United States News Digest
Call for U.S. Investigation of Abramoff
A group of senior House Democrats is calling on U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate the interference by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Department of Justice officials with a criminal probe in Guam, and obstruction of a report to expose national security weaknesses in the Northern Mariana Islands after 9/11. The letter, dated Oct. 6, was submitted to Gonzales by Reps. George Miller (Calif), John Conyers (Mich), Nick Rahall (WVa), William Delahunt (Mass), and Madeleine Bordallo (Guam).
Miller's statement on the matter outlines the following issues to be investigated:
* The sudden demotion of Fred Black, U.S. Attorney for Guam and the North Mariana Islands, just after a Federal grand jury issued subpoenas in an investigation of Abramoff's dealings with the Guam Superior Court;
* Whether Abramoff, using connections to top DOJ officials, gained access to a classified immigration report concerning national security;
* Whether Abramoff attempted, using connections to top DOJ officials, to suppress the latter report concerning possible breach of homeland security due to weak immigration rules in the Northern Marianas.
Miller notes that "Abramoff was hired to protect his clients in the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam from investigations and from legislative reforms by the U.S. Congress," and that his clients were some of the most abusive garment manufacturers in the world, exploiting lax labor laws.
The lawmakers' letter to Gonzales notes that U.S. Attorney Black's replacement was someone recommended by the Guam Republican Party to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. It also raises the question of whether Abramoff's access to the DOJ classified report constitutes several violations of the Espionage Act. An Oct. 1, 2001 e-mail from Abramoff, attached to the letter, says that the Northern Marianas immigration matter was discussed in Abramoff's Redskins skybox with the chief of staff of the DOJ, and that he hoped to see the Attorney General [i.e., John Ashcroft] about it in the following week.
New Orleans To Receive Only Category-Three Protection
The Army Corps of Engineers' objective is to rebuild the levees around New Orleans only to category-three hurricane protection by the time the 2006 hurricane season begins, even though that's the level of protection that Hurricane Katrina smashed through in at the end of August. When asked why, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of engineers of the Corps, explained, during an Oct. 6 press briefing at the Pentagon, that the Corps could only do what it is authorized by law to do, and the law only authorizes category-three protection.
Six Iraq War Veterans Running for Congress
"I'm not anti-war, I'm anti-failure," said one of six Iraq war veterans who are campaigning for Congressional seats in next year's elections, Associated Press reported Oct. 4. Bryan Lentz, 41, an attorney from Swarthmore, Pa., and an Army Reserves major who volunteered to go to Iraq with a civil affairs unit, continued, "We need to define what victory is, and we need to set a plan to get there," He is campaigning against the 10-term GOP Rep. Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Another lawyer, Patrick Murphy, who fought with the 82nd Airborne Division, and who is challenging first-term Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican in northern Philadelphia's 8th District, said, "We need to have an exit strategy now."
This summer, Iraq War veteran and Democrat Paul Hackett nearly defeated Republican Jean Schmidt in a special election in a primarily Republican district in Ohio. Now, with the support of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and others, Hackett is seeking the Senate seat held by two-term Republican Mike DeWine.
David Ashe, who served as a Marine judge advocate in Iraq, is trying to unseat first-term Republican Rep. Thelma Drake in Virginia's 2nd District.
National Guard Official Warns of Equipment Shortages
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the director of the National Guard Bureau, told a House Defense Appropriations subcommittee on Sept. 29 that the National Guard has an acute equipment shortage for responding to domestic assignments such as those in the Gulf Coast states following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He said they lack radios, trucks, construction machinery, and medical gear because Guard units sent to Afghanistan and Iraq have taken with them the units' newest equipment, and left it there when they returned home. The Guard needs $7 billion to acquire these items; to immediately handle its current domestic-only deployments, it requires $1.3 billion. Under questioning by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa) a former Marine who served in Korea and Vietnam, Blum replied, "I'm dealing with radios, sir, that you probably saw the last time you were in battle fatigues," i.e., dating from the 1960s.
Blum also testified that in 2001before Bush-Cheney warsthe Guard estimated it had 74% of the equipment it required at home, and at that time it was deemed sufficient, as the Guard was seen as a "strategic reserve" and would have time to acquire materiel in time of need. But the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and Hurricane Katrina have shown that the Guard needs to be fully equipped and ready to deploy.
Senators Christopher Bond (R-Mo) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) added an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill adding $1.3 billion to replenish the National Guard equipment stocks, which passed the Senate on Sept. 28.
Pentagon Report Blames Iraq for Slow Response to Katrina
A Pentagon-mandated report on the Katrina response hits troop shortages due to the National Guard being in Iraq, and other gross planning failures across the board. The confidential report, covered in the London Independent Oct. 3, was prepared by Stephen Henthorne, a former professor at the Army War College, and now an advisor to the Pentagon, as well as deputy-director of the Louisiana relief effort. His conclusion: "Failure to plan, and train properly, has plagued U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States." The report adds: "The U.S. military has long planned for war on two fronts. This is as close as we have come to that reality since the Second World War: The results have been disastrous."
"Another major factor in the delayed response to the hurricane aftermath," says the report, "was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard was deployed in Iraq. Even though states have compacts with each other, pledging to come to the aid of other states takes time, money and effort to activate and deploy."
Drumbeat Against Expanded Military Role in Disasters
The reaction to President Bush's suggestion that the Federal government, especially the military, in the response to natural disasters, has been almost universally negative, crosses party, ideological, and institutional lines, as the following examples show:
* Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and Christopher Bond (R-Mo), the co-chairmen of the Senate National Guard Caucus, wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to President Bush that "The worst lesson to take away from recent natural disasters would be to alter our emergency management system in a fundamental way and change the presumption against using the military as the lead organization. Such a radical change would go against our Constitution, threaten civil liberties in emergency situations, and ignore the full capabilities of the National Guard."
* Gen. Richard Cody, the vice chief of staff of the Army, indicated during a press conference, on Oct. 3, that he sees no need to change the present structure. He said that providing support to civil authorities is part of the mission set of the Army. The National Guard is fully empowered to conduct state missions and when Federal forces are brought in, the powers exist to make the right decisions on how to use them. As for possible conflict with Posse Comitatus, "law enforcement is not our mission," he said.
* A front-page article in the Oct. 3 issue of USA Today is headlined: "Govs to Bush: Relief our job." The article reports, that of 38 state governors who responded to a request for their reactions to President Bush's call to have the Pentagon take the lead in responding to catastrophic disasters, only two backed the idea. Half said they were opposed, or had reservations, including the President's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
* An Oct. 3 Heritage Foundation panel featuring speakers from Heritage, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Congress, was unanimous in its condemnation of Bush's proposal. When asked afterwards by EIR why they did not present an opposing viewpoint, as Heritage usually does, the organizer of the event explained, "We're completely against amending the Posse Comitatus Act."
* On Oct. 7, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, reported that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told him that he has no plans to recommend to President Bush any changes in the Posse Comitatus law.
Army Recruiting Shortfall Means More Stop Loss
Though no official announcement has been made, yet, as to the final numbers, the Army finished Fiscal Year 2005, which ended on Sept. 30, about 7,000 soldiers short of its recruiting goal of 80,000. Gen. Richard Cody, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, told reporters on Oct. 3, on the sidelines of the Association of the U.S. Army annual conference, that this shortfall is forcing the Army to rely on stop loss in some military specialties much more than it would have otherwise, if it had made its goal. Stop loss is used to keep people in the Army past their contractual date of return to civilian life.