United States News Digest
Republicans Tighten Control of House Ethics Committee
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) carried through with his plan to take tighter control of the House Ethics Committee on Feb. 2, by replacing Committee chairman Joel Helfey (R-Colo) with party loyalist Doc Hastings (R-Wash), making it unlikely that House Majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will be threatened by any more ethics investigations, no matter how many complaints are filed. The House Republican leadership also appointed two members to the Committee who are large donors to the DeLay legal expense trust: Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who contributed $10,000 and Tom Cole (R-Okla), who gave $5,000.
In an interview, Hefley said that, "people were put on the committee that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did.... Nobody should be there to protect anybody; they should be there to protect the integrity of the institution."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) said, "the removal of Hefley sent a chilling message to the members who value upholding the highest ethical standard over party loyalty."
Marine General Has 'Boykin Moment'
Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, told a conference in San Diego, that, "it is fun to shoot some people." He stated, "It's a hell of a hoot. I like brawling." Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee mildly rebuked Mattis, who is now commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, saying that he should choose his words "more carefully."
Meanwhile, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Marine Corps in January missed its monthly recruiting goal, by 84 people, or 3% of the total recruits they had sought.
The struggles of the Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard to recruit and retain soldiers have received national attention in recent months. But the failure of the Marines, who historically have had the luxury of turning away willing recruits, is a potential problem for the service.
California Nurses Launch Anti-Schwarzenegger Ads
The 60,000-strong California Nurses Association is running a one-minute spot targetting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the self-proclaimed "man of the people," as just another tool of monied interests. The spot opens with the Governator's denunciation of the state's nurses as just another "special interest," who are mad at him because, "I kick their butt."
The online publications sfgate.com described the TV spot on Feb. 2: "The ad then kicks some butt of its own, as veteran nurses respond both to Schwarzenegger's comments, and to his plan to freeze nurse-patient staffing levels."
Nurses union leader Rose Ann DeMoro said the ad "goes to the heart of the matter, which is that the Governor is trying to turn the state capital into a fraternity for corporate interests." DeMoro said the nurses decided to go national with the ad, because Arnold is going national with his efforts to raise more money for his "reform" initiatives.
Pentagon Assuming Increasing Powers
Amid the 800 pages of the defense authorization bill passed by Congress last October, is a single paragraph that gives the Pentagon significant powers in the area of covert warfare. The clause would authorize the Special Operations forces to directly hire and pay foreign informants and paramilitaries, something previously reserved only for the CIA. The Pentagon has been very cagey about its new-found authority, having failed to publicly mention it, even when the subject offered itself at military briefings. An annual budget of $25 million was authorized, and, although Pentagon officials have said that they have not used this authority as yet, they also say they are likely to, soon.
Reached for comment, a military source affirmed that the Pentagon is indeed assuming greater control. They have reverted to the "Vietnam mode," he said, in which it is not deemed necessary to inform Congress of every operation, however potentially volatile it might be, the presumed authority being already given with Congress's original granting of war powers to the President. The source said that, because Congress caved in to Bush on the October 2002 War Powers vote, the White House and Pentagon calculate that no one will challenge Bush's and Rumsfeld's assertion that we are "at war."
Federal Judge Says Gitmo Detainees Have Rights
In ruling on the government's motion to dismiss petitions for habeas corpus, brought by more than 50 detainees at Guantanamo, a Federal judge in Washington ruled on Jan. 31 that the detainees have Constitutional rights which the Federal courts can enforcejust as the U.S. Supreme Court had said last June, a ruling with which the Bush Administration has refused to comply.
Judge Joyce Hens Green, who was assigned to coordinate the various habeas cases after the Supreme Court decision, said that the procedures created by the Defense Department last year, in an effort to get around the Supreme Court ruling, violate the prisoners' rights to due process of law under the U.S. Constitution. Even though the prisoners are not U.S. citizens, the U.S. Constitution applies because they are being held by the U.S., on territory under U.S. control.
Judge Green also said that some of the prisoners have rights under the Third Geneva Convention, to have a properly constituted tribunal determine whether or not they qualify for prisoner-of-war status. Such procedures exist under U.S. military laws and regulations. She said that the President cannot make such a determination by himselfas President Bush attempted to do (on the advice of counsel Alberto Gonzales) when he declared in February 2002 that Taliban fighters did not qualify for protection of the Geneva Conventions.
Another judge in the same court, Bush-appointee Richard Leon, made an opposite ruling on Jan. 19, ruling that prisoners cannot challenge their detention; the conflict between the two rulings will have to be resolved by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the declassified version of Judge Green's opinion, some interesting facts were revealed. Not all those at Guantanamo were picked up in Afghanistan or Pakistan; the ruling says that numerous detainees "were captured hundreds or thousands of miles from a battle zone," and she notes that some of the petitioners "were taken into custody as far away from Afghanistan as Gambia, Zambia, Bosnia, and Thailand." The judge also noted that "many of these individuals may never have been close to an actual battlefield, and may never have raised conventional arms against the United States or its allies," but nonetheless, the Defense Department has deemed them "enemy combatants" who can be detained indefinitely.
Judge Green's ruling also makes it clear that a number of the detainees assert that they made confessions only under torture, and that the torture occurred at Guantanamo as well as in foreign countries.
Letter Demands Increase in Size of Army, Marines
In a development that could have multiple motives and meanings, a "bipartisan group" of neo-con friendlies has co-signed a letter sent to Congressional leaders, Republicans Sen. Bill Frist and Rep. Dennis Hastert, and Democrats Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Among the 30-odd signers were Daniel Blumenthal, Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., William Kristol, and Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey (U.S. Army, ret.); the letter was posted on the website of the neo-con Weekly Standard, for which Kristol and Boot work.
The thrust of the letter is that the U.S. military is overworked and understaffed, and this should be remedied. Although the intent of the signers is questionable, much of what they write is accurate. The letter, carefully worded so as to not indicate a threat of action in any particular direction, requests an increase in the Army and the Marines of "at least 25,000 troops each year, over the next several years." It asserts that U.S. commitment in the Middle East is likely to be "generational," and that "the current administration has been reluctant to face this reality," concluding that, "in sum, we can afford the military that we need."
Halliburton on the Defensive
Halliburton CEO David Lesar announced, during a Jan. 28 conference call with investment bankers and others, that the company would be ending its operations in Iran when its current contracts expire. (Halliburton does business through a foreign-owned subsidiary, which is legal.)
While part of that decision may reflect a warning from Vice President and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney to get out before the bombing starts, it may also reflect worries about a growing level of scrutiny. Already a convicted felon from its dealings with Libya in the late 1980s, the company has been accused of doing business with nations that export terrorism, fuel-price gouging, providing substandard food and housing for troops in Iraq, and being unable to account for more than one-third of the government property the Coalition Provisional Authority paid it to manage. Lesar also said he would recommend to the board that Halliburton separate itself from its KBR subsidiary, the source of many of the problems. Selling a company to launder its problems is a classic technique to defuse cases where companies get caught red-handed in skulduggery, and the sales are often to companies within the same network.
Bush Having Trouble Finding National Intelligence Director
Six weeks after passage of an intelligence reform bill creating a new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Bush Administration has yet to find a person to fill the position. According to a Jan. 31 report in the Washington Post, some within the intelligence community attribute at least part of the difficulty of finding a new DNI to the uncertainty over what actual power and authority the post will have. The Department of Defense's constant pushing to take over more of the intelligence community's role is a "big problem," said a former intelligence official. "Rumsfeld appears to be taking advantage of a temporary vacuum," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Another former intelligence official said "the Pentagon is off the ranch."
Rice Takes Hard Line on Iran
In her maiden appearance Jan. 30 as Secretary of State, on ABC's "This Week," hosted by George Stephanopolous, Condoleezza Rice took an icily hard line on Iran, to the point of refusing even to dissociate the U.S. from a potential Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear reactor. When asked if the U.S. will try to dissuade Israel from striking Iran, she said she would not speculate on such a matter. She repeatedly referenced the fact that even development of commercial nuclear energy by Iran posed a danger, and could disrupt "stability" in the region. When Stephanopolous tried to provoke a response by suggesting that the Israelis would come to Washington, and propose taking out the Iranian program, Rice didn't bat an eye, and responded by again attacking the Iranian nuclear program.