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Death and Discrimination

August 14, 2008

The Iraq War is not over yet but you can’t tell if you base it on its minimal news coverage. Because the numbers of American deaths are down from last year, you probably didn’t read that Sgt. Jose E. Ulloa, 23, of New York, N.Y, died Aug. 9 in Sadr City, Iraq, of “wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device.” (U.S. Department of Defense News Release, August 11, 2008.)

            How many of us realize that over 4138 Americans have been confirmed killed in over five years in Iraq, many of them trapped in exploding lightweight Humvee trucks of the Army?

            We are left to wonder how many soldiers might have been saved if the Army didn’t scrap David Tenenbaum’s 1995 project to improve the armored hull on the Humvees.

            David Tenenbaum is a Detroit-area military engineer, a Detroit-born son of a Holocaust survivor, who was hired in 1984 by TACOM (U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command), to design safer combat vehicles, and was accused thirteen years later in 1997 of passing secrets to the Israelis.

The Department of Defense’s own Office of Inspector General admitted in a recent report that Tenenbaum was singled out because he is an observant Jew and targeted because of his Orthodox Jewish faith. The 62 page report, requested by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was issued in July. The report said, “It was well known that Mr. Tenenbaum was Jewish, lived his religious beliefs and by his actions appeared to have a close affinity for Israel.”

John Simonini, a retired lieutenant colonel and TACOM’s counterintelligence chief, launched an investigation after coworkers said Tenenbaum spent too much time associating with Israeli contacts, made his own travel arrangements and stayed in hotels away from colleagues, which Simonini and others regarded as signs of spying. The report said Tenenbaum wore a yarmulke and brought kosher food to work rather than joining coworkers for lunch at restaurants. Colleagues questioned why David was allowed to leave work early on Fridays to prepare for the Sabbath.

The report concluded, “We believe that Mr. Tenenbaum was subjected to unusual and unwelcome scrutiny because of his faith and ethnic background, a practice that would undoubtedly fit a definition of discrimination.”

Anyone who thinks that American discrimination is a thing of the past should read this report or the dozens of articles over the last ten years about the nightmare that Tenenbaum lived through.

            “You have no idea what it’s like to have your loyalty questioned, to be accused of being a traitor,” Tenenbaum told the Detroit Free Press. TACOM counterintelligence officials had Tenenbaum apply for a higher security clearance to launch a spy investigation. The clearance resulted in a 6 ½-hour polygraph examination in February 1997. Tenenbaum said the session was a “horrendous investigation session” conducted by an examiner who repeatedly accused him of passing secrets and demanded a confession. “I’ve done other Jews before, and I’ve gotten them to confess, too,” the examiner told Tenenbaum, according to the report. But the session wasn’t tape-recorded and the examiner destroyed his notes.

            The examiner’s report prompted the FBI to launch a criminal investigation, put Tenenbaum’s family under 24-hour surveillance, searched his home on Shabbat, and then removed 13 boxes of the family’s belongings, including their children’s coloring books. Because the FBI’s search warrant wasn’t sealed, the news media found out and swarmed Tenenbaum’s home. David’s wife, Madeline, admitted that, “It was terrifying. I felt totally violated.”

            After a 14 month leave of absence and no evidence of spying found, Tenenbaum was allowed to return to work in 1998, relegated to lesser duties, shunned by coworkers, stripped of his security clearance, an outcast.

            Tenenbaum’s project to improve the armor on Humvees had been scrapped. David’s lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, reflected, “The discrimination in this case ended up costing American soldiers their lives.” His associate, Daniel Harold, said that Tenenbaum’s persecutors “have blood on their hands.”

            Over 4138 Americans have died in Iraq since 2003, many in ill-equipped Humvees. We are left to wonder if the discrimination and persecution of one observant Jew may have led to the lost lives of American soldiers that the Department of Defense is supposed to protect.

            “Because they did not continue that program—by going after me,” Tenenbaum said in a 2004 interview with the Forward, “soldiers have died.” When asked if the vehicle protection project would have ultimately saved lives, Tenenbaum said, “If this program would have gone through, we would have known the problems, and we would have fixed the problems.”

            Because of blatant discrimination finally admitted by the Department of Defense, we will never know. We will never know.


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