White House Disputes Charge President Uses “Auto-pen” for Letters to Lost Soldiers’ Grieving Families

Aug 30, 2012 4:33pm
ht barack obama dover dm 110810 wb White House Disputes Charge President Uses Auto pen for Letters to Lost Soldiers Grieving Families

President Barack Obama, in the process of saluting, participates in a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., Aug. 9, 2011, for the dignified transfer of U.S. and Afghan personnel who died in Afghanistan on Aug. 6. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The White House today disputed the suggestion that the president had used an auto-pen to sign condolence letters to the families of Navy SEALs killed in a Chinook crash in Afghanistan last year.

“The President personally signs every letter to the families of fallen service members in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, “and he has said many times that it is one of the most difficult parts of his job and a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.”

The story that the president used an auto-pen to sign form letters was first posted in a blog from The Gateway Pundit, which — relating concerns and frustrations of a grieving family — posted letters from the president to Karen and Billy Vaughn, parents of the late SEAL Aaron Carson Vaughn, and letters to other parents of SEALs killed in that August 6, 2011 crash, asserting that the letters were “form letters — signed by an electric pen.”

Tweeted Donald Trump Thursday with a link to the Gateway Pundit story, “Too busy playing golf? @BarackObama sends form letters with an electronic signature to the parents of fallen SEALs http://bit.ly/SUEUzm.

The Chinook crash killed 30 Americans and eight Afghans, representing the deadliest single incident in the war. Later than month, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta traveled to Dover and attended the dignified transfer ceremony.

The White House did not dispute that the letters were form letters, but that would appear to not be unique to this president. A 2003 Newsweek story reported that the sympathy letters grieving families had received from President George W. Bush were “form letters. With the exception of the salutation and a reference to the fallen soldier in the text, the letters the families shared with me are all the same.”

But in December 2008, John Solomon of the Washington Times reported that as part of a private effort to comfort the families of those killed in war and during 9/11, then-President Bush sent personal letters to the families of “every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in 2004 criticized for using an auto-pen to sign condolence letters to the families of fallen troops. At the time he issued a statement saying, “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.”

Here’s the story we did for World News in which we mentioned as many of the troops’ names as were known at the time. Take a moment to watch the spot, if you can.

-Jake Tapper

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