Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, July 3, 2019 which is National Chocolate Wafer Day, National Fried Clams Day, National Compliment Your Mirror Day and American Redneck Day.
Tomorrow in Legion History:
- July 4, 1919: Issue 1, No. 1 of The American Legion Weekly magazine is published. The introductory column is written by Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing. George A. White, one of the four officers who met with Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., in January to begin plans for the organization, is identified as founder of the publication. “The Legion is destined to be of tremendous value in fostering the ideals and purposes for which we fought,” Pershing writes in the original issue.
This Day in History:
- 1863: On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s last attempt at breaking the Union line ends in disastrous failure, bringing the most decisive battle of the American Civil War to an end.
- On this day in 1775, George Washington rides out in front of the American troops gathered at Cambridge common in Massachusetts and draws his sword, formally taking command of the Continental Army. Washington, a prominent Virginia planter and veteran of the French and Indian War, had been appointed commander in chief by the Continental Congress two weeks before. In agreeing to serve the American colonies in their war for independence, he declined to accept payment for his services beyond reimbursement of future expenses
- Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones is found dead of an apparent accidental drowning on this day in 1969. Two years later to the day, in 1971, Jim Morrison dies of heart failure in a Paris bathtub.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Navy Times: SEAL war crimes suspect not guilty on murder charge
- AP: All-Afghan peace summit set for July, but on Taliban terms
- Foreign Policy: Fears Rise of an ISIS Comeback
- Military Times: American Legion secured a 24-hour guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 82 years ago today
- Stripes: VA delays decision to add more diseases to Agent Orange list
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Navy Times: SEAL war crimes suspect not guilty on murder charge
By: Carl Prine 13 hours ago
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More than nine months after he was charged with murder, attempted murder and a string of other alleged war crimes tied to a 2017 deployment in Iraq, Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher strolled out of a Naval Base San Diego courtroom a free man, guilty only of appearing in an inappropriate photograph.
Military prosecutors had accused Gallagher, 40, of stabbing to death a seriously wounded Islamic State prisoner of war on May 3, 2017 in a SEAL compound near Mosul, but a military panel composed mostly of combat-tested Marine officers disagreed and acquitted the chief.
Several junior petty officers in Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7 also alleged that he had shot at least two civilians from a sniper perch and later tried to cover up his actions, but jurors tossed those charges, too.
Gallagher’s defense team had savaged the witnesses in court as liars bent on usurping a demanding chief they didn’t like and making sure he failed to receive a Silver Star commendation for battlefield heroism.
And in the end a panel of his peers agreed with Chief Gallagher, not a handful of junior SEALs.
Wearing broad smiles, Gallagher’s legal team led by Timothy Parlatore and Marc L. Mukasey emerged from the courthouse shortly after Navy Times learned of the verdict and announced their victory.
“The jury found him not guilty of the murder, not guilty of the stabbing, not guilty of the shootings, not guilty of all those things,” said Parlatore. “They did find him guilty of taking a photograph with a dead terrorist, which we admitted from the beginning he was in that photograph.”
Mukasey called it a “huge victory, a huge weight off the Gallaghers and a huge victory for justice.”
Officials at Navy Region Southwest, the convening authority for Gallagher’s court-martial, did not return messages seeking comment.
Sentencing is slated to resume Wednesday morningin San Diego.
On June 21, the prosecution suffered a blow when their star witness, SEAL medic Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, confessed on the stand that he, not Gallagher, ended the detainee’s life by plugging his breathing tube, a mercy killing so the fighter wouldn’t be tortured to death by Iraqi security forces.
A spotter for Gallagher when the chief was a sniper in Iraq — Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam — also told jurors that a Father’s Day shooting in 2017 was a good kill, not a war crime.
Both petty officers were represented free of charge by Brian Ferguson, a Texas attorney and Air Force Reserve major.
“An impartial panel of seven senior service members had the opportunity to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses in the case and returned a verdict consistent with the truthful testimony provided by these two special operators.”
But in a second press conference after court recessed Tuesday evening, Gallagher’s attorney Parlatore traced the collapse of the prosecution’s case to earlier events.
He cited an “aggressive defense” that went directly at prosecutors and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents for what he described as a botched case tainted by government misconduct.
“The prosecutors got sloppy,” said Parlatore, a former Navy surface warfare officer. “They committed misconduct. They spied on us. NCIS screwed up. And it was a continuous downhill spiral from there.”
On June 3, Navy judge Capt. Aaron Rugh booted lead prosecutor Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak from the case after he admitted to emailing 13 defense attorneys and paralegals — plus the editor of Navy Times — a tracking beacon in a warrantless search for those who were leaking information to the media.
Navy Times had uncovered records that suggested prosecutors and NCIS officials had not only withheld information that could have helped exonerate Gallagher but also hinted at how Scott truly recollected the detainee dying.
“In this case you had so many different things,” Parlatore said. “So many different firsts. I mean, how many times have we heard a forensic pathologist say, ‘I can’t determine cause of death?’ How many times have we had a witness say, ‘Oh, no. I did it.’ How many times have we had a judge find that the prosecutor spied on defense attorneys?
"This is a case of firsts.”
Parlatore called on Navy leaders, especially at Naval Special Warfare, the Office of the Judge Advocate General and NCIS to learn from the many mistakes made in a case he said never should’ve gone to trial.
The maximum jail sentence for posing for photographs with a dead war casualty is four months, nearly half the time he already served during pretrial confinement in San Diego’s Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar.
Citing the highly decorated Gallagher’s service to the nation, President Donald J. Trump ordered him released on March 30.
“President Trump should be working on getting him his Silver Star now,” said Jeremiah J. Sullivan III, the defense attorney representing Lt. Jacob X. “Jake” Portier, the officer in charge of Gallagher’s SEAL platoon.
Now that Gallagher has been cleared, the spotlight falls on Portier’s upcoming trial.
On the day Gallagher was acquitted on all but one minor charge, military prosecutors pressed forward on Portier’s case and obtained a trial date of Sept. 3.
Prosecutors accuse the lieutenant of helping his platoon chief cover up crimes that a jury said Tuesday weren’t committed.
“It defies logic and the plain meaning of justice,” said Sullivan. “They’re going to waste an abundance of taxpayer dollars. But we’ll be ready for trial. One acquittal at a time.”
AP: All-Afghan peace summit set for July, but on Taliban terms
By: Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press and Amir Shah, The Associated Press 10 hours ago
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ISLAMABAD — A surprise announcement by President Donald Trump seemed to accelerate the expected time frame for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan ahead of an all-Afghan peace summit planned for July 7-8 in Qatar. The gathering apparently will be held on Taliban terms as there will be no official Afghan government representation.
Trump told Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight on Monday that nearly half of all American troops have already been pulled out.
That pullout was expected to be announced as part of a time frame being negotiated by Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in the middle of talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
“I’ve wanted to pull them out. And you know, I have pulled a lot out. We were at 16,000. We’re down to about 9,000, which a lot of people don’t know,” Trump said, according to the transcript of the interview shared with The Associated Press. “So we’ve reduced the force very substantially in Afghanistan, which I don’t talk about very much, and that’s OK,” Trump added.
According to a senior U.S. defense official, however, there are still close to 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan — a number that has remained fairly steady for many months.
The Taliban’s spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, has said that talks with Khalilzad are focused on a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan. In a tweet on Monday, Shaheen had said talks would come with an announcement of a timetable for withdrawal of the estimated 20,000 service personnel, including American forces.
Trump’s comments Monday would seem to contradict a statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to Kabul on June 25. Pompeo said then that Washington had made no decision on a timeframe for withdrawal.
Trump also said in the Monday TV interview that he wanted to leave a strong intelligence gathering force behind in Afghanistan.
“I’ll tell you the problem is, look, I would like to just get out. The problem is, (Afghanistan) just seems to be a lab for terrorists. It seems — I call it the Harvard of terrorists. … But I would leave very strong intelligence there,” he said, according to the transcript.
Meanwhile, on the upcoming all-Afghan dialogue, Germany’s special representative Ambassador Markus Potzel said Tuesday that those attending "will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing."
The Taliban have flatly refused to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they consider a U.S. puppet, while repeatedly offering talks with anyone who comes to the table as an ordinary Afghan. The Taliban have already twice met with prominent Afghans, including former president Hamid Karzai and even members of the government’s peace council as well as opposition politicians. Those meetings have both been held in Moscow.
The announced talks come a day after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a devastating attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul that killed at least six people and wounded more than 100 others, many of them children attending two schools in the area, according to the Education Ministry.
Ghani has not responded to the announcement of next week’s talks. He has previously demanded the Taliban talk directly with his government, some of whom have complained about their continuing exclusion from meetings between Taliban and the U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad, who is currently holding a seventh round of direct talks with the Taliban in Doha, already held a battery of meetings with the Afghan president in Kabul last month. In an overnight tweet, he welcomed the announced all-Afghan talks. He tweeted that "this dialogue is an essential element of the four-part peace framework & and important step in advancing the #AfghanPeaceProcess."
Germany will co-sponsor the talks with Qatar, according to the statement issued by Potzel, who is the German special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
An earlier intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatar was scuttled when the two sides couldn’t agree on participants. Potzel said the invitations this time have been jointly issued by Germany and Qatar.
"Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress toward peace," Potzel said in the statement. "Only Afghans themselves can decide the future of their country." He said both Qatar and Germany are hoping the talks will create trust between the warring sides.
But for ordinary Afghans battered by relentless violence there is mostly frustration.
"Peace will never come to Afghanistan," said an angry Sawab Gul, who was waiting in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Tuesday to open his partially destroyed bedding store.
At age 40, Gul said he has never seen peace in his country and holds out little hope for the current attempts at finding an end to Afghanistan’s relentless wars.
"Every day people are dying. Afghanistan is like a hell for us Afghans," he said. "I don’t think I will ever see peace."
Foreign Policy: Fears Rise of an ISIS Comeback
The U.S. drawdown could provide a dangerous opening for the Islamic State to resurge.
By Lara Seligman
| July 2, 2019, 4:24 PM
With the United States continuing its drawdown in Syria, experts fear that the Islamic State could return stronger than ever unless other nations step in—but no replacement forces have yet been committed.
“Our expectation is the slack will be taken up by coalition forces — and we are getting a very encouraging response from them,” James Jeffrey, the top U.S. envoy to Syria and the counter-Islamic State coalition, said in an interview with Defense One in Brussels on Friday. He added that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria—promised in a December tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump, which prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis—was continuing on pace.
But so far, no partner forces have committed to sending additional forces to fill the gap when the majority of U.S. troops depart, potentially providing a dangerous opening for the terrorist group to resurge.
Without some level of American commitment, both political and in the form of funding for operations and stabilization, it’s unlikely key allies will step up to the plate, said Melissa Dalton, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We really do serve as the political backbone of this operation and for those critical enabling partners,” Dalton said.
The first step toward getting partners, such as the British or the French, to shore up additional support is brokering an agreement between the Turks and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to secure the border, Dalton said.
The French, for example, have been very clear that they are there for counterterrorism and will not participate in a “border monitoring role,” said one U.K. official, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
Jeffrey is in the midst of brokering such an agreement, but the delicate negotiations are vulnerable to outside events—an economic downturn in Turkey, a dispute between Washington and Ankara over a Russian missile system, and others.
The Turks want assurances that the SDF—predominantly made up of Kurdish fighters, which Turkey views as a terrorist group—won’t use northeastern Syria to launch attacks on southern Turkey, while the SDF fears that the Turks will invade the vulnerable border towns.
Without U.S. or allied support to sustain the security and stabilization gains the coalition has made, it’s likely that the Islamic State will “over time be able to prey upon local grievances,” as it did in the lead-up to the 2014 takeover, and eventually “reconstitute and be able to take territory,” Dalton stressed.
As of August 2018, the Islamic State had as many as 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria—far more than the 700-1,000 fighters its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, had in 2011, when the United States withdrew, according to a new report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) that warns of the risk for an Islamic State resurgence. During the gradual fall of the caliphate, the group quietly dispersed across both countries and is now waging a capable insurgency, boosted by a global financial network and sufficient supplies, including weapons, hidden in tunnel systems.
“ISIS began reconstituting key capabilities in late 2018 that will enable it to wage an even more aggressive insurgency in coming months,” according to the report, which noted that the group declared the start of a new global campaign called the “Battle of Attrition” on May 31.
The primary reason the insurgency will grow is that the territory it lost in Iraq and Syria is still “neither stable nor secure,” according to the report. The Islamic State is targeting government officials and village leaders in order to degrade governance structures and impede reconstruction efforts.
If the United States withdraws, the Islamic State will likely succeed in reestablishing territorial control in Iraq and Syria, the report concludes. Without an American presence, disparate SDF elements will fracture, vital intelligence and air operations will cease, and Turkey may invade northeastern Syria. A Turkish invasion would cause the SDF to pull forces away from the Middle Euphrates River Valley, “creating even more space in which ISIS could re-emerge.”
Despite the drawdown, the U.S. Defense Department insists that the U.S. military is committed to working with its regional partners in order to prevent the “significant threat” of an Islamic State resurgence.
“Ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS remains a vital U.S. national security interest,” said Michael Mulroy, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, during an event last week. “Even though the so-called caliphate is defeated, ISIS remains a significant threat.”
Mulroy said the United States is continuing to partner with local forces to build the security forces necessary to stabilize the region. The 5,200 U.S. forces currently operating in Iraq, along with the rest of the anti-Islamic State coalition, are helping to train and equip the 28 Iraqi brigades, comprising thousands of soldiers, that were on the front lines of the Islamic State fight, he said.
In Syria, the United States must support local partners, such as the SDF, to stabilize the areas that have been liberated from Islamic State control, Mulroy said. One focus is helping the SDF and its civilian counterparts to manage significant humanitarian and security challenges at Al-Hol and other camps for displaced people in northeastern Syria, he said. In addition, another challenge for the SDF is handling over 2,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 50 countries the group has detained. The United States must press partners to repatriate their citizens, Mulroy stressed.
Mulroy also highlighted the work of another coalition partner in Syria, the Maghawir al-Thawra, a force comprising Arab tribal members that continues to conduct daily patrols in the 34-mile deconfliction zone around the Tanf garrison in the south.
“The priority now is to ensure U.S. and coalition investments in the D-ISIS fight outlive the warfighting of the last five years,” Mulroy said, referring to the fight to destroy the Islamic State.
Mulroy also called the Jordanian armed forces a “crucial ally” in combating extremism.
But if Jeffrey is to be believed, the United States will soon reduce its footprint in the region, which could severely hamper the ability of local forces to defend against an Islamic State comeback.
“The U.S. is repeating a critical mistake by deprioritizing this effort at a pivotal moment when our gains are at their most fragile,” the ISW report warned. “The U.S. must take immediate steps to dampen ISIS’s resurgence in Iraq and Syria, including halting and reversing America’s ongoing withdrawal from Syria.”
Military Times: American Legion secured a 24-hour guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 82 years ago today
By:Diana Stancy Correll 20 hours ago
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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery has been constantly guarded for more than 80 years.
On July 2, 1937, approval was granted for 24-hour guarding of the tomb — even in situations of hazardous weather conditions. The change came following efforts from the American Legion for nonstop oversight.
The American Legion has played a significant role in the tomb’s history. When American Legion founder Hamilton Fish was elected in 1920 after World War I, he introduced legislation to remember an unknown soldier who was buried in France. Then-President Warren G. Harding dedicated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921 in the presence of Allied generals and American Legion members, according to the veterans group.
Incrementally, the tomb has received increased surveillance. For example, the American Legion won a victory when it secured overnight surveillance for the tomb in 1926.
The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, stationed at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, is responsible for guarding the tomb.
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 2, 2019
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs missed a self-imposed deadline at the end of June to decide whether to add conditions to the list of diseases presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure.
Researchers with the National Academy of Medicine released a report in November stating there was “suggestive” evidence that eight diseases — prostate cancer, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, stroke, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, AL amyloidosis, ischemic heart disease and Parkinson-like syndromes — could be caused by Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide used during the Vietnam War. They also found “sufficient” evidence linking the tactical herbicide to hypertension.
Under questioning at a Senate hearing in March, Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, vowed to review the report and to decide this summer whether to add to the list of presumptive conditions. The list currently covers 14 diseases and gives veterans who suffer from them a fast track to disability compensation.
“We’re working our way through that right now, and it would be my hope that within the next 90 days, we’ll have some decisions made,” Stone said March 26.
More than three months later, the VA hasn’t made any decisions.
“VA has no announcements on Agent Orange presumptive conditions at this time,” a VA spokeswoman said Monday.
Army veteran Jerry Foreman of Montrose, Ark., heard Stone’s promise this spring and has been waiting for the VA’s decision.
Foreman, 72, served in Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group and retired from the Army as a captain after 21 years. In the past several years, he’s developed hypertension and Parkinson-like tremors.
He has a VA disability rating of 20% for tinnitus and diabetes, and gets about $280 in benefits each month. If hypertension and Parkinson-like syndromes were added to the presumptive list, he guesses he would receive a “significant” increase.
“The National Academy — they’ve recommended that all these be put forward, but it just doesn’t seem to be working,” Foreman said. “We’re on hold … it really makes you kind of angry. We need some kind of accountability in the VA.”
Foreman, as well as other veterans and families, has been tracking the slow progress on these conditions.
In 2017, former VA Secretary David Shulkin recommended to the Office of Management and Budget that several of the conditions be added to the presumptive list. The recommendation didn’t make it any further.
“They’re going to say it costs too much money,” said Rick Weidman, president of Vietnam Veterans of America. “Well, you should’ve thought about that before you put poisons on people.”
Martha Edgin, the wife of a Vietnam veteran with bladder cancer, has spent years researching and applying to the VA. Based in Norman, Okla., Edgin repeatedly has contacted the VA and the Office of Management and Budget, in addition to her congressional delegation and anyone else she believes might know something about when — or whether — bladder cancer would get approved for the list.
Edgin described the most recent delay as “shameful and unconscionable.” It creates a “lack of trust” for the VA among veterans and their families, she said.
“The saying that so many veterans believe is, ‘Deny, deny until they die,’ ” Edgin said. “In my opinion, Secretary [Robert] Wilkie needs to step up to the plate and say, ‘Enough,’ as should President [Donald] Trump. Immediately addressing this issue would go a long way in restoring a little faith in the system.”