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Posted on Apr 17, 2014

Photo by Jo Naylor (CC BY 2.0)

By Ann Jones, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

More cases were already on the way. After the Fourth Brigade Combat team of Fort Carson, Colorado, returned from Iraq later in 2008, nine of its members were charged with homicide, while “charges of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault” at the base rose sharply. Three of the murder victims were wives or girlfriends; four were fellow soldiers (all men); and two were strangers, chosen at random.

Back at Fort Bragg and the nearby Marine base at Camp Lejeune, military men murdered four military women in a nine-month span between December 2007 and September 2008.  By that time, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright had identified at least 15 highly suspicious deaths of women soldiers in the war zones that had been officially termed “non-combat related” or “suicide.” She raised a question that has never been answered: “Is there an Army cover-up of rape and murder of women soldiers?”  The murders that took place near (but not on) Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, all investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities, raised another question: Were some soldiers bringing home not only the generic violence of war, but also specific crimes they had rehearsed abroad?

Stuck in Combat Mode

While this sort of post-combat-zone combat at home has rarely made it into the national news, the killings haven’t stopped.  They have, in fact, continued, month by month, year after year, generally reported only by local media.  Many of the murders suggest that the killers still felt as if they were on some kind of private mission in “enemy territory,” and that they themselves were men who had, in distant combat zones, gotten the hang of killing—and the habit. For example, Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old Army veteran, went to a party in Seattle in 2012 and got into a gunfight that left four people wounded.  He then fled to Mount Rainier National Park where he shot and killed a park ranger (the mother of two small children) and fired on others before escaping into snow-covered mountains where he drowned in a stream.

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Barnes, an Iraq veteran, had reportedly experienced a rough transition to stateside life, having been discharged from the Army in 2009 for misconduct after being arrested for drunk driving and carrying a weapon. (He also threatened his wife with a knife.) He was one of more than 20,000 troubled Army and Marine veterans the military discarded between 2008 and 2012 with “other-than-honorable” discharges and no benefits, health care, or help.

Faced with the expensive prospect of providing long-term care for these most fragile of veterans, the military chose instead to dump them.  Barnes was booted out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, which by 2010 had surpassed Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, and Fort Carson in violence and suicide to become the military’s “most troubled” home base.

Some homicidal soldiers work together, perhaps recreating at home that famous fraternal feeling of the military “band of brothers.” In 2012, in Laredo, Texas, federal agents posing as leaders of a Mexican drug cartel arrested Lieutenant Kevin Corley and Sergeant Samuel Walker—both from Fort Carson’s notorious Fourth Brigade Combat team—and two other soldiers in their private hit squad who had offered their services to kill members of rival cartels. “Wet work,” soldiers call it, and they’re trained to do it so well that real Mexican drug cartels have indeed been hiring ambitious vets from Fort Bliss, Texas, and probably other bases in the borderlands, to take out selected Mexican and American targets at $5,000 a pop.

Such soldiers seem never to get out of combat mode.  Boston psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, well known for his work with troubled veterans of the Vietnam War, points out that the skills drilled into the combat soldier—cunning, deceit, strength, quickness, stealth, a repertoire of killing techniques, and the suppression of compassion and guilt—equip him perfectly for a life of crime. “I’ll put it as bluntly as I can,” Shay writes in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, “Combat service per se smooths the way into criminal careers afterward in civilian life.”  During the last decade, when the Pentagon relaxed standards to fill the ranks, some enterprising members of at least 53 different American gangs jumpstarted their criminal careers by enlisting, training, and serving in war zones to perfect their specialized skill sets.

Some veterans have gone on to become domestic terrorists, like Desert Storm veteran Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma federal building in 1995, or mass murderers like Wade Michael Page, the Army veteran and uber-racist who killed six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012. Page had first been introduced to the ideology of white supremacy at age 20, three years after he joined the Army, when he fell in with a neo-Nazi hate group at Fort Bragg.  That was in 1995, the year three paratroopers from Fort Bragg murdered two black local residents, a man and a woman, to earn their neo-Nazi spider-web tattoos.

An unknown number of such killers just walk away, like Army Private (and former West Point cadet) Isaac Aguigui, who was finally convicted last month in a Georgia criminal court of murdering his pregnant wife, Sergeant Deirdre Wetzker Aguigui, an Army linguist, three years ago. Although Deirdre Aguigui’s handcuffed body had revealed multiple blows and signs of struggle, the military medical examiner failed to “detect an anatomic cause of death”—a failure convenient for both the Army, which didn’t have to investigate further, and Isaac Aguigui, who collected a half-million dollars in military death benefits and life insurance to finance a war of his own.


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