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US soldiers are heroes, not terrorists

Homeland Security's warning is unjustified.

By Kyndra Rotunda / April 23, 2009

Orange, Calif.

The Department of Homeland Security recently declared that American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are at risk of becoming domestic terrorists. While no other free country believes that US military personnel are terrorists, Washington is keeping a close eye on them. The FBI recently launched an investigative program, along with the Department of Defense, called "Vigilant Eagle," to share information about Iraq and Afghanistan war vets who may have a propensity toward domestic terrorism.

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The Homeland Security report is conspicuously light on evidence to back up its shocking claim. Lacking hard data, the report relies on words like "may," "potential," and "no specific information" to propel its argument. Its leading point seems to be that "skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat" somehow make vets likely to attack a country they risked their lives to defend.

So how does the report get from Point A to Point B? How does being a soldier put one on the path to becoming a domestic terrorist? The answer is clear and simple: It doesn't.

The war on terror has been going on for nearly eight years. Hundreds of thousands of troops have served in uniform since 9/11. Yet, the report finds not a single incident of an Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran becoming a domestic terrorist – not one.

The New York Times made similar allegations in a January 2008 article, in which it reported that 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were charged with some form of homicide after returning from the war. But the devil was in the details. During that same period, the military discharged nearly 750,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, which means that only .016 percent of them went on to commit a homicide; 99.984 percent of them did not [Editor's note: The original version miscalculated the percentage of US veterans not charged with homicide.].

According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 26.5 of every 100,000 white males between 18 and 24 commit homicide per year. The statistic for Iraq and Afghanistan war vets is much lower. Only about 16 per 100,000 committed (or were charged with committing) homicide. In the end, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans appear to be significantly less likely than the average American male to commit a homicide – much less to become a terrorist.