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An Agitated Pentagon Press Corps
Last uploaded : Monday 6th Dec 2004 at 07:00
Contributed by : The Editor


At the 3rd December Pentagon Briefing by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs Lawrence di Rita and Brigadier General David Rodriguez a series of slides was shown illustrating the extent of the activities of insurgents in Fallujah.

From remote radios used as triggering devices for explosives to detonation cords hidden inside bags of rice labelled ?aid? to videos of beheadings, the catalogue of violence and sadism made for disturbing viewing. A blood-spattered room in which hostages had been held and executed, along with images of numerous locations of explosive caches formed a part of the presentation. Slides were not shown of mutilated bodies and a corpse rigged with explosives. Scores of mosques, hospitals and cemeteries were used to store ammunition.

Evidence had also emerged of chemical laboratories, and a Mujahadeen manual explained the use of anthrax agents.

All of this was alarming, but the press corps turned the discussion to the fact that the Pentagon, of late, has been holding fewer and fewer briefings. To those who have been following the Pentagon from abroad it had been evident for many months that the ?lightning rod? effect of Defence Secretary Rumsfeld?s briefings had likely inspired the White House to make the Secretary?s presence scarce in the months leading up to the Presidential election.

Some of us in the media actually believe that Rumsfeld?s now-legendary ?Old Europe? comments were spot-on. The Europe of endless wars and tribal animosities is in many ways an old, lumbering crone whilst the new nations emerging from the Soviet Bloc are the dynamos of the future. However, in Europe and Britain, Rumsfeld?s utterances send cartoonists and headline-writers into apoplexy, so one deduces that his absence from the television screens was a form of damage control.

Charlie Aldinger of Reuters and Jamie McIntyre of CNN made an impassioned plea for twice-a-week briefings and di Rita assured them that the dearth of press sessions was not meant to keep the public in the dark about the many-faceted aspects of the war in Iraq and war on terror, nor to withhold information about the Boeing tanker controversy and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse inquiries. (see our previous Pentagon briefing coverage)


Di Rita said there were some 500,000 documents on file dealing with the Boeing issue (this relates to a Pentagon employee who had been negotiating a deal with Boeing whilst securing a post for herself at the company), but Aldinger was further moved to ask why Assistant Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz had promised disclosure of material relating to the case within thirty days, a period that has now expired. Di Rita said the Defence Secretary wanted the matter to be accurately disseminated, inasmuch as e-mails contain names of members of Congress and may include sensitive data.

Throughout this discussion there was an atmosphere of marked tension and even hostility in the briefing room, not usually witnessed when Secretary Rumsfeld is present. There was some astonishment in the room when the number of dead American soldiers in November was referred to by the conveners as ?the final tally.?

When di Rita was asked if Secretary Rumsfeld would stay in office he was non-committal but an hour after the briefing ended new agencies received word that President Bush had asked Rumsfeld to continue as Secretary of Defence.

After the briefing had ended the press crowded around di Rita to shout their requests for more briefings, and someone yelled ?Let?s not have any NBA stuff here? (there had been an audience-player riot at a basketball game a fortnight ago) but one felt there was an eminent degree of anguish amongst the cr?me de la cr?me of Pentagon correspondents .

Considering that British Defence Chief Geoff Hoon gives a briefing once in a blue moon, out estimation is that the Pentagon Corps should consider itself lucky. However, judging by the atmosphere in the room one suspects there will be a re-think and that ?Rummy fans? - and the European cartoonists -- will have more of him as America grapples with a Middle Eastern tinderbox.
Briefing transcript:



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