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May 14, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Support the troops
A Marine Corps officer in Fallujah says in an e-mail that much progress has been made in killing insurgents and taming Iraq. But he worries about poll numbers.

"The Marines fought hard in Fallujah and took a lot of very evil people out of the fight," the officer wrote. "That effort, and the associated loss of Marine lives, was not in vain. We're already seeing a significant decrease in the enemy's ability to attack our forces. The supply lines are open again and everything is flowing freely through the country. Their efforts to cut us off in order to break our willpower failed. The Iraqi people are tired of the enemy, and they are turning them over to us left and right.

"We're reading that everyone back home is starting to lose faith in our efforts in Iraq. The last CBS poll put the numbers under 50 percent for the first time. I know that doesn't mean a loss in support for the troops, but supporting 'the troops' while not supporting the mission doesn't do much for us.

"The Marines are in high spirits. The troops in Fallujah are doing what Marines do best, and they're true professionals. Everyone else is driving forward, wondering what all the fuss back home is all about. We don't feel that we're losing anything. In fact, we're finally addressing issues that should have been addressed some time ago."

Rummy's surprise
Aides to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld woke up one day last week to read front-page headlines reporting that President Bush privately chided their boss for not briefing the White House fully on the Iraq prisoner-abuse scandal.

"I don't know where that came from," said one source. This source said the two men agreed that the public relations end of the Army investigation could have been handled better. "There was no chiding," the official said.

Columnist Fred Barnes said on Fox News that the White House press office on its own put out the word of a presidential scolding, thinking that it would make the commander in chief look good.

Perhaps worried that the calculated leak inflamed the scandal story further, the White House organized a huge show of support for the embattled Mr. Rumsfeld on Monday at the Pentagon, where Mr. Bush dubbed him a "superb" defense secretary.

Feminine mystique
Elaine Donnelly, who leads the Center for Military Readiness, has fought the Pentagon's decision in the 1990s to put women in combat roles. The pictures out of the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad are only reinforcing her views.

"There is no excuse for what happened at Abu Ghraib," Mrs. Donnelly says. "I am disturbed by the role that a few female soldiers played in it. It seems that a gradual but sweeping degradation in civilized values is happening before our eyes. No surprise to me, since we are forcing women to compete in the ultimate male world, the world of war, which is anything but civilized."

DIA ducking
The Defense Intelligence Agency is ducking for cover amid the numerous investigations of prisoner abuse in Iraq. So far, the military-intelligence side of the investigation is limited to the activities of the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which was the unit supplying interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. That investigation is being led by Army Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the former deputy commander of the Army Intelligence and Security Command, who is reviewing the methods and procedures used by intelligence personnel.

To date, there are no accusations that the Defense Intelligence Agency is implicated in any prisoner abuse, neither its director, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, nor the head of the Directorate for Human Intelligence, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael E. Ennis.

DIA members of the Iraq Survey Group, which is searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, visited the Abu Ghraib prison twice in the past to interview detainees. Most of the agency's work has focused on speaking to high-ranking detainees at the Baghdad International Airport prison.

"The agency has not heard of any allegations involving our people," said a DIA spokesman.

Nuke penetrator
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked during a Senate hearing this week about Pentagon plans to develop an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon.

"A decision to go forward with an earth penetrator has not been made," Mr. Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee. "The decision to determine whether it's possible to have one that could help solve some potential problems has been made."

The Bush administration is spending $485 million in the next five years to study whether it's possible to make a high-yield nuclear bomb capable of burrowing through solid rock before detonating. The bomb is the ideal weapon for hitting underground weapons-of-mass-destruction sites nuclear, chemical and biological arms facilities protected by deep bunkers.

Earth-penetrating nuclear bombs are not unique to the Bush administration, as some antinuclear weapons advocates say. The Clinton administration had been studying the use of nuclear weapons to destroy underground facilities since the early 1990s.

Mr. Rumsfeld made clear that he supports the bomb, if it can be built. He noted underground facilities in North Korea and Iran.

The secretary said underground military sites are "pervasive in country after country," noting that "North Korea is a perfect example."

"We have found this in country after country, and the question is: If that is a problem, what might be done about it?" Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The first choice for dealing with the problem would be a conventional bomb, but a penetrating nuclear bomb is something "at least in my view, worth studying."

Any decision to build the new bomb would involve Congress, he said.

  • 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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