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Superdelegates Give Clinton An Early Edge

(CBS) The first caucuses and primaries are still months away, but Democrat Hillary Clinton already has a leg up in her bid for her party's presidential nomination thanks to the support of an obscure but powerful group: the superdelegates.

Created by the Democratic Party in 1984, superdelegates include members of Congress, governors, former presidents, Democratic National Committee members and other party leaders. There are 850 of them, which comprises nearly one-fifth of the overall delegate count. They can back any candidate they want and change their mind as often as they want. But right now, among those that are supporting or leaning toward one candidate, they are largely siding with Clinton.

A CBS News survey of Democratic superdelegates revealed that 184 of them are supporting or leaning toward the New York senator and former first lady. By a more than two-to-one margin, she tops Barack Obama, who is supported by 71.5 superdelegates. John Edwards is in third, with the support of 40 superdelegates. Trailing them are Bill Richardson at 27.5, Chris Dodd at 12, Joe Biden at 10.5 and Dennis Kucinich at 2. Superdelegates representing Democrats Abroad only get one-half vote each, accounting for the fractional support received by some candidates. Among those who responded to the CBS News survey, 236.5 were still undecided.

Female superdelegates were especially likely to support Clinton - 87 were supporting her, compared to 18 for Obama. Her advantage over Obama among men is smaller: 97 superdelegates to Obama's 53.5. African-American superdelegates also narrowly favor her over Obama.

While this support is important in securing the nomination - Clinton's confirmed backing gives her 8.3 percent of the 2,209 delegates needed to win - there are several caveats. Most important is that superdelegates tend to be more of a reflection of national polls than of who will actually win the nomination. They usually back the front-runner or the establishment candidate - this year, Clinton is both. But in 2004, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt led John Kerry in the superdelegate count, only to see Kerry wrap up the nomination relatively quickly after his come-from-behind win in the Iowa caucuses. The superdelegates, focused on displaying party unity, rallied around their nominee.

The field of superdelegates itself is still very much in flux. Of the 850 superdelegates, 81 are "unpledged add-ons" yet to be named. And 7 of the named spots are vacant. Other states, like Florida and Michigan, have risked losing all their delegates, including superdelegates, by scheduling their primaries earlier than DNC rules allow.

But it is very easy to determine who some superdelegates are supporting, namely because Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Biden, Kucinich and Richardson, by virtue of their offices, are superdelegates themselves, and presumably backing their own candidacies.

CBS News and The New York Times contacted 619 unpledged delegates; 143 superdelegates have not been reached. Of the 619 reached, 31 delegates refused to complete the survey, yielding 588 completed surveys representing 585 delegate votes. The endorsements of another eight superdelegates were confirmed by other methods.

Missile shield is 'urgent' - Bush

US President George W Bush 2310

US President George W Bush has said there is a "real and urgent" need for a missile defence system in Europe.

Mr Bush said the missile threat was from the Middle East, not Russia, which strongly opposes sites for the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

He warned that Iran could have a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe or the US by 2015.

Earlier, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the shield could be delayed while Russian concerns were tackled.

Iran threat

In a speech at the National Defence University in Washington, Mr Bush said: "The need for missile defence in Europe is real and I believe it's urgent."

He said the planned system was not designed to tackle missiles from Russia as it would be easily overwhelmed by Moscow's arsenal.

"The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy," he said.

Mr Bush said the US had invited Russia to "join us against an emerging threat that affects us all... we ought to respond to this threat together".

The president said if "rogue states" had less confidence their missiles would strike, they would be "less likely to engage in acts of aggression in the first place".

Mr Bush also attacked the US Congress for reducing funding to missile shield systems.

Earlier, Mr Gates had said activation of the European shield could be delayed until there was "definitive proof" of a missile threat from states such as Iran.

He said after meeting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in Prague: "We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat - in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on."

The missile shield system would see a radar site set up in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor base in Poland.

Russia has vehemently opposed bases on the territories of its former Warsaw Pact allies.

Mr Gates and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received a frosty reception when they tried to sell the plan in Moscow this month.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow saw the shield as a "potential threat" to its security and wanted to "neutralise" it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin widened the debate by also threatening to abandon a key nuclear missile treaty.

He said it would be difficult to remain part of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty unless it was expanded to include more countries than just the US and Russia.

Two marines to face Haditha trial

Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffrey Chessani

Two US marines, including a battalion commander, are to face a court martial in connection with the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005.

Lt Col Jeffrey Chessani is charged with dereliction of duty and failing to report and investigate the deaths.

L/Cpl Stephen Tatum is accused of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault.

The two men are the first to be sent to court martial in the biggest criminal case involving civilian deaths in Iraq.

Prosecutors allege that the marines shot unarmed people in retaliation for a roadside bomb attack that killed one of their comrades.

International outrage

In a ruling released at Camp Pendleton, California, Lt Gen James Mattis said he had decided to refer the charges against the two men to a general court martial after reviewing evidence presented during Article 32 investigation hearings.

Lt Col Chessani is the most senior US serviceman since the Vietnam War to face a court martial for actions in combat.

L/Cpl Stephen B Tatum
L/Cpl Tatum was initially charged with unpremeditated murder

Eight US soldiers were originally charged in connection with the killings, which sparked international outrage.

In August, murder charges against one of L/Cpl Tatum's fellow marines, L/Cpl Justin Sharratt, were dropped by military prosecutors because they were not supported by sufficient evidence.

Charges against another murder suspect, Sgt Sanick Dela Cruz, were dropped in April in exchange for his testimony.

Two weeks ago, investigators recommended withdrawing murder charges against Sgt Frank Wuterich, who is accused of leading the massacre, and instead trying him for negligent homicide.

Four officers were initially charged with dereliction and failing to report and investigate the killings. Those against Capt Randy Stone and Capt Lucas M McConnell have been dismissed, whereas 1st Lt Andrew A Grayson is awaiting a preliminary hearing.

Contradictions

Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died at Haditha, in Anbar province, on 19 November 2005.

HADITHA CHARGES
Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported scene of the Haditha shooting
Lt Col Jeffrey R Chessani: Violation of a lawful order, dereliction
1st Lt Andrew A Grayson: Dereliction, false official statement, obstructing justice
Capt Lucas M McConnell: Dereliction; Charges dismissed
L/Cpl Stephen B Tatum: Involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, aggravated assault
Staff Sgt Frank D Wuterich: Unpremeditated murder, soliciting another to commit an offence, false official statement
Sgt Sanick P Dela Cruz: Unpremeditated murder, false official statement; Charges dismissed in exchange for testimony
L/Cpl Justin L Sharratt: Unpremeditated murder; Charges dismissed
Capt Randy W Stone: Violation of a lawful order; dereliction of duty; Charges dismissed

The US military at first reported that the Iraqis had been killed by the improvised explosive device (IED) that killed L/Cpl Miguel Terrazas, or in a subsequent gunfight with insurgents.

But Iraqi witnesses said the US troops shot dead five unarmed men in a car when they approached the scene of the bombing in a taxi.

They were then accused of killing 19 other civilians in three houses nearby over the next few hours.

Despite the accusations, there was no full US investigation into what happened until January 2006, when video footage emerged of the aftermath taken by a local human rights activist.

After a report in Time magazine showed flaws in the initial marine statement, a preliminary investigation was begun. The inquiry confirmed civilians had been shot in their homes, but described the deaths as "collateral damage".

In December, military authorities charged four marines with unpremeditated murder and another four with failing to properly report or investigate the deaths.

US court rejects CIA kidnap case

Khaled al-Masri

The US Supreme Court has thrown out an appeal by a Lebanese-born German citizen who accuses the CIA of kidnapping and torturing him.

Khaled al-Masri had been appealing against the decision of lower courts not to hear his case against the CIA on national security grounds.

Mr Masri says he was abducted in Macedonia in 2003 and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation.

His case has highlighted the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme.

The Supreme Court's decision "terminated" Mr Masri's lawsuit and was issued without comment, The Associated Press news agency notes.

Correspondents say the decision will be seen as an endorsement of the Bush administration's argument that state secrets would be revealed if the case were allowed to proceed.

'Traumatised'

In his lawsuit, Mr Masri was seeking damages of $75,000 (£37,000).

The 44-year-old alleges he was tortured during five months in detention, four months of which were spent in a prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, nicknamed the "salt pit".

On his flight to Afghanistan, he says, he was stripped, beaten, shackled, made to wear "diapers", drugged and chained to the floor of the plane.

By his account, he was finally released in Albania after the Americans realised they had got the wrong man.

He told the BBC in February he had been "traumatised" by his experiences.

Last month, Germany reportedly dropped a request to the US to extradite 13 suspected CIA agents accused of abducting him.

Blackwater Faces New Monitoring From State Dept.



The State Department responded yesterday to escalating criticism of Blackwater security guards in Iraq, announcing new measures to more closely monitor their operations as a new Pentagon report depicted a troubling lack of coordination between private security contractors and the U.S. military.

Following the recommendations of a high-level review team sent to Baghdad last week, the State Department said yesterday that it will place its own diplomatic security agents in all Blackwater convoys, mount video cameras in Blackwater vehicles and record all radio transmissions to ensure an "objective" record of any future incident of contractor use of force.

Both the classified Pentagon report and the State Department's actions follow Iraqi and congressional criticism of the use of private security contractors in Iraq after a Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater employees guarding a State Department convoy allegedly shot and killed at least 14 Iraqi civilians.

The report, which was prepared for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, found considerable frustration among U.S. military commanders, who complained that contractors working for non-Pentagon agencies, including the State Department, often behave arrogantly, traveling through areas of military operations without prior notification and setting up their own checkpoints and roadblocks.

"There is a feeling that they are untouchable, a perception that they can do whatever they want with impunity," said a Pentagon source, who was not authorized to speak to reporters and demanded anonymity.

But the report also determined that commanders often do not use the authority available to them to hold Defense Department contractors accountable -- including expelling them from bases, disarming them and pursuing sanctions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Pentagon contracts cover an estimated 7,300 security contractors, including about 1,500 working on personal security teams.

Applying the military justice code to civilians is a "complex process," the Pentagon source said. "We didn't ask for it, and we don't really know how to use it." In some cases, he said, enforcing the rules may be difficult, even if the attempt is made.

"From a practical standpoint, most of the PSD [personal security detail] guys are former Navy Seals and Special Forces with . . . years of combat experience," who are unlikely to take direction from "some 20-year-old corporal" in the military, the source said.

The draft report of more than a dozen pages is to be finalized and presented to Gates when he returns from South America this weekend. Designed as an overall look at the relationship between private security contractors and the military, it includes an assessment by a five-person team that Gates dispatched to Iraq two weeks ago in the wake of the Sept. 16 incident.

Among other findings, the report suggested that the Defense Department needs to increase the personnel and resources it devotes to contractor oversight.

The Pentagon source suggested that the report could generate new scrutiny of broader issues, such as the welter of separate but often overlapping private-contractor arrangements made by the military and the State Department. "An inescapable endpoint is: Why do we have two sets of contractors?" the source said.

Military protection of diplomatic and other U.S. civilian officials ended in June 2004, when the United States returned sovereignty to the Iraqis and opened an embassy in Baghdad. Since then, the State Department has hired its own private contractors, including Blackwater, which protects diplomats and other U.S. government civilians in Baghdad and the surrounding areas of central Iraq. State Department contractors are not liable under the military code, and U.S. officials have questioned whether they are covered by any U.S. law.

Last week, State announced the launch of three separate inquiries into its security arrangements -- a joint U.S.-Iraqi commission, an FBI-led investigation of the events of Sept. 16 and a broad review of private contractors' arrangements to ascertain whether appropriate rules exist and whether they are being followed.

An interim report from the overall review, led by senior State Department management official Patrick Kennedy, recommended the new arrangements for Blackwater convoys, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered that they be carried out, department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

The measures, which McCormack said are designed to increase operational control and accountability, reflect the difficulty investigators have encountered in determining the events of Sept. 16 and, if necessary, putting together a case that can be prosecuted in a U.S. court.

Blackwater has insisted that its personnel returned fire they received from Iraqis wearing police uniforms, but initial U.S. military and Iraqi government investigations have confirmed the reports of witnesses that only the Blackwater guards fired weapons.

Private contractors are supervised by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, which briefs them before every "movement" of a protected person outside Baghdad's Green Zone.

Blackwater, which has more than 800 employees under State Department contract in Iraq, conducted 1,800 "movements" there between January and September. The 36 diplomatic security agents stationed in Baghdad occasionally accompany convoys, but having them ride along on every detail would require more than doubling their numbers, a U.S. official said. Worldwide, the service has 1,400 agents.

Radio communications with convoys are normally monitored from the embassy but have not previously been recorded and archived. McCormack said Rice has also ordered "the expansion of existing communication links to the U.S. military" to ensure that State and military personnel "have good connectivity."

Meanwhile, another private security firm, Combat Support Associates, which provides logistics support to U.S. troops at bases in Kuwait under a Pentagon contract, confirmed it had hired a former Blackwater employee who allegedly shot and killed a security guard for Iraq's vice president last December, the Associated Press reported.

A company spokesman said that a review, conducted of all prospective employees, found nothing "untoward" in Andrew Moonen's record. Moonen allegedly was drunk when the shooting occurred and is under Justice Department investigation.

Clinton: Cut Iraq Funding To Force Change

(CBS) Congress should stop funding the Iraq war to force President Bush and the Iraqi government to "change course," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said Sunday on Face The Nation.

"No matter how heroically and dedicated the performance of our young men and women and their officers are in Iraq - which it has been - they cannot referee successfully a sectarian civil war," Clinton told Bob Schieffer. "So I voted against funding last spring. I will vote against funding again in the absence of any change in policy."

President Bush has said that, by setting deadlines for withdrawal and cutting funding, Congress will embolden America's enemies. Clinton, however, said, "The idea that our having a policy that reflects the reality on the ground will embolden enemies, I think is off base. They have been emboldened by the policies pursued by this administration."

The junior Senator from New York pointed to continued nuclear development by Iran and North Korea - and reported cooperation between Syria and North Korea - as evidence of U.S. enemies growing stronger.

Clinton said, if elected president, she would set deadlines for withdrawing the majority of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, but said there would be a continuing American military presence in Iraq.

"I am committed to bringing the vast majority of our troops home, and I will begin to do that as soon as I am president," Clinton, the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, said.

Clinton said she recognized "there will be remaining missions" for American forces in Iraq, but she said they would not require the roughly 100,000 troops expected to be in Iraq when the next president takes office. She listed counterterrorism, protecting U.S. personnel and training Iraqi forces as the other missions.

"That's the right way to go because that is a much clearer definition of what we're trying to accomplish than what we face today," Clinton said.

Mr. Bush has compared America's future in Iraq to the peacekeeping role U.S. troops play in South Korea, where they have been stationed for some five decades, but Clinton said that she would review the basis for Mr. Bush's plans.

"I'm going to call my secretary of defense, my joint chiefs of staff, my security advisers to give me a full briefing on what is the planning that has gone on in the Pentagon," she said. "You know, planning hasn't exactly been a strong suit of the Bush administration."

John Harris, the Editor in Chief of politico.com, noted that, while Clinton was presenting a strong platform for her presidential campaign, she was leaving herself plenty of wiggle room.

"You can see her preserving her options," Harris told Schieffer. She's not promising figures or saying that we're going to have a complete exit in January of 2009. That's something a future president wants to do: preserve flexibility."

David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, said that Clinton's plans for Iraq sounded very similar to President Bush's.

"It's a very small difference, and when you tick off the tasks she said the troops would do while she was president - if that happened - counterterrorism, protection of the Kurds, training of the Iraqi army and then protecting us against Iran, that's a big set of tasks," Sanger said. "And it's very hard when you talk to Pentagon people to have them figure out how you do that with fewer than 100,000 troops."

U.S.: No Extradition In CIA Rendition Case

(AP) U.S. authorities have told Germany that they will not extradite 13 purported CIA agents sought in the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen, an official said Saturday.

A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said the Bush administration told Berlin it would not hand over the group and said the ministry had, as a result, decided against giving Washington Munich prosecutors' formal request for their arrest. She spoke on condition of anonymity as required by the ministry.

The Justice Ministry last month sounded out U.S. authorities' willingness to cooperate with legal proceedings against the suspected agents, sending a legal request that officials call a common first step in dealing with international arrest warrants.

Munich prosecutors issued warrants for the arrest of the 13 purported CIA agents at the end of January, accusing them of wrongfully imprisoning Khaled el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm.

El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, maintains that he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border and flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was abused.

He says he was released in Albania in May 2004, and that his captors told him he was seized in a case of mistaken identity.

Human rights campaigners have focused on el-Masri's story in pressing the United States to stop flying terrorism suspects to countries other than the U.S. where they could face abuse - a practice known as extraordinary rendition. In a separate case, Italy also has issued arrest warrants for purported CIA agents.

U.S. officials have declined to address the case in public. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the United States has acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.

CIA spokesman George Little said Saturday that the agency would not comment on the case.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Andrew Ames said that, as a matter of long-standing policy, "the department does not discuss whether it has or has not received an extradition request from a given country or our communication with any country with respect to such requests."

"Mr. El-Masri has pursued litigation for civil damages here in the U.S., and this litigation is ongoing," Ames said. "To date, U.S. courts have barred his suit based on the U.S. government's assertion of state secrecy concerns."

War Of Anti-War, Pro-War Protesters

 
 

(CBS/AP) Tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched through downtown Washington on Saturday, clashing with police at the foot of the Capitol steps where at least 160 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.・

CBS News Correspondent Dan Raviv reports that counterprotest groups, including a contingent of Vietnam veterans called Gathering of Eagles who support the war in Iraq, lined Pennsylvania Avenue and had a verbal battle of chants and slogans.

The arrests came after protesters lay down on the Capitol lawn in what they called a tie 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 more than 100,000 people attended the rally and march. That number could not be confirmed; police did not give their own estimate. But there appeared to be tens of thousands of people in attendance.

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

的t's time to lay our bodies on the line and say we've had enough,・she said. 的t'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-Aand waving American flags.

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

62% Believe The Iraq War Was A Mistake

 

Per NBC’s Mike Viqueira, Petraeus and Crocker will testify before the joint House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees at a hearing beginning at 12:30 pm. There will be a total of 107 members (!) combined at this hearing, including GOP presidential candidates Hunter, Paul, and Tancredo. The chairs and ranking members (Democrats Skelton and Lantos and Republicans Hunter and Ros-Lehtinen) will give five-minute opening statements, followed by opening statements from Petraeus and Crocker. Then all the members will be allowed five minutes to question the pair.

The New York Times: “General Petraeus … has informed President Bush that troop cuts may begin in mid-December, with the withdrawal of one of the 20 American combat brigades in Iraq, about 4,000 troops. By August, the American force in Iraq would be down to 15 combat brigades, the force level before Mr. Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. The precise timing of such reductions, which would leave about 130,000 troops in Iraq, could vary, depending on conditions in the country. But the general has also said that it is too soon to present recommendations on reducing American forces below that level because the situation in Iraq is in flux. He has suggested that he wait until March to outline proposals on that question.”

Pegged to the Petraeus report, a New York Times/CBS poll finds that 62% believe the Iraq war was a mistake; 59% say it’s not worth the cost or loss in lives; and nearly two-thirds say the US should reduce its troops there now or withdraw them. That said, “Americans trust military commanders far more than the Bush administration or Congress to bring the war in Iraq to a successful end, and while most favor a withdrawal of American troops beginning next year, they suggested they were open to doing so at a measured pace.” 
 
Also, “33 percent of all Americans, including 40 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats, say Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.”

The Boston Globe: “Two national polls released yesterday indicated that a majority of Americans believe the increased US troop presence has failed to deliver significant improvements in the war-torn country.”

Petraeus has been getting all of the attention, but the Washington Post profiles the man who will be testifying at his side: Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. In fact, the Post notes that Crocker’s testimony “may carry far more import for the long-term future of Iraq and the U.S. presence there. With little progress to recount in how the Iraqis have used the political ‘breathing space’ that Bush promised his war strategy would create, Crocker's inevitably more nuanced appeal for time and patience is likely to be the tougher sell.”

Not only will Petraeus and Crocker introduce their war assessment today, but TV viewers in four states will be introduced to one of MoveOn’s anti-war ads, which features children, "training to be soldiers in an 'endless war,'" reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The ad, part of MoveOn.org's $12 million ongoing anti-war campaign is rivaled by a pro-war $15 million TV ad campaign, featuring the burning World Trade Center and produced by former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer’s group, Freedom’s Watch. 

On Sunday, the New York Times wrote that seven months after Bush’s troop surge began, “Baghdad has experienced modest security gains that have neither reversed the city’s underlying sectarian dynamic nor created a unified and trusted national government… To study the full effects of the troop increase at ground level, reporters for The New York Times repeatedly visited at least 20 neighborhoods in Baghdad and its surrounding belts, interviewing more than 150 residents, in addition to members of sectarian militias, Americans patrolling the city and Iraqi officials. They found that the additional troops had slowed, but far from stopped, Iraq’s still-burning civil war.”

In a Saturday op-ed in the Washington Post, Richardson wrote, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards have suggested that there is little difference among us on Iraq. This is not true: I am the only leading Democratic candidate committed to getting all our troops out and doing so quickly… Let's stop pretending that all Democratic plans are similar. The American people deserve precise answers from anyone who would be commander in chief. How many troops would you leave in Iraq? For how long? To do what, exactly?”

New Report Recommends Iraq Handover in 5 Years
Panel Also Calls for 50 Percent Troop Reduction Within 3 Years

 

In a report to be released Sunday, a panel of experts assembled by the U.S. Institute of Peace calls for a 50 percent reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq within three years and a total withdrawal and handover of security to the Iraqi military in five years.

"The United States faces too many challenges around the world to continue its current level of effort in Iraq, or even the deployment that was in place before the surge," the report says. " . . . It is time to chart a clearer path forward."

The panel includes many of the experts that advised the Iraq Study Group panel led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Democratic congressman Lee H. Hamilton, which issued its report last December. Many of its recommendations have since been adopted, some reluctantly, by the Bush administration. The U.S. Institute of Peace ran the Baker-Hamilton report and assembled the experts.

The White House blocked the reconvening of the Baker-Hamilton panel, which was evenly divided among 10 prominent Democrats and Republicans, by urging Baker not to participate, according to U.S. officials. So USIP reconvened the experts who had advised them. The group, which met through the summer, is made up of some two dozen former U.S. officials and ambassadors, former CIA analysts, and Iraq specialists from think tanks and universities.

The recommendations in "Iraq: A Time for Change," the last of several reports published in the run-up to the Bush administration's assessment of Iraq this week, also call on the United Nations to immediately begin "intense negotiations" among Iraq's squabbling politicians. The talks should not be allowed to adjourn without agreements on power-sharing, revising the constitution, oil resources, local elections, easing a ban on former Baath Party members and the future of Kirkuk, the report urges. A similar model was used to broker an end to the war in Bosnia.

With some recent security improvements, the biggest problem facing the Bush administration and Iraq is the failure of politicians in Baghdad to reconcile Sunni and Shiite factions and pass critical laws to secure the fledgling new democracy. "The situation remains fluid, but a window has opened, fleetingly, for Iraq to proceed with political reconciliation. Iraq's national politicians have been unable to take full advantage of this opportunity," says the report, authored by USIP vice president Daniel Serwer.

The Baker-Hamilton report was most contentious because of its recommendations on diplomatic outreach to Iran and Syria. The new report says the United States should block Iranian attempts to control Iraqi politics and interdict its arms supplies to Iraqi militias, while also continuing to talk to Tehran directly and accommodating some Iranian interests in a neighboring state. "As long as the U.S. and Iran engage in a zero sum context for influence, Iraq will remain in turmoil and the U.S. will be bogged down," the report warns.

The report generally blasts Iraq's neighbors for failing to help stabilize Iraq. But it also criticizes the United States for losing the confidence of key allies in the region because of Iraq.

In contrast to a growing number of recent calls for various forms of breaking up Iraq along religious and ethnic lines, the report strongly stands against partition of one of the geo-strategic powerhouses in the Middle East, but leaves the question of decentralizing power to the Iraqis.

US officers 'lax' on Iraqi deaths

Blood spattered walls of a bedroom at the reported scene of the Haditha shooting

A US marine general and two officers have been disciplined for a "lack of due diligence" in investigating the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005.

However, the inquiry found no evidence of a cover-up over the deaths in the town of Haditha, the Marine Corps said.

"Letters of censure" have been sent to Maj Gen Richard Huck, Col Stephen Davis and Col Robert Sokoloski, it added.

The action comes as proceedings to decide whether a lower-ranking marine should be tried for murder continue.

Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich is one of four marines initially charged. The case against a second is under review and charges against two others have been dropped.

Attorneys for the marines say the troops were responding to an insurgent attack after a roadside bomb killed one of their squad members.

Iraqi witnesses say the marines shot unarmed civilians in retaliation for the death of their comrade.

The US military at first reported that the Iraqis had been killed by the roadside bomb that killed marine L/Cpl Miguel Terrazas, or in a subsequent gunfight with insurgents.

Lt Gen James Mattis, a senior marine general asked to investigate the response of senior officers to the Haditha incident, concluded they did not intend to break military laws or conceal what happened.

A statement from the Marine Corps said he "did not find any evidence that these senior officers intended to cover up the incident.

"He did determine that their actions, or inactions, demonstrated a lack of due diligence on the part of senior commanders and staff."

Former commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, Maj Gen Stephen Johnson, was exonerated.

It is unclear what the exact effect of the letters of censure will be, but administrative sanctions can harm promotion prospects.

Twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including three women, seven children and several elderly men, died at Haditha, in Anbar province, on 19 November 2005.

Iraqi witnesses said the US troops shot dead five unarmed men in a car when they approached the scene of the roadside bomb.

Fresh UK attack on US Iraq policy
 
A second key British general has criticised US post-war policy in Iraq.

Maj Gen Tim Cross, who was the most senior UK officer involved in post-war planning, told the Sunday Mirror US policy was "fatally flawed".

His comments came after Gen Sir Mike Jackson, head of the Army during the invasion, told the Daily Telegraph US policy was "intellectually bankrupt".

John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, dismissed Sir Mike's criticism as "way off the mark".

The Ministry of Defence played down the comments by Sir Mike, now retired, saying he was entitled to express his opinion on his former job.

'Lack of detail'

Maj Gen Cross, also retired, said he had raised serious concerns about potential post-war problems in Iraq with the then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But he said Mr Rumsfeld "dismissed" or "ignored" the warnings.

"Right from the very beginning we were all very concerned about the lack of detail that had gone into the post-war plan and there is no doubt that Rumsfeld was at the heart of that process," he said.

There is no doubt that with hindsight the US post-war plan was fatally flawed and many of us sensed that at the time
Maj Gen Tim Cross

"I had lunch with Rumsfeld in February in Washington - before the invasion in March 2003 - and raised concerns about the need to internationalise the reconstruction of Iraq and work closely with the United Nations."

Maj Gen Cross, 59, who was deputy head of the coalition's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, said he also raised concerns over the number of troops available to maintain security in Iraq.

"He didn't want to hear that message," he said. "The US had already convinced themselves that following the invasion Iraq would emerge reasonably quickly as a stable democracy."

He added: "There is no doubt that with hindsight the US post-war plan was fatally flawed and many of us sensed that at the time."

'Short-sighted'

In an interview published on Saturday, Sir Mike told the Telegraph that a claim by Mr Rumsfeld's that US forces "don't do nation-building" was "nonsensical".

He criticised the decision to hand control of planning the administration of Iraq after the war to the Pentagon.

We should have kept the Iraqi security services in being
Gen Sir Mike Jackson

He also described the disbanding of the Iraqi army and security forces after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as "very short-sighted".

"We should have kept the Iraqi security services in being and put them under the command of the coalition," he said.

Politicians from across the spectrum have come out in support of Sir Mike's comments, made ahead of the serialisation of his autobiography in the Telegraph.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Conservative former foreign secretary and defence secretary, told the BBC that Mr Rumsfeld was "incompetent".

'Extraordinary decision'

However, Mr Bolton told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that Sir Mike had "read into a version of history that simply is not supported by the evidence".

"And I can see where he'd have a parochial view from the military perspective. I don't think he saw some of the larger political debates.

"I'm not saying that we got it right in Washington because I've made my own criticisms. His just happen to be way off the mark, very simplistic, I think in a sense limited by the role that he had."


He said it was important to know whether Sir Mike had raised his concerns when he first had them.

The Telegraph also reports that, in his autobiography, Sir Mike says the US approach to fighting global terrorism was "inadequate" as it focused on military power rather than diplomacy and nation-building.

The US Department of Defence said: "Divergent viewpoints are a hallmark of open, democratic societies."

A spokeswoman for the US State Department said she would not comment on Sir Mike's views.

His comments follow a series of critical remarks from US officials about the British attitude towards Iraq.

BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood said Sir Mike's comments may put further strain on the British-US operation in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib officer spared prison
 
The only US army officer to be charged over the Iraq jail abuse scandal has been reprimanded for disobeying an order not to discuss the inquiry.

Lt-Col Steven Jordan had faced up to five years in jail for e-mailing soldiers about the investigation.

He had been in charge of the prison's interrogation unit when pictures of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners were taken in 2003.

He was cleared on Tuesday of three charges of mistreatment of detainees.

Lt-Col Jordan, who did not appear in any of the photographs, had pleaded not guilty to all charges at his court martial.

Final trial

"We view this as very much a victory," defence attorney Major Kris Poppe said after the sentencing.

The defence argued that although he was nominally in charge of the interrogation centre, Lt-Col Jordan did not have direct control over the interrogations.


The prosecution contended that he had fostered a climate conducive to abuse by divorcing himself from the training and supervision of the soldiers under his command.

John Sifton, senior counterterrorism researcher with Washington-based Human Rights Watch, called the prosecution of Lt-Col Jordan "amateurish and half-baked", and said the military lacked the will to get to the bottom of the abuse.

Lt-Col Jordan's trial was the last related to the prison abuse scandal. Eleven soldiers have been convicted of carrying out abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Hina Shamsi, deputy director of New York-based Human Rights First, told the Associated Press news agency that none of the courts martial "has given the systemic accounting the nation needs of what happened, why, and how far up the chain of command responsibility lies".

GOP Sen.: Begin Iraq Pullout By Christmas

(CBS/AP) Sen. John Warner said Thursday President Bush should start bringing home some troops by Christmas to show the Baghdad government that the U.S. commitment in Iraq is not open-ended.

The move puts the prominent Republican at odds with the president, who says conditions on the ground should dictate deployments.

Warner, R-Va., said the troop withdrawals are needed because Iraqi leaders have failed to make substantial political progress, despite an influx of U.S. troops initiated by Bush earlier this year.

The departure of even a small number of U.S. service members — perhaps 5,000 out of the 160,000 troops in Iraq — would send a powerful message throughout the region that time was running out, he said.

"We simply cannot as a nation stand and continue to put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action," he told reporters after a White House meeting with Bush's top aides.

Sen. Warner – just back from Iraq – said U.S. soldiers are now fighting for a failing government, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

"I really firmly believe the Iraqi government under the leadership of Prime Minister Maliki has let our troops down," Warner said.

It's the messenger, not the message, that is important, says CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.

"John Warner is the single most influential Republican voice on Capitol Hill," says Schieffer. "Other Republicans listen when he's talking about defense matters."

Warner's new position is a sharp challenge to a wartime president that will undoubtedly color the upcoming Iraq debate on Capitol Hill. Next month, Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are expected to brief members on the war's progress.

A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, declined to say whether Bush might consider Warner's suggestion.

Asked whether Bush would leave the door open to setting a timetable, Johndroe said: "I don't think the president feels any differently about setting a specific timetable for withdrawal. I just think it's important that we wait right now to hear from our commanders on the ground about the way ahead."

Republicans, including Warner, have so far stuck with Bush and rejected Democratic proposals demanding troops leave Iraq by a certain date. But an increasing number of GOP members have said they are uneasy about the war and want to see Bush embrace a new strategy if substantial progress is not made by September.

Warner, known for his party loyalty, said he still opposes setting a fixed timetable on the war or forcing the president's hand.

"Let the president establish the timetable for withdrawal, not the Congress," he said.

Nevertheless, his suggestion of troop withdrawals is likely to embolden Democrats and rile some of his GOP colleagues, who insist lawmakers must wait until Petraeus testifies.

His stature on military issues also could sway some Republicans who have been reluctant to challenge a wartime president. Warner is a former Navy secretary and one-time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; he is now the committee's second-ranking Republican.

Warner said he came to his conclusion after visiting Iraq this month with Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, committee chairman. Earlier this week, Levin said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should be replaced. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., followed suit, saying Maliki has been "a failure."

Warner said he "could not go that far" to call for Maliki's resignation but said he did have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the current leadership, confirmed by an intelligence report released Thursday. The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq predicted it would be 12 months before the U.S. could expect a reconciliation.

"When I see an NIE which corroborates my own judgment — that political reconciliation has not taken place — the Maliki government has let down the U.S. forces and, to an extent, his own Iraqi forces," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the report confirms what most Americans already know: "Our troops are mired in an Iraqi civil war and the president's escalation strategy has failed to produce the political results he promised to our troops and the American people."

"Every day that we continue to stick to the president's flawed strategy is a day that America is not as secure as it could be," said Reid, a Nevada Democrat.


How the Fight for Vast New Spying Powers Was Won


 

For three days, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, had haggled with congressional leaders over amendments to a federal surveillance law, but now he was putting his foot down. "This is the issue," said the plain-spoken retired vice admiral and Vietnam veteran, "that makes my blood pressure rise."

McConnell viscerally objected to a Democratic proposal to limit warrantless surveillance of foreigners' communications with Americans to instances in which one party was a terrorism suspect. McConnell wanted no such limits. "All foreign intelligence" targets in touch with Americans on any topic of interest should be fair game for U.S. spying, he said, according to two participants in the Aug. 2 conversation.

McConnell won the fight, extracting a key concession despite the misgivings of Democratic negotiators. Shortly after that exchange, the Bush administration leveraged Democratic acquiescence into a broader victory: congressional approval of a Republican bill that would expand surveillance powers far beyond what Democratic leaders had initially been willing to accept.

Yet both sides acknowledge that the administration's resurrection of virtually unchecked Cold War-era power to surveil foreign targets without warrants may be only temporary. The law expires in 180 days, and Democrats, smarting from their political defeat, have promised to alter it with new legislation to be prepared next month, when Congress returns from its recess.

"The real train wreck happens in September," said a senior administration official involved in the negotiations with Congress. He was referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's declaration hours after the bill's passage that portions are "unacceptable" and that the public will not want to wait six months "before corrective action is taken."

Until September -- and possibly for much longer -- the new law will enable the high-tech collection of foreign communications without judicial scrutiny on a vastly larger scale than previously possible, allowing billions of phone calls and e-mails inside as well as outside the United States to be routinely screened for possible links to terrorism and other security threats.

Congressional, administration and intelligence officials last week described the events leading up to the approval of this surveillance, including a remarkable series of confrontations that ended with McConnell and the White House outmaneuvering the Democratic-controlled Congress, partly by capitalizing on fresh reports of a growing terrorism threat.

"We had a forcing function," a senior administration official said, referring to the intelligence community's public report last month that said al-Qaeda poses a growing threat to the United States and to lawmakers' desire to leave town in August. "The situation was key to making it work," the official said, adding that the report's conclusions were "fortuitous" rather than engineered.

The encounters left mistrust on both sides that will complicate the next round of debate. "They said, 'Trust us, we'll fix it,' " the senior administration source said of the Democrats' proposals. "But every time the bill came back, it had language [the administration] couldn't live with."

What McConnell wanted most from Congress was to be able to intercept, without a warrant, purely foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through fiber-optic cables and switching stations on U.S. soil. That provision was meant to restore a U.S. capability that existed three decades ago, when a 1978 law allowed warrantless surveillance of foreign calls that were overwhelmingly relayed wirelessly.

Since then, advances in technology have caused 90 percent of global communications to pass through wires -- mostly optic fibers capable of carrying 6,000 calls in a strand. That development has been a boon to the National Security Agency, which has worked hard to monitor the traffic with U.S.-based taps and concluded it was doing so legally.

But in a secret ruling in March, a judge on a special court empowered to review the government's electronic snooping challenged for the first time the government's ability to collect data from such wires even when they came from foreign terrorist targets. In May, a judge on the same court went further, telling the administration flatly that the law's wording required the government to get a warrant whenever a fixed wire is involved.

"All of a sudden, the world flipped upside down," said a senior administration official familiar with the rulings. The official declined to be identified by name, citing the confidentiality of court decisions involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The decisions had the immediate practical effect of forcing the NSA to laboriously ask judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court each time it wanted to capture such foreign communications from a wire or fiber on U.S. soil, a task so time-consuming that a backlog developed. "We shoved a lot of warrants at the court" but still could not keep up, the official said. "We needed thousands of warrants, but the most we could do was hundreds." The official depicted it as an especially "big problem" by the end of May, in which the NSA was "losing capability."

McConnell even appealed directly to the FISA court, meeting with judges to describe the impact the decisions were having. The judges were sympathetic but said they believed that the law was clear. "They said, 'We don't make legislation -- we interpret the law,' " the senior administration official said.

The rulings -- which were not disclosed publicly until the congressional debate this month -- represented an unusual rift between the court and the U.S. intelligence community. They led top intelligence officials to conclude, a senior official said, that "you can't tell what this court is going to do" and helped provoke the White House to insist that Congress essentially strip the court of any jurisdiction over U.S. surveillance of communications between foreigners.

The opening shot in the administration's campaign was a bill sent to Capitol Hill on April 27; officials said it had been in the works since a public controversy erupted in late 2005 over the administration's "Terrorist Surveillance Program" involving warrantless surveillance of communications between Americans and terrorism suspects overseas.

The administration's 66-page measure was put together by an interagency group of lawyers headed by Benjamin A. Powell, the general counsel for the director of national intelligence (DNI). Powell, who had once worked in electronic surveillance programs for the FBI and the Air Force, joined the office of the DNI last year after helping shape the administration's intelligence policy as a White House associate counsel and special adviser to the president.

On May 1, McConnell appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to press for action on amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The 30-year-old statute was badly behind the times, failing to take into account modern communication methods, he said. "We are actually missing a significant portion of what we should be getting," McConnell told the senators.

McConnell and other officials ultimately briefed about 250 lawmakers on the issue and encountered little resistance to their proposed repair for surveillance involving purely foreign communications. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the intelligence committee chairman, who had received some of the first detailed briefings on the surveillance program, called Vice President Cheney in late June to explore options.

"I want to move forward," he said. But Democratic leaders wanted something in return: the release of long-sought administration documents describing the controversial warrantless wiretapping program Bush had authorized in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The administration declined to release the documents, which include Bush's presidential order allowing the wiretaps, as well as the administration's legal opinions justifying the action. Administration officials described a particular showdown with key Democratic leaders -- including Rockefeller and Carl M. Levin (Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which Democrats proposed a trade of sorts.

While the exchange was not a quid pro quo, the senators essentially said, "You give us the documents we want, and we'll give you the legislation," according to an administration official present, who said the response was "no." McConnell argued that the Democrats were "looking backwards" and that he was the "forward-looking guy," a witness said.

A critical moment for the Democrats came on July 24, when McConnell met in a closed session with senators from both parties to ask for urgent approval of a slimmed-down version of his bill. Armed with new details about terrorist activity and an alarming decline in U.S. eavesdropping capabilities, he argued that Congress had days, not weeks, to act.

"Everybody who heard him speak recognized the absolute, compelling necessity to move," Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the intelligence panel, said later of the closed session.

Democrats agreed. "At that time, the discussion changed to 'What can we do to close the gap during the August recess?' " said a senior Democratic aide who declined to be identified because the meetings were classified. As delivered by McConnell, the warnings were seen as fully credible. "He's pushing this because he thinks we're in a high-threat environment," the senior aide said.

Throughout this period, Republican lawmakers promoted the administration's version of the bill as a powerful response to the terrorism threat. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), a former chairman of the House intelligence panel, told colleagues, for example, that "this is about protecting the homeland, and it is about protecting our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan."

But McConnell consistently sought authority for warrantless surveillance not only of terrorist suspects outside the country, but of all foreign intelligence targets. In a letter to Senate leaders on Aug. 2, he said no such limitation existed when the FISA law was passed in 1978, "nor is one appropriate today. . . . The Intelligence Community must be able to gather needed intelligence information on the array of threats to our national security." A senior administration official mentioned the North Korean nuclear program as an example of a threat.

Where the matter became sticky -- and ultimately developed into tense exchanges between the Democrats and McConnell, with each side later accusing the other of misrepresenting their conversations -- was on the question of how to deal with surveillance of communications between persons outside the country and persons inside the country, including both U.S. citizens and foreigners.

Democrats were reluctant to give the NSA blanket permission to capture such data without a warrant unless independent oversight was provided, either by the court or by the Justice Department's inspector general. They also worried that providing warrantless authority to spy on targets other than foreign terrorism suspects would lead to potentially abusive monitoring of Americans innocently in contact with foreign targets.

Other provisions in the White House-backed bill added to the Democrats' discomfort. For instance, a Democratic bill would have authorized warrantless surveillance "directed" at individuals reasonably believed to be outside the United States. But the administration's draft -- and the one passed into law -- permitted collecting data "concerning" people reasonably believed to be outside the country. Democrats said the difference between collection efforts "concerning" foreigners and "directed" at foreigners could be enormous, allowing intelligence officials far greater leeway.

Partly, it was a matter of Democratic mistrust of the administration, due to what Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called "the administration's repeated past mismanagement of key tools in the war on terror."

On July 31, McConnell met with Democratic leaders in an unusual night session to hash over their concerns. In McConnell's bill, the attorney general's office would certify that U.S. collection methods were in line with the law, a procedure Democrats told him they did not trust. In a series of conference calls, McConnell continued to complain about a Democratic-backed provision limiting warrantless surveillance to foreign suspects tied to terrorist groups. Democrats noted that an earlier, administration-backed measure had included similar language.

"There was a lot of back-and-forth," said a congressional official familiar with the discussion. Pelosi suggested as a compromise limiting the authority to "threats to national security." But McConnell -- whose office was getting e-mails throughout the negotiations from officials at the Justice Department, the vice president's office and elsewhere in the intelligence community -- remained firm, and eventually the Democrats relented and presented a bill that they believed had met McConnell's requirements.

McConnell deemed its fine print unacceptable, however, and in the end, it was the Republican bill, a near-copy of his proposal, that passed both chambers of Congress. It drew support not only from most Republicans but also from 16 Senate Democrats and 41 House Democrats. Hours after its passage, Pelosi declared portions of the bill "unacceptable" and forecast changes in the coming months.

NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort
Intelligence Chief Says Bush Authorized Secret Activities Under One Order


 

The Bush administration's chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.

The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush's order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005.

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included "a number of . . . intelligence activities" and that a name routinely used by the administration -- the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- applied only to "one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more."

"This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged," McConnell said.

The program that Bush announced was put under a court's supervision in January, but the administration now wants congressional approval to do much of the same surveillance without a court order.

McConnell's letter was aimed at defending Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from allegations by Democrats that he may have committed perjury by telling Congress that no legal objections were raised about the TSP. Gonzales said a legal fight in early 2004 was focused on "other intelligence activities" than those confirmed by Bush, but he never connected those to Bush's executive order.

But in doing so, McConnell's letter also underscored that the full scope of the NSA's surveillance program under Bush's order has not been revealed. The TSP described by Bush and his aides allowed the interception of communication between the United States and other countries where one party is believed to be tied to al-Qaeda, so other types of communication or data are presumably being collected under the parts of the wider NSA program that remain hidden.

News reports over the past 20 months have detailed a range of activities linked to the program, including the use of data mining to identify surveillance targets and the participation of telecommunication companies in turning over millions of phone records. The administration has not publicly confirmed such reports.

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the letter. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

Specter was noncommittal yesterday on whether McConnell's explanation resolved his questions about the accuracy of Gonzales's previous testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Specter is the ranking Republican. Specter said he was waiting for a separate letter from the attorney general to provide additional clarification.

"If he doesn't have a plausible explanation, then he hasn't leveled with the committee," Specter said on CNN. Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that "the department will continue to work with Senator Specter to address his concerns" but declined to comment further.

McConnell's letter leaves maneuvering room for both sides in the political fracas over whether Gonzales has been truthful in his testimony. On the one hand, the NSA was clearly engaged in activities that were distinct enough to require different "legal bases" authorizing their use, according to McConnell's account.

"If you think about it technically, it is pretty clear that the NSA desk that does communications intercepts is separate from the desk that does data mining of call records," said Kim Taipale, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy, a New York-based nonprofit group. "Those are separate processes, and to think of them as separate programs is not a stretch."

On the other hand, the activities were authorized under a single presidential order and were all part of an NSA effort to gather communications about suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. That helps explain why many Democratic lawmakers and administration officials -- including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III -- viewed the wiretapping as part of a larger NSA program, rather than a separate effort, as Gonzales's testimony has suggested.

"Both sides have a legitimate case, if you want to be legalist about it," Taipale said.

The 45-day reauthorization of a single presidential order was probably a "bureaucratic convenience" that eliminated the need to issue multiple authorizations, he added.

Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the new disclosures show that Gonzales and other administration officials have "repeatedly misled the Congress and the American public" about the extent of NSA surveillance efforts.

"They have repeatedly tried to give the false impression that the surveillance was narrow and justified," Martin said. "Why did it take accusations of perjury before the DNI disclosed that there is indeed other, presumably broader and more questionable, surveillance?"

Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), who was among a group of four Democratic senators who called last week for a perjury investigation of Gonzales, said: "The question of whether Attorney General Gonzales perjured himself looms as large now as it did before this letter.

"This letter is no vindication of the attorney general," he said.

Bush Asks Congress To Expand Surveillance

(CBS/AP) In the midst of a festering public scandal surrounding the administration's secret wiretapping program and the attorney general's efforts to have it extended, President George W. Bush is calling on Congress to expand the law governing the issuance of warrants to intelligence agencies for surveillance.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, provides a legal foundation that allows information about terrorists' communications to be collected without violating civil liberties.

President George W. Bush wants Congress to rewrite the law to incorporate new advances in technology which, he says, are not covered by the FISA.

"This law is badly out-of-date," Mr. Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address.

Mr. Bush noted that terrorists now use disposable cell phones and the Internet to communicate, recruit operatives and plan attacks; such tools were not available when FISA was passed nearly 30 years ago. (However, as he signed the Patriot Act on October 26, 2001, the president stated that existing law "written in the era of rotary telephones" was now updated to allow surveillance "of all communications used by terrorists, including e-mails, the Internet, and cell phones.")

He also cited a recently released intelligence estimate that concluded al Qaeda is using its growing strength in the Middle East to plot attacks on U.S. soil.

"Our intelligence community warns that under the current statute, we are missing a significant amount of foreign intelligence that we should be collecting to protect our country," Bush said. "Congress needs to act immediately to pass this bill, so that our national security professionals can close intelligence gaps and provide critical warning time for our country."

The 1978 law set up a court that meets in secret to review applications from the FBI, the National Security Agency and other agencies for warrants to wiretap or search the homes of people in the United States in terrorist or espionage cases.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush authorized the NSA to spy on calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad without FISA court warrants. The administration said it needed to act more quickly than the court could issue warrants; it also said the president had inherent authority to order warrantless domestic spying in spite of Constitutional protections.

After the program became public and was challenged in court, Mr. Bush put it under FISA court supervision this year.

The national intelligence director, in a letter Wednesday to the House intelligence committee, stressed the need to be able to collect intelligence about foreign terrorists overseas. Mike McConnell said intelligence agencies should be able to do that without requirements imposed by an "out-of-date" law.

"Simply put, in a significant number of cases, we are in the unfortunate position of having to obtain court orders to effectively collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets located overseas," he wrote the committee chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes.

Democrats want to ensure that any changes do not give the executive branch unfettered surveillance powers.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, contends the White House is asking for more power to conduct warrantless domestic and international surveillance.

"The administration claims the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act must be 'modernized,'" she said. "The reality is, their proposal would gut FISA.

"The President claims that they need to expand FISA based on new technology — they are wrong," said Fredrickson. "FISA was written to be technology-neutral. There is absolutely no new technology that cannot be intercepted with a warrant under FISA. None."

Frederickson also says that hidden within the bill is immunity from both criminal prosecution and civil liability for telecommunication companies who participate in the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program, which would be retroactive.

This could affect a lawsuit before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing AT&T for violating the rights of its customers by assisting the NSA with spying. The government has sought to have the suit dismissed on the grounds that state secrets would be exposed in a trial.

"It takes an enormous amount of hubris to ask for more power on the heels of revelations that the President tried to go around his own attorney general on his NSA domestic electronic eavesdropping program," Frederickson said. "The already-shaky legal ground on which this domestic spying program stood is crumbling beneath those who defend it."

The ACLU urged lawmakers to find out the full extent of current intelligence gathering under FISA before making changes.

"The only thing more outrageous than the administration's call for even more unfettered power is a Congress that would consider giving it to them," Frederickson said.

FBI Chief Disputes Gonzales On Spying
Mueller Describes Internal Debate


 

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday contradicted the sworn testimony of his boss, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, by telling Congress that a prominent warrantless surveillance program was the subject of a dramatic legal debate within the Bush administration.

Mueller's testimony appears to mark the first public confirmation from a Bush administration official that the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program was at issue in an unusual nighttime visit by Gonzales to the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who was under sedation and recovering from surgery.

Mueller's remarks to the House Judiciary Committee differed from testimony earlier in the week from Gonzales, who told a Senate panel that a legal disagreement aired at the hospital did not concern the NSA program. Details of the program, kept secret for four years, were confirmed by President Bush in December 2005, provoking wide controversy on Capitol Hill.

"The discussion was on a national -- an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes," Mueller said in response to a question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). Mueller told another lawmaker that he had serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program.

His testimony presents a new problem for the beleaguered attorney general, whose credibility has come under attack from Democrats and some Republicans. They say Gonzales deceived them on a number of issues, including the NSA program and events surrounding the firing last year of nine U.S. attorneys.

"He tells the half-truth, the partial truth and anything but the truth," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), as he and three other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department yesterday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales lied to Congress about the NSA program.

Complicating the administration's predicament, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) yesterday issued subpoenas to White House adviser Karl Rove and a deputy, demanding their testimony by Thursday as part of the panel's long-running investigation into the prosecutor firings and the alleged politicization of Justice Department career personnel jobs. The White House has refused such requests, prompting House lawmakers to move toward criminal contempt citations against a former Bush legal counsel and his current chief of staff.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement that Gonzales's testimony and statements about the NSA program have been accurate, but that "confusion is inevitable when complicated classified activities are discussed in a public forum."

Gonzales is under fire in particular for his testimony in February 2006 that there had been no "serious disagreement" about the NSA wiretapping program. Gonzales and his aides have since said that he was referring to the monitoring of international communications confirmed by Bush and not to other, undisclosed "intelligence activities" that attracted controversy within the administration.

"The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified," Roehrkasse said.

Other officials, including Mueller and several Democratic lawmakers who were briefed on the NSA's activities, have said that the surveillance, or some part of it, was at the heart of the dispute.

Mueller declined at the hearing to discuss Gonzales's statements on the topic. "I really can't comment on what Judge Gonzales was thinking or saying," he said. "I can tell you what I understood at the time."

Mueller's testimony is particularly striking in light of his opposition to Gonzales's view of the matter at issue during the 2004 legal dispute. Then-Acting Attorney General James B. Comey sought Mueller's help in ensuring that an FBI security detail did not evict Comey from Ashcroft's hospital room during the visit by Gonzales, then White House counsel, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff.

Mueller was not present during the hospital visit but testified yesterday that Ashcroft briefed him on the conversation. He repeatedly said he agreed with Comey's version of events, which included testimony that Mueller, Ashcroft, Comey and others were prepared to quit if the program went ahead without changes to render it legal.

Bush agreed to make the changes after he met with Mueller and discussed the objections Mueller shared with Comey, according to Comey's account. Mueller conveyed that promise to Comey.

Signaling that Democrats intend to keep pursuing the issue, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) wrote to Mueller after yesterday's hearing, requesting notes about the 2004 hospital incident. Mueller testified that he kept records because the episode was "out of the ordinary."

FBI officials declined to comment.

The request by four senators to appoint a special prosecutor was sent to Solicitor General Paul D. Clement. He has taken charge of matters relating to the U.S. attorney firings and related controversies because Gonzales and numerous other aides are recused.

Leahy also raised the possibility this week of asking Justice Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to open a perjury investigation of Gonzales if the attorney general declines to correct testimony that Leahy considers inaccurate.

Besides demanding Rove's testimony on the attorney firings, Leahy sent a subpoena to J. Scott Jennings, the White House's deputy political director. Rove and Jennings appear in Justice Department e-mails discussing steps in the plan to fire the prosecutors.

 

Poll Finds Democrats Favored On War
But Bush, Congress Both Get Low Ratings on Iraq


 

Most Americans see President Bush as intransigent on Iraq and prefer that the Democratic-controlled Congress make decisions about a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As the president and Congress spar over war policy, both receive negative marks from the public for their handling of the situation in Iraq. But by a large margin, Americans trust Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular. And more than six in 10 in the new poll said Congress should have the final say on when to bring the troops home.

The president has steadfastly asserted his power as commander in chief to make decisions about the war, but his posture is now viewed by majorities of Democrats, independents and even Republicans as too inflexible. Asked whether Bush is willing enough to change policies on Iraq, nearly eight in 10 Americans said no.

Since December, the percentage seeing Bush as too rigid has increased 12 points, with the most significant change among Republicans. Just after the 2006 midterm elections and the release of the 79-point plan from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, 55 percent of Republicans thought Bush was willing enough to change course in Iraq; in this poll, 55 percent of Republicans said he is not.

Bush's overall approval rating equals its all-time low in Post-ABC News polls at 33 percent, with 65 percent disapproving. Fifty-two percent said they "strongly" disapprove of his job performance, the highest figure of his presidency and more than three times the 16 percent who strongly approve.

Three-quarters of Republicans approve of the way he is handling his job, but just one in 10 Democrats and three in 10 independents give him positive marks.

The war has been the single biggest drag on the president's approval ratings.

Thirty-one percent give him positive marks on handling the situation in Iraq, which is near his career low on the issue. The last time a majority approved of the president's handling of the war was in January 2004.

Even among those Americans who said they had served or had a close friend or relative who served in Iraq, 38 percent approve of Bush's handling of the conflict.

At the same time, Congress fares little better with the public on the war. Just 35 percent said they approve of the way congressional Democrats are handling the situation in Iraq, with 63 percent disapproving. Two-thirds of independents give the Democrats negative marks on the war.

The latest poll was conducted July 18 to 21 among a random sample of 1,125 adults, just after Senate Democrats failed to pass legislation that would set a timetable for the start of troop withdrawals from the war zone. The results have a three-percentage-point margin of sampling error.

Overall approval of Congress stands at 37 percent in the new poll, with the 60 percent disapproval rating equal to public dissatisfaction with the Republican-controlled Congress late last year. Congress's approval rating has declined over the past three months because self-identified Democrats have soured in their assessment.

Congressional Democrats still receive higher marks than their Republican counterparts for their performance, but independents give both parties equally negative reviews.

But when it comes to judging the president versus congressional Democrats on the issue of Iraq, the public stands with Congress. Fifty-five percent said they trust congressional Democrats on the war, compared with 32 percent who said they trust Bush. (Eleven percent of all respondents and 17 percent of independents said they trust "neither.") And by 2 to 1, Americans said Congress, rather than the president, should make the final decision about when to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. Nearly three in 10 Republicans side with Congress over the president on this question.

Many would like Congress to assert itself on Iraq, and about half of poll respondents said congressional Democrats have done "too little" to get Bush to change his war policy. Democrats are especially eager for more action from their party's lawmakers: 61 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of liberal Democrats said not enough has been done to prod Bush on the issue.

The central challenge for legislators from both parties is that the deep schism in Congress over Iraq war policy mirrors a wide partisan divide on many questions about the situation there.

Overall attitudes about the conflict continue to be decidedly negative, with more than six in 10 saying that given the costs, the war was not worth fighting. Most Democrats and independents in the poll said the war was not worth fighting, but most Republicans continue to say it has been worth the costs.

And the broad disagreements between partisans are not isolated to previous decisions.

A narrow majority -- 55 percent -- support legislation that would set a deadline of next spring for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, but while that measure is backed by 72 percent of Democrats and six in 10 independents, only a quarter of Republicans are on board.

A Senate effort to append such a timeline to a defense authorization bill failed to get the requisite 60 votes in the Senate; it was defeated 52 to 47.

There is also no agreement across party lines on the timing of U.S. troop withdrawals. About six in 10 said forces should be withdrawn to avoid further casualties, even if civil order is not restored, and 56 percent want to decrease the forces in Iraq. Both figures are at new highs, but few Republicans agree with either position.

Even among Democrats, there is no consensus about the timing of any troop withdrawal. While three-quarters want to decrease the number of troops in Iraq, only a third advocate a complete, immediate withdrawal. There is even less support for that option among independents (15 percent) and Republicans (6 percent).

There is, however, more universal, bipartisan backing for several other proposals that have been floated, including changing the strategic mission from direct combat to training and support, instituting new rules on troop rest time, and reducing aid to the Iraqi government if it fails to meet certain benchmarks. Majorities across party lines support each of these potential policy shifts.

Few are confident that the Iraqi government has the ability to meet its commitments to restore civil order. But again partisan views diverge: 55 percent of Republicans are at least somewhat confident that the Iraqis will meet their benchmarks, an outlook shared by about three in 10 Democrats and independents.

And as for the new U.S. efforts to restore security in Iraq, most in the poll said the "surge" has not made much difference, and nearly two-thirds said that the additional troops will not improve the situation over the next few months.

This broad pessimism provides an early read that the public may not be as willing as some in Congress to suspend judgment about the strategy until Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, delivers his much-anticipated assessment in mid-September.

Iraq Study Group Plans Have New Life

A majority of Congress may want some kind of redirection of the US effort in Iraq, but finding bipartisan consensus on what that change in strategy should be has not been easy – as demonstrated by the politicized Senate debate this week over proposed troop withdrawals.

That is one reason the idea of reviving last year's bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) and adopting its recommendations has caught on with representatives of both major political parties. And as other proposals with more teeth fall in partisan defeat, the 79 recommendations of the ISG, shelved by a tepid White House last December, could be dusted off.

"What it shows is that people are reaching desperately for something that all parties can agree on and which is different from the current course," says Wayne White, a former State Department Middle East analyst who was among a group of experts consulted by the ISG.

Interest in a bipartisan report from last year suggests a high level of frustration with both the lack of progress in Iraq and the deep fissures that have developed in Washington over Iraq policy.

The ISG was a congressional initiative led by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and by former Democratic congressman and foreign-policy expert Lee Hamilton. It concluded with great fanfare last December that the US should retool the American engagement in Iraq in three ways:

  • A focus on training Iraqi security forces.

  • A robust regional and international diplomatic effort.

  • Adoption of benchmarks that would require the Iraqi government to move toward national reconciliation.

    The report also set a goal of drawing down US troops in Iraq in 2008 but did not call for a timetable for withdrawal.

    Seven months later, two senators – Ken Salazar (D) of Colorado and Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee – are sponsoring legislation that would make the ISG recommendations US policy. Some Democrats criticize the idea as weak and outdated, while some Republicans reject it for pressuring the White House to change course before President Bush's "surge" strategy has had a chance to work.

    But members of both parties say it is attracting interest because it expresses a desire to begin preparing for a wind-down without promoting divisive measures like a timeline for withdrawal. "Is it out of date? The answer is no," says Mr. Hamilton, who has been actively supporting the idea of adopting the ISG's findings.

    As for Democrats who are holding out for measures placing binding constraints on Bush, Hamilton says he understands that tactic. But he opposes setting a rigid timetable and doesn't expect one to pass anyway.

    Appearing at a Monitor breakfast Wednesday, Hamilton recognized that "Democrats want to exert all possible pressure on the president to change his policy." But he added, "If you cannot get a rigid timetable, which you cannot get, you have to go to an alternative."

    He also said the ISG report does place pressure on Bush to alter his course, because it calls for laying the groundwork for "a responsible exit from Iraq."

    As for each of the three key recommendations, Hamilton says the White House has never really responded to any. The buildup of US troops to about 160,000 and their focus on providing security has drained attention away from what he calls an already deficient effort to train Iraqi security forces. Bush may have signed on to "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government, but they lack any "conditionality" that would impose binding consequences for continuing failure to reach specific goals. And there has to be a "much much more robust diplomatic effort," he says.

    The US will soon hold a second meeting with Iran on conditions in Iraq, according to US and Iraqi officials, and Jordan announced Wednesday that it will convene a meeting of countries hosting Iraqi refugees next week. But Hamilton and other experts say that is nowhere near the level of US engagement required.

    One question mark hanging over the focus on the ISG is the extent to which Mr. Baker, a close Bush family ally, supports its resurrection and formal adoption.

    The House voted by a wide margin in June to fund a second round of work by the ISG, but sources close to Baker said at the time that he would not co-chair a revived group without the backing of the White House. Officials have since said that Bush does not favor any action that would detract from his strategy, at least until Gen. David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Iraq, deliver a full report on the surge to Congress by Sept. 15.

    Right now for the White House, "It's September-Petraeus-Crocker, and that's it," says Mr. White, now an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute in Washington.

    White says he is not opposed to the idea of revisiting the ISG findings, but believes there would have to be at least an update. "Quite a bit has changed on the ground since we were all working on this," he says.

    One thing that has not changed, according to Hamilton, is the lack of progress on the part of the Iraqi government on crucial security, political, and economic issues that would allow the US to begin what the ISG called a "responsible exit" from Iraq.

    But Iraqi officials warn that more pressure from Washington could actually be counterproductive. One senior Iraqi official who asked not to be named says a feeling that "Washington is breathing down our necks" contributed to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's pronouncement over the weekend that Iraq would be ready by fall to take care of its own security – a view that was quickly squelched by other Iraqi officials. They said Mr. Maliki's words reflected a widespread Iraqi frustration with a US focus on its political timetable.


  • Intelligence Puts Rationale For War on Shakier Ground


     

    The White House faced fresh political peril yesterday in the form of a new intelligence assessment that raised sharp questions about the success of its counterterrorism strategy and judgment in making Iraq the focus of that effort.

    Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has been able to deflect criticism of his counterterrorism policy by repeatedly noting the absence of any new domestic attacks and by citing the continuing threat that terrorists in Iraq pose to U.S. interests.

    But this line of defense seemed to unravel a bit yesterday with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that al-Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. The report also notes that al-Qaeda has been able "to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks," by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary.

    These disclosures triggered a new round of criticism from Democrats and others who say that the administration took its eye off the ball by invading Iraq without first destroying Osama bin Laden's organization in Afghanistan.

    Confronted with a political brush fire, the president and his aides retreated to familiar ground, highlighting the parts of the report that they saw as supportive of their policies, particularly the need to confront Islamic radicals on the ground in Iraq.

    In talking with reporters in the Oval Office yesterday, Bush concentrated on a single paragraph in the assessment that placed the enemy in Iraq in a larger context of international terrorism. The estimate said bin Laden's organization will "probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland."

    Although only a portion of the instability in Iraq is attributed to al-Qaeda and the group had no substantial power base there before the U.S. invasion, Bush again cast the war as a battle against its members, whom his aides have described as key provocateurs there.

    "These people have sworn allegiance to the very same man who ordered the attack on September the 11th, 2001: Osama bin Laden," the president said. "And they want us to leave parts of the world, like Iraq, so they can establish a safe haven from which to spread their poisonous ideology. And we are steadfast in our determination to not only protect the American people, but to protect these young democracies."

    Bush's top advisers also pushed back at the proposition from many Democrats that the White House allowed the pursuit of al-Qaeda to be diverted by going after Saddam Hussein. Briefing reporters yesterday, Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, took issue with the suggestion that the president had ignored warnings from the intelligence community that attacking Iraq would stimulate al-Qaeda's drive for recruits and influence.

    "You're assuming it's a zero-sum game, which is what I don't understand," Townsend said. "The fact is, we were harassing them in Afghanistan, we're harassing them in Iraq, we're harassing them in other ways, non-militarily, around the world. And the answer is, every time you poke the hornet's nest, they are bound to come back and push back on you. That doesn't suggest to me that we shouldn't be doing it."

    But many Democrats questioned the administration's explanations, seizing on the key judgments of the new intelligence estimate as yet another reason to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq and changing the administration's mission of the past four years.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said the current situation in Iraq "has helped to energize" al-Qaeda. "Changing our strategy in Iraq and narrowing our military mission to countering al-Qaeda terrorism -- as a bipartisan majority in the Senate now favors -- would be the single greatest thing we could do to undermine al-Qaeda's ability to use Iraq as a recruiting and propaganda tool fueling the growth of regional terrorist groups," he said in a statement.

    Al-Qaeda's participation in the Iraqi violence has figured particularly heavily in recent administration arguments for a continued U.S. troop presence there, because White House strategists regard it as a politically salable reason for staying and continuing to fight.

    Some terrorism analysts say Bush has used inflated rhetoric to depict al-Qaeda in Iraq as part of the same group of extremists that attacked the United States on Sept. 11 -- noting that the group did not exist until after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. These analysts say Bush also has overlooked the contribution that U.S. actions have made to the growth of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has been described as kind of a franchise of the main al-Qaeda network headed by bin Laden.

    Paul R. Pillar, a former CIA analyst who has been involved in previous intelligence estimates, said that the administration has correctly identified the danger posed by al-Qaeda in Iraq and that there are indeed links between the Iraq group and the larger international terrorist network. But he said the White House is drawing the wrong conclusion, and argued instead that it is the U.S. presence in Iraq that is fueling the terrorists' cause.

    "Iraq matters because it has become a cause celebre and because groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda central exploit the image of the United States being out to occupy Muslim lands," Pillar said.

    Referring to al-Qaeda in Iraq, Clinton administration official Daniel S. Benjamin, who has written books and articles on international terrorism, said: "These are bad guys. These are jihadists." He added: "That doesn't mean we [should] stay in Iraq the way we have been, because we are not making the situation any better. We're creating terrorists in Iraq, we are creating terrorists outside of Iraq who are inspired by what's going on in Iraq. . . . The longer we stay, the more terrorists we create."

    While President George W. Bush continues to pursue his Iraq strategy, and Senate Democrats and Republicans debate the direction of the nation’s war policy, Americans persist in their negativity about how the war is going, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll conducted last Monday through Friday.

    Three-quarters of those polled said the war was going badly while just one-quarter said it was going well. This level of negative public opinion has been relatively constant since January.

    The party divide on the war remains clear. Republicans are conflicted – they are evenly split, with half saying their president’s war is going well and half saying it is going badly. Democrats, however, overwhelmingly hold a negative assessment of the war, with 92 percent saying the war is going badly.

    The nationwide telephone poll was conducted July 9-13 with 927 adults nationwide. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

    How would you say things are going for the U.S. in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq? Would you say things are going very well, somewhat well, somewhat badly, or very badly?

    Very well 3%
    Somewhat well 22
    Somewhat badly 30
    Very badly 44

    While President Bush said today that an interim report on Iraq showed signs of progress, the Democratic presidential candidates moved quickly to dismiss the president’s optimism and offer their own assessment of how the war is going.

    Barely 15 minutes into the president’s press conference this morning, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, released a statement sharply criticizing Mr. Bush:

    “Does this White House think that we don’t know how to turn on our televisions? Don’t tell us we’re making progress in Iraq when the last three months have been some of the deadliest since this war began for our brave troops who have sacrificed so much. And don’t tell us it’s progress when the Iraqi leadership has done nothing – nothing – to take the political steps necessary to end their civil war. This war has only fueled the terrorist threat whose strength is now at pre-9/11 levels. It should never have been authorized, never have been waged, and it must end now.”

    Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards said the president’s remarks “border on the delusional:”

    “There was no group called Al Qaeda in Iraq before the president’s disastrous mismanagement of the war gave them a foothold, a fact the president flagrantly ignores. After being discredited again and again, the president is still trying to link Iraq and 9/11 - a rationale for the war that virtually everyone except Dick Cheney has now recognized was false.”

    New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also weighed in, saying that the Mr. Bush’s statements amounted to reading the benchmark report “through rose colored glasses:”

    “Even if we believe the President’s claim that eight benchmarks out of 18 showed ’satisfactory’ progress- in any classroom that’s still a failing grade. The harsh reality is that the Iraqi government has failed to take the action required to begin unifying the country and create a strong central government.”

    Mr. Richardson was not the only candidate to accuse the president of looking at Iraq through “rose colored glasses.” Senator Chris Dodd picked up on the same theme:

    “It is clear that George W. Bush is blinded by his own rose colored glasses. The nation would be better served if he took them off and faced the harsh light of the reality he has created.”

    But President Bush seemed to enjoy more support in the conservative blogosphere, where the focus was on staying the course in Iraq.

    In a post by The Directors, the team at the right-leaning RedState.com emphasized that “giving in and pulling out of Iraq” is not the answer:

    “The war in Iraq is vital to America’s national security and to the Global War on Terror. It is a fight which we are not currently losing on the ground, and which we will not lose if we commit to victory, rather than taking the path that appears easier, at least in the short term – abandoning yet another battlefield to the enemy.”

    Hugh Hewitt urged his readers to put pressure on a group of “defeatist Republican senators” on Capitol Hill who are wavering in their support for the president’s Iraq strategy: “Spend some time today contacting the nine senators from who could come the key votes to turn back the timetable language which Harry Reid is urging language which, if adopted, will signal to al Qaeda and the radical Shia militias exactly how long they must hang on in Iraq.”

    On the Weekly Standard’s blog, Brian Faughnan said that while the surge is working (“this magazine has chronicled the steady progress of operations to date”), the Bush administration seems to be stumbling in its attempts “to explain the mission — and build support for it — here at home.”

    “Despite the encouraging signs–and acknowledging the false starts and problems–polls show that the American people are tired of hearing about Iraq and our losses there,” he wrote.

    Mr. Faughnan linked to a piece in The American Spectator that he said might help the administration start “thinking outside the frame of the current debate.”

    Most liberal bloggers, however, rejected President Bush’s assertions of progress in Iraq.

    On the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington writes that the interim report on Iraq is hardly “cause for optimism” when only eight of the 18 benchmarks it assessed showed “satisfactory” progress while eight others were rated “unsatisfactory.”

    “That’s like a doctor telling you that while your child has shiny hair he also has a brain tumor — and you coming away thinking the doctor’s report is “a mixed bag.” That’s insane. Trust me, if your kid has a brain tumor, the fact that he has nice hair or is a good speller or has made progress towards playing well with others is not going to even things out and leave you feeling upbeat and optimistic.”

    And, Amanda at Think Progress dismissed Mr. Bush’s statement that “war fatigue” had something to do with the public’s waning support for the president’s Iraq policy.

    “ ‘War fatigue’ is not the problem in Iraq. On every metric, the administration’s efforts in Iraq are failing,” she wrote. “Americans don’t need psychological counseling; they need an end to the war in Iraq.”

    CIA Said Instability Seemed 'Irreversible'


     

    Early on the morning of Nov. 13, 2006, members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group gathered around a dark wooden conference table in the windowless Roosevelt Room of the White House.

    For more than an hour, they listened to President Bush give what one panel member called a "Churchillian" vision of "victory" in Iraq and defend the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "A constitutional order is emerging," he said.

    Later that morning, around the same conference table, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden painted a starkly different picture for members of the study group. Hayden said "the inability of the government to govern seems irreversible," adding that he could not "point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around," according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants.

    "The government is unable to govern," Hayden concluded. "We have spent a lot of energy and treasure creating a government that is balanced, and it cannot function."

    Later in the interview, he qualified the statement somewhat: "A government that can govern, sustain and defend itself is not achievable," he said, "in the short term."

    Hayden's bleak assessment, which came just a week after Republicans had lost control of Congress and Bush had dismissed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, was a pivotal moment in the study group's intensive examination of the Iraq war, and it helped shape its conclusion in its final report that the situation in Iraq was "grave and deteriorating."

    In the eight months since the interview, neither Hayden nor any other high-ranking administration official has publicly described the Iraqi government in the uniformly negative terms that the CIA director used in his closed-door briefing.

    Among the 79 specific recommendations the Iraq Study Group made to Bush was withdrawing support for the Maliki government unless it showed "substantial progress" on security and national reconciliation. And it recommended changing the primary mission of U.S. forces from combat to training Iraqis so that combat units could be withdrawn by early 2008.

    In effect, the report from the bipartisan group -- co-chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) -- was an urgent message from the old Washington establishment to the Bush administration to change the direction of its Iraq policy. But Bush did not initially embrace any of the key recommendations, although bipartisan groups in the House and Senate have recently introduced legislation that would make them official U.S. policy.

    Instead, the president in January announced that he was sending more troops to Iraq as part of a "surge," which he said would lead to the victory that had so far eluded U.S. forces.

    Both Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, have repeatedly said that there is no military solution to Iraq and that the sectarian strife and the insurgency can be resolved only by the Iraqi government.

    Hayden's description of Iraq's dysfunctional government provides some insight into the intelligence community's analysis of Maliki and the situation on the ground. Five days before his testimony, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley had written a memo to Bush raising doubts about Maliki's ability to curb violence in Iraq, but his assessment was not as bleak as Hayden's.

    Bush's own optimistic statement to members of the study group did not reflect the viewpoint of his CIA director. But a statement from another administration official interviewed by the panel the same day -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- took it into account.

    Asked by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a member of the study group, if she was aware of the CIA's grim evaluation of Iraq, Rice replied, "We are aware of the dark assessment," but quickly added: "It is not without hope."

    A spokesman for the CIA, Mark Mansfield, disputed this account of Hayden's testimony to members of the study group. "That is not an accurate reflection of what Director Hayden said at that meeting, nor does it reflect his view, then or now," Mansfield said.

    A senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden's session with the Iraq Study Group said that Hayden told the panel his assessment was "somber" and acknowledged that Hayden had used the term "irreversible." But the official insisted that Hayden instead said, "The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term, because of the world views of many of the [Iraqi] government leaders, which were shaped by a sectarian filter and a government that was organized for its ethnic and religious balance rather than competence or capacity."

    But another senior intelligence official confirmed the thrust and detail of Hayden's assessment, saying that the intelligence out of Iraq this month shows that the ability of the Maliki government to execute decisions and govern Iraq remains "awful."

    Hayden, 62, a four-star Air Force general and career intelligence officer, has a reputation as a candid briefer. Since 2003, the CIA, which has more than 500 personnel in Iraq to assist in providing intelligence and analysis, has offered the most pessimistic view of any intelligence agency of both the Iraqi government's performance and the situation on the ground there.

    Testifying publicly before the Senate Armed Services Committee two days after meeting with the study group, Hayden was more cautious in his conclusions. He said that there were serious problems in Iraq but that the government was "functioning."

    Former defense secretary William J. Perry, one of the five Democrats on the Iraq Study Group, confirmed that Hayden told them the Iraqi government seemed beyond repair.

    "That was what we'd been hearing everywhere," Perry said. "He just said it a little more clearly and more explicitly than other people."

    O'Connor, a Republican, also confirmed Hayden's assessment. She said she did not agree with his conclusion that it was irreversible, but she said she was pessimistic.

    "It is a dire situation," she said. "I don't think it has gotten any better. It just breaks your heart. . . . Iraqi people are dying, American soldiers are dying. So far it does not seem we have achieved any kind of security there."

    Arriving at the White House on the morning of Nov. 13, members of the study group spent the day interviewing almost every key figure involved in Iraq policy. In addition to Hayden, Bush and Rice, they also questioned Rumsfeld; Gen. Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Zalmay Khalilzad, then U.S. ambassador to Iraq; and, by videoconference from Baghdad, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

    Bush was joined in the interview by Vice President Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and Hadley, but they did not speak. "We thought with that whole group there, we were going to get briefings, we were going to get discussions," said Perry. "Instead the president held forth on his views on how important the war was, and how it was tough."

    In his meeting with members of the study group, Hayden described a situation in which the Iraqi government either would not or could not control the violence consuming the country and questioned whether it made sense to strengthen its security forces. He depicted the United States as facing mainly bad choices in the future.

    "Our leaving Iraq would make the situation worse," Hayden said. "Our staying in Iraq may not make it better. Our current approach without modification will not make it better."

    According to the written record and others in the room, Hayden at one point likened the situation in Iraq to a marathon. He said there comes a point in each race when the runner knows he can complete the challenge. But Hayden said he could see no such point in Iraq's future.

    "The levers of power are not connected to anything," he said, adding: "We have placed all of our energies in creating the center, and the center cannot accomplish anything."

    Numerous U.S. generals already had told the study group that success in Iraq could not come without national reconciliation between the Sunnis and Shiites. Hayden agreed, saying: "The Iraqi identity is muted. The Sunni or Shia identity is foremost."

    But he clearly saw no end to sectarian killings. "Given the level of uncontrolled violence," Hayden said, "the most we can do is to contain its excesses and preserve the possibility of reconciliation in the future."

    He compared the Iraq situation to the prolonged warfare in the Balkans. "In Bosnia, the parties fought themselves to exhaustion," Hayden said, suggesting that the same scenario could play out in Iraq. "They might just have to fight this out to exhaustion."

    Hayden catalogued what he saw as the main sources of violence in this order: the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality, general anarchy and, lastly, al-Qaeda. Though Hayden had listed al-Qaeda as the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, Bush regularly lists al-Qaeda first.

    Members of the study group said Hayden's stark assessment of the Iraqi government dovetailed with what they had heard in September during their visit to Iraq. There, they met with a senior CIA official who held an equally unenthusiastic view. "Maliki was nobody's pick," the CIA official had said, according to written notes from that meeting. "His name came up late. He has no real power base in the country or in parliament. We need not expect much from him."

    Given the constant threats and persistent violence, the official had said, it was remarkable that Iraqi government employees showed up for work.

    "We continue to be amazed that the Iraqis accept such high levels of violence," he told the study group. "Maliki thinks two car bombs a day, 100 dead a day, is okay. It's sustainable and his government is survivable."

    But the government itself was responsible for some of that violence, the CIA official said. "The Ministry of Interior is uniformed death squads, overseers of jails and torture facilities," he said. "Their funds are constantly misappropriated."

    In his testimony, Hayden said that the United States had fundamental disagreements with Maliki's Shiite-dominated government on some of the most basic issues facing Iraq.

    "We and the Iraqi government do not agree on who the enemy is," Hayden said, according to the written record. "For all the senior leaders of the Iraqi government, Baathists are the source of evil. There is a Baathist behind every bush."

    Several participants in the interview described Hayden as dismayed by the startling level of violence in the country but skeptical of the ability of Iraqi forces -- either the military or the police -- to do anything about it.

    "It's a legitimate question whether strengthening the Iraqi security forces helps or hurts when they are viewed as a predatory element," he said. "Strengthening Iraqi security forces is not unalloyed good. Without qualification, this judgment applies to the police."

    In one bit of qualified good news, he said that the training of the Iraqi army had produced better results than that of the police. "The army is uneven," he said, adding: "Uneven, in this case, is good."

    Hayden's frustration with Maliki provides a context to the administration's continuing efforts to pressure the Iraqi leader into finding a political settlement between Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq. During one week last month, three senior administration officials visited Baghdad to try to speed up the political process.

    In her testimony Nov. 13, Rice recounted her discussions with Maliki in which she bluntly told him the importance of making progress on national unity and reconciliation. Rice said she had told the prime minister, "Pretty soon, you'll all be swinging from lampposts if you don't hang together."

    Brady Dennis and Evelyn Duffy contributed to this report.

    Bush Rejects Calls For Change On Iraq

    (CBS/AP) President Bush, facing new pressure to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, said Tuesday he won't consider it until hearing a fresh assessment of the war effort from his top commander there this fall.

    "That's what the American people expect. They expect for military people to come back and tell us how the military operations are going," Mr. Bush said. "And that's the way I'm going to play it as commander in chief."

    Gen. David Petraeus is due in September to present a progress report to Congress on the effects of the recently completed troop build up in Iraq. Frustration in Congress — among leaders of both parties — has led to calls for changes in strategy before then.

    But a military official who spoke with Mr. Bush recently says the president told him no matter what the final report in September contains, if the top U.S. commander in Iraq recommends the surge should continue, it will, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

    For now, Mr. Bush is saying he won't be swayed.

    "We just started. We got all the troops there a couple of weeks ago," he told the Greater Cleveland Partnership, a coalition of Northeast Ohio companies.

    "I believe it's in this nation's interest to give the commander a chance to fully implement his operations," Mr. Bush said. "And I believe Congress ought to wait for Gen. Petraeus to come back and give his assessment of the strategy that he's putting in place before making any decisions."

    The president's comments come amid a new USA Today/Gallup poll that shows 71 percent of Americans want all troops out of Iraq by next April, except for a limited number deployed for counter-terrorism efforts, adds Axelrod.

    Tuesday the White House scrambled to respond to a deeply frustrated public and Congress, while also warning that his troop build up needs more time to work.

    "I wouldn't ask a mother or a dad — I wouldn't put their son in harm's way if I didn't believe this was necessary for the security of the United States and the peace of the world," Mr. Bush said. "I strongly believe it, and I strongly believe we'll prevail."

    Back in Washington, the Senate wrestled with a defense spending bill, including efforts to withdraw troops and other ideas to wind down the war. With Republican support fading, and a new report expected to show little progress, the war continued to hang over Mr. Bush.

    Meanwhile, the president was also trying to pressure lawmakers into taking up what's left of his shrinking domestic agenda.

    In stops through the Cleveland area, he hoped to draw attention to a strung-together list of topics: energy alternatives, affordable health insurance and restrained spending.

    He began in Parma with a tour of GrafTech, a maker of graphite products that are used in fuel cells. Mr. Bush playfully climbed about a fork lift powered by such a fuel cell. He is promoting alternative fuels as a primary way to reduce U.S. consumption of gasoline.

    Later, he dug into a heaping corned beef sandwich over lunch with community leaders in Cleveland. He then visited the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit hospital where Mr. Bush got hands-on lessons in new ways to repair aneurysms and probe the brain. "Amazing," he said.

    The president's itinerary underlined the White House strategy: get beyond the collapse of immigration reform by focusing on what's next — and blame Congress for inaction.

    Even though Democrats run the legislative branch, Mr. Bush's own party crushed his bid to legalize millions of unlawful immigrants and strengthen the border. Three-quarters of the Senate's Republicans, including the chamber's leader, voted to derail his immigration bill last month.

    The White House sees a chance to regain some advantage in the yearly spending debates. The aim is to simplify the arcane appropriations process into a message that resonates with the public: Mr. Bush will stop Democrats from spending too much of the public's money.

    Indeed, Mr. Bush is itching for a fight and promising vetoes. The Democrats' blueprint would increase spending on federal agencies about $22 billion above Mr. Bush's request. He claims it would amount to the largest tax hike in history by allowing some tax cuts to expire.

    "The Republican Party has lost a lot of the advantage we used to have," said Charlie Black, a GOP strategist close to the White House. "People used to view Republicans as the party that would keep down spending, keep taxes low and restrain the size of government. This gives us a chance to remind people of the differences."


    Sheehan weighs run against Pelosi
     

    CRAWFORD, Texas - Cindy Sheehan, the soldier’s mother who galvanized the anti-war movement, said Sunday that she plans to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unless she introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.

    Sheehan said she will run against the San Francisco Democrat in 2008 as an independent if Pelosi does not seek by July 23 to impeach Bush. That’s when Sheehan and her supporters are to arrive in Washington, D.C., after a 13-day caravan and walking tour starting next week from the group’s war protest site near Bush’s Crawford ranch.

    “Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership,” Sheehan told The Associated Press. “We hired them to bring an end to the war. I’m not too far from San Francisco, so it wouldn’t be too big of a move for me. I would give her a run for her money.”

    Messages left with Pelosi’s staff were not immediately returned. The White House declined to comment on Sheehan’s plans.

    She plans her official candidacy announcement Tuesday. Sunday wrapped up what is expected to be her final weekend at the 5-acre Crawford lot that she sold to California radio talk show host Bree Walker, who plans to keep it open to protesters.

    Sheehan announced in late May that she was leaving the anti-war movement. She said that she felt her efforts had been in vain and that she had endured smear tactics and hatred from the left, as well as the right. She said she wanted to change course.

    She first came to Crawford in August 2005 during a Bush vacation, demanding to talk to him about the war that killed her son Casey in 2004. She became the face of the anti-war movement during her 26-day roadside vigil, which was joined by thousands. But it also drew counter-protests by Bush supporters, many who said she was hurting troop morale.

    Disenchantment with Democrats
    Sheehan, who has never held political office, recently said that she was leaving the Democratic Party because it “caved” in to the president. Last week, she announced her caravan to Washington, an undertaking she calls the “people’s accountability movement.”

    “I didn’t expect to be back so soon, but the focus is different than it was before,” Sheehan said Sunday. “Instead of talking and making accusations, we’re going into communities and talking to the people who’ve been hurt by the Bush regime. We’re finding out how we can help people.”

    Sheehan, who will turn 50 on Tuesday, said Bush should be impeached because she believes he misled the public about the reasons for going to war, violated the Geneva Convention by torturing detainees, and crossed the line by commuting the prison sentence of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. She said other grounds for impeachment are the domestic spying program and the “inadequate and tragic” response to Hurricane Katrina.

    Libby was convicted of lying and obstructing justice in an investigation into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.

    Sheehan said she hopes Pelosi files the articles of impeachment so Sheehan can move onto her next projects, including overseas trips for humanitarian work. But if not, Sheehan said she is ready to run for office.

    ‘She let the people down...’
    “I’m doing it to encourage other people to run against Congress members who aren’t doing their jobs, who are beholden to special interests,” Sheehan said. “She (Pelosi) let the people down who worked hard to put Democrats back in power, who we thought were our hope for change.”

    Pelosi was elected to the House in 1987 and became the first female speaker in January.

    Sheehan said she lives in a Sacramento suburb but declined to disclose which city, citing safety reasons. The area is outside Pelosi’s district, but there are no residency requirements for congressional members, according to the California secretary of state’s office.

    G.O.P. Support for Iraq Policy Erodes Further

     Support among Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq policy eroded further on Thursday as another senior lawmaker, Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, broke with the White House just as Congressional Democrats prepared to renew their challenge to the war.

    “We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress,” said Mr. Domenici, a six-term senator who has been a steadfast supporter of the president.

    Thus Mr. Domenici joined a growing number of Republican voices in opposition to the war just as Senate Democratic leaders are readying plans to put the political and policy focus back on Iraq next week.

    The Democrats intend to use a Pentagon policy measure to force votes on proposals limiting spending on the conflict and setting a timetable for withdrawing most troops by next year — an idea Mr. Bush has already vetoed.

    Mr. Domenici made it clear Thursday that he did not support such measures either, saying, “I’m not calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops, but I am calling for a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to continuing home.”

    Still, within hours after Mr. Domenici spoke to reporters in a conference call, Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, called on him to join Democrats and like-minded Republicans to bring the war to a close.

    “Beginning with the defense authorization bill next week, Republicans will have the opportunity to not just say the right things on Iraq, but vote the right way, too,” Mr. Reid said, “so that we can bring the responsible end to this war that the American people demand and deserve.”

    Mr. Domenici is up for re-election next year, and his views on the war are likely to figure prominently in the campaign. His turnabout followed similar calls for a new Iraq policy last week by Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and by Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, another member of that panel. Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a respected Republican voice on military issues who is also facing re-election, has also been pressing the administration to shift course.

    Despite the mounting Republican criticism, it is by no means certain that Democrats have the votes to impose specific policy changes. Mr. Domenici and the other Republican critics are resisting any cutoff of money for Iraq operations, and they differ among themselves on what the United States should do in Iraq.

    On the Democratic side, some lawmakers continue to resist mandatory withdrawal timetables while others suggest that they will support only measures that end spending on the war.

    Still, prominent defections could free more Republicans to break ranks, particularly after lawmakers have spent a week at home attending Fourth of July observances and hearing from constituents.

    “When you have senior, well-respected Republican senators like Dick Lugar, John Warner and Pete Domenici all calling upon the administration to pursue a new strategy, it is significant,” said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican also up for re-election next year.

    She said her talks with voters convinced her that the war remained the top issue. And she joined Mr. Domenici in saying the patience of many Republicans with the Iraqi government was virtually exhausted. “It is very troubling to many of us that the Iraq government appears to be making little or no progress toward political reconciliation,” she said.

    At the White House, which has been urging Republicans to be patient, officials tried to play down the significance of Mr. Domenici’s remarks. Tony Fratto, the deputy press secretary, said calls for a new strategy would not necessarily help Democrats in a quest for change.

    Yet Mr. Fratto suggested the president was already thinking about a change. “It should come as no secret to anyone that there are discussions about what is a post-surge strategy,” he said. But he added, “We would counsel a little bit of patience.”

    While some Republicans are slipping away, Mr. Bush retains a core of support among conservatives in the House and Senate. And even some of the others who face tough campaigns next year, like Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, have indicated they intend to wait until September to decide on their continued support for administration policy. A first report on the progress of a troop buildup in Iraq is due July 15, followed by others in September.

    Senator John McCain of Arizona, a strong supporter of the war, has spent some of the Independence Day recess in Iraq with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They are expected to share their observations, though aides said that major changes in their positions were not expected.

    Speaking to reporters on a conference call from Albuquerque, Mr. Domenici said his change of heart came after conversations with the families of New Mexico soldiers killed in Iraq who asked him to do more to save those still serving there.

    “I heard nothing like that a couple of years ago,” he said. “I think that’s the result of this war dragging on almost indefinitely.”

    Mr. Domenici said he would push for legislation that essentially enacted the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which called for military operations to be shifted more to counterterrorism, training of Iraqi forces and protection of American personnel and facilities. The goal would be to allow most combat troops to be withdrawn by March.

    The Iraq Study Group proposal does not go as far as many Democrats would like. The leadership is planning to move ahead with as many as four proposals, including a retooled plan by the Democratic senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would require a withdrawal to begin within 120 days, with most troops ordered out by next spring.

    No decision has been made yet on whether the study group’s plan will be considered by the Senate. Democrats are expecting votes on a plan by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, to impose new troop-readiness requirements, another to eliminate spending on combat operations next spring, and perhaps a proposal to rescind the original 2002 authority for the war.

     

    Iraq strategy geared to U.S. pullout

     

    Offensives planned
    BAGHDAD — U.S. commanders plan a summer of stepped-up offensives against Al Qaeda in Iraq as they tailor strategy to their expectation that Congress soon will impose a timeline for drawing down U.S. forces here.

    The emphasis on Al Qaeda, described by commanders in interviews here this week, marks a shift in focus from Shiite Muslim militias and death squads in Baghdad. It reflects the belief of some senior officers in Iraq that the militias probably will reduce attacks once it becomes clear that a U.S. pullout is on the horizon. By contrast, they believe Al Qaeda in Iraq could be emboldened by a withdrawal plan and must be confronted before one is in place.

    When the Bush administration began sending additional troops to Iraq, U.S. commanders spoke frequently of the threat posed by the Al Mahdi militia, and they issued thinly veiled threats against its leader, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. Although military leaders say the militia remains a priority, Sadr has tacitly cooperated with the U.S. troop buildup, telling his followers to avoid confronting U.S. forces. He is also a key supporter of the U.S.-backed government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

    Now, with the final infantry troops of the U.S. "surge" strategy having arrived in Iraq, the military is increasingly focusing firepower on the Sunni Muslim side in Iraq's civil war, especially Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    "These operations are more on towards Qaeda because they … are the ones that are creating the truck bombs and car bombs that are having an effect … on the populace," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations said in an interview this week. "So we are going after the safe havens that allow them to build these things without a lot of interference."

    Al Qaeda in Iraq is one of several high-profile Sunni Arab groups in the insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces. Its fighters are believed to include a significant number of non-Iraqis. Despite its name, the extent of the group's links to Osama bin Laden is unclear.

    U.S. officials, burned by previous claims of progress that turned sour, are offering only the most guarded of forecasts for the current offensives.

    "This is the most diabolical enemy out there. I've never seen anything like it," the top U.S. commander here, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, said in an interview.

    "It is far and away the most complex situation we've been in during my time in uniform," he said. "I've done two other tours here, and this is far and away, orders of magnitude, more complex."

    The point of the current mission, said David Kilcullen, Petraeus' top counterinsurgency advisor, is not to help Iraq "turn a corner" that would allow the U.S. to leave the country in a state of peace. Instead, U.S. strategists hope to beat back militant groups enough to give Iraq's Shiite-led government a chance to achieve some measure of stability.

    "I don't know how many times senior leaders in America have said we have turned a corner in Iraq. We've turned a corner so many times we are all getting dizzy," said Kilcullen, a former officer in the Australian army.

    "We haven't turned the tide. We haven't turned the corner, there isn't light at the end of the tunnel. But what we have done is take a failing enterprise and put it on a sound long-term footing."

    A reduction in U.S. forces will happen, he added. "We will downsize. Absolutely," he said. "But what we are trying to do is put the operation on a sound footing so the Iraqis can handle it, and we can make it sufficiently stable."

    The push against Al Qaeda in Iraq, including the offensive over the last two weeks in Baqubah, north of Baghdad, offers several potential advantages for U.S. forces.

    The fight involves the kind of high-intensity operations that play to U.S. strengths. It pits American forces against an opponent that the U.S. public already considers an enemy, and provides clear "metrics" for measuring success.

    After largely steering away from body counts of insurgents for most of the Iraq war, U.S. officials recently have been reporting the number of militants killed in operations against Al Qaeda.

    Beyond these immediate advantages, the strategy is driven by the belief of senior officers that they have a window this summer in which to suppress Al Qaeda activity before a withdrawal timetable is determined.

    Al Qaeda's attacks against Shiite religious sites and civilians brought the Shiite militias into the conflict last year, Petraeus said. Reducing the threat of Al Qaeda will reduce the militia threat, he added.

    "Al Qaeda gave them an excuse. Al Qaeda is their raison d'etre," Petraeus said. "So you really have to reduce Al Qaeda's ability to carry out sensational attacks."

    If the U.S. can show dramatic progress against Al Qaeda, other pieces of the Iraqi puzzle may fall into place, Petraeus said. For example, Petraeus predicted that pushing back Al Qaeda would help advance what he sees as the most promising development of recent months, the decision by some Sunni tribal leaders to turn against Al Qaeda militants.

    Bush faces eavesdropping subpoena

    Man using mobile phone

    The US Senate has issued a subpoena ordering the White House to give up documents related to its surveillance of domestic terror suspects.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Bush administration to give up the papers as part of its inquiry into the controversial spying programme.

    The administration has refused a series of requests to release the documents.

    The president rejects claims that he broke the law by ordering surveillance without first securing warrants.

    The programme, authorised after the 9/11 attacks, enabled the government to monitor the overseas e-mail and telephone communications of Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.

    While the president says his wartime powers allowed him to authorise surveillance without the need for a warrant, critics say he violated Americans' civil liberties.

    The secret spying programme became public in 2005.

    July deadline

    The Senate Judiciary Committee's subpoenas target the White House, Vice-President Dick Cheney, the National Security Council and the Department of Justice.

    Their intention is to shed light on any discussion that may have taken place within the administration on the legality of the spying programme.

    "Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection," the Senate Committee's chairman, Patrick Leahy, says.

    "There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee."

    The White House has until 18 July to comply with the demand, according to the Democratic-led Senate committee.

    It is unclear whether it will do so, or mount a legal challenge to the subpoena.

    "We're aware of the committee's action and will respond appropriately," a White House spokesman told the Associated Press news agency.

    "It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation."


    GOP support for war slips

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican support for the Iraq war is slipping by the day.

    After four years of combat and more than 3,560 U.S. deaths, two Republican senators previously reluctant to challenge President Bush on the war announced they could no longer support the deployment of 157,000 troops and asked the president to begin bringing them home.

    "We must not abandon our mission, but we must begin a transition where the Iraqi government and its neighbors play a larger role in stabilizing Iraq," Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, wrote in a letter to Bush.

    Voinovich, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released his letter Tuesday — one day after Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the panel's top Republican, said in a floor speech that Bush's strategy was not working.

    "The longer we delay the planning for a redeployment, the less likely it is to be successful," said Lugar, who plans to meet later this week with Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser.

    Lugar and Voinovich are not the first GOP members to call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Gordon Smith of Oregon made similar remarks earlier this year. But their public break is significant because it raises the possibility that Senate Democrats could muster the 60 votes needed to pass legislation that would call for Bush to bring troops home.

    Their remarks also are an early warning shot to a lame duck president that GOP support for the war is thinning. The administration is not expected until September to say whether a recent troop buildup in Iraq is working.

    "Everyone should take note, especially the administration," said Snowe, R-Maine, noting Lugar's senior position within the GOP. "It certainly indicates the tide is turning."

    Lugar told reporters Tuesday that he does not expect the fall assessment to be conclusive and would only fuel sentiment among lawmakers that Congress should intervene with legislation to end the war.

    "The president has an opportunity now to bring about a bipartisan foreign policy," Lugar said. "I don't think he'll have that option very long."

    The White House on Tuesday appealed to members for more patience on the war in Iraq.

    "We hope that members of the House and Senate will give the Baghdad security plan a chance to unfold," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

    Snow also said Lugar was a thoughtful man and that his remarks came as no surprise.

    "We've known that he's had reservations about the policy for some time," he said.

    Republican support for the war has declined steadily since last year's elections, mirroring public poll numbers. In an AP-Ipsos poll earlier this month, 28% said they were satisfied with President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, down 5 percentage points in a month.

    Earlier this year, Voinovich and Lugar said they doubted the troop buildup in Iraq would work. But they declined to back a resolution expressing opposition to the troop increase because they said it would have no practical effect. The two senators also refused Democratic proposals to set a timetable for troop withdrawals.

    Other Republicans, including Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins of Maine, expressed similar concerns about Iraq but recently have said they will wait until the September assessment before calling for a change in course, including possible troop withdrawals.

    Voinovich and Lugar said they still would not support a timetable for troop withdrawals and are unlikely to switch their vote. But softer alternative proposals are in the works that could possibly attract their support.

    After the Fourth of July recess, "you'll be hearing a number of statements from other (Republican) colleagues," predicted Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a longtime skeptic of the war strategy.

    Warner spokesman John Ullyot said the senator is drafting a legislative proposal on the war, but declined to discuss the details. The measure would likely be offered as an amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill on the floor next month.

    In the meantime, Democrats say they will try again to set an end date on the war and cut off funding for combat.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Lugar's speech "brilliant" and "courageous" and said it would later be noted in the history books as a turning point in the war.

    "But that will depend on whether more Republicans take the stand that Sen. Lugar took," Reid added.

    Also on Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted in favor of confirming Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as Bush's personal adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pete Geren as Army secretary. A full Senate vote on the nominations has not been scheduled.

    CIA Releases Top-Secret Documents


     

    The CIA today released hundreds of pages of formerly top-secret documents on activities ranging from a plot to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro to domestic espionage against Americans.

    The documents, described in internal CIA memoranda as the "family jewels," mostly cover activities in the 1960s and early 1970s that the agency considered likely to cause embarrassment if revealed. They include material compiled as part of a directive to review CIA activity that apparently violated federal law or could be construed as nefarious.

    Totaling 693 pages, the "family jewels" describe assassination plots, eavesdropping on American journalists, spying on civil rights activists and opponents of the Vietnam War, the surreptitious testing of dangerous drugs on citizens, break-ins at the homes of former CIA employees and sources and the opening of mail between the United States and the Soviet Union and China.

    The documents were turned over to three investigative committees in the early 1970s and fueled probes that damaged the CIA's reputation and led to a congressional crackdown. Much of the information has been made public in some form since then, but today's massive release of documents provided greater detail on a number of closely held activities, including cases of domestic spying that violated the CIA's charter.

    The material was released at the direction of the CIA's director, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, in an effort to come clean about some aspects of the agency's past and to set the historical record straight.

    The "family jewels" documents were compiled in response to a 1973 order from the CIA's then-director, James R. Schlesinger, who wanted CIA employees to report activities they thought might be illegal.

    Also released today was a collection of 11,000 pages of analysis and research dating from 1953 to 1973. Those papers focus primarily on the "Soviet and Chinese leadership hierarchies" and on Sino-Soviet relations.

    "The CIA fully understands that it has an obligation to protect the nation's secrets, but it also has a responsibility to be as open as possible," Hayden said in a statement announcing the release. He called the declassification of historical documents an important part of the agency's "social contract with the American people."

    Despite the disclosure, some information in the documents apparently still is considered too sensitive to make public. The released material contain numerous blanked out pages, passages and words.

    After the documents were provided to Congress in 1974, the CIA said today, they were "exhaustively reviewed" by three panels: the Rockefeller Commission appointed by President Gerald R. Ford, the Senate's Church Committee and the House's Pike Committee.

    Today's document release answers a Freedom of Information Act request that dates from 1992, the agency said. It described the move as part of the CIA's "concerted effort to close out its old [FOIA] cases under the law."

    The "family jewels" were originally collected as a byproduct of the Watergate scandal. Schlesinger had been angered by press reports that the CIA had provided support to two men who were convicted of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington: E. Howard Hunt and James W. McCord Jr.

    Schlesinger ordered top CIA officials "to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this agency," a reference to the National Security Act of 1947. The law bars the CIA from engaging in domestic spying.

    The resulting documents were inherited by Schlesinger's successor, William E. Colby, who subsequently briefed the Justice Department on what he called the agency's "skeletons."


    Bill Clinton takes bigger campaign role
     

    Bill Clinton used to be a stealth presence in his wife’s presidential campaign, raising money and schmoozing supporters largely out of the public eye.

    This week, the former president stepped into the spotlight, from his humorous turn in a new Web video to the announcement that he will join Hillary Rodham Clinton on high-profile campaign visits to Iowa and New Hampshire.

    Aides say Bill Clinton has long planned to campaign publicly for his wife, and Hillary Clinton often promises audiences they’ll see a lot more of him.

    Mindful of his charisma and tendency to hog the attention, the campaign has played the Bill card carefully—keeping him in the shadows while giving Hillary Clinton time to establish herself independently. They followed a similar pattern in 2000 when she first ran for the Senate in New York.

    “The president’s plan all along was to gradually escalate his involvement, so you’ll be seeing him more and more,” said campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson. “We think he is a huge asset and we’re excited to have him.”

    Recently, Bill Clinton has cut back on his paid speeches and completed the manuscript for a book on citizen activism that will be published later this year. Aides say he’ll continue to be very active with the charitable foundation that bears his name, and he plans a weeklong trip to Africa next month on the foundation’s behalf.

    The Clintons plan a three-day campaign swing
    But his top priority continues to be “making sure the candidate he believes will be the best president who also happens to be his wife is elected,” said his spokesman, Jay Carson.

    Behind the scenes, he’s increased his fundraising since last quarter, headlining numerous high-dollar events for his wife across the country. He also narrated a five-minute biographical Web video and loaned his acting skills to a witty send-up of the final scene of “The Sopranos.”

    While the couple appeared together at several fundraisers throughout the year, they’ve attended just one campaign event together—a civil rights commemoration in Selma, Ala., where Sen. Clinton was competing with rival Democrat Barack Obama for attention and support.

    That will change the first week in July, when the Clintons plan a three-day campaign swing through Iowa. Polls there show the New York senator in a tough fight with Obama and John Edwards, even as she leads in national polls and most other state surveys.

    The Clintons will also campaign together in New Hampshire July 13.

    ‘Bill Clinton’s third term?’
    Bill Clinton did not compete in the Iowa caucuses when he first ran in 1992, but he won the state in the general election that year and again in 1996.

    He credited New Hampshire with his political salvation in 1992, finishing a close second there after a bruising primary where he fought allegations of draft-dodging and philandering. He went on to win the state in both the 1992 and 1996 general elections.

    Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, noted that Bill Clinton’s support in the state came primarily from middle- and working-class Democrats and from men. Campaigning at his wife’s side could boost her standing with those groups, Scala said.

    “I don’t think they’re feeling desperate or that she is faltering, but my guess is that they are trying to buttress her support,” Scala said. “She needs to appeal to middle-class voters and centrists, since progressive types might wonder, ‘Is this going to be Bill Clinton’s third term?’”

    A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found Hillary Clinton with twice the support from women as Obama, but dwindling strength among men.

    ‘We’ll see an interplay between them’
    For many voters, joint campaign appearances for the Clintons will also satisfy the curiosity factor: How is this much-scrutinized couple handling a significant role reversal.

    “People want to see Mrs. Obama, they want to see Mrs. Edwards. They want to see the team,” said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who co-chairs the Clinton campaign. “He’s a terrific surrogate, she’s a great candidate, and we’ll see an interplay between them which will be very helpful to her.”

    To be sure, rival Democrats contend that Bill Clinton’s increased involvement in his wife’s effort suggests some nervousness in the Clinton campaign about her standing in the race. And the Obama campaign recently indicated its intent to make Bill Clinton a campaign issue—distributing a research document criticizing his friendship with billionaire supermarket mogul Ron Burkle and his $300,000 in speaking fees from Cisco, a company that has moved U.S. jobs to India.

    While polls show the former president remains wildly popular with Democrats, Republicans looking down the road said they don’t believe he’ll help persuade Hillary Clinton skeptics to change their minds about her.

    “I think Republicans and many independents are very, very eager for her not to be the president of the United States. And that’s regardless of how many times her husband campaigns for her,” said Wayne Semprini, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman now with Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid.

    Clinton Draws Cheers From Liberal Group

    Appearing before a liberal group that booed her last year for not supporting a firm deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) came armed with more antiwar positions on some issues and received a much more favorable reception today. Activists from the antiwar group Code Pink booed Clinton, shouting, "End the war now!" But they were drowned out by cheers as Clinton talked about her vote last month against $95 billion in funding for the war and about a bill she wrote to remove President Bush's authority to wage the war.

    "I see the signs, 'Get us out of Iraq,' " she told a conference of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal activist group. "That is what I'm trying to do." Last year, Clinton told more than 2,000 activists at the group's conference that it was not "smart strategy to set a date certain" for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. "I do not agree that that is in the best interest of our troops or our country," she said. The crowd then booed so loudly that it was hard to hear her remarks.

    But over the last year, Clinton has embraced firm deadlines for withdrawing troops and has made her pledge to "end the war in Iraq" one of her signature lines on the stump. Her aides said she has shifted as conditions in Iraq have become more dire. Aides to her 2008 rivals privately suggested that Clinton changed her stance after voters confronted her about the war in Iowa and New Hampshire.

    "The American military has succeeded. It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions that are important for their own people," Clinton said. "That's like blaming the victim," said Jodie Evans of Code Pink.

    Generally, activists said that while they wish Clinton and other leaders would do more in Congress to end the war, they were happy that Clinton's position on the issue has changed. "She's been kind of slow to come to the antiwar position, but she's there now," said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Washington-based group that hosted the conference. "Her position on the war has improved dramatically."

    Democrats Court Anti-War Crowd

    (AP) A trio of Democratic presidential candidates appealed to anti-war passions that run deep in their party Tuesday, with each portraying himself as most strongly against the war in Iraq.

    In separate speeches before liberal activists, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards each stressed differences that set them apart in a field of Democratic White House aspirants who say they would bring U.S. troops home.

    Obama pointed out he opposed the war from the beginning; Richardson said that unlike his rivals, he would pull out every troop from Iraq and Edwards pressed his fellow candidates still in Congress to force an end to the war.

    "For me it's simple," Edwards said in an excerpt provided by his campaign. "No more pontificating. No more vacillating. No more triangulating. No more broken promises. No more pats on the head. No more we'll-get-around-to-it-next-time. No more taking half a loaf."

    Obama said he warned his rivals and others serving in Congress in 2002 not to authorize the war. He was serving in the Illinois state Legislature at the time and won election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

    "We knew back then this war was a mistake," Obama said in excerpts prepared for delivery provided by his campaign, casting himself in solidarity with more than 3,000 activists expected to show up. "We knew back then that it was dangerous diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th. We knew back then that we could find ourselves in an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

    Richardson, making slow progress in the race but trying to break out into the top tier of candidates, tried to differentiate himself by stressing that he would leave "zero troops" in Iraq. He pointed out that his leading opponents have supported legislation that would leave behind an undetermined number of residual forces to train and equip Iraqi forces, among other things.

    "With all due respect to my outstanding Democratic colleagues ・Senators Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden ・they all voted for timeline legislation that had loopholes," the New Mexico governor said. "Those loopholes allow this president, or any president, to leave an undetermined number of troops in Iraq indefinitely. And this is the same legislation that former Senator Edwards says we should send back and back to the president over and over again until he signs it."

    Richardson would leave a small Marine contingent behind in Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy. But, he said, "if the embassy is not safe, then they're all coming home, too."

    He announced a Web site for supporters of his plan to sign a petition backing it ・Notroopsleftbehind.com.

    Activists at the conference organized by the Campaign For America's Future are overwhelmingly opposed to the war. A year ago, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was booed at the conference for opposing a set date for pulling U.S. troops from Iraq.

    In a separate speech to a union members Tuesday, Clinton said a residual force was necessary to fight terrorism and defend Americans, but combat troops should start coming home now.

    If the Iraqi government won't do its part, "we should not continue to support them," Clinton told a presidential forum hosted by the powerful American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

    MSNBC host Chris Matthews pressed Clinton at the labor forum on her thoughts about whether former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby should be pardoned. Clinton artfully dodged: "I think there will be enough to be said about that without me adding to it."

    Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted in March of lying to investigators and obstructing Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's inquiry into the 2003 leak of a CIA operative's identity. A federal judge said last week he will not delay a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for Libby in the case.

    Obama and Edwards were scheduled to speak midday Tuesday, while Clinton and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich were scheduled to speak Wednesday.

    Agreed: Something Needs To Change In Iraq

    (CBS) The troops for the "surge" strategy, which started in January, are now all in place. While the Bush administration and congressional Republicans say they are waiting to see how well it will work, critics say that the United States' increased military presence will do little to build a stable Iraq.

    Appearing on Face the Nation, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that members of his party believe judgment of the surge's effectiveness should be withheld until Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, deliver a progress report to Congress.

    "I think the proper time to really make a serious evaluation of the direction we ought to head is in September," McConnell said.

    Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said that the outlook for Iraq is a mixed picture but is not hopeless. Polls show, however, that public support for the war among Americans is dwindling, and violence in Iraq shows no signs of slowing.

    Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said now is the time to go a different direction.

    Although President Bush vetoed legislation passed by congressional Democrats setting a timetable for withdrawal, Levin said his party will try again to begin an American troop withdrawal. This time, he said, Democrats will be successful because they have support from more frustrated Republicans.

    "We are going to be offering an amendment which will, in one form or another, set a timetable for the reduction of American troops starting in about 120 days," Levin told Bob Schieffer. "We have got to change this course. We have got to change the Iraqi mentality [of] thinking that they have got some kind of an open-ended commitment, which is what the president promised them a few months ago."

    McConnell said he expects a change in policy to come, but he said he wants to see how the surge strategy works.

    "I don't think we'll have the same level of troops, in all likelihood, that we have now," he said. "The Iraqis will have to step up, not only on the political side, but on the military side, to a greater extent."

    It is the Iraqi government, McConnell said, that deserves the lions share of the blame for the chaos in Iraq.

    "The Iraqi government, so far, has been a big disappointment," he said. "They've not done the things that they know they need to do to hold their country together."

    But, former Congressman and chair of the Iraq Study Group, Lee Hamilton, told Schieffer that U.S. forces can't withdraw from Iraq until Iraqi forces can take over responsibility for security.

    "Our primary mission today is the surge," Hamilton said. "We're not going to get out of Iraq unless we train better than we have the Iraqi forces and let them take over some of the responsibilities we now have."

    McConnell said he thinks there is growing support for the recommendations made by Hamilton and James Baker in the Iraq Study Group report.

    Released last year, the report stressed more dialog with regional powers like Syria and Iran while maintaining a strong military presence at Iraq's borders. It recommended against a troop surge.

    "There is still no military solution to Iraq," Hamilton said on Face the Nation. "The military plays a hugely important role, but you must have vigorous, robust efforts to get a national reconciliation."

    Both Levin and McConnell said that the Iraqi government has failed to live up to its part of the bargain and hasn't assumed control of the country.

    "What's required here is for the President of the United States to tell the Iraqi leaders that we're going to begin to reduce our troops as the message to them that the responsibility for their own country is in their hands, not ours," Levin said.

    The Iraqi congress is also thinking of taking a two-month summer vacation.

    "You cannot do that while our troops are dying and being wounded and your troops are dying and being wounded and your people are being blown up," Levin said.


    War at Home: The Battleground of Summer

    A coalition of anti-war groups is looking to make it a long, uncomfortable summer for 40 Republican members of Congress who are opposed to setting a timeline to end the war in Iraq.

    The coalition, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, plans to send 86 activists to 15 states beginning next week to pressure lawmakers into changing their position on the war. Dubbed “Iraq Summer,” the effort’s organizers say their goal is to hold 1,000 events per week through Labor Day and place 15,000 signs and bumper stickers in each state.

    The group says it will spend millions on the effort. A portion will be used for paid media advertisements in some states as well as phone banks and letter-writing campaigns in each Congressional district under scrutiny. Those targets include nine Senators and 31 House members. Five of the senators on the list are up for reelection in 2008.

    Wiley Pearson, a deputy campaign manager for the anti-war coalition, said the group’s message to lawmakers is that they must “either work to end the war or face the political consequences.”

    Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is focusing exclusively on Republicans in an attempt to isolate President Bush, according to Tom Matzzie, director of the Washington office of MoveOn.org, one of the groups supporting the effort. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed in a letter to President Bush earlier this week that they would renew proposals in their respective houses for legislation that included deadlines for troop withdrawals from Iraq.

    But key Republican groups also have Democratic lawmakers in their crosshairs. Mr. Reid has been an especially ripe target this week after he called General Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “incompetent.” Today the Republican National Committee circulated a memo citing the majority leader’s comment as “just one of many Democrat troop insults.” (Highlight the word “Democrat.”)

    For its part, the National Republican Campaign Committee recently started a separate Web site and has been running radio and Internet ads lambasting more than 20 freshman House Democrats for their votes on the Iraq issue, among others.

    An N.R.C.C. spokesperson, Julie Shutley, also criticized the “Iraq Summer” campaign, saying that by singling out Republicans the anti-war group was essentially being hypocritical.

    “You’d think if this liberal fringe group wanted to make a real difference on this issue, they would also direct their anger against the Democrat members who in overwhelming numbers voted for the war funding bill, including the majority leader,” Ms. Shutley said. “They are putting their own extremely partisan motives ahead of a genuine solution.”

    [Update: Rebecca Fisher, Communications Director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, offers this comment on “Iraq Summer”: “It’s puzzling that MoveOn.org feels the need to disguise itself with a new name every month – but they must be worried that voters will see who is making the ridiculous attacks and not take them seriously. Voters don’t take kindly to outside groups coming into their towns.”]

    Here is the list of the senators and congress members under fire by anti-war activists. Many of them have been under attack for this entire 110th Congressional session by various groups and Internet bloggers.

    “Iraq Summer” Targets:
    (numbers indicate Congressional districts)

    In Illinois, Representatives Mark Kirk (10), Timothy Johnson (15) and Ray LaHood (18).

    In Maine, Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

    In Michigan, Representatives Vernon Ehlers (3), Fred Upton (6), Timothy Walberg (7), Mike Rogers (8) Candice Miller (10) and Thaddeus McCotter (11).

    In Minnesota, Senator Norm Coleman and Representatives Jim Ramstad (3) and Michele Bachmann (6).

    In New Hampshire, Senator John Sununu.

    In New Jersey, Representatives Chris Smith (4) and Michael Ferguson (7).

    In New York, Representatives Jim Walsh (25) and Randy Kuhl (29).

    In Ohio, Senator George Voinovich and Representatives Steven LaTourette (14) and Deborah Pryce (15).

    In Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter and Representatives Phil English (3), Jim Gerlach (6), Charles Dent (15), Patrick Murphy (18) and Todd Platts (19).

    In Virginia, Senator John Warner and Representatives Thelma Drake (2), Frank Wolf (10) and Jo Ann Davis (11).

    In Arizona, Representative Rick Renzi (1).

    In Iowa, Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Tom Latham (4).

    In New Mexico, Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson (1).

    In Nevada, Representatives Dean Heller (2) and Jon Porter (3).

    In Delaware, Representative Michael Castle (1).

    Court Rebuffs Bush On Enemy Combatants

    (CBS/AP) The Bush administration cannot use new anti-terrorism laws to keep U.S. residents locked up indefinitely without charging them, a divided federal appeals court said Monday.

    The ruling was a harsh rebuke of one of the central tools the administration believes it has to combat terror.

    "To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President calls them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the constitution — and the country," the court panel said.

    In the 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that the federal Military Commissions Act doesn't strip Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident, of his constitutional rights to challenge his accusers in court. It ruled the government must allow al-Marri to be released from military detention.

    "This ruling actually could – emphasis on could – do to the new Military Commissions Act what the Democratically controlled Congress has been thinking about doing for a few months now," says CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen, "which is to change the impact of the law to preclude it from taking away from resident aliens here in this country the right to challenge their detention or confinement in court."

    Cohen added that the ruling doesn't mean the suspect will be freed.

    "Like former enemy combatant Jose Padilla, al-Marri now likely is to be charged in federal court with various terror related charges and then we'll likely see a replay of the sorts of issues that only now are coming to light at Padilla's trial in Miami, mainly the difficultly in transferring a military case into a civilian one," said Cohen.

    The government intends to ask the full 4th Circuit to hear the case, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.

    "The President has made clear that he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from further al Qaeda attack, including the capture and detention of al Qaeda agents who enter our borders," Boyd said in a statement.

    Al-Marri has been held in solitary confinement in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., since June 2003. The Qatar native has been detained since his December 2001 arrest at his home in Peoria, Ill., where he moved with his wife and five children a day before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to study for a master's degree at Bradley University.

    "This is a landmark victory for the rule of law and a defeat for unchecked executive power," al-Marri's lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, said in a statement. "It affirms the basic constitutional rights of all individuals — citizens and immigrants — in the United States."

    The court said its ruling doesn't mean al-Marri should be set free. Instead, he can be returned to the civilian court system and tried on criminal charges.

    "But the government cannot subject al-Marri to indefinite military detention," the opinion said. "For in the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians — let alone imprison them indefinitely."

    Al-Marri is currently the only U.S. resident held as an enemy combatant within the U.S.

    Jose Padilla, who is a U.S. citizen, had been held as an enemy combatant in a Navy brig for 3 1/2 years before he was hastily added to an existing case in Miami in November 2005, a few days before a U.S. Supreme Court deadline for Bush administration briefs on the question of the president's powers to continue holding him in military prison without charge.

    Federal investigators found credit card numbers on Al-Marri's laptop computer and charged him with credit card fraud. Upon further investigation, the government said, agents found evidence that al-Marri had links to al Qaeda terrorists and was a national security threat. Authorities shifted al-Marri's case from the criminal system and moved him to indefinite military detention.

    Al-Marri has denied the government's allegations and is seeking to challenge the government's evidence and cross-examine its witnesses in court.

    Lawyers for al-Marri argued that the Military Commissions Act, passed last fall to establish military trials, doesn't repeal the writ of habeas corpus — defendants' traditional right to challenge their detention.

    If the government's stance was upheld, civil liberties groups said, the Justice Department could use terrorism law to hold any immigrants indefinitely and strip them of the right to use civilian courts to challenge their detention.

    The Bush administration's attorneys had urged the federal appeals panel to dismiss al-Marri's case, arguing that the act stripped the courts of jurisdiction to hear cases of detainees who are declared enemy combatants. They contended that Congress and the Supreme Court have given the president the authority to fight terrorism and prevent additional attacks on the nation.

    The court, however, said in Monday's opinion that the MCA doesn't apply to al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident who wasn't captured outside U.S. soil, detained at Guantanamo Bay or on other foreign soil, who has not received a combatant status review tribunal.

    "The MCA was not intended to, and does not apply to aliens like al-Marri, who have legally entered, and are seized while legally residing in, the United States," according to the court's majority opinion, written by Judge Diana G. Motz.

    The court also said that the government failed to back up its argument that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, enacted by Congress immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, gives the president broad powers to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant. The act neither classifies certain civilians as enemy combatants, nor otherwise authorizes the government to detain people indefinitely, the court ruled.

    The case, which is expected to reach the Supreme Court, could help define how much authority the government has to indefinitely detain those accused of terrorism and to strip detainees of their rights to challenge the lawfulness or conditions of their detention.




    Rendition Trial Puts U.S. On Hot Seat
    In a courtroom lined with empty cages, 26 Americans accused of working for the CIA are tried for kidnapping a Muslim cleric on a street near his mosque in Milan and secretly flying him to Egypt. (CBS)


    (CBS) In Italy tonight, the president's visit isn't just facing more European protest. The administration's “war on terror” has also become the target of criminal prosecution.

    In Milan, a trial opened against 26 Americans accused of working for the CIA. None of the Americans showed up, but in a courtroom lined with empty cages, they’re charged with kidnapping a Muslim cleric on a street near his mosque in Milan and secretly flying him to Egypt, CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.

    Abu Omar spent four years in jail there, tortured, he says, as a suspected terrorist.

    “I think that this trial is excruciatingly embarrassing for the United States, but let’s face it, the real issue is that the process of illegal renditions or kidnappings, effectively, has been a complete catastrophe for the United States,” said Clive Stafford Smith, a civil rights lawyer.

    President Bush acknowledged last year that some terror suspects had been held in secret prisons run by the CIA, but he didn't say where.

    Now a report for Europe's human rights agency has named Romania and Poland as places where CIA prisoners were subjected to what amounted to torture. Both countries deny it.

    But full of detail – pinpointing this airport in Eastern Romania, for instance, as one staging point for the secret operation – the report says complicity with the United States has put Europe in a "moral quagmire."

    “In Europe, now we’re seeing criminal prosecutions that are based on the accepted view that this system is not just illegal, it’s criminal,” said international lawyer Scott Horton.

    That includes Germany, where arrest warrants are out for thirteen suspected CIA agents accused of kidnapping Khaled el-Masri. He's a German citizen who says he was blindfolded, drugged, and flown to Afghanistan three years ago — then released, with the explanation his abduction had been a mistake.

    Dean urges Democrats to end Iraq war
     

    WASHINGTON - The high hurdles faced by congressional Democrats in their efforts to end the Iraq war make electing a Democratic president in 2008 the best way to finish the conflict, Democratic party chairman Howard Dean said Saturday.

    He noted his party has made little progress toward ending the war, the cause, he said, that returned them to power.

    “The American people hired Democrats last November to ensure that we end this war,” Dean said during the weekly Democratic radio address. “So let me be clear, we know that if we don’t keep our promise, we may find ourselves the minority again.”

    Dean put the blame for the lack of progress squarely on the White House and congressional Republicans for blocking his party’s attempt at tying war funding to deadlines for troop withdrawals.

    “We have to face the reality that Republicans in Congress are standing with President Bush as he stubbornly wields his veto pen,” Dean charged. In response, he proposed that the “one way to truly ensure we end this war” was to elect a Democrat as president in 2008.

    A former presidential candidate himself, Dean contrasted the field of Democratic and Republican candidates who participated in separate party debates earlier this week, saying only Democrats would end the war.

    Democrats also seek to shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, restore damaged relationships with other countries and provide the military with “the resources they need,” Dean said.

    EU nations knew of CIA jails, inquiry concludes

    The CIA ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania to interrogate and even torture some detainees in its "war on terror" under a programme authorised by the countries' presidents, according to an official European report.

     
    CIA had secret jails in Europe
    Many of those held in Europe are now at Guantanamo Bay

    Swiss senator Dick Marty said Poland housed some of the CIA's most sensitive prisoners – so-called "high value" detainees – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the Sept 11 2001 attacks on the United States that killed almost 3,000 people.

    "There is now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003-2005, in particular in Poland and Romania," Mr Marty said in a report for the Council of Europe human rights watchdog – the culmination of a 19-month investigation.

    The European Commission called on both countries to hold urgent, independent investigations into the allegations and compensate any victims.

    According to the report, Poland's then-president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, the head of the National Security Bureau, Marek Siwiec, the defence minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and military intelligence chief Marek Dukaczewski knew about and could be held accountable for the secret prison operation in Poland.

    Mr Szmajdzinski dismissed the report today as "pure political fiction".

    Former Romanian president Ion Iliescu, current President Traian Basescu and former defence minster Ioan Mircea Pascu also "knew about, authorised and stand accountable" for their country's role in the CIA programme, Mr Marty said. They denied the accusations.

    The Council of Europe report was mainly based on the cross-referenced testimonies of more than 30 serving and former members of intelligence services in the US and Europe, and on the analysis of international flights.

    Mr Marty said the evidence would stand up in court, but that his sources had spoken on condition of anonymity.

    The prisons were part of a "global spider's web" of detentions and illegal transfers – known as "extraordinary renditions" – spun out around the world by the United States and its allies, the report said.

    They were made possible thanks to a secret 2001 deal between Nato and the United States allowing the CIA to run the prisons, it contended.

    Mr Marty criticised Germany and Italy for using "state secrecy" to hamper investigations, but praised Canada and Bosnia and Herzegovina for admitting to the illegal transfer of detainees.

    The report added that interrogation techniques used on suspects were "tantamount to torture".

    In a press conference in Paris, Mr Marty warned that the unlawful renditions were giving "criminal terrorists" arguments to recruit new members to their ranks, and that the rule of law and disclosure of the truth were the best weapons against terrorism.

    The report also mentions the existence of a secret detention centre in Chechnya, but Mr Marty declined to say who was running it.

    President George W Bush confirmed last September the existence of CIA detention centres abroad but named no country.

    CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said he had not yet seen the report. "Europe has been the source of grossly inaccurate allegations about the CIA and counter-terrorism," he said.

    "And people should remember that Europeans have benefited from the agency's bold, lawful work to disrupt terrorist plots."

    The report was released as 26 American citizens, almost all believed to be CIA agents, went on trial in absentia accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, in Milan and flying him to Egypt.

    Mr Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was on Washington's list of terrorist suspects, claims he was tortured in Egypt.

    The judge adjourned proceedings until June 18 to decide on a defence request to suspend the trial.

    Secret detention must end, rights groups tell US


    Dozens of prisoners who have disappeared after being detained by the CIA as part of the "war on terror" were named yesterday for the first time by leading human rights organisations.

    Dozens of prisoners who have disappeared after being detained by the CIA as part of the 'war on terror' were named yesterday for the first time by leading human rights organisations

    Six groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said it was not clear how many remained in detention.

    They challenged the assertion made last September by George W Bush that all secret CIA prisons had been emptied as 14 high-profile terror suspects were sent to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

    The controversial detentions began after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, and included people said to have been captured in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan.

    Some were made in foreign countries in a process known as "extraordinary rendition", with the co-operation of local secret services. The report says the relatives of suspects, including children as young as seven, had been held in secret detention on occasions.

    "Since the end of Latin America's dirty wars, the world has rejected the use of 'disappearances' as a fundamental violation of international law," Prof Meg Satterthwaite, of the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University's School of Law, said in a statement.

    Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said it was unknown if the suspects were now in US or foreign custody, or even alive or dead.

    "We have families who have not seen their loved ones for years. They've literally disappeared," Miss Mariner said.

    Among the cases detailed in the report is the detention in September 2002 of two children, then aged seven and nine, of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted Sept 11 mastermind, who is now held at Guantanamo Bay. "According to eyewitnesses, the two were held in an adult detention centre for at least four months while US agents questioned the children about their father's whereabouts."

    The groups are urging the US government to end secret detention, provide information on those in custody, give access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to all detainees and either bring charges or release all prisoners.

    The report came ahead of the release today of the final investigation by the Council of Europe into CIA detention centres in Europe and flights across European airspace.

    It is likely to confirm that Poland and Romania were sites of secret CIA prisons; a previous report described them as likely locations.

    The report is also likely to detail Britain's co-operation with the programme of secret CIA flights, which included the use of Prestwick airport, in Scotland.

    Pelosi sees ‘drastic’ troop cuts
     

    WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted Thursday that there would be “a drastic reduction in troops” in Iraq by the middle of 2008, saying Democratic opposition to the war had “changed the debate on Iraq in our country.”

    In an interview airing Friday on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told host Chris Matthews that while Democrats may have failed for now to force President Bush to agree to a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops, their agitation for disengagement from Iraq had backed the president into a corner.

    Pelosi noted that Bush yielded to pressure from members of his own party in accepting benchmarks of progress that the Iraqi government was encouraged to meet to keep U.S. support.

    The benchmarks in the emergency appropriations bill Bush signed last month were pushed by Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a highly respected Republican expert on defense, so “the president ... does have to answer to the benchmarks in the bill that passed,” she said.

    “In either case, I think he’s in very bad shape,” she added.

    War opponents seek to strike a balance
    Pelosi said she expected a “drastic reduction in troops” in Iraq by the summer of next year, leaving “only those needed to fight terrorism, to train Iraqis and to protect our diplomats and our troops that are there.”

    The speaker said Democrats would push to withdraw U.S. troops in future military appropriations. That way Democrats and anti-war Republicans could simultaneously “support the troops and end the war,” she said.

    “What you do is to have legislation that says that the funds for the troops will be used to redeploy them out of Iraq,” she said, adding that such a measure could take the form of a bill to repeal “the authority of the president to go to war in the first place.”

    “There are several different resolutions to that effect,” Pelosi said. “We will, most certainly, be voting on one of them.”

    Bush losing more support on Hill
    Pelosi’s warning came as a new Associated Press poll showed that only 28 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with Bush’s handling of the war. With an eye on such numbers, senators put heavy pressure Thursday on Bush’s nominee to coordinate the war effort to speed up a resolution of some sort in Iraq.

    Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Bush’s nominee to become deputy national security adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, said at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Washington should show patience to allow the Iraqi government to consolidate control of the country. But members of the committee, including Warner, said that was unacceptable.

    “Wake up,” said Warner, the senior Republican on the committee. “We’re paying a heavy price for them to establish this government.”

    Pelosi echoed calls by Democrats on the committee to begin withdrawing U.S. troops to put pressure on the Iraqis.

    “I think we’re on a path to ending the war,” she said. “... How much longer can this continue?”

    House yields to Senate on immigration
    On the other major topic of the day, immigration reform, Pelosi said the House would leave it up to the Senate to work out an arrangement with the president.

    The measure, a bipartisan compromise backed by Bush that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants, failed a test vote Thursday in the Senate, leaving its prospects uncertain.

    “I’m still hopeful that it’s alive in the Senate,” Pelosi said. “... I always said this process had to begin in the Senate. And the bill could not pass the Congress without the full attention and leadership of President Bush.”

    Bush Is Unexpected Loser in Tuesday's Debate


     

    MANCHESTER, N.H., June 6 -- If there was an unexpected loser in Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, it was President Bush and his administration's record.

    The Republican candidates offered repeated criticism of their Democratic opponents, but on issue after issue, they also shredded the president's performance over the past four years. Iraq? Badly mismanaged. Katrina? Bungled. Immigration? The wrong solution. Federal spending? Out of control.

    The candidates struggled even to say they would welcome the president playing a role in their administrations should they win the White House in 2008. Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, who served as secretary of health and human services during Bush's first term, offered the unkindest cut.

    "I certainly would not send him to the United Nations," he said to laughter from the heavily Republican audience at Saint Anselm College.

    The debate seemed to signal open season on the president's record, highlighting the reality that the candidates see the Bush legacy as a liability rather than an asset as they look toward a general election campaign in 2008.

    The candidates were careful not to make their criticism of Bush too personal, which GOP strategists believe remains out of bounds for anyone with a serious chance of winning the Republican nomination. But there was no attempt to suggest, as Bush's father did when he ran to succeed then-President Ronald Reagan in 1988, that they want to be viewed as seeking a third term of the current Bush administration.

    Bush still enjoys the support of a sizeable majority of Republicans, which means personal criticism by the candidates risks alienating loyal Republicans. The most recent Washington Post - ABC News poll showed that, while Bush's overall approval rating stands at 35 percent, he is approved by 74 percent of Republicans.

    But Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said support for Bush has declined sharply from its historic highs and it is not surprising that the Republican candidates have begun to distance themselves from him this early in the campaign. This is not only because of Bush's unpopularity among Democrats and independents, but also because of erosion in support among Republicans.

    "I think it's unavoidable," he said, noting that Bush's approval among Republicans in the latest Pew poll had dropped to 65 percent from 77 percent in April.

    "He's a Republican president who once had 90 [percent approval among Republicans]," Kohut added. "They were very loyal to Bush for a very long time. The movement downward has to do with the fact that there's some Republican disaffection going on."

    The risk, he said, is that the candidates will hear their words played back to them by Democrats during the general election. But that did not appear to be anyone's concern on Tuesday night during the third GOP debate.

    The Republicans took shots at Democrats for being soft on terrorism, prone to raise taxes and prepared to institute big-government health-care reform. Democrats will take issue with such criticism.

    But the candidates disparaged the president as much, or more.

    Asked why Republicans lost the 2006 midterm election last fall, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee offered a critique aimed at the entire party -- but almost all the specifics centered on failures by the president and his administration.

    "We've lost credibility, the way we bungled Katrina, the fact that there was corruption that was unchecked in Washington, and the fact that there was a feeling that there was not a proper handling of the Iraqi war in all of its details, and the indifference to people pouring over our borders," he said.

    If there is any issue on which the Republicans have been reluctant to break with the president, it is Iraq. The presidential candidates remain strong supporters of the current troop surge policy, despite its unpopularity with a majority of Americans.

    But while tying themselves to the current policy, the Republican candidates have become increasingly critical of what happened after U.S. forces deposed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

    "I'm going to give you a little straight talk," Arizona Sen. John McCain said at the debate here on Tuesday night. "This war was very badly mismanaged for a long time. And Americans have made great sacrifices, some of which were unnecessary because of this management of the war -- mismanagement of this conflict."

    Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney also defended the current policy but noted: "I supported the president's decision [to invade Iraq] based on what we knew at that time. I think we were under-prepared and under-planned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein."

    Asked at a news conference Wednesday morning who was responsible for the lack of preparation, Romney said: "There's no question that the buck stops at the top, and I'm sure the president recognizes that and feels that."

    On immigration, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was one of many on the stage to criticize a bipartisan compromise bill that enjoys Bush's strong support. He called it "a typical Washington mess" without noting Bush's complicity in creating it. "It's quite possible it will make things worse," Giuliania said.

    Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who is working for McCain, told a Harvard University seminar earlier this year that Republican candidates must tread lightly in distancing themselves from the president.

    "People in our party admire his consistency, his leadership and his personal dimensions, and you had better be very, very careful how you talk about the president around those things and you'd better say 'I admire and respect him, but I differ with his views and I differ with the conduct, I think a change needs to be made'," he said.

    But he added that the president's advisers are politically savvy enough to know that there will be criticism of the record. "I believe they understand that our next nominee is going to be very different than this administration," McInturff said.

    That process is likely to accelerate as the campaign continues.

    US panel punishes anti-war marine

    Marine corporal Adam Kokesh

    A US military panel has recommended a marine be involuntarily discharged after he was pictured at an anti-war protest dressed in desert fatigues.

    Marine Corporal Adam Kokesh was accused of misconduct. The military bans the unauthorised wearing of uniforms.

    But the 25-year-old insisted that as his name tag and military emblems were removed he had done nothing wrong.

    The three-person board said Cpl Kokesh should lose the honourable discharge status he had already been granted.

    Instead, the board recommended he should receive a general discharge under honourable conditions, one step below an honourable discharge

    Cpl Kokesh, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, appeared at the Washington demonstration in March.

    Investigators recommended he be discharged under "other-than-honourable" conditions, but the panel opted for a middle road, meaning he would keep all of his benefits.

    Appeal

    "This is a non-punitive discharge," Colonel Patrick McCarthy, chief of staff for the mobilisation command, said.

    "What that means is he is not dishonourable, and he's only kind of honourable, so in effect, the board picked the safe route," Cpl Kokesh's lawyer Mike Lebowitz said.

    Marine Captain Jeremy Sibert, speaking at the hearing, said military personnel can be punished if their civilian behaviour "directly affects the performance of military duties and is service-related".

    The protest was held to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    Cpl Kokesh said he would appeal against the board's recommendation.

    "I'm standing on principle and we're going to contest this on principle. It's not going to go away," he said.

    "It's clear these tactics of intimidation are being used against members of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

    "Freedom of speech means the right to say what other people don't want to hear."

    Cpl Kokesh is a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, a body consisting of people who have left active service but still have to fulfil the remainder of their eight-year military obligations and can be called back to duty.

    His service was due to end on 18 June this year.

    The board's recommendation will be submitted for a final decision to the Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City.


    Plame Sues CIA Over Memoir
     
     
    WASHINGTON (AP) — Valerie Plame, the former undercover CIA officer whose 2003 exposure touched off a leak investigation, is accusing the government of delaying publication of her new book.

    Plame and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, sued the CIA in a New York federal court Thursday. They accused the government of illegally refusing to let Plame write about the specific dates she worked for the agency.

    The CIA, which has acknowledged only that Plame worked for the agency since 2002, must approve all writings of former officers before they can be published.

    "The sole benchmark is whether it contains classified information," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said. "The concern is that publication of the manuscript as submitted would cause additional damage to operations and would affect the CIA's ability to conduct intelligence activities in the future. That's the issue here and it's an important one."

    Former CIA analyst Valerie Plame testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., last March, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Plame is accusing the CIA of unconstitutionally interfering with publication of her memoir.
    Former CIA analyst Valerie Plame testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., last March, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Plame is accusing the CIA of unconstitutionally interfering with publication of her memoir.

    Plame contends in court documents that the CIA released information about her work history in an unclassified letter about her retirement benefits. The letter, which the CIA says was sent inadvertently, was ultimately entered into the Congressional Record and says that Plame worked at the CIA for more than 20 years.

    The lawsuit was announced on the eve of the annual trade convention BookExpo America, when publishers often try to release big news. Plame is scheduled to speak at the convention.

    The book deal for Plame's memoir, Fair Game, is widely believed to be worth seven figures. Lawyers asked a federal judge in New York to order the CIA to allow Plame to print the information.

    Nobody was charged with leaking Plame's employment status. Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted of obstructing the investigation and faces up to three years in prison when he is sentenced on Tuesday.

    Cindy Sheehan Calls It Quits

    Blames blind party loyalty for a nation hooked on war

    Peace activist Cindy Sheehan speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo)

    Cindy Sheehan, the soldier's mother who galvanized an anti-war movement with her monthlong protest outside President Bush's ranch, says she's done being the public face of the movement.

    "I've been wondering why I'm killing myself and wondering why the Democrats caved in to George Bush," Sheehan told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday while driving from her property in Crawford to the airport, where she planned to return to her native California.

    "I'm going home for awhile to try and be normal," she said.

    In what she described as a "resignation letter," Sheehan wrote in her online diary on the "Daily Kos" blog: "Good-bye America ... you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it.

    "It's up to you now."

    Sheehan began a grass roots peace movement in August 2005 when she set up camp outside the Bush ranch for 26 days, asking to talk with the President about the death of her son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan. Casey Sheehan was 24 when he was killed in an ambush in Baghdad.

    Cindy Sheehan started her protest small, but it quickly drew national attention. Over the following two years, she drew huge crowds as she spoke at protest events, but she also drew a great deal of criticism.

    "I have endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called "Face" of the American anti-war movement," Sheehan wrote in the diary.

    On Memorial Day, she came to some "heartbreaking conclusions," she wrote.

    When she had first taken on Bush, Sheehan was a darling of the liberal left. "However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the 'left' started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used," she wrote.

    "I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of 'right or left', but 'right and wrong,'" the diary says.

    Sheehan criticized "blind party loyalty" as a danger, no matter which side it involved, and said the current two-party system is "corrupt" and "rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland."

    Sheehan said she had sacrificed a 29-year marriage and endured threats to put all her energy into stopping the war. What she found, she wrote, was a movement "that often puts personal egos above peace and human life."

    But she said the most devastating conclusion she had reached "was that Casey did indeed die for nothing ... killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think".

    "Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives," she wrote. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most."

    "I am going to take whatever I have left and go home," Sheehan wrote.

    "Camp Casey has served its purpose. It's for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford, Texas?"

    NBC: CIA warned of risks of war in the Mideast
     

    In a move sure to raise even more questions about the decision to go to war with Iraq, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will on Friday release selected portions of pre-war intelligence in which the CIA warned the administration of the risk and consequences of a conflict in the Middle East.

    Among other things, the 40-page Senate report reveals that two intelligence assessments before the war accurately predicted that toppling Saddam could lead to a dangerous period of internal violence and provide a boost to terrorists. But those warnings were seemingly ignored.

    In January 2003, two months before the invasion, the intelligence community's think tank — the National Intelligence Council — issued an assessment warning that after Saddam was toppled, there was “a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other and that rogue Saddam loyalists would wage guerilla warfare either by themselves or in alliance with terrorists.”

    It also warned that “many angry young recruits” would fuel the rank of Islamic extremists and "Iraqi political culture is so embued with mores (opposed) to the democratic experience … that it may resist the most rigorous and prolonged democratic tutorials."

    None of those warnings were reflected in the administration's predictions about the war.

    In fact, Vice President Cheney stated the day before the war, “Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

    A second assessment weeks before the invasion warned that the war also could be “exploited by terrorists and extremists outside Iraq.”

    The same assessment added, “Iraqi patience with an extended U.S. presence after an overwhelming victory would be short,” and said “humanitarian conditions in many parts of Iraq would probably not understand that the Coalition wartime logistic pipeline would require time to reorient its mission to humanitarian aid.”

    Both assessments were given to the White House and to congressional intelligence committees.

    Even more warnings
    And according to the Former CIA Director George Tenet’s new book, “At the Center of the Storm,” the reports to be released Friday were not the only ones out there.

    One of Tenet’s clearest arguments regarding the administration's dismissal of all but the rosiest assessments of post-war Iraq comes in his description of a White House meeting in September 2002. There, a briefing book on the Iraq war was laid out for policy makers.

    “Near the back of the book, Tab 'P', was a paper the CIA analysts had prepared three weeks earlier,” Tenet writes. “Dated August 13, 2002, it was titled, ‘The Perfect Storm: Planning for the Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.’ It provided worse case scenarios:

    “The United States will face negative consequences with Iraq, the region and beyond which would include:

  • Anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq;
  • Region-threatening instability in key Arab states;
  • A surge of global terrorism against US interests fueled by (militant) Islamism;
  • Major oil supply disruptions and severe strains in the Atlantic Alliance.”

    “These should have been very sobering reports,” says Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst at the Brookings Institution. “The administration should have taken them very serious in preparing plans for a difficult post-Saddam period. And yet the administration did not do so.”

    William Harlow, part of Tenet’s senior intelligence staff and co-author with Tenet on his book, added: “Although the intelligence got the WMD case in Iraq wrong, it got the dangers of a post-invasion Iraq quite right. They raised serious questions about what would face U.S. troops in a post invasion Iraq. The intelligence laid out a number of issues of concern. It’s unclear if administration officials paid any attention to those concerns.”

    It is likely that Democrats and Republicans on the Hill will question how the administration could have predicted a short, easy war given these warnings and why it has taken more four years for them to surface.

  • Edwards to Discuss Diplomacy and U.S. Military Policy Today

    John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate, plans today to outline his views on military policy, with a call for greater international strategic partnerships, more aggressive use of diplomacy in place of armed intervention and the creation of a 10,000-member reserve corps to help stabilize troubled nations.

    Seeking to burnish his credentials on national security, Mr. Edwards, who is perhaps best known for his domestic policies, will be speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan. The group, drawn from the top ranks of business, government, law and academia, has long provided a platform for politicians and other officials seeking to draw attention to their ideas.

    Foreign policy has proved to be a challenge for Mr. Edwards, a former trial lawyer and one-term senator from North Carolina. He has repeatedly apologized for voting in 2002 to authorize military force in Iraq, and has called for the immediate withdrawal of up to 50,000 troops there with a full withdrawal to follow later.

    In his speech to be delivered today, Mr. Edwards does not specifically address Iraq, but rather larger issues surrounding America’s standing in the world tied to the war there. He calls for the closing of the United States detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the banning of torture and the restoration of habeas corpus protections. He says that the Bush administration’s global war on terror has “backfired — our military has been strained to the breaking point and the threat of terrorism has grown.”

    “We need to re-engage the world with the full weight of our moral leadership,” Mr. Edwards said, in excerpts of his speech obtained from his campaign. “Not hard power. Not soft power. Smart power.”

    Specifically, Mr. Edwards calls for strengthening both bilateral and multilateral international partnerships, for America to follow the rule of international law, and for the enactment of policies relating to the environment and poverty that are not only moral but also advance national security.

    Mr. Edwards’s speech comes as he has tried to carve out a distinct and often more liberal identity than his two top Democratic rivals, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. For instance, Mr. Edwards has offered the most detailed plan for universal health coverage, saying he would raise taxes to help pay for the program.

    In his national security proposals, Mr. Edwards provides few details on the 10,000-troop reserve force, which he calls the Marshall Corps, beyond saying that they would work on “stabilization and humanitarian issues.”

    In a swipe at President Bush, Mr. Edwards calls for military policy to reflect national security missions and not “some ideological fancy” and says offensive military force would be used only as a last resort, after diplomacy has failed. He also calls for regular meetings between the president and top military leaders as well as an examination of the escalating costs of major Pentagon weapons systems.

    Mr. Edwards has recently been strengthening his ties with the Council on Foreign Relations, which extended an open invitation to him to speak and which will provide a Webcast of his speech at cfr.org.

    Last year, Mr. Edwards was a co-chairman of a council task force on American-Russian relations. And the council’s president, Richard N. Haass, is also a director of Fortress Investments, the Wall Street hedge fund in which Mr. Edwards has invested over $10 million of his own money and which has paid him as a part-time consultant.

    Fineman: Clinton in California; the absentee element
     

    SACRAMENTO - While most Democrats focus either on the next round of presidential debates in early June or on accumulating fundraising numbers by the end of June, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strategists in California are focused on…

    January 12, 2008.

    On that day, they believe, the first hard evidence will emerge of an idea they hope Americans (or at least Democratic primary voters) will accept: Hillary’s victory is inevitable.

    It’s hard to know whether the Clinton Machine – and it is an impressive machine – is merely methodical or also a little desperate. Probably both.

    She is organizing assiduously here, as everywhere, hoping to impress Democrats with the disciplined nature of her bid – as if that, in and of itself, is proof of her suitability to be president.

    Her leave-no-stone-unturned attention to detail is characteristic, and understandable.

    But it also bespeaks a nagging sense of vulnerability – as if they know that they can’t leave anything to chance, lest it all evaporate in a minute.

    So they are concentrating on California.

    The moved-up primary
    Clinton and her allies encouraged state officials, led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to move up the date of the California presidential primary. They succeeded.

    It is now scheduled for Feb. 5, 2008, part of a Mega-Primary Day that will include, among other states, New York.

    That’s just the beginning of the story.

    As Clinton strategists and other Democrats here explain it, state law will require that absentee ballots be sent to voters by January 8, 2008. Within four days of that, by Jan. 12, tracking polls (by the Clinton campaign and, the campaign hopes, by independent news organizations) will yield the first evidence of who is winning the first actual votes in the ’08 race.

    And those results will be available BEFORE Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina hold their pivotal primaries and caucuses.

    The Clinton campaign’s aim is to make sure that the lioness’s share of those early votes – an estimated 1.5 million “PABs”, or “permanent absentee ballots” – are for Hillary.

    The campaign has studied this universe of voters with great care.

    They think that most of the earliest of those absentee voters are women, who are the campaign’s main demographic target to begin with.

    A firewall against Iowa?
    The idea is to build a pre-vote firewall against the possibility that someone – like Sen. Barack Obama, or former Sen. John Edwards – will win the caucuses in Iowa.

    “There are going to be more absentee voters in California than voters in all of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada,” said Fabian Nunez, assembly speaker and the lead official Democrat for Hillary.

    Quietly, other Democrats here scoff at the notion that early votes here next January will mean anything to the national press corps and pundits who write the stories in Iowa and New Hampshire. “If Hillary gets wiped out in Iowa, no one is going to care,” one of them told me.

    The diligence and attention to detail of the Clinton camp is impressive. They are working hard – Hillary and Bill – to line up supporters here early.

    Last summer, Nunez, a hungry young pol from LA who took over as assembly speaker after only one House term, was invited to a dinner with Clinton mega-funders Ron Burkle, Haim Saban and Steve Bing. He was impressed with Hillary’s pitch.

    Last March, he and other California legislators were wined and dined in Washington – and Nunez endorsed Clinton just before the party’s state convention.

    Other key endorsements
    Obama has not been absent here. He fought hard for Nunez’ endorsement.

    Though he lost out, he has some key names here, too, among them former gubernatorial candidate Steve Wesley and Democratic majority leaders in the state house and senate.

    The big prize, however, is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has yet to endorse anyone, though he was at that Burkle dinner, too, and is close to Nunez.

    No matter who endorses whom, the Clintonistas are studying how to use the internet to, among other things, reach the female, 30 to 65-year-old middle class women they think are the key to showing the earliest possible signs of momentum.

    They have studied their internet-usage patterns, and know that these women use email and listserves, not instant messaging or myspace, to communicate.

    The key is to get them off the net and to actual meetings or volunteer efforts.

    “What we need to do is generate real touches and asks,” one strategist told me. If they succeed, you can expect to hear Hillary bragging about it next January.

    Poll: Clinton rebounds over Obama
    WASHINGTON — New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has rebounded to a 15 percentage-point lead over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken after the candidates' first debate.

    Among Republicans, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani maintained a 14-point lead over Arizona Sen. John McCain.

    Clinton is the only contender in either party to show movement outside the poll's margin of error. She is the choice of 38% of the Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters surveyed, up 7 points from a survey taken three weeks earlier. Obama is at 23%, 3 points lower than before.

    Giuliani is supported by 34% of the Republicans and Republican-leaning voters surveyed, compared with 20% for McCain.

    Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who studies polling, cautions against making too much of shifts in national surveys 18 months before the election.

    "You should expect a fair bit of bouncing around," Franklin says. He notes that debates at this point are being watched mostly by party activists and political junkies: "They're not real likely to show up in an effect on voters as a whole unless a candidate makes some horrible mistake."

    Still, Clinton strategist Mark Penn attributes her boost in the poll to her performance in the opening debate April 26. "At the debate, people got the first chance to see them all side-by-side," Penn says, "and I think she is looking very ready to lead."

    The survey of 1,010 adults was taken Friday through Sunday.

    The USA TODAY survey shows yearning in both parties for people who aren't running, at least not yet. Former vice president Al Gore is the first choice of 14% of Democrats, ahead of every candidate in the field except Clinton and Obama.

    Among Republicans, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson finishes third at 13%; former House speaker Newt Gingrich is fourth at 8%. Neither is a candidate.

    If the GOP choice comes down to Giuliani or McCain, Republicans and Republican-leaning voters chose the former New York mayor, 56%-38%.

    Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters chose Clinton over Obama, 56%-37%.

    Asked an open-ended question about why they support one or the other, 35% of Clinton's backers cite her experience; 23% favor her positions on issues; 17% like the fact that she is a woman. Ten percent mention her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

    Obama has become the candidate of choice for those with concerns about Clinton.

    Among Obama's supporters, 37% say either that they don't like Clinton, that she has "too much baggage" or that she is more polarizing than he is. Ten percent say he has a better chance of being elected president. Three percent of Clinton's supporters say they support her because she has a better chance of being elected.

    The survey's margin of error for the samples of 427 Republican and Republican-leaning voters and 491 Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters is +/—5 percentage points. For the full sample, it is +/—3 points.

    In the poll, President Bush's job-approval rating continues to be in the doldrums, at 34%.

    He has entered his eighth month below 40% approval — the longest stretch of such dismal ratings for any modern president except Harry Truman during the Korean War and Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

    Bush has an approval rating of 47% for handling terrorism, 39% on the economy and 35% on foreign affairs. His lowest ratings (30% approval, 67% disapproval) are for his handling of the situation in Iraq.

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    Blair Announces Plans for Troop Drawdown in Iraq
    Cheney Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Mission as Danish Troops Plan Pullout


     

    LONDON, Feb. 21 -- Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Wednesday that 1,600 British troops would return home from Iraq in coming months, but stopped short of announcing any clear exit strategy from the hugely unpopular war. He said a further 500 soldiers may be withdrawn by the end of summer, and that the remaining troops would be involved in supporting and training Iraqi security forces and securing Iraq's border.

    Blair's announcement comes as President Bush moves to increase U.S. troop strength with 21,000 more soldiers and as Blair readies to leave office, his legacy tarnished by his support of the war.

    Though the British currently have only 7,100 troops in Iraq, compared to the 140,000-strong U.S. contingent, they carry symbolic importance as the largest allied presence.

    Even after the planned withdrawals, "the UK military presence will continue into 2008 or as long as we are wanted and have a job to do," Blair said in a speech to the House of Commons.

    At the same time Blair made his speech, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that Denmark would withdraw all of its 460 troops stationed in Iraq this summer.

    "The withdrawal of the Danish battalion will be carried out in August, and it will be replaced by a helicopter unit," Rasmussen told reporters in Copenhagen. The decision was "taken together with our coalition allies, namely Britain."

    Both Blair and Bush, who spoke by video link Tuesday, sought to downplay any policy split on Iraq. In his address to the House of Commons, Blair said conditions were vastly different in Basra in southern Iraq, where British troops are located, than in Baghdad where U.S. troops are patrolling.

    He said "80 to 90 percent of the violence" was in Baghdad, a city suffering from what he called an "orgy of terrorism."

    Blair said the British troops had just completed a months-long operation to turn control of Basra's security over to Iraqi forces.

    Basra remained a "dangerous" place, Blair said, but he said that Iraqis would "write the next chapter" in its history.

    "We're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "President Bush sees this as a sign of success and what is possible for us once we help the Iraqis deal with sectarian violence."

    The surge in U.S. troops is designed to prepare the way for a similar transition of control to Iraqi forces.

    Vice President Cheney, in Japan visiting another close ally, said Wednesday that the United States did not support a "policy of retreat."

    Asked about the British withdrawal, Cheney told ABC news from Japan: "What I see is an affirmation of Iraq, where things are going pretty well."

    "We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to come home, with honor," Cheney said in a speech aboard the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier near Tokyo.

    In Japan, too, there are signs of diminishing support for the Iraq war.

    A survey this week showed most Japanese voters agreed with Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma when he was quoted recently as saying Bush was wrong to start the war.

    Cheney thanked Japan for the roughly 550 non-combat troops it sent to southern Iraq in 2004. Japanese forces based in the region continue to help transport supplies for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

    In Washington, Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) said the United States should also set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

    "President Bush should follow Prime Minister Blair's example and start to draw down our troops from Iraq, not send more into the middle of a civil war," said Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    Iraq resolution passes House
    Senate to consider similar measure in rare Saturday session

    WASHINGTON - The Democratic-controlled House issued a symbolic rejection of President Bush's plan to deploy more troops to Iraq on Friday, opening an epic confrontation between Congress and commander in chief over an unpopular war that has taken the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops.

    The vote on the nonbinding measure was 246-182, with six not voting.

    Within minutes, Democrats said their next move would be to challenge Bush’s request for $93 billion in new funds for the Pentagon.

    “The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of Democrats who gained power last fall in elections framed by public opposition to the war.

    “The passage of this legislation will signal a change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home,” she vowed after the vote, in which 17 Republicans joined 229 Democrats in a wartime rebuke to the president.

    That was fewer GOP defections than Democrats had hoped to get and the White House and its allies had feared. Two Democrats joined 180 Republicans in opposition.

    Bush's Republican allies said repeatedly the measure would lead to attempts to cut off funds for the troops. Outnumbered, they turned to Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas to close their case - and the former Vietnam prisoner of war stepped to the microphone as lawmakers in both parties rose to applaud his heroism.

    "Now it's time to stand up for my friends who did not make it home, and for those who fought and died in Iraq already," he said. "We must not cut funding for our troops. We must stick by them," he added, snapping off a salute as he completed his remarks to yet another ovation.

    White House statement
    Bush made no comment on the developments, and his spokesman said the commander in chief was too busy to watch the proceedings on television.

    In a statement, White House spokesman Tony Snow did note that “the resolution is nonbinding. Soon, Congress will have the opportunity to show its support for the troops in Iraq by funding the request the president has submitted, and which our men and women in combat are counting on.”

    After a secure videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush said the Iraqis were reporting progress: providing troops to fight alongside Americans, making sure that no ethnic or religious factions are ignored in the security operations, providing $10 billion toward reconstruction and working on an oil revenue-sharing law.

    The developments in the House marked the first vote of the new Congress on the war. Roughly 400 of 434 lawmakers spoke during four days of a dignified debate — an unusual amount of time devoted to a single measure.

    Senate vote Saturday
    Moving quickly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called a test vote for Saturday on an identical measure, and several presidential contenders in both parties rearranged their weekend campaign schedules to be present.

    Republicans said in advance they would deny Democrats the 60 votes they need to advance the resolution, adding they would insist on equal treatment for a GOP-drafted alternative that opposes any reduction in funds for the troops.

    The developments unfolded as a new poll showed more than half those surveyed view the war as a hopeless cause.

    A sizeable majority, 63 percent, opposes the decision to dispatch more troops, although support for Bush's decision has risen in the past few weeks from 26 percent to 35 percent, according to the AP-Ipsos poll.

    President undeterred
    The House measure disapproves of Bush's decision to increase troop strength, and pledges that Congress will "support and protect" the troops.

    Bush has already said passage of the measure will not deter him from proceeding with the deployment of another 21,500 troops, designed primarily to quell sectarian violence in heavily populated Baghdad.

    Already, troops of the Army's 82nd Airborne have arrived in Iraq. Another brigade is in Kuwait, undergoing final training before proceeding to Iraq. Three more brigades are ticketed for the Baghdad area, one each in March, April and May.

    In addition, the Pentagon is sending two Marine battalions to Anbar province in the western part of the country, the heart of the Sunni insurgency.

    Bush and his allies in Congress calculated days ago that the House measure would pass, and increasingly have focused their energy on the next steps in the Democrats' attempt to end U.S. participation in the war.

    "I'm going to make it very clear to the members of Congress, starting now, that they need to fund our troops," Bush said earlier this week, a reference to legislation that requests more than $93 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    White House plays down resolution
    As developments on Capitol Hill went forward, the White House sought to play down the impact of the debate and vote. The president himself made no comment on it - with his spokesman saying he was too busy to watch - and turned instead toward Iraq. He reported after a secure videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that progress is being made.

    The president said that the Iraqi leader briefed him on several recent steps by his government: providing troops to fight alongside Americans, making sure that no ethnic or religious factions are ignored in the security operations, providing $10 billion toward reconstruction and working on an oil revenue-sharing law.

    "I was pleased that he's meeting benchmarks that he has set for his government," Bush told reporters. "That's good news for the Iraqi people. And it should give people here in the United States confidence that his government knows its responsibilities and is following through on those responsibilities."

    Democrats have made clear in recent days they will use Bush's spending request to impose certain standards of readiness, training and rest for the troops.

    "That stops the surge (in troops) for all intents and purposes, because ... they cannot sustain the deployment," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said recently.

    Republicans pointed to his remarks repeatedly during the day as evidence that despite their claims to the contrary, Democrats intend to cut off funds for the troops.

    "This is all part of their plan to eliminate funding for our troops that are in harm's way. And we stand here as Republicans...committed to making sure our troops in harm's way have all the funds and equipment they need to win this war in Iraq," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader.

    EU endorses damning report on CIA

    Alleged CIA flight taking off from Spain

    The European parliament has approved a damning report on secret CIA flights, condemning member states which colluded in the operations.

    The UK, Germany and Italy were among 14 states which allowed the US to forcibly remove terror suspects, lawmakers said.

    The EU parliament voted to accept a resolution condemning member states which accepted or ignored the practice.

    The EU report said the CIA had operated 1,245 flights, some taking suspects to states where they could face torture.

    The report was adopted by a large majority, with 382 MEPs voting in favour, 256 against and 74 abstaining.

    Vigilance

    The final version denounces the lack of co-operation of many EU member states and it condemns the actions of secret services and governments who accepted and concealed renditions.

    It is unlikely, the report says, that European governments were unaware of rendition activities on their territory, something the British government, among others, has denied.

    "This is a report that doesn't allow anyone to look the other way. We must be vigilant that what has been happening in the past five years may never happen again," said Italian Socialist Giovanni Fava, who drafted the document.

    The parliament also called for an "independent inquiry" to be considered and for closure of the US' Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

    Human rights campaigning group Amnesty International welcomed the EU lawmakers' vote, but urged member states to carry out independent investigations.

    Revealing facts

    Although the report has no force in EU law, Mr Fava said during the parliamentary debate that the related investigation, over a year, had uncovered much new evidence.

    Many of those taken from EU states were subjected to torture to extract information from them, the report said.

    It said there was a "strong possibility" that this intelligence had been passed on to EU governments who were aware of how it was obtained.

    It also uncovered the use of secret detention facilities used as the flights made their journey across Europe towards countries such as Afghanistan.

    It was not possible to contradict evidence or suggestions that secret detention centres were operated in Poland and Romania, the report said.

    'Incommunicado detention'

    Centre-right MEPs - the largest group in parliament - have been highly critical of the report, saying it is primarily motivated by anti-Americanism.

    EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said the commission would act on the truth, even if it were uncomfortable or unpalatable. But he called for a relaunching of the Euro-Atlantic relationship and said Europe must continue to work with its US partners.

    During the course of their investigation, delegations of MEPs travelled to countries including Romania, Poland, the UK, the US and Germany to investigate claims of European involvement in so-called extraordinary renditions.

    The governments of Austria, Italy, Poland, Portugal and the UK were criticised for their "unwillingness to co-operate" with investigators.

    The report defines extraordinary renditions as instances where "an individual suspected of involvement in terrorism is illegally abducted, arrested and/or transferred into the custody of US officials and/or transported to another country for interrogation which, in the majority of cases involves incommunicado detention and torture".

    Clinton: ‘I’m in, and I’m in to win’
    Democratic senator discloses plans for presidential exploratory committee

    NEW YORK - Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton launched a trailblazing campaign for the White House on Saturday, a former first lady turned political powerhouse intent on becoming the first female president. “I’m in, and I’m in to win,” she said.

    In a videotaped message posted on her Web site, Clinton said she was eager to start a dialogue with voters about challenges she hoped to tackle as president — affordable health care, deficit reduction and bringing the “right” end to the Iraq war.

    “I’m not just starting a campaign, though, I’m beginning a conversation with you, with America,” she said. “Let’s talk. Let’s chat. The conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don’t you think?”

    Clinton’s announcement, while widely anticipated, was nonetheless an historic moment in a fast-developing campaign that has already seen the emergence of a formidable black contender, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

    In an instant, Clinton became the most credible female candidate ever to seek the presidency and the first presidential spouse to attempt to return to the White House in her own right. Her husband, Bill, served two terms as president from 1993 to 2001.

    “I am one of the millions of women who have waited all their lives to see the first woman sworn in as president of the United States — and now we have our best opportunity to see that dream fulfilled,” said Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY’s list, which raises money for Democratic women who run for office.

    With her immense star power, vast network of supporters and donors and seasoned team of political advisers, the 59-year-old Clinton long has topped every national poll of potential Democratic contenders.

    But her controversial tenure as first lady left her a deeply polarizing figure among voters, leading many Democrats to doubt Clinton’s viability in a general election.

    In a detailed statement posted on her Web site, Clinton sought to acknowledge and bat away such doubts.

    “I have never been afraid to stand up for what I believe in or to face down the Republican machine,” she wrote. “After nearly $70 million spent against my campaigns in New York and two landslide wins, I can say I know how Washington Republicans think, how they operate and how to beat them.”

    Clinton said the stakes are high. "As a senator, I will spend two years doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do. But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism. "

    Recently, Clinton has clashed with many in her own party over the Iraq war.

    Clinton supported the 2002 resolution authorizing military intervention in Iraq. She has refused to recant her vote or call for a deadline for the removal of troops. She has announced her opposition to President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq and has introduced legislation capping troop levels.

    “A woman candidate could find it easier to run in peacetime, rather than wartime, but Senator Clinton’s tried to position herself as a serious person on national security,” said Andrew Polsky, a presidential historian at Hunter College. “But that means she’s staked out difficult position on the war that won’t make it easy for her to get Democratic nomination.”

    With a $14 million campaign treasury, Clinton starts with an impressive fundraising advantage over the rest of the Democratic field. But Obama has started to secure fundraising commitments from New York, California and other deep-pocketed, Clinton-friendly areas, pushing his New York colleague to accelerate her entry in the race.

    Her creation of a presidential exploratory committee, announced Saturday, allows her to raise money for the campaign; she already has lined up campaign staff.

    In tone and substance, Clintons’ videotaped announcement recalled her first Senate race in New York in 2000, where she conducted a “listening tour” of the state’s 62 counties before formally entering the contest.

    She promised a three-day series of Web chats with voters beginning Monday and prepared a campaign swing late this coming week through the early voting state of Iowa, while a visit to New Hampshire was in the works.

    On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was also set to enter the Democratic field; if elected, he would be the first Hispanic president.

    For the short term at least, the outsized candidacies of Clinton and Obama were expected to soak up the lion’s share of attention.

    Obama, who launched his own presidential committee on Tuesday, praised Clinton as a friend and colleague.

    “I welcome her and all the candidates, not as competitors, but as allies in the work of getting our country back on track,” he said in a statement.

    Other Democratic contenders include former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack; Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice-presidential nominee. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden has said he will run and planned to formalize his intentions soon. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 standard bearer, is also contemplating another run.

    An influential player in her husband’s political career in Arkansas, Hillary Clinton leapt to the national scene during the 1992 presidential campaign when husband and wife fought to survive the scandal over Gennifer Flowers’ allegations of a lengthy affair with Bill Clinton when he was the state’s governor.

    The Clintons appeared together on CBS’ “60 Minutes” to talk about their marriage — Hillary Clinton’s first famous “Stand by Your Man” moment.

    As first lady, Clinton headed up a disastrous first-term effort to overhaul the health care insurance system. There was more controversy as the couple battled allegations of impropriety over land deals and fundraising, missing records from her former Arkansas law firm and even her quick and hefty profits from an investment in cattle futures.

    There was no letup in the second term. The president found himself denying — then admitting — having a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. As he battled impeachment and possible removal from office, his wife’s poll numbers rose.

    Her own political career began to take shape in late 1998 when New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate seat he had held since 1976.

    The campaign trail was not always friendly. For almost every cheer, there was a shouted “Go home, Hillary!” and the emerging Republican theme that carpetbagger Clinton simply wanted to use New York as a launching pad for a later presidential run.

    Cindy Sheehan Convicted Of Trespassing

    (AP) Peace activist Cindy Sheehan and three other women were convicted of trespassing Monday for trying to delivery an anti-Iraq war petition to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and refusing to leave.

    A Manhattan Criminal Court judge sentenced them immediately to conditional discharge, which means they could face some form of penalty if they are arrested in the next six months, and ordered them to pay $95 in court surcharges.

    Sheehan and about 100 other members of a group called Global Exchange were rebuffed last March when they attempted to take a petition with some 72,000 signatures to the U.S. mission's headquarters across a street from the United Nations.

    Prosecutors said they were arrested after ignoring police orders to disperse.

    The four were acquitted of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing government administration. They had faced up to a year in jail if convicted of all counts.

    "We should never have been on trial in the first place," Sheehan said in a statement following the verdict. "It's George Bush and his cronies who should be on trial, not peaceful women trying to stop this devastating war. This verdict, however, will not stop us from continuing to work tirelessly to bring our troops home."

    The women immediately left the courthouse and headed for the U.S. mission to redeliver the petitions and ask for an apology.

    Richard A. Grenell, director of external affairs for the U.S. mission, said he went downstairs to meet the women, even though they had not made an appointment.

    "When I said I would accept the petitions and asked for them, they said they didn't have the petitions with them," Grenell said.

    One of Sheehan's co-defendants, Susan "Medea" Benjamin, said a copy of the petitions with additional signatures would be delivered later Monday.

    Sheehan, 49, of Vacaville, Calif., lost her 24-year-old son Casey in Iraq on April 4, 2004. She has since emerged as one of the most vocal and high-profile opponents of the war, drawing international attention when she camped outside President Bush's Texas ranch to protest the war.

    The women, calling their campaign "Women Say No To War," had hoped to give the petition to Peggy Kerry, the mission's liaison for non-governmental organizations and sister of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as they had in 2005.

    Kerry refused to meet with the women in the presence of Cindy Sheehan and the news media. She testified during the trial that the presentation seemed like a publicity stunt.

    The women ignored police orders to leave and were reading it aloud on the sidewalk when police moved in. The women sat on the sidewalk and were carried to patrol wagons.

    The trial began Dec. 5 in Manhattan Criminal Court. Sheehan's co-defendants were Melissa Beattie, 57, of New York; Patricia Ackerman, 48, of Nyack, N.Y., and Benjamin, 54, of San Francisco.

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    Chairmen: Iraq report can't be used piecemeal

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairmen of the Iraq Study Group told a Senate panel Thursday that its report on the "deteriorating situation" in Iraq must be viewed as a whole and not piecemeal.

    "I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad and say, 'I like this, but I don't like that,' " former Secretary of State James Baker told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "These are interdependent recommendations we make."

    The report, released Wednesday, makes 79 recommendations. Among them: Most U.S. combat troops should be withdrawn by early 2008 and the U.S. should launch a "diplomatic offensive" that would include seeking help from Iran and Syria. The report also calls for giving the Iraqi government incentives to meet milestones for its own security, governance and national reconciliation.

    Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the study group, emphasized to the committee Thursday that a military solution alone would not suffice in Iraq.

    "If you think you can solve the problem of Iraq by manipulating the troop levels, I think you got it dead wrong. If you think you can solve the problem by economic reconstruction or political action, I think that's wrong, too," Hamilton said. "What has to be done is that all of the tools of American power have to be integrated carefully here -- political, economic, military, for sure -- and to use those effectively."

    The chairmen also urged Congress to give its thumbs up to all the recommendations in the report. Congress has been "extraordinarily timid in its exercise of its constitutional responsibilities" regarding the war, Hamilton said.

    Congress can right its ship by providing "vigorous, robust oversight" as President Bush's administration works to enact its new Iraq policy, the former congressman said. Some members of the Armed Services Committee hold views contrary to the group's recommendations, and Sen. John McCain, who advocates doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, grilled the chairmen on their report.

    The Arizona Republican, who has said the U.S. won't win in Iraq without upping troop levels, said he disagrees with the report's assertion that troop levels can't be increased "because we do not believe that the needed levels are available for a sustained deployment."

    "My studies and figures show that they are available for sustained deployment, at least in order to get the situation under control," McCain said. (Listen to reactions to the report)

    Reiterating the report's conclusion that the U.S. military should be playing an advisory role to Iraqi troops, Baker said the study group suggests a "five-fold increase in the U.S. combat forces dedicated to the training and equipping mission."

    "We appreciate the fact that the training of forces, Iraqi forces, did not go very well for the first two years," Hamilton added.

    However, he said, the U.S. haslearned from its mistakes "and we believe that an intensive effort over the next 18 months can make a difference in this military training. We don't underestimate that task at all."

    Iran and Syria

    McCain also expressed problems with the notion of sitting down with Iran and Syria, saying, "I don't believe that a peace conference with people who are dedicated to your extinction has much short-term gain."

    Baker, however, insisted that the talkswould represent only part of the solution: "We're not suggesting a regional conference, Senator McCain, as a solution or a panacea to this. It is really only part of a comprehensive strategy."

    The panel's call to engage Syria and Iran in diplomatic efforts to end the Iraq war ran into opposition from senators who, along with the Bush administration, reject one-on-one talks with either country.

    Iraq announced Thursday that it is planning two conferences on stability, one involving nations in the region and organizations including the Arab League and the United Nations, the other involving only Iraq's neighbors -- Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey.

    Sen. Joe Lieberman seemed to tepidly support the idea of regional talks. "I believe that the United States is strong enough never to fear to sit down and talk to anyone," he said.

    The Connecticut Democrat said he was concerned that Iran supports Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Islamic organization that the U.S. considers a terrorist group, and that the Islamic republic provides sophisticated explosives to militias in Iraq. Lieberman further explained he is "skeptical that it's realistic to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq."

    Even if Iran does help, Lieberman said, it may demand an "unacceptable" concession -- that the U.S. allow the nation to move forward with its nuclear program.

    Baker responded that the report explicitly excludes "any linkage to the nuclear proliferation issue."

    He added that while Iran agreed to help the U.S. during its operations in Afghanistan, it probably has different stakes in Iraq. Iran "probably would much prefer to see us stay bogged down in Iraq," Baker said. But it is important that the U.S. at least request help, he said.

    If Iran declines, "then we will hold them up to public scrutiny as the rejectionist state that they have proven to be," Baker said.

    Syria is "a totally different proposition," Baker said, because it has indicated a willingness to amend its policies in the last 15 years. He did not elaborate, but Wednesday on CNN's "Larry King Live," Baker said, "We have diplomatic relations with Syria. We pass messages, we talk to Syria. But Syria is in a position probably perhaps to be more helpful even then Iran, because Syria is the transit point for all weapons that go to Hezbollah."

    Arab-Israeli peace process

    Engaging Syria in a solution for Iraq could bode well for Israel as well, Baker told the committee Thursday.

    Stopping the flow of arms to Hezbollah "would cure Israel's Hezbollah problem. Secondly, [Syria has] the ability, in my opinion, to get Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist, which would give Israel a negotiating partner on the Palestinian track, something that Israel badly wants."

    In compiling the report, the panel repeatedly was told that the U.S. needs to involve itself "in a very, very vigorous way" in the Arab-Israeli peace process, Baker said.

    Asked what happens if Iran and Syria refuse to help, Baker responded, "If we can't do it, we can't do it. But we don't lose a darn thing by trying."

    Hamilton added that the U.S. can earn legitimacy and credibility only by appealing to moderate Arabs and proving "that we are serious about dealing with the Arab-Israeli dispute. It is absolutely essential."

    Iraq Study Group: Change Iraq strategy now

    story.isg3.ap.jpg

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Iraq Study Group called the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating" Wednesday and recommended a radically different approach from President Bush's current policy, including the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008.

    In delivering its report to Bush and Congress, the bipartisan panel listed 79 recommendations for change in Iraq strategy, including direct talks with Iran and Syria as part of a "diplomatic offensive."

    All 10 members of the panel, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, met with Bush at the White House to present the bound report.

    "If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe," the report says.

    "Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized."

    On the military front, the report suggests, "By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."

    It adds: "At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams and in training, equipping, advising, force protection and search and rescue."

    The co-chairs said they took "a pragmatic approach" to determining the best course for Iraq and determined the solution was not a military, political or economic one, but rather a combination of the three.

    "We no longer can afford to stay the course," Baker said. "If we do what we recommend in this report, it will certainly improve our chances for success."

    Hamilton echoed his colleague's sentiments, saying the Iraqi people are "suffering great hardship" and their lives must be improved.

    "The current approach is not working and the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing," Hamilton said. "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward."

    Among the group's recommendations were calls for a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will allow the United States to move forces out responsibly.

    It also calls for prompt action by the Iraqi government to achieve milestones, particularly reconciliation.

    Stemming violence

    Attacks against U.S. and coalition troops are "persistent and growing," the report states, and about 3,000 Iraqi civilians are killed every month.

    "Violence is increasing in scope, complexity and lethality," the report says, blaming the Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups as the sources.

    "Sectarian violence -- particularly in and around Baghdad -- has become the principal challenge to stability."

    The U.S. military's ability to combat the violence is dwindling because of shortages in manpower and other resources, the report says.

    It says almost every U.S. Army and Marine unit, as well as several National Guard and reserve units, have been to Iraq at least once, if not two or three times.

    "Regular rotations, in and out of Iraq or within the country, complicate brigade and battalion efforts to get to know the local scene, earn the trust of the population and build a sense of cooperation," according to the report.

    "The American military has little reserve force to call on if it needs ground forces to respond to other crises around the world."

    Many units are "under significant strain" and equipment is wearing out quickly because of the harsh conditions in Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces, too, are ill-equipped to fight the insurgency and are making only "fitful progress toward becoming a reliable and disciplined fighting force," according to the report.

    Although U.S. troops have received adequate funding, "the entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces [for fiscal year] 2006 [$3 billion] is less than the United States spends in Iraq every two weeks."

    The state of the Iraqi police force is even worse, states the report.

    "It has neither the training nor legal authority to conduct criminal investigations, nor the firepower to take on organized crime, insurgents, or militias," it says.

    "Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians."

    In addition to its inability to provide security, the Iraqi government also fails to provide basic services like electricity, drinking water, sewage, health care and education, the report says.

    "The government sometimes provides services on a sectarian basis. For example, in one Sunni neighborhood of Shia-governed Baghdad, there is less than two hours of electricity each day and trash piles are waist-high,' according to the report.

    The report says Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government needs to show "substantial progress ... on national reconciliation, security and governance" or face a reduction in "political, military, or economic support" from Washington.

    The report also prods the administration to launch a new diplomatic initiative to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

    No timetable

    It contends the United States "cannot achieve its goals in the Mideast" unless it embarks on a "renewed and sustained commitment to a comprehensive peace plan on all fronts.

    While not recommending a timetable for withdrawal, the report says: "The United States must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq."

    "We will take every proposal seriously, and we will act in a timely fashion," Bush said after receiving the report.

    Bush urged Congress to work with the administration to find "common ground" on Iraq policy.

    Democratic leaders praised the report. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it a "tremendous step forward" and Sen. Joe Biden, who will head the foreign relations committee in January, said it was "a significant contribution."

    Sen. Carl Levin, who will take over the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee in January, said, "The report represents another blow at the policy of stay the course that this administration has followed. Hopefully, this will be the end of that stay-the-course policy."

    Asked if the report represented a repudiation of Bush's Iraq policy, White House press secretary Tony Snow said, "No, it's something we have acknowledged. It's an acknowledgement of reality."

    "We look at this as a very positive document. One of the things they said is, 'We're not coming here, Mr. President, to criticize you,' " Snow said.

    "What they said is that this is an opportunity -- they see an opportunity to come with a new way forward. Well, yes. And we like that. We like the formulation."

    CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

    Rumsfeld memo part of review

    WASHINGTON — President Bush will consider new options for Iraq within weeks, including those suggested by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before his resignation and by a bipartisan study group this week, his national security adviser said Sunday.

    The president's review will take into consideration "a full range of options for changing what we do and how we do it," Stephen Hadley said on CBS' Face the Nation. That will include Rumsfeld's "laundry list," contained in a memo written the day before Election Day and reported Sunday in The New York Times.

    In the memo, Rumsfeld said the president should consider beginning "modest withdrawals" of U.S. and coalition forces, particularly from vulnerable areas.

    Rumsfeld also listed increasing the number of U.S. forces embedded with Iraqi forces, beefing up security near the Iranian and Syrian borders, and providing money to key political and religious leaders "as Saddam Hussein did."

    "Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough," Rumsfeld wrote.

    The defense secretary listed as "less attractive options" increasing U.S. forces, moving far more forces into Baghdad, continuing on the current path or setting a firm withdrawal date.

    Hadley said Bush will take all suggestions into consideration. "The president made clear he wanted to open the aperture, really have a re-look and look at a variety of ideas," Hadley said. Rumsfeld's memo was "useful and constructive," he said, "but it was not a proposal for a new course of action."

    Bush said Saturday that "I want to hear all advice before I make any decisions about adjustments to our strategy in Iraq. ... The decisions we make in Iraq will be felt across the broader Middle East."

    The bipartisan Iraq Study Group is expected to emphasize that point Wednesday when it releases its report. The group, chaired by former secretary of State James Baker and former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, will recommend withdrawing some troops from Iraq soon, according to two people who participated in writing the report.

    U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said on CNN that the administration should "increase incentives" for Iraq to deal with its own problems and "incentivize" Iran and Syria "to change their behavior."

    Rumsfeld's leaked memo generated opposing views Sunday from members of Congress.

    • "Iraq has to be solved politically," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on CNN's Late Edition. Adding troops "is to make the mistake of Vietnam all over again."

    • "They can't achieve security if we begin to withdraw," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., an Iraq war supporter who won re-election as an independent last month. "That's the signal to everybody I've talked to that the sectarian violence will get worse and the government will collapse," he said on CBS.

    Hadley said Rumsfeld's memo did not appear to be a late effort to save his job.

    Rumsfeld resigned Nov. 8, a day after Democrats won control of Congress for the first time in Bush's presidency. Bush's choice to replace him, former CIA director Robert Gates, has his confirmation hearing Tuesday in the Senate.

    2nd Marine Pleads Guilty In Iraq Killing

     
     A Marine pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice of justice in the death of an Iraqi civilian last April.

    Pfc. John J. Jodka III, 20, entered the pleas through his lawyer, Joseph Casas, after telling the judge at his court-martial that he understood his rights.

    Jodka was one of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman initially charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and housebreaking in the killing of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the Iraqi town of Hamdania.

    Jodka — the squad's youngest and lowest-ranked member — was among five Marines who shot at Awad while others stood by then helped cover up the killing, the government charge sheets allege.

    "The interest of justice and the best interests of my client will be served by this plea," Casas told the San Diego Union-Tribune before Thursday's hearing. Neither Casas nor Jodka's father would say whether the Marine would have to testify against his co-defendants as part of the deal.

    "I'm very disgusted that the case even exists and that (Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos and Jodka) have rolled over on their former brothers, and I emphasize 'their former brothers,'" Terry Pennington of Hawaii, father of Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, told the Union-Tribune. "It angers me totally."

    Navy corpsman Bacos pleaded guilty earlier this month to kidnapping and conspiracy.

    "He was trained to follow his leaders and do as they commanded without questioning," said Jodka's grandfather, Joe Snodgrass, 71. "He was trying to be the best Marine possible."

    He said his grandson had paid for any wrongdoing: Jodka had been locked in the brig since May and his flak jacket had come back peppered with bullet holes from when he had been shot at on patrol.

    At his court-martial, Bacos testified that he and the Marines were searching for a known insurgent who had been captured three times and released. The group approached a house where the insurgent was believed to be hiding, but when someone inside woke up, the Marines instead went to another home and grabbed Awad, Bacos said.

    The squad took Awad to a roadside hole and shot him before planting a shovel and AK-47 to make it appear he was an insurgent planting a bomb, he said.

    Bacos was sentenced to a year's confinement; murder and other charges were dropped.

    Former Army prosecutor Tom Umberg said other Marines in the case might follow Bacos' and Jodka's lead and negotiate pleas.

    "As the government's evidence gets stronger, the defendants start to look around," Umberg said.

    But he acknowledged that deciding to make a deal would be difficult.

    "You are trained from day one to support your buddy, and also taught that there are certain values as a soldier or Marine you are fighting to uphold," he said. "The resolution for a young man can be heart-wrenching."

    Five other Marines face courts-martial. A decision has not yet been announced on whether squad leader Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins will be referred to a court-martial.



    Abu Ghraib hearing ends with call for court-martial

    FORT MEADE, Maryland (CNN) -- A military hearing for Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, the highest-ranking officer to be charged in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, wrapped on Friday, with the prosecution calling for his court-martial.

    It is not clear when Army Lt. Col. Daniel Cummings, the investigating officer, would make that decision.

    At issue is Jordan's role at the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center for detainees at the prison.

    The most serious of the 12 charges against Jordon allege cruelty and maltreatment for allowing detainees to be stripped nude, threatened with dogs and sexually humiliated.

    He is also accused of having twice approved harsh interrogation techniques, including the use of dogs, without getting permission from then-commanding general in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. In addition, Jordan is accused of lying to the two generals investigating the scandal.

    If convicted on all counts, he would face a maximum sentence of 42 years in prison.

    During final arguments on Friday, Col. John P. Tracy, representing the prosecution, said Jordan had come to Abu Ghraib to be in charge of the center and train troops in contact with high-value detainees.

    That Jordan failed, "resulted in criminality," Tracy said.

    Maj. Kris Poppe, of the defense, said the chain of command at the interrogation site where high-value detainees were kept, did not include Jordan, and nothing could link him to detainee abuse.

    Jordan had "arrived on the scene in what was a dangerous place and difficult place," said Poppe, adding, "the mission was soon overwhelmed by the explosion of detainees coming in every day."

    On Thursday, a senior aide to Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the head of intelligence in the U.S. command in Iraq at the time, said Jordan had been designated as director of the Abu Ghraib interrogation center.

    Col. Steven J. Boltz said that Jordan also served as liaison between intelligence and military police for Army Col. Thomas Pappas, who was commander of the 205th Military Intelligence brigade.

    Because of severe prison conditions, lack of security and the poor quality of life for troops, Jordan saw his duties as more managerial than intelligence-related, Boltz said.

     

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    Democrats' 'Big Dog' Barks Louder

    (AP) Former President Bill Clinton criticized the Bush administration Saturday for being "secretive," running up enormous deficits and wasting the budget surpluses he built during his eight years in office.

    He encouraged the 3,500 Democratic activists at a Des Moines fundraiser to create change in the upcoming November elections.

    "I have never seen the American people so serious," Clinton told a raucous crowd of 3,500 Democratic activists. "I think I know why. People know things are out of whack. The rhythm of our public life and our common life in America has been disturbed."

    The former president was the keynote speaker at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, the Iowa Democratic Party's biggest annual fundraising event.

    His appearance sparked interest because of speculation that wife New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton may seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. She has not been in Iowa during this election cycle, though others have already begun campaigning in the state that opens the presidential nominating season in 2008.

    Clinton urged activists to ignore that speculation and focus on the midterm election.

    "People are sick of partisanship, they are sick of gridlock and they are coming to us in droves," said Clinton. "People know something is wrong and they want to change."

    Clinton took sharp aim at the Bush administration and Republicans who run Congress. He called the government "unprecedentedly unaccountable" and criticized tax cuts for the rich, saying they have led to huge deficits.

    He also blasted the Republican Party as being controlled by "the most ideological, the most right wing, the most extreme sliver of the Republican Party."

    "In Iraq, which is famous for no-bid contracts, $9 billion has gone missing and there has been no serious congressional investigation," said Clinton. "There's never been a more secretive unaccountable administration."




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