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After Outcry, Rumsfeld Says He Will Sign Condolence Letters

By Dana Milbank
The Washington Post
Sunday, December 19, 2004; Page A05

The Pentagon has acknowledged that Donald H. Rumsfeld did not sign condolence letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, but it said that from now on the embattled defense secretary would stop the use of signing machines and would pick up the pen himself.

In a statement provided to Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, Rumsfeld said: "I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action. While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter."

Letters from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to families of slain soldiers used a signature device. (Gustavo Ferrari - AP)

The controversy arose when soldier-turned-writer David H. Hackworth penned a column on Nov. 22 reporting that two Pentagon-based colonels told him that Rumsfeld "has relinquished this sacred duty to a signature device rather than signing the sad documents himself." After checking with various families of the dead, Hackworth wrote that "one father bitterly commented that he thought it was a shame that the SecDef could keep his squash schedule but not find the time to sign his dead son's letter."

Hackworth wrote that a Pentagon spokesman, Jim Turner, dutifully told him that "Rumsfeld signs the letters himself." Now, that assertion turns out to be inoperative.

This is an unwelcome discovery for Rumsfeld, whose handling of the Iraq war has earned him complaints in recent days from several Republican senators. In particular, Rumsfeld drew criticism for his dismissive treatment of a question from an Iraq-bound soldier about the lack of protective equipment.

Stars and Stripes quoted families of the dead saying they were insulted that Rumsfeld did not sign the letters himself. They also said they were suspicious about the signature on similar letters they received from President Bush, but a White House spokesman said Bush does put pen to paper himself.

Anti-Kerry Group Is Not Done Yet

The satirical newspaper "The Onion" did a spoof reporting that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which harassed Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry during the campaign about his Vietnam War record, was continuing its campaign against the defeated Kerry because "John Kerry is a threat to every American he comes in contact with, whether he's running for president, getting his oil changed, or going to a movie with his wife." The Onion proposed two new ads for the group, one accusing Kerry of going bowling in street shoes and the other accusing him of cheating to get his 10th cup free at a coffee shop.

Then something really funny happened: Life imitated satire. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Thursday: "The end of the 2004 presidential election campaign doesn't spell the end of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the well-funded alliance of former servicemen that remains dedicated to preventing Sen. John Kerry from becoming president. The group . . . plans to convene next month to celebrate its successes and to consider speaking out further about Kerry's military service, his anti-war activities afterward, and other issues."

Meanwhile, the American Conservative Union has announced that it has chosen Sen. Zell Miller, the retiring Georgia Democrat who campaigned for Bush and angrily suggested that Kerry wished to arm American troops with "spitballs," to give a "Courage Under Fire" award to the Swift boat group at its Feb. 18 banquet. And we thought Valentine's Day was Feb. 14.

To Pay Debt, Nader Selling His Parents' Cookbook

It is probably just a matter of time before Ralph Nader is hawking apples on the street corner.

In this space two weeks ago, it was noted that Nader, the celebrated consumer advocate cum laughingstock presidential candidate, was seeking to pay off his campaign debt by selling autographed copies of his decades-old book "Unsafe at Any Speed" for $100 each. Nader, who received a whopping 429,000 votes last month, needed $450,000 to retire his debt.

Evidently, the old books didn't sell. Last week, Nader sent an e-mail to supporters asking them to buy a copy of a cookbook published 13 years ago by his mother and father. The book, "It Happened in the Kitchen: Recipes for Food and Thought," can be yours, Nader says, "for a contribution of $100 or more to our campaign -- which as you know was driven into debt by a multi-million dollar dirty tricks operation perpetrated by the Democratic Party."

What will Nader cook up next?

Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company