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February 10, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

It's a date
The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) has sent out a 2006 calendar that tells more than time.

It's not the kind of calendar you hang on a wall. It's the kind you file with reference books on Islamic terrorism.

There are snap biographies of leading terrorists, including al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden; standoff distances for various bombs; maps of terrorist-infested countries; indicators of suspicious financial activity; a list of biological threats; tips for detecting phony passports; and facts about Islamic history. The calendar affixes an important event in the history of terrorism to most days of the week.

"It's part of our ongoing effort to share counterterrorism information," NCTC spokesman Mark Mansfield said. "It has the advantages of being totally unclassified and quite informative. ... It's designed for people who expect more from a calendar than just a day of the week."

The Bush administration created the Northern Virginia-based NCTC in 2004. Its job is to analyze all intelligence about terror groups and submit a strategic counterterror plan. The office falls under the director of national intelligence.

A short profile of bin Laden states that he "is believed to be in Pakistan. He is left-handed and walks with a cane." The calendar says his deputy, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahri, "is believed to serve as an adviser and doctor to Osama bin Laden and is currently thought to be in Afghanistan."

There is also a page devoted to Hamas, the terror group that won last month's Palestinian elections. Unlike al Qaeda, which is a transnational terror organization, the NCTC says, "Hamas has not carried out any suicide bombings outside of Israel."

Turnip truck
We enjoyed the back-and-forth this week between Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, and Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff. During a Senate Armed Services hearing, the general had trouble hearing Mr. Byrd.

Mr. Byrd: I don't sound like I have my mouth full of turnips, now do I?

Gen. Schoomaker: No, sir. It's my problem. I have Army-provided hearing aids. They're supposedly the best in the world.

Mr. Byrd: I don't use hearing aids.

New hearing
It was 10 years ago that a 22-year-old Army medic in Germany created legal waves felt back at the Pentagon.

Michael New, then an enlisted soldier, refused to deploy with his unit to Macedonia under U.N. command. He said he would not wear the U.N. beret or the insignia because his loyalty lied with the president, his commander in chief, and not the U.N. secretary-general.

The Army court-martialed New, who was convicted and sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge. His post-Army life has included marrying a woman he met in Germany and enrolling in college.

But the case stayed alive, as supporters fed his legal defense team. His case has gone through the U.S. District Court, three military courts and then back to the district court. He has lost each time. His argument is that the trial judge erred in 1996 by not letting him present evidence to the jury that the order he disobeyed was illegal.

"It was a denial of due process because the government did not have to prove beyond a doubt it was a lawful order," Herb Titus of Virginia Beach, one of New's lawyers, told us.

New has at least one more court stop. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Thursday.

Mr. Titus said he wants the conviction overturned and the bad-conduct discharge nullified. Then it would be up to the Army to recall New and court-martial him again.

The case, which began under President Clinton, is "New, M. vs. Rumsfeld, Donald."

Rummy's numbers
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's relatively low job-approval ratings have remained mostly steady, in the mid-40 percent range, since events turned bad in Iraq in 2003, a new Gallup poll says.

His rating exceeded 70 percent at the time U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, then plunged to 46 percent by May 2004. Today, the number of Americans who approve of his job performance stands at 44 percent, about the same as President Bush. An equal number disapprove of Mr. Rumsfeld.

The defense secretary has strong support among Republicans, with a 73 percent approval rating. Democratic support is at 25 percent.

Ammo reaction
A military spokeswoman in Iraq has denied the Army retaliated against Sgt. Art Hushen, a sniper who had a run-in with Army judge advocate general officer Maj. Mary Card over the legality of open-tip ammunition.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, who is with the public affairs office of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, told us in e-mail that Sgt. Hushen was punished for other reasons. She was responding to our items on the matter on Jan. 20 and Jan. 27.

"The sniper's chain of command chose to take action based on the sniper's lack of judgment, challenge to authority and misrepresentation of facts," she stated. "This type of behavior is not commensurate with the sensitive duties and responsibilities of a sniper."

Col. Martin-Hing said "confusion regarding use of M118LR results from the manufacturer printing on the side of shipping cases 'Not for use in time of war.' "

When the highly accurate ammunition was approved for combat, "no one told the box manufacturer to remove the statement, which never should have been placed on it in the first place," she said.

"At no time before, during or after the alleged situation described in your story, did sniper operations change," she said. "Snipers continue to be issued the ammunition that their chain of command considers appropriate for the weapon system issued to each sniper given current ammunition stockage." She would not disclose the weapons or ammunition used by snipers, noting "operational security" factors.

"The staff judge advocate provided the proper response when first asked about hollow point ammunition and then when asked the next day about open tip ammunition," Col. Martin-Hing said. "The responses were also relayed to the chain of command via e-mail."

She said at no time were any orders against using the ammunition issued.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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