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NATO adopts an official policy document mandating “zero-tolerance” for the trafficking in human beings by NATO forces and staff. The document is a result of discussions that began at NATO in the fall of 2003. The document says that NATO will increase cooperation among countries in order to combat the problem of human trafficking. Specific strategies outlined in the document include reviewing current legislation of member countries, encouraging member countries to approve the UN Convention Against Organized Crime, providing support to local authorities in their efforts to combat trafficking in human beings, imposing penalties on contractors who engage in human trafficking, and evaluating the implementation of the efforts of those involved. [NATO, 6/29/2004]
A lawsuit, Doe v. Rumsfeld, is filed on behalf of an Army recruit who is being forcibly redeployed to Iraq after nine years of active duty under the Army’s “stop-loss” program (see November 2002). The plaintiff, a reservist in the California National Guard who uses the pseudonym “John Doe” in the lawsuit, claims that since he signed up for only one year of duty, the stop-loss deployment could force him “to return to Iraq for up to two years, and possible continued military service beyond that time.” [PBS, 9/17/2004] Doe is a married father of two and an eight-year Army veteran who served in combat during the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After). Doe enlisted in the National Guard in May 2003 under the so-called “Try One” program, which allows active-duty veterans to sign up for a year before deciding to make a longer commitment. Doe renewed in February 2004, making his new expiration date May 2, 2005. In July 2004, Doe’s unit was deployed for a 545-day tour of duty, which extended Doe’s time in service by about a year. He says he was told that if he did not re-enlist voluntarily for the extra time, he would be retained under the Army’s stop-loss policy. [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006] In January 2006, Doe will lose the case on appeal (see January 14, 2006).
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues a report on the Pentagon’s “stop-loss” program (see November 2002). The GAO report says that the Pentagon’s “implementation of a key mobilization authority to involuntarily call up reserve component members and personnel policies greatly affects the numbers of reserve members available to fill requirements.” [PBS, 9/17/2004] Over 335,000 Guardsmen and Army reservists have been “involuntarily called to active duty since September 11, 2001,” the report finds, with no sign that such involuntary deployments will decrease any time soon. The GAO finds that such widespread forcible deployments were done with little consideration of the costs to the reservists and Guard personnel in their private lives—damage to jobs, families, and other aspects—as well as the negative impact such involuntary deployments are having on the military’s ability to recruit new personnel for Guard and reserve berths. [Government Accountability Office, 9/15/2004]
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) opens a probe into the deaths of two Afghan detainees, allegedly at the hands of US Special Forces soldiers. The two men, Wakil Mohammed and Jamal Naseer, died on March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003, respectively (see March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003). Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, was being interrogated about his role in a recent firefight. While he was protesting his innocence, he was shot in the face by an American soldier. Naseer, taken into custody with seven other Afghans for interrogation about their supposed involvement with local Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, died about a week after his capture, allegedly from repeated torture and abuse. Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti write, “Motivation for those arrests remains cloaked in Afghan political intrigue. The action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders, an Afghan intelligence report says.” While the Army apparently looked into the circumstances of the deaths shortly after they occurred, no official investigation was ever mounted until the Crimes of War Project began its own investigation into the deaths. When the organization released its findings to two Los Angeles Times reporters, Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, and the reporters filed a series of articles on the deaths in September 2004, the CID opened its own probe. Former Attorney General for the Armed Forces Yar Mohammed Tamkin, who directs the Afghan investigation into the death of Naseer, concludes in his own report that there was a “strong possibility” that Naseer was “murdered as the result of torture” at the hands of his US captors. Under Afghan law, he writes, “it is necessary for our legal system to investigate the torture of the seven individuals and the murder of Jamal, son of Ghazi, and other similar acts committed by foreign nationals.” CID investigators say that the Army’s original inquiry into the deaths was stymied by a lack of information made available by the Gardez unit’s commanders. “We’re trying to figure out who was running the base,” says Army detective Christopher Coffey. “We don’t know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures]… and each unit acts differently.” Coffey does acknowledge that “Gardez is the worst facility—it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan.” Naseer’s death was officially attributed to “natural causes” stemming from an apparent sexually-contracted urinary tract infection, and his death was never reported, as is standard Army procedure. Shortly after Naseer’s death, the other seven detainees were transferred to the custody of local Afghan police, who mounted their own investigation. The seven were released without charge six weeks later. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Two special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in Naseer and Mohammed’s deaths will be given administrative reprimands by the Army in 2007 (see January 26, 2007).
Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, releases a statement condemning the allegations of the abuse and torture of Iraqi and Afghan detainees; the statement coincides with a letter Leahy sends to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [Pyes, 9/20/2004] In the statement, Leahy says that committee chairman Sen. John Warner’s efforts to investigate the scandals "remain… hampered by the leadership of his own party and an Administration that does not want the full truth revealed.… Despite calls from a small handful of us who want to find the truth, Congress and this Administration have failed to seriously investigate acts that bring dishonor upon our great Nation and endanger our soldiers overseas.… The Bush Administration circled the wagons long ago and has continually maintained that the abuses were the work of ‘a few bad apples.’ I have long said that somewhere in the upper reaches of the executive branch a process was set in motion that rolled forward until it produced this scandal. Even without a truly independent investigation, we now know that the responsibility for abuse runs high up into the chain of command." He accuses the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate as a whole, of falling “short in its oversight responsibilities.” He calls for a truly independent investigation into the torture allegations, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. He also calls for the US to once again begin following the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions. [US Senate, 10/1/2004] Sen. Warner’s office will later admit that Warner was pressured by unnamed Bush administration officials to “back off” investigating the Abu Ghraib abuses (see May 2004).
Six US soldiers are charged with manslaughter in the killing of Iraqi prisoners. Two soldiers, First Lieutenant Jack Saville and Sergeant First Class Tracy Perkins, are charged with forcing an Iraqi man, Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun, and Hassoun’s cousin to leap from a bridge into the Tigris River near Samarra. Hassoun drowned. Another prisoner death is also being investigated (see January 9, 2004), and may result in further charges against the six. [Colorado Springs Gazette, 10/5/2004]
Four US soldiers are charged with murdering an Iraqi major general in their custody. Almost a year ago, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush died during an interrogation at a base near Qaim, in western Iraq. Mowhoush was smothered to death (see November 26, 2003). The four soldiers are Chief Warrant Officers Jefferson L. Williams and Lewis E. Welshofer, Jr., Sergeant First Class William J. Sommer, and Specialist Jerry L. Loper. All are charged with murder and dereliction of duty. Williams, Welshofer, and Sommer were members of the 66th Military Company, a unit of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Loper was a member of the regiment’s Support Squadron, and assigned to helicopter maintenance. Only Welshofer has training in interrogation practices. Mowhoush, allegedly a high-ranking member of the anti-American insurgency, surrendered to US forces two weeks before his death. The Pentagon initially reported his death as due to “natural causes,” but now admits Mowhoush was tortured to death. “General Mowhoush was allegedly placed in a sleeping bag and then bound to prevent his movement,” a Pentagon report says. “One of the warrant officers [Welshofer] reportedly sat on his chest and continued the interrogation. General Mowhoush was then rolled over, and the warrant officer sat on his back.” Mowhoush died in that position. A medical examination proved that he had died of asphyxiation. Other documents later show that Mowhoush had a bag pulled over his head, the bag was wrapped tightly with electrical cords, and he was beaten and kicked by a crowd of interrogators and officials (see January 19, 2006). Regiment commander Colonel David Teeples says of the charges, “There is no evidence, there is no proof.” Much of the evidence presented in the case is classified and may not ever be made public. “If there are witnesses or documents that would disclose classified information, the trial is closed for those portions,” says retired Air Force Colonel Skip Morgan, a former military judge. [Colorado Springs Gazette, 10/5/2004] The murder charge against Sommer will later be dropped. Williams and Loper will make plea agreements in return for their testimony against Welshofer. [Rocky Mountain News, 1/17/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
A roadside bomb detonates on an Iraqi highway. [Source: Representational Pictures]Upon being released from Fort Hood, Texas, 27-year-old Spc. Robert Loria is presented with a $1,768.81 bill from the US Army. [Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004] Loria was seriously injured on February 9, when the Humvee in which he was riding was hit by a roadside bomb. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/21/2004] The explosion “tore Loria’s left hand and forearm off, split his femur in two and shot shrapnel through the left side of his body.” [Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004] After four months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., he was sent to Fort Hood where he stayed several more months. When he is finally ready to leave, instead of receiving a check for the $4,486 he thought was owed to him, he receives a huge bill. The Army says he owes $2,408.33 for 10 months of family separation pay that the Army mistakenly paid him, $2,204.25 in travel expenses from Fort Hood back to Walter Reed for a follow-up visit, and $310 for unreturned equipment that Loria says was damaged or destroyed when his Humvee was attacked. Including taxes, the total amount Lori owes the Army is $6,255.50, almost $2,000 more than the amount he thought was owed to him. After a local newspaper runs a story on his situation and causes a public uproar, the Army waives most of Loria’s debts. [Seattle Times, 10/11/2004; Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004; Associated Press, 12/11/2004]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot by a recent question from a US soldier in Kuwait about he and his fellow soldiers being forced to use scrap metal as so-called “hillbilly armor” for their vehicles (see December 8, 2004). The media now learns that the question, posed by Specialist Thomas Wilson, was given to Wilson by a newspaper reporter embedded with his unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard unit preparing for deployment in Iraq. Reporter Lee Pitts, of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, tells colleauges in an e-mail that he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at the so-called “Pentagon town hall meeting.” Instead, Pitts says, he asked Wilson to pose the question. Pitts says he has been trying for weeks without success to “get this story out.” “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts writes. He says that when he learned that only soldiers would be allowed to ask Rumsfeld questions, he talked with Wilson and another soldier, and they “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.” Pitts says he “found the sergeant in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” Pitts writes that when Wilson asked his question, “the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.” Rumsfeld’s apparently callous response—“you go to war with the army you have”—has caused a flurry of outraged responses (see December 15, 2004). Meanwhile, Wilson is weathering intense criticism for his question from some right-wing pundits and commentators. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh accuses him of “near insubordination” for daring to ask Rumsfeld such a pointed question. The New York Post claims that Wilson and Pitts “set up” Rumsfeld with the question. (Rumsfeld himself will compliment a later question about “negative press coverage” as obviously “not being planted by the media.”) Even though President Bush says he doesn’t blame Wilson for asking the question—“If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question”—Limbaugh and others are joined by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in criticizing Wilson and Pitts. “Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita says. “The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops’ opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.” [Poynter Online, 12/9/2004; CNN, 12/10/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the subject of Wilson’s question is not news at all; news reports of troops being sent into Iraq with broken weapons and damaged vehicles have circulated throughout the print media for well over a year. What is newsworthy, Rich will write, is that a soldier publicly called Rumsfeld out on the policy of sending troops into combat with substandard equipment. Also newsworthy is the fact that Rumsfeld’s claim that the only thing standing in the way of all soldiers receiving adequate equipment is “production and capability” is a lie. Manufacturers of vehicle armor, weapons, and other essential equipment say that they could easily increase production if the Pentagon were to ask them to do so. [Rich, 2006, pp. 157]
Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2005]
Emiliano Santiago. [Source: Elliot Margolies]Oregon National Guardsman Emiliano Santiago’s lawsuit against his forcible redeployment back to Iraq begins in a Seattle, Washington, appeals court. Santiago spent eight years in the Guard, and his term of duty expired in June 2004. But four months later, the Army ordered him to ship out to Afghanistan. It also reset his military termination date to December 24, 2031. (The 26-year extension was explained by Army lawyers as being made for “administrative convenience.”) Santiago refused to go, and filed a lawsuit naming Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the defendant. The lawsuit, Santiago v. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, is the highest court review of the Army’s controversial “stop-loss” policy (see November 2002, November 13, 2003, Early January, 2004, and June 2, 2004) to date. Army lawyers say that under the November 2002 “stop-loss” policy, President Bush can “suspend any provision of the law relating to promotion, retirement or separation” of any soldier who is deemed essential to national security in times of crisis. Santiago’s lawyers say in a written statement: “Conscription for decades or life is the work of despots.… It has no place in a free and democratic society.… If the government can break its promises to young men and women like Santiago, then the bedrock of our all-volunteer army—trust in the government’s promises—will crumble.” Many legal observers believe that if Santiago loses in the appeals court, he and his lawyers will push the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Ironically, Santiago is slated to be redeployed to Afghanistan within a week, and may not be on hand to hear whether he wins or loses his case. [Seattle Times, 4/6/2005] Santiago says it is not a matter of politics for him, but of fairness. “If I still had two years or one year left of my contract, I would say, ‘I signed up for it, I’m in,’” he says. “This is not right. [The Army is] not doing what they told me they were going to do.… It’s crazy.” Santiago recalls being told by his recruiter in 1997 that there was virtually no chance of his being sent overseas for active duty. According to Santiago, the recruiter told him, “The only reason the National Guard would get deployed is if there was, like, a World War III.” [Seattle Weekly, 3/30/2005] Santiago will lose the lawsuit, and will redeploy to Afghanistan (see April 15, 2005). [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006]
An appeals court rules unanimously that Sergeant Emiliano Santiago must redeploy to Iraq under the military’s “stop-loss” program. Santiago filed a lawsuit to prevent his forcible redeployment, saying that he had already fulfilled his eight-year enlistment (see April 6, 2005). He unwillingly returns to Afghanistan today. [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006] Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rejected Santiago’s request for his case to be reviewed by the Court. In defense of Santiago, Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) told the House: “His case—his plight—should be known, and feared, by every high-school junior and senior across the country. The ugly little secret in the Pentagon is that Emiliano Santiago’s voluntary service is now involuntary.” [Seattle Times, 4/15/2005]
The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) begins picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, displaying signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Fag Navy” that insult both homosexuals and soldiers. The church says that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and persecuting the church. The church even claims that God chose to use improvised explosive devices—IEDs—to kill American soldiers because of an August 1995 attack on the WBC compound by someone wielding a small explosive device. Fred Phelps, the leader of the WBC, tells Fox News: “God is visiting the sins upon America by killing their kids with IEDs… and the more the merrier. Seventeen hundred so far, to 17,000. We will be ecstatic about [further deaths].” The first funeral picketed by the WBC is that of Corporal Carrie French of Boise, Idaho, who was killed on June 5 in Iraq. Phelps says of French and other slain soldiers, “Our attitude toward what’s happening with the war is [that] the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime.” In 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will observe: “As a result of his amazing vitriol, Phelps has managed to do something few others have—unite Americans from the far right all the way over to the liberal left. Several anti-gay organizations have wondered aloud if he was some kind of plant designed to sully their cause. Be that as it may, the funeral picketing has prompted a number of patriotic groups to create motorcycle escorts to shield mourners from the Phelps crew, and to drown out their anti-gay chants with their engines. Numerous municipalities are weighing laws to prevent funeral pickets. But nothing has stopped Phelps, whose message, ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers,’ remains unchanged.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2006; Global Oneness, 2011; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] In 2006, Phelps will say, “Military funerals are pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin meet with antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) for about 45 minutes. Sheehan, who has requested a meeting with President Bush during his vacation at his ranch in Texas, says she is not satisfied with the meeting with Hadley and Hagin. “I don’t believe his phony excuses for the war,” she says. “I want him to tell me why my son died (see April 4, 2004). If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged—if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
Right-wing commentators react to the sudden media presence of antiwar activist and bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) with vitriolic criticism. (Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write of his belief that the anti-Sheehan campaign is orchestrated from the White House: “The attack was especially vicious because there was little the White House feared more than a critic who had more battle scars than a president or a vice president who had avoided Vietnam.”) Weekly Standard writer Fred Barnes tells Fox News viewers that Sheehan is a “crackpot.” Right-wing bloggers begin spreading lurid, and sometimes false, stories of her recent divorce and the opposition Sheehan receives from some of her family members. Because some of the Camp Casey protesters showed the recent Iraq documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), many right-wing commentators and pundits accuse Sheehan of being a tool of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin accuses Sheehan and other bereaved family members opposing the war of using their losses to promote their ideological agenda, and calls them “grief pimps.” The American Spectator says Sheehan’s own peace organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, “seeks to impeach George W. Bush and apparently to convince the US government to surrender to Muslim terrorists.” Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh makes the extraordinary claim that Sheehan is making up the entire story of her son’s death (see April 4, 2004), claiming that her loss “is nothing more than forged documents—there’s nothing about it that’s real.” Rich later notes that what he calls “the Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan” has “failed, utterly.” He will continue: “The hope this time was that we’d change the subject to Cindy Sheehan’s ‘wacko’ rhetoric and the opportunistic left-wing groups that have attached themselves to her like barnacles. That way we would forget about her dead son. But if much of the 24/7 media has taken the bait, much of the public has not.… The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan’s story, not the mother who symbolizes it.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005; Washington Post, 8/13/2005; New York Times, 8/21/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 194-195]
The Bush motorcade drives past Camp Casey; Texas police officers stand between the motorcade and the camp. [Source: American Patriot Friends Network]President Bush and his motorcade drive past the growing camp of war protesters and peace activists nicknamed “Camp Casey” (see August 6, 2005 and After) without stopping, leaving the gathered protesters and bereaved family members literally in the dust. Bush is on his way to a fundraising barbecue expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee. Camp founder Cindy Sheehan holds a sign that reads, “Why do you make time for donors and not for me?” The Associated Press reports, “It was unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, saw the demonstrators.” Bush has continued to refuse to meet with Sheehan and the others in Camp Casey, a makeshift camp three miles outside of his Crawford, Texas vacation ranch. The camp is attracting war protesters, peace activists, and bereaved family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 8/12/2005] The New York Times notes that in less than a week, Camp Casey has grown from one woman’s lonely vigil to a gathering of well over 100 protesters and family members, with visits from celebrities such as actor Viggo Mortensen and a full-time police presence. War supporters have blasted Sheehan and her companions, calling her everything from a traitor to a terrorist supporter, and arguing that the death of her son does not give her the right to criticize the war effort. Local supporters of Bush have suggested, among other things, that they unleash a gaggle of skunks on the camp to drive the protesters away; some have pretended to drive their pickup trucks into the crowds, and splashed protesters with mud as they revved their engines. [New York Times, 8/13/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the images of Bush’s motorcade ignoring Sheehan and the other protesters become embarrassing fodder for media comment and criticism. [Rich, 2006, pp. 194] The Times writes, “[Bush’s] five-week sojourn at his 1,600-acre ranch offers the protesters ample opportunity to camp out for extended periods in front of the national media at a time of sharp spikes in the casualties in Iraq, and as public polling data suggests the lowest support for the war since it began.” In a recent television ad paid for by her peace organization Gold Star Families for Peace, Sheehan said: “All I wanted was an hour out of his extended vacation time, but he’s refused to meet with me and the other military families. We just want honest answers.” [New York Times, 8/13/2005]
Tammy Pruett weeps while watching Bush’s presentation. [Source: Jim Watson / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]The White House presents Tammy Pruett, whose four sons are serving in Iraq, as a counter to antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in Iraq (see August 6, 2005 and After). Unlike Sheehan, Pruett and her family staunchly support the war; also unlike Sheehan, Pruett has not lost any of her sons. Apparently the White House found Pruett after learning of her family’s appearance on CNN in June 2004, where she defended the war effort, and contacted the family a week before the event. “An obviously delighted President Bush,” who has repeatedly refused to meet with Sheehan (see August 12, 2005), flies to Idaho to introduce Pruett to what the Washington Post calls “a boisterous invitation-only audience mostly made up of military families.” Bush tells the audience: “There are few things in life more difficult than seeing a loved one go off to war. And here in Idaho, a mom named Tammy Pruett—I think she’s here—knows that feeling six times over. Tammy has four sons serving in Iraq right now with the Idaho National Guard—Eric, Evan, Greg, and Jeff. Last year, her husband Leon and another son, Eren, returned from Iraq, where they helped train Iraqi firefighters in Mosul. Tammy says this—and I want you to hear this—‘I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country. And I guess you couldn’t ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in.’ America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts.” Bush kisses Pruett on the cheek after the speech, then sends her out to talk to the press. [Washington Post, 8/25/2005]
Pruetts Offer Condolences to Sheehan, Other Bereaved Families - But the Pruetts are not willing to merely serve as props for the White House’s pro-war agenda. Both Leon and Tammy Pruett are quick to offer tearful condolences to families who have lost loved ones overseas, specifically naming Sheehan. Tammy says while her family supports the war, they do not want to be seen as criticizing those who oppose it. “We don’t feel like we’re out here trying to be a poster family, we’re just proud of our sons,” she says. [MSNBC, 8/24/2005]
Careful Staging - The Post notes that the Pruett speech is viewed by White House planners “as a crucial opportunity for Bush to show both compassion and resolve when his conduct of the war is increasingly being publicly questioned, and polls of public support are flirting with Vietnam War-era depths.” The speech and presentation are carefully crafted, with a drum corps playing the themes of each of the five branches of service, and Bush placed before a group of soldiers dressed in fatigues and arrayed in front of a huge red, white, and blue backdrop festooned with photographs of soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers beneath the heading “Honoring America’s Soldiers.” The entire event, Knight Ridder reporter William Douglas writes, is designed to “creat[e] a visual link between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2005; Washington Post, 8/25/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Cindy Sheehan, Casey Sheehan, Bush administration (43), Eren Pruett, Evan Pruett, Leon Pruett, Tammy Pruett, Idaho National Guard, William Douglas, Greg Pruett, Jeff Pruett, Eric Pruett
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Angry community members in Smyrna and Ashland City, Tennessee, chase protesters from the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), which has recently announced its intention to protest at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see June 2005 and After). The WBC says God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality by killing its soldiers in war, and its protests are designed to highlight that assertion. About 10 WBC members picket near the funerals of Staff Sergeant Asbury Fred Hawn II and Specialist Gary Reese Jr. Both were members of the Tennessee National Guard. Local residents have little sympathy for the WBC position; many chase the protesters’ cars down a highway, waving flags and shouting, “God bless America.” Local resident Connie Ditmore tells a reporter: “My husband is over there, so I’m here to show my support. To do this at a funeral is disrespectful of a family, no matter what your beliefs are.” The 10 WBC protesters are countered by hundreds of local residents, including many family members of other soldiers serving overseas. Sheriff’s deputies and state troopers are on hand to protect the protesters. As counter-demonstrators shout, “Get out of our town!” and “Get out of our country!” resident Danny Cotton says: “If they were protesting the government, I might even join them. But for them to come during the worst time for this family—it’s just wrong.” [Associated Press, 8/27/2005]
The Chicago Tribune publishes a multi-part series titled, “Pipeline to Peril,” summarizing its investigation of the human trafficking network that is supplying US military bases and private contractors in Iraq with cheap labor. The articles detail how Halliburton subsidiaries such as KBR are making use of over 200 illicit international human trafficking brokers for supplying cheap labor for the Iraq war effort, mainly from impoverished Asians. The brokers are often deceitful in their recruiting practices. For instance, they are reported to have promised jobs in luxury hotels in Jordan for the potential workers. The workers are required to pay hefty broker fees up front, and once trapped at halfway points in Jordan by those initial fees, they are informed that that they will be working in Iraq and their passports are confiscated. The article gives an example of twelve Nepalese workers who were kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents at gunpoint and later killed while traveling in an unprotected caravan across Iraq. [Chicago Tribune, 10/9/2005]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
A federal appeals court refuses to block the forced redeployment of a California National Guardsman under the Army’s so-called “stop-loss” program (see August 2004). The appeals court finds that the right of the plaintiff, known for purposes of the lawsuit as “John Doe,” were not violated. “[T]he ‘stop-loss’ order extending Doe’s enlistment is a valid exercise of presidential power” authorized by a federal law, and that law neither violates the Fifth Amendment’s requirement of due process of law nor is an improper delegation of congressional power,” writes Circuit Judge Stephen Trott in a unanimous three-judge opinion. Trott also finds that the “stop-loss” order does not conflict with other sections of federal law, and even if it did, it would override such laws. The appeals court upholds a similar finding of a lower court from March 2005. Doe’s attorney, Michael Sorgen, had argued that without a Congressional declaration of war, the president’s power to force soldiers to serve indefinitely violates the Constitutional separation of powers. [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006]
A secret witness in the court-martial of a US soldier charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004) says that the soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, disregarded interrogation rules so casually that he wrote a memo warning his CIA superiors. The witness testifies in open court, but is shielded behind a curtain to protect his identity. (Defense lawyers accidentally exposed the witness’s ties to the CIA during previous questioning.) The testimony is conducted in public after much legal wrangling, with lawyers from the Colorado Springs Gazette and other media outlets insisting that the witness’s testimony be conducted in open court. The witness says Welshofer, accused of smothering the prisoner, did not seem to care. “He said he was pretty sure they were breaking those rules every day.” Earlier witnesses have testified that the techniques used by Welshofer—which included covering the prisoner’s head with a bag, wrapping electrical cord around the bag, sitting on the man’s chest, and covering his mouth—were forbidden by order of CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Another witness, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Sonnek, a Green Beret assigned to interrogations at the makeshift prison near the Syrian border, says that two days before Mowhoush’s death, he witnessed Welshofer bringing CIA and Iraqi paramilitary fighters in to witness his interrogation of the prisoner, which Welshofer called an implementation of the accepted method called “fear-up,” in which an interrogator attempts to terrify a prisoner into divulging information. Welshofer, along with the CIA officials and Iraqi fighters, questioned Mowhoush, and interrupted the questions with insults and slaps. Instead of cowering in fear, Mowhoush became enraged and broke free from his plastic handcuffs. Sonnek says he wrestled Mowhoush to the ground, and everyone in the room joined in beating and kicking Mowhoush. Sonnek testifies that Mowhoush was able to walk unaided back to his cell; other witnesses have said that it took five soldiers to carry him back to it. [Rocky Mountain News, 1/17/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/19/2006; Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, testifying in his own defense on charges of murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), says that he was unsure of what interrogation techniques were acceptable and what were not. He also says that he was under orders to treat prisoners very harshly. He testifies: “Basically [an August 30, 2003 memo] said that as far as they [senior commanders] knew there were no ROE [Rules of Engagement] for interrogations. They were still struggling with the definition for a detainee. It also said that commanders were tired of us taking casualties and they [told interrogators they] wanted the gloves to come off.… Other than a memo saying that they were to be considered ‘unprivileged combatants’ we received no guidance from them [on the status of detainees].” [Human Rights First, 2/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
CWO Lewis Welshofer. [Source: Associated Press / Jerilee Bennett / Salon]Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer is found guilty of causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003). Welshofer, who was originally charged with murder (see October 5, 2004), is not found guilty of murder, but of far lesser charges of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty. The court-martial board sentences Welshofer, who sat on Mowhoush’s chest and smothered him to death, to a reprimand, a fine of $6,000, and 60 days’ restriction. He is not sentenced to jail; neither is he discharged from the Army or even reduced in rank. Soldiers in the courtroom audience applaud the sentence. Welshofer’s attorney, Frank Spinner, says after the sentence, “The court understood our argument that this was a very difficult environment in which the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was operating in November 2003.” Army prosecutor Captain Elana Matt had argued for at least two years’ imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge: “Chief Welshofer should have known better, with 19 years in the Army. You heard some bad things about General Mowhoush, but standards don’t apply just to good victims. They apply to everyone. The reputation of the Army has been dishonored at home and abroad.… You may be tempted to believe that this is the kind of guy the Army needs because he gets the job done. Don’t do it, because that would reduce us to the level of our enemies.” But the court was apparently swayed by Welshofer’s denials that he had done anything that could have led to Mowhoush’s death, and by the argument of Spinner and Welshofer’s military lawyer, Captain Ryan Rosauer, who said that Welshofer was confused by hazy interrogation rules (see January 19, 2006), and was merely doing his duty and trying to save lives. For his part, Welshofer begged the panel to allow him to stay out of jail and in the Army. He said that he had “tried to be a loyal soldier, putting the needs of this institution before my own.” [Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/24/2006] Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig, will call Welshofer’s sentence a “slap on the wrist,” and write that the verdict “spared the defendant, indicted the prosecutor, and found the law irrelevant” (see January 27, 2006). [Salon, 1/27/2006]
Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig write an angry response to the recent court-martial of Army interrogator Lewis Welshofer. Welshofer was found guilty of negligent homicide in causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), but was given what Irvine and Danzig consider an absurdly light sentence: a reprimand, a small fine, two months’ restriction, and no jail time (see January 24, 2006). Irvine and Danzig believe that the verdict points to a larger problem: “The Welshofer case puts a fine point on a question that has plagued us since Abu Ghraib: Is the Army institutionally capable of dealing with the debacle of torture? The Army and the nation cannot afford to have soldiers draw the obvious lesson from the case’s nonsensical outcome: that in combat, the ends justify the means, and the Geneva Conventions and the McCain anti-torture amendment are subject to change depending on the circumstances or executive whim. Since the Army seems to have no inclination to enforce the principles of command discipline and accountability among the senior ranks, the corrosive effects of US torture in Iraq and elsewhere will continue to haunt any efforts to regain lost stature and credibility in the world.” [Salon, 1/27/2006]
Albert Snyder. [Source: Associated Press]The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) pickets the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a Marine slain in Iraq (see June 2005 and After). WBC protesters display signs with slogans such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “Semper Fi Fags,” while another signs depicts two stick figures engaging in what appears to be sodomy. The church also posts derogatory statements about Snyder and his father, Albert Snyder, on its Web site. In response, Albert Snyder sues the church in a Baltimore court for defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress. [New York Times, 10/26/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Snyder claims his First Amendment rights to the freedom of religious exercise and assembly were violated, and the WBC claims its right to freedom of speech is violated by Snyder’s lawsuit. Snyder names WBC pastor Fred W. Phelps Sr.; church officials Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis, and other adult members of the church, including two of the elder Phelps’s daughters. The Phelpses and four of the pastor’s grandchildren picketed the funeral. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 10/2/2010] First Amendment expert Ronald K.L. Collins is leery of the case, saying: “The dangerous principle here is runaway liability in a way that would put the First Amendment in serious jeopardy. I dread to think what it would do to political protests in this country if it were allowed the win.” [New York Times, 10/26/2007]
The federal “Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act” is passed by Congress, and will be signed into law on May 29. The law forbids protests at funerals within 300 feet of any national cemetery from 60 minutes before the funeral to 60 minutes afterwards. The law was written in response to controversial protests by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, which has taken to protesting at the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan (see June 2005 and After). In the months to follow, 20 states will enact similar laws, and many cities will pass ordinances tailored to prevent the WBC from protesting at local funerals, especially those of fallen soldiers. The American Civil Liberties Union will file lawsuits on behalf of the WBC’s right to free expression in Missouri and Ohio without success. [US Congress, 4/29/2006; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Some of the statutes include restrictions on faxing, in response to the WBC’s notorious use of faxes to inundate its enemies with floods of hate statements and other documents. Many of these attempts to restrict the WBC’s use of faxes ultimately fail, even though many of the faxes are defamatory and contain what many consider to be pornographic images. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]
Army documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, ordered military interrogators to “go to the outer limits” to get information from detainees (see May 19, 2004). The documents also show that senior government officials were aware of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “When our leaders allow and even encourage abuse at the ‘outer limits,’ America suffers. A nation that works to bring freedom and liberty to other parts of the world shouldn’t stomach brutality and inhumanity within its ranks. This abuse of power was engineered and accepted at the highest levels of our government.” The ACLU also releases an April 2004 information paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib (see April 2, 2004). According to the ACLU, the documents show that, far from being the work of “a few bad apples” as alleged by President Bush and other White House officials (see Mid-May 2004, August 2004, September 10, 2004, and October 1, 2004), the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was systematic and authorized by high-level officials, including Sanchez. “These documents are further proof that the abuse of detainees was widespread and systemic, and not aberrational,” says ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “We know that senior officials endorsed this abuse, but these officials have yet to be held accountable.” Other documents show that US soldiers escaped prosecution after killing a detainee in their custody (see March 3, 2005), several reports of detainee abuse are considered “true/valid” (see May 25, 2004), and a military doctor cleared a detainee for further interrogations even after documenting injuries inflicted by beatings and electric shocks (see June 1, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
The US embassy in Baghdad under construction. [Source: London Times]A US Inspector General’s report into reconstruction in Iraq finds that although $22 billion had been spent, water, sewage, and electricity infrastructure still operate at prewar levels. Oil production is also significantly below prewar levels. Task Force Shield, a $147 million to train Iraqi security personnel to protect key oil and electrical sites failed to meet its goals. A fraud investigation is under way to find out why. Less than half the water and electricity projects have been completed and only six of 150 planned health clinics have been completed. By contrast, the US embassy under construction in Baghdad is the only big US building project in Iraq on time and within budget. The embassy, estimated to cost $592 million, will consist of 21 large buildings instead a 102-hectare (42-acre) site, and will be bigger than the small nation of Vatican City. The London Times comments, “The question puzzles and enrages a city: how is it that the Americans cannot keep the electricity running in Baghdad for more than a couple of hours a day, yet still manage to build themselves the biggest embassy on Earth?” [London Times, 5/3/2006]
A retired Army general tells authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein: “The Army is broken. It will take decades to fix.” A Pentagon veteran of the Gulf War who declines to allow his name to be used, he says of that period: “It was different then. The staffs were apolitical. And the military was taken care of. If we made a mistake, we did no irreparable harm. [Vice President] Cheney now seems oblivious to what the military needs. That’s because he trusts [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld.… So we have an army that is broken. The DOD [Defense Department] is broken. And the process is broken. Rumsfeld has left us with the smallest army since before 1941. First time in the history of the country that we haven’t surged up the Army in time of war. We have never not surged up the Army in time of war. So we redeploy, and redeploy, and redeploy, and break down the Army.… They’re not surging up, and they’re burning through equipment in Iraq. [Cheney and Rumsfeld have done] irreparable harm” to the Army. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, agrees: “They have gone through so much equipment in Iraq,” he tells Dubose and Bernstein. He says the true test the military will face will not be on the battlefield, but in Washington. “The first challenge is going to be the reconstruction bill that will confront the next president. I mean bringing the ground forces, and to a certain extent the Air Force, back to levels pre-Iraq. They have burned up Abrams tanks, Chinook helicopters, all very expensive hardware, at a rate which is astronomical.” Wilkerson believes the Army will also find it very difficult to find large numbers of new recruits to replenish the ranks. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 221-222]
A shift leader of Triple Canopy, a private US security firm, shoots into at last two civilian vehicles in Baghdad after declaring that he is going to “kill someone today,” according to two of the firm’s employees, Shane Schmidt and Charles L. Sheppard III. It is suspected that at least one person died as a result of the unprovoked attack. [New York Times, 11/17/2006; Washington Post, 11/17/2006]
Triple Canopy employees Shane Schmidt and Charles L. Sheppard III notify the company’s senior supervisors in Iraq that they witnessed a shift supervisor shoot into two Iraqi civilian vehicles (see July 8, 2006). Within a week, the company terminates their employment contracts, saying that Schmidt and Sheppard did not report the incidents soon enough. The two employees later file a lawsuit against Triple Canopy, claiming that the company never investigated the shootings. They also alleged that Triple Canopy blacklisted them within the private security industry. [New York Times, 11/17/2006; Washington Post, 11/17/2006]
President Bush signs the 2007 Defense Authorization Act into law. The bill contains a provision that allows the president to more easily declare “martial law” in the US. If Bush or a successor does so, the bill gives the administration the ability to strip much of state governors’ powers over their National Guards and relegate that authority to the federal government. Congress is likely to challenge that provision in the future. The bill makes significant changes to the Insurrection Act that allows the president to invoke the Act during events such as natural disasters, and thereby suspend the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prevents the US military from acting in a law enforcement capacity. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “[W]e certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy.” [US Senate, 9/19/2006] The relevant section of the bill is entitled “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” This section states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of… maintaining public order, in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” [US Congress, 9/19/2006] GlobalResearch’s Frank Morales will write that the new law allows the federal government to, if it chooses, “commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of local governmental, military, and local police entities; ship them off to another state; conscript them in a law enforcement mode; and set them loose against ‘disorderly’ citizenry….” Under the new law, the federal government may more easily order National Guard troops to round up and detain protesters, illegal aliens, “potential terrorists,” and just about anyone else, and ship them off to detention facilities. Those facilities were contracted out for construction to KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, in January 2006, according to the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International, at a cost of $385 million over five years. The Journal noted that “the contract is to be executed by the US Army Corps of Engineers… for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing [immigration] Detention and Removal Operations (DRO)—in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the US, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” [GlobalResearch (.ca), 10/29/2006] Virtually no Congressional lawmakers seriously objected to the bill’s provision during debate. One of the few exceptions is Leahy, who will, six weeks later, sharply criticize the provision during debate over a separate piece of legislation. Leahy will say, “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy, and it is for that reason that the Insurrection Act has only been invoked on three—three—[occasions] in recent history. The implications of changing the Act are enormous, but this change was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study. Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.… This is a terrible blow against rational defense policy-making and against the fabric of our democracy. Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point.… [I]t seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived… because the Pentagon and the White House want it.… Because of this rubberstamp Congress,… [w]e fail the National Guard, which expects great things from us as much as we expect great things from them. And we fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the president to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty.” [US Senate, 10/29/2006]
Entity Tags: National Guard, Insurrection Act, Halliburton, Inc., GlobalResearch (.ca), George W. Bush, Frank Morales, Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, Patrick J. Leahy, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Posse Comitatus Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Congress rewrites a two-centuries-old prohibition against the president using federal troops, or state National Guard troops acting under federal control, to act as police on domestic soil. The prohibition dates back to the Insurrection Act of 1807, which stated that the only circumstance under which the president could use troops to enforce the law against US citizens is during a time of armed revolt. The ban on using troops against citizens was strengthened by the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids any government official from using military soldiers as police without specific authorization from Congress. The new law stems from the reported lawlessness that swept New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated large parts of the city. The governor of Louisiana, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, refused to allow the federal government to take over the evacuation of the city, fearing that the change would amount to martial law (see 11:00 am EDT August 25, 2005). After this rejection, and the devastation wrought in Texas by Hurricane Rita just weeks later, President Bush began discussing the idea of a new law that would allow the president to impose martial law in a region for reasons other than citizen uprisings. He called it “making the Department of Defense the lead agency” in handling emergencies such as those created by Katrina and Rita, or by another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11. (Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo argues that the president does not need any new laws because his inherent authority as commander in chief lets him send federal troops anywhere he likes, no matter what the law says.) A year later, Congressional Republicans slip a provision into a large military appropriations bill allowing the president to deploy federal troops as police at his discretion, regardless of the possible objections of state governors. Any situation in which the president feels the “constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order” can trigger military control of a city, county, or state at the president’s behest. Bush signs the law into effect on October 17 with virtually no debate or public discussion. [Savage, 2007, pp. 316-319]
Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone resigns. His resignation closely follows that of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Cambone, who had held his position since early 2003, was widely considered Rumsfeld’s closest aide and his “hatchet man” (see March 7, 2003). [US Department of Defense, 12/1/2006] He was in charge of many of the military’s most covert and controversial programs. Less than a year later, Cambone will be hired by QinetiQ North America (QNA), a British-owned military and intelligence contractor based in Virginia. Shortly after Cambone is hired, QNA wins a $30 million contract to provide unspecified “security services” to the US military’s Counter-Intelligence Field Activity office (CIFA). Cambone helped create and run CIFA. In 2003, CIFA launched an electronic database called Talon to collect domestic intelligence. The database later faced scrutiny when it was reported to be collecting data on anti-military protesters and peaceful demonstrators. [CorpWatch, 1/15/2008]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells the military to minimize its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002), which forces US soldiers to remain on active duty long after their terms of service have expired. While US Army spokespersons have defended the policy as essential for keeping units intact, critics say it hurts morale and has strong, adverse effects on recruiting and retention (see September 15, 2004). Gates gives each branch of the military until February 28, 2007, to suggest how it intends to minimize stop-loss deployments for both active and reserve troops. [National Guard, 2/2007] Gates’s order will have little real impact (see May 2008).
Two unnamed US Special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in the March 2003 deaths of Afghan soldier Jamal Naseer and Afghan peasant Wakil Mohammed are given administrative reprimands by the US Army. Naseer was reportedly tortured to death by Special Forces soldiers (see March 16, 2003) and the unarmed Mohammed was shot after a firefight near the Special Forces base of Gardez (see March 1, 2003).
But a statement released by the Special Forces Command indicates that the reprimands only fault the soldiers for assault relating to the “slapping of detainees.” It states that the soldier who shot Wakil Muhammed was acting in self-defense. As for Naseer, “all other allegations, to include voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault of detainee Jamal Naseer, were found to be unsubstantiated.” A reprimand is not a formal punishment, rather it has the effect of reducing the recipient’s prospects for a promotion and can end a military career. A military investigation began in 2004 after media reports about their deaths (see September 21, 2004). [Crimes of War Project, 1/31/2007]
The Bush escalation plan will involve up to 50,000 troops being sent to Iraq, not the 21,500 as touted by Bush and his officials. The 21,500 are actual combat troops, but logistical and support troops will also need to accompany the combat troops into Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says, “Over the past few years, [the Defense Department’s] practice has been to deploy a total of about 9,500 per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4,000 combat troops and about 5,500 supporting troops. [This] puts the cost of the president’s decision in even starker terms. If the president proceeds with his plan, thousands more US troops will be at risk, billions more dollars will be required, and there will be a much more severe impact on our military’s readiness.” House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt (D-SC) adds,“These additional troop deployments will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion this year alone—$4 billion to $7 billion more than the administration’s estimate.” Spratt says such an increase in troop levels will be difficult for the US military to maintain; the abnormally high deployment levels for the past four years have “taken a toll” on the military. House Armed Services committee chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) says the report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “appears to conflict with the estimate given by the chief of staff of the Army in his testimony. We will want to carefully investigate just how big the president’s troop increase really is. Is it 21,500 troops, or is it really closer to 33,000 or 43,000?” Martin Meehan (D-MA), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations that has launched a review of Iraq-related costs, says he also is concerned: “I am disturbed that the administration’s figures may not be fully accounting for what a true force increase will entail; if combat troops are deployed, their support needs must not be shortchanged.” [Army Times, 2/2/2007]
The US Army is ordering soldiers already wounded in Iraq and certified as medically unfit for combat to return to Iraq anyway, regardless of their fitness for duty. "This is not right," says Master Sergeant Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. "This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers. If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight." Some of Jenkins’s fellow soldiers also being sent back are too injured to wear their body armor, according to their medical records, but Jenkins and others had their "physical profiles" summarily downgraded by Army medical officials, without even a medical exam, so they could be returned to Iraq. Jenkins thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he says. Steve Robinson of Veterans for America says, "You cannot just look at somebody and tell that they were fit. It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield." Brigade commander Colonel Wayne Grigsby says he doesn’t know how many wounded and injured soldiers are returning to Iraq, but "They can be productive and safe in Iraq," he says. Other soldiers slated to leave for Iraq with injuries say they wonder whether the same thing is happening in other units in the Army. "You have to ask where else this might be happening and who is dictating it," one soldier says. "How high does it go?" [Salon, 3/11/2007]
General Kevin Kiley. [Source: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences]General Kevin Kiley, the Army’s Surgeon General and the temporary commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, abruptly retires under pressure from superior officers. Kiley is the third top Army official forced out in the fallout from revelations of horrendous treatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. In a statement released by the Army, Kiley says, "I submitted my retirement because I think it is in the best interest of the Army." Kiley says he wants to allow Army officials to "focus completely on the way ahead." Last week, Kiley said, "We have failed to meet our own standards at Walter Reed. For that, I’m both personally and professionally sorry." Congressional committees and a number of investigative boards are scrutinizing the treatment of wounded troops and veterans by the military’s entire medical system, as well as by the Department of Veterans Affairs, headed by Jim Nicholson. The probes come with the administration already struggling to defend its widely unpopular war policies in Iraq, and the Democratic-led Congress citing poor care for troops as the latest instance of incompetent administration planning for the conflict. On March 6, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kiley tried to claim that he knew little about the specific problems at Walter Reed, though documents clearly showed that Kiley had been specifically informed of an array of serious problems at the hospital, and Kiley’s apparent arrogance towards family members who testified before the committee. While many lawmakers welcome Kiley’s departure, Ike Skelton, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, notes that Kiley’s firing alone will not solve the problems plaguing the Army’s medical care system. "With the installation of new leaders, the real test will be making sure that the work fixing problems actually gets done," Skelton says. Tom Davis, the Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says Kiley "did not seem to understand the scope of his job." [Los Angeles Times, 3/13/2007]
Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, who falsely told reporters that captured Private Jessica Lynch “fired her weapon” at her captors “until she had no more ammunition” in initial military press briefings (see April 3, 2003), discusses his misleading statements with staffers of the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the possibility that the US military used the Lynch story as propaganda (see April 24, 2007). Thorp, who was later promoted and became the chief public relations officer for then-Joint Chief Chairman Richard Myers, writes: “As I recall, this was a short interview and media desperately wanted me to confirm the story that was running in the States.… I never said that I had seen any intel or even intimated the same.… I may have said I am familiar with ‘the reports’ meaning the press reports, but as you can see I did not confirm them.… We did have reports of a battle and that a firefight had occurred.… That is what I stated.” Thorp says he does not recall ever seeing any classified battlefield intelligence reports concerning Lynch, and says he does not now remember if his remarks were based on such reports. When asked if he knew at the time that Lynch had, in fact, not gotten off a shot at her attackers, Thorp replies, “I would absolutely never, ever, ever, ever say anything that I knew to not be true.” At the time of the Lynch rescue, the chief public affairs official for CENTCOM briefings was Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic communications for CENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks. Wilkinson tells the committee that he was not a source for the media reporting concerning Lynch, and that he didn’t know any details of her capture and rescue: “I still, to this day, don’t know if those details are right or wrong. I just don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any operational report.” Thorp and Wilkinson claim not to know who provided such misleading information to reporters. And neither can explain why initial reports were relatively accurate (see March 23, 2003) but subsequent reports were so suddenly, and so luridly, inaccurate. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Private contractors paid by US firms outnumber US troops in Iraq, according to newly released figures from the State and Defense departments. Over 180,000 civilians, including Americans, foreign citizens, and Iraqis, are working under US contracts in Iraq, compared to about 160,000 soldiers and several thousand civilian government employees stationed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq—a mission criticized as being undermanned.” The Brookings Institute’s Peter Singer says, “These numbers are big. They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It’s the coalition of the billing.” The numbers of contractors include:
43,000 foreign contractors;
about 118,000 Iraqis.
These numbers are not complete; private security contractors, hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey. According to some firms’ figures, about 30,000 security personnel work in Iraq, sometimes fighting alongside—or independent of—military forces. All these employees working for private contractors are paid with US tax dollars. Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting rather than on other tasks. “The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter,” says Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of defense who oversees contractors. “Fundamentally, they’re supporting the mission as required.” But some are critical, noting that the US government has relied far more heavily on contractors in the Iraq war than in any other conflict in American history. Critics note that troops and their missions can be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military’s command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire. Just such an occurrence happened in 2004, when US forces were forced to endure food rationing after delivery drivers refused to ferry supplies into a combat zone. And the government does not keep centralized track of the number or location of contractors operating in Iraq, though the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has recently bowed to pressure from Congress and begun a census of the number of contractors working on US and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water, and shelter is needed. The corporation with the single largest presence in Iraq is KBR, which was the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root until early 2007. KBR provides logistical support to US and Iraqi troops, and holds the single biggest contract in Iraq, employing nearly 14,000 US workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include L-3 Corporation, which provides translators to troops, and engineering firm ITT. The companies that have drawn the most attention are the private security firms such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Erinys. Military policy experts say these contractors’ jobs should be done by servicemen, and point out the number of times security forces have engaged in firefights with Iraqi insurgents. “We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” says William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon “is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that’s obscene.” Others point to the almost-complete lack of governmental accountability; the Times notes that “[a]lthough scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2004] (See July 3, 2007 and July 5, 2007.)
Entity Tags: USAID, US Department of Labor, William Nash, Triple Canopy, ITT Corporation, Halliburton, Inc., Gary Motsek, Erinys, Blackwater USA, Kellogg, Brown and Root, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, L-3, Peter Singer
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Jessica Lynch testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Shawn Thew / epa / Corbis]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing focusing on misleading and false information provided to the press following the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, and the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq (see March 23, 2003, April 1, 2003, and June 17, 2003).The committee focuses on how and why misinformation on the two incidents was disseminated, by whom, and if anyone in the Bush administration has been, or will be, held accountable. Lynch testifies that she is there to address “misinformation from the battlefield,” and notes, “Quite frankly, it is something that I have been doing since I returned from Iraq.” Lynch says that while she was being transported out of Iraq to a hospital in Germany: “tales of great heroism were being told. My parent’s home in Wirt County was under siege of the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting. It was not true. I have repeatedly said, when asked, that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harms way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.” She concludes: “I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and I told the truth. Many other soldiers, like Pat Tillman, do not have the opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy to hear but it is always more heroic than the hype.” [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007; House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007 ]
Michael DeLong. [Source: PBS]Retired Marine Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, the author of A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, writes of his involvement with the Jessica Lynch case (see March 23, 2003), and his decision not to award her the Medal of Honor. DeLong was the deputy commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar from 2001 through 2003. In his words, “I represented the military in dealing with politicians regarding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch in Iraq, and thus I can speak with authority about what really happened after her maintenance convoy got lost near Nasiriya[h] in 2003 and she was taken prisoner.” DeLong writes to refute allegations that the military deliberately distorted the story of Lynch’s capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003, April 1, 2003, and April 3, 2003) for its own purposes. Instead, he says, the story became distorted because of what he calls “overzealous politicians and a frenzied press.” According to DeLong, CENTCOM told the press exactly what it had learned of Lynch’s capture within hours of the incident. He writes, “The initial reports from the field regarding Private Lynch stated that she had gone down fighting, had emptied her weapon and that her actions were heroic.” Shortly after her rescue, when the media was still telling stories of her heroism under fire and her wounding by gunfire (see April 7, 2003), politicians from her home state of West Virginia began calling for the military to award Lynch the Medal of Honor. DeLong writes that he halted that process, aware that “initial combat reports are often wrong” and that all such stories must be “thoroughly investigate[d].” Lynch herself was still suffering from “combat shock and loss of memory,” forcing the military to look to “other sources” for all the facts. DeLong recalls “many heated discussions” with the politicians’ Congressional liaison, who pressured DeLong to give Lynch the medal before all the evidence had been collected. He writes, “The politicians repeatedly said that a medal would be good for women in the military; I responded that the paramount issue was finding out what had really happened.” Indeed, he writes, the initial reports were wrong (see June 17, 2003). “Her actions were understandable and justifiable, but they could not be labeled heroic. (It’s important to make clear, too, that Private Lynch has never claimed to be a hero. As she told Congress earlier this week (see April 24, 2007), the ‘story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting’ was not true.)” DeLong writes: “None of us were in it for the publicity: we did it to save a comrade. Period.” He claims that Task Force 20, who executed the rescue mission, “decided to film it on their own.” He is glad they made the film of the rescue “not for publicity purposes, but because that film can now be used to train soldiers.” DeLong concludes: “A nation needs heroes. Hero-making in itself os not a bad thing. But hero-making without grounds is. In the case of Ms. Lynch, overzealous politicians and a frenzied press distorted facts.” [New York Times, 4/27/2007]
Soldiers salute their fallen comrades at a Fort Lewis memorial service. [Source: New York Times]Families of slain US soldiers based at Fort Lewis, Washington, are pleading with base commanders to reconsider their recent decision to only honor the base’s war dead once a month instead of individually. The decision comes after twenty soldiers deployed from the base were reported killed in action; base officials then announced that Fort Lewis would only hold memorial services for once a month to collectively honor its fallen soldiers. Since then, veterans and the families of the slain have protested the change as, in reporter William Yardley’s words, “cold and logistics-driven.” Web-based critics have charged that the military is trying to minimize the bad news from Iraq. In June, the base will place the decision on hold; base commander Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby will decide whether or not to carry out the policy. “If I lost my husband at the beginning of the month, what do you do, wait until the end of the month?” demands Toni Shanyfelt, whose husband is serving one of multiple tours in Iraq. “I don’t know if it’s more convenient for them, or what, but that’s insane.” Military historians note that during the Vietnam and Korean Wars, base memorial services were rare, but since the advent of the all-volunteer military, the base is a center for the community, and memorial services for the fallen are among the most important base functions. Former interim base commander Brigadier General William Troy, who originally announced the policy, wrote in explanation, “As much as we would like to think otherwise, I am afraid that with the number of soldiers we now have in harm’s way, our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies.” Some other Army bases already hold monthly services; some hold them even less frequently. Major Cheryl Phillips, an Army spokeswoman, notes that the decision on memorial services is up to the base commanders, saying, “Several installations have conducted services for each individual soldier and now have begun to roll them into a quarterly service because, alas, the casualty numbers are rising.” [New York Times, 7/25/2007]
The Bush administration flatly opposes an additional 0.5% pay raise for military personnel, an addition to Bush’s proposed 3% pay raise, saying that troops don’t need bigger pay raises. The House Armed Services Committee wants a 3.5% pay raise for 2008, and increases in 2009 and 2010 that are also 0.5% higher than private-sector pay raises. The raises are intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that currently stands at 3.9%. Bush administration budget officials also oppose these raises. A policy statement reads, “When combined with the overall military benefit package, the president’s proposal provides a good quality of life for service members and their families. While we agree military pay must be kept competitive, the 3 percent raise, equal to the increase in the Employment Cost Index, will do that.” The Bush administration also opposes a provision that would provide a death gratuity for federal civilian employees who die in support of military operations, price controls for prescription drugs for soldiers and their families, an extra $40 per month for widows of slain soldiers, and new benefits for disabled retirees and the survivors of military retirees. [Army Times, 5/17/2007; Speaker of the House, 5/17/2007] On May 18, Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq war veteran, denounces Bush’s opposition to the pay and benefit raises, saying, “But the fact is, is that those privates who are making $17,000 a year, those privates that are leaving their wives, their kids at home, many of whom have to survive on food stamps, those privates who saw what we did in the defense bill, who said that’s great, 3.5% pay increase, not even $1,000 more a year, a couple hundred dollars a year, the President of the United States said, ‘Private, thank you for your service to your country, but that’s too much of a pay increase.’” [Speaker of the House, 7/20/2007]
Blackwater’s Bagdad manager gets the blame for the death of four Blackwater employees in Fallujah in 2004 (see March 31, 2004). Memos show that Blackwater sent two teams out, named Bravo 2 and November 1. Both were sent out with four men instead of the usual six. Bravo 2 protested that they weren’t ready for the mission, which was guarding empty flatbed trucks and picking up a food service company executive. They had no maps and had no time to prepare their weapons, but both teams were commanded to go anyway. Bravo 2 refused to follow their directions to drive through Fallujah, and instead drove around it and returned safely to Baghdad that evening. The four members of November 1 followed orders, went into Fallujah, and were massacred. Bravo 2 team memos blame Blackwater’s Baghdad site manager Tom Powell for giving these orders. For instance, team member Daniel Browne will later write in a memo that “we all want to kill him.” Memos about the incident will surface in mid-July 2007 after Congress opens an inquiry into Blackwater’s activities in Iraq. Like other private security firms, Blackwater has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts, with little or no oversight from Congress until 2007. Had a military officer sent four lightly armed soldiers into Fallujah and had them killed in such a brutal and public manner, that officer likely would have faced public scrutiny and a military inquiry. But Blackwater has never conducted such a public probe, and for years will refuse to provide documents such as the Bravo 2 memos to Congress. The families of the four members of November 1 have sued Blackwater in an effort to find out what happened. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007]
It is reported that over 1,000 civilian private contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of hostilities in those countries. An additional 13,000 have been wounded. The casualty figures come from the Department of Labor. Civilians work in a number of areas in Iraq, from providing security and servicing weapons systems, to more mundane tasks such as logistics, construction, truck driving, and maintenance (see April 4, 2007). [Reuters, 3/7/2004] Roughly one contractor dies for every four members of the armed forces. But despite the risks, Americans are lining up for jobs in the two war zones, lured by the prospects of high pay and, for some, adventure. As of the end of April 2007, 224 of the killed contractors were US citizens. [Reuters, 3/7/2004]
President Bush tells a gathering of US soldiers and their families, “It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field, and give them everything they need to succeed. In February I submitted to Congress a Defense Department spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year that will provide funds to upgrade our equipment for our troops in Iraq and provides a pay raise for our military—a comprehensive spending request—that Congress has failed to act on.” [Speaker of the House, 7/20/2007] But on May 16, 2007, Bush came out strongly against an addition to his proposed pay raise (see May 16, 2007), opposing a proposed 0.5% pay raise in addition to the 3% raise he proposed for the February 2008 budget as “unnecessary.” [Army Times, 5/17/2007]
A Rapid City Journal article uses interviews with the families of three soldiers to illustrate the harm and suffering inflicted on military personnel and their families by the Army’s controversial stop-loss program (see November 2002 and November 13, 2003). One of the three soldiers is Sergeant Mason Lockey, who has been forced to redeploy to Iraq due to stop-loss. Lockey saw his daughter Brianna for the first time about three weeks after her birth, in November 2006; he took part in her delivery via cell phone from Iraq. He had planned on returning home on July 19, 2007, a year after his deployment, in time to help her learn to speak and walk. Instead, under stop-loss, Lockey is forced to remain in Iraq until at least October 15, and perhaps longer.
Three Sons in Service - Deb Halen-Boyd, whose two sons served in Iraq as Army troops, calls the stop-loss program an example of the government breaking faith with its soldiers. “You fulfill your obligation, you should be done,” she says. “They’ve done what they’ve signed up to do.” One of Halen-Boyd’s sons has had to remain in Iraq due to stop-loss. She had a third son in the Army who died in a truck accident in Minnesota; her fourth son has now enlisted in the National Guard, with the government’s promise that he wouldn’t be deployed. But Halen-Boyd doesn’t believe the government will keep its word. “Nothing with the Army is a guarantee,” she says.
Missing Daughter's First Three Years - Barb Pierce, whose son Ryan served in Kosovo and twice in Iraq as a member of his Army unit, agrees. “It should be fair.… They’ve done their part. Let them come home.” Sergeant Ryan Pierce has been forced to remain in Iraq due to the stop-loss policy until at least January 2008. Pierce missed the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife’s grandmother and aunt. He was unable to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He has missed every wedding anniversary. He has missed two of his daughter’s three birthdays.
No Re-enlistments, Anger at Government - None of the soldiers cited in the Rapid City Journal article plan on rejoining the Army after they are finally allowed to come home. Vanessa Lockey, whose husband has six more years to go on his re-enlistment, says, “Mason and I are strong Republicans, but it is hard to support a government that is willing to do this to a family. How is it fair?… Mason’s very supportive of the military. We grew up military, we love the military lifestyle, and we were very pro-Bush and that, but the more you see them acting like these soldiers are nothing but a game to them… it’s just hard to support that and know that’s who you’re defending.… It really does feel like they forgot about us.… I’ll support [President] Bush when he sends his daughters to Iraq.” Barb Pierce echoes Halen-Boyd’s sentiments. She is proud of her son’s service as she is of other soldiers’ service. She is proud to be an American, she says. But, “I want to be proud of my country, too. And right now I’m not.” Halen-Boyd wears a bumper sticker on her car that reads, “‘We Love Our Troops. Bring Them Home.” [Rapid City Journal, 7/24/2007]
Baitullah Mahsud. [Source: Associated Press]On August 30, 2007, Pakistani militants led by Baitullah Mahsud surround a convoy of more than 270 soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. The militants are vastly outnumbered, but get the soldiers to surrender without firing a shot. In the following days, dozens more soldiers surrender or even desert to Mahsud. This is a humiliating debacle for the Pakistani army and a reflection of low morale. The Washington Post comments: “The troops’ surrender has called into question the army’s commitment to fighting an unpopular war that requires Pakistanis to kill their countrymen. It has also exposed the army to ridicule.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007] Mahsud demands the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan, the tribal region where Mahsud is the de facto ruler. After weeks of slow negotiations, he orders the beheading of three of his hostages. On November 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declares a state of emergency throughout Pakistan (see November 3-December 15, 2007). Musharraf claims that his emergency powers will give him a stronger hand to fight militants like Mahsud, but the next day he releases 28 jailed militants in return for the release of the nearly 300 soldiers still held. Eight of the released militants are would-be suicide bombers. For instance, one of them had just been sentenced to 24 years in prison after being caught carrying two suicide belts. The incident propels Mahsud into becoming the figurehead of Pakistan’s militant movement, and from this time on many violent incidents are blamed on him, although his forces are probably not linked to them all. Mahsud had strong ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He fought with the Taliban in the 1990s and helped al-Qaeda leaders escape the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. [Washington Post, 10/3/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 385-388; Newsweek, 1/7/2008]
A jury in the case of Snyder v. Phelps awards $11 million to Albert Snyder, finding that the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), its leader Fred Phelps, and six other members had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the Snyder family and violated its privacy. Snyder is the father of a slain Marine, and the members of the WBC had picketed his son’s funeral with signs featuring stick figures engaged in sex acts and messages such as “Semper Fi Fags,” and posted derogatory statements about them on the WBC Web site (see March 10, 2006 and After). The WBC has a history of picketing the funerals of dead American soldiers, claiming the soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance for homosexuality (see June 2005 and After). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] The judge will later reduce the judgment against the WBC to $5 million (see April 3, 2008).
Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” [VetVoice, 12/4/2007]
The Canadian press reports that the casualty rate among Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is far higher than that of American and British soldiers in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Canadian troops are stationed in and around the city of Kandahar, one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers die at a rate of 2.6 to four times higher than their British and American counterparts in Afghanistan, and at a rate 2.6 times higher than American soldiers in Iraq. Proportionately, Canadians are dying at a faster rate in Afghanistan than through most of World War II. Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Robertson, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says, “Kandahar province is very different from even Helmand province next door,” where British troops are stationed. “It’s a totally different threat environment. We are in the former heartland of the Taliban, and obviously they have resorted to tactics designed to force casualties among civilians and security forces whenever possible.” Some experts believe that the heavy casualty rates among Canadians is partly traceable to the Canadians’ lack of heavy-transport helicopters; as a result, they are forced to rely more on ground transportation, where the threat of roadside bombs and ambushes is constantly present. Canada has lost a total of 74 soldiers since joining the US and Britain in Afghanistan. [Canada National Post, 1/4/2008]
US News and World Report interviews three US soldiers once held captive in the first days of the Iraq invasion: Private Jessica Lynch, Specialist Shoshana Johnson, and Private Patrick Miller. Lynch was captured and held for nine days in an Iraqi hospital before being rescued (see June 17, 2003); her story was quickly inflated by military public relations officials and eager media representatives into a fabricated tale of torture and derring-do (see April 3, 2003). Johnson and Miller received much less press coverage during their 22 days in captivity. Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, then a captain and a senior military spokesman, told reporters when Lynch was rescued that “she fired until she had no more ammunition.” That report was untrue. Thorp now says, “There was never, ever any intentional deception involving Lynch.” But the Pentagon and the news media alike were hungry for a telegenic hero, he notes. “That’s America. We want heroes, in baseball, in politics, in our day-to-day life.” [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008] Thorp, now a rear admiral, became the top public affairs official for then-Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Lynch: Weathering the Controversy - Lynch, who has weathered years of controversy about her unwitting involvement in a Pentagon PR campaign, is not convinced that there was no deception, as Thorp insists. “They wanted to make people think that maybe this war was a good thing,” she says. “Instead, people were getting killed, and it was going downhill fast. They wanted a hero.” All three say that they were no more heroic than any of the soldiers who fight every day. “It’s nice that people remember and stuff, but the way I look at it was I was just doing my job as a soldier,” says Miller, whom Lynch has cited as displaying outstanding bravery the day of their capture. Johnson adds: “I think we tossed around the hero word a little too much. I got shot and caught, and that’s it. [T]here are loads of soldiers out there who deserve all the props, and they don’t get enough.” Lynch, who was discharged from the Army months after her rescue (see August 22, 2003), does not watch television coverage of the war. “Honestly, it’s hard; it’s depressing,” she says. Five years after her capture, she still faces numerous physical disabilities and more surgery in the weeks and months ahead.
Miller: Wants to Return to Iraq - Miller, who shot several Iraqi soldiers before being, in his words, “gang-tackled” and captured, is still in the Army, having refused a medical discharge and needing to continue his wife’s medical insurance coverage. He recalls one conversation with an Iraqi during his captivity: “There was one who asked me why I came to Iraq, and I told him that I was told to come. He was like, ‘Why didn’t you just tell them no?’ I told him that if I tell them no, I go to jail. He couldn’t understand that.” Miller, now a staff sergeant, wants to return to Iraq, though Army regulations forbid a soldier once kept as a POW from returning to the country of his capture.
Johnson: Permanent Disability - Like Miller, Johnson’s captivity was relatively uneventful. She recalls one doctor in particular, “an old man with two wives and 11 children, who was really nice to me.” He protected her during her stay, even sleeping outside her door. “I don’t know if he thought somebody would come in, or something would happen to me,” she says. “When people start talking to me about Islam, that’s who I think of—a very nice man who took a big chance.” Johnson was going to write a book about her captivity, but her publishers backed out after Johnson did not give them the story they wanted. “They wanted this really religious book,” she says. “I’m a Catholic and my faith is important to me, but as a single mom with tattoos, I can’t be writing a book telling people how to live their life.” Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she has succeeded in winning permanent disability status from the Army after a long, bitter struggle (see October 24, 2003). She is raising her 7-year old daughter, studying to be a caterer, and says that in general she is coping well. [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008]
Judge Richard D. Bennett of the US District Court in Maryland orders liens against properties owned by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) to secure damages awarded at trial. For decades, the WBC has protested against homosexuality and other “offenses,” and has since 2005 picketed soldiers’ funerals (see June 2005 and After), causing tremendous controversy. The church is being sued by Albert Snyder, whose son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, died in service. The WBC protested at the younger Snyder’s funeral, prompting the lawsuit (see March 10, 2006 and After). The jury awarded the Snyder family $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages (see October 2007), but Bennett reduces this to $5 million, which includes $2.1 million in punitive charges. One of Snyder’s lawyers says, based on his analysis of WBC financial records, that if the church is forced to pay even the lower amount, it would likely drive it into bankruptcy. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2007; Topeka Capital-Journal, 4/4/2008]
The US is unable to find more troops to send to Afghaninstan, due to the war in Iraq. On April 10, 2008, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen tells a Congressional committee: “I’m deeply concerned. In this economy of force operation, we do what we can. Requirements exist that we simply cannot fill and won’t likely be able to fill until conditions improve in Iraq.” The US would like to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the growing Taliban resistance there, but the US is unwilling to divert forces from Iraq due to renewed violence there, and NATO allies remain unwilling to send more troops as well. A study by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a group funded by the European Commission, reports that there were 704 insurgent attacks causing 463 civilian deaths from January through March of 2008, compared with 424 attacks causing 264 civilian deaths during the same months in 2007. US officials privately admit that their estimates are similar. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/15/2008]
Regardless of the intention of the military to “minimize” its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002 and January 19, 2007), which forces US soldiers to remain deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan for months after their term of duty has expired, the number of soldiers affected by the policy has increased by 43 percent in the last year, and Army officials say the stop-loss program will remain in effect through at least the fall of 2009. Some officials say that the number of troops affected by stop-loss orders will fall as “surge” troops (see January 10, 2007) redeploy. Currently, over 12,230 soldiers are being prevented from returning home even though their commitments to the Army have expired. That number was 8,540 in May 2007. Since 2002, about 58,000 soldiers have been affected by stop-loss policies. “As the [war zone] demand comes down, we should be able to get us weaned off stop-loss,” says Lieutenant General James Thurman. Stop-loss policies forbid active-duty soldiers within 90 days of retirement or obligated service from leaving the Army if they are in units alerted for deployment. Reservists and National Guard members are barred from leaving if their units have been alerted for mobilization. Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the Army and other branches of service to “minimize” their use of stop-loss, the number of soldiers affected has increased since Gates’s orders were issued in January 2007. [Army Times, 5/5/2008]
UN rights envoy Philip Alston says that foreign intelligence agents leading Afghan units are operating with impunity in Afghanistan and are responsible for killing innocent civilians in numerous secret raids. Alston, a special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council, slams the operations as “absolutely unacceptable,” and says that foreign officials have dodged responsibility when confronted on the allegations. “It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them,” says Alston. While not specifying the intelligence agencies involved, Alston implies American involvement, mentioning one raid in January conducted by Afghans and personnel from US special forces based in Kandahar that killed two Afghan brothers. Alston’s sources of information include senior government ministers, the chief justice, the Afghan intelligence chief, international military commanders, members of civic groups, and tribal elders. “Based on my discussions, there is no reason to doubt that at least some of these units are led by personnel belonging to international intelligence services,” he says. [Associated Press, 5/15/2008]
The 500th US soldier is killed in Afghanistan since the start of US military involvement there in late 2001. During the first three years of the war, about two-thirds of the US casualties were caused by non-hostile conditions such as illnesses and crashes. But since 2005, about 70 percent of casualties have taken place under hostile conditions. One hundred and eleven US soldiers were killed in 2007. This is the highest annual toll so far, but the rate for 2008 is much higher on average. Afghan security forces have suffered many more fatalities, but exact numbers are difficult to obtain. The Afghanistan Defense Ministry says nearly 600 Afghan soldiers were killed from March 2005 to March 2008. The Afghan Interior Ministry says 1,119 police officers were killed from March 2007 to March 2008. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. [Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008]
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
Tammy Duckworth narrates the ‘Salute to Fallen Asian Pacific Islander Heroes’ tribute at the Defense Department. Duckworth was born in Thailand and lived in Hawaii. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Obama names Tammy Duckworth to be assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Duckworth, a former Democratic candidate for Congress, heads the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. She will work under recently named VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (see December 7, 2008). “Effective communications with veterans and VA’s stakeholders is key to improving our services and ensuring veterans receive the benefits they deserve,” Shinseki says. “Tammy Duckworth brings significant talent, leadership and personal experience to this important work.” As assistant secretary, Duckworth will direct VA’s public affairs, internal communications, and intergovernmental relations, as well as oversee programs for homeless veterans. Duckworth, who lost both legs while flying a combat mission in Iraq, has previously testified on the need for dramatic change at the VA. [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2/3/2009] Duckworth’s appointment will be held up for 11 weeks because of a hold placed on her by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). She is sworn in as assistant secretary on April 24; Burr, who never explains the reason for his hold, will vote to approve her nomination. [MSNBC, 4/24/2009]
Army Emergency Relief logo. [Source: US Army]The Associated Press reveals the results of its investigation into the nonprofit organization Army Emergency Relief (AER). The investigation shows that between 2003 and 2007, the organization kept $117 million in so-called “reserve” funds, and only distributed $64 million in assistance. Another $164 million was apparently used to cover operating costs. Most of the money collected by AER comes from donations by soldiers and their families. AER is an ostensibly independent organization that is actually controlled through the Army; it helps soldiers get through financial hardships by giving interest-free loans and donations. The AP finds that the organization “allows superiors to squeeze soldiers for contributions; forces struggling soldiers to repay loans—sometimes delaying transfers and promotions; and too often violates its own rules by rewarding donors, such as giving free passes from physical training.” Yet most of its money is being hoarded, much of it garnering interest in stocks and bonds, while Army soldiers and families are being denied help. Sema Olson, an outreach director for the US Welcome Home Foundation, says, “I have so many people who are losing their homes, they’re behind on their mortgage payments, they’re losing their jobs because of PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] or the medication they’re taking—and the Army Emergency Relief can’t help them.” The smaller Navy and Air Force charities donated a far larger percentage of their monies to soldiers and their families during the four-year period investigated by the AP. AER officials defend their practice of hoading donations, pointing to the current economic crisis and insisting they need to keep large reserves to be ready for future problems. The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) says AER holds enough reserves to last about 12 years at its current level of aid; most charity watchdog organizations view a 1-3 year reserve as prudent, and classify larger reserves as hoarding. AIP president Daniel Borochoff says that AER collects money “very efficiently. What the shame is, is they’re not doing more with it.… It’s as if the group is more concerned about its own stability and longevity than the people it purports to serve.” Retired Colonel Dennis Spiegel, AER’s deputy director for administration, says he sees no need for AER to increase its giving. “I don’t necessarily think the need is any different than it was four or five years ago,” he says. In fact, Speigel says, the economic downturn has prompted AER to cut back on its scholarship aid program by a third. “We’re not happy about it,” he says. [Associated Press, 2/22/2009; KFOX-TV, 2/22/2009]
One month ahead of the official announcement of President Obama’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see March 27, 2009), John McCain delivers a policy speech on Afghanistan to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), expressing confidence that ‘victory’ is possible there. Promoting the counterinsurgency strategy advanced by David Kilcullen and the approach already begun by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and retired Lieutenant General David Barno in Afghanistan, McCain calls for a continued shift from counterterrorism to a counterinsurgency strategy focused on providing security. He also invokes General David Petraeus and the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “As it was in Iraq, security is the precondition for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” he says. McCain states that the US must assist an Afghan surge of security forces, “backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.” He says that at a minimum, the US and allies need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and should consider enlarging it to 200,000 with the aid of an international trust fund to provide long-term financing. In conclusion, he warns that the days of the war in Afghanistan being perceived as “the good war” may be numbered as costs and casualties mount. [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2009]
Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. [Los Angeles Times, 2/26/2009; Associated Press, 2/26/2009]
Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
President Obama greets Marines at Camp Lejeune. [Source: White House]President Obama says that the target date for a substantial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is August 31, 2010. “Let me say this as plainly as I can,” he tells the gathered Marines: “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” Around 100,000 troops will be withdrawn by that date. However, major withdrawals will not begin until after December 2009, to ensure that national elections go smoothly. Obama promised that US troops would be out of Iraq 16 months after he took office in January; the new deadline extends the withdrawal by some three months. Obama tells the Marines: “I want to be very clear. We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime—and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government—and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life—that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.” Some 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection, and counterterrorism operations. According to the latest Status of Forces (SOF) agreement between Iraq and the US, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. White House officials say that Obama has no interest in keeping troops in Iraq after that date. The August 2010 date was decided after input from all the key principals, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The date was chosen to best manage security risks without jeopardizing the gains of recent months. Obama has refused to set specific withdrawal schedules, preferring to give his commanders in Iraq some flexibility. One White House official says, “They’ll either speed it up or slow it down, depending on what they need.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009; White House, 2/27/2009]
Positive Response - Many Iraqi citizens and lawmakers hail the decision to pull out (see February 27, 2009). And so do many of the Marines at Camp Lejeune. Petty Officer Ryan Junkin says he has an “all around pretty good feeling. It’s good that he gave some direction.” Sergeant Aldwin Del Rosario says, “My biggest take away is that he had dates, and he plans to meet those goals and those dates.” And Lance Corporal Codell Campbell says: “Iraq got all our full attention for the past years. A lot of fellow Marines have died trying to make the country better.… Afghanistan is where the real fight is.” [Think Progress, 2/17/2009]
Republicans Credit Bush Strategy - Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s challenger in the 2008 presidential race, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the withdrawal will work. Both McCain and former Bush national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe credit the 2007 “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) for making the withdrawal possible. [New York Times, 2/27/2009]
The US military announces that 12,000 troops will withdraw from Iraq by September 2009. “Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers, and intelligence, will not be replaced,” says a Pentagon spokesman. US forces will also turn over a number of facilities to Iraqi control. Additionally, the remaining 4,000 British soldiers, stationed in southern Iraq, will also depart by that time. The US withdrawal is the first step in President Obama’s announced “drawdown” of troops from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Major withdrawals will not happen until after Iraq’s national parliamentary elections in December 2009. The “Status of Forces” agreement between the US and Iraq requires all American forces to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011; it also requires US forces out of all major Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009. Even in the face of increasing troop withdrawals, Major General David Perkins, a spokesman for the US command structure in Iraq, says the military is “by no means complacent.” Perkins adds: “We know that al-Qaeda, although greatly reduced in capability and numbers, still is desperate to maintain relevance here.… When al-Qaeda senses that it is under extreme pressure and it is losing momentum, it works very hard to gain relevance and to regain momentum.” The remaining US forces will be redeployed around the country, most likely in areas such as the city of Mosul and Diyala province, both of which contain a still-fierce insurgency. “We will not leave any seams in regards to security,” Perkins says. “We know how to do this. This is not the first time we’ve reduced our forces.” [China Daily, 3/8/2009; Washington Post, 3/9/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/9/2009]
The head of Canada’s Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, tells the Canadian Senate that Canada’s Army has been so strained by its participation in the Afghanistan war that it may need a one-year “pause” to regroup and rebuild after Canada withdraws troops from that region in 2011. Canada has suffered disproportionately large losses in Afghanistan in comparison with both American and British troops (see January 4, 2008). According to Leslie, the Canadian Army has suffered huge losses in both personnel and equipment, and is dealing with a shortage of experienced officers and soldiers as well as a shortage of functional armored vehicles and mechanics to effect repairs. “We will always be prepared to carry out our various national and international tasks,” he tells the Senate, but emphasizes the need to rebuild and retool the Army. [Toronto Star, 3/9/2009] General Walter Natynczyk, chief of defense staff of the Canadian Forces, agrees, telling a reporter, “It’s an army that’s undergoing an incredible operational tempo right now.” [CTV, 3/10/2009]
Greg Gutfeld of Fox’s ‘Red Eye’ during the March 17 broadcast. [Source: CTV]The host and panelists on Fox News’s satirical news show Red Eye devote a segment of their broadcast to mocking and denigrating Canadian soldiers’ service in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers have died in disproportionately higher numbers than either their US or British counterparts (see January 4, 2008), and the head of the Canadian Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, has recently testified as to the terrific strain that service has placed on the military branch (see March 9, 2009), facts the Red Eye panelists do not share with their audience. (Progressive media watchdog site News Hounds will note than none of the Red Eye panelists have themselves served in the military of any country.) Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld opens the segment by mocking Leslie’s name, observing that “Leslie” is “an unusual name for a man.” He then says that the Canadian military would prefer to “do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white capri pants.” Gutfeld then asks panelist Doug Benson, “Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country?” Benson retorts, “I didn’t even know that they [Canada] were in the war,” and notes that he thought of Canada as a nation where people went to avoid fighting. Gutfeld asks, “Would Canada be able to get away with this if they didn’t share a border with the most powerful country in the universe?” Panelist Bill Schulz answers: “No, they probably wouldn’t. Does this surprise any of us? We have police officers and they have Mounties. Our cops ride heavily armored cars. They ride horses. We have bullet-proof vests. They have wonderful little red jackets that can be seen a mile away. This is not a smart culture, Greg.” [News Hounds, 3/22/2009; Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Canadian Outrage - The video quickly becomes well known after four Canadian soldiers die in two separate explosions near Kandahar, and many Canadians respond with indignation and outrage. Toronto’s National Star calls the remarks “shockingly ignorant.” Dan Dugas, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says: “We want an apology from this so-called comedian [Gutfeld] and his panel. These are despicable, hurtful, and ignorant comments. No one is laughing and they owe Canada, and more importantly the families of each one of our fallen heroes, an apology for their ill-informed mistakes.” Steve Staples of Ottowa’s Rideau Institute calls the performance a “shameful display” at the expense of Canadian families who have lost family members, and adds, “The dismissal of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan simply rubs salt in the wounds of Canadian families whose sons and daughters have been injured or killed in the war.” MP Denis Coderre calls the performance “a disgrace.” [Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Apology - Days after the broadcast, Gutfeld e-mails an apology. He says the segment “was in no way an attempt to make light of troop efforts,” and adds: “I realize that my words may have been misunderstood. It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women, and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize. Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humorous, and ridiculous manner.” Gutfeld had made a statement on Twitter hours before that read, “My apologies to the Canadian military, they probably could at least beat the Belgians.” [Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Fox News, Dan Dugas, Canadian Ministry of National Defense, Doug Benson, Canadian Forces Land Force Command, Andrew Leslie, Steve Staples, Greg Gutfeld, Bill Schulz, Denis Coderre
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces that the Army will phase out its controversial and unpopular “stop-loss” program, which forces soldiers to stay in the Army past their service obligations (see November 13, 2003 and June 2, 2004). The program will be phased out over the next two years. Until then, the Pentagon will offer $500 a month in extra pay to soldiers who continue to serve under the policy, Gates says. Around 13,000 soldiers are currently serving under the stop-loss policy. “We will be drawing down in Iraq, over the next 18 or 19 months, significantly more than we are building up in Afghanistan, in terms of the Army,” Gates says. “While these changes do carry some risk, I believe it is important that we do everything possible to see that soldiers are not unnecessarily forced to stay in the Army beyond their end-of-term-of-service date.” The goal is to bring that number down to approximately 6,500 by June 2010, and to virtually zero by March 2011. “I felt, particularly in these numbers, that it was breaking faith” to keep soldiers in the service after their end date comes up, Gates says. “To hold them against their will… is just not the right thing to do.” Beginning in August 2009, the Army Reserve will no longer mobilize units under the stop-loss policy (see November 2002). The Army National Guard will follow suit in September 2009, and the active duty Army by January 2010. The Army retains the option to reactivate the program under “extraordinary” circumstances, Gates acknowledges. But, he says, that should happen only in an “emergency situation where we absolutely had to have somebody’s skills for a specific, limited period of time.” [Washington Post, 3/19/2009] The Army is the only branch of service to use stop-loss. [CNN, 3/18/2009] In 2007, Gates broke with previous Bush administration and military policy by ordering the program “minimized” (see January 19, 2007).
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces that as part of the military’s new policy of allowing the media to cover the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base (see February 26, 2009), the Pentagon will now pay for families of those fallen troops to travel to Dover to be present for the return of their family members. Critics of the media policy had noted that some families who were financially unable to be present for the return ceremony might be upset to see the footage of their slain family member on news broadcasts (see February 26, 2009). In a press conference announcing the policy, Gates becomes emotional as he describes his own trip to Dover earlier in the week. “I went to the back of the plane by myself and spent time with each of the transfer cases,” he says, choking up. “I think I’ll stop there.” [CNN, 3/18/2009]
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report that says the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 (see February 27, 2009) will be a “massive and expensive effort” that is likely to increase, rather than lower, Iraq-related spending for several years. The GAO report finds, “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs,” withdrawals from previous conflicts have shown that costs often rise in the short term. The price of equipment repairs and replacements, along with closing or turning over 283 US military installations in Iraq, “will likely be significant,” the report finds. Even smaller bases will take up to two months to close, and the largest facilities, such as Balad Air Base, with 24,000 soldiers and support personnel, may take up to 18 months to shut down. The report also notes uncertainties surrounding civilian security, issues surrounding the US Embassy in Baghdad, and the Iraqi government’s ability to sustain basic services and infrastructure. Currently, the US Army plans on withdrawing eight of the 14 brigades deployed in Iraq by August 2010. All US forces are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. [Washington Post, 3/25/2009]
The former US commander of Iraq prisons in 2003, retired Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, tells CBS News interviewers that she and her fellow senior officials were scapegoated by the Bush administration for the crimes and abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib prison. She says that every order concerning prisoner interrogations came from the top down. “These soldiers didn’t design these techniques on their own… we were following orders,” Karpinski says. “We were bringing this to our chain of command and they were saying whatever the military intelligence tells you to do out there you are authorized to do.” Karpinski’s interview is in response to the report just released by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which found that the torture policies carried out by the military came directly from the highest reaches of the Bush administration as early as 2002 (see April 21, 2009). The report also concludes that the Abu Ghraib abuses were a direct result of Bush administration policies, as were widespread abuses at Guantanamo Bay. After the Abu Ghraib scandal became well known, Karpinski was demoted to colonel and later retired. She says: “The line is clear. It went from Washington, DC. From the very top of the administration with the legal opinions through Bagram to Guantanamo Bay and then to Iraq via the commander from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And the contractors who were hired to do those things.” Asked about her assertion that she and the soldiers prosecuted for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005) were “scapegoated” by Bush officials, Karpinski says: “Scapegoat is the perfect word and it’s an understatement. Right now, with the hard, fast facts in those memos, the black and white proof, the administration is suggesting that those operatives should be immune from any investigations or persecution.” [CBS News, 4/22/2009]
Newly retired Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, the former top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is sworn in as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Prior to his appointment, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In a rare move, Eikenberry retired from the Army the day before he is sworn in as ambassador by Hillary Clinton at the State Department. [American Forces Press Service, 4/28/2009; Associated Press, 4/28/2009] Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Eikenberry was made public, the New York Times noted that the decision to send an about-to-retire career Army officer to fill one of the country’s most sensitive diplomatic jobs was “a highly unusual choice,” raising concerns among critics of the war that the Pentagon has too much influence over American foreign policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2009]
Al Jazeera, the Arab news outlet, reports that US soldiers in Afghanistan may have been encouraged to proselytize the message of Christianity to native Afghani citizens, who are largely Muslim. Bibles written in Pashto and Dari, the country’s main languages, are also apparently being distributed by military chaplains. Al Jazeera has obtained video footage from Brian Hughes, a former soldier who shot documentary footage in Bagram during 2008. The film shows Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley, the highest-ranking chaplain in Afghanistan, telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him.” Hensley told the soldiers: “The special forces guys—they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down.… Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.” Other footage shows Sergeant Jon Watt, who was then training to become a chaplain, giving thanks for the work that his church has done in getting Bibles printed and sent to Afghanistan. In the film, Watt told a Bible study class: “I also want to praise God because my church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out.” It is uncertain whether the Bibles were ever distributed, but Hughes notes that none of the people he filmed spoke either Pashto or Dari. “They weren’t talking about learning how to speak Dari or Pashto, by reading the Bible and using that as the tool for language lessons,” Hughes says. “The only reason they would have these documents there was to distribute them to the Afghan people. And I knew it was wrong, and I knew that filming it… documenting it would be important.” US CENTCOM regulations expressly forbid “proselytizing of any religion, faith, or practice.” In the film, the chaplains seem to have found a way around that regulation. “Do we know what it means to proselytize?” Captain Emmit Furner, a military chaplain, says to a gathering of soldiers. “It is General Order Number One,” an unidentified soldier replies. Watt interjects, “You can’t proselytize but you can give gifts.” Watt also mentions distributing Bibles during his service in Iraq. [Al Jazeera, 5/4/2009]
Fox News chyron accusing Democrats of voting to protect pedophiles but not veterans. [Source: Media Matters]Several Fox News anchors and commentators, along with the Fox News Web site, falsely claim that House Democrats tried to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles by voting against an amendment to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA). The legislation defines as a federal crime specific acts of violence or attempted violence “because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person.” The amendment, advanced by Representative Steve King (R-IA), stated that “the term ‘sexual orientation’ shall not include pedophilia.” Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) noted that federal statutes already exclude pedophilia from the definition of “sexual orientation,” and called King’s amendment “unnecessary and… inflammatory in terms of insinuations.” Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, commentator Sean Hannity, and Fox Nation now characterize the Democrats’ successful opposition to King’s amendment as an attempt to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles. All three claim that Democrats defended pedophiles while refusing to defend veterans.
Hannity: 'Special Category for Pedophiles' - Hannity tells his viewers, “Democrats just voted to extend special legal protections to pedophiles.” He also falsely claims that the Democrats inserted a “special category for pedophiles” in the legislation. Interviewing King, Hannity says: “I want to be perfectly clear. So hate—we have a hate crimes bill, and you’re saying, all right, we should exempt pedophiles. Every Democrat says no.” King calls Hannity’s characterization “absolutely right,” and says that “on the top of that, the amendment that I offered to exempt pedophiles from a special protected status was after Tammy Baldwin, one of the lead sponsors on the bill, had argued that the sexual orientation, special protective status in the bill, only covered heterosexuals and homosexuals, so that doesn’t include a pedophile. But she opposed the amendment anyway, as did all the Democrats, as you just showed tonight.” Later, Hannity asks King, “Is it safe to say that Democrats were willing to protect pedophiles?” and King replies: “Sean, it is a matter of Congressional record. Absolutely true—beyond any doubt whatsoever.” Hannity and King then claim that Democrats refused to support another section that would create “special protection” for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. King calls the Democrats’ actions furtherance of the “agenda… of the homosexual activists.”
Hemmer: Protecting Pedophiles, Not Veterans - Fox’s “non-partisan” newscast, America’s Newsroom, runs an on-screen “chyron” that claims, “House Dems vote to protect pedophiles, but not veterans.” Anchor Bill Hemmer tells viewers that Democrats “voted to give special protection to pedophiles” (see October 13, 2009).
Fox Nation: Defending Pedophiles over Veterans - Fox Nation, which claims to be free of bias, runs a headline saying, “House Democrats Defend Pedophiles Over Veterans.” [Media Matters, 5/6/2009]
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Former Vice President Dick Cheney praises President Obama’s choice of Stanley McChrystal to replace General David McKiernan as the top commander in Afghanistan. In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to assign Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal the top job in Afghanistan is a good one. “I think the choice is excellent.… Stan is an absolutely outstanding officer,” Cheney tells Cavuto. “I think you would be hard put to find anybody better than Stan McChrystal to take on that assignment.” [Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News, 5/13/2009] In a 2006 profile of McChrystal, Newsweek noted that the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which McChrystal then headed, was likely part of what Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006]
Stanley McChrystal, nominated to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, directs the transfer of a large area of the National Military Command Center—the Pentagon’s principal underground command and control center and emergency operations facility—to the Afghan war effort. This indicates that McChrystal is at work even before his official confirmation to the top war post. McChrystal’s pre-confirmation activity is corroborated by an account by analyst Mark Perry, who will later report that McChrystal and staff arrive in Kabul within days of his nomination as top commander to assess the case for sending more troops (see Between May 12 and June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
Stanley McChrystal arrives in Kabul with teams of counterinsurgency staff within days of his nomination to replace General David McKiernan (see May 11, 2009) as top commander in Afghanistan. Military and foreign policy analyst Mark Perry will later report that McChrystal “commandeers” McKiernan’s headquarters on arrival in Kabul. McChrystal’s teams then fan out all over the country to assess the need for a large increase in US troops to fight a strengthening insurgency. “They absolutely flooded the zone,” a US development officer will tell Perry. “There must have been hundreds of them. They were in every province, every village, talking to everyone. There were 10 of them for every one of us.” Perry will also cite a White House official who asserts that McChrystal and his team use the period before his official confirmation to the top post to begin building a case for more US troops. “From the minute that McChrystal showed up in Kabul, he drove the debate,” the White House official will say. “You’ll notice—from May on it was no longer a question of whether we should follow a military strategy or deploy additional troops. It was always, ‘should we do 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000, or even 80,000’? We weren’t searching for the right strategy; we were searching for the right number.” [Asia Times, 12/10/2009]
The Pentagon gives Stanley McChrystal, nominated to become commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, unprecedented leeway to handpick his top staff, according to nearly a dozen senior military officers who provide details about McChrystal’s plans to the New York Times. According to the Times report, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has personally told McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff.” McChrystal chooses several veterans of Special Operations, including former colleagues now serving with the Joint Staff, to join his inner circle. He is ultimately assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years (see October 7, 2009), a rare military commitment to one theater of combat which is common to Special Operations.
Special Operations Vets Chosen for Inner Circle - McChrystal chooses friend and former Army Ranger colleague Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez to be his deputy, marking the first time an American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star second in command. Rodriguez will be in charge of running day-to-day combat operations. McChrystal picks a senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence. General Flynn was McChrystal’s chief of intelligence when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). McChrystal selects Brigadier General Scott Miller to organize a new Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell. Miller is a longtime Special Operations officer assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has served previously under McChrystal. [New York Times, 6/10/2009; Wall Street Journal, 6/12/2009]
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. [Fox News, 6/5/2009]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Ed Reeder, Green Berets, Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, US Special Operations Command, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen calls Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to press for Stanley McChrystal’s speedy confirmation as the new top commander in Afghanistan. Mullen stresses that it is a matter of urgency that McChrystal be able to depart for Afghanistan this very night. According to Reid, Admiral Mullen says that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to leave. Later on the Senate floor during the confirmation proceedings, Reid will tell of the call from Mullen in an impassioned plea for McChrystal’s speedy confirmation (see June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
The US Senate unanimously approves Stanley McChrystal’s appointment as the next commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Senate also approves his promotion to four-star general. [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] The New York Times reports that in order to prevent any delay in McChrystal’s confirmation, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) makes an impassioned plea for a swift yes vote on the Senate floor, telling of a phone call he received from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen in which Mullen told him that it was urgent that McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night (see Early June 10, 2009). McChrystal and senior members of his command team are reportedly scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the Senate vote confirming his appointment, with two stops planned in Europe to confer with allies before landing in Kabul. [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
Lawyer Orly Taitz (left) and Army Reserve Major Stefan Cook, during an interview for a television news crew. [Source: Anna Raccoon (.com)]US Army Reserve Major Stefan Frederick Cook says he should not be deployed to Afghanistan because President Obama is not a US citizen and therefore lacks the constitutional authority to order troops to do anything. Cook’s counsel, “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz (see November 12, 2008 and After and March 13, 2009), files a request in the US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia asking that the court bar Cook from deploying, and seeking conscientious objector status for her client. Taitz says in the filing that Cook believes Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States (see June 13, 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, and July 28, 2009) and therefore has no obligation to obey orders from his superior officers that generate from Obama. Moreover, the filing says, Cook “would be acting in violation of international law by engaging in military actions outside the United States under this president’s command.… simultaneously subjecting himself to possible prosecution as a war criminal by the faithful execution of these duties.” Cook is ordered to mobilize for active duty tomorrow. He is to report to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, and then report to Fort Benning, Georgia, for overseas deployment. A week later, the Army revokes Cook’s deployment orders, instead ordering Cook to await an upcoming hearing on his court filing. Army Public Affairs Officer Lieutenant Colonel Maria Quan says that reservists such as Cook have the right to ask for revocation of their orders up to the day they are scheduled to report for active duty, but adds that Cook has not asked for such revocation. The Army has learned that Cook volunteered for deployment in May 2009, while simultaneously conferring with Taitz to file the complaint. [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 7/14/2009; Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 7/14/2009] Cook has posted on the Free Republic, a far-right Web site and forum, for six years under the moniker “roaddog727.” As early as March 2010, Cook had exchanged emails with Taitz, suggested that he was one of a number of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit challenging Obama’s citizenship, and had posted a long discourse on Obama’s lack of citizenship on the Free Republic. Taitz has repeatedly solicited soldiers to take part in her anti-Obama lawsuits. [Washington Independent, 7/14/2009; Mudville Gazette, 7/15/2009] On July 16, the day of the hearing, Cook is joined in the complaint by retired Army Major General Carol Dean Childers and active reserve Air Force Lieutenant Colonel David Earl Graeff. The government says that because Cook’s orders have been revoked, the complaint filed by Taitz is “moot”: “The commanding general of SOCCENT (US Special Operations Central Command) has determined that he does not want the services of Major Cook, and has revoked his deployment orders.” Taitz revises the complaint to add Childers and Graeff to the suit, “because it is a matter of unparalleled public interest and importance and because it is clearly a matter arising from issues of a recurring nature that will escape review unless the Court exercises its discretionary jurisdiction.” The lawsuit now says the injunction is necessary to encompass the possibility of Cook receiving future orders for deployment as well as to address and prevent “negative collateral consequences such as retaliation against” Cook. The filing notes that Cook lost his job at defense contractor corporation Simtech because of the lawsuit, and complains that Cook is the target of “gossip” from people who believe he was “manipulating his deployment orders to create a platform for political purposes.” [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 7/16/2009] Federal judge Clay Land dismisses the suit, siding with the defense which calls the lawsuit “moot.” Land rules: “Federal court only has authority of actual cases and controversies. The entire action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” Cook says after the ruling: “I love the Army and I want to continue to serve in the Army. If we can establish that [Obama] is in fact president of the United States legally, I’m on the airplane the next day over to Afghanistan… if they cut my deployment orders, so I can do the job that I want to do.… If one cannot establish the validity and legality of the order… we would be following illegal orders and subject to prosecution. I could be prosecuted by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and if captured I would not be privy to protections under the Geneva Convention.” [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 7/16/2009] Taitz claims victory. The military has shown its cards “and they have nothing to play with,” she says. “By revoking the orders, it’s clear to anybody. Think reasonably: Why would the military undermine itself by revoking its orders?” She says the Army revoked Cook’s orders because the government could not prove in court that Obama was born in the United States and is therefore the legitimate commander in chief. CENTCOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Bill Speaks calls Taitz’s claim “ridiculous” and Cook’s position “a bizarre conspiracy theory. Suffice to say [that revoking the orders] is certainly not an acknowledgement or validation in any way of his claims.” [Stars and Stripes, 7/30/2009]
Entity Tags: Orly Taitz, Maria Quan, Clay Land, Carol Dean Childers, Free Republic, Bill Speaks, US Department of the Army, Stefan Frederick Cook, David Earl Graeff, Barack Obama
Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda
US troop deaths in Afghanistan reach 31, the highest toll for US troops in Afghanistan in any month since the war began in late 2001, surpassing the previous record of 28 deaths in June 2008. “This is probably the new normal,” says Seth G. Jones, an analyst for the Rand Corporation and author of a new book on the war in Afghanistan. “I’d actually be shocked if casualties didn’t continue to increase.” The Washington Post notes that although thousands of US Marines are in the midst of a major operation in the southern province of Helmand (see Early Morning July 2, 2009), American troops suffer the heaviest losses in the eastern part of the country where 16 US soldiers have been killed so far this month. The majority of the fatalities are caused by roadside bombs, which have grown increasingly sophisticated. [Washington Post, 7/22/2009] By the end of the month, the death toll for US troops will reach at least 43 among 75 coalition troops killed. [Voice of America, 7/31/2009] A similar spike in US military fatalities occurred in Iraq in 2007 just after then-President George W. Bush dispatched around 30,000 additional troops to the country (see December 30, 2007). US troop levels will roughly double this year in Afghanistan, a rate of increase sharper than that of the Iraq “surge” ordered by Bush (see January 10, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/22/2009]
Stars and Stripes, the official news outlet for the US military, publishes an analysis of a lawsuit filed by Army reservist Major Stefan Cook, who asked a court to stop his deployment to Afghanistan because of his doubt that President Obama is a US citizen and therefore lacks the authority of commander in chief. The lawsuit was dismissed after the Army rescinded its deployment orders for Cook (see July 8-16, 2009). Stars and Stripes reporter Megan McCloskey writes: “[T]he Army reservist’s intention appeared not so much to fight for America as to fight against President Barack Obama, in furtherance of a bizarre conspiracy theory.… Cook is one of the so-called ‘birthers,’ a small group of activists who subscribe to a fringe conspiracy theory alleging that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore cannot legally serve as president. The conspiracy theory, proven false by numerous media investigations as well as officials in the state of Hawaii where Obama was born (see June 13, 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, and July 28, 2009), first surfaced early in the presidential campaign, but in recent months it has continued to fester on the Internet.” McCloskey theorizes that the lawsuit was engendered by Cook’s attorney, “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz (see November 12, 2008 and After and March 13, 2009), in order to “gain [her] a few more minutes of screen time on the cable news networks. Taitz, a Russian-born dentist who got her law degree online, is the public face of the birthers. She has been trying to get the conspiracy theory heard in court since before the election. So far, all of the lawsuits brought by the birthers have been summarily dismissed.” The Army, McCloskey writes, “refused to be baited” by this lawsuit. Lieutenant Colonel Holly Silkman, a spokesperson for SOCCENT (US Special Operations Central Command), says Cook’s critical engineer billet could not be “hijacked by further legal wrangling.” Cook was scheduled to deploy on July 15, and his position cannot sit empty. The officer Cook was supposed to replace “is going to have to remain in Afghanistan a while longer,” Silkman says, and adds that the Army is working to find a replacement: “No one has been identified yet, but it is a priority fill, so we’re working on it and expect to fill it soon. Engineers are in high demand.” Taitz, interviewed by McCloskey, tells the reporter: “I have one question: Why would any member of the US military risk his life or take any orders… from someone who is refusing to prove he is the legitimate president? We can’t stand for the arrogant, obnoxious behavior of Obama. He wants to defraud the whole nation.” Taitz refuses to allow McCloskey to interview Cook. Brandon Friedman of VoteVets (.org), a political action committee seeking to elect veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to public office, says of Cook: “That’s not leadership. That’s not the way Major Cook was trained and brought up in the Army. You don’t leave a unit like that, and you certainly don’t do it because you’re trying to make a political statement.” [Stars and Stripes, 7/30/2009]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates offers no timeline for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and states that the length of US combat engagement there is a “mystery.” When asked at a press conference how long he thinks American combat forces will be fighting active war in Afghanistan, Gates, a former CIA director, responds: “[I]n the intelligence business, we always used to categorize information in two ways, secrets and mysteries.… Mysteries were those where there were too many variables to predict. And I think that how long US forces will be in Afghanistan is in that area.” When pressed further, he reasserts the unpredictability of the proposition, but guesses that “a few years” may be required to defeat the insurgency militarily, and that the larger enterprise of institution-building and economic development will require US engagement for decades. Responding to a question concerning a statement made by incoming British Army Chief General Sir David Richards that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years (see August 8, 2009), Gates replies that he does not agree that troops will be committed in combat operations for that long, but agrees with Richards’s later distinction that wider engagement in areas such as economic development and governance will be a “decades-long enterprise.” Joining Gates at the press conference is Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General James Cartwright. Cartwright backs Gates’s “mystery” assessment, but he links the possibility of force withdrawal to the political situation and handing over competencies to the Afghan National Security Forces. [Associated Press, 8/13/2009; U.S. Department of Defense, 8/13/2009]
Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issues a press release claiming that the proposed health care reform legislation would hurt veterans’ health care. In his statement, Buyer says, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” He claims that under the legislation some veterans would be subjected to “penalty” taxes for failing to have “acceptable” health coverage. The White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy, Matt Flavin, himself a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, quickly counters with a statement contradicting Buyer’s claims: “I’m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA [Veterans Adminstration] health care, you will remain eligible. There is no impact on VA health care. So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts. There is no effect.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy rear admiral, confirms Flavin’s rebuttal, and goes further, noting that the Obama administration’s budget restores VA care for some 500,000 veterans kicked out of the system during the Bush administration. “President Obama’s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system,” he says. “Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. Now, it’s 500,000 that are denied. And President Obama’s budget in the next four years brings them all back in. Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans.” Sestak adds: “I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it’s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they’re talking about. It states it just like that.” [US House of Representatives, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’ [Source: American Veteran Magazine]Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tells his viewers that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a secret “death book” that urges veterans to “pull the plug” and commit suicide. The 51-page booklet is called “Your Life, Your Choices,” and, Wallace says, was pulled for rewriting and reissuance in 2007, yet the VA under President Obama is still using it. In his Fox News blog, Wallace writes: “What makes the book controversial is that—according to critics—it seems to push veterans in the direction of ‘pulling the plug.’ For instance—page 21 is a worksheet in which the veteran is asked to consider various situations and then check—whether in each case, life would be ‘difficult, but acceptable’—‘worth living, but just barely’—or ‘not worth living.’ You might think that the scenarios would involve irreversible comas and the like. But no—they include: ‘I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair’—‘I live in a nursing home’—‘I am a severe financial burden on my family’—and ‘I cannot seem to “shake the blues”’.” Wallace’s guest, Wall Street Journal columnist James Towey, whom Wallace describes as helping to “end use of the book under President Bush, and was shocked to see it has now been reinstated,” tells viewers that the message of the book is simple: “hurry up and die.” (Wallace notes that he learned of the VA’s “death book” from Towey’s August 18 Journal column.) And, Wallace writes, quoting Towey, “he says—when government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude that life is not worth living—‘who needs death panels?’” Wallace briefly notes that he also interviewed VA’s Assistant Secretary, Tammy Duckworth, who noted that the book is “just one of many reference tools the VA makes available—and that it is currently being revised.” [Veterans Administration, 1997 ; Wall Street Journal, 8/18/2009; Fox News, 8/23/2009]
Debunking the Claim - The story of the “death book” is quickly debunked. Richard Allen Smith of the veterans’ organization VetVoice notes that the VA booklet is actually aimed at helping veterans choose not to commit suicide, and provides them with methods and resources to battle depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions which lead veterans to consider prematurely ending their lives. [Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009] Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the claim that the Bush administration “rescinded” the booklet in 2007 is false. While it was reviewed in 2007, the Bush administration actively promoted the use of the booklet throughout its tenure; an online document on the VA’s Web site labeled “Reviewed/Updated Date: December 29, 2008,” states, “To learn about a living will, read ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’” Wallace’s claim that the VA mandates all veterans receive the booklet is also false; it is considered an optional reference, not mandatory. [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Hidden Agenda? - Smith notes that Towey may have another reason for opposing the VA booklet. In 1996, Towey founded an organization called “Aging with Dignity.” In 1997, the organization released a 12-page pamphlet, “Five Wishes,” that it says does the same job as the VA’s booklet. It gives the ailing veteran a list of five questions that, it claims, when answered will guide your life decisions. For years, Towey has been trying to get the VA to stop distributing its own booklet and instead buy “Five Choices” to use with its veterans. In 2007, Towey did help force the VA to reassess and revise its booklet after complaining that it was biased against the anti-abortion viewpoint. Smith writes bluntly: “Astonishing. Jim Towey is one sick mother f_cker to argue that veterans should be presented with LESS information, not MORE, when it comes to making a living will, all so he can make a profit from peddling his end-of-life pamphlet that is shorter than the books my two-and-a-half-year-old reads.” [Huffington Post, 8/22/2009; Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009]
Claim Spread by Conservative Media - Even before Wallace’s August 23 broadcast, some conservative media outlets, having read Towey’s August 18 Wall Street Journal editorial, began spreading the story of the VA’s “death book.” The National Review printed editorials denouncing the booklet, and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it “the equivalent of a death panel.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) used her Facebook blog to accuse the VA of “encourag[ing] veterans to forego care as they make end-of-life decisions.” And radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners: “This thing is obsessed with death. It’s obsessed with you deciding—or with some—maybe some influence—that your life isn’t worth living. It’s—there’s nothing positive in this.” [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Chris Wallace, Media Matters, National Review, James Towey, Fox News, Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Tammy Duckworth, Richard Allen Smith, Rush Limbaugh, US Veterans Administration, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. [U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/26/2009] In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. [Washington Times, 8/24/2009]
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. [US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 8/10/2009; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2009]
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer ignores orders to remain in place and leads five forays into a ravine outside the village of Ganjigal, Afghanistan, after members of his column are ambushed by Taliban while attempting a meeting with the village elders. Meyer and Staff Sergeant Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, who are off to a flank and not inside the ambush, rush in and rescue several trapped American and Afghan soldiers after Captain Will Swenson of the US Army calls for artillery support and the request is denied. Meyer, Rodriguez-Chavez, Swenson, and others also retrieve the remains of three fallen Marines and one Navy corpsman. [New York Times, 9/15/2011] Meyer will later be given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions (see September 15, 2011) [New York Times, 9/15/2011] and Rodriguez-Chavez will receive the Navy Cross. [CNN, 6/10/2011]
Limits and Dangers of Counterinsurgency Theory - The event will later be examined and used as an example of the problems that can occur with the counterinsurgency theory that has been pressed upon the troops by the Pentagon. The villagers’ betrayal to the Taliban, ambiguous lines of command, and refusal of help from nearby units will all been documented as the kinds of problems that enlisted soldiers typically face in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
Judge Clay Land. [Source: TruTV (.com)]US District Court Judge Clay Land throws out a complaint questioning President Obama’s birth, and seeking to halt the deployment of Army Captain Connie Rhodes to Iraq on the grounds that Obama is not the legitimate commander in chief. Rhodes is represented by “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz (see November 12, 2008 and After, March 13, 2009, and August 1-4, 2009). In the complaint, Taitz writes on behalf of Rhodes: “This plaintiff cannot in good conscience obey orders originating from a chain of command from this merely de facto president. This plaintiff cannot be lawfully compelled to obey this de facto president’s orders.” Land, clearly angered by the complaint, says Taitz will face sanctions if she ever files a similar “frivolous” complaint or lawsuit in his court again. Rhodes, Land rules, “has presented no credible evidence and has made no reliable factual allegations to support her unsubstantiated, conclusory allegations and conjecture that President Obama is ineligible to serve as president of the United States. Instead, she uses her complaint as a platform for spouting political rhetoric, such as her claims that the president is ‘an illegal usurper, an unlawful pretender, [and] an unqualified imposter.’” The evidence presented by Taitz in the complaint is groundless, Land rules, noting allegations that Obama might have used 149 addresses and 39 Social Security numbers before becoming president and the existence of what Taitz claims is Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate. “Finally, in a remarkable shifting of the traditional legal burden of proof,” he writes, “plaintiff unashamedly alleges that defendant has the burden to prove his ‘natural born’ status. Any middle school civics student would readily recognize the irony of abandoning fundamental principles upon which our country was founded in order to purportedly ‘protect and preserve’ those very principles. Unlike in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ simply saying something is so does not make it so.” Land orders that Rhodes pay any costs incurred by the defendants, who include President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Colonel Thomas Manning, a garrison commander at Fort Benning, Georgia. Taitz says she believes Land is guilty of treason by dismissing her complaint, saying, “Judge Land is a typical puppet of the regime—just like in the Soviet Union.” She adds that she intends to keep fighting for Rhodes if Rhodes desires her to, telling one reporter, “Listen, Nelson Mandela stayed in prison for years in order to get to the truth and justice.” Three days later, Rhodes renounces Taitz as her lawyer, and informs Land that she did not authorize the emergency request for stay of deployment that Taitz filed on her behalf. “I did not authorize it and do not wish to proceed,” Rhodes writes in a letter to Land. “Ms. Taitz never requested my permission nor did I give it.” She adds: “I do not wish for Ms. Taitz to file any future motions or represent me in any way in this court. It is my plan to file a complaint with the California State Bar due to her reprehensible and unprofessional actions.” Rhodes is deployed days later; an Ohio lawyer files a separate complaint with the California State Bar (see September 17, 2009). [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 9/16/2009; Huffington Post, 9/16/2009; TPM Muckraker, 9/16/2009; Washington Independent, 9/19/2009] Taitz responds by telling a reporter she believes Rhodes’s letter is a forgery. “I don’t know if this letter came from her,” Taitz writes in an email, “since she is in Iraq now and the Office Max store from where it came, states that they don’t send faxes for customers. The signature on her notarized letter from Kansas and this letter looks different.” An Office Max clerk confirms that he faxed the letter on behalf of Rhodes, and the letter itself notes that she would fax it to Judge Land. Taitz goes on to claim that she believes Rhodes “was pressured by the military” to renounce her and consider filing a complaint with the California State Bar. “It appear to be a concerted effort to quash all free speech, particularly any legal challenges to Obama’s legitimacy.” [TPM Muckraker, 9/21/2009] In October, Land will sanction Taitz, fining her $20,000 for professional misconduct (see October 13-16, 2009). Land recently dismissed another, similar lawsuit filed by Taitz on behalf of Army Major Stefan Cook (see July 8-16, 2009).
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, top US diplomat for East Asia, says the Obama administration believes that policy continuity is critical in preserving ties with Japan’s new government, which desires more equitable relations with the US. According to Campbell, both countries have agreed to close and replace Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base, the hub of airpower in the Pacific. The two countries have agreed to relocate Kadena on the overpopulated southern Japanese island of Okinawa, but Okinawa citizens would like the base completely removed from their homeland. The removal of Kadena Air Base is also supported by government members of brand new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has expressed a desire to review US military presence in Japan, although the prime minister has carefully emphasized that the US, Japan’s major military ally and trading partner, shall remain the keystone of Japan’s foreign policy. Just recently, Campbell returned from Tokyo where he met with the new government. “The Obama administration will be very clear about how important it is to respect each other as equals, although we support a strong and independent Japanese foreign policy. As an alliance partner and a strong friend of Japan, at this early stage, we cannot be in a position to dictate,” he said, adding that, “In private, we will, however, underscore areas where we think continuity in policy is important.” The new Japanese government also would like to end its country’s Indian Ocean naval refueling operation in support of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, although the US says it would like Japan to continue cooperating. [Taragana, 9/21/2009; Associated Press, 9/21/2009]
The Pentagon establishes a new unit called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program,” which is designed to develop cadres of officers (and civilians) from each of the military’s services who agree to three to five year tours to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Under the program, the Pentagon plans to assemble a dedicated cadre of about 600 officers and civilians who will develop skills in counterinsurgency, regional languages, and culture, and then be “placed in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress towards achieving US government objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” according to a Pentagon directive establishing the program. Those selected for the program will do a year in Afghanistan before moving to the Pentagon’s new Afghanistan office or to jobs at CENTCOM that are focused on the war. Implementation of the Afpak Hands program is to begin in two phases. The first phase, commencing on October 19, 2009, has already been sourced according to the Pentagon directive. The Afpak Hands program, together with a new intelligence center based at CENTCOM called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence” (see August 26, 2009) and the recently established Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell (see May 11-June 10, 2009), indicate that the US military is planning for a long-term engagement in the region depending heavily on elite, Afpak-dedicated military and intelligence officers. [Wall Street Journal, 10/6/2009; Marines.mil, 10/7/2009]
The Middle District Court of Georgia levies a $20,000 fine on “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz. The court accuses Taitz, who has filed a lawsuit alleging that President Obama is not a US citizen and asking the court to bar his deployment of military personnel overseas (see September 16-21, 2009), of wasting the time and resources of the Georgia court system. The judgment, issued by Judge Clay Land, against Taitz calls her “delusional.” The judgment finds: “Counsel Orly Taitz is hereby ordered to pay $20,000.00 to the United States, through the Middle District of Georgia Clerk’s Office, within 30 days of the date of this order as a sanction for her misconduct in violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Land writes: “The Court finds that counsel’s conduct was willful and not merely negligent. It demonstrates bad faith on her part. As an attorney, she is deemed to have known better. She owed a duty to follow the rules and to respect the Court. Counsel’s pattern of conduct conclusively establishes that she did not mistakenly violate a provision of law. She knowingly violated Rule 11. Her response to the Court’s show cause order is breathtaking in its arrogance and borders on delusional. She expresses no contrition or regret regarding her misconduct. To the contrary, she continues her baseless attacks on the Court.… Counsel’s frivolous and sanctionable conduct wasted the defendants’ time and valuable judicial resources that could have been devoted to legitimate cases pending with the Court. When she filed the Rhodes case, counsel indicated that it was urgent that the matter be heard because her client was facing imminent deployment. The Court rearranged its schedule, took time to read the legal papers, and conducted preliminary research in preparation for the hearing. The Army had to activate its legal team on short notice, sending a major from the Army Litigation Division in Washington, DC, and a captain from the CONUS Replacement Center at Ft. Benning. In addition, the Assistant US Attorney had to accompany them. Like the Court, the government attorneys had to prepare in an expedited manner for the hearing. During the week preceding Captain Rhodes’s deployment, the Court was in the midst of a jury trial. Therefore, the Court had to alter the trial schedule to conduct the hearing during an extended lunch break, thus affecting other counsel and jurors. The Clerk’s Office was burdened by Ms. Taitz’s inability to follow the Court’s rules regarding pro hac vice admission and the Court’s rules for electronic filing. On five separate occasions in a short period, the Clerk’s Office personnel error-noticed counsel for her failure to follow simple rules. At the hearing, counsel failed to make coherent legal arguments but instead wasted the Court’s time with press conference sound bites and speeches.” [Washington Independent, 10/13/2009] Land notes that in one of her filings, Taitz accused him of meeting secretly with Attorney General Eric Holder outside the court. Holder had actually been thousands of miles away that day, giving a speech in Los Angeles. [Washington Examiner, 7/7/2010] Land includes a footnote that says one of Taitz’s supporters had contacted him, challenged him to a “round of fisticuffs on the Courthouse Square,” and asserted that “the president is not human.” Taitz says she will appeal the judgment, and accuses Land of being in the pocket of the “oppressive” Obama administration. “He’s scared to go against the regime,” she says. “He’s trying to intimidate me and other lawyers to stay away from this issue.” [Orange County Register, 10/16/2009] An appeals court will reject Taitz’s appeal and order her to pay the $20,000 (see March 15, 2010). [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 3/15/2010]
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