United States News Digest
Gonzalez Retreats on Hiring Interim U.S. Attorneys
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales backed down before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 8, and said that the Bush Administration will no longer oppose legislation limiting the AG's power to appoint interim prosecutors, who do not need Senate confirmation. The interim prosecutors were appointed after the firing of six U.S. Attorneys who testified to Congress that they were fired for political reasons. Gonzales also agreed to make five of his top aides available to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the firings. The retreat by the Bush Administration comes after Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told the press that Gonzales might not last through the remainder of Bush's term. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, released a March 8 letter that he and Judiciary Subcommittee chair Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) wrote to Gonzales. The letter demanded that certain Justice Department officials be made available for questioning by the committee next week, including the Deputy Attorney General Kyle Sampson; the Chief of Staff to the Attorney General Michael Elston, and four other top officials. Conyers also demanded that all communications between the DOJ and the White House or any other person or entity, concerning the firing of the six Attorneys General and/or their replacements; post-firing communications with the Attorneys General; the names of anyone in Congress who was given advance notice of firings, and many other documents which could be thoroughly incriminating.
Democrats Answer Bush's War Supplemental Request
On March 8, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.), Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) announced what they termed a response to the Bush Administration's request for $100 billion in supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill adds $1.2 billion to the request for Afghanistan, $3.5 billion for military and veterans health care, $1.4 billion for military housing allowances, and $3.1 billion for the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) account, fully funding it for fiscal year 2007.
The bill also directs President Bush to adhere to the military's own guidelines for unit readiness, length of time of deployment, and length of time between deployments. The President can waive the guidelines, but has to submit a report explaining why.
The bill also requires that the Iraqi government meet certain benchmarks on key security, political, and economic issues. If it fails to meet the benchmarks, the U.S. will begin to withdraw from Iraq, and will restrict economic aid to the country.
The bill spells out that the U.S. will strategically redeploy the U.S. troops. If progress toward meeting key benchmarks is not made by July 1, 2007, a redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq will begin and must be completed within 180 days. If key benchmarks are not met by Oct. 1, 2007, the redeployment will begin and must be completed within 180 days. If key benchmarks are met by Oct. 1, 2007, a redeployment of U.S. troops must begin by no later than March 1, 2008, and must be completed within 180 days. Following redeployment, the troops remaining in Iraq may only be used for diplomatic protection, counterterrorism operations, and training of Iraqi Security Forces.
Another provision of the bill was detailed by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Defense Spending Subcommittee. Murtha explained that the Pentagon has repeatedly stonewalled on releasing information about the role of private contractors in Iraq. Murtha says, both the Government Accountability Office and the Special Inspector General for Iraq have come to him and said, "Help us get a handle on the contractors." Murtha said, "We took five percent of their money out, and that's about $800 million. We also fenced 10 percent of their money. We want answers about whether these contractorshow much it cost us, how many we have, and how the contracts are being given to these various organizations."
At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the introduction of a joint resolution to end U.S. involvement in Iraq. Among other things, the resolution declares that the circumstances cited in the 2002 Use of Force Resolution have changed substantially, and that U.S. policy must emphasize a political solution in order to maximize the chances for success and to more effectively wage the war on terrorism. It directs the President to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days of enactment, with the goal of redeploying all combat forces from Iraq, except for those required for a training and counter-terrorism mission.
Waxman Introduces Contracting Reform Bill
House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introduced the "Accountability in Contracting Act" on March 6. The bill would change Federal acquisition law to require agencies to limit the use of abuse-prone contracts, to increase transparency and accountability in Federal contracting, and to protect the integrity of the acquisition workforce. The provisions of the bill would limit the length of non-competitive contracts, minimize cost-plus contracts, would require disclosure of justifications for no-bid contracts, disclose contractor overcharges, and fund contract oversight.
Hagel Comments on Impeachment
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), an outspoken critic of the Administration's handling of the Iraq War, commented on the possibility of impeachment of President Bush, in the March 6 Esquire magazine. On the Iraq War, Hagel said, "The President says, 'I don't care.' [He says] he's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes." Hagel, reflecting on how we got into the Iraq War said, "Congress abdicated its responsibility. The press abdicated its responsibility, and the American people abdicated their responsibilities. Terror was on the minds of everyone, and nobody questioned anything, quite frankly."
House Panel Calls for Sanctions on U.S. Allies
Statements made on March 6 by both Democrats and Republicans at the House Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "The Iranian Challenge" were so extreme, it made White House witness Nicholas Burbs, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, the only sane bird in the flock.
Committee chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) introduced the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, to tighten sanctions against, not just Iran, but the companies and countries that trade with it. The bill eliminates the President's flexibility to waive sanctions against foreign companies that invest in Iran's energy industry. "If Dutch Shell moves forward with its proposed $10 billion deal with Iran, it will be sanctioned," Lantos threatened. Similarly, for Malaysia, China, and India. Burns observed how "ironic" it is that in 30 years of U.S. sanctions against Iran, our "best allies" are still trading with Iran. He said that "if the focus is to sanction our allies, it is not the best way to maintain a united approach, or a coalition."
Webb Introduces Bill To Block War Against Iran
On March 5, Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) introduced a bill to restrict the Bush Administration's ability to launch preemptive war on Iran. The bill, to be attached to the "must pass" $100 billion continuing resolution, would insure that "no funds ... may be obligated or expended for military operations or activities within or above the territory of Iran, or within the territorial waters of Iran, except pursuant to a specific authorization of Congress." The bill offers a few exceptions, that for direct attack, hot pursuit, or in support of intelligence gathering, for which the Administration would have to submit justification within 24 hours.
In his prepared statement on the floor, and in a discussion with reporters afterward, Webb insisted that he was determined to give diplomacy a chance to work, stating that "this Administration has shot from the hip too many times for us to be able to trust it to act on its own." He mentioned the 1988 incident with the USS Vincennes, where "an overly aggressive commanding officer, operating inside Iranian territorial waters" shot down an Iranian commercial jet, Flight 655. Webb said his original concern came after examining the 2002 Iraq use of force resolution, and comparing it to Bush's subsequent signing statement. His concern was that Bush's statement left enough "ambiguity" for Bush to interpret it as authorizing war with Iran.