Obama makes overnight trip to honor fallen soldiers


DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AP) — President Obama made a midnight dash to this air base Wednesday to honor the return of fallen soldiers, absorbing the ultimate cost of war as the United States endures its deadliest month of the Afghanistan campaign.

On a clear fall night, Obama flew by Marine One helicopter to Dover Air Force Base to greet the flag-draped cases of 18 Americans killed in action this week.

After landing, the president, wearing a dark topcoat, got into a motorcade to a base chapel, where he met privately with families of the fallen Americans. He had arrived on the base at 12:34 a.m. Thursday and was expected to be back at the White House before dawn.

Obama was taking part in a solemn process, to unfold in four movements: the transfer of the fallen 15 soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Agency agents from the back of the C-17 to a transport vehicle to a base mortuary.

As part of the official party, Obama was to go on the plane, each time witnessing silently as a chaplain said a prayer for the fallen, the family, the country and the war effort.


A president of two inherited wars, Obama is winding down U.S. involvement in Iraq, but the troubled war in Afghanistan is only widening. His dramatic visit to witness remains of the fallen comes as he weighs whether to send more troops into the Afghan war zone.

The White House kept Obama's plans off his schedule, informing a small group of traveling reporters in advance on condition of secrecy.

The Pentagon this year lifted its 18-year ban on media covering the return of U.S. service members killed in action if family permission is provided. With Obama in attendance, the media were to witness the transfer of one fallen soldier: Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Ind.

Obama walked along with the official party onto the huge, gray cargo plane, its hatch open. They emerged one by one, the president last, forming a line of honor.

The flag-draped remains of Griffin were carried off the plane by six Army soldiers in fatigues and black berets. Obama and the officials salute. The transfer case then was placed in a white van to be taken to the mortuary facility on the base.

The rest of the solemn morning was kept out of sight of the press on family wishes.

The Dover base, about 100 miles from the White House, is the entry point for service personnel killed overseas.

Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush visited the families of hundreds of fallen soldiers but did not attend any military funerals or go to Dover to receive the coffins. In a 2006 interview with the military newspaper "Stars and Stripes," Bush said he felt the appropriate way to show his respect was to meet with family members in private.

Obama is in the midst of an intense, weekslong review of his war strategy in Afghanistan. He has upped the U.S. commitment there to 68,000 troops and is considering sending a large addition next year, but fewer than the 40,000 troops requested by his commander there, U.S. officials tell The Associated Press.

Most Americans either oppose the war or question whether it is worth continuing to wage.

At least 55 U.S. forces have been killed in October. That's the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban

On Monday, a U.S. military helicopter crashed returning from the scene of a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers in western Afghanistan, killing 10 Americans including three Drug Enforcement Administration agents. In a separate crash, four more U.S. troops were killed when two helicopters collided over southern Afghanistan. On Tuesday, eight soldiers were killed when their personnel vehicles was struck by roadside bombs in the Afghanistan's Kandahar province.

An Air Force C-17 cargo plane arrived at Dover after midnight carrying the bodies of 18 fallen personnel from Afghanistan, including the 10 Americans killed Monday and the eight soldiers the next day. The official party receiving the coffins included Attorney General Eric Holder; DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart Gen. Norton Schwartz the Air Force chief of staff; Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, commander of the Army Special Forces; Maj. Gen. Daniel Wright, the Army assistant judge advocate; and Col. Robert Edmondson of the Air Force Mortuary Operations Center.

The lifting of the ban on media coverage of bodies returning to Dover was done to keep the human cost of war from being shielded from the public.

Now Obama was seeing it directly.

Air Force personnel are diligent about not calling the transfer of remains a "ceremony" to avoid any positive connotations; they call them "dignified transfers."

Obama meets Friday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military leaders who would have the responsibility for carrying out his strategy decisions. White House officials said Obama keep considering his options with advisers over the next couple of weeks, and other war council meetings may still be called during that period.

The White House preference is to announce the troop decision after the Afghanistan's run-off presidential election on Nov. 7, but before Obama leaves for a long and unrelated trip to Asia, four days later on Nov. 11. But no announcement plan has been settled upon by Obama and his aides, officials said.

Witness to an assault: Must you report it?

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Witness to an assault: Must you report it?

Police investigating the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside a school dance are finding that a California law may make it impossible to prosecute as many as 20 people who saw the rape and did nothing.

A state statute requires that people must report to police any information they have about the sexual assault of children under the age of 14. There is no law requiring people do the same for victims over that age.

"The fact that our victim missed that age by a very short time …" said Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan. "It's just very offensive that there's no statute we can use to show that we condemn their behavior."

Gagan said the assault began inside a homecoming dance Saturday night at Richmond High School. He said the girl was taken to a dark, remote corner on the campus and raped by as many as 10 males.

Gagan said Wednesday that police have arrested five males — between the ages of 15 and 21 — and charged them with a variety of felonies, including rape and kidnapping. He expected more arrests this week.


The attack put this industrial suburb of San Francisco in the national spotlight. Home to numerous refineries and loading docks, Richmond was ranked as the ninth most dangerous city in the USA in 2008, according to Morgan Quitno Press, a research company that tracks criminal data.

Gagan said up to 20 onlookers came and went but that no one called police until a woman overheard two witnesses talking about the attack and she reported it.

The case drew comparisons to other high-profile cases where groups of people fail to report heinous crimes, a phenomenon dubbed the "bystander effect." According to the theory, the likelihood that a witness reaches out for help decreases as the number of witnesses increase.

One notorious example of the phenomenon took place in Queens, N.Y., in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was attacked in the courtyard of an apartment complex. Numerous residents heard or saw portions of the attack and did nothing, though some details have been disputed. Studies have found that people in such situations either think someone else has called police, fear getting involved, or fail to help for other reasons.

David Hyman, a University of Illinois law professor who has studied the bystander effect, said the biggest misconception about such situations is that they happen often.

Hyman studied decades worth of data and found that no more than two people die each year because of a failure to attempt a rescue — either of a victim of a crime or of a natural occurrence, like drowning. By comparison, Americans perform over 1,000 "non-risky" and about 260 "risky" rescue attempts each year.

"We do have a problem: People too often get involved in circumstances that place the life of the rescuer at risk," he said.

However, in the Richmond case, Hyman said there was no doubt that someone should have called police immediately.

Eugene Volokh, a University of California-Los Angeles law professor, said the reaction to crimes involving disinterested bystanders is a call for a law requiring witnesses to report crimes.

He said those kinds of laws only exist in a handful of states and for good reason. In the case of the California law, the crime carries a maximum six months in prison.

Volokh said making the failure to report a crime a crime itself can seriously undermine the intent of the law. Many times people don't report a crime until some time has passed — maybe their guilt convinces them to call police, maybe they don't think a crime is occurring but later see a call from police for information. Those people may not come forward if doing so would be admitting to a crime.

"This makes it much less likely that they will testify later or that they'll talk to police later," Volokh found.

Peter Arenella, a UCLA law professor who studies the moral psychology of juveniles, believes the bystander effect should not even apply to the Richmond gang rape.

"In this context, when you're talking about a crime this horrific, and you're talking about a group of adolescents watching, there's much more serious pathology going on that can't be explained by, 'Someone else is going to call for help,' " Arenella said.

Utley blasts two homers in Series opener

Chase Utley has reached base a major-league record 26 consecutive postseason games.


NEW YORK — Second baseman Chase Utley made postseason history with a first-inning walk Wednesday night. Then, he did it with his power.

Utley's walk in the first inning of World Series Game 1 helped him set a postseason record by reaching base via a hit or walk in 26 consecutive postseason games.

His home runs in the third and sixth inning made him the second left-handed batter to hit two home runs off a left-handed pitcher — in this case CC Sabathia — in a World Series game, joining Babe Ruth  who did it in Game 4 of the 1928 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Bill Sherdel.


GAME 1 RECAP: Lee, Utley help Phils blast off
POWERLESS: Yanks bats held in check


Utley's home runs got the Philadelphia Phillies going in a 6-1 victory against the New York Yankees It was the first World Series game played in the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium


First baseman Boog Powell had the record for consecutive games reaching base for the Baltimore Orioles from 1966 through 1971.

"I didn't know that happened," Utley said when asked about the consecutive-games record.

Utley's first home run against Sabathia dropped a few rows into the seats behind the right-field fence and came on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. In the sixth inning, Utley's home run landed deep into the right-field bleachers.

Utley said he goes into each game with a plan. Against Sabathia, one of the hottest pitchers in the postseason who hadn't given up a home run to a lefty all season, Utley said Sabathia was throwing him sinkers and he decided to lay off the sliders.

Both home runs came on fastballs: "The slider is a tough one to hit on the barrel," Utley said. "I was able to hit a fastball. He left one out in the middle of the plate, and you can't miss those kinds of pitches against that type of pitcher."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sabathia pitched a great game and "made two mistakes to Utley. That was it. He got some fastballs in the middle of the plate. Utley made him pay."

Utley hit a home run in Game 1 of last season's World Series at the Tampa Bay Rays The Phillies won that game, too.

"That's not your goal going into the game," he said. "Your goal is to try to put good at-bats together and see what happens."

He said he tries to get on base for the big hitters behind him, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth  But Utley has proved to be dangerous himself.

From 2005 through 2009, Utley had the most home runs in the majors by a second baseman, 143. The next closest player was the Florida Marlins  Dan Uggla (121).

Utley doesn't have much trouble vs. lefty pitchers. In fact, some of his statistics are better against lefties, including slugging percentage (.545 to .499) and average (.288 to .279).

"I don't know," he said. "Over the past four years, I've faced a lot of left-handers, especially out of the bullpen with Ryan and I being left-handed. It seems like late in the game there's always a lefty pitcher facing us. I think the more you face them, the more comfortable you get off them. And that's all."

Back in his first postseason game in 2007 vs. the Colorado Rockies  Utley went 0-for-4, but since then, he has reached base safely with either a hit or walk in every postseason game he's played.

Utley has the record despite hitting .211 in the National League Championship Series.

"That says that he works the count and he's patient at the plate," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He finds ways to get on base."

That was certainly true Wednesday night.

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