- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

Conyers wants probe of Bush ‘abuses’

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday urged Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special counsel to examine potential abuses by former President George W. Bush’s administration.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, said in a speech to the National Press Club that Mr. Holder “must appoint a special counsel to review the Bush administration abuses of power and misconduct. A criminal probe - he’s got to do that.”

Mr. Conyers’ committee has sought an investigation of Bush administration moves criticized by Democrats, including its methods of interrogating foreign detainees, use of warrantless wiretaps, alleged retribution against critics, and allegations that officials intentionally misused intelligence.

Mr. Conyers said the criminal probe should be accompanied by a “9/11-type panel” to gather facts and make recommendations on preventing the misuse of power.

A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately comment. Mr. Holder is considering whether to appoint a prosecutor to review the Bush administration’s methods of interrogating suspected terrorists.

President Obama has expressed reluctance to conduct a probe into alleged Bush-era abuses and resisted an effort by congressional Democrats to establish a “truth commission,” saying the nation should be “looking forward and not backwards.”

AGENT ORANGE

Agent Orange tied to health risks

Agent Orange, used by U.S. forces to strip Vietnamese and Cambodian jungles during the Vietnam War, may raise the risk of heart disease and Parkinson’s disease, U.S. health advisers said Friday.

But the evidence is only limited and far from definitive, the Institute of Medicine panel said.

“The report strongly recommends that studies examining the relationship between Parkinson’s incidence and exposures in the veteran population be performed,” the institute, an independent academy that guides federal policy, said.

The findings add to a growing list of conditions that could be linked to the defoliants, including leukemia, prostate cancer, type II diabetes and birth defects in the children of the veterans exposed.

The herbicides, nicknamed Agent Orange for the orange stripe on the barrels in which they were stored, include chemicals such as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid.

Between 1962 and 1971, an estimated 20 million gallons of these chemicals were used to strip Vietnam’s thick forests to make bombing easier.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the dismissal of lawsuits by Vietnamese nationals and U.S. veterans against Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto and other chemical makers over the use of Agent Orange .

In 1984, seven chemical companies, including Dow and Monsanto, agreed to a $180 million settlement with veterans.

TRIBAL LANDS

Court demands accounting for trusts

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Interior Department must account for century-old land royalties owed to American Indians, reversing a lower court’s ruling that the task is impossible.

A 2008 decision by U.S. District Judge James Robertson said the department had unreasonably delayed an accounting but added that the complicated task was ultimately impossible. He later said the Indians are entitled to $455 million, a fraction of the billions they say they are owed.

The appeals court said Friday that that court erred in freeing the government from the accounting burden.

The long-running suit claims the Indian plaintiffs were swindled out of royalties overseen by the Interior Department since 1887 for things such as oil, gas, grazing and timber.

SUPREME COURT

Cornyn to vote against Sotomayor

Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the head of his party’s Senate campaign arm, said Friday he’ll vote against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, siding with Republican leaders and conservatives who are lining up against President Obama’s nominee to be the first Hispanic on the top court.

The Texas Republican, whose constituents are one-third Hispanic, acknowledged that his decision to oppose Judge Sotomayor could carry political risks and said he was announcing it with “regret and some sadness.”

“Voting to confirm a judge - this judge or any judge - despite doubts would certainly be the politically expedient thing to do, but I don’t believe it would be the right thing to do,” said Mr. Cornyn, who said he came away from Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings still wondering, “Who is the real Judge Sonia Sotomayor?”

Mr. Cornyn’s decision is a vivid example of Republicans’ predicament in deciding how to vote on the 55-year-old appeals court judge, who is virtually guaranteed confirmation by early August. Like other Republican leaders, he’s concerned with placating a conservative base that’s vehemently opposed to Mr. Obama’s nominee, but he’s one of many Republicans who risks undercutting himself with Hispanic voters, a growing part of the electorate, by doing so.

Interest groups weighing in on Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation have complicated the decision. The National Rifle Association warned Thursday that a vote for the judge would count against senators in the group’s influential ratings, which help sway many voters.

Mr. Cornyn’s announcement came as another Republican on the Judiciary panel, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, announced he would also vote against Judge Sotomayor, saying he came to the decision “reluctantly, and with a heavy heart.”

Both were quickly criticized by Hispanic leaders for opposing her.

CONFIRMATIONS

Senate OKs 2 FCC commissioners

The Senate has voted unanimously to confirm Democrat Mignon Clyburn and Republican Meredith Attwell Baker to the Federal Communications Commission, bringing the five-member panel to full force.

Miss Clyburn, daughter of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, has served as a South Carolina public utilities regulator since 1998. Ms. Baker was head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Bush White House.

The newest FCC chairman, Democrat Julius Genachowski, was sworn in last month. Democrat Michael Copps and Republican Robert McDowell round out the commissioners.

From combined dispatches and staff reports.

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