GOP Senate Blocks Timetable On Iraq, But Passes Plan Requesting Progress Reports

Lawmakers also vote to give Guantánamo Bay detainees more rights to challenge their imprisonment.

Congressional Republicans have joined the chorus of those who want to see some clear movement on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

At the urging of high-ranking Republicans, the Senate voted 79-19 on a GOP proposal on Tuesday (November 15) that calls for Iraqi forces to take the lead in policing the country next year and asks the Bush administration to reveal its plan for ending the war. But before accepting the Republican amendment to a defense bill that the Senate approved by a 98-0 vote, senators rejected a Democratic initiative that would have called for the Bush Administration to set a clear timetable for phasing U.S. troops out of Iraq.

The Senate also endorsed the administration's use of military tribunals to prosecute foreign terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but voted to give detainees more rights to challenge their imprisonment, according to an Associated Press report.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and fellow Republican John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, came up with the Iraq proposal, which would require the administration to provide detailed quarterly reports to Congress on subjects including the progress in bringing other countries in to help stabilize Iraq.

It's a bit less than what Democrats were requesting in a competing proposal, which called for setting dates for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq and went down in defeat by a vote of 58-40. Even with the defeat of the Democratic initiative, the passage of the Republican proposal was a clear sign that there is bipartisan support for Iraqis taking a larger role in policing their country in the coming months as U.S. troops are eased out of the area.

Prior to its passage, Warner said the message of the amendment was, "We really mean business, Iraqis, get on with it." The senator said he did not interpret the wording of his plan as critical of the administration. "It is not a question of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. This reflects what has to be done."

Frist said the plan was an alternative to the Democratic amendment, saying the Democrats "want an exit strategy, a cut-and-run exit strategy. What we are for is a successful strategy." The proposal also calls for the White House to "explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq" and to give regular reports on the "current military mission and the diplomatic, political, economic and military measures, if any, that are being or have been undertaken to successfully complete or support that mission."

Democrats said the plan was a sign of a shift in Republican sentiment on Iraq and an acknowledgment of the public's growing unease with the way the war is going. "I think it signals the fact that the American people are demanding change, and the Republicans see that that's something that they have to follow," said Democratic leader Harry Reid before the vote.

President Bush has repeatedly stated that he will not bow to the pressure of those seeking to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and on Monday he reiterated his position and lashed out at Democrats for their questioning of the possible manipulation of prewar intelligence (see "Democrats Shut Down Senate For Rare Closed-Door Session On Iraq Intelligence").

Accusing some Democrats of "sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy," the president said those calls to pull out troops are "irresponsible," according to an AP report. "Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people," Bush said. "Only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world and that person was Saddam Hussein."

As the Senate was taking up those issues, British officials talked up the possibility of withdrawing their troops. On Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was "entirely reasonable" to discuss the possibility that British troops could be leaving Iraq by the end of 2006. But, like Bush, Blair cautioned that withdrawals would not happen until "the job is done."

Blair said Britain would not withdraw its troops until it was convinced that Iraqi security forces were capable of dealing with security issues. The comments came a day after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said that Iraqi soldiers could replace British troops in southern Iraq by the end of 2006, according to the New York Times.. "We don't want British forces forever in Iraq," Talabani said. "Within one year, I think at the end of 2006, Iraqi troops will be ready to replace British forces in the South."

In light of recent revelations about secret CIA jails (see "Report Of 'Covert' CIA Jail Sparks Human-Rights Investigation"), the Senate also voted Tuesday on a compromise bill to allow terror detainees limited access to federal courts. Against administration wishes, the measure also had language that would prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees, a provision Vice President Dick Cheney lobbied against. The administration had threatened to veto any bill that included such language, claiming that it would inhibit the president's ability to stop future terrorist actions. The move comes after the Senate voted last week to prohibit detainees from challenging their detentions in federal court, despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary (see "Supreme Court To Decide If Bush Exceeded His Authority With Terrorism Trial").

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who authored the initial plan, said the compromise would allow detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their designation as enemy combatants in federal courts. It would also allow automatic appeals of any convictions handed down by the military where detainees receive prison terms of 10 years or more or a death sentence.

Graham said, "We have brought legal certainty to legal confusion," though he noted that detainees would still be barred from mounting an array of court challenges regarding their treatment or the conditions of their confinement.

And, in reaction to the recent indictment of the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby (see "Dick Cheney Aide 'Scooter' Libby Indicted In CIA Leak Case, Submits Resignation"), and a Washington Post report that revealed secret CIA prisons overseas, the bill also had a provision requiring the administration to give Congress details about any secret prisons and take away the security clearance of any government employee who knowingly discloses national security secrets. According to the AP, the House version of the bill does not have any of the new provisions and it's unclear if they will survive negotiations between the House and Senate and end up on the final defense bill.

[This story was originally published on 11.15.05 at 8:35 a.m. ET]