Monday, October 20, 2003

WP: Pentagon plans to reduce troop levels in near future

Tom Ricks reported in this Sunday's Washington Post that a new plan has been adopted inside the Pentagon to reduce American troop levels in Iraq. The plan is an optimistic one, aiming to cut the current number of 130,000 troops to less than 100,000 within a year and 50,000 by mid-2005. This plan appears driven both by political calculations in the Bush Administration, and the hard reality that America does not have the military force structure to manage a long-term occupation of Iraq. (The Pentagon's official plan does not disclose the details that Mr. Ricks reports on, presumably because this reduction plan is still in the deliberative process.)
The plan, which amounts to being the first formal military exit strategy for Iraq, is designed to show how the U.S. presence might be reduced without undercutting the stability of the country. Military officials worry that if they do not begin cutting the size of the U.S. force, they could damage troop morale, leave the armed forces shorthanded if crises emerge in North Korea and elsewhere, and help create a long-term personnel shortage in the service.

At the same time, some of the people involved in the discussions said they consider the force reduction plan optimistic, as much a goal as a guaranteed outcome.

If it is implemented successfully, the troop reductions could reduce political pressure on the Bush administration as the presidential campaign gets fully underway.
* * *
Officials involved in the discussions about troop reductions insist that implementation will be dictated not by a set timetable, but by security conditions in Iraq. Nonetheless, the drawdown is tied to events that are scheduled to begin in January, when a major round of U.S. troop rotations that will last several months is to get underway.

During that period, the U.S. military hopes to turn over as many basic security functions as possible to the Iraqi security forces now being created and to any additional foreign peacekeepers that U.S. diplomacy secures. If the Iraqi security forces can shoulder more of the security burden, it might be possible to replace the departing divisions of about 16,000 troops each with brigades of about 5,000 each.

Over the spring, that changeover would represent a cumulative reduction of more than 30,000 soldiers; along with other cuts, it could lower the U.S. troop level to fewer than 100,000 by mid-2004.

As more units of Iraqi soldiers and civil defense troops are created, and as some additional foreign peacekeepers begin to arrive, cuts in U.S. troop levels would continue next year. Ideally, said one official involved in the planning, by mid-2005 the number of U.S. troops would be as low as 40,000. Army planners consider a presence of that size to be sustainable for years without placing undue stress on the overall force.
Analysis: As Mr. Ricks reports, this is an incredibly optimistic plan. It hinges on the amount of international support (in terms of troop commitments) we're able to get, as well as on the number and caliber of Iraqis we can train to take over security functions. This plan also hinges on our abilities to rebuidl the Iraqi infrastructure, jumpstart democracy, and a bunch of other things. It's great to have such an optimistic plan, and I hope we can achieve it. But "hope is not a method." We've got to have contingency plans, branch plans, sequel plans, and other options for when one of these key tasks fails to happen.

One other important thing emerges from Mr. Ricks' report that should not be glossed over. He refers to an "exit strategy" for Iraq that's dependent on the fulfillment of certain conditions. Although the logic is backward, it's possible to extrapolate our actual objectives in Iraq from these tactical, operational and strategic conditions of success. The basic argument goes like this: if we fulfill these conditions, then we will have accomplished our mission. Therefore, our mission in Iraq is to set these conditions of success which will enable us to leave. Therefore, we are in Iraq because of these conditions. I know it's backwards, but it's possible to pull our raison d'etre from this exit strategy.

Granted, it would have been nice to have these conditions spelled out up front. But sometimes, you have to hide the ball for reasons of operational security. If you spell out your success criteria too explicitly, you tell your enemies how to defeat you. At this point, we have to define success for political reasons, mostly to get the international community to help us. In any event, this is a good development, and I think it reflects some good work within the Pentagon to boil this mission down to practical, executable, logical elements that can be put into action on the ground.

Recall fever moves from California to Iraq

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) leads one of its front-page articles this morning with a tongue-in-cheek question from an Iraqi lawyer in Baghdad: if California can recall its recalcitrant governor, why can't Iraqis recall the Americans now occupying their country?
"When the people of California were unhappy with their authorities, they threw them out and elected Schwarzenegger," said Salah Erebat, a bearded lawyer who supports the insurgents. "So why is it that Americans can do it and we in Sadr City cannot?"

Last Thursday, Iraqi police backed by American tanks showed them why not, chasing the renegade officials out of the Sadr City council headquarters and tossing a dozen of their supporters in jail.

Now, members of the official assembly are afraid to return to work. The standoff has left the contested building sitting empty, ringed by tanks and covered with anti-American graffiti -- testimony to the challenges the U.S. military occupation faces in trying to create a new democratic government in Iraq after decades of totalitarian rule.

U.S. Army Col. P.J. Dermer, who helped establish the district council and has been trying to referee the current showdown, calls it an important litmus test for Iraq. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime shot, and we can't fail it," he says.

Everyone involved in Iraq -- the U.S., the United Nations and the Iraqis themselves -- want the American-run Coalition Provisional Authority to hand over power to an elected Iraqi government as quickly as possible. But six months after the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime, no Iraqi official can claim to be truly elected. The 24-member Governing Council at the top of the national government structure was handpicked and installed by the CPA in July.

As early as May, the U.S. military tried to involve local citizens in the selection of Baghdad's 88 neighborhood councils. Those councils, in turn, elected district assemblies -- including the one for Sadr City -- and a citywide council. For weeks after Baghdad fell under U.S. control, soldiers toured the city blaring messages through loudspeakers mounted on Humvees, urging residents to attend the selection meetings held in their neighborhoods. In some areas, thousands showed up, packing an entire sports field in one. In others, only a handful of Iraqis who were already cooperating with U.S. forces attended.

"These were their first experiences in actually practicing democracy," says U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Rice, the project's coordinator who served until the war as mayor of Glendale, Colo., population 5,000. "In some places it was easy to do right off. In others, we're still not there."
Analysis: Humor aside, the Iraqis have a point. They have a legitimate right to national self-determination, a principle long enshrined in political philosophy and international law. Now freed from the yoke of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis want to be able to choose their own government. For the most part, I think we're facilitating that choice by building the institutions of democracy and liberal society. But after suffering Saddam for 30 years, I can understand how the Iraqis might be a little anxious.

More rural Americans died in Iraq than urban Americans

An analysis of American casualties in Iraq by the Austin American-Statesman has found something very interesting -- that rural Americans account for a greater proportion of killed-in-action than urban Americans. Also, among those urban Americans killed in Iraq, the numbers reflect a disproportionately high number of African-American and Latino soldiers. (Thanks to Donald Sensing for the tip to this story)
Howard County is poorer than most. Its young people are leaving, although Hispanic immigrants are replacing them. It is small. Its people have low incomes. It has relatively few people with college degrees. It is economically depressed.

Disproportionately, the young men dying in Iraq come from places just like this. Compared to the nation's population, those who have died are disproportionately from smaller counties. They are disproportionately from counties with lower per capita income. They are disproportionately from places with low levels of college education.

A statistical analysis of the more than 300 U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq by Austin American-Statesman consultant Robert Cushing shows that this may be America's war, but it is being fought by only a part of America.

The soldiers who died aren't numbers, but numbers tell some of their story. Those who died in Iraq were 39 percent more likely than the nation as a whole to live in counties with fewer than 100,000 people. They were 16 percent more likely than the nation as a whole to live in a county with lower than average levels of college education and 16 percent more likely to live in counties with below average incomes.

Those soldiers who came from the nation's large cities were disproportionately black or Hispanic. And a small proportion of those who died come from the nation's technology hubs, the score of urban areas that are creating the world's newest inventions and companies _ cities like San Jose, Seattle, Austin and Dallas. Those who have died largely grew up in old economy towns or rural regions, places with low levels of technology and little innovation.

Was this same divide evident in the Vietnam War? "I don't think so," said Steve Maxner, associate director of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University. "During the war in Southeast Asia, you had the draft."

More than anything, however, those who died in today's all-volunteer military came from small-town America. Their names, lives and hometowns roll through the news, and places long forgotten are known again, if only for a day.
Analysis: I missed this story when it ran on the wire last week, but I think it's very significant. It's important to know which part of America has borne the human cost of this war, and in more general terms, which part of America actually serves in uniform. A number of people argued before the war that we needed to reinstate the draft to more evenly spread the burden of military service across society -- horizontally and vertically. The military establishment counter-argued that a draft would be counter-productive, and that the burden is relatively equal now because of the self-selection dynamic of today's force. I think this story undercuts the military position that the burden is shared equally. It does not necessarily support the argument of Rep. Charlie Rangel and others who say the military burden cuts on the basis of race, but it does support the argument (in my opinion) that America's working and middle classes do more than their share.

But honestly, this study raises more questions than it answers, and I'm hesitant to go much further than this. Here are some of my questions after reading this story:
- Why do rural Americans seem more likely to die than urban Americans?
- Are rural Americans volunteering in disproportionate numbers for the combat arms? Is there some correlation between rural/urban and occupational specialty in the military? (Conventional wisdom holds that the 'country boys' will join the infantry to go hunting in the woods, while the urban kids will go to work as mechanics and technicians. Like most CW, it's just hyperbole)
- Is there a way to parse the data for the most dangerous occupational specialties? This war has included a lot of unconventional war, exposing logisticians and others in the rear area to battle. But I still think that combat troops faced the brunt of the danger, particularly during the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- What about the active vs. reserve mix of casualties? Were there any statistically significant differences between urban and rural reserve units in terms of their casualties?
- Is there any way to get the Wounded In Action data, as well as other non-battle casualty data? I'd like to see these numbers because KIA often reflects the enemy's marksmanship and our MEDEVAC capabilities more than anything else. Total casualty data -- KIA plus WIA plus non-battle casualties -- would paint a more complete picture of the relative dangers faced by our soldiers in Iraq.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

A moment of silence

INTEL DUMP will observe a day of silence in memory of 4 military police soldiers killed in Iraq. Three of these soldiers belonged to the 716th Military Police Battalion (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The fourth hailed from the 105th Military Police Company (National Guard) in New York. Listed below are the details according to the Pentagon.
The Department of Defense announced today the death of three soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom on Oct. 16 in Karbala, Iraq. The soldiers were attempting to negotiate with armed men who were congregating on a road near a mosque after curfew. The Iraqis opened fire killing three soldiers and wounding seven others.. Killed were:

Lt. Col. Kim S. Orlando, 43, of Tennessee.

Staff Sgt. Joseph P. Bellavia, 28, of Wakefield, Mass.

Cpl. Sean R. Grilley, 24, of San Bernardino, Calif.

The soldiers were assigned to the 716th Military Police Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based in Fort Campbell, Ky. Orlando was the commanding officer of the 716th Military Police Battalion.
* * *
The Department of Defense announced today that Spc. Michael L. Williams, 46, of Buffalo, N.Y., was killed on October 17, 2003, along MSR Jackson, near Baghdad, Iraq. Williams was killed in action when his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device. He died as a result of his injuries. Williams was assigned to the 105th Military Police Company, Army National Guard, based in New York.

8 Marines charged with mistreatment of Iraqi POWs

The AP reports tonight that 8 Marines have been charged with various military offenses relating to the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners of war -- up to and including negligent homicide.
The reservists belong to the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. Their hometowns were not immediately released, and it was not known if all had retained lawyers.

Two of the men were charged with negligent homicide in connection with the June death of an Iraqi who was held at a detention facility, said Marine Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon, a spokesman at Camp Pendleton.

Lisbon said Saturday he was unsure how many of the other six reservists had been charged in connection with the death. He would not say whether the man was the 52-year-old Iraqi prisoner of war whose death at a camp run by the 1st Marine Division near Nasiriyah was reported last June.

Maj. Clark Paulus and Lance Cpl. Christian Hernandez face negligent homicide charges. The other six face lesser charges involving mistreatment of prisoners.
* * *
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing one of the men said the Army did not have the necessary personnel to run the detention camp and the reservists were untrained for the job.

"In the rush to war with Iraq, providing the mandatory training to reservists seems to have had little if any priority with the Pentagon," Donald Rehkopf Jr. said in a statement released Saturday.
* * *
Under military directives, the Army is supposed to handle POW facilities, said Rehkopf, who is representing Lance Cpl. William Roy.

The reservists "had no training at all. They were given a 30-minute training on the Geneva convention," Rehkopf said, referring to the international accords for treatment of POWs.
Analysis: This case is going to move forward now in the military justice system to what's called an "Article 32 hearing", which is roughly the equivalent of a grand jury proceeding. There, a military judge must decide whether there is enough evidence present to formally charge these men in military court. From there, the case will move into a military court, most likely in a general court martial.

None of the facts are present in this story and I haven't had time to dig up the charging documents yet. The charges sound serious -- it appears that one (or more) Iraqi died in a POW camp tended by these men. The defense they're putting forward about their training may mitigate their culpability, especially the lower-ranking Marines, but it probably won't absolve them completely. However, I can't make even an educated guess here without more of the facts.

More to follow.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Who's covered by the Third Geneva Convention?
And is the U.S. violating the 3rd GC with its prison at Guantanamo Bay?

Eugene Volokh passes on a critique by Zev Sero of a New York Times editorial that criticizes America's detention of men at Guantanamo Bay who have been captured in the war on terrorism. Eugene also does a great job of parsing the definitions of combatants under the Geneva Convention, and explaining why the NY Times may be wrong in its editorial. The Times asserts that the detention has no basis in the Geneva Convention, an argument which is conclusory at best.
Why are the men still without trial, still without rights? The Bush administration has two justifications. One is, in essence, self-defense: in the war on terrorism, in which the security of the United States is in mortal danger, normal rules cannot apply. The other, more narrow, is about legality: the Taliban and Al Qaeda are not combatants in traditional or legal terms, and are therefore not eligible for the protections due to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Both arguments miss the point. The men held at Guant?namo are prisoners of the United States. While they may not have the same rights as American citizens, they should be treated in the highest tradition of American justice. That means they must be given some forum in which to contest their imprisonment, and there must be reasonable rules and some individualized proof for the detentions to be upheld.

That the Pentagon should be allowed to run this prison camp in total secrecy and in utter disdain of what America stands for should be heavy on the conscience of all Americans, whether libertarian or liberal, Republican or Democrat. For this reason alone, the detainees should be brought to justice or released.

The justifications offered by the administration are equally unpersuasive. The argument that the detainees are not prisoners of war because they are not uniformed members of a regular armed force has no foundation in the Geneva Conventions.

As for the claim of self-defense, it simply cannot be applied indefinitely. We accept that there are extraordinary times — Sept. 11 was one of them — when a government must take extraordinary measures to protect the nation. But with Guant?namo, the administration has gone far beyond the needs of the moment, seeking to ensure in every way possible that the prisoners remain indefinitely beyond the reach of law or scrutiny.
Analysis: Eugene correctly cites to the definition of combatants in Art. 4 of the 3rd GC. Regular army soldiers automatically qualify. Members of militias and volunteer corps (the GC was written in 1949 so the language is a little archaic) have to meet a 4-part test for status as a prisoner of war:
(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
(b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
(c) that of carrying arms openly;
(d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
Suffice to say, there has been an open debate in legal and operational communities about whether the Taliban and Al Qaeda satisfy these definitions, or whether American special operations forces do. In general, I think that unconventional warfare -- whether practiced by us or our enemies -- does not fit the Geneva Convention paradigm. Trying to use these definitions to cover today's forms of warfare is a stretch. (See "Extend Geneva to Gitmo") In any event, I don't think the text of the Geneva Convention supports the NYT's contention that our actions at Gitmo have no foundation in the Geneva Conventions. Our actions do have some legal foundation under the Geneva Convention, though in my opinion, these are very shaky foundations.

Why? Eugene and Zev both miss another argument that could be made for why the Geneva Convention does not support our action. Art. 5 of the Geneva Convention creates a rebuttable presumption that prisoners are to be considered POWs until determined otherwise by a properly constituted tribunal:

The present Convention shall apply to the persons referred to in Article 4 from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation.

Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.
An executive determination (like the one made by President Bush) cannot suffice under the Geneva Convention for this article, unless you buy the argument that the President himself is a "tribunal" under the meaning of this article. FM 27-10, the Army's field manual for the law of land warfare, is also quite clear about this requirement. In practice, the Army has constituted many such tribunals in Iraq, usually with mid-level officers (Captain through Lieutenant Colonel) with some connection to the detention operation (MP, JAG, Intel, Civil Affairs). These do not have to be formal proceedings, and they don't even have to be adversarial. The tribunals can conduct an ex parte review of each combatant to make this determination and report that in writing to the commander, with a courtesy copy to the ICRC. (The Red Cross is charged as the executor of the Geneva Conventions.)

However, in the absence of such tribunals, we may very well be in violation of the Geneva Convention. Not in the way the NYT suggests with its editorial, but in a technical and procedural way. I'm well aware of the dissonance between substantive law and procedural law, and how the former tends to trump the latter. If this is mere formalism, then why bother? I'm biased as a law student, but I tend to believe that the foundations of substantive justice lie in procedure. The way we ensure our principles are executed is by crafting procedures to carry them out. In the instant case, the Geneva Convention exists to promote humane treatment of prisoners of war, and it sets out procedures to ensure that this principle is practiced. America ought to follow those procedures, even if they are empty formalities, because it's the right thing to do.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Two more plead guilty to terror charges in Oregon

Patrice Ford and Jeffrey Battle pled guilty today to charges of conspiring to levy war against the United States. The pair was charged as part of a group of 7 persons that the Justice Department believed to be part of a terrorist cell in the Pacific Northwest. With these pleas, 6 of the 7 members of the group have pled guilty to charges. The 7th remains at large. Before their pleas, some observers thought this case might prove interesting because the government sought to use evidence gathered with powers gained in the USA PATRIOT Act.
The pleas came during a hearing when defense attorneys had intended to challenge evidence gathered under the USA Patriot Act.

Because of the pleas, those challenges will not be heard during this case.

Last October, federal agents nabbed Ford, Battle and two other men and one woman in what Attorney General John Ashcroft called a "defining day" in the fight against terrorism.
It's not clear when we'll have a person willing to risk prison -- or capital punishment -- to challenge some of the government's post-9/11 security measures. The ACLU thought this might be the case, filing this amicus curae brief. However, the defendants decided it was in their personal interest to plead guilty. Given the strong likelihood they faced of life in prison, I think that was probably the prudent decision for them.

Shameless self promotion: CNN.Com picked up my article from last week that ran in Writ titled "High crimes at Guantanamo Bay". As news breaks in this case, I will continue to provide analysis on INTEL DUMP and also for Findlaw.Com.

Stars & Stripes poll: morale down in Iraq

The Washington Post passes on the results of a poll conducted by the Stars & Stripes newspaper of soldiers in Iraq that does not bode well for our mission there. As a preliminary matter, this poll was conducted somewhat informally, and does not represent a statistically perfect sample of the U.S. military in Iraq. However, I think it would be irresponsible to ignore the results, because they offer the most objective evidence yet of American soldiers' attitudes in Iraq.
The survey, conducted by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, also recorded about a third of the respondents complaining that their mission lacks clear definition and characterizing the war in Iraq as of little or no value. Fully 40 percent said the jobs they were doing had little or nothing to do with their training.

The findings, drawn from 1,935 questionnaires presented to U.S. service members throughout Iraq, conflict with statements by military commanders and Bush administration officials that portray the deployed troops as high-spirited and generally well-prepared. Though not obtained through scientific methods, the survey results suggest that a combination of difficult conditions, complex missions and prolonged tours in Iraq is wearing down a significant portion of the U.S. force and threatening to provoke a sizable exodus from military service.

In the first of a week-long series of articles, Stars and Stripes said yesterday that it undertook the survey in August after receiving scores of letters from troops who were upset with one aspect or another of the Iraq operation. The newspaper, which receives some funding from the Defense Department but functions without editorial control by the Pentagon, prepared 17 questions and sent three teams of reporters to Iraq to conduct the survey and related interviews at nearly 50 camps.

"We conducted a 'convenience survey,' meaning we gave it to those who happened to be available at the time rather than to a randomly selected cross section, so the results cannot necessarily be projected as representing the whole population," said David Mazzarella, the paper's editorial director here. "But we still think the findings are significant and make clear that the troops have a different idea of things than what their leaders have been saying."

Experts in public opinion and the military concurred that the poll was not necessarily representative, but they characterized it as a useful gauge of troop sentiment. "The numbers are consistent with what I suspect is going on there," said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland at College Park. "I am getting a sense that there is a high and increasing level of demoralization and a growing sense of being in something they don't understand and aren't sure the American people understand."
Analysis: A few quick points of analysis emerge from this story. I think it's important to note at the outset that Stars & Stripes is a quasi-independent newspaper. It exists under the auspices of the Defense Department, though it has editorial discretion to run the articles it wants to. The reporting from S&S; reporters in Iraq has been first-rate; as good as anything the NY Times or Washington Post has put out there. These reporters know the units they're covering and they know the military as an institution, and I think that informs their stories -- including this one.

Now for some analysis of these polling results:

1. American soldiers love to gripe. As Eliot Cohen said in the WP article, "American troops have a God-given right and tradition of grumbling." That's true. But the character of the gripes counts, because it indicates what soldiers are upset about -- and what they're happy about. I always expected my soldiers to complain about the food, the weather, the hardships, the family separations, and other things. In fact, I thought griping was healthy. I accepted it as normal, and thought these gripes often opened up channels of communication that enabled me to connect with my soldiers. I thought it was dangerous when my guys complained about the mission, the deployment, the leadership, or their peers. Those gripes usually meant I had to explain the "why" behind the mission, or adjust fire on something else I was doing. Similarly, I think the same is true in Iraq. The nature of the gripes counts here because the soldiers are doing more than just complaining about the food and conditions. (Though I've been told those two things continue to suck for many soldiers.) Many of these soldiers are complaining about the mission, their political leadership, and their raison d'etre for Iraq. That's not a good sign.

2. Junior soldiers and officers tend to be honest -- especially when anonymous. These poll results are likely to be more accurate than reports from embedded reporters or politicians who've made the journey to Iraq. Why? Because those kinds of visitors get a "dog and pony show", as the WP story points out. Commanders often selected the most "hooah" soldiers for those meet & greet visits, and they often coach the soldiers on what to say (and what not to say). Similarly, major media reporters who don't fully embed into units will only get a small glimpse of unit morale. Because they're not there long enough to build trust and rapport, they probably won't get the straight answers. These surveys are more likely to get the straight answers than most of the high-level "factfinding" trips, and thus, I think these survey results are pretty valuable.

3. The data, if granular enough, may reveal important differences across units and regions. It's common knowledge that the majority of Iraq is doing well -- particularly the southern and northern parts of the country. Most of the fighting is happening in Baghdad and the "Sunni Triangle." Presumably, these poll numbers will show a greater disenchantment among soldiers in those areas, while soldiers in the good areas will be happy with their mission. I haven't yet reviewed the data, but this seems intuitively true. (Update: I've read the surveys, and they don't have this level of granularity. This is probably something that our commanders ought to be doing in Iraq, and that they probably are doing right now.)

4. Other metrics to look at. These surveys are great for measuring subjective attitudes, but we should also start looking at some objective metrics of soldier morale and performance in Iraq. Reenlistment is the obvious one, both during the deployment and during the year afterwards. Safety-accident rates are also an important indicator of morale. Though the visits themselves are confidential, aggregate data about chaplain visits and mental-health visits may also provide a good metric. The Army should be looking at all of these on a constant basis -- and in historical context -- to evaluate whether we have a problem in Iraq or not.

Bottom Line: Does poor morale mean we should leave Iraq? No. No military can be effective if it lets soldier morale determine its mission, and that's certainly true here. Moreover, our system of civilian control of the military can't allow the dog to yank the chain in this way. If our national objective in Iraq is important and if we have committed our nation to that objective (as we have), then we must succeed. If military morale declines, then we must do what we can to take care of our soldiers to maintain that morale (e.g. providing R&R;, body armor, phone calls home, good food, mail service, effective training before deployment, etc). Taking care of soldiers is the answer here, not withdrawal.

Update: J.P. Carter (no relation) has a different take on the story. I think his reading of the numbers is plausible, especially the differences he notices between services. If anything, I think these surveys raise more questions to be asked and answered.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Live blog from the DC sniper trial

UnlearnedHand pointed me to this outstanding weblog being run by Kerry Sipe, the online news coordinator for The Virginian-Pilot, who's reporting first-hand from the court complex in Virginia Beach. Here's an excerpt from what the 'blog has to offer:
12:42 PM Oct. 15

Prospective Juror 386, a Navy retiree, said under questioning by Judge Millette that his brother had been killed by police during a robbery and that he himself had been charged by police after a fistfight. He assured the judge that neither of these incidents would have any affect on his ability to consider testimony from law enforcement officers in the case.

The man said he had no objections to the death penalty.

"I didn't peronally feel threatened down here," the man told Ebert, "but I cancelled a trip to D.C." while the killings were going on last year, partly because of safety concerns and partly because of the traffic problems the crimes had caused there. He said he would have no trouble setting aside those feelings in rendering a verdict in the case.

Defense attorney Greenspun again, as he has throughout the questioning of potential jurors, apologized to No. 386 for not being able to call him by name. "It's to protect you from our friends who are surroundng the courthouse here," he said. "Of which there are many." Presumably, the attorney was referring to extensive press coverage of the case. The Pilot's Larry Bonko reported in this morning's edition that there are 353 members of the media from 76 news organizations registered to cover the Muhammad trial.

Greenspun questioned the man about any knowledge he has about military justice based on his service in the Navy. The man said he understood that the military justice system was not the same as the civilian justice system.

"I don't have anything against the death penalty," the man said. "I think it's serious to take someone's life, but being in the military, I may have a someone different view about that." Greenspun asked him if he meant that his job description as a military officer may have involved taking human life under certain circumstances. He said that's what he meant.
This is a brilliant idea, and it appears to be brilliantly executed as well. The editors/reporters who thought of this deserve some kind of journalism award. I, for one, am very interested in the issues of this case because of the domestic terrorism implications, and this will enable me to follow the details of this trial. Well done.

Iraq war diary of a mobilized law student

Law.Com provides a reprint of an article in the Fulton County Daily Report that describes the journey of Tenn. Air National Guard Capt. Michael R. Moebes. (Thanks to How Appealing for the link) Shortly before finishing law school, he was called to serve in the Gulf in charge of an Aeromedical Evacuation Liaison Team, responsible for coordinating the MedEvac of wounded soldiers from the battlefield. The news article describes his mobilization, and then gives excerpts of Capt. Moebes' e-mails from Iraq.
Moebes' messages also offer a gritty and compelling glimpse of the life of a soldier on the ground in Iraq.

His account shows how, just as in the television show "M*A*S*H," dedicated, homesick medical professionals treated truckloads of wounded soldiers while trying to maintain a semblance of a normal life.

Military snafus and oddities became a part of daily life. On the way to Iraq, his unit's Humvee was misplaced. Another day, he was forbidden from taking a shower because he wasn't wearing the required Kevlar helmet and flak jacket.

But like a modern-day Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre, Moebes and a buddy, Capt. Shane Gilliam, kept their sense of humor. They installed a wading pool in their tent, escaped the chow hall to eat in a local Iraqi restaurant and befriended National Guardsmen from another state who circumvented Army alcohol restrictions by concocting a home brew.

Meanwhile, a stream of interesting characters crossed Moebes' path. They included rescued prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mohommed, an Iraqi translator who narrowly escaped the wrath of Uday Hussein.

Moebes says he tried to keep his messages upbeat, so he sent nothing when he felt too depressed to write. But like the edgier moments of "M*A*S*H," Moebes' e-mails depict the grim realities of war.
Definitely worth a read.

'Every soldier a rifleman'
New Army chief outlines his plans for America's oldest service

Sean Naylor reports in Army Times (subscription required) that Gen. Peter Schoomaker has laid out an ambitious plan for transformation of the Army after Gulf War II. For what it's worth, transformation after victory has always been harder than transformation after defeat, and the Army appears anxious to seize on 'lessons learned' from this war in order to prepare for the next one. The cornerstone of this effort is the plan to train every Army soldier as an infantryman first -- and specialist second -- in order to build a warrior ethos within the ranks and ensure that every unit can competently fight when called upon. The move is an implicit response to the failures of the 507th Maintenance Company and others in Iraq.
"Everybody in the United States Army's gotta be a soldier first," Gen. Peter Schoomaker told reporters during an Oct. 7 roundtable meeting with reporters in Washington.

The specialization of jobs in the Army pulled the service away from the notion that every soldier must be grounded in basic combat skills, he said. But Iraq has demonstrated that no matter what a soldier's military occupational specialty is, he must be able to conduct basic combat tasks in order to defend himself and his unit.

"We've dismounted artillerymen in Iraq, and we've got them performing ground functions — infantry functions, MP functions," Schoomaker said. "Everybody's got to be able to do that ... Everybody's a rifleman first."
* * *
*Every soldier will be required to qualify on his or her individual weapon twice a year, [Gen.] Byrnes said. The current Army standard requires soldiers to qualify only once a year, although some commanders have their troops qualify more frequently.

*New recruits will qualify on their individual weapons in basic training and then again in advanced individual training, Byrnes added. Until now, qualification in basic training only was the standard.

*Every soldier, regardless of MOS and unit, will conduct at least one live-fire combat drill a year. For higher headquarters rear-echelon units, it might include reacting to an ambush, Byrnes said.
In addition to transforming the grunt, the new Chief of Staff of the Army has plans to transform the way units are structured. His goal is to maximize the number of deployable brigades that the Army has, in an effort to boost the number of troops available for deployment without busting the Army's "end strength" cap as set by federal law. And Gen. Schoomaker has had enough of rotating senior commanders out of combat while their troops stay behind.
This policy has infuriated many in the Army, especially the outgoing commanders, who feel it forces them to abandon their troops just when their soldiers need them most.

Schoomaker is sympathetic to those who feel the policy should be changed, and has told the units preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan that he does not want midtour changes of command. Staying with a unit until it redeploys is "a fundamental role of leadership," he told reporters.
This is all good stuff. The question will be whether Gen. Schoomaker gets the support he needs from the SecDef to make this happen, and whether he can get the authorization/appropriations authority from Congress to do it. Gen. Schoomaker's likely in for a long fight, since some of these changes may collide with other service objectives and programs. There's a lot of parochialism in the Army, and a lot of stakeholders with vested interests who know how to fight like a guerilla in the halls of Congress. Thankfully, Gen. Schoomaker's a pretty good snake-eater too.

Feds investigating Islamic terror recruiting in U.S. prisons
"Prislam" may create a fertile recruiting ground for foreign terrorists

In a Senate hearing yesterday, two top federal officials disclosed that the FBI and Federal Bureau of Prisons are becoming increasingly concerned about "Prislam", the fusion of prison culture and radical Islam that is rapidly growing within America's prison system. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported on the development in connection with testimony about military and prison chaplain recruiting. (Also see this ArmyTimes story) The issue has become hot after the arrest of CPT Yousef Yee, the U.S. Army Muslim chaplain who now stands charged for security lapses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As disturbing as those charges are, I think the reports about America's prison system are worse.
The government also believes radical Islamic groups, including possibly al Qaeda, are actively recruiting in U.S. prisons, Mr. Pistole and Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin testified. There are about 9,600 Muslims in federal prisons, about 5.5% of the population, not including members of nontraditional Muslim offshoots such as the Nation of Islam.

The Bureau of Prisons is seeking to weed out any radicals among its 10 Muslim clerics, Mr. Lappin said, and recently blocked access to prisons for cleric Warith Dean Umar after the imam's comments and writings were the subject of a Page One article in The Wall Street Journal.

Paul Rogers, president of the American Correctional Chaplains Association, said reports of terrorist recruitment in prison "have been blown out of proportion."
Paul Barrett of the Wall Street Journal has done some great work on this subject, reporting some time back in a Page 1 article one on imam in New York who was preaching radical Wahhabist teachings to the inmates in that state. Christine Fair at RAND and others have also looked at the problem from an academic and policy perspective. Others have written on it too, such as Chuck Colson and Marc Morano. But too few people take it seriously.

This is an exceptionally dangerous problem. Imagine a group of men who have U.S. citizenship, training in violence, experience with violence, a predisposition towards criminal activity, access to weapons, and a reason to dislike the U.S. government. Put them together in a prison with moderate supervision and let them share tactics, techniques and procedures. Then add a radical Islamic cleric who enjoy a position of power and prestige within the prison. Allow him to infuse these dangerous, disaffected criminals with his ideology. Voila... you have the perfect Al Qaeda recruit for inside the United States. Why infiltrate men from Saudi Arabia or Egypt when you can recruit from inside America's prisons instead?

How did this problem get so bad? The biggest contributor has been the skyrocketing American prison population, both at the state and federal level. Here in California, our prison population has surged since 1994 when the state adopted its "3 strikes" law for repeat offenders. The federal prison population has mushroomed since the 1980s when stiff mandatory sentences were introduced for federal offenses, especially drug crimes. The result today is the largest American prison population in our nation's history, and one that continues to grow. I'll let my readers play amateur sociology, but there are plenty of racial, ethnic, gender, socio-economic, and religious trends that emerge from America's prison population. These also play a role in creating the phenomenon of "Prislam", and making this group a fertile recruiting ground for terrorist groups.

Both Democrats and Republicans deserve the blame for the failure to legislate rationally on crime during the last two decades. No legislator can afford to say "Wait a minute" on any anti-crime bill, lest he/she appear soft on crime and vulnerable to challenge on the issue. Consequently, nearly every crime bill ratchets up sentences and penalties, and once raised, these tend never to go down. Only recently have some federal judges coalesced to oppose these sentences, though on the grounds of judicial discretion, not policy reasons.

We've been lucky so far. Our law enforcement surveillance network -- particularly the parole and probation system -- has managed to keep a handle on this problem. With the exception of Jose Padilla, I can't think of many instances where a terrorist's origins were traced back to prison. But given the large numbers involved, unfortunately, I think it's only a matter of time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

An insider's view of the Justice Department on Sept. 12, 2001

Eric Muller, a law professor at UNC Law School, offers us this glimpse via the words of Judge Michael Chertoff, recently confirmed to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Before his appointment to the federal bench, Chertoff served as Chief of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. He managed the criminal law enforcement part of the Bush Administration's legal war on terrorism, and personally litigated issues in contentious matters such as that of Zacarias Moussaoui. Muller notes that most judges don't speak with as much candor as Chertoff, so this was both a rare glimpse into the DOJ and into the mind of a federal appellate judge. Here's an excerpt:
He devoted the first part of his talk to sketching a view of the task he faced on 9/11 and in the days after. One of the lasting contributions of his talk, I think, was his frank depiction of the relative ignorance in which he and the others at DOJ were forced to operate. Nobody at DOJ had no way of knowing whether the WTC and Pentagon attacks were just the prelude to an even larger disaster. What he did know, though, was this: (a) the enemy had masqueraded as friendly visitors, (b) the enemy had to have had a complicit (or perhaps an innocent) support network--people who'd provided shelter, money, sustenance, and so on, and (c) there was no way to distinguish between the many well-meaning visitors to the USA and the few who meant us harm. "It was not just like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said. "It was like looking in a haystack for a needle disguised as a stalk of hay."

The limited information they had suggested a realistic possibility of further strikes. (And, he pointed out, it still does.)

People who make decisions under this sort of pressure, and in this state of imperfect information, he noted, do not have the benefit of hindsight. They must act.

He said that he is entirely prepared to accept history's judgment of how he acted. And, interestingly, he reported that he and others were "accutely aware" of the eventual judgment of history, even as he was acting in those first few days. But he unapologetically defended most of what DOJ ultimately did.

He said that the early efforts after 9/11 were organized around 3 principles: 1. Enhancing intelligence in order to predict another attack. 2. Taking steps to identify those who might stage such an attack. 3. Disrupting networks from which al Qaeda drew support, even innocently-offered support.

How well, he then wondered aloud, did DOJ do?
Read the rest to find out. Then ask yourself, based on your knowledge of the situation and your personal feelings of security in October 2003, how did the Justice Department do?

Update to body armor story
Query: Can today's defense industry logistically support a strategy of pre-emption?

Simula Inc. announced today in a press release that it had received an additional $14 million order for the Small Arms Protective Insert, or "SAPI". This is the ceramic plate that goes into the Interceptor protective vest, and it is the part of the vest that can actually stop a 7.62 round. Without this plate, the vest is good only against fragmentation and oblique bullet shots.
In a news release, Simula said the combination an initial delivery order announced Sept. 29 and Tuesday's order brings the total value of the contract to $41 million. The latest order is a "surge order" for additional SAPI exercised under the terms of the previously announced contract.

All shipments are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2004.

With this order, the company said it enters 2004 with the largest backlog in its history.
Why the backlog? There's a micro-economic and a macro-economic reason. The micro-reason is that this company does not have the capacity to churn out 30,000 plates overnight, because it was originally contracted to procure these overtime and it built production lines to manage a steady flow of these plates. It must now build new production lines, work round-the-clock shifts, or find some other means to produce the plates. All of these measures will cost a lot, and they still won't result in instantaneous production of SAPIs.

The macro-economic reason for this problem is the overall trend since the fall of the Berlin Wall towards consolidation in the defense industry. (See this survey of the defence industry by The Economist) Small specialized contractors have either gone out of business or been swallowed up by larger contractors, and for most major end items, there remains one contractor capable of making that item. The same is true for smaller items, such as SAPIs and HMMWV tires and Bradley tracks. When the Pentagon wants to procure a bunch of these right away, it can't, because the defense industry has downsized and consolidated itself to the point of maximum efficiency, and it can't respond quickly enough to meet this wartime demand with its peacetime production lines.

The implications of this macro-economic trend cannot be understated. I think this is an area of strategic risk for the American government, and it probably hobbles our current national strategy of pre-emptive action. Our military cannot perform well in war (and after war) if it does not have the procurement and logistics base to support it. We have nearly spent our post-Cold War stockages of spare parts in a number of areas, and so far, the defense industry has not shifted to a wartime footing to replace these things (except for some items like JDAM bombs). There's an old maxim that "Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics." In this case, I think our pre-emptive strategy may contain an element of amateurism, in that it ignores logistical realities that are now beginning to show across our force.

LAT: More than 100 bases considered for closure in 2005 BRAC round

John Hendren reports in this morning's Los Angeles Times that the Pentagon has a list of more than 100 military bases that it's considering for closure in the 2005 round of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission ("BRAC"), out of a total of 425 bases. The move comes as part of the SecDef's larger "transformation" effort for the Defense Department, wherein he seeks to streamline everything from procurement to housing to warfighting. Consolidating and reorganizing bases could save the Pentagon billions of dollars in capital costs and operations costs. However, these closures would hit the bases' communities hard. To close these bases, Sec. Rumsfeld will have to fight scores of Congressmen and Senators committed to keeping bases in their states alive.
Such a proposal would guarantee a political firestorm on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers jealously protect the bases in their home states or districts.

Military analyst Loren Thompson reported Rumsfeld's plans in an analysis prepared late last week for defense officials and reporters. Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based public policy organization, said the savings are expected to exceed the $66 billion the Pentagon saved during the last decade from previous base closures, but would come at the politically controversial cost of shutting about 25% of the nation's bases.

Thompson's report was confirmed Monday by the senior defense official.

Under legislation passed in 2002, Rumsfeld is required by May 16, 2005, to prepare a list of bases to be closed or realigned, and the nine-member Base Closure and Realignment Commission must submit its list to the White House by Sept. 8, 2005. A vote by a simple majority of the nine is all that is needed to keep a base on the closure list. If President Bush accepts the list, the closures become law in 45 days unless Congress blocks them — something Congress did not do in the first four rounds.

The more activities a base performs — if more than one service is housed there, if it is a command post, or if it is home to Reserve and National Guard units, for instance — the less likely it is to be closed. Defense insiders estimate that as many as 150 bases could be on the 2005 list because the cuts would come in overall capacity and would likely target smaller, less efficient locations.

"If there's a base that only has one particular purpose, one particular unit, one particular mission that could be accomplished somewhere else, that would be more vulnerable," the senior defense official said.

In the past, lawmakers have grudgingly accepted the lists of base closures, but this time, because the facilities to be realigned or cut would be spread over a majority of the 50 states, they might revolt, Thompson said. An effort last summer by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) to eliminate the 2005 round of base closures received more than 40 votes, even before any bases to be cut were named.

"I think this could backfire on them," Thompson said of Rumsfeld's Pentagon managers. "This would be so big in one round that it might affect enough senators or congressmen that they might have enough critical mass that they could vote the whole thing down."
Analysis: From a purely economic standpoint, BRAC makes sense. The efficiencies which can be gained from closing bases outweigh the loss of jobs and economic activity in these small communities. This is true purely on a dollar-for-dollar basis. If you add in variables such as the greater combat effectiveness of units that are able to train more because of proximity to training areas or other units, then the scales tip even further. And if you add in the strategic value of reorganizing our forces to deploy, rather than sit in peacetime garrison locations like Fort Riley, Kansas (originally established to aid in the Indian wars of the 19th Century), then you really get more bang for your buck with these closures.

Operationally, this move goes hand-in-hand with others announced in the last several months by the Pentagon to reorganize its footprint abroad. The U.S. currently has plans to radically change its stance in South Korea, pulling soldiers back from scattered bases near the DMZ to a consolidated posture south of Seoul. Similarly, the U.S. has plans to reduce the overall footprint in East Asia and consolidate into bases in the Pacific from which these forces could deploy to other parts of the world if necessary. In Europe, the SACEUR has announced plans to close a number of bases in Germany and redeploy large units back to the states. In their place, the U.S. would leave a system of "lilypad" bases that were lightly manned, but able to serve as jumping-off points for deployment in Europe and abroad. The 2005 round of BRAC will resemble both of these proposals, in that it will place a premium on consolidation, deployability, and security, among other criteria.

Historically, few of these bases were constructed (or kept open) with an eye towards these criteria. Most military bases today were built during the mobilizations of WWI or WWII. After those wars, these bases stayed open because their states' representatives had enough pull in Congress to keep them open. One reason why the South has so many military bases today is because of the pull that Sen. Richard Russell (D-Ga.) had over such matters, as the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (See Master of the Senate by Robert Caro) But the continued existence of these bases owes very little to rational criteria (e.g. deployability) and very much to politics.

I'm not sure we can afford that kind of luxurious irrationality anymore. Maintaining all these bases saps billions from an already bloated defense budget, and we need to find whatever efficiencies we can. Closing bases will hurt many communities, but those effects can be mitigated. (See, e.g., the case of Fort McClellan, AL, where the former U.S. Army Chemical and Military Police schools were converted into law enforcement training facilities) Ultimately, the benefits from BRAC far outweigh the costs of closing these bases, and we can't afford to ignore the outcome of that equation.