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Daily Column
US Papers Fri: Dems say, 'Take it or Leave it'
Redford's new movie a snoozer; General amnesty proposed, includes troop killers
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 11/09/2007 01:46 AM ET
Supremely light day today with a good part of the "news" on Iraq covered by -- and I'm not joking -- movie reviews of "Lions for Lambs." Sure, there are other, important stories but nothing that might be described as front of the A section, to say nothing of the front page. Even the usually busy Washington Post takes a break today.

Over there
The biggest news of the day (other than, Robert Redford's new movie, omg!) is what didn't happen. Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley of the First Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, Fourth Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division didn't go to jail for murder. The New York Times's Paul von Zielbauer reports that Hensley was acquitted of premeditated murder in connection with the killing of three Iraqi men last spring. He was found guilty of wrongfully placing an AK-47 with the remains of one of the men and showing disrespect for a superior officer. The case brought to light the controversial tactics of "baiting" Iraqis into picking up items that could be used as weapons and then having snipers shoot them on the spot. Hensley said in an email interview last month that he was the fall guy for a policy handed down by his commanders.

Cara Buckley of the Times reports that nearly 500 Iraqis were released from a detention center at Camp Victory in a ceremony at which Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged them to "start a new life, a different life from months ago." Moments after the speech, he told Buckley that he was considering a general amnesty for most detainees. Significantly, those excluded form the amnesty would only include those "who have committed direct crimes against Iraqis, and against our infrastructure." Hm, do U.S. troops count as either Iraqis or "infrastructure"? Didn't think so. The last time an amnesty idea was floated that included men who had killed Americans, the U.S. Congress had a snit fit. In other news, a roadside bomb killed an American soldier on Wednesday south of Baghdad. An Iraqi policeman was ambushed and killed in Baghdad and four unidentified bodies were found in the capital. A car bomb exploded in Mosul, killing the driver and a woman nearby. American and Iraqi forces found the remains of seven people in a house in Baqoubah. Seventeen "gang members" -- including some Iraqi cops -- were sentenced to death in Diwaniya for their role in a number of murders.

The Home Front
Congressional Democrats are taking another whack at the president's Iraq war policy, tying the extra $50 billion in interim spending Bush wants to a goal of pulling goal of pulling out most troops within a year, reports Carl Hulse for the Times. The plan is getting dinged by both left and right, with anti-war Democrats opposing it because it's not tough enough and many Republicans opposing it because it actually proposes Congress has an oversight role, instead of that of a giant ATM. If the $50 billion stalls, Hulse notes, the Pentagon would have to shift money from elsewhere in its budget. The conditions, which are way too far down in the story, set Dec. 15, 2008 as the goal for removing all troops except those needed for the protection of diplomats and remaining military forces, for counterterrorism ops, and for limited support of Iraqi forces. It would also require troops to spend more time at home between Iraq rotations and order all government personnel to follow the Army field manual in conducting operations. (So, they'll just hire private contractors to do it.) In a private meeting with House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi allegedly that was the deal, take it or leave it, Mr. President. "If you don't want that, Mr. President, you ain't getting nothing." Tough talk, Madame Speaker.

Susan Page of USA Today reports that former President George H.W. Bush came out swinging for his son, President George W. Bush, defending the younger's war in Iraq by saying critics had forgotten the "extraordinary brutality" of Saddam Hussein.

"Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics?" the elder Bush told USA TODAY in a rare interview. "Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? I don't know what they are talking about here. Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"
The elder Bush's arguments would be stronger if he hadn't written a book with Brent Scowcroft saying that invading and occupying Iraq would have been a disaster. Saddam was a tyrant in 1991 and he was a tyrant in 2003. Why was he more wicked and deserving of butt-kicking in 2003 than in 1991?

Eschewing an Iraq-datelined coverage altogether, the Post's sole story about Iraq -- kinda -- tackles the testimony of former Navy survival instructor Malcolm Wrightson Nance, who was subjected to water boarding as part of his military training. Josh White reports that he told Congress that the tactic is plainly torture and shouldn't be used by U.S. forces because it is a relic of abusive totalitarian governments.
"In my case, the technique was so fast and professional that I didn't know what was happening until the water entered my nose and throat," Nance testified yesterday at a House oversight hearing on torture and enhanced interrogation techniques. "It then pushes down into the trachea and starts the process of respiratory degradation. It is an overwhelming experience that induces horror and triggers frantic survival instincts. As the event unfolded, I was fully conscious of what was happening: I was being tortured."
Both Nance, a counterterrorism specialist who taught at the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in California, and Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman, a senior intelligence officer with decades of experience, said torture provides bad intelligence. Water boarding especially makes people say anything to get out of it. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said sometimes you need to torture people -- oops, he said something about "severe techniques" -- in emergency cases and against the nation's top enemies such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind. Franks said that Mohammed endured just 90 seconds of water boarding before giving up information on al Qaeda. Nance disputed that and noted that Mohammed probably knew how to resist and gave up what interrogators thought was a "gold mine" which was actually "trash" for him an al Qaeda.

Brad Knickerbocker of the Christian Science Monitor writes a curtain raiser for Veteran's Day, noting that troops are now being welcomed back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of shunned, as some were after Vietnam.

Film notes
But the really big news comes from tinsel town, with the release of Robert Redford's new movie, "Lions for Lambs" -- about the Iraq war and the politicians and journalists who sold it. It's a "polemic in search of inspiration," writes Peter Rainer of the Monitor. Not just wooden, but "Woodish," writes Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal. "It's as if the great issues of our time had been addressed by the hapless filmmaker Ed Wood," he notes. Manohala Dargis of the Times calls it a "big-screen lecture about civic responsibility and its absence in the Age of Iraq." Wow, sounds great. I'll rush right out and go see ... "The Kingdom," thanks very much. At least that movie has some action. Dargis does compliment the scenes involving Meryl Streep, who plays a liberal TV journalist, and Tom Cruise, cast in the role of a Republican megawatt smile.


New York Times
Sens. Jim Web, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb, co-author an op-ed calling for a new G.I. bill for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Wounded Warrior Project