United States News Digest
Bipartisan Resolution Presented Against War on Iran
In presenting their Iran resolution, a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives were adamant that their bill would be brought up for a vote, indicating that Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to it. Present at the Jan. 18 press conference, were Representatives Walter Jones (R-S.C.), Marty Meehan (D-Mass), Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md), Neal Abercrombie (D-Hi), Ron Paul (R-Texas), and Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass). The resolution would require that the President come back to Congress for authorization before taking any action against Iran.
"It is time for Congress to assume its responsibility," Jones said. "We are concerned that the Administration is trying to create a justification for going to war against Iran." Jones noted that he had been brought to this point by the many letters he had to send out each month to families whose sons or daughters had been killed in Iraq. "We must meet our constitutional responsibility," he said. "to see if war is justified or not."
Jones, who was characterized by Abercrombie as the "conscience of the Congress," said, "The movement of the new carrier group to the Persian Gulf will create the possibility of a Tonkin-type incident."
"This is a resolution to preempt war," Gilchrest said, "a war that would be based on ignorance, arrogance, and dogma." Abercrombie underlined the role that members of Congress were required to play in this situation. "We all feel strongly about being in the people's House," he said. "For us this is not an abstraction. We have to have big hearts."
Paul warned, "I think there's greater than a 50-50 chance that Iran is going to get hit." Abercrombie also underlined the need for opening a dialogue with Iran in order to resolve the Iraq turmoil.
Gonzales Grilled on Police-State Measures
In four hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 18, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was questionedangrily at timesabout a wide variety of the Bush-Cheney Administration's illegal and unconstitutional actions, including revelations about a possible U.S. mail-opening program, Pentagon and CIA surveillance of Americans' financial records, the NSA domestic spying program, the denial of habeas corpus to detainees at Guantanamo and other overseas prisons, the Administration's use of "signing statements" to ignore Congressionally-enacted laws, its firing of various U.S. Attorneys, and its "rendition-to-torture" program, not to mention whether the President can escalate the war in Iraq, or invade Iran, without Congressional authorization. (See separate slug)
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa), the former chairman of the committee, joined with the new chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) in attacking the Administration on most of these issuesespecially the NSA spy program, DOD and CIA domestic surveillance, habeas, and rendition. Specter told Gonzales that he thought that the illegal spying program was one of the reasons that Republicans lost the recent elections.
A number of Senators demanded to know why the Administration just now announced that it could conduct what it calls the "terrorist surveillance program" under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, after having insisted that the five-year-old program could not be submitted to the FISA Court without endangering the American people. "You asserted that this violation of the law was absolutely necessary to defend the country," Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc) told Gonzales, "and you questioned the patriotism of anyone who challenged you. This is a stunning and long-overdue change." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), commenting on the Administration's about-face, said that "after more than five years of warrantless wiretapping ... there are still far too many unanswered questions for this to remain unresolved."
"This is better than Cheney," Schumer said, in an apparent reference to Cheney's "go f- yourself" to Leahy after Leahy had challenged the program, "but we still don't know what 'this' is."
After a number of contentious exchanges with Gonzales, Leahy, backed by Specter and others, promised that, "As chairman of this committee, I will do everything I can to restore habeas corpus," and he also promised to examine the use of signing statements, as Specter had last year.
Appeal for Redress Presented to Congress
On Jan. 16, over 1,000 signatures of active-duty military personnel calling for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq were presented to Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass) by three members of the military, one from the Marine Corps and two from the National Guard, backed up by Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who was unable to be present at the handover due to travel delays, said in a statement, "It is important to remember that many of these soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have seen combat in Iraq. They did not refuse to serve. They did not challenge any of their commanders' orders, but they do have rights under the Constitution and within the military code to present their grievances to the U.S. Congress." Kucinich's chief of staff reported that Kucinich has vowed to submit each and every appeal to the House so that it becomes part of the record.
Two of the three, Marine Sgt. Liam Madden and Jabbar Magruber of the California National Guard, have served combat tours in Iraq. Madden reported that approximately 60% of the signers are also veterans of the Iraq War. The appeal is a protected communication from the signers directly to their members of Congress, and so the names of other signers won't be released, though Madden, and the third signer, Second Lt. Kent Gneiting of the Colorado National Guard, said that they don't expect any retribution for their public appearance in Washington in connection with the appeal. Magruber also noted that the appeal does not end today and will remain open for further signatures.
Oversight Hearing on Iraqi Refugees
On Jan. 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on "The Plight of Iraqi Refugees," and took gut-wrenching testimony from victims, government officials and others involved with this problem. What emerged was the nature of the humanitarian nightmare that the war has caused for the entire region.
One out of eight Iraqis is now either internally displaced, (1.7 million) or has now fled the country (1.8 million). Refugees are leaving at the rate of 1,300 per day, or 100,000 a month, and the rate is increasing. 700,000 are estimated to be in Jordan, with Syria and Lebanon being other major recipients. These countries, in addition to begin economically unable to absorb these numbers, often do not even recognize the status of refugees, so desperate families won't admit their condition, out of fear of being sent back by their host. What we are witnessing is a "de facto ethnic cleansing," in the words of Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the committee. And the U.S., since 2003, has admitted exactly 466 Iraqis.
The "politically correct" evaluation of the problem was given by Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, and by Michele Gabaudan, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Sauerbrey outlined the budget limits and other constraints for this "top priority" for the Administration, and explained how 300,000 Iraqis had actually returned home between 2003 and 2006. She admitted however, that in the last year the situation completely shifted, the trickle then became a flood, and today, the State Department doesn't really have a complete overview of the extent of the problem.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) noted that the $20 million '07 budget speaks loudly for the true emphasis that the Administration puts on this problem (i.e., not much). Specter, questioning Gabaudan, who kept whimpering that he was "hoping" to get a conference together, told him to "change his hope to insistence." Not that it would necessarily get him any further, he said, but his chances would be a whole lot better.
House Panel To Probe DoD Domestic Intelligence Gathering
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that his committee will investigate reports of the Pentagon's domestic intelligence program, and that the committeeand not Dick Cheneywill determine whether or not the Pentagon can examine financial records of Americans, AP reported Jan. 14. "Any expansion by the [Defense] Department into intelligence collection, particularly on U.S. soil, is something our committee will thoroughly review," Reyes said, adding that any such program must "comply fully with the law and the Constitution."
In related moves:
* Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc) and a bipartisan group of Senators have introduced the Federal Agency Data Mining Reporting Act of 2007, to require Federal agencies to report to Congress about their use of data-mining programs involving personal information on American citizens.
* Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) has introduced the Notification of Risk to Personal Data Act, which would require any company or Federal agency to report a security breach of their data bases comprised of sensitive personal informationfinancial, medical, or otherwise.