Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Senate is expected to vote today to demand that the Bush administration “explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq.”

Republican leaders are resisting Democrats’ call for the administration to provide a plan for withdrawal, but in agreeing that the administration must provide more information and a schedule for reaching full Iraqi sovereignty, they are joining Democrats in signaling that the White House and the Iraqi government must produce results in 2006.

Democrats have grown bolder in their criticism of the war and have forced the debate onto the Senate floor as the body considers the Defense Department authorization bill. They offered an amendment calling for the administration to report on progress in Iraq, explain its strategy and set goals that would lead to a timeline for withdrawal.

Republican leaders, facing the prospect of losing that vote, countered with their own version — an edited copy of Democrats’ amendment that still requires the administration to give a schedule for meeting specific conditions on the road to Iraqi sovereignty, but drops the requirement that the schedule be tied to troop withdrawals.

“I think they’re reasonable reporting requirements, but the real objective is to get out of this timeline, cutting and running, which the Democrats have in their amendment,” said Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who is sponsoring the Republicans’ alternative along with Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican.

Both their amendment and the Democrats’ amendment face votes today, before the Senate finalizes its version and sends it to a House-Senate conference committee.

The Senate also will take final votes on setting a policy for detainees in the war on terror and their access to the American judicial system. The bill has become a battleground for old fights over intelligence in the run-up to the war and how the Bush administration has prosecuted the war.

Last week, President Bush began fighting back against Democrats’ claims over intelligence, saying in a Veterans Day speech that it was “irresponsible to rewrite the history” of how the United States went to war, pointing to Democratic support of the 2003 invasion. The president reiterated that argument yesterday during a stop in Alaska en route to an eight-day Asian trip.

Democrats responded with harsh criticism of Mr. Bush.

“You, sir, have failed our troops. You, sir, have failed the American people by the failure of your policy in Iraq,” Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat, said yesterday.

Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Mr. Bush was off target.

“It’s not easy for the president to admit mistakes, as we’ve come to learn,” Mr. Reid said. “It’s a lot easier for him to lash out at those who question his policies. But political attacks are not going to get the job done.”

Senate Republicans said their support for the Democrats’ demand for more information isn’t a break with the administration, although they acknowledged it is designed to send a message.

“I’m not trying to reflect on the past. It’s forward-looking,” Mr. Warner said. “I do not deem this as critical. I deem it as, in the sense of the Senate, the Senate is saying we believe the next 120 days are serious, and it must be viewed with equal seriousness here in this country and in Iraq.”

He said he chose to edit the Democrats’ amendment rather than introduce a new version to show how much bipartisan agreement there is on what the administration must do.

The major change was the deletion of a paragraph in the Democrats’ version calling for a “campaign plan with estimated dates for the phased redeployment of the United States Armed Forces from Iraq as each condition is met, with the understanding that unexpected contingencies may arise.”

Still, Democrats said that by agreeing to the bulk of their amendment, Republicans also think “that the administration needs to come forward and explain to Congress and the American people its strategies for success in completing our mission in faraway Iraq,” Mr. Reid said.

Last night, a group of senators reached a compromise on detainee lawsuits that would allow prisoners at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to appeal the rulings of military tribunals.

According to the Associated Press, the agreement gives detainees who receive 10 or more years in prison or the death penalty an automatic appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Those who receive lesser sentences could petition the court to hear their cases at the judges’ discretion.

The 500 or so detainees also could challenge in federal court their having been classified as “enemy combatants.”

“Instead of unlimited lawsuits, the courts now will be looking at whether you’re properly determined to be an enemy combatant and, if you’re tried, whether or not your conviction followed the military commission procedures in place,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told the AP.

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