Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 30, 2004 5:59PM (UTC)

Mission still not accomplished
Saturday marks the first anniversary of President Bush's now notorious photo op aboard the USS Lincoln, where he dressed up in a flight suit and announced an end to major military action in Iraq. Well, the war continues, Iraq is unstable and, as the Washington Post reports, with the deaths of 10 American soldiers in Iraq yesterday, more U.S. troops have now died in combat in the month of April than in the six weeks-long Iraq invasion last year.

"Since April 1, more than 120 troops have been killed in action in Iraq, according to the Pentagon. Defense officials and analysts said the sharp rise in casualties this month is in large part because of the shifting nature of the fight, as both coalition forces and insurgents have been taking increasingly offensive action. The result is the highest number of U.S. military losses in one month since the waning days of the Vietnam War. Some experts said they expect the violence to continue or increase as the United States prepares to transfer political power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30 and as the United Nations works to organize national elections this winter. The increase in violence by insurgents, experts said, probably reflects their desire to erode the will and resolve of the American public and its support for the war."

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"Tomorrow marks a year since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Since then, more than 400 U.S. troops have been killed in combat, about 30 percent of them this month. In all, 729 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the invasion, including those killed in combat and in accidents and other non-hostile situations, according to Washington Post research based on Pentagon figures. An additional 3,864 troops have been wounded, the Pentagon said."

Someone should give these casualty numbers to Paul Wolfowitz, one of the Pentagon's architects of the war, who was about 200 troop deaths off when he was asked about the Iraq death toll during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday. "It's approximately 500, of which -- I can get the exact numbers -- approximately 350 are combat deaths," he said.

Father thanks paper for coffins photo
Editor & Publisher reports that the father of a U.S. soldier who believes his son was in one of the coffins shown in a controversial photo in the Seattle Times sent a letter thanking the paper for running it.

From the E & P: "Hiding the death and destruction of this war does not make it easier on anyone except those who want to keep the truth away from the people," the father, Bill Mitchell, wrote yesterday. The letter has not yet been published.

The text of his letter to Hal Bernton, the Seattle Times reporter who wrote the story that accompanied the photo, follows:

Dear Hal --

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I read with great interest your article regarding the woman who was fired for taking the pictures of the flag-draped coffins on 4/7/04. My son, SSG Michael W. Mitchell, was killed on 4/4/04 in the first day of the Shiite uprising in Sadr City. He was one of eight soldiers killed that day in that attack. I am quite positive that he was inside one of those coffins in the picture.

I am happy that you ran the story and showed the picture. I would like everyone to know the devastation that this event has brought upon Mike's family and friends. In fact, Mike's grandpa at 86 says that this is the worst thing that has happened in his entire life -- that says a lot right there!!!

Hiding the death and destruction of this war does not make it easier on anyone except those who want to keep the truth away from the people. I know that the current government policy has the bodies being flown in under the cloak of darkness. I also know that photographers are barred from the area so that pictures such as the one you ran in your newspaper cannot be shown to the people. Pictures such as these alter peoples' perception and awareness and they have to admit the reality of the situation that young men and women are being killed.

I do believe our government learned this lesson from the war in Vietnam and that was one of the influential factors in bringing about its end. Things are getting worse in Iraq and if there is anything that I can do so that other parents can be spared the pain that is happening in my life, I will do it.

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In fact, I would be willing to furnish you a picture of my son in his casket if you would like to run it in your paper. Sort of a follow-up story that would just take it one step further than the picture shown inside the airplane with a bunch of anonymous flag-draped coffins. I don't think I can be fired, as I do not have a job!!! I am currently in Germany taking care of my son's fiancee because officially, she is not recognized by the U.S. Army even though she was the reason that he re-enlisted twice; the last time being just 3 weeks prior to his death.

Hal -- I am just full of stories and if you and your newspaper are interested, just let me know.

Sincerely,
Bill Mitchell
Atascadero, CA

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21 agents on Castro's money -- 4 for Saddam, OBL
The Associated Press learned that the "Treasury Department agency entrusted with blocking the financial resources of terrorists has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money, documents show."

"In addition, the Office of Foreign Assets Control said that between 1990 and 2003 it opened just 93 enforcement investigations related to terrorism. Since 1994 it has collected just $9,425 in fines for terrorism financing violations. In contrast, OFAC opened 10,683 enforcement investigations since 1990 for possible violations of the long-standing economic embargo against Fidel Castro's regime, and collected more than $8 million in fines since 1994, mostly from people who sent money to, did business with or traveled to Cuba without permission."

"The figures, included in a lengthy letter OFAC sent to Congress late last year and provided to The Associated Press this week, prompted Republicans and Democrats alike to question whether OFAC has failed to adjust from the Cold War to the war on terrorism. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., threatened Thursday to start an effort in Congress to eliminate some funding for OFAC if more resources weren't put toward the bin Laden and Saddam efforts."

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"This is really astounding," Dorgan said. "I hope somebody in the administration will soon come to his or her senses and start directing our resources where they are needed. Politics is clearly diverting precious time, money and manpower away from the war on terrorism here."

Joe Wilson: Cheney targeted me
We still don't know exactly who in the White House leaked the name of former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson's wife to Bob Novak and other journalists, but Wilson says in an interview with Knight-Ridder that Dick Cheney targeted him -- and his wife -- for Wilson's public revelations that the president's claims of Saddam buying uranium from Niger were bogus.

Knight-Ridder says: [Wilson] visited the West African nation of Niger in February 2002 on a CIA-sponsored trip to examine the claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium there. Wilson found no evidence to substantiate the allegation and briefed officials in Washington. Nevertheless, in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2003, Bush said Iraq had secretly tried to buy uranium in Africa for a nuclear weapon.

"According to a number of sources from different walks of life, there was a meeting held in March (2003) in the offices of the vice president ... chaired by either the vice president himself or more likely Scooter Libby, in which the decision was made to do a `work-up' on me," Wilson said. "In other words, to find out everything they could about me." Libby is Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

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"They clearly came across my wife's name and they decided to put my wife's name out on the street" as part of a "campaign to drag my wife into the public square and beat her to get at me," Wilson said.

... He said he based his allegation about Cheney's office on "what people inside Washington have told me, people who are close to it, people who for one reason or another are unwilling to speak out or be heard themselves, journalists who have told me that this White House is absolutely ruthless to them."

The meeting that never happened
Alessandra Stanley opens her TV "review" of the president and vice president's "historic" meeting in the Oval Office with the 9/11 panel by asking: "If an important meeting takes place in the Oval Office and there are no television cameras to record it, did the meeting matter? ABC, NBC and CBS all led their evening news programs with the Sept. 11 commission's meeting with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday. Yet no television news program had images of the encounter. A paranoid conspiracy theorist could conclude that the much-anticipated White House interview never took place."

"There were no pictures of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney sitting side by side in front of the Oval Office fireplace. There was no tape of the president or Mr. Cheney greeting or talking to commission members at the White House entrance. The most that news cameras could capture of the event was a distant, blurry shot of Mr. Cheney entering the White House early yesterday morning, carrying a paper coffee cup, and similarly remote and indistinct images of commissioners arriving in black sedans and leaving three hours later. The White House declined to release a photograph of the questioning taken by an official White House photographer. Instead, Mr. Bush strode out to the Rose Garden shortly after 1 p.m. and described the meeting to reporters while standing alone, between two American flags. All the networks and cable news programs showed the moment live."

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On a day when viewers could watch American marines battling rebels in Falluja and see Jayson Williams squirm in his courtroom seat while awaiting a verdict on manslaughter charges, the blackout at the White House was striking."

President raps Ashcroft for Gorelick smear
The Houston Chronicle reports that President Bush "took the unusual step Thursday of criticizing his own Justice Department for mixing in a political fight involving a Democratic member of the Sept. 11 Commission, former Clinton administration official Jamie Gorelick. Newly released information on the Justice Department's Web site is being used by Texas Sen. John Cornyn and other congressional Republicans in attacking Gorelick for action they say weakened the nation's defense against terrorism. The agency on Wednesday posted several documents outlining Gorelick's role in developing guidelines a decade ago that made it difficult for FBI counterterrorism agents and criminal prosecutors to share information."

"[White House spokesman Scott] McClellan said Bush expressed his regrets Thursday to members of the Sept. 11 panel, including Gorelick, during their interview with the president and vice president in the Oval Office."

President Bush apparently did not, however, condemn similar smears orchestrated by White House officials against former counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke.

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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