Archive for February, 2007

New commission to debate war powers

A new panel will debate whether Congress or the president has the constitutional power to wage war, The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Washington Wire’ blog reports.

“The newly launched National War Powers Commission will be chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, fresh off leading the Iraq Study Group, along with another former top diplomat, Warren Christopher,” reports Neil King, Jr. for the ‘Wire.’ “The panel enter a debate almost as old as the republic, but also one that is particularly salient now as Democrats in Congress ponder whether to curtail funding for the Iraq war or even to repeal the 2002 measure authorizing it.”

The commission has been assembled by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and is reportedly receiving no federal funding.

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Military chiefs give US six months to win Iraq war

· Violence expected to rise after UK withdrawal
· Troop numbers too low
· Coalition is ‘disintegrating’

An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq – or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

The officers – combat veterans who are leading experts in counter-insurgency – are charged with implementing the “new way forward” strategy announced by president George Bush on January 10. The plan includes a controversial “surge” of 21,500 additional American troops to establish security in the Iraqi capital and Anbar province.

But the team, known as the “Baghdad brains trust” and ensconced in the heavily fortified Green Zone around the US embassy, is struggling to overcome a range of entrenched problems in what has become a race against time, said a former senior administration official familiar with their deliberations. “They know they are operating under a clock. They know they are going to hear a lot more talk in Washington about ‘Plan B’ by the autumn – meaning withdrawal. They know the next six-month period is their opportunity. And they say it’s getting harder every day,” the former official said.

By improving security, the plan’s short-term aim is to create time and space for the Iraqi government to bring rival Shia, Sunni and Kurd factions together in a process of national reconciliation, us officials say. If that works within the stipulated timeframe, longer-term schemes for rebuilding Iraq under the so-called “go long” strategy will be set in motion. But the next six months are make-or-break for both the US military and the Iraqi government.

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A question sent from the jury to the judge in the trial of former Cheney chief of staff I Lewis “Scooter” Libby has apparently been answered by the jurors themselves. The question — which CNN says “essentially” asked if the judge had asserted Cheney’s former aide had lied.

CNN’s Brian Todd: A bit of activity in Libby trial… The jury sent another note back to the judge essentially saying “We’ve answered our own question, no clarification needed. We apologize. We are going to get back to work.” … The original question had to do with Count #3 of the Libby indictment … that is Libby made false statements about a conversation he had with Time Mag. reporter Matt Cooper in July of 2003.

Libby told Cooper that reporters were telling the administration that administration’s critic Joe Wilson worked for the CIA but Libby didn’t know if it was true. The prosecution contends that Libby did know it was true and confirmed it unequivocally in that conversation … the question from the jury, verbatim, “Is the charge that the statement was made or about the content of the statement itself?”

Essentially [they were] asking the judge, “Are you saying that Scooter Libby lied that the conversation even happened or is he lying about the content of the conversation.”… but after further discussion they said “We are clear on what we have to do. No further clarification needed. Thank you. We apologize.” … There was a lot of laughter in the courtroom from attorneys on both sides.


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Judge Replies to Jury Note in Libby Case

WASHINGTON — One week into their deliberations, jurors in the CIA leak trial had a question for the judge. The judge responded with a question of his own: What do you mean? Jurors passed a note to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton at the end of the day Tuesday. Walton took the bench Wednesday morning and, without saying what the question was, told attorneys he didn’t understand it.

“I have some questions in my mind as to exactly what the jury is asking me,” Walton said. “I’m going to send a note back to the jury indicating I’m not exactly certain what you’re asking and can you please clarify.”

The question could provide the first clue about the deliberations in the case of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Since getting the case last Wednesday, jurors had asked no questions, only requesting office supplies.

Defense attorney and prosecutors have reviewed the note but did not discuss it’s contents. Defense attorney Theodore Wells said he and prosecutors believe they understand the note and proposed similar responses. But Walton said he wanted to be sure.

The jury was whittled to 11 members this week when one woman was dismissed for reading or seeing something about the case over the weekend.

Libby faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted, though he would be likely to get far less time under federal sentencing guidelines.


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Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

They were also told they would be moving out of Building 18 to Building 14 within the next couple of weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It’s also located on the Walter Reed Campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access.


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Majority in Poll Favor Deadline For Iraq Pullout

With Congress preparing for renewed debate over President Bush’s Iraq policies, a majority of Americans now support setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from the war-torn nation and support putting new conditions on the military that could limit the number of personnel available for duty there, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to Bush’s plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq remained strong. Two in three Americans registered their disapproval, with 56 percent saying they strongly object. The House recently passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the new deployments, but Republicans have blocked consideration of such a measure in the Senate.

Senate Democrats, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (Mich.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), are preparing another resolution that would have the effect of taking away the authority Bush was granted in 2002 to go to war. The measure would seek to have virtually all combat forces withdrawn from Iraq by the end of March 2008.

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Gen. Pace: Military capability eroding

WASHINGTON – Strained by the demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a significant risk that the U.S. military won’t be able to quickly and fully respond to yet another crisis, according to a new report to Congress.

The assessment, done by the nation’s top military officer, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, represents a worsening from a year ago, when that risk was rated as moderate.

The report is classified, but on Monday senior defense officials, speaking on condition on anonymity, confirmed the decline in overall military readiness. And a report that accompanied Pace’s review concluded that while the Pentagon is working to improve its warfighting abilities, it “may take several years to reduce risk to acceptable levels.”

Pace’s report comes as the U.S. is increasing its forces in Iraq to quell escalating violence in Baghdad. And top military officials have consistently acknowledged that the repeated and lengthy deployments are straining the Army, Marine Corps and reserve forces and taking a heavy toll on critical warfighting equipment.

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Stocks fall as Chinese stocks take a hit

NEW YORK – Wall Street fell sharply in early trading Tuesday, joining a global stock decline on growing concerns about slowing economies in the U.S. and China. Worries that U.S. stocks are about to embark on a major correction fed the drop, which took the Dow Jones industrials down more than 120 points.

A 9 percent slide in Chinese stocks earlier set the tone for the opening of trading. Concerns that China’s economy will slow sent many investors selling just a day after they sent Shanghai’s benchmark index to a record high close.

A warning from former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan Monday that the U.S. economy may be headed for a recession also took a toll. A Commerce Department that orders for durable goods in January dropped by the largest amoung in three months exacerbated concerns about the economy, as did a Standard & Poor’s index showing single-family home prices across the nation were flat in December.

In the first hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 123.69, or 0.98 percent, to 12,508.57.

Broader stock indicators also fell sharply. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 17.96, or 1.24 percent, to 1,431.41, and the Nasdaq composite index was down 49.13, or 1.96 percent, to 2,455.39.


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Cheney OK after Afghan blast; 23 killed

BAGRAM, Afghanistan – A suicide bomber attacked the entrance to the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, killing up to 23 people and wounding 20.

Cheney was unhurt in the attack, which was claimed by the Taliban and was the closest that militants have come to a top U.S. official visiting Afghanistan. At least one U.S. soldier, an American contractor and a South Korean solder were among the dead,
NATO said.

Cheney said the attackers were trying “to find ways to question the authority of the central government.” A Taliban spokesman said Cheney was the target.

About two hours after the blast, Cheney left on a military flight for Kabul to meet with President Hamid Karzai and other officials, then left Afghanistan.

The vice president had spent the night at the sprawling Bagram Air Base, ate breakfast with the troops, and met with Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

He was preparing to leave for a meeting with Karzai when the suicide bomber struck about 10 a.m., sending up a plume of smoke visible by reporters accompanying him. U.S. military officials declared a “red alert” at the base.

“I heard a loud boom,” Cheney told reporters. “The Secret Service came in and told me there had been an attack on the main gate.”

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Iraqi vice president dodges bomb; 10 die

Iraq’s Shiite vice president escaped an apparent assassination attempt Monday after a bomb exploded in municipal offices where he was making a speech, knocking him down with the force of the blast that left at least 10 people dead.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi was bruised and hospitalized for medical exams, an aide said. Police initially blamed the attack on a bomb-rigged car, but later said the explosives were apparently planted inside the building.

The attack sent another message that suspected Sunni militants could strike anywhere despite a major security crackdown across the capital. Hours before the blast, U.S. military teams with bomb-sniffing dogs combed the building, said workers at the site.

The bomb struck while Abdul-Mahdi was addressing municipal officials in the upscale Mansour district, which has many embassies and saw a rise in private security patrols after past kidnappings blamed on militants.

Abdul-Mahdi is one of two vice presidents. The other, Tariq al-Hashemi, is Sunni.

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