Friday, July 18, 2008

The Costs of War: The Parents' Agony

The Costs of War: The Parents' Agony

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Every day for a parent of a person in the United States military is a long day, filled with concern for their daughter or son. Parents of nine US Army soldiers were notified of the deaths of their family members in Afghanistan this week.

July 16 and 17, 2008 have been extraordinarily long days for another group of parents.

In Washington, DC, on July 17, 2008, John and Linda Johnson, the parents of US Army Private First Class (PFC) Lavena Johnson, met US Army criminal investigators concerning the classification of the death of their daughter, who died three years ago on July 19, 2005 in Balad, Iraq. The Army labeled her death a suicide, despite evidence from materials the Army reluctantly provided to the parents that she was beaten, bitten, sexually assaulted, burned and shot. Despite numerous questions from Dr. John Johnson about the Army's investigation and determination of suicide, the Army stuck to its guns, saying that Lavena Johnson committed suicide. After the briefing, the Johnsons asked Congressman William Lacy Clay and Congresswoman Diane Watson to request that House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman hold hearings, requiring the production of witnesses to testify under oath to their knowledge of how Lavena died - an attempt to get information that the Army has so far failed to provide.

On July 16, 2008, at Fort Knox, KY, Helen and Eric Burmeister, the parents of PFC James Burmeister, attended the court-martial of their son. After being in three IED explosions in Iraq, upon his unit's return to Germany, James left his unit and flew to Canada. He stayed in Canada for ten months, and while there, in hopes of ending the practice, spoke publicly about "bait and kill" zones used by some military units to entice Iraqis into a zone with interesting objects and then shoot them. James voluntarily returned himself to military control at Fort Knox four months ago. In those four months, despite shrapnel still in his body and raging post-traumatic stress disorder, James was provided with minimal medical and emotional assistance. He was court-martialed on July 16, 2008 for being absent without leave (AWOL) and was convicted. The prosecution brought up the public statements and interviews Burmeister gave on "bait and kill." He was sentenced to six months in jail, a loss of pay, reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge that will deny him medical assistance for physical and emotional wounds suffered on active duty. He was taken from the court directly to jail.

On July 16, 2008, in Boise, Idaho, the parents of US Army war resister PFC Robin Long waited for the news that their son had been deported from Canada and placed in the hands of the US military. Ironically, war resister Long was handed over to US officials at the Peace Arch on the US-Canadian border, just north of Seattle, Washington. Three years ago, in 2005, Long went to Canada after refusing to serve in Iraq, a war he called an "illegal war of aggression." A Canadian federal judge on July 15 ordered that Long be deported after she ruled that he failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that he would suffer irreparable harm if he were returned to the United States. Long was taken by Washington State police to a civilian jail to await the arrival of Army military police who will transport him to the military prison at Fort Lewis, Washington. Eventually, he will be returned to his unit in Colorado for probable court-martial. At least 200 other US military personnel are in Canada. Several have requested refugee status but have been denied and risk deportation.

The costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to mount. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of Iraqis and Afghans have been permanently damaged by these wars. Support the families, but end the war.

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