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Secret Service Stunned, Vows Corrective Action for Bush Shoe Incident

December 16, 2008

Although the Secret Service put everyone who attended President George W. Bush’s Baghdad news conference through several layers of security Sunday, the agency appeared to be caught off guard when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at the president.

“We’ll be our own harshest critic regarding this incident,” Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said Monday, “and we’ll make any appropriate changes to security.”

By Greg Gordon and Adam Ashton, McClatchy Newspapers

Donovan said, however, that agents on the scene knew that everyone in attendance had been screened for weapons and that they appeared to have taken the “appropriate level of action.” No shots were fired as Bush’s Secret Service detail joined Iraqi police in taking the shoe thrower into custody.

The arrested man, Muntathar al Zaidi, a 29-year-old employee of Cairo, Egypt -based Baghdadiya Television, remained in Iraqi custody Monday. Officials in Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s office refused to comment on his condition or on whether he’d be criminally charged.

Throngs of Iraqi Shiite Muslims marched Monday in Sadr City, a sprawling Baghdad slum, hailing Zaidi as a hero and holding up shoes as they demanded his release.

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By Toby Harnden
Telegraph (UK)

According to ABC News, the Secret Service thinks that their reactions to the bizarre “shoe-icide attack” on President George W. Bush were just fine and peachy and they are congratulating themselves on not over-reacting and showing “unusual restraint”.

Well, things turned out OK in the end. Or at least, they turned out a lot better than they would have had either shoe, which was flung with ferocity in what seemed like a well-practiced and premeditated attack, hit Bush flat in the face. And certainly much better than, God forbid, if the Iraqi journalist, Muthathar al-Zaidi of Baghdadiya Television, had been hurling something more lethal than a shoe.

Certainly, it’s good that the Secret Service didn’t pull their weapons and gun down the assailant. On the other hand, it’s hard to disagree with Blackfive’s argument that they could have done a tad more to protect the president.

TPM’s Josh Marshall tentatively suggests that the Secret Service might have been at fault. He’s right – here are 10 obvious questions that arise:

1. While it’s great that “screening included magnetometers, sweeps by K9 dogs and U.S. military bomb squads” that doesn’t mean the room should have been treated by agents as if it was a sanitised zone. What if the al-Zaidi had somehow smuggled in a substance (or a substance had been pre-placed) for an attempt on Bush’s life?

2. What was the process for screening Iraqi journalists? It seems that there was ample evidence that al-Zaidi,a former Baathist, might have had malign intent. It’s not an infringement of press liberty to hand pick indigenous journalists who are placed within a few feet of the president in a war zone.

3. Why were agents not scouring the press corps? If so, al-Zaidi’s movement to take off his left shoe would have been detected and the an antennae raised, enabling him or her to start preparing for a blocking movement once the journalist’s shoe-clasping hand was raised.

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