Sunday, August 13, 2006

Archbishop of York Starts Peace Vigil

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, smiles after having his head shaved as part of his Sunday service at York Minster cathedral in York, northern England August 13, 2006. Image from REUTERS/Nigel Roddis
Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, holds a position in the Anglican Communion second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he is considered the Primate of the Anglican Church in England.

Archbishop Sentamu, (Official biography from the Anglican Communion News Service) was born in 1949 in Uganda and had a career of law there, until he had to leave to escape persecution by then-dictator Idi Amin. Sentamu had reached the post of a judge on Uganda's High Court, and was considered "an opponent and agitator". He was allowed to leave Uganda in 1974, to study theology at Cambridge University, on the condition that he never return to Uganda.

Sentamu was ordained in 1979, and held several positions as Chaplin, Curate, priest and Vicar until his election as Bishop of Stepney (1996) and Bishop for Birmingham (2002). He was installed as Archbishop for York in 2005, the first person of color to so serve.

This past weekend Archbishop Sentamu started a vigil in solidarity with the ordinary people on both sides of the current violence between Israel and Hezbollah elements in Lebanon. A Reuters article from Friday ("Archbishop to hold vigil for Mideast") notes that Sentamu will forgo a planned vacation and will spend the week sleeping in the cathedral and fasting. He will also lead prayers each hour for seven days for those affected by the fighting between the opposing military forces.

From Reuters:
"In the Middle East there are thousands of people sleeping in churches, bunkers, underground car parks and shelters in an attempt to escape from the bombs and rockets that are falling on both sides of the border,"
"This act is a rallying call to people of all faiths and none, to encourage them to feel that there is something that can be done."
Sentamu also chastised U.S. President G.W. Bush, noting that Bush calling the U.S. involvement in the Middle East meant the U.S. was "at war with Islamic fascists" was counter-productive.

That was not the first foray of Sentamu's to chastise U.S. policy -- in February of this year, Sentamu called the U.S. to task for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, when he likened what this administration is doing to what he saw Idi Amin do in his native Uganda:
"..By "declaring war on terror" President Bush is perversely applying the rules of engagement which apply in a war situation. But the prisoners are not being regularly visited by the Red Cross or Red Crescent, which is required by the Geneva Convention. They were not even allowed to be interviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Group.

In Uganda President Amin did something similar: he did not imprison suspects because he knew that in prison the law would apply to them, so he created special places to keep them. If the Guantanamo Bay detainees were on American soil, the law would apply. This is a breach of international law and a blight on the conscience of America."

The Archbishop had previously said (17/02/06)

"The American Government is breaking international law. Whatever they may say about democracy, to hold someone for up to four years without charge clearly indicates a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm.

The main building block of a democratic society is that everyone is equal before the law, is innocent until proved otherwise and has the right to legal representation. If the guilt of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is beyond doubt, why are the Americans afraid to bring them to trial? Transparency and accountability are the other side of the coin of freedom and responsibility.

We are all accountable for our actions in spite of circumstances. The events of 9/11 cannot erase the rule of law and international obligations. I back the United Nations Human Rights Commission report, recommending that the US try all the detainees, or free them without further delay. If the US refuses to respond, maybe the Commission should seek a writ of Habeas Corpus in a United States Court, or at the Hague."

Thanks to Susie at Suburban Guerrilla where I first saw the Reuter's article.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Per-Diem Suit Against Massachusetts National Guard Still Unresolved

Massachusetts National Guard P.R. image, showing a statue depicting Capt. John Parker, leader of the Lexington Minutemen.  The statue stands in Lexington Center, Lexington Massachusetts.  The statue was created by Henry Hudson Kitson in 1900Followers of this site know that one of the continuing stories I've been following is a lawsuit against the Massachusetts National Guard seeking reimbursement for per-diem payments owed when members of the Guard were activated and missioned to provide security for a variety of infrastructure sites in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The individual guard members were activated, and received orders to go to these sites and provide a presence and security. However, the soldiers were not provided with lodging, travel or food, and were thus entitled to a daily payment for reimbursement of their expenses, according to a set schedule.

The Massachusetts National Guard commander, however, explicitly declared that there would be no stipend or per-diem payments for these postings. In essence, the Guard told these soldiers, that all expenses would be borne by themselves, and they would never be reimbursed.

When these soldiers attempted to get their reimbursements, and repeatedly queried the upper echelons of the Guard in Massachusetts, they were threatened with administrative retaliation if they persisted, including discharge from the guard. Other allegations in the lawsuit are that the decision of non-reimbursement was done as a deliberate cost-cutting measure by the Guard General in charge, and that some soldiers were also told that reimbursements had been terminated (which is false).

In the meantime, over a three year period, many members of the Guard were shelling out thousands of dollars, in some cases tens of thousands of dollars) in expenses for travel, lodging and meals, out of their own pockets.

The National Guard *did* start an audit (in May of 2005), but the audit is (according to court papers) not complete.

The latest hearing on the matter was on Friday, August 4, where the state and federal governments attempted to get the judge to dismiss the suit (covered briefly by the Boston Globe),
Government lawyers argued today that a federal judge doesn't have the authority to consider a lawsuit filed on behalf of Massachusetts National Guardsmen who were denied reimbursement for expenses they paid out of their own pockets while protecting sites around the state following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

US District Judge Richard G. Stearns said he'll take the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit under advisement. Lawyers for the federal and state government claim the soldiers' claims should be handled administratively by the Guard and an Army review board.

Of course, if the Guard and Army had handled this mater expeditiously in the first place, the soldiers would not have felt the need to bring the suit at all.

The AP has an article that expanded on Judge Stearns' decision to defer a decision on the government's request for dismissal of the suit.

The Guard acknowledged Friday that the ongoing audit revealed it has failed to reimburse some soldiers. Both sides were in court Friday, when federal lawyers argued for dismissal based on jurisdictional issues.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns on Monday said that because the Guard plans to have the audit done within two months, he'll wait.

"Because the results of the audit may resolve a number of the pending claims of both existing and possibly future plaintiffs, the court will defer its decision on the jurisdictional issues for a reasonable period of time, this to permit the administrative process to proceed," Stearns wrote.

Guard officials say the number of soldiers and the total amount owed were not known.

It has been over a year since the audit was started. I'm sure that it doesn't take that long to track down the orders that missioned these soldiers to duty, and to verify that they were *not* paid.

Admit that the soldiers were stiffed, and pay them the money owed.

These are citizens who volunteered to serve and protect their nation.

They deserve our respect and honesty.

See other articles from my blog on this issue:

01/12/2006 - Massachusetts Guardsmen seek pay for post-9/11 duty
03/02/2006 - Suit over Massachusetts National Guard reimbursements continues
06/06/2006 - Updates To some Continuing Stories

Sunday, August 06, 2006

U.S. Army Discharges Arabic-Speaking intelligence NCO After Anonymous E-mail about him

ABC just aired a short interview with Army Sgt. Bleu Copas, who enlisted, at age 26, after the attacks on 9/11.

He learned Aramic and was a member of the Army Intelligence cadre.

Someone hacked into his personal e-mail account, and forwarded edited versions of his e-mails, anonymously, to his superiors in the army.

From the description of the questioning, his superiors certainly violated their own strictures in the "don't ask" part of "Don't ask, don't tell."

Video of the interview is here. NOTE: The link puts you into an AOL.COM news bite, and is preceded by a short commercial.

An AP article notes that
"..the GAO also noted that nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in California.

Discharging and replacing them has cost the Pentagon nearly $369 million, according to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara."

This entire witchhunt atmosphere is absurd.

And all because some idiots cannot get over their obsession over which consenting adult is sleeping with whatever consenting adult.

And men and women who have proven their devotion to this country by their sacrifices are blackmailed and treated like criminals.