The House has narrowly passed the war-funding bill backing a nonbinding timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The final vote was 218 to 208.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “By placing an unacceptable strain on our military, this war is undermining our ability to protect the American people. Instead of making the American people safer, the war in Iraq has weakened our ability to protect our nation from the threat posed by international terrorism.”
Out of Iraq caucus members including Maxine Waters and Lynne Woolsey of California voted against the measure. They say they cannot vote for more funding for the war. Antiwar Democrats have also criticized the bill because the timetable is nonbinding. On the Republican side, House Minority Leader John Boehner called the bill a measure of surrender.
House Minority Leader John Boehner: “We can look it up, and we can walk out. We can walk out on Iraq just like we did in Lebanon, just like we did in Vietnam, just like we did in Somalia, and we will leave chaos in our wake.”
A new Wall Street Journal poll shows 56 percent of Americans now support setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. The Senate is set for a vote later today. Democrats expect to send the bill to President Bush on Tuesday — the fourth anniversary of his infamous speech declaring the Iraq War “Mission Accomplished.” The president has promised a veto.
Meanwhile in Iraq, thousands of people marched through the Baghdad district of Sadr City Wednesday against the construction of a massive wall dividing Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods. The Pentagon has claimed the wall is an Iraqi initiative, but Iraqi officials have denied the charge.
Shiite leader Abdul Mehdi al-Mutairi: “We completely refuse the building of any walls on the land of Baghdad and on the land of the entire nation because the walls represent the politics and agenda of the occupiers. The occupiers started by fomenting a sectarian war and currently want to divide the districts of Baghdad in the form of areas or enclaves surrounded by walls with the aim of deepening the divisions between Sunnis and Shiites. We completely refuse this.”
In other Iraq news, the Los Angeles Times is reporting independent numbers from Iraqi government ministries show at least 5,500 people have died in the Baghdad area alone in the last three months. The figure could not be verified as the Iraqi government has refused to release official figures on civilian casualties.
Back in the United States, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about the Bush administration’s use of pre-war intelligence to lead the country into war on Iraq.
House Oversight Chair Henry Waxman: “The CIA knew this was all nonsense, and she was informed about it, as best as I can tell. And how she, as the chief person in charge of intelligence for the president of the United States, couldn’t recall? If that is her answer, then let her say it.”
Questioning is expected to focus on Rice’s personal knowledge of the false claim Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger.
Meanwhile, the Oversight Committee has also voted to force the Republican National Committee to hand over documents and testify. The RNC is under scrutiny for the possible illegal use of private email accounts to avoid leaving a paper trial on matters including the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee has approved an immunity deal for a former key aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Monica Goodling had vowed to invoke her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination if forced to testify about her role in the attorney dismissals.
The Bush administration has renewed a push to deny Guantanano prisoners access to their attorneys. In a new filing to a federal appeals court, the Justice Department proposes to allow just three visits for an existing lawyer and one visit for a prospective lawyer. The rules would also deny attorneys access to secret evidence while letting military officials and lawyers read attorney-client mail. The Justice Department says it wants the changes in part because attorney contacts have allowed prisoners to communicate indirectly with the media. It also says lawyers don’t have access rights because the prisoners are foreign nationals held in a base in a foreign country. Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said: “These rules are an effort to restore Guantánamo to its prior status as a legal black hole.”
In Argentina, two former leaders of the military dictatorship have lost their immunity from prosecution for human rights abuses under their rule. General Jorge Videla and former Admiral Emilio Massera were among the junta leaders from 1976 to 1983. Some 30,000 people died or disappeared. The ruling effectively reinstates a 20-year-old verdict against the two for murdering and torturing dissidents.
In Cuba, six dissidents have been released from prison nearly two years after they were jailed. The Cuban government had drawn international condemnation after the jailings in the summer of 2005.
In Darfur, the African Union peacekeeping force is accusing the Sudanese government of allowing militias to carry out attacks with impunity.
African Union officer Harry Soka: “Due to lack of command and control, arms and armory, accountability and covertly support and from GOS (Government of Sudan), the group roams freely within our areas of responsibility, threatening, intimidating and attacking anybody opposed to the GOS interests within the area.”
In election news, Arizona Senator John McCain has officially entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Sen. John McCain: “My friends, we face formidable challenges. I’m not afraid of them. I’m prepared for them. I’m not the youngest candidate, but I am the most experienced.”
McCain drew criticism last week for joking about bombing Iran. When asked about whether the U.S. should attack Iran, McCain began singing “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” to the tune of the old Beach Boys song “Barbara Ann.”
Meanwhile, another Republican presidential hopeful is coming under criticism for comments on the campaign trail. Earlier this week, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said a Democratic win would leave the U.S. at risk for an attack on the scale of 9/11. Democrats have slammed Giuliani’s remarks. The first Democratic presidential debate is set for tonight in South Carolina. The Wall Street Journal reports Senator Barack Obama has narrowed in on front-runner Senator Hilary Clinton. Obama is now 5 percentage points behind Clinton, up from 12 points last month.
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is facing increasing calls to step down as head of the World Bank. The European Parliament has approved a measure calling on Wolfowitz to resign. Wolfowitz has been at the center of controversy after it was exposed he ordered a major pay increase and promotion for his longtime companion, Shaha Riza. The World Bank’s independent oversight agency and a group of 42 former World Bank executives have also urged Wolfowitz to step down.
The Bush administration has acknowledged it held at least 20 meetings in government agencies that could have violated federal law restricting partisan activity. The Washington Post is reporting the briefings were part of efforts to brief top appointees on Republicans’ electoral prospects and how the election could affect the success of administration policies. Investigators are looking into whether the briefings led appointees to feel pressure to shape decisions around boosting the chances for vulnerable Republican candidates.
In California, a federal judge has ruled some aspects of the Los Angeles Police Department’s crackdown on low-income downtown neighborhoods is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson says officers have wrongly searched and questioned parolees, probationers and the homeless without evidence of a crime. The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case after previously winning an injunction against police searches four years ago.
In an update to a story from earlier this week, Democracy Now! has obtained footage of the Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire after an Israeli soldier shot her with a rubber bullet. Maguire was taking part in a protest against the separation wall near the West Bank village of Bilin. Democracy Now! producer Ana Nogueira was at the scene. On the tape, Maguire is shot while walking away from the Israeli soldiers. She appears to have been aiding an injured protester.
And the comedian and actress Rosie O’Donnell is leaving the popular daytime television program The View. O’Donnell says could not agree with ABC on the terms of a contract extension. The View has seen a sharp boost in ratings during O’Donnell’s run. She’s drawn controversy for her outspoken comments, including her call for the impeachment of President Bush and her criticism of the Iraq War.