“Psychological studies conducted by the US Army, Marine Corps, Harvard University, and other agencies revealing alarming trends on the state of mental health of their troops are a matter of security concern to Filipino people especially with the expected entry of tens of thousands of these forces under EDCA.” – Bobby Tuazon, Director for Policy Studies, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
BY DEE AYROSO
“American soldiers think of us as prostitutes. They act like they own us,” a middle-aged woman said,as she passed by a protest this week at the US embassy in Manila. Harsh words expressed in anger, and in agreement, with protesters seeking justice for the brutal murder of Jennifer Laude.
Laude, a 26-year-old Filipina transgender, was found dead on Oct. 11, at Celzone Lodge, Olongapo City Zambales, 45 minutes after checking in with US Marine Pvt. 1stClass Joseph Scott Pemberton, a participant in the joint military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Minutes after Pemberton left at 11:30 pm, a hotel staff found Laude’s body slumped on the bathroom floor wrapped only in a towel, with her head in the toilet bowl.
Autopsy showed she died of drowning, and she had contusions in the upper chest and upper part of the body, probably as she struggled against being pushed into the toilet. No human being, prostitute or not, deserve to be treated that way.
Although it is the most grisly case in recent times, it is not an isolated case of US troop abuse under the 15-year-old VFA. Older generations could probably recall US soldiers getting away with even more cases of rape, murder and other abuses in almost a century of US military presence before the US bases were kicked out in 1991.
Rape, murder and other abuses involving American servicemen have been documented in countries where there are US military bases or visiting US troops. Why do these American forces commit these atrocities, and why do they — as the woman passerby at the US embassy protest put it — “act like they own us?”
“American power supremacy promotes arrogance, superiority, racism, and other unwelcome behavior among US combat troops,” said Prof. Bobby Tuazon, Director for Policy Studies of the thinktank Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG).
The CenPEG supports calls for congressional investigation in the state of mental health of US armed personnel in the country, citing “disturbing studies in the US showing a high percentage of US soldiers including Marines who are suffering from mental illness such as depression, panic disorder or ADHD, and suicidal tendencies.”
“I’m not saying that whoever killed Laude was mentally-impaired,” Tuazon said. “But psychological studies conducted by the US Army, Marine Corps, Harvard University, and other agencies revealing alarming trends on the state of mental health of their troops are a matter of security concern to Filipino people especially with the expected entry of tens of thousands of these forces under EDCA.”
With the recent signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) — which activists say virtually signalled the return of US bases in the country — Laude’s case may not be the last.
Tuazon cited a March report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry about a survey conducted by Harvard sociologists which “found nearly 1 out of 5 US soldiers afflicted with common mental ailments.”
“A separate report by Pentagon in 2012 revealed a spike in suicide cases among soldiers with at least 8,000 incidents in one year alone after combat tours, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and drug and alcohol abuse, among other causes,” Tuazon said.
In response to the “epidemic of suicides,” US President Barack Obama ordered the upgrading of mental health treatment in the US military, said Tuazon.
Tuazon also cited another report in which “60% of US Marines in Afghanistan who responded to a confidential survey in 2013 refused to reveal their psychological health problems.”
In other countries where there are US bases, US troops were involved in similar cases of atrocious crimes.
In 2013, two US servicemen, Seaman Christopher Browning, 24 and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, 23, were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail for raping a Japanese woman in Okinawa, Japan. A news report in the Stars and Stripes said that in the early morning of Oct. 16, 2012, the victim walked past the two Americans near the Kadena Air base. The two followed her home to her apartment, where they grabbed her, then took her to a parking lot where they raped her. The two also stole the money in the victim’s bag, then went to a bar, using her money to drink more.
Also in Okinawa, in 1996, three American servicemen –US Navy Seaman Marcus Gill, 22, and Rodrico Harp, 21 and Kendrick Ledet, 20, both U.S. Marines Pvt. 1st Class – were also convicted and sentenced to seven years in hard labor prison for the gang-rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl.
On Sept. 4, 1995, the three followed the sixth grader from a stationery store, forced her into their rental van, where they used duct tape to bind her eyes, mouth, ankles and wrists. They beat her in the face and stomach and raped her.
The three were released in 2003, and subsequently dishonourably discharged from service. What was to happen years later could be indicative of the state of mental health of the three US service men.
In 2006, Ledet, the youngest of the three, was found dead in an apparent suicide after raping and killing 22-year-old college student Lauren Cooper in her apartment. Ledet died from slashing his wrist.
In South Korea, in 2011, US soldier Private Kevin Lee Flippin was sentenced to 10 years in jail for the rape of a 17-year-old Korean girl near Camp Casey in Dongducheon.
Flippin, who pleaded guilty, narrated that after getting drunk with friends, he went into the Jihaeng goshitel and wandered in the halls, trying to open several doors, until he came to the victim’s unlocked room. Once, inside, Flippin then took a scissor and knife in the room and attacked the victim, raping her several times, and dragging her around the room as she fought back. He also took the victim’s wallet.
In the Philippines, in 2006, US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted of raping Suzette Nicolas or “Nicole” in Subic Bay Freeport Zone in, Zambales. On November 1, 2005, Smith carried off the inebriated Nicolas from a nightclub, along with four other US servicemen, brought her to their rental van where he raped her as they drove around Subic. They then dumped her on the road, with her jeans inside out and a condom sticking out of her panties.
The conviction was overturned after Smith petitioned the Court of Appeals. He was later acquitted after “Nicole” recanted her statement and left for the US.
The are other cases of abuses, but most of the victims withdraw their complaint, fanning suspicion of bribery or threat from the US government.
Not all crimes may be blamed on the state of mental health, however,” Tuazon stressed. “US troops operating in foreign territories, whether in Iraq or the Philippines, come from a country noted for a culture of violence, serial killings, school massacres, and a pro-gun society,” he said.
The CenPeg director said that there are even studies which show that “high US officials themselves are disturbed.” He said, this “should be a wake-up call to the Aquino government to heed the demand for reviewing, if not abrogating the VFA and the EDCA.”
“Philippine authorities can no longer justify that VFA and EDCA help enhance national security against ‘external threats.’ If they’re looking for external threat, they don’t need to look far. The threat to the country’s security is already here,” Tuazon said.
“As a sovereign country, we should not allow rape, murder, and other crimes committed by foreign forces who mock our justice system,” said Tuazon.
Tuazon said that US forces should not be allowed entry “unless they show their medical and mental evaluation as attested to by their commanders.”
If the Philippine government continues to be a party to defense agreements heavily in favor of the US – in spite of the atrocities committed against Filipinos – maybe not only the US troops in the country should be required to present a clean bill of mental health.