Why Are So Many Veterans on Death Row?

By Jeffrey Toobin

A new study shows that at least ten per cent of death-row inmates are military veterans.

The death penalty has always provided a window into the darkest corners of American life. Every pathology that infects the nation as a whole—racism, most notably—also affects our decisions about whom to execute. A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center adds a new twist to this venerable pattern.

The subject of the report, just in time for Veterans Day, is the impact of the death penalty on veterans. The author, Richard C. Dieter, the longtime executive director of the invaluable D.P.I.C., estimates that “at least 10% of the current death row—that is, over 300 inmates—are military veterans. Many others have already been executed.” In a nation where roughly seven per cent of the population have served in the military, this number alone indicates disproportionate representation. But in a nation where military service has traditionally been seen as a route into the middle class—and where being a vet has been seen as more of a benefit than a burden—the military numbers are especially disturbing.

Why are so many veterans on death row? Dieter asserts that many veterans “have experienced trauma that few others in society have ever encountered—trauma that may have played a role in their committing serious crimes.” Although this is hardly the case with every veteran, or even the overwhelming majority of them, Dieter goes on to relate several harrowing stories that follow this model. Because of such traumas, many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, for which they have too often received poor treatment, or none at all.

Veterans who kill are not, by and large, hit men or members of organized crime or gangs. They very often lash out at those around them. Dieter notes that a third of the homicide victims killed by veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were family members or girlfriends. Another quarter were fellow service members. This record suggests that, if these veterans had received adequate mental-health care, at least some of them and their victims might have had a different fate.

But it’s possible to see, in the D.P.I.C. study, an echo of another recent high-profile study. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, of Princeton, found that the death rates for middle-aged white men have increased significantly in the past decade or so. This was largely due, according to the authors, to “increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis.” The Princeton study fits into a larger pattern in American life, which is the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites.

That cohort has gravitated to military service for generations. And while, again, most veterans never commit any crime, much less crimes that carry the death penalty, the sour legacies of our most recent wars certainly play into the despair of many veterans. Earlier generations of veterans came home from war to ticker-tape parades, a generous G.I. Bill, and a growing economy that offered them a chance at upward mobility. Younger veterans returned to P.T.S.D., a relatively stagnant economy, especially in rural and semi-rural areas, and an epidemic of drug abuse. And they came home to a society where widening income inequality suggested the futility of their engagement with the contemporary world.

In an interview with Vox, Deaton said that the death rate for members of this cohort had increased, in part, because they had “lost the narrative of their lives.” This elegant, almost poetic phrase can be read to include the lost promise of military service—the vanished understanding that veterans earned more than a paycheck, that they also gained a step up in status, both economic and social. The reality has been that many veterans returned to lives that were materially and spiritually worse than the ones they left, and far worse than the ones they expected.

According to the Princeton study, a shocking number of poorly educated whites turned their rage inward, in the form of drug abuse and suicide. But a small handful inflicted their rage on others, and an even smaller number wound up on death row. They are different groups of people, and their individual stories are even more variegated, but it’s possible to see across them the symptoms of a broader anguish.

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The Golden Triangle was recently replaced as the world’s dominant opium producer by a new regional power known as the Golden Crescent,

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Asia’s opium hubs

The opiates that addicts swallow, snort and inject often begin their journey to India from the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent. The former is Southeast Asia’s primary hub for opium cultivation. Located along the Mekong river, where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand converge, the illicit trade thrives — exceeding $16.3 billion per year, according to a 2014 UN report. Though eradication efforts in the late ’90s and early 2000s caused the area’s opium cultivation to decline, it began surging again in 2006, partly because improvements in transportation made it easier to move the drug from place to place.

The Golden Triangle is currently the world’s second-largest opium producer. A 2014 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated the region’s opiate poppy cultivation rose to 63,800 hectares last year, compared with 61,200 hectares in 2013, nearly triple the amount harvested in 2006. Myanmar is the region’s leading opium cultivator.

Poverty and a lack of economic opportunity fuel illicit opium farming throughout the Golden Triangle, say researchers. In one survey in Burma, village farmers said they cultivated opium poppy just to provide for basic essentials such as food, education and housing. Researchers say economic development in these areas may be the best way to prevent opium growing.

The Golden Triangle was recently replaced as the world’s dominant opium producer by a new regional power known as the Golden Crescent, an area comprising Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer and Pakistan primarily serves as an illicit drug trafficking route.

A 2014 World Drug Report said war-torn Afghanistan accounted for 90 per cent of global opium production. In 2013, the country cultivated an estimated 5,500 tons of oven-dried opium, which translates into roughly four per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Further, the already substantial opium cultivation area is growing. According to the report, the farming area increased by 36 per cent from 154,000 hectares in 2012 to 209,000 hectares in 2013. This uptick in Afghanistan’s opium cultivation continues despite the fact that the USA has invested more than seven billion dollars to combat the issue. A 2014 report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction described how the country’s opium cultivation was at an all-time high, despite more than a decade of US-led counter-narcotics efforts.

Afghanistan’s illicit opium production and trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry where the Taliban-funded terrorist organisations reap the most profit. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that in 2009 the Afghan Taliban earned around $155 million from the illicit opium trade, while Afghan drug traffickers acquired $2.2 billion — a grim reminder of how drugs fuel crime and terrorism as well as addiction.

Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/supplements/asia-s-opium-hubs/67888.html#vzM0UJoVOcxbDmA7.99

POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl US Army Captured Afghanistan 6/30/2009

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Diane Gibbons Malanga

    For those who do not know this following information
    POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
    On July 18, 2009, the Taliban released a video showing they had captured Bergdahl. In the video, Bergdahl appeared downcast and frightened. A Department of Defense statement issued on July 19 confirmed that Bergdahl was declared "missing/whereabouts unknown" on July 1, and his status was changed to "missing/captured" on July 3. In the 28-minute video his captors hold up his dog tags to establish the captured man is Bergdahl. Bergdahl gives the date as July 14 and mentions an attack which occurred that day. Accounts of his capture differ. The version offered by Bergdahl, in the video, is that he was captured when he fell behind on a patrol. CNN, in its report, cites both Taliban and U.S. military sources, the former alleging he was ambushed after becoming drunk off base, and the latter denying that claim stating: "The Taliban are known for lying and what they are claiming (is) not true." A Department of Defense spokesperson, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, said, "I’m glad to see he appears unharmed, but again, this is a Taliban propaganda video. They are exploiting the soldier in violation of international law."] According to the Associated Press, General Nabi Mullakheil of the Afghan National Police said the capture occurred in Paktika Province. Their other sources inform them that he was captured by a Taliban group led by Maulvi Sangin, who has moved him to Ghazni Province. The Guardian quoted sources who speculated about the increased difficulty of a rescue mission if Bergdahl had been smuggled across the nearby border into Pakistan. CNN described two Pashto-language leaflets the U.S. military was distributing in seeking Bergdahl. One showed a smiling GI shaking hands with Afghan children, with a caption that called him a guest in Afghanistan. The other showed a door being broken down, and threatened that those holding Bergdahl would be hunted down. In December 2009, five months after Bergdahl’s disappearance, the media arm of the Afghan Taliban announced the release of a new video of "a U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan," titled "One of Their People Testified." In the announcement the Taliban did not name the American, but the only U.S. soldier known to be in captivity is Bergdahl. U.S. military officials have been searching for Bergdahl, but it is not publicly known whether he is even being held in Afghanistan or in neighboring Pakistan, an area off-limits to U.S. forces based in Afghanistan. On December 25, another video was released that features Bergdahl in a combat uniform and helmet. He describes his place of birth, deployment to Afghanistan and subsequent capture. He then makes several statements regarding his humane treatment by his captors, contrasting this to the abuses suffered by insurgents in prisons. He finishes by saying that America should not be in Afghanistan and that it is just another Vietnam. On April 7, 2010, the Taliban released a third video of Bergdahl, now with a full head of hair and a beard, pleading for the release of Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo and Bagram. In November 2010, Bergdahl appeared briefly in a fourth video In May 2011, Bergdahl appeared briefly in a fifth video. In December 2011, it was reported that Bergdahl tried to escape three months earlier but was recaptured after three days.