Undisclosed Locations

| 7/10/2013 10:42:23 AM


This article originally appeared at Tom Dispatch.  

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of U.S. personnel -- the military refuses to say how many -- stationed in the ochre-tinted country of Qatar. Out in the searing heat of the desert, they fly fighter jets or fix them. They equip and arm troops headed to war. Some work in a high-tech command-and-control center overseeing U.S. air operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Greater Middle East. Yet I found myself sitting in a hotel room in Doha, Qatar’s capital, about 30 miles east of al-Udeid Air Base, the main U.S. installation in the country, unable to see, let alone talk, to any of them.

In mid-May, weeks before my arrival in Qatar, I sent a request to the public affairs office at the base to arrange a visit with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, the unit that, according to the military, carries out a “criti­cal combat mission that spans nearly 6,000 miles from the Horn of Africa to Northern Afghanistan.” Or at least I tried to. Day or night, weekday or weekend, the website refused to deliver my message. Finally, I dug up an alternate email address and sent in my request. Days passed with no word, without even an acknowledgement. I followed up yet again and finally received a reply -- and then it began.

The initial response came on May 28th from the Media Operations Chief at Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs. She told me that I needed to contact the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing’s Public Affairs liaison, Captain Angela Webb, directly. So I repeatedly wrote to Captain Webb. No response. On June 10th, I received an email from Susan Harrington. She was, she told me, “taking over” for Captain Webb. Unfortunately, she added, it was now far too close to my arrival in Qatar to arrange a visit. “Due to time constraints,” she wrote me, “I do not think it will be possible to support this request since we are likely already within that 30 day window.”

Don’t think I was surprised. By now, I’m used to it. Whether I’m trying to figure out what the U.S. military is doing in Latin America or Africa, Afghanistan or Qatar, the response is remarkably uniform -- obstruction and obfuscation, hurdles and hindrances. In short, the good old-fashioned military runaround. I had hoped to take a walk around al-Udeid Air Base, perhaps get a glimpse of the jumbotron-sized screens and rows of computers in its Combined Air and Space Operations Center. I wanted to learn how the drawdown in Afghanistan was affecting life on the base.

Instead, I ended up sitting in the climate-controlled comfort of my hotel room, staring at a cloudless sky, typing these words behind double-paned glass that shielded me from the 106 degree heat outside. For my trouble, on my return to the United States, I was detained at Kennedy Airport in New York by agents of the Department of Homeland Security. Their question for me: Was I planning to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan?

7/16/2013 8:35:16 PM

What will it take for "we the people" to rally around something?

7/16/2013 12:59:50 PM

Constitutionalists will agree that the runaround given this author and his obviously being singled-out for harassment while being detained at the airport is Orwellian. How were these people, he had to deal with, deprived of the knowledge of the U. S. Constitution? Especially those in the military. Hmm. l had forgotten this: a Petty Officer First Class UCMJ instructor in my Navy boot camp classes ridiculed the Declaration of Independence when he stated that all men are not created equal while he tapped the E-6 chevron on his left uniform sleeve. I that was a strange thing for him to say as he was not born an E-6 but had to earn it. He told the class that he was a history teacher in public school and was performing his annual period of two-weeks active duty. Another E-6 in another Navy class years later said another dumb thing about voting, "I don't care how you vote in any election, just go vote." He said nothing about doing your best to find out a candidates position on the Constitution or any issues of particular interest.

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