US Senate Debates Iraq War, Democrats Call for Rumsfeld Resignation

Lawmakers in the Senate have been holding a lengthy debate on the war in Iraq, with majority Republicans supporting President Bush, and Democrats calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill where members of Congress also reacted to President Bush's latest remarks on terrorism and the issue of the treatment of terrorist suspects.

Opposition Democrats had no illusions that they would get a vote on their resolution calling for the resignation of the man President Bush has relied upon at the Pentagon to manage the war in Iraq.

Their non-binding measure stated that the president's policy of staying the course in Iraq has made the United States less secure, reduced the readiness of the U.S. military, and burdened Americans with more than $300 billion in additional debt.

Since it was not directly relevant to a defense spending bill the Senate is considering, the resolution was certain to be struck down, never even advancing to a vote.

Republicans, such as Senator Ted Stevens, denounced Democrats for staging a political stunt designed to embarrass President Bush.

[President Bush] "does not deserve the opposition, I am sad to say in my opinion, on a purely political basis. Now there may be some over on this side of the aisle who have lost confidence in him, but this senator has not," he said.

For their part, Democrats such as Senator Charles Schumer countered that the multi-hour debate was entirely appropriate. "Most Americans, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, believe we need a new direction in Iraq and that is what this resolution personifies," he said.

Responses by other Republicans to Democrat calls for Secretary Rumsfeld's departure were summed up by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

"They [Democrats] are very united in defeatism, in their negatives attacks on the president, and in the process encouraging terrorists all around the world. Sending the signal that America is frustrated and ready to quit. America is not ready to quit," he said.

The debate, which may soon be duplicated in the House, came as lawmakers reacted to President Bush's announcement that 14 key terrorist leaders in U.S. custody have been transferred to the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The president has asked the Republican-led Congress to quickly approve legislation that would allow these and other terrorist suspects to be tried by military tribunals, possibly as early as next year.

House Republican leaders pledged to examine White House proposals regarding legislation, which would provide a roadmap for the Defense Department on tribunals.

All of this comes in the wake of last June's Supreme Court ruling saying military commissions were not authorized by U.S. law and counter to the Geneva Conventions.

House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi mixed criticism into her reaction to the president's announcement. "I am very pleased that the president has finally come around to adhering to the rule of law as proposed by the Supreme Court and has approached the Congress to enact legislation," she said.

But while Pelosi says she looks forward to working with Republicans on a bipartisan approach to legislation, she repeated her party's criticisms of the president, and said Democrats will "use every tool at their disposal" to press for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation.

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