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US Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes.

A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

These unnoticed killing fields are places like New Middletown, Ohio, where Cheryl DeBow raised two sons, Michael and Ryan Yurchison, and saw them depart for Iraq. Michael, then 22, signed up soon after the 9/11 attacks.

“I can’t just sit back and do nothing,” he told his mom. Two years later, Ryan followed his beloved older brother to the Army.

When Michael was discharged, DeBow picked him up at the airport — and was staggered. “When he got off the plane and I picked him up, it was like he was an empty shell,” she told me. “His body was shaking.” Michael began drinking and abusing drugs, his mother says, and he terrified her by buying the same kind of gun he had carried in Iraq. “He said he slept with his gun over there, and he needed it here,” she recalls.

Then Ryan returned home in 2007, and he too began to show signs of severe strain. He couldn’t sleep, abused drugs and alcohol, and suffered extreme jitters.

“He was so anxious, he couldn’t stand to sit next to you and hear you breathe,” DeBow remembers. A talented filmmaker, Ryan turned the lens on himself to record heartbreaking video of his own sleeplessness, his own irrational behavior — even his own mock suicide.

One reason for veteran suicides (and crimes, which get far more attention) may be post-traumatic stress disorder, along with a related condition, traumatic brain injury. Ryan suffered a concussion in an explosion in Iraq, and Michael finally had traumatic brain injury diagnosed two months ago.

Estimates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury vary widely, but a ballpark figure is that the problems afflict at least one in five veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. One study found that by their third or fourth tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than one-quarter of soldiers had such mental health problems.

Preliminary figures suggest that being a veteran now roughly doubles one’s risk of suicide. For young men ages 17 to 24, being a veteran almost quadruples the risk of suicide, according to a study in The American Journal of Public Health.

Michael and Ryan, like so many other veterans, sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, declined to speak to me, but the most common view among those I interviewed was that the V.A. has improved but still doesn’t do nearly enough about the suicide problem.

“It’s an epidemic that is not being addressed fully,” said Bob Filner, a Democratic congressman from San Diego and the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “We could be doing so much more.”

To its credit, the V.A. has established a suicide hotline and appointed suicide-prevention coordinators. It is also chipping away at a warrior culture in which mental health concerns are considered sissy. Still, veterans routinely slip through the cracks. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals in San Francisco excoriated the V.A. for “unchecked incompetence” in dealing with veterans’ mental health.

Patrick Bellon, head of Veterans for Common Sense, which filed the suit in that case, says the V.A. has genuinely improved but is still struggling. “There are going to be one million new veterans in the next five years,” he said. “They’re already having trouble coping with the population they have now, so I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Last month, the V.A.’s own inspector general reported on a 26-year-old veteran who was found wandering naked through traffic in California. The police tried to get care for him, but a V.A. hospital reportedly said it couldn’t accept him until morning. The young man didn’t go in, and after a series of other missed opportunities to get treatment, he stepped in front of a train and killed himself.

Likewise, neither Michael nor Ryan received much help from V.A. hospitals. In early 2010, Ryan began to talk more about suicide, and DeBow rushed him to emergency rooms and pleaded with the V.A. for help. She says she was told that an inpatient treatment program had a six-month waiting list. (The V.A. says it has no record of a request for hospitalization for Ryan.)

“Ryan was hurting, saying he was going to end it all, stuff like that,” recalls his best friend, Steve Schaeffer, who served with him in Iraq and says he has likewise struggled with the V.A. to get mental health services. “Getting an appointment is like pulling teeth,” he said. “You get an appointment in six weeks when you need it today.”

While Ryan was waiting for a spot in the addiction program, in May 2010, he died of a drug overdose. It was listed as an accidental death, but family and friends are convinced it was suicide.

The heartbreak of Ryan’s death added to his brother’s despair, but DeBow says Michael is now making slow progress. “He is able to get out of bed most mornings,” she told me. “That is a huge improvement.” Michael asked not to be interviewed: he wants to look forward, not back.

As for DeBow, every day is a struggle. She sent two strong, healthy men to serve her country, and now her family has been hollowed in ways that aren’t as tidy, as honored, or as easy to explain as when the battle wounds are physical. I wanted to make sure that her family would be comfortable with the spotlight this article would bring, so I asked her why she was speaking out.

“When Ryan joined the Army, he was willing to sacrifice his life for his country,” she said. “And he did, just in a different way, without the glory. He would want it this way.”

“My home has been a nightmare,” DeBow added through tears, recounting how three of Ryan’s friends in the military have killed themselves since their return. “You hear my story, but it’s happening everywhere.”

We refurbish tanks after time in combat, but don’t much help men and women exorcise the demons of war. Presidents commit troops to distant battlefields, but don’t commit enough dollars to veterans’ services afterward. We enlist soldiers to protect us, but when they come home we don’t protect them.

“Things need to change,” DeBow said, and her voice broke as she added: “These are guys who went through so much. If anybody deserves help, it’s them.”

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More U.S. Soldiers Killed Themselves Than Died in Combat in 2010

More U.S. Soldiers Killed Themselves Than Died in Combat in 2010

Cord Jefferson

For the second year in a row, more American soldiers—both enlisted men and women and veterans—committed suicide than were killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Excluding accidents and illness, 462 soldiers died in combat, while 468 committed suicide. A difference of six isn’t vast by any means, but the symbolism is significant and troubling. In 2009, there were 381 suicides by military personnel, a number that also exceeded the number of combat deaths.
Earlier this month, military authorities announced that suicides amongst active-duty soldiers had slowed in 2010, while suicides amongst reservists and people in the National Guard had increased. It was proof, they said, that the frequent psychological screenings active-duty personnel receive were working, and that reservists and guardsmen, who are more removed from the military’s medical bureaucracy, simply need to begin undergoing more health checks. This new data, that American soldiers are now more dangerous to themselves than the insurgents, flies right in the face of any suggestion that things are “working.” Even if something’s working, the system is still very, very broken.

One of the problems hindering the military’s attempt to address soldier suicides is that there’s no real rhyme or reason to what kind of soldier is killing himself. While many suicide victims are indeed afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after facing heavy combat in the Middle East, many more have never even been deployed. Of the 112 guardsmen who committed suicide last year, more than half had never even left American soil.

“If you think you know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know,” Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli told the Army Times, “because we don’t know what it is.”


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The ‘epidemic’ of sexual assault and rape in the U.S Military

Military sexual assault and rape ‘epidemic’

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“My experience reporting military sexual assault was worse than the actual assault,” says Jessica (a pseudonym for her protection), a former marine officer and Iraq veteran who left the military because of her command’s poor handling of her assault charges. “The command has so much power over a victim of sexual assault. They are your judge, jury, executioner and mayor: they own the law. As I saw in my case, they are able to crush you for reporting an assault.”

Jessica is joining a civil lawsuit bringing claims against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, charging that under their watch the military failed to adequately and effectively investigate rapes and sexual assaults within the ranks.

The litigation, which was filed in Virginia district court in February of this year by the law office of Susan Burke, is set to go to trial in the coming months. The initial suit named 16 plaintiffs, all former or current military service members – but in recent months that number has swelled to more than 30, as more and more veterans come forward as survivors of sexual assault.

These plaintiffs join the growing crescendo of veterans, military service members, spouses and their advocates speaking out against the problem of widespread sexual assault and rape in the US military.

As the war in Afghanistan passes its ten-year mark, sexual assault runs rampant within the ranks, with an estimated one in three female service members raped during their service, according to at least one peer-reviewed study. This is in a military where women comprise more 11 per cent of active duty service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and more than 15 per cent of the total military, with at least 200,000 active duty women currently serving. This epidemic also affects men: 60 per cent of women serving in the National Guard and Reserve, along with 27 per cent of men, are estimated to have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Perpetrators rely on a chain of command that appears to offer virtual impunity for sexual assaults committed against lower-ranking service members.

‘Re-traumatising’ redress

Military reports and Congress-appointed task forces acknowledge that sexual assault within the military is widespread. While the Department of Defense (DoD) has repeatedly said it is attempting to curb the problem, the most recent evidence shows that it has failed to adequately address the spread of this outbreak.

The most significant change made by the military in the past decade was the creation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in 2005. This office, which encompasses the entire DoD, is responsible for oversight of sexual assault policies and the implementation of prevention and response programs. However, SAPRO is rife with problems. The primary role of the office is to track rapes and sexual assaults and release annual reports. According to the US Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) own evaluation, SAPRO has failed to work with the disciplinary arm of the DoD, giving its reports and findings little muscle. Furthermore, the Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military December 2009, which was ordered by congress, found that funding of SAPRO had been “sporadic and inconsistent”.

SAPRO introduced a system of restricted reporting, allowing survivors of sexual assault to make confidential reports, to avoid outing themselves in a hostile environment.

“We are finding that it is the victim who is punished when they report.”

– Greg Jacob

While this step has increased the number of reports and created avenues for survivors to seek personal care, it does not launch an investigation into the assault. “Restricted reporting allows the military to ignore criminal aspects of sexual assault and to just take care of it,” says Greg Jacob, a former Marine and the current policy director for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), an organisation dedicated to advocacy and providing a healing community for military service women.

Military officials claim that improvements have been made since the Defense Task Force’s 2009 report. “DoD has a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault,” says Cynthia Smith, SAPRO press spokesperson. “Over the past two years, DoD has affirmed its commitment to preventing and effectively responding to sexual assault. The department’s focus has been on reducing the stigma associated with reporting, providing sufficient training for commanders, and ensuring adequate training and resources for prosecutors and investigators.”

Yet, the prosecution rates of sexual assault in the military remains at eight per cent, a dismal percentage in light of the staggering number of assaults that are believed to go unreported. This compares to a 40 per cent prosecution rate for sexual assault charges in civilian courts, which itself is considered low. For cases that do make it to trial, sexual assault conviction rates are astoundingly low. According to SAPRO’s most recent annual report, in 2010, of 3,158 reports of military sexual assaults, only 529 alleged perpetrators were convicted, while 41 per cent were acquitted or had charges dismissed. Some six per cent were discharged or resigned in lieu of courts-martial, which means that they were allowed to leave their jobs in order to avoid sexual assault charges.

Some survivors of sexual assault claim that SAPRO’s “zero tolerance” policy has only succeeded in creating an environment where the command has incentive to deny and cover up sexual assault. “They have all of these generic catch phrases that sound great,” says Jessica. “But in reality, ‘zero tolerance policy’ means that when you make a complaint, it is hidden. Assault reflects badly on the command. What results is cover ups.”

Furthermore, critics charge that SAPRO’s educational materials are ineffective and often serve to reinforce the mentality that victims are to blame for their own assault. According to the Defense Task Force’s 2009 report, “the Task Force’s interactions with Service Members suggest training is only marginally effective”.

A sexual assault prevention poster released by SAPRO reportedly urges soldiers to “wait until she’s sober” before propositioning a woman for sex. “The military believes falsely that if you eliminate alcohol you can eliminate sexual assault,” says Jacob. “There is perception that it is the result of bad decision making on the part of the victim.”

Critics charge that SAPRO fails to address the rape culture that permeates all aspects of military life. “Rape culture separates service members from a group of people that they can consider others, victims, weaker beings,” insists Maggie Martin, Army veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), an anti-war group comprising active duty service members and veterans who have served since September 11, 2001. “The rape culture in the military is another way that some service members reduce real life trauma to a joke that they can pretend is not real. It is a way for some to try to prove they are ‘hardcore’ to the point of inhumanity.”

Many insist that the military, which is largely allowed to investigate itself, is still not telling the full story. A 2010 lawsuit filed by SWAN and the ACLU against the DoD and Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) was filed after the military refused requests for government records concerning rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the military.

“When I heard about women who had accused someone of rape or sexual assault it was always framed as some personal vendetta the women were taking out on those they accused,”
says Martin.

Selena Coppa, a former Army Sergeant of eight years and a current member of IVAW tells of an Army Specialist who was molested by another Army Specialist while drunk and passed out. “The woman who was assaulted found out the next morning what had happened. She wanted to do something or say something. Everyone was like, what are you talking about? That is not sexual assault, only sex counts as sexual assault.”

According to Army policy, sexual assault includes sexual contact when the victim “does not or cannot consent.” Yet, rules in the books are seemingly meaningless in an environment where sexual assault appears to go unreported and unacknowledged.

Impunity of high-ranking males

“She tried making official charges, and they were never prosecuted. They refused to prosecute them.”

– Sergeant Coppa

For those who do seek redress for sexual assault and rape through the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the legal code governing military service members, many face an uphill battle in which they are pressured to drop their charges at every step along the way.

When Jessica was raped by a senior officer and his friend, she reported the assault to her command. However, she says that the ensuing investigation was nothing more than a retaliatory measure inflicted by a command that was more interested in covering up assaults and protecting their own reputations. “My command, and the [military lawyer] ordered to do it, produced not a thorough, but a voluminous – as cover ups often are – investigation that proved that I was routinely called disgusting denunciatory names by junior and senior Marines alike, but that because I wore make up and running shorts in the summer, that I therefore welcomed the harassment and subsequent assault and did not deserve protection,” she says.

Jessica says she requested a deployment to Afghanistan to get away from the harassment and isolation she faced after filing her report, but when this was denied, she decided to leave the Marines, which she was able to do because of her status as an officer. Jessica joined the lawsuit against Rumsfeld and Gates because, she says: “No one right now is holding commanders accountable.” Meanwhile, Jessica says that she is still pursuing charges against her alleged perpetrator through the UCMJ.

Lower enlisted service members who are raped or sexually assaulted, however, often do not have the option of leaving, with many forced to continue serving alongside their perpetrators, including in war zones. “They are putting people in a situation where they are totally dependent on their peers, and when their battle buddies rape them, their superiors are not doing anything about it, explains Johanna (Hans) Buwalda, a mental health provider who has worked with survivors of war for more than twenty years. “There is no safe place for them to go. They can’t even leave the military. They have to fulfill their contract.” Some researchers say that military sexual trauma compounds deployment-related traumas by excluding women from military camaraderie and fraternity.

These military sexual assaults are in addition to the countless rapes and sexual assaults that have been carried out against civilians at the 800 US military bases around the world, including within occupied populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there have been several high-profile scandals exposing US military rapes and slayings of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, as well as sexual assault and humiliation as a tool of torture, there is little information about overall rates of military sexual assault of civilian populations overseas. If sexual assault rates within the military are any indicator, sexual violence would seem to be endemic to the US’ global military presence.

Last April, Jennifer (a pseudonym for protection), who is a civilian, reported sexual assault by her then-boyfriend after he returned from a tour in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps. Her alleged assaulter’s sergeant major told her that she sounded like a “crazy ex-girlfriend” and that her sexual assault charges were not viable. Jennifer spent the next year and a half contacting everyone she could think of in hope that the military would take her charges seriously. She watched as her assault charges were ignored and dismissed by SAPRO, the NCIS, and even the Pentagon. After navigating countless meetings and phone calls with caseworkers, sexual assault survivor advocates, and even several congressional representatives, Jennifer feels that she has made little progress in her effort to get a fair process through military channels, and, to date, there is no indication that her charges will bear any consequences for her alleged assaulter. Within two months of her report, her alleged assaulter was promoted, and she says that he may be deployed any day, if he is not already.

Jennifer says that the process of attempting to press charges has been deeply traumatising. “When you have been assaulted, talking about it is hard enough,” she says. “And having to wait to hear back from someone for help makes you want to give up.”

“I do not trust the US military at all. Their rules and regulations are nothing more than words on paper,” she says. “I am a woman and a civilian, and I have been treated like nothing more than a dog.”

The 1996 Federal Lautenberg Amendment, which makes it illegal for people convicted of domestic violence to carry a weapon, extends to the armed forces. With many forms of sexual assault falling under the rubric of domestic violence, assault convictions could preclude a service member from carrying a weapon.

Yet, if these assaults go unreported and untried, little stands in the way of perpetrators serving in combat, sometimes alongside those they have assaulted.

Furthermore, the military often blatantly ignores this federal law and sends convicted sex offenders and domestic abusers into war in a climate where the military is overextended, from fighting two ongoing wars. Since September 11, 2001, the DoD has been granting an increasing amount of “moral waivers” which permit soldiers convicted of domestic violence and sexual assault to serve in combat.

High rates of sexual assault take a profound toll on the mental health of service members. Sexual assault is the number one predictor for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for women serving in the military, according to a study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development. Yet the difficulty and stigma against reporting sexual assaults creates significant obstacles for survivors seeking care and disability benefits through the VA. A study by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America shows that approximately 40 per cent of homeless female veterans report having been sexually assaulted in the military.

Members of IVAW are drawing attention to the problem of sexual assault and rape that plagues the military. “IVAW’s campaign Operation Recovery is focused on raising awareness about sexual assault and gender-based violence,” explains Martin. “We are building a healing community where veterans and service members can challenge military leadership and stand up for the right to heal and the right to access the care survivors of trauma need.”

“As an organiser I believe that the best way for us to combat military sexual trauma is to tell the truth about it,” insists Martin. “We need to tell the truth that all types of people are sexually assaulted and that no one deserves it. We need to start looking to the perpetrators of sexual assault and the military environment for answers, not look to victims to see how they can be blamed for their own assault.”

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Long Wars Carry A Psychological Cost

By Adeela Naureen

With the Long War entering the third decade, and the West’s blood thirst remaining unquenched, there appears to be no end to this vicious cycle of destruction. The Muslim states are being tossed and kicked like dead and lifeless dominos, which are virtually rudderless. Another prophecy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) seems to be unfolding in front of our eyes. Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: “The nations shall gather and team up against you (i.e., Muslims) as the predators gather and team up against their preys.” A questioner asked: “Is it because of us being low in numbers at that day?” The Prophet (PBUH) replied: “No, you that day shall be in great numbers, but you will be as powerless as the foam of the water on the surface of the river, and Allah shall remove any fear from your enemies towards you, and He shall put in your hearts a corruption.” A questioner asked: “O Apostle of Allah, what is the corruption?” The Prophet replied: “The love of life’s amusements and the fear of death.” (Translation of Sunan Abu Dawud)

While the physical cost of the Long War (in terms of flesh and dollars) has been worked out by a number of think-tanks and governments (with drastic variations), there is also the cost of this war that has not been measured or calculated – the psychological cost. With the so-called free media of the West as well as Islamic countries, including Pakistan (who can count the hairs on your body and make mountains out of an ant hill, when ordered by its masters), busy in genuine research and honest reporting one is surprised to find no worthwhile analysis of the psychological cost of war within the shattered zone called the AfPak. I will make a humble effort to do that. Unfortunately, the cost of this war has affected everyone; the claimants of the conquest (US-led conquistadors) as well as the innocent people of the AfPak region.

Since the so-called free media is controlled by the Western governments and autocratic regimes of the Islamic world, you may be horrified to see the effects of this war on the general public (including the NATO-led soldiers and officers). If you do an intelligent surfing of the internet, you will listen to the moaning, groaning and shrieking voices of the affected families and may be able to see stream of tears and blood oozing out of tearful eyes; you may be able to feel the pain and anguish of broken families destroyed by daisycutters and drones, who haunt the entire population of FATA with buzzing sounds and have created the psychological disease of insomnia in many households (specially children and women). I challenge the residents of marbled mansions of Islamabad to go through a test. Let me fly the ugly drones at the frequency of two flights of a pair for two hours per night, while making sure that these drones are not be armed. Let the people be told that they are armed and strike Al-Qaeda supposed to be hidden somewhere in Islamabad. To add to reality I may be allowed to create simulated noise of drone attack at the frequency of two per night. I am sure at the end of first week more than 70 percent population of Islamabad will either migrate to other cities or apply for green cards or come out in the streets of Islamabad and block the Constitution Avenue from all sides demanding the overthrow of the current regime.

Who are these people of FATA and why drone attacks against them cannot be stopped as a matter of principle and as a necessary step to ensure basic human rights? I leave it to the political leadership to decide. The cost of the Long War in AfPak region cannot be measured in terms of dollars and rupees, but one can attempt to do it by raising few pertinent questions. What has been the effect of drone attacks on the cohesiveness of the family system in FATA, especially for those families whose bread earners have been martyred (for instance, how are the children and the wives of the diseased managing their affairs, and what has happened to the education of the children)? What was the psychological fallout of the drone attack in a particular village, how many children and women have suffered from insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobic anxiety? Has there been any attempt by the provincial and federal governments to ensure psychological counselling of the affected population, especially children? A similar survey can be conducted for the families of general public, the defence forces of Pakistan as well as other LEAs whose bread earners or relatives have lost their lives in this war.

Incidentally, the question of the psychological cost of this war suffered by conquistador soldiers and their loved ones is being raised in the West, not in the Western media. A glimpse of the psychological cost of this Godforsaken Long War can be seen in the report by KOMO News, the US army found Staff Sergeant Jared Hagemann’s body at a training area of Joint Base Lewis McChord a few weeks ago. A spokesman for the base tells KOMO News that the nature of the death is still undetermined. But Sergeant Hagemann’s widow says her husband took his own life – and it didn’t need to happen. “It was just horrible. And he would just cry,” says Ashley Hagemann. Ashley says Jared tried to come to grips with what he’d seen and done on his eight deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. “And there’s no way that any God would forgive him – that he was going to hell,” says Ashley. “He couldn’t live with that anymore.” More US soldiers and veterans have died from suicide than from combat wounds over the past two years.

The psychological degradation of the conquistadors is clearly visible from veterans and serving soldier’s blogs. I would recommend that somebody should carry out psychoanalysis of the discussion forums and blogs used by veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I will leave few of these here, be mindful that these reflect the current state of mind of the soldiers and officers of the American forces.

“American culture is the worst possible place for a future soldier to be raised in. Just imagine being raised in a Hollywood-influenced good guys vs. bad guys black and white society, then being sent to a place where everything is a million shades of gray. You can see it in the veterans that were forced to, for example, kill a teenager that was shooting at their checkpoint. The ‘good guys’ aren’t supposed to kill a child, so what does that make them? I feel sorry for them.” (Posted by Korben on Reddit.com)

“Might I ask what the hell you are doing in his country? Looking for those WMDs still? Last time I checked people of a country had the right to defend themselves against an occupying power, unless you subscribe to the American exceptionalism.” (Posted by Ikkek on Reddit.com)

“The warmongers sit safely behind desks, while their children attend Ivy League colleges far from any enemy combatant. The soldiers are pawns, and pawns are easily sacrificed, ask anyone.”
(Posted by Ingrammarless on Reddit.com)

“Whatever the body count may be this week, the real tragedy is that nobody that deploys to a war comes back the same. Everyone is a casualty.”
(Comment by Yo Yossarian at Reddit.com)

The psychological cost of the Long War cannot be calculated by mathematical models and requires a human heart to do a passionate analysis. I will leave it to President Barack Obama, who proudly displays the Nobel Peace Prize in the Oval office, to have the courage to do such an analysis.

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