Senate Republicans Block Iraq Timetable

(Gold9472: Remember that when your son, or daughter dies in Iraq.)

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer
15 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - The Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday easily defeated a Democratic effort to call for President Bush to outline a timetable for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The vote was 58-40 against a Democratic plan that the minority party's leadership advanced in the wake of declining public support for a conflict that has claimed more than 2,000 U.S. lives and cost more than $200 billion.

Republicans countered with their own alternative, urging that 2006 "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty," with Iraqi forces taking the lead in providing security — a step lawmakers hope will speed a reduction of U.S. forces.

Given the Republican majority, passage seemed a certainty.

"They want an exit strategy, a cut-and-run exit strategy. What we are for is a successful strategy," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said: "We want to change the course. We can't stay the course."

GOP leaders were trying to add their Iraq policy to a defense bill the Senate is hoping to complete work on as early as Tuesday.

Overall, the bill includes provisions that, taken together, mark an effort by the Senate to rein in some of the wide authority lawmakers gave the president following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The measure includes White House-opposed language that would prohibit the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees and standardize interrogation procedures used by U.S. troops. The Bush administration has threatened to veto any bill that includes language about the treatment of detainees, arguing it would limit the president's ability to prevent terrorist attacks.

Later Tuesday, the Senate was expected to add to the bill a proposal that would, in effect, endorse the Bush administration's military tribunals for prosecuting suspected foreign terrorists held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Under a compromise reached by a bipartisan group of senators, those detainees would be able to appeal their status as "enemy combatants" and the rulings of U.S. military tribunals to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. That avenue would take the place of the one tool the Supreme Court gave detainees in 2004 to fight the legality of their detentions — the right to file habeas corpus petitions in any federal court.

Reflecting senators' anger over recent leaks of classified information to the public, the bill also includes provisions requiring the Bush administration to provide Congress with details on purportedly secret CIA prisons overseas and stripping of security clearances of any federal government official who knowingly discloses national security secrets.

The House version of the defense bill doesn't include those provisions, nor does it include the language on the detention, interrogation or prosecution of detainees. And House Republicans who would be part of negotiations over a final defense bill tend to stand with the president.

As a result, it's unclear whether any of those provisions will survive House and Senate negotiations and actually end up in the final defense bill. Also uncertain is whether there will even be a final defense bill that makes it to the president's desk, given that the bill is not a must-pass measure. It sets Pentagon policy and authorizes spending but doesn't actually provide the dollars.

However, House GOP leaders will be under pressure to adopt parts of the Senate bill, particularly the statement of U.S. policy in Iraq. That's because public support for the war has fallen and lawmakers are feeling the heat from frustrated constituents heading into a congressional election year in which a third of the Senate and all House members are up for re-election.

The GOP's Iraq policy proposal calls for — but does not require — the Bush administration to "explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq" and to provide reports on U.S. foreign policy and military operations in Iraq every three months until all U.S. combat brigades have been withdrawn.

The proposal calls 2006 a transition year in which Iraqi forces take over security of their country from U.S. forces to a far greater extent so the Americans can begin returning home.

Republicans largely adopted a Democratic-offered proposal as their own, but omitted one paragraph calling for the president to offer a plan for a phased withdrawal of the roughly 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. The administration has refused to set a timetable for withdrawal, saying insurgents simply would wait to strike until after U.S. forces departed.