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Lt. General William Caldwell needs to be fired. Now. General Caldwell, a three star general in charge of training Afghanistan troops allegedly ordered that the Army’s arsenal of psychological weapons of war be trained on Members of Congress and other “VIPs” in order to manipulate them into giving the Army more money and troops for its Afghanistan operation.

According to Rolling Stone, the head of an Army “Information Operations” unit in Afghanistan, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, has been under orders from Caldwell to find “pressure points” to use against the visiting Congressional delegations and secretly manipulate them without their knowledge. Holmes quoted the general’s Chief of Staff:  “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”

General Caldwell should face court marshal proceedings for violating his oath of office and US law. The Justice Department should launch an immediate investigation to determine just how widespread this propaganda operation is and how high up the chain of command it goes. Congress should act immediately as well. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees should schedule public hearings and the investigative arms of both houses, as well as the General Accounting Office, should launch investigations.

This latest Rolling Stone bombshell needs all the attention that the Obama administration and the Congress gave reporter Michael Hastings’ last story on an out-of-control General, Stanly McChrystal. This is worse. General McChrystal was guilty of frat boy style insubordination. Lt. General Caldwell, and whoever else was involved in this outrage, was attempting a form of military coup by attacking elected civilian leaders through psychological warfare. If you are frustrated by civilian control over your military, take them out. In this case the weapon of choice was the arsenal available to them by the Army’s psychological warfare operation.  

As a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, I was cognizant of the Pentagon’s use of spin to get the result that they wanted. I was in office for less than a month when I was invited for a personal “consultation” with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I am certain that Chairman Powell was less interested in my views of military strategy than he was of my vote.  

You can also see this dynamic at play in Bob Woodward’s account of President Obama’s “war” with the Pentagon when he was formulating his Afghanistan strategy. According to “Obama’s Wars”, the President was incensed and frustrated by generals who would only provide him with options that were anything but.  As Woodward put it, “This was a contest that pitted the president against the military establishment.” The contest ended with the announcement of a significant escalation of US forces in Afghanistan.  

The manipulation described in the Rolling Stone article, however, is different. This is the wholesale use of a weapon of war – “psy ops” in the military vernacular – to take out the independent judgment of those who are responsible for overseeing and holding accountable the US military. As Lt. Col. Holmes put it “My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave.” To Lt. Gen. Caldwell, the enemy was not al-Qaeda or even the Taliban, but the U.S. Congress.

This is a serious offense, not just against Members of Congress, but against the United States and civilian control of the military. It must be met with a response that is as equally serious.

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