The Special Ops community is stunned by 'No Easy Day,' an unauthorized account of the al Qaeda takedown by one of their own. Now the Navy brass say they might come after the author.
In the closed and close-knit world of current and retired U.S. Special Operations officers, the news that an unauthorized account of the 2011 Navy SEALs raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was coming to bookstores next month hit like a ton of bricks.
The pending publication of the book, No Easy Day: The First Hand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden, so stirred Admiral William McRaven, chief of the Special Operations Command, that he sent a letter Thursday to special-operations forces warning against using their elite military affiliation for personal gain, according to Pentagon officials who asked not to be named.
In the letter, McRaven said that while it was within the rights of former special-operations soldiers to “write books about their adventures, it is disappointing when these actions either attempt to represent the broader [special-operations forces] community, or expose sensitive information that could threaten the lives of their fellow warriors.”
McRaven also issued a veiled warning to the author: “Every member of the special-operations community with a security clearance signed a non-disclosure agreement that was binding during and after service in the military. If the U.S. Special Operations Command finds that an active-duty, retired or former service member violated that agreement and that exposure of information was detrimental to the safety of U.S. forces, then we will pursue every option available to hold members accountable, including criminal prosecution where appropriate.”
On Internet forums the special-ops community maintains to discuss their craft, the common response, according to two participants, was: “WTF.” “I am on a few list-servs,” said Roger Carstens, a former Army Special Forces officer and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. “This topic has been a heavy and heated discussion with almost everyone asking WTF?”
Jacqueline Keavney Lader and Don Lader were in the Century 16 theater watching ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ when James Holmes allegedly killed 12 people. The former Marines talk about going back to see the movie to make sure the gunman did not win.
My husband, Don, and I both love movies. We’re self-professed movie buffs, and have been since childhood. Attending midnight-movie releases are a treat, and the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colo., is a short drive away. In the late night hours of July 19th, we arrived at the theater about an hour before our 12:05 a.m. showing. We settled into our usual seats (the eighth row up) to wait for the movie to start. Excited people streamed into the theater, some of them in costume. All of us were excited, my husband and I especially, because we’re big fans of Christopher Nolan’s work. By 11:30 p.m., the house was absolutely packed. Someone stood up and shouted “30 MINUTES!!!” and the crowd clapped and cheered.
A U.S. flag and a sign that reads "We will remember," are shown at sunrise at the memorial to victims of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, Friday, July 27, 2012. It was a week earlier that a gunman opened fire during a late-night showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 and injuring dozens. Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (Ted S. Warren / AP Photo)
When the movie finally started, the place was completely silent. We were expecting some excellent action scenes, and the movie starts out with a completely over-the-top aerial stunt. About 20 minutes into the movie, my husband and I both noticed a bright sliver of light in the corner of the theater. We watched as a man, dressed in head-to-toe body armor, smoothly walked in through the emergency exit, popped a smoke grenade, and tossed it directly over our heads into the crowd.
Something you should know about us: we both served on active duty with the United States Marines. Marines train with tear gas, and we train with it yearly. Neither of us will ever forget the sound of a tear gas canister popping and hissing—it’s as distinctive as someone opening a can of soda, and it’s loud. The smell of tear gas is as unique as the sound of its canister being deployed. If I lived 100 years I would never forget that smell. It’s quite literally burned into my brain.
I know that Don and I knew something was very wrong the instant that emergency exit opened. For maybe one second I thought we were victims of a simple prank, and I thought “This is not funny.” But my bad gut feeling was confirmed the instant I smelled tear gas, and we hit the floor as the burning sensation of the gas filled our eyes, noses and lungs. As we were on our way down to the ground, the shooter opened fire. Now, this is where Don gets humble: he threw himself over me to shield me from the gunfire. That’s the moment where I knew without a doubt that my husband would get us out of there safely. We heard a break in the shooting (where Don thought the shooter was reloading; we found out later that his semi-automatic rifle had jammed) and Don dragged me off the floor. He screamed out “RUN!” as a command to a friend who had come with us that night, and we sprinted for the exits. We got knocked down and trampled a bit on our way out, but we regained our footing and ran as hard and as fast as we could.
We didn’t stop running until we got to our car, and we peeled out of the parking lot. We stopped just at the entrance of the theater, because we saw a family who seemed to be headed back toward the entrance. I rolled down the windows and shouted “No, don’t go in there, some guy has a gun!” One of the women (the family was two ladies and their young teenage son) frantically told us that she’d left her keys in the theater, and that she had to go back. Don leaned over me in the passenger seat and told her, “Get in the car, now.” With six people safely crammed in our vehicle, Don slammed on the gas pedal. As we were turning onto the main road, about six cop cars with their lights flashing were speeding toward the theater.
Ever since it was published 50 years ago critics have described Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as the great nonconformist novel, but Nathaniel Rich writes that the novel’s true message is about the militarization of American society—and the trauma of war.
When a novel becomes a “classic”—when it is digested by critics and English teachers and study guide authors into bite-size morsels that can be slurped with a spoon—it undergoes a peculiar type of transformation. For one, it ceases to resemble a novel. Even the messiest, most obstreperous books are reduced to a litany of bullet points, or a single bullet point. Moby-Dick: Obsession devours. Crime and Punishment: Guilt corrupts. White Noise: Technology numbs. It can be disorienting to actually read the damn thing, and find out the epitaph is no more descriptive than a chapter title, and a misleading one at that.
Ken Kesey in 1966. (Ted Streshinsky / Corbis)
It’s even worse when the novel is adapted into a film, especially a good film, as is the case with Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Since Milos Forman’s adaptation, the line about the novel has been that is an “antiauthoritarian fable” (Larry McMurtry), a “nonconformists’ bible” (Pauline Kael), “a metaphor of repressive America” (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt). This view is accurate—Kesey is certainly interested in conformity and its discontents—but incomplete. What Kesey has to say is larger, and far more subversive.
Kesey is not the first author to write about lunatics who appear saner than those who seek to lock them up. The trope dates back as far as Don Quixote, continues through Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman, Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, published a year before Kesey’s novel. The nature of the oppression is different in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, however: the inmates in Kesey’s mental ward, with one or two exceptions, have asked to be locked away. “Guilt,” says Harding, one of the patients, when asked to explain his decision:
"Shame. Fear. Self-belittlement. I discovered at an early age that I was—shall we be kind and say different? I indulged in certain practices that our society regards as shameful. And I got sick. It wasn’t the practices, I don’t think, it was the feeling that the great, deadly, pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me—and the great voice of millions chanting, 'Shame. Shame. Shame.' "
This is a novel about oppression, but it is also about man’s desire—which at times can become a need, even a compulsion—to take orders. Harding’s explanation horrifies Kesey’s hero, Randle Patrick McMurphy, a charismatic huckster whose arrival at the beginning of the novel disrupts the quiet, domineering rule of Nurse Ratched, the ward’s authoritarian overlord. McMurphy tells his fellow patients that, in order to avoid a hard labor prison sentence, he has convinced authorities that he’s a psychopath. “If it gets me outta those damned pea fields I’ll be whatever their little heart desires, be it psychopath or mad dog or werewolf…” McMurphy, despite his swagger, is looking for safety too.
What about the Republicans' role?
There is a curious omission in Mitt Romney’s speech to the VFW today.
He warns against the dire consequences of the massive Pentagon budget cutbacks scheduled to take effect at the end of the year. And that’s an absolutely legitimate issue, prompting concern in both parties.
J.D. Pooley / Getty Images
But here’s the rub that Romney neglects, at least based on excerpts released by the campaign: The Republicans agreed to these cuts. The GOP-controlled House went along as part of a bipartisan deal last summer to prevent the government from sliding into default.
Romney describes the looming threat as “an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats. Don’t bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this, unless that rationale is wishful thinking. Strategy is not driving President Obama’s massive defense cuts. In fact, his own secretary of Defense warned that these reductions would be ‘devastating.’ And he is right.” (Mindful of his audience, Romney adds that this will hurt VA health care as well.)
Fine. But is Romney saying John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were wrong to agree to this?
The case’s first court-martial shines a spotlight on the military’s ‘zero-tolerance’ failure.
On Monday, Air Force Sergeant Luis Walker will face a court-martial in Texas—the first case in the military’s biggest sexual assault scandal in 16 years, and one that is shining a harsh spotlight on the military’s supposed "zero-tolerance" policy toward sex offenders.
In this June 22, 2012, image made from video, female airmen march during graduation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. A widening sex scandal has rocked Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, one of the nation's busiest military training centers, where four male instructors are charged with having sex with, and in one case raping, female trainees. (John L. Mone / AP Photo)
In the year since Walker was first accused of rape, an internal investigation has discovered 31 more victims, at least five other instructors have been charged with rape or inappropriate relations with female trainees, and 35 more have been removed from their positions pending investigations. Walker has been charged with multiple counts of rape and aggravated sexual assault.
On June 28, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier addressed the Lackland case on the floor of the House of Representatives. “Nothing has changed,” she said, calling for a hearing into the alleged abuse. “We need to know once and for all why instructors have been permitted to abuse power so freely and we need to know from the top that the phrase ‘zero tolerance for sexual assault in the military’ is a fact, not a talking point."
The military first pledged to crack down on sexual assault and harassment within its ranks in 1992, in the wake of a massive scandal that erupted at the Navy fliers’ annual Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, where some 90 victims were allegedly assaulted by as many as 175 drunken officers. A year and a half later, a Pentagon report found that Tailhook was not an isolated incident, but the culmination of a “long-term failure of leadership.” The Navy’s chief of operations, Admiral Frank Kelso, pledged that the event would transform the institution. Tailhook “brought to light the fact that we had an institutional problem in how we treated women,” he said. “In that regard, it was a watershed event that has brought about institutional change.”
But just four years later, another scandal erupted—this time, at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where assault charges were brought against a dozen male officers for sexual assault on female trainees. Then, in 2003, the U.S. Air Force Academy was also accused of systemically ignoring an ongoing sexual assault problem on its premises.
Military Spouse Magazine honored the dad for his stay-at-home work with disabled daughter.
When Deanie Dempsey, whose husband is the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took the stage at the Marine Barracks Washington earlier this month to announce 2012’s “Military Spouse of the Year,” she fumbled for her words. There were six nominees—five women and one man—and Dempsey clearly had trouble finding the appropriate gender-neutral pronoun, in order to not blow the identity of the winner. Finally, she gave up. “I have confidence that he will do his fellow spouses proud,” she said. The room collectively gasped.
Jeremy Hilton, the 2012 Military Spouse of the Year, poses with his wife, Air Force Lt. Col. Renae Hilton, and their children, Jack, 2, and Kate, 9. (Courtesy of Military Spouse Magazine)
This was, after all, decidedly a ladies’ luncheon. The hot-pink gift bags held tubes of shimmery eye shadow and sparkly necklaces. But this year, for the first time ever, the spouse of honor was not a wife, but a husband: Jeremy Hilton, a cheerful, mustachioed fellow. Taking the podium, Hilton cracked a joke, “Now, we’ve obviously established that this is not a beauty contest.”
Hilton is an outlier in more ways than one. Women like his wife, Renae, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, make up fewer than 15 percent of active-duty armed-service members; fewer than half of them are married. Nine years ago, Hilton left his own career in the Navy to care for the couple’s daughter, Kate, who was born with hydrocephalis—a condition that has required multiple surgeries and caused significant brain damage in their little girl. Hilton’s choice made him one the country’s rare stay-at-home dads, not just in the military but in the country as a whole. (According to the U.S. Census, in 2010, there were an estimated 154,000 stay-at-home fathers, compared with 5 million such moms.)
But for all his exceptionalism, Hilton’s place at the podium is also one more sign that the military—among the most male-dominated, staunchly traditional institutions in America—has, over the course of the past year, begun to undergo a seismic change. In September, the ban on open sexuality of gay and lesbian service members was lifted with the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell." Then, a few months ago, it was announced that the Pentagon would revise its policy excluding women from combat roles, opening up 14,000 new jobs for female service members.
Hilton’s trajectory itself exemplifies the changes that have been ushered in during recent years. When he was in the Navy, Hilton served on submarines that excluded women until 2010. Now his business cards are hot pink. “I’m probably an example of the widest swing you can make,” he laughs. “I think I’m just secure enough in my manhood that none of this bothers me.”
Harry to go back to front line
Prince Harry could be back serving in Afghanistan soon, after the country’s top soldier, Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, said at a Jubilee event, "Prince Harry's operational tour in Afghanistan in the Army was a huge credit to him and his success in flying training means it is likely he will serve operationally again."
The comments were made during a military tribute to the Queen at Windsor castle, in which more than 2,500 serving soldiers paraded for the monarch, and a flypast of 78 aircraft, which first spelt out the number 60 followed by the initials E R (for Elizabeth Regina) (aviation buffs, see video).
The General’s remarks - which could be regarded as needlessly giving a hostage-to-fortune - are the clearest indication yet that Harry will indeed be returning to operational duties in the front line. Harry’s last deployment was brought to a rapid end after six weeks, when his presence in Afghanistan was noticed by an Australian magazine and then repeated by Matt Drudge, who claimed to be unaware of a media blackout.
The story of Harry’s return to active service has been extensively trailed by the Clarence House press office, which has made much of the fact that Harry was given a prize for being top gunner in his class. Some of the training took place in America last year. The managers of Brand Harry also place emphasis on how hard it is to qualify as an Apache pilot, including the oft-repeated tidbit that you have to learn to move each eyeball independently of the other and that just one in 10 of those who apply to fly the attack helicopters make it through the training to do so.
Sources at the Ministry of Defense have gone to some lengths to emphasize that the prince will be getting blood on his hands: his job, we have been previously told, will be to “kill insurgents” and he will be joining a team with one of the highest “kill rates” in Afghanistan.
One of the most noted intelligence officers of his generation, Henry 'Hank' Crumpton oversaw the CIA-led assault on the Taliban and al Qaeda after Sept. 11. In an excerpt from his new book, 'The Art of Intelligence,' he recounts the full story of the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan—and how his wife responded.
In the aftermath of the coordinated air and ground assaults and the fall of major Afghan cities to U.S. and Afghan forces in the north, we encountered a prisoner problem. Our Afghan allies had captured hundreds of the enemy but had no prison system to process and contain them. The U.S. military had not established any prisoner of war protocols or allocated resources to handle the captured enemy. With the CIA having no writ for prisoners at that time (and not wanting one) and so few U.S. troops being on the ground, the obvious default was to our Afghan allies. So, as with most everything else, they improvised.
Maya Alleruzzo / AP Photo
The single largest group of enemy combatants had surrendered in the Kondūz pocket, where they had been surrounded and assaulted on all sides while being pounded from above. One of our allied commanders in that area, General Dostum, assumed responsibility for a few hundred prisoners. They were a mix of Afghan Taliban and foreign fighters, including the American traitor John Walker Lindh. Dostum transported them to the ancient fortress of Qala-i-Jangi, several miles from Mazār-e Sharīf. The massive walls and enclosed compounds resembled some aspects of a prison, but the facility was not configured to screen and control prisoners. Moreover, Dostum’s men had no experience in penal operations. They were tribal horse soldiers, not prison guards, and they failed to adequately search the prisoners.
On 25 November 2001, during an initial interrogation screening in one of the courtyards, the prisoners revolted. Using concealed weapons in a coordinated assault, they quickly overpowered the Afghan guards and attacked two CIA officers. One of our men, Mike Spann, was immediately overwhelmed. He went down. The other officer, David, fought his way across the courtyard to an interior stairwell. He backpedaled up the steep stairs, so he could face the enemy while emptying his AK-47 into the pursuing assailants. He killed several of them. Once at the top of the wall, he found cover. By then, allied Afghan guards had rallied along the parapets and prevented any breakout, but the mayhem continued. The fighting was intense.
David scrambled to safety and met a German news crew. He borrowed their satellite phone and contacted the CIA in Tashkent, who relayed his situation to Team Alpha. They were deployed, in part, still in the Kondūz area. David reported that Mike Spann was down. Within the hour, I got the call at home. It was a Sunday afternoon. I raced to the office at Langley, less than twenty minutes away. The first report, like most, left many questions unanswered. Was Mike dead or alive? Was he wounded or just stunned? Was he captive, or had he managed to escape the onslaught and was now hiding somewhere in the massive compound?
I did not know Mike well, but his reputation was solid. He was based in SAD. A marine who had joined the CIA only a couple of years earlier, he was young, tough, resourceful, and handsome. He was a low-key, quiet, modest professional. He had recently married Shannon, a CIA officer whom he had met during training. I knew Shannon, a CT who had served an interim assignment in CTC the previous year, when I was there. She spent a day shadowing me, part of an introductory program I instituted for trainees in CTC. A professor of law, she joined the CIA determined to make a contribution to our counterterrorism mission. Trim, smart, and measured, she was an excellent officer. She and Mike made an impressive couple. Mike had two daughters by a previous marriage. Mike and Shannon had a newborn son, Jake.
The U.S. has two options for a political solution before withdrawing from Afghanistan. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches, can a path to a deal be found via Pakistan?
Despite the long, robust national and international debate about U.S. policy, Afghanistan’s future after 2014 appears increasingly uncertain. While the recent agreement on the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership is a significant breakthrough, the agreement is reportedly more symbolic than substantive. It is now clear that setting 2014 as a target date for the end of U.S. combat operations was not only an unrealistic deadline but also an act of significant strategic ineptness by the United States, one that provided the Taliban and various affiliated groups the opportunity to plan around declared American intentions. The timeline further reduces U.S. leverage on the Taliban to lay down their weapons.
Marc Grossman (right), the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, holds talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Islamabad, April 26, 2012 (Sajjad Qayyum / AFP / Getty Images)
Washington appears to have placed its hopes on a strategy of successful peace talks with the Taliban and the transfer of authority to the Afghan National Security Forces to maintain security beyond 2014. But neither process is proceeding smoothly. While there is much talk about talks, the peace process has been slow-moving, has stalled time and again, and has not yielded anything significant. Despite calls by the U.S. and Afghan governments for help in gaining access to the Taliban leadership in its territory, Pakistan has so far refused to cooperate. The Taliban leadership too has shown no sincere desire to remain involved in negotiations initiated by the U.S. in Qatar. They have so far refused to negotiate with the “stooge” Afghan government, describing it as “pointless,” and have recently suspended all talks with the U.S. The readiness of the Afghan police and Army is an even greater concern. Despite the security forces’ growing numbers, there are serious doubts about how well they have been trained and equipped. Fears also persist that Afghan security forces could disintegrate along ethnic lines, possibly resulting in a civil war reminiscent of the 1990s, if the Afghan central government does not hold its ground post-2014.
In the run-up to next month’s NATO summit in Chicago, it’s important to start weighing some key contingencies in the event that the transition and talks fail. If the U.S. is serious about getting out of Afghanistan in two years’ time, a course correction is required and it is critical that one of two new approaches is considered and employed.
First, if it wishes to keep talking with the Taliban using Qatar as an intermediary, the U.S. has to take more risks to accelerate the peace process and negotiate a timely and acceptable political settlement. This could involve releasing some former Taliban leaders from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, transferring Taliban detainees in Bagram and Parwan to Afghan control, pressuring Pakistan to allow the families of reconcilable Taliban members to return to Afghanistan, allowing some members of the Taliban leadership to travel, and offering reconcilable Taliban fighters some form of immunity and protection—as well as the possibility of employment and housing—in return for laying down their weapons.
This approach should not be seen as an appeasement policy. Rather, these steps will constitute important gestures of goodwill for the Taliban to reduce violence and lay down their weapons, and it would help immeasurably if such confidence-building measures are articulated at the Chicago summit. Such an approach may require more time, but will address some problems that have stalled the possibility of reaching a political settlement. The downside to this course, notwithstanding its potential success, is that if Pakistan isn’t happy with the outcome, it has the power to veto or spoil any negotiated peace deal. Even if the Taliban leadership—the so-called Quetta Shura—were to break with Pakistan, the country can still employ the Haqqani Network, which has a major presence in eastern Afghanistan. In the lead-up to U.S. presidential elections, the optics of concessions to the Taliban will also understandably be unappealing to the White House.
The secretary of defense announced Monday that commanders will hand over investigations to an outside, higher-ranking colonel, each branch of the armed forces will have a Special Victims Unit, and prosecution will be stressed. Activists applaud the changes as ‘radical’ and ‘necessary.’
When they talk about their commitment to reforming the way the military handles cases of sexual assault within its ranks, Representatives Niki Tsongas and Michael Turner often cite specific stories that rallied them to the cause. For Tsongas, it was the nurse who had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who told the Massachusetts Democrat that she was more afraid of her fellow soldiers than she was of the enemy. For Turner, it was the case of Maria Lauterbach, a 20-year-old Marine who was killed by the man she had accused of raping her, and buried in his back yard.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks during a press conference at the Pentagon in Washington, April 16, 2012 (Jim Watson / Newscom)
Since assuming office as the secretary of defense last July, Leon Panetta has been inundated with stories such as these. In February, Tsongas and Turner were among a bipartisan group of senators and representatives who hosted a special congressional screening of The Invisible War, a documentary about military sexual assault that won this year’s audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. And just weeks later, Panetta, along with former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld, was named in a lawsuit holding them accountable for an environment in which rape is rampant and victims are subject to retaliation.
On Monday, all these efforts appeared to pay off. That evening, Panetta made what the congresspersons deemed an “unprecedented” visit to Capitol Hill, where he met with Turner, Tsongas, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, and then appeared alongside them and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. Panetta announced a slew of changes to current military policy, ones that will, he promised, “fundamentally change the way the department deals with this problem.”
The announcement came just days after the release of the Pentagon's most recent annual report outlining the number of sexual assaults reported within the military last year. In 2011, 3,192 assaults were reported, up 1 percent from the previous year. According to the Defense Department's own estimate, just 15 percent of actual incidents are reported, putting the real number at some 19,000 assaults each year. But as survivors and their advocates say again and again, when it comes to rape within the ranks, the attacks themselves are just the tip of the iceberg: more damaging is the way they’re handled. Under current policy, reports of sexual assault are handled directly within the military’s chain of command. Young, inexperienced service members are tasked with handling delicate and complex crimes, and often they know both the victim and the perpetrator personally. The result: cases rarely are prosecuted. According to last week's report, nearly 70 percent of substantiated, “actionable” cases did not go to trial because of lower-level command discretion.
The most significant change is also the one that will be implemented the most quickly. Citing the fact that under the current policy, assault claims frequently are swept under the rug, Panetta announced that he planned to issue a directive requiring local commanders to immediately hand over investigations to an outside, higher-ranking colonel. The new policies also will establish Special Victim’s Units within each arm of the forces, so that cases will be handled by investigators and prosecutors who are specifically trained in sexual assaults; require that sex assault policies are explained to incoming service members within 14 days of reporting to duty; and establish a centrally located record of disciplinary and administrative outcomes related to every assault.
Since the slaying of 16 Afghans allegedly by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the ‘silent ranks’ of military wives are rallying around one of their own, recognizing they could easily have found themselves in Karilyn Bales’s shoes.
Most of us will, blessedly, never be in Karilyn Bales’s shoes. We will never know what it is like to discover that the person we married, the father of our two young children, has been accused of mass murder. Most of us wouldn’t even be able to begin to imagine how we might feel, or what we might do.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in 2011. (Spc. Ryan Hallock, DVIDS / AP Photo)
But most of us aren’t married to men in the military. Those who are—the more than one-million-strong ‘milspouses’ who make up the ‘silent ranks’ of the U.S. Armed Forces—can imagine it all too well. In the days after the news broke that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a 38-year-old father of two from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, had allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians, many veterans and service members hastened to distance themselves from the horrific act, rejecting the notion that PTSD or combat stress could be blamed for the soldier’s actions. But while the men scurried, the women rallied, taking to their blogs and social networks to voice their unconditional support for Bales’s wife, whom many even began to call ‘Kari.’
Sequestered on a military base in Washington State with her 4-year-old daughter, Quincy, and 3-year-old son, Bobby, Karilyn Bales reportedly hasn’t seen her husband—who is now in solitary confinement in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas—since he was deployed to Afghanistan in December. On Monday, she issued her first statement since the news of her husband’s alleged attacks broke. “I too want to know what happened. I want to know how this could be,” she said. “The victims and their families are all in my prayers, as is my husband who I love very much.”
It was the thought of Bales sequestered on base, cut off from her friends, and her family in nearby Bellevue, that prompted Lori Volkman, a prosecutor in Washington State and the wife of a Marine reservist, to pen an open letter on her blog. “I can only imagine what you felt as you stared blankly at the officer who arrived without any answers to give,” she wrote. “And when I thought of my own husband and my own children, and how devastating it would be, I sat at my own dinner table with my mother, another military wife, and we cried for you.”
In three days, the post has gotten more than 10,000 hits, Volkman says. Visitors have left more than 150 comments (more than on anything else she has ever posted) and of them, just four are negative. “Kari, be strong and hold on to your beautiful children,” wrote Kimberley. “My family is sending love to yours as it sends those in Afghanistan that lost their loved ones that awful day.” Most, however, address just Bales. “Please remember, you really are not alone,” reads one typical entry. “Many are saying, ‘but for the grace of God, could have been my soldier.’”
From the reporter who brought down McChrystal, a provocative new book about Afghanistan, the media, and the U.S. military. Matt Gallagher reviews Michael Hastings’s 'The Operators.'
It’s impossible to read The Operators, Michael Hastings’s new book about the Afghanistan War, without contemplating the amount of adoration and contempt it is going to generate in the coming weeks. It’s a polarizing book about a polarizing war for a polarized nation. Despite that, it demands to be read by both audiences and everyone in between. Its origins reside in “The Runaway General,” Hastings’s 2010 Rolling Stone article about Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his inner circle, which led to the general’s very public resignation from the top position in Afghanistan. Like it or not, this is a book of great consequence, not a pop-culture puff piece, which some of its deriders claim it is. The Operators seems destined to join the pantheon of the best of GWOT literature, not just for its rock-and-roll details, but for its piercing chronicles of a world gone mad.
Though The Operators covers much more than Hastings’s drunken tour through Europe with “Team America,” that remains the heart of the narrative. Understandably so. Unlike in “The Runaway General,” Hastings identifies the sources of the lightning-rod quotes, from Joe “Bite Me” Biden (Jake McFerren, McChrystal’s longtime friend from West Point and top political adviser) to “We co-opted the media on [Iraq] … You could see it coming. There were a lot of us who didn’t think Iraq was a good idea.” (McChrystal himself.)
One of the overarching themes of The Operators is the growing military-civilian divide in an era of an all-volunteer force. Typically, writers and journalists explore this divide at the ground level, where returning veterans and the society that produced them struggle to reconcile. As wrenching as those stories may be, Hastings has higher aspirations—right at the top, where a new general’s team and a new president’s team vie for influence and only seem to find misunderstanding and distrust.
“The guilt that many felt for not serving was covered up by an uncritical attitude toward those who did,” writes Hastings, both about the disconnect at the highest levels of power and what he coins the media-military industrial complex. As embarrassing as some scenes are for McChrystal and his subordinates, it’s really some of Hastings’s comrades in journalism (I couldn’t help but think of Thomas Friedman’s infamous “Suck on this” clip) whom he most takes to task, lambasting their lack of critical thinking and hard questions in exchange for continued access to the movers and shakers of the war effort.
'The Operators' has its origins in Michael Hastings’s 2010 Rolling Stone article about Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his inner circle, which led to the general’s very public resignation from the top position in Afghanistan (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images)
Loose lips, too much beer, and a cloud of volcanic ash swirl together in a perfect storm of circumstance too strange for fiction. The lack of outright protest by McChrystal and his team in the aftermath of the article’s publication seems understandable now, given the lengths to which Hastings goes to defend his credibility here. Indeed, “he did have that ******* tape recorder running all the time.”
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This map, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, displays 58 VA regional offices and the number of backlogged claims by week on a national, regional and local level. This application will update itself every Monday to show each office's change in pending claims.
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