of the Day
- April 25, 2010
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From the LA Times
Afghan schoolgirls fall ill in suspected gas attack
April 25, 2010
Dozens of Afghan schoolgirls fell ill after a suspected poison gas attack on their school, local authorities said on Sunday, blaming the incident on the Taliban who oppose education for girls.
Provincial police chief Abdul Razzaq Yaqubi said about 48 girls and several teachers became ill suddenly and many collapsed after smelling poison gas at the school in the northern city of Kunduz, where there has been an upsurge in insurgent violence.
Deadly tornadoes strike Mississippi
At least 10 are reported killed as twisters roar through at least 15 counties. Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana also are hit.
April 24, 2010
Yazoo City, Miss.
Tornadoes ripped through four states in the South, leaving broken crosses in front of a flattened church, splintering houses and overturning vehicles as they killed 10 people, including two children.
One of the hardest hit areas was Mississippi's Yazoo County, where Gov. Haley Barbour grew up. He described "utter obliteration" among the picturesque hills rising abruptly from the flat Mississippi Delta.
More than 15 other counties in Mississippi also had damage. The swath of debris forced rescuers to pick up some of the injured on all-terrain vehicles the west-central part of the state. Tornadoes were also reported in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama, and the severe weather continued to track eastward.
In Yazoo City, Malcolm Gordon, 63, stood with members of his family peering out at the neighborhood through a broken window.
Above them, the roof was gone, a tree lay across part of the house and power lines stretched across the yard. The smell of shredded pine trees hung in the warm breeze in the neighborhood of modest houses and mobile homes surrounded by hills and ravines.
Gordon and his wife, Diane, hid in a closet while much of the neighborhood was blown away.
"I'll just bulldoze what's left and start over," he said.
It was one of several unlikely survival stories to emerge from the destruction.
Essie Hendrix, manager of Peebles department store in Yazoo City, said she and other employees were inside with about 15 customers when the tornado struck. An assistant manager took the customers to the back of the store, and Hendrix saw the tornado barreling through the parking lot. She huddled between a safe and a sturdy desk to avoid flying glass and debris.
"It was like a rumbling and a roaring and stuff was falling," Hendrix said. "It sounded like it was going to suck us out of there. It lasted about two minutes, but it felt like it lasted an hour."
No one in the store was injured.
About 100 yards away, the owner of Ribeye's Steak House said everyone ran into a walk-in freezer to safety when they saw the tornado.
"The roof was caving in, TVs flying off the shelves and it was horrible," Mitchell Saxton said. "… We got in the walk-in freezer, sat in there for about ten minutes. When I came out it was really bad. Just thanking the good Lord I'm here and able to talk with you all."
Saxton's restaurant was destroyed but no one was hurt.
The severe weather started in Louisiana, just across the state line from Mississippi when a tornado destroyed 12 homes and warehouses at Complex Chemical Co., which makes antifreeze and other automotive fluids, owner Jerry Melton said. A small nitrogen leak was reported but didn't cause any problems.
The storm system moved east, with the twister hitting nearby Yazoo County, Miss., killing four people. In adjacent Holmes County, another person was killed. A little farther northeast, a tornado hit Choctaw County, where another five victims were reported, including the two children.
Meteorologists said it was too soon to tell whether a single long-lasting tornado -- or multiple shorter ones -- caused the deaths and damage in the different cities.
In Yazoo City, stunned residents stood on a hill overlooking the destruction. A National Guard helicopter sat nearby, and later took the governor on an aerial tour of the town.
"Sad, man," said 22-year-old Rafael Scott, shaking his head. "It's really hard to believe it. I heard they found a couple of bodies."
Three broken crosses stood near a flattened church, and religious materials were scattered among twisted steel, broken wood and furniture. A nearby funeral home was reduced to rubble. In a patch of woods, pieces of tin were twisted high up in the broken trees.
Josh Nicholson, 26, was driving home through the storm with his wife, 1-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter when a power line fell across the road in front their sport utility vehicle.
"There was nowhere we could go," he said.
Nicholson and his wife took the children out of their car seats and they all huddled in the back of the vehicle. All of the sudden, Nicholson said, the vehicle spun around and a tree clipped part of the truck where the 4-year-old had been sitting. Luckily, nobody was hurt.
"It was scary," Nicholson said.
Thousands across the state were without electricity, and downed power lines and trees blocked roads. At least four people had been brought by four-wheeler to a triage center at an old discount store parking lot, Yazoo City Mayor McArthur Straughter said as sirens whined in the background.
Jim Pollard, a spokesman for American Medical Response ambulance service, said four patients from Yazoo County were airlifted and some 20 others were taken to hospitals. At least four people were in critical condition.
Houston Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt, who pitched on Friday, was returning to Mississippi after a tornado damaged his parents' home in Weir, Miss.
Willie M. Horton, 78, said he hunkered down in the hallway of his house in Holmes County, which borders Yazoo. "Everything is down. A lot of trees. Big trees," Horton said.
He said his sister-in-law's house nearby was damaged, and a nephew's mobile home was carried away by the storm.
"My cousin -- half his barn is gone," Horton said.
The weather hampered crews trying to clean up an oil spill after an offshore rig exploded earlier this week off the coast of Louisiana. Several sporting events and festivals also were rescheduled.
Salvadoran gangs akin to terrorists, FBI agent says
April 23, 2010
Violent street gangs in El Salvador -- most with roots in Los Angeles -- are a threat to national security in both the United States and Central America, just like domestic terrorists. That's according to the top FBI agent stationed in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.
Leo Navarrete, legal attache at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, told La Prensa Grafica (link in Spanish) that authorities are on the lookout for connections between gangs and big-time drug traffickers, whose operations are spreading across Central America as the trade expands southward beyond Mexico's borders .
"Gangs can be seen as a form of domestic terrorism," Navarrete said. "You see them extorting people, bodies in the streets. It is a way to destabilize society."
The numbers of pandilleros in El Salvador began skyrocketing in the 1990s when U.S. authorities deported thousands of Salvadorans to their home country, even though many had lived most of their lives in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities, where the gangs developed. Today they are one ingredient in the social crisis that gives El Salvador one of the highest homicide rates in the region . You can see the video "La Vida Loca" by journalist Christian Poveda about the gangs' lives and rituals. Poveda was killed last year, apparently by the very gangsters he portrayed.
Rising violence has chilled life in El Salvador, two decades after the end of a ruthless civil war.
Just Friday, a Mexican official working on security in El Salvador survived an assassination attempt that killed his wife. The man, Guillermo Medina, was identified in Mexico as an officer of the Mexican Embassy in San Salvador who worked with Interpol.
Cities feeling the pinch
Local governments are laying off workers and cutting services while hoping for federal aid.
By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times
April 24, 2010
Reporting from Washington
Colorado Springs is planning to turn off a third of its streetlights, though residents can adopt one for $75. An Ohio judge told residents they might want to arm themselves after the county cut half its sheriff's deputies. Ocean City, Md., is ending its curbside recycling program.
Even though the economy is showing signs of recovery, these remain tough times for cities and counties, and it's likely to get tougher. So local governments want what Wall Street and carmakers got: federal money.
Concerned that a wave of municipal layoffs could set back the nation's economic recovery, congressional Democrats are pushing a $100-billion bill that would provide $75 billion in federal aid to help cities and counties preserve jobs.
The bill, which has gained 151 cosponsors in the House, also provides an additional $23 billion to help preserve teachers' jobs. Most of the remainder would go to aid police and fire departments.
"Without help, an ongoing local government fiscal crisis could well undercut the nation's recovery," Riverside Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge, president of the National League of Cities, told a congressional committee recently.
The legislation, introduced last month by Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), is gaining support among House Democrats who are eager to reduce stubbornly high unemployment in what is shaping up as a tough midterm election for the party in power.
However, it faces uncertain prospects in the Senate, where Republicans have sought to block increased spending without cuts, prompting city officials from red states to step up their lobbying.
Although last year's $787-billion economic stimulus package provided money for a wide range of local projects, city employment levels are at their lowest since 1980, Miller said. The National League of Cities calculates that state and local governments will lay off as many as 1.5 million people between 2010 and 2011.
"Though you may see folks coming out of the recession in other sectors, you're seeing the opposite in cities," said Eve O'Toole, a Washington lobbyist for the League of California Cities.
Cities — while facing increased demands for services — have seen their tax revenues continue to decline because of persistent high unemployment, home foreclosures and reduced state aid.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed as many as 750 layoffs — on top of 105 pink slips this year — to help make up for a projected $485-million shortfall. San Jose is looking at reducing its municipal workforce to its lowest level in two decades.
"We're now beginning to see cities cut fire and police services," Loveridge said. "The pain is real."
Municipal finances are not expected to bottom out until next year, according to analysts at the National League of Cities. Even in a recovering economy, there is often a lag before heavily property-tax-dependent cities feel the full effect of lower property values.
Miller's legislation would provide $75 billion over two years to help cities and counties stave off layoffs, hire back laid-off workers and assist nonprofit groups in preserving jobs that provide public services, such as meals to seniors.
The bill would steer more money to high unemployment areas, which would benefit California, with a 12.6% unemployment rate, among the highest in the country.
Los Angeles would receive $325 million in the first year under the bill, according Miller's staff. A spokeswoman for Villaraigosa said that the L.A. mayor supported the bill, but that the city wasn't counting on any of the money at this point.
Bailout fatigue and Washington's own budget problems are formidable challenges.
"Everybody at every level has to understand we need to tighten up a little bit — or maybe a lot," said Republican Rep. Howard P. "Buck'' McKeon, former Santa Clarita mayor.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), who represents the Inland Empire, has "consistently opposed these bailout bills because they keep adding to the federal deficit," said his spokesman Jim Specht.
Yet city officials from Republican-held districts are stepping up their efforts to persuade their representatives to support the bill.
"The stark reality is that economic conditions continue to get worse for local governments," Mayor Virginia Madueno of Riverbank in the Central Valley said in a letter to Rep. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa).
The bill also has gained the backing of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has pressed the Obama administration and Democratic leaders to do more about the 16.5% unemployment rate among African Americans.
L.A's 49th Street Massacre may not have been about race
Three Latinos, including a child, were killed in a gang-style attack. The suspects, now on trial, are black. But the motivation is not believed to be racial.
April 25, 2010
On a summer afternoon nearly four years ago, two men carrying AK-47 assault rifles climbed out of a dark red sedan on a quiet South Los Angeles street and opened fire. One gunman shot a 10-year-old boy riding a bicycle, then stood over the child and continued firing at point-blank range. Three people, including the boy, were killed.
The assailants were described as black, the victims were Latino. Police said that the dead were not connected to gangs but that they suspected the attackers were.
What became known as the 49th Street Massacre was one of several high-profile interracial gang crimes that stoked fears among some minority activists of a possible race war.
But as the murder trial of two alleged gang members accused in the killings draws to a close, little evidence has pointed to race as a principal motive in the shooting.
Prosecutors contend that Ryan T. Moore, 36, and Charles Ray Smith, 41, mistook the victims for rival gang members in a tit-for-tat feud over turf, drugs and pride. Defense attorneys do not dispute the prosecution's theory but say authorities identified the wrong men as the killers.
Although examples of interracial gang killings have heightened racial tension in recent years, the case helps illustrate how complex a role race plays in L.A.'s gang violence. Experts say most conflicts involve gangs of the same ethnicity. But whether hostilities cross racial lines or not, innocent people are frequently caught in the violence.
The 49th Street shooting followed deadly race riots in Los Angeles County's jails and brawls on local high school campuses between black and Latino students. As tensions simmered, many people feared an escalation in ethnic violence, recalled Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.
"It's still a concern," Hutchinson said. "There's a special layer of fear because people are concerned that they're being targeted … solely because of their race."
Authorities say the origins of the 49th Street shooting go back to a 2005 dispute over drug territory between the Rollin' 30s Blood Stone Pirus, an African American gang, and the Eastside Treces, a Latino gang.
"The Eastside Treces were pulling guns out on some of the Rollin' 30s or anyone black," Alicia Merceron, who admitted driving the car used in the 49th Street shooting, testified last month.
But Merceron gave no hint that racial hostility was a factor in any violence perpetrated by the Rollin' 30s members she knew. At least three of the gang's members were Latino.
Dressed in a pink-and-white blouse, Merceron told jurors in a downtown courtroom that she had an affair with Smith — a reputed Rollin' 30s shot-caller — and drove him in several drive-by shootings in addition to the one on 49th Street.
The first occurred on March 31, 2006, after a Latino gunman fired shots at a Rollin' 30s member who was related to Smith's wife. Merceron said she drove Smith to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where Smith jumped out and fired an AK-47 into a parked car, killing the driver, Bani Hinojosa.
Merceron said Smith insisted the victim was a gang member. But prosecutors called Hinojosa a construction worker with no gang ties who had been taking milk home to his wife and two daughters when he was shot. Smith is charged with murder in the killing.
A short truce between the gangs was shattered in June 2006 with the fatal shooting of a Rollin' 30s member, a close friend of Smith's. Smith vowed revenge, Merceron said.
"He wanted the Eastside Trece to pay for it," she told jurors.
Two days after his friend's funeral, Smith told Merceron he had heard that Eastside Trece members were living on 49th Street near Central Avenue, she testified. As they drove along the street, she said, Smith believed he recognized a green SUV as belonging to the rival gang.
Merceron testified that they picked up Moore and returned to 49th Street. She said she did not realize what the men were planning until she saw Moore hand Smith a rifle in her car.
When they arrived at the 1100 block, she said, she locked eyes with a small boy near the parked SUV. Merceron said she scanned the area to see who was watching as the men got out and began shooting.
David Marcial, 10, was killed in the attack. His 12-year-old brother, Sergio Jr., was seriously wounded. Also killed were the boys' uncle, Larry Marcial, 22, and Luis Cervantes, 17, a neighbor of the Marcial family.
A day after the killings, Merceron had her red Chrysler Cirrus painted silver.
In court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks asked her why she had helped Smith carry out the crimes.
"Because I loved him," she replied. "He showed me a lot of love."
Last year, another jury deadlocked 7-5 in favor of convicting Moore and 9-3 in favor of convicting Smith in the 49th Street killings. Several jurors told prosecutors they had doubts about Merceron's veracity.
Defense attorneys have portrayed Merceron as a manipulative killer with a strong motive to lie.
Although Smith and Moore face possible death sentences, Merceron will get far less under a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for her testimony, she was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced to seven years in prison. The agreement depends on her telling the truth. But defense attorneys note that Merceron has told conflicting stories.
In a March 2008 interview with police, she promised to come clean and admitted involvement in the 49th Street killings. She denied involvement in any other shootings.
In a subsequent interview with police, however, she admitted being the driver in three more drive-by shootings, including the Hinojosa murder.
Even then, she was holding out.
During the first trial, Merceron initially denied — then admitted — firing a handgun in yet another drive-by shooting. No one was hurt, she said.
Defense attorneys also cast doubt on her timeline of events just before the 49th Street shooting. They have seized on security footage taken from a local business that prosecutors say shows Merceron's car turning down 49th Street and then making the same turn 10 minutes later, moments before the shooting. Defense lawyers contend that Merceron's account — of driving past the SUV, then collecting Moore and the weapons before returning — could not have taken place within 10 minutes.
"This is a character who wakes every morning and has a fistfight with the truth," Moore's attorney, Richard LaPan, told jurors.
Nevertheless, both sides agree that race played little role in the slayings. Alex Alonso, a defense gang expert, testified that the Rollin' 30s continued to peacefully share territory with half a dozen other Latino gangs despite its conflict with the Treces.
"These gangs," he said, "have existed there for years without any animosity."
The case is expected to go to the jury next week.
Mock funeral procession in L.A. seeks to draw attention to worker fatalities
April 24, 2010
A mock funeral procession made its way through L.A.'s Pico Union and Koreatown neighborhoods Saturday as part of a “memorial day” rally honoring workers injured or killed in the workplace each year.
Labor activists and area unions helped put together the annual event, held this year outside the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, across the street from MacArthur Park.
“The idea is to bring awareness of worker fatalities and injuries across the United States,” said Peter Greyshock, coordinator for Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety, a nonprofit group.
Worker safety has been in the news with the recent deaths of 29 people in a West Virginia coal mine and the explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that left 11 missing. But most occupational deaths receive little notice.
“A lot of workers die alone, and only their friends and families know,” Greyshock said. “They may fall off a roof or suffer from heat illness.”
Speakers, including Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach), urged passage of stronger state and federal occupational safety laws. Many said existing laws were outdated.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, thousands of U.S. workers are injured or killed on the job each year as a result of “preventable incidents.” Latino workers suffer higher rates of workplace injuries and deaths than all other workers.
Earlier this month, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis convened a two-day summit on Latino occupational health and safety in an effort to improve workplace safety.
On Saturday, a flower-bedecked altar set up outside the labor center paid tribute to a number of fallen workers, and displayed snapshots and brief biographies. Among those memorialized were Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, a pregnant farm hand who died in 2008 after collapsing in the heat while pruning vines in California; and Carlos Rivera, 73, a dock worker who was killed in an accident at the Port of Long Beach in 2008.
Attending Saturday's rally was Aura Lopez, 29, a former car wash worker who now walks with a crutch and says she is permanently disabled. She said she fell and injured her spine in 2008 while working at a Los Angeles car wash shop. She says she has filed a civil claim against her former employer, who has since gone into bankruptcy. Fellow car wash workers who attended said their workshops suffered from a chronic lack of safety equipment.
“I want to avoid that what happened to me happens to anyone else,” said Lopez, 29, a native of Guatemala who is the mother of two daughters.
Vehicles in the mock procession proceeded from MacArthur Park on an almost four-mile route through central Los Angeles, with posters written in English and Spanish conveying messages such as “No job is worth more than our lives” and “Remember the dead -- fight for the living.”
From the New York Times
In Army's Trauma Care Units, Feeling Warehoused
By JAMES DAO and DAN FROSCH
COLORADO SPRINGS — A year ago, Specialist Michael Crawford wanted nothing more than to get into Fort Carson's Warrior Transition Battalion, a special unit created to provide closely managed care for soldiers with physical wounds and severe psychological trauma.
A strapping Army sniper who once brimmed with confidence, he had returned emotionally broken from Iraq, where he suffered two concussions from roadside bombs and watched several platoon mates burn to death. The transition unit at Fort Carson, outside Colorado Springs, seemed the surest way to keep suicidal thoughts at bay, his mother thought.
It did not work. He was prescribed a laundry list of medications for anxiety , nightmares , depression and headaches that made him feel listless and disoriented. His once-a-week session with a nurse case manager seemed grossly inadequate to him. And noncommissioned officers — soldiers supervising the unit — harangued or disciplined him when he arrived late to formation or violated rules.
Last August, Specialist Crawford attempted suicide with a bottle of whiskey and an overdose of painkillers. By the end of last year, he was begging to get out of the unit.
“It is just a dark place,” said the soldier, who is waiting to be medically discharged from the Army. “Being in the W.T.U. is worse than being in Iraq.”
Created in the wake of the scandal in 2007 over serious shortcomings at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Warrior Transition Units were intended to be sheltering way stations where injured soldiers could recuperate and return to duty or gently process out of the Army. There are currently about 7,200 soldiers at 32 transition units across the Army, with about 465 soldiers at Fort Carson 's unit.
But interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson's transition unit, along with reports from other posts, suggest that the units are far from being restful sanctuaries. For many soldiers, they have become warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers. Because of their wounds, soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are particularly vulnerable to depression and addiction, but many soldiers from Fort Carson's unit say their treatment there has made their suffering worse.
Some soldiers in the unit, and their families, described long hours alone in their rooms, or in homes off the base, aimlessly drinking or playing video games.
“In combat, you rely on people and you come out of it feeling good about everything,” said a specialist in the unit. “Here, you're just floating. You're not doing much. You feel worthless.”
At Fort Carson, many soldiers complained that doctors prescribed drugs too readily. As a result, some soldiers have become addicted to their medications or have turned to heroin. Medications are so abundant that some soldiers in the unit openly deal, buy or swap prescription pills.
Heavy use of psychotropic drugs and narcotics makes it difficult to exercise, wake for morning formation and attend classes, soldiers and health care professionals said. Yet noncommissioned officers discipline soldiers who fail to complete those tasks, sometimes over the objections of nurse case managers and doctors.
At least four soldiers in the Fort Carson unit have committed suicide since 2007, the most of any transition unit as of February, according to the Army.
Senior officers in the Army's Warrior Transition Command declined to discuss specific soldiers. But they said Army surveys showed that most soldiers treated in transition units since 2007, more than 50,000 people, had liked the care.
Those senior officers acknowledged that addiction to medications was a problem, but denied that Army doctors relied too heavily on drugs. And they strongly defended disciplining wounded soldiers when they violated rules. Punishment is meted out judiciously, they said, mainly to ensure that soldiers stick to treatment plans and stay safe.
“These guys are still soldiers, and we want to treat them like soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Andrew L. Grantham, commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Carson.
The colonel offered another explanation for complaints about the unit. Many soldiers, he said, struggle in transition units because they would rather be with regular, deployable units. In some cases, he said, they feel ashamed of needing treatment.
“Some come to us with an identity crisis,” he said. “They don't want to be seen as part of the W.T.U. But we want them to identify with a purpose and give them a mission.”
Drugs and Addiction
Sgt. John Conant, a 15-year veteran of the Army, returned from his second tour of Iraq in 2007 a changed man, according to his wife, Delphina. Angry and sullen, he reported to the transition unit at Fort Carson, where he was prescribed at least six medications a day for sleeping disorders , pain and anxiety, keeping a detailed checklist in his pocket to remind him of his dosages.
The medications disoriented him, Mrs. Conant said, and he would often wander the house late at night before curling up on the floor and falling asleep. Then in April 2008, after taking morphine and Ambien, the sleeping pill, he died in his sleep. A coroner ruled that his death was from natural causes. He was 36.
Mrs. Conant said she felt her husband never received meaningful therapy at the transition unit, where he had become increasingly frustrated and was knocked down a rank, to specialist, because of discipline problems.
“They didn't want to do anything but give him medication,” she said.
Other soldiers and health care workers at Fort Carson offered similar complaints. They said that most transition unit soldiers were given complex cocktails of medications that raised concerns about accidental overdoses, addiction and side effects from interactions.
“These kids change their medication like they change their underwear,” said a psychotherapist who works with Fort Carson soldiers and asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the transition unit. “They can't even remember which pills they're taking.”
Some turned to heroin, which is readily available in the barracks, after becoming addicted to their pain pills, according to interviews with soldiers and health care professionals at Fort Carson.
“We're all on sleep meds, anxiety meds, pain meds,” said Pfc. Jeffery Meier, who is in the transition unit and said he knew a dozen soldiers in the unit, including a recent roommate, who had used heroin. “The heroin is all that, wrapped into one.”
Fort Carson officials said that addiction to prescription drugs was no more prevalent in the Army than in the civilian world, and that medication was just one element of a balanced treatment that includes therapy.
But they acknowledged that they had found heroin abuse in the transition unit and said they were trying to reduce the use of opiates and synthetic opiates to prevent addiction, not always with success.
“There is active resistance, because they are addicted,” said Lt. Col. Joel Tanaka, the Warrior Transition Battalion surgeon at Fort Carson. “We've learned if we don't assist them and wrap our arms around them, then they go off post and get these drugs illegally.”
Jess Seiwert offers a cautionary tale. A staff sergeant and sniper who was knocked unconscious by roadside bombs in Iraq, he returned to Fort Carson in late 2006 with post-traumatic stress disorder , burns and a variety of aches. Prone to bouts of rage, he often drank himself to sleep and began abusing the painkiller Percocet.
Medical records show that Sergeant Seiwert's captain thought he was a danger to his wife and needed inpatient psychiatric care. Instead, the sergeant was transferred into Fort Carson's transition unit in 2008.
In a recent interview, Mr. Seiwert, now discharged from the Army, said he received minimal therapy in the unit but was given ample medication, including the painkillers he abused. “I should have been in inpatient rehab to get me off the drugs,” he said.
Last summer, just months after being medically discharged, he badly beat his wife while bingeing on alcohol and Percocet. He pleaded guilty to a second-degree assault charge and is likely to face five years in prison.
‘Making Things Worse'
Like private outpatient clinics, Warrior Transition Units aim to provide highly individualized care and ready access to case managers, therapists and doctors. But the care is organized in a distinctly Army way: noncommissioned officers, known as the cadre, maintain discipline and enforce rules, often using traditional drill-sergeant toughness with junior enlisted soldiers.
At the top of the command are traditional Army officers, not health care professionals: Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, head of the Warrior Transition Command, was an artillery officer, and Colonel Grantham an intelligence officer.
Beneath them is what the Army calls its triad of care. Members of the cadre keep a close eye on individual soldiers, much like squad leaders in regular line units. Nurse case managers schedule appointments and assist with medications and therapy. And primary care managers — doctors, physicians' assistants or nurse practitioners — oversee care and prescribe medicines.
The structure is intended to ensure that every soldier gets careful supervision and that Army values and discipline are maintained. But many soldiers at Fort Carson complained that discipline and insensitive treatment by cadre members made wounded soldiers feel as if they were viewed as fakers or weaklings.
James Agee, a former staff sergeant who transferred into the transition unit after returning from his second tour of Iraq in 2008, said he frequently heard cadre members verbally abuse medicated soldiers who were struggling to get out of bed for morning formation or stay awake for all-night duty.
“They would say, ‘These guys can't do this because they are crazy,' ” said Mr. Agee, who received a medical discharge from the Army. “It would make you feel like you were inferior.”
One Army specialist in the unit, who received diagnoses of post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury , said he was ordered to perform 24-hour guard duty repeatedly against the orders of his doctor. The specialist, who asked to remain anonymous because he feared repercussions, said he experienced flashbacks to Iraq during the long hours by himself.
In many cases, the noncommissioned officers have made it clear that they do not believe the psychological symptoms reported by the unit's soldiers are real or particularly serious. At Fort Hood , Tex., a study conducted just before the shooting rampage there last November — which found that many soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit thought their treatment relied too heavily on medication — also concluded that a majority of the cadre believed that soldiers were faking post-traumatic stress or exaggerating their symptoms.
Christina Perez, the wife of a transition unit soldier from Fort Carson, said she got into an ugly fight with a member of the cadre who was furious that she had gone over his head to request additional therapy for her husband, a sergeant first class who had sustained a brain injury during one of two tours in Iraq as a tank gunner.
In a meeting, the noncommissioned officer shouted that Ms. Perez's husband did not deserve his uniform and that he should give it to her instead, Ms. Perez said in a police complaint. No charges were brought.
Eventually her husband, who has headaches and memory loss , was transferred to an inpatient psychiatric clinic in Denver while he awaits a medical discharge. “All they do is make things worse,” Ms. Perez said of the transition unit.
Last year, The Associated Press reported that the transition unit at Fort Bragg in North Carolina had a discipline rate three times as high as the 82nd Airborne Division, the base's primary occupant.
General Cheek said the Army's own survey of other major posts showed that discipline rates in transition units were about the same as in regular units.
He asserted that most cadre members, who receive extra pay and training for the job, do their jobs well, working long hours and spending weekends checking on soldiers. Discipline, he said, is a form of tough love.
“If we are going to maintain safe discipline, all rules must apply,” the general said. “We do have an expectation that our soldiers want to get better.”
Sgt. Keith Nowicki was an intelligence analyst who was sent back early from his second deployment to Iraq in April 2008 because of severe post-traumatic stress disorder, said his wife, Ashley. Assigned to the Fort Carson transition unit, he spent nearly a year waiting for his medical discharge.
Instead of getting the help he hoped for, he spent much of the time in the unit alone, growing increasingly angry, drinking heavily and abusing Percocet. In early 2009, he separated from his wife. While on the phone with her in March 2009 he shot himself to death. He was due to be discharged at the end of the month.
Though Ms. Nowicki does not attribute her husband's suicide to the long wait for his discharge, she said the slowness of the process and the lack of support from the transition unit added to his sense of hopelessness.
“It was just a bunch of red tape,” Ms. Nowicki said. “He would spend days trying to track down his own medical records.”
Army officials acknowledged that wait times for medical discharges at Fort Carson had grown. A major reason is that Fort Carson is part of a pilot program with the Department of Veterans Affairs in which the Army and the V.A. collaborate in evaluating soldiers' injuries. The collaboration between the two bureaucracies is expected to speed up veterans benefits once a soldier leaves the Army, but it can lengthen the initial evaluation period, officials said.
Michael Crawford has been waiting more than a year for his medical discharge. As his anxiety and depression have worsened, so have his problems in the unit. His rank was recently reduced to private in punishment for overstaying leave and using marijuana .
But things are looking up, his mother believes: he will be able to stay with her in Michigan while awaiting his discharge. His mother, Sally Darrow, has already seen one son commit suicide. She believes that Michael would become the second if he had to return to Fort Carson and the transition unit.
“At home, with family and schoolmates, he's dealing with things better,” Ms. Darrow said. “He's not safe there.”
Tensions Rise Between the Koreas as Ship Is Raised
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Saturday salvaged the remaining half of a warship that sank near a disputed sea border with North Korea , as suspicion of a North Korean torpedo attack deepened and two former South Korean presidents urged the country's leaders to punish Pyongyang economically.
The ship, the Cheonan, sank after a mysterious explosion split it in half on March 26. One sailor was found dead in the ship's wreckage Saturday, bringing the total of confirmed dead to 40. Six others are missing and presumed dead.
The rear half of the ship was lifted out of the water last week. A team of international investigators have been scrutinizing the wreck to find clues to what and who caused the blast, which they believe was external. North Korea has denied any involvement.
In an indication of how seriously South Korea views the incident, President Lee Myung-bak met Friday with former presidents — a common practice when the nation is facing a crisis and seeking to build a national consensus.
Only two of South Korea's three living former presidents were well enough to attend: Chun Doo-hwan, a former military dictator, and Kim Young-sam , who opposed the dictatorship but became a political conservative.
The government briefed the local news media on the meeting late Friday, saying the former presidents had both said they believed the ship was attacked by North Korea, a claim Mr. Lee has been careful not to make while the incident is still being investigated.
At the briefing, the former leaders' personal, scarring experiences with the North were detailed.
According to the local media, Mr. Kim noted that his mother was killed in 1960 by a North Korean agent who attacked his island village on the south coast.
Mr. Chun, meanwhile, spoke of a spectacular bomb attack on South Korea's leaders in 1983 that killed several cabinet ministers during a presidential visit to Yangon, Myanmar.
Such recriminations were rare during the decade from 1998 to 2008, when liberals ruled Korea and pursued a “Sunshine Policy” of aid and joint ventures meant to eventually reunite North and South Korea.
Mr. Lee came to power in 2008 promising to take a tougher line with the North, which had continued with a nuclear arms program despite the many overtures from the South. The meeting Friday — with its tough sound bites on the North — can be expected to continue to shore up Mr. Lee's standing with conservative voters.
On Friday, the two former presidents suggested dismantling some of the results of the Sunshine Policy, shutting down a joint industrial park in the North and denying permission to some North Korean ships to ply South Korean waters to save time and fuel as they travel abroad.
Iran Holds Talks With IAEA Chief on Nuclear Issues
VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran's foreign minister met the head of the United Nations' atomic watchdog on Sunday to discuss a stalled nuclear fuel proposal that could help ease Tehran's dispute with the West, Iranian officials and media said.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Iranian state television before his meeting with Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that their talks would be "decisive and detailed."
Iranian officials from the delegation in Vienna confirmed to Reuters the two men had met but they gave no more information.
"The IAEA can play a more constructive role," Mottaki said in his earlier comments. "We believe the fuel swap can create multilateral trust."
Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and not intended for military use.
The West believes it is trying to make an atomic bomb and Washington is seeking support from fellow U.N. Security Council veto holders Russia and China for a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran.
"We welcome the meeting as a good opportunity for the IAEA to express its concerns to Iran directly," said Glyn Davies, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA.
Iran's senior nuclear official Ali Akbar Salehi said on Friday Mottaki would hold talks with all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council over the nuclear standoff.
Mottaki is visiting Vienna and other capitals to lobby Security Council members to oppose any new U.N. sanctions. Austria is on the council until the end of this year.
Tehran says it is prepared to swap its low-level enriched uranium for higher-grade fuel enriched abroad -- a move which would help address fears about Iran's enrichment activities -- but that this must happen on Iranian soil.
In October Iran agreed in principle to send low-enriched uranium abroad for more processing, but then said the swap should take place inside its territory and simultaneously.
Illegal immigrant law opponents to rally in Ariz.
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
The Associated Press
April 25, 2010
PHOENIX - Opponents who fear that Arizona's tough new immigration law will lead to police harassment of legal immigrants and U.S. citizens who look Hispanic are set to demonstrate against the measure at the state Capitol Sunday afternoon.
The rally comes two days after Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that requires police to question people about their immigration status — including asking for identification — if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The law also toughens restrictions on hiring illegal immigrants for day labor and knowingly transporting them.
Civil rights advocates have vowed to challenge the law in court, saying it would undoubtedly lead to racial profiling despite Brewer's assurances.
Supporters have dismissed those concerns, saying the law prohibits the use of race or nationality as the sole basis for an immigration check. Brewer has ordered state officials to develop a training course for officers to learn what constitutes reasonable suspicion someone is in the U.S. illegally.
Hundreds gathered outside the state Capitol in Phoenix on Friday shouting that the bill would lead to civil rights abuses. After she signed the bill, Brewer said critics were "overreacting."
A handful of protesters lingered at the Capitol Saturday morning. Others gathered in Tucson outside the campaign headquarters of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who opposes the measure and has called on businesses and groups looking for convention and meeting locations to boycott Arizona.
Current law in Arizona and most states doesn't require police to ask about the immigration status of those they encounter, and many police departments prohibit officers from inquiring out of fear immigrants won't cooperate in other investigations.
The new law makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. Immigrants unable to produce documents showing they are allowed to be in the U.S. could be arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500. It also allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon's office said in a statement Saturday that "the Mexican government condemns the approval of the law" and "the criminalization of migration, far from contributing to collaboration and cooperation between Mexico and the state of Arizona, represents an obstacle to solving the shared problems of the border region."
Arizona has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the state with the most illegal border crossings, with the harsh, remote desert serving as the gateway for thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans.