The Senate has voted to provide nearly $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while setting a nonbinding timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The vote came one day after the bill passed in the House. The final vote was 51 to 46. Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska were the lone Republicans to vote with Democrats. Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman joined Republicans to oppose the bill. White House spokesperson Dana Perino promised an immediate veto.
White House spokesperson Dana Perino: “I just spoke to the president in the Oval Office, and as he’s said, he’s going to veto the legislation and looks forward to working with congressional leaders to craft a bill that he can sign.”
In news from Iraq, at least 72 people died in violence around the country Thursday. Twenty-seven bullet-riddled bodies were found on the streets of Baghdad. Another eight people were killed and 19 wounded in a bombing near Baghdad University.
The violence comes as the top U.S. commander in Iraq is warning U.S. and Iraqi casualties are likely to rise as the military struggles to carry out its goals. General David Petraeus spoke Thursday in Washington.
Gen. David Petraeus: “The situation in Iraq is, in sum, exceedingly complex and very tough. Success will take continued commitment, perseverance and sacrifice, all to make possible an opportunity for the all-important Iraqi political actions that are the key to long-term solutions to Iraq’s many problems. Because we are operating in new areas and challenging elements in those areas, this effort may get harder before it gets easier.”
Meanwhile, an active-duty Army officer has come out with a scathing critique of how top U.S. generals are handling the war in Iraq. Writing for the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling writes military leaders have understated the strength of the Iraqi insurgency to the American public. He writes: “For reasons that are not yet clear, America’s general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq’s government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq.” Yingling continues: “Our generals are not worthy of their soldiers.”
In other Iraq news, a senior U.S. Army officer overseeing a prison in Baghdad has been charged with aiding the enemy. Lt. Col. William Steele is accused of several offenses including allowing prisoners to use a cellphone and having a relationship with a prisoner’s daughter.
Former CIA Director George Tenet has accused the Bush administration of blindly leading the country into war on Iraq and then using him as a scapegoat when their pre-war claims proved false. In a new book released next week, Tenet writes: “There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.” He adds there was also never any discussion of containing Iraq without a full-scale invasion. Tenet also takes issue with administration officials’ repeated citing of his infamous “slam dunk” remark about evidence Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Tenet says he was referring to the ease of making a public case for war, not the specific issue of WMDs. Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom award in December 2004, six months after he resigned in the fallout over the administration’s pre-war intelligence.
In election news, the eight leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination held their first debate Thursday in South Carolina. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards opened with criticism of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s refusal to join him in apologizing for voting to authorize the Iraq War.
John Edwards: “Senator Clinton and anyone else who voted for this war has to search themselves and decide whether they believe they’ve voted the right way. If so, they can support their vote. If they believe they didn’t, I think it’s important to be straightforward and honest.”
That was former Senator John Edwards. Senator Clinton said she has already taken responsibility for her vote.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “If I knew then what I know now, I would not have voted that way. But I think the real question before us is: What do we do now? How do we try to persuade or require this president to change course?”
Meanwhile, Ohio Congressmember Dennis Kucinich explained why he’s the only candidate to support the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “I took an oath to defend the Constitution. My colleagues have spent a lot of time talking about Iraq tonight. This country was taken into war based on lies. Mr. Cheney must be held accountable. He’s already ginning up cause for war against Iran. We have to protect and defend this Constitution. … The American people should know there is at least one person running for president who wants to reconnect America to its goodness, its greatness, its highest principles.”
And former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel challenged what he called the military-industrial complex.
Mike Gravel: “We have no important enemies. What we have to do is to begin to deal with the rest of the world as equals, and we don’t do that. We spend more as a nation on defense than the rest of the world put together. Who are we afraid of? Who are you afraid of [Moderator and NBC News anchor Brian Williams]? I’m not. Iraq has never been a threat to us. We invaded them. It is unbelievable. The military-industrial complex not only controls our government lock, stock and barrel, but they control our culture.”
In Somalia, clashes between U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces and fighters aligned with the Islamic Courts Union in the capital Mogadishu are being described as some of the heaviest fighting in the city’s history. Local human rights workers report at least 329 people have been killed over the past 10 days. Meanwhile, the United Nations is warning more people have been displaced in Somalia in the past three months than anywhere else in the world.
U.N. relief coordinator John Holmes: “A couple days ago, I was talking about 320,000 people having fled, which is about one-third of the population. I think those estimates are rising rapidly. I think it’s impossible to give an accurate figure, but we’re probably nearer 340,000 or 350,000 now, and maybe I’ve even seen an estimate of 400,000 as people are fleeing the fighting.”
Tensions are increasing over the Bush administration’s plans to build a missile system in Eastern Europe. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he’s suspending Russia’s obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. The Cold War treaty caps the deployment of conventional arms inside the former Soviet Union and outside its old borders. Putin says he based his decision on a buildup of NATO military bases near Russia and U.S. plans to host missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has signaled she’ll reject a House subpoena to testify on her knowledge of the Bush administration’s use of pre-war intelligence to lead the country into the Iraq War. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants to look into the administration’s false claim Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger. Rice spoke Thursday in Oslo.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “If there are questions [Rep. Henry Waxman] has, I hope he would post them, and I would be happy to answer them [in writing]. But there is a constitutional principle. This all took place in my role as national security adviser, and there is a separation of powers, and advisers to the president under that constitutional principle are not generally required to go and testify in Congress.”
A family in California has filed a civil suit against U.S. officials for seizing a young boy and detaining him for more than 10 hours in a recent immigration raid. Seven-year-old Kebin Reyes was asleep the night of March 6 when immigration officers burst into his bedroom. Kebin and his father Noe Reyes were taken to a detention center in San Francisco. They were kept in a locked room and given only bread with mayonnaise and water. Reyes says he showed immigration officers the boy’s U.S. passport but was ignored. He was also denied permission to call a relative to pick up Kebin from detention. Reyes says his son has been withdrawn and has had several nightmares since the raid.
In Atlanta, two police officers have pleaded guilty in the shooting death of a 92-year-old African-American woman. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, had fired on the officers after they had broken into her home. One of the officers has admitted they obtained a search warrant by lying about information from a police informant. Officers Gregg Junnier and Jason Smith are expected to serve at least 10 years in prison.
In Utah, hundreds of students gathered at Brigham Young University Thursday to protest a commencement address from Vice President Dick Cheney. More than 3,000 students, professors and alumni at the Mormon school had signed a petition to oppose Cheney’s visit.
Here in New York, activists with the group ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, confronted the basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson last night over his endorsement of the pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories. Earlier this year, the company announced it would withhold seven new drugs from sale in Thailand, including a new AIDS drug and treatments for arthritis and high blood pressure. The unprecedented move was called a retaliation to Thailand’s plan to importing or producing cheaper, generic copies of Abbott’s AIDS drug Kaletra. According to an ACT UP press release, activists confronted Johnson with banners reading “Abbott’s Greed Kills People with AIDS in Thailand.” ACT UP says Johnson voiced support for their demands and said he was raising the issue with Abbott executives.