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Archive for January 6th, 2007

Bush’s Iraq Plan Faces Battle on Hill


WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq is already running into trouble on Capitol Hill, with Republicans joining Democrats in raising eyebrows before the president even makes his case.

Bush, who met on Saturday with his national security team, has tapped new military commanders to lead the war effort and will disclose a new war strategy as early as Wednesday that is expected to include political, military and economic components.

The military solution, which has attracted the most attention and skepticism from Congress, probably will call for an increase in U.S. troops, possibly 9,000 additional troops deployed to Baghdad alone.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., shot down the suggestion of more troops within a day of gaining control of Congress.

“Based on the advice of current and former military leaders, we believe this tactic would be a serious mistake,” Reid said in the Democratic radio address Saturday. Instead, Reid and Pelosi want Bush to begin pulling troops out in four to six months.

“Our troops and their families have already sacrificed a great deal for Iraq,” Reid said. “They have done their part. It’s time for the Iraqis to do their part.”
Bush told more than a dozen senators Friday that he would settle on the option only if the Iraqi government offered certain guarantees, according to senators who attended the meeting.

While lawmakers said they were willing to wait and see the entirety of Bush’s plan before dismissing it entirely, members – including some Republicans – said they remained deeply skeptical about sending more troops.

“My conclusion was that it would be a mistake to send more troops to Baghdad. I think the sectarian violence there requires a political, not a military, solution,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine., who had not had a chance yet to meet with the president.

“I also have not seen a clarity of mission, and I think that’s the greatest weakness that we have right now,” Wilson said. “We’re talking about goals in lofty terms that are not vital American national interests. American troops should only go in harm’s way to protect America’s vital interests.”

Even Sen. John McCain, a Republican who advocates sending more troops in Iraq, said he wouldn’t support sending in the additional forces unless the number was adequate enough to finally tamp down the violence.

“I need to know if it’s enough or not,” McCain said.

McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said they think at a minimum another three to five brigades should be sent to Baghdad and one more to Anbar province. About 3,500 troops are in a brigade. About 140,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now.

Sen. Ben Nelson, who was among the small group of senators who met with the president Friday, said he felt Bush was aware of the high stakes and knew he would have to sell any plan to the American public. Bush suggested to the senators there would be “the expectation of the Iraqis carrying out their part of the deal ‘or else,’” said Nelson, D-Neb.

But Nelson said he and others remained reluctant to endorse any plan that would further stretch the military.

“I don’t think there was anything partisan about the skepticism,” he said.
Briefings with lawmakers were expected to continue through next week, culminating in a meeting with bipartisan leadership Wednesday, according to lawmakers and aides.

To implement his changed policy in Iraq, Bush is tapping new generals to lead the military campaign.

Bush will nominate Adm. William Fallon, who commands American forces in the Pacific, to replace Gen. John Abizaid as top U.S. commander in the Middle East. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces, is slated to replace Gen. George Casey as top American general in Iraq. Casey in turn will replace the retiring Gen. Peter Schoomaker as Army chief of staff.

Lawmakers said they were pleased with Bush’s selections.

“I hope he matches it with a new strategy that will shift responsibility for security to Iraqis and begin the responsible redeployment of American forces,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

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Death in Haditha


Eyewitness Accounts in Report Indicate Marines Gunned Down Unarmed Iraqis in the Aftermath of a Roadside Bombing in 2005

U.S. Marines gunned down five unarmed Iraqis who stumbled onto the scene of a 2005 roadside bombing in Haditha, Iraq, according to eyewitness accounts that are part of a lengthy investigative report obtained by The Washington Post.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the squad’s leader, shot the men one by one after Marines ordered them out of a white taxi in the moments following the explosion, which killed one Marine and injured two others, witnesses told investigators. Another Marine fired rounds into their bodies as they lay on the ground.

“The taxi’s five occupants exited the vehicle and according to U.S. and Iraqi witnesses, were shot by Wuterich as they stood, unarmed, next to the vehicle approximately ten feet in front of him,” said a report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on the incident that runs thousands of pages.

One of the witnesses, Sgt. Asad Amer Mashoot, a 26-year-old Iraqi soldier who was in the Marine convoy, told investigators he watched in horror as the four students and the taxi driver fell. “They didn’t even try to run away,” he said. “We were afraid from Marines and we saw them behaving like crazy. They were yelling and screaming.”

The shootings were the first in a series of violent reactions by Marines on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005 that left 24 civilians — many of them women and children — dead, in what some human rights groups and Iraqis have called a massacre by U.S. troops.

The report, which relied on hundreds of interviews with Marines, Iraqi soldiers and civilian survivors conducted months after the incident, presents a fragmented and sometimes conflicting chronicle of the violence that day. But taken together, the accounts provide evidence that as the Marines came under attack, they responded in ways that are difficult to reconcile with their rules of engagement.

Four Marines were charged with murder last month in connection with the civilian deaths in Haditha: Wuterich, who faces 13 counts of unpremeditated murder; Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz; Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt; and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. Each faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Through their lawyers, three have argued that they behaved appropriately while taking fire on a chaotic battlefield, and that the civilian deaths were a regrettable but unavoidable part of warfare in an especially dangerous area. Dela Cruz’s attorney has declined to comment.

The Marine Corps also has charged four officers with failing to investigate and fully report the slayings: Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, Capt. Randy W. Stone and Lt. Andrew A. Grayson.

The Marines told investigators that they believed they were authorized to fire freely inside two houses they raided in the minutes following the taxi shootings, after concluding that insurgents were firing on them. After an officer ordered them to “take” one of the homes and Wuterich commanded them to “shoot first, ask questions later,” the Marines considered the houses “hostile,” according to sworn statements to investigators.

Marine officials have accused the troops of failing to identify their targets before using grenades and guns to kill 14 unarmed people in the houses, including several young children in their pajamas, in a span of about 10 minutes, according to the documents.

Safah Yunis Salem, 13, who said she played dead to avoid being shot, was the only person to survive the Marine attack on the second house. Her sister Aisha, 3, was shot in the leg and died; her brother Zainab, 5, was killed by a shot to the head. She said she lost five other members of her family in the room, including her mother.

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McCain’s hawkish views up stakes for ’08


WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record)’s call for a substantial and sustained influx of U.S. troops in Iraq sets the Republican apart from other White House candidates — and it could help him or haunt him come 2008.

The Arizona senator’s hawkish position that the United States must do what is necessary to win the war might appeal to hard-core Republicans, but it also has the potential to turn off most Americans whose support for the nearly 4-year-old war has diminished.

“I have presidential ambitions, but they pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation’s security. If it destroys any ambitions I may have, I’m willing to pay that price gladly,” McCain said Friday, brushing aside scenarios of political fallout.

A decorated Vietnam war veteran considered one of Congress’ authorities on military matters, McCain has long said the United States did not send enough troops to Iraq for the 2003 invasion. He has been a vocal advocate of sending thousands more troops to the war zone to calm sectarian violence that has ravaged Baghdad and beyond.

Securing the country, McCain says, would allow for political progress and economic development that has been stunted thus far.

The stance has generated attention — and scrutiny — as President Bush prepares to announce a new Iraq strategy that’s expected to include a troop increase.

McCain is “staking out a position as a hawk on this war — that it’s winnable and we’re going to move forward and do this. Certainly it’s a risky strategy,” said Fred Solop, a political science professor at Northern Arizona University.

“But right now his sights are on winning the nomination for his party. And that’s a position that’s going to get him a lot of support as he pursues it.”

Of McCain’s most serious potential challengers for the Republican nomination, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has largely resisted wading into the Iraq debate. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has said that while withdrawing “would be a mistake,” decisions on troop levels should be left to the military.

But likely Democratic rivals have taken aim. Former North Carolina Sen.
John Edwards opposed what he called “the McCain doctrine,” and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said of the Republican, “I think he is wrong.”

A recent Associated Press-AOL News Poll found that most Americans are pessimistic about the future of Iraq and few expect the situation to get any better. A majority doubt that a stable, democratic government will be established there, and eight in 10 think the conflict will end with a compromise, not a clear-cut victory.

The public also heavily favors a timetable for withdrawing all forces in the next two years — a sentiment that conflicts with McCain’s go-big strategy.
Having recently returned from a trip to Iraq, the senator staunchly defended his position Friday before a standing-room-only crowd at the American Enterprise Institute. A travel companion and ally, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, backed him up.

Outside the conservative policy center, dozens stood in a drizzling rain to protest any escalation of forces. They carried signs and shouted, “John and Joe have got to go!”

“John’s taking a gutsy position, not because he’s read any political opinion polls or sifted through the results of the last election, but because he thinks that’s what’s right for America,” Lieberman said.

Interjecting, McCain said, “Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman — many other presidents have taken unpopular positions for the good of the nation.”

Neither senator would put a precise number on a buildup they seek but said that at a minimum it should be what commanders in Iraq have told them is needed — another three to five brigades in Baghdad and at least one more brigade in the Anbar province. Typically, about 3,500 troops are in a brigade.
About 140,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now.

As Bush put the finishing touches on his new strategy, McCain said he believes success is still possible but warned that a small, short-term increase in forces would not be sufficient to win and would be “the worst of all worlds.”

“It has to be significant and sustained. Otherwise, do not do it. Otherwise, there will be more needless loss of American lives,” said McCain, the top GOP senator on the Armed Services Committee.

“The strategy will mean more casualties, extra hardships for our brave fighting men and women, and the violence may get worse before it gets better,” McCain said. However, he added, the consequences of failure would be “potentially catastrophic.”

Answering critics, McCain acknowledged that the military would be over-stressed under his proposal but said, “I believe there’s only one thing worse than an overstressed military — and that’s a broken and defeated military.”

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A State Department official leaked word this week that President Bush is considering sending “no more than 15,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops” to Iraq. “Instead of a surge, it is a bump,” the official said.

This claim was bolstered last night by CBS’s David Martin, who reported that military commanders have told Bush they are prepared to execute a troop escalation of just 9,000 soldiers and Marines into Iraq, “with another 10,000 on alert in Kuwait and the U.S.”

The Washington Post reports today that “deep divisions remain between the White House on one side and the Joint Chiefs and congressional leaders on the other about whether a surge of up to 20,000 troops will turn around the deteriorating situation.” The Post also provides more context about an administration official’s recent claim that the escalation is “more of a political decision than a military one.“:

The U.S. military is increasingly resigned to the probability that Bush will deploy a relatively small number of additional troops — between one and five brigades — in part because he has few other dramatic options available to signal U.S. determination in Iraq, officials said. But the Joint Chiefs have not given up making the case that the potential dangers outweigh the benefits for several reasons, officials said.

Escalation backers have already begun distancing themselves from this plan. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said yesterday that not sending enough troops would be “worse than doing nothing.”

REPORTER: The president is expected to give his speech on a new way forward in Iraq next week. CBS’s David Martin has learned military commanders told the President they could execute a ‘troop surge’ of 9,000 soldiers and Marines into Iraq, with another 10,000 on alert in Kuwait and the U.S. Two army brigades — about 7,500 troops — would go into Baghdad in an effort to control the violence, clearing neighborhoods and staying long enough for reconstruction projects to take effect. 1,500 Marines would go to the western province of al-Anbar, heartland of the Sunni insurgency. This, even though the Commandant of the Marine Corps was quoted as saying he did not see a need for more battalions. But aides say the President still hasn’t decided for sure on a plan.

TONY SNOW (CLIP): The President understands this is important and needs to be done right.

ANCHOR: And details for the President’s proposal on Iraq are still being hammered out, but Pentagon officials are sure the President will order more troops to Iraq.

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Army asks dead to sign up for another hitch


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army said Friday it would apologize to the families of about 275 officers killed or wounded in action who were mistakenly sent letters urging them to return to active duty.

The letters were sent a few days after Christmas to more than 5,100 Army officers who had recently left the service. Included were letters to about 75 officers killed in action and about 200 wounded in action.

“Army personnel officials are contacting those officers’ families now to personally apologize for erroneously sending the letters,” the Army said in a brief news release issued Friday night.

The Army did not say how or when the mistake was discovered. It said the database normally used for such correspondence with former officers had been “thoroughly reviewed” to remove the names of wounded or dead soldiers.

“But an earlier list was used inadvertently for the December mailings,” the Army statement said, adding that the Army is apologizing to those officers and families affected and “regrets any confusion.”

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White House visitor records closed


WASHINGTON – The White House and the Secret Service quietly signed an agreement last spring in the midst of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal declaring that records identifying visitors to the White House are not open to the public.

The Bush administration didn’t reveal the existence of the memorandum of understanding until last fall. The White House is using it to deal with a legal problem on a separate front, a ruling by a federal judge ordering the production of Secret Service logs identifying visitors to the office of Vice President
Dick Cheney.

In a federal appeals court filing three weeks ago, the administration’s lawyers used the memo in a legal argument aimed at overturning the judge’s ruling. The Washington Post is suing for access to the Secret Service logs.

The five-page document dated May 17 declares that all entry and exit data on White House visitors belongs to the White House as presidential records rather than to the Secret Service as agency records. Therefore, the agreement states, the material is not subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the past, Secret Service logs have revealed the comings and goings of various White House visitors, including Monica Lewinsky and Clinton campaign donor Denise Rich, the wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who received a pardon in the closing hours of the Clinton administration.

The memo last spring was signed by the White House and Secret Service the day after a Washington-based group asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret Service in a dispute over White House visitor logs for Abramoff.

The chief counsel to another Washington-based group suing to get Secret Service logs calls the creation of the memo “a political maneuver couched as a legal one.”

“It appears the White House is actually manufacturing evidence to further its own agenda,” Anne Weismann, a Justice Department lawyer for 19 years and now chief counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Friday.

The White House and the Secret Service declined to comment.

Last year in the Abramoff scandal, the Bush administration, in response to three lawsuits, provided an incomplete picture of how many visits Abramoff and his lobbying team made to the White House.

The task of digging out Abramoff-White House links fell to a House committee that collected the lobbyist’s billing records and e-mails. The House report found 485 lobbying contacts with presidential aides over three years, including 10 with top Bush administration aide Karl Rove.

As part of its security function of protecting the White House complex, the Secret Service uses the log information to conduct background checks on people prior to daily appointments and visits.

The memorandum of understanding is an unusual step because it deals with an unsettled area of law.

Federal courts will ultimately decide whether records identifying White House visitors and who they are going to see are under the legal control of the Secret Service or are presidential records publicly releasable solely at the discretion of the White House.

The Bush administration’s agreement with the Secret Service “at a minimum will serve to postpone a final resolution of who these records belong to,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. “This memo reflects the Bush administration’s view of American government, which is that the people’s business should be conducted behind closed doors.”

In the mid-1990s, a conservative group, Judicial Watch, obtained Secret Service entry logs through a lawsuit.

Secret Service records played a significant role in the Whitewater scandal in the 1990s, supplying congressional Republicans with leads to follow in their
investigations of the Clintons.

A decade ago, Senate investigators used Secret Service logs to document who visited the White House during the fundraising scandal surrounding President Clinton’s re-election campaign.

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