TULSI GABBARD’S ON FIRE
Wow, it isn’t every week that a Democratic congressional representative–especially one with impeccable military credentials–starts blasting both Pentagon brass and the Obama Administration’s immense National Security state. Then again, Tulsi Gabbard–who represents Hawaii’s Second District–isn’t your average congressional member.
This is surprising because of her dual government roles. As a member of Congress, she’s responsible for writing legislation that concerns American military policy as well as oversight of the nation’s armed services leadership. But as a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard, she’s required to take orders from those same leaders when she’s on active duty and away from Congress.
Given all that, I was slightly surprised to see such charged quotes come from Gabbard in regards to the Pentagon service chief’s recent insistence that the current situation of allowing military commanders to decide whether to investigate charges of sexual assault from their subordinates. It’s an explosive issue, one that has plagued the military for years but only recently began grabbing national headlines.
Anyway, here’s Gabbard, as quoted in a June 4 news release from her office:
“I was deeply disappointed today by the testimony of our nation’s top military leaders and their opinion that commanders should retain authority over whether or not a sexual assault incident be investigated or prosecuted,” she said. “We must provide accountability, which includes ensuring an independent, transparent, fair process for all reports of sexual assault, outside of the chain of command. I am so proud to serve our country as a Soldier, and it sickens me that there are those who willingly dishonor the sacrifice of so many, and the privilege of service, by committing these violent sexual assaults within the ranks. This is absolutely unacceptable. Leaders in the Defense Department have known about this problem for decades, have said there is zero tolerance, yet reports indicate that in 2012 alone, on average, 71 service members were sexually assaulted every day. It is our collective responsibility to bring an end to this epidemic, prosecute these offenders, and provide a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault, upholding the honor and integrity and [sic] that make our military strong.”
Not much I can add to that except that she’s right. Every time someone in the news media reports on incidents of rape in the U.S. military, some service chief or spokesperson says something that includes the words “zero tolerance” and things go back to the way they were. Women joining the military are already subject (as are their male counterparts) to insane levels of both stress and boredom. Fear of getting raped by a fellow soldier, and then having to accept that superior officers will do nothing about it, is beyond acceptable.
But Gabbard didn’t stop there. Two days later, she was taking on the spymasters at the National Security Agency (NSA) and, by extension, the Obama Administration over a June 5 Guardian story on how the spy agency’s scary PRISM program, which allows the government to wade barefoot through any American’s email and phone records, regardless of quaint concepts like “warrants” and “probable cause.”
“The American people deserve answers,” Gabbard said in another news release. “It is absolutely unacceptable for our government to spy on millions of innocent Americans and indiscriminately obtain all of their cell phone records. This type of over-reach fuels the distrust people have in their government. According to intelligence experts, only a fraction of the information collected in this broad sweep is even used to pursue those suspected of terrorism. I understand the value of using counter-terrorism tactics and strategies in dealing with 21st century threats. However, we must not sacrifice the constitutionally protected privacy and freedoms for which so many have fought and given their lives. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to investigate this intrusion, and fulfill our oversight responsibilities.”
Seriously, what’s going on here? Our national government operates secret prisons overseas where it holds people it captures without trial; it launches missiles at suspected terrorists (including those born in the United States and deserving of constitutional protections); and now we learn that the NSA, charged with eavesdropping on foreign communications, is also spying on whichever Americans it wants to. If Gabbard, a National Guard officer, is moved to make such harsh criticism, then things must be bad.
Of course, others in Congress have taken cooler stances, though for reasons that aren’t even close to comforting. “Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn’t anything that is brand new, it’s been going on for some seven years, and we have tried to often to try [sic] to make it better and work and we will continue to do that,” U.S. Senator Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said, according to a June 6 CBS News report.
So according to Reid–the Senate Majority Leader–the NSA has been checking all of America’s phone records for the past seven years, without warrants and without specific cause, and it’s all completely legal.
USA! USA! USA!
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HAWAII’S RICH WHISTLEBLOWING HISTORY
Speaking of PRISM, we know of this monster through the whistleblowing efforts of one incredibly ballsy 29-year-old IT guy named Edward Snowden, who learned of the efforts while working as a contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Honolulu office.
The fact that Snowden (who has fled to Hong Kong and went public, which might possibly save him from rendition or an American drone firing a missile at his head) did his whistle-blowing from Hawaii should surprise no one. These islands have a long history of producing and nurturing individuals who dare to speak out against the excesses of American military power. Here are just a few of them:
Back in 2004, Hawaii-born Antonio Taguba, a major general in the U.S. Army, wrote a damning investigation report on the systematic torture practices at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. To show its gratitude, the army forced Taguba to resign in 2006.
Then in 2006, Hawaii-born Ehren Watada, a first lieutenant in the army, publicly refused to deploy to Iraq, saying the war was illegal. After a few years of trying (and failing) to court martial Watada, the army finally gave up and discharged him.
There was another guy born here as well, who once wrote a few great things about constitutional law and the dangers of the state, but he eventually became President of the United States and ultimately didn’t amount to much.