Also today on Capitol Hill, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will begin its questioning of Michael Chertoff, President Bush’s nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security. Chertoff is a federal judge who worked under John Ashcroft in the Justice Department after Sept. 11. He led the government’s move to jail hundreds of Muslim and Arab men without pressing charges. He was also a chief architect of the USA Patriot Act. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the nominee saying “Chertoff has an alarming record of pushing–and in some cases breaching–what is permissible under the Bill of Rights in the name of national security.” The White House is hoping Chertoff will be easily confirmed. In 2003 Chertoff was confirmed to a federal judgeship by an 88-1 Senate vote. Chertoff’s hearing comes as the Washington Post is running a major piece today on the Department of Homeland Security charging that the department’s effectiveness in protecting the country is being “hampered by personality conflicts, bureaucratic bottlenecks and an atmosphere of demoralization.”
Meanwhile the full Senate is expected to vote on Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales later this week. It now appears that at least 30 Democratic Senators, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, will oppose him.
Outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft defended his work Tuesday and argued that aggressive law enforcement and intelligence gathering were “expansions of freedom” that helped prevent attacks on the United States. Ashcroft said one of his biggest mistakes was not to properly explain the USA Patriot Act to the public. He also stood by some of his most controversial statements of the past four years including his attacks on critics. In December 2001 he testified before the Senate: “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.” Aschroft defended his comment Tuesday, “I stand by my statement that people who do that divert us.”
In Iraq, some problems with Sunday elections have emerged. Ballots reportedly never arrived in some Kurdish areas disenfranchising up to 200,000 Kurdish Christians. In addition some Sunnis have complained that polling places never opened in their areas.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has named Former President Bill Clinton to be the United Nations’ special envoy for tsunami relief.
In Colombia, at least 14 soldiers died after a military post came under rocket attack. It is believed to be the deadliest attack carried out by anti-government rebels in two years.
Rumsfeld Calls For Nuclear Bunker Buster Research
On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asked the Energy Department to restore funding for the Pentagon to continue researching new nuclear bunker busters. This comes as the Financial Times reports that the Bush administration has promoted several officials known as “nuclear hawks” for their hardline stance on nuclear weapons and arms control.
A soldier who won a Purple Heart last year for his service in Iraq has fled to Canada rather than return to his Army unit. Darrell Anderson of Lexington Kentucky arrived in Toronto in January and now faces possible desertion charges and a prison term. He is hoping Canada will grant him refugee status. Anderson won his Purple Heart after being injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq last year. Anderson said “I can’t go back to this war. I don’t want to kill innocent people.”
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is expected to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee. His chief rival Congressman Martin Frost bowed out Tuesday. The official vote for the position is set for Feb. 12. The winner will replace outgoing DNC chair Terry McCauliffe. Dean rose to prominence in 2003 when he ran for president on an anti-war platform.
And a new study in the journal Health Affairs has found that half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are now caused by soaring medical bills.