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Clinton, Kerry To Require Pentagon To Brief Congress On Redeployment Plans

Fri, 2007-07-20 13:09

On May 23, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging him to “prepare plans for the phased redeployment of U.S. forces.” She requested that the Pentagon provide congressional oversight committees with “briefings on what current contingency plans exist for the future withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.”

Earlier this week, Clinton received a “biting reply” from Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman, who told Clinton, “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda.” In response, she today sent another letter to Gates renewing her request for a briefing “on current plans for the future withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq or an explanation for the decision not to engage in such planning.”

Today on a conference call with reporters, Clinton called Edelman’s response “offensive and totally inappropriate.” “I sent a serious request to the Secretary of Defense, and received a political response in return,” said Clinton.

Since the Pentagon is not willing to brief Congress, Clinton and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) plan to introduce legislation mandating such a briefing. Clinton told reporters:

[The legislation will] require a report and briefing from the Pentagon on contingency planning. This is in direct response to the unacceptable response I’ve received. … If we don’t get a response from the Pentagon, we have no choice but to require the legislation to get the response. … We need to make sure we are smarter getting out of Iraq than we were getting into Iraq.

Clinton said that she believes there is “bipartisan support” for this legislation, adding that at a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) expressed concern about the lack of planning.

Kerry added that he expects the Pentagon to have a contingency plan for all situations, including “if the escalation of troops turns out to work” or “if there is a continuation of what we see today.”

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Bush’s New Interrogation Order Contains Loophole: ‘Does Not Create Any Right Enforceable At Law’

Fri, 2007-07-20 12:45

In October 2006, Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which provided for the continuation of so-called CIA “black sites” for interrogating terrorism suspects and allowed evidence obtained through torture to be used against them. In its lengthy series on the Vice President, the Washington Post reported that the bill gave Cheney everything he wanted:

For all the apparent setbacks, close observers said, Cheney has preserved his top-priority tools in the “war on terror.” After a private meeting with Cheney, one of them said, Bush decided not to promise that there would be no more black sites — and seven months later, the White House acknowledged that secret detention had resumed.

The Military Commissions Act, passed by strong majorities of the Senate and House on Sept. 28 and 29, 2006, gave “the office of the vice president almost everything it wanted,” said [John] Yoo, who maintained his contact with [David] Addington after returning to a tenured position at Berkeley.

Today, the AP reports that President Bush has issued a new executive order “prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment, humiliation or denigration of prisoners’ religious beliefs.” The order seems to be an effort to bring the administration’s interrogation regime closer to the requirements stipulated in the Geneva Convention.

The new order is intended to apply to CIA interrogators. “The White House declined to say whether the CIA currently has a detention and interrogation program, but said if it did, it must adhere to the guidelines outlined in the executive order.”

The new order does not appear to shut down the “black sites.” Moreover, the text of the executive order suggests that any CIA personnel or others who engage in violations of the new regime will not be subject to any repercussions.

Sec. 5. General Provisions. (a) Subject to subsection (b) of this section, this order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, against the United States, its departments, agencies, or other entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.

(b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to prevent or limit reliance upon this order in a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding, or otherwise, by the Central Intelligence Agency or by any individual acting on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency in connection with the program addressed in this order.

The Post reported that exempting “CIA case officers and other government employees from prosecution for past war crimes or torture” was a “technical provision [that] held great importance to Cheney and his allies.” So while the administration is saying that it will not torture, it appears to be turning a blind eye in the event that it happens.

UPDATE: Marty Lederman provides an interpretation: “[I]f a form of violence is not already prohibited by federal criminal law, and is not ‘comparable’ to the forms of violence prohibited by the War Crimes Act, the CIA is not prohibited from using it.”

UPDATE II: The Center for Constitutional Rights expresses concern over the legal loophole. Via Raw Story:

The Center for Constitutional Rights offered an additional warning about the text of the President’s order.

“In the past, the Bush administration has taken the position that even if some legal restrictions on interrogation methods applied, they were unenforceable in court,” the group’s press release said. “According to CCR attorneys, that problem exists with today’s Executive Order, as the last section states it does not create any rights or benefits that are enforceable in court — except for CIA officers defending themselves from charges of abuse.”

Ed Koch ‘bailing out’ on support for war.

Fri, 2007-07-20 11:00

Last year, former New York City mayor Ed Koch attacked war critics for their attempts to “weaken the president“:

There is something terribly wrong with people seeking to demean and weaken the president in war time, thereby strengthening our country’s enemies. As a result of the language and tactics of those opposed to our presence in Iraq, our enemies have been emboldened, believing the American public to be sharply divided on the war, and in fact at war with itself.

But in the Politico today, Koch bails out:

I’m bailing out. I will no longer defend the policy of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq to assist the Iraqi central government in the ongoing civil war.

Byrd on dogfighting: ‘Hear me! Barbaric!’

Fri, 2007-07-20 10:30

Yesterday, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) took the floor of the Senate and argued passionately against dog fighting, a sick practice has recently been in the news in the wake of the indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on federal charges. “Barbaric!” Byrd shouted at least eight times, adding, “Let that word resound from hill to hill, and from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley, across this broad land. … May God help those poor souls who’d be so cruel.” Watch it:

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In April 2007, Byrd gave a speech to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the dangers of contaminated dog food, professing his adoration for his shih tzu, Baby. “She sleeps on my bed,” said Byrd. “She goes with me to the Senate, rides in the car with me. She stays in my office. When somebody comes into the office, she rises and comes over and greets them, goes on about her business and gets back on the couch.”

The Humane Society has more on Vick and dogfighting HERE.

Acting President Cheney.

Fri, 2007-07-20 09:54

“President Bush will undergo a routine colonoscopy Saturday, and will transfer power to Vice President Dick Cheney during the procedure, expected to take about two and a half hours, the chief White House spokesman said.”

JetBlue caves to right-wing pressure.

Fri, 2007-07-20 09:45

After being subjected to a smear campaign by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly for its in-kind donation to the upcoming YearlyKos convention, JetBlue has asked the YearlyKos organizers to remove its name from the convention’s website. O’Reilly celebrated the move on his show last night. Watch it:

According to Kos diarist Pontificator, “Last night, a representative of JetBlue told us that we could keep their logo on the frontpage of the YearlyKos website, so long as we made it clear that it was an ‘in-kind’ donation. They told us we could announce that fact. Today, they went back on their word. The representative from JetBlue says the CEO ordered him to tell us to remove the logo.” The JetBlue logo is no longer on the YearlyKos home page.

UPDATE: Pontificator’s post appears to have been taken down. Markos has the story.

Bush Threatened To Veto Same Military Pay Raise That He Now Uses To Attack Anti-War Critics

Fri, 2007-07-20 09:00

In his Rose Garden address this morning, President Bush criticized the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to pull the Defense Authorization bill from consideration, saying the move would deny a pay raise to soldiers serving in Iraq. “Congress has failed to act on” a bill that would “provide funds to upgrade our equipment, for our troops in Iraq and provides a pay raise for our military,” said Bush. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl made a similar argument on Wednesday.

“Even members of Congress who no longer support our effort in Iraq should at least be able to provide an increase in pay for our troops fighting there,” Bush added. Watch it:

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Bush’s use of the the military pay raise as a cudgel to bash his political opponents is dishonest and hypocritical. In May, he threatened to veto a House defense spending bill over the exact same 3.5 percent pay increase that he is now touting:

Bush budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases “unnecessary.”

Democratic leaders in the House wrote to Bush at the time urging him to reconsider his veto threat.

In a speech, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq war veteran, said that Bush’s veto threat was tantamount to the President of the United States saying, “Thank you for your service to your country, but that’s too much of a pay increase.”

A majority of the Senate is ready and willing to pass the defense bill, but conservatives carrying water for the White House’s stay-the-course Iraq strategy are determined to stand in the way.

UPDATE: Reid’s statement responding to Bush is here.

Start the countdown.

Fri, 2007-07-20 08:51

“Eighteen months from today, a new president takes the oath of office.” White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joel Kaplan insists that this milestone is “just another day.”

Hannity: Sen. Vitter Should Resign

Fri, 2007-07-20 08:15

When Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) replaced former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA) — who “abruptly resigned after disclosures of numerous affairs” in 1998 — he argued that an extramarital affair was grounds for resignation:

“I think Livingston’s stepping down makes a very powerful argument that Clinton should resign as well and move beyond this mess,” he said. [Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 12/20/98]

Calling Vitter a “hypocrite-in-chief,” writes today, “If U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., were one-quarter the man he claims to be, he would resign his office over links to a D.C. escort service.” The op-ed continues, “Vitter is a bigger hypocrite than most,” noting his prior criticisms of Clinton. “Vitter is the worst kind of a politician: A man who hoists himself upon a family-values pedestal and condemns others who don’t ascend with him.”

Even right-wing pundit Sean Hannity is getting into the act. Last night on Fox, Hannity said that Vitter should heed his own advice and resign:

I think Senator Vitter should probably live by the line that he put out for Bill Clinton back in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Watch it:

Earlier this week, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said the Vitter scandal should have “a full airing” and noted that there is an open criminal investigation into the escort service that Vitter acknowledged calling.

Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said yesterday, “Senator Vitter’s solicitation of at least one prostitute was not merely, as he has stated, ‘a serious sin,’ it was a violation of criminal law.”

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UPDATE: KLo weighs in: “I think he’s probably should resign.”

Clinton responds to Pentagon on redeployment.

Fri, 2007-07-20 07:28

Earlier this week, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman wrote to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), telling her, “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda.” Today, Clinton responded to Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

Rather than offer to brief the congressional oversight committees on this critical issue, Under Secretary Edelman - writing on your behalf - instead claims that congressional oversight emboldens our enemies. Under Secretary Edelman has his priorities backward. … Indeed, you acknowledged the importance of Congress in our Iraq policy at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee in March, when you stated, “I believe that the debate here on the Hill and the issues that have been raised have been helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government and on the Iraqis in knowing that there is a very real limit to American patience in this entire enterprise.”

Redeploying out of Iraq will be difficult and requires careful planning. I continue to call on the Bush Administration to immediately provide a redeployment strategy that will keep our brave men and women safe as they leave Iraq - instead of adhering to a political strategy to attack those who rightfully question their competence and preparedness after years of mistakes and misjudgments.

Full letter below: (more…)

‘I think he would make a spectacular attorney general,’

Fri, 2007-07-20 07:05

said former Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Comey, in reference to Patrick Fitzgerald. “He certainly is one of the very best federal prosecutors in America.” Comey added, “This is a guy who’s spent time in small rooms in a lot of countries around the world with people who’ve killed a lot of people. He’s not intimidated by pressure.”

Hastert to resign?

Fri, 2007-07-20 06:50

According to the Politico, columnist Robert Novak will report this weekend:

Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has indicated to a close former aide that it is likely he will not run for a 12th term from his northern Illinois district and may even resign from Congress before his present term concludes. That runs counter to widespread speculation on Capitol Hill that Hastert will continue in the House for another two years as a private member with no leadership responsibilities.

ThinkFast: July 20, 2007

Fri, 2007-07-20 06:07

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday, claiming that the Justice Department “will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.” Mark Rozell, an expert on executive privilege said, “What this statement is saying is the president’s claim of executive privilege trumps all.”

A House Judiciary subcommittee rejected Bush’s contention that “his claim of executive privilege shields the top aide, Joshua Bolten, from having to turn over subpoenaed documents.” The vote subjected Bolten to possible contempt charges.

“The top commanders in Iraq and the American ambassador to Baghdad appealed for more time beyond their mid-September assessment…but their appeals, in three videoconferences on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon, were met by stern rebukes from lawmakers of both parties.”

70: Number of House members who wrote a letter to Bush stating that they “will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.”

Congressional watchdog groups argued that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) broke the ethics rules when she bought property from a friend and political supporter. Ken Boehm, who heads the National Legal and Policy Center, said, “You have two grown-ups who know what this piece of property is worth, and they picked a sales price that’s not what it’s worth.” (more…)

19 percent:

Thu, 2007-07-19 20:33

President Bush’s approval rating in Wisconsin, according to a new poll conducted by a conservative polling firm. The rating is “a new low” for the President, whose previous low in polls by the firm was 24 percent.

House rejects Bush’s plan to cut public broadcasting.

Thu, 2007-07-19 19:46

In a 357-72 vote this evening, the House “rejected President Bush’s plan to eliminate the $420 million federal subsidy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

FEMA suppressed health warnings after Katrina.

Thu, 2007-07-19 19:06

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing revealed that FEMA “has suppressed warnings from its own Gulf coast field workers since the middle of 2006 about suspected health problems that may be linked to elevated levels of formaldehyde gas released in FEMA-provided trailers.” The Gavel has more from the hearing HERE.

REPORT: Iraq War To Cost $550 Billion By October

Thu, 2007-07-19 15:07

According to a new Congressional Research Service report, the war in Iraq has cost $450 billion to date. Further, if Congress approves the Bush administration’s latest supplemental funding request, the total cost of the war will exceed $550 billion by October 1 of this year — fully ten times greater than the Bush administration naively predicted in February 2003.

The report also details the costs of the war in Afghanistan — $127 billion — and other Department of Defense War on Terror expenditures — $28 billion. The CRS also notes approximately $5 billion dollars that cannot be “allocated.” In total, the “Global War on Terror” has cost $610 billion.

Other notable findings of the report:

Costs Rose Sharply In 2007: “[W]ar appropriations rose steeply in FY2007. DOD received $165.8 billion for war costs in FY2007 — about 40% more than the previous year. … VA medical costs for [Iraq/Afghanistan] veterans will be about $1 billion, according to CRS estimates” in 2007.

$12 Billion Per Month: “For the first half of FY2007, CRS estimates that [Defense Department’s] average monthly obligations for contracts and pay are running about $12 billion per month, well above the estimated $8.7 billion in FY2006.”

Rising Cost of Troop Deployments: “Since FY2003, the estimated average cost per deployed troop has risen from about $320,000 to $390,000 per deployed troop” and of the “1.5 million individuals who have deployed for Iraq of OEF, about 30% have had more than one deployment.”

Redeployment Could Cut Costs In Half: “[T]he Congressional Budget Office estimated that war costs for the next 10 years might total about $472 billion if troop levels fell to 30,000 by 2010, or $919 billion if troop levels fell to 75,000 by about 2013. Under such assumptions and adjusting for the FY2007 Supplemental, total funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the GWOT could reach from about $1 trillion to $1.45 trillion by 2017.”

The CRS report also highlights the administration’s continuing reliance on “emergency supplemental funding requests” to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting that “much of the funding would not seem to meet the traditional definition of emergency — as an urgent and ‘unforeseen, unpredictable, and unanticipated’ need.”

You can read the entire report HERE.

Ryan Powers

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Chappelle: ‘I’ll take Tony Snow’s job.’

Thu, 2007-07-19 14:38

At the White House this morning, CNN correspondent Ed Henry “noticed a small group of Secret Service officers gathered around a man with a black backpack.” As he moved closer to the scene, Henry realized who was causing all the commotion, Dave Chappelle:

Since Chappelle made international headlines in 2005 by essentially disappearing for awhile under strange circumstances — and walking away from a $50 million deal to continue his show on Comedy Central — I asked what he’s doing next.

“I want your job,” he said, explaining that it’s fun to watch reporters go back-and-forth with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

“Or maybe I’ll take Tony Snow’s job,” Chappelle smiled. “I think that’s a cool job.”

Neither Tony nor I get $50 million. But we both have great jobs — plus you never know who you’ll run into next around here.

Gonzales has no ‘regret’ over pressuring a sick Ashcroft.

Thu, 2007-07-19 13:56

In a closed-door meeting today, the House Intelligence Committee questioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the “reasons behind Gonzales’ controversial 2004 visit to the hospital bedside of John Ashcroft, reportedly to pressure the ailing attorney general to endorse Bush’s surveillance program.” According to chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TV), “Gonzales did not express any regret.”

White House privilege claim ruled ‘not legally valid.’

Thu, 2007-07-19 13:31

In a 7-3 ruling today, a House Judiciary subcommittee ruled that that the White House’s assertion of executive privilege to block the release of “documents sought in subpoenas issued to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and the Republican National Committee was not legally valid.” During the 20-minute hearing, Judiciary Committee John Conyers (D-MI) said that “the White House participated in false statements to Congress.”