Saturday, January 31, 2009

VITA Retirement Credit

Sailors can earn a Retirement Credit on their taxes by contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan.

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A New Concept of BMW - GINA

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Combined Task Force 151 deters piracy.

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President to Meet with Senior Enlisted Advisors at White House

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2009 - President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet this afternoon with the U.S. military's senior enlisted advisors at the White House, a senior Defense Department official said.

The armed services' enlisted advisors are the senior noncommissioned officers for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The president also will greet the Coast Guard's top enlisted leader, spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters today.

Obama is slated to meet with Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Charles W. Bowen.

The senior enlisted leaders serve as personal advisors to their respective civilian service secretaries and military chiefs of staff or commandants on matters concerning enlisted-force welfare, readiness, morale and utilization.

The meeting is a way for Obama to gain insight and perspective about the enlisted force through the accumulated experience of the military's most senior enlisted leaders, Whitman said.

Just as Obama met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon Jan. 28, Whitman said, the commander in chief also "feels that it's important to talk" to the armed service's senior enlisted advisors.

Related Articles:

Obama Thanks Troops, Pledges Support Following Meeting with Joint Chiefs


Headlines - DNU Flash - 1/29/2009

Headlines from around the fleet: Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West releases his first podcast; Sailors can take standardized tests aboard ships designated as DANTES testing sites.

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Diplomatic Security Arrests a U.S. Postal Worker for Embezzling Passport Application Fees

Diplomatic Security
Washington, DC January 30, 2009

Arnaldo Cortes-Mestres Arrested in Puerto Rico

Special agents from the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), in conjunction with the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), arrested United States Postal Worker Arnaldo Cortes-Mestres in Puerto Rico on January 22, 2009, for the embezzlement of passport application fees.

According to the U.S. Postal Service OIG, from May 22 to July 27, 2007, while working as a postal clerk in the branch in Cabo Rojo, Arnaldo Cortes-Mestres received more than forty U.S. passport applications and renewals, along with the required processing fees totaling over $6,000. He is accused of converting those funds for his own use or exchanging that money for other funds or property without authorization. The U.S. Postal Service OIG says Cortes-Mestres failed to account for and turn over those funds to proper officers.

When applicants did not receive the passports they were expecting, they contacted the U.S. Postal Service, which had executed the passport applications. In April 2008, Diplomatic Security Service officials, in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspectors General, interviewed more than twenty applicants who had not received passports. DSS special agents searched databases and records to locate who had processed the passport applications. Additionally, in order to prove that Cortes-Mestres had processed all of the victim’s passport applications, DSS special agents provided photo lineups to the victims, which included photos of Cortes-Mestres.

Based on that investigative work, on January 21, 2009 a federal grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico indicted Arnaldo Cortes-Mestres for misappropriation of postal funds. The next day, DSS and OIG agents arrested Cortes-Mestres at his home. DSS special agents assisted in the search of his home and inventory of evidence. That search turned up more than one-hundred passport applications and associated birth certificates Cortes-Mestres had hidden.

J. Michael Foster, the Special Agent in Charge of the Diplomatic Security Service’s Miami Field Office said, “The San Juan Resident Office did an outstanding job investigating this case. The apprehension of Cortes-Mestres demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the passport and visa process. Passport and visa fraud are serious crimes with substantive national security, economic, and personal consequences.”

Because the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service is the most widely represented law enforcement organization in the world, DSS’s capability to track and capture fugitives who have fled U.S. jurisdiction to avoid prosecution is unmatched. During 2007, DSS assisted in the resolution of 113 international fugitive cases from over 30 different countries.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is the U.S. Department of State’s law enforcement and security arm. The special agents, engineers, and security professionals of the Bureau are responsible for the security of 285 U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. In the Untied States, Diplomatic Security personnel protect the U.S. Secretary of State and high-ranking foreign dignitaries and officials visiting the United States, investigate passport and visa fraud, and conduct personnel security investigations. More information about the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security may be obtained at www.state.gov/m/ds.

Robert Fisk’s World: When did we stop caring about civilian deaths during wartime?

I wonder if we are "normalising" war. It's not just that Israel has yet again got away with the killing of hundreds of children in Gaza.

And after its own foreign minister said that Israel's army had been allowed to "go wild" there, it seems to bear out my own contention that the Israeli "Defence Force" is as much a rabble as all the other armies in the region. But we seem to have lost the sense of immorality that should accompany conflict and violence. The BBC's refusal to handle an advertisement for Palestinian aid was highly instructive. It was the BBC's "impartiality" that might be called into question. In other words, the protection of an institution was more important than the lives of children. War was a spectator sport whose careful monitoring – rather like a football match, even though the Middle East is a bloody tragedy – assumed precedence over human suffering.

I'm not sure where all this started. No one doubts that the Second World War was a bloodbath of titanic proportions, but after that conflict we put in place all kinds of laws to protect human beings. The International Red Cross protocols, the United Nations – along with the all-powerful Security Council and the much ridiculed General Assembly – and the European Union were created to end large-scale conflict. And yes, I know there was Korea (under a UN flag!) and then there was Vietnam, but after the US withdrawal from Saigon, there was a sense that "we" didn't do wars any more. Foreigners could commit atrocities en masse – Cambodia comes to mind – but we superior Westerners were exempt. We didn't behave like that. Low-intensity warfare in Northern Ireland, perhaps. And the Israeli-Arab conflict would grind away. But there was a feeling that My Lai had been put behind us. Civilians were once again sacred in the West.

I'm not sure when the change came. Was it Israel's disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the Sabra and Chatila massacre by Israel's allies of 1,700 Palestinian civilians? (Gaza just missed that record.) Israel claimed (as usual) to be fighting "our" "war against terror" but the Israeli army is not what it's cracked up to be and massacres (Qana comes to mind in 1996 and the children of Marwahine in 2006) seem to come attached to it. And of course, there's the little matter of the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988 which we enthusiastically supported with weapons to both sides, and the Syrian slaughter of thousands of civilians at Hama and...

No, I rather think it was the 1991 Gulf War. Our television lads and lasses played it for all it was worth – it was the first war that had "theme" music to go with the pictures – and when US troops simply smothered alive thousands of Iraqi troops in their trenches, we learned about it later and didn't care much, and even when the Americans ignored Red Cross rules to mark mass graves, they got away with it. There were women in some of these graves – I saw British soldiers burying them. And I remember driving up to Mutla ridge to show a Red Cross delegate where I had seen a mass grave dug by the Americans, and he looked at the plastic poppy an American had presumably left there and said: "Something has happened."

He meant that something had happened to international law, to the rules of war. They had been flouted. Then came Kosovo – where our dear Lord Blair first exercised his talents for warmaking – and another ream of slaughter. Of course, Milosevic was the bad guy (even though most of the Kosovars were still in their homes when the war began – their return home after their brutal expulsion by the Serbs then became the war aim). But here again, we broke some extra rules and got away with it. Remember the passenger train we bombed on the Surdulica bridge – and the famous speeding up of the film by Jamie Shea to show that the bomber had no time to hold his fire? (Actually, the pilot came back for another bombing run on the train when it was already burning, but that was excluded from the film.) Then the attack on the Belgrade radio station. And the civilian roads. Then the attack on a large country hospital. "Military target," said Jamie. And he was right. There were soldiers hiding in the hospital along with the patients. The soldiers all survived. The patients all died.

Then there was Afghanistan and all that "collateral damage" and whole villages wiped out and then there was Iraq in 2003 and the tens of thousands – or half a million or a million – Iraqi civilians killed. Once more, at the very start, we were back to our old tricks, bombing bridges and radio stations and at least one civilian estate in Baghdad where "we" believed Saddam was hiding. We knew it was packed with civilians (Christians, by chance) but the Americans called it a "high risk" operation – meaning that they risked not hitting Saddam – and 22 civilians were killed. I saw the last body, that of a baby, dug from the rubble.

And we don't seem to care. We fight in Iraq and now we're going back to fight in Afghanistan again and all the human rights and protections appear to have vanished once more. We will destroy villages and we will find that the Afghans hate us and we will form more criminal militias – as we did in Iraq – to fight for us. The Israelis organised a similar militia in their occupation zone in southern Lebanon, run by a crackpot Lebanese army major. But now their own troops "go wild". And the BBC is worried about its "impartiality"?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Army-issued Body Armor Safe, Effective, Official Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2009 - Soldiers should have full confidence in the quality of a particular series of Army-issued body armor plates that has come under recent scrutiny, Army officials said.

Scores of Army tests and an independent evaluation have determined the effectiveness of three types of ceramic plates manufactured by Armor Works of Chandler, Ariz., said Army Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, one of the officers who oversees equipment as part of the Army's Program Executive Office Soldier.

"Those plates being worn on the backs and fronts of soldiers all around the world are quality product," Fuller said in an interview today.

An audit published today by the Defense Department's Inspector General concluded the Army did not adhere to contract requirements in the first phase of tests performed on three designs submitted by Armor Works, and recommended the 16,413 sets of these plates in the field be returned.

Army Secretary Pete Geren disputed this finding, but agreed to order the withdrawal of the nearly 33,000 components from the total armor plate supply of about 9 million, as a precautionary measure.

Fuller said reactions to the audit have caused a "perception issue" being fueled by a characterization of the protective components as being unsafe. But a battery of tests performed throughout the life cycle of Army equipment ensures the effectiveness of soldiers' gear, he added.

"The [news] organizations are saying we are doing a recall because we have defective armor," he said. "That is not the case."

While the Army concedes there were "anomalies" in its initial evaluation process, known as first article tests, repeated follow-up analyses by the Army and a separate review by the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation office, validate the equipment's safety, Fuller said.

The test and evaluation office, the Defense Department's premier ballistics testing shop, functions independently of the Army.

"That's why we're standing behind these three sets of designs of body armor," Fuller said. "We've tested it, we've validated it -- in this case, we've even had someone else validate the same information."

The Army, meanwhile, has asked the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense to adjudicate its disagreement with the Inspector General – the first time a mediation request of this kind has been invoked, Fuller said.

Asked what message he sends troops in the field wearing Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, which entails the Armor Works designs, Fuller said, "Wear them --you've got the best thing on ... It'll stop that round."

Army Sgt. Maj. Tom Coleman, who has had four tours of duty and also works in the Program Executive Office Soldier, said he has full confidence in the plates that are being returned, adding that he has seen them withstand a bullet round in combat.

"I've seen plates that have been hit, and I've seen what happens; it's primarily bruising," Coleman said. "I have never seen the skin get broken on a round that hit the armor.

"I have never seen it fail," he added. "And there are no reports that I've seen or that I'm aware of that are out there of any body armor failing to stop the round it was designed to stop."

Related Sites:
Defense Department Inspector General Audit
Program Executive Office Soldier

Navy Honors Civilian Journalist for Saving Marine's Life

By Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2009 - A civilian journalist received a top Navy honor in Iraq on Jan. 24 for his heroism in saving a Marine's life while in Afghanistan.

Then-Fox News cameraman Chris Jackson, embedded with a Marine Corps platoon, was traveling by Humvee down a dangerous road in Afghanistan on Aug. 3 when it hit 50 pounds of homemade explosives. All of the vehicle's passengers escaped the flaming vehicle, with the exception of vehicle commander Marine Corps Sgt. Courtney Rauch.

The blast severely injured Rauch and knocked him unconscious. Jackson, despite having received shrapnel wounds himself, rushed back to the vehicle, pulled Rauch out and carried him to safety.

"Without Chris' quick thinking and heroic act, I would have lost my life that day," Rauch said. "Chris forgot about being a reporter that day and became one of our brothers and acted as one of us. Chris went above and beyond his duty."

Jackson, who now works for CNN/Turner Broadcasting, was presented with the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the second-highest award given to civilians by the Navy, for his actions. Jackson received the award at Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory, outside of Baghdad, during a stop in Iraq en route to India. An audience of appreciative Marines was on hand during the ceremony.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre, deputy commanding general for Multinational Corps Iraq, has a son in the same company with which Jackson was traveling. Lefebvre, who presented the award on behalf of the Navy, asked his son if all the wonderful things being said about Jackson were true.

"I asked him, 'Is this the real thing?' and he said, 'Yeah Dad, this guy's a hero,'" Lefebvre said. "This was not an everyday action. It came from somewhere deep inside and shows such a level of courage and commitment."

When told in front of the crowd why he was invited to Al Faw Palace, Jackson blushed. "It goes to show that Marines have a good sense of humor," he said. "I was told I was coming here for a briefing."

Jackson said he didn't think twice about risking his own life to save someone else's.

"I wasn't thinking. I saw there was trouble, and I didn't even think about grabbing a camera and filming it," Jackson said. "I just did what anyone else would do if someone was in trouble."

(Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante serves in the 13th Public Affairs Detachment.)

Related Sites:

Multinational Corps Iraq

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unmanned Surface Vehicle Test

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Combat Fitness

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3rd MEF Humvees Get New Radios

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Army Scrutinizing Future Combat Systems Program, General Says

CQ TODAY MIDDAY UPDATE
Jan. 21, 2009 – 1:46 p.m.

The Army is in the middle of a “top to bottom” review of its weapons investments, a senior officer said Wednesday, and the focus is on a program that President Obama criticized during the campaign.

The review, which is due by the end of February, will map out a course for spending on all Army weapons, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, at a breakfast with defense writers. Topping the review’s agenda, he said, is a close look at the Army’s most expensive program, the Future Combat Systems, or FCS, an initiative that Pentagon analysts say could cost $200 billion.

“What we’re doing is taking a complete look at the entire FCS program from top to bottom and fitting it into the Army modernization program,” Chiarelli said. “The goal of the review is for all of us to understand where the program should go.”

The FCS program would develop and build a new generation of ground vehicles, unmanned planes, weapons, radios and computers. The first of a new kind of brigade built around these technologies would be fielded in 2015 , though certain subsets of the system will be sent to troops sooner.

Critics question whether the technologies are feasible and whether the system is suited to the kind of future conflicts in which the Army is most likely to find itself.

Interested in more from Midday Update? Sign up

French Missile

The Americans GIs in WW I suffered a lot with the low quality of French armament.

Was with some surprise that a Exocet Missile destroyed a British Frigate in Malvinas War - although the destruction was due to fuel leak, once the warhead fail.

Now Brazil will buy, for some reazon, Scopene Submarines.

Enjoy the demonstration.

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Obama Directs Military to Plan 'Responsible' Iraq Drawdown

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2009 - President Barack Obama directed key defense and military officials he met with yesterday to come up with plans for "a responsible military drawdown in Iraq."

Obama declared yesterday's meeting on Iraq productive and valuable. Participants in the late-afternoon session during his first day in office included Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command.

Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, also participated by teleconference.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker, key Cabinet members and senior national security officials also were included, collectively providing what Obama called "a full update on the situation in Iraq."

"The meeting was productive, and I very much appreciated receiving assessments from these experienced and dedicated individuals," the president said in a statement released after the session.

"During the discussion, I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq," he said.

Obama said he plans to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader Middle East.

"In the coming days and weeks, I will also visit the [Defense Department] to consult with the Joint Chiefs on these issues, and we will undertake a full review of the situation in Afghanistan in order to develop a comprehensive policy for the entire region," he said.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Russia plans to transfer naval HQ to St Petersburg

The Russian military is set to transfer the Russian Navy's main headquarters (HQ), which are currently based in Moscow, to St Petersburg. According to these plans, the first group of 800 officers and the navy's commander-in-chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, will be relocated to St Petersburg no later than 31 December 2009

[first posted to http://jdw.janes.com - 16 January 2009]

Sudan admits bombing raid on Darfur rebels

The Sudanese Army has bombed rebel targets in South Darfur, amid mounting clashes between the various rebel and militant groups in the area patrolled by some 11,000 African Union and UN peacekeepers. In a widely reported statement released on 14 January by a military spokesman, the army said that its aircraft had bombed positions of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) near the town of Muhajiriya: a hotbed for militant activity some 80 km from the capital, Nyala

[first posted to http://jdw.janes.com - 16 January 2009]

Friday, January 23, 2009

Israel: High Court Rules for Arab Parties

By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: January 21, 2009 at New York Times

Overturning a decision by the Central Elections Committee, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the two main Arab political parties, Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad, can run in the national elections on Feb. 10.

During the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the committee had voted to ban the Arab parties, amid accusations that they supported terrorism and refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

After the court ruling, Ahmed Tibi, a member of Parliament from Ra’am-Ta’al, said, “This battle is not yet complete because racism has now become the mainstream in Israel.”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 22, 2009, on page A15 of the New York edition.

Commentary: It´s impossible not to recognize the independence and the courage of the Israeli Supreme Court. This is one of the most independent and bold SC of he world, with a strong commitment with the rule of Law. Until now they have a commitment with main reason of Israel creation by the UN: the affirmation of the right to be Free and not be prosecute or be pursued by race or religion beliefs.
Ary Dib Dias

Why should the wedding ring be worn in the four finger

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Breaking News

Both Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) and Sen. Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy (D-MA), had collapse at Obama Congressional Luncheon and leave for Medical Reasons.

Sen. Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy (D-MA)

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)

And The Dream come true.


Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Following is the transcript of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you.

CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!

MR. OBAMA: My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation...

(APPLAUSE)

... as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.

The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.

(APPLAUSE)

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

(APPLAUSE)

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

(APPLAUSE)

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality...

(APPLAUSE)

... and lower its costs.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

And those of us who manage the public's knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

(APPLAUSE)

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

(APPLAUSE)

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.

And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

(APPLAUSE)

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those...

(APPLAUSE)

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

(APPLAUSE)

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.

It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.

These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

(APPLAUSE)

So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.

In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

And God bless the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Robert Fisk: So, I asked the UN secretary general, isn't it time for a war crimes tribunal?

Mr Ban said it would not be up to him to launch a war crimes tribunal. It was pathetic

January 19, 2009

It's a wrap, a doddle, an Israeli ceasefire just in time for Barack Obama to have a squeaky-clean inauguration with all the world looking at the streets of Washington rather than the rubble of Gaza. Condi and Ms Livni thought their new arms-monitoring agreement – reached without a single Arab being involved – would work. Ban Ki-moon welcomed the unilateral truce. The great and the good gathered for a Sharm el-Sheikh summit. Only Hamas itself was not consulted. Which led, of course, to a few wrinkles in the plan. First, before declaring its own ceasefire, Hamas fired off more rockets at Israel, proving that Israel's primary war aim – to stop the missiles – had failed. Then Cairo shrugged off the deal because no one was going to set up electronic surveillance equipment on Egyptian soil. And not one European leader travelling to the region suggested the survivors might be helped if Israel, the EU and the US ended the food and fuel siege of Gaza.

After killing hundreds of women and children, Israel was the good guy again, by declaring a unilateral ceasefire that Hamas was certain to break. But Obama will be smiling on Tuesday. Was not this the reason, after all, why Israel suddenly wanted a truce?

Egypt's objections may be theatre – the US spent £18m last year training Egyptian security men to stop arms smuggling into Gaza and since the US bails out Egypt's economy, ignores the corruption of its regime and goes on backing Hosni Mubarak, there's sure to be a "compromise" very soon.

And Hamas has had its claws cut. Israel's informers in Gaza handed over the locations of its homes and hideouts and the government of Gaza must be wondering if they can ever close down the spy rings. Hamas thought its militia was the Hizbollah – a serious error – and that the world would eventually come to its aid. The world (although not its pompous leaders) felt enormous pity for the Palestinians, but not for the cynical men of Hamas who staged a coup in Gaza in 2007 which killed 151 Palestinians. As usual, the European statesmen appeared hopelessly out of touch with what their own electorates thought.

And history was quite forgotten. The Hamas rockets were the result of the food and fuel siege; Israel broke Hamas's own truce on 4 and 17 November. Forgotten is the fact Hamas won the 2006 elections, although Israel has killed a clutch of the victors.

And there'll be little time for the peacemakers of Sharm el-Sheikh to reflect on the three UN schools targeted by the Israelis and the slaughter of the civilians inside. Poor old Ban Ki-moon. He tried to make his voice heard just before the ceasefire, saying Israel's troops had acted "outrageously" and should be "punished" for the third school killing. Some hope. At a Beirut press conference, he admitted he had failed to get a call through to Israel's Foreign Minister to complain.

It was pathetic. When I asked Mr Ban if he would consider a UN war crimes tribunal in Gaza, he said this would not be for him to "determine". But only a few journalists bothered to listen to him and his officials were quickly folding up the UN flag on the table. About time too. Bring back the League of Nations. All is forgiven.

What no one noticed yesterday – not the Arabs nor the Israelis nor the portentous men from Europe – was that the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting last night was opening on the 90th anniversary – to the day – of the opening of the 1919 Paris peace conference which created the modern Middle East. One of its main topics was "the borders of Palestine". There followed the Versailles Treaty. And we know what happened then. The rest really is history. Bring on the ghosts.

LINK

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Disney, Army Resort Make Vacations More Affordable for Troops

By William Bradner
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2009 - A Disney vacation just got more affordable.

With the "Disney's Armed Forces Salute" offer, active and retired U.S. military personnel, including active members of the United States Coast Guard and activated members of the National Guard or Reserves, can enjoy complimentary, multi-day admission into Disney's U.S. theme parks, and additional special ticket offers for family members and friends.

"For so many of the men and women who serve in our U.S. military, time together with their families is cause enough for celebration," said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. "We are grateful for their service and hope 'Disney's Armed Forces Salute' will allow our troops to create wonderful, magical memories with their family and friends."

Shades of Green, a resort hotel on Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., is open exclusively to servicemembers, retirees, defense civilians, and their families. It is a safe haven for military families whether they're reintegrating after an overseas deployment, having one last "family fling" before mom or dad deploys, or simply getting away for a weekend.

"If I suddenly break down and cry in a Holiday Inn, everyone's going to be looking at me funny," one guest recently explained. "Here, if it suddenly dawns on me he's leaving in a week and I start to cry, I've got 10 people asking how they can help and offering support."

The resort manager, Brian Japak, is a retired soldier, and his son has survived two roadside-bomb attacks while serving in Iraq.

"I have great empathy for the families that we serve here," he said.

Japak said the staff makes every effort to ensure the guests are pampered Disney style -- with just a touch of "home" through the tax-free Army and Air Force Exchange Service shoppette and a Mickey Mouse statue decked out in red, white and blue. Security at the hotel complies with standard base force protection regulations, ensuring the soldiers and families can sleep soundly and not worry about their personal safety.

Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center hotel run by the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command based in Alexandria, Va. The command's mission is to provide soldiers and their families with the same quality of life they are sworn to protect. Rates are set on a sliding scale, based on rank, and with no shareholders to answer to or profits to be made, the rates are kept remarkably low.

At the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, from Jan. 4 to Dec. 23, each active or retired member of the U.S. military may obtain one free five-day "Disney's Armed Forces Salute" ticket with "Park Hopper" and water park options. The ticket is valid for five days of admission into the four Walt Disney World theme parks, plus a total of five visits to a choice of a Disney water park, DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park or certain other attractions.

During this offer period, active or retired U.S. military personnel also may make a one-time purchase up to five "Disney's Armed Forces Salute Companion" tickets – good for five days -- for $99 each, plus tax, for family members or friends. Although this ticket for family members and friends does not include either the Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More options, it can be upgraded to add either such option, or both, for an additional $25, plus tax, per option. All tickets and options are nontransferable and must be used by Dec. 23.

A similar offer is in place at Walt Disney Land in California. More information is available at installation ITT/ITR offices.

AFRCs offer four other world-class destinations for families, including Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany; Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea; the Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu, and the Cape Henry Inn and Beach Club at Fort Storey, Va.

(William Bradner works at the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command's public affairs office.)

Related Sites:
Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command

Detainee Treatment Remains Key as Officials Weigh Guantanamo's Future

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2009 - With both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and President-elect Barack Obama advocating closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, the Defense Department is focused on a way forward that protects the American people while also ensuring proper detainee treatment, a senior defense official said today.

A decision by the convening authority for military commissions that a detainee suspected of being the 20th 9/11 hijacker was submitted to inappropriate interrogation methods does not mean the case against him won't ultimately go forward, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Judge Susan. J. Crawford told the Washington Post in an interview published today that she did not refer the case against Mohammed al-Qhatani to a military commission because she believed his treatment met the legal definition of torture.

Crawford told the Washington Post she did not refer the case against Qhatani because he had been subjected to so-called "special interrogation techniques" that were authorized for a brief period in 2002. Instead, she dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that the prosecution can return to the convening authority at a later time with more evidence to re-swear the charges.

"Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Qhatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual," Whitman told reporters today. The Army published Field Manual 2-22.3, "Human Intelligence Collector Operations," in 2006 to replace the previous manual with clearly worded doctrinal guidance on conducting military interrogations within U.S. and international law.

Whitman said the Defense Department has taken great efforts to ensure it conducts interrogations and detainee operations in a legal manner.

"We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of al-Qhatani, the alleged 20th hijacker," he said. "The investigations concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo Bay], including the special interrogation techniques used with Qhatani in 2002, were legal."

Despite those findings, department officials adopted new and more restrictive policies, Whitman said, as well as improved oversight procedures for interrogation and detainee operations.

Whitman emphasized that the department does not tolerate detainee abuse.

"We have always taken allegations of abuse seriously," he said. "We investigate all credible allegations of abuse," including more than a dozen internal investigations and major reviews of interrogation procedures and detainee operations.

Crawford's decision on the Qhatani case made news as two other detainees were being arraigned at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing and other terrorist attacks, and Noor Uthman Muhammad, an alleged Taliban and al-Qaida leader, were scheduled to be arraigned today.

The Defense Department works to ensure full and fair proceedings that give both the prosecution and defense the opportunity to present evidence, Whitman said.

Guantanamo Solution Remains a Defense Department Priority, Spokesman Says

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2009 - A solution for closing down the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has vexed Defense Department officials and will remain a challenge during President-elect Barack Obama's administration, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has advocated shutting down the facility since he was appointed two years ago. And while Obama has expressed similar interests throughout his campaign, both acknowledge it "may take some time" to accomplish, Morrell said during a Pentagon news conference.

"The challenge, of course, has been for this president and for this secretary: How do you close it?" he said. "There are a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities under discussion, and no one has settled on, at this point, any one option or solution to this thorny problem."

Before U.S. officials close the facility, Gates wants to see legislation outlining where and how the detainees will be housed to ensure they don't return to violence, Morrell said. The host country must guarantee their safe treatment and provide for their confinement effectively, he added.

"There are some [detainees] we have identified as being ready to be transferred back to their homelands," he said. "We are just looking for a willing recipient of them, a willing government to take them on ... so they don't return to terrorism."

Another issue is recidivism. Morrell said 61 detainees who have been held and then released from Guantanamo Bay are suspected or confirmed to be "returning to the fight."

A prior report released by the Defense Department showed that 7 percent of detainees released from Guantanamo continued pursuing acts of terrorism. The new numbers reflect an 11-percent increase of known terrorist re-engagement, with 18 confirmed and 43 suspected, he added. However, he could not confirm specifics or locations of these attacks.

"So there clearly are people who are being held at Guantanamo who are still bent on doing harm to America, Americans, and our allies," he continued. "So there will have to be some solution for the likes of them, and that is among the thorny issues that the president-elect and his new team are carefully considering."

Morrell said the Defense Department has encouraged countries around the world to house some of the detainees. Countries such as Portugal and Germany have responded by publicly declaring their willingness to take on some of the detainees, and have urged other European countries to do the same.

"It would certainly help us draw down the population in Guantanamo Bay," he said. "We certainly believe there are many detainees there who are qualified to be moved out. And so we are encouraging of those countries that are willing to do so to step up to the plate and offer to take them. That would certainly be a way to help diminish the overall numbers in Guantanamo."

Obama: Continued Vigilance Critical in Protecting American People

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2009 - The United States must remain vigilant to defend against terrorists and other potential threats such as Iran, President-elect Barack Obama said this morning on ABC News' "This Week."

Obama said his top priority as president will be ensuring the American people are safe. "Homeland security always has to be our number one priority," he said. "We are going to have to stay vigilant. That is something that does not change from administration to administration."

Iran will be among the big security challenges Obama said he will have to confront. "We have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah, but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East," he said.

The president-elect also expressed concern that the terrorist bombings in Mumbai, India, in November could spark copycat attacks. "So we are going to have to be vigilant in terms of our intelligence, we are going to have to make sure that we are more effective in terms of anticipating some of these issues and we have got to continue putting pressure on al-Qaeda," he said.

Obama said he believes the United States has made progress in improving security, "but those dangers are still there, and those dangers are not immediately going to go away."

He noted the difficulty of defending against unconventional threats. "If you have small group of people in today's world with today's technology who are intent on doing harm and are willing to die, that is something that is always going to be a challenge," he said.

While critical of some interrogation practices, Obama said he recognizes the importance of good intelligence for national security. "My general view is that our United States military is under fire and has huge stakes in getting good intelligence," he said.

"And if our top Army commanders feel comfortable with interrogation techniques that are squarely within the boundaries of rule of law, our constitution and international standards, then those are things that we should be able to."

Obama also reiterated his commitment to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The challenge, he said, is to do it in a way that adheres to the law and spirit of the law but doesn't release people "intent on blowing us up."

"I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution," he said.

"That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values."

Obama said the closure won't likely happen during his first 100 days as president. "I think it's going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do," he said.

Closing the facility "is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize," he said.

"Part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication," he said. "And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it's true."

So the challenge, he said, is "how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."

Defense Department, VA Host Suicide Prevention Conference


SAN ANTONIO, Jan. 13, 2009 - More than 750 people from the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and private enterprise -- including social workers, chaplains, researchers, and family members – are gathered here this week for a suicide-prevention conference.

Scientists, clinicians and specialists are working to eliminate the stigma that's often tied to seeking mental health care in the military, Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree K. Sutton, the Army's highest ranking psychiatrist, said during remarks on the conference's opening day yesterday.

"The secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs have both emphasized [that] seeking help is a sign of profound courage and strength," Sutton said. "Truly, psychological and spiritual health are just as important for readiness as one's physical health."

Sutton, special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, said the soldier ethos of never leaving a fallen comrade behind applies to those with wounds that aren't visible. She stressed the importance of reaching out and intervening early for those who seem to need help.

The four-day conference features workshops and training that focus on suicide-related topics that include crisis negotiation of a suicide in progress, resilience in suicide prevention, overall suicide-prevention strategies and mental health strategic initiatives.

Yesterday's keynote address drew a large, attentive audience who listened to a soldier, husband and father who has experienced the effects of suicide through the loss of his own son.

Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, commander of Division West at Fort Carson, Colo., has spoken openly about mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2003, his 21-year old son, Kevin, a top ROTC cadet, hanged himself after battling depression. Graham told the audience his son feared the repercussions disclosing his mental health issues might have for his Army career. Graham's eldest son, Jeff, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004. He said he and his wife have chosen to continue to serve "in memory of our sons."

"Both of my sons died fighting different battles," he said.
"I can think of few subjects more important that this one," the general said, stressing the need to talk about the challenges and stigma associated with mental health and thoughts of suicide.

"Leaders, be compassionate," he said. "Soldiers, it's OK to get help. Untreated depression, PTSD or TBI deserve attention. Encourage those who are afflicted to seek help with no embarrassment."

Suicide can afflict anyone, regardless of rank, stature or wealth, Graham noted.

He emphasized the "ACE" program for soldiers – Ask your buddy, Care for your buddy, Escort your buddy – and said the Defense Department and VA have a national, toll-free suicide hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

"Don't be afraid to intervene and save a life," he said. "Just being with someone can make a difference."

(Michael Tolzmann works at the Joint Hometown News Service in the San Antonio office of the Defense Media Activity.)

Related Sites:
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury
Warrior Care Web Portal
Warrior Care News
National Resource Directory for Wounded Warriors
Military OneSource
Department of Veterans Affairs

Mullen Urges Emphasis on 'Soft Power' in Foreign Policy

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2009 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff advocated a "whole-of-government approach" to foreign policy in a speech here last night, urging more funding for nonmilitary departments' roles overseas.

"I believe we should be more willing to break this cycle, and say when armed forces may not always be the best choice to take the lead," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told a Nixon Center audience.

Mullen said civilian agencies representing American "soft power" -- the Departments of State, Justice, Commerce and Agriculture -- deserve more money and support than they currently receive, and should play an enlarged role internationally.

The chairman's remarks align with those made by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has warned against a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy. In a speech in June, the secretary said diplomacy and development should lead American efforts abroad.

"Broadly speaking, when it comes to America's engagement with the rest of the world, it is important that the military is -- and is clearly seen to be -- in a supporting role to civilian agencies," Gates said.

Mullen echoed Gates, saying that the U.S. military should be "just as bold in providing options when they don't involve our participation or our leadership." He added that this notion should apply even when alternative options are unpopular, or when they demand resources be transferred from the military.

The Defense Department's fiscal 2009 budget was about $650 billion, compared to the State Department's reported budget of about $11.5 billion.

"As an equal partner in government, I want to be able to transfer resources to my other partners when they need them," Mullen said. "And we need to reallocate roles and resources in a way that places our military as an equal among many in government, as an enabler, a true partner."

During his international travels, Mullen said, the message is clear that there is a strong desire to work with the United States.

"Most of the world wants a stronger relationship, and a deeper mutual understanding with the United States," he said. "We have a great opportunity right now to seize this moment in history, by enabling all aspects of our power and influence, as a force for peace."

The chairman said the military has effectively served the role of ambassador when called upon to do so.

"But our most effective ambassadors of peace in the future will not be those who wear uniforms, or bear arms," he said. "They will be our civilians."

Chairman Says He's Ready to Execute New President's Military Decisions

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2009 - Whatever decisions President-elect Barack Obama makes regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is prepared to carry them out, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an interview last night on the CBS TV show "60 Minutes."

"When President-elect Obama gets in and says, 'Here's the decision,' the United States military, led by me, is going to march off and execute that decision," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told correspondent David Martin.

Should that decision be to withdraw troops from Iraq, as Obama stated he would in campaign addresses, it's up to Mullen to tell the new president what it will take. Before Christmas, the chairman visited the front lines in Iraq to determine for himself what it will take to get 140,000 troops out of the country gracefully.

A withdrawal would include tons of equipment and command centers built up over nearly six years of war, and all of it has to be transported back to the United States without triggering the collapse of Iraq's government, the chairman noted.

"I don't think it's 'Mission Impossible,'" Mullen said, noting that the president-elect has said consistently that he wants to withdraw troops responsibly.

"Certainly, a responsible withdrawal ... is, I think, a very, very possible outcome here, given what I've seen transpire over the last couple of years and literally what I saw walking the streets of Samarra," the chairman said.

Samarra is home to the al-Askari Mosque, a Shiia Muslim shrine also known as "the Golden Mosque." The February 2006 bombing of the mosque sparked sectarian violence that nearly tore Iraq apart. The structure is now being rebuilt.

Mullen also made his way to Afghanistan during his pre-holiday trip, and he said he stands by his earlier assessment that "we are not winning" the war there.

"I said it because I believed it, and I still believe it," he said. "I think the level of violence in 2008 surprised us all. The sophistication of the tactics of the insurgency surprised us all."

A possible answer to the upswing in violence in Afghanistan includes more troops on the ground, he said. "The exact number isn't known," he acknowledged. "I talked ... about a range between 20,000 and 30,000."

That would nearly double the number of troops fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan. But even increased troop numbers won't do any good unless the insurgent safe haven in Pakistan is mitigated, the admiral said. Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan, and Taliban extremists have been using safe havens within Pakistan to plan and train for attacks inside Afghanistan.

"That safe haven's got to be shut down to a level where it doesn't have the effect that it's having now," Mullen said. "In the long run, if that is not done, then additional troops are not going to have that big an impact."

Mullen said he makes a point of meeting with his Pakistani counterpart whenever he's in the area, including this past trip. This visit marked his seventh visit to the country since he took office in October 2007. It's a critical relationship, Mullen said, adding that relations with the country are equal to, if not more important than, those with any other country right now.

The relationship between the new president and the military he'll command also is critical, Mullen said. The chairman met with Obama in Chicago shortly after the election at the president-elect's request.

"As commander in chief, the connection with the military is absolutely vital," he said. "So making that connection as early as possible and as solid as possible is a huge deal."

Mullen said he doesn't sense any hesitancy from the military over the incoming president.

"What's really important about us in the military is that we stay neutral and remain apolitical," he said. "We work for whoever the president is. All of us in the military will do that faithfully to support President [George W.] Bush until the 20th of January, and we'll do the same thing for President-elect Obama once he gets into the position."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Holder Signals New Era at Justice Department, Vows Independence as Attorney General

CQ TODAY MIDDAY UPDATE
Jan. 15, 2009 – 1:59 p.m.

Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. outlined positions on detainee treatment and presidential authority that differ starkly from those of the Bush administration during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing Thursday.

In response to the very first question from committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., Holder said flatly that the simulated drowning technique of interrogation known as “waterboarding” is torture.

“I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, waterboarding is torture,” Holder said. The statement was an unequivocal departure from the stance of Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey , who refused to make such a statement at his own 2007 confirmation hearing.

The statement has potentially significant implications for government agents who waterboarded suspected terrorists since 2001. And it is symptomatic of the new approach Obama is expected to take to the detention and treatment of suspects in the war on terrorism.

During the first few hours of the hearing, there were practically none of the fireworks that Republicans had promised regarding Clinton administration controversies involving Holder, who served as deputy attorney general in Clinton’s second term. Holder faced almost no questions, other than from Arlen Specter , R-Pa., about controversial pardons President Bill Clinton issued in 1999 and 2001.

Holder was circumspect about whether he would mount criminal prosecutions of Bush administration officials for who executed counterintelligence and counterterrorism policies, saying he would have to examine the intent of government officials and whether they acted “under the thought” that they had formal legal authorization. He said that Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinions that were “reasonably relied on” and “appropriately and in good faith drafted” would be taken into account.

For a full version of this story and the latest coverage, please visit CQ Politics.

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