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Marine bugler gives comrades their final salute

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SILVER SPRING, Md., Jan. 4, 2018 — Sorrow, sadness and grief are among the most common feelings associated with funeral services. But for Marines, a service honoring the life of a fellow leatherneck may also invoke feelings of pride, commitment and honor.

Military funeral honors are the final ceremonial demonstration of gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended their nation.

Traditionally, participation in a funeral detail gives a great deal of pride and honor to any Marine. The Marine Corps Reserve undertakes the solemn duty of supporting funeral honors for the vast majority of Marine Corps veterans. In 2016, Marine Corps Reserve units and personnel performed more than 19,000 military funeral honors, representing 91 percent of all funeral honors rendered by the Marine Corps that year.

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Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Brian P. Spittler stands out for his devotion and dedication to giving his fellow Marines one final salute.

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Spittler, a team chief with Marine Forces Reserve’s 4th Civil Affairs Group in New Orleans, has participated in nearly 200 funeral details during the past seven years.

‘It is an Emotional Experience’

“Funeral ceremonies mean a lot to me, to the family and to the community,” Spittler said. “It is an emotional experience and it never really gets old to me.”

Part of his motivation and incentive to perform to the very best of his ability is driven by the fact that quite often, the families of the Marines being honored don’t have a lot of involvement with the Marine Corps or the military, he said. Sometimes, the families have never had the opportunity to see a military ceremony before.

With Marine Corps Reserve units located across the country, Reserve Marines are uniquely positioned to interact with veteran families. The funeral ceremony is an opportunity to develop the relationship between the Marine Corps, families and the community. Spittler said he wants to make it meaningful and give the families a good impression.

“It feels good to know that you are doing something good for those families,” he said. “I am definitely proud to be a part of it, but at the same time I am humbled and I am there to serve the Marine and their family. For me that means a lot.”

Spittler explains that Marines are committed to paying tribute to their fallen brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

“I am proud to be a part of the ceremony in which we are finally laying a Marine to rest,” he said.

Military funeral honors can include, but are not limited to, a military chaplain to address family members and friends of the fallen service member, an American flag draped over the casket, and a funeral detail serving as honor guards to execute the ceremony. Traditionally, the funeral detail will act as pallbearers, fold the flag, present it to the next of kin, fire a three-volley salute and play taps, while rendering a last salute of respect to the deceased.

Assigned to Funeral Detail

Spittler was a lance corporal when he participated in his first funeral detail in 2010.

“I was ‘voluntold’ for it,” he said. “They needed a Marine for the detail, and I just so happened to have my dress blue uniform on hand, so my sergeant told me: ‘Hey Marine, get ready, you will be in a funeral detail.’ All I could say was ‘Aye aye, sergeant!’”

During his first funeral detail, Spittler was one of the riflemen to execute the three-shot volley. At first, the duty didn’t hold any special significance for him and he wasn’t interested in participating in future funeral details.

“I was away from the ceremony and I couldn’t really see the family or what was going on,” he said.

But Spittler continued to be assigned to funeral ceremonies. His disinterest in the ceremonies endured until he was assigned to be one of the Marines who would fold the flag. For the very first time, he would be up and close to the ceremony, the family and the fallen Marine. That day, Spittler said, his view and opinions on funeral details drastically changed.

“It was the first time I folded the flag in front of the family,” he said. “I was so moved by that experience that when they asked for someone to participate in a detail, I volunteered for it; and I did it again, and again and again.”

From that point forward, the young Marine became increasingly involved in funeral details.

He recollects that as a corporal, being in charge of certain aspects of funeral details and having to meet such a high level of proficiency and discipline allowed him to exercise and hone his leadership skills.

Keeping Tradition Alive

Spittler said he values the numerous encounters he’s had with Marine veterans.

“I have met Marines of all generations,” he said. “Before I started doing these funerals, I had only worked with Marines within my generation. But when I started doing these funerals, I started working with a lot of other organizations, such as the American Legion and the American Veterans Organizations. I have even met veterans from Korea, Vietnam and World War II — of which there aren’t many left.”

Spittler explains that throughout his career as a Reserve Marine, he has always been ready and willing to help his command. Participating in funeral details and other volunteer-based programs, such as Toys for Tots, is the best way he has found to do it.

Sometimes, Reserve Marines have the opportunity to participate in Marine Corps events and ceremonies outside their scheduled drill periods. Marines can earn points towards retirement when they are involved in official events requested by their command. Their actions are also noted and considered favorably by their command for promotions and awards.

Spittler is now a staff sergeant with a bright and promising future in the Marine Corps. The motivated Marine continues to volunteer his time participating in Marine Corps events and ceremonies and mentoring junior Marines to do the same.

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Turkey Human Rights, Crackdown on Press Freedom Comes Under Renewed Scrutiny in Geneva

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Last week, the UK-based International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR)and the Press Emblem Campaign held an information meeting in Geneva, to coincide with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Turkey over hate crimes, minority, and LGBT rights, and press freedoms with a specific focus on the nation’s crackdown on these rights during the failed 2016 coup and the emergency rule that followed during which the government allegedly used its security powers to arrest thousands of people who opposed it.

Turkey’s human rights record was last reviewed in 2015 during the UPR. This was the third time in 10 years that Turkey’s record has come under review

Diplomats, minister, prominent members of Turkish media and human rights defenders – including those who have been forced into exile – were present at the event. Also in attendance was former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice Ambassador Stephen Rapp. Louise Pyne Jones, head of research, International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) moderated the event. Two panels were held. The first was called “Press Freedom” and included Yavuz Baydar, editor-in-chief of Ahval; Evin Baris Altintas, journalist and blogger; and Massimo Frigo; senior Legal Advisor for International Commission for Jurists (ICJ). The second panel, “Human Rights Defenders,” included Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci; president of the Human Rights Foundation in Turkey; Nurcan Baysal, award-winning Turkish Human Rights Defender and Journalist; and Anne van Wezel, former co-chair EESC EU-Turkey Joint Consultative Committee.

Following an attempted, and failed, “coup” against the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party in 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused many of his opponents and naysayers, including journalists who were critical of him and his government, of supporting terrorism and prosecuted many of them. Erdogan also suggested that the attempted coup was the work of exiled Imam Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Turkey has asked for the United States to extradite Gulen. Gulen has been living in the United States in a self-imposed exile since 1999. Over 250 people died as a result of the failed coup attempt.

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Soon after the coup, Turkey implemented a state of emergency (SOE) which it said: “was put into effect in order to ensure the continuity of effective implementation of the measures for the protection of the rights and freedoms of our citizens, democracy and the rule of law.” However, the AK Party’s critics have maintained that the AK Party used the umbrella of its broader emergency powers and continuously postponed ending that state of emergency, in an attempt to destroy its political opposition.

Many journalists were apprehended under this state of emergency until it was lifted on July 19, 2018. As such, for three straight years, and up until 2019, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Turkey as the worst jailer of journalists in the world. According to Turkish, English, and Arabic-language news site Ahval, when China jailed 48 journalists to Turkey’s 47.

Nurcan Baysal, an award-winning Kurdish Human Rights Defender, Journalist, and contributor to Ahval, said she was even cautious with the words she used on the panel discussion for fear of punishment by the Turkish government. “We are censoring ourselves because of these fears,” Baysal said. “For example, before coming here I asked myself if I should use certain words, should I use the word invasion, or should I use the word war, because today in Turkey even to say war is forbidden,” she said. “Everything that I say has an effect on not only my life but of the lives of my children and family.”

Ahval editor in chief Yavuz Baydar said, “No state or power can decide who is a journalist, it is the domain for professional organizations and should always be separate from power.”

According to the IOHR, “In the previous UPR cycle of Turkey, the Turkish government officially supported 14 recommendations related to strengthening the legal framework on freedom of expression and 5 recommendations specifically related to bringing terrorism legislation in line with international human rights standards.

Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch recently said, “The huge number of journalists, politicians, and perceived government critics in prison and on trial flies in the face of the Turkish government’s public statements about the state of human rights in the country “Turkey’s disregard of human rights is a disservice to its citizens, who deserve to live with dignity and freedom.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s state-run pro-government newspaper the Daily Sabah put out propaganda about the Erdogan government writing, “U.N. Human Rights Council highlighted Turkey’s achievements in the fields of judiciary, human rights and humanitarian causes on Tuesday during a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting in Geneva.”

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