- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2008

CAMPAIGN

Obama to avoid Brandenburg Gate

Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has decided against using the Brandenburg Gate as a backdrop for a speech in Berlin, his aides said Friday.

The Democratic White House hopeful plans to travel soon to Jordan, Israel, Britain, France and Germany. His Berlin speech will be one of the major events of the tour.

“Barack made clear to us very early … that he didn’t think it made sense at all for him to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, which he thought would be too perhaps presumptuous,” said Denis McDonough, a senior foreign policy aide to Obama.

Some Obama advisers had tentatively raised with German officials the possibility of holding the speech at the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of German unity.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said through a spokesman she would frown upon using the landmark for “electioneering.”

President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the gate when he called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” President Bill Clinton also used it as a backdrop.

Republican John McCain, Mr. Obama’s opponent in the November election, said the European trip seemed to be an attempt to hold a political rally abroad. Mr. Obama is popular in Europe and the Berlin speech is expected to draw a large crowd.

Ben Rhodes, a foreign policy adviser and speechwriter to Mr. Obama, said the Berlin speech will talk of “the need to strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship to deal with 21st century challenges.”

CAMPAIGN

Candidates hedge on new Marine One

John McCain and Barack Obama vow to reform the nation’s defense procurement if elected president, yet each is unwilling to take a firm stand against the skyrocketing cost of a plum White House perk: the new Marine One helicopter.

Originally carrying a hefty price tag of $6.1 billion, the fleet of 28 helicopters being built to fly the next president is now projected to cost $11.2 billion.

At $400 million apiece, the helicopters far exceed a prime example Mr. McCain uses on the campaign trail to rail against congressional pork-barrel spending, a $230 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. The British have bought the same base model helicopter for $57 million each.

In separate interviews with the Associated Press, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates pledged to look at the program but stopped short of saying whether it should be canceled. Any review after the next president takes office in January would butt up against the first deliveries of the helicopters, slated for 2010.

IMMIGRATION

Mexico to honor Kennedy

The Mexican government says it will honor Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for his defense of immigrant rights.

Mexico announced Friday it will award Mr. Kennedy the Aguila Azteca, the highest honor the government can bestow on foreign dignitaries.

Mr. Kennedy will be presented with a sash in Washington, according to an announcement published by Mexico’s federal registry.

Mexico says the Massachusetts Democrat has denounced injustices against migrants and “highlighted the importance of addressing illegal immigration by looking for an integral solution.”

Mr. Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer in May and has been receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

SECURITY

Congressman still faces extra scrutiny

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia says a mix up on a terrorist watch list is still wreaking havoc on his air travel five years after the problem arose.

The 11-term Democratic congressman wrote to the House Homeland Security Committee this week saying he’s still subjected to repeated airport searches and required to present multiple forms of identification. The problem persists even though Homeland Security recently gave him a letter to show airlines that was supposed to clear things up.

If it’s still happening to a congressman, he wrote, “you can only imagine what the average American suffers.”

“I have been trying to get off (this list) for years,” he wrote. “It is wrong.”

Mr. Lewis’ travel hassles - along with those of other high-profile figures such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts - began several years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as the government quickly expanded its watch lists. Airline officials have told Mr. Lewis that extra security is triggered because someone with a similar name is under suspicion.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Christopher White said that Mr. Lewis is probably getting screened because airlines are misinterpreting security lists.

TERROR

Government says it can hold teen fighter

The Bush administration is telling a federal appeals court that it has the authority to detain a Canadian who was captured in Afghanistan when he was 15 and is accused of killing a U.S. soldier.

Attorneys for Omar Khadr, who is being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say international law bars governments from detaining people that young as enemy combatants and prosecuting them for war crimes.

The government, in a filing Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, says the military has the authority on the battlefield to capture and detain anyone, including juveniles, attacking and killing U.S. soldiers.

The court will hear arguments in the case on Sept. 4.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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