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Two US Senators, Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) and Larry E. Craig (R-ID), ask the Justice Department to explain rumors they have heard from militia groups that federal agents are training at Fort Bliss, Texas, to assault those militia groups. In a letter, Faircloth and Craig ask about Fort Bliss and police training, writing in part, “You are doubtless aware of the concerns being raised in many quarters about what is perceived as the growing militarization of our domestic law enforcement agencies.” When the letter becomes publicly known, aides for both senators will claim that the senators are merely seeking information and concerned only about federal police agencies’ going beyond their normal training. The aides will claim that the letter does not mention the paramilitary groups, and will say neither Faircloth nor Craig support such groups. In a separate letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) makes the same accusation, saying that he has heard from militia group representatives that “New World Order” agents (see September 11, 1990) were preparing to invade them. Stockman calls these group representatives “reliable sources.” Stockman’s “reliable sources” told him that the assault was scheduled for March 25. It is unclear what Stockman believes had happened to that scheduled assault, which did not take place. Fort Bliss spokesperson Jean Offutt calls the warnings “ridiculous,” and Justice Department officials call them “nonsense.” Stockman, like Faircloth and Craig, says he has no ties to paramilitary groups, a statement that is false (see 10:50 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 23-24, 1995). (Egan 5/2/1995)
An angry and embarrassed Christine Todd Whitman, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), storms into a breakfast meeting with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, waving a letter signed by four Republican senators—Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Larry Craig (R-ID), Jesse Helms (R-NC), and Pat Roberts (R-KS). The letter says that President Bush will soon withdraw the US from the Kyoto Accords (see March 27, 2001), even though Whitman has been telling the press Bush is committed to a “multipollutant” strategy of reducing CO2 and other emissions. Worse, Bush is going to renege on his promise to reduce C02 emissions (see September 29, 2000). O’Neill, who is until now unaware of the backchannel discussions about the administration’s environmental policy, is suspicious of the tone and language of the letter, which was faxed from Hagel’s office two days before. It sounds, he later writes, as if it came “right out of Dick Cheney’s mouth” (see March 1, 2001). O’Neill will later learn that Hagel and Cheney had been working for days to reverse Bush’s course on carbon dioxide caps, and in the process undermine Whitman (see March 8, 2001 and March 13, 2001). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 19-20)
The White House launches a media campaign designed to spread the “good news” from Iraq. The campaign has two centerpieces: a squad of Republican congressmen and White House cabinet members (see Mid-October 2003) making brief visits to Iraq and coming back with “good news” to tell. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) complains, “I was not told by the media in my country that thousands and hundreds of [Iraqi] children went back to school this week.” (Newspapers across the US did indeed report the reopening of Iraqi schools, according to the Associated Press.) The leader of the Congressional delegation, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), directly attacks the media for not reporting “good news” from Iraq: “Journalism schools teach that news means bad news.” One House member, George Nethercutt (R-WA), undercuts the message when he tells reporters the successes are more important than the loss of US soldiers: “The story of what we’ve done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.” The stories from the Congressional members are further undermined when the media reports that while they might have spent their days in Basra or Baghdad, they spent their nights in the safety of Kuwait. The second focus is on President Bush, who flies around the US giving interviews to carefully selected anchors and reporters from regional TV news providers such as Tribune Broadcasting, Belo, and Hearst-Argyle. These “heartland” news providers will presumably provide softer interviews than the Washington press corps. Bush’s main message is how much “good progress” is being made in Iraq. (Hanley 10/17/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 104-105)
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” (Mayer 2/23/2009)
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