Friday, April 18, 2008

Investigation formally demanded for McHenry's PR stunt


A video of a Baghdad rocket attack posted online by a Republican congressman might have aided insurgents whose subsequent attack killed two soldiers, his primary opponent alleged Friday while demanding an investigation.

"It is imperative for the people of this nation, and especially those serving in the military, to know if a U.S. congressman exploited an attack on our military to impress voters back home," said Lance Sigmon, who served as a lawyer in the Air Force for 21 years.

Sigmon is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry in the state's May 6 primary election. McHenry, of Cherryville, is the youngest member of Congress and an outspoken conservative who is perhaps known best for his bulldog efforts to tweak the Democratic leadership in the House.

McHenry spokesman Wes Climer dismissed Sigmon's efforts as "yet another absurd political gimmick from the man who is desperate for attention."

"It is disgusting that he would exploit the loss of two American heroes to advance his political smear campaign," Climer said.

The flap stems from a March 29 Republican Party dinner in Lincoln County, where McHenry told the crowd he was turned away from a gym during a visit with other members of Congress to Iraq's Green Zone. He said he was stopped by a "two-bit security guard" because he didn't have the right credentials to get inside.

Sigmon was in the audience. Offended by his comments, he later posted a video of McHenry's speech on his campaign Web site. McHenry responded by posting a video on his official Web site of a rocket attack in the Green Zone, and his narration included a description of the attack's success.

"The video provided valuable intelligence to our enemy, such as location of the strikes, effectiveness of the weapons and the type of military assets that were hit," Sigmon said.

After Sigmon and others complained, McHenry pulled the video from his Web site, although it could still be found on other Web sites until Friday afternoon. A Pentagon spokesman has said the video may have violated military protocol by offering insurgents a better understanding of the effectiveness of their attack.

Two days later, a pair of soldiers died and 17 other troops were injured in a similar rocket attack in the Green Zone.

"I can't say that it (the video) contributed to their deaths," Sigmon said, but on Friday he demanded a congressional investigation to "determine the extent to which this promotional video aided our enemies in Iraq."

Brandon Friedman, a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and is now vice chairman of veterans advocacy group, called McHenry's actions a "stupid move" and seconded Sigmon's call for an investigation.

"What he did was careless and it could have very well gotten people injured or killed," Friedman said. "Anybody who has ever been in a combat zone - either inside the military or outside the military - knows that you don't violate operational security. You don't do anything that could potentially help the enemy."

But Nicholas Palarino, a staff member with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who was with McHenry in Iraq, said he doubts the video helped insurgents.

Palarino said that after the first attack, he was with Iraqi forces as they inspected the rocket launchers - which he described as nothing more than metal stands. He said the rockets fell haphazardly in the Green Zone and other areas of Baghdad.

"I didn't see any aiming mechanism or directional mechanism or anything like that," said Palarino, who served 20 years in the military. "To make the connection that two soldiers died because McHenry had some film, it's just hard for me to make the connection."

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