Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Senate Republicans bar bill to restore detainee rights

Senate bars bill to restore detainee rights
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate voted on Wednesday against considering a measure to give Guantanamo detainees and other foreigners the right to challenge their detention in the U.S. courts.

The legislation needed 60 votes to be considered by lawmakers in the Senate, narrowly controlled by Democrats; it received only 56, with 43 voting against the effort to roll back a key element of President George W. Bush's war on terrorism.

The measure would have granted foreign terrorism suspects the right of habeas corpus, Latin for "you have the body," which prevents the government from locking people up without review by a court.

Congress last year eliminated this right for non-U.S. citizens labeled "enemy combatants" by the government. The Bush administration said this was necessary to prevent them from being set free and attacking Americans.

The move affected about 340 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. It also affects millions of permanent legal residents of the United States who are not U.S. citizens, said one of the sponsors of the bipartisan measure, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

"Any of these people could be detained forever without the ability to challenge their detention in federal court" under the changes in law Congress made last year, Leahy said on the Senate floor. This was true "even if they (authorities) made a mistake and picked up the wrong person."

"This was a mistake the last Congress and the (Bush) administration made, based on fear," Leahy said.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican opposing the measure, said lawmakers should not allow "some of the most brutal vicious people in the world to bring lawsuits against their own (U.S.) troops" who had picked up the detainees on the battlefield.

Giving habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees would "really intrude into the military's ability to manage this war," Graham said, adding that it was "something that has never been granted to any other prisoner in any other war."

"Our judges don't have the military background to make decisions as to who the enemy is," Graham told the Senate.

Congress eliminated habeas rights as part of the Military Commissions Act, which also created new military tribunals to try the Guantanamo prisoners on war crimes charges.

Congress was led by Republicans when the act was rushed through, shortly before new elections put Democrats in control.

Sen. Arlen Specter, another sponsor of the bill and a Pennsylvania Republican, noted that the right to habeas corpus was a protection against arbitrary arrest enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215.

Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments from lawyers from Guantanamo prisoners challenging the law to eliminate the habeas right.


Senate Republicans block bill on Iraq combat tours

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Senate blocks bill on Iraq combat tours
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer

Democrats' efforts to challenge President Bush's Iraq policies were dealt a demoralizing blow Wednesday in the Senate after they failed to scrape together enough support to guarantee troops more time at home.

The 56-44 vote — four short of reaching the 60 needed to advance — all but assured that Democrats would be unable to muster the support needed to pass tough anti-war legislation by year's end. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., was seen as the Democrats' best shot because of its pro-military premise.

"The idea of winning the war in Iraq is beginning to get a second look," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who led opposition to the bill alongside Sen. John McCain.

Webb's legislation would have required that troops spend as much time at home training with their units as they spend deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Members of the National Guard or Reserve would be guaranteed three years at home before being sent back.

Most Army soldiers now spend about 15 months in combat with 12 months home.

"In blocking this bipartisan bill, Republicans have once again demonstrated that they are more committed to protecting the president than protecting our troops," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Wednesday's vote was the second time in as many months that Webb's bill was sidetracked. In July, a similar measure also fell four votes short of advancing.

Democrats said they were hopeful additional Republicans, wary of the politically unpopular war, would agree this time around to break party ranks. It had already attracted three dozen co-sponsors including Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Gordon Smith of Oregon.

But momentum behind the bill stalled Wednesday after Sen. John Warner, R-Va., announced he decided the consequences would be disastrous. Warner, a former longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had voted in favor of the measure in July but said he changed his mind after talking to senior military officials.

Webb later told reporters there was no doubt Warner's opposition threw cold water on the bill.

Hagel, R-Neb., said the White House also "has been very effective at making this a loyalty test for the Republican Party."

Of the 56 senators voting to advance the measure were 49 Democrats, six Republicans and Vermont Independent Bernard Sanders. Voting against it were 43 Republicans and Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman.

The vote "means Congress will not intervene in the foreseeable future" in the war's execution, Lieberman told reporters.

In coming days, the Senate plans to vote on legislation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would order combat troops home in nine months. Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said his bill would allow some troops to remain behind to conduct such missions as counterterrorism and training the Iraqis; he estimated the legislation, if enacted, would cut troop levels in Iraq by more than half.

The Senate also planned to vote on legislation by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Reid, D-Nev., that would cut off funding for combat next year.

The firm deadlines reflect a shift in strategy for Democrats, who had been pursuing a bipartisan compromise on war legislation. But after last week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, Democrats calculated not enough Republicans were willing to break party ranks and support more tempered legislation calling for combat to end next summer.

McCain, R-Ariz., the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a Vietnam veteran, said Webb's bill was a "backdoor method" by Democrats to force troop withdrawals.

"We have a new strategy. We have success on the ground," said McCain. Pulling out troops would spark "chaos and genocide in the region, and we will be back," he said.

McCain offered an alternative resolution that would identify equal deployment and training times as a goal, but would not mandate deployment restrictions. The resolution was aimed at peeling off Republican support and lessening the prospects of passage for Webb's bill.

That resolution fell five votes shy of advancing, in a 55-45 vote.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would have recommended that President Bush veto Webb's legislation if it is passed. The bill could force the military to extend tours, rely more heavily on reservists, or not replace units right away, even if they are needed, Gates said.

Webb and his supporters say the bill provides flexibility to avoid those pitfalls, including a presidential waiver if Bush can certify to Congress that ignoring the limitation was necessary to national security.

Webb amended the bill, after consultation with Gates, to exempt special operations forces and give the military 120 days to comply.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Greenspan: Bush, congressional Republicans abandoned fiscal discipline; put politics ahead of sound economics

Former Fed chair Greenspan criticizes Bush in book
By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in a memoir to be released on Monday criticized President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans for abandoning fiscal discipline and for putting politics ahead of sound economics.

In his book, "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World," Greenspan said he was surprised Bush was unwilling to temper his campaign promises with fiscal reality once elected in 2000, as previous Republican administrations had done.

"Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he said. The book was made available by its publisher, The Penguin Press.

"Much to my disappointment, economic policymaking in the Bush administration remained firmly in the hands of White House staff," he said.

Greenspan, now 81, was the second longest-serving chairman in the Fed's 93-year history when he stepped down in January 2006.

Praise has been heaped on the New York native and self-described "libertarian Republican" for overseeing the longest U.S. economic expansion on record.

Greenspan built his reputation as Fed leader with his calm handling of the stock market crash of 1987, the 1997-1998 Asian and Russian financial crises, and the economic turbulence that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

But he has also come under fire for policies that some say led to bubbles in technology and housing. His successor, Ben Bernanke, is coping with a prolonged housing downturn and credit-market turbulence.

Greenspan's long association with Republican administrations and his reputation for independence add clout to his criticism of Bush and of other Republicans who led Congress until 2006.


Greenspan said Bush's combination of tax cuts and spending on the military and prescription drug benefits, while not "unrealistic" in 2000 after several years of federal budget surpluses, was not appropriate with growing deficits that returned in 2002.

The former Fed chair said he urged Bush to veto a string of "out-of-control" spending bills, but to no avail. He was told the president wanted to avoid antagonizing Republican political leadership.

"To my mind, Bush's collaborate-don't-confront approach was a major mistake -- it cost the nation a check-and-balance mechanism essential to fiscal discipline," Greenspan said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said on Saturday the administration conducted "rigorous" analysis and that tax cuts sped up the U.S. economic recovery after the 2001 recession.

"Because Congress worked with us, vetoes weren't necessary. We're not going to apologize for increased spending to protect our national security," Fratto said.

But Greenspan said Republican lawmakers sowed the seeds of their political defeat in 2006 by abandoning fiscal prudence.

"They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose," he added.

A consummate Washington political insider linked to former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford before becoming Fed chairman in 1987, Greenspan also has been criticized for backing Bush's tax cuts plan before Congress in January 2001.

Greenspan said that position was balanced with a call for safeguards in case the fiscal situation deteriorated. But in his memoir, he ruefully acknowledged he underestimated how his words would be selectively interpreted.

"While politics had not been my intent, I'd misjudged the emotions of the moment," he said.

Fending off criticism that rock-bottom borrowing costs early this decade fueled the housing bubble that has caused a burst of foreclosures, Greenspan said the unusual risk of a downward price spiral was serious and had to be dealt with.

"We wanted to shut down the possibility of corrosive deflation; we were willing to chance that by cutting rates we might foster a bubble ... It was a decision done right," he wrote.

Looking at the U.S. economic future, Greenspan warned that to keep the inflation rate between 1 percent and 2 percent in coming years the Fed may need to force interest rates into double digits.

If the Fed succumbs to political pressure to keep interest rates low, inflation rates could rise to an average of 4 percent to 5 percent by 2030, and yields on 10-year Treasury notes would rise to at least 8 percent, he wrote.


Bush: U.S. military role in Iraq will stretch beyond his presidency

Bush agrees to limited troop cuts in Iraq
By Matt Spetalnick and Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Thursday ordered gradual troop reductions in Iraq but defied calls for a dramatic change of course, telling war-weary Americans the U.S. military role there will stretch beyond his presidency.

Trying to secure more time to allow his strategy to work, Bush -- in a televised prime-time address -- embraced recommendations by his top commander in Iraq for a limited withdrawal of about 20,000 troops by July.

But Bush also made clear his view that the United States would require a major involvement in Iraq for years to come and said the Baghdad government needed "an enduring relationship with America."

That assessment will make Bush's speech an even tougher sell with anti-war Democrats in control of Congress and with the large majority of Americans opposed to his Iraq policy.

"Because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home," Bush said after Gen. David Petraeus delivered two days of congressional testimony that underscored deep partisan divisions over the war.

Speaking in a sober, measured tone, Bush acknowledged Americans' frustration with the war but insisted progress was being made. His 18-minute speech was the centerpiece of a public relations offensive aimed at blunting demands for a faster, wider withdrawal from Iraq.

The partial drawdown will roll back troop strength from the current 169,000 to around the same levels the United States had in Iraq before Bush ordered a major buildup in January.

That prompted Bush's Democratic critics to accuse the administration of trying to fool the American people into thinking he was responding to growing anti-war sentiment when he was actually making no fundamental change in approach.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said Bush had announced "a stay-the-course strategy that puts us on a path for 10 years of war," and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean called it a "PR stunt to buy more time" for a failed policy.


Bush said he had accepted Petraeus's proposal for the removal by mid-2008 of five of 20 U.S. military brigades now in Iraq, and that the pace of reductions would hinge on the level of success on the ground. He said 5,700 Marines and soldiers would be home by the end of the year.

U.S. officials refused to say exactly how many troops would be involved in the eventual withdrawal, though Petraeus had recommended that force levels return to where they stood before Bush boosted forces earlier this year.

An army brigade is typically made up of roughly 4,000 soldiers plus an unspecified number of support troops, which would make for a total withdrawal of more than 20,000 under Petraeus's plan. The so-called "surge" over the past eight months involved deployment of about 21,500 combat troops.

"The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home," Bush said. He said Petraeus would report to Congress again in March.

Bush cited Iraq's western Anbar province as evidence his strategy was making headway.

But underscoring the fragility of the situation, a Sunni tribal leader instrumental in battling al Qaeda in the area was assassinated on Thursday. Bush, who met Abdul Sattar Abu Risha during a visit to Anbar last week, praised his bravery in his speech.

Bush also acknowledged that the Iraqi government "has not met its own legislative benchmarks," and pressed it to do more to achieve national reconciliation.

He said U.S. engagement in Iraq would continue past the end of his term in January 2009, suggesting the job of ending the war would fall to his successors.

"This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities. At the same time, they understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency," he said.

The drawdown would not be as fast or extensive as critics demand, but it could buy time for Bush to pursue the war by undermining a Democratic-led push for a broader disengagement 4-1/2 years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Some of Bush's fellow Republicans have also voiced doubts over his strategy. Republicans lost control of Congress in last November's election, largely due to public disenchantment over Iraq. Recent polls show Americans two-to-one against the war.

Democrats say the White House was putting the best political spin on what Pentagon officials have been saying for months -- that the buildup of forces in Iraq faces a time limit because of the risk of overstretching the U.S. military.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Deborah Charles and Kristin Roberts)


Thousands March to End the Iraq Invasion; over 190 Arrested

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More than 190 arrested at D.C. protest
By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer

Several thousand anti-war demonstrators marched through downtown Washington on Saturday, clashing with police at the foot of the Capitol steps where more than 190 protesters were arrested.

The group marched from the White House to the Capitol to demand an end to the Iraq war. Their numbers stretched for blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue, and they held banners and signs and chanted, "What do we want? Troops out. When do we want it? Now."

Army veteran Justin Cliburn, 25, of Lawton, Okla., was among a contingent of Iraq veterans in attendance.

"We're occupying a people who do not want us there," Cliburn said of Iraq. "We're here to show that it isn't just a bunch of old hippies from the 60s who are against this war."

Counterprotesters lined the sidewalks behind metal barricades. There were some heated shouting matches between the two sides.

The arrests came after protesters lay down on the Capitol lawn in what they called a "die in" — with signs on top of their bodies to represent soldiers killed in Iraq. When police took no action, some of the protesters started climbing over a barricade at the foot of the Capitol steps.

Many were arrested without a struggle after they jumped over the waist-high barrier. But some grew angry as police with shields and riot gear attempted to push them back. At least two people were showered with chemical spray. Protesters responded by throwing signs and chanting: "Shame on you."

The number of arrests by Capitol Police on Saturday was much higher than previous anti-war rallies in Washington this year. Five people were arrested at a protest outside the Pentagon in March when they walked onto a bridge that had been closed off to accommodate the demonstration, then refused to leave. And at a rally in January, about 50 demonstrators blocked a street near the Capitol, but they were dispersed without arrests.

The protesters gathered earlier Saturday near the White House in Lafayette Park with signs saying "End the war now" and calling for President Bush's impeachment. The rally was organized by the ANSWER Coalition and other groups.

Organizers estimated that nearly 100,000 people attended the rally and march. That number could not be confirmed; police did not give their own estimate. A permit for the march obtained in advance by the ANSWER Coalition had projected 10,000.

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan told the crowd is was time to be assertive.

"It's time to lay our bodies on the line and say we've had enough," she said. "It's time to shut this city down."

About 13 blocks away, nearly 1,000 counterprotesters gathered near the Washington Monument, frequently erupting in chants of "U-S-A" and waving American flags.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson, speaking from a stage to crowds clad in camouflage, American flag bandanas and Harley Davidson jackets, said he wanted to send three messages.

"Congress, quit playing games with our troops. Terrorists, we will find you and kill you," he said. "And to our troops, we're here for you, and we support you."


Associated Press writer Christine Simmons contributed to this report.