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Iraq Watch

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Location: Washington, DC


IRAQ WATCH -- (House of Representatives - September 07, 2006)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Larson) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening as we come to the floor again as part of what we have come to call our Iraq Watch, and I am grateful that we are joined by several colleagues this evening, Mr. Bishop from New York, Mr. McDermott from Washington State, and others that will be joining us throughout this early part of the evening.

Now, let me start, as we always have, by recognizing the valiant service of the men and women who wear the uniform. And as our leader Ms. Pelosi often says, our men and women who wear the uniform deserve a leadership that is worthy of the sacrifice that they make on a daily basis. I am proud of this Congress, inasmuch as it has been able to distinguish the warriors from the war, and so we continue to honor those brave men and women who wear the uniform of this country and who sacrifice daily on our behalf.

And yet, as events unfold around the globe, but specifically in the Middle East as it relates to Iraq, what we find is even amongst those who initially favored the war, such as pundits like Thomas Friedman, who now have come to say that we have got to come to the realization that we are no longer midwifing democracy in Iraq but, in essence, babysitting an insurgent civil war. So this evening we come here to discuss Iraq from the context of the mistakes that have been made and the need for accountability, starting with the resignation of the Secretary of Defense.

At some point, somewhere along the line, there has got to be accountability for the actions that have transpired in Iraq. We were wrong about the information that led up to going into the war. In fact, the strongest critics against us going into the war were people such as Scowcroft, Eagleburger, Kissinger and Baker, hardly left-leaning liberals, but people who understood international policy and the severe consequences that would result if we ended up going into Iraq without the full support of the world. And so Americans everywhere kind of have to scratch their heads and say, how is it that we had the entire world with us when we invaded Afghanistan and end up virtually with no support in Iraq.

It is clear from discussions with policymakers and former generals that a series of mistakes have been made, not the least of which was going against our own national policy, the Weinberger Doctrine, which stated very clearly the United States should never go to war against another country unless its vital interests are threatened; and the Powell corollary to that, if we do go in, we should go in with overwhelming force.

In both cases, that doctrine and corollary were rejected in favor of the doctrine of preemption and unilateralism, which has left our allies looking at us as we twist slowly in the winds of Iraq, as Friedman says, babysitting an insurrection and civil war while our most precious of resources, our men and women who serve this country, are in harm's way.

We need a new direction. We ought to send a very clear signal to the world, to the people in this country that it is time for accountability; that it is time to say that mistakes were made and then move on. And we can start with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld stepping down, as he should.

The head of the 9/11 Commission has indicated to both Republicans and Democrats alike that we need to continue to adopt those resolutions and recommendations that they have found in their studies, 20 of which still aren't implemented, which is over half. And so in order to prosecute the war on terror, we have got to be able to accomplish those goals. But without a Congress that wants to hold the President accountable, that is not going to happen.

A gentleman that has been doing just that and speaking out in his district has been TIM BISHOP of New York, and at this time, I would like to yield to him.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. If the gentleman will let me ask a question, knowing you are from New York and knowing specifically you are from Long Island, and, of course, with a solemn date approaching us of September 11, do most citizens in New York understand, in your estimation, the difference between the war on global terrorism and the war in Iraq and see them as different subject matters, or, as IKE SKELTON on the Armed Services Committee has been so nobly trying to demonstrate, the difference between the insurrection and civil war in Iraq and the war on terror? Or has the administration's attempts to blur the lines confused people? What is the sense of New Yorkers?

Mr. BISHOP of New York. My sense is that New Yorkers have not been fooled. My sense is that New Yorkers, and there is hardly a New Yorker who did not lose a loved one or did not lose a friend in the Twin Towers, most New Yorkers recognize that we are fighting two separate and distinct wars, despite, as you say, the administration's efforts to blur the distinction and to cojoin them in an effort to justify something that the vast majority of Americans now recognize was a tragic mistake.

When I go around my district, one of the questions I ask people is do they feel safer today, in August of 2006, than they did on September 12, 2001, and the answer overwhelmingly is no. The answer overwhelmingly is no.

I think most people recognize in my district, and I am grateful for this, that the war in Iraq, which was purportedly to make us safe, make us more safe, has in fact imperiled us beyond where we were the day we invaded.

I think that that is an important recognition and an important distinction for those of us who recognize the distinction needs to continue to be made.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. We have been joined by the gentleman from Massachusetts. I think for a number of our listeners, really the whole idea for coming to this floor came from BILL DELAHUNT. The idea really wasn't hatched here on the floor of the House of Representatives. It was an idea that was hatched in town hall meetings in Nantucket and on the Cape that BILL DELAHUNT held. He encouraged other Members, including myself, who had them in West Hartford and Manchester, Connecticut, and from there, because our voices were muffled. Or if you spoke out against the war, you were deemed unpatriotic. But it was because of his efforts in organizing an Iraq Watch that this has persisted and the truth has been able to continue to come out with regard to our involvement.

At this time I yield to the gentleman from Massachusetts, the founder of this great movement.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. I would like to ask the gentleman a question: What you are telling me and you are telling our viewing audience this evening, you voted, and I believe the vote was near unanimous in the House of Representatives and the Senate, to invade Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom; is that correct?

Mr. DELAHUNT. I voted, and, again, with one exception out of 435 Members, there was a unanimous vote here in this Chamber, bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats and Independent, to go to Afghanistan and destroy al Qaeda and find Osama bin Laden and apprehend him.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Was not the rest of the world united in that effort with the United States?

Mr. DELAHUNT. I have this vivid memory of the day after 9/11, a headline that appeared in the paper of record in France that said: ``We Are All Americans Today.'' We had support in every corner of the world for what we were doing. We would have succeeded in the war on terror by now. But, no. But, no. We invaded Iraq, and clearly that has created implications for our national security.

If I may just for one moment, and I am not alone when I say this, it is interesting, today in the Wall Street Journal a former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who succeeded in securing a majority for the Republican Party in this House in 1994, was quoted. Remember, this is a Republican, a leader. The speculation is that he is considering running for the Presidency in 2008.

This is what Newt Gingrich had to say. Just consider the following: ``Osama bin Laden is still at large.'' I agree. ``Afghanistan is still insecure.'' I would suggest that it is unraveling. ``Iraq is still violent.'' 3,000 deaths a month. ``North Korea and Iran are still building nuclear weapons and missiles. Terrorist recruiting is still occurring in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and across the planet.''

Those are Newt Gingrich's words, today, in the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. So how is it then, given all that you have said, that with the world behind us in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, that we would, if you will excuse the phrase, why did we ``cut and run'' in Afghanistan and then focus on Iraq?

As the gentleman from New York pointed out, people are able to distinguish between the enemy who actually knocked down the Twin Towers in New York, struck the Pentagon, and, as Tim Roemer pointed out yesterday, were it not for those brave souls on Flight 93, would have hit this Capitol. How did we go from the whole world being behind us, abandoning what has become, as Mr. Van Hollen often points out, the forgotten front in Afghanistan, take our eye off the prize and expend the amount of money, and, most importantly, our most precious resource, our men and women who serve this country in Iraq?

Mr. DELAHUNT. Well, if one reviews the memoir of Paul O'Neill, former Republican Secretary of the Treasury, who served in this Bush administration for 2 years, and in that capacity was a member of the National Security Council, you will discover that he was as surprised as anyone when 10 days after this President was inaugurated at a National Security Council meeting, there was a discussion about Iraq and the need to remove Saddam Hussein who, about 6 weeks later on February 22 of 2001, months before 9/11, there was a meeting when Secretary Rumsfeld had a map of the oil fields in Iraq spread out on a table.

The discussion, it was prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency, and there was a discussion about how those oil fields would be divvied up between nations and various big oil companies.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The President has asked to engage, and the gentleman made several good points and one of them was about a new dialogue, long overdue, and I think welcomed by the American people. But as the gentleman from Maryland points out, a one-way street.

Certainly no one knows better than the gentleman from Washington State. No one was vilified more, both on this floor and in public, because of love of country and speaking out, than JIM MCDERMOTT.

I recognize the gentleman from Washington State.

Mr. McDERMOTT. Thank you very much. As I sit here and I listen to this today, I think about the Katrina event. You saw the President go down and throw his arm around the guy who was fixing Katrina. He said, Good job, Brownie. I mean, that has become a laughingstock.

Well, this President has done the same thing with Rumsfeld. Beginning in 2004, when Abu Ghraib came out, the President showed up and said the Secretary is doing a great job, right? This will not change as long as the President keeps Rumsfeld in that job, because Rumsfeld is the controlling power behind it all.

As long as the President puts him out there and let's him run, you are going to continue to have this stuff. Rumsfeld went to Iraq in July while we were on vacation, right at the end, and they found the bodies of 20 kidnapped and murdered bus drivers the day he arrived. A bomber blew himself up and killed seven people. The Secretary of Defense made what I consider to be an interesting statement in response to that. He said, each time I come to Iraq, I see progress.

Now, no one who has any kind of realistic view of this could say that kind of thing. You could not be watching what is going on, when it is to our troops who are dying, or the wounded who are coming home, or the thousands of Iraqis who are being killed and say, I see progress. There is simply, you have got your military people talking about the fact that it is coming apart, you had Rumsfeld this week say to some National Guardsmen from California, no, you can't go home, I know your enlistment is up, but you have got to stay here for another 120 days.

We are going to send you into Baghdad to calm things down. It is a mess, and it has been a mess from the start because Rumsfeld would never listen. Like the President, he wouldn't listen. General Shinseki came in and said, you are going to need 300,000 troops. Rumsfeld said, you don't know what you are saying, you are out of here. Here is your retirement. Get out of here.

That is the response to anybody who comes into this administration and talks. Unless the President will dump Rumsfeld, you are not going to get any change in the policy. What is the alternative to the people of this country? The only alternative they have is on election day to take the gavel away from the Republican majority so that we can have hearings run by Democrats where some questions will be asked, where there will be some accountability so that things will begin to come up into the public view.

We have never found out what Halliburton's contracts are all about. We haven't found out who is responsible for Abu Ghraib. No, there isn't a soldier or a sailor or a marine or anyone near the military.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Is the gentleman suggesting that the more than $9 billion that is unaccounted for, that this Congress actually ought to go and find out what happened with those no-bid contracts, $9 billion?

Mr. McDERMOTT. Only if you care about taxpayer money. I mean, the examples are so bald and so bad that it is almost laughable if it wasn't what was going on today and it was taking us down the wrong trail.

What has been said here today is, I was reading the Middle Eastern papers today, everybody says that half of Afghanistan is now under control of the Taliban. That is universal in the press.

The British general there is saying we are losing this thing; he is worried. We will not get a change unless we get some hard questions asked. We are never going to get them from the Republicans because they are going to rubber-stamp what Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld and all the rest of that bunch put together. I personally think this election is the most important election we have had in my lifetime.

You say to yourself maybe I am getting old or something, but I went through Vietnam, and I went through a whole bunch of things. But this one, if we have 2 more years of ``stay the course,'' God knows where we are going to be economically and militarily and politically and diplomatically in the world. We have got to get some change, and Rumsfeld would be a start. There are some other people that should go, but if the President can't see that Rumsfeld cannot handle it; he threw out Paul O'Neill as the Secretary of the Treasury, and he threw out some other people, Colin Powell and some others went down the road, but he keeps the guy who got us in the mess because it means he would have to admit that he made a huge mistake, and he can't do it. He can't do it, and that is the biggest problem he has.

As politicians, sometimes you have to say, ``I was wrong. I made a mistake.''

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. The gentleman from Maine who has been to the floor several times to talk about this very subject recently traveled to New Orleans also where he traveled with the Army Corps of Engineers where he saw firsthand what was going on there. As the gentleman from Washington states, one of the many salient points he made is the lack of accountability and the corollary between what has happened here domestically with Hurricane Katrina and Iraq.

I yield to the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Allen).

Mr. ALLEN. I thank you all for the opportunity to be here and discuss some of these important issues that we don't get to do during any debate on resolutions or legislation. These are among the most important issues we deal with.

I was down in New Orleans and in the gulf coast of Mississippi where the incompetence of this administration was on display for everyone to see. The same incompetence is on display with respect to the problems we have created in Iraq. And I say ``created'' because I do believe that in many ways this administration has created more problems in the Middle East than they have solved.

I agree with the gentleman from Washington that a good part of this has to do with the inadequate leadership at the Department of Defense, but we should never forget that this policy is driven by the President and the Vice President and there is a unanimity of thinking in this administration about the Middle East, the conviction that we could simply force our will on several hundred million people and bend them to become something that we want them to become, regardless of their own intentions.

But I wanted to speak for a minute tonight about how Congress, this Republican Congress, has aided and abetted the administration by giving up its constitutional role of exercising oversight over the executive branch. It is absolutely stunning to me how both the House and the Senate have done everything that they could to rubber stamp administration policies in Iraq and cover up for them.

A few examples, going back to when Democrats controlled the Congress in the 1980s, there was an Oversight Subcommittee on Armed Services, and that oversight subcommittee discovered those $500 hammers and $6,000 toilet seats and put an end to much of that kind of overcharging. But when Republicans took over, they eliminated the Oversight Subcommittee on Armed Services and billions of questionable Halliburton contracts have gone unexamined, unexamined by either Armed Services or by the Intelligence Committee or the Committee on Government Reform.

The minority staff on the Committee on Government Reform has identified over 200 specific misleading statements made by the administration in the run-up to the Iraq war. Over on the Senate side, remember they had Phase II, the Senate Intelligence Committee was going to do a Phase II investigation. What they meant by that was instead of beating up on the intelligence agencies like the CIA themselves, they were going to look at the misuse of intelligence by the administration. That was Phase II of their study.

It hasn't happened. Years have gone by, and the chairman of the committee has said several times, ``We are going to get to that later.'' But they are clearly not going to do it before any election.

In 2005, House Republicans voted down a resolution demanding an investigation of Iraq intelligence. When you look at the House and you look at the Senate, there is no question what this Republican Congress has been doing. Rather than gather information, evidence, that could clarify what has happened in the past and guide us to a better policy in the future, it is all politics all the time and that means protecting the President from being exposed, protecting the Vice President from being exposed, protecting Donald Rumsfeld from being exposed for having not spoken the truth.

So this entire Congress is complicit.

The Senate held a few hearings after Abu Ghraib, but no Senate committee has conducted a comprehensive public probe of the alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram or the secret CIA facilities that the President just acknowledged yesterday.

In the House, the majorities on three House committees voted down resolutions seeking documents about detainee abuse. Democrats have been saying we need the information in order to do a better job in the future, and Republicans have circled the wagons around the administration and refused to basically allow oversight.

On Iraq reconstruction, you go back to 2003, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon awarded a $7 billion sole-source contract to Halliburton for reconstruction. And 3 years later, auditors identified more than $1 billion in questionable and unsupported costs under that contract. A billion dollars in Washington is still real money. If Congress was simply doing its constitutionally mandated function, we would be holding hearings on that. But no, the Republicans are not prepared to investigate Halliburton. Vice President Cheney was once the CEO of Halliburton, and this is ground we dare not go into, apparently, and yet we have to, to fulfill our constitutional responsibility.

That is what we are basically saying here. This Republican Congress has failed the country. The administration has failed the country. And when Democrats control this chamber again, whether you have a Republican President or a Democratic President, we are going to make sure that this Congress acts like the Congress contemplated in the Constitution and do our jobs.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. The gentleman from New York started and began this conversation by talking about what has transpired, and the gentleman from Maryland talked about the President and his calling over the last several days, both he and the Secretary of Defense and the Vice President have been out there, along with the Secretary of State, talking about this new agenda, and I believe the gentleman from New York has some thoughts on that.

Mr. BISHOP of New York. It seems like we are being treated to a late summer/early fall offensive, I would say smoke screen on the part of this administration to convince the American people that we need to stay the course in order to be safe.

Basically what they are doing is they are engaged in defending the indefensible. The only way they can defend a war that the American people have clearly turned against is to present it in a context that makes it appear to be reasonable or defensible, but in fact quite the opposite is the case.

I think all of us as elected officials, we have no more solemn responsibility than to provide for the safety and security of those who have elected us to represent them. But I think a fair-minded person has to look at the record of where this administration has taken this Nation and where this Congress, complicit in the strategies and objectives of this administration, have taken this country.

Every single place you look, it reeks with failure. The 9/11 Commission presented to us 41 carefully crafted bipartisan recommendations. This Congress has only acted on 20 or 21 of them. The 9/11 Commission, again a bipartisan group, has given this administration and this Congress 14 Ds, 5 Fs and 2 incompletes on those recommendations.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. What is the Congress's report card again?

Mr. BISHOP of New York. Fourteen Ds, five Fs and two incompletes; and this is a leadership that is going to keep us safe and secure?

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. And we are approaching the fifth anniversary.

Mr. BISHOP of New York. We are approaching the fifth anniversary, and we have outstanding work on the part of this commission, bipartisan work which is what we ought to be striving for. We ought to be approaching the safety and security of this Nation in a bipartisan way.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Are any of those issues going to be brought to the floor? Those recommendations, those outstanding recommendations, will any of them be brought to the floor before we adjourn for elections?

Mr. BISHOP of Utah. I am not aware of anything on the calendar.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlemen from Maine, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington State for coming down here this evening.

We come down here out of love of country and the desire to fulfill our constitutional responsibility. There is no doubt in my mind that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle love their country as much as we do.

I cannot understand why an administration continues to attack those who, out of love of country, speak out and dare to speak truth to power, that are willing to ask the unimagined questions and perhaps give unwelcomed answers to the administration. But that is the work that is required of elected Members of the United States Congress under our Constitution. That is our sworn obligation to the people of this great country of ours and will continue to be our obligation.

It is our sincere hope that we can move this Nation in a new direction. And with a Democratic-controlled Congress, we believe that is the best hope for our colleagues on the other side to join with us in creating what is in the best interest of our troops, our families, and the very security of this Nation.

Thank you, gentlemen, each of you, for joining us this evening.

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