Saturday, January 07, 2006

On Good Morning America Weekend Sunday Jan. 8th

Alma and I will be on Good Morning America's Weekend Edition on Sunday January 8th at 8 AM Eastern Time to discuss Michael Moss' article in the New York Times (Saturday Jan. 7th edition) regarding continued deficiencies in body and vehicular armor.
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Murtha Denies Causing Recruitment Woes

"WASHINGTON - Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record) says the military is blaming him for a recruitment slump instead of recognizing mistakes that have led to an enlistment shortage. "

They're trying to direct attention away from their problems," said Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine Corps veteran who has become a leading voice in Congress advocating an early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq'.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a news conference Thursday that Murtha's remarks about Iraq are damaging to troop morale and to the Army's efforts to bring up recruitment numbers. Pace, the nation's top general, was asked specifically about an ABC News interview this week in which Murtha, 73, said if he were eligible to join the military today he would not join, nor would he expect others to join.

"That's damaging to recruiting," Pace said. "It's damaging to morale of the troops who are deployed, and it's damaging to the morale of their families who believe in what they are doing to serve this country."

Military officers usually are reluctant to get drawn into political debates, but Pace said Murtha's remarks about recruiting are relevant to his responsibilities as Joint Chiefs chairman.

...In a statement released Thursday, Murtha said: "The military had no problem recruiting directly after 9/11 because everyone understood that we had been attacked. But now the military's ability to attract recruits is being hampered by the prospect of prolonged, extended and repeated deployments, inadequate equipment, shortened home stays, the lack of any connection between Iraq and the brutal attacks of 9/11, and ? most importantly ? the administration's constantly changing, undefined, open-ended military mission in Iraq."

Later Thursday, Murtha said he's spoken with military leaders and "they're frustrated by their mission."

Speaking before a town hall meeting on Iraq in Arlington, Va., hosted by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., Murtha said Pace called him to discuss the war.

"Peter Pace told me this last night: They know militarily they can't win this," Murtha said....
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Pentagon Study Links Fatalities to Body Armor - New York Times

Pentagon Study Links Fatalities to Body Armor - New York Times: "A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials."

The ceramic plates in vests now worn by the majority of troops in Iraq cover only some of the chest and back. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds that were analyzed in the Pentagon study of marines from March 2003 through June 2005, bullets and shrapnel struck the marines' shoulders, sides or areas of the torso where the plates do not reach.
Thirty-one of the deadly wounds struck the chest or back so close to the plates that simply enlarging the existing shields "would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome," according to the study, which was obtained by The New York Times.

For the first time, the study by the military's medical examiner shows the cost in lives from inadequate armor, even as the Pentagon continues to publicly defend its protection of the troops.

Officials have said they are shipping the best armor to Iraq as quickly as possible. At the same time, they have maintained that it is impossible to shield forces from the increasingly powerful improvised explosive devices used by insurgents in Iraq. Yet the Pentagon's own study reveals the equally lethal threat of bullets.

The vulnerability of the military's body armor has been known since the start of the war, and is part of a series of problems that have surrounded the protection of American troops. Still, the Marine Corps did not begin buying additional plates to cover the sides of their troops until September, when it ordered 28,800 sets, Marine officials acknowledge.

The Army, which has the largest force in Iraq, is still deciding what to purchase, according to Army procurement officials. They said the Army was deciding among various sizes of plates to give its 130,000 soldiers, adding that they hoped to issue contracts this month.

Additional forensic studies by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's unit that were obtained by The Times indicate that about 340 American troops have died solely from torso wounds.

Military officials said they had originally decided against using the extra plates because they were concerned they added too much weight to the vests or constricted the movement of soldiers. Marine Corps officials said the findings of the Pentagon study caused field commanders to override those concerns in the interest of greater protection.
"As the information became more prevalent and aware to everybody that in fact these were casualty sites that they needed to be worried about, then people were much more willing to accept that weight on their body," said Maj. Wendell Leimbach, a body armor specialist with Marine Corps Systems Command, the corps procurement unit.
The Pentagon has been collecting the data on wounds since the beginning of the war in March 2003 in part to determine the effectiveness of body armor. The military's medical examiner, Dr. Craig T. Mallak, told a military panel in 2003 that the information "screams to be published." But it would take nearly two years.

The Marine Corps said it asked for the data in August 2004; but it needed to pay the medical examiner $107,000 to have the data analyzed. Marine officials said financing and other delays had resulted in the study's not starting until December 2004. It finally began receiving the information by June 2005. The shortfalls in bulletproof vests are just one of the armor problems the Pentagon continues to struggle with as the war in Iraq approaches the three-year mark, The Times has found in a continuing examination of the military procurement system.

The production of a new armored truck called the Cougar, which military officials said had so far withstood every insurgent attack, has fallen three months behind schedule. The small company making the truck has been beset by a host of production and legal problems.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is still relying on another small factory in Ohio to armor all of the military's principal transport trucks, the Humvee, and it remains backlogged with orders. The factory, owned by Armor Holdings, increased production in December after reports in The Times about delays drew criticism from Congress. But the Marine Corps said it was still waiting for about 2,000 of these vehicles to replace other Humvees in Iraq that are more lightly armored, and did not expect final delivery until June.

An initiative begun by the Pentagon nearly two years ago to speed up production by having additional companies armor new Humvees remains incomplete, Army officials said.

Body armor has gone through a succession of problems in Iraq. First, there were prolonged shortages of the plates that make the vests bulletproof. Last year, the Pentagon began replacing the plates with a stronger model that is more resistant to certain insurgent attacks.

Almost from the beginning, some soldiers asked for additional protection to stop bullets from slicing through their sides. In the fall of 2003, when troops began hanging their crotch protectors under their arms, the Army's Rapid Equipping Force shipped several hundred plates to protect their sides and shoulders. Individual soldiers and units continued to buy their own sets.

The Army's former acting secretary, Les Brownlee, said in a recent interview that he was shown numerous designs for expanded body armor in 2003, and had instructed his staff to weigh their benefits against the perceived threat without losing sight of the main task: eliminating the shortages of plates for the chest and back.

Army procurement officials said that their efforts to purchase side ceramic plates had been encumbered by the Army's much larger force in Iraq compared with the Marines' and that they wanted to provide manufacturers with detailed specifications. Also, they said their plates would be made to resist the stronger insurgent attacks.

The Marine Corps said it had opted to take the older version of ceramic to speed delivery. As of early last month, officials said marines in Iraq had received 2,200 of the more than 28,000 sets of plates that are being bought at a cost of about $260 each.

Marine officials said they had supplied troops with soft shoulder protection that can repel some shrapnel, but remained concerned that ceramic shoulder plates would be too restrictive. Similarly, they said they believed that the chest and back plates were as large as they could be without unduly limiting the movement of troops.

The Times obtained the three-page Pentagon report after a military advocacy group, Soldiers for the Truth, learned of its existence. The group posted an article about the report on its Web site earlier this week. The Times delayed publication of this article for more than a week until the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of its report.

Pentagon officials declined to discuss details of the wound data, saying it would aid the enemy.

"Our preliminary research suggests that as many as 42 percent of the Marine casualties who died from isolated torso injuries could have been prevented with improved protection in the areas surrounding the plated areas of the vest," the study concludes. An additional 23 percent might have been saved with side plates that extend below the arms, while 15 percent more could have benefited from shoulder plates, the report says.

In all, 526 marines have been killed in combat in Iraq. A total of 1,706 American troops have died in combat there. The findings and other research by military pathologists suggests that an analysis of all combat deaths in Iraq, including those of Army troops, would show that 300 or more lives might have been saved with improved body armor.

Military officials and contractors said the Pentagon's procurement troubles had stemmed in part from miscalculations that underestimated the strength of the insurgency, and from years of cost-cutting that left some armoring companies on the brink of collapse as they waited for new orders.

To help defeat roadside ambushes, the military in May 2005 contracted to buy 122 Cougars whose special V-shaped hull helps deflect roadside bombs, military officials said. But the Pentagon gave the job to a small company in South Carolina, Force Protection, that had never mass-produced vehicles. Company officials said a string of blunders had pushed the completion date to this June.

A dozen prototypes shipped to Iraq have been recalled from the field to replace a failing transmission. Steel was cut to the wrong size before the truck's design drawings were perfected. Several managers have left the company.

Company officials said they had also lost time in an interservice skirmish. The Army, which is buying the bulk of the vehicles, asked for its trucks to be delivered before the Marine vehicles, and company officials said that move had upended their production process until the Army agreed to get back in line behind the Marines.

"It is what it is, and we're running as fast as we can to change it," Gordon McGilton, the company's chief executive, said in an interview at its plant in Ladson, S.C.

On July 5, two former employees brought a federal false-claims case that accuses Force Protection of falsifying records to cover up defective workmanship. They allege that the actions "compromise the immediate and long-term integrity of the vehicles and result in a deficient product," according to legal documents filed under seal in the United States District Court in Charleston and obtained by The Times.

The legal claim also accuses the company of falsifying records to deceive the military into believing the company could meet the production deadlines. The United States Attorney's office in South Carolina declined to comment on the case. The Marine Corps says the Justice Department did not notify it about the case until December.

Force Protection officials said they had not been made aware of the legal case. They acknowledged making mistakes in rushing to fill the order, but said that there were multiple systems in place to monitor the quality of the trucks, and that they were not aware of any deficiencies that would jeopardize the troops.

[bth: with apologies to Michael Moss and the NYT I think this article is important enough to publish on this blog in pull. I'd encourage readers to follow the link back to the NYT to see the diagrams and photos he has as well as the media presentation on Echo Company. Note the condition and damage to the vehicles which were photographed by the Captain of that unit.]
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Body-Armor Gaps Are Shown to Endanger Troops

Body-Armor Gaps Are Shown to Endanger Troops: "The Marine Corps and Army are working to upgrade body armor to prevent fatalities caused by torso wounds from gunshots and explosions, after classified Pentagon forensic studies highlighted how gaps in current armor are leaving troops vulnerable.

A recent military study of a random sample of scores of Marine deaths from torso wounds between the start of the Iraq war in March 2003 and mid-2005 found that more protection on the chest, back, sides and shoulder areas could have prevented up to 80 percent of the fatalities. It was the first time military forensic experts have reported on torso injuries to the Pentagon, according to a statement from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington.

U.S. troops in Iraq often complain that insurgents -- especially snipers -- have demonstrated they know how to exploit the gaps in the current armor. For example, enemy snipers have killed U.S. forces with single shots to the neck or upper torso."

The Pentagon has faced a steady stream of criticism from Republicans and Democrats in Congress who assert that the military has not moved quickly enough to provide the most advanced armor to U.S. troops -- from more heavily armored Humvees and trucks to bulletproof vests.

But Army and Marine Corps officials say developing, producing and fielding better armor is a constant effort as the military faces ever-changing and more lethal insurgent tactics in Iraq. An important consideration, they say, is the trade-off between heavier armor and troops' ability to move quickly and return fire.

"As we find the battlefield has changed, we constantly are trying to enhance the survivability and mobility of the American soldier," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

"Throughout the fielding of body armor to our soldiers, improvements have been made and continue to be made." He cited five different upgrades to protective vests, as well as enhanced ceramic plates.

The Army avoids detailing the ballistic capabilities of body armor so as not to give an advantage to enemy forces, he said. "What we don't do is talk about what we're going to do next to change the body armor or the composites in it."

Currently U.S. soldiers and Marines use the Interceptor Body Armor System, issued beginning in 1999 and widely fielded since the Iraq war as an upgrade to an earlier bulletproof vest. So far, the Army has fielded more than 500,000 sets.

The medical examiner study analyzed a random sample of 93 Marine deaths from torso wounds and found that 60 percent of the fatalities were caused by gunshots. "As many as 42 percent of the Marine casualties who died from isolated torso injuries could have been prevented with improved protection in the areas surrounding the plated areas of the vest. Nearly 23 percent might have benefited from protection along the mid-axillary line of the lateral chest. Another 15 percent died from impacts through the unprotected shoulder and upper arm."

Findings from the study, conducted by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner for the Marine Corps, were published earlier this week on the Web site of Soldiers for the Truth, an advocacy group for U.S. troops, and two versions of the study were confirmed by the medical examiner. An article on the study appeared Friday evening on the New York Times Web site.

The medical examiner received $107,000 in funding from the Marine Corps in December 2004 to conduct the study, which marks "the first time information on torso injuries was disseminated" to the Defense Department, said a statement from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The report evaluating body armor was based on full autopsies, which are conducted on all U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of the cause, said Christopher Kelly, public affairs director for the institute. "Information regarding the effectiveness of body armor has been shared with those who design and field personal protective gear," he said.

The Army and Marine Corps have recalled thousands of protective vests in recent months because they failed some ballistic requirements when they were manufactured, although an Army spokesman described the vests' departure from required standards as extremely small and said many are no longer in use.
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Arianna Huffington: Abramoff Scandal Turns a Spotlight on the Charitable Foundation Dodge | The Huffington Post

The Blog Arianna Huffington: Abramoff Scandal Turns a Spotlight on the Charitable Foundation Dodge The Huffington Post: ..."The latest, from today's Washington Post, is that prosecutors have issued subpoenas seeking documents relating to money from the National Republican Congressional Committee funneled through the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit group with close ties to Abramoff and Tom DeLay, and used to fund attack ads against Democrats (check out Robert Scheer for a full take down of the group).

The widening Abramoff affair has put the spotlight back on the dominant role Big Money continues to play in our politics -- and of how politicians and their lobbyist pals keep coming up with new and nefarious ways of selling access and influence to the highest bidder.

One of the sleaziest of these is the charitable-foundation dodge. This shockingly legal scam allows those looking to game the system a number of ways to do so.

First and foremost, when politicians align themselves with charities, it allows special interests to donate unlimited sums of money and curry favor while acting as if they are doing it out of the goodness of their souls instead of the usual oily self-interest. What's more, because they are giving to 'charity,' these non-political (wink, wink) donations are tax-deductible. And, thanks to these charities' 501 (c)(3) status, donations to them do not have to be reported -- allowing the influence-buyers to remain in the shadows. It's a win-win-win for shady politicians, lobbyists, and their big-buck backers -- and a lose-lose-lose for our democracy.

Second, these charitable foundations are often used as a full-employment program for the friends, families, and significant others of the politicians and lobbyists connected to them. For instance, DeLay's wife, Christine, pocketed $115,000 from a firm run by the lobbyist who set up the aforementioned U.S. Family Network (a group that never had more than one full-time staff member). A lobbyist who also just happened to be DeLay's former chief of staff. And what did Mrs. DeLay do to earn those six figures? According to DeLay's lawyers, she made lists of the favorite charities of members of Congress. Christine DeLay and Delay's daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, have also been paid more than half a million dollars by Tom DeLay's assortment of PACs and campaign committees -- but that's a rant for another blog post.

Third, charitable foundations allow politicians to play both sides of the favor-currying street, taking money from corporate interests looking to curry favor then turning around and using that money to curry favor with groups and organizations that might prove helpful down the line. For a prime example of how this works, look no further than Bill Frist's World of Hope charity which took in millions from corporations like 3M and Eli Lilly that have frequent business before the Senate, then doled out heaping helpings of that corporate cash to evangelical Christian groups such as Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse and the Rev. Luis Cortes' Esperanza USA. Groups that could prove very helpful should one think about -- oh, I don't know -- mounting a run for president.

This Kos post neatly lays out how Frist's World of Hope hits the charitable-foundation-dodge trifecta: taking in corporate cash, and then doling it out to friends and cronies, and to those whose support he is looking to gain.

One of the worst aspects of this abuse of charity is the trashing of one of the best things in our culture, the charitable instinct. When people hear that Abramoff's Capital Athletic foundation took in millions but spent less than 1 percent of its revenue on its purported purpose (with the rest funneled to Trader Jack's pet projects, like overseas golfing trips with DeLay), or that a sizable chunk of the $4.4 million World of Hope took in went to Frist's political cronies, it can't help but cast a pall over the whole concept of charitable giving....
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Homeland Security opening private mail - U.S. Security -

Homeland Security opening private mail - U.S. Security - "WASHINGTON - In the 50 years that Grant Goodman has known and corresponded with a colleague in the Philippines he never had any reason to suspect that their friendship was anything but spectacularly ordinary.

But now he believes that the relationship has somehow sparked the interest of the Department of Homeland Security and led the agency to place him under surveillance.

Last month Goodman, an 81-year-old retired University of Kansas history professor, received a letter from his friend in the Philippines that had been opened and resealed with a strip of dark green tape bearing the words "by Border Protection" and carrying the official Homeland Security seal."

“I had no idea (Homeland Security) would open personal letters,” Goodman told in a phone interview. “That’s why I alerted the media. I thought it should be known publicly that this is going on,” he said. Goodman originally showed the letter to his own local newspaper, the Kansas-based Lawrence Journal-World.

“I was shocked and there was a certain degree of disbelief in the beginning,” Goodman said when he noticed the letter had been tampered with, adding that he felt his privacy had been invaded. “I think I must be under some kind of surveillance.”

Goodman is no stranger to mail snooping; as an officer during World War II he was responsible for reading all outgoing mail of the men in his command and censoring any passages that might provide clues as to his unit’s position. “But we didn’t do it as clumsily as they’ve done it, I can tell you that,” Goodman noted, with no small amount of irony in his voice. “Isn’t it funny that this doesn’t appear to be any kind of surreptitious effort here,” he said.

The letter comes from a retired Filipino history professor; Goodman declined to identify her. And although the Philippines is on the U.S. government’s radar screen as a potential spawning ground for Muslim-related terrorism, Goodman said his friend is a devout Catholic and not given to supporting such causes.

A spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection division said he couldn’t speak directly to Goodman’s case but acknowledged that the agency can, will and does open mail coming to U.S. citizens that originates from a foreign country whenever it’s deemed necessary.

“All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination,” says the CBP Web site. That includes personal correspondence. “All mail means ‘all mail,’” said John Mohan, a CBP spokesman, emphasizing the point.

“This process isn’t something we’re trying to hide,” Mohan said, noting the wording on the agency’s Web site. “We’ve had this authority since before the Department of Homeland Security was created,” Mohan said.

However, Mohan declined to outline what criteria are used to determine when a piece of personal correspondence should be opened, but said, “obviously it’s a security-related criteria.”

Mohan also declined to say how often or in what volume CBP might be opening mail. “All I can really say is that Customs and Border Protection does undertake [opening mail] when it is determined to be necessary,” he said.
 Posted by Picasa Disgraced Congressman 'Wore a Wire' -- Page 1 Disgraced Congressman 'Wore a Wire' -- Page 1: "Washington's power players have always bragged about being well-wired, but for disgraced former congressman Duke Cunningham, 'wired' wasn't just a figure of speech. In a week when legislators are focused on the question of who else might be brought down by ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's cooperation with prosecutors as he seeks lenient sentencing over his two federal guilty pleas this week, sources tell TIME that in a separate investigation, ex-Rep. Cunningham wore a wire to help investigators gather evidence against others just before copping his own plea.

Sources familiar with the situation say Cunningham, a California Republican who pleaded guilty Nov. 28 to taking $2.4 million in bribes-including a yacht, a Rolls Royce and a 19th-century Louis-Philippe commode-from a defense contractor, wore a wire at some point during the short interval between the moment he began cooperating with the feds and the announcement of his guilty plea on Nov. 28.

The identity of those with whom the San Diego congressman met while wearing the wire remains unclear, and is the source of furious-and nervous-speculation by congressional Republicans. A Cunningham lawyer, K. Lee Blalack, refused to confirm or deny the story, and wouldn't say whether Cunningham will implicate any other members of Congress.

The FBI is believed to be continuing its probe of defense contractors involved in the Cunningham case. An FBI spokesman declined comment. Asked whether Cunningham, an ace Navy fighter pilot decorated for his service in Vietnam, had worn a wire, the spokesman said the response from a higher-up was, 'Like I'd tell you.' "

[bth: Kind of interesting that the Republican Congressmen are upset that Cunningham war a wire as part of a criminal investigation of massive corruption with defense contractors and congressment, yet they aren't upset that the NSA has violated the rights of all Americans with a blanket and unrestrained collection of communication intercepts without warrant. ....]

U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. "

[bth: I see nothing in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution that allows the Congress or the President to violate it. Perhaps a reporter should ask the President where the qualifying statement he asserts that allows domestic spying without warrant is allowed? ... I will not willingly give up my Fourth or First Amendment Rights to any threat foreign or domestic.]

Basis for Spying in U.S. Is Doubted - New York Times

Basis for Spying in U.S. Is Doubted - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 - President Bush's rationale for eavesdropping on Americans without warrants rests on questionable legal ground, and Congress does not appear to have given him the authority to order the surveillance, said a Congressional analysis released Friday."

The analysis, by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, was the first official assessment of a question that has gripped Washington for three weeks: Did Mr. Bush act within the law when he ordered the National Security Agency, the country's most secretive spy agency, to eavesdrop on some Americans?....
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Bush using a little-noticed strategy to alter the balance of power

"WASHINGTON - President Bush agreed with great fanfare last month to accept a ban on torture, but he later quietly reserved the right to ignore it, even as he signed it into law.

Acting from the seclusion of his Texas ranch at the start of New Year's weekend, Bush said he would interpret the new law in keeping with his expansive view of presidential power.

He did it by issuing a bill-signing statement - a little-noticed device that has become a favorite tool of presidential power in the Bush White House. In fact, Bush has used signing statements to reject, revise or put his spin on more than 500 legislative provisions. Experts say he has been far more aggressive than any previous president in using the statements to claim sweeping executive power - and not just on national security issues.

'It's nothing short of breath-taking,' said Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University.

'In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible, and pre-empted the judiciary.' Signing statements don't have the force of law, but they can influence judicial interpretations of a statute. They also send a powerful signal to executive branch agencies on how the White House wants them to implement new federal laws. "....

Iraq not on verge of civil war: US commander

Iraq not on verge of civil war: US commander - Yahoo! News: ..."'This level of violence, I think as we've seen, is an anomaly. We see these spikes periodically,' Army Gen. George Casey said on CNN.

On Thursday, suicide bombers in Kerbala and Ramadi killed more than 120 Iraqis, and 11 U.S. troops died in four insurgent attacks.

'These attacks of the past days, I believe, have been intended by the foreign fighters and the Iraqis that are supporting them to foment sectarian tension during a vulnerable period of the formation of the government,' Casey said. 'But I don't think it's on the brink of civil war.'

Casey, in Washington for meetings with President George W. Bush and Pentagon leaders, differed with remarks made on Tuesday by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who preceded him as top commander in Iraq before leaving in 2004.

'The country's on the verge of a civil war,' Sanchez told soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq during a ceremony in Heidelberg, Germany, the military affairs newspaper Stars and Stripes reported.

Senior Shi'ite Muslim religious and political leaders urged restraint on Friday after some Shi'ites called for retaliating against Sunni Arab militants they blame for Thursday's suicide bombing in the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala.

Shi'ites make up 60 percent of Iraq's population but were oppressed by the minority Sunni Arabs under President Saddam Hussein, who also persecuted Iraq's Kurdish population. The new government is expected to be dominated by Shi'ite Islamists.


Casey sought to downplay this week's violence.

'We can't let what's happened the last few days distract us from the progress that's been made over the last year. That's what the terrorists want,' Casey said."...

[bth: General Casey, the enemy has a vote in this conflict and it isn't at the ballot box. We are declaring victory but the enemy is not declaring defeat. There is not indication that the recent offensives have thrwarted the insurgents' ability to murder crowds of civilians in Iraq and provoke instability and ethnic tension. Since the Sunnis cannot win at the ballot box, they have every reason to provoke a civil war. They seem to view that as the only real chance they have of gaining back power.]

Friday, January 06, 2006

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Soldiers for the Truth Exclusive on Interceptor OTV Body Armor Cost Lives, An Internal USMC Report Shows

Soldiers for the Truth: "A recent United States Marine Corps forensic study obtained by DefenseWatch slams the Interceptor OTV body armor system, claiming 'as many as 42% of the Marine casualties who died from isolated torso injuries could have been prevented with improved protection in the areas surrounding the plated areas of the vest. Nearly 23% might have benefited from protection along the mid-axillary line of the lateral chest. Another 15% died from impacts through the unprotected shoulder and upper arm,' the report says.

The internally produced report revealed that a random sample of 93 Marine deaths studied for the report showed that 60 percent of the fatalities suffered by the Marines who were killed in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2005 died from gunshot wounds received while wearing Interceptor OTV body armor. Another 38 percent died from wounds sustained in Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks while wearing Interceptor gear and roughly two percent died from unknown causes. "

The findings in the inquiry, reportedly classified as "For Official Use Only," also bring into question the Pentagon's consistent assertion that the principle cause of death among war fighters in Iraq comes from IEDs the insurgents are using with ever increasing ferocity.

Interceptor OTV body armor was designed by a joint US Army/USMC development team and issued by all the services beginning in 1999. After the Global War on Terror began in 2003 it was issued to the vast majority of the war fighters currently engaged in the fighting the Global War on Terror. Almost 2,200 American service members have died in combat since the war began and almost all of them were killed while wearing Interceptor body armor.

Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) spokesman Sanford "Mack" McLaurin, although aware of the report, declined to comment on it, declaring "this information could be help to our enemies and put Marines and Soldiers in danger." MARCORSYSCOM is the agency within the Marine Corps responsible for providing Marine Corps approved equipment to its war fighters.

Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Curry Keir, Army Public Affairs, Media Operations, was equally reticent in his Dec. 30 response to a recent DefenseWatch inquiry.

"We take operational security very seriously and will not discuss in public issues that may render any insight to the enemy on our capabilities; fielding plans; or tactics, techniques and procedures," Keir said.

A skeptic might say the services' sudden interest in security is more akin to closing the hen house door after the fox has entered than keeping sensitive information from the enemy. A DefenseWatch investigation begun last summer (See Is America's Best Getting America's Best series in DW archives) determined that the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick (SSC-Natick, Massachusetts), has known for at least several years that its in-house designed Interceptor body armor was not nearly as effective as other civilian body armor products already in production. The troops who wear the standard issue body armor are also well aware of its deficiencies. For more than two years DefenseWatch has received reports and complaints from Grunts in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Interceptor gear is lousy.

In late October DW began receiving reports for war fighters in Iraq that the American Armed Forces Network (AFN) was warning its radio listeners there that the Coalition had received intelligence about insurgents snipers that were being trained to aim at areas of vulnerability between Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI plates) – hard composite armor plate - where Coalition war fighters wearing Interceptor armor are particularly vulnerable. War correspondent and popular blogger Michael Yon confirmed the reports in an email to DefenseWatch after hearing them broadcast in Mosul.

Many war fighters told DefenseWatch they used their own money to buy superior body armor systems available on the open market despite DOD claims that the Interceptor body armor is the best money can buy. Those warriors reported the Interceptor body armor is frequently ill-fitting, falls apart with rugged use, decreases in protective capability with age, and leaves the wearer vulnerable to side and shoulder wounds that could prove fatal. The findings of the August 29 report supports every contention the agitated war fighters made. So did evidence introduced in several civilian court cases brought against all three of the Interceptor body armor manufacturers in unrelated lawsuits by disgruntled employees, civilian police agencies and the US Justice Department.

The DOD and the U.S. Army have both declined to comment to numerous DefenseWatch inquiries made since September seeking to discover whether senior Pentagon officials knew that Interceptor OTV body armor was ineffective, and what the Pentagon intended to do about the Interceptor problems if it did. US Army Public Affairs Chief Brigadier General Vincent Brooks went so far as to accuse DefenseWatch of "clearly having an agenda" and "not [being] interested in productive discussions on this topic."

On November 17, 2005 Army spokesman John P. Boyce, Jr., following up on Brooks' acid comments, declined to answer a DW inquiry seeking to know whether the Interceptor program was going to be cancelled after the current contracts have been completed. Two months ago DW received several still unconfirmed reports from credible sources within the body armor industry that the ill-conceived Interceptor program was under severe scrutiny by the US Air Force, Marine Corps and Army because of the numerous complaints its members have forwarded up the chain of command. Those sources continue to insist the Interceptor program will be terminated at the end of the current production run.

Instead of answering the question Boyce wrote on behalf of the US Army that:

"... the U.S. Army fielded more than 873,270 Outer Tactical Vests, so you may definitely say we are still using Outer Tactical Vests as well as personal body-armor technologies to protect our Soldiers. Soldier protection is the highest priority for the Army. As new technologies emerge, the Army aggressively works with industry to develop, test, produce and rapidly field the best possible equipment, and get it into the hands of our Soldiers."

Meanwhile the Marine Corps was very quietly seeking answers to the problems with Interceptor armor that Marines encountered while wearing it in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. On November 22, 2005 MARCORSYSCOM issued a "Solicitation" for interested manufacturers to bid for the opportunity to manufacture an improved design of the Interceptor OTV body armor currently issued to most service members serving in the Global War on Terror. The request was placed in the Federal Business Opportunities website without any public announcement.

The bid says the Marines are "seeking market research, potential sources, and best practice information towards designing, developing, and buying a replacement item to provide torso ballistic protection with integrated and scalable load-carrying capabilities for individual Marines.

"The OTV, along with ballistic protective inserts, is commonly known as the USMC's very successful "Interceptor" system," the bid request explained. "The currently used Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) portion was developed in the late 1990's. It consists of soft armor (i.e., fragmentation protection) covering the torso, groin and neck and can carry ceramic plates to protect against rifle fire. The OTV, however, is not designed - but is being used for - carrying equipment and items during USMC missions. Consequently, the OTV lacks efficient state-of-the-art load carrying capabilities and technologies that limit the user's effectiveness."

In his written response McLaurin gave a biographical account of the development of the Interceptor system, adding that "since the OTV was not designed to carry the excessive weight of a Marine's combat load, we developed and procured a limited number of Assault Load Carriers (ALC)..."
"This modular system will allow Marines to adapt the OTV to the threat they face. However, Marines in combat wanted to attach their MOLLE pouches (ammunition and equipment carriers) directly to the OTV instead of using the ALC," McLaurin continued. "We also developed and procured the Fighting Load Carrier (FLC), designed to carry ammunition magazines, the first aid kit, canteens and other combat equipment."
Almost as an afterthought McLaurin concluded, "Consequently, since Marines in combat have identified the need for additional area of coverage, we developed and fielded the Side Small Arms Protective Inserts (S-SAPI) to protect deployed Marines."

Figure 1: Marine OIF Combat Deaths by Injury Site; Source: USMC 8-29-05 Report

Site Injury Group Total Percent %
Head & Neck 135 33.7 %
Multiple 101 25.2 %
Torso 93 23.2 %
Catastrophic 56 14.0 %
Extremities 8 2.0 %
Other 8 2.0
Total 401 100.0 %

Figure 2: Lethal Torso Injuries by Cause of Death (Sample 93); Source 8-29-05 Report

Cause of Death Total Percent %
Gunshot Wounds 56 60.2%
Explosions 35 37.6%
Multiple Injuries 2 2.2%
Total 93 100%

The Marine's development of the Side Small Arms Protective Inserts (S-SAPI) modification corrects one of the most glaring problems inherent to the Interceptor system, several experts said. Natick's failure to recognize early on the need for axillary protection led to the unnecessary deaths of the"nearly 23%" of the Marines" who "might have benefited from protection along the mid-axillary line of the lateral chest, " according to the August 29 report. In laymen's terms, the mid-axillary line of the lateral chest identifies the sides of the body's upper torso.

McLaurin added that the November 22 solicitation for bids "is a result of Spiral Development on the OTV" and not a complete replacement program for the Interceptor system.

The summary of the solicitation request confirms his assessment:

"The OTV needs to be redesigned to carry a Marine's assault load (i.e. magazines, water, grenades, etc.). It is to use state of the art load carriage techniques to optimally distribute the load over the torso. The contemplated integrated OTV will combine the capabilities to carry the ballistic protection and combat load. The system will use the current Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates.

Several representatives of body armor manufacturers recently told DefenseWatch they have heard reports that US Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker (L.) has given a green light to Army planners to begin looking for a suitable replacement for the Interceptor body armor system.

Patriot Materials Company President Mike Henderson, a former Special operations soldier, said his Sanford, North Carolina-based company is actively seeking a shot at promoting its body armor products to the Pentagon at this time. Patriot already has contracts to up armor all the Army's medium and heavy-duty trucks used in Iraq at its Kuwait support facility and also sells personal body armor to special operations operators, he said.

Mark Carey, Patriot's director of overseas operations, and a retired Spec Ops master sergeant, agreed that the word is already out across the industry that the Interceptor program will be scrapped as soon as the current contracts are filled. His assessment was seconded by Pinnacle Armor's Paul Chopra, a retired US Army Special Operations aviator, and two other manufacturers who declined to go on record. Pinnacle make Dragon Skin body armor, which DefenseWatch examined closely in its America's Best series.

Both manufacturers who spoke on the record said they would actively seek the new business when it becomes available and that their companies already produced body armor vastly superior to the Interceptor OTV system.

Since last May the Army and Marine Corps have recalled more than 23,000 body armor vests because they failed ballistic requirements when they were manufactured in 1999 and 2000. Many of those vests may now be in the war zone. About 5,000 were recalled in May, 2005 and 18,000 last November 16, according to Pentagon officials. All of the vests involved were produced by the same manufacturer, Point Blank Body Armor Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., under contract to the Marine Corps and the Army. The Marines Corps has repeatedly assured its war fighters the recalls did not involve safety issues and were merely manufacturing flaws that affected size and quality control – not bullet and shrapnel stopping capabilities.

In January, 2005 Point Blank's CEO, a Long Island, New York businessman, gained a bit of notoriety for giving his 12-year-old daughter a $10 million party at a swank New York eatery. Brooks is the CEO of DHB Industries, the parent company of Point Blank, which makes the vests that were recalled in 2005. In 2004 Brooks exercised DHB stock options worth almost $70 million and at year's end (Dec. 29, 2004), sold 5 million of his 11 million shares of common stock for a whopping $106.4 million, according to public records. Soon after the value of DHB stock began to decline.

As early as July 19, 2004, according to memos originally obtained by the Army Times newspaper, the Marine Corps found "major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank." One month later, on August 24, 2004, the military rejected two orders from Point Blank after tests revealed that the vests did not meet safety requirements.

Faced with a severe shortage of body armor the Army decided that nine Point Blank orders that did not meet safety requirements would be sent to troops overseas anyway, according to court records obtained by DW from an unrelated Point Blank labor dispute heard in a Florida court. On May 3, 2005 Point Blank hired retired four-star Army Gen. Larry Ellis to lead the beleaguered company. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor. On July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government. In November another18, 000 vests were recalled.

Another Interceptor body armor manufacturer, formerly known as Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., is currently under investigation by the Justice Department for fraud for knowingly selling body armor that can't stop bullets from killing its wearers. Second Chance was the leading body armor supplier to the American Armed Forces three years ago. It has since declared bankruptcy in Michigan and gone out of business.

Standing in the wings to pick up the slack was Armor Holdings, Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla, the current leading manufacturer and distributor of body armor for the U.S. military, On August 2, 2005 Armor Holdings announced that it had completed acquiring all of the domestic assets of Second Chance after the company declared bankruptcy following charges of fraud in its domestic operations. The announcement followed on the heels of a July 13 press release from Armor Holdings trumpeting that it had become the "exclusive provider" to replace up to 156,000 defective vests manufactured by Second Chance Body Armor and issued to American war fighters while it led the pack of armor manufacturers milking the cash cow conceived and fattened in the wake of the sudden need for body armor to fight the Global War on Terror.

Scott O'Brien, President of the Armor Holdings Products Division, commented in a September 2 press release that, "We are delighted to welcome Second Chance to the Armor Holdings team, and we believe this transaction creates a fresh start for Second Chance."

Armor Holdings paid $45 million in cash for the assets of Second Chance, "including substantially all intellectual property, free and clear of all liens, claims and encumbrances, and assumed certain trade liabilities," according to the Sept. 2 press release. An attorney close to the Second Chance debacle said Armor Holdings acquisition of the former body armor manufacturer's assets left the American taxpayer – as usual -holding the bag for the cost of the failed equipment.

Despite the multitude of problems the Interceptor program has encountered the US Army apparently still stands by its product.

"The Army has made several improvements in the area of Soldier Protection equipment to the Outer Tactical Vests and to the Small Arms Protective Inserts." Keir explained in his Dec. 30th email to DefenseWatch that promised a more complete explanation was still forthcoming. "In response to the changing battlefield conditions and as new technologies emerge; the Army will continue to develop improvements to Soldier Protection equipment that enhances survivability and mobility. Soldier protection is the highest priority for the U.S. Army,"

Keir's comments prove what Miguel de Cervantes claimed in Don Quixote in the 17th Century is still relevant today: "The proof of the pudding is the eating."

Bon Appetit!

DefenseWatch Editor Nathaniel R. "Nat" Helms is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, long-time journalist and war correspondent living in Missouri. He is the author of two books, Numba One – Numba Ten and Journey Into Madness: A Hitchhiker's Account of the Bosnian Civil War, both available at He can be reached at Send Feedback responses to­

[bth: Thanks to Nat Helms and Roger Charles over at Soldiers for the Truth for getting this important story out.

The best armor on the market costs $4000. We ought to be buying it. Its not a lot of money given the benefit it provides. It is about priorities within the Pentagon for money - do GIs and Marines in the field get priority or do unneeded bases and big ticket, big profit defense contracts with little value to the conflicts and enemies we face today?]

At Gator Swamp Outpost, the war is close and personal

KR Washington Bureau 01/03/2006 At Gator Swamp Outpost, the war is close and personal: "GATOR SWAMP OUTPOST, Iraq - It's only five or six minutes as the Blackhawk flies from the comforts of Camp Victory, Baghdad Airport, to a couple of small Beau Geste forts occupied by American soldiers in the most dangerous place in Iraq.

The 10-mile journey south crosses land that is almost biblical in its simplicity - with mud-walled farm houses amid towering date palm trees, herds of sheep tended by shepherd boys, and chickens scratching idly in the beige dust. But this land is almost biblical in its violence as well.

Capt. Howard Donaldson of Detroit is the law on this side of the Tigris River. He is 33 and old for an infantry captain. He served in the Air Force Reserves as an enlisted man before he went through ROTC and became an Army officer. He commands A Company 2nd Battalion 502nd Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

His command post, a two-story building, sits in the middle of a potato patch, and that patch is now surrounded by coils of razor wire. 'This is uncharted territory here and we are in a race to get the necessary intelligence and information on this area,' Donaldson said.

A few hours earlier three of A Company's troops were wounded in a brisk firefight with Iraqi insurgent snipers. A fourth soldier, Spec. Denver Rearick of Waco, Ky., was shot in the back but saved by his body armor. Rearick said he heard gunfire, thought, 'They're shooting at us,' and suddenly felt a blow to his back that knocked him facedown.

Back at the Gator outpost a few hours later Rearick stripped off his jacket and T-shirt while a medic, Spec. Wayne Webb of Clifton, Va., checked him out. There was a round red circle on the upper right side of his back perhaps four inches across. 'Doc, it only hurts when you touch it,' Rearick said....
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Thursday, January 05, 2006

At least 120 dead as Iraq bombers wreak carnage

At least 120 dead as Iraq bombers wreak carnage: "At least 120 people, including five US soldiers, were killed in bomb attacks across Iraq, fuelling sectarian tensions as the country looks to form a new government.

In Iraq's bloodiest day for months, twin suicide bombers struck the restive Sunni city of Ramadi in the west and the Shiite holy city of Karbala in the south, while a roadside bomb hit a US military patrol.

More that 200 people were also wounded in the onslaught."....
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Iranian President Hopes Sharon Perishes

Iranian President Hopes Sharon Perishes - Yahoo! News: "TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's president said Thursday he hoped for the death of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the latest anti-Israeli comment by a leader who has already provoked international criticism for suggesting that Israel be 'wiped off the map"

"Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Chatilla has joined his ancestors is final," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.

Ahmadinejad was referring to Sharon, who as defense minister in 1982 directed Israel's ill-fated invasion of Lebanon. An Israeli commission found him indirectly responsible for a massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps by Christian Phalangist soldiers.
Iran's official media, including state-run radio and television, did not report Ahmadinejad's remarks about Sharon.

"Hopefully, others (criminals like him) will join him too," ISNA quoted Ahmadinejad as telling a group of clerics in Qom, a holy city 80 miles south of the capital, Tehran. He spoke a day after the 77-year-old Sharon suffered a massive stroke and underwent surgery.

In the last two months, Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a "myth" and said if Europeans insist it did occur, then they should give some of their own land for a Jewish state, rather than the one in the Middle East. He also called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

[bth: What a whack job this guy is. Just when you think we've got that market cornered.]

US Christian broadcaster says Sharon's stroke divine retribution

BREITBART.COM - US Christian broadcaster says Sharon's stroke divine retribution: "US evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for 'dividing God's land' of Israel, igniting his latest trademark controversy.

As the Israeli prime minister battled for life, Robertson seemed to suggest to viewers on his '700 Club' television show that Sharon was being punished for his policies in Gaza and the West Bank. "....

"I prayed with him personally. But here he is at the point of death. He was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America."

"God said, 'This land belongs to me, you better leave it alone.'"
Robertson also appeared to suggest former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, murdered in 1995, had also paid the ultimate price for talking peace.

"He was tragically assassinated, and it was terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, he was dead."

Robertson's latest blast drew immediate condemnation from Israel's ambassador to the United States.

"Such things are very outrageous. I would expect this only from people like (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad in Iran ... I wouldn't expect it from any of our friends," ambassador Danny Ayalon told CNN.

The US Anti-Defamation League also piled on Robertson's "outrageous and shocking" comments.

"His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. We would hope that good Christian leaders would distance themselves from Pat Robertson's remarks," the ADL said in a statement.

"It is pure arrogance for Robertson to suggest that he has divine knowledge of God's intent and purpose based on his interpretation of scripture." ...

In October, he said a recent spate of natural disasters pointed to the end of the world and the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ.

In August, Robertson said the United States should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but later apologized for the remark.

He also suggested voters in a Pennsylvania town should not expect God's help should they face a natural disaster after they ousted a school board which had mandated the teaching of creationism.

Last year, he suggested that the threat to the United States from liberal "activist judges" was "probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings," a reference to the September 11 attacks.

He has also lambasted Disneyland and the United Nations.

[bth: I submit Pat Robertson as prima facia proof of the wisdom of separation of Church and State. He is a nut job. An embarrassment.]
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Seven US soldiers killed in Iraq: military, police

Top News Article "Baghdad (Reuters) - Five U.S. soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle while on patrol in Baghdad on Thursday, the U.S. military said.

Another two American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb near the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, Iraqi police said.

Police had earlier said that only two civilians were killed in the Najaf incident."
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Suicide bomb kills 10 Afghans as U.S. envoy visits

"KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 10 people in an attack in an Afghan provincial capital on Thursday during a visit by the U.S. ambassador, officials said. The envoy was unhurt.

Another 50 people were wounded, 15 critically, in the incident in Tarin Kot, capital of the central province of Uruzgan, said Haji Abdul Aziz, the deputy provincial governor.

He said the attack took place in a bazaar about 1.5 km (one mile) from the Governor's House, which U.S. ambassador Ronald E. Neumann was visiting."...

The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail

The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail: "The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins."...

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy....

Some of the U.S. Family Network's revenue was used to pay for radio ads attacking vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in 1999; other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House...

A former Abramoff associate said the two executives "wanted to contribute to DeLay" and clearly had the resources to do it. At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow "what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning" and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays "would go to jail and you would go to jail."...

Two former Buckham associates said that he told them years ago not only that the $1 million donation was solicited from Russian oil and gas executives, but also that the initial plan was for the donation to be made via a delivery of cash to be picked up at a Washington area airport.

One of the former associates, a Frederick, Md., pastor named Christopher Geeslin who served as the U.S. Family Network's director or president from 1998 to 2001, said Buckham further told him in 1999 that the payment was meant to influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there.

"Ed told me, 'This is the way things work in Washington,' " Geeslin said. "He said the Russians wanted to give the money first in cash." Buckham, he said, orchestrated all the group's fundraising and spending and rarely informed the board about the details. Buckham and his attorney, Laura Miller, did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this article.

The IMF funding legislation was a contentious issue in 1998. The Russian stock market fell steeply in April and May, and the government in Moscow announced on June 18 -- just a week before the $1 million check was sent by the London law firm -- that it needed $10 billion to $15 billion in new international loans....

One day after the DeLays departed for Washington, the U.S. Family Network registered an initial $150,000 payment made by the Choctaws, according to its tax return. The tribe made additional payments to the group totaling $100,000 on "various" dates the following year, the returns state. The Choctaws separately paid Abramoff $4.5 million for his lobbying work on their behalf in 1998 and 1999. ...

[bth: so the Russian oligarchs paid off Delay via Abramoff in order to get billions in bail outs. Delay didn't take the money directly but used it to fund campaign ads against Democrats?]
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Winners and Losers

..."But the thing that jumps out at me is the figure $20,194,000. If I read the fed's plea-agreement papers correctly, that's the amount of cold cash that the Republican lobbyist siphoned from Indian tribes and stashed in his secret accounts."....
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Abramoff Pleads Guilty to Fraud in Fla. - Yahoo! News

...Like a former business partner did last month, Abramoff pleaded guilty to concocting a false $23 million wire transfer that made it appear as if the pair contributed a sizable stake of their own cash into the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz Casinos.

The plea agreement calls for a maximum sentence of just over seven years, but that sentence could be reduced if Abramoff cooperates fully and would run simultaneously with whatever sentence is imposed in the Washington corruption case. The remaining four counts in the Florida indictment will be dismissed."....

The Miami businessman who had sold SunCruz to Abramoff and Kidan, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, was later murdered in a mob-style hit.....

[bth: So this is a second and unrelated plea to his deal and pleas on Tuesday. ... So crime does pay. He gets seven years for stealing tens of millions. Not bad. Certainly less punishment than sticking up a 7-11.]
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Abramoff and his Contributions before the Feds got their cut

Abramoff Pleads Guilty to Felony Charges: ..."Fredericksburg, Va.: Hi Susan, great stories so far. How is it the Abramoff could be broke? He had zillions of dollars, it seemed. What gives?

Susan Schmidt: I keep wondering the same thing. We do know he spent millions of dollars on his two restaurants, that he bankrolled a religious academy that educated his children, that he was sending money to settlers on the West Bank for a sniper school. He also lived extravagantly, flying by private jet and buying expensive cars. But that's an awful lot of money to go through. And there is hardly anything left for the lawyers!"...


So what contributions are they referring to?

See this article from December 15, 2005 in the Austin American Statesman.

"...P'TACH's $300,000 grant is the largest of four listed on the foundation's 2002 tax filing that representatives of nonprofit groups told the American-Statesman they had no records of receiving:

•$20,000 for Chabad Lubavitch, a Jewish center in Potomac, Md.
•$6,000 for the Waldorf School, a private school with fewer than 200 students in Atlanta
• $5,452 for Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Fort Wayne, Ind.
A $6,000 donation would have been big news at the Waldorf School, business manager Debra Kahn said.

"That's so weird. Why would (Abramoff) even know us?" Kahn said. "The interesting thing about it is if we had a grant it would have been an unsolicited one because we weren't writing grant proposals back then. We're in the process of getting accredited, so we really can't qualify for a lot of foundation grants anyway."
According to an archived version of Capital Athletic's Web site, it did not accept unsolicited grant proposals. Abramoff and his wife, Pamela, are the sole managing members of the charity, according to tax records.
For Craig Holman, campaign finance lobbyist with Public Citizen in Washington who also monitors nonprofits, the discrepancies raise troubling questions.
"Those charitable contributions have to show up (accurately) in IRS records. If they don't show up there, something terribly wrong has happened," he said.
IRS spokesman Phil Beasley in Dallas, while prohibited from discussing specific cases, said charities that misrepresent tax return information risk losing their nonprofit status.
"Depending on the intent and severity, an organization or individual could find themselves under criminal investigation by the IRS," Beasley said.

Other charities did receive the listed grants, including $14,500 for the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Academy in Maryland, and $2,500 for a Washington film festival by the Voice Beyond, a faith-based media concern.

Capital Athletic reported making $2.3 million in charitable grants in 2002, including almost $1.9 million for Eshkol Academy, Abramoff's Jewish school for boys, and $97,000 for Kollel Ohel Tiferet in Israel to purchase military gear for an Orthodox Jewish settlement in the West Bank. There is no public listing for the Kollel group, and the town's mayor said he did not know of the organization, according to Newsweek magazine.

Al Qaeda releases Sudanese hostages - Jan 4, 2006 - Al Qaeda releases Sudanese hostages - Jan 4, 2006: "KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- The five employees of the Sudanese Embassy in Baghdad returned home Wednesday, after their kidnappers released them as part of a deal with their government, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Sudan procured the release of the five after it agreed to close its embassy in Baghdad as the kidnapping group, al Qaeda in Iraq, had demanded."...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

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A Life, Wasted - Let's Stop This War Before More Heroes Are Killed

A Life, Wasted: "By Paul E. Schroeder

Tuesday, January 3, 2006;

Early on Aug. 3, 2005, we heard that 14 Marines had been killed in Haditha, Iraq. Our son, Lance Cpl. Edward 'Augie' Schroeder II, was stationed there. At 10:45 a.m. two Marines showed up at our door. After collecting himself for what was clearly painful duty, the lieutenant colonel said, 'Your son is a true American hero.'

Since then, two reactions to Augie's death have compounded the sadness."

At times like this, people say, "He died a hero." I know this is meant with great sincerity. We appreciate the many condolences we have received and how helpful they have been. But when heard repeatedly, the phrases "he died a hero" or "he died a patriot" or "he died for his country" rub raw.

"People think that if they say that, somehow it makes it okay that he died," our daughter, Amanda, has said. "He was a hero before he died, not just because he went to Iraq. I was proud of him before, and being a patriot doesn't make his death okay. I'm glad he got so much respect at his funeral, but that didn't make it okay either."

The words "hero" and "patriot" focus on the death, not the life. They are a flag-draped mask covering the truth that few want to acknowledge openly: Death in battle is tragic no matter what the reasons for the war. The tragedy is the life that was lost, not the manner of death. Families of dead soldiers on both sides of the battle line know this.

Those without family in the war don't appreciate the difference.

This leads to the second reaction. Since August we have witnessed growing opposition to the Iraq war, but it is often whispered, hands covering mouths, as if it is dangerous to speak too loudly.

Others discuss the never-ending cycle of death in places such as Haditha in academic and sometimes clinical fashion, as in "the increasing lethality of improvised explosive devices."

Listen to the kinds of things that most Americans don't have to experience: The day Augie's unit returned from Iraq to Camp Lejeune, we received a box with his notebooks, DVDs and clothes from his locker in Iraq. The day his unit returned home to waiting families, we received the second urn of ashes.

This lad of promise, of easy charm and readiness to help, whose highest high was saving someone using CPR as a first aid squad volunteer, came home in one coffin and two urns. We buried him in three places that he loved, a fitting irony, I suppose, but just as rough each time.

I am outraged at what I see as the cause of his death. For nearly three years, the Bush administration has pursued a policy that makes our troops sitting ducks. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that our policy is to "clear, hold and build" Iraqi towns, there aren't enough troops to do that.

In our last conversation, Augie complained that the cost in lives to clear insurgents was "less and less worth it," because Marines have to keep coming back to clear the same places. Marine commanders in the field say the same thing. Without sufficient troops, they can't hold the towns. Augie was killed on his fifth mission to clear Haditha.

At Augie's grave, the lieutenant colonel knelt in front of my wife and, with tears in his eyes, handed her the folded flag. He said the only thing he could say openly: "Your son was a true American hero." Perhaps. But I felt no glory, no honor. Doing your duty when you don't know whether you will see the end of the day is certainly heroic. But even more, being a hero comes from respecting your parents and all others, from helping your neighbors and strangers, from loving your spouse, your children, your neighbors and your enemies, from honesty and integrity, from knowing when to fight and when to walk away, and from understanding and respecting the differences among the people of the world.

Two painful questions remain for all of us. Are the lives of Americans being killed in Iraq wasted? Are they dying in vain? President Bush says those who criticize staying the course are not honoring the dead. That is twisted logic: honor the fallen by killing another 2,000 troops in a broken policy?

I choose to honor our fallen hero by remembering who he was in life, not how he died. A picture of a smiling Augie in Iraq, sunglasses turned upside down, shows his essence -- a joyous kid who could use any prop to make others feel the same way.

Though it hurts, I believe that his death -- and that of the other Americans who have died in Iraq -- was a waste. They were wasted in a belief that democracy would grow simply by removing a dictator -- a careless misunderstanding of what democracy requires. They were wasted by not sending enough troops to do the job needed in the resulting occupation -- a careless disregard for professional military counsel.

But their deaths will not be in vain if Americans stop hiding behind flag-draped hero masks and stop whispering their opposition to this war. Until then, the lives of other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers may be wasted as well.

This is very painful to acknowledge, and I have to live with it. So does President Bush.

The writer is managing director of a trade development firm in Cleveland.
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Cry me a New Year [New Orleans]

Cry me a New Year: "When I look back on the year 2005, nothing comes to mind more than the opening line of Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities.'

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' "

Except for that "best of times" part, it describes New Orleans perfectly.

How did we get here? What happened to my tough-lovin', hard-luck, good-timin' town?


I have cowered in fear this year from the real and the imagined. The fear of injury, the fear of disease, the fear of death, the fear of abandonment, isolation and insanity.

I have had seared into my olfactory lockbox the smell of gasoline and dead people. And your leftovers.

I have feared the phantom notions of sharks swimming in our streets and bands of armed men coming for me in the night to steal my generator and water and then maybe rape me or cut my throat just for the hell of it.

I have wept, for hours on end, days on end.

The crying jags. I guess they're therapeutic, but give me a break.

The first time I went to the Winn-Dixie after it reopened, I had all my purchases on the conveyer belt, plus a bottle of mouthwash. During the Days of Horror following the decimation of this city, I had gone into the foul and darkened store and lifted a bottle.

I was operating under the "take only what you need" clause that the strays who remained behind in this godforsaken place invoked in the early days.

My thinking was that it was in everyone's best interest if I had a bottle of mouthwash.

When the cashier rang up my groceries all those weeks later, I tried, as subtly as possible, to hand her the bottle and ask her if she could see that it was put back on the shelf. She was confused by my action and offered to void the purchase if I didn't want the bottle.

I told her it's not that I didn't want it, but that I wished to pay for it and could she please see that it was put back on the shelf. More confusion ensued and the line behind me got longer and it felt very hot and crowded all of a sudden and I tried to tell her: "Look, when the store was closed . . . you know . . . after the thing . . . I took . . ."
The words wouldn't come. Only the tears

The people in line behind me stood stoic and patient, public meltdowns being as common as discarded kitchen appliances in this town.

What's that over there? Oh, it's just some dude crying his butt off. Nothing new here. Show's over people, move along.

The cashier, an older woman, finally grasped my pathetic gesture, my lowly attempt to make amends, my fulfillment to a promise I made to myself to repay anyone I had stolen from.

"I get it, baby," she said, and she gently took the bottle from my hands and I gathered my groceries and walked sobbing from the store.

She was kind to me. I probably will never see her again, but I will never forget her. That bottle. That store. All the fury that prevailed. The fear.

A friend of mine, a photojournalist, recently went to a funeral to take pictures. There had been an elderly couple trapped in a house. He had a heart attack and slipped into the water. She held onto a gutter for two days before being rescued.

It was seven weeks before the man's body was found in the house, then another six weeks before the remains were released from the St. Gabriel morgue for burial.

"Tell me a story I haven't heard," I told my friend. Go ahead. Shock me.

When my father and I were trading dark humor one night and he was offering advice on how to begin my year in review, he cracked himself up, proposing: "It was a dark and stormy night."

That's close, but not quite it. "It was a dark and stormy morning" would be closer to the truth.

What a morning it was.

I was in Vicksburg. I had just left the miserable hotel crackhouse to which my family had evacuated -- it must have been the last vacant room in the South -- and was looking for breakfast for my kids.

But the streets and businesses were abandoned and a slight but stinging rain was falling, the wind surging and warm, and while my kids played on a little riverfront playground, I got through on my cell phone to The Times-Picayune newsroom, where scores of TP families had taken refuge, and I remember saying to the clerk who answered the phone:

"Man, that was a close one, huh? Looks like we dodged another bullet."

I suppose around a million people were saying exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. What I would have given to be right. Just that one time.

I was trying to get through to my editor to ask: "What's the plan?"

By late afternoon, that's what everyone in the Gulf region was asking.

Of course, it turns out there wasn't a plan. Anywhere. Who could have known?

The newspaper was just like everyone else at that point: As a legion of employees and their families piled into delivery trucks and fled the newspaper building as the waters rose around them, we shifted into the same operational mode as everyone else:

Survive. Wing it. Do good work. Save someone or something. And call your mother and tell her you're all right.

Unless, of course, your mother was in Lakeview or the Lower 9th or Chalmette or . . . well, I've had enough of those horror stories for now. I don't even want to visit that place today.

This was the year that defines our city, our lives, our destiny. Nothing comparable has ever happened in modern times in America, and there is no blueprint for how we do this.

We just wing it. Do good work. Save someone or something.

You'd have to be crazy to want to live here. You'd have to be plumb out of reasonable options elsewhere.

Then again, I have discovered that the only thing worse than being in New Orleans these days is not being in New Orleans.

It's a siren calling us home. It cannot be explained.

"They don't get us," is the common refrain you hear from frustrated residents who think the government and the nation have turned a blind eye to us in our time of need.

Then again, if they did get us, if we were easily boxed and labeled, I suppose we'd be just Anyplace, USA.

And that won't do.

We have a job to do here, and that is to entertain the masses and I don't mean the tourists. They're part of it, of course, but what we do best down here -- have done for decades -- is create a lifestyle that others out there in the Great Elsewhere envy and emulate.

Our music, our food, yada, yada, yada. It's a tale so often told that it borders on platitude but it is also the searing truth: We are the music. We are the food. We are the dance.

We are the tolerance. We are the spirit.

And one day, they'll get it.

As a woman named Judy Deck e-mailed to me, in a moment of inspiration: "If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom."
Yeah, you rite.

That, people, is the final word on 2005.
. . . . . . .
Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309.

[bth: excellent editorial.]
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Suspected Taliban rebels behead an Afghan teacher

Suspected Taliban rebels behead an Afghan teacher - Asia - Pacific - International Herald Tribune: "Suspected Taliban militants have beheaded a teacher in a central Afghan town, the latest in a string of attacks on teachers and schools in the volatile region, officials said Wednesday.

The decapitated body of Malim Abdul Habib was found in his home in Qalat town on Wednesday, said Ali Khail, a local government spokesman. Assailants were believed to have killed him late Tuesday after breaking into the house.

Habib was a teacher at Shaikh Mathi Baba School, which is attended by both boys and girls.

Zabul province's education director Nabi Khushal blamed the Taliban for the killing.

'Only the Taliban are against girls being educated,' he said.

The insurgents in the past year have occasionally put up posters around Qalat demanding girls' schools be closed and threatening to kill teachers, Khushal said.

There has been a spate of attacks on girls' schools and teachers across Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.

The former regime prohibited girls from attending school as part of its widely criticized drive to establish what it considered a 'pure' Islamic state.

Hundreds of thousands of girls have returned to school since the Taliban's ouster, but opposition remains in conservative areas of rural Afghanistan.

The Taliban in the past year have stepped up attacks against government targets, particularly in the south and east, triggering the deadliest fighting with joint Afghan government-U.S. coalition forces since the hard-line movement was ousted. ....

[bth: You have to hunt through the news to find this story. It is one of the most compelling reasons for our continued involvement in Afghanistan. I seriously doubt that the NATO forces that will be replacing most of the US combat troops in Afghanistan will be up to the task of dealing with the Taliban. Stories like this don't need propaganda spins from the Lincoln Group. They speak for themselves.]

Lobbying Plan Was Central to GOP's Political Strategy

Lobbying Plan Was Central to GOP's Political Strategy - Los Angeles Times: "WASHINGTON - The corruption investigation surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff shows the significant political risk that Republican leaders took when they adopted what had once seemed a brilliant strategy for dominating Washington: turning the K Street lobbying corridor into a cog of the GOP political machine.

Abramoff thrived in the political climate fostered by GOP leaders, including Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who have methodically tried to tighten the links between the party in Congress and business lobbyists, through what has become known as the 'K Street Project.'"

GOP leaders, seeking to harness the financial and political support of K Street, urged lobbyists to support their conservative agenda, give heavily to Republican politicians and hire Republicans for top trade association jobs. Abramoff obliged on every front, and his tentacles of influence reached deep into the upper echelons of Congress and the Bush administration.Now, in the wake of a plea agreement in which Abramoff will cooperate in an influence-peddling investigation that might target a number of lawmakers, some Republicans are saying that the party will need to take action to avoid being tarnished.

"This is going to be a huge black eye for our party," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a senior member close to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "Denny's going to have to be very tough and really speak out against people who are indicted. He's going to have to do it quickly and decisively and frequently.".....
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BILLION DOLLAR BUNKER [US Iraq Embasssy] - News - EXCLUSIVE: BILLION DOLLAR BUNKER: "AMERICA is to spend -1billion on an embassy in Baghdad 'more secure than the Pentagon'.
Plans for the hi-tech complex are being kept secret because of the terrorist threat in Iraq.

The exact location is not being released until later this year but it is likely to be built in the heavily fortified Green Zone area where the Iraqi government and US military command is based.

The embassy will be guarded by 15ft blast walls and ground-to-air missiles and the main building will have bunkers for use during air offensives.

The grounds will include as many as 300 houses for consular and military officials.

And a large-scale barracks will be built for Marines who will protect what will be Washington's biggest and most secure overseas building.

A US source in the Middle East said last night: 'Plans for the embassy building are being kept behind closed doors because of the terrorist threat.

'It will be more secure than The Pentagon because it will be under constant threat from attack.' The Green Zone is the safest part of Baghdad, surrounded by concrete blast walls and checkpoints.

The US also wants to build four massive military superbases around Iraq's capital. "...

[bth: I'm sure this will inspire a love for Americans in Iraq - a huge bunker embassy in a country with 40% unemployment and the US promising to leave Iraq. Iraqis probably watch what we do much more than what we say.]