United States News Digest
More than 3,000 people attend first BRAC hearing
More than 3,000 people attended the first public hearing on the Pentagon's proposed base closing plan, sponsored by Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in Anchorage, Alaska, on June 15. Published reports placed the number of attendees as high as 3500, but an EIR source estimated that as many as 4,000 to 5,000 people were present. Our source reported that Alaskans suddenly realized recently that the influence of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ak.) would not be enough to keep the bases open, and so, three weeks ago, the Fairbanks North Star Borough allocated $500,000 and the State of Alaska allocated $1 million to fight the base closure.
The meeting with four members of the BRAC, included Alaska's top elected officials including Stevens, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.), and Gov. Frank Murkowski (R). Two retired generals, Maj. Gen. Mark Hamilton, U.S. Army, who is now president of the University of Alaska, and Gen. Patrick Gamble, now president of Alaska Railroad, were also present and testified. The meeting took place over 2 hours, as the public officials told the Commissioners why "warm basing" (turning it into a part-time training base) was a bad idea. Hamilton and Gamble told the Commissioners that the Defense Department's figures don't add up. Sen. Stevens explicated that the Air Force claims cost savings by mothballing the base, thereby saving on operating costs; but its analysis does not account for the costs associated with shutting down the base, e.g. environmental clean-up and community assistance.
KTUU-TV reported that the BRAC members seemed awed by the number of people who showed up, not only filling up the civic center, but also spilling out into the street, and that they nonetheless received a standing ovation when they entered the meeting. The report says that the Commissioners didn't seem happy with how the Pentagon set up the plan for downsizing nationwide. "This was the most clever thing I've ever seen," former Utah Congressman James Hansen is quoted. "It must have been a great trail to put this together, almost, because it's perfect as far as making it difficult to work with."
Conyers holds his own hearing on Downing Street memo
On June 16, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) held a Democratic hearing on the July 2002 British government memo that reports that, at that time, the Bush Administration had already decided on war with Iraq. The hearing was held in a small room in the basement of the U.S. Capital building because Conyers had been unable to get a room from the House Republican Leadership to hold the hearing. All of the Congressmen who came and asked questions, commented that this hearing was very important and was making big history, but it was a sad state of affairs that the hearing had to be held in such a small room.
The witnesses at the hearing were Ambassador Joe Wilson; Cindy Sheehan, a mother who had lost her son and was saying that she can't find out from the Dept. of Defense how he died; former CIA analyst Ray McGovern; and the Constitutional lawyer John Bonifaz, who was the lead counsel in the Constitutional challenge of President Bush's invasion of Iraq. The hearing took questions and presented evidence to get the Congress to pass a resolution of inquiry into the fixing of intelligence before the war, and to hold hearings on this matter in light of the Downing Street Memo.
Bipartisan resolution on Iraq withdrawal
A bipartisan group of four members of the House of Representatives on June 16 introduced a binding resolution to begin the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who voted for the war in October 2002, introduced the group, which included Ron Paul (R-Tex.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hi.), as "a conservative, a libertarian, a liberal, and a moderate, who agree that our forces have done all they can do in Iraq." The bill mandates that Bush begin withdrawing troops on or before Oct. 1, 2006. It was modeled after the Mansfield Amendment of 1971, which had a similar message to President Nixon about bringing the troops home from Vietnam.
Kucinich said: "Today is the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq. It is time to thank our troops and say, 'Come home.' "
The bill is geared to the Bush Administration claims about progress in Iraq. "We are intentionally taking them at their word," the Congressmen said. "If they have in fact removed the dictator, given them a chance at democratic government, and trained 160,000 Iraqi troops, as they claim, then "there is nothing more for our troops to do."
Jones, who started the campaign against "french" fries, asked if he were prepared for a backlash from his conservative base, said that he will always do what is right, and that God knows his heart.
Republicans defy Bush on Patriot Act
On June 15, 38 Republicans jumped ship and joined with the Democrats on an amendment to the appropriations bill funding the Departments of Justice, State, Commerce, and other agencies, to prohibit the Justice Department from spending any appropriated funds on searching library or book sales records. The amendment passed by a vote of 238 to 187, despite threats from President Bush that he would veto the bill if the amendment on the Patriot Act was included.
Senators announce manufacturing caucus
On June 14, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced the formation of a Senate Manufacturing Caucus, to look into the reasons why 3 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared over the last three years, and to try to find solutions. "If we don't act decisively, and in a bipartisan way, we'll continue to lose manufacturing jobs that have been a real staple to the American economy," said Graham. He said the goal of the caucus is to "come up with creative solutions, realizing that globalization, the global economy, are part of the 21st century." He said that caucus will be looking at manufacturers that are successful, why jobs are being lost, how to deal with China and India, and what can be done at home to create jobs and improve the climate for manufacturing at home.
The way the Senators plan to do this is by holding hearings around the country, not just on Capitol Hill, to hear from people "with all different perspectives to come and tell us what they need, what they want, what they believe will work for them," said Clinton. Other members of the caucus, of which Graham and Clinton will be co-chairs, include Senators Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Norm Coleman (R- Minn.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Diane Feinstein (D- Calif.), Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Barak Obama (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Arlen Specter (R-Penna.), and Debbie Stabenow (D- Mich.).
GOP split on Guantanamo
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) triggered something of an uproar on June 12, when he told CNN's John King that the U.S. Government cannot continue to hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba indefinitely, without some sort of due process. Secondly, he said, "we need to make sure that whatever we do is in some confluence with and association with the other nations of the world," including international treaties and other agreements. It may well be to close Guantanamo Bay if we have an alternative would be the best thing for all of us," he said.
Sen. Hagel also ridiculed the notion that the torture alleged at Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib in Iraq was the responsibility of a handful of low-ranking reservists. "I was in Vietnam in 1968," Hagel said. "I carried a rifle. I saw a culture develop that was a very bad culture that ended in disaster for this country." He warned of a dangerous drift that is "going to end in disaster for this country," and "we're going to present to the world a very dangerous world if we don't wake up and smell the coffee, here."
The Bush Administration and its supporters in the Senate reacted with rage to any notion of closing Guantanamo. Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News's Sean Hannity, on June 14, that "there's no plan to close Gitmo," and that the people there are "bad people." Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the exact same thing, and while acknowledging that the U.S. has an "image problem," said, "Let's not cut and run because of image problems." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), standing next to Frist, had a slightly different take, however. While not suggesting the closure of the prison, he said he thought the problem had "to do with the disposition of the people who are detained, there. We need to bring charges against them if there are reason for charges to do so."
Supreme Court rejects Padilla appeal
On June 13, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by Jose Padilla, who has been held without charges for three years in a military prison, to bypass the 4th Circuit federal appeals court, and to get the highest court to directly hear his case.
A year ago, the Supreme Court dismissed Padilla's case on the grounds that his habeas corpus petition had been filed in the wrong district. But in a similar case of another U.S. citizen being held as an "enemy combatant" in military prison, that of Yasir Hamdi, the Supreme Court ruled that he must have access to the federal courts to challenge his detention. (Hamdi has subsequently been released and sent home to Saudi Arabia.) It was widely assumed that the Hamdi ruling would also apply to Padilla, and when his lawyers refiled his petition in South Carolina, a federal district judge did in fact rule that the government must charge Padilla with a crime, or release him.
The Justice Department appealed that ruling to the 4th Circuit, and a hearing is scheduled for July 19. But Padilla's lawyers, arguing that it is fundamentally unfair to hold someone for three years without charges, asked the Supreme Court to take up Padilla's case without his having to first have the appeal heard by the Fourth Circuit. This is what the Supreme Court declined to do, without making any statement on the merits of Padilla's case. Undoubtedly, whatever way the Fourth Circuit rules, the case will end up back at the Supreme Court, but only after Padilla remains in prison several more months.