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Posts tagged ‘Air Force’

He Spoke Up About Bombing

Excerpt from Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest.

arnieinuniformudorn1969074In late 1969 and early 1970, Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base was the second busiest airport in the world, next to Tan Sim Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon. It wasn’t the second busiest with the number of people passing through, but with the number of flights taking off and landing. They weren’t flying for recreation or sightseeing; they were reconnaissance planes and bombers – lots of bombers. They left the field weighed down like heavyweight fighters and returned like featherweights. It was methodical, like clockwork: day in and day out, hour after hour.

A few weeks after his arrival at Udorn, Dr. Leff began to get a feel for his clientele. There were three groups he attended and with whom he became intimately acquainted. The first was the United States Air Force personnel, which numbered about 5,000. The second group was the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and contract personnel (mercenaries) who were employed by Air America. The third contingent consisted of Royal Laotian Army soldiers who were wounded in the war against the communist Pathet Lao across the border in Laos, protected by the Thai military and treated at Udorn.

The U.S. was supposedly not at war with Laos, but was nonetheless bombing their villages, giving their government military weapons and ammunition and supporting the Royal Laotian Army with money, surveillance, and medical care. The U.S. Air Force was bombing villages that contained nothing but villagers. Intelligence officers ordered changes in the captions on reconnaissance pictures. When questioned, pilots would quote the party line and say they were bombing communist strongholds.

It was common knowledge on the base that their primary mission was to destroy any communist stronghold in Laos. Legality, civilian deaths, and the Geneva Convention were all collateral damage to the mission. The goal was the priority, not the process.

Captain Leff couldn’t help but get a strong whiff of these realities. His patients told him what was going on. He had eyes and ears and could see and hear the stories, the bravado from the pilots; the detached, cold expressions of the Air America personnel. On the rare occasions he visited the officer’s club, his ears were bombarded with the sickening boasts of pilots talking about how many people they had killed that day and how many bombs they had dropped on the bastards. He heard stories from the flight surgeons that did air time over Laos that made his skin crawl. He had arrived in August as a patriotic serviceman; by September, his patriotism had been bruised, bloodied and battered.

“Within three months time, I knew the war was all hocus pocus,” Captain Leff recalled. “People were lying left and right. It was all so obvious. By that time, I had made friends with a number of GIs, both stripers and officers, who had the same hit on this mess as I did. So, I wrote a letter. I wrote a letter to the Chairman of the foreign relations committee of the U.S. Senate, J. W. Fulbright. It wasn’t complicated; it just said, ‘I don’t understand. What is this war in Laos all about? How can we have this secret war?’ I never expected to hear from him. Even though military personnel are allowed to write congressional letters, I had a strong feeling that the Air Force was reading my mail and wasn’t sure if he’d even get it. I didn’t give any details. I sent it on November 11, 1969. On December 10th, I received his reply. I was shocked. It was a personal reply, not a form letter. He said he was doing all he could to stop the war on Laos and appreciated my concern. In the beginning of 1970, I sent him another letter with more detail and said I’d be glad to speak to his commission. Again, he replied and said they would take me up on my offer when I returned to the States.”

Dr. Leff had just opened a Pandora’s Box of deceit, corruption, and legitimate paranoia.

More at Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest

UnAmerican Detention At Guantanamo

President Obama: Close Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay
by Morris D. at Change.org
Gainesville, Virginia

I served 25 years in the US Air Force, I was the Chief Prosecutor for the Terrorism Trials at Guantanamo Bay for more than two years, and now I need your help.

I personally charged Osama Bin Laden’s driver Salim Hamdan, Australian anathema David Hicks, and Canadian teen Omar Khadr. All three were convicted … and then they were released from Guantanamo. More than 160 men who have never been charged with any offense, much less convicted of a war crime, remain at Guantanamo with no end in sight. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where not being charged with a war crime keeps you locked away indefinitely and a war crime conviction is your ticket home.

As of April 29, 2013 – 100 of the 166 men who remain in Guantanamo are engaged in a hunger strike in protest of their indefinite detention. Twenty-one of them are being force-fed and five are hospitalized. Some of the men have been in prison for more than eleven years without charge or trial. The United States has cleared a majority of the detainees for transfer out of Guantanamo, yet they remain in custody year after year because of their citizenship and ongoing political gamesmanship in the U.S.

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That is why I am calling on Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel to use his authority to effect cleared transfers from Guantanamo and on President Obama to appoint an individual within the Administration to lead the effort to close Guantanamo. Obama announced on April 30 that he plans to do his part to close Guantanamo, but he has made this promise before. Now is the time to hold him to his promise and urge him to take the steps necessary to dismantle Guantanamo Bay Prison.

If any other country were treating prisoners the way we are treating those in Guantanamo we would roundly and rightly criticize that country. We can never retake the legal and moral high ground when we claim the right to do unto others that which we would vehemently condemn if done to one of us.

It is probably no surprise that human rights and activist groups like the Center For Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture and Amnesty International have been outspoken critics of Guantanamo. It may surprise you that a former military prosecutor and many other retired senior military officers and members of the intelligence community agree with them.

The Patriotic thing, the American thing, the Human thing to do here is to Close Guantanamo. Please join us in the fight by signing this petition.

Bombs Away

Excerpt from biography Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest.

Fred Branfman emerged from the jungles of Laos carrying a heavy load. He wasn’t weighed down with ammunition, guns or rations. The international volunteer, who had been in and out of Laos for over three years, was burdened with something far greater than goods or a heavy backpack.

What he carried were photographs, drawings, documents and stories of the Laotian people and the devastation that had been inflicted upon them by United States bombs – bombs that officially didn’t exist; bombs that burned flesh and chopped off limbs; took the lives of mothers, children, elders and babies; bombs that destroyed homes, crops and entire villages; bombs that were intended for the communist Pathet Lao.

If was 1969, and the war in Vietnam was in full swing, though much of the fighting had been diverted from ground troops to killing by air. From 1968 through 1974, Laos had more ordnance, including cluster, fragmentation, Napalm, and 500 pound bombs – dropped on their lands and their people than did the Koreans, Europeans and Japanese during the entirety of the Korean War and World War II. The Pentagon estimated that they were dropping about six million pounds of bombs per day. Historically a gentle land of farmers, most Laotians had no idea what was happening or why America was trying to destroy them.

Few Americans had heard of the destruction taking place on The Plain of Jars and its 50,000 inhabitants, let alone that Laos and the U. S. government was intent on keeping it that way. U. S. reporters were not allowed on bombing runs into Laos and were restricted from speaking to military brass. Everything surrounding the raids was classified, but not all the people who witnessed or knew of the carnage could be silenced.

Fred Branfman carried pictures of people on the ground, the victims of impersonal high altitude air strikes authorized by U. S. Ambassador Godley and frequently directed by the CIA. He had close-ups of unexploded bombs bearing the symbol of the US; bombs dropped by American pilots who had never met a Laotian, let alone knew one. But Fred knew them personally; he had been to their homes, talked to the elders, and shared meals with families and communities. Fred was in bed, not with the military, but with the stories of the Laotian people. He was embedded with scenes and images he would rather not hold. He was embedded with unbearable atrocities that had been committed by his fellow Americans and was determined that the truth of these events not be buried with the Laotian people or minimized by U.S. propaganda that denied civilians were ever targeted.

Some Laotian Peace Corps friends of Fred’s told him about a young captain in the Air Force who was going to Washington to testify about the bombing of Laos to the Fulbright Foreign Relations Committee, the most powerful committee in the senate, chaired by Senator William Fulbright. They’d said this captain was a physician at the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base In Northeast Thailand, just over the Laotian border. The base was a hub for the US and CIA aircraft that were bombing the very people he held so dear. This officer had put out the word, through his civilian friends and employees of Air America (a front for the CIA), that he was looking for informational ammo about the situation in Laos.

How this captain had been so blatant about his mission and survived being thrown out of the Air Force was beyond Fred’s comprehension. He was just glad there was somebody sane enough to listen, someone who might be able to help stop the madness.

In late fall of 1969, Fred Branfman met Capt. Arnie Leff, MD, USAF, at The Bungalow, a counter-culture way station for off-duty military and civilians traveling throughout Southeast Asia. He entrusted all his papers, files, interviews and photographs about the bombing of Laos to Dr. Leff, a passionate Jewish-American kid from Brooklyn who had the guts, chutzpah, or naivete to stand up to the U. S. military and political regime and say, “This is wrong. This isn’t the America I believe in.”

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Going Away Party for Arnie

Excerpt from Pagind Doctor Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism and Protest.

In order to avoid being drafted into the Army. Dr. Leff chose to enlist in the Air Force. By the time he had finished his pharmacology fellowship, he had received active duty orders to go to Thailand via basic training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. The night before he left Cincinnati turned out to be quite memorable.

Arnie’s friends called him “The Brick” in the Cincinnati General Hospital because of all the hours he spent there and his total commitment to his studies, work and profession. It was rare for him to allow himself a night out. Up until that point, he hadn’t thought much about his upcoming stint in the military. He had been completely focused for the majority of his young adult life on getting high grades, placing on the Dean’s List, taking physics and organic chemistry and anything else that was need to be a good doctor. He gave his heart and soul to learning the arts of medicine. He had not given the war in Vietnam much of his attention. Sure, he read the news, saw occasional reports and knew about the demonstrations, but he hadn’t taken much time to think about it in any detail.

His musician friends, specifically Sandy Nassan, insisted that they have a big bash for him before he left. After their gigs were up at 1:00 and 2:00AM, half the musicians in town gathered on the rooftop of a Calhoun apartment to wish their friend Arnie a fond farewell. His friend Dennis Wolter was there, the artist and sculptor Steven Truchil and his friend Sondra. It lasted most of the night, until the police put a halt to the unauthorized gathering.

The going away party was icing on the cake. He hadn’t expected it and was deeply touched. His friends were far more worried about him than he was about himself. They asked him several times if he was sure about this military stuff and if he knew what he was getting himself in to. He was pretty casual about it all and, in fact, somewhat excited about his new adventure.

He said, “Hey, it will just be a year. No big deal. It could be interesting, and I’ll be doing some good.”

His friends all hoped he was right. Even though many disagreed with the war, they respected his decision and motivation for serving. They, along with their good friend Arnie, had no idea of the depth of deceptions and lies their government was perpetuating.

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Paging Doctor Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest

The following excerpt is from Paging Doctor Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest. Paging Doctor Leff is the biography of an idealistic boy from New York who joined the Civil Air Patrol for God and country and never looked back. Dr. Arnie Leff, MD has fought many wars, overseas and at home. He stood up to his superiors in the Air Force during Viet Nam; locked horns with corporations and state bureaucracies as health commissioner of Cincinnati; jumped into the trenches at the beginning of the AIDS pandemic; and has pulled no punches with his often controversial opinions about drugs, euthanasia, health care and medical marijuana. He is presently a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

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In 1986, people were just starting to feel their way through the dark when it came to understanding and treating AIDS.

Dr. Leff, who had been in public health for over 20 years (as an officer in Viet Nam, director of the Cincinnati Public Health Department and Cincinnati free clinics) decided to go into private practice for the first time in his life. This was no easy leap of faith and involved a different kind of personal responsibility than he was used to.

“I found a doctor on Seabright Avenue in the city of Santa Cruz, Dr. Blackwell, who at 80 years of age was still running a large geriatric practice. He was going to retire soon and let me use his office in the afternoons,” Arnie says. “Before I even left the health department, a man named Ray Martinez walked in my door and said, ‘I hear you’re going into private practice. I want to be your first patient.’ Ray had AIDS, and he became my first patient with HIV.”

After Dr. Blackwell retired, Dr. Leff took on many of his elderly patients and an ever-increasing number of people with AIDS. “I became the ‘AIDS doctor’ and was in the trenches for over eight years,” says Dr. Leff. “It was like a war. People got tested, discovered they were HIV Positive, and went through hell trying to stay alive and figure out what worked and what didn’t.”

In those days there was little information about AIDS, but Dr. Leff scoured the literature and spoke with everyone who knew anything about the disease. “I had to learn it all,” he says. “The first report I saw was in the New England Journal of Medicine about Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia. These two diseases are very uncommon except in immune compromised people, and the Kaposi sarcoma was uncommon period. At first they thought it was a gay related immune disorder and called it GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder). It took about five years for everybody to figure out how big the problem was and that it was not restricted to gay men, even though they were the primary people affected in the U.S. at that time. It wasn’t until about 1984 or ’85 that we had a blood test to identify it.

“So, I had a lot of public health background and obtained what knowledge of the disease I could, but had no clinical experience in treating it. In fact, I had little clinical knowledge at all. I was really jumping into boiling oil when I took this on. It was like I was a baby thrown to the wolves, but in this case the wolves took me in, protected me, and helped me learn what I needed to know to survive and help them survive, as long as possible. It was quite a shift from seeing 20 people a month [his last major clinical experience, when he saw police officers in Cincinnati] to 20 people a day.

“In the beginning of the epidemic, it was primarily oncologists who saw AIDS patients, because it manifested with Kaposi sarcoma, which is a cancer. Now, that is rarely seen. After a brief period, however, the oncologists passed on their AIDS patients because they didn’t know how to treat all the other underlying symptoms. There were also a few infectious disease docs in town treating the disease, but a number of gay men had problems with their attitudes and bedside manner. Because of these realities and concerns, I became the defacto ‘AIDS doc’ in town. I kept up on the literature and frequently spoke with Paul Volberding, who is now a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, but at the time was the director of the AIDS clinic at San Francisco General.”

“We had all these young patients whose immune systems were shot, but were otherwise healthy,” Dr. Leff says. “The dying process for these patients was very difficult. We had hospice services at the time, but they were learning along with the rest of us about what worked and what didn’t. During those years, I believe I made more referrals to hospice than any doctor in the county, other than oncologists.

“The physical challenges were staggering. Histoplasmosis is a fungal disease that occurs in the Midwest. It is like a flu. Most people get it, don’t feel well for awhile, and then recover. Candida is a disseminating yeast that can effect healthy people, but is not life threatening. For people with AIDS, both Histoplasmosis and Candida were deadly. We also saw them picking up meningitis from a fungal disease, as well as lymphomas and central nervous system lesions (toxoplasmosis). To top it all off, many of those afflicted also developed dementias.

“I remember one patient who was admitted to the psychiatric unit at the hospital because he had HIV dementia. He couldn’t control himself or his bodily functions. He was a mess. We got him into a halfway house, but the mental health people refused to put him in their system. They said they couldn’t handle AIDS dementia because it was physical and not psychological. I told them the guy was clearly psychotic and had no place else to go. The nursing homes wouldn’t take him because he was psychotic, and the mental health folks wouldn’t take him because AIDS was his primary diagnosis. He wound up staying as an inpatient at Dominican Hospital for four and a half months. It was tragic; a young man living, most of the time able to ambulate, in the hospital for over four months, and dying there, too.

“That was some of the war-like quality the epidemic presented. I felt like I had to beat down some barriers, even if it took force. I spent eight years teaching every doctor in town, every specialist, nurse, x-ray tech, and health professional I could speak with, about AIDS. Some didn’t like it, some walked out, and some refused to treat them. It was frustrating and sad. I told them the truth that yes, they could possibly die from coming in contact with an infected needle, but that was already true in their profession; it was part of the risk they took every day already. I’ve had four or five needle sticks in my career. It was scary. I got myself tested again and again and again, to make sure.

“I was having enough trouble dealing with all the deaths and loss by itself, let alone having to continually confront a system that didn’t want to budge. I was having, on average, one patient a week dying from the disease. I probably had 50 or more deaths in one year. Some of those were geriatric patients as well, but it was enough to warrant a significant support system. When I first went into practice, there had only been one person who died of AIDS in the entire county.”

“People didn’t understand,” said Dr. Leff. “I was watching people die, and often there was nothing I could do about it. We had no treatment, no cure. It was the first major epidemic since Polio, which died out in the ‘60s, though in some areas it has now resurfaced. I saw myself as a soldier in the war against disease, and the reality was that there were casualties on both sides. The docs, the patients, the nurses, were all affected emotionally, if not physically. There continue to be casualties to this day.”

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