Pentagon Sued For Forcing Christianity on Soldiers

Truthout reports on a lawsuit being filed against the military for forcing a soldier to “embrace evangelical Christianity.”

A military watchdog organization filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and a US Army major, on behalf of an Army soldier stationed in Iraq. The suit charges the Pentagon with widespread constitutional violations by allegedly trying to force the soldier to embrace evangelical Christianity and then retaliating against him when he refused.

The complaint, filed in US District Court in Kansas City, by the nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), on behalf of Jeremy Hall, an Army specialist currently on active duty in Speicher, Iraq, alleges that Hall’s First Amendment rights were violated beginning last Thanksgiving when, because of his atheist beliefs, he declined to participate in a Christian prayer ceremony commemorating the holiday.

“Immediately after plaintiff made it known he would decline to join hands and pray, he was confronted, in the presence of other military personnel, by the senior ranking … staff sergeant who asked plaintiff why he did not want to pray, whereupon plaintiff explained because he is an atheist,” says the lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to Truthout. “The staff sergeant asked plaintiff what an atheist is and plaintiff responded it meant that he (plaintiff) did not believe in God. This response caused the staff sergeant to tell plaintiff that he would have to sit elsewhere for the Thanksgiving dinner. Nonetheless, plaintiff sat at the table in silence and finished his meal.”

This effort might be only the start:

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that seeks to enforce the law mandating the separation between church and state in the US military, said the lawsuit would be the first of many his group intends to file against the Pentagon.

“This landmark federal litigation is just the first of a galaxy of new lawsuits that will be expeditiously filed against the Pentagon in a concentrated effort to preserve the precious religious liberties guaranteed by our beautiful United States Constitution,” Weinstein said Monday. “Today, we are boldly stabbing back against an unconstitutional heart of darkness, a contagion of fundamentalist religious supremacy and triumphalism noxiously dominating the command and control of the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind: our honorable and noble United States armed forces.”

Not all atheists are one hundred percent in support of this measure. P.Z. Myers writes:

I have mixed feelings about that. The military has a clear and valid interest in turning it’s soldiers into blindly obedient, amoral killers, and what better way than to make sure they are all fervent members of a mindless death cult?

Giuliani Adopts Rove Tactics in Attacking Clinton

One of the hallmarks of a Karl Rove campaign has been to attack the opponent’s stronger points and turn his client’s weaknesses into apparent strengths. Thus we saw George Bush, who still has not been able to adequately respond to the charges that he went AWOL from his National Guard Service, able to overcome John Kerry’s advantage of having served with distinction in Vietnam. Now Giuliani is trying to overcome his weakness on terrorism by repeating the phoney conservative memes about Bill Clinton:

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday accused former President Clinton of not responding forcefully enough to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing or later terrorist attacks.

The former New York mayor criticized Democrats, accusing them of weakness and naivete in dealing with terrorism. Giuliani made the comments to about 650 business, corporate and political leaders at Regent University, the conservative Christian college founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

“Islamic terrorists killed more than 500 Americans before Sept. 11. Many people think the first attack on America was on Sept. 11, 2001. It was not. It was in 1993,” said the former New York mayor.

Giuliani argued that Clinton treated the World Trade Center bombing as a criminal act instead of a terrorist attack, calling it “a big mistake” that emboldened other strikes on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in Kenya and Tanzania and later on the USS Cole while docked in Yemen in 2000.

Giuliani ignores that fact that Clinton took action against bin Laden, often over the opposition of the Republican Congress. The Clinton administration also passed on recommendations for fighting al Qaeda, but the Bush administration ignored them. It is no coincidence that we have suffered more from terrorism under George Bush than during the Clinton years. While the Clinton administration responded to warnings to prevent the planned millenium terrorist attacks, Giuliani’s fellow Republican George Bush ignored warnings which might have prevented the 9/11 attack.

Ultimately Giuliani must try to distract from his own poor record on terrorism. Rudy’s the genius who placed New York’s emergency command center in the World Trade Center, counter to advice from Washington, after we knew it was the target of terrorist attacks. His understanding of terrorism is so weak that he actually argued with Ron Paul over a simple statement that US involvement in the middle east was a motivating factor behind the attacks. If Giuliani really believes that they attacked for no more reason than hating us for our freedoms, how can he ever do anything to solve the root causes, as even Republican Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has advised?

Giuliani has repeatedly shown he has no understanding of what it takes to defend the country against terrism. Like anyone following Karl Rove’s principles, rather than honestly addressing the problem he raises false charges against the other party. This might have worked in 2002 and 2006, but the country now sees through these tactics.

Kerry Calls for More Action on Initiatives to Help America’s Veterans and Reservists

From a press release: Today Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, sent letters to the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and Small Business Administration calling on the agencies to work together to reach out to veterans and reservists to inform them about available small business programs. Kerry also released the following statement in reaction to the Small Business Administration’s announcement of a pilot loan program targeted to serve veterans, reservists and their spouses:

“This program is a good first step by Administrator Preston to address the growing needs of America’s veterans and reservists who work for or want to start a small business. I will work with Administrator Preston to lower the interest rate and reduce loan fees for this program and hopefully make it a success.

“As the Administration develops a plan to reach out to veterans and reservists about this new program, it must be aggressive, comprehensive and coordinated so our military service members and their families are aware of all the resources available to them. The Administration must provide information about the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program as part of this outreach and work with Congress to make important fixes to it.

“The SBA needs the full weight of the White House behind them to put the money and resources necessary into this program to make it a success. However, there is more we can do including improving existing loan programs, creating grant programs, implementing tax incentives for small businesses that employ reservists, and enforcing the government’s federally mandated contracting goal with service-disabled veteran owned firms.”

Under the SBA’s new program, today a veteran or reservist would pay 10.5 to 13 percent in interest on a loan. While this is a few percentage points less than other express loans, the rate is far higher than on loans made through the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which are capped at four percent. Kerry created this program in 1999 for small businesses that have experienced economic hardship due to the deployment of an owner or key employee, yet most reservists do not know about this program due to a lack of information provided by the Administration and lack of coordination among the relevant federal agencies.

Today there are more than 25 million veterans in America, with more than 1.1 million men and women who have left military service since 2001. Over the last five years, more than 500,000 reservists have been called to active duty — and they are often staying longer or serving multiple deployments. These numbers demonstrate the need for a comprehensive, coordinated effort by the Administration to reach out to these men and women to make sure they know about small business loans and counseling available to help them preserve their business while they are deployed or to start a business after their service is completed.

Senator Kerry has been a leader in the Senate to expand economic opportunities for veterans and reservists after they have served their country and is the author of several proposals to achieve these goals.

(more…)

Question of the Day From Maureen Dowd

Maureen Dowd has the question of the day when she asks, “Be honest. Who would you rather share a foxhole with: a gay soldier or Mitt Romney?” She provides many examples of the hypocrisy of Republicans, with this representing only a portion of her column:

Peter Pace, whose job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff became a casualty of Iraq on Friday, asserted in March that homosexual acts “are immoral.” Yet in May, he wrote a letter to the judge in the Scooter Libby case, pleading for leniency for the Cheney aide. Scooter always looked for “the right way to proceed — both legally and morally,” General Pace wrote of the man who lied to a grand jury about the outing of a spy, after he pumped up the fake case for the war that has claimed the lives of 3,500 young men and women serving under the general.

At the G.O.P. debate in New Hampshire last week, the contenders were more homophobic than the mobsters on “The Sopranos,” unanimously supporting the inane “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Even Rudy Giuliani, who loves to cross-dress and who stayed with old friends, a gay couple, to avoid Gracie Mansion when his second marriage was disintegrating, had an antediluvian answer.

Wolf Blitzer asked him about the Arabic linguists trained by the government who have been ousted from the military after being outed.

Mr. Giuliani, who procured three deferments to avoid Vietnam, replied that, with the war in Iraq raging, “This is not the time to deal with disruptive issues like this.”

If he’s so concerned with disruptive issues, maybe he should start worrying about this one: Two straight guys who slithered out of going to Vietnam are devising a losing strategy in Iraq year after year. W. and Dick Cheney have fouled things up so badly that Robert Gates and Tony Snow are now pointing to South Korea — where American troops have stayed for over half a century — as a model.

Mitt Romney agreed with Rudy on the issue. Instead of going to Vietnam, Mr. Romney spent two and a half years doing Mormon missionary work in France. Isn’t that like doing Peace Corps work in Monte Carlo?

Now that is an important trivia item. Mitt Romney went to France instead of Vietnam. That was the old Mitt Romney. The new Mitt Romney plans to use attacks on France as part of his campaign, and has already engaged in some France-bashing while inaccurately portraying their marriage laws.

Rudy Giuliani’s Problem With The Truth–From Terrorism to Health Care

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It is remarkable how much Rudy Giuliani has become like George Bush. On Friday I questioned an article in Rolling Stone which claims he is worse, but Giuliani still shares far too many traits with George Bush to be considered to be president. The number one trait they both share is a total disregard for the truth.

Reports of Giuliani campaigning in Florida demonstrate how much like George Bush he has become:

”I believe that leading Democratic candidates and the Democratic party are in denial of the threat that we face,” Giuliani said. “The world is a dangerous place. If you can’t face it, you can’t lead.”

Giuliani railed against Democrats in Washington pushing for a deadline to withdraw troops from Iraq. He also predicted that a Democratic president would bring higher taxes and “socialized medicine.”

That’s a lot of noise coming from a member of the party which denied the risks of terrorism right up until the 9/11 attack, and then screwed up the response. John Kerry had written a book on the dangers of terrorism well before 9/11. Bill Clinton attempted to go after bin Laden, but was blocked by the Republican controlled Congress. Clinton then passed on plans for going after al Qaeda, but the Bush administration ignored them, not believing that a non-governmental organization could do serious harm to the United States. The leader of the Republican party even ignored intelligence briefs shortly before 9/11 warning that bin Laden planned to attack the United States using planes.

Giuliani’s personal record on terrorism is no better. Rudy’s the genius who placed New York’s emergency command center in the World Trade Center after we knew it was the target of terrorist attacks. His understanding of terrorism is so weak that he actually argued with Ron Paul over his simple statement that US involvement in the middle east was a motivating factor behind the attacks. If Giuliani really believes that they attacked for no more reason than hating us for our freedoms, how can he ever do anything to solve the root causes, as even Republican Secretary of Defense Robert Gates now advises?

Just as Giuliani echoes Bush on the claims about terrorism, his comments on health care resemble Bush’s false claim that John Kerry’s health care plan would amount to a government take over of health care. Kerry’s plan was a voluntary plan to assist businesses and individuals to obtain health coverage at an affordable price. Since then two states have instituted health plans with greater government regulations, and both had Republican governors.

While Giuliani brings out the scare stories of “socialized medicine” there is not a single Democrat running who wants to eliminate our system of privately run medical practices and hospitals. There’s not even a serious candidate advocating moving to a single payer plan, unless you believe that Dennis Kucinich has a chance of winning.

What Giuliani and the Republicans won’t admit is that it is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who have instituted a greater degree of government control over health care. It is the Republicans who wish to intervene in a woman’s right to an abortion as well as restrict access to Plan B and to birth control. It is the Republicans who harass physicians who prescribe narcotics to treat chronic pain, and who fight to prevent the use of medicinal marijuana. It was the Republicans who got the government involved in end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case. It was a Republican President who devised the current Medicare D plan which is primarily a monetary reward to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries for their huge contributions.

If we are to oppose “socialized medicine” and get the government out of health care, the way to do that is to keep the Republicans out of office.

Gates Looks For Root Causes of Terrorism

Does Robert Gates really work for George Bush? It doesn’t sound like it based upon some of the comments in a speech he recently gave in Asia.

While George Bush prefers a cowboy foreign policy, Gates wants to do it with a little help from our friends:

In particular, the challenge posed by terrorists inspired by radical ideologies cannot be overcome by any one nation — no matter how wealthy or powerful,” he said, alluding to U.S. efforts to build a lasting coalition.

With George Bush, we have Mission Accomplished. Gates is unwilling to say who is winning the terror war.

A member of the audience later asked Gates whether he thought the United States is winning the terror war.

He cited areas of progress, including the elimination in late 2001 of Afghanistan as a haven for al-Qaida. But he also said the Islamic extremists have managed since then to expand their recruiting grounds.

“On the negative side of the ledger, I think we have not made enough progress in trying to address some of the root causes of terrorism in some of these societies, whether it is economic deprivation or despotism that leads to alienation,” he said.

Root causes? Economic deprivation? Imagine how Dick Cheney would have gone on the attack if John Kerry said such things. Or if he said this:

He called for more “creative thinking” to address the root causes of Islamic extremism, but he added that even those efforts will not be the complete answer to winning what he called a long war on terrorism.

Cheney would have twisted this to mean that the whole Democratic war on terror would consist of nothing but a bunch of liberals sitting around thinking. That does’t fit in well with the Republican view of the war on terror, which combines an attack on a country which was not involved, along with Jack Bower torturing anyone who might have some information for him.

Finally things return to what we’d expect:

On Iraq, Gates spoke positively of the Bush administration’s new troop buildup and counterinsurgency effort.

There’s only so far that you can go in disagreeing with the boss.

Rumsfeld Stepping Down as Defense Secretary

George Bush announced the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld today. The Washington Post reports:

“WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, architect of an unpopular war in Iraq, intends to resign after six stormy years at the Pentagon, Republican officials said Wednesday.

Word came a day after the Democratic gains in the election, in which Rumsfeld was a focus of much of the criticism of the Iraq war. Officials said Robert Gates, former head of the CIA, would replace Rumsfeld.”

After a couple of google searches, I found some links that might prove useful for anyone looking for information on Robert Gates.

From NPR:
Weekend Edition Saturday, May 18, 2002
Scott Simon talks with former CIA director Robert Gates about the challenge of interpreting and acting on vague terrorist threats.
Wikipedia:

and from DePauw University News:

“The only career officer in the CIA’s history to rise from entry-level employee to director, and the only intelligence analyst to become director, Robert Gates headed the agency from November 6, 1991 to January 20, 1993, overseeing all foreign intelligence agencies of the United States. Dr. Gates joined the CIA in 1966 and spent nearly twenty seven years as an intelligence professional, serving six presidents. During that period, he spent nearly nine years at the National Security Council, serving for different presidents at The White House.”