Sunday, January 28, 2007

Senator Webb Sheds Light on the Matter, Lampshade or Not

In keeping with his status as a rising star in national politics Senator Webb was interviewed on Face the Nation and declared a Person of Interest on the McLaughlin Group today.

Bob Scheiffer on Face the Nation started off asking Senator Webb what he thought of the peace rally which took place yesterday. Webb replied that "one of our greatest strengths is we have the right to stand before the people in power and state our views." He went on to distinguish the turmoil of Iraq from that of Vietnam, noting that along with the war many other issues had been involved in the protests, and that 8 years after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution the majority of Americans supported our assistance to the South Vietnamese government.

He went on to point out that he was not so much against the Iraq war as he and others of long military background and experience thought it would be strategically bad idea. There was no endpoint, no strategic plan. He said we cannot keep increasing troop numbers on the theory that when all else fails we are going to throw more military in. The preponderance of evidence is that it will not work.

Scheiffer then asked what Webb suggested. He replied that what is needed is something like the Dayton accords. The problem cannot be solved militarily but requires a political solution in which the parties can be brought in and assume ownership of the issue and responsibility for its resolution.

On Scheiffer's inquiry about his response to SecDef Gates's statement that the Senate opposition was "emboldening" the enemy, and Vice President Cheney's statement that Webb's opposition to the increase was "hogwash", Webb replied that throughout the history of this war Cheney's statements have been "off and wrong". As to Gates's comments, he said they were wrong and a Defense Secretary should not take such positions. He questioned which enemy Gates was talking about: Iran? Al Queda? Al Sadr? In a situation in which the enemies are many the solution is to "boldly step aside and invite them to the table" to negotiate. By starting this war "we lost the place we had in the world before we began this".

Next was the question of the resolution. What should happen if the President does not listen? Webb replied that there will be other congressional actions. We need a strategy with clearly articulable endpoint and Congress will take the steps necessary to accomplish that. He noted also concern about the way the money is being spent. He hopes soon to "put on a lampshade, er, eyeshade, and really analyze the situation. There has been no accountability and a lot of sweetheart deals for the contractors," and he is going to see how the money’s been spent.

Webb went on to say that when he first arrived Senator McCain met with him and said there needs be no impugning of the patriotism of either side. He hopes Senator McCain remembers this because recently he has been seeing something bordering on charges of disloyalty from the Republican side. He pointed out that "our military is diverse and we should not presume to speak for the troops. What we’re doing is trying to define how it can be a win."

Once again Senator Webb hammers home his major points about strategic necessity and context in our actions rather than mere tactical moves. He noted again that we cannot be trapped into trying to solve this matter militarily. I wondered if he misspoke and said lampshade because he really is trying to shed some light on how this war should be conducted and on the other troublesome aspects, including the abject failure to establish accountability with respect to contractors.

On to the McLaughlin Group. John McLaughlin declared Senator Webb a Person of Interest, reviewed his impressive resume, and asked if Senator Webb heading for national leadership or will he burn out? UPI's Martin Walker said Webb will be a national statesman who was "absolutely right" in his challenge to the President. He called him "brilliantly bipartisan" in his choice to refer to two Republican presidents and said "this guy is going to be a sage of this country."

Do Hagel and Webb have special authority as combat veterans? inquired McLaughlin. Pat Buchanan opined that Webb lends great authenticity to the war debate, a tough guy who "wrote a great book". He has "capacity to be a president but in that party it would be very tough for him." Eleanor Clift described him as a serious man who is among people who were in student council during Vietnam. Among administration voices are the chickenhawks, and they're flocking.

Tony Blankley didn't like the chickenhawk comment, but declared that Webb is a virile man in a party led by two women and the Democratic "nuts" now have a real man around the house. Was hoping Clift would succeed in her attempt to launch herself at his throat.

The admiring Walker summed up by saying this war is more and more about people sent into a less and less hopeful fight, and now there is a war hero to say so. He cited with approval Webb's statement that Americans will fight and die when called but the President owes a corresponding obligation to be extremely thoughtful about the battles into which he sends them.

There you have it. A year ago Jim Webb was a private citizen who had already just about made up his mind not to run for office. Now he's on a fast track to becoming one of the nation's elder statesmen and among the most influential members of the Senate. Astounding.

Finally! Contractor Abuse Investigation

The Associated Press is reporting that the Army has set in motion as many as fifty criminal probes into contractor abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.

Senior contracting officials, government employees, residents of other countries and, in some cases, U.S. military personnel have been implicated in millions of dollars of fraud allegations ...

Battlefield contractors have been implicated in allegations of fraud and abuse since the war in Iraq began in spring 2003. A special inspector general office that focused solely on reconstruction spending in Iraq developed cases that led to four criminal convictions.

Imagine that! After four years of contractor fraud stories, anecdotal because the Republican-dominated Congress refused to hold hearings or establish a Truman-like Commission to detect and deter such abuses, the IG's office got four whole convictions. Wow, war profiteering criminals must be on the run now.

The Pentagon has viewed outsourcing a wide variety of military tasks as much more efficient, leaving troops trained in combat to the business of war.

But the Government Accountability Office reported in December that the military has been losing millions of dollars because it cannot monitor industry workers in far-flung locations.

The Defense Department's inability to manage contractors effectively has hurt military operations and unit morale and cost the Pentagon money, the GAO said.

Some 60,000 contractors have been supporting the Army in Southwest Asia, which includes Iraq. That compares with 9,200 contractors in the 1991 Persian
Gulf War.

Commanders are often unsure how many contractors use their bases and require food, housing and protection, according to the report. One Army official said the service estimates losing about $43 million each year on free meals provided to contractors who also get a food allowance.Bold added.

There's a WTF moment for you. Free meals to the tune of $43 million a year to people who are being paid a food allowance? Commanders don't know how many of these folks to plan for? And of course the number of contractors in this article is substantially smaller than has been reported in other sources.

In fact, the most recent figure is that some 100,000 contractors, enough to compete in number with the our military, are in place in Iraq.
This article deals with the great cost of covering the insurance required for every single contractor in Iraq.
U.S. taxpayers pay the premiums to insurance companies for these contractors. When the contractors are killed or injured in war, taxpayers pay the benefits, too ...

Bunny Greenhouse, a top contracting officer for the Army Corps of Engineers, said that insurance companies have charged exorbitant premiums, considering that it is taxpayers who are taking the risks.

"The insurance companies are getting over on us," Greenhouse said. "This has been accepted because no one looked into it."Bold added.

The cost of insurance for contractors on the battlefield is at record levels; 100,000 contractors are in Iraq now, far more than in the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when 9,200 private contractors were used. This unprecedented use of private contractors -- driven in part by the relatively small number of troops deployed to Iraq -- is a mounting, open-ended tab for taxpayers.

It is impossible to say how much the insurance costs. No agency regulates the premiums, and no one tracks the overall costs ...

The number of contractors covered by the insurance has grown more than sevenfold in the past five years and will continue to grow ...

In the first gulf war, seven contractors were killed. As of October, 646 U.S.-financed private contractors had been killed in Iraq. Most deaths stem from acts of war ... This allows the insurance companies to ask the U.S. Department of Labor to pay all future benefits and reimburse the insurers for all payments, plus 15 percent for processing the claims.

Sounds like there's room for more investigation. I keep waiting for Congress to start looking into these issues. It is apparent that the mere threat of Congressional oversight has suddenly jump-started the fraud investigations, but there is room for hundreds of probes into this mess.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Wilkerson: Administration Rejected Iran Overtures in 2003

In an interview on the BBC News program Newsnight, former senior aide to Colin Powell Lawrence Wilkerson said that Vice President Cheney and other ideologues at the White House rejected Iran's offers of concessions in return for talks in 2003 despite enthusiasm for the proposals at the State Department. Washington Snubbed Offer

Tehran proposed ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups and helping to stabilise Iraq following the US-led invasion.

Offers, including making its nuclear programme more transparent, were conditional on the US ending hostility.

But Vice-President Dick Cheney's office rejected the plan, the official said.

The offers came in a letter, seen by Newsnight, which was unsigned but which the US state department apparently believed to have been approved by the highest authorities.

In return for its concessions, Tehran asked Washington to end its hostility, to end sanctions, and to disband the Iranian rebel group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and repatriate its members.

But as soon as it got to the White House, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil'... reasserted itself
Lawrence Wilkerson
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had allowed the rebel group to base itself in Iraq, putting it under US power after the invasion.

One of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell's top aides told the BBC the state department was keen on the plan - but was over-ruled.

"We thought it was a very propitious moment to do that," Lawrence Wilkerson told Newsnight.

"But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil'... reasserted itself."

Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.

Once again we see the Administration's preference for dogmatic and destructive consistency instead of flexibility and negotiation with the goal of minimizing casualties.

I hope Congress's various Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees investigate these allegations to the fullest extent possible. Not only has the Administration's policies provided fodder for Ahmadinejad's extremist diatribes, but they have set in motion the distinct possibility that the Administration may choose to launch a unilateral pre-emptive attack upon Iran under a pretext of nuclear threat, a threat which, if it could even be conceded exists, could have been obviated by merely agreeing to talk to Iran as long ago as 2003.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

William Friedkin on James Webb

Great article by William Friedkin on Jim Webb as he knows him.

Ambush: Reflections on My Friend Jim Webb


We've known Jim since 1999 when he wrote an original screenplay called Rules of Engagement, which I directed. We remained friends in spite of numerous "creative differences" -- often heated, sometimes bitter.

I came away from that experience feeling that Jim Webb is the most complex, principled man I've ever known. He came away feeling good about what I had done with the finished film -- though he still refers to me as the only man in the country with a temper worse than his. I accept this as a compliment.

Mr. Friedkin went on to describe Webb's swearing-in, and the private party that took place that evening:
Later, in a small private room in a chic new restaurant ten blocks from Georgetown, 20 guests have gathered to celebrate, including ex-marines who served in Vietnam, and Sen. Robb and his wife Lynda.

When Sherry and I arrive we're greeted by one of Jim's legislative aides and by Lynda Robb who says, "You must be those Hollywood moguls George Allen said are Webb's real friends." "That's us," I answer, "and proud of it."

I'm introduced to Mac McGarvey, Webb's radio operator in Vietnam. Mac lost his right arm in combat. A proud, balding man with a mustache and deep Southern drawl, he was Webb's driver in the recent Senate campaign and is now his legislative liaison for Veteran Affairs.

The term "legislative liaison" is too polite a description for Mac. Tattooed above the stump that was his right arm is the phrase, "Cut along the dotted line." "He's the only man now working in the Congress who has a nipple ring," Webb says, beaming. Mac smiles and nods. When he gets up to toast Jim, words fail him. He tears up and so do we. "I love this man. I just love him..." He sits down to a round of applause.

Seated next to us is Col. Mike Wyly, a short, wiry man who was Webb's Company Commander in DELTA Company, fifth Marines. Webb was a second Lt. in the 1st Battalion.

"First thing I did with a new second 'louie,'" says Col. Wyly, "was send him out on night patrol -- wanted to see right away what he was made of. This was in May of 1969, in the An Hoa Basin. Webb's squad was ambushed by a larger North Vietnamese squad. They came under machine gun fire and I thought for sure they were gone. Next thing I hear is Lt. Webb, on this 2-way radio, reporting the exact amount of rounds his squad had expended and 'no friendly casualties.' This guy was for real."

Wyly went on: "The mistake people make with Jim -- George Allen made it, and so did George Bush -- is when they try to ambush him. Jim fights harder when he's ambushed. In the Senate campaign, every time Allen's people tried to put Jim in a hole, he fought his way out and left Allen bleeding. At the White House reception, when President Bush confronted him about his son, that was an ambush. It was a set-up, and the Bush folks made the story public, trying to make Jim out to be a hothead."

"I wasn't surprised by Jim's victory," adds Wyly. "I've long ago stopped being surprised by anything he accomplishes. I wrote him up for the Silver Star and the Navy Cross. There are a lot of men alive today because of Jim Webb."

I ask Col. Wyly what he does now.

"I'm retired but I run a ballet company up in Pittsfield, Maine. Bossov Ballet Theater -- more of a school than a performing company. We found this amazing choreographer from Russia and brought him to Maine. Last year he did a performance of The Red Shoes with these kids and it was sensational. Jim's on my board, you know."

I ask the Colonel how he went from commanding Delta Co. in Vietnam to the Bossov Ballet Co. in Pittsfield. "There are a lot of similarities between ballet and the Marine Corps," he replies. "You need discipline, dedication, and motivation to excel at either."

Tom Lehner, formerly Chuck Robb's campaign manager, now heading Webb's transition team, delivers a toast: "Two-and-a-half years ago, Jim called and said he was interested in running for the Senate against George Allen. I said, 'Okay, but it'll change your life. You'll have to do things you won't like 24/7 and the sad thing is you won't win.' He did everything opposite of what I advised him and now here he is."

Finally, Webb rises to thank everyone in the room, which he does modestly and graciously, ending with, "it will always be an honor to serve this country."

The mood of the nation is contentious, a perfect setting for Webb. "I know I'm a combative person" he says, "but what I learned in law school was how to fight with my brain." All his life he has had to re-channel his anger or be consumed by it.

I recall a passage from one of his novels, A Country Such as This: "There was a weakness in his country, in its leaders or maybe its system that had botched this thing badly, called on citizens to sacrifice then rebuked their efforts..." Webb wrote these words 7 years ago about the Korean and Vietnam wars. The old battles seem so far away, yet so near.

Ending his toast, Jim Webb smiles at his lifelong friend, Mac McGarvey. "Y'know, anyone can become a Senator. Not everyone can be a Marine."

Thank you Mr. Friedkin for this fascinating article.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Webb Interview Re State of the Union

For the second year in a row a Virginian has been chosen to deliver the Democratic response to the President's State of the Union speech. Newbie Senator Webb has been picked by Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi to make the response. Webb was interviewed by phone for WAVY 10 in Hampton Roads.

Freshman Senator Jim Webb back in national spotlight

In 2006, Jim Webb stunned the Commonwealth with a win to unseat a favored incumbent.

His victory over Republican George Allen gave Democrats control of Congress.

In 2007, the nation will hear him speak, after the President's address to a joint session of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave him the good news.

"I feel honored that he asked me, and I'll do my best to carry the load of the Democratic party and also to say things that are dear to my heart," Webb said by phone.

Webb said he hasn't had much time to craft a speech, but dear to his heart are issues he campaigned on, an end to the war in Iraq, and a fair economy for all.

"Obviously, the President's gonna have a lot more time than we will. But, we hope to be able to make the key points that will demarcate the differences in approach to governing the country," Webb said.

No doubt, the President's plan to bring 20,000 new troops into the warzone will be discussed. It's a move Democrats are fighting. Webb said he's gained insights on two committees he serves on: the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Foreign Relations.

"I think there are a number of people in both parties who are seeing it the same way. We have to do something affirmative to bring this war to a conclusion."

Webb follows in the footsteps of another Virginia lawmaker in the national spotlight.

Governor Tim Kaine gave this same speech last January.

"We've got some really good leaders here in Virginia, people who are trying to solve problems. I think it's great," Webb said.

The President's State of the Union address airs Tuesday, January 23rd.

Senator Webb will speak for about five minutes shortly after Bush's address.

Webb Interview re SOTU

Five minutes to respond to a speech which has been in development for months is not much time. I hope the Senator's staff is spending some serious time with him working on major points, but I look forward to the response. No matter how well the President dresses his pig it's still just a lot of fatback and squealing. My advice to the Senator would be to prepare for all possibilities and then go out there and have a good time.

Monday, January 15, 2007

How Much Do Contractors Charge? - Request for Information

Several days ago I was talking to the family of a soldier in Mosul who complained about the costs to their Army son in Mosul of just the ordinary comforts and things at their son's post, telling me that he was being charged $45 for a case of Coke by the local contractors.

I am searching for information and stories about the charges contractors are making to our military members who must rely on them for the usual items found at PXs and on bases in Iraq.

Anyone who has a complaint, explanation, anecdote, or whatever can e-mail me at

Why Habeas Corpus, the Hamad Project, and the Duke Lacrosse Case Are All Related

In response to my post about Mr. Stimson I received an invitation to view this website: Project Hamad

The invitation came right on the heels of my having seen most of the 60 Minutes report on appalling and flagrant prosecutorial misconduct in the Duke lacrosse case.

As the Stimson incident demonstrates there is among our leadership a disregard for the rule of law and the principles of fairness shocking to all Americans who regard them as the bedrock of our society. It is not ethnicity or religion which makes us Americans, but our abiding belief in the principle that all are created equal and the laws should apply equally to all. It is our inherent suspicion of power which gave us our system of checks and balances, and our belief that all accused persons should have the right to confront their accusers and examine the evidence and test the witnesses which makes our system great.

The Duke lacrosse case shows that in the face of abiding prosecutorial ambition, incompetence, and outright dishonesty even the rich and privileged in this country may find themselves branded as criminals and prosecuted, despite proof of innocence. Does anyone seriously think this was an isolated instance? What would cause an experienced prosecutor to so casually hide exculpatory evidence and manipulate the findings in the case? A pervasive culture of corner-cutting and lax ethical standards, that's what. He did it because where the defendant is not a rich white kid with dedicated and determined parents and aggressive and competent legal representation he gets away with it. The Duke case demonstrates why we have to have standards of evidence and discovery in criminal cases. What would have happened to these boys if their lawyers had not been able to scrutinize the evidence, the reports, and hire their own expert?

Then there is Adel Hamad. He is described as a father of four from Sudan who was working at a hosptial run by an NGO called World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Pakistan, distributing food and clothes, etc. WAMY is alleged to possibly support "terrorist ideals". Mr. Hamad was arrested in his bed in the middle of the night and sent to Gitmo, where after several years of incarceration without charge he was given an administrative review hearing, at which he denied that WAMY is a terrorist organization and asked why he, an employee, would be arrested rather than the CEO or administrators. The review panel voted to keep him, but with a lone dissenter:

The U.S. Army Major, who dissented in his case, concurred: "Even if elements of certain NGOs provide support to terrorist ideals and causes that is insufficient to declare an employee of said NGO an enemy combatant; to do so would lead to unconscionable results: one would have to declare all physicians, nurses and aid workers of any suspect NGO as enemy combatants; the ramifications of such logic would lead to unforeseen and unconscionable results."

Article 20 of the 4th Geneva Convention states: Persons regularly and solely engaged in the operation and administration of civilian hospitals, including the personnel engaged in the search for, removal, and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases, shall be respected and protected.

The report goes on to state:

The dissenting [said] "The fallacy of logic that seeks to classify Hamad as an enemy combatant because he many have come in contact with al Qaida member in the course of providing aid to refugees, or teaching at a school, would also provide support that a local merchant who 'came in contact' with al Qaida members could be detained as an enemy combatant."

... Interviews with Dr. Sailani, and Dr Roghman (both WAMY hospital physicians) and Dr Najib (the hospital director and general surgeon) reveal that Hamad never spoke about politics, that there was no anti-American activity at the hospital and that Hamad did not have contacts outside the hospital grounds.

So far, no other evidence aside from a possible tenuous guilt by association has been leveled against Mr. Hamad. There is no evidence that he's ever picked up a weapon, been on a battlefield, or even expressed approval of terrorist activity. However, Mr. Hamad does not have the right to bring a petition for a writ of Habeas Corpus because the Administration, with the connivance of Congress members who appear to fear this ancient curb on arbitrary and capricious detention as much as they fear terrorists, gutted this essential writ and made it unavailable to him.

Do we really want guys like Stimson making the decisions about who should be incarcerated indefinitely? Are we that afraid of our own system of justice that we cannot use it to sort out the good from the bad? Can we not even extend some form of protection against fear-based and fear-mongering prosecutorial excess against the defenseless, whether they be good or bad? If Mr. Hamad is a terrorist then show me, and I'd be happy to lock the door on him permanently, but give the man the right to know what evidence exists against him. It's basic fairness.

Cross posted to Raising Kaine

Sunday, January 14, 2007

10,000 Dead? 100,000 Wounded?

From Capitol Hill Blue comes this story about a classified Pentagon memo which projects 10,000 casualties in Iraq by the end of 2008. Pentagon memo

Pentagon planners this week warned President George W. Bush that his "troop surge" plan could double U.S. casualties in Iraq in the coming year and result in 10,000 or more American deaths by the end of 2008.

In a classified assessment memo, military experts predicted violence against U.S. troops will increase "at a sustained pace" and concluded that increasing the use of soldiers for house to house searches in Baghdad will "dramatically alter" the "ratio of casualties to actions" in that civil-war torn city, says a military source familiar with the memo.

The Pentagon report admitted battle weary soldiers are more prone to mistakes that lead to casualties and noted that military personnel sent to Iraq for third and possibly fourth tours increase the odds that those soldiers will become casualties of war.

The memo concluded that American military deaths could top 6,000 by the end of 2007 and exceed 10,000 or more in 2008 with more than 100,000 wounded and/or maimed for life ...

The casualty assessment comes as the Pentagon abandons its limit on the time a citizen-soldier can be required to serve on active duty ... Until now, the Pentagon's policy on the Guard or Reserve was that members' cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted; the remaining limit is on the length of any single mobilization, which may not exceed 24 consecutive months, Pace said.

In other words, a citizen-soldier could be mobilized for a 24-month stretch in Iraq or Afghanistan, then demobilized and allowed to return to civilian life, only to be mobilized a second time for as much as an additional 24 months ... by next January, the Pentagon "probably will be calling again" on National Guard combat brigades that previously served yearlong tours in Iraq.

Senator Webb has repeatedly asked what the endpoint is in this endless conflict. So let's ask the question: what strategic interest of the United States will be served by all these deaths and maimings? How will they make us safer?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Charles Stimson is Un-American and a Disgrace to the Legal Profession

Excuse the emotion running through the heading of this post. Today I learned that Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs and a lawyer educated at a pretty good law school, George Mason University, apparently believes the pro bono attorneys representing detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere, should be punished for their loyalty to the highest principle of their profession, the defense of the accused.

Mr. Stimson apparently slept through his Ethics, Criminal Procedure, and Constitutional Law classes and probably thought the defendant deserved what he got in "To Kill a Mockingbird".

The story's here:

Mr. Stimson made his remarks in an interview on Thursday with Federal News Radio, a local Washington-based station that is aimed at an audience of government employees.

The same point appeared Friday on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, where Robert L. Pollock, a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, cited the list of law firms and quoted an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying, “Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.”

In his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name more than a dozen of the firms ... describing them as “the major law firms in this country.” He said, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

Karen J. Mathis, a Denver lawyer who is president of the American Bar Association, said: “Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law. To impugn those who are doing this critical work — and doing it on a volunteer basis — is deeply offensive to members of the legal profession, and we hope to all Americans.”

Gosh, I wonder who the "unnamed Senior U.S. official" was? Reading and re-reading his words, it seems clear to me that he is trying to intimidate and drive away the only attorneys who can handle the demands of representing people being held on an island away from scrutiny and most court jurisdiction and who have the assets and resources to handle the enormous mound of paper obfuscation and litigation launched at them by cretinous, authoritarian public officials whose bottom line isn't the protection of our country and everything it stands for, but avoidance of a spotlight on their appalling treatment of detainees and the questionable circumstances under which so many of them are being held.

Mr. Stimson's attitude presents a first-rate argument for the necessity of open and aggressive representation of detainees. Due to this administration's disrespect for our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and requirement for fairness which first and foremost must exist for justice to be done, the deck is heavily stacked against the detainees whose attorneys must scale towering wall of government secrecy, avoidance, and deception just to get a hearing on the evidence. Time to end the secrecy and to fire people like Mr. Stimson, who holds the enormous power of the state and all its resources yet does not recognize that he is part of a system in which good legal representation of the accused is necessary to assure that the weight of his power does not crush the innocent.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fighting Words

Great article about a recently returned Maryland National Guard officer/DC Lawyer, Adam Tiffen, who maintained a blog ( I haven't checked out the blog, yet, but it's a solid story about one man who felt called by duty to go to Iraq, who did the best that he could under the circumstances, and who maintained a blog while there which has received wide circulation and even been cited in Doonesbury. The story is at

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Waldo Jaquith's General Assembly Tracker

Congrats to Waldo Jaquith on Richmond Sunlight, tracking every bit of legislation and vote in the General Assembly. Here's the link: Richmond Sunlight

Monday, January 08, 2007

RTD Shows Mac McGarvey Some Love

I remember the article Jim Webb wrote for Parade Magazine in the early 80s about his friend and former radioman, Mac McGarvey. It is quoted extensively in this Richmond Times-Dispatch story about his new role as Jim Webb's legislative assistant for Veterans' Affairs. What impressed me then, and continues to impress me, is the enormous affection and respect these two old friends have for each other. Blessed with natural ability, confidence, and a straightforward approach, Mac exudes loyalty without obsequiousness and seems to me the sort of person who would with affection, humor, and blunt talk let his old friend know if the fame and adulation are going to his head.
Webb enlists comrade for new Senate duties

Michael "Mac" McGarvey was 18 and a radioman for Jim Webb's Marine Corps rifle platoon in Vietnam when McGarvey's right arm was sliced off.

"The day the piece of shrapnel ripped his arm away just below the shoulder, a clean swipe like a hot knife that left the arm itself intact at his feet, I cried," Webb wrote later.

Fast-forward to the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 4, 2007. Webb, 60, raised his hand to take the oath as a senator from Virginia. McGarvey, 56, and close friend to the man he calls "Skipper" Webb, watched it on TV.

This time, it was the proud McGarvey's turn to get emotional.

"I had tears in my eyes," said McGarvey, a striking presence with a shaved head, mustache and goatee, suspenders and one empty white shirtsleeve.

McGarvey is in Washington now to serve as Webb's legislative assistant for veterans affairs ...

Last year, McGarvey was Webb's campaign driver. He operated a camouflaged campaign Jeep and later a motor home and traveled roughly 30,000 miles.

Before that, McGarvey enjoyed the unpaid role of what he calls "sort of an impresario" at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville ...

Between 1985 and 2001, McGarvey worked in the Veterans Administration, which eventually became the Department of Veterans Affairs. With only a high school equivalency diploma, he rose to head a prosthetic and sensory aids service at Nashville's Veterans Affairs center. That unit handled about 35,000 patient disabilities per year.

In 1992, Webb went with a group to Vietnam on a humanitarian trip to deliver prosthetic aid to people who had lost limbs in the war.

"Mac was the guy I brought with me," Webb, a former Navy secretary, said last week.

"Particularly on the medical side, he really understands the VA system," Webb said. McGarvey is empathetic and well-respected among veterans' groups, he said.

And he ran "the No. 1 honky-tonk in Nashville, Tennessee," Webb added. "You have to know how to work with people if you're running Tootsie's."

At Webb's temporary office, McGarvey stretched out his left hand to greet a visitor warmly. He seized an opening in an interview and joked about being "short-handed," deflecting any unease. And he acknowledged that he wasn't thrilled at first with the idea of moving to Washington, but Webb won.

"He gave me that Jim Webb look, and said, 'Mac, I need you up here.' Jim's the closest friend I have ever had in my life. There's very little I wouldn't do for him," McGarvey said.

McGarvey had been planning to retire to his native southern Illinois and build a house. He's set that aside now to work for fellow veterans.

"It will allow me the opportunity to look at ways of possibly making life better for not only the veterans, but for VA employees," McGarvey said.

Congratulations to Mac McGarvey on his new position. I think we're going to see some real strides toward legislation benefitting veterans and their families.

My Book Quiz Results

Here's the result of my Book Quiz:

You're The Poisonwood Bible!

by Barbara Kingsolver

Deeply rooted in a religious background, you have since become both isolated and schizophrenic. You were naively sure that your actions would help people, but of course they were resistant to your message and ultimately disaster ensued. Since you can see so many sides of the same issue, you are both wise beyond your years and tied to worthless perspectives. If you were a type of waffle, it would be

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

In keeping with my alleged schizophrenia I don't know whether to be delighted or despairing. There's actually a lot of truth to this assessment, but the whole "tied to worthless perspectives" thing sort of hurts.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Webb's New GI Bill

Keeping a promise he made during the campaign, Jim Webb's first act as Senator was to introduce a sweeping expansion of veterans' educational benefits, Senate Bill S.22. Here are the highlights from the Marine Times.

Called the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, Webb’s bill would boost benefits so they equal the amount paid to World War II veterans. That would mean the GI Bill would cover the full cost of tuition, room and board plus a $1,000 monthly stipend. His bill also would drop the $1,200 enrollment fee active-duty service members must pay to be eligible for the GI Bill.

In a statement, Webb, formerly secretary of the Navy, said the current GI Bill “served this nation well during peacetime, but times have unfortunately changed. The demands placed on [service members] in this post-9/11 era are much greater than when Congress established the current program.”

Webb said that with many military members serving two or three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, “it is past time to enact a new veterans’ education program modeled on the World War II-era GI Bill.

“This is exactly what our legislation does,” he added. “It will provide veterans of the 9/11 era with the same program of benefits that our fathers and grandfathers received after World War II.”
Marine Times article

It seems only fair that American military members who have been required not only to put their lives and families on hold, but also their educations and prospects for advancement, be provided the resources to improve themselves and their prospects for success.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Webb Party at Clarendon Ballroom

I was hoping to have a twofer to report; having intended to go to the Senate Open House today, but I ended stuck at work today and must settle for a report on the goings on at the Clarendon Ballroom last night.

At 4:45 I walked around the corner and saw Mac McGarvey standing surrounded by Arlington motorcycle cops, and realized that Senator Webb must already be there somewhere. Mac looked sharp in a muted plum business suit. That man is intense.

The paying customers were checking in, getting name tags, and proceeding downstairs, while the everyone else stayed on the main floor. There were already at least 150 in the Ballroom, probably more, and the crowd was growing by the minute. After scoring a free Miller Lite at the bar I grabbed a pretzel and wandered around until meeting other people I recognized as having phonebanked at the Webb HQ on Wilson Blvd. We ventured to the food tables, which were hidden behind a ravenous horde, and I decided not to take a chance on being trampled and eaten.

At some point the band set up, and by that time the crowd was pretty thick. The Locust Mountain Boys is a classic bluegrass band. Their lead singer, 18 year old Jesse Carper, plays mandolin, sings lead, and shows enormous stage presence. They played for over an hour of rousing bluegrass classics. I'm a little old to be a groupie, but I ended up moving to the front to take pictures and get a little closer to the music.

After the band stopped for a well-deserved break it was about another half hour in the crowded room before Donald McEachin came on stage and bade us all welcome the man who turned the United States Congress blue, Jim Webb.

A vigorous and energetic Webb took the stage, greeted the crowd, and told us of his proposal for a GI Bill like the one given WWII vets upon their return from the service. He talked about the need for a change in foreign policy and promised action to bring all parties to the table in negotiations. He spoke of the need to ensure economic fairness for all and to enact the minimum wage legislation. He thanked everyone for their support, teased that he doesn't expect to be invited to George Will's Orioles party this year, and cracked that "it's all about the beer," promising more parties with free beer from time to time. What a contrast between his sometimes palpable uneasiness during the campaign and his self-assurance and comfort before the crowd last night. This amazing transformation took place in less than a year. Hong Le Webb and the new baby and her daughter were all there, and took the stage.

Webb surprised the Locust Mountain Boys with a request that they retake the stage and play Freeborn Man. They blew the doors off the place with a loud, proud rendition.

Sliding into the role of MC Senator Webb then introduced Rodney Crowell, who has written songs for Emmylou Harris and others. Webb said he wanted Crowell to play a song which has particular meaning for him and is for those who are serving overseas, Remember Me. Terrific song. First time I've ever heard it.

The Senator then left the stage and started shaking hands with as many in the crowd as he could. I'd brought a copy of Born Fighting which I wanted him to sign for my niece, a Marine reservist recently returned from her second tour in Iraq, but as he approached I was suddenly run over by a very excited Vietnamese gentleman who in a combination of English and Vietnamese begged Senator Webb to take a picture with him. He was so darn excited I couldn't complain. It seemed to have great meaning for him. Webb complied and was carried farther away from me by the crowd. I resolved to get him to sign it today, but then had to stay at work. Someday ...

Finally the crowd began to diminish. We had one more song from the band and then things began to wrap up. Fortunately, the bar was still open and I finally got a second beer and spent a few minutes talking to Steve Carper, Jr., the leader of the band and Jesse Carper's father. His father, Steve Carper, Sr., was there, too, so it's a real family operation. What a pleasure it must be to have your son following in your footsteps and continuing a family tradition, and one which gives people such joy. Mr. Carper told me how lost they'd gotten driving around Arlington. They passed the Pentagon several times and finally told a police officer who they were and where they were going. They were pleasantly surprised to receive a police escort to the Ballroom. Mr. Carper asked me what it was like on September 11, 2001, and we spent a few minutes in somber discussion of that terrible day. I wish I'd brought enough money to buy their CD.

It was a great party and I'm glad I got the chance to attend.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Casualties of War

Interesting and poignant article on the 59 women soldiers killed so far in Iraq and the memorial to them at Fort Lee, Virginia. (U.S. Deaths in Iraq Mark Increased Presence)

One thing this war has done is settle the question of whether women can function in combat situations, at least of the sort our military is experiencing in Iraq. In a war with no front line women are becoming casualties no matter what their MOS, and serving courageously when thrust into combat.

Another story, published today in the WaPo, notes the tremendous sacrifices being made by small numbers in our society, while the burden of the war is borne by a few. With Iraq War Come Layers of Loss

How unconscionable it is that those who are being asked to risk all are also being forced to carry the heaviest burden. No family should be driven into poverty because they have lost their primary wage earner or must care for a severely disabled member injured in the war.