capability to remain a global hegemon, and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster.

According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism. The University of Chicago's Robert Pape, author of the important study Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), typically writes:

"America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today's world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony."

There is something absurd, even Kafkaesque, about our military empire. Jay Barr, a bankruptcy attorney, makes this point using an insightful analogy:

"Whether liquidating or reorganizing, a debtor who desires bankruptcy protection must provide a list of expenses, which, if considered reasonable, are offset against income to show that only limited funds are available to repay the bankrupted creditors. Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them… He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases."

In other words, the United States is not seriously contemplating its own bankruptcy. It is instead ignoring the meaning of its precipitate economic decline and flirting with insolvency.

Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books, 2008), calculates that we could clear $2.6 billion if we would sell our base assets at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and earn another $2.2 billion if we did the same with Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. These are only two of our over 800 overblown military enclaves.

Our unwillingness to retrench, no less liquidate, represents a striking historical failure of the imagination. In his first official visit to China since becoming Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner assured an audience of students at Beijing University, "Chinese assets [invested in the United States] are very safe." According to press reports, the students responded with loud laughter. Well they might.

In May 2009, the Office of Management and Budget predicted that in 2010 the United States will be burdened with a budget deficit of at least $1.75 trillion. This includes neither a projected $640 billion budget for the Pentagon, nor the costs of waging two remarkably expensive wars. The sum is so immense that it will take several generations for American citizens to repay the costs of George W. Bush's imperial adventures -- if they ever can or will. It represents about 13% of our current gross domestic product (that is, the value of everything we produce). It is worth noting that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the Euro Zone is a deficit no greater than 3% of GDP.

Thus far, President Obama has announced measly cuts of only $8.8 billion in wasteful and worthless weapons spending, including his cancellation of the F-22 fighter aircraft. The actual Pentagon budget for next year will, in fact, be larger, not smaller, than the bloated final budget of the Bush era. Far bolder cuts in our military expenditures will obviously be required in the very near future if we intend to maintain any semblance of fiscal integrity.

2. We Are Going to Lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us

One of our major strategic blunders in Afghanistan was not to have recognized that both Great Britain and the Soviet Union attempted to pacify Afghanistan using the same military methods as ours and failed disastrously. We seem to have learned nothing from Afghanistan's modern history -- to the extent that we even know what it is. Between 1849 and 1947, Britain sent almost annual expeditions against the Pashtun tribes and sub-tribes living in what was then called the North-West Frontier Territories -- the area along either side of the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Durand Line. This frontier was created in 1893 by Britain's foreign secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand.

Neither Britain nor Pakistan has ever managed to establish effective control over the area. As the eminent historian Louis Dupree put it in his book Afghanistan(Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 425): "Pashtun tribes, almost genetically expert at guerrilla warfare after resisting centuries of all comers and fighting among themselves when no comers were available, plagued attempts to extend the Pax Britannica into their mountain homeland." An estimated 41 million Pashtuns live in an undemarcated area along the Durand Line and profess no loyalties to the central governments of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The region known today as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is administered directly by Islamabad, which -- just as British imperial officials did -- has divided the territory into seven agencies, each with its own "political agent" who wields much the same powers as his colonial-era predecessor. Then as now, the part of FATA known as Waziristan and the home of Pashtun tribesmen offered the fiercest resistance.

According to Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, experienced Afghan hands and coauthors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story (City Lights, 2009, p. 317):

"If Washington's bureaucrats don't remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world's sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States."

In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated: "We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers" (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.

The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of "collateral damage," or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.

When in May 2009, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed as the commander in Afghanistan, he ordered new limits on air attacks, including those carried out by the CIA, except when needed to protect allied troops. Unfortunately, as if to illustrate the incompetence of our chain of command, only two days after this order, on June 23, 2009, the United States carried out a drone attack against a funeral procession that killed at least 80 people, the single deadliest U.S. attack on Pakistani soil so far. There was virtually no reporting of these developments by the mainstream American press or on the network television news. (At the time, the media were almost totally preoccupied by the sexual adventures of the governor of South Carolina and the death of pop star Michael Jackson.)

Our military operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been plagued by inadequate and inaccurate intelligence about both countries, ideological preconceptions about which parties we should support and which ones we should oppose, and myopic understandings of what we could possibly hope to achieve. Fitzgerald and Gould, for example, charge that, contrary to our own intelligence service's focus on Afghanistan, "Pakistan has always been the problem." They add:

"Pakistan's army and its Inter-Services Intelligence branch... from 1973 on, has played the key role in funding and directing first themujahideen [anti-Soviet fighters during the 1980s]… and then the Taliban. It is Pakistan's army that controls its nuclear weapons, constrains the development of democratic institutions, trains Taliban fighters in suicide attacks and orders them to fight American and NATO soldiers protecting the Afghan government." (p. 322-324)

The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm are staffed, in part, by devout Muslims who fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan to meet the needs of their own agenda, though not necessarily to advance an Islamic jihad. Their purposes have always included: keeping Afghanistan free of Russian or Indian influence, providing a training and recruiting ground for mujahideen guerrillas to be used in places like Kashmir (fought over by both Pakistan and India), containing Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan (and so keeping it out of Pakistan), and extorting huge amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf emirates, and the United States to pay and train "freedom fighters" throughout the Islamic world. Pakistan's consistent policy has been to support the clandestine policies of the Inter-Services Intelligence and thwart the influence of its major enemy and competitor, India.

Colonel Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army (retired), an adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, summarizes our hopeless project in South Asia this way: "Nothing we do will compel 125 million Muslims in Pakistan to make common cause with a United States in league with the two states that are unambiguously anti-Muslim: Israel and India."

Obama's mid-2009 "surge" of troops into southern Afghanistan and particularly into Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, is fast becoming darkly reminiscent of General William Westmoreland's continuous requests in Vietnam for more troops and his promises that if we would ratchet up the violence just a little more and tolerate a few more casualties, we would certainly break the will of the Vietnamese insurgents. This was a total misreading of the nature of the conflict in Vietnam, just as it is in Afghanistan today.

Twenty years after the forces of the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, the last Russian general to command them, Gen. Boris Gromov, issuedhis own prediction: Disaster, he insisted, will come to the thousands of new forces Obama is sending there, just as it did to the Soviet Union's, which lost some 15,000 soldiers in its own Afghan war. We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives, and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.

3. We Need to End the Secret Shame of Our Empire of Bases

In March, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert noted, "Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing." He continued:

"New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults -- 2,923 -- and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan [over the past year]. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them."

The problem is exacerbated by having our troops garrisoned in overseas bases located cheek-by-jowl next to civilian populations and often preying on them like foreign conquerors. For example, sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been out of control in Okinawa, Japan's poorest prefecture, ever since it was permanently occupied by our soldiers, Marines, and airmen some 64 years ago.

That island was the scene of the largest anti-American demonstrations since the end of World War II after the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor. The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.

The military itself has done next to nothing to protect its own female soldiers or to defend the rights of innocent bystanders forced to live next to our often racially biased and predatory troops. "The military's record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it's atrocious," writes Herbert. In territories occupied by American military forces, the high command and the State Department make strenuous efforts to enact so-called "Status of Forces Agreements" (SOFAs) that will prevent host governments from gaining jurisdiction over our troops who commit crimes overseas. The SOFAs also make it easier for our military to spirit culprits out of a country before they can be apprehended by local authorities.

This issue was well illustrated by the case of an Australian teacher, a long-time resident of Japan, who in April 2002 was raped by a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, then based at the big naval base at Yokosuka. She identified her assailant and reported him to both Japanese and U.S. authorities. Instead of his being arrested and effectively prosecuted, the victim herself was harassed and humiliated by the local Japanese police. Meanwhile, the U.S. discharged the suspect from the Navy but allowed him to escape Japanese law by returning him to the U.S., where he lives today.

In the course of trying to obtain justice, the Australian teacher discovered that almost fifty years earlier, in October 1953, the Japanese and American governments signed a secret "understanding" as part of their SOFA in which Japan agreed to waive its jurisdiction if the crime was not of "national importance to Japan." The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.

Since that time the U.S. has negotiated similar wording in SOFAs with Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark. According to the Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces (2001), the Japanese practice has become the norm for SOFAs throughout the world, with predictable results. In Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. In Iraq, we have just signed a SOFA that bears a strong resemblance to the first postwar one we had with Japan: namely, military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes will remain in U.S. custody while Iraqis investigate. This is, of course, a perfect opportunity to spirit the culprits out of the country before they can be charged.

Within the military itself, the journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007), speaks of the "culture of unpunished sexual assaults" and the "shockingly low numbers of courts martial" for rapes and other forms of sexual attacks. Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009), quotes this figure in a 2009 Pentagon report on military sexual assaults: 90% of the rapes in the military are never reported at all and, when they are, the consequences for the perpetrator are negligible.

It is fair to say that the U.S. military has created a worldwide sexual playground for its personnel and protected them to a large extent from the consequences of their behavior. As a result a group of female veterans in 2006 created the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN). Its agenda is to spread the word that "no woman should join the military."

I believe a better solution would be to radically reduce the size of our standing army, and bring the troops home from countries where they do not understand their environments and have been taught to think of the inhabitants as inferior to themselves.

10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire

Dismantling the American empire would, of course, involve many steps. Here are ten key places to begin:

1. We need to put a halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.

2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the "opportunity costs" that go with them -- the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can't or won't.

3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.

4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters -- along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth -- that follow our military enclaves around the world.

5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.

6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world's largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army's infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)

7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.

8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.

9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.

10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire(2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006), and editor of Okinawa: Cold War Island (1999).

[Note on further reading on the matter of sexual violence in and around our overseas bases and rapes in the military: On the response to the 1995 Okinawa rape, see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, chapter 2. On related subjects, see David McNeil, "Justice for Some. Crime, Victims, and the US-Japan SOFA," Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 8-1-09, March 15, 2009; "Bilateral Secret Agreement Is Preventing U.S. Servicemen Committing Crimes in Japan from Being Prosecuted," Japan Press Weekly, May 23, 2009; Dieter Fleck, ed., The Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces, Oxford University Press, 2001; Minoru Matsutani, "'53 Secret Japan-US Deal Waived GI Prosecutions," Japan Times, October 24, 2008; "Crime Without Punishment in Japan," the Economist, December 10, 2008; "Japan: Declassified Document Reveals Agreement to Relinquish Jurisdiction Over U.S. Forces,"Akahata, October 30, 2008; "Government's Decision First Case in Japan," Ryukyu Shimpo, May 20, 2008; Dahr Jamail, "Culture of Unpunished Sexual Assault in Military," Antiwar.com, May 1, 2009; and Helen Benedict, "The Plight of Women Soldiers," the Nation, May 5, 2009.]

Copyright 2009 Chalmers Johnson

We Have A Special Duty To These Men And Women Who Are As Much War Casualties As Those Murdered In The War Crimes Of The Bush Administration.


We Have A Special Duty To These Men And Women Who Are As Much War Casualties As Those Murdered In The War Crimes Of The Bush Administration.

(Anyone Who Believes That The Men And Women Who Have Served Faithfully, In Accordance To Their Oaths In Iraq And Afghanistan Will Simply Return Home, If They Are Fortunate Enough To Do So, As The Same Person(S) Who Left This Soil Are Either Simple Of Mind Or Flock Fool Mindless “Self-Defined” Moronic Delusional Patriots Of The “My Country…Right Or Wrong Macho-Bravado Brigade..Idiots; All.)

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The Hell of War Comes Home: Newspaper Series Documents Murder, Suicide, Kidnappings by Iraq Vets

A startling two-part series published in the Gazette news paper of Colorado Springs titled “Casualties of War” examines a part of war seldom discussed by the media or government officials: the difficulty of returning to civilian life after being trained to be a killer. The story focuses on a single battalion based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. Soldiers from the brigade have have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, drunk driving, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides. The Army unit’s murder rate is 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs. We speak with the reporter who broke the story and get the Army’s response.

A startling two-part series has just been published in the Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs titled “Casualties of War.” It examines a part of war seldom discussed by the media or government officials – the difficulty of returning to civilian life after being trained to be a killer.

The story focuses on a single battalion based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. The battalion’s nickname is the Lethal Warriors. In Iraq the unit fought in some of the war’s bloodiest battles, in Ramadi on its first tour, downtown Baghdad on its second. In May the unit deployed again – this time to Afghanistan.

For some of the unit’s soldiers, the killing didn’t end when they returned home.

The Gazette reports that since 2006 ten infantry soldiers have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter. Others have committed other violent crimes. Some of the veterans have committed suicide.

In a one-year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for members of the Army unit was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs.

In late 2006, 21-year-old Anthony Marquez killed a small-time drug dealer by shooting him repeatedly with a stun gun and then shot him in the heart.

In August 2007, 24-year-old Louis Bressler, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.

In December 2007, three soldiers from the unit–Louis Bressler, Bruce Bastien and Kenneth Eastridge–left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a Colorado Springs street. Two months earlier the same group intentionally drove into a woman walking to work. One of the soldiers then repeatedly stabbed her.

In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla and Jomar Falu-Vives drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.

In September 2008, police say John Needham beat a former girlfriend to death.

Josh Butler was sent to prison for beating his pregnant wife. Months later his child was born with severe birth defects and died. Butler blames himself in part for the the child’s death.

While Fort Carson has instituted a number of new policies and programs to help returning soldiers adjust to civilian life, the killing has continued. In May, Thomas Woolly was charged with manslaughter after shooting a 19-year-old woman. Two weeks later another member of the unit committed suicide in California.

We are joined now by David Phillips. He is the reporter at the Gazette in Colorado Springs who authored this two-part series, Casualties of War. We will also be speaking later in the show with Col. Jimmie Keenan, Commander of the Evans Army Community Hospital in Colorado Springs. Dave Phillips joins us now from KTSC, Rocky Mountain PBS in Pueblo, Colorado.

David Phillips, reporter with the Colorado Springs Gazette. He wrote the two-part series “Casualties of War.”

Col. Jimmie Keenan, Commander of the Evans Army Community Hospital in Colorado Springs. She is the former chief of staff for the Army’s Warrior Care and Transition Office in Arlington, Va.

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Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home

Casualties of War, Part II: Warning signs

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US Military Suicides at Record High; Report Finds Most Deaths at Single Colorado Base Were Preventable (2/20/2009)

When Killers Come Home! Casualties Of War

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Every American Should Have To Read Every Word That Can Be Reached From This Post And Listen To Every Word Of The Two-Part Interview Available Here!

Casualties Of War, Parts I & II: The Hell Of War Comes Home

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(A Two Part Audio/Video Available At This Link)

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Colorado Springs Gazette Reporter David Phillips: Casualties of War

DAVE PHILIPPS | THE GAZETTE

Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraq eight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much. He always packed a gun.

(A word of caution about the language and content of this story: Please see Editor's Note)

“It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,” said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, “Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.”

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq. But he wasn’t the last.

Hear the prison interviews with Kenneth Eastridge.

Marquez's 3,500-soldier unit — now called the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team — fought in some of the bloodiest places in Iraq, taking the most casualties of any Fort Carson unit by far.

Back home, 10 of its infantrymen have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter since 2006. Others have committed suicide, or tried to.

Almost all those soldiers were kids, too young to buy a beer, when they volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Almost none had serious criminal backgrounds. Many were awarded medals for good conduct.

But in the vicious confusion of battle in Iraq and with no clear enemy, many said training went out the window. Slaughter became a part of life. Soldiers in body armor went back for round after round of battle that would have killed warriors a generation ago. Discipline deteriorated. Soldiers say the torture and killing of Iraqi civilians lurked in the ranks. And when these soldiers came home to Colorado Springs suffering the emotional wounds of combat, soldiers say, some were ignored, some were neglected, some were thrown away and some were punished.

Some kept killing — this time in Colorado Springs.

Many of those soldiers are now behind bars, but their troubles still reach well beyond the walls of their cells — and even beyond the Army. Their unit deployed again in May, this time to one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions, near Khyber Pass.

This month, Fort Carson released a 126-page report by a task force of behavioral-health and Army professionals who looked for common threads in the soldiers’ crimes. They concluded that the intensity of battle, the long-standing stigma against seeking help, and shortcomings in substance-abuse and mental-health treatment may have converged with “negative outcomes,” but more study was needed.

Marquez, who was arrested before the latest programs were created, said he would never have pulled the trigger if he had not gone to Iraq.

“If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,” Marquez said this spring as he sat in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving 30 years. “But after Iraq, it was just natural.”

More killing by more soldiers followed.

In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.

In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street.

In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.

In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death.

Most of the killers were from a single 500-soldier unit within the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors.”

Soldiers from other units at Fort Carson have committed crimes after deployments — military bookings at the El Paso County jail have tripled since the start of the Iraq war — but no other unit has a record as deadly as the soldiers of the 4th Brigade. The vast majority of the brigade’s soldiers have not committed crimes, but the number who have is far above the population at large. In a one-year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for the 500 Lethal Warriors was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs.

The battalion is overwhelmingly made up of young men, who, demographically, have the highest murder rate in the United States, but the brigade still has a murder rate 20 times that of young males as a whole.

The killings are only the headline-grabbing tip of a much broader pyramid of crime. Since 2005, the brigade’s returning soldiers have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.

Like Marquez, most of the jailed soldiers struggled to adjust to life back home after combat. Like Marquez, many showed signs of growing trouble before they ended up behind bars. Like Marquez, all raise difficult questions about the cause of the violence.

Did the infantry turn some men into killers, or did killers seek out the infantry? Did the Army let in criminals, or did combat-tattered soldiers fall into criminal habits? Did Fort Carson fail to take care of soldiers, or did soldiers fail to take advantage of care they were offered?

And, most importantly, since the brigade is now in Afghanistan, is there a way to keep the violence from happening again?

Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who took command of Fort Carson in the thick of the murders and ordered marked changes in how returning soldiers are treated, said he hopes so.

“When we see a problem, we try to identify it and really learn what we can do about it. That is what we are trying to do here,” Graham said in a June interview. “There is a culture and a stigma that need to change.”

Under his command, nearly everyone — from colonels to platoon sergeants — is now trained to help troops showing the signs of emotional stress. Fort Carson has doubled its number of behavioral-health counselors and tightened hospital regulations to the point where a soldier visiting an Army doctor for any reason, even a sprained ankle, can’t leave without a mental health evaluation. Graham has also volunteered Fort Carson as a testing ground for new Army programs to ease soldiers’ transition from war to home.

Eastridge, an infantry specialist now serving 10 years for accessory to murder, said it will take a lot to wipe away the stain of Iraq.

“The Army trains you to be this way. In bayonet training, the sergeant would yell, ‘What makes the grass grow?’ and we would yell, ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’ as we stabbed the dummy. The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off. ... If they don’t figure out how to take care of the soldiers they trained to kill, this is just going to keep happening.”

Satan’s throne

The violence started to take root in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, where the brigade landed in September 2004.

“It was actually beautiful. There were lots of palm trees,” said Eastridge, who is a working-class kid from Kentucky who had never really been anywhere before he joined the Army.

But, he said, “the situation was ugly.”

It was a little more than a year after President George W. Bush had landed on an aircraft carrier in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner to announce the end of major combat operations. But the situation was growing worse. Rival militias of Sunnis and Shiites were gaining strength. Looting had crippled cities. And in a war with no clear front or enemy, the average monthly body count for U.S. soldiers was up 25 percent from a year earlier.

The brigade was in the worst of it.

None of it bothered Marquez.

In high school, he had been a co-captain on the football team and had run track. After graduation, he joined the infantry because the Army commercials full of guns and helicopters looked like the coolest job in the world.

Eastridge felt the same way. He was the closest thing to a criminal in the group of soldiers later arrested for murder. He was trying to get his life together after growing up with a mother addicted to cocaine. He had been arrested for reckless homicide when he was 12, after he accidentally shot his best friend in the chest while playing with his father’s antique shotgun. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to counseling. After that, his record had been clean.

Felons cannot join the Army unless they get a waiver from a recruiter. Eastridge said he called a dozen until one told him, “Son, it looks like you just need someone to give you a chance.”

Like Marquez, Eastridge wanted to join the infantry because, he said, “that’s where you get to do all the awesome stuff.”

After basic training, the Army sent both men to South Korea.

They were in different battalions of what became the 4th Brigade Combat Team. Marquez was in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment; Eastridge, the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Both were foot soldiers. Both were surrounded by other young, gung-ho GIs with no battle experience. And both learned in the spring of 2004 that they were going to Iraq.

“We thought it would be cool. It was what we signed up for,” Marquez said.

It turned out not to be cool at all.

Ramadi, where Marquez landed, had a population the size of Colorado Springs but had no dependable electricity, let alone law and order. Sewage ran in rubble-choked streets. The temperature sometimes rose to 120 degrees.

And when roadside bombs blew civilians to bits, soldiers said, packs of feral dogs fought over the scraps.

Pat Dollard, a documentary filmmaker embedded in the area at the time, wrote that it looked like “Satan had punched a hole in the Earth’s surface, plopped down his throne, and set up shop.”

Marquez was assigned to hunt terrorists in the city. Eastridge patrolled the highway between Ramadi and Fallujah. With him was Bressler, a quiet, friendly gunner later arrested with Eastridge for murder.

Going on a mission usually meant tramping house to house in dust-colored camouflage, loaded down with rifles, pistols, body armor, ammo, grenades and water to fight the incessant heat.

Soldiers went out day and night, knocking on doors — sometimes kicking them in. They set up checkpoints. They seized weapons. They clapped hoods over suspected insurgents. They rarely found terrorists, but the terrorists found them.

A few days into the deployment, a sniper’s bullet killed Marquez’s lieutenant. Then another friend died in a car bombing. Then another.

Combat brigades always take higher casualties than the rest of the Army because they fight on the front lines, but, even by those standards, the 3,500-soldier brigade got pummeled. Sixty-four were killed and more than 400 were injured in the yearlong tour, according to Fort Carson — double the average for all Army brigades that have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the insurgents learned their craft, attacks became more gruesome.

A truck loaded with explosives careened into Eastridge’s platoon, killing his squad leader, blowing fist-size holes in his platoon sergeant and pinning the burning engine against the baby of the unit, Jose Barco.

Bombs meant to kill soldiers shredded anyone in the area. Women had their arms ripped off. Old men along the road were reduced to meat.

“It just got sickening,” said David Nash, a then-19-year-old private and Eastridge’s best friend. “There was a massive amount of hate for us in the city.”

One of the jobs of the infantry was to bag Iraqi bodies tossed in the streets at night by sectarian murder squads.

“First thing in the morning, all we would do is bag bodies,” Eastridge said. “Guys with drill bits in their eyes. Guys with nails in their heads.”

Eastridge said he was targeted by snipers twice. Both bullets smashed against walls so close to his face that they peppered his eyes with grit. He laughed at his luck. He loved being a soldier.

In February 2005, Eastridge was in the gun turret of his Humvee when it drove over an anti-tank mine. A deafening flash tore off the front end. Eastridge woke up a few minutes later, several feet from the smoking crater.

He sucked it up. He was bandaged up and sent back on patrol. He said cerebral fluid was leaking out of his ear.

That was the job of the infantry. Eastridge’s battalion was created in World War II and became known as the “Band of Brothers.” It parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In Vietnam, it helped turn back the Tet Offensive and take Hamburger Hill.

Men who heard the stories of past glory almost never got a chance for their own in Iraq. The enemy was invisible. The leading cause of death was hidden roadside bombs.

Sometimes, Marquez felt his only purpose was to drive up and down roads in an armored personnel carrier called a Bradley to clear away hidden bombs.

To unwind, soldiers spent hours playing shoot-’em-up video games. They even played one based on their own unit in Vietnam. They said it offered a release. They could confront a clearly defined enemy. They could shoot, knowing they had the right guy. They could win.

In Ramadi, Marquez and other soldiers said, it felt like they were losing.

“It just seemed like the longer we were there, the worse it got,” said Marquez’s friend in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, Daniel Freeman.

Freeman was knocked unconscious by a roadside bomb, but the most rattling thing, he said, was driving through the eerie calm, knowing an improvised explosive device, or IED, could kill every soldier in a Humvee without warning, or maybe just smoke one guy in the truck, leaving the others to wonder how, and why, they survived.

Hatred and mistrust simmered between soldiers and locals. Locals who waved to them one day would watch silently as they drove toward an IED the next.

“I’m all about spreading freedom and democracy and everything,” said Josh Butler, another soldier in the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. “But it seems like the Iraqis didn’t even want it.”

Soldiers said discipline started to break down.

“Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,” Freeman said. “You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.”

If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and “just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.”

Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians.

“It was just a free-for-all,” said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. “You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off.”

Soldiers later told El Paso County sheriff’s deputies investigating Marquez for murder that, in Iraq, he got his hands on a stun gun similar to the one he later used on the Widefield drug dealer. They said he used it to “rough up” Iraqis.

Stun guns are banned by the Geneva Conventions. Using one is a war crime, but four soldiers interviewed by The Gazette said a number of soldiers ordered the stun guns over the Internet and carried them on raids. The brigade refused to make other soldiers who served during the tour available for interviews. The Army said it destroys disciplinary records after two years, so it has no knowledge of whether soldiers in the unit were punished.

After 10 months, Marquez said, all he wanted to do was go home.

In June 2005, with a month to go, his platoon was walking across a field when a sniper’s bullet smashed through his best friend’s skull under the helmet.

The platoon circled its guns and grenade launchers, Marquez said, and “tore that neighborhood up.”

That night, Marquez got hit. His squad had just finished hosing his friend’s blood out of their Bradley when they were called out on another mission. They loaded into two Bradleys and rolled toward downtown Ramadi.

Marquez was riding in the dark, cramped rear of the lead Bradley. In a flash, a blast tore through the floor. The engine exploded. Diesel fuel spewed everywhere in a plume of fire. Marquez said he watched the driver scramble out screaming, flames leaping from his clothes.

Marquez and the others clambered into the dark street, rifles ready. Another bomb slammed them to the ground.

Then came a flurry of bullets spitting across the dirt. Marquez was hit four times in the leg.

As blood spurted from his femoral artery, Marquez said, he raised his grenade launcher to return fire and realized the storm of bullets had come from the heavy machine gun on the other Bradley, which had just come around the corner.

“They must have seen our Bradley on fire, figured it was an attack and thought we were all dead,” he said this spring, shaking his head, “then just started shooting.”

According to the Army, two soldiers died. Marquez said three others were wounded. Brigade commanders didn’t make anyone familiar with the incident available.

Marquez was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

He was still bleary on morphine on the Fourth of July weekend that he was told Bush was coming to award him a Purple Heart.

Marquez’s sister, who was visiting, didn’t want to see the president because she was so angry about the war and her brother’s wounds, but Marquez was honored.

“I had gotten hurt, but it is part of the job. I wasn’t mad at nobody,” Marquez said.

He was in the hospital for three months and had 17 surgeries so he could keep his leg. Marquez was being medically discharged from the Army and could have stayed at the hospital, but he transferred to Fort Carson on Sept. 13, 2005, to spend his remaining months with his war buddies, who had just returned from Iraq.

He eventually learned to walk without a cane, but other wounds proved harder to heal. He started having nightmares about the war. He felt worthless and crippled, depressed and angry. On a visit home to California, he made his mom put away all his high school sports trophies.

The only things that made him feel better were the pain pills the doctors prescribed for him — and only if he took too many.

‘Kumbaya period’

Post-traumatic stress disorder is like a roadside bomb.

The symptoms can remain hidden for months, then explode. They can cripple some soldiers and leave others untouched. And just like bombs disguised as trash or ruts in the road, PTSD can look like something else.

In many cases, it looks like a bad soldier. In addition to flashbacks and nightmares, Army studies say, symptoms can include heavy drinking, drug use, domestic violence, slacking off at work or disobeying orders.

You can often see it coming, said the most recent commanding general of Fort Carson, if you know what to look for.

Soldiers usually go through a jubilant high for a few months after they come home, Graham said. He calls this time “the Kumbaya period.”

“Soldiers have served their country, they’ve made it back, they’re home. It’s all great. It’s later that problems start to surface,” Graham said.

Usually, problems don’t show up for three to six months, he said.

When the brigade landed in Colorado Springs, most soldiers had spent a year in Iraq and a year in South Korea. Most had saved several thousand dollars. Many were old enough to legally drink in the United States for the first time. They had survived the worst of Iraq, and they were jonesing to blow off steam.

All they had to do was go through a few post-deployment debriefings that Fort Carson still uses.

Soldiers sit through classes that warn them that troops often have unrealistically rosy notions of home. They are told to be understanding with spouses and loved ones. They are cautioned to be careful with drinking and driving, and they are warned that the time for carrying a gun everywhere ended in Iraq.

All personal guns must be stored in the post’s armory — not in soldiers’ barracks, not in their cars and not tucked in their belts.

Then Fort Carson screens every soldier for PTSD and other combat-related problems.

If there are no red flags, the soldier can go on leave. If there are, they are referred for further diagnosis, officials at Fort Carson’s Evans Army Community Hospital said.

The screening asks soldiers a long list of questions about the deployment: Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you depressed? Did you clear houses or bunkers? Were you shot at? Did you witness brutality toward detainees? Did you have friends who were killed?

“Did you shoot people? Did you kill people? Did you see dead civilians? Did you see dead Americans? Did you see dead babies? No. No. No. No.” Eastridge said, mimicking how he answered the questionnaire.

“I had seen and done all that stuff, but you just lie to get it over with.”

Several soldiers said the same: They lied because they didn’t want the hassle of more screening.

When the young infantrymen were set free in Colorado Springs, many packed Tejon Street bars such as Rendezvous Lounge and Rum Bay. When the bars closed, soldiers said, they often picked fights in the street.

By 2006, the police were being called to break up bar brawls almost every night. Extra police were assigned to the area.

The Colorado Springs Police Department doesn’t track the crime statistics of individual units, but according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, jail bookings of military personnel as a whole increased 66 percent in the 12 months after the brigade returned.

The “Kumbaya period” lasted about six months, soldiers said.

Eastridge said he blew through almost $27,000, mostly drinking at bars, but the first thing he did was buy guns: pistols, shotguns and an assault rifle similar to the one he carried in Iraq.

“After being in Iraq, it feels like everyone is the enemy,” he said. “You feel like you need a gun so they don’t come to get you.”

His friends all felt the same way.

Nash slept with a loaded .45 under his pillow.

Butler kept a Glock .40-caliber with him all the time, even when he rocked his newborn baby.

Marquez bought three pistols, a riot-style shotgun and an assault rifle like the one he carried in Iraq. He carried a pistol constantly, he said, even when he went to church.

His buddy, Freeman, said he bought himself a “big, scary” snub-nose .357 revolver.

“I couldn’t go anywhere without it,” he said. “I took it to the mall. I took it to the bank. I even had it right next to me when I took a shower. It makes you feel powerful, less scared. You have to have it with you every second of every day.”

Some returning soldiers, especially those with family members to notice their behavior, went into counseling.

More than 200 Fort Carson soldiers have been referred to First Choice Counseling Center, a private counseling service in Colorado Springs. Davida Hoffman, the director, said her counselors were unprepared for what they heard.

“We’re used to seeing people who are depressed and want to hurt themselves. We’re trained to deal with that,” she said. “But these soldiers were depressed and saying, ‘I’ve got this anger, I want to hurt somebody.’ We weren’t accustomed to that.”

In units that have seen the toughest combat in Iraq, one in four soldiers can screen positive for PTSD, the director of psychiatry at Walter Reed, Dr. Charles Hoge, said in an e-mail interview.

“Many soldiers continue to be able to perform their duties very well despite having significant symptoms,” Hoge wrote. But others show what he called “serious impairment,” and the worse the combat and the longer units are exposed, the worse the effects.

The affliction is as old as war itself.

Eric Dean, an author in Connecticut who specializes in war’s psychological toll, reviewed records from the Civil War for his 1997 book, “Shook Over Hell,” and found the same surge of crime and suicide that Fort Carson has seen.

“They have been in every war,” he said. “They never readjusted. They ended up living alone, drinking too much.”

They were “the lost generation” of World War I. They are the veterans of Vietnam who disproportionately populate homeless shelters and prisons today.

The psychological casualties may be particularly heavy in Iraq, he said.

“In the Civil War, if you experienced really traumatic fighting, chances are you didn’t make it,” he said. “Today, you can be blown up multiple times and go right back into the fight.”

In Vietnam, most draftees did one yearlong tour. Since the start of the Iraq war, some soldiers have been deployed three times for 12 to 15 months each.

When a soldier faces constant threat of attack, studies suggest, the brain is flooded with adrenaline, dopamine and other performance-enhancing chemicals that the body naturally produces in a fight-or-flight response. Over time, the brain can crave these stimulants, like a junkie for his fix.

When the stimulant of combat is taken away, soldiers often have trouble sleeping, said Sister Kateri Koverman, a social worker who has counseled people in war zones for almost 40 years. They can feel irritable, numb and paranoid, she said. They can sink into depression.

And they can search for another substance to replace the rush of war.

“Often they’ll use booze or drugs to mask their symptoms until they become explosive,” said Koverman, who moved to Colorado Springs from her convent in Ohio this year to help with the wave of PTSD. “We have a public disaster here, and no one really knows how to deal with it.”

Men from the unit mostly dealt with it on their own.

Mifflin got deep into smoking pot to ease his nerves.

Nash was mixing pills and booze.

Eastridge got blotto on whatever.

Butler said he and a lot of guys started doing Ecstasy and cocaine.

Marquez started destroying himself with the pills that were supposed to help him.

For his injuries, he said, doctors at Evans prescribed him 90 morphine pills, 90 Percocets, and five fentanyl patches every three weeks.

“They were for pain,” he said. “And I still had pain. But, mostly, I was using them to get high.”

He could not get Iraq out of his head. Doctors prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills, but he said they didn’t help. He was saving up Percocet, then downing a handful on an empty stomach.

He said he started trading his morphine with other soldiers for an antipsychotic called quetiapine and an anti-anxiety drug called clonazepam. Improper use of either can cause psychotic reactions, anxiety, panic attacks, aggressiveness and suicidal behavior, but, Marquez said, injured soldiers traded them like children in a lunchroom swapping desserts.

“It was real common among the guys who were hurt,” Marquez said.

At one point, Marquez said, he ate his three-week supply of meds in half the time, then went back to Evans claiming he had lost his pills.

He said a doctor told him security measures prevented him from giving Marquez more narcotics, but he could write the soldier a paper prescription he could fill in Colorado Springs.

Marquez agreed.

Fort Carson said privacy laws prohibit commenting on medical treatment.

Marquez’s mother is a police officer in Southern California. She said when her son came home to visit at Christmas 2005, six months after being shot, she knew something was seriously wrong. He would stay in his room all day in a daze and try to down old pain pills in the medicine cabinet. He would have dreams so violent that she was afraid to wake him.

In February 2006, she said, she called his sergeants and told them he was a danger to himself and others and needed help.

She said the sergeants told her that her son would have to seek treatment on his own.

An Army spokesman said there is no Army policy on how to handle such calls. It is up to individual commanders.

The response didn’t make sense, she said. As a law enforcement officer, if she shot someone, she was required to go through counseling, she said. Her son had weathered a long, gruesome combat tour, yet he had no such requirement.

Few of the young infantry soldiers felt like they needed counseling.

“We were just partying,” Butler said. “Some guys went in for PTSD, but we thought that was just a bullshit excuse to get out of the Army.”

Those who did seek treatment faced obstacles.

Six months after getting back from Ramadi, Marquez’s friend, Freeman, who had been injured by a roadside bomb, said he started to feel “shell-shocked” and depressed and decided to go to Evans.

“I did it on the down-low because I didn’t want my unit to know,” he said.

The psychiatric ward was overwhelmed by soldiers, he said. Cases of PTSD at Fort Carson had climbed from 26 in 2002 to more than 600 in 2006, according to the hospital. Getting an appointment could take weeks, soldiers said. Counseling in the ward, in most cases, was in group settings only.

Freeman said the hospital staff prescribed him antidepressants and told him they were so busy that he wouldn’t receive counseling for a month.

A few weeks later, on Feb. 22, 2006, Freeman got in a fight with a man he had never met, Kenneth Tatum, in the China Express restaurant on B Street. Freeman pulled out his .357 and, before he knew it, he said, Tatum was bleeding on the ground. He had shot him through the thigh.

Freeman was arrested for attempted murder and pleaded guilty to felony menacing. He served two years and got out in January. He is unemployed, living at his mother’s house in Alabama. He said he still has headaches and memory problems and is getting therapy for PTSD at a nearby Veterans Affairs hospital.

Because of his crime, he is not eligible for most Army benefits.

“I was a good soldier before this,” he said. “Now I’m a screwed-up Iraq vet with a felony conviction. I don’t have many prospects. I was good at what I did in the infantry. . . . Too bad it followed me home.”

The Army spends millions of dollars to help soldiers such as Marquez and Freeman. It has programs to mentally prepare soldiers for deployment, treat them overseas and rehabilitate them when they return. Top brass, including the highest-ranking officer in the Army, Gen. George Casey, have said taking care of returning soldiers’ mental health is a top priority.

But sentiments and programs at the top sometimes don’t reach the trenches, soldiers and experts said.

In infantry units such as the Lethal Warriors, soldiers said, toughness and bravery are prized above all else. Anyone who says he has PTSD is immediately thought of as not worthy of wearing the uniform, soldiers said. In Army slang, they said, he is deemed a “shit bag.”

When the brigade returned home from the Sunni Triangle, sergeants sometimes refused to let soldiers seek help for PTSD and taunted them for being weak or faking it, said Andrew Pogany, a former Fort Carson special forces sergeant who now investigates complaints for the advocacy group Veterans for America

“They just don’t want to deal with it,” Pogany said.

Some commanders punished soldiers for displaying PTSD symptoms, soldiers said.

Mifflin, who is now unemployed and lives in his mother’s house in Florida, went to a Fort Carson psychiatrist for counseling because he said he sometimes wanted to kill civilians in Colorado Springs. The psychiatrist checked him into Cedar Springs, an inpatient mental hospital in Colorado Springs. He stayed for about a week, he said.

“As soon as I got out, I had a scheduled bitching session with the sergeant so he could yell at me about what a liar I was,” he said. “After they found out a guy was getting evaluated for PTSD, they would try to find any little thing to kick him out.”

Dozens of soldiers who screened positive for PTSD received an “other than honorable” discharge from the Army — the equivalent of being kicked out — for infractions such as missing duty and drug use, Pogany said. If soldiers are kicked out, they often aren’t eligible for free health care, counseling or other benefits that soldiers who are medically discharged with PTSD receive. Often, Pogany said, that means veterans who need help the most don’t get it.

Some soldiers coming back to Colorado Springs seemed fine. Bressler, who later murdered two soldiers, seemed as nice and mellow as ever, soldiers said. He got married, always showed up for training and seemed to be doing well.

Others fell apart.

Eastridge, who had been awarded medals for achievement and good conduct, started having nightmares and mouthing off to his commanders. In March 2006, he got in a drunken fight with his girlfriend and was arrested for putting a gun to her face. After that, he said, he stopped showing up for work. He said he was AWOL on and off for six months.

“I started slapping my wife around, too,” Butler said. “She just never called the police.”

Butler said he was emotionally numb some days and ready to explode others. He couldn’t understand why he was so angry, but he still thought PTSD was just a lame excuse.

One night, he called Eastridge and told him to come over to his house. He wanted his buddies to shoot him in the leg so he wouldn’t have to go back to Iraq.

“We were all excited we were going to get to shoot him,” Eastridge said.

When he got to the apartment, Barco, the platoon baby who had been burned by the exploding Humvee in Iraq, was there.

They found a dark parking lot, Eastridge said, and Barco shot Butler through the calf with a .32. Butler screamed. Blood went everywhere.

“It was hilarious,” said Mifflin, who saw him shortly afterward. “He only ended up getting out of duty for a few days, but that’s only part of why he did it. He also wanted the Percocets they prescribed him at the hospital.”

After a number of 4th Brigade soldiers got in trouble for DUIs and drugs, the brigade increased the number of random drug tests soldiers have to take, troops said. The rate of Fort Carson soldiers testing positive in 2006 was 16 times what it had been in 2004, according to the post. Twenty percent of them were enrolled in substance-abuse programs. Most, soldiers said, were just given the boot. Nash and Butler were kicked out of the Army for snorting cocaine in the summer of 2006.

Eastridge was supposed to be kicked out too, soldiers said, but he wasn’t around to be discharged.

More than 400 soldiers have been kicked out of the brigade for misconduct since the start of the war, according to Fort Carson. Only 57 were discharged for mental health reasons.

Butler went to prison for beating his wife, who was pregnant at the time. He said their child was born with severe birth defects and died. He blames it, in part, on their fights.

There is no easy way to track how many Butlers are out there — soldiers who didn’t commit violent crimes until after they were kicked out of the Army and left Colorado Springs.

“That’s the shadiest thing about the Army. They just throw these guys away,” said Nash, now a pipeline welder in Louisiana. He said he still struggles with the effects of combat. He can’t go to bars because he gets into fights, and his car is loaded with what he called “enough guns for World War III.”

“The Army neglected their responsibility to take care of soldiers they trained to be this way,” he said. “Most of these guys were ordinary people put in really shitty situations — the side effect is you turn good people into ravenous beasts.”

So many soldiers were leaving or getting kicked out of Eastridge’s company in 2006, Eastridge said, that commanders created a new platoon for them.

Marquez’s battalion created a similar company, called Echo Company, soldiers said. Soldiers called it the “Shit-Bag Brigade.”

An Army spokesman said it “is unknown” whether these units existed.

Marquez was assigned to the Shit-Bag Brigade even though his only offense was being too physically disabled to train with the rest of his unit. He said he had to do the menial tasks designed to punish the others, such as pull weeds along the road.

He started not showing up for duty. He took more pills. He bought more guns and kept them his in his car, he and other soldiers said.

It was no secret. Sergeants later told police that Marquez had showed off his stash of weapons. His mother said they did nothing.

Sergeants also told sheriff’s deputies they thought he was abusing pills.

“Maybe if they had punished him like they were supposed to, he would not be in for murder,” his mother said.

On Oct. 22, 2006, three days before Marquez was scheduled to be honorably discharged, he limped down to the Widefield drug dealer’s basement, carrying a .45-caliber pistol in one hand and a 500,000-volt stun gun in the other. He shocked the dealer — 19-year-old Smith — with the stun gun and grabbed his stash of marijuana, according to witness statements to El Paso County sheriff’s investigators. When the dealer tried to fight back, investigators say, Marquez shot him through the heart, picked up the shell casings, grabbed the weed and walked out.

Prosecutors said he was planning a robbery. Marquez said he was just there to buy some weed and, when a fight started over the price, his infantry reflexes took over.

“When someone grabs you or something, you’re going to light ’em up,” he said. “It probably won’t even be that hard because it’s not like it’s your first time.”

Marquez didn’t respond to letters asking him why he used a stun gun and whether he used it in Iraq.

A week after the murder, sheriff’s deputies questioned his commanders at Fort Carson in search of a motive.

Capt. David Larimer, the soldier’s company commander, told detectives that Marquez had been diagnosed with PTSD, but Larimer didn’t believe it. According to the detectives’ written summary, Larimer said he thought Marquez was just a “whiny bitch.”

‘Heart of Darkness’

The day Marquez was arrested, his brigade was on its way back to Iraq.

They were sent to tame the one spot in the country that was more dangerous than their first assignment: downtown Baghdad.

“Violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular,” Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said just weeks before the soldiers arrived. “If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.”

In the warren of city streets, terrorist bombs killed scores of civilians. Sunni and Shiite murder squads massacred one another by the thousands. The United Nations estimated that 3,000 Iraqis were being murdered a month.

The Lethal Warriors were assigned to one of the deadliest corners of the city, a bullet-riddled neighborhood called Al-Doura. The Warriors’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Stephen Michael, called it the “Heart of Darkness.”

Eastridge showed up for duty shortly before the brigade shipped out. He was happy to be there. He never felt more alive than when he was in a war zone.

“It’s almost like a religious experience to see a battlefield,” he said. “To hear the explosions — to see a person bleeding out and die — see everything on fire and smell the smoke and burning flesh. It makes you truly realize what it is to be alive. Combat is the biggest rush you can have.”

Since the start of his first deployment, he had covered himself in tattoos.

On his arm was a memorial to his sergeant killed by a car bomb. On his wrists were red dotted “kill lines” marking where, if needed, he could slit them. On his arm were the twin lightning bolts of the Nazi SS. Wrapping his neck like a collar were the words “BORN TO KILL, READY TO DIE.”

If the Army had followed its own rules, he would not have returned to Iraq for another tour.

Army regulations bar anyone with a pending felony from deploying.

Eastridge was awaiting trial for putting a gun to his girlfriend’s head. He said his commanders knew it.

But when the young soldier showed up and begged his sergeant to let him go back to Iraq, they did. The Army was evasive about if, and why, commanders knowingly deployed Eastridge with a felony hanging over his head.

Eastridge said there was a reason the unit wanted him back. He was one of the best gunners in the battalion.

Soldiers said he was “surgical” with a machine gun and utterly fearless.

“He was really good. If I had 10 Eastridges, my job would be a lot easier,” said his platoon sergeant, Michael Cardenaz.

Eastridge had the most kills of anyone in his company, Cardenaz said.

He was exactly the type of soldier to have in the Heart of Darkness.

Only a few of Eastridge’s buddies from the last tour were still with him. Louis Bressler, a cool, unflappable gunner, was there. So was Jose Barco, who, soldiers said, had persuaded commanders to let him return to Iraq even though he was so burned from the explosion in his previous tour that he had trouble sweating.

Many of the unit’s other soldiers had been kicked out for drugs, or discharged with PTSD or other disabilities, soldiers said. The Army would not provide numbers. But for every missing soldier, there was a new kid.

Jomar Falu-Vives had signed up because his mother was a nurse stationed in Baghdad, and he wasn’t going to let her go without him.

John Needham was a surfing champion from California who signed up because, with the insurgency raging, it looked as if his country needed him.

Bruce Bastien was a skinny, red-cheeked guy from Connecticut who was assigned as the new medic for Eastridge’s platoon.

Not even the veterans were prepared for how bad Baghdad would be, Eastridge said.

At one point, the unit was losing a soldier a day to the hospital or the morgue.

At first, Eastridge said, he enjoyed the intensity of it. He had a competition going with Bressler to see who could kill more bad guys. His final count, he said — and his sergeant confirmed — was about 80.

But after a few months, the raids, gore and constant threat of roadside bombs started to get to him. He couldn’t sleep. He was on edge all the time. Doctors at the base diagnosed him with PTSD, depression, anxiety and a sleep disorder. They gave him antidepressants and sleeping pills and put him back on duty.

When he went back to the doctors a few weeks later saying the pills were not working, his medical records show, they doubled his dose.

In the spring of 2007, as part of the surge to take back Baghdad, the 500 Lethal Warriors were moved out of their central base into 100-soldier Combat Outposts, known as COPs, scattered in the neighborhoods.

“Once we got to the COPS, it was way worse,” Eastridge said. “We would have mortars and rocket fire and drive-bys every single day.”

With the wounded list mounting, noncombat soldiers were pulled in to fill combat positions when guys got hit, soldiers said, and even they couldn’t fill the holes. By summer 2007, the company was so depleted that Humvees designed to be manned by five soldiers were going on patrol with three, said Eastridge and his sergeant.

There was no time for mental health care in the COPs, Eastridge said. Often, his squad would come in from an all-night mission, pull off their body armor, get attacked and have to slap their armor right back on and go out. Sometimes, he said, they wouldn’t sleep for days.

Eastridge’s Iraqi translator introduced him to Valium as a way to relax. At first, he would just take a couple before missions. Then he was taking a couple all the time. Then he was taking a lot more.

Winning and losing it

The surge worked.

Lethal Warrior commanders designed a victory strategy based on intensive foot patrols and strong community ties, where soldiers were assigned to patrol small neighborhoods and ordered to get to know every neighbor. They built a Baghdad version of Neighborhood Watch, where locals could be the eyes and ears of the Army. Cardenaz, who started the tour carrying a cell phone so he could call his wife to say goodbye if he got shot, began handing out his number to locals as a hot line on where to find the bad guys.

During the first six months of the 15-month deployment, soldiers were attacked multiple times every day, according to an ARMY magazine article by a Lethal Warrior captain.

By the end, he wrote, they were not getting attacked at all.

In the first six months, soldiers had to collect mutilated Iraqi bodies left by murder squads every morning.

By the end, there were no bodies to retrieve.

Bomb attacks dropped to near zero.

But the victory came at a price.

Under the strain of daily violence, Eastridge, Bastien and Bressler started to lose it.

Needham did, too. A few weeks after arriving in Baghdad, he was on foot patrol when a sniper’s bullet shattered his friend’s head, splattering Needham with brains. In the months that followed, he was hit by six IEDs, Needham wrote in letter to his father. One blast made him hit the roof of his truck so hard that he cracked his spine.

On every occasion, his father, Michael Needham, said, his sergeant’s response was to “suck it up.”

For the most part, Needham did. When a rocket-propelled grenade blew a fellow soldier, Thomas Woolly, out of the gun turret of a Humvee in their convoy, Needham jumped behind the gun and started firing, Needham’s father said.

“He wasn’t giddy about being there,” his father said. “But he was secure in what he was doing, fighting as an infantryman in an honorable way.”

Then something began gnawing at him, his father said.

In the quest to win, John Needham said, some in his platoon turned ugly.

The soldier said some loaded their rifles with hollow-point bullets designed to expand on impact, making them more lethal. These bullets are banned by international treaties.

It wasn’t just one platoon, either. Eastridge said soldiers in his platoon, including himself, used hollow-point bullets, too. It was easy to get them sent from home, Eastridge said. Both soldiers said some guys in their units carried illegal stun guns, as soldiers had in the first deployment.

The Army said it investigated Needham’s claims and found no evidence.

But there was more to the platoon’s tactics.

In a December 2007 letter to the Inspector General’s Office of Fort Carson, which investigates crimes within the Army, Needham told of the atrocities he saw. His father provided a copy to The Gazette.

One sergeant shot a boy riding a bicycle down the street for no reason, John Needham said. When Needham and another soldier rushed to deliver first aid, the sergeant said, “No, let him bleed out.”

Another sergeant shot a man in the head without cause while questioning him, Needham said, then mutilated the body, lashed it to the hood of his Humvee and drove around the neighborhood blaring warnings to insurgents in Arabic that “they would be next.”

Other Iraqis were shot for invented reasons, then mutilated, Needham said.

The sergeants particularly liked removing victims’ brains, Needham said.

Needham offered a photograph of a soldier removing brains from an Iraqi on the hood of a Humvee and other photos as evidence. His father supplied copies to The Gazette.

The Army’s criminal investigation division interviewed several soldiers from the unit and said it was “unable to substantiate any of his allegations.”

“Those guys were seriously whacked,” Needham’s father said. “And it began to grate on him.”

In March 2007, Needham went to the battalion’s doctor, saying he was “losing it” and needed a break, according to a summary of his service that he wrote. He was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft and sent back to work. In May, Needham said, he went back to the doctor and was again sent back to work. In June, according to medical records, he went again. And in September. Commanders always sent him back out on patrol, he said.

Around that time, he posted a note on his MySpace page: “I’m falling apart by the seams it seems the days here bleed into each other I have to find the will to live man I miss my brothers. These walls are caving in my despair wraps me in its web, I feel I’m sinking in, throw me a lifesaver throw me a life worth living. I’m a part of death I am death this is hard to admit but this shits getting old.”

A few nights later, on Sept. 18, Needham and a fellow soldier bought a contraband can of whiskey and tried to drink away their sorrows. Then Needham took out a gun and fired a shot at his head, his father said. The bullet missed. Needham was detained by his commanders for illegally discharging a firearm. After a few weeks of arguing by phone and e-mail, Needham’s father convinced the unit to let his son see a doctor. The soldier was diagnosed with severe PTSD and flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“What led him to the point of such deep despair that he would attempt suicide?” his father, a retired Army officer, asked. “I understand it. He was trained as a soldier. He was a good soldier, and his group was doing things he knew was wrong. And he was in this prolonged combat situation where they have all this armor and lifesaving technology to keep them alive, but mentally, they are in pieces.”

The breaking point

Eastridge started to crumble around the same time.

He had been a decorated soldier during his first tour. But in the second, his judgment melted away.

He started searching medicine cabinets for Valium while raiding houses.

Then he started stealing cash and weapons from civilians, which he said he would sell back to the Shiite militia.

He was disciplined by his battalion for stealing once, he said, after he ransacked a house, but only because it belonged to a well-connected man. Most of the time, he got away with it.

He was disciplined again when he flipped out on patrol. Someone shot at his squad from a nearby farmhouse. Eastridge fired about 20 grenades into the house, then stormed in and said he found a farmer and his two dogs in the back and spotted a shell casing from an AK-47 on the ground.

Eastridge demanded to know where the shooter was.

The man said he didn’t know.

Eastridge shot one of the man’s dogs, then asked where the shooter was.

The man said he didn’t know.

Eastridge shot the man’s other dog.

His lieutenant told him he needed to cool off and go sit in the truck.

On the way out, Eastridge passed the man’s herd of a dozen goats. He leveled them with a machine gun. Then he ordered a private to shoot the man’s two cows. Then he shot his horse.

“I was really (expletive deleted) losing it,” Eastridge said, shaking his head.

The Army hasn’t supplied disciplinary records for Eastridge or several other soldiers requested under the Freedom of Information Act, but Eastridge’s account was confirmed by his platoon sergeant.

Bressler and Bastien started losing it, too.

In May 2007, Bastien went home on leave. While there, the medic was thrown in jail for beating his wife, according to police records. Bastien, who is in prison, declined to be interviewed for this story. After his arrest, the Army kept him in Colorado Springs.

In June 2007, Bressler saw his best friend killed in a firefight, according to soldiers. After that, Bressler, who had always been a mellow, stable guy whom soldiers could find at the poker table in the COP, started to withdraw, soldiers say.

In July 2007, Eastridge said, Bressler went crazy and attacked his commanding officer, threatening to kill him.

Bressler, who is in prison, declined to be interviewed. He was diagnosed with PTSD, according to his wife. The Army decided he was too unstable and dangerous to be in Iraq, so they sent him back to Colorado Springs.

Eastridge went on one more mission.

He was the gunner manning the M240 machine gun on a Humvee — a big gun that shoots 600 rounds per minute. He said he was ordered to guard the street while the rest of his platoon searched a house.

Eastridge said he told his lieutenant he was going to kill people as soon as the officer was out of sight. Then he asked the driver to put some heavy-metal “killin’ music on.”

His lieutenant laughed and walked off, Eastridge said.

Families were out playing soccer and barbecuing. Eastridge said he just started shooting. He pumped a long burst of rounds into a big palm tree where a few old men had gathered in the shade.

People started running. They piled into their cars and sped away. There was a no-driving rule in effect in the neighborhood, so, Eastridge said, he put his cross hairs on every car that moved.

“All I could think of was car bombs, car bombs, car bombs, and I just kept shooting,” he said.

Orders came over the radio to cease fire, he said, but he kept yelling, “Negative! Negative!”

Eastridge said he shot more than 1,700 rounds. When asked how many people he killed, he said, “Not that many. Maybe a dozen.”

He was court-martialed a short time later on nine counts, including drug possession and disobeying orders. Killing civilians wasn’t one of them.

For that, he said, he was put on guard duty.

Then, in August 2007, sergeants found him with 463 Valium pills in his laundry and a naked female soldier in his bed, according to court testimony. His staff sergeant confronted him about the woman, and Eastridge lashed out, according to his mother, Leanne Eastridge, screaming that he would kill the sergeant, suck out his blood and spit it at his children. Eastridge was court-martialed for disobeying orders and drug possession and sent to a prison camp in Kuwait for a month.

This spring, Eastridge said it was funny that sex and drugs were what got him court-martialed, considering the things he did in Iraq, “Things that can never be told, but that everybody knew about and approved of — basically war crimes.”

He got a health screening as part of the court-martial. Doctors diagnosed him with chronic PTSD, antisocial personality disorder, depression, anxiety and hearing loss. In late September 2007, his commanders decided he was too unstable and dangerous to stay in Iraq, so the Army sent him back to Colorado Springs.

Some of the news coverage of Fort Carson soldiers involved in violent crimes

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When Killers Come Home! Casualties Of War Part II: Warning Signs

Casualties Of War, Part II: The Hell Of War Comes Home


DAVE PHILIPPS
| THE GAZETTE

After coming home from Iraq, 21-year-old medic Bruce Bastien was driving with his Army buddy Louis Bressler, 24, when they spotted a woman walking to work on a Colorado Springs street.

Bressler swerved and hit the woman with the car, according to police, then Bastien jumped out and stabbed her over and over.

(A word of caution about the language and content of this story: Please see Editor's Note)

It was October 2007. A fellow soldier, Kenneth Eastridge, 24, watched it all from the passenger seat.

At that moment, he said, it was clear that however messed up some of the soldiers in the unit had been after their first Iraq deployment, it was about to get much worse.

“I have no problem with killing,” said Eastridge, a two-tour infantryman with almost 80 confirmed kills. “But I won’t just murder someone for no reason. He had gone crazy.”

Hear the prison interviews with Kenneth Eastridge.

All three soldiers belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, part of Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team. The 500-soldier infantry battalion nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors.”

They fought in the deadliest places in the war twice — first in the Sunni Triangle, then in downtown Baghdad. Since their return late in 2007, eight infantry soldiers have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter. Another two soldiers from the brigade were arrested and accused of murder and attempted murder after the first tour. Others have committed other violent crimes. Others have committed suicide.

Many of the soldiers behind bars and their family members say the violence at home is a consequence of the violence in Iraq. They came home angry, confused, paranoid and depressed. They had trouble getting effective mental heath care. Mostburied their symptoms in drugs and alcohol until they exploded.

The Army is seeking new ways to care for returning soldiers and keep the violence from returning — crucial now, because the unit shipped out in May to Afghanistan, where the monthly coalition casualty rate has doubled since the beginning of the year. Soldiers are scheduled to return to Colorado Springs in spring 2010.

The first step toward solving the problem, the post’s most recent commander said, is to understand it.

Maj. Gen. Mark Graham took command of Fort Carson in September 2007, just before the worst of the violence. He said that after studying the murders, he saw that soldiers rarely snap without warning. Guys who get in big trouble often get in little trouble first, and the problem grows until it explodes.

Graham calls this pattern “the crescendo.”

It may start with a soldier showing up to work reeking of booze, getting arrested for domestic violence, or mouthing off to an officer.

“When a guy who had it together starts showing little problems, it could be a sign of something much bigger,” he said.

Most of the soldiers now behind bars back up Graham’s theory of the crescendo.

Before Bastien stabbed a woman in 2007, he was arrested three times on suspicion of beating his wife and burning her with cigarettes.

Before Bressler shot two soldiers in Colorado Springs in 2007, Eastridge said, he assaulted his commanding officer and tried to kill himself.

Before Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, allegedly gunned down three people in Colorado Springs in two drive-by shootings in 2008, his wife said she called his sergeants to warn he was liable to “take someone’s life.”

Before John Needham, 25, allegedly beat a woman to death in 2008, his father said, he tried repeatedly to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The pattern of trouble is clear in hindsight, Graham said, but hard to spot when it is developing.

“Our challenge is to catch it early, so we can help these soldiers,” he said. “We are educating young commanders on taking care of their soldiers. But it’s a very tough problem.”

Graham, who had one son killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq a year after his other son committed suicide while training to be an officer, made mental health a focus after taking command of Fort Carson.

He said suicide and homicide are “different reactions to the same or similar problem. You treat both in the same way.”

Under his watch, Fort Carson more than doubled the number of mental health counselors. A new Army program will soon give each brigade a “master resiliency trainer” to strengthen troops’ psychological fitness the way drill sergeants strengthen their muscles. A special unit has been created to track soldiers who are too physically or psychologically wounded to stay with their battalions. Soldiers visiting a doctor at Fort Carson for even a sprained ankle are now screened for symptoms of PTSD and depression. And perhaps most important, Graham said, in the Army, where mental illness has long been taboo, commanders at Fort Carson are being trained to tell soldiers it is OK to seek treatment.

“There is a culture and a stigma that need to change,” Graham said.

It is unclear if the new measures can counter the entrenched Army culture or the effects of repeated deployments. Though some of the new programs have been in place for two years, the violence has not stopped.

Colorado Springs police arrested a Fort Carson soldier from the Lethal Warriors in May in the killing of a 19-year-old woman. Another soldier shot himself in the head this year. Another was arrested on suspicion of breaking a civilian’s jaw in March. Another is awaiting trial in the shooting of a pregnant woman.

Graham, who handed over command of the post last week, said Fort Carson is doing everything it can to help its soldiers. “I wish I could predict how all this is going to go,” he said. “I can’t say it is not going to happen again.”

“All I know how to do is kill people”

For Bastien, the Army medic, the crescendo started to peak just after midnight on Aug. 4, 2007, when he was driving his silver Audi to get cigarettes after a night of drinking at Bressler’s apartment.

The rest of their battalion was still fighting in Iraq.

Bastien was in Colorado Springs because he had been arrested and accused of beating his wife while on leave in May 2007.

Bressler was in town because the Army had sent him back from Iraq early, in July, with PTSD, according to his wife. He was awaiting a medical discharge because, Eastridge said, he attacked an officer in Iraq.

Bastien and Bressler declined requests for interviews.

According to court documents, that night the pair spotted a drunk 23-year-old Fort Carson private they didn’t know named Robert James, who was walking home from a bar, and pulled the Audi over to give him a ride.

Bastien later told police that he and Bressler decided to rob James. They drove to a dark parking lot.

Bressler pointed a .38 revolver at James and demanded his money. James pulled a few rumpled bills from his pockets — about $25. Bressler shot him twice and gathered the scattered bills.

The random crime left cops with no leads.

A little over a month later, in late September, Eastridge landed under Army escort at the Colorado Springs Airport.

The once-decorated soldier had been court-martialed in August 2007 on suspicion of possession of drugs, disobeying orders and threatening an officer. Medical records show that, after two bloody deployments, the Army diagnosed him with paranoia, depression, insomnia, antisocial personality disorder, PTSD, homicidal thoughts and hearing loss caused by constant shooting and explosions.

His Army escorts were taking him to Fort Carson — not for treatment, he said, but to get kicked out of the Army.

From there, he was going to jail. In Colorado Springs, there was a warrant waiting from a year before, when he skipped a court date on charges of putting a gun to his girlfriend’s head.

At the baggage claim, Eastridge said, while his escorts waded into the crowd to grab their bags, he ran. He said he hopped in a cab, took it to a cheap hotel and called the only people in town he knew: Bastien and Bressler.

“When I met up with those guys, they were weird,” he said. They were paranoid and aggressive, he said.

“They kept saying, ‘Do you want to go rob someone? Do you want to go kill someone? I just thought they were kidding, but they had gone a little crazy.”

Eastridge did have plans to rob someone. Compared with Iraq, it would be easy.

He wanted to do it alone, but he had no car and no gun. Bressler and Bastien had both, Eastridge said, and they insisted on coming along.

On Oct. 29, 2007, wearing all black, they attempted to rob a nightclub manager as she emerged from a club. When they botched that, they drove off and spotted a young woman named Erica Ham walking down the street. Bressler hit her with the car and she crashed onto the hood. Then Bastien jumped out to grab her bag and started stabbing her. When she tried to fight back, Eastridge pulled out a pistol and yelled for her to get on the ground.

Ham was unable to identify her attackers, and police had no leads.

The stabbing sobered Eastridge up, he said. He turned himself in for his year-old domestic violence charge and spent most of November in the El Paso County jail. He bonded out on Nov. 27. A few days later, he returned to Fort Carson, where he received an “other than honorable” discharge for possession of drugs in Iraq.

After two tours in Iraq, Eastridge was depressed, paranoid, violent, abusing drugs and haunted by nightmares. But because he was other-than-honorably discharged, he said, he was ineligible for benefits or health care. He was no longer Uncle Sam’s problem. He was on his own.

“I had no job training,” he said. “All I know how to do is kill people.”

A few days later, on Nov. 30, 2007, Eastridge went drinking with Bastien and Bressler. According to court documents the three ran into a fellow soldier, Kevin Shields, who was celebrating his 24th birthday.

They downed shots at the downtown bars until closing, then drove around, smoking a joint, until they were lost on the west side.

In the first, dark hours of Dec. 1, 2007, Bressler and Shields got in a fight when Shields teased the tough gunner for throwing up in the car. Bressler told Bastien to pull over because he needed to puke again. Bressler leaned against a pole like he was sick, then turned around and shot Shields in the head. The soldier fell to the ground, and Bressler shot him four more times.

Bressler fished a few things out of Shields’ pockets to make the shooting look like a robbery, and they sped away.

Soldiers who saw the trio drinking with Shields at Rum Bay helped police tie them to the crime, court documents said.

Bressler was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 60 years.

Bastien pleaded guilty to the same charge and also got 60 years.

Eastridge pleaded guilty to accessory to murder and got 10 years.

None used their experiences in Iraq as a defense.

“When I was sentenced, the judge told me ‘Look at how many people go to Iraq, and how few come back and commit crimes,” Eastridge said, “But that’s not fair. A lot of the soldiers who go to Iraq just drive trucks or check IDs or sit in the Green Zone. Look at combat troops. And look at what kind of combat they did. My unit was in the worst neighborhood in the bloodiest part of the war. Even in my platoon, there were guys that stayed in the truck and guys that did most of the fighting. Look at that tiny number. It’s not the hundreds of thousands that go, it’s the few hundred that see heavy, heavy combat. It changes lives.”

“Give me the gun”

The rest of the Lethal Warriors returned home from Iraq in December 2007.

Some went wild in the bars, overflowing with the same pent-up jubilation troops experienced after the first tour. Then the crescendo started.

Jose Barco, who was burned so badly in the first tour that, soldiers said, he had to beg commanders to allow him back for the second tour, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. Then drunken driving. Then burglary with a deadly weapon. Then he got divorced. Finally, he was arrested and accused of taking a pistol to a house party.

On April 25, 2008, he was with a crowd in the basement of a friend of a friend’s house, police say, when he got in an argument, pulled out the gun and shot a round through the ceiling. There was a fight. He was thrown out. A few minutes later, when the party crowd was still standing on the front lawn, he drove by, spraying bullets. Police say one hit 19-year-old Ginny Stefanic, who was six months pregnant, in the thigh. Stefanic suffered minor injuries.

Barco, who declined to be interviewed, was arrested Jan. 7. He posted $25,000 bail and is awaiting trial for attempted murder.

It was a classic case of the pattern that Graham said most soldiers follow when they spiral out of control. Before the big stuff, there is little stuff. Catching it in time can save lives.

Fort Carson has trained key leaders to spot the warning signs.

When a soldier is drinking too much or acting out, instead of punishment, they are supposed to get help.

“But it’s a very tough problem,” said Graham, who ordered the new programs. “If a soldier is showing all the risk factors, what can you do? You can’t lock them up. They haven’t done anything. But what we can do is provide them every opportunity to get the care they need and try to break down the stigma against seeking help.”

Like Barco, Jomar Falu-Vives started hitting his wife.

Soldiers say the lifelong Army brat seemed to handle Baghdad OK. Back home, Falu-Vives would go out to sing karaoke with other soldiers and go shooting at the firing range off Rampart Range Road, according to fellow soldiers.

But his ex-wife, Jolhea Vives, said he had turned mean.

He always liked to party and had a short temper, she said. But when he got back from Iraq, it was worse. Soon after, they filed for divorce.

Falu-Vives’ lawyer did not respond to a request for an interview.

His ex-wife said he had episodes where he “went into combat mode.” At one point, she said, he stuck a loaded .45 in her mouth.

She said she called his sergeant, saying that he was violent and was going to kill somebody, but the Army did nothing.

An Army spokesman said, “There is no specific Army policy that provides guidance on these types of situations. It is up to the soldier’s chain of command.”

The soldier’s commanders declined to be interviewed.

On May 26, 2007, Falu-Vives was riding in the back seat of his friend and fellow soldier Rodolfo Torres-Gandarilla’ Chrysler sedan on the way back from a bar, according to his arrest affidavit. Near South Circle Drive, he allegedly saw two men standing in front of a house on the corner of Flintshire Street and Monterey Road, lifted an AK-47 and started shooting. One of the men in front of the house, Army Capt. Zachary Szody, collapsed with a bullet in his knee and another in his hip.

Ten days later, Falu-Vives was cruising in his black Chevy Tahoe with Torres-Gandarilla and two other Army buddies, according to the affidavit.

Near midnight, he pulled up to an intersection five blocks from the first shooting. Amairany Cervantes, 18, and her boyfriend, Cesar Ramirez-Ibanez, 21, were setting up signs for a yard sale the next morning, the affidavit said.

“Give me the gun,” police said he told a friend sitting in the back seat. He shot the woman in the back five times, police said, her boyfriend, four times. Both died almost instantly. Falu-Vives sped back to his apartment, where he stood on the balcony watching the red and blue lights converge on the spot.

He listened to sirens wailing in the night and, according to what witnesses told police, held up his hands and said, “I love that sound.”

Falu-Vives’ mother, Lt. Col. Marta Vives, is an Army nurse in a Combat Stress Team. She helps soldiers in war zones who are starting to lose it. It is one of a number of programs the Army has created since the war began.

When her son was patrolling Baghdad, she was stationed just a few miles away.

Reached at Fort Hood, Texas, she said the Army has many programs to help troops, but soldiers often avoid the counseling and medication offered, and leaders sometimes don’t give GIs time or permission to visit.

“There is still a stigma behind getting help,” she said. “That is the hardest part. It is still seen as a sign of weakness.”

She said she has talked to the battalion commander of the Lethal Warriors and the commander of Fort Carson to tell them that many efforts to treat troops’ mental problems are not trickling down to privates like her son.

Falu-Vives was arrested July 30, 2008.

Torres-Gandarilla pleaded guilty to accessory to murder in April and is expected to testify against Falu-Vives in August.

Falu-Vives’ mother said she never saw evidence of her son having problems.

“He isn’t a criminal,” she said. “He never killed a fly — except when it was his job.”

Before Falu-Vives could be charged with first-degree murder, another Lethal Warrior was arrested for the same thing.

“Pushed them until they broke”

John Needham struggled to find normalcy after trying to kill himself in Iraq in September 2007.

The tall California surfer had been hit by six roadside bombs before getting drunk one night in Baghdad and putting a gun to his head, his father, Michael Needham, said.

The soldier was diagnosed with PTSD, flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and put on antipsychotics, an antidepressant, an antiseizure drug used to calm PTSD soldiers and a potent blood-pressure drug used to silence nightmares. Side effects of the cocktail can include hangover-like symptoms, short-term memory loss, irritability, aggression, hallucinations, sleepwalking, paranoia and panic attacks. So many of the side effects were like the symptoms of his PTSD that his father said it was hard to know if they were making him better or worse.

For a month, Needham stayed at the hospital. On Nov. 9, 2007, according to orders provided by his father, Needham’s battalion commander had him transferred to Fort Carson so he could be sent back to Iraq.

“It’s just bizarre, we couldn’t figure out why they were doing this to him,” his father said.

Needham’s father and Andrew Pogany , a veterans’ advocate and former Fort Carson sergeant, persuaded commanders to keep Needham from going back to Iraq so he could continue psychiatric treatment.

But, his father said, his son didn’t get it.

Laws prevent the Army from discussing medical treatment of soldiers. Needham’s father said his son was kept on the drugs but never received counseling.

Instead, he said, his son was berated by sergeants.

“They would write things on the chalkboard in his barracks like ‘John Needham is a shit bag cry baby PTSD boohoo,’” his father said.

It was so bad that when Needham went home for Thanksgiving in 2007, his father refused to let him return to the Army.

“We basically kidnapped him,” his father said. He took his son to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, and argued with Fort Carson until the soldier was reassigned to Balboa.

Needham was honorably discharged from the Army on July 18, 2008, with chronic PTSD and moved back to his father’s house in San Clemente, Calif. But, his father said, he was not better.

“He was severely different,” his father said.

John Needham was groggy and vacant from the pills. He had lost much of his hearing from bomb blasts. He often drank himself to oblivion. He was paranoid and afraid of crowds.

He begged his father to buy him an assault rifle like the one he carried in Iraq. Eventually, they compromised on a toy pistol that shot rubber BBs. Needham carried it almost everywhere, his father said.

The former soldier was going to regular counseling at a local Veterans Affairs hospital, but, his father said, it wasn’t enough.

His son had frightening flashbacks. Late one night, he rummaged through the bathroom naked, smearing his face and body with cosmetics as if they were camouflage paint. He sharpened one end of a broom handle to make a weapon. His father said he found him crouching silently behind the couch. His father said his son always took off his clothes when he had a flashback.

“He needed to be committed,” his father said. “He needed serious psychiatric help. I tried to put him in the hospital, but the VA said they could only treat him as an outpatient . . . I could see the train wreck coming.”

On the night of Sept. 1, 2008, Needham was at home hanging out with a girlfriend in his bedroom on the ground floor. His father was two floors above, taking a shower.

A 19-year-old woman named Jacqwelyn Villagomez, whom the soldier had recently broken up with, came in. The women fought,his father said. Needham’s girlfriend called the police. They arrived a few minutes later, and Needham answered the door naked and bleeding, his father said.

Villagomez’s body lay in his bedroom, he said.

His father said he heard a ruckus, went downstairs and watched the police tackle his son. The soldier fought back as they put him in cuffs. Michael Needham said he stared, weeping, as his naked son lay bleeding and struggling, incoherent on the driveway as the police tasered him again and again.

John Needham is awaiting trial on suspicion of murder. In May, family members mortgaged their houses to bail him out. He is now getting inpatient treatment at a VA hospital, Michael Needham said.

“I know the Army would like to say it is not responsible for this, that it didn’t train them to do this. But that is bullshit,” Michael Needham said. “They trained them to kill, then when they didn’t have enough men for the surge, they pushed these guys until they broke, then threw them away.”

Resiliency

This spring, Lethal Warriors sprawled on the floor of a Fort Carson conference room, learning to take deep breaths.

They lazed on their backs in full camouflage. In. Out. And relax.

“The media says war will (expletive) you up, but that stress can also make you stronger. You just have to learn to mentally metabolize the experience,” Dan Taslitz, a former Marine, told a group of sprawling soldiers.

Taslitz was there as part of a new “resiliency training” called “Warrior Optimization Systems,” or WAROPS, that the 4th Brigade was testing to try to counter mental illness, violence and suicide in the ranks.

If the Army likes the results, it may take the program Army-wide, commanders said.

In the four-hour class, soldiers learn how the brain and body react to combat stress, and talk about healthy ways to respond, such as relaxation breathing, exercise and visualizing a positive outcome to a mission.

Sometimes, instructors said, controlling emotions is as simple as stepping back, identifying the feeling and saying it out loud. They call the process “name it and tame it.”

The brigade plans to hold refresher courses in Afghanistan and again when soldiers return home.

Fort Carson also created a task force late in 2008 to hunt for “common threads” in the killings committed by Fort Carson soldiers.

The investigation, conducted by a team of 27 behavioral health and Army professionals, concluded with a report released July 15. The findings echo what guys in the ranks said: Their tour was bloodier than most; violence in Iraq messed them up; they started abusing drugs and alcohol; treatment for substance abuse and mental health at Fort Carson was inadequate; stigma kept soldiers from getting help; and when those so-called “risk factors” came together, guys got in serious trouble.

The report did not address other issues, such as soldiers carrying guns once they return from deployments, alleged war crimes by the unit, or the Army’s deployment of soldiers with pending civilian felonies.

The study recommended better mental health care and training, programs to “ensure there is no humiliation or belittling” of soldiers seeking mental health care, and more studies to “assess a possible link between deployment, combat intensity, and aggressive behavior.”

But Graham said the report does not offer a simple cure.

“We didn’t see any one thing that we could identify and say, yes, this is the reason these soldiers do this,” he said.

Instead, he said, Fort Carson and the Army have instituted a wide array of changes.

Evans Army Community Hospital has increased the number of behavioral health care workers from 37 to 71. Many are assigned to mobile teams within brigades, so soldiers don’t have to go to the hospital to seek help.

Fort Carson also has added 16 “military family life consultants,” whom soldiers and their families can visit anonymously for help with everything from relationship problems to financial concerns.

Fort Carson started referring soldiers to private counselors in Colorado Springs in 2006. The number seeking private counseling surged from 11 in 2006 to 2,171 in 2008, according to Evans Army Community Hospital.

“We see that as a sign of strength, not weakness,” said Roger Meyer, Evans spokesman. “It shows we are having success in our efforts to educate soldiers on the signs of stress.”

In Colorado Springs, lawyers and law enforcement agencies have created an experimental veteran’s court to catch returning soldiers who get in trouble with the law and steer them toward help instead of jail. Soldiers charged with felonies will be sentenced to counseling and substance abuse treatment. The court is expected to take its first cases in August.

The Army has created Warrior Transition Units to manage the care of soldiers, like Needham, who are too mentally or physically disabled to stay with their units.

Colorado’s senators urged the Army last week to include Fort Carson in a pilot alcohol abuse program.

Graham said the Army is also trying to change the culture.

All low-level leaders, he said, are now taught to treat mental illness like any battlefield injury.

“If a soldier is shot or injured, other soldiers know how to give him care,” Graham said. “We need to get soldiers to understand the signs of combat stress so they can do the same thing — get their buddy the care he needs.”

Staff Sgt. James Combs, with the Lethal Warriors, said in June that the combat stress education is more comprehensive than when he was a private in the late 1990s.

Now, he said, sergeants teach soldiers that “You may be able to pull the trigger on our M4 or M16, but you have to understand what it is doing to you mentally, and you need to be prepared for that.”

“We don’t just throw them to the wolves like we used to,” he said.

It is not clear how effective the changes will be.

The current commanders of the Lethal Warriors, who would implement many of the changes, declined repeated requests for interviews.

And Fort Carson’s new programs have not prevented more occurrences of destructive behavior.

On May 10, Thomas Woolly, the soldier Needham replaced in a blown-out Humvee turret in Baghdad in 2007, was drinking with friends after midnight at an apartment just a few blocks from Fort Carson.

Woolly had done two tours with the Lethal Warriors and was in the new Warrior Transition Unit, about to be medically discharged because, his grandmother, Gladys Woolly said, “He was blowed up so many times until it damaged his brain.”

Woolly, 24, had a drink in one hand and a loaded .45 Long Colt revolver in the other, according to his arrest affidavit, when a friend’s husband, who had been arguing with the group, banged on the door.

Police say Woolly cocked the gun’s hammer. After the husband left and Woolly went to uncock the gun, the hammer slipped. The bullet killed 19-year-old Lisa Baumann, who was standing on the other side of the room.

Woolly was charged with manslaughter. He is out on bail and is scheduled for arraignment in August. He did not respond to interview requests.

Two weeks later, Roy Mason, 28, another Lethal Warrior who had served two tours and landed in the Warrior Transition Unit, went AWOL, drove to California, parked at the beach, called 911 from his car, asked them to clean up the mess quickly “before kids see,” then shot himself in the head, media reports said.

Civilian mental health professionals caution that the Army programs treat the symptoms but do not address the underlying cause.

“There are some good things going on,” said Davida Hoffman, the director of First Choice Counseling, a private clinic that treats about 250 Carson soldiers.

But counseling can do only so much, she said. The quality of treatment is not the cause of the problem. Combat is.

The more combat soldiers see, she said, the more problems they will have. The more problems soldiers have, the more problems Colorado Springs has.

“Soldiers simply cannot handle repeated deployments,” she said. “If these guys keep seeing deployments like the stuff they saw in Iraq, we could have a very dangerous situation.”

Graham agreed that repeated deployments are tough on soldiers. But the Army has a job to do, he said, and the rate of deployment is not expected to slow for at least 12 to 18 months.

On the same day Mason put a gun to his head at the beach, his old brigade was deploying to Afghanistan.

Most of the guys from the first deployment had left the Army, transferred to a different unit, been kicked out, wounded or killed. But for every one gone there is a new recruit. And while some attitudes in the Army are changing, the day-to-day reality of the foot soldier is not. Since June, insurgent attacks have killed three in the brigade.

No one may have a better view of the Army’s challenges than Sgt. Michael Cardenaz. In many ways, he is the battle-worn face of today’s soldier.

The solid, bald-headed Lethal Warriors staff sergeant and father of two was the platoon commander for Eastridge, Barco and Bastien in Baghdad. He often played Texas Hold ’em with Bressler at the base. He went bowling with Falu-Vives just days before Falu-Vives was arrested in the yard sale sign shootings. He has done three tours in Iraq and two in Kosovo. He said he has had close scrapes with 35 IEDs, scores of rocket-propelled grenades and one 500-pound bomb. He has taken shrapnel twice. He describes himself as an “old-school career soldier.” He is 29.

With every arrest of a fellow soldier, he was shocked, he said, but he does not think it is just coincidence that so many guys in the unit are now in jail.

“These are all younger guys. They are just kids, straight out of high school, from mom’s house to basic training to Iraq. You throw them in a tour like this, and there is going to be an aftermath,” he said. “Time was, before I really understood it, my reaction would have been ‘fry ’em.’ But now I can empathize. . . If they did what they did, fine, they have to answer to the justice system, but these guys like Eastridge who tried so hard and loved the Army . . . they are a casualty of war. Their psyches are casualties of war.”

He agreed that the deployment to Afghanistan will be different from the ones that he said screwed up his friends.

“There is much more attention to the mental side,” he said. “I’ve been trained to do stress debriefings and suicide prevention. I remember a time in the Army when mental health was taboo. It was career over. That’s not the case anymore.”

But, he said, the stigma is alive and well, especially among infantrymen.

“There’s still a feeling that if you got to go see the doc, you’re a punk. There are a lot of people who still feel that way. I’m not going to lie to you, I do,” he said.

Real soldiers, he said, “just suck it up.”

“That’s what I do. I think I was given a God-given talent to suck it up. Horrible things happen, I suck it up. I don’t let it bother me.”

In March Cardenaz was arrested in a felony assault.

He was walking with his wife past The Thirsty Parrot on Tejon Street, in full dress uniform after the Lethal Warriors’ annual ball, when some civilians hanging out in front of the bar said something. Or maybe Cardenaz said something to them. Witnesses say the sergeant dropped one with a single punch. When another guy came after him to ask why he did it, police say, Cardenaz broke his jaw.

The soldier posted bail and did not show up for his court hearing July 15.

His lawyer told the judge that Cardenaz had deployed to Afghanistan.

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