Archive for September, 2007

Who Would Deliver Us?

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

We cannot escape it. Each morning in the paper; each hour on the radio; each evening on television news: Iraq.

And every day are released more names, more photos, of loved ones destined for what more and more of this nation know as Arlington: A name usurped in the public mind from the place we live, to the cemetery that lies among us. A cemetery whose origins, Connection reporter Nicholas M. Horrock recently wrote, stemmed from the start of the Civil War, when “The Union Army had seized Arlington Hall, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s home … and they had never let it go.”

Lee’s estate became the burial ground, the soil of which is carved open daily to accept another young body, whose final rest is marked by a stone upon which is engraved a slogan, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Instead of just the name, rank, military branch, date of death, war and place of death that heretofore was the staple of each marking stone, the Pentagon three years ago chose to add a slogan, used and abused by the man who likes to call himself, exclusively, “commander in chief.”

According to David Pace of the Associated Press, when these extra words — Operation Iraqi Freedom — were added, some families took offense: “”I was a little taken aback,’ said Robert McCaffrey … father of Patrick, killed in Iraq in June 2004. ‘In one way, I feel it’s taking advantage to a small degree,’” he added. “’They certainly didn’t ask my wife; they didn’t ask me.’ He said Patrick’s widow told him she had not been asked either.”

And, wrote the AP’s Pace, Vermonter “Jeff Martell, owner of the company that has been making gravestones for Arlington and other national cemeteries for nearly two decades said … ‘It just seems a little brazen that that’s put on stones … It seems like it might be connected to politics.’”

For more than four years our county has been seen in the public consciousness as rows of those white markers, military caissons, weeping widows, folded flags…day after day after day.

And while hearings are held, press conferences broadcast, speeches given, all seeking or questioning, “More time?,” Arlington and its cold ground keep accepting human remains from that far off place our leaders chose to invade. Each night, on the PBS NewsHour in Shirlington, another series of photographs, with names and home towns, are silently broadcast to memorialize those added to the more than three-thousand, seven-hundred military personnel “killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As the orders come from the White House on the other side of the river, they are carried out in crisp detail, by the men and women who work in this nation’s military bastion, the Pentagon, the land of which was also Arlington’s, just yards from the cemetery.

Both places are hallowed by the blood and bodies of heroes, fallen here in 2001 and ‘over there’ since March 20 of 2003.

And both places are the subjects of stagecraft by the man and his followers, who struggle to make death, weapons and anguish the fuel of misplaced patriotic fervor. One such follower, the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently referred to the human misery that is Iraq as “a small price to pay” to achieve the President’s goals.

Meanwhile the deaths and the burials in Arlington continue in sight of the Pentagon; and both in sight of Arlington neighborhoods. Ours is a unique ache, twisted a little more each day, as the caissons march to gravesites, and front pages all over this great land show the sorrow so deeply associated with the home we love, our Arlington.

So, how does this end? With a silent whimper many years and thousands of deaths later, as it was in Vietnam, when then-architect Kissenger strung out that war for the next president to ‘solve,’ while Arlington, then too, opened its perfect green sod for more lives lost in futility?

Let us not be used and abused for someone’s political gain. Let us work to stop the madness, the deaths, the endless Taps; so the heart-wrenching faces of pain in Arlington can be brought to a solemn and respectful end.

Nick Penning ( is an Arlington freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in each edition of The Arlington Connection.

They Saw Me Disappear

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Imagine stepping into your Army superior’s office in one of those former palaces inside Baghdad’s Green Zone and saying, “I refuse to participate in any more combat operations.” Probably wouldn’t make them very happy, especially since you had security clearance and recently had been given top honors for your service. You were high profile soldier, good enough to be a military escort for VIP visitors to Baghdad … And a sniper when not providing escort protection.

This, however, is not the plot for a TV show or movie or book. It is, rather, the real life experience of Army Spc Eleonai “Eli” Israel, who, at the time of his resistance, was stationed at Baghdad’s Green Zone palace, called Camp Victory, with the Joint Visitors Bureau, Bravo Company, 1-149 Infantry of the Kentucky Army National Guard.

Upon making his statement of resistance, Israel told me, “I was immediately and aggressively detained and confined illegally [no contact with a lawyer, family or friends] for three weeks.”

Unfortunately for those who sought to silence him, Spc. Israel had been telling his view of the war via Internet blogs, writing of what he had seen in the way of “killing everyone who resisted” the military, and torture. “We are torturing right now,” Israel told me, and our government is guilty of as much “mass killing and torture” as Saddam Hussein.

What Eli feared after he announced his refusal was that he would “disappear” from his family, friends and the public. “I thought it was a likely scenario,” he said to me. “I was not able to contact anyone; I was flagged as a security threat and was forced to take psychiatric evaluations. I had the fortune of [holding] the highest scored security clearance, and two weeks before my stand” had been given among the highest evaluations for his performance.

“If my story had not gotten out, they [would have] tried to re-write my history.”

Here’s what happened after his detention.

Those who followed his blogs on and other sites, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, knew something was amiss when his postings suddenly stopped. They saw him disappear. On the “Courage” site on June 21st this announcement appeared: “Yesterday, Eli’s urgent message from Baghdad buzzed around the Internet.” This is that message:

“I have told them that I will no longer play a ‘combat role’ in this conflict or ‘protect corporate representatives,’ and they have taken this as ‘violating a direct order.’ I may be in jail or worse in the next 24 hours. Please rally whoever you can, call whoever you can, bring as much attention to this as you can. I have no doubt that the military will bury me and hide the whole situation if they can. I’m in big trouble. I’m in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by people who are not on my side. Please help me. Please contact whoever you can, and tell them who I am, so I don’t ‘disappear.’”

Later, he wrote, “It would have been a lot ‘easier’ for me to simply keep doing combat missions for a couple more weeks, and be done with things. Moral convictions are not based on timing or convenience.”

Eli spent two months in an Army brig in Kuwait for his courage to stand up to authority. Why did he do it?

“I started to see myself in the eyes of the people shooting at me,” he said to me. “It’s an information war,” he said; “an occupation” full of “bribes, threats and intimidation” aimed at “turning them against each other and against us.”

“When I first signed up, I believed everything I was told,” Eli told me. Eventually, he saw that “the situation on the ground is not” what we’ve been led to believe. “We’re killing everyone who resists. Decisions are not being made by [Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki.

This war “is about control of the day-to-day decisions of another country. The people in Iraq want to control their own lives. [They fight] because no one is going to take over their country,” just as we would do under similar circumstances. “They want us to leave,” Eli said to me.

“It’s not democracy [over there]; we’re imposing martial law … with raids on houses, torturing people. The people of Iraq are trying to protect the dignity of their own families and keep us out.” He spoke of seeing “on the street, a mother screaming for her children.”

While chauffeuring VIPs, Eli began to understand, he noted, that “corporate representatives tell our generals what kind of action to take.”

And he reacted with anger, when he saw President Bush’s speech to the VFW. “He was comparing it to Vietnam, and he was laughing.”

“Young people in the U.S. don’t have access to the same information I do; they need to know that my military brothers and sisters died for the same lies” our young people hear from our leaders. “The best thing I can do,” Eli concluded, “is speak out, and surround myself with others who believe as I do.”

He has joined the campaign of former Alaska Gov. Mike Gravel, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and was driving the Governor on a southern campaign tour, while speaking with me Sunday.

As I reflected on our conversation, I realized I’ve never encountered such in-the-moment bravery and passion for justice. I felt as though I was speaking to a Lieutenant John Kerry, who testified similarly to Congress in 1971. Those who speak truth to power are in danger in these jingoistic times, but Eli Israel has given them a public face and a cause to champion.

For more information on former Army National Guard Spc. Eleonai “Eli” Israel, go to

Nick Penning ( is an Arlington, Va., freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.