Jessica Pupovac

Raped and Silenced in the Barracks

When military sexual assault survivors call Susan Avila-Smith, she advises them to keep their mouths shut while she works on getting them home.

“It breaks my heart to do that,” she says, “but I want to get them out alive and that’s my main goal.”

Since she left the Army in 1995, Avila-Smith estimates that she has helped about 1,200 rape survivors separate from the U.S. Armed Forces and claim their Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. As founder of Women Organizing Women, an online support group for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST), Avila-Smith has heard it all. But lately, she’s been more sensitive than usual.

“Maria’s case has triggered something in me,” she says. “I imagine the VAs are filling up right now with women who never even stepped foot in there before.”

“Maria” is 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who disappeared from Camp Lejeune, outside of Jacksonville, N.C., on Dec. 14, 2007, one month before she was expected to give birth. As the local police enlisted the press to help reach out to Lauterbach and solicit information from the local community, it was soon reported that she had recently accused a superior at Camp Lejeune of rape.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Paul Ciccarelli attempted to quell suspicions that the two might be linked, assuring the Associated Press that the “sexual encounter” was “not criminal.” On Jan. 10, the Marine Corps Times, a weekly newspaper serving military personnel, bolstered this claim, speculating that she may have fled to avoid charges for “making false statements.”

That same day, Lauterbach’s accused assailant, Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean, was scheduled to appear at the Onslow County Sheriff’s office for questioning. He never showed up. On Jan. 11, Laurean, who had reported for duty for a full month after Lauterbach’s disappearance, failed to do so. His wife told investigators that she believed he had left for Mexico and gave investigators a note written by Laurean that said Lauterbach had slit her own throat with a knife, and he then buried her. Detectives have rejected that claim, and an autopsy found that Lauterbach died of a blunt force trauma to the head.

Later that day, her charred body was uncovered in a shallow grave behind the Laurean home. The horrific discovery took place only weeks before she was to testify against Laurean.

The drama set off a media frenzy, with updates on the cross-border manhunt constantly flashing across CNN tickers. Radio and talk show hosts, meanwhile, dissected Lauterbach’s character and credibility and questioned the delayed military response.

But Avila-Smith wasn’t surprised. “Unfortunately, the way her case was handled is the norm,” she says.

The Lauterbach case, according to Avila-Smith and many others, exemplifies the “criminal failure” of all branches of the military to address sexual assault for what it is—a violent crime. It is a “broken system” that she says puts victims on the defense, grants immunity to assailants and, in the end, puts rape survivors who have the courage to speak out, in even greater danger than if they had just accepted the abuse as collateral damage in their military careers.

Missing the mark

In 2003, a firestorm of media reports and investigations, prompted by an anonymous whistle-blower at the Air Force Academy, exposed the prevalence of sexual assault in the armed forces and its training centers. That same year, the results of a study conducted by Dr. Anne Sadler of the Iowa City VA Medical Center found 28 percent of female veterans having suffered MST while on active duty.

In response, Congress called on the Department of Defense to overhaul its approach to sexual assault within its ranks. The 2005 defense authorization bill mandated the creation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), which, according to its website, has since served as “the single point of accountability and oversight for sexual assault policy.”

SAPRO has made many strides in fine-tuning the Uniform Code of Military Justice and encouraging MST reporting. It has held a range of workshops, trainings and outreach campaigns to define and denounce sexual assault. It also has set up a website to educate service members on how to deal with—and deter—the crime. At the same time, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and victim advocates have been stationed on every major base to coordinate victims’ services.

However, according to many women, the reforms are missing the mark.

Former Army Pvt. 1st Class Jessica Doe, who prefers that her last name remain confidential, says that after she was raped by an instructor at Fort Eustis, Va., the SARC “blew it off like it was nothing.” Jessica pressed charges anyway, but says all that came of her search for justice was “rumors, scorn and lack of friends within my own unit.” The instructor was verbally reprimanded.

“I lost my benefits and everything,” she says. “I lost my career because the Army was going to be my career.”

Interrogators, not investigators

A 2004 survey of U.S. service members conducted by the Pentagon’s Advisory Committee on Women in the Services found fear of repercussions to be the number one “perceived barrier” to reporting sexual abuse, noted by 81 percent of female respondents and 73 percent of male respondents.

Confidentiality, career-related concerns and distrust of leadership were also cited by a majority of rape victims.

Marine Cpl. Brittany Thornton says a member of her unit in Okinawa, Japan, raped her on Christmas Day 2005. She reported the incident right away, pressed charges and was put on antidepressants, which she says her commanding officer saw as reason to remove her from her post in weapons maintenance and assign her to a desk job.

“They revoked all of my certification,” she says, “even though my psychiatrist said the drugs wouldn’t affect anything.” As a result, Thornton was unable to go on deployments, while her alleged assailant was “traveling all over the Pacific.”

“I felt like I was being punished,” she says. “I think it was just a way for them [the chain of command] to make things difficult for me because they didn’t believe me.”

The administrative position, however, gave her access to court documents and allowed her to look up her own file. Thornton says she was appalled at what she found.

The CID (or Criminal Investigation Division) agent in her case had taken the liberty to completely revise her account of the assault. “She made it sound like I told her that we went out and got drunk and had sex and I didn’t really want to, and afterwards I regretted it,” she says. “It was nothing like what I had [actually] said.” Meanwhile, her case “went nowhere,” she says, and her assailant eventually received nothing more than a “slap on the wrist.”

‘A different truth’

Former CID agent Sgt. Myla Haider told In These Times that Thornton’s case is not rare. “If there was an adequate response to begin with, it might have made it to court and gotten prosecuted,” she says, “but [Thornton’s case] wasn’t anything unusual from what I’ve seen.”

Haider has investigated dozens of rape cases and says she almost always encountered a pervasive “attitude toward victims,” that guarantees the failure of the case.

“The investigators themselves,” Haider explains, “when working on cases, tended to focus on reasons a victim could be lying.” She described seeing “tag team interviews,” in which “one agent after another is sent in there to ‘get the truth’ out of the victim.”

“On occasion, that results in the victims becoming very upset,” she added, describing one case in which a victim “went running out of the office and declined to cooperate any further.”

Every MST survivor interviewed for this investigation told a similar story.

“My CID wasn’t an investigator, he was an interrogator,” says Pvt. S. Clark, of North Carolina, who preferred her first name not be used. “The thing that I remember is him leaning over the desk, with his cigarette breath, screaming at me, ‘Why won’t you admit that it was rough, consensual sex between two drunken adults?’ ”

Clark’s attacker had beaten her so badly that, months later, she began having seizures, which her doctors attributed to “cranial tearing.” Still, she says, the CID agent “made me feel as if I had dishonored my army and my country by speaking out against another soldier.”

Sometimes this attitude, says Haider, leads to claims being recanted. “The law enforcement response makes it so that victims don’t want anything to do with the investigation anymore,” she says.

Even if the victim continues to cooperate despite being re-victimized by law enforcement, the focus on her credibility happens at the expense of collecting relevant testimony, leaving the case little chance of surviving.

While physical evidence is collected according to protocol, Haider says this can seldom prove anything other than intercourse—useful for “stranger rapes,” but irrelevant for proving acquaintance rapes, which are the majority of cases.

“CID training does not focus on evidence collection for acquaintance rape situations,” Haider says. As a result, “CID agents tended not to take acquaintance rape seriously.”

CID spokesman Chris Grey says that since Haider left the command, it has begun “a very comprehensive Sexual Assault Sensitivity Training program.”

However, according to Haider, recent data call into question the effectiveness of that training.

According to the Pentagon’s “2006 Annual Report on Military Services Sexual Assault,” 18 percent of the cases reported in 2004 were thrown out for being unfounded, unsubstantiated or “lacking sufficient evidence,” prior to reaching a court martial.

In 2006, the first full year during which the training program had the opportunity to reap results, the proportion of cases thrown out on the same grounds more than doubled, to 37 percent.

Even when cases do result in commander action, that action is rarely ever a criminal justice response.

In 2006, only 292 cases (out of 2,974 reported) resulted in a court martial. Meanwhile, 488 cases resulted in an “administrative punishment,” such as a letter of reprimand, a discharge from the military, forced resignation or a reduction in pay or rank.

“The 2005 reforms have done nothing in terms of offender accountability,” Haider explains. “There are public service announcements and ad campaigns that say the military has zero tolerance for sexual assault, but the reality speaks a different truth.” She said she doesn’t believe there are many rapists in the military, but those that are sexual predators learn quickly that they can get away with it and will inevitably go on to attack again.

“They are sending women into combat zones, but not doing what it takes to protect them,” she says.

Avoidable tragedy

Protection, however, is not only a matter of deterring crime through punitive measures. It is also a matter of taking action to protect victims from their alleged assailants after a crime is reported. That responsibility rests in large part with commanders.

Thornton was allegedly left to live in the same barracks as her assailant for a full six months after her assault, despite repeated requests for a transfer.

Sara, a former Airman 1st Class who requested that her full name not be used, says that after her assault in late 2005, she was met with the same indifference.

“I was never granted a protective order, although I asked frequently,” she says. “It also took me three months to be granted a new room so that my attacker would not know where I lived. Then they moved me into a room that was closer to his room than the first.”

According to Mary Lauterbach, Maria’s mother, it’s that kind of negligence that may have cost her daughter her life.

Maria Lauterbach had obtained a military order of protection -- a feat in itself -- but was forced to stay on the same base as her alleged assailant and attend meetings and functions that he would inevitably be at, in spite of her protection order. She was on her way to one such event on Dec. 14, when she was last seen.

Maria’s mother is now urging the Marine Corps to take greater steps to remove victims from harms way and put distance between them and their accused assailants.

“We think the Marines could have done more to protect Maria when she made the report,” Chris Conard, Mary Lauterbach’s attorney, told NBC’s “The Today Show.” “We know everything was done to protect the accused—perfectly proper. But they could have transferred her to another base, another unit.”

“It was an avoidable tragedy,” his co-counsel, Merle Wilberding, says.

‘The second rape’

Leaving survivors in the same place to fend for themselves also leaves them open to the scorn of their fellow soldiers. Many survivors call it the “second rape” -- the moment when they realize that not only their command but their platoon, as well, is going to desert them.

Lauterbach told her mother that Laurean was “very popular” on base, and that after filing charges against him, she was harassed and even punched by one of his friends. Someone even keyed her car.

According to Clark, the private from North Carolina, the hardest part of reporting her assault was losing the “spirit of brotherhood” that she previously enjoyed in the Army. “They all hated me and acted like I turned on them personally,” she says. “These are the people that if you go to war, you’re supposed to stand up and take a bullet for them. [Yet] they are the people that will turn their back on you and call you a whore when you are assaulted.”

Others were formally punished for making complaints, and hit with charges for “false reporting,” “lewd behavior” or “adultery.”

Airman 1st Class Cassandra Hernandez, 20, says three of her fellow airmen gang-raped her during a late-night party at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C., in May 2006. She says she reported the incident and sought all of the help available to her. Nonetheless, she wrote in a letter to the governor of Texas, her native state, “I felt like no one was looking out for my interests.”

Hernandez says she stopped cooperating with the investigation when charges were filed against her for “lewd behavior” and “underage drinking.” The three men accused of gang raping her were offered testimonial immunity in exchange for cooperating with the prosecution.

After much media scrutiny, however, her commander dropped the lewd behavior charge but still gave Hernandez an administrative punishment for underage drinking.

Independence needed

According to the Dorothy Mackey, founder of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel and a former U.S. Air Force captain and commander, the only way to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military is by establishing an agency, completely independent of the Pentagon, that would be responsible for investigating and prosecuting rape within its ranks.

“The agency would be two-fold,” Mackey explains. “One part that deals with nothing but the victims, and another part that has prosecution authority.”

Although such an agency may be difficult to fund, she says, it would be in the interest not only of military personnel, but also the civilian world. “When assailants’ records are kept clean, they return to the civilian world with no record of violent crime and are kept out of the sex offender registry,” she says.

In the civilian world, that is significant. Nearly one in four veterans in state prisons nationwide were sex offenders, compared to one in 10 non-veterans, according to a 2004 Department of Justice report.

Mackey believes the military is incapable of policing itself because she says it glorifies violence and shuns individual rights. And she’s not alone in her thinking.

“We espouse violence as the means to all ends,” says former Maj. Tyler Boudreau, who resigned from the Marines last year after 18 years of military service, and became an avid blogger and war critic. “It is not curious when the individual soldier or Marine packs that brainwashing home with him to his wife or to the barracks where the females live.”

Although Boudreau says he preached the need to treat women with respect, the message was overwhelmed by the glorification of violence as a means to establish dominance, for both a man and a nation. That message, he says, transferred into an “intensely chauvinistic” atmosphere.

According to ex-CID agent Haider, the chauvinist culture might explain quite a bit. “Rape is not taken seriously enough in the military because it is a crime that affects primarily women—and women are still not taken seriously in the military,” she says. “There is a lot more sympathy if the victim is a man because most agents are male and they can relate to the violation. They are horrified by that. But when it’s a woman, it’s the opposite. Their attitude is almost contemptuous.”

But she hopes that will change.

So does former Pvt. Jessica Doe. “What happened to Maria Lauterbach was a worst-case scenario, but I know she wasn’t the first to lose her life like that,” she says. “I just hope that her loss will open more people’s eyes and help us to make a change.”

Maria Lauterbach was buried with full military honors on Feb. 2, with her dress blues placed in her casket. Her unborn son, whom she had decided to name Gabriel, was buried beside her in a small, silver casket.

Approximately 900 people attended the funeral service in Maria’s hometown of Vandalia, Ohio. Among them was Marine Lance Cpl. Robin Kahle, who drove 900 miles round trip to place her own Good Conduct Medal on Maria’s casket. She then paid her respects by reporting her own rape to a high-ranking Marine participating in the service.

“It was a very respectful service,” says Avila-Smith, who traveled from her home in Seattle to represent the thousands of military sexual trauma survivors moved by Maria’s story, “and a real wake up call.”

FBI Witch Hunt Stokes Puerto Rican Independence Movement

They say that when Filiberto Ojeda Rios was killed, all of Puerto Rico stood still.

"The financial district shut down," José Lopez, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, explained recently in a small café along Paseo Boricua, the heart of Chicago's vibrant Puerto Rican neighborhood.

His eyes lit up as he went on. "Literally all of the banks and offices were closed, and people were just standing outside, watching the caravan go by. Usually it is a one-hour trip to his tome town of Nagüabo. That day, it took seven hours. Everywhere there were hundreds of people. Little kids made their own signs that said, '¡Viva Filiberto!' It was an incredible outpouring of love and compassion that really was felt throughout that whole time period."

Filiberto Ojeda Rios was the founder and longtime leader of the Popular Boricua Army, or Los Macheteros, a militant wing of the Puerto Rican pro-independence movement. He was shot by FBI agents in his home on Sept. 23, 2005, at the age of 72, and left to bleed to death.

Although Los Macheteros hasn't participated in armed actions for 15 years, the FBI has continued to aggressively pursue its leadership. It is an effort that has led it to the doors of multiple New Yorkers affiliated in some way with the Puerto Rican struggle to wrest control of the island from the U.S. government. Three of those people -- social worker Christopher Torres, graphic designer Tania Frontera and filmmaker Julio Antonio Pabón Jr. -- were recently handed subpoenas by the FBI/NYPD Anti-Terrorism Task Force and, after securing a postponement, were ordered to testify before a grand jury Feb. 1 at the Eastern District court in Brooklyn.

Torres and Frontera were both supporters of the successful struggle to force the U.S. Navy off the island of Vieques, which was used for decades as a bomb range and weapons testing ground. Pabón's father, meanwhile, is unsure why his son has been targeted, but he believes it might have to do with his coordinating a visit by The Welfare Poets, a radical arts collective and supporters of Puerto Rican independence, to Wesleyan University, which he attended years ago.

"We're preparing to challenge those subpoenas," Susan Tipograph, Torres' attorney, told AlterNet. "My concern is that the grand jury is being used in a way that undermines the First Amendment rights of people who are engaged in constitutionally protected political activity."

"There certainly is a history of the federal government using grand jury subpoenas to cast a wide net investigation into political movements," Tipograph added. "There is a particular history of that in relationship to the Puerto Rican independence movement."

There is also a long history of resistance to those subpoenas.

Puerto Rico, currently a commonwealth, has been under U.S. control since 1898. Although Puerto Ricans are subject to U.S. laws, they have no representation in Congress and don't have the right to vote in presidential elections. Though many Puerto Ricans fear changing the status quo and removing the island nation from U.S. tutelage, they are currently worse off economically than any state in the Union. The per capita income in Puerto Rico is $20,058, less than that of Mississippi, the poorest state. Almost half of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line, and a third of its population is unemployed. The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization has for decades repeatedly condemned Puerto Rico's status and called on the U.S. to return occupied land, release political prisoners and allow Puerto Ricans the right of self-determination and independence. Many Puerto Ricans have called for the same thing. A spectrum of organizations and political parties are currently promoting independence.

However, ever since the FBI was officially founded in 1935, it has regarded any and all opposition to U.S. sovereignty with suspicion. According to the FBI's own estimates, from 1936 to 1995, agents collected between 1.5 and 1.8 million pages of intelligence on organizations and individuals advocating independence.

In 2000, per his request, the bureau began handing over selected files to Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College has been sorting and filing them and publicly releasing select contents. Among them is a 1961 memo from then-Director J. Edgar Hoover to the San Juan field office, initiating Cointelpro activities against the movement and its leaders. The memo orders agents to begin collecting information on independence leaders' "weaknesses, morals, criminal records, spouses, children, family life, educational qualifications and personal activities other than independence activities," so as to "disrupt their activities and compromise their effectiveness."

A U.S. Senate committee in 1975 found the program "imposed summary punishment, not only on the allegedly violent, but also on the nonviolent advocates of change."

In 1977, the FBI began employing a new tactic of intimidation against independentistas: the grand jury subpoena. According to Michael Deutsch of the People's Law Office in Chicago, resistance to the subpoenas was organized and unwavering. The grand juries were seen by activists, he wrote, as "an illegal instrument of colonial authority whose powers of inquisition they must resist." For refusing to comply with more than 20 grand jury subpoenas, scores of pro-independence activists -- some of whom were summoned more than once -- spent anywhere from four to 18 months in jail -- and some of them were summoned more than once.

Lopez, a "grand jury resister" who spent seven months in jail for refusing to testify against his compañeros, says the subpoenas had a "chilling effect." So did the even more drastic sentences handed to two men who still languish in prison -- Carlos Alberto Torres and Lopez' brother, Oscar Lopez Rivera. They have spent 26 and 27 years in prison, respectively, on arcane "seditious conspiracy" charges after prosecutors were unable to tag them with anything else.

The criminalization of the Puerto Rican independence movement in the late 1970s forced many prominent leaders underground and, to many, reinforced the idea that independence could not be achieved through diplomatic means. Ultimately, repression would foment radical resistance. In 1979, Los Macheteros committed its first armed action, when it attempted to steal a San Juan police car and killed Officer Julio Rodriguez Rivera in the process. A handful of covert attacks, mostly targeting property owned by the U.S. government, followed.

In 1983, Los Macheteros robbed $7.5 million from a Wells Fargo depot in Hartford, Conn. Filiberto Ojeda Rios was accused of masterminding the heist and arrested. After being released on bail, Ojeda Rios returned to his clandestine existence and earned a spot on the FBI's "most wanted" list.

After his assassination in 2005, Rios' martyrdom stoked a new wave of indignation among Puerto Ricans. Soon thereafter, the Puerto Rico Justice Department sued U.S. authorities, including FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, demanding information related to the operation that led to his death, as well as a series of FBI searches that followed. The lawsuit was dismissed last summer.

Responding to public outcry, however, the U.S. Department of Justice did publish a 237-page report on the incident, which absolved the FBI from any criminal liability.

Many see the recent subpoenas, which are the first in over two decades, as an attempt to publicly reclaim the offensive. But, as José Lopez puts it, "Sometimes, the more you repress people and try to stifle dissent, you create more consciousness, and it has the opposite effect that the government would want."

On Jan. 10, the day of the first grand jury hearing (and postponement), approximately 3,000 people demonstrated in various towns in Puerto Rico in support of the "New York 3." Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, some 100 people showed up on the courtroom steps, including numerous prominent City Council members. And, although it was a cold, rainy day in Chicago, Lopez says at least 100 people came downtown to demonstrate. Demonstrations also took place in Hartford, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Orlando, Fitchburg, Mass., and Cleveland.

Similar actions are being planned throughout Puerto Rico and the mainland on Feb. 1.

The renewed attention on the Puerto Rican independence movement could provide a much-needed push for a bill sitting in the House of Representatives that would begin a true self-determination processes: H.R. 1230, "The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act," sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. The bill would create a Constituent Assembly within Puerto Rico to educate, dialogue and eventually create a Puerto Rican-initiated alternative to "commonwealth" status.

Regardless, many in the movement anticipate more repression before any change occurs. According to a statement released earlier this month by the Ejercito Popular Boricua, "The true reason for persecution against the EPB-Macheteros and those who struggle for independence in general is that we are a force capable of educating and organizing the people."

José Lopez puts it a different way. With local youth streaming in and out of the café to ask his advice about projects they were organizing, classes they were teaching and press conferences they were preparing to hold, he explained, "The idea that you can sell to the world that you are a democracy, a benign empire, that you struggle for human rights and self-determination -- the Puerto Rican independence movement is constantly challenging that."

Crack Users Do More Time Than People Convicted of Manslaughter

The death of Alva Mae Groves on Aug. 9 of this year went largely unnoticed outside of her family and fellow inmates at the Tallahassee Federal Corrections Institution, where she lived out the last 13 years of her life. She never went to high school, lived her entire life dirt-poor and raised her nine children for the most part without the help of her abusive husband.

In 1994 Alva Mae "Granny" Groves was locked up for conspiring to trade crack cocaine for food stamps. It was largely her son, whose trailer home she lived in, who ran an operation that her family and neighbors contested, but some customers testified that Alva Mae would sell them small bags when he wasn't around.

"The only money I received came from SSI (Supplementary Security Income) and what money I could earn selling eggs from my laying hens (I had about 100 chickens)," Alva Mae wrote shortly before her death in a letter asking for a pardon so that she could die near her family. "I also cleaned houses when I was able, and sold candy bars and soft drinks to the kids coming from school in the afternoons."

Because she refused to testify against her son, and because of the money she had saved in the bank, which was weighed against her for its value in crack, and most of all because of the current sentencing system for crack cocaine offenders, Groves was condemned to 24 years in jail at the age of 72.

In 1986, Congress passed a law that established an unprecedented five-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone found in possession of two sugar packets worth of crack, regardless of whether or not that person had a criminal record. Beyond the minimum, additional "sentencing guidelines" tack on extra months or even years for obstruction of justice (which, in some cases, means refusing to admit guilt), whether or not there was a weapon on the premises and prior convictions.

Crack cocaine is treated more harshly than any other drug on the streets right now, mostly because of the "tough on crime" response that was en vogue at the time of its introduction. Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based advocacy group that works for fairness in sentencing, explained that Congress attributed the sentencing tiers at the time to a desire to "protect the black community."

Ron Hampton, a retired D.C. police officer and executive director of the National Black Police Association, takes issue with that rationale. "It's hard for me to believe that you are going to have legislation that severely cripples and victimizes members of our community in order to do something good for us," he said.

Nonetheless, 20 years later, the sentencing structure still stands, and it is precisely the black community that is suffering the most.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), a division of the judicial branch that monitors and advises Congress on sentencing policy, in 2006, more than four-fifths of crack cocaine offenders in federal courts were black.

The 1986 drug laws have had a devastating effect on the U.S. criminal justice system. Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1100 percent since 1980, from 41,000 people to nearly 500,000.

Nearly 6 out of 10 people in state prison for a drug offense have no history of violence or high-level drug-selling activity but are often receiving harsher sentences than people who do. People caught with the drug in 2004, the last year for which data is available, served an average of ten years in federal penitentiaries, while the average convict served 2.9 years for manslaughter, 3.1 years for assault and 5.4 years for sexual abuse.

Many legislators, police officers and even federal judges have been vocal critics of the sentences being handed to crack cocaine offenders.

In 2002, Roger Williams University Law Professor David Zlotnick conducted a series of interviews with Republican-appointed federal judges to survey their views of various sentencing tiers. He found the majority of them saw crack cocaine sentencing as "completely unacceptable," "a grave injustice" and a "discrepancy that has no basis in fact."

However, says Monica Pratt, spokesperson for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, "Because crack cocaine mandatory minimums have applied mostly to people of color and poor people, there has been a lack of political will to do something about it."

Until now. The massive mobilizations in Jena, La., last month shined a much-needed spotlight on continuing disparity in the U.S. justice system. With a Supreme Court case addressing the issue starting on Oct. 2, a promising reform bill currently in the Senate and proposed USSC amendments just weeks away from taking effect (pending congressional opposition), a confluence of forces just might create the perfect storm that advocates for sentencing reform have been hoping for.

Said Mauer, "We have more momentum now than we have seen at any time since the laws were passed in 1986."

The main rallying point for many critics is the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, two drugs that are pharmacologically identical. The main difference, they contend, is who does them and in what neighborhoods.

A drug abuser whose drug of choice is powder cocaine would have to be found with more than two cups of it (500 grams) before receiving the same sentence as a person caught with two sugar packets worth (5 grams) of crack. All along the sentencing tier, 100 times more powder cocaine is required to trigger the same mandatory minimum penalty as crack. It is a system referred to as the "100-to-1" drug quantity ratio.

Since crack is made by cooking powder cocaine with baking soda or another base when it reaches the street retail level, the 100-to-1 ratio has served to exact harsher punishments on low-level dealers than the kingpins supplying the raw material. According to USSC data, low-level crack sellers are punished 300 times more severely than high-level, international cocaine traffickers on an imprisonment-per-gram basis.

There are two different types of sentences given to drug offenders: the mandatory minimums established by Congress and the sentencing guidelines tacked onto those minimums by federal prosecutors and accepted or denied by federal judges.

"The congressional wheel in many ways is the most important right now, because without congressional action, the mandatory sentences are still going to stand, whether the USSC changes the guidelines or the Supreme Court changes the way the judges administer them," says Pratt.

There are three bills currently introduced in Congress that attempt to address the 100:1 disparity, but only one that would eliminate it. The Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007 ( S.1711), introduced by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., would bring the penalties for possessing crack cocaine in line with those for cocaine in its powder form. It offers, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, a "long-awaited fix to discriminatory federal drug sentencing" that will take place only with increased pressure.

The sentencing guidelines are also slated to change, unless Congress moves to block them. The USSC sets the guidelines, barring congressional objections, and has proposed amendments to crack penalties in the past, which have been shot down. They forged ahead this year, however, bringing crack cocaine guidelines in line with powder guidelines in a list of amendments introduced last spring. They will go into effect on Nov. 1 unless somebody notices and tries to stop them. If implemented, the commission predicts the change would shorten 69.7 percent of incoming crack cocaine sentences, resulting in an average reduction of nearly 13 months.

In a highly unusual move, the USSC is also considering making the amendments retroactive and are seeking public comment on the issue. FAMM has been mobilizing its base, consisting predominantly of people incarcerated on drug charges and their families, to get involved in the political process and voice their opinions. "The public information officer for the USSC told our president, Mary Price, that they have received 10,000 letters on this issue already," Pratt said. The USSC predicts that retroactivity would reduce the sentences of approximately 19,500 current inmates.

Then there is Kimbrough v. United States, a crack-related case that just got under way in the Supreme Court. The case challenges a judge's discretion in sentencing a crack cocaine convict below federal sentencing guidelines and centers around the sentencing hearing for Derrick Kimbrough, a Desert Storm veteran in Norfolk, Va., who pled guilty in 2005 to possession with intent to distribute 56 grams of crack. Although he had no previous felony convictions, his mandatory minimum and federal sentencing formula recommended he be sentenced to 19 to 22 years. However, Federal District Judge Raymond A. Jackson called the guideline "ridiculous" and instead handed Kimbrough a 15-year sentence, a move that an appeals court later challenged his authority to make.

However, according to retired D.C. Officer Hampton, the crack problem that plagues many low-income communities across America won't go anywhere without a more "holistic" approach that considers responses that are more than punitive. "If they wanted to help, one of the best things they could do is treat people who use crack cocaine much like they do for powder cocaine," Hampton suggested. "They need to look it as a disease. That's another problem embedded in the disparity, not just the sentences, but the amount of treatment that is available to them."

Indeed, a "significant number" of dealers are also addicts, who might not find themselves in the courthouse without their addictions, according to Zlotnick's research.

"But more than that," says Howard, "we need to develop some strategy that focuses on the systemic issues that cause people to look for it in the first place. I think a lot of the problem is the despair in our community, because of lack of housing, lack of jobs, a poor educational system -- they all have a lot to do with why people do it. If we were to address those problems in our society, we'd probably see a lot less people doing crack."

But, for the meantime, he says, the laws are as good a place as any to start.

Firearm Industry Sets Sights on Young Hunters

The firearm industry is on the hunt for young shooters. While the National Rifle Association has a long history of reaching out to the Boy Scouts, 4H clubs and other youth organizations, it is only recently that the industry's efforts have taken shape and gathered momentum in schools across the country, with rifle teams and hunter's education classes enticing record numbers of youngins to take up the sport.

The push is likely motivated by a decline in the number of hunters nationwide. From 1982 to 2001, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife reported a 22.2 percent drop in licensed hunters. However, by reaching out to lawmakers, concerned sportsmen and state park and wildlife agencies across the country, the industry is managing to reclaim its political and financial future from "anti-gunners," as they call them, with a clear message: "When introducing kids to hunting, earlier is better."

"Studies show that it's harder to introduce children to hunting the older that child gets," says Bill Brassard, managing director of the National Shooting Sports Foundation's (NSSF) Department of Safety and Education. The NSSF is the firearm industry's largest trade association. A "State of the Industry 2007" address from NSSF President Doug Painter, posted recently on their Web site, focuses almost exclusively on the need for young recruits and the association's wide-ranging efforts to reel them in.

One measure of the campaign's success has been the infectious growth of the association's Scholastic Clay Target Program, which organizes skeet and trap shooting contests for elementary to high-school-aged kids. Backed by direct donations from major ammunition and firearm manufacturers including Remington, White Flyer and Berretta, the program boasted 8,300-plus participants in 41 states last year.

"We see it as a gateway sport," said Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center, a DC research and advocacy organization. "The goal is to get the kids hunting and buying firearms." The average hunter, according to NSSF data, spends $17,726.59 on hunting equipment in his or her lifetime.

A second element of the campaign is the promotion of Hunter's Education programs -- both in and out of schools -- through supplying state park and wildlife agencies with program grants and instructional materials.

"The kids think it's neat. They like anything that's new and interesting and different," said John McNeil, the principal of Lincoln Junior High in Plymouth, Indiana. Although the school has introduced hunting during PE classes off and on for years, it wasn't until last fall that it became a formal seminar -- a move that caught the attention of some parents.

Aimee Falls described being "shocked" and "offended" when she looked in her 13-year-old daughter's schoolbag to find a copy of "Today's Hunter." She tried to rally other parents to speak out against the class, with limited success, and called the local media.

"This class teaches them how to use the gun, how to load the gun," she told reporters, "I do not feel comfortable with them knowing this information."

Principal McNeil responded by promising that parents will be asked to give their consent in the future.

In spite of parent concern, Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Ken Dowdle, who teaches the hunting course at Lincoln Junior High, said he has noticed a growing interest in hunting classes: "There probably isn't a county in Indiana that doesn't have it in at least one of their schools."

Classes are becoming more and more prevalent throughout the country, as well. The March issue of Guns and Ammo reported a new program getting off the ground recently in Juneau, Alaska in Floyd Dryden Middle School's sixth-grade class, while in Kansas, the Department of Wildlife and Parks has recently developed a 'Hunters Education in our Schools' program, devoted entirely to creating and promoting the classes in public schools. The effort includes matching hunter's education to state curriculum standards, so that it can easily fit into PE, science or even shop classes.

In Kansas, class instruction includes having students use computer games and either live firearms or Lasershot rifles -- firearms that have been converted to shoot lasers instead of live rounds.

In other places, such as Dowdle's class in Indiana, guns are out of the question. Dowdle limits his props to the Hunter Education books, an occasional defunct or disassembled rifle, and hunting videos -- a popular teaching tool in Indiana and other states. The NSSF creates many of the videos used in hunting classes and shipped over 7,500 last year alone.

Though their teaching methods may be different, conservation officers say they have the same goals in mind: teaching the value of wildlife management for those who choose not to hunt and teaching safety to those who do.

"We want them to know how to safely handle those firearms, or what to do when they come across firearms in the home," said Monica Bickerstaff, coordinator of Kansas' program.

But violence prevention experts say teaching gun safety in order to prevent accidents is counter-intuitive.

"Only 5 percent of gun deaths are accidental," said Deanne Calhoun, Executive Director of Youth Alive, a violence prevention organization in Oakland, California. "It is ridiculous to think there is this type of a program in a school. It isn't a big health issue for kids."

Calhoun pointed to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that while 2,825 children and teens were killed with firearms in 2004, only 143 of those deaths were accidental. Even among the white population, which accounts for the vast majority of hunters, the ratio of suicides and homicides to accidents is 14.5 to one.

"People clearly are profiting off of the violence that is out there," Calhoun added. "What we'd like to do is find a way to turn off the faucet, to stop the guns from getting in the hands of kids in the first place."

Jim Bulger, Hunter Outreach Coordinator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, agrees that these programs are not a good idea in an urban setting. "In Denver, you don't need a parking lot full of kids with shotguns, but out here, [in a rural area], a kid might need to kill a coyote or two that's bothering his Daddy's livestock."

Bulger says his program has also helped reach out to urban youth, however, in order to offer them exposure to and appreciation for nature.

"We just finished taking eight kids," he said. "They didn't kill a thing all day and they didn't care." He said that they were so appreciative of the experience that one of the youngsters wrote a two-page thank you letter to the man who donated use of his land to the program.

Many hunters argue that without them, many state and federal parks wouldn't even exist.

Many state wildlife agencies depend on hunting licenses and firearm sales to stay afloat, creating an even bigger push for hunting promotion among youth.

"That is the next generation that is going to be buying licenses and equipment, all of which provide funds that go back into wildlife conservation in state agencies," said Brassard of the NSSF.

"Hunting license fees and Pitmann-Robertson [a federal excise tax on firearms] essentially runs the department," said Wayne Doyle, Hunter Education Coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Thanks to the NSSF's aggressive campaign efforts, hunting licenses probably won't evaporate any time soon. In addition to its core promotional strategy, the NSSF has administered $1.7 million to 33 states in the past four years for projects creating designated land for youth hunting as well as promoting youth hunting through special events and advertising campaigns.

The national Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies hosted an "Industry Summit" last December, bringing together wildlife agency and firearm industry leaders to discuss, according to the AFWA website, "building better communications between parties, pursuing more visible marketing strategies, and gauging the long-term vision and use of these funds."

The NSSF is also increasing related lobbying efforts. Since 2004, the Families Afield initiative has been working to change local laws to offer "additional hunting opportunities for youth." Already, they have succeeded in 12 states.

Laws passed in Michigan and Ohio have instituted an apprentice program, in which young hunters can join their adult counterparts without completing a hunter's education course. In Michigan, legislators additionally lowered the minimum hunting age. Thirty states currently have no minimum.

According to the NSSF, "First year results show real promise: more than 18,000 apprentice licenses were sold in Michigan, plus nearly 10,000 in Ohio in 2006. These 28,000 new hunters suggest a 26 percent jump in the two states' combined population of hunters age 15 or under."

Examples like these abound; yet somehow the NSSF's efforts to seduce young hunters have slipped under the mainstream media's radar -- a surprise, considering the story is not so new. In fact, it was back in 1996 that the NRA's former President Marion Hammer called for "an old-fashioned wrestling match for the hearts and minds of our children." Eleven years later, with the help of the industry, hunters, teachers and other state agents, it looks like they have a fighting chance.

Antiwar Vietnam Vets Mentor Next Generation of Resisters

The way AWOL Iraq vet Kyle Snyder sees it, "The GI resistance was one of the main things that ended the Vietnam war, and it's going to be a very important part of ending the one we're in now."

That's why he and others like him, who oppose the war in Iraq, are welcoming the help of their predecessors in their present-day struggle.

On October 28, Snyder returned from Canada, where he has been living ever since he went AWOL in August 2005. He was accompanied by Vietnam war resister and anti-war activist Gerry Condon, who he met in Vancouver shortly after his arrival. They were under the impression that his lawyer, Jim Fennerty, had worked it all out. He was to be processed at Fort Knox and would receive an honorable discharge.

"I just wanted to put this whole thing behind me," Snyder said. He claims that about an hour after he arrived, the Army changed its tune and wanted instead to put him on a Greyhound bus to rejoin his unit, now at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. "I never got on that bus," he said with a smirk. "I went to a bar near the bus station instead -- and called my lawyer."

This Veteran's Day, Snyder gathered with dozens of other antiwar Veterans, young and old, for a day of political protest, camaraderie and movement building at the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. The Vietnam Veterans took the lead in organizing the events, which Vietnam Vets Against the War and Vets for Peace have been holding annually for years now. They manned the barbecue. They slapped backs and reconnected with old friends. Their younger counterparts, in contrast, spoke in quieter tones. They looked on, listened to words of advice and received a warm welcome.

The gathering in Chicago was part of a national trend in which Vietnam vets who fought tirelessly to end that war are passing the torch to a new generation of soldiers breaking rank. Many Vietnam Veterans have played a key role in their reintegration into American society, providing emotional, political and financial support.

Vietnam Veterans have also been instrumental in offering help to ex-Iraq soldiers who went AWOL.

According the Air Force Times, the Pentagon has registered approximately 8,000 deserters since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While many of them are living underground in the United States, the War Resisters Support Campaign, a Canadian network of individuals supporting incoming soldiers with material and legal assistance, estimates that there are "as many as 200 or more military personnel in Canada today."

Lee Zaslofsky is the Campaign Coordinator for the Campaign. He went AWOL in 1970 and, like many during that time, crossed the border into Canada. He has since become a Canadian citizen. When he saw an announcement about a planning meeting for the organization two years ago, he decided to check it out. "There were a lot of people there who I recognized and had worked with in the past, so I knew that they were for real," he said, speaking on the phone from Toronto. "A good proportion of people involved in the organization are either draft dodgers or war resisters, like me."

As of April, 25 servicemen refusing to deploy to Iraq had filed claims for political refugee status. An applicant is legally allowed to stay in Canada, and may apply for a work permit, while their application is being considered. So far, two applicants, Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, have been denied by the Refugee Board. Hinzman is appealing the decision in Federal Courts.

Jeffrey House, a former draft dodger who moved to Canada when his number came up in 1970, is the lawyer representing Hinzman. House is basing his case on the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting wars of aggression, as well as the Nuremberg Principles, which state that a soldier has not only a right, but a responsibility to refuse to take part in war crimes, regardless of their orders.

House claims that by attempting to obey international laws, his clients face persecution in the United States. Indeed, just last month, the U.S. Army announced its intention to court martial two deserters already in custody: Lt. Ehren K Watada and Army Spc. Suzanne Swift.

Vietnam Vets who became organizers in the peace movement have also lent their networks, experience and know-how to recently politicized soldiers.

"We wouldn't exist without the older generation of veterans," said Amandee Braxton, Administrative Coordinator at Iraq Vets Against the War's (IVAW) national office in Pittsburgh. IVAW was founded in July 2004 when eight service men and women back from their tours attended the annual convention of Veterans for Peace (VFP) in Boston.

Frank Corcoran, Vietnam vet and member of VFP, remembers when those young soldiers announced the birth of their movement. "That day, we had a workshop called 'Iraq Vets Speak Out,' " he recalled from his home outside of Pittsburgh. "I remember it being in this big room. We had a tight workshop schedule, but those kids went more than an hour over schedule and nobody moved. Everybody was rooted to their chairs. When Michael [Hoffman, founder of IVAW] got up on stage at our public gathering later that night and made the announcement that they were going to create Iraq Vets Against the War, I thought that hall was going to collapse. Everybody was crying and yelling and clapping and cheering."

Today, IVAW claims members in 32 states, Washington, D.C., Canada and on numerous overseas bases.

Corocan, a retired teacher, has been a regular volunteer at the IVAW offices from the get-go. "A lot of us Vietnam Vets wake up every morning and try to figure out how to end this war and how to be there for the Iraq Vets."

Braxton, from the IVAW offices in Pittsburgh, says that Corocan and his comrades have been an incredible source of support -- morally, financially and logistically. "VFP as an organization is our fiscal sponsor," Braxton said. "Members of that organization also served on the interim Board of Directors that helped guide Iraq Vets Against the War that first year. They have played a fundamental role in our development as an organization."

"Sixty percent of the members of our organization suffer from PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]" Braxton said. "And they have been constantly getting advice and support and insights from these older vets who have been through it all."

To Corocan, that is one of the most important roles that the older Vets can play. That's why he and former Marine Jim Driscoll have launched the organization Vets for Vets. They seek to build a nationwide network of Veterans' discussion groups where Iraq Vets can "speak about their experiences without interruption."

Other groups, like Citizen Soldier, are also trying to open up such spaces for active service men and women. To that end, on October 27 they opened the Different Drummer Internet Café, modeled after the GI Cafes of the Vietnam era. They hope that Different Drummer, just outside of Fort Drum in New York, will be the first of many designed to welcome soldiers in for coffee, internet and entertainment, while also providing access to legal counseling, documentary screenings and discussion groups.

For many old-timers, this hasn't come without a price. "You relive it. It puts you back literally in war, in varying degrees," Corocan said. "My VA counselor last year was telling me that she was seeing WWII vets coming to the VA for the first time in their lives, unable to sleep, not aware that it is the war in Iraq that is bringing this stuff back up for them."

Other vets have simply re-dedicated themselves to the antiwar movement, seeing a concrete role for them to play in mentoring the next generation.

"I was in Kyle's shoes many years ago," said Gerry Condon, who is currently touring the country with Iraq vet and AWOL resister Kyle Snyder, acting as his tour organizer and confidant. "When I met him I told him, I'll support you whatever you decide to do."

"We plan to tour until the Army agrees to discharge Kyle without further punishment."