- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PENTAGON

General retires to become envoy

The designated U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, retired from the Army on Tuesday to become one of the few generals in American history to switch directly from soldier to diplomat.

After being sworn in at the State Department on Wednesday as the top U.S. envoy to Kabul, Mr. Eikenberry will return to the war-torn country where he served as the senior U.S. commander just over two years ago.

Mr. Eikenberry takes the diplomatic stage at a perilous time in the nearly eight-year conflict. Insurgent violence is rising as the Obama administration seeks to implement a new strategy that puts added emphasis on nonmilitary means of stabilizing the country and preventing it from becoming a terrorist haven.

At a retirement ceremony in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, Mr. Eikenberry said he will begin his tenure in Kabul under “extraordinarily difficult conditions” but expressed confidence that the new strategy would succeed.

RULING

Court allows ‘torture’ lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO | A federal appeals court Tuesday ruled that a Boeing Co. subsidiary can be sued for supposedly flying terrorism suspects to secret prisons around the world to be tortured as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that a lower court judge wrongly tossed out the lawsuit after the government asserted the case was a “state secret” that would harm national security if allowed to go forward.

The trial court judge dismissed the case before the prisoners could present evidence that the company’s participation in the program was illegal. The Bush administration and then the Obama administration argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out before the government turns over any evidence because the nature of the legal action is itself a classified matter.

The federal government inserted itself into the lawsuit on the company’s side because it said feared top-secret information would be disclosed.

The appeals court, however, said the five prisoners suing San Jose-based Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. can try to prove their case without using top-secret information that legitimately needs protection from disclosure.

HOUSE

Democrats seek special counsel

Congressional Democrats turned up the pressure on the Obama administration Tuesday to start a criminal investigation by a special counsel into harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects.

It would be a conflict of interest for President Obama’s Justice Department to investigate lawyers from the Bush administration, even though they no longer work for the government, 16 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Democrats wrote, “It is impossible to determine at this stage, and before conclusion of the necessary investigation, whether additional conflicts of interest might exist or arise.”

The letter said a special counsel’s investigation would insulate the department from accusations that the investigation was politically inspired.

Seven committee Democrats did not sign the letter, nor did any of the 16 Republicans.

SENATE

Bill boosts FBI, targets mortgages

The Senate voted Tuesday to hire hundreds more FBI agents and prosecutors to investigate the estimated 5,000 reports of mortgage fraud each month.

The 92-4 bipartisan vote came as a House panel considered an anti-predatory lending bill that attempts to ban the type of subprime mortgage loans that contributed to the nation’s economic slide. It also came as the former head of a one-time leading mortgage lender, American Home Mortgage Investment Corp., agreed to pay nearly $2.5 million to settle reports of accounting fraud.

“As foreclosures menace more and more hardworking homeowners, they become more desperate for help,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Unfortunately, schemers, swindlers and scam artists are all too happy to pounce.”

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, is estimated to cost more than $265 million a year for the next two years. Supporters, including President Obama, say the legislation would more than pay for itself because of the fines and penalties that would result from more aggressive government investigations.

WILDLIFE

Rule limiting species protections revoked

Federal agencies again will have to consult with government wildlife experts before taking actions that could have an impact on threatened or endangered species.

The Obama administration said Tuesday it was overturning a rule change made in the final weeks of the Bush presidency.

Officials at the Interior and Commerce departments said they have reimposed the consultation requirement that assured the government’s top biologists involved in species protection will have a say in federal action that could harm plants, animals and fish that are at risk of extinction.

Such consultation had been required for more than two decades until the Bush administration made it optional in rules issued in December, just weeks before the change in administrations. Environmentalists argued that the change severely reduced the protection afforded under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“By rolling back this eleventh-hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law” and that top science will be the foundation of the decision making, said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke added: “Our decision affirms the administration’s commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment.”

FORUM

Climate envoy ‘more optimistic’

The top U.S. negotiator on climate change said Tuesday that he is slightly more optimistic about striking a new international agreement to curb global warming after a two-day meeting with the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, warned that arranging a deal is not going to be easy, since many potential sticking points still need to be worked out.

“I walk away more optimistic,” Mr. Stern said at the conclusion of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. “It does not change the fact that the issues are extremely difficult, that it is not going to be easy to reach agreement, or we wouldn’t be doing this.”

POLITICS

Burris calls Durbin ‘senior citizen’

CHICAGO | Sen. Roland W. Burris introduced fellow Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, as the “senior citizen” from Illinois during Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Chicago visit.

Mr. Burris, 71, told the crowd Monday: “And now, it is my pleasure to introduce the senior citizen from the great state of Illinois,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday.

The senator quickly corrected himself amid laughs from the crowd.

“The senior senator. I did that at a committee hearing one time. … I am older than him,” he said.

Mr. Durbin is 64.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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