5 March, 2019 10:05

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, March 5, 2019 which is Cinco de Marcho, Multiple Personality Day, International Pancake Day and National Sportsmanship Day.
This Past Weekend in Legion History:

  • March 1, 1915: Announcements appear in newspapers coast-to-coast recruiting members for American Legion, Inc. Former U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, along with former Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, are among the vocal proponents of this “American Legion” of military-trained, educated citizens who pledge their skills, time and assets – including automobiles, tools, boats, weapons and motorcycles if needed – to serve as a U.S. reserve fighting force in the event the United States is drawn into the war in Europe.
  • March 1, 2018: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th District refuses to reconsider an October 2017 decision and rules 8-6 that the Bladensburg Peace Cross honoring 49 men of Prince George’s County, Md., must either be removed or altered. The memorial was built in 1925 by The American Legion, which is represented by First Liberty, whose deputy chief counsel, Hiram Sasser, promises to fight the appeals court decision. “If this decision stands, other memorials – including those in nearby Arlington Cemetery – will be targeted for destruction as well,” Sasser explains.
  • March 2, 1961: NBC’s Robert W. Sarnoff is first to receive The American Legion National Commander’s Public Relations Award.
  • March 3, 1920: The War Work Council of the Young Men’s Christian Association donates to The American Legion unconditionally $500,000, the first $400,000 is paid on this date with the remaining $100,000 delivered on Oct. 30, 1920.
  • March 3, 1966: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the Veterans Benefits Readjustment Act of 1966, the so-called “Cold War-Vietnam GI Bill.” The program, as unemployment among Vietnam War combat veterans was on the rise and making headlines, would go on to educate some 5.5 million Vietnam War veterans, 76 percent of whom use at least some portion of their college benefits.
  • March 4, 1921: Congress, at the urging of The American Legion in support of U.S. Rep. Hamilton Fish’s 1920 bill, approves the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater overlooking Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.


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Military Times: The new plan to prevent veteran suicides: new grants, better research, more community focus
By: Leo Shane III   10 hours ago
WASHINGTON — The White House is creating a new high-level task force on preventing veterans suicide which will include new community outreach grants aimed at former service members and expanded projects across a host of government agencies to coordinate research and prevention efforts.
President Donald Trump will sign a new executive order on the initiative — dubbed the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide, or PREVENTS — on Tuesday afternoon at the White House.
It’s the latest in a series of steps by his administration to address the problem, which claims an estimated 20 veterans lives every day. Last year, the president signed a separate executive order providing more counseling and mental health care for recently separated service members, who face a significantly higher risk of suicide than other military groups.
According to senior administration officials, the new order will give agency officials a year to develop plans for a more aggressive approach to suicide prevention, with a goal of more state and local community engagement.
The task force will look to develop a new grant system for mental health support and outreach similar to the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program, which provides funding directly to local charities and city programs to help individualize assistance plans for veterans.
Those HUD-VASH vouchers have been in use for a decade and are widely credited with helping draw down the number of homeless veterans by half. Officials hope to replicate that model for suicide prevention, relying on local expertise and federal funding to reach more veterans.
Veterans Affairs officials estimate that of the 20 veterans a day who take their own lives, about 70 percent have little or no contact with the federal veteran system. That makes targeted community outreach to populations outside those systems critical to addressing the suicide problem.
The White House has not put a price tag on the new grants yet, but is expected to work with Congress in coming months to set parameters and draft legislation on the idea.
Meanwhile, the new task force will be charged with better coordinating existing research on suicide within federal systems. Already, the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security have a host of information on traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues that could be indicators of suicidal thoughts.
Officials hope to use the Department of Energy’s expansive data collection and research systems to better analyze that existing data, providing new potential avenues for prevention efforts.
The research work will also include pushing the Centers for Disease Control to provide more up-to-date information on veterans suicide research. Currently, the latest available data on the problem typically trails at least two years behind current efforts. Senior administration officials are hoping to cut that wait down to no more than six months.
Suicide prevention has been a major focus of both Congress and the executive branch in recent years, but the rate of suicide has largely remained flat. White House officials are hoping the new task force will restart a national conversation on the issue, and bring in private-sector partners to help find new solutions.
Officials from the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee are scheduled to hold a roundtable with administration experts on the issue later this week. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced new legislation on the issue last week.
In December, the Veterans Health Administration announced a new pilot program with the advocacy group The Independence Fund to reunite combat troops for group therapy sessions, in the hopes of using those common bonds to provide better mental health resources.
Sarah Verardo, chief executive officer of the group, called the new White House initiative an important step forward in helping veterans.
“We owe it to them to ensure they are not forgotten upon their return home,” she said. “They may have returned from the battlefield, but their war is not over. For many, their true battle begins when their purpose in the military ends.”
Veterans facing any type of mental or emotional distress can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at any time by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and selecting option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

CNN: International courts, Guantanamo, citizenship-stripping: What next for Western ISIS supporters?
By Tara John, CNN
Updated 10:20 AM ET, Mon March 4, 2019
(CNN)The final battle to end ISIS’s caliphate is now underway as US-backed forces push into the group’s last stronghold in Syria.
But the predicted victory may be short-lived for Western countries, which will be forced to confront the problem of what to do with their citizens who went to Syria or Iraq to join the militant group.
Hundreds of Western ISIS fighters are being held in refugee or detention camps by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria. Many others may still be ensconced in ISIS’s last bastion — which is shrinking by the hour — in the town of Baghouz Al-Fawqani.
Experts say few countries have embassies or extradition treaties with Syria, let alone with the Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria. Nor have they shown any desire to go to the areas where ISIS fighters and families are being held, and put their government representatives in harm’s way.
So what options are open to Western countries when it comes to dealing with their homegrown militants?
Despite urging Western governments to "take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial," US President Donald Trump instructed his administration not to allow the return of Hoda Muthana, an Alabama woman who left the United States in November 2014 to join ISIS.
The US is now contesting her American citizenship, even though a family representative told CNN that Muthana, who is of Yemeni heritage, was born in the US and had a US passport.
A similar situation has played out in the UK, where the Home Office announced its intention to strip Shamima Begum, who joined ISIS in 2015, of her citizenship even though she is not a dual national — a move not accepted under international law.
British ISIS teen’s lawyer: ‘We don’t leave damaged children in war zones’
In 2014, then-Home Secretary Theresa May (now Britain’s Prime Minister) was given the power to deprive someone of their citizenship if there were "reasonable grounds to believe that the person is able to become a national of another country or territory under its laws."
Begum’s family is of Bangladeshi origin. However, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said the 19-year-old was not a Bangladeshi citizen and would not be allowed entry to the country.
Rebecca Skellett, head of the strong cities network at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISR), an anti-extremism think tank in London, told CNN that citizenship-stripping is a policy used largely on people from minority backgrounds.
She warned that it "suggests two different tiers to crimes" and "risks feeding into extremist narratives, that if you are Muslim or not part of the mainstream of society you will always be a second-class citizen in Western society."
Begum’s husband, a Dutch ISIS fighter, has suggested a way out for his wife. Yago Riedijk, 27, who is currently in a Kurdish detention center in Syria, told the BBC on Sunday that he would like his wife and son to return to the Netherlands with him.
While refusing to comment on individual cases, a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security told CNN that the Dutch government is not inclined to help Dutch ISIS fighters in Syrian territory. But if a Dutch ISIS member "reports at a Dutch embassy or consulate, that person will be transported to the Netherlands, arrested and prosecuted," he said.
And in line with other European countries, the spokesman added that "foreign fighters with two, or more, nationalities, who are deemed a threat to our national security, can have their Dutch citizenship (or) passport revoked."
Guantánamo Bay
There have also been suggestions from Trump and some Republicans that Guantánamo Bay could make a comeback. The camp was repurposed from a migrant detention facility to hold detainees in the war on terror — in response to the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001, and subsequent military operations in Afghanistan.
During the George W. Bush administration, the US argued that Guantánamo Bay detainees were not on US soil and therefore not covered by the US Constitution, and that "enemy combatant" status meant they could be denied some legal protections.
Its population consisted of a mix of nationalities, including Canadian, British and Chinese citizens.
Guantánamo was intended to be a place where suspects in the war on terror could be interrogated. But prisoners were indefinitely detained, many without charges or trial and subjected to reported abuse. As the war dragged on, Guantánamo became an international symbol of US rights abuses in the post-9/11 era.
Alabama ISIS bride’s father sues Trump administration over citizenship and seeks her return
The last detainee was sent there in 2008, according to advocacy group Human Rights First. But during his State of the Union speech last year, President Trump signed an order to keep the detention facility in Cuba open and signaled his interest in sending new prisoners there. The facility currently holds 40 detainees, according to Human Rights First.
"I am asking Congress to ensure that in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases for them it will now be Guantánamo Bay," Trump said.
As ISIS’ territory shrinks, Republican Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Cornyn wrote a letter to Trump on January 22 warning that with "the rapidly shifting dynamics in Syria, it is possible that these terrorists may escape or be released from SDF custody."
They urged the President to transfer "the worst of these Islamic State fighters (currently in Syria) to the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, where they will face justice."
When asked by CNN on February 19 whether ISIS members like Muthana could be sent to Guantánamo Bay, a State Department spokesman would only say: "The US government is considering various alternative disposition options, for foreign terrorist fighters who cannot be repatriated."
Guantánamo presents a "terrifying prospect" for practitioners who work on de-radicalization programs and "hear their motivation to radicalize" was Guantánamo Bay, said Skellett from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
"US foreign policy was used and cultivated by al Qaeda recruiters and sympathizers as an entry point [to radicalize people], and so we could enter this same cycle again if we start abandoning the justice system," she said.
International courts
The idea of putting ISIS fighters in front of a special tribunal or international court has been floated by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist and joint winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.
Clooney hoped to gather enough evidence against ISIS leaders who could face justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
Others, like the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), a Europe-based non-profit focused on conducting criminal investigations during armed conflict, have been pushing for the establishment of a specialized ISIS tribunal in northern Iraq. But exactly where and how these cases would be heard is tangled up in the complexities of politics and differences between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil.
Neither Iraq nor Syria ratified the Rome Statute that created the ICC, which means the court has no jurisdiction over crimes committed in those countries.
It also means the chance of prosecuting ISIS’s leadership, many of whom are Syrian and Iraqi, "appear limited," ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensourda said in a 2015 statement.
The Islamic State is dying … but believers in its radical ideology live on
In any case, Simon Palombi, an investigation, intelligence and security consultant in London, told CNN that the ICC was "designed for large cases dealing with genocide and other human atrocities." It primarily charges the leaders of such movements, not the thousands of foot soldiers like ISIS fighters.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, whose country in 2016 had the highest per capita number of foreign fighters in Syria, suggested to local media a special tribunal, similar to the one suggested by CIJA, to prosecute Belgian and other ISIS fighters in Syria or Iraq.
To get an international tribunal up and running can be a very slow process. Palombi, a former international security consultant for Chatham House, pointed to the UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia, which ruled in 2018 that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide — 40 years after the collapse of Pol Pot’s tyrannical communist regime, which was responsible for the death of 1.7 million people.
"It would take time for every individual case to be heard and ensuring those processes are fair and meet Western standards of judicial review," he said. "If you are dealing with returning jihadis, the time pressure is a lot more immediate as they are in jails which are not the most secure."
"In terms of an immediate solution, it falls on individual countries to work out how they want to deal with their respective citizens."
Human rights advocates and terrorism experts all point to repatriation as the best option for Western countries.
However, there would be hurdles to prosecuting returning fighters. In many countries, traveling to ISIS-held territory is not a crime in itself — although the UK has just passed a law making travel to a terrorist hotspot illegal