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April 29, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

EP-3 leftover
U.S.-Chinese military relations are still strained from the aftermath of the April 2001 midair collision between a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft and a Chinese F-8 jet over international waters near China.

Defense officials said that despite the resumption of the Defense Consultative Talks the latest round was held yesterday the EP-3 incident has not been completely resolved.

The 23-member U.S. crew of the EP-3 made an emergency landing at a Chinese military base on Hainan island. Instead of getting help, the Americans were promptly imprisoned by Chinese troops and held for 11 days.

The Chinese then stripped the aircraft of its equipment and cut up the plane so it could be brought back to the United States in pieces.

The final indignity was Beijing's demand that the United States pay China $1 million. When the Pentagon responded to the demand by presenting a check for $63,000 to Chinese officials, the check was refused. It is still sitting in the Pentagon, we are told.

The payment dispute did not come up during the visit yesterday of a delegation of Chinese military officials led by Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, deputy chief of the general staff.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday declined to meet with Gen. Xiong, the third time he has turned down a meeting with the general. The U.S. side was represented in the talks by Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy.

Rummy's critique
While conducting a town hall meeting in Kandahar recently, a soldier asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld why the press doesn't report more positive news about Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.

"I do know this," Mr. Rumsfeld answered in part, "that the people who come to this country and go to Iraq and come out are struck by the contrast, the stark contrast between what they see in terms of progress and contribution by the men and women in uniform, what they see as opposed to what they read and hear.

"I don't know what the answer is, but I can tell you this: Our country's been around for well over 200 years now, and it suggests that the American people have a pretty good center of gravity."

Chairman of the board
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's and the president's choice to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There are good reasons.

The two see eye to eye on the need to transform the military and to kill or capture al Qaeda to take down the deadly organization.

But there's more. Gen. Pace is an unabashed supporter of his demanding boss. And that support was never needed more than in the summer of 2004 when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was prompting some Democrats to call for Mr. Rumsfeld's head.

Gen. Pace momentarily turned a May 11, 2004, town hall meeting at the Pentagon into a pep rally.

"There's not a single human being in this government, and certainly not in this building, who works harder or is more dedicated or is a better patriot than is Secretary Rumsfeld," Gen. Pace told an auditorium full of Pentagon workers. "It's my great honor and distinction to serve on his team. I'd ask you to join me in thanking him for his leadership."

The comment drew a sustained standing ovation.

Chemical cabal
There is a disturbing finding in CIA weapons inspector Charles Duelfer's latest report.

Although only one weapons of mass destruction scientist has joined the insurgency, there are reports that more than a few Iraqis knowledgeable about chemical weapons have joined the Sunni al Abud network.

"Iraqi entities aligned with Sunni extremists established chemical laboratories for the fabrication of chemical weapons at various locations in and around Baghdad," Mr. Duelfer wrote.

Pantano update
While 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano fights for his life in a courtroom at Camp Lejeune, he has an ally back in Washington.

Rep. Walter B. Jones, whose North Carolina district includes Camp Lejeune, has appealed directly to President Bush to intervene on behalf of Lt. Pantano. He is facing two murder charges that could bring a death sentence upon conviction.

"It is outrageous for a Marine to be treated this way by the very country he fought to defend," the Republican lawmaker wrote to the president. "I continue to believe that 2nd Lt. Pantano is innocent of the charges against him, and that his unfair treatment in the Article 32 proceedings and his continued prosecution by the U.S. government sends a horrible message to the brave men and women serving on the front lines of freedom."

Lt. Pantano has said he shot two Iraqi insurgents after they refused his order to stop moving toward him. The Marine Corps said he executed them to send a message in violence-torn Anbar province last April.

A pretrial hearing at Camp Lejeune opened Tuesday and may last into the weekend.

One interesting piece of testimony came from a counterintelligence Marine identified only as "Sgt. M." He testified that the two insurgents lied to him when they denied there were weapons in the house on which Lt. Pantano's men had converged. Sgt. M said Marines found three AK-47s, as well as mortar tubes and stakes to prop them up, according to the Associated Press.

They also found passports and IDs with names that didn't match, and literature supporting ouster dictator Saddam Hussein and terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. The sergeant said he recommended to Lt. Pantano that the men be detained and brought back to base for more questioning.

We obtained a copy of a Naval Criminal Investigative Report, which said that "improvised explosive device (IED) making material in the residence" also was found.

  • 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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