Thursday, June 23, 2005

Seven Republican members of Congress said yesterday House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was “demoralizing” U.S. troops by saying twice Tuesday that the war in Afghanistan is over during a press conference she held to call for an investigation of detainee abuses.

“Would you prefer that they gave up the fight, stopped hunting for Osama bin Laden and allowed the terrorists to run free?” the Republicans, all members of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a letter to the California Democrat.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Pelosi and three other top Democrats called for a commission to investigate reported abuses of detainees from the war on terror. Mrs. Pelosi said it is past time that the administration established a policy on determining the fates of the detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arguing that most are from Afghanistan and that the conflict there has ended.

“I assume that the war in Afghanistan is over, or is the contention that you have that it continues?” she said to a reporter.

A few moments later, she said: “This isn’t about the duration of the war. The war in Afghanistan is over.”

House Democrats tried but failed this week to force a floor vote on creating the commission to study reported abuses. Some Democrats and a few Republicans have gone further, calling for the Guantanamo facility to be closed.

But most Republicans rejected that idea, and a new poll shows that a strong majority of Americans think the detainees at Guantanamo are being treated fairly.

A Rasmussen Reports survey conducted this week found that 36 percent of Americans say the detainees are being treated better than they deserve, and another 34 percent say they are being treated about right. Just one in five say the detainees are being treated unfairly, with 10 percent saying they do not know.

The poll asked: “Most of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Generally speaking, is the United States treating these prisoners unfairly, treating them better than they deserve, or treating them about right?”

The telephone poll of 1,000 Americans, conducted Monday and Tuesday, also found that only 14 percent agree with Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who charged that prisoner treatment at Guantanamo is similar to the tactics used by the Nazi or Soviet regimes.

But Mrs. Pelosi and the top Democrats on the Armed Services, Government Reform and intelligence committees, at their Tuesday press conference, said a commission must look at the training and supervision of troops at detention facilities, at the “atmosphere created that permitted detainee abuse,” and how high up the chain of command responsibility for the abuses should go.

They also said the commission should look at conditions determining when a detainee should be released.

“Many of the detainees have been in U.S. custody since October 2001. Why have they been in custody for nearly four years without being charged? Why has so little been done to resolve the status of the detainees?” Mrs. Pelosi said.

A spokeswoman for Mrs. Pelosi said the president himself has indicated that the war to remove Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime was over.

“The war to remove the Taliban government from power was over in 2001 and the president has said the mission was a success,” said Jennifer Crider, Mrs. Pelosi’s press secretary.

She said President Bush’s failure to prosecute the war there, and his effort to go to war in Iraq, have complicated the conflict in Afghanistan.

“One of the main reasons that our troops continue to be attacked by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters today is because President Bush decided to invade Iraq, diverting critical resources needed to secure Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the demands of the war in Iraq have made the job of our brave troops in Afghanistan much more difficult,” the spokeswoman said.

The Republicans who signed yesterday’s letter said Mrs. Pelosi is wrong about the war being over. They pointed to a battle that left 40 insurgents and a police officer dead in southern Afghanistan this week, as well as eight U.S. troops wounded in Afghanistan last week.

The letter was signed by Reps. John Kline of Minnesota, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Kay Granger of Texas, Geoff Davis of Kentucky, Candice S. Miller of Michigan, H. James Saxton of New Jersey and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania.

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