Homeland Security

  Sex Assault Reports In U.S. Military Increase By 24 PercentMarch 21, 2007 22:19 Reports of sexual assaults in the U.S. military increased by about 24 percent last year and more than twice as many offenders were punished.

There were nearly 3,000 sexual assault reports filed in 2006, compared with almost 2,400 the previous year, a Pentagon report said Wednesday. Action was taken against 780 people, from courts-martial and discharges to other administrative remedies.

The cases involved members of the military who were victims or accused of the assaults. The military counts rape, nonconsensual sodomy, indecent assault and attempts to commit any of those as sexual assault, though the 17-page report contained no data on how many of each were reported.

This is the third year the military has compiled these sexual assault statistics. The reporting methods have changed each year, however, making comparisons of the annual reports difficult.

Of the 2,947 sexual assaults reported last year, 756 were initially filed under a program that allows victims to report the incident and receive health care or counseling services but does not notify law enforcement or commanders.
  Ex-Cia Agent Blasts White HouseMarch 16, 2007 14:10 Secret CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson has accused senior Bush administration officials of "carelessly and recklessly" revealing her identity.
The comments were her first public statements on a political scandal which rocked Washington.

She says her identity was revealed in 2003 to discredit her husband, a former diplomat, for criticising the Iraq war.

No-one has been charged over the leak, but the vice-president's former top aide was convicted of perjury.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Dick Cheney, resigned from his role as chief of staff and was convicted of perjury and obstruction in the case earlier this month.

He could face up to 25 years in prison.
  US medic in Germany guilty of desertionMarch 13, 2007 19:42 A US Army medic who refused to return to Iraq because of his opposition to the war has been found guilty of desertion by a court martial in Germany. The verdict follows reports from soldiers' counselling groups of a more than threefold rise in American military personnel wanting to leave the armed forces.

Agustin Aguayo, 35, who was born in Mexico, climbed out of a bathroom window at a US base at Schweinfurt, Germany, in September last year and went absent without leave for 24 days to avoid being sent on a second tour of duty in Iraq. Yesterday, in a case closely watched by American anti-war groups, a court martial in Würzburg convicted Aguayo of desertion. He faces up to seven years in prison, a dishonourable discharge and loss of pay.

The presiding judge, Colonel Peter Masterton, did not pass sentence immediately after ruling that Aguayo was guilty of desertion rather than the lesser charge of going absent without leave.

"The accused was supposed to deploy with his unit to face hazardous duty in Iraq. Instead he decided to jump out of his window and run away," Captain Derrick Grace, for the prosecution, told the court martial.

  Losing The Moral High Ground In Terror WarMarch 12, 2007 11:40 The Pentagon's latest move to close status-review hearings of "enemy combatants" is in keeping with its make-it-up-as-you-go approach to handling detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Such callous maneuvers are flawed, and they have been so from the beginning.

The hearings that started Friday are supposed to determine if 14 high-profile terror suspects are "enemy combatants." The Pentagon says that secrecy is necessary to protect classified information, and so it is reversing previous policy to allow some aspects of the hearings public. This is a mistake. Conducting the hearings entirely in secret undermines their credibility at a time when America's actions are viewed with suspicion and disbelief around the world.

The hearings were created after the U.S. Supreme Court said that "enemy combatants" should have a chance to challenge their indefinite detention. When the tribunals began in 2004, the Pentagon invited reporters and bragged about the transparency of the process.

Now that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and other "high-value" captives are to face the same process, the Pentagon has changed the rules to exclude the public, citing national-security concerns. It will release only a censored transcript. But the change only increases suspicion. These are cases where transparency would demonstrate America's ability to live up to its rhetoric and ideals.
  9/11 Suspects Get Hearings At GuantamamoMarch 12, 2007 11:38 Secret hearings for two suspected masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a third terror suspect were held over the weekend at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the military launched proceedings to determine whether 14 high-profile detainees should be prosecuted.

According to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, hearings for Abu Faraj al-Libi and Ramzi Binalshibh were Friday, and a hearing for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was Saturday. He said another hearing at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba was scheduled for Monday.
  Senator Calls For Attorney General's ResignationMarch 11, 2007 22:53 U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales has so politicized the Justice Department that he should step down for the sake of the nation, the Senate's third-ranking Democrat said Sunday.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York — citing recent disclosures about the FBI's improper use of administrative subpoenas to obtain private records and the controversy over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys in December — told CBS' "Face the Nation" that Gonzales, who previously served as White House counsel, "is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution."

Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, charged that under Gonzales, the Justice Department has become even more politicized than it was under President Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft.

"And so," Schumer said, "I think for the sake of the nation, Atty. Gen. Gonzales should step down."
  Gonzales, Mueller Admit FBI Broke LawMarch 09, 2007 23:00 The nation's top two law enforcement officials acknowledged Friday the FBI broke the law to secretly pry out personal information about Americans. They apologized and vowed to prevent further illegal intrusions.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left open the possibility of pursuing criminal charges against FBI agents or lawyers who improperly used the USA Patriot Act in pursuit of suspected terrorists and spies.

The FBI's transgressions were spelled out in a damning 126-page audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. He found that agents sometimes demanded personal data on people without official authorization, and in other cases improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.
  Civil Rights Commission To Examine Covert Wiretapping In The War On TerrorMarch 06, 2007 09:29 The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Commission) has assembled a panel of experts to discuss the authorized use of covert wiretapping in the war on terror. In 2005, it was reported that the President had authorized the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance of international communications into and out of the United States of persons reasonably believed to be in communication with a member or agent of al Qaeda, or an affiliated terrorist organization.

On January 17, 2007, the Attorney General announced that, as the result of a recent Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order, any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the terrorist surveillance program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the FISC.

Although this change indicates that warrants will be obtained for future surveillance, significant questions regarding the implications of the program remain. The Commission will examine the constitutional and statutory authority to conduct electronic surveillance; the constitutional limits and due process implications of warrantless phone-taps; and the standards for federal enforcement and resolution of disputed cases.

Supporters of this program state that the President has the constitutional and statutory authority to conduct these phone-taps and that they are necessary to ensure homeland security. Critics counter that this program undermines civil liberties and violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
  Witness Slams 'Nightmares' Of Army Medical SystemMarch 05, 2007 16:18 Witnesses told a House panel Monday that wounded U.S. soldiers are forced to struggle against a nightmarish and untrustworthy Army medical system which leaves veterans stranded in unfit conditions.

Two Iraq war veterans and the wife of a third gave heartbreaking, at times stunning, tales of neglect at the now notorious Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The panel was convened in the wake of a scandal triggered by The Washington Post's detailing of problems at the hospital.

Annette McLeod, wife of Cpl. Wendell McLeod, who received an injury to his head in the war, said her husband "has been through the nightmares of the Army medical system.

"I'm glad that you care about what happened to my husband after he was injured in the line of duty. Because for a long time, it seemed like I was the only one who cared. Certainly, the Army didn't care. I didn't even find out that he was injured until he called me himself from a hospital in New Jersey."

"This is how we treat our soldiers -- we give them nothing," she said. "They're good enough to go and sacrifice their life, and we give them nothing. You need to fix the system."
  Walter Reed Patient: My Room 'Wasn't Fit For Anyone'March 05, 2007 10:14 It's sad that it took mistreatment of poor soldiers to culminate in the first real outcry against the Bush administration's hypocracy. I hope that these guys didn't suffer in vain.

A soldier who said he once lived in a recovery annex at Walter Reed Army Medical Center described unfit hospital conditions Monday during a House hearing on the scandal.

Wounded Army Spc. Jeremy Duncan told the panel he spent some of his recovery in Building 18, an annexed former motel used for Walter Reed outpatients. Duncan said that his room "wasn't fit for anyone."

"I know most soldiers that come out of recovery have weaker immune systems and black mold can do damage to people," Duncan said. "The holes in the walls -- I wouldn't live there even if I had to."

After taking his complaints through the chain of command, nothing was fixed, Duncan said.

"That's when I contacted The Washington Post."

Asked what happened after the Post reported what he had to say, Duncan replied, "I was immediately removed from that room. And then the next day they were renovating the room."

In the wake of the scandal, Acting Secretary of the Army Peter Geren acknowledged to the committee that "we have let some soldiers down."
  'It Is Just Not Walter Reed'March 04, 2007 22:20 Ray Oliva went into the spare bedroom in his home in Kelseyville, Calif., to wrestle with his feelings. He didn't know a single soldier at Walter Reed, but he felt he knew them all. He worried about the wounded who were entering the world of military health care, which he knew all too well. His own VA hospital in Livermore was a mess. The gown he wore was torn. The wheelchairs were old and broken.

"It is just not Walter Reed," Oliva slowly tapped out on his keyboard at 4:23 in the afternoon on Friday. "The VA hospitals are not good either except for the staff who work so hard. It brings tears to my eyes when I see my brothers and sisters having to deal with these conditions. I am 70 years old, some say older than dirt but when I am with my brothers and sisters we become one and are made whole again."

Oliva is but one quaking voice in a vast outpouring of accounts filled with emotion and anger about the mistreatment of wounded outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Stories of neglect and substandard care have flooded in from soldiers, their family members, veterans, doctors and nurses working inside the system.
  Army Secretary Resigns In Scandal's WakeMarch 02, 2007 14:57 Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey abruptly stepped down Friday as the Bush administration struggled to cope with the fallout from a scandal over substandard conditions for wounded Iraq soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The surprise move came one day after Harvey fired the two-star general in charge of the medical center in response to disclosures of problems at the hospital compound.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Harvey had resigned. But senior defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Gates had asked Harvey to leave. Gates was displeased that Harvey, after firing Maj. Gen. George Weightman as the head of Walter Reed, chose to name as Weightman's temporary replacement another general whose role in the controversy was still in question.

"I am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed," Gates said in the Pentagon briefing room. He took no questions from reporters.
  Bush Orders Review Of Veterans' HospitalsMarch 02, 2007 11:46 President Bush ordered a comprehensive review Friday of conditions at the nation's military and veteran hospitals in the wake of a scandal surrounding care for wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

The White House said the president would name a bipartisan commission to assess whether the problems at Walter Reed existed at other facilities.

The action came after The Washington Post documented squalid living conditions for some outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed and bureaucratic problems that prevented many troops from getting adequate care.

Bush devoted his weekly radio address — to be broadcast on Saturday — to the problems of veterans' care, and the White House took the unusual step of releasing excerpts in advance. A full text also was to be released later Friday. The administration's response came amid growing outrage about the poor treatment of some veterans — and the prospect that it could backfire on the White House.

  Army Fires Commander Of Walter Reed HospitalMarch 01, 2007 13:49 The top general at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was fired Thursday, the military announced, following revelations of poor conditions in the building where troops who were wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq are treated.

Maj. Gen. George Weightman's firing was the first major military staff change after reports surfaced last month about substandard conditions in a building that is part of the facility.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey, who removed Weightman from his post according to an Army statement, had blamed a failure of leadership for the conditions, which were first reported by The Washington Post.

According to the Army statement, "Maj. Gen. Weightman was informed this morning that the senior Army leadership had lost trust and confidence in the commander's leadership abilities to address needed solutions for soldier-outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center."