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Democrats Stab MoveOn in the Back

Memo to Democrats: you control the Congress. That means you can decide what bills come to the floor for votes--and what don't. So why, in a week where Republicans blocked the restoration of habeas corpus, voting rights for DC and adequate rest time for our troops between deployments, did you allow Republicans the opportunity to score a cheap PR stunt by approving a resolution condemning a week-old newspaper ad by Moveon.org--on the same day Republicans once again voted to keep indefinitely continuing the Iraq war?!

It boggles the mind. I have no idea what Harry Reid was thinking. Does he think that by repudiating Moveon.org suddenly Fox News will like him? That Ann Coulter will take back all those nasty things she said? That Republicans will stop trying to blame the Democrats for losing this war?

MoveOn has been one of the most effective and persistent voices pushing for progressive change inside the Democratic Party. They helped elect politicians like Jon Tester in Montana and Jim Webb in Virginia, who today stabbed the group in the back. MoveOn didn't start this war. George Bush did. And General Petraeus is keeping it going. They've only been in the majority for nine months, but you'd think by now Democratic leaders in Congress would be able to comprehend the obvious.

Bush Loses It With MoveOn

President Bush has made it clear that he does not read newspapers. And there is little reason to believe that the chief executive spends much time viewing serious news programs before his twilight bedtime.

So it is a bit surprising that he has kept up with the controversy surrounding the MoveOn.org advertisement in the New York Times that urged General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to put aside administration talking points and speak blunt and necessary truths when he briefed Congress last week.

It is even more surprising that the commander-in-chief would in an official setting take the extraordinary step of attacking the advertisement and the group that placed it.

But so Bush did on Thursday in what will rank as one of the more remarkable -- and politically petty -- moments of a remarkable and politically-petty presidency.

In the New York Times advertisement, MoveOn proposed the anything-but-radical notion that a failure of frankness on the general's part would be a betrayal of the troops and the country. That's hardly an unreasonable suggestion, coming as it does at a critical stage in the occupation when young men and women from the United States are dying at a rate of one every ten hours and when $200 million is removed from the federal treasury each day to maintain what is so obviously a failed mission.

But the president was upset, and he showed it. Tossed a typical soft-ball question at a presidential press conference Thursday morning, Bush responded by saying, "I thought that the ad was disgusting. I felt like the ad was an attack, not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. military. And I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad. That leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org -- are more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military. That was a sorry deal. And it's one thing to attack me. It's another thing to attack somebody like General Petraeus."

Bush's obviously prepared statement was a clumsy attempt to attack Democratic presidential candidates and congressional leaders. But it created an opening for an unprecedented back-and-forth between the most powerful man in the world and his most aggressive critics. It was hardly necessary on the day when Senate Republicans were engineering a symbolic 72-25 vote rebuking the MoveOn ad that referred to Petraeus as "Betray Us." Had Bush simply offered the standard "I'm not going to get into these political fights" line, or even a pithier "I think the Senate will have something appropriate to say about that," he would have mastered the moment.

Instead, the president handed the loudest microphone in the land to MoveOn. And MoveOn.org Political Action Committee executive director Eli Pariser grabbed it with gusto.

"What's disgusting is that the President has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war," said Pariser, who argued that, "The President has no credibility on Iraq: he lied repeatedly to the American people to get us into the war. Most Americans oppose the war and want us to get out. Right now, there are about 168,000 American soldiers in Iraq, caught in the crossfire of that country's unwinnable civil war, and the President has betrayed their trust and the trust of the American people."

MoveOn's leaders would be the first to acknowledge that they are not perfect strategists. Like any high-profile activist group, MoveOn makes mistakes that even supporters second guess. Reasonable people can and will question whether the "Betray Us" ad delivered the right message at the right time.

But there is no way that provoking a president to attack your organization's message -- and in so doing to emphasize that leading figures on the national political stage remain resolutely allied with you -- can be counted as anything but a masterstroke.

While the fiercest partisans -- and Fox personalities -- may choose to try and portray the president's outburst as a bold gesture, a show of resolve, a rallying cry or whatever other spin comes to mind, sincere supporter of the president or his war cannot be comfortable with what has transpired. And honest observers, no matter what their political bent, will acknowledge that MoveOn just won a major round.

Anytime a grassroots political group is mentioned by the president of the United States, it gains attention and status as a prime player in the national debate. Add to this simple reality of the political process the fact that Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents in history, and that his declining circumstance is so closely linked with the war, and it is nothing short of amazing that he has chosen to emphasize his morass by getting into a shoving match with MoveOn.

The president's reckless decision to engage in this sort of political infighting at the same time that he and his aides are busy complaining about an increasingly bitter and partisan debate about the occupation makes this a particularly bad day for a president who only yesterday was battered by polling data that confirmed the Petraeus ploy had done nothing to alter anti-war sentiment among the American people.

Presumably, an urgent call will be going out to a certain retired White House political czar. After all, even an electoral street fighter like Karl Rove knows that you don't let a president climb down from his bully pulpit and start wrestling with his loudest critics -- especially a president whose credibility has been stretched beyond he breaking point.

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John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Combatants for Peace

This past January a ten year old Palestinian girl, Abir Aramin, was hit by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli Border Police as she was making her way home from school in East Jerusalem.

According to an account by Donald Macintyre writing in the Independent of London, Abir was with her sister and two friends after buying chocolate at a grocery shop having just finished a math exam. One of the friends, 12-year-old Abrar Abu Qweida, said an Israeli Jeep passed them in the opposite direction and she noticed a gun protruding from the rear.

Moments later, she said, she heard a loud bang and like Abir's sister Arin, 11, hunched her shoulders in an instinctive reaction. She said that Abir fell forward. A boy who helped to take Abir into her nearby school handed the Israeli legal rights agency Yesh Din a rubber bullet he said he found under her body.

The official investigation into the girl's death was closed quickly by Israeli authorities without any prosecution or explanation of how it happened.

Abir's father, Bassam Aramin, is a former Fatah militant who -- long before his daughter's death -- renounced violence to devote his time to fostering peaceful dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. Despite his grief he has used the killing of his daughter to further his reconciliation efforts with the help of a group of Israeli ex-soldier friends in the unique organization, Combatants for Peace.

The group, composed largely of former combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinians involved in armed resistance, is working to build a playground in her name at Abir's former school as it seeks justice in the form of a legitimate criminal investigation into the causes of her death.

Watch this video for background on Combatants for Peace.

The fundraising for the playground has only started recently. Former fighters will work side by side to build the site, showing the world the possibilities of peaceful, productive collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis. The project plan was designed voluntarily by landscape architect Judy Green and can be viewed here. When completed, the school grounds will include two play areas, a ball field, fruit and olive trees, a memorial fountain, and numerous places for children to sit, play, and talk.

The entire project can be funded for only $25,000 and more than $7,000 has been raised already. Click here to donate and find out more about the uniquely inspirational stories behind the Combatants for Peace.

An Iraqi "Eliot Ness" Out in the Cold--UPDATED

Three days ago, I called the State Department with a question: what is the Bush administration doing to help Radhi al-Radhi? The answer appears to be this: nothing.

I was referring to the former Iraqi judge who until recently was head of the Commission on Public Integrity, the independent government agency tasked with investigating corruption within the Iraqi government. As I've previously reported, earlier this month Radhi was forced out of his job by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while Radhi and several of his investigators were attending a training session in Washington sponsored by the U.S. government. A draft of a secret U.S. embassy report--which was first revealed in this column--depicts Radhi as a diligent and serious (though hobbled) pursuer of the rampant corruption infesting the Maliki government. (You can read the full draft report--which concludes that corruption is the "norm" throughout most Iraqi ministries--here.)

Radhi was apparently tossed out of his job because he pushed too hard on corruption within the Maliki administration. He was replaced with a Maliki ally who last month was arrested on corruption charges. Moreover, the Iraqi government cut off Radhi's funding while he was in the United States--except for a small pension of several hundred dollars a month. (As a former government official who held a minister's rank, Radhi says he is due ten times as much in retirement pay.) Given that Radhi has accused past and present government officials of corruption and has recently said that the Maliki administration is so rotten it ought to be abolished, it would be unwise for him to return to Iraq, where his family remains. "I consider him Iraq's version of Eliot Ness," says Chris King, an American who was a senior adviser to Radhi in Iraq. "Time and time again, he put himself and his family at risk to prosecute corruption and promote the rule of law in a nonsectarian, non-ethnic, non-tribal and nonpolitical manner."

Now Radhi has essentially been stranded in the United States. Last week, the 62-year-old former jurist, who was imprisoned and tortured during Saddam Hussein's regime, had to leave the Alexandria, Virginia, hotel where he was staying because he could not pay the bill.

Up until Maliki and his allies removed Radhi, State Department advisers were working with Radhi and his anticorruption commission. It was the U.S. government that brought him and his investigators to Washington for training sessions conducted by the Justice Department and the Defense Department. But now the State Department, according to Radhi associates and U.S. government officials, is not aiding the former judge. "No U.S. government agency has provided him any help to date," says a Radhi associate. On Monday morning, I asked Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokesperson, if this is true. She promised a quick answer. No reply came quickly. When I called again, she told me she had to check with Bureau of Near East Affairs and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. On Wednesday afternoon, Thompson called with an official response:

State Department officials have met with Judge Radhi and are aware of his situation. As a standard practice, we do not comment on private conversations.

But according to Radhi associates, State Department officials met with him about two weeks ago, and Radhi has not heard anything from the department since then. "Judge Radhi is in immigration limbo," says Christopher Nugent, a lawyer who is working pro bono with Radhi. "He is a man without a state, contemplating his options."

It's no surprise the State Department has displayed little interest in assisting Radhi. For the Bush administration, Radhi is an inconvenient Iraqi. And he is speaking out while in the United States. Radhi is scheduled to testify about corruption in the Iraqi government next week before the House oversight and government reform committee chaired by Representative Henry Waxman. (On Tuesday, Waxman released a letter noting that according to seven current and former officials, State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard has repeatedly interfered with investigations to protect the White House and State Department from political embarrassment.)

When Radhi appears before Waxman's committee, his testimony can be expected to shoot a hole in the Bush administration's rationale for its military action in Iraq. George W. Bush has said the point of the so-called surge is to create "breathing space" in which Maliki's government can achieve national reconciliation and provide basic services to the people of Iraq. Yet Radhi says the Maliki government is so sleaze-ridden and so dominated by criminals that it cannot achieve anything. This raises an obvious question: is the current Iraqi government worth dying and killing for?

During their recent appearances on Capitol Hill, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker did not address the issue of corruption within the Maliki government. The pair discussed the Maliki administration in hopeful and positive terms. Crocker saluted Maliki's "patriotism." But Radhi's damning conclusions about the Maliki administration challenge Bush's strategy, which is predicated on the notion that the Maliki administration, given a chance, can take meaningful steps to bring peace and security to Iraq.

The Bush White House is apparently not eager to see Radhi testify that the Maliki government is a criminally-run cesspool of fraud and waste. That may explain why the State Department has abandoned Radhi. The State Department also has no plans, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Iraq, to release the draft report detailing corruption in the Iraqi government. In fact, according to Waxman, the State Department may try to classify that report retroactively. The copy of the draft I obtained was marked "SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED."

The State Department also has withheld this secret U.S. embassy document from Congress. On September 10, Waxman sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rive requesting copies of "all reports prepared by the Office of Accountability and Transparency [within the State Department], whether classified or unclassified, relating to the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity." This request covered the secret U.S. embassy report on Iraqi corruption, for this report was drafted by officials of the Office of Accountability and Transparency [OAT]. The State Department refused to turn over to Waxman any OAT records, but it allowed staffmembers of Waxman's committee to inspect documents at the State Department. After that review, Waxman reiterated his demand that copies be given to the committee. (The 82-page draft report, though, was posted on the Internet this week.)

Waxman's committee also requested interviews with three Office of Accountability and Transparency officials who worked on Iraqi corruption matters. One, James Mattil, showed up for an interview. The State Department refused to make the other two officials--Vincent Foulk and Christopher Griffith--available to the committee.

Yesterday, Waxman sent another letter to Rice demanding that the OAT documents be handed over today and that Foulk, Griffith, and James Santelle, the rule of law coordinator at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, appear for interviews with the committee. Waxman noted he was prepared to subpoena the State Department if the documents and witnesses were not produced.

Keep Radhi isolated, cover up the draft report and other documents on corruption, sit on witnesses--the State Department is doing what it can to prevent the issue of corruption from undermining the White House's current rationale for the war. Radhi, who would like to return to his job pursuing fraud and waste in Iraq (but who knows that's not likely to happen), says he has no political agenda. He merely wants the truth about the Iraqi government to be known. "His only commitment," says an associate, "is to the rule of law and transparency." But Radhi's truth is trouble for the Bush administration. As he has gone from U.S.-supported investigator to an in-the-cold whistleblower, it looks as if the Bush administration has decided that regarding Radhi the mission is a simple one: cut and run.

UPDATE: As I reported above, Representative Henry Waxman, the chairman of House government oversight and reform committee, on September 19 asked the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to turn over to him a copy of the secret draft Baghdad embassy report on corruption in the Iraqi government and other documents and to produce three State Department officials for interviews with committee investigators.

Rice had not done so. In response, Waxman has issued subpoenas to the State Department for these records and witnesses.

Meanwhile, Waxman's committee is proceeding with the hearing on Iraqi corruption--scheduled for September 27--that will feature Radhi.

Don't Like Noam Chomsky? Try Alan Greenspan

Remember Michael Ignatieff's "Getting Iraq Wrong," the New York Times Sunday Magazine essay in which he explained that he supported the war in Iraq because he was a sensitive academic prone to big dreams? Ignatieff managed to admit that he had been wrong while attacking the people who'd been right all along: "Many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology," he wrote. "They opposed the invasion because they believed the President was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong." Not very gracious, that.

Personally, I have no idea why we went to war in Iraq. Even at the time it seemed insane. After all, the Bush Administration knew everything war opponents knew: that Saddam hadn't been involved in 9/11, didn't have WMD, wasn't a mighty military force about to pounce on the world. Cruel as the regime was, I never bought the view that the war was a humanitarian rescue mission, either. There are too many harsh dictatorships, too many places full of horror -- Congo, Darfur, Burma -- that the US basically ignored. As for bringing democracy to the Mdidle East, where would that leave our good friend Saudi Arabia? I basically figured the decision to invade was one of those overdetermined situations, a murky confluence of motives and actors and schemes, like most wars. We'd have to wait for the historians to sort it all out in fifty years.

Or maybe not. In his new book Alan Greenspan ,no lefty peacenik, writes, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

Oh. I wonder how Michael Ignatieff would respond to that.

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While we're on the subject of war, here's a poem that arrived in my inbox this morning from VoicesinWartime.org. Dunya Mikhail is a Baghdad-born poet currently living in Michigan. She has written four volumes of poetry in Arabic and one in English. This poem was translated by Elizabeth Winslow. (Note added later: Apparently this is an abridged version. You can read the whole poem here. )

The War Works Hard
by Dunya Mikhail

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
. . .

The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers,
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader's face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

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Katha Pollitt's collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories, is just out from Random House. These are not Nation columns; in fact, most are previously unpublished. "Watching Pollitt level her incisive wit at targets as disparate as Marxism and motherhood makes "Learning to Drive" a rewarding and entertaining read."--San Francisco Chronicle

For upcoming readings and appearances, click here.

Habeas Corpus and a Senate Race in Maine

The United States Senate celebrated this week's 220th anniversary of the Constitution by failing to endorse the restoration of the habeas corpus protections that legal scholar Albert Venn Dicey once described as being "worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty."

Of all the insults to the nation's founding principles that have been recorded in this era of undeclared wars, unwarranted spying and unlimited executive excess, none is more galling than this one.

That a single senator, having sworn an oath to defend the Constitution, would vote against the renewal of habeas corpus protections ought to be a shock to the system.

That 43 of them -- enough to block a cloture motion that would have allowed the Senate majority to undo the damage done by the Military Commissions Act of 2006 -- is evidence of the depth to which the Republic has sunk.

The founders of the American experiment left no doubt of the commitment of the new United States to the rule of law and right. While Madison, Mason and their contemporaries assumed that habeas corpus protections would be embraced and respected by all Americans who understood the point of their revolt against the British crown, they specifically added a notation to the Constitution stating that, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it."

In absence of rebellion or invasion, the Congress voted last fall -- at the behest of then-White House political czar Karl Rove, who hoped in vain that fear-mongering might renew Republican electoral prospects -- to suspend habeas corpus protections for suspects deemed to be "unlawful enemy combatants" by the Bush administration.

Wednesday's cloture vote provided an opportunity for senators to recommit themselves to the Constitution.

Of the 56 votes to restore habeas corpus protections, 49 came from Democrats and one from Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats. Six came from Republicans: Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, Indiana's Richard Lugar, Oregon's Gordon Smith, Maine's Olympia Snowe, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and New Hampshire's John Sununu.

Of the 43 votes against the Constitution, 42 came from Republicans and one from Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

What is the best way to react to the vote? By remembering that the two more vulnerable Republican incumbents up for reelection next year, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins of Maine, voted against restoring habeas corpus. They were joined in their Constitutional heresy by four potentially vulnerable Republicans -- John Barrasso of Wyoming, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ted Stevens of Alaska.

In 2008, the Constitution needs to be a campaign issue.

Senators are either for it or against it. And those senators who are against it need to be forced to explain why they should not be replaced by challengers who are committed to swear sincere oaths to defend the document and the fundamental values that it outlines.

Maine's Collins deserves special attention in this regard. While her fellow Republican senator, Snowe, broke ranks to cast a pro-Constitution vote Wednesday, Collins continued to cast her lot with the Bush administration. It is notable that Collins' Democratic challenger, Congressman Tom Allen, voted against the Military Commissions Act last fall.

Allen's name now tops the list of House co-sponsors of the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007. The Democrat is, as well, a co-sponsor of a number of other measures designed to renew basic liberties and the rule of law, including the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act, which would prohibit extraordinary rendition of suspects in U.S. custody, and the aptly named: Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.

The Collins-Allen race offers Maine voters a stark choice, as well as a rare opportunity to cast a vote for Constitutional renewal -- as Maine Republican Snowe did on Wednesday, while Maine Republican Collins did not.

Perhaps the next time the Senate votes on habeas corpus, Maine will have two senators who favor who will bear true faith and allegiance to their oaths to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

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John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

"The Fat Lady Has Not Sung Yet"

The people of the nation's capital – all 600,000 of them – came closer than ever before to long sought after voting representation in Congress yesterday. But in the end, bipartisan supporters of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act could only muster 57 of the 60 votes needed to stop the latest Republican filibuster.

No one was more damning of the 42 Senators (including one Democrat, Senator Max Baucus) who voted against cloture than bill co-sponsor, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. At a press conference following the bill's defeat, Hatch said that the tactic of filibustering against civil rights "was resurrected" with that vote. DC Mayor Adrian Fenty – who was on the Senate floor for the vote and attended the press conference along with the entire DC Council – also noted that "not since segregation has the Senate blocked a voting rights bill." Hatch railed against those who argue that the bill is unconstitutional – saying they should give the Supreme Court a chance to determine that – and he believed that opponents simply feared that the court would side with voting rights advocates. Another supporter of the bill, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had even attached an amendment calling for "expedited" judicial review in an attempt to assuage her colleagues concerns. She urged her colleagues to "stand for an important principle of providing the vote to residents of the District of Columbia."

Following the bill's defeat, an optimistic (non-voting) Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton said, "The fat lady has not sung yet. This war is not over." She said she was "particularly grateful to the 8 Republicans who stood with us" despite "extraordinary pressure" from Republican party leaders. Norton indicated that Republican Senators Thad Cochran, John McCain and Gordon Smith had said that they would vote against the filibuster but that they folded to party pressure.

While many fear that this was the last shot for DC voting rights in this Congress, Norton didn't agree. She noted that the second session will occur in an election year, and that while some Republicans were "scared away" from supporting the bill this time around, in 2008 voting rights advocates will utilize tremendous bipartisan support and follow Senators home to "scare them into" supporting the bill.

"We will get there," Hatch agreed. "Justice is on the side of winning here. Giving 600,000 people the right to vote."

With reporting by Greg Kaufmann, a freelance writer residing in his disenfranchised hometown of Washington, DC.

Progressives See No Progress

When it comes to the Iraq War, the 72-member Congressional Progressive Caucus has generally been a source of energy in the Democratic Party, as its members have quite vocally pressured party leaders for legislation that could lead to an end to the war. But at a sparsely attended "townhall meeting" Wednesday morning at the Cannon House Office Building, venerable caucus leaders sounded a distinctly defeatist note, glumly explaining that Congress simply lacks both the votes and the spirit to undo Bush's war.

"It is one of the worst times to ever be in the Congress of the UnitedStates," complained California's Maxine Waters. "We look incapable of doing what the public wants us to do." A downbeat Waters also said that "even though members of Congress were elected on a platform to get us out of Iraq, they have prioritized getting along instead of following their heart and intellect."

Steven Cohen, a freshmen House democrat from Tennessee who has steadfastly opposed the war, didn't point fingers at his Democratic colleagues but nonetheless shared Water's frustration: "I think our Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] is a good leader, but maybe the leadership would be stronger if there was hope in the Senate to get the votes." In other words, the antiwar Democrats are stuck because of those Senate Republicans who refuse to break with George W. Bush on the war.

On the Senate side, there certainly is not much hope for change among Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would no longer try to bring troops home by spring. And it appears that an incremental strategy change being pushed by Senator Jim Webb that would give troops longer breaks between deployments is not likely to come to a vote.

During today's meeting, the progressive caucus, chaired by Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, once again called for Congress not to approve further funding for the war without a timetable for withdrawal. But the members did not come across as fired up to make such a measure happen. Nor did they threaten to break with Pelosi if legislation of this sort was not offered by the House leadership. They remain antiwar--but they came across as unsure what to do about it.

Senate Fails on Habeas Corpus

Today the US Senate fell four votes short of restoring Habeas Corpus, the fundamental constitutional right of individuals to challenge government detention, which the Republican Congress revoked in last year's Military Commissions Act. Fifty-six senators supported a procedural move to tie the Habeas provision to legislation authorizing defense spending--a step that requires sixty votes.

The amendment was sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, Senator Arlen Specter, who voted for the legislation that the amendment attempts to reverse, and Senator Chris Dodd, who blasted today's vote. "Each of us in the Senate faced a decision either to cast a vote in favor of helping to restore America's reputation in the world, or to help dig deeper the hole of utter disrespect for the rule of law that the Bush Administration has created. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues chose the latter," he said.

Backers of the amendment and human rights organizers say they will continue to press for habeas restoration. Leah Adler, an organizer with Working Assets, wrote today that activists should focus on the U.S. House, which will "likely consider legislation to restore habeas corpus in the next few weeks."

Today's vote also suggests a new Senate majority for Habeas Corpus. (Last Congress, a similar amendment did not even break 50 votes.) And yes, it is a sad sign that we are reduced to counting votes for which members of Congress are upholding their oath to support the Constitution.