Sunday, March 16, 2008

Negative Critisicm of Winter Soldiers Investigation

Iraq Veterans Against the War's Winter Soldiers Investigation wraps up today at 4:00 pm EST. You can hear the hearnings live at the IVAW link (and elsewhere, see end of article). We thank they did an amazing job but had a number of e-mails before the hearings began stating we wouldn't criticize them if they did a poor job.

We actually would and we actually will. Saturday's hearings opened with the Divide To Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military. From the title of the panel, we were looking forward to this panel. We were looking forward to reporting on it. "Women and the military" from February 2007 remains one of the most popular articles we've written.* This panel was the one we assumed we'd be writing at length about with a glowing review.

The panel was an embarrassment. Abby Hiser was an exception and she will be quoted and noted in Ava and C.I.'s TV commentary. Patricia McCann was the only other exception and we'll note that she not only offered some statistics, she offered personal experience including this about basic training:

If my mother only knew I'd hear my drill sergeants say to males right next to me, "Does your p-word hurt? Do you need a tampon?" If my mother only knew that.

She addressed training that including warnings of the 'evil' Iraqis and noted, "I felt that all these things they told us, they were used as tools to either emasculate the male or condemn femininity as evil and dangerous." During that training, a male took photos of the women participating and then posted the photos on the women's doors. When the women complained, McCann explained, they were told that nothing had been done that hurt them and this sort of thing happened repeatedly, while being trained, seeming to stress the message that you will not be listened to if you complain. She stated "there are a lot of instances when we tried to fight and complain" but they were met with a brick wall. Equally true, she explained, "There's always this idea that you're going to ruin someone's career if you talk about stuff."

The hearings are being broadcast over the airwaves and she noted the FCC regulations and that "I wish I could use the words that were used against us." She recounted a male arriving at Baghdad International Airport to visit another higher up wandering around drunk asking, "Who can I f-word, who will s-word?"

She was clearly explaining what she witnessed, what she went through. She did an outstanding job.

A panel at Winter Soldiers promises testimony. Testimony is based on what you saw. A witness in a court of a law attempting to 'testify' to what they themselves didn't witness would be reduced to rubble under cross examination. For this panel, such requirements were largely tossed out.

Antonia Juhasz, testifying at Friday's hearings on corruption (click here, here and here for some text), offered concrete examples of what her examination had turned up. She, some Iraqis and journalists were brought on panels to speak. Veterans speaking had either been to Iraq or Afghanistan and testifying about that.

The exception to that rule was IVAW treasurer Margaret Stevens who deployed to neither and spoke at length on the Saturday morning panel about . . .

Well go to an archive of the broadcast (see the end of the article) and try to figure out for yourself what she was supposed to be talking about.

She talked about going to a club where adults were and seeing a man in a recruiters t-shirt. She felt the need to tell people he was her type, she felt the need to stress he was "a big, strong guy" and apparently that was a big for her but it's not everyone attracted to men's type and actually had us humming the chorus of Carly Simon's "Big, Dumb Guy." She's extrapolating from that about young women's "first sexual experience with a man." Call us naive but we'd assume most women at a club had already had a sexual response (that's what she was speaking of, not sex itself) long before they got out of elementary school. Pretty soon, she's noting what was apparently a consensual affair between a male service member and a female service member and her concern of "Why did he do that to us?" By the time she's noting that "in my case, it was a smooth ride," like us, you'll probably be wondering why she was even on stage. Repeating, all veterans who testified were supposed to have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and that was followed for all other panels.

Margaret Stevens did not. This was raised by female members of IVAW who wanted to know why she was on stage so this is internal criticism as well as our own. More to the point, her testimony appeared to be about a damp-panty response to "a big, strong guy" and we really didn't grasp why she was playing Judy Blume and assuming we all needed early education on sexual responses in the first place let alone on the only panel whose focus was supposed to be gender?

It was embarrassing. She was not the only one. Why were Jeff Key and Joseph Wheeler on the panel? Jeff Key famously came out live on CNN and was kicked out the military. Did he have anything to testify to?

Not really. He came off as engaging but nothing to do with the topic which is about exposing the realities of Iraq and Afghanistan. Though a self-identified "out, queer man," he explained his time serving "was different from some." Yes, it was. He did express regret about not speaking out when certain things were said about women -- he never defined what was said or in what context -- and that "I kept silent a lot when I feel like I should have spoken." Then it was off to a how we can all end the illegal war.

We're for ending the illegal war but we're also for panels about gender and sexuality actually addressing those issues. Joseph Wheeler began by speaking of how his wife's labor was induced so he could be present for the birth of their child. He eventually shared a story that included that sirens were going off and everyone evacuated except this one female service member who was "in the showers and didn't hear the sirens and was attacked by a male soldier and raped while everyone was running for their lives." That's the story in full. Much more important for him to share, on this gender and sexuality panel, was the long story about how people drive outside the United States.

At a time when sexism and homophobia (and sometimes the two combined) are issues so many in the military have to struggle through their service under, you'd think a panel could honestly address the topic. Considering that at least one IVAW female didn't ask to speak because she didn't serve in Iraq or Afghanistan (but she can talk about sexism and more while serving), there are serious questions being asked (internally) as to what exactly Stevens was doing on the stage to begin with?

And it is a question worth asking because she didn't contribute anything to the discussion, she didn't follow the topic ("gender" and "sexuality" were seen as being used to cover the topics of gay issues and sexism). She had "a smooth ride." She went to a club and saw "a big, strong guy" and felt the need to share her reaction to him at length (she was already in the service at the time).

We are fully aware that some victims did not want to speak (and shouldn't, there's no reason you have to both deal with what happened and put yourself out there) and we'll allow that some may have cancelled and Margaret Stevens may have stepped in at the last minute to ensure the panel even went on. Were that the case (which is doubted), she should have played moderator and allowed Abby Hiser and Patricia McCann, the only witnesses who had anything to say on the subjects, more time to speak.

It was stated that some didn't even want the panel. Listening, it was clear why. With the exception of two members of the five person panel***, no one had anything to testify to on the topic.

As noted earlier, Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldiers Investigation continues today. The hearings opened Thursday, continued all day Friday and Saturday and continue today. You can stream at the IVAW website or catch the broadcast on KPFA with Aimee Allison (co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None) and Aaron Glantz hosting and the KPFA live stream will also be available at Glantz' War Comes Home as well as on KPFK, WBAI and at the Pacifica Radio homepage. The Sunday broadcast time (EST) is from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon. All sites will have archives of the broadcast but WBAI will remove them 90 days after airing. Viewing options and meet ups can be found at Iraq Veterans Against the War. (Dish Network is airing it on satellite TV as is Link TV today). Today's testimonies will cover how the US military is breaking under the strain of the wars and the topic of GI resistance. (Click here for a schedule.)


* That feature was written by Ava and C.I. with the rest of editing, to give credit where it's due.
**You can find testimonies of the five here.
***An e-mail that was not sent here or did not arrive here if it was sent states 10 were on the panel. We went by what we heard.
****Don't write other sites about what we publish. Our address is and we have never appreciated people taking their complaints to those participating as opposed to addressing them here.
******We stand by our report. If you don't like it, oh well . . . Kiss our ass. Elaine goes into realities in "'Jen, stay away from my boyfriend' was pretty clear" and we agree with her 100%.
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