Fresh off the August recess, the United States Congress got back to business today. Rather than focusing on pressing issues like a potential war, looming budget deadlines, and the growing problem of student loan debt, some Republican lawmakers thought…
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- Alexander Arbuckle
- Disorderly Conduct
- Gulf War syndrome
- Lamar Smith
- Occupy Wall Street
- Tim Pool
- US Military
- Village Voice
- combat injuries
- disability claims
- environmental protection agency
- field records
- not guilty
By Peter Sleeth, Special to ProPublica, and Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times
A strange thing happened when Christopher DeLara filed for disability benefits after his tour in Iraq: The U.S. Army said it had no records showing he had ever been overseas.
DeLara had searing memories of his combat experiences. A friend bled to death before his eyes. He saw an insurgent shoot his commander in the head. And, most hauntingly, he recalled firing at an Iraqi boy who had attacked his convoy.
The Army said it could find no field records documenting any of these incidents.
DeLara appealed, fighting for five years before a judge accepted the testimony of an officer in his unit. By then he had divorced, was briefly homeless and had sought solace in drugs and alcohol.
DeLara's case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War.
A joint investigation by ProPublica and The Seattle Times has found that the recordkeeping breakdown was especially acute in the early years of the Iraq war, when insurgents deployed improvised bombs with devastating effects on U.S. soldiers. The military has also lost or destroyed records from Afghanistan, according to officials and previously undisclosed documents.
The loss of field records — after-action write-ups, intelligence reports and other day-to-day accounts from the war zones — has far-reaching implications. It has complicated efforts by soldiers like DeLara to claim benefits. And it makes it harder for military strategists to learn the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the nation's most protracted wars.
Military officers and historians say field records provide the granular details that, when woven together, tell larger stories hidden from participants in the day-to-day confusion of combat.
The Army says it has taken steps to improve handling of records — including better training and more emphasis from top commanders. But officials familiar with the problem said the missing material may never be retrieved.
Hundreds have been arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests, but photographer Alexander Arbuckle's case was the first to go to trial, and was acquitted after video footage of the incident showed that he didn't break any law. The best part? Arbuckle was there to document the NYPD's side of the story, hoping to defend police working at Occupy protests with his NYU photojournalism project when he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly blocking the street. "I felt the police had been treated unfairly on the media," he told the Village Voice. "All the focus was on the conflict and the worst instances of brutality and aggression, where most of the police I met down there were really professional and restrained."
During the January 1st Occupy Wall Street march, journalist Tim Pool was there livestreaming the event, and in his video footage, later used as evidence along with the NYPD's own video footage, protesters are clearly seen using the sidewalk like they were asked to, with only the swarm of officers blocking traffic. In Pool's video, above, the relevant portion begins at the 31:50 mark, with the arrest action taking place around minute 35.
"What's happening is very similar to what happened in 2004 with the Republican National Convention," Arbuckle's lawyer told the Voice. "It's just a symptom of how the NYPD treats dissent. But what has changed is that there is more prevalence of video. It really makes our job a lot easier to have that video."