How We Support Our Troops in Light of Accusations of Civilian Murder in Afghanistan
Disturbing reports of American soldiers killing Afghan civilians for sport have surfaced in an Army investigation into members of the Army’s 5th Stryker Combat Brigade’s 3rd Platoon. They have been accused of murdering and dismembering Afghan civilians and collecting a skull and various other bones as souvenirs.
Military documents allege that Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, 25, of Billings, Mont., led four other soldiers in a series of premeditated killings. Gibbs reportedly boasted that he had been able to get away with similar “stuff” in Iraq in 2004. Seven other soldiers have been charged in connection to the murders and with assaulting a private who had decided to cooperate with the military's investigation. The report also suggested that soldiers involved in the killings were regularly abusing hashish and alcohol.
The 5th Stryker Combat Brigade was deployed with 3,800 members; 41 were killed and 239 were wounded during its year-long deployment in Afghanistan.
This deeply disturbing story of violence and drug abuse are a stark reminder of how the pressures of war can warp the minds of young people. The Army says that it began unprecedented measures this summer to screen and monitor soldiers for a whole host of potential psychological disorders and behavior problems.
But despite getting flagged in the screening process, Spc. Brandon S. Barrett, a 28 year-old member of the 5th Stryker Brigade, went AWOL shortly after his return from Afghanistan and died in full battle gear in a shootout with Salt Lake City police on Aug. 27. His chosen target: The Grand America hotel. It received very little press coverage.
Repeated atrocities, like the 2006 Mahmudiyah killings in which a 14 year-old girl was gang-raped and murdered along with her family by American soldiers, should make us stop and consider the effect war has on the people there and the soldiers that fight. It is difficult to argue in support of the troops while simultaneously supporting sending them headlong into situations that can lead to psychological and physical breakdown
Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs made an oral agreement with Prudential Financial in 1999 that allows the VA to withhold lump-sum payments owed to the survivors of deceased soldiers to earn investment income. While the families expected to receive a lump-sum upon the death of their loved ones, Prudential has withheld $662 million, earning as much as eight times as much interest as it pays to beneficiaries.
"Until today I actually believed that the families of our fallen heroes got a check for the full amount of their benefits," Gates said last week. Perhaps Americans should be a little more discerning next time they hear the omnipresent rallying cry to “support our troops.” Such rallies are often a cheap way for politicians to talk about foreign policy, but ongoing war is costing Afghans, Iraqis, and American soldiers and their families dearly.
Kayvan Farchadi is a staff writer for Campus Progress.
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