‘Best military in the World’ – Yeah, Right

With news of atrocities by US soldiers, drone controllers, interrogators, you have to wonder how recruiters get on. The White House always tries to help. Every president must promise to honor our armed forces. President fill-in-the-blank has to say ours is the finest military of all, etc. At 2012’s Veterans’ Day ceremony, Mr. Obama boasted, “America is and always will be the greatest nation on Earth.” This Nov. 11, Obama said the US military since 9/11 is “defining one of the greatest generations of military service this country has ever produced,” and, “As a nation, we make sure we have the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world.”

But headlines always butt in. On Veterans’ Day 2001, one read: “American Soldier is Convicted of Killing Afghan Civilians for Sport.” US military invasions, occupations, torture of prisoners, massacres, drone attacks, offshore penal colonies and sexual assaults against our own service member, take the luster from our official self-image of ‘exceptionality.’

In a bold invitation, Human Rights Watch has called upon the 154 parties to the 1987 Torture Treaty to bring charges against US officials under explicit language in the act (the UN Convention on Torture), ratified by the US in 1994. HRW was moved by:

• “US Practiced Torture after 9/11,
Nonpartisan Review Concludes”
(Apr. 16, 2013)

• “Afghans Say an American
Tortured Civilians” (May 13, 2013)

• “CIA Drones Kill Civilians in
 Pakistan” (Mar. 18, 2011)

• “GI Kills 16 Afghans, Including
 9 Children, in Attacks on Homes”
 (Mar. 12, 2012)

• “Libya Effort is Called Violation
of War Act” (May 26, 2011)

• “NATO and Afghan forces killed
310 civilians over the same
period, mostly from airstrikes,
the UN reports” (Aug. 3, 2009)

• “100,000 Iraqis killed since
U.S. invasion analysis says”
(Oct. 29, 2004)

• “U.N. Chief Ignites Firestorm
by Calling Iraq War ‘Illegal’”
(Sep. 17, 2004);

• “Iraq Says Blast in Baghdad Kills
 Dozens of Civilians: U.S. Blamed”
(Mar. 29, 2003)

• “U.S. Presses for Total Exemp
tion from War Crimes Court”
(Oct. 9, 2002)

• “Pentagon Says U.S. Airstrike
Killed Women and Children”
(Mar. 13, 2002)

• “Bombing Necessary Despite
Toll on Civilians, U.S. Envoy Says”
 (Jan. 9, 2002);

• “U.S. helicopters fire on women,
children in Somalia”
(Sep. 10, 1993)

• “US forces buried enemy
forces alive” (Sep. 13, 1991)

• “200,000 died in Gulf War,
and counting” (May 30, 1991)

The Military’s Dirty
War on Women

Atrocities against people of the occupied or target countries aren’t the only ones being amassed. According to a July 2012 report released by the Pentagon, over 25,000 sexual assaults occurred in fiscal year 2012, a 37% increase from FY 2011. About “500 men and women were assaulted each week last year,” USA Today reported July 25. (“Reports of Military Sexual Assault Rise Sharply,” NY Times, Nov. 7; & “Sexual Assaults in Military Raise Alarm: 26,000 Cases Last Year,” May 7, 2013)

Across the Services, according to the Pentagon, 74% of females perceived one or more barriers to reporting sexual assault. In addition, 62% of victims who reported sexual assault indicated they experienced some form of retaliation.

This is why, according to US Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., more than 85 percent of all military sexual assaults go unreported. In fact, Sen. Baldwin says, “overall rates of reporting dropped from 13.5% in 2011 to 9.8% in 2012.”

In view of the flabbergasting numbers, and to help end the cover-up and suppression of sexual assault reporting, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, has introduced a bill that would remove investigation and disposal of such allegations from the military chain of command and place cases with military prosecutors. Currently, commanders decide whether or not to prosecute a G.I. accused of sexual assault. Commanders also have the power to reduce or overturn a judge or jury’s conviction.

Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S. 967, would give military prosecutors, instead of commanders, the independent authority to decide whether or not felony cases go to trial. The proposal has earned broad bipartisan support. It would reform the Code of Military Justice to make the military justice system independent at the felony level.
A related bill, the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act — S. 548 — sponsored by Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would prevent those convicted of sexual crimes from serving in the military, improve tracking, review sexual assault claims in the military, and help ensure victims have access to criminal  justice.

Veteran’s Day speeches can’t obscure our record of military outrages. A bit of Congressional reform would at least confront the hatred of women currently protected by the system.

— John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch an antiwar and environmental justice group in Wisconsin.