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Tuesday, November 25, 2003
The Pentagon issued a press release today announcing the terms of an agreement for the military tribunal of David Hicks, an Australian being held at Guantanamo Bay after his capture in late 2001 in Afghanistan. Pentagon lawyers negotiated this deal with Australian authorities, who were concerned that military tribunals might provide less procedural and substantive due process than ordinary American criminal trials. Mr. Hicks was already on a short list of tribunal candidates. With this agreement, I think it's a safe bet that he will be one of the first tried by these procedures at Gitmo. The U.S.-Australian agreement focused mostly on the procedural issues for Mr. Hicks' eventual trial, including:
The prosecution has reviewed the evidence against the Australian detainees, and based on that evidence, the prosecution would not seek the death penalty;Analysis: This is a really interesting development in the saga of the U.S. military commissions planned for members of Al Qaeda. On the big-picture level, this development represents a retreat of sorts for the Pentagon lawyers who drafted the military commission regulations. Essentially, the Pentagon has given ground on a number of key issues, such as attorney-client monitoring, the use of classified materials, and the use of ex parte proceedings. I think that critics of the tribunals will seize on this agreement to say "the Pentagon is willing to give these things up because they recognize that these procedures are inherently unjust." I think the situation's a bit more complex, but that's the likely argument to be made.
The security and intelligence circumstances of Mr Hick's case are such that it would not warrant monitoring of conversations between him and his counsel;
If David Hicks is charged, the prosecution does not intend to rely on evidence in its case-in-chief requiring closed proceedings from which the accused could be excluded; and
The U.S. and Australian government will continue to work towards putting arrangements in place to transfer Hicks, if convicted, to Australia to serve any penal sentence in accordance with Australian and U.S. law.
Subject to any necessary security restrictions, military commissions will be open, the media present and appropriately cleared representatives of the accused's government may observe the proceedings;
If an accused is convicted, the accused's government may make submissions to the Review Panel;
If eligible for trial, and subject to security requirements and restrictions, an accused may be permitted to talk to appropriately cleared family members via telephone, and two appropriately cleared family members would be able to attend their trial; and,
An accused may choose to have an appropriately cleared foreign attorney as a consultant to the Defense Team. Foreign attorney consultant access to attorney-client information, case material or the accused will be subject to appropriate security clearances and restrictions and determined on a case-by-case basis.
On the micro-level, each of these provisions makes an interesting statement about the nature of the charges against Mr. Hicks, and the evolution of thinking within the Pentagon about the tribunals:
1. "[T]he prosecution would not seek the death penalty" To me, this means the case against Hicks is pretty flimsy -- kind of like the case against John Walker Lindh. I think this guy was probably just a foot soldier -- on the wrong side at the wrong time in the wrong country. Unfortunately, that's a violation of U.S. law, and if he didn't follow the rules for combatancy in the Law of Armed Conflict, it could be a violation of international law too. But it's not a major violation, and it certainly doesn't deserve the death penalty. This interpretation of Mr. Hicks' case is buttressed by the following clause, which states "The security and intelligence circumstances of Mr Hick's case are such that it would not warrant monitoring of conversations between him and his counsel." Clearly, the Pentagon wouldn't agree to this if they thought Mr. Hicks had any residual intelligence value whatsoever.
2. "[T]he prosecution does not intend to rely on evidence in its case-in-chief requiring closed proceedings from which the accused could be excluded." This means that the Pentagon does think it will use classified evidence at trial. The inference that I draw from this is that Mr. Hicks was a member of the Taliban, but not Al Qaeda, and that the U.S. government doesn't need to use any intelligence sources or assets to describe his membership in that quasi-governmental organization. If this guy were a member of Al Qaeda, a shadowy organization at best, we'd probably need to use some classified evidence to show that.
3. "[M]ilitary commissions will be open, the media present and appropriately cleared representatives of the accused's government may observe the proceedings". Again, we're not looking at a deep sleeper in Al Qaeda or a leader of that global terror network -- we're looking at a foot soldier. Given the likely facts of his case, there's no reason to shut the media out. Indeed, if this is a slam-dunk case and if the facts are relatively innocuous, this coudl be the deception/diversion/obscuration effort for the rest of the military tribunals. If the Hicks tribunal goes first, it will get a lot of publicity -- more than it probably deserves on the basis of the facts of the case. Let's say the Pentagon throws the doors wide open, and uses this as a case study for how the tribunals can work in a kindler & gentler manner. After the publicity fades, and after public opinion switches to support for the tribunals, the Pentagon can roll out the real bad guys -- and use the full panoply of procedural devices such as ex parte hearings, classified evidence, and closed trials.
Recommendation: Look for the articles tomorrow by Jess Bravin (Wall Street Journal), Richard Serrano (LA Times), and Charles Lane or Dan Eggen (Washington Post). They do the best reporting on these issues, and I suspect they'll have the best analysis in tomorrow's paper.
The case of CPT James Yee, the Muslim chaplain suspected of espionage at Guantanamo Bay, took a strange turn today when the Army decided to release him from the military brig at Charleston to regular duty at Fort Benning, GA. The Army also added new counts to his current charges of mishandling classified information, including allegations of adultery, storing pornography on a government computer, and disobeying a lawful order. The next step for CPT Yee is an Art. 32 hearing, which is somewhat like a grand jury hearing, and then he may face a general court martial for his actions. Suffice to say, the stakes are much lower than when I wrote this article arguing for capital punishment in this case. But I still think there is more here than meets the eye. I expect we'll see more charges in the near future -- more to follow.
Bryan Gruley tells a great story today in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about Lt. John Withers, U.S. Army, and what he did at the tail end of WWII to save two Jewish concentration camp survivors. The story is more remarkable because Lt. Withers was black, at a time when the Army was bitterly segregated, and he could have faced serious sanctions for violating the general orders regarding the treatment of displaced persons at the end of the war. As the story relates, Lt. Withers' humanity won out over his orders.
The two young men stood trembling before Army Lt. John Withers, dressed in the rags they'd worn at the recently liberated Dachau concentration camp. Sores pocked their bony arms and legs. Decades later, the lieutenant would remember how their sunken eyes sought mercy.Thoughts: This is the kind of story that makes me proud to have been an American army officer. There aren't many armies in the world that can lay claim to this kind of lineage -- as peacemakers and humanitarians as well as warfighters. Lt. Withers was a junior officer who knew what the right thing was -- and he did it, notwithstanding his orders to the contrary. If faced with a similar situation today in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think my peers would probably do the same thing. There's something about the American military officer that transcends more obeyance to orders; that wants to do the right thing. As Lt. Withers said in the story, he couldn't have done anything different, because to do so would have made him lose face in front of his men. American soldiers know the difference between right and wrong; good and evil. In this case, they chose the right path.
But in 1945, near the end of World War II, they posed a problem. Lt. Withers was a black leader in an all-black supply convoy. In violation of Army orders, his men were hiding the refugees. Lt. Withers planned to have the strangers removed -- until he saw them.
They stayed with his unit for more than a year, two Jewish survivors of the Holocaust hiding among blacks from segregated America. The soldiers nicknamed them "Peewee" and "Salomon." They grew close to Lt. Withers. By the time he bid them farewell, they'd grown healthy again.
* * *
Quartermaster units had orders to avoid contact with the Dachau prisoners, Lt. Withers later recalled. His superiors worried that supply convoys would pick up diseases and spread them to other Army units. Researchers at the National Archives couldn't locate specific records of such orders but said other records indicate that Army brass were acutely concerned about health risks posed by Dachau prisoners.
Lt. Withers had learned that it was especially important for blacks to follow orders in the segregated Army. He recalled worrying that sheltering Dachau refugees might get him a dishonorable discharge -- and then there would be no GI Bill for him.
He assumed the two refugees were war-toughened men who were exploiting his soldiers' sympathy. So he was unprepared when the soldiers brought Peewee and Salomon. The refugees seemed shrunken and frightened, really just boys, he recalled thinking.
Peewee would later recall that his knees felt weak as he waited for the lieutenant's verdict. He assumed that his immediate family was dead. He was 16. He had no home, no money and no clothing but what he wore. He wanted no more part of the Allies' displaced-persons camps. In the chaos following the war, he had no idea what to do next.
Lt. Withers assumed that Peewee and Salomon would be returned to Dachau, where thousands of former prisoners were still convalescing, according to Army dispatches from the summer of 1945. He'd been to Dachau on a bread-and-milk delivery shortly after it was liberated. He'd seen bodies decomposing in an open ditch, smelled the rotting flesh. How could he send them back?
"Keep them," he recalled blurting to his men. "We're going to take care of them."
In recent interviews, he struggled to explain why he changed his mind. "I think I identified with them very strongly and instantaneously," he said. He said he also risked losing face with his men. "They were willing to take the chance. If I would have overruled them, I would have been on the wrong side of the decision."
Monday, November 24, 2003
New "Penta-blog" service offers RSS/XML feed to the public
I've commended the Pentagon's web page before as a great repository for information -- press releases, transcripts of press conferences, and other useful data. DefenseLink is searchable; it keeps stuff on file for a long time; and DefenseLink is pretty well organized for a government website. Now, the Pentagon introduces an RSS/XML feed for defense news junkies who just can't get enough news from inside the Pentagon. This isn't really a weblog, but it's only a couple of steps removed from one. An RSS/XML feed lets interested parties tune in to information in streaming format, much like a weblog. Indeed, many people consume weblogs almost entirely via RSS/XML. In a few years, I think the weblog and RSS/XML formats will become the standard medium for news sites and public affairs offices who want to offer real-time news in a digestable format.
Of course, I doubt we'll ever get the SecDef or DepSecDef offering up snarky and irreverent commentary on a Penta-blog . . . but anything's possible.
The Boston Globe has an interesting report on a very problematic trend: declining reenlistments among Army reservists coming home from the war on terrorism. For the past two years, Army and Pentagon officials have maintained that they were on glide-path for recruiting and retention, and that repeated mobilizations were not affecting their ability to get and keep quality people. I was always skeptical of those reports, but the Army had the hard data -- not me. Now, it appears that the rumblings in the ranks were true, and that the numbers support what many have thought for some time: repeated mobilizations have begun to decimate the ranks of America's reserves.
The Army Reserve has missed its retention goal by 6.7 percent, the second shortfall since fiscal 1997. It was largely the result of a larger than expected exodus of career reservists, a loss of valuable skills because such staff members are responsible for training junior officers and operating complex weapons systems.Analysis: Some background is useful here. The Army divides up its reenlistment numbers in countless ways, and it's often hard to figure out which number matters. The big picture is that the Army Reserve missed its reenlistment goal by 6.7%. The first thing is that this does not mean the Army Reserve is losing 6.7% of its total manpower each year. This statistic means that the Army Reserve has fallen 6.7% of its reenlistment target, which is a subset of that larger attrition figure.
* * *
With extended deployments and increasingly deadly attacks by Iraqi guerrillas, Defense Department officials are scrambling to combat a broader downturn in retention and recruitment that they fear is on the horizon.
The US Army, the primary service deployed in Iraq, is offering reenlistment bonuses of $5,000 for soldiers serving there. The Army National Guard is extending an official thank-you to members by arranging services to honor returning soldiers. The Massachusetts National Guard is offering rewards ranging from plaques to NASCAR tickets to members who lure recruits. And throughout the branches, recruitment advertising is up and programs are being launched to make the military seem more family-friendly.
The Army also is resorting to a policy called "stop loss" that allows the Pentagon to indefinitely keep soldiers from leaving the service once their time has expired. The policy, used during war, is designed to prevent staffing shortfalls in key sectors.
* * *
While Pentagon officials have insisted that recruiting and retention figures are mostly at or above expected levels, thanks in part to a soft economy that offers little competition, signs of trouble are emerging. Recruiting for the Massachusetts National Guard, a backup to the professional Army and Air Force, was down 30 percent this year. Nationwide, the Army National Guard has fallen 13 percent short of its recruiting goal, although that deficit was offset by fewer than expected troops leaving the service.
Perhaps the most troubling statistic is the drop in retention for the Army Reserve, first disclosed by Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker on Wednesday in testimony before Congress. The drop was due to the Reserve falling 9.3 percent short of its retention goal among career soldiers.
Here's how it works. Let's say the Army Reserve has 200,000 soldiers who are up for reenlistment/discharge in a given year. The Army headquarters decides to set a reenlistment target of 50%, or 100,000 of those reservists who are getting out. To meet the target, Army Reserve commanders have to convince/persuade that many soldiers to stay in the force. If the Army Reserve missed its target by 6.7%, that means that it got 93,300 reservists to reenlist -- and fell 6,700 soldiers short. Not bad, actually. But not good if the Army Reserve has the same trend for month after month, year after year.
The next number is that the Army Reserve missed its "career soldier" retention mark by 9.3 percent. The same math applies, but this pool is different. This group does not include the "first term" soldiers who joined for one hitch and college money. These are the senior sergeants who have been in the reserves for a while, and presumably are pretty close to retirement or already eligble for retirement. These guys have put a lot of time into the reserves, and it says a lot that they're willing to walk away from it. My gut tells me these numbers indicate there's a large pool of guys who basically said "enough" after the last mobilization.
(Thanks to the detail-oriented readers who corrected my math above -- I appreciate the feedback)
One other note: these are aggregate numbers from across the reserve force. We haven't mobilized the entire Army Reserve or National Guard, just a percentage of it. Presumably, in those units that have been mobilized, these retention numbers are a lot worse. My recent experience indicates that the Reserve and Guard can retain as little as 40% of a unit after mobilization, depending on the mission and the unit's leadership. There are a lot of hollow units out there right now as a result of mobilizations, and the collective decision by soldiers to get out.
Is there any good news here? No, and yes. The bad news is that the reserves can't sustain these numbers. If senior sergeants and officers get out in these numbers, it literally decimates the Army Reserves' cadre of leadership, and that has a terrible effect on unit readiness and effectiveness. The good news is that the reserves will gain a lot of recruits from the active force as stop-loss is lifted and soldiers come home in large numbers from Iraq to get off active duty. Typically, the biggest recruitment source for the reserves is the active force. Despite the risk of mobilization, the flow of discharged active-duty soldiers to the reserve forces is still pretty good, and that will fill the reserves with a lot of knowledge and expertise. It may not completely offset this exodus, but it will help.
Over time, however, even this won't help. If the Army Reserve and National Guard continues to have the operational tempo it now does, a lot of active-duty veterans will decline the chance to serve in the reserves. They won't want to join up if it simply means a return to active duty. Second, the current operational tempo will continue to attrit units as they come off of their mobilization, at increasingly high numbers. In the reserves, it has increasingly become a question of when you will be mobilized, not if you will be mobilized. Most of these reservists are willing to go once, but I think the threat of a second or third trip to the desert will cause many to decline reenlistment.
The House Armed Services Committee put out a press release this morning announcing that it would hold hearings on the case of LTC Allen West, a former artillery battalion commander in Iraq who may face a court-martial for allegedly mistreating an Iraqi prisoner. (Thanks to M.L. for the e-mail) At this point, the military inquiry into LTC West is in the preliminary stages. His unit (the 4th Infantry Division) held an emotional Art. 32 hearing last week, and the decision has not yet been made to court martial him. However, an offer to let LTC West resign in lieu of court martial has lapsed, and all tea leaves point to a decision by his CG to try him in court.
Based on the information currently available to them, Hunter and McHugh believe that West's actions may well have been necessary to protect the lives and safety of his fellow soldiers and not the actions of a criminal, as he is charged. Hunter is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and McHugh is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Total Force, which has jurisdiction over military personnel matters.Analysis: This is really strange. First, it should be said that Congress has the Constitutional authority under Art. I, Sec. 8, to make laws for the governance of the armed forces. But I'm not sure if they have the authority to exercise direct oversight of the military justice system in this fashion. Although Congress passed the statutes (the UCMJ and others) which set up the military justice system, that may be the limit of their authority. Everything else may fall within the President's sphere of responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, per Art. II of the Constitution. So there are Constitutional questions raised by this press release.
According to news accounts, the incident in question took place this past August near Tikrit, Iraq, when guerrillas attacked U.S. soldiers under West's command. An informant told U.S. authorities that a local policeman was involved. West ordered the policeman brought in, though he proved uncooperative. West has testified that he fired his pistol near the head of the Iraqi, threatening to kill him in an effort to obtain information to protect his troops. As a result of the tactic, the Iraqi provided information regarding a planned sniper attack on U.S. soldiers. Two insurgents were arrested, a third fled and there were no attacks in the area. West immediately informed his commanding officer of the incident. He is currently facing an inquiry to determine if there is cause for a court-martial.
"We are highly disturbed by media accounts that the Army is beginning criminal proceedings against Lt. Col. Allen B. West for taking actions in Iraq that he believed were necessary to protect the lives and safety of his men," stated the Congressmen in a letter to Les Brownlee, Acting Secretary of the Army. "To us, such actions if accurately reported do not appear to be those of a criminal," the letter continues.
In addition to the information previously requested, the Congressmen are asking to see a new report. "We are aware the Army has completed a preliminary inquiry regarding whether to proceed to a court martial and would like to review that report," said Hunter and McHugh in a joint statement. "Our interest is in justice. Based on what we know right now, it is more than reasonable to assume that Col. West acted in a manner proportionate to the threat against his soldiers."
Second, if the President or SecDef exercised this sort of prerogative, it would almost definitely be seen as a case of "unlawful command influence." According to law and custom, senior officials and higher headquarters are not supposed to intervene from above in courts martial. The 4th Infantry Division's commander, MG Ray Odierno, is supposed to make the decision to try or not to try on his own, on the recommendation of his Art. 32 hearing and the counsel from his Staff Judge Advocate. This move by HASC may give LTC West some ammunition for his appeal if he is ultimately tried and convicted.
Finally, even if Congress does have the power to hold this hearing and it's not command influence, I'm not sure this is a wise thing to do. If Rep. Duncan Hunter is truly concerned about the Rules of Engagement in Iraq and other operational law issues, he can hold hearings on that. Indeed, he can subpoena just about anyone he wants on the subject, up to and including the Secretary of Defense. If there is a problem with ROE in Iraq, such a macro-level look may be better for policy reasons than a micro-level look at LTC West's case, or a macro-level look through the lens of LTC West's case. The facts of LTC West's case are, as they say, not good for the defense. In addition to allegedly protecting his unit, he ordered his soldiers to do his "wet work", and then let them be tried by the same military justice system he now stands accused in.
If I were the decisionmaker here, I probably wouldn't try LTC West, anymore than I would try some of the other officers who have made tough decisions in wartime. My reason is that I wouldn't want to communicate to commanders in Iraq that they will be second-guessed by a court martial for errors in judgment. Ironically, by intervening here, Congress may be sending that same message on a higher level: if you make a discipline decision we disagree with, we'll hold hearings back in Washington. That may not be the best thing for LTC West, or the Army, or the mission in Iraq.
For those that think women have no place in ground combat, there's this excellent report from Baghdad by Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post, one of the 10 best reporters on the military beat. (Thanks to M.L. for the tip) Loeb writes about several women now serving in Iraq as Army military police soldiers, an MOS where they often find themselves fighting as scouts or infantry. Thanks to tough training and good leadership, gender hasn't gotten in the way of these women's performance in Iraq, as this story shows:
Pvt. Teresa Broadwell is in the middle of the maelstrom, standing on tiptoe in the turret of a Humvee in a vain attempt, at 5 feet 4 inches tall, to see through the sight of her M-249 machine gun. American soldiers are down in the street. Iraqis are firing at her truck from the rooflines and alleyways along Highway 9 near the center of this dusty city an hour south of Baghdad.Analysis: As several of the women point out in this story, the MP corps is really the leading edge for women in the military. It's the closest they get to being in the combat arms -- and many times, the MP corps is a combat force that sees as much action as the infantry. One thing that often gets missed is that MPs are more likely to see other kinds of action, e.g. riot control or hand-to-hand combat, than their infantry brethren. And MPs are also likely to be tapped for urban missions like cordon-and-search, or other "kick in the door" operations.
Her lieutenant, Jay Guerrero, jumps out of the Humvee to help rescue his wounded comrades. He needs Broadwell's cover to suppress the Iraqis' withering fire and listens for the distinctive bursts of her potent weapon.
Before this gun battle ends, three Americans will be killed and seven wounded. For Broadwell, 20, a year and a half out of high school, having chosen the Army over a modern-dance scholarship to the University of North Texas, her moment of truth in combat has arrived.
The Army prohibits women from serving in infantry, artillery and armored units, the combat brigades on the front lines of war. For years, women like Broadwell and her commander in the 194th Military Police Company, Capt. Terri Dorn, have chosen careers in the Military Police Corps because all jobs in the field are open to women (34 of 171 soldiers in Dorn's company are female) -- and it is the closest a woman can get to serving in the infantry.
Women MPs have engaged in combat operations before, in Panama in 1989, in the first Gulf War in 1991 and in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, when the peace in what became a peacekeeping mission was still taking root. But their missions were short-lived, and they were designed to support conventional combat troops.
In contrast to those previous deployments, the military police are in Iraq for the long haul and they're in the thick of the action. The Army faces a low-intensity counterinsurgency campaign without front lines, in which troops are being asked to move back and forth between peacekeeping and combat. MP companies, with their heavy complements of women, are often performing exactly the same mission as all-male combat units. And the MPs have become the units of choice for many commanders, given their infantry-like capabilities and the extra training they receive in policing and stability operations.
When mounted patrols from the 82nd Airborne Division move through Fallujah, the machine gunners standing in Humvee turrets are all male. When military police companies conduct identical patrols throughout Iraq -- in Baghdad, Tikrit and Karbala, to name just a few -- the gunners are quite often women.
In my experience as an MP officer, women like PVT Broadwell and her commander, CPT Terri Dorn, were the rule, not the exception. Women who join the MP corps and make it through basic training (or officer selection) are typically more motivated and more mentally prepared than their male peers. Though they may lack some of the upper body strength and size of their brethren, they quickly make up for it in marksmanship, street smarts, and interpersonal skills (all important skills for an MP). In fact, the female MP officers I knew were head-and-shoulders above the average male officer, and were often some of the best leaders you could find in uniform. Again, the dynamics of self-selection had a big role here, in that the toughest and most motivated women from West Point and ROTC knew the MP corps was where the action was at. (The same is true for women in the aviation and the MI branches)
So what does this mean for the larger debate over women in combat? Well, as I wrote nearly a year ago in the Washington Monthly:
In the end, what will really determine public reaction is how well women perform their jobs under fire. On the ground in Afghanistan, women did not participate in the main actions of Operation Anaconda. But since the fighting died down, female MPs have gone out on long infantry patrols with the 82nd Airborne Division, and by most indications perform-ed well. To be fair, they have not seen combat, and haven't performed the most physically demanding tasks the military has to offer. But women have covered 10 to 20 miles of very hard country per day carrying loads of up to 75 pounds, all while living in close quarters with male infantry.I think the proof is in the way that women have performed in Iraq -- both in "major combat operations" and in the guerilla war since 1 May 03.
And so far, as in the Gulf, the worst predictions have not come true--no reports of mass pregnancies or other issues have come to light in Afghanistan. "I'm learning what grunts do, [and] they learn what I do. As MPs, we search people and look for weapons ... I never thought we would be walking for hours or be on the front," MP Sgt. Nicola Hall told a reporter in Afghanistan after the mission. "[The 82nd Airborne soldiers] have been nothing but respectful to us; as long as you walk, carry your own weight and don't whine, you're respected."
Indeed, if mixed-gender units perform as they have in the California desert--and in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan--it would strengthen the integrationist trend in several ways. The least likely possibility would be the elimination of all rules barring women from full combat service, from special forces to light infantry. But even if this were to happen, surveys suggest that only a small number of women would apply. And only a fraction of those who do would have the physical ability and fortitude to make it through, say, the crucible of Army ranger school, from which a majority of qualified men wash out before graduation.
The second, and more likely, possibility is that certain combat jobs currently off-limits to women would be opened. For instance, women can currently serve in Patriot air-defense units, but not in short-range air-defense or offensive artillery units closer to the front--even though the skill levels are virtually the same. Female soldiers frequently win the Army's highest awards for marksmanship and even participate on the U.S. Olympic marksmanship team--but outside the MPs cannot be snipers. If Saddam's Baathist regime falls to U.S. forces that include women, these kinds of job limitations may collapse, too.
Finally, a successful showing by female soldiers is sure to increase pressure on the Army to end the subtle day-to-day discrimination that remains a fact of life for so many female soldiers, from anachronistic "wives clubs" in some units to assignment policies that place a premium on female soldiers willing to defer childbearing indefinitely.
Friday, November 21, 2003
The Washington Post reports today on the reaction of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to the bombing in Istanbul, which killed the British consul-general among others. The article is misleadingly headlined "Bush, Blair Say Iraq War Is Not Cause Of Attacks". The story's lead paragraph goes on to say that "President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared Thursday that the invasion of Iraq was not to blame for the recent wave of terrorist violence and that bombs that devastated two British facilities in Istanbul . . . ", but the rest of the story (and its quotes) do not support this assertion:
"Our mission in Iraq is noble and it is necessary, and no act of thugs or killers will change our resolve or alter their fate," Bush said at a joint news conference with Blair, as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested the Iraq war on streets nearby. "We will finish the job we have begun."Okay. So far, that's the sort of defiant "still upper lip" rhetoric we expect to hear from political leaders after a terrorist attack. However, the only quote that supports this headline is buried far down in the story:
The two leaders spoke hours after Britain was stunned by the news that two truck bombs aimed at British targets killed at least 27 people in the Turkish city of Istanbul. British civilian facilities had up to now escaped being targeted in the string of terror attacks that have followed those of Sept. 11, 2001.
Blair echoed Bush's remarks, calling for attacking terrorists "wherever and whenever we can."
At the news conference, Blair responded with pique when asked if the U.S.-British alliance in Iraq has invited terrorist attacks such as Thursday's. "What has caused the terrorist attack today in Turkey is not the president of the United States, is not the alliance between America and Britain," he said. "What is responsible for that terrorist attack is terrorism, are the terrorists."Analysis: Tony Blair is a brilliant orator and statesman, but I think he's wrong. First of all, his comment is both circular and conclusory. He asserts that terrorism is responsible for the terrorist attack. That says nothing. Moreover, it ignores an essential element of the definition of terrorism, which is that terrorism is politically or ideologically motivated violence. It is not violence for its own sake, or violence for pecuniary gain, as crime is often described. Terrorism is violence for a purpose. The purposeful targeting of British nationals in a Muslim nation provides strong evidence of the purpose behind this attack. While Al Qaeda has not explicitly claimed these attacks, nor linked them to Iraq, I think that's a fair reading of the tea leaves.
Update: The WP also has this excellent analysis of who was behind the Istanbul attacks. The article makes two important points. First, Al Qaeda has morphed into a far more decentralized and dangerous enemy than on Sept. 11. Second, the real enemy is Islamic international terrorism writ large -- an Al Qaeda is only one of a number of groups committed to global terrorism in the name of Allah. Al Qaeda's doctrine may have inspired these attacks, and its TTPs may have been used for them, but the actual act may have been carried out by anyone in the loose confederation of international Islamic jihadists.
One senior U.S. official said al Qaeda's children were "growing up and moving out into the world, loyal to their parents but no longer reliant on them."This story quotes all the "giants" in the field of terrorism, and is about as accurate as any threat assessment I've seen lately.
Intelligence officials and analysts said the evolution posed new challenges to efforts to combat terror, because rather than facing a few defined, recognized targets, counterterror forces had to confront dozens of small groups that were much more difficult to trace and attack. And, they said, knocking out one small group does not have the same crippling effect as taking down a major leader of a large organization.
"The threat has moved beyond al Qaeda," said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert at the Singapore-based Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies. "While al Qaeda was the instigator of recent attacks, very few have actually been carried out by al Qaeda."
* * *
"Al Qaeda is as much an ideology as a structure," said Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. "Iraq is now the center of gravity, but I think they are seeking out soft targets and hitting from every flank imaginable by any means. This is an ongoing, raging war with all the gloves off."
Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon terrorism consultant, argued that the evolution of the terrorist groups is analogous to a process of corporate merger and acquisition. At a terrorism conference earlier this year at St. Andrews College, Pillsbury said regionally focused terrorism groups with their own particular agendas join with al Qaeda to learn their operational techniques or benefit from their contacts, but are not subordinate to al Qaeda.
For example, he said, Jemaah Islamiah seeks to create a pan-Islamic state in Asia, an agenda that has little to do with driving U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia or other goals of bin Laden's. "They like to get advice and equipment from al Qaeda but still have their own political agenda," Pillsbury argued.
There is some tragic irony here. Al Qaeda has built an international coalition of sorts with which to wage multilateral, networked, global jihad against the West. The Western coalition in the war on terrorism is strong, but it also shows some signs of fissure over issues like Iraq. America's best hope for defeating such a global networked threat is to build a network of its own -- it takes a network to fight a network.
Battlefield innovation shows the ingenuity of the American NCO
There's an old maxim of leadership in the Army that if you tell someone how to do something, you'll get results, but if you tell someone what to do, they'll often amaze you with their initiative and brilliance. Army Staff Sgt. Adam R. Irby of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) of the 28th Combat Support Hospital proves this maxim in spades with his new invention: an improvised field warming system for casualties which works three times better than the similar Army-procured device and is made from cardboard boxes and hair dryers. (Thanks to Donald Sensing for the link)
Soldiers wounded in combat or accidents who suffer high blood loss almost always have internal bleeding. Stopping internal bleeding is crucial to save their lives - but the blood loss lowers their temperatures dramatically. And cooler blood does not coagulate to seal internal wounds quickly. Casualties have died from internal bleeding before their bodies could be warmed in the hospital.Analysis: This is truly amazing work by SSG Irby. There's a reason why Army leaders call non-commissioned officers the "backbone of the Army". NCOs are the repository of the warrior ethos, as well as the professional knowledge and technical ability that is necessary to fight on the modern battlefield. You can't take conscripts, train them for a year, and expect them to fight the way that SFC Eversman did in Mogadishu, or do things like SSG Irby. Building NCOs like these takes years, and an incalculable amount of investment in training, education, and leadership development. Borrowing a phrase from the Army's standard award language, SSG Irby's actions reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Perhaps no longer, though. The standard method of warming patients has been to wrap the in multiple, ordinary blankets and shine heat lamps on them, or use a use a "Bear Hugger" blanket, "which incorporates small ventilation pipes distributing warm air around the patient." But the hospital has not received the special blankets.
So Staff Sgt. Irby constructed a box now known as the "Chief Cuddler."
"I constructed the `Chief Cuddler' out of old cardboard boxes and [Maj. Michael] Greenly's hair dryer," Irby said. "It creates a micro-environment of about 105 degrees and will bring a patient from about 90 to 98.6 degrees in about three hours, almost a three-fold decrease in time."
As Brian Jenkins said so many years ago, "terrorism is theater." The Los Angeles Times captures that point nicely with this article today on the twin suicide bombings in Istanbul which killed dozens and left hundreds wounded. The aim of this attack was clearly not destructive, although it did horiffic damage. It was to communicate the simple message that "we're here, we're still capable, and we're still on the offensive."
By bombing the British Consulate and the headquarters of a Britain-based bank, the attackers served notice on Washington's chief ally in Iraq and other members of its coalition, as well as moderate Islamic countries, that cooperating with the Bush administration is risky — and that the danger extends to the business as well as the diplomatic community.Analysis: This last point is intriguing, and correct in my opinion. Iraq has become a focal point for international jihadists; a point on the map they can rally towards. From their perspective, Iraq is a place where Western/American/Christian imperialism has squashed a secular Arab state, and is now frustrating the Sunni and Shiite Muslims there from determining their own government and establishing an Islamic state. Iraq provides evidence of our evil for the terrorists to raise money, arms and personnel. It also provides a training ground for terrorists to hone their deadly arts. And it gives them a raison d'etre -- a reason to fight -- by justifying any political violence which might hasten the end of the occupation. I think it's inevitable that such violence will spread to countries beyond the U.S. and Britain, to possibly include our other allies helping with Iraq like South Korea and Poland. More to follow.
By pulling off the attacks only five days after twin synagogue bombings in Istanbul, they also demonstrated an audacious tactical prowess. British and Turkish authorities said Thursday's attacks, designed to steal the limelight from President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, appeared to be the work of Al Qaeda or its affiliates in an increasingly decentralized terror network.
"This is very much an attack designed to have maximum public relations impact," said Charles Heyman, a terrorism expert and editor of Jane's World Armies in Britain. "It happened just as Blair and Bush were having their press conference. The terrorists have managed to grab the headlines. They did it very cleverly. It shows they are very aware of media operations. It may have neutralized any positive press in the war on terror that Bush could have had during his visit."
Every Al Qaeda strike resonates with symbolism: target, timing, setting. Thursday's bombings revealed expert planning and multiple layers of meaning.
By hitting the consulate and local headquarters of the HSBC bank, the terrorists struck not only at Britain but at the international financial and diplomatic communities that spread Western influence in the world. Just two or three years ago, Britain seemed an unlikely Al Qaeda target because many Islamic extremists were based in London. However, that was before the Blair government became the United States' most important ally in the invasion of Iraq, analysts said.
"With the attack on Britain, one sees how Iraq now plays a central role in the mentality of terrorism," said Olivier Roy, a senior researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.