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July 9, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Enraged Pentagon
The Defense Department is circulating a "talking points" memo expressing outrage at Mexican authorities for disrupting the honor-guard funeral of a Mexican Marine killed in Iraq June 21.

"The disruption of the funeral of USMC Lance Corporal Juan Lopez was a deplorable incident," the memo says. "The Department of Defense extends its deepest sympathy to the Lopez family for this added tribulation in their hour of loss.

"An initial response by government of Mexico officials has unfortunately failed to satisfy our deep concern over what occurred. ... The Department of Defense is still awaiting clarification from the secretariat of National Defense regarding the incident."

On Wednesday, the Mexican government issued what some in the Pentagon considered a halfhearted apology.

Its soldiers disrupted Cpl. Lopez's funeral, in his hometown of San Luis de la Paz, on the grounds that two Marines in the honor guard carried rifles in violation of Mexican law.

The rifles were nonfunctioning for ceremonial duties. And besides, the Marine Corps says, it worked out arrangements beforehand with the Mexican government.

"All due legal requirements and formalities were scrupulously observed, a fact communicated to Mexican authorities well in advance of the funeral service," the Pentagon memo says.

Schmidt's defenders
You would not know it by the Air Force's harsh reprimand this week of Maj. Harry Schmidt, but the Air National Guard F-16 pilot has a lot of defenders in the service.

Some came forward in court hearings to defend Maj. Schmidt, who mistakenly bombed a training range in Afghanistan. He mistook ground fire for anti-aircraft shots. His bomb killed four Canadian soldiers.

One of those who came forward is Col. David C. Nichols, an F-16 pilot who commanded the pilot's air group when the accident occurred on April 17, 2002. In a written declaration, Col. Nichols said higher-ups never informed the group that there would be training that night.

"After April 17, 2002, when I learned of the activities that had been conducted at Tarnak Farms, I was astonished that my mission planners had not been informed that live fire exercises were being conducted by friendly forces," Col. Nichols stated. "[It] was a major breach of good and safe fire control measures."

The colonel also said the required night-vision goggles made ground fire appear to be coming up at the airplane.

The officer said he investigated the incident, interviewing pilots and listening to radio communications. His conclusions: "I found no departures from flight discipline on the part of Maj. Schmidt. His actions were well within the rules of engagement.

"Punishing a pilot because his judgment, though reasonable when it was made, later is determined to be grossly incorrect and injurious, in my opinion will have a disastrous and adverse effect on aircrew morale."

The Air Force did just that. Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson found Maj. Schmidt guilty of dereliction of duty, imposing a reprimand and a fine.

Burrowing nuke
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is defending his department's work on a new earth-penetrating nuclear warhead, which is under fire from anti-nuclear activists and their supporters in Congress.

Mr. Abraham said during a meeting with reporters and editors of The Washington Times that he is "frustrated" by Congress' reluctance to fund a study of the new warhead.

The warhead, which must be able to burrow some 100 feet before setting off a nuclear blast, is needed because of the growing danger that rogue states and terrorists will build nuclear, chemical or biological weapons inside deep, hardened underground bunkers out of the reach of conventional bombs.

"We know that there are people who like to build deep underground facilities that conceivably could be used against either the United States and others. And that is a growing, 21st-century threat," he said.

"Amazingly, a lot of people in Congress want to keep fighting the Cold War," he said. "They want to maintain the large weapons systems of the 20th century and not consider threats of the 21st."

The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator has been studied for the past two years, with funding cut in half last year by critics in Congress. The Energy Department is seeking $27.5 million for fiscal 2005 and a House appropriations panel cut all money for the program in an Energy funding bill. Energy officials hope the Senate will keep the money for the warhead in its version.

Anson Franklin, a spokesman for Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, said Los Alamos National Laboratory is working on a modified version of the B-61 nuclear warhead for the burrowing nuke, while the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is examining a modification of the B-83 warhead for its penetrator.

Journalist zone
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz caught flak from the journalism hierarchy last month for saying reporters in Iraq are "afraid" to go out in the country and see what is really going on.

Turns out a Time magazine reporter in Iraq also says reporters don't go out much.

"Well, most of the other journalists don't leave their hotels or remain in fortified compounds," Michael Ware said this week on CNN's "Newsnight" with Aaron Brown. Mr. Ware was explaining how he has been able to make contacts with members of Abu Musab Zarqawi's ruthless terror group.

"Or any attempt they've made to develop contacts in Fallujah or other these other insurgent hot spots in the past, they've simply let go," Mr. Ware said. "This is required hard, unrelenting, gumshoe journalism, just getting out there and doing the basics. Most people just aren't doing that."

Moore's loyalties
Left-wing gadfly Michael Moore brags that he has had a camera team in Iraq interviewing rank-and-file soldiers. He asserts he is a friend of the basic infantryman.

Those soldiers should know that Mr. Moore looks on the people killing them not as terrorists, but as freedom fighters. In other words, Mr. Moore views you as the oppressors, not Saddam Hussein's collection of fedayeen henchmen and internal security thugs.

Mr. Moore wrote this in April:

"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'the enemy.' They are the revolution, the Minutemen and their numbers will grow and they will win."

By the way, after Osama bin Laden's terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing thousands, Mr. Moore, who has become the darling of the Democratic Party, wrote that America had it coming.

"We, the United States of America, are culpable in committing so many acts of terror and bloodshed that we had better get a clue about the culture of violence in which we have been active participants," he said on his Web site.

  • 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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