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Bush Administration Faces Intensified Probes on Iraq, Domestic Matters

09 March 2007

Democrats controlling the U.S. Congress are confronting President Bush on a broad range of issues regarding his handling of the war in Iraq, and the larger war on terrorism, as well as domestic issues. Congressional committees have launched investigations on numerous topics, including U.S. efforts to train Iraqi military forces, waste by military contractors, and the treatment of terrorist suspects. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

When they assumed control of Congress after last November's congressional election, Democrats vowed to use their new powers to investigate virtually every aspect of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq.

Now, three months after the convening of the 110th Congress, key committees intensify oversight, issue subpoenas, and call witnesses from government and the private sector to Capitol Hill.

Jason Altmire, among newly-elected Democrats in the House, recognized the trend in a speech on the floor of the House.

"This level of oversight is part of the Democrat's effort to bring real change to Washington," he said.

In the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Congressman Henry Waxman is shining a spotlight on one of the most sensational stories in recent years, the CIA leak case which led to the recent conviction of Lewis Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Waxman has summoned Valerie Plame, the former CIA officer whose covert identify was revealed and whose husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat from Iraq to justify a war.

However, the committee has also held extensive hearings on the issue of waste, fraud and abuse by contractors involved in reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

"Taxpayers all across our country are fed up and demanding that we bring real oversight to the anything-goes world of Iraq reconstruction," he said.

Coming months will see numerous hearings by other panels trying to determine where U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan stand.

As Democrats attempt to use funding legislation to limit presidential flexibility on troop deployments to Iraq, an armed services subcommittee is looking at the training of Iraqi army and police forces.

Congressman Marty Meehan says ongoing turmoil in Iraq suggests the U.S. is far from achieving its goals.

"We will seek to verify that the administration is taking the appropriate steps to ensure that the government of Iraq has the capacity to sustain its forces, to ensure the appropriate transition of security responsibility," he added.

Against a background of U.S. military and administration figures regarding the success of training, Republican Todd Akin says it's clear the Iraqi government is only in the early stages of gaining the crucial capability of being able to provide full logistical support for its own forces, without U.S. help.

"The beginning of that logistical structure has been started with the Iraqis, but still they are mostly dependent on us," he said.

Democrats are also pushing back against the president on an issue related to the wider war on terrorism, the question of law governing the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists such as those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to roll back some provisions of the Military Commissions Act approved by Congress, which gave the go ahead for military courts to try detainees.

Democrats want to restore Habeas Corpus rights, bar evidence gained through torture or coercion, and reinstate U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions.

Congresswoman Jane Harman says action is required, because of what she calls unilateral actions by the Bush administration that ignored U.S. and international law.

"The United States has never been as unpopular in the world as it is now," she noted. "We have flouted the very legal protections that we have sought to export to the rest of the world, we have undermined international human rights standards that we helped create, and which we have used to press other nations to protect the rights of their citizens."

A key Senate Republican, Arlen Spector, supports the effort.

"It's a constitutional right, you cannot change that by statute," said Mr. Spector.

Democratic Congressman John Murtha has vowed hearings and legislation aimed at shutting down the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

House Republican minority Leader John Boehner says doing so would be a mistake and hurt efforts to bring terrorists to justice.

"To close down that facility would again hamper the ability of our military to glean very useful information in fighting a worldwide terrorist network," said Mr. Boehner.

Democrats in the House have also renewed an effort, blocked when Republicans controlled Congress, to prohibit what is called extraordinary rendition, in which individuals suspected of being or having connections with terrorists have been sent to foreign countries for interrogation.

Both legislative efforts have strong support from human rights groups and civil liberty organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the end of the week, Democrats were pledging new investigations regarding the latest domestic controversy to emerge: the revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) improperly and sometimes illegally used the USA Patriot Act anti-terror law to obtain personal information about Americans.

The Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, as well as the head of the House intelligence committee vowed to conduct vigorous oversight on the matter which was detailed in an internal FBI audit.

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