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Context of 'October 11, 2003: Pentagon Sends Identical Letters Purporting to Be from Different Soldiers to Small-Town Newspapers'

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The US ships 20,000 M-16s to the Dominican Republic. Though some US officials will later claim that the weapons transfer had only been agreed to at this time—not completed—there will be much evidence to the contrary. [Fox News, 3/2/2004; Washington Times, 3/4/2004; Newsday, 3/16/2004; Web Ready Corporation, 3/26/2004] According to the Florida-based website, fuerzasmildom.com, which provides a detailed history and description of the Dominican military forces, the Dominican military receives a “donation of 20,000 surplus M16 rifles from the US Military Assistance Program” in October 2002. [Web Ready Corporation, 3/26/2004] Additionally, according to one of the staff aides of US Senator Christopher Dodd, several Defense Department letters written in 2002 and 2003 appear to show that the weapons transfer had been completed. [Newsday, 3/16/2004] After Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is ousted a year and a half later, his attorney, Ira Kurzman, will tell Fox News that the guns had been provided to the Dominican Republic by the US “in an operation called Jade Project where they [sic] secretly trained Dominican army people.” [Fox News, 3/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Ira Kurzman, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Christopher Dodd

Timeline Tags: Haiti Coup, US-Haiti (1804-2005)

Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] One of them was the Boston Globe. [Boston Globe, 9/14/2003]
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; CBS News, 10/14/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. [BBC, 10/14/2008] The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Nick Deaconson, Gannett News Service, Bush administration (43), Dominic Caraccilo, Shawn Grueser, New York Times, The Olympian, Snohomish Herald, US Department of the Army, Christopher Shelton, US Department of Defense, Todd Oliver

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The White House launches a media campaign designed to spread the “good news” from Iraq. The campaign has two centerpieces: a squad of Republican congressmen and White House cabinet members (see Mid-October 2003) making brief visits to Iraq and coming back with “good news” to tell. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) complains, “I was not told by the media in my country that thousands and hundreds of [Iraqi] children went back to school this week.” (Newspapers across the US did indeed report the reopening of Iraqi schools, according to the Associated Press.) The leader of the Congressional delegation, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), directly attacks the media for not reporting “good news” from Iraq: “Journalism schools teach that news means bad news.” One House member, George Nethercutt (R-WA), undercuts the message when he tells reporters the successes are more important than the loss of US soldiers: “The story of what we’ve done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.” The stories from the Congressional members are further undermined when the media reports that while they might have spent their days in Basra or Baghdad, they spent their nights in the safety of Kuwait. The second focus is on President Bush, who flies around the US giving interviews to carefully selected anchors and reporters from regional TV news providers such as Tribune Broadcasting, Belo, and Hearst-Argyle. These “heartland” news providers will presumably provide softer interviews than the Washington press corps. Bush’s main message is how much “good progress” is being made in Iraq. [Associated Press, 10/17/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 104-105]

Entity Tags: Hearst-Argyle, Belo, Associated Press, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Larry Craig, Mitch McConnell, Tribune Broadcasting, George Nethercutt

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. [Source: Los Angeles Times]President-elect Barack Obama selects retired General Eric Shinseki to be the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the Army Chief of Staff when, months before the launch of the Iraq invasion, the US would need to send far more troops into Iraq than were allocated (see February 25, 2003). He also warned of the possibility of ethnic rivalries erupting into violent confrontations, and of the difficulties faced by a US-led reconstruction. Shinseki was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). Obama now says of Shinseki, “He was right.” Obama adds, “We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation,” referring to World War II-era veterans. “Not just with words, but with deeds.” The announcement is made on the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Shinseki is of Japanese ancestry. Shinseki says, “Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service.” He promises to run a “21st century VA.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 12/8/2008; Democratic National Committee, 12/8/2008]
'Straight Shooter,' 'Stinging Rebuke' of Bush Policies - Responses to Shinseki’s impending appointment focus on Shinseki’s competence and the implied repudiation of Bush-era policies towards the military. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls Shinseki “a straight shooter and truth talker,” and says that his is the kind of leadership the VA needs after what he calls years of neglect of the agency by the Bush administration. [Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 12/7/2008] The Boston Globe echoes Leahy’s characterization, calling Shinseki a “truth teller,” and writes: “The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.” [Boston Globe, 12/9/2008] And the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne adds, “In naming Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama implicitly set a high standard for himself by declaring that truth-tellers and dissenters would be welcome in his administration.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (D-CA), says that Shinseki faces a daunting task: “The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans—from every conflict and each generation—must remain a high priority.” John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) believes Shinseki is up for the challenge: “We have no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed to make the VA a true steward of our nation’s veterans and their families. His selection certainly lives up to Mr. Obama’s promise to bring change and hope to Washington. VA bureaucrats, for whom ‘change’ is a dirty word, will learn that there really is a new game in town. Veterans of all political persuasions should take heart and applaud this choice.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]
'Lionized by Wounded Warriors' - Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes: “By restoring to grace a retired four-star general whose career was vaporized by… Rumsfeld for daring to tell the truth, Obama has delivered a powerful symbolic statement that his government will indeed be different from the last. Shinseki’s treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz is a classic of petty, meanspirited retribution.… By rehabilitating him… Obama has signaled he’s not interested in surrounding himself with toadies and yes-men. A president-elect determined to withdraw from Iraq has also helped himself with veterans. [Shinseki] is lionized by wounded warriors for his grit in persuading Army brass to let him stay on active duty after losing part of a foot in Vietnam.” [New York Daily News, 12/7/2008] And the New York Times writes, “It is heartening to know that [Shinseki] has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.” [New York Times, 12/9/2008]
Anonymous Criticism - One of the few sour notes is sounded by the conservative Washington Times, which quotes an anonymous “high-ranking retired officer” as saying: “How much time has he spent visiting the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] wards, the multiple-amputee wards, the burn wards? The major question I have is: Just what has he done for the past five years to show any concern for our veterans? I do not see any evidence of Shinseki being an agent for change.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Vietnam Veterans of America, Washington Times, Barack Obama, Robert Earl (“Bob”) Filner, US Department of the Army, Thomas DeFrank, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Patrick J. Leahy, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Shinseki, E. J. Dionne, John Rowan, New York Times, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

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