For Bush, a week of friendly fire

On terrorism and Iraq, the president takes shots from within.

Published September 8, 2006 6:35PM (EDT)

For all the talk of George W. Bush's brilliant political maneuvering on detainees and the military tribunals he wants to try to them, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for the president on Capitol Hill this week -- and a lot of the rough water is coming from within his own party. Among the waves:

Detainees: Some Senate Republicans -- backed by particularly strong words from top military lawyers -- are joining Democrats in pushing back against Bush's plan for rights-lite military tribunals. Says GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham: "It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them. 'Trust us, you're guilty, we're going to execute you, but we can't tell you why'? That's not going to pass muster; that's not necessary."

John Bolton: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has postponed a confirmation vote for the president's U.N. ambassador. As the Hartford Courant's David Lightman reports, Republicans simply miscalculated when they decided they had the votes to get Bolton out of committee: They thought Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who could use some support from the right in Rhode Island just now, would get in line behind Bolton. It appears they were wrong.

Osama bin Laden: The CIA quietly disbanded its bin Laden unit last fall. In the Senate Thursday, Democrats pushed through a measure that would refund the unit. "What does it say to violent jihadists that a terrorist mastermind remains alive and well five years after killing 3,000 Americans?" asked Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. "Our bill tells the terrorists that protecting our nation is the first priority -- and that we are going to deliver to bin Laden the justice that a mass murderer deserves." Republican Sen. Ted Stevens complained that the measure was an election-year "slam on the intelligence community" -- then encouraged his GOP colleagues to vote for it anyway.

Wiretaps: Sen. Arlen Specter was forced to call off a committee vote on his bill to expand the president's wiretapping authority after Sen. Russ Feingold spoke at length against it and a bipartisan group of senators called for hearings. In a letter obtained by Raw Story, Republicans Larry Craig, John Sununu and Lisa Murkowski joined Feingold, Dick Durbin and Ken Salazar in asking Specter to hold hearings before the Senate considers legislation that would "dramatically alter FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] and significantly expand the surveillance authority of the executive branch."

Iraq: Republican Rep. Curt Weldon, once an extreme hawk on Iraq, is now suggesting that George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld be removed from the decision-making process on when the war ends. As the Hill reports, Weldon -- seeking distance from the president in a tough reelection fight -- intends to introduce a resolution calling for military commanders to establish a set of criteria by which the readiness of Iraqi security forces can be judged. Once the Iraqi forces meet those criteria, the U.S. would begin to withdraw its troops. Weldon tells the Hill that the military commanders are "the ones we're paying to do the job," and that decisions about troops shouldn't be made by some "armchair politician" in Washington ... whether it's an elected member of Congress or even the secretary of defense."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Espionage George W. Bush Iraq Middle East Osama Bin Laden War Room