United States News Digest
Liz Cheney Demands Regime Change in Damascus
The daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney penned an hysterical and fraudulent diatribe against Syria in the April 12 Washington Post, demonstrating once again that, when it comes to the Cheney family, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Asserting Syria's responsibility for a series of unsolved political assassinations in Lebanon over the past two years, Liz Cheney, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs (2005-2006), demanded the total isolation of the Bashar Assad regime, international sanctions, backing for the opposition, and European cooperation in a U.S. strategy tantamount to a full-scale drive for regime change.
"Talking to the Syrians emboldens and rewards them at the expense of America and our allies in the Middle East.... They are an outlaw regime and should be isolated," quoth Cheney. She attacked both recent Congressional delegations that visited Damascus and also called for the State Department to halt any diplomatic contact with Syria.
The wild rhetoric of Cheney stood in stark contrast to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and a panel of Syria experts who spoke on April 10 at a Middle East Policy Council forum on Capitol Hill. Among the speakers at the MEPC forum who spoke most aggressively in favor of diplomatic dialogue with Damascus were retired U.S. Ambassador Theodore Kattouf, former CIA intelligence analyst Martha Neff Kessler, and Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, professor of Near East and South Asia studies at the National Defense University.
In response to a question from EIR, the panelists confirmed, contrary to the Liz Cheney diatribe, that the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri had not thus far definitively led to the doorstep of President Assad, that Syria had cooperated with the investigation, and had pulled all of its troops out of Lebanon. (For more on these developments, see InDepth, "Bush Fiddles While Cheney Plots More Wars," by Jeffrey Steinberg.)
Leahy: White House Has No Credibility Left
"This Administration has worn out the benefit of the doubt and undermined whatever credibility it had left," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, concerning the White House's claim that e-mails about the U.S. Attorney firings have been lost, the Washington Post reported April 12. Leahy compared this assertion to the Nixon Administration's "18-minute gap" during Watergate. The Bush Administration on April 11 said that some official e-mails, some of which may have concerned the U.S. Attorney firings, had been lost because they were sent via private accounts intended only for political activities.
On the Senate floor April 12, Leahy stated flatly, "They say they have not been preserved. I don't believe that! You can't erase e-mailsnot today. They've gone through too many servers. Those e-mails are there, they just don't want to produce them. We'll subpoena them if necessary."
Lyndon LaRouche endorsed Leahy's comparison of the Bush and Nixon White Houses as precisely on point.
Congress Must Reign in FBI Abuses
A number of expert witnesses testifying at a Senate hearing on April 11, insisted that Congress must change the Patriot Act and other statutes to stop the abuses described in a recent Justice Department Inspector General (IG) report on improper use of "National Security Letters" (NSLs) by the FBI. The issuing of National Security Letters is a means of obtaining personal financial or telecommunications information without a court-approved warrant or subpoena.
Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who is also a former U.S. Attorney, said that he and others have been pleading with Congress for five years, "to put reasonable checks and balances on the intrusive powers created by the Patriot Act." Barr, who voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, says that the IG report "confirmed our worst fears: unchecked powers are being used to collect information on innocent U.S. persons, which ultimately sits in government data bases forever, and is accessed by tens of thousands of law enforcement and intelligence personnel without restriction."
Barr noted that the IG Report indicates that over 143,000 NSL requests were issued between 2003 and 2005, and that a majority were for U.S. citizens and residents, not foreigners. "NSLs are being used to suck up as much data as possible in the hopes that some relevant information may be discovered," he said.
Barr also stated that "other intrusive provisions of the Patriot Act have been abused too," citing secret searches, blank wiretap orders, and access to ever-increasing amounts of private information."
Barr and the other witnesses called on Congress to rein in the unchecked powers currently exercised by the Executive Branch, and Barr predicted that until Congress acts, the situation is only going to get worse, not better, under current circumstances and the current Justice Department leadership.
BRAC and Privatization Behind Walter Reed Problems
The BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) decision to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the privatization of facilities management, there, were contributing factors in the problems that were exposed last February by the Washington Post. That is one of the conclusions of the Independent Review Group (IRG), the panel assembled by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to look into rehabilitative and outpatient problems at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Both factors were highlighted in a widely circulated article in the March 16 EIR.
The IRG met with the Defense Health Board at Walter Reed April 11, to deliberate on its final report. In its draft report, the IRG had concluded that the BRAC decision to close Walter Reed "contributed to staffing problems, inattention of leadership to day-to-day operations and a lack of resources for capital improvements." The privatization process "created a destabilizing effect on the ability to hire and retain qualified staff members to operate garrison functions to include facility maintenance and administrative functions. The cost saving effort, in retrospect, proved to be counterproductive." These factors, along with the increased flow of casualties from Cheney's Iraq War and the large number of sliders in holdover status combined to create what former Army Secretary John O. "Jack" Marsh, one of the IRG's two co-chairs, termed a "perfect storm," which led the collapse of care for soldiers in outpatient status.
As for what to do about these two problems, the IRG is recommending that the organization and construction of the new facilities that are supposed to replace Walter Reed be speeded up, and that military treatment facilities be exempt from privatization as long as there's a war on.
Feingold Introduces Bill To End Iraq War
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) introduced his bill, co-sponsored with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and six other Senate Democrats April 10, to "effectively end U.S. military involvement in Iraq." This is the bill that Reid said he would co-sponsor if Bush vetoed the defense supplemental funding bill already passed by the Senate. The bill requires the President to begin safely redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days, and it ends funding for the warwith three narrow exceptionsby March 31, 2008.
GOP Congressmen To Urge Compromise on Iraq
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) and four other GOP Congressmen have formed an ad hoc group to negotiate with the White House for a compromise on the Iraq Supplemental spending bill. The other Republicans are Reps. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), former chair of the House Intelligence Committee; Charles Boustany (La.); Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.); and Mac Thornberry (Texas). Gilchrest is the only one of the five who voted for the Democratic war supplemental, which included a timetable for withdrawal.
Gilchrest says the group will encourage the White House to compromise on: 1) negotiating with Iran and Syria; and 2) setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq. The group also plans to hold talks with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
The group's argument will utilize, against the White House, two public assertions of Iraq Commander Gen. David Petraeus: 1) that the Iraq War can't be won militarily, but requires a comprehensive political solution. And, included in that, is 2) letting Iraq know that America's presence in Iraq isn't open-ended.
Bush has repeatedly said he will veto any Iraq spending bill that includes a timeline for withdrawal, but Gilchrest still hopes that a deal can be struck between Bush and Democratic Congressional leaders.
Waxman Presses Rice on Niger Yellowcake Fraud
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is continuing to stonewall on the Niger yellowcake scandal, according to a letter sent to Rice April 9 by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Waxman references a number of previous letters which have been ignored by Rice.
Waxman states that he is continuing to request that Rice appear before the committee to testify on April 18, and in his latest letter he repeats a number of questions which Rice has so far refused to answer. These include: 1) whether she has any information as to why President Bush cited forged evidence about Iraq's efforts to procure uranium from Niger, in the 2003 State of the Union Address; 2) whether she knew of the doubts raised by the CIA and State Department about the veracity of the Niger claims, prior the State of the Union address; 3) whether there was a factual basis for Rice's own reference in a January 2003 op-ed to "Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad"; and 4) whether she "took appropriate steps to investigate how the Niger claim ended up in the State of the Union address after it was revealed to be fraudulent."