Monday, January 16, 2006

Deja Vu in Dohuk

National Geographic has published one of most intelligently written pieces on Iraq I have seen. I do not know the writer, Frank Viviano, or the photographer, Ed Kashi, but their collaboration entitled “Who's Winning in Iraq” is precise and cogent.

A preview is available online here, but to actually read the article, please pick up a copy of the January 2006 edition.

I traveled to these areas last year and published two dispatches about my experiences: "Fork in the Road" and "Lost in Translation."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A tribute for service members and families

Many people say this is the most important photograph of the Iraq war. Some have called it "a national treasure." The image most completely embodies my experience throughout Iraq.

Countless people have asked for reprints, but I wanted to give the matter some thought. I did not want to diminish the symbolism of this photograph, and the American soldiers who risked their lives to save this little girl.

I more than espoused this belief, I lived it: I have not accepted advertisements on this site, and my first 7 months of work in Iraq were completely without compensation. When I reached the point where my equipment was ruined and my resources exhausted, I had to choose between stopping the work altogether or rethinking my independence. I solved both problems by accepting reader support.

When these soldiers finally returned to the United States after a year of hard fighting they asked my permission to present a copy of the photograph to Bruce Willis at “The Punishers’ Ball.” Of course, I agreed. I respect these men beyond simple description, and when I saw the photo so tastefully framed, I realized that it made a beautiful gift.

It occurred to me that even national treasures have practical costs associated with them. No one protests the admission fees or government supports that maintain and preserve their legacy. Museums don't diminish the value of art when they sell prints in a gift shop. I'm not claiming to be Picasso, and this blog is hardly the Louvre, but my readers have convinced me that this image inspires them and I've learned to listen to my readers.

I’ve decided to offer a limited number of photographs, available in two formats.

If you have difficulty with PayPal, or just prefer to send a check, please use the address provided with my profile section.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Senator Mikulski Responds

CONTACT: Melissa Schwartz

Mikulski Urges Sec. Rice to Honor Slain Maryland Serviceman, Extradite Convicted Killer

“We must make clear to Lebanon that it will not benefit from U.S. assistance and support as long as it harbors this brutal terrorist and murderer.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) today urged Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to take immediate action and formally request that the Government of Lebanon arrest and extradite convicted killer Mohammed Ali Hamadi to the United States. Hamadi was serving a life sentence in Germany for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner and killing of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, 23, of Waldorf, Md. He was paroled after 19 years in December 2005, and is known to be hiding in Lebanon.

TWA flight 847 from Athens, Greece, to Rome was hijacked to Beirut, Lebanon, where hijackers beat, shot and killed Petty Officer Stethem and dumped his body on the tarmac. He was the only casualty during the hijacking ordeal, in which 39 Americans were held hostage for 17 days.

The text of the letter from Senator Mikulski is provided below:

January 10, 2006

The Honorable Condoleeza Rice
Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice:

We are writing to urge you to formally request that the Government of Lebanon immediately arrest and extradite to the United States Mohammed Ali Hamadi, the cold-blooded murderer and terrorist who has sought refuge in Lebanon since being released from German custody last month. As you know, Hamadi brutally murdered a United States Navy diver, Robert Dean Stethem. Petty Officer Stethem was 23 years old and from Waldorf, MD. He was killed solely because he was an American serviceman.

Hamadi and his fellow terrorists bound, gagged, beat unconscious, and then shot Petty Officer Stethem in the head when they hijacked a jetliner traveling to Rome in 1985. The terrorists dumped Petty Officer Stethem’s dead body out of the plane onto the Beirut tarmac, proving the utter indifference for life that is the hallmark of such despicable people. In 1989, Hamadi was convicted of murder and sentenced by German authorities to a prison term that ended last month. The German government ignored repeated requests by the United States to turn Hamadi over for prosecution and released him instead to his native Lebanon.

We ask that you exert the strongest possible diplomatic and political pressure on the Government of Lebanon to secure Hamadi’s handover to U.S. custody. The families of our servicemen always hear that “a grateful nation never forgets.” We need to make sure these are more than just words. The current administration has rightly taken a strong stand against those nations who provide safe haven for terrorists. We must now make clear to Lebanon that it will not benefit from U.S. assistance and support as long as it harbors this brutal terrorist and murderer.

Petty Office Stethem was killed because he was a United States serviceman. As United States Senators, we are grateful for his service and want to see justice done.

Thank you for your prompt, personal attention to this issue.


Barbara A. Mikulski
United States Senator

Jim DeMint
United States Senator

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Catch and Release

Catch & Release

He was only 23 years-old but by any measure he was a man. A real man who stood up to the terrorists who were savagely torturing him on an airliner. Those same terrorists shot the young Navy diver and dumped his body onto the tarmac. I remember the day in 1985 that Robert Stethem was murdered.

Fast forward: More than 20 years later, one of Robert’s murderers, who was in a German prison, apparently was used by the German government as currency to pay other terrorists to release a German hostage. Requests by the U.S. government to turn over the killer were denied, and he returned safely to the Lebanese terror breeding grounds that he called home.

For more than 20 years, every American President has publicly promised to deliver justice to the murderers of Robert Stethem, but the United States government did not honor those promises: failing to prevent Hamadi's release, officials have apparently simply dumped the matter. It might have faded quietly from the public conscience, had not the Stethem family been bred of toughness and tenacity. The Stethem family is determined to bring justice to the thugs who tortured their son and brother beyond recognition before shooting him.

Ken Stethem, Robert’s older brother, spent 20 years in the Navy, 16 of those years as a SEAL. He is veritably camped out in a hotel in Washington, D.C., doing whatever it takes to spur our government into action. Ken has finally reached the point where he is writing to the President of the United States, seeking action.

I remember the day Ken’s brother Robert was killed, and today I see an American family still waiting for answers, closure, and justice. The Stethem family, like so many others, has paid the ultimate price in their steadfast defense of their country, and they deserve commensurate respect. I believe they deserve at least to be heard and to have their voices acknowledged. To that end, the Stethem family statement and some of Ken’s letters to the President will be published here.

The first letter:

Dear Mr. President,

I wish you a happy and healthy New Year to you, yours and our incredible country.

My family met your father and mother at Andrews Air Force base in 1985, when the body of my younger brother, Robert Dean Stethem, was flown home.

I am writing you concerning the release of Muhammed Ali Hammadi, the convicted terrorist that was recently released by the German government. You might recall that Hammadi was responsible for not only the highjacking TWA FLT 847 in 1985, but was also responsible for the murder my brother Robert, who was 23 years old and a United States navy diver. Since your administration responded to Hammadi's release with little more than an abstract reflection on how powerless you were to prevent Hammadi's release, I thought I would take this time to share some ideas with you on how you might use this opportunity to exercise statesmanship in developing a clearer, more concise and very deliberate policy regarding the War on Terror and Lebanon, both of which would absolutely result in Hammadi being turned over to the United States. I have done so in the Stethem family statement, which is attached for your review.

During your father's watch as the Vice-President, and then President, he promised my family that he would track down Robert's murderers and bring them to justice, just has every administration has promised since that time. You know that this never happened.

The fact that Mohammed Ali Hammadi was allowed to be released by Germany is a political disgrace, and I am sure that you agree with this. The fact that Hammadi, along with Ali Atwa, Iz-Al-Din and Imad Mugniyah are all free to reside in Lebanon, with their families, is also a disgrace.

My family would like your administration to submit a Formal Diplomatic Request to Lebanon. The purpose would be to take in, and turn over, custody of these four indicted terrorists. I find it remarkable that a Formal Diplomatic Request has never been submitted, in the past 20 years, for these individuals. But, knowing how committed you and your administration are to fighting terrorists and terrorism everywhere, I am sure that you will agree that this Formal Diplomatic Request should be submitted immediately.

While military operations might be able to capture and return these four individuals, it would be at great risk to our men and women. And although I am quite certain that there would be many brave volunteers for a mission of this type, and that the military plays a pivotal role in the War on Terrorism, the military must not fight this war alone. It is strong leadership and true statesmanship that is required in this circumstance, and you are the key player. You are the leader of our great nation and the free world. You alone can make a defining decision at this moment in the War on Terrorism. Rather than facing Iran, the Mother of all Radical Islamic Terrorist Groups, head on . . . . it would be much better to fight them as they fight us, locally, nationally, regionally and then globally.

My family urges you to force Lebanon to make a decision in this War on Terror. Lebanon is " . . . either with us in this War on Terrorism, or they are against us." Let them choose. If they do not give us these four terrorist (these four make up over 30% of the terrorists on the FBI's Most Wanted List of Terrorists) then they will qualify themselves to become members on the list of State Sponsored Terrorist Nations. It is that simple. Let them make the tough political decisions, as our Founding Father did. That is how character is built and revealed. They and their posterity will either benefit or be cursed by their decision(s). But by providing Lebanon with $40 million dollars in U.S. aid while allowing them to harbor indicted terrorists and also a recognized terrorist group (Hezabollah), your actions truly conflict with the National Strategy for Counter-Terrorism and is also an act of political cowardice as well. And while this might not be an easy political decision for you, I trust that you will take comfort in the truth as it was written long ago, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and women."

During Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address he said, "I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing." Now is the time to be steadfast and courageous. Steadfast and Courageous. That is the motto of the USS STETHEM, the Aegis destroyer named in Robert's honor. Now is the time to act. The sacrifices of our forefathers cries for action and hope for our posterity demands it!

God Bless you and yours,

For the Stethem family,

The Second Letter:

Mr. President,

I would like to provide you with an explanation as to why Muhammed Ali Hammadi’s recent release by Germany, and your Administration’s lack of any attempt to prevent it, is so upsetting to our family and to Americans everywhere. I am not writing you out of grief or anger but out of a hope that his example will inspire you to follow act on your own words and the dictates of your conscious in this War on Terror.

Robert Dean Stethem was singled out, beaten beyond recognition and tortured in order to make him scream into a transmitter (so that the tower would send a fuel truck). Not a cry was heard to come from him, despite the brutal beating he endured. Instead he chose to remain silent and endure the beatings because he knew that the only way a rescue attempt could be conducted by U.S. forces was if the aircraft remained on the ground.

After Robert was beaten and tortured and bleeding from puncture wounds all over his body, he was placed next to a 16-year old Australian girl. As bad as Robert was beaten, he had the courage and strength to comfort and console her. He told her that, “She would be okay and that she would get out of here alive.” When she tried to return the comfort, he said, “No, I don’t think so. I am the only one in my group that is not married and some of the guys have children, too.” Some time later, Robert was again taken up to the cockpit and tortured in order to get the fuel. But it didn’t work, he would not give in to them.

One of the hijackers, Muhammed Ali Hammadi, was so enraged that he dragged Robert to the door, pulled a trigger and shot Robert in the head. Then he dumped Robert’s body onto the tarmac. While Robert was being dragged to the door, he knew that all he had to do in order to live was to cry into that transmitter, but he wouldn’t do it. He would not give in to the demands of the terrorists. He would not allow the honor and dignity of America to be intimidated by the fear and pain that Hammadi and terrorists everywhere represent. Robert sacrificed his life in order to protect our liberty and defend our way of life.

You have rightly said, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” You have truly said that “We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.” Robert lived by them. Robert also died by them. The motto of the USS SSTETHEM (DDG-63), named in Robert’s honor, is “Steadfast and Courageous.” I hope that his example, and the example of other heroes like him can inspire you to understand why allowing Germany to release Hammadi was a wrong. Justice was not done, Robert was not honored and Americans are not safer by allowing Hammadi to return to Lebanon and Hezbollah.

You know this, we know this and the American people know this.

The Stethem family

The Third Letter:

Mr. President,

You have truly said that “We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.”

You have rightly promised that, “We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.” To that end, you have promised that, “We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Hezbollah in Lebanon is such a terrorist group and I urge you to compel Lebanon to make that decision.

It is time to act against Hezbollah, the most active terrorist group in the world today. Mr. President, if you use the same standard for the government of Lebanon that you did for the Taliban then you would say:

“Today, the United States of America makes the following demands on Lebanon:

- Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of Hezbollah who hide in your land.
- Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country.
- Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Lebanon, and hand over every terrorist, and every person in their support structure, to appropriate authorities.
- Provide the means for the international community to verify that terrorist facilities no longer function in your country.

Lebanon must act, and act immediately. Lebanon will hand over the terrorists, or should face the consequences.”

These consequences are to be clear, concise and deliberate. If Lebanon chooses to support Hezbollah, instead of meeting these demands in the War against Terrorism, Lebanon will be added to the list of States Sponsoring Terrorism. Lebanon will lose the continuation of all U.S. aid ($40 million a year). Lebanon will suffer a travel ban for all American citizens. Lebanon will lose the support that the US Department of Justice is currently providing regarding the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In the same way that the United States respects the people of Afghanistan, we also respect the people of Lebanon. As in Afghanistan, we are currently Lebanon’s largest source of humanitarian aid -- but we condemn the Hezbollah. Like Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah “ . . . is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists.” By aiding and abetting murder, the Hezbollah is committing murder.

Over 40% of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists are believed to be located in Lebanon. One of those terrorists, Imad Mugniyah, is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American citizens who were killed in terrorist attacks in Lebanon.

Yet 14 members in the Lebanese parliament are from the Hezbollah “Party.”

You have said that, “I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.” You have said that, “ . . . in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment.” Our mission is the removal of all local, national, regional and global terrorist groups in order to protect and preserve our freedom. We have performed heroically in Afghanistan and Iraq. Let us take the next step, in Lebanon.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Call for Volunteers: Frontline Forum

Retired Military Persons Needed

The difference a year can make is staggering. One year ago, the gap between the ground reports from Iraq from military friends prompted my travel to Iraq to see for myself just what was happening. The dispatches posted to these pages over the ensuing months were an attempt to bridge that gap. Now that I’m back in the United States for a time, trying wring every bit of information of the war out of the news, only to come up dry most days, it’s become clear that in just under a year, the media gap has morphed into a chasm. Before this thing becomes a black hole, it’s time for a few good men and women to put their military experience and expertise to use in an operation that can create an alternative channel that will allow frontline information to break through and be heard.

This site gets much traffic from all around the world, from people searching for news from Iraq, making it an ideal place to host stories from deployed forces in harm’s way. Not comments, not those endlessly forwarded unattributed “true” stories that always seem airbrushed, but real stories about the ground situation. In my travels I’ve met many budding writers who are now wearing boots and carrying rifles, and I found their stories so compelling that I want the world to see.

One antidote to the no news but bad news flu would be to let more of these voices be heard. A simple “call for stories,” would probably stuff the inbox with emailed submissions. Having already made my ongoing inability to read email well known on these pages, any information system predicated on my reading emails would clog before it launched. This is where the volunteers come in.

It’s important that the bar be set high when it comes to accuracy. I cannot read every story and vett for accuracy. But what I can do is provide the groundwork to assemble a group of retired military personnel who can read the stories, with their radar for embellishment and operational security set high, and select which submissions to publish. Over time, a more comprehensive and accurate picture of what is happening on the ground can emerge.

The Veteran Volunteers would need to organize themselves, as I will neither moderate nor provide any assistance other than making a forum available. A few key volunteers can assist with building the virtual organization that must be in place before we can issue that Call for Stories.

Now is the time to Call for Volunteers. There will be no reward for anyone other than to know that important information is flowing, and that our troops on the ground will finally have their own voice in a forum that is widely read. It is important that the volunteers have much military experience so that they can better judge what sounds credible and most important to publish.

Call for Volunteers: Any retired military personnel interested in the Frontline Forum, please email to, and put “Volunteer” in the subject heading. Please describe briefly your military experience and an estimate to the number of hours per week you can spend reading stories from troops. If you have skills that are in some way related to this project, please include a description of those skills in your email. Let us know what you can do and how much of it you are willing and able to do. Someone will get back to you soon. While the Volunteers organize, we’ll build the forum, network with others who are in touch with our troops, and when all is ready, we can turn on the faucets and open the flow of frontline news.