- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

Senate Republicans yesterday blocked a bid by Democrats to restrict troop-deployment schedules for a second time, saying it would impede the ability of President Bush and generals to wage the war in Iraq.

“The majority has brought this back in order to reduce the numbers of fully trained and combat-experienced troops available to our military commanders and thus to force an accelerated drawdown of troops and units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s be honest about this,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and presidential aspirant.

The troop-deployment measure, which would have required troops to get “dwell time” at home equal to time deployed overseas, died 56-44, falling four votes shy of the 60 needed to pass, according to a previous agreement.

Democrats lost the support of Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, one of the seven Republicans who backed the same bill that was filibustered in July.

Democrats say they are trying to safeguard a military overburdened by repeated deployments and extended tours in the 4½-year-old war in Iraq.

“We need to put a safety net under our troops that are being called to go to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat and sponsor of the legislation, which was introduced as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, vowed to keep pushing to end the war, even though Mr. Webb’s amendment was the lone war-related measure considered to have a chance for passage.

“We will not stop waging the hard-but-necessary fight to responsibly end the war,” he said.

The Senate today is scheduled to take up an amendment by Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, that would force a pullout by restricting military funding to noncombat operations in Iraq.

Debate has not yet been scheduled on a key amendment by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would start a large-scale pullout from Iraq in 120 days and limit remaining U.S. forces to training Iraqi troops, protecting U.S. bases, guarding the border and conducting counterterrorism missions.

The setback for the Democrat-led Congress came a week after Republican support for the war policy was bolstered by a progress report from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, and by Mr. Bush’s order for a limited reduction of troop levels by spring.

Congress’ approval rating slid to a record-low 11 percent in a Reuters/Zogby poll released yesterday, plunging past the previous low of 14 percent in July.

Mr. Bush’s approval rating also dropped to 29 percent in the poll, lower than his previous worst Zogby poll rating of 30 percent in March.

Mr. Reid characterized the vote against the Webb amendment as a vote against the troops.

“Republicans have once again demonstrated that they are more committed to protecting the president than protecting our troops,” Mr. Reid said.

Voting with the Democrats were Republican Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire.

Senate Republicans yesterday also derailed a bill that would have granted foreign terror suspects in U.S. custody the right to go to federal court to challenge their detention.

The measure died in a mostly party-line 56-43 procedural vote, again falling four votes short of 60 needed to end a filibuster.

“Never in the history of warfare have enemy prisoners been able to bring lawsuits about their detention,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican

“Thousands of Germans and Japanese soldiers were captured and held by the military during World War II. Not one case was allowed in federal court where they were allowed to sue for their release,” he said. “Our rules for the war on terror should be no different.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and lead sponsor of the bill, said the vote demonstrated that a majority of the Senate recognized the “historic mistake” of last year’s Military Commissions Act, which suspended the rights of foreign terror suspects to challenge their military detention in federal court with a writ of habeas corpus.

“There is still more work to be done to overcome the Republican filibuster,” the Vermont Democrat said. “Like the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the elimination of habeas rights was an action driven by fear, and it was a stain on America’s reputation in the world.”

The Military Commissions Act, answering a Supreme Court ruling, set up military commissions for terror cases and eliminated habeas corpus rights for detainees at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other U.S. military installations.

The Supreme Court in June agreed to hear a case testing the prohibition of habeas corpus rights, but a hearing date has not been set.

The bill’s proponents, who vowed to revisit the issue, argued that filing a writ of habeas corpus is often the only opportunity for a detainee to challenge the basis for his detention.

“I don’t think it is the end of the line,” said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a sponsor of the bill and one of six Republicans to vote for it.

The White House and the Pentagon opposed the legislation on grounds that moving suspects from military commissions to federal court would undermine the prosecution of terrorists.

“We didn’t think that the law needed to be changed,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “It had just been changed last year in the Military Commissions Act. It’s currently under litigation. … I don’t think that Congress needs to constantly change the law while the courts are still looking at it. We think the law is sound as it is.”

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