United States News Digest
Ford Disagreed with Bush on Iraq
The Washington Post Dec. 28 released tapes of an interview with former President Gerald Ford, the day after his death at 93, in a front-page article by Bob Woodward. Woodward relates remarks by the late President Ford regarding President George W. Bush's Iraq War, which were recorded in July 2004, and in a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005, which had been embargoed until after Ford's death. "I don't think, if I had been President, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," Woodward quotes Ford, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer." Ford also remarked regarding Dick Cheney, that he had been an excellent chief of staff (in the Ford Administration), but he thought Cheney had become more "pugnacious" as Vice President, agreeing with Colin Powell's assessment that Cheney developed a fever about the threat of terrorism and Iraq.
President Ford is also quoted from a 2006 interview in the Daily News as saying that he didn't like Bush's domestic surveillance program: "It may be a necessary evil. I don't think it's a terrible transgression, but I would never do it. I was dumbfounded when I heard they were doing it."
Republican Senator Puts GOP on Notice on Iraq
The break by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore) with the White House has caused reverberations throughout the Republican Party, reported the Dec. 28 New York Times, referring to Smith's Dec. 7 speech on the Senate floor, in which he said that "a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day ... is absurd. It may even be criminal."
After the speech, Smith says, he got a cold shoulder or two, "But many of my colleagues said, 'Boy, you spoke for me.'"
Smith voted to authorize the war in 2002, but he says his attitude changed after he visited Iraq last year. And, he added, a book on World War I he had been reading, by British military historian John Keegan, was beginning to haunt him. Smith said that his use of the word "criminal" in his Senate speech came out of his reading of Keegan's book, which described "the practice of British generals, sending a whole generation of British men running into machine guns, despite memos back to London saying, in effect, machine guns work."
Much like the British in World War I, Smith added, "I have concluded that we are employing strategies that are needlessly getting kids killed."
When he came back from Iraq, he says he listened with growing dismay to optimistic briefings given to Senators by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Administration officials. The answers always seemed to be, "It's tough, but we have to stay the course."
"And so I started thinking about the British generals," he stated.
Congress Must Stop Bush from Using Nukes in Iran
In a Dec. 26 column published by Information Clearing House, entitled, "Why did Russia and China vote to sanction Iran?" Prof. Jorge Hirsch of the University of California at San Diego points out that Iran's nuclear program is legal under international law, and that everyone knows that sanctions would have the effect opposite to their stated intention.
Hirsch says that Russia's and China's votes are understandable only under the assumption that they were told that Bush would use military force against Iran if they didn't agree to a UN Resolution supporting sanctions, and that Bush then gave them private assurances that he would not take military action against Iran without their consent.
Hirsch argues that Bush is determined to attack Iran, and that such an attack would involve nuclear weapons. (If Bush really wanted a negotiated settlement, Hirsch points out, he had plenty of opportunities to pursue such an agreement.) But Bush is determined to attack Iran, and his private assurances are meaningless. Military action could start either with a Gulf of Tonkin-type incident, or an Israeli attack, or some incident used as a pretext. And it is bound to lead to the use of nuclear weapons. The only way to stop this, Hirsch contends, is for Congress to bring this to public attention, hold hearings, and take the nuclear option off the table, such as by barring the U.S. use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state.
Clinton Allies Call on Congress To Limit Troops in Iraq
Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and former Reagan-era Pentagon official Lawrence Korb, both now with the Center for American Progress, have coauthored a memo to the leaders of the incoming Congress calling on them to take measures to prevent President Bush from moving forward with the American Enterprise Institute "surge" option into Iraq, in order to "avert further escalation of a failed policy...."
During a telephone conference call with reporters, on Dec. 27, Podesta said that the Congress should go ahead and pass the expected $100 billion supplemental appropriation that the White House will be sending up to Capital Hill in a month or so, but impose a limitation of 150,000 troops in Iraq as a condition for passing it, unless Bush can return to the Congress with a "real plan for success."
Korb panned the AEI plan (which was promoted by its two coauthors Fred Kagan and retired Gen. Jack Keane in a Washington Post op-ed, the same morning) as being able to accomplish nothing but "reinforce the occupation mentality," and argued that without some sort of reconciliation process, adding more troops won't make a difference.
Probe of 'Christian' Videotape Made at Pentagon
Acting Department of Defense Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble is investigating a videotape made by a group called the Christian Embassy, as violating the constitutional prohibition against government promotion of a specific religion. The complaint was filed on Dec. 11 by Mikey Weinstein, President and Founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame are on the Advisory Board of the MRFF.
The film, originally taped inside the Pentagon in February 2004, includes interviews with seven high-ranking military officers dressed in uniform, five Congressmen, two foreign ambassadors, and four ranking Federal officials. It was pulled from the website of the Christian Embassy in early December by Dr. Robert Varney, Executive Director of the Christian Embassy. The only named participant is Judy Guenther, a Pentagon senior executive. The unidentified narrator of the video states, "The Christian Embassy comes alongside presidential appointees serving in the White House and Federal agencies to help direct their focus on Jesus Christ."
Weinstein, a former "JAG," or military attorney, is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, one of six members of his family to graduate from that institution.
DoJ Seeks To Use Secret Israeli Witnesses in U.S. Courts
Federal prosecutors are seeking to use Israeli government witnesses, whose identities are withheld from defendants and their lawyers, in trials in U.S. courtroomsin violation of the Sixth Amendment's guarantee that an accused has the right to confront the witnesses against him, according to a report in the Dec. 26 Los Angeles Times.
Two Israeli witnesses were already allowed to testify anonymously in a recent Chicago trial of two men accused of aiding Hamas. In Miami, a Federal judge has rejected a request that six Israeli officers be allowed to testify in disguise and without revealing their identities, in a trial of a man accused of trafficking in the drug Ecstasy. And in Dallas, a Federal judge is considering whether to allow Israeli security officials to testify anonymously in a trial of officials of the Holy Land Foundation, accused of sending money to aid charities supported by Hamas.
"It's a scary development," a lawyer in the Chicago case told the Times. "It really gets us close to secret trials and secret evidence in this country."
A University of Michigan law professor said that Israel's concerns about the security of its agents shouldn't be allowed to trump the U.S. Constitution: "Israel doesn't conduct our criminal procedures, and there is no reason why a defendant's rights in court should be determined by Israeli criminal procedure."
Kerry, Dodd Report on Visit to Syria
Writing in the Dec. 24 Washington Post, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) reported that when he and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn) met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus the previous week, "we found potential for cooperation with Syria in avoiding disaster in Iraqpotential that should be put to the test. Washington can't remain on the sidelines, stubbornly clinging to a belief that talking to our enemies rewards hostile regimes."
Appearing on ABC News' "This Week" the same day, Dodd was asked about White House spokesman Tony Snow's statement that their trip was "a P.R. victory for the Syrians." Dodd responding, "hardly," noting that he is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and that we cannot expect to resolve any of these situations like Iraq or Lebanon by ignoring a major power in the region such as Syria. Dodd noted that Syria and Iraq have exchanged ambassadors, and that they have a common interest in seeing an Arab nation, a mixed and pluralistic society, emerging in Iraq, and he said that we should look for common ground with Syria.