Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Tag: Afghanistan

June
6th

Life spared, Bales owes the world an explanation

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

‘I intended to kill them.” That’s all he has to say?

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to massacring 16 Afghan villagers last year, owes humanity some explanation for that atrocity. Single-handedly, in one night, he did incalculable damage to America’s standing in Afghanistan and handed a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban.

“There is not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things that I did,” he told the judge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Of course there’s no good reason. But how about a bad reason? How about any reason at all?

Bales’ defense team, and a legion of folks opposed to the Afghan war, have tried to turn him into the poster boy of everything the Army has done wrong on that side of the world.

The problem is, Bales’ enormity is an outlier by any reckoning. It has few parallels in all the years since Vietnam.

Innocents suffer and die in war; Sherman was talking precisely about noncombatants when he remarked, “War is hell.” In Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, air strikes have taken the lives of countless bystanders. In battle, soldiers and Marines have killed noncombatants, deliberately in some cases — but almost always in the heat of battle.

But we’ve seen nothing like what Bales did on March 11, 2012. On a quiet night, in the relative safety of an Army compound, he armed himself with a pistol, rifle and grenade launcher; he sneaked off in the darkness to a nearby village, barged into a mud-walled home and gunned down unarmed people without provocation.

Then he returned to base, chatted with a friend, slipped out to another village and did it all over again.

The calculation behind it is reminiscent of the “kill team” — several JBLM soldiers who murdered three Afghan men, apparently for sport, in 2010. But Bales produced a far higher body count in far less time, and many of the bodies in that count belonged to children.
Read more »

May
20th

Vets deserve a soft landing in employment

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

What America’s veterans tend to need most is quite simple: good jobs.

Some positive news on that front has come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to its latest numbers, Americans who’ve served since 9/11 – many Iraq and Afghan war combat vets among them – having been breaking into the civilian work force in greater numbers. Their unemployment rate reportedly fell to 7.5 percent last month, though it remains higher among those 24 or younger.

But the raw numbers don’t tell you what kind of jobs veterans have been finding. Nor do they tell you how National Guard and Reserve troops have been treated by their former employers.

A new Los Angeles Times report suggests that many of them have been treated shabbily – sometimes by the federal government itself.

Last year, the Times found, the U.S. Labor Department and Office of Special Counsel accepted 1,430 new cases of alleged criminal job discrimination against National Guard and Reserve veterans. That number compared to 848 in 2001: an increase of more than 60 percent.

These disputes commonly involve a 1994 law that requires the former employers of service members to offer them jobs comparable to the positions they left or would have gotten had they not served.

Cases referred for prosecution are the worst of the worst – the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Most veterans presumably are not eager to sue the people who sign their paychecks.

Many of these disputes are settled informally, sometimes with the help of the Defense Department. But there’s no telling how many vets have just shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
Read more »

April
1st

Extend visa program for Iraqi and Afghan allies

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Being a U.S. soldier in a war zone is hazardous duty, but at least Americans know they’ll be coming home to a safer place when their tour of duty ends.

Iraqis and Afghans who worked with American troops and contractors as translators, drivers and guides – frequently at great risk to themselves and their families – have no such reassurance.

They often live among people who might resent the aid they provided and consider them collaborators. They’ve been targeted by militia groups and others for harassment, threats, kidnapping and even death. In 2011, one foreign aid provider in Iraq estimated that at least 1,000 of these workers had been killed. Read more »

March
18th

VA’s delays, errors create hardships for veterans

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ delays in acting on disability claims isn’t just inconvenient. Congressional testimony Thursday indicates that at least two veterans may have died “due to delay in care.”

That would be the most extreme result of the VA’s backlog, which doesn’t appear to be decreasing. Most regional offices  are experiencing longer processing times, according to auditors and a review of VA data by McClatchy Newspapers.

The average wait to begin receiving disability compensation is now 337 days at the Seattle office – more than 11 months – up from 213 days in January 2012. It’s even worse in New York City: 641 days. The number of vets with backlogged claims is expected to be more than 1 million by the end of March – and keep growing. Read more »

Nov.
15th

Horrifying testimony on the road to justice

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The Army’s Article 32 hearing for Sgt. Robert Bales was so replete with witnesses and evidence that it looked as if he were on trial.

In fact, it was a preliminary procedure. Commanders at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will now decide whether the evidence tying Bales to the murder of 16 Afghan villagers on March 11 justifies a court-martial.

That’s a foregone conclusion.

Soldiers saw Bales returning to Camp Belambay alone – covered in blood – the night of the massacres. DNA experts linked the blood to at least one of the victims. Comrades testified that he made what sound like self-incriminating statements.

Prosecutors have won outright murder convictions with far less evidence than emerged in this hearing.

Bales is entitled to due process, and the Army is giving him plenty of it.

His skilled defense attorneys are raising key questions about his state of mind, including reported drinking and Valium abuse, and the possibility that he suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve turned up ambiguous evidence that there were more than one American involved in the slaughters.

The law must presume Bales’ innocence.

Let’s take a step back. Whoever committed the atrocities detailed in the hearing hardly deserves to be called human.

It’s the murder of the children that pushes this case beyond all bounds of empathy for Americans in combat zones.

The testimony included: A dead child whose head was stomped so hard that a footprint remained visible on it. Boys and girls being shot as they attempted to hide or run – while shouting, “We are children.” Children piled up, splashed with kerosene and burned along with parents and loved ones.
Read more »

Nov.
13th

A misstep for a man, a giant blunder for a CIA chief

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Powerful man, beguiling woman: The combination has been sabotaging national interests since the days of Troy. Should David Petraeus’ affair with groupie-biographer Paula Broadwell have forced his resignation? Sadly, yes.

It’s not a matter of Puritanism, which – take note, sophisticates – hardly saturates American culture these days. Although betrayal of marriage vows and a wife of 37 years reflects poorly on Petraeus as a husband, it’s the least of the reasons this distinguished soldier had to step down as the nation’s chief intelligence officer.

Far more important is the fundamental lack of judgment and caution Petraeus displayed in getting himself entangled with Broadwell.

As a West Point graduate, Reserve lieutenant colonel and all-around American superwoman, she hardly seems a treacherous Bond girl. Still, Petraeus let his guard down, an inexcusable lapse in a CIA chief.

He potentially exposed himself to blackmail, and he opened a clandestine door into his affairs that might have been exploited by someone close to Broadwell. An intelligence official bent on carrying on outside his marriage should at least keep a few alert colleagues in the loop.

Indulging in loose-lipped communications on a common email account was a foolish performance all by itself.

A president must have absolute confidence in his CIA director’s personal integrity and judgment. Petraeus’ actions forfeited that trust.

This scandal keeps on getting spookier. The timing – just after the presidential election – is more than weird. There’s also the apparently political leakage of the dirt through an FBI back channel: An agent reportedly tipped off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Oct. 27. The call was arranged by Washington’s Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

Now the seamy business has spilled onto the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John R. Allen. He’s been ensnared in an investigation of his connection with a Florida woman who in turn is connected with Petraeus and the ubiquitous Broadwell.
Read more »

Nov.
8th

JBLM’s Bales hearing: An impressive show of justice

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Cracked Groucho Marx, “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”

Groucho may once have been right, but military justice has come a very long way. Witness the Article 32 hearing unfolding this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the soldier accused of the worst American war atrocity since Vietnam.

The hearing has the look and feel of a criminal trial. By all accounts it is not going well for Army Sgt. Robert Bales, who lived in Lake Tapps before he was accused of massacring 16 noncombatants in Afghanistan during the early hours of March 11.

Since Monday, witnesses have testified that Bales left his NATO base that night, that gunfire was heard from the direction of a village Bales is accused of attacking, that he came back alone and heavily armed. A fellow sergeant testified Monday that Bales told him, “I shot up some people.”

Bales’ defense attorneys are probing witnesses for signs that he was under extreme stress or the influence of mood-altering drugs. Prosecutors are depicting a carefully planned and executed mass murder.

What’s remarkable about this preliminary procedure – from a civilian point of view – is how open and elaborate it is. It will even include testimony from villagers transmitted from a military base in Afghanistan.

After hearing out the witnesses, prosecutors and defense, the presiding officer – an Army Reserve colonel and assistant U.S. attorney – will recommend whether Bale should face a court-martial. Only then will the trial get under way.
Read more »

Sep.
29th

Did the surge succeed? We’ll find out – years from now

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The surge in Afghanistan began with a bang. It just ended in a whimper.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta mentioned its conclusion while on the other side of the planet, in New Zealand. As of a week ago, the United States had finished drawing down the 33,000 additional troops Barack Obama deployed to Afghanistan after he took office in 2009 – his chief contribution to the war.

The quiet from the White House suggests ambivalence about the results, or at least a desire not to inject Afghanistan into the presidential race. Otherwise Obama would be declaring victory and trumpeting success.

The combat units of Joint Base Lewis-McChord – our neighbors – have sacrificed lives, limbs and blood for the cause of a non-terrorist Afghanistan, so we have all the more reason to hope for decisive results from any U.S. strategy.

But like the 11-year-old war itself, the surge can be construed as either a success or a failure. The Taliban suffered major reverses as U.S. combat units pushed into territories the guerrillas had terrorized or dominated. The streets of Kandahar and other cities in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan are much safer as a result.
Read more »