Saturday, April 19, 2008

McHenry under Fire; Surrogates Offer Lame Excuses

From VetVoice

Republican primary challenger Lance Sigmon ratcheted up the pressure on embattled Congressman Patrick McHenry on Friday for McHenry's role in violating operational security while in Iraq--a serious mistake that clearly put American troops at unnecessary risk. Feeling the heat--while remaining conspicuously silent himself--McHenry has trotted out two defenders who've provided the media with weak (and factually useless) excuses for his actions while in the Green Zone.

From the AP, in Saturday newspapers across North Carolina:

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.

Sigmon explained his stance during a Friday press conference:

"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."

The twist on today's story is that McHenry offered up two surrogates in advance of Friday's press conference--including a Democratic Congressman--to provide the media with a weak defense for his actions. Or maybe a better word would be "lame."

A member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who was in Iraq with McHenry, said he doesn't think the video was used by insurgents to target the Green Zone.

"If someone is saying that a video helped target a specific area is beyond my comprehension as a former artillery man, " said R. Nicholas Palarino, a member of the House's chief investigatory body. "I was in the dining hall during the April 6 attack," he said.

Later that day, he said, Iraq security forces took him and others to the area where the rocket was launched and showed them the device used to launch the rocket.

"It's a metal stand and they set the rocket on it and light a fuse," he said. "There's nothing to aim with."

Palarino has served more than 20 years in the armed services as an artilleryman and helicopter pilot. He said insurgents generally fire these rockets hoping they land somewhere near or in the Green Zone, "but have no way to aim the rockets."

I spent a few years in the military--including ground combat in two theaters--and I have no idea what this guy is talking about. This idea that there's nothing to aim with is ridiculous. Anything can be aimed. Some aiming mechanisms are more effective than others, but anything can be aimed. For instance, I don't have a specialized aiming mechanism, but I still manage to hit the toilet nine out of ten times. If you fire the same type of rocket from the same type of launcher from the same location in the same direction, you probably have a pretty good shot at hitting close to where you hit last time.

But Palarino's comments weren't nearly as outrageous as Democratic--yes, Democratic--Congressman Jim Marshall's assertions in support of McHenry:

U.S. Rep Jim Marshall, D-Macon, Ga., led McHenry's delegation to Iraq.

He said it's "utterly implausible for this to happen. What's the likelihood that insurgents would see this video? Virtually nil. These guys are sort of crude thugs using weaponry that is crude."

There are so many things wrong in those four sentences that's it's hard to know where to begin. First of all, it's not "utterly implausible." What Marshall is showing here is that he has absolutely no understanding of Iraq or of the insurgency that is taking place there. Unlike in America--where virtually no one speaks Arabic--many Iraqis do speak English. And not only do they speak excellent English, but they follow Western media patterns and events. This is why they've been able to capitalize so successfully on internet videos of their relatively sophisticated attacks on Americans.

As far as his comment that the insurgents are "crude thugs using weaponry that is crude," I'd just like to ask him about those purported Iranian-manufactured explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs) that caused so many American deaths last year. Because the same Shi'ite militants firing rockets into the Green Zone are the same guys who were using the advanced EFPs for which we had no defense.

As a Congressman, Marshall's ignorant underestimation of the situation is nearly as dangerous as McHenry's OPSEC violation. This gross misjudgment is Bush-like in its assumption that we're fighting mindless primitives--and it's a huge part of why we now find ourselves stuck in Iraq with over 36,000 dead and wounded troops in five years. And just when you think he's done, Marshall tops it off with the ultimate good ol' boy excuse for his little buddy:

"I think that if Congressman McHenry thought at all there was any chance that a video he put on his Web site could be used to attack our soldiers, he would not do that," Marshall said.

Because, see, that's exactly the problem. McHenry didn't think there was any chance the video could be used "to attack our soldiers." That's because McHenry has never served in combat, because he has no common sense, because he didn't listen to his military escorts, and because he's generally too arrogant to be concerned with such details. Rather than a defense, Marshall's last remark is more of a damning indictment of his chickenhawk friend. He's essentially saying that McHenry posted it only because he had absolutely no idea what was going on.

It's no surprise then, that, aside from the two men above, the military and veterans' communities are nearly unanimous in their contempt for McHenry's boastful conduct both during his visit to Iraq and afterward. As a 21-year Air Force veteran, Lance Sigmon's stance is closely aligned with that of Iraq veterans, the Pentagon, as well as that of his potential Democratic opponent, Navy veteran Daniel Johnson. To illustrate that further, however, here's what I'm talking about:

Speaking on behalf of VoteVets, I gave a statement to the AP for their piece on McHenry.

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."

Similarly, officials at the Pentagon have backed up this rationale a number of times since this story first broke. For example, on April 8, McClatchy reported:

The Pentagon told a North Carolina lawmaker Tuesday that he couldn't re-air a video he'd shot in Baghdad after accusations surfaced that he breached operational security in detailing enemy rocket attacks.

The same piece went on to cite a Pentagon spokesman who highlighted McHenry's transgression of describing the results of the rocket attack on camera:

"We do not as a matter of policy discuss attacks in a way that would provide the enemy any better understanding of the effectiveness of their attacks," said Lt. Col. Todd Vician.

Which is exactly what McHenry did. Similar word came from Iraq, too:

A spokesman for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq said that he didn't know what the rules were for congressmen, but the military is not allowed to talk about battle damage.

Then, in the Charlotte Observer today, the Pentagon weighed in once more on the side of Iraq veterans, Sigmon, and Johnson.

"We do not as a matter of policy discuss attacks in a way that would provide the enemy with any better understanding of their effectiveness," said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros.

Again, the statement by Ballesteros further reinforces another one issued on Friday by a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq:

Standard procedure is that media are told not to photograph or video damage or rocket locations when they arrive, said Maj. Brad Leighton, press desk officer of the Multi-national Force in Iraq. Revealing the exact locations and damage of attacks can aid the enemy in determining where to aim future attacks, he added. Leighton couldn't comment specifically on McHenry's trip or if the congressman had been briefed on the policy.

Leighton said rocket attacks are common in the Green Zone, often daily, but declined to provide a specific number over any period of time.

The reason Major Leighton "declined" is because he's in a combat zone and he's not as irresponsible as Patrick McHenry.

I think it's very clear now that McHenry's view on the matter--and that of his surrogates--is running contrary to that of veterans and the Pentagon itself. Rather than continuing with these inept arguments about why the video didn't hurt American troops, or why he meant no harm, McHenry could save himself a lot of trouble by simply coming out and apologizing the troops and their families.

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