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Early Morning Room Inspections New Addition to Routine
02/28/2007 1:22 PM ET
As the Army scrambles to upgrade Walter Reed Medical Center in the wake of the recent Washington Post expose, the public affairs division seems to be taking a different approach in addressing the problem.

The Army Times is reporting that soldiers staying at Walter Reed's Medical Hold Unit have been instructed by their superiors to not speak to the media.

The soldiers were reportedly assembled by their sergeant-major on Monday evening and told that they must follow proper chain-of-command procedures if they need help with paperwork, or if they see mold, mice, or any other problems.

The Medical Hold Unit has also begun daily 7 am room inspections, something unusual in the Army after basic training.

According to one anonymous soldier staying in the Medical Hold Unit, quoted by The Army Times, “Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media."

U.S. Politics
House Speaker Says Bush, Cheney Getting Bad Iraq Advice, Not Seeing Reality
02/27/2007 9:43 PM ET
Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi branded the Iraq war "a massive national security blunder," said President Bush's Iraq-related judgment is "severely impaired," and said "the president and the vice president are living an illusion that is quite different from the reality on the ground in Iraq."

Pelosi said of Bush, "I don't think he's getting good advice (on Iraq)... he is receiving advice that is wrong... has been from the start."

The house speaker called on President Bush to adjust course, to withdraw US troops from combat roles, and to begin a phased drawdown of US forces.

Exclusive
With Gold Rush for Armed Men Over, BW Looks to Diversify
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/27/2007 2:19 PM ET
Blackwater Grizzly
Blackwater USA
Blackwater Grizzly

Blackwater USA is rapidly building a mini-industrial empire in Camden and Currituck counties on the eastern seaboard. Expanding investment in domestic projects may indicate the future of Blackwater's business expansion, since by their own forecasts they see slower times ahead.

The company is wholly owned by Erik Prince and does not release financial figures, but estimates of their income range wildly from $100 million to $600 million per year.

Blackwater currently operates out of a 7,500-acre compound with a brand new modern headquarters (with another Executive HQ in Tyson's Corner, VA) set in the forested swamp of North Carolina. The originally 3,000-acre Moyock facility was purchased and developed in the late 90s to be a shooting range and training facility. Al Clark a former Navy Seal was said by some to be the force behind the training facility but Erik Prince vision has always been connected to his considerable personal and business resources. Initially the range and the target manufacturing facility had modest income but no profit.

It wasn't until Erik Prince picked up his first security contract from the CIA (with then VP of Security Jamie Smith) that income began to flow. There was a navy training contract (based on the need to prevent future Cole-type bombings and terrorist attacks) and then the Bremer detail. From there Blackwater began to pick up State Dept contracts and then corporate clients like the controversial protection contract that resulted in the infamous Fallujah event that put contractors on the public map. Blackwater's current visibility is due to their post-9/11 entry into the private security business and their largest chunk of business still comes in protecting State Department and OGA operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hostile regions

Even with the war on terror continuing to simmer, President Gary Jackson was recently quoted in a local paper as saying that Blackwater USA's growth will stop doubling each year and drop to around 50% growth, or even perhaps as low as 25%. They also expect to invest $50 million in business development in the coming year up from $15 million in 2006.

Since 9/11, Blackwater has become one of the largest suppliers and trainers of hired guns, but Prince's latest expansion pushes Blackwater further into other realms. New projects include an observation blimp, an industrial park, new training sites, an intelligence division, continued expansion in branded products manufactured or sold under license, and the "Grizzly" armored personnel carrier.

Jackson announced that after a fitful start, the Grizzly will go into production in a 70,000-square-foot facility in the Moyock compound. Initial production goals are to build one Grizzly per day. Previously the Grizzly was assembled in Pasquotank Commerce Park outside Elizabeth City.

The Grizzly is an evolution of the typical armored GMC Suburban, marketed as a more agile, comfortable and higher-powered replacement for the Humvee, but it does not deal with the higher threat posed by EFPs.

The cost of an armored Humvee is $150,000. Although the Army was slow to address the threat posed by IEDs, most military vehicles provide armored protection. The EFP has now escalated armor protection demands, and has set the bar for defensive technology. This may render the Grizzly obsolete, even though it is better than the Humvee.

Blackwater's Grizzly may not be able to compare with the recent public NASDAQ offerings of Force Protection and other more high-tech retro fit concepts from Ceradyne. Other areas where Blackwater will continue investing include for aerial observation platform in the form of an unmanned blimp--a low-speed UAV that stay aloft for as long as four days. Blackwater's aviation division is also relocating to the North Carolina property. Planning is underway for a hotel, including a 206-bed facility to replace the spartan bunkhouse used for training programs.

The final item in the works for the Moyock compound is the development of an "invitation only" industrial park comprised of 10 to 15-thousand square feet buildings for the manufacture of Blackwater-related or licensed products. Prince even his own development and heavy construction company that will benefit from the increased activity at Moyock.

Blackwater has also launched a high-priced academy, purchasing training properties in the midwest and southern California.

The 80-acre midwestern facility, scheduled to open this Spring, lies 50 miles west of Chicago, on Skunk Hallow Road near Mt. Carroll, Illinois. The 824-acre California facility is being constructed 45 miles east of San Diego, off Highway 8, three miles north of Potrero, but has run into zoning delays.

It remains to be seen just how far and wide Prince can roam and what the future holds. Prince's father was a major supplier of auto parts to the Big Three automakers and prided himself on his manufacturing skills. The younger Prince seems to be heading down the same path with armored trucks, blimps and even a range of clothing.

Blackwater dabbles in licensing its distinctive bear pay/gun site logo to Sig Sauer, a clothing manufacturer and many others. Unlike more conservative companies like DynCorp, Olive, Triple Canopy, HART, ArmorGroup, MVM and others Blackwater and Erik Prince have worked hard to build a culture of Blackwater. Blackwater may be the only intel/security company that hawks T-shirts and gear to 12-year-olds on Halloween and also to insurgents looking to get a laugh.

Your lowest cost entry into the world of Blackwater is their $1 sticker. A true collectible years from now.

U.S. Military
Profiles "John" Weeks Before He Plans to "Disappear"
02/27/2007 11:38 AM ET
The number of American soldiers going AWOL may have increased by a third in 2006, and could see an even more sharp spike as a result of Bush's planed surge, according to a new piece in Der Spiegel.

The German newspaper talks to a pseudonymed American soldier who plans to go into hiding after a short visit home, rather than serve another deployment to Iraq. The personal story provides a launching pad for an examination of what could represent a disturbing trend in US military affairs.

The DoD does not keep official figures on the number of soldiers considered absent without leave, but Der Spiegel establishes a baseline by citing the "Chapter 11" discharges processed through Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and Ft. Knox, Kentucky-the two main centers for handling arrested or surrendered AWOL soldiers.

The two processing centers annually averaged 1,546, Chapter 11 discharges between October 2002 and September 2005, but that number grew to 1,988 in 2006.

This indicator only seems to include those who have been arrested or who have surrendered, so those AWOL soldiers still unaccounted for may add to the total number. Spiegel does not offer an estimate for what percentage ends up turning themselves in, but just says "many."

Those who go into hiding no doubt do so because they fear the possible punishment. Interestingly, however, Spiegel cites Ft. Knox spokeswoman Gini Sinclair as saying that most of the 14,000-plus troops processed through the two centers since the invasion of Afghanistan were discharged within two weeks.

Spiegel also uncovered a foreboding indicator for how the AWOL trend might accelerate in response to the surge strategy.

"Since Bush's speech, we've been swamped with new calls," says Michael Sharp, director of the Military Counseling Network, a non-profit organisation near Heidelberg that helps American soldiers who are considering leaving the service. Last month the group took on 30 new clients, three times its previous average.
UNDER FIRE
Defense Behemoth Part of "Military-Industrial-Counterterrorism Complex"
02/26/2007 2:54 PM ET
Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty

Of all the defense contracting companies that have seized the opportunity for growth sparked by the war on terror, few have achieved the kind of success of SAIC (Science Applications International Corportation).

As compared to the kind of logistics, construction, security, or other "brawny" support services farmed out to giants of industry like Halliburton or Bechtel, SAIC provides the "brain" for US outsourcing needs. Currently working on roughly 9,000 separate federal contracts, SAIC's 2006 revenues--most of which comes from the government--reached approximately $8 billion.

In the March issue of Vanity Fair, Donald Bartlett and James Steele look at what the US government has gotten in return for the many billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone to SAIC over recent years. Following the trend of too many defense contracts over the past five years, the piece outlines another example of failed goals, alleged overpricing, and uncomfortably cozy relations with government officials.

In describing one of SAIC's largest failed endeavors, Bartlett and Steele describe how for the NSA, SAIC was awarded a $280 million contract to design a computer system--named Trailblazer--to sort and store electronic communications. The botched effort was cancelled after four years and a billion dollar investment, though SAIC has since been awarded a new $361 million contract to attempt essentially the same thing under a new title--ExecuteLocus.

SAIC was also behind the notoriously incompetent $124 million effort to bring the FBI's computer system into the 21st century.

Steele and Bartlett trace the history of SAIC from its founding in the late 1960s, to its current iteration as an essential contributor of support services to the US government, warning that the modern SAIC--most specifically the role it played in supporting the Bush Administration's push for war in Iraq--could exemplify a new kind of military-industrial-counterterrorism complex.

Transcript
US VP Nearing End of Overseas Tour; Full Newser Transcript Below
02/24/2007 3:50 PM ET
John Howard and Dick Cheney in Sydney today
White House photo
John Howard and Dick Cheney in Sydney today
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Office Sydney, Australia

10:35 A.M. (Local)

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to welcome the Vice President of the United States to Australia. The Vice President and I have had a very lengthy discussion in which we have canvassed Iraq, Afghanistan, China, our relations with and the influence of Indonesia in our region. We've had a bit of chit chat as politicians normally do on occasions like this about world politics generally. And all of this is taking place against the background of the very close, longstanding and rock solid friendship and relationship between the people of Australia and the people of the United States.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, bottom left, meet in the Prime Minister's office, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007 in Sydney. White House photo by David Bohrer Vice President Cheney is a very welcome visitor to this country. He knows it well. He came here frequently between his years of service with the first Bush administration and his becoming Vice President.

As well as discussing the matters I've itemized, I spoke to him regarding our concerns about the progress with the trial of David Hicks. I'll be joining the Vice President -- or rather he will be joining me and some of my senior colleagues for lunch at Kirribilli House. And we'll have the opportunity during that lunch to continue our discussions. But, Dick, you're very welcome. You're a good friend --

(Technical difficulties.)

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: Well, did I tell you as well as talking about the matters I've mentioned, I raised our concerns about David Hicks, is that about where you dropped off? Is that about right?

Q Yes.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: Well, I did indicate to the Vice President our concerns about the processes and the time involved in bringing David Hicks to trial, as well as discussing that and the other matters I spoke about, the Vice President and I will, along with some of my senior colleagues, being having lunch at Kirribilli House later today. At that lunch we will talk about some trade issues I intend to raise and some broader political issues. But let me say again, Dick, you're very, very welcome in our country. You have a long and warm and close association with Australia. We value very much the determination and articulation you have brought to the cause of the West in fighting the scourge of terrorism, and the determination of your country and a determination that I feel and my country shares to resist terrorism wherever it occurs, be it in Afghanistan, in own part of the world, in Iraq, or, indeed, in any other part of the world. It is a threat of different dimensions from ones we've faced in the past, but the threat is no less lethal than ones the West has previously faced. And we must remain -- and maintain our resolve in resisting it.

For the best I can remember, that's what I said. (Laughter.)

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: It sounded better the second time. (Laughter.)

I'm delighted to be here. And I want to thank Prime Minister Howard for his gracious hospitality. We have been friends for a long time. And I've visited Australia on many occasions, but it's always a special privilege to come back, especially to Sydney, one of my favorite cities.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Prime Minister John Howard of Australia stand in the Prime Minister's Sydney office, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007, before their joint press availability. White House photo by David Bohrer I want to also bring good wishes to everybody in Australia from our President and from the people of the United States. I've made this journey to focus on dialogue between our two countries, to thank the people of Australia for the friendship that means so much to the United States. Prime Minister Howard has spoken of the age old wisdom that we must keep our friendships in good repair. And certainly, I believe our two nations have lived by that wisdom.

Australians and Americans know each other. We respect and like each other. We face common challenges with firmness and resolve. And rarely have the challenges been so numerous and yet never before has our alliance been stronger.

I had the privilege of meeting with members of the Australian Defence Force who've demonstrated a great professionalism and courage in Afghanistan and Iraq. Australia, of course, has been a staunch ally in the global war on terror, and the conduct of the Australian Defence Forces reflects great credit on the nation.

America is proud to count Australia as a skilled and a decisive ally. We have much yet to do in Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat freedom's enemies and to consolidate the gains for democracy. But we will honor our commitments, and we'll remain on the offensive against the forces of extremism and violence.

The U.S. and Australia face the world with open eyes, and we accept the responsibilities of leadership. Our transpacific alliance will continue to work to build security and stability throughout Southeast Asia, addressing the dangers of weapons proliferation, extending the benefits of free markets, and open trade, and confronting environmental challenges, as well.

Australia's contribution to security and to good governance in the Pacific Island countries is principled. It's effective, and it's indispensable. History has set a good deal of work in front of us, and none of it is easy. Yet together we compose one of the world's great alliances, a broad and successful partnership based on deep respect, shared values, and great strength used to good purposes. And we look forward to the future with confidence.

Finally, I note that next month Prime Minister Howard will mark 11 years as the leader of this country. He has certainly borne up well under what Sir Robert Menzies has called "the hammering of the times." John Howard's integrity, his good counsel and his optimistic spirit have only strengthened the warm friendship between our two countries and have added to our effectiveness in the cause of freedom and security.

Vice President Dick Cheney answers a question Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007, during a joint press availability with Australian Prime Minister John Howard at the Prime Minister's office in Sydney. White House photo by David Bohrer These have been crowded and decisive years, during which all of the world has come to know John Howard as a man of wisdom and character. For myself and for my country, I want to express our gratitude to the Prime Minister for his friendship and for the leadership he's brought to our world.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: Okay, have two questions from each side. Olivier?

Q Thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you, Vice President. One for each of you.

Mr. Vice President, you've said that the British draw-down from Iraq reflects their success there and not domestic considerations. Did the United States ask for them to redeploy those troops inside Iraq to take some strain off the U.S. forces involved in the Baghdad Security Plan and in al Anbar province? And if not, why not?

And to you, Prime Minister, the Vice President had some pretty tough words for China yesterday. Do you agree that China's military build-up exceeds their security needs? And what can China do specifically to ease concerns about that?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, the Brits have been great allies in the efforts -- mutual efforts in Iraq. They have been there from the very beginning, as have our Australian friends. They have to make decisions with respect to their forces based upon what they think makes sense. Prime Minister Blair did consult with President Bush in terms of moving forward, and the comments I made reflected their communications with us, the fact that they believe the situation has improved in Basra and southern Iraq, which has been their prime area of operation.

They're going to continue to have a major presence there. They're also I believe beefing up their operations in Afghanistan at the same time, so we're very comfortable with their decision.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: In relation to China, Australia, as you know, has striven over the last decade to build a very close relationship with China. But we've always done it against a background of being realistic about the nature of political society in that country. We have no illusions that China remains an authoritarian country. We have sought to emphasize in our relations with China those practical things that we have in common. And we do, I hope, with appropriate modesty regard it as one of the foreign policy successes of this country over the last decade that we have simultaneously become ever closer in our relationship with our great ally the United States, but at the same time built a very constructive, understandable relationship with China.

But we always look at these things from a practical standpoint. We have no false illusions about the nature of China's society. But we see positive signs in the way in which China and the United States have worked together, particularly in relation to North Korea. And nothing is more important to the stability of our own region at the present time than resolving the North Korean nuclear situation. And I think the way in which China and the United States have worked together on that is wholly positive and is obviously to the credit of both of those countries.

Jim.

Q Question I guess for both of you, but I'll ask specifically for the Vice President. Would the United States like and, indeed, did you seek from the Prime Minister any additional military support in Iraq? And given your belief that Baghdad must be secured, why would the United States not want more military support from its allies within the Sunni Triangle? And secondly, would the U.S.-Australia alliance be damaged if Australia were to withdraw its 500 combat -- I stress combat -- troops from Iraq?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I want to emphasize how much we appreciate what our friends in Australia have done from the very beginning both in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cooperation between our militaries has been superb. The contribution on the part of the Australians has been significant in every respect.

I also want to emphasize that decisions about what Australia does going forward with respect to force levels is a decision for the government of Australia. Those decisions are obviously going to be made by the Australian government based on their considerations, as well as I would expect conditions on the ground in that part of the world. It's not for us to suggest to our allies what their appropriate response might be. But certainly, I would say that the government has met our expectations in every regard. Cooperation has been excellent.

Karen.

Q Damage to the alliance?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I don't see any prospect of damage to the alliance. I think this alliance has been solid. We've fought together in every major conflict for the last hundred years. I remember coming here 15 years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coral Sea Battle. We do from time to time, as all governments do in democracies, have differences of opinion on various and sundry issues. But I think the alliance is rock solid. And we are delighted with the way in which it has functioned in the latest go-round. Americans always remember that John Howard was in America on 9/11 and spoke eloquently about the challenge that we face and has been a superb leader and ally in the global war on terror ever since. And we have great respect for that.

Q Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. I'd like to ask the Vice President a question about Iran. With Tehran ignoring the U.N. deadline to discontinue and Ahmadinejad saying his country must stand up to the world, are you frustrated with the pace of diplomacy on Iran? And also Secretary Rice has said that the North Korea deal will serve as a model for Iran. And I'm just wondering if you could elaborate on that and explain just exactly how? And I'd be interested in the Prime Minister's thoughts about Iran, as well.

VICE PRESIDENT: Well, with respect to the second part of your question in terms of the Secretary's view on North Korea as a model, you really ought to direct those questions to Condi.

With respect to the first part of your question on Iran, we are deeply concerned and have made it very clear we're deeply concerned about Iran's activities. We see a nation that has been fairly aggressive in the Middle East as a sponsor of Hezbollah, working through the Syrians and Hezbollah to create problems for the government of Lebanon. They have made some fairly inflammatory statements -- their President, Ahmadinejad. They appear to be pursuing the development of nuclear weapons through uranium enrichment. We've worked with the European Community and through the United Nations to put in place a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and to resolve the matter peacefully. That's still our preference.

But I've also made the point and the President has made the point that all options are still on the table. Next step now is being debated between our government and the others involved. Nick Burns, the number three man in the State Department, is I believe in London today to negotiate with our European friends who have been in the effort, the Brits, the French and the Germans, on the future course of action that we want to pursue with respect to the United Nations sanctions and so forth. And I don't have anything beyond that, that I can say at this point other than that we believe it would be a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran were to become a nuclear power.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: I guess, the only additional comment I'd made is in the context of Iraq, I can't think of a country whose influence and potential clout would be more enhanced in that part of the world than Iran's would be if there were to be a coalition defeating Iraq. I don't think you can separate the two. I think the impact on Iran and the way in which Iran would be emboldened if there were a coalition defeat in Iraq. And that would occur if there were a -- that would be seen to have occurred if there were a precipitous coalition withdrawal. I think Iran would benefit enormously from that, and that would to many in the Middle East -- not just the Israelis -- that would be a nightmare scenario.

John.

Q Prime Minister and Mr. Vice President, on the David Hicks issue, you said you raised your concerns with the United States on Mr. Hicks. These concerns have been made for some considerable time. Will the United States allow David Hicks to be returned to Australia? Or could you both tell us exactly whether he will now be presented to trial for the United States?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: Well, I did raise my concerns as I have on two occasions recently with President Bush. The concern is about the time. I make no judgment about guilt or innocence. I am no sympathizer of David Hicks. I cannot believe that he was on some kind of hitchhiking tour in Afghanistan. I don't think any person who examines the facts could possibly believe that. And the charges against him are very serious, indeed. And countries that have fighting men and women in Afghanistan have every right to want those charges heard before a court.

He can't be tried in Australia for those alleged activities because they were not crimes at the time they took place. Our sole concern is about the passage of time and the bedrock principle of our legal system and that, indeed, of the -- you might loosely call the Anglo-American legal system that people should not be held indefinitely without trial. And that's the view that I put.

And I have asked that within the constraints of the separation of powers in the United States system between the executive and the judicial process that the trial be brought on as soon as humanly possible and with no further delay. And now I've put that very plainly and I've put it in the context of direct speaking between close friends. It is an issue that concerns me and concerns a lot of my fellow Australians.

We have always thought that the cause of justice was better served by him facing a military commission with enhancements, including a presumption of innocence, which is now entrenched in the process as a result of the most recent piece of congressional legislation, an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, and understanding between Australia and the United States that the unexpired residue of any conviction that Hicks receives, the term can be served in an Australian prison. In other words, the time he's already spent can be deducted from any sentence. Now all of that is understood. And I've put the view that the trial should be as soon as humanly possible.

Now, I think the Vice President understands that. I'm sure he does. He can speak for himself. I certainly put those views very strongly to the President when I last spoke to him. And it's time not so much the merits of the case that matter to me.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: And the Prime Minister is absolutely right about the importance of moving forward as quickly as possible consistent with the basic legal procedures and requirements that are appropriate. The reason there have been delays when we got into this whole business of a global conflict on terror, traditionally, of course, when you are at war, you are allowed under international law to capture enemy combatants and then to hold them. And once the war is over, we release them and send them back to their home country. This is a very different situation where the combatants are unlawful combatants under the international laws of war, and where there's no ready made provision for how you're going to proceed under those circumstances.

What we've done -- what we did initially was to establish military commissions that would try those suspected of having violated the laws of war in some fashion. The precedent for that under our law was -- dated back to our Civil War in the 1860s, as well as during World War II when commissions were used to try German saboteurs, for example. The Supreme Court after World War II upheld the constitutionality of that commission process. And so we went back and we used that to build the commissions that we put in place in connection with the global war on terror. That was challenged, went through a long process in the courts -- 20 some months in terms of wending its way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court this time gave us a different decision than they had some 50 years before and this time concluded that we had to have explicit authorization from the Congress before we could set up these commissions and that certain requirements had to be met.

We've now met those requirements. We've put the commissions -- created commissions in a manner that's consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, passed legislation through the last session of Congress and are now moving forward.

Mr. Hicks is near the head of the queue, if I can put it in those terms. He has been charged. The question that happens now -- or the issue that arises now is under our procedures there is what's called a convening authority. This is a quasi-judicial function inside the Department of Defense -- a judge, in effect -- who will make the decision based on the charges that have been presented as to whether or not a commission should be convened for the purpose of trying this individual, in this case, Mr. Hicks. We cannot interfere with that process. It is a judicial process. And we're not allowed to call over and say when are you going to be through, or what are you going to decide. We can't influence it. That would be a violation of the procedures.

But I do expect in the not too distant future that piece of the process will get resolved. Once they go to trial, if Mr. Hicks is found guilty, as John said, we have agreed that he can serve his sentence here in Australia. And of course, if he were not found guilty, then he'd presumably be returned to Australia having been found innocent. But that's where we're at now. There's no question that it's taken a long time, longer than I think anybody would have desired. But a lot of that has been due to the fact that we were trying to comply with our own legal processes. And in many cases, lawsuits had been filed, decisions were required by the various courts going through this process in terms of establishing the commissions and the procedures that would be used in conjunction with them.

But the Prime Minister has been very direct with us. We appreciate his candor. He's talked to the President about it, and we've discussed it again this morning. And I can assure you we want to do everything we can to deal with these matters in as expeditious a manner as possible consistent with the statutes and the laws that apply in this case.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: Thank you.

END 10:58 A.M. (Local)

U.S. Politics
Senator Speaks Frankly on the Campaign Trail
02/23/2007 10:52 PM ET
John McCain in Iowa, February 2007.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty.
John McCain in Iowa, February 2007.
John McCain, Arizona senator, Republican presidential hopeful, and staunch supporter of President Bush’s new Iraq deployment plan, said today that he might have sacrificed his career to support the Iraq war, AP is reporting.

Speaking before the World Affairs Council and the City Club of Seattle, he said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair "has literally sacrificed his political career because of Iraq . . . that is a great testament to his political courage."

When asked by a reporter if he was in danger of making the same sacrifice, McCain responded, "Sure."

Senator McCain lost the Republican nomination to President Bush in 2000. He is expected to officially announce his second campaign for the White House next month.

Smackdown
Tells ABC News: "I'm Not Backing Down"
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/23/2007 2:45 PM ET
Ian Waldie/Getty

Dick Cheney responded to Nancy Pelosi's outrage offensive in an exclusive interview with ABC news today.

The interview with Jonathan Karl also covered Cheney's views on North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and other lofty issues of the day, but the juiciest part concerns his bickering match with the Dems.

Karl: Well, let me ask you about something you said when we last spoke, you said that the course that Nancy Pelosi has proposed on Iraq would validate al Qaeda's strategy. She has come out with a pretty strong response saying that those remarks were "beneath the dignity of the debate, a disservice to our men and women in uniform." She's even said that she's going to call the President to express her disapproval. What's your reaction?

Cheney: She did call him. She got Josh Bolten. The President wasn't in right then. But I'm not sure what part of it is that Nancy disagreed with. She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment. If you're going to advocate a course of action that basically is withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, then you don't get to just do the fun part of that, that says, we'll we're going to get out and appeal to your constituents on that basis.

You also have to be accountable for the results. What are the consequences of that? What happens if we withdraw from Iraq? And the point I made and I'll make it again is that al Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al Qaeda. I said it and I meant it.

Karl: And you're not backing down?

Cheney: I'm not backing down.

Who would ever expect Cheney--he who notoriously uttered "fuck yourself" to Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor--to back down?

Pelosi knows well enough that Cheney is not a man of many apologies, but I doubt she ever expected him to do so. Washington whispers of how Cheney is being increasingly marginalized within the Administration, and Pelosi may be shrewdly trying to drive a final public wedge between the President and his VP.

Bush has yet to comment on the Pelosi-Cheney exchange.

The full transcript of the ABC News interview with Cheney is available on their Website.

Sgt Paul Cortez Admits Four Murders, Rape and Conspiracy To Rape.
02/22/2007 11:12 PM ET
The BBC reports that Cortez broke down as he confessed "to raping the girl as her parents and sister were shot dead in another room."

Th incident involved five. U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, KY

Smackdown
Madame Speaker Calls White House to Demand Respect
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/22/2007 1:53 PM ET
John Sullivan/Getty

Now that the Dems are in power, they're not going to put up with Cheney talking trash anymore. This afternoon, Nancy Pelosi put in a call to the White House to complain to Bush about Dick Cheney's recent public comments lambasting Democratic ideas to restrict Bush's request for $93 billion for the war.

Cheney had commented on ABC: "I think if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we will do is validate the Al Qaeda strategy. The Al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people ... try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they win because we quit."

Pelosi's response to Bush: "You cannot say as the president of the United States, 'I welcome disagreement in a time of war,' and then have the vice president of the United States go out of the country and mischaracterize a position of the speaker of the House, and in a manner that says that person in that position of authority is acting against the national security of our country."

Bush had asked Pelosi to call him personally and tell him if any member of his administration went too far with the barbs, but Bush couldn't be reached when Pelosi called the White house, and she had to transmit her comments through chief of staff Josh Bolten.

Pelosi also says she hopes "the president will repudiate and distance himself from the vice president's remarks."

Analysis
Rural Areas Bear The Brunt Of War Deaths
02/20/2007 3:39 PM ET
With few options and a bleak future, many young men and women in America enlisted into the military as a way out. Others were patriots. Many have died -- more than a thousand small communities across the country from Vermont to Wyoming to Louisiana are finding their burden far heavier than those in more urban areas.

The Associated Press has reported that almost half of US fatalities in Iraq came from towns with less than 25,000, with one in five from towns with less than 5,000. The same report found almost three quarters of those killed came from towns with per capita income less than the national average, and more than half killed came from towns with citizens living in poverty was greater than the national average.

The Carsey Institute is out of the University of New Hampshire and studies trends and conditions in rural America. They have published a fact sheet on rural soldiers that includes information on those serving in Iraq:

RuralDead_fact_revised_1.pdf

USC Uses Xbox Game Concept to Treat Mental Trauma in Iraq Vets
02/19/2007 10:18 AM ET
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The Guardian updates a bold new attempt by the University of Southern California to treat what may be Iraq's silent wound: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) The officially recognized version of "shell shock" or psychological trauma causes by stress and violence.

The virtual reality concept is a digital recreation of combat situations in Iraq that includes not only high resolution digital imagery and sound but also smells and tactile feelings. The idea is to expose patients to scenarios that trigger their PTSD and work through them with the goal of lessoning the negative side effects.

The system incorporates smells like gunpowder, cordite, burning rubber, Iraqi spices, barbecued lamb and body odor. Patients wear googles, earphones and can feel vibrations through a subwoofer.

Treatment sessions are 90 minutes, twice a week currently being conducted at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 2004 determined that PTSD affects more than 15 percent of combat personnel returning from Iraq. The normal non combat rate among men is 5%.

PTSD is twice as likely among women than men. The condition can take weeks or years to develop after the initial triggering event. The psychological and physical condition can be caused by frightening or distressing events like combat as well as violent attacks, fear, natural disasters and serious accidents. 5% of men and 10% of women will experience it at some time in their life.

Symptoms include anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, anger, emotional numbness, extreme jumpiness and physical pain. Vets are encouraged to take advantage of the services and information provided by the National Center for PTSD

Video
In First "HillCast," Offers "Road Map Out of Iraq," Denounces Bush
02/18/2007 1:41 PM ET

Here's the full 3'13" video.

Although Clinton brands her advertisement as a "conversation" and touts her time on the ground, her total time "on the ground" in Iraq and Afghanistan was less than one day in both country. Her official record of her third trip to Iraq shows that in one day (January 13, 2007) she and her entourage met with dozens of people and encouraged her to form her opinion that the U.S. should pull out.

"I came back from Iraq more determined then ever to stop the President's escalation of troops into Iraq, and to start the long overdue redeployment of troops out of Iraq," Senator Clinton said. "The Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act that I proposed last month and introduced this week caps the number of troops in Iraq at the level before the President's escalation. It would be against the law to send more. The legislation also protects our troops who are performing so heroically, by making sure they aren't sent to Iraq without the body armor and training they need - empty promises from the President just aren't enough anymore. And it calls for the phased redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. I've been pushing for this for almost two years. Now it's time to say the redeployment should start in ninety days or we will revoke authorization for this war. This plan is a roadmap out of Iraq. I hope the President takes this road. If he does, he should be able to end the war before he leaves office."

Senators Bayh and Clinton, Congressman McHugh Visit Iraq

January 13, 2007

Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), and Congressman John M. McHugh (R-NY), completed a full day of briefings and visits in Iraq today. Their Congressional Delegation (CODEL) will now continue on to Afghanistan.

Below is a brief description of what the CODEL did on Saturday in Iraq:

• Met with General Casey, Commander of Multinational Force Iraq.

• Met with General Odierno, the new Commander of Multinational Corps Iraq.

• Met with General Martin Dempsey, Commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq and Commander NATO Training Mission Iraq.

• Lunch hosted by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad with Iraqi leadership, including the Iraqi Vice President, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Mahmud Zebari, Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives Mahmud Dawud al-Mashhadani, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Rafea Al Assawi.

• Met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

• Senator Clinton met with Iraqi women leaders.

Below is Senator Clinton's trip report from Iraq...

CODEL Trip Report

Day 1 - January 12, 2007

Our Congressional delegation consisting of Senator Evan Bayh, Congressman John McHugh and myself, left Washington, DC from Andrews Air Force Base late on Thursday night for the Middle East. Like me, Senator Bayh of Indiana is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and over the past four years, he has sat next to me during Armed Services Committee hearings. Congressman McHugh is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and his district includes Fort Drum in upstate New York, home of the 10th Mountain Division, the most frequently deployed division in the U.S. Army. Indeed, soldiers from the 10th Mountain are currently deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

I wanted to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan at this critical time to thank our men and women in uniform for their service and also to get a first hand assessment of the current situation in both countries. This is my third factfinding trip to Iraq and Afghanistan – I previously visited both nations over Thanksgiving weekend in 2003 and in February 2005.

After a brief refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland, we arrived in Kuwait on Friday night and had dinner with Richard LeBaron, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait and received an intelligence briefing which served as a useful primer for our trip into Iraq the next day.

Day 2 - January 13, 2007

We left our hotel in Kuwait before dawn to catch an early C-130 flight from Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Airbase into Baghdad. The C-130 was filled with soldiers in full gear on their way to deploy to Iraq, including a couple of soldiers from New York's 10th Mountain Division and other soldiers originally from New York.

Ordinarily, a flight from Kuwait to Baghdad takes about an hour and 15 minutes. As fate would have it, about a half hour into the flight, we were told that there were poor visibility and weather conditions at Baghdad International Airport and that we would be unable to land. They offered to land at a city north of Baghdad until the weather cleared up or to take the chance that there would be an opening in the weather to let us land. The members of the CODEL decided to hope for the best and seek an opening into Baghdad. We circled Baghdad for about 90 minutes and learned that a small opening had emerged. Our talented pilot navigated masterfully through the fog and completed a perfect landing.

We were running a bit late so we hurried in a motorcade to make our first meeting of the day at Al Faw Palace with General George Casey and Lt. General Raymond Odierno. General Casey is the Commanding General of the Multi-National Force in Iraq and has been selected by the Pentagon to be the next Army Chief of Staff. Lt. General Odierno assumed command of the Multinational Corps-Iraq in December. Both before and after the meeting with Generals Casey and Odierno, the delegation had the chance to greet and take pictures with many soldiers, sailor, airmen and Marines who work at the palace. During our meeting, we expressed our gratitude for the service of the men and women in uniform serving magnificently in Iraq. We also had a wide-ranging discussion about the current situation in Iraq and the President’s proposal to add additional troops into Iraq.

After the meeting with Generals Casey and Odierno, the delegation moved into a group of vehicles on our way to a lunch hosted by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad with leading Iraqi leaders. At the lunch we had a frank discussion with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, Foreign Minister Mahmud Zebari, National Security Advisor Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives Mahmud Dawud Al-Mashhadani and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Rafea Al-Assawi.

After lunch, we received a briefing from Lt. General Martin Dempsey, a New Yorker from Orange County, who is the Commanding General of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. Lt. General Dempsey heads up efforts to train the Iraqi Army and security forces. We then received a classified intelligence briefing as well from U.S. intelligence officials stationed in Iraq.

After the intelligence briefing, the delegation met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki at his residence. We discussed his views of the President’s proposal last week and also discussed engaging regional actors on Iraqi security issues.

After meeting with Prime Minister Maliki, I split from the rest of the delegation to meet with a group of Iraqi women leaders at the U.S. embassy. On my two previous trips to Iraq, I had also made efforts to meet with Iraqi women leaders and think it is important not to forget the difficult issues that women face in Iraq. They talked about the challenges facing women in Iraq but also their desire to make a difference. I pledged to do all that I could to assist their efforts.

After meeting these impressive Iraqi women, we rejoined the delegation at the Embassy helipad and flew in Blackhawk helicopters back to Baghdad International Airport where we boarded a C-130 for the return flight to Kuwait.

The day was challenging but informative. The meetings and discussions that we had today will be tremendously useful as we continue to assess what policies to pursue in Iraq

Photo Gallery
Camp Pendleton Memorial Service for 100 Fallen Colleagues
02/16/2007 00:05 AM ET
Lance Corporal Jason Derks (L) and Lance Corporal Daniel Patrick, who both returned from the war wounded, mourn for their fallen companions of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment as the Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Lance Corporal Jason Derks (L) and Lance Corporal Daniel Patrick, who both returned from the war wounded, mourn for their fallen companions of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment as the Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5.

Camp Pendleton, California, February 15: Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5 (RCT-5 ) memorialize 100 Marines, soldiers, and sailors who died during the regiment's 12-month deployment in Iraq's Anbar province. The RCT-5 was assigned to cultivate the combat capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces in the greater Fallujah region and helped facilitate the expansion of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Division's battlespace in Fallujah proper and saw the repositioning of Marines to the edges of the city.

Corporal Brian Reimers, a combat correspondent attached to the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, holds the dog tags of his fallen companions.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Corporal Brian Reimers, a combat correspondent attached to the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, holds the dog tags of his fallen companions.

K'Ann Hines kisses the dog tag of her fallen son, Lance Corporal Joshua Hines
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
K'Ann Hines kisses the dog tag of her fallen son, Lance Corporal Joshua Hines

Lt. Corporal David Furness clutches the dog tags of fallen Marines he commanded in Iraq.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Lt. Corporal David Furness clutches the dog tags of fallen Marines he commanded in Iraq.

Corporal William Ward, a combat correspondent with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, holds the dog tags of fallen companions.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Corporal William Ward, a combat correspondent with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, holds the dog tags of fallen companions.

Marines salute during the playing of Taps.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Marines salute during the playing of Taps.

Stay Tuned
Memo Demonstrates Pentagon Damage Control Efforts
02/15/2007 08:15 AM ET
In a newly-released memo, Eric Edelman, under secretary of defense for policy and a defender of predecessor Doug Feith, attacked the recently-released IG report on pre-war intelligence, characterizing portions of it as "egregious."

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball reported on the Edelman memo, which they report demonstrates the clout and tactics of current and former Cheney aides, since Edelman's written protest convinced Pentagon Inspector-General Thomas Gimble to drop recommended policy changes from his report.

"In the original draft of his report, Gimble recommended that the Defense Department policy office establish new internal controls to make sure that officials there do not conduct 'intelligence activities.' He also recommended that any alternative judgments be clearly labeled as such?and that policy officials spell out precisely how they diverged from those of the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

But after reviewing a copy of Gimble's draft, Edelman wrote a 52-page response, dated Jan. 16, 2007, that rejected virtually everything the inspector-general had to say (except Gimble's conclusions that Feith's activities were not illegal). Edelman described the report as having 'numerous factual inaccuracies, omissions and mischaracterizations."

See here for an alternate view of Feith's assessments from Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired former USAF colonel and former member of the Pentagon unit.

For further reading, in recent days I have posted a piece quoting former CIA offical Michael Scheuer's views on the Feith assessments, and the letter fromSenators Hoyer, Reyes, and Skelton asking Robert Gates what measures he proposes be put in place to prevent the kind of flawed assessments the DoD's IG report found came from Feith's unit.

Transcript
Says Many Mistakes in Iraq, No One to Blame, US Must Press On There
02/15/2007 00:35 AM ET

Former New York City Rudy Giuliani mayor leads US opinion polls among prospective Republican presidential candidates, and on CNN's "Larry King Live" Wednesday night he made it official: He's running for president. His Iraq-focused comments on "Larry King Live":

KING: Let's get to some issues.

A leading industrialist, a friend of mine, said if the United States were a corporation, based on the Iraq War, everyone at the top would be fired.

How would you comment on that? And that -- in other words meaning it ain't going right.

GIULIANI: Yes, but that would have been true -- he would have said the same thing about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln would have been fired. And he might have said the same thing at the Battle of the Bulge and Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Marshall -- all would have been fired. And...

KING: So you're confident this is all going to turn around?

GIULIANI: Oh, no. No.

KING: Because those -- they turned around.

GIULIANI: No, no. I'm not confident it's all going to turn around.

Who knows that?

I mean, you never know that in the middle of a war. I'm confident that we have to try to make a turnaround, and we just can't walk out and that it is critical to us that things get to the point in Iraq that we have some degree of stability and not the way they are now. Because if we leave it the way it is now and we run out, then we're going to face further difficulties in the future. Then we're going to lose more lives in the future.

And I'll tell you who tells me that -- a lot of people that have been there. I was just in San Diego speaking to sailors and Marines that have been in Iraq. That's what they tell me. They tell me look, this is a volunteer army -- you want to take our advice? Our advice is give us a chance to try to stabilize that place, otherwise we know what's going to happen. Two years from now you're going to send us back because there's going to be a major war in this area.

KING: But what do you do to change it? Are 20,000 troops going to change it?

GIULIANI: I think you've got to change the whole strategy, which I hope they did. I mean I hope -- I hope -- the whole strategy has to be a strategy of not just pacifying places, but holding them, and holding them for some period of time.

It reminds me a little, on a much bigger scale, of what I had to do to reduce crime in New York City. We had to not just go into neighborhoods and make them safe -- which the city had been doing for years. But the city had been going in there, making them safe and then leaving -- and then going to another place, make that and leave. Another place -- make it safe, leave.

We've got to go, make it safe in the areas, the districts of Baghdad, and then stay there for a period of time and stabilize it and allow people to have their kids go to school. And we have -- you know, there was a real doubt as to whether we could do this, nation building?

KING: Yes.

When are we going to do it?

GIULIANI: Well, we weren't going to do it and we weren't sure we could do it, and this is a real hard thing to learn how to do. And it's very different than what the military used to have to do in the past -- or America.

But right now, if we don't do a better job of stabilizing Iraq -- and not just for the benefit of the Iraqi people, for the benefit of our people -- then we have -- then we have a country where Iran has got a major, major ability to expand their activities.

KING: Would you...

GIULIANI: Two Shiite countries right next to each other, slaughtering, you know, where one group, at least, is slaughtering Sunnis.

KING: Would you agree, Mr. Mayor, if they had to do this all over again, go back years, no one would vote for the Iraq War? A hundred to nothing, probably, in the Senate? No WMD --

GIULIANI: Yes, I guess...

KING: No?

GIULIANI: But I'm not sure that explains to us what's right about us. You know, the idea of taking out Saddam Hussein was one that was premised on the fact that he invaded Kuwait, that he used chemical weapons, that he had billions of dollars at his disposal, which he used to support various parts of this Islamic terrorist movement.

KING: You're not saying you'd do it again?

GIULIANI: I would remove Saddam Hussein again. I just hope we'd do it better and we'd do it in a different way.

KING: But what do you say to the...

GIULIANI: ... that we do the nation building part or the hand off to the Iraqis or the rebuilding of the Iraqis -- here are the things that I learned from it. Not -- take out Saddam Hussein in a second again. I think the world is much better off without Saddam Hussein than with him. And I think maybe some of the confusion doesn't lead us to really see that. Here's what I would change. Do it with more troops.

KING: Which was recommended and turned down.

GIULIANI: ... maybe 100,000, 150,000 more. I would do it in a way in which we didn't disband the army, which we've learned. This is all -- you know, this is all Monday morning quarterbacking, but you Monday morning quarterback in order to play the next game better, right? Monday morning quarterbacks who just want to criticize is cheap stuff. Monday morning quarterbacking so that next Saturday or Sunday you can play better is absolutely right.

I would -- I would have us not disband the army. You wouldn't de-Baathify. See, de-Baathify sounds like the right thing to do because you're getting rid of all the old Saddam guys. But that meant getting rid of the entire civil service. The country had no infrastructure.

KING: So are you -- are you -- who do you blame?

GIULIANI: So you learn from these things.

KING: Do you blame Rumsfeld?

GIULIANI: No, I don't blame anybody.

KING: You don't blame any -- somebody's got to...

GIULIANI: No, no, no. You don't do it that way.

KING: Nobody's to blame?

GIULIANI: You don't do it that way. That's why you don't make progress. Just like I don't blame people for not figuring out September 11 before it happened. What I do is, I kind of look at what happened, so you learn for the future.

KING: But there were mistakes.

GIULIANI: Of course there were mistakes. Lincoln made mistakes. Roosevelt made mistakes. Eisenhower made mistakes. The Battle of the Bulge was the biggest intelligence failure in American military history, much bigger than any in Vietnam or now. We didn't know that the Soviets were moving 400,000 or 500,000 troops. We missed it.

KING: Shouldn't they be blamed for not explaining it well enough?

GIULIANI: Learn from it. Learn from it. Don't blame them.

KING: How about the American public is so against it, have they done a bad job in explaining?

GIULIANI: Maybe, maybe, you know. Yes, maybe they didn't do that.

KING: Would you communicate better?

GIULIANI: I don't know. I hope -- I hope I would. I mean, you know, I hope -- I hope that I would learn from the mistakes that were made in this situation.

DC Scoop
Karpinski: "Thankfully, Your Opinion Doesn't Count for Anything"
02/13/2007 3:23 PM ET

Last night, a discussion following the advance screening of Rory Kennedy's forthcoming HBO documentary "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" turned into a heated exchange between Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Janis Karpinski, the former commander of the notorious prison who was demoted because of the scandal.

Sen. Graham was on stage with Sen. Ted Kennedy for a moderated discussion on Abu Ghraib, when Graham stated that he thought Karpinski "should have been court-martialed" instead of just demoted.

An excited whisper rumbled through the auditorium, as the audience wondered if Graham, who had arrived late to the screening, realized that Karpinski was one of the honored guests listening to him.

Later, just before drawing the post-screeing discussion to a close, moderator Jeffrey Toobin invited Karpinski to respond to Graham's assertion.

A polite smile/grimace was locked on Graham's face as an elegantly-dressed but still imposing Karpinski rose from her seat and took a microphone, first reminding Graham that she was a proud soldier.

"Senator Graham," she began, "I am also a resident of South Carolina." As a wave of chuckles and applause washed over the audience, Karpinski told Graham how she looked forward to returning home so she could share his comment with the rest of his district. "Thankfully," she intoned, "your opinion doesn't count for anything."

Karpinski continued with the lambasting, telling Graham, "I consider you as cowardly as Rumsfeld, (Ricardo) Sanchez, and (Geoffrey) Miller," for lobbing accusations without undertaking any real action to uncover the extent of the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Karpinski also added that the military "didn't want me in the courtroom because they would have heard the truth."

Graham countered with references to his own military service, and his understanding of leadership and chain-of command. He said that a good commander would have done spotchecks in the middle of the night to make sure his/her underlings were behaving. According to Graham, because Karpinski didn't do the basics of military leadership--which in his mind was the direct cause of the torture at Abu Ghraib--she should have been punished with more than demotion.

Karpinski responded that what Sen. Graham was suggesting would have required a regular late night convoy of National Guard to make the trip out to the prison for spotchecks, thus exposing those soldiers to unnecessary danger.

To the audience's grave disappointment, Jeffrey Toobin took that opportunity to wrap up the evening.

Will Congress Look to Investigate More CIA Contracting?
02/13/2007 12:07 PM ET
As we reported last week, rumors have been swirling that indictments are imminent for Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, former ExDir of the CIA, on charges of funneling Iraq contracts to his longtime friend, disgraced contractor Brent Wilkes.

ABC News' Blotter is now reporting that the indictments will come down today. Wilkes is expected to be indicted in addition to Foggo.

Beyond the 'breaking news' nugget, only one line of the Blotter piece is particularly notable:

If Foggo is indicted, it will represent a dark day for the CIA and is expected to lead to a full congressional investigation of how secret CIA contracts are awarded.

Erik Prince and the other Blackwater boys are going to cringe when they hear that.

According to Robert Young Pelton's Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, the ExDir who preceded Foggo at the CIA, Buzzy Krongard, directly influenced the awarding of a "no bid" contract to Blackwater--the first privatization of CIA security needs in the war on terror. (DISCLAIMER: I edited the book.)

The $5.4 million dollar deal was to fill an "urgent and compelling" need to provide security contractors for CIA officers in Afghanistan, a requirement that allowed the normal bidding procedure to be set aside for a direct award to one firm. What made the award particularly curious was that Blackwater had no previous experience in providing security.

Though Blackwater lawyers sent letters threatening lawsuit and demanding all copies of Licensed to Kill be recalled and destroyed because of that particular passage, Pelton and Random House did not bow to the pressure, and to be honest, never even considered it.

Pelton was confident of his sources and even more confident that Blackwater would not want to open themselves up to the kind of legal scrutiny that would inevitably come from litigating a civil case.

Ken Silverstein at Harper's blog followed up on the news in Licensed to Kill and confirmed it through his own sources at the CIA. When I later asked a CIA friend about it who was working in Afghanistan when the first Blackwater contractor arrived, he replied, "That was Buzzy. That was all Buzzy's thing."

I will be interested to see if this is one of the contracts on the shortlist for examination if a congressional investigation is indeed undertaken as result of the Foggo-Wilkes debacle.

02/13/2007 11:34 AM ET
The Hill's Congress blog is "where lawmakers come to blog." Today, Calif. Dem. Rep. Lynn Woolsey blogs on the debates in the House on Iraq.

The post: "Starting this morning the House will begin to debate the moral issue of our times, our continued military occupation of Iraq. My colleagues and I will have the opportunity to vote on President Bush's escalation, a failed policy from the start, which will only deepen our engagement in the Iraq, and increase the cost to our country in lives, limb and treasury. The American public has already overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the President’s plan, and now it is our turn, and our responsibility to have our voices heard. I will support this week’s effort, and will cast my vote against the President’s proposed escalation, but I will not stop there, and neither should my colleagues."

Lastly: "To oppose the escalation is an important first step, but it must be the beginning of our debate, not the end. Even if we succeeded in preventing President Bush’s escalation we would be left with an unacceptable status quo – over one hundred thousand of our brave men and women still in harm’s way, and a continued military occupation that is fueling the insurgency. Let me be clear, we must do more than oppose the President’s escalation, we must bring our troops home."

Transcript
Tells C-SPAN Iranian Govt "Belligerent," US Seeks Peaceful Resolution
02/12/2007 5:01 PM ET
President Bush in C-SPAN interview
C-SPAN
President Bush in C-SPAN interview

How did President Bush respond to what he described as "a pretty interesting trick question"? Read on.

In a 30-minute interview with C-SPAN today, President Bush spent half that time responding to questions about Iraq and Iran. Here's the transcript of that Mideast-focused portion of the interview:

Q Mr. President, in 23 months our 44th President will be sworn into this office. With regard to the Middle East and Iraq, specifically, what will he or she inherit?

THE PRESIDENT: A society in Iraq that is learning to live with themselves; a unified -- a country that's heading toward more unity, based upon a modern constitution which was approved by the Iraqi people. There will be violence. There will be criminality. But they will also see a country in which the security forces are better equipped and better adapt at dealing with the extremists. They will see a political process that is working toward reconciliation. They will know there have been local elections, which enables the local folks to have more buy-in to the provincial government. They'll see a society that is an ally in the war on terror.

They will also know what I know, that the real challenge in the Middle East is to confront extremists and not allow the extremists to bully and marginalize and use their weapon of terror to gain safe haven and/or to gain an ideological advantage over the millions who want to live in peace.

Q What do you think the children of Iraq will view -- how they'll view the U.S. in 15, 20 years?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. It depends on whether or not we help bring stability so that a child can grow up in a normal environment or, relatively speaking, normal environment. That's a fantastic question.

See, I believe most mothers want to raise their children in peace -- whether they be Sunni or Shia, Iraqi or any other part of the world. And if we can help this government be able to create the conditions so that a mother can raise their child in peace, I think people will look back and they'll be thankful of America. If America leaves, however, before the job is done, I think there will be great resentment toward America.

Q As you know, we hear from a lot of viewers every day. We had a call yesterday that wanted to know -- a viewer from Ohio -- what will victory look like? How do you define it?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question, and it's a difficult question to answer because a lot of people think in terms of victory -- in terms of the USS Missouri, for example, where there was a treaty signed on a battleship that said, "Japan has been vanquished."

You'll see a society that I just described, one where there's commerce and enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing; one in which there's -- life is relatively normal in a society that has been wracked by extreme violence, in the last year, in particular; one in which the government is exercising its responsibility on behalf of the people; one in which the constitution that had been voted on is the cornerstone of law for that society; and one which rejects extremism and violence and does not allow a group like al Qaeda to find safe haven within their borders.

Q The House this week, three or four days, 36 hours of debate and a resolution that is likely to be very critical of your policies. First of all, will you be watching the debate? And will it at all influence your policies in the future?

THE PRESIDENT: In terms of watching the debate, I've got a lot to do -- I'm not exactly sure what hours they'll be debating, but I've got a pretty full day, I mean, like, I started this morning at 6:45 a.m. and I've had meetings up until right now. So I haven't been watching anything.

Q But this will start tomorrow.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I've got a full day tomorrow. (Laughter.) I mean, it's not as if the world stops when the Congress does their duty. I'm receiving foreign guests. It just depends on what my schedule looks like.

Secondly, look, I already know what the debate is. I hear a lot of opinions. A lot of people don't believe we can succeed in Iraq and, therefore, I presume, want to get out. That would be a disastrous course, as far as I'm concerned.

Look, if you asked me, do you approve of Iraq? And my answer is, no, I don't -- in other words, if one of those endless opinion polls reached into the White House and said, are you approving of Iraq? I would say to you, Stephen, no, I'm not. And, therefore, if I say I don't approve of the status quo, I have an obligation to make a decision to do something else.

One option that some in the Congress think makes sense was to withdraw from Baghdad. In other words, just let them fight it out. And some just say we shouldn't be there at all. Either one of those cases, in my judgment, would create chaos, violence and would make it much more difficult for us to have an ally in this war on terror, and much easier for the enemy to promote their hatred.

And, see, one of the interesting issues in this particular theater in the war against terror is that if we fail, then it is more likely somebody will come here and kill additional Americans. In other words, failure in Iraq emboldens an enemy which has caused us harm in the past and wants to do so again.

I listened to a lot of folks and said, instead of creating the conditions that would yield chaos, why don't we help this Iraqi government stabilize the capital city of Baghdad. Most of the country is in good shape. The truth of the matter is, if Baghdad looked like most of the rest of the country, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

And so, upon the advice of some smart military people and people inside -- diplomats and people who understand the situation -- they convinced me to add troops. We enforced the troops that are there. And General Petraeus will have that which he has asked for, and it's now in place and implementing a Baghdad security plan with the Iraqis in the lead so that, sooner rather than later, we can end up getting to what Baker-Hamilton suggested, which is a posture that is over the horizon, a defense posture that helps guarantee the territorial integrity of the country. We've got Special Ops guys chasing down al Qaeda and we're embedded with the Iraqis to help them do the security work.

Q I want to take you back to something that you said on September 12, 2002, with regard to Iraq. You said, "In one place, in one regime, we find these dangers in their most lethal and aggressive form." And my question is, do you sense the same with Iran?

THE PRESIDENT: There is no question that the Iranian desire to have a nuclear weapon poses a danger. And that is why our policy is aimed at convincing the rest of the world about the danger inherent with this regime having a nuclear weapon, and working together to do something about it.

Stephen, all major problems should be solved diplomatically. In other words, the military is the last resort to solve problems. And I believe we still have the capacity to solve this issue diplomatically, because a lot of the world now understands the dangers of Iran having a nuclear weapon.

And so we're working toward that end, and we're pressuring the regime through diplomatic channels -- i.e., a Chapter 7 resolution at the United Nations, thereby making Iran one of the few nations under Chapter 7.

The Iranian people are good, decent, honorable people. And they've got a government that is belligerent, loud, noisy, threatening, a government which is in defiance of the rest of the world and says, we want a nuclear weapon. And so our objective is to continue to keep the pressure in hopes that rational folks will show up and say, it's not worth it, it's not worth the isolation.

Q But you have Senator Dodd yesterday saying he was skeptical; Senator Lott --

THE PRESIDENT: Skeptical of?

Q That we were leading into a war. Newsweek Magazine had rumors of a war. Senator Lott saying that it's interdiction that's necessary, although we have to do something with regard to Iran. So what do you say to them?

THE PRESIDENT: I say we've got a comprehensive policy aimed to solve this peacefully. It's typical Washington, where people are out speculating and -- I do think it makes sense to make it clear to the Iranians, through the international community, that they're isolating themselves. And we'll continue to press hard to do so.

I guess my reaction to all the noise about, you know, "He wants to go to war" is, first of all, I don't understand the tactics, and I guess I would say it's political. On the other hand, I hope that the members of Congress, particularly in the opposition party, understand the grave danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon. Therefore, we all need to work together to solve the problem.

Q You use that word, "noise," a lot. How do you define that?

THE PRESIDENT: There's just a lot of chatter here in Washington. I mean, it's hard for some of your viewers to get it, I guess, unless they pay attention to the daily grind of news and comments and press releases. I guess I would just say that there's endless chatter, a lot of people on TV expressing their opinion -- which is fine, don't get me wrong, it's just part of the process -- after all, I'm on TV expressing my opinion with you. (Laughter.) But it's just a lot of chatter in Washington, a lot of people expressing themselves on a regular basis.

Q Some of your strongest supporters, Laura Ingraham on radio, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity have said that part of the problem is that the media haven't covered the full story in Iraq. If things go badly in Iraq, are the media responsible?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that's a pretty interesting trick question -- "if things go badly." I think they're going to go well, otherwise I wouldn't have made the decision I made. The question is what the definition of "go well" -- if the definition of success is, is that there will be no suicide bombers, then we've really placed our fate in the hands of those who are willing to kill themselves. If the definition of success is the emergence of a stable society that's beginning to reconcile and do the political work necessary, then I think we'll succeed.

Q But do you think the media are doing an adequate job covering the full picture?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm wise enough not to bash the media. I would hope, however, that they would take a good look at, for example, the rest of the country outside of Baghdad and Anbar province -- at least the reports I get are people are beginning to live a normal life. If you're a correspondent in a war zone, it's a little difficult to travel around the country on a free basis. But, look, I'm not going to complain about the media.

Smackdown
Obama to Howard: Send 20,000 More Australian Troops to Iraq
02/11/2007 7:03 PM ET
After Australian Prime Minister John Howard denounced Barack Obama's call for a phased withdrawal of US forces from Iraq -- even saying Iraqi terrorists surely are rooting for Obama to become US president -- Obama fired back with gusto today, calling on Howard to send 20,000 more Australian troops to Baghdad if he believes an allied troop build-up in Iraq is such a great idea.

Here's the full report on Howard's attack on Obama.

RICO Action Says Con Artists Affecting Value of Dinar
02/11/2007 11:28 AM ET
Press Release:

TEMECULA, Calif., Feb. 10 /Christian Newswire/ -- The law firm of Ackerman, Cowles & Lindsley filed a civil Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case against what are alleged to be the perpetrators of a vast real estate and currency exchange scheme taking place in California, Arizona, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Arkansas and on federal military lands.

United States District Court Case No. ED CV 07-00167 (Anna Richter, Deborah Weber v. James B. Duncan, et. al.) was filed by two investors who claim to have suffered over $500,000.00 in damages on their cases alone. U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Philips has been assigned the case. The suit alleges that the defendants may have scammed more that 700 victims in several states and on military installations, including an air base in Tucson, Arizona. The total damages are alleged to exceed $1.2B in this suit and a related suit filed in state court last month (California Superior Court Case No. RIC463483).

The complaint, filed on February 8, 2007, alleges that four operators of Stonewood Consulting, Inc., Pacific Wealth Management LLC (Nevada), and Sunburst Financial Systems, Inc., engaged in an investment scheme involving perhaps thousands of wire and mail transactions in Arizona, California and Texas. The named individuals are James B. Duncan, Hendrix Montecastro, Maurice Mcleod and Charlie Choi, all residents of Southern California.

The alleged mastermind of the scam is one James B. Duncan, who was previously ordered by the states of Washington and Iowa to cease and desist in investment activities. According to the State of Washington, in Department of Financial Institutions Case No. S-02-259, Duncan was previously fired from Olde Discount brokers for misappropriation of corporate funds and unauthorized investment activities. The Department found that Duncan defrauded a female victim and was ordered to pay restitution. In Iowa, Duncan was alleged to have taken financial advantage of an elderly victim in Iowa Division of Insurance Case No. C02-07-017.

In California, Duncan's alleged company, Pacific Wealth Management (NV), and individual Maurice Mcleod were ordered to cease and desist in the improper use of investor advisor numbers belonging to a legitimate brokerage in California Superior Court Case No. RIC462505. California Superior Court Judge Dallas Holmes issued a related temporary restraining order in Case No. RIC463483 against Hendrix Montecastro, and Maurice McLeod.

In the present case, the defendants are alleged to have induced members of the general public. hundreds of military personnel, church-goers, and health care professionals to get involved in a real estate business whereby "investors" could each become the owners of multiple residential properties throughout Arizona and California. In fact, fraudulent loan applications and income information were submitted on behalf of investors without their knowledge according to the suits. Now hundreds of alleged victims face multiple foreclosures and renters are losing their homes.

In what the defendants called a "short-term" investment, military personnel and others were allegedly duped into investing in the Iraqi dinar. However, the suit alleges that, while millions were taken from investors, the foreign currency was never delivered or only a minute fraction would be delivered to "investors." None of the defendants appear to be licensed to offer securities or currency exchange services anywhere in the United States.

The suit alleges that the activities of the defendants are having a damaging impact on the Iraqi dinar, the United States real estate market, and on the credit worthiness of the hundreds of victims, many of whom can no longer pay for so much as basic necessities. Some of the victims are alleged to have lost nearly everything they own. Military victims face even more serious consequences for excessive indebtedness. Members can suffer a breaking of rank and other devastating administrative action by superior command.

In the coming weeks, plaintiffs will ask the United States District Court to completely shut down the activities of the defendants and to place their enterprises into receivership.

Information About Iraqi Dinar Scam here

Transcript
Declaring Presidential Bid: "Time to Start Bringing OurTroops Home"
02/10/2007 3:29 PM ET
Kicking off his formal campaign for the presidency in Springfield, Illinois today, Democratic Senator Barack Obama branded the war in Iraq a "tragic mistake" and called for the phased withdrawal of US forces.

Here is the transcript of the Iraq-focused segment of his remarks:

Most of all, let's be the generation that never forgets what happened on that September day and confront the terrorists with everything we've got. Politics doesn't have to divide us on this anymore - we can work together to keep our country safe. I've worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that will secure and destroy some of the world's deadliest, unguarded weapons. We can work together to track terrorists down with a stronger military, we can tighten the net around their finances, and we can improve our intelligence capabilities. But let us also understand that ultimate victory against our enemies will come only by rebuilding our alliances and exporting those ideals that bring hope and opportunity to millions around the globe.

But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring an end to this war in Iraq. Most of you know I opposed this war from the start. I thought it was a tragic mistake. Today we grieve for the families who have lost loved ones, the hearts that have been broken, and the young lives that could have been. America, it's time to start bringing our troops home. It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war. That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace.

Finally, there is one other thing that is not too late to get right about this war - and that is the homecoming of the men and women - our veterans - who have sacrificed the most. Let us honor their valor by providing the care they need and rebuilding the military they love. Let us be the generation that begins this work.

Here is the full transcript of his remarks.

Casting Call To Play Iraqis: Spend Three Weeks Making Soldiers Crazy
02/09/2007 3:58 PM ET

The above classified ad, currently running in German newspapers, reads: "ARABIC speaking extras wanted! Would you like to earn €90+ per day? Do you speak a little German or English as well as ARABIC? If so, we have a job for YOU!"

A German casting agency is holding cattle calls to hire 600 Arabic speakers to play the roles of Iraqis in upcoming American military training exercises.

The extras have to play the roles of mayors, terrorists, pregnant women or traders. The US units taking part in the exercise will have certain tasks to complete as part of their training. The civilians' main task, on the other hand, will be to not understand the US soldiers. Probably will make them a little crazy.

According to Christian Fuchs in Der Spiegel, those hired as extras will live for three weeks, from March 20 to April 11, at the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) in Hohenfels, Bavaria, located between Nuremberg and Regensburg.

The 16,000-hectare training ground includes ten artificial villages. The extras are supposed to play "the role of an Arab in Iraq" for 24 hours a day, according to the casting agent in Berlin. The women have to wear headscarves, the men turbans. There is a mosque, a brothel, several barracks and dormitories where the extras -- known as "Civilians on the Battlefield" (COB) in military jargon -- will sleep.
Life Goes On
Signals Calming Of U.S.-French Relations
02/09/2007 2:05 PM ET
The AFP reports that French opposition to the Iraq war no longer angers Americans, as fresh criticisms from Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the French foreign minister went unheeded in Washington this week.

From the story: "In a sign that the Washington-Paris alliance is back to normal, there was virtually no comment this week after Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy described US policy in Iraq as a "failure," and called for withdrawal of all foreign forces in the country by 2008. Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post published a line about the remarks, while the White House and the State Department, when asked by AFP, took care to avoid any dispute.

Sears And Kmart Partner With Fisher House To Help Injured Vets
02/08/2007 4:54 PM ET
From The American Forces Press Service: This Valentine's season, Sears and Kmart customers will lend a hand, and a heart, to military families.

The press release: The retailers have joined forces with Fisher House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing “a home away from home” for injured military members and their families through the “Have a Heart for Military Families” program.

Fisher House is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program that highlights and facilitates the ways Americans and the corporate sector are supporting the nation’s servicemembers.

The Have a Heart for Military Families program will provide customers with an opportunity to help families of injured servicemembers by making a donation to Fisher House at any Sears or Kmart store and online.

“Our partnership with Sears and Kmart comes at a critical time for our organization,” David A. Coker, president of the Fisher House Foundation, said. “Our 37 Fisher Houses were home to more than 10,000 servicemembers and their families in 2006, and the need for additional homes is urgent.

“We plan to build 21 additional Fisher Houses, primarily to assist combat casualties and their families, so the support from Sears, Kmart and their customers is timely and needed,” he added.

Customers can donate at Sears or Kmart stores or at www.sears.com or www.kmart.com tomorrow through Feb. 11.

Sears and Kmart also assist troops and their families through several recruiting and employment programs. Both retailers offer a military pay differential to reserve-component employees who are activated. This allows reservists who are employed full-time to continue participating in life insurance, medical and dental programs while they’re deployed. Additionally, Sears and Kmart hold a comparable position for these individuals for up to five years.

“We are proud to be partnering with Fisher House,” said Aylwin Lewis, president and chief executive officer of Sears Holdings Corporation, which operates both retail chains. “Sears and Kmart have a longstanding commitment to those in the military, and we feel privileged to be assisting the troops and their families through this initiative.

“We know our customers will take this opportunity to open their hearts to help military families stay close to their loved ones when they need it most,” he added.

Analysis
Dramatic Testimony From Griefing Families, Excuses and No Good Answers
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/07/2007 4:53 PM ET
Donna Zovko
www.house.gov
Donna Zovko

As expected the four relatives of the deceased (and litigating) Blackwater employees delivered the emotional kickoff. Kristal Batalona, daughter of Wesley Batalona, Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel, mother of Scott Helvenston, Rhonda Teague, wife of Michael Teague and Donna Zovko, mother of Jerry Zovko each told heart rending tales and demanded the "truth".

In researching my book and investigatig the incident and talked to people that the families and their lawyer has not talked to and I can tell them that they have much to learn and they are absolutely right in seeking redress.

Letters, comments and discussions focused on profit taking and accountability. Sen Waxman probably chose the single most famous incident and probably one of the obvious examples of security companies going from zero to full readiness during the burgeoning insurgency in 2004.

Having met and spent time in Iraq with former Blackwater VP's of Security, Brian Berrey and Mike Rush (I also know the first Blackwater VP, Jamie Smith as well) there is much to be told about the urgent and well intentioned need to get security companies on the ground in Iraq. Hopefully the main players will step forward and provide an accurate picture of conditions at the time. Until them, my book contains the only inside account of what happened.

The other shocking thing we learned is the complete lack of knowledge of how many contractors are in Iraq (and in support positions around the world)

The official army spokesperson almost seemed put off when the panel bluntly told her to go find out and get back to the committee with in a week. My guess ain't gonna happen. The GAO and the DoD can't even agree on a number (between 60,000 and 100,000) and all parties flatly admit: no one knows how many contractors there are in Iraq.

Blackwater made the mistake of sending a sweaty nervous lawyer who did his best to fend off the slings and arrows but the notable lack of executives from Blackwater was plain to see. Waxman has threatened to issue subpoenas and my guess the first one is going to Moyock and Tysons' Corner (the HQ's of Blackwater)

Although it is unfair for the panel to focus on an admitted disaster and emotion charged vent, it still gave the inquiry a sense of urgency and purpose.

My appearance on the PBS News Hour

http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1163

Opening Statement of Sen. Waxman Opening_Statement.pdf

Family Testimony: Testimony_of_Fallujah_Four.pdf

Full Text
Indicted in Case Involving Bribery, Fraud, Money Laundering Scheme
02/07/2007 3:15 PM ET
Press Release from the Department of Justice:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2007

WWW.USDOJ.GOV

Five Defendants Indicted in Case Involving Bribery, Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme in al-Hillah, Iraq

WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury in Trenton, N.J. has indicted three former U.S. Army officers and two U.S. civilians for their role in a bribery, fraud and money laundering scheme involving the theft of millions of dollars from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty announced today.

The 25-count indictment unsealed today charges U.S. Army Colonel Curtis G. Whiteford, U.S. Army Lt. Colonels Debra M. Harrison and Michael B. Wheeler, and civilians Michael Morris and William Driver with various crimes related to a scheme to defraud the CPA - South Central Region (CPA-SC) in al-Hillah, Iraq. Whiteford, once the second-most senior official at CPA-SC, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, and 11 counts of honest services wire fraud. Harrison, at one time the acting Comptroller at CPA-SC who oversaw the expenditure of CPA-SC funds for reconstruction projects, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, 11 counts of honest services wire fraud, four counts of interstate transport of stolen property, one count of bulk cash smuggling, four counts of money laundering, and one count of preparing a false tax form. Wheeler, an advisor for CPA projects for the reconstruction of Iraq, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, 11 counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of interstate transport of stolen property, and one count of bulk cash smuggling.

Morris, a U.S. citizen in Romania who owns and operates a Cyprus-based financial services business, was charged with one count of conspiracy and 11 counts of honest services wire fraud. Morris was arrested by Romanian authorities on Feb. 6, 2007. The United States is seeking to have him extradited to New Jersey on these charges. Driver, Harrison’s husband, was charged with four counts of money laundering. Harrison and Wheeler, who were previously charged in criminal complaints, remain released on bond.

“This indictment alleges that the defendants flagrantly enriched themselves at the expense of the Iraqi people – the very people they were there to help,” said Deputy Attorney General McNulty. “U.S. government officials working in Iraq are not for sale. We will prosecute anyone who attempts to exploit the reconstruction efforts in Iraq for their personal gain.”

According to the indictment, from December 2003 through December 2005, Whiteford, Harrison, Wheeler and Morris conspired with at least three others—Robert Stein, at the time the Comptroller and Funding Officer for the CPA-SC; Philip H. Bloom, a U.S. citizen who owned and operated several companies in Iraq and Romania; and U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Bruce D. Hopfengardner—to rig the bids on contracts being awarded by the CPA-SC so that all of the contracts were awarded to Bloom. In total, Bloom received more than $8.6 million in rigged contracts. The indictment alleges that Bloom, in return, provided Whiteford, Harrison, Wheeler, Stein, Hopfengardner and others with over $1 million in cash, SUVs, sports cars, a motorcycle, jewelry, computers, business class airline tickets, liquor, promise of future employment with Bloom, and other items of value.

The indictment alleges that Bloom laundered over $2 million in currency that Whiteford, Harrison, Wheeler, Hopfengardner, Stein and others stole from the CPA-SC that had been designated for the reconstruction of Iraq. Bloom then used his foreign bank accounts in Iraq, Romania and Switzerland to send some of the stolen money to Harrison, Stein, Hopfengardner, and other Army officials in return for them awarding contracts to Bloom and his companies. Morris allegedly assisted Bloom in making these wire transfers of stolen CPA funds and in funneling those monies to the co-conspirators. Harrison and her husband, William Driver, for example, allegedly received a Cadillac Escalade as a bribe and used tens of thousands of dollars for improvements to their home in Trenton. Whiteford allegedly received at least $10,000 in cash, a $3,200 watch, a job offer from Bloom, and other valuables.

The indictment further alleges that during the course of the conspiracy, Whiteford, Harrison, Wheeler, Stein and Hopfengardner used U.S. currency stolen from the CPA-SC to funnel funds to Bloom for the purchase of weapons which they converted to their own personal use in the United States, including machine guns, assault rifles, silencers and grenade launchers.

Stein was sentenced on Jan. 29, 2007, to nine years in prison. He previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, possession of machine guns, and being a felon in possession of a firearm for his role in the scheme to defraud the CPA-SC.

On March 10, 2006, Bloom pleaded guilty to related charges of conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering in connection with the same scheme as Stein. Bloom is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb.16, 2007.

On Aug. 25, 2006, Hopfengardner, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering in connection with the same scheme as Bloom and Stein. Hopfengardner is scheduled for a status conference on March 23, 2007.

These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James A. Crowell IV and Ann C. Brickley of the Public Integrity Section, headed by Acting Section Chief Edward C. Nucci, and Trial Attorney Patrick Murphy of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, headed by Chief Richard Weber, of the Criminal Division. These cases are being investigated by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (IRS), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security (ICE), Army Criminal Investigations Division, the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General, and the FBI’s Washington Field Office in support of the Justice Department’s National Procurement Fraud Task Force and the International Contract Corruption Initiative. The investigation has received substantial assistance from the ICE Cybercrimes Division. “These indictments not only serve as a deterrent to future crimes of this nature, but also demonstrate the direct benefits of independent oversight and interagency cooperation in guarding American tax dollars invested in Iraq,” said Special Inspector General for Iraq Stuart Bowen. “SIGIR’s investigative team, now in Baghdad for more than three years, should be proud of their significant contribution in bringing these individuals to justice.”

“No matter how complex the fraud scheme, the individuals indicted today illustrate that even military officers are not above the law and will be brought to justice if they engage in procurement fraud in the Iraqi reconstruction. The FBI, in support of the National Procurement Fraud Task Force and the International Corruption Initiative, stands ready to work with our partners to investigate, as appropriate, and to eliminate contract bid rigging, bribery, fraud, and money laundering schemes that hinder the rebuilding efforts in Iraq,” said Assistant Director Michael A. Mason, Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch of the FBI. “Criminals motivated by profit and greed don’t deserve to work alongside the brave men and women of our military serving in Iraq,” said Julie Myers, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE. “These charges highlight the federal government’s commitment in targeting suspected bribery, fraud and money laundering involving Iraq reconstruction funds and the war in Iraq. ICE is proud to have contributed its financial investigative expertise to this important joint operation.”

“The IRS will use the tax code and money laundering authorities to go after corrupt officials and contractors,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. “Sometimes this is the fastest and most direct way to hold accountable those who abuse the public trust, as is clearly the case in this instance.” “We are committed to investigating and rooting out these types of crimes to the fullest, wherever the truth may lead us,” said Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, commanding general, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and Provost General of the Army. “This goes against the very fabric of our values as an Army and we will continue to aggressively pursue individuals, in or out of uniform, and companies who commit crimes against the Army, the American taxpayer, and the people we serve.”

An indictment is merely an allegation. Defendants are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Deputy Attorney General McNulty announced the creation of the National Procurement Fraud Initiative in October 2006, designed to promote the early detection, identification, prevention and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with the increase in contracting activity for national security and other government programs. As part of this initiative, the Deputy Attorney General has created the National Procurement Fraud Task Force (www.usdoj.gov/criminal/npftf), includes federal prosecutors, the FBI, SIGIR, and the Offices of Inspectors General for key federal agencies, and is chaired by Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division. The Task Force has formed regional working groups around the country and is addressing many important topics relating to procurement fraud, including international procurement fraud issues, training, potential legislation, and information sharing between agencies.

Since the formation of the Task Force, federal prosecutors have brought or resolved 15 different criminal cases involving procurement fraud and have recovered more than $100 million through vigorous enforcement of civil remedies available in procurement fraud cases. Other examples of fraud and abuse cases prosecuted by the Department of Justice in recent months include the following:

*On Feb. 2, 2007, former U.S. Army civilian translator Faheem Salam of Michigan was sentenced to three years in prison for offering bribes to a senior Iraqi police official, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act;

*On Jan. 30, 2007, Gheevarghese Pappen, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting $50,000 in illegal gratuities from a Kuwaiti contractor;

*On Jan. 25, 2007, Peleti “Pete” Peleti Jr., a U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer, was charged in the Central District of Illinois with receiving a $50,000 bribe in exchange for influencing a food supplies services contract. Peleti served as Army’s Theater Food Service Advisor and was stationed at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait;

*On Nov. 13, 2006, four members of the California Army National Guard pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to their embezzlement from the U.S. Army while deployed in Iraq.

###

07-077

Foggo-Wilkes Investigation Widens to Include Bottled Water
02/06/2007 5:27 PM ET
The AP is reporting that federal prosecutors are preparing to indict disgraced contractor Brent Wilkes and Dusty Foggo, formerly the third-ranking official at the CIA, for fraud.

While chief logistics officer for the Middle East, Foggo allegedly steered a contract for bottled water to a company run by Wilkes' nephew and protege. Unbelievably, Foggo's lawyer once claimed that his client had had no knowledge of the connnection between that company, Archer Logistics, and Brent Wilkes, his best friend.

The scandal over the contract is not because it was exhorbitantly overpriced--it apparently wasn't--but because Foggo did not disclose his personal connections.

AP reports that CIA officers operating out of Kurdistan before the invasion had long been purchasing water from a local Iraqi bottler, and that other procurement officers had protested the no-bid contract because safe water was commercially available.

The awarding of big-ticket contracts on the basis of personal or political connections has become an unfortunate and disturbing status quo of doing business in Washington.

Beyond the issues of political corruption and unrestrained price-gouging, the biggest tragedy of the profusion of Iraq-contracting abuses is that the billions of dollars wasted on the friends and family of the well-connected could have been used to assist Iraqi businesses in restarting their own economy.

Follow-Up
Says Watada Abandoned His Unit When Refusing To Deploy
02/06/2007 4:04 PM ET
By Daisuke Wakabayashi of Reuters reports that the U.S. government has begun its case against an Army officer being court-martialed for refusing to fight in Iraq by accusing him on Tuesday of making "disgraceful" statements and abandoning his unit.

Reuters reports: "First Lt. Ehren Watada faces up to four years in a military prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted on a charge of missing movements for not deploying to Iraq and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for his criticism of the war. Watada, whose supporters say is the first commissioned Army officer to publicly refuse to fight in Iraq, has called the war illegal and immoral. He rejected conscientious objector status, saying he would be willing to fight in Afghanistan. Government and defense lawyers laid out their arguments to a seven-member panel of officers, the equivalent of a jury in a civilian trial, who will determine Watada's fate. "The accused sat comfortably in his office while the soldiers in his unit deployed to Iraq," said Capt. Scott Van Sweringen, the prosecuting attorney. "The manner and content of his statements were disgraceful."

National Day Of Action, Ft. Lewis Rally For Soldier Refusing To Deploy
02/04/2007 09:43 AM ET
Tomorrow is the beginning of the military court martial for Lt. Ehren Watada, who faces military court martial on Monday for refusing to deploy in Iraq.

From Thankyoult.org: "Events and actions are planned throughout the county and the world. Thousands of people are expected to be in the streets to show their opposition of the Iraq war and support of Lt. Watada. When the trial opens on Monday morning, supporters will fill the court room and rally outside the gates of Fort Lewis in a peaceful non-violent demonstration. Students will walk out of class, and buses from Portland to Bellingham are scheduled to arrive for the all day event at Fort Lewis."

The Christian Science Monitor provides an overview of Lt. Watada's views and his mother's reaction when she heard he refused to deploy.

Stay Tuned
Rare Joint Appearance After Bush Addresses Democratic Gathering
02/03/2007 02:27 AM ET
Here's the background.
Blunder
National Security Advisor Hadley Flubs, Calls Wrong Man Prime Minister
02/02/2007 4:07 PM ET
In Editor and Publisher today, a must-read on Steven Hadley, President Bush's national security advisor, who met reporters today at the White House and caused a small kerfluffle by misstating the title of one of the top Iraqi leaders he was taking issue with.

In a key exchange, he attempted to counter claims in the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that suggested Iraq was, in many ways, in a civil war. He raised a rebuttal to this notion by a top Iraqi leader. There was one problem: He badly misstated the man's title. It was such a flub that it received a rare footnoted correction in the official White House transcript, just released.

Hadley referred to Abd al Madhi as the Iraqi "Prime Minister." The transcript includes are rare "sic" after this mention, and an asterisk. At the bottom of the page one finds: * Deputy President.

The exchange is listed within the article from Editor and Publisher.

Transcript
National Intelligence Estimate Gives Set Of Judgements About Iraq
02/02/2007 3:53 PM ET
Today's briefing on key judgements of NIE. Transcript:

Press_Briefing_by_Stephen_Hadley.html

Investigation
U.S. Senator Asks For Probe Into The Hospitals' Actions
02/01/2007 2:34 PM ET
The family of Iraq war veteran Jonathan Schulze says he committed suicide after he was turned away from two VA hospitals. As a result U.S. Senator Akaka from Hawaii has asked for a probe into the hospitals' actions where Schulze was turned away.

The original AP story: Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, wants to know what the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing to prevent tragedies similar to Jonathan Schulze's. "I am concerned that reports of VA's failure to respond to Mr. Schulze's request for help may indicate systemic problems in VA's capacity to identify, monitor, and treat veterans who are suicidal."

Jesse Broder Van Dyke, press secretary for the Senator, told Iraqslogger that Akaka "wants to make sure people who come back from Iraq get the immediate treatment they need." In fact, he added, perhaps most importantly, that the Senator would like to see mental health care for things such as post-traumatic stress syndrome budgeted into the cost of war. "If the cost of the war is $500 billion than the cost of mental health care would come out of that," said Van Dyke.

Akaka has written to Dr. Michael J. Kussman, the acting undersecretary for health with the VA. Schulze, 25, of New Prague, Minn., told a staff member at a VA hospital in St. Cloud two weeks ago that he was thinking of killing himself and asked to be admitted, Jim and Marianne Schulze, his father and stepmother, have said."

For more background on PTSD, the National Institutes of Mental Health has published "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, A Real Illness." Also, for background: "Reliving Trauma: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Stay Tuned
British Press Reporting Soldier in Protective Custody
02/01/2007 11:49 AM ET
British police and MI5 are keeping rather tight-lipped about the alleged plot that led to anti-terror raids and the arrest of nine men yesterday.

However, the British press is continuing to report anonymous sources as saying that the men were planning to kidnap and behead a British soldier in a bid to force Tony Blair to pull troops out of Iraq. Little is known about the arrested men, but The Daily Telegraph is reporting, though with no sourcing, that they are all from a Pakistani background.

It is now being widely reported that the intended target was a Muslim soldier on home from Afghanistan on leave, who has now been taken into protective custody. The Guardian reports that the man's family is under police protection as well.

The Times reports that the arrested men had reportedly drawn up a hit list of Muslim servicemen, and had narrowed their choices down to three.

While The Times states that, "A number of the would-be kidnappers are believed to be still at large," The Guardian mentions reports that two men had evaded arrest, and the BBC doesn't mention any suspects on the loose.

Yesterday's raids are reportedly the culmination of a six-month investigation. The men were arrested under the 2000 Terrorism Act, which gives the government 28 days to hold them before bringing formal charges, though The Daily Telegraph reports that the government is deliberating a change to the law that would extend that period.

Full Text
Outgoing Top U.S. Iraq General Controversial Army Chief Nominee
02/01/2007 11:27 AM ET
In 46 pages of written Q & A with the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering his nomination as chief of staff of the Army, General George Casey comments extensively on Iraq, where he has served as the top U.S. general for 3-1/2 years. Casey is testifying today before committee. His nomination is controversial, with some committee members threatening to vote down his nomination because of their concern about Casey's leadership in Iraq. In his written Q & A, Casey states flatly that U.S. troops soon will be "stationed" in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City alongside Iraqi security forces. Here are the 46 pages of written Q & A: Casey_2002_01_07.pdf
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