The Secret Letter From Iraq
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|A Marine's letter home, with its frank description of life in "Dante's inferno," has been circulating through generals' in-boxes.|
Written last month, this straightforward account of life in Iraq by a Marine officer was initially sent just to a small group of family and friends. His honest but wry narration and unusually frank dissection of the mission contrasts sharply with the story presented by both sides of the Iraq war debate, the Pentagon spin masters and fierce critics. Perhaps inevitably, the 'Letter from Iraq' moved quickly beyond the small group of acquantainaces and hit the inboxes of retired generals, officers in the Pentagon, and staffers on Capitol Hill.
The author wishes to remain anonymous but has allowed us to publish it here — with a few judicious omissions.
All: I haven't written very much from Iraq. There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for 20 hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.
Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I'd just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq. These are among the events and experiences I'll remember best.
Worst Case of Deja Vu — I thought I was familiar with the feeling of deja vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before — that was deja vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same . . . everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn't 10,000 miles away, it was a different lifetime.
Most Surreal Moment — Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. We had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.
Most Profound Man in Iraq — an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."
Worst City in al-Anbar Province — Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Lots and lots of insurgents killed in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.
Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province — Any Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD Tech). How'd you like a job that required you to defuse bombs in a hole in the middle of the road that very likely are booby-trapped or connected by wire to a bad guy who's just waiting for you to get close to the bomb before he clicks the detonator? Every day. Sanitation workers in New York City get paid more than these guys. Talk about courage and commitment.
Second Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province — It's a 20,000 way tie among all these Marines and Soldiers who venture out on the highways and through the towns of al-Anbar every day, not knowing if it will be their last — and for a couple of them, it will be.
Worst E-Mail Message — "The Walking Blood Bank is Activated. We need blood type A+ stat." I always head down to the surgical unit as soon as I get these messages, but I never give blood — there's always about 80 Marines in line, night or day.
Biggest Surprise — Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never figured that we'd get a police force established in the cities in al-Anbar. I estimated that insurgents would kill the first few, scaring off the rest. Well, insurgents did kill the first few, but the cops kept on coming. The insurgents continue to target the police, killing them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won't give up. Absolutely incredible tenacity. The insurgents know that the police are far better at finding them than we are — and they are finding them. Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to a pulp . . . Greatest Vindication — Stocking up on outrageous quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision from my men on such hoarding, then having a 122mm rocket blast apart the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow hall. Yep, you can't buy experience.
Biggest Mystery — How some people can gain weight out here. I'm down to 165 lbs. Who has time to eat?
Second Biggest Mystery — if there's no atheists in foxholes, then why aren't there more people at Mass every Sunday?
Favorite Iraqi TV Show — Oprah. I have no idea. They all have satellite TV.
Coolest Insurgent Act — Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.
Most Memorable Scene — In the middle of the night, on a dusty airfield, watching the better part of a battalion of Marines packed up and ready to go home after over six months in al-Anbar, the relief etched in their young faces even in the moonlight. Then watching these same Marines exchange glances with a similar number of grunts loaded down with gear file past — their replacements. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.
Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate — Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here — all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a band of brothers who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps.
Most Surprising Thing I Don't Miss — Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.
Worst Smell — Porta-johns in 120 degree heat — and that's 120 degrees outside of the porta-john.
Highest Temperature — I don't know exactly, but it was in the porta-johns. Needed to re-hydrate after each trip to the loo.
Biggest Hassle — High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here. Biggest Outrage — Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest Offender: Bill O'Reilly.
Best Intel Work — Finding Jill Carroll's kidnappers — all of them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we'd all get the Christian Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet.
Saddest Moment — Having an infantry battalion commander hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. He was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the entrance to our section area. We'll carry it home with us when we leave in February.
Best Chuck Norris Moment — 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in a small town to kidnap the mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the Bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor's hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.
Worst Sound — That crack-boom off in the distance that means an IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it was a near miss rather than a direct hit. Hear it practically every day.
Second Worst Sound — Our artillery firing without warning. The howitzers are pretty close to where I work. Believe me, outgoing sounds a lot like incoming when our guns are firing right over our heads. They'd about knock the fillings out of your teeth.
Only Thing Better in Iraq Than in the U.S. — Sunsets. Spectacular. It's from all the dust in the air.
Proudest Moment — It's a tie every day, watching our Marines produce phenomenal intelligence products that go pretty far in teasing apart Bad Guy operations in al-Anbar. Every night Marines and Soldiers are kicking in doors and grabbing Bad Guys based on intelligence developed by our guys. We rarely lose a Marine during these raids, they are so well-informed of the objective. A bunch of kids right out of high school shouldn't be able to work so well, but they do.
Happiest Moment — Well, it wasn't in Iraq. There are no truly happy moments here. It was back in California when I was able to hold my family again while home on leave during July.
Most Common Thought — Home. Always thinking of home, of my great wife and the kids. Wondering how everyone else is getting along. Regretting that I don't write more. Yep, always thinking of home.
I hope you all are doing well. If you want to do something for me, kiss a cop, flush a toilet, and drink a beer. I'll try to write again before too long — I promise.
Army Continues To Lower Standards To Meet Recruitment Goals
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|The U.S. Army recruited more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year, helping the service beat its goal of 80,000 recruits in the throes of an unpopular war and mounting casualties.|
"Tests don't tell you the answer to the most critical question for the Army, how will you do in combat?" a spokesman said. But, he added, accepting too many recruits with low test scores could increase training costs and leave technical jobs unfilled. But don't worry, it's only your tax dollars.
The recruiting mark comes a year after the Army missed its recruitment target by the widest margin since 1979, which had triggered a boost in the number of recruiters, increased bonuses, and changes in standards.
The Army recruited 80,635 soldiers, roughly 7,000 more than last year. Of those, about 70,000 were first-time recruits who had never served before.
Iraq Is Safe (As Long As You're Wearing Kevlar)
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|The White House reports, "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Iraq, October 1-6, 2006. At the President’s request, Secretary Rice is leading a diplomatic effort to engage moderate leaders across the region."|
As you can see, we won the war in Iraq and everything's going great. This obviously explains why, from the moment she steps foot off the airplane in Iraq in a US-controlled air base, she has to wear a bullet-proof vest.
Wearing a helmet and a flak jacket and flanked by machine-gun-toting bodyguards to defend against insurgents, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came here Thursday, insisting that there were new signs of progress in Iraq and that the Bush administration had never sugar-coated its news about the American occupation.
More Than Half Of New Orleans' People Are Gone
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|A recent population survey from the Louisiana Recovery Authority has reported that of the pre-Katrina population of 454,000 people in New Orleans, only about 187,000 remain today. More than a year later, 59% of the population has not returned since the hurricane and the large-scale flooding caused by the failure of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' faulty flood protection system.|
Fewer than 190,000 people are living in New Orleans a year after Hurricane Katrina, according to a door-to-door survey released Thursday.
The population of 187,525 is about 41% of the 454,000 people estimated to be living in Orleans Parish before the storm hit Aug. 29, 2005.
A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, Natalie Wyeth, called the results "the definitive, most precise set of numbers we've seen."
The survey was conducted for the authority and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals by the Louisiana Public Health Institute.
It involved a sampling of homes from all over the city, said Alden Henderson, who is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was involved in pushing for the survey. He said the survey used a method commonly employed by the Census Bureau.
The results are meant to help planners determine where clinics, schools, transit systems and other key infrastructure should be placed, Wyeth said.
Pope Caught Orchestrating Church Pedophile Cover Up
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|A BBC documentary has exposed that Pope Benedict XVI, aka Cardinal Ratzinger, played a leading role in a systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests.|
In 2001, while he was a cardinal, he issued a secret Vatican edict to Catholic bishops all over the world, instructing them to put the Church's interests ahead of child safety.
The document recommended that rather than reporting sexual abuse to the relevant legal authorities, bishops should encourage the victim, witnesses and perpetrator not to talk about it. And, to keep victims quiet, it threatened that if they repeat the allegations they would be excommunicated.
A secret document which sets out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church is examined by BBC documentary show Panorama.
Crimen Sollicitationis was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope.
It instructs bishops on how to deal with allegations of child abuse against priests and has been seen by few outsiders.
Critics say the document has been used to evade prosecution for sex crimes.
Crimen Sollicitationis was written in 1962 in Latin and given to Catholic bishops worldwide who are ordered to keep it locked away in the church safe.
It instructs them how to deal with priests who solicit sex from the confessional. It also deals with "any obscene external act ... with youths of either sex."
It imposes an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation and any witnesses.
Breaking that oath means excommunication from the Catholic Church.
Reporting for Panorama, Colm O'Gorman finds seven priests with child abuse allegations made against them living in and around the Vatican City.
One of the priests, Father Joseph Henn, has been indicted on 13 molestation charges brought by a grand jury in the United States.
During filming for Sex Crimes and the Vatican, Colm finds Father Henn is fighting extradition orders from inside the headquarters of this religious order in the Vatican.
The Vatican has not compelled him to return to America to face the charges against him.
After filming, Father Henn lost his fight against extradition but fled the headquarters and is believed to be hiding in Italy while there is an international warrant for his arrest.
Colm O'Gorman was raped by a Catholic priest in the diocese of Ferns in County Wexford in Ireland when he was 14 years old.
Father Fortune was charged with 66 counts of sexual, indecent assault and another serious sexual offence relating to eight boys but he committed suicide on the eve of his trial.
Colm started an investigation with the BBC in March 2002 which led to the resignation of Dr Brendan Comiskey, the bishop leading the Ferns Diocese.
Colm then pushed for a government inquiry which led to the Ferns Report.
It was published in October 2005 and found: "A culture of secrecy and fear of scandal that led bishops to place the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of the safety of children."
The Catholic Church has 50 million children in its worldwide congregation and no universal child protection policy although in the UK there is the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children & Vulnerable Adults.
In some countries this means that the Crimen Sollicitationis is the only policy followed.
The Vatican has refused repeated requests from Panorama to respond to any of the cases shown in the film.
Watch Sex Crimes and the Vatican