Panel Unanimously Approves Chertoff
President Bush's choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, was approved by a Senate panel yesterday, clearing the way for a final vote on his confirmation by the Senate.
Chertoff, 51, faced questioning from members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week over the administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He promised to seek a balance between fighting terrorism and guarding individual rights. The panel voted unanimously to send his nomination to the Senate floor.
Michael Chertoff is Bush's nominee to lead Homeland Security.
The full Senate could vote on Chertoff as early as today, and senators from both parties predicted he would be easily approved. He is the last member of Bush's second-term Cabinet still awaiting Senate confirmation.
When he was an assistant U.S. attorney general, Chertoff helped develop some of the government's anti-terrorism policies. His division of the Justice Department reviewed memos narrowing the definition of torture under U.S. law and set rules on the detention of illegal immigrants. Chertoff has also served as an appeals court judge.
If confirmed, Chertoff will take over the department created two years ago to manage the government's response to the threat of terrorism. Tom Ridge, who has run the department since its inception, announced his resignation Nov. 30. Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) voted "present" to protest difficulties he said he has had in getting information from the Justice Department on its interrogation policies.
Kuwaitis Allege Torture by U.S. Forces
Six Kuwaiti prisoners said they were severely beaten, given electric shocks and sodomized by U.S. forces in Afghanistan before they confessed to fighting with the Taliban and were sent to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, their lawyer said yesterday.
The Kuwaitis told their lawyer, according to his declassified notes, that most physical abuse ended at Guantanamo, but that the prisoners were subjected to sexual and religious humiliation and prolonged isolation.
Captured in Pakistan or Afghanistan about three years ago, the Kuwaiti men were taken to U.S. bases in Afghanistan, where they were hung by their wrists, beaten with chains and subjected to electric shock, said Tom Wilner, who represents a dozen Kuwaiti captives.
The men said that after torture they admitted they had joined the Taliban or met with al Qaeda members.
At Guantanamo, two detainees said they had crosses shaved into their scalp or body hair. The group said they were stripped naked and kept hooded for long periods of time, and female guards taunted them, Wilner said.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said that detention operations at Guantanamo are "safe, humane and professional." He added that the U.S. military investigates "credible allegations of illegal conduct."
Chief of Naval Operations to Retire
Adm. Vern Clark, the Navy's top officer, said he will retire this summer after five years as chief of naval operations -- the second-longest tenure in the history of the Navy.
Clark, 60, started in the job July 21, 2000, three months before the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 sailors. He has been considered an innovative leader who has fundamentally altered the way the Navy maintains the combat readiness of its 12 aircraft carriers.
Judge Dismisses 'Stop Loss' Case
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Army's right to force soldiers to serve past the date of their enlistment -- the "stop loss" policy that can keep men and women in uniform during war or national emergencies.
Spec. David Qualls had sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the Army from forcing him to remain on active duty, maintaining his enlistment contract was misleading. He signed up for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard in July 2003 but was later told he would remain on active duty in Iraq until 2005. He has since reenlisted for six years.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said the enlistment contract does notify those who sign up that the government could extend their terms of service. While acknowledging minimal harm to the Army if he ordered Qualls released, Lamberth said similar suits could substantially disrupt and divert military resources.
The enlistments of an estimated 7,000 active-duty soldiers have been extended under the policy, which the Army says is needed to provide experienced soldiers for battle. As many as 40,000 reserve soldiers could be ordered to stay longer.
For the Record
The Bush administration asked a federal court in Boston to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Pentagon's 11-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The government said last year's landmark Supreme Court ruling that overturned state laws making gay sex a crime does not undercut the military's policy, which allows gay men and lesbians to serve as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and don't reveal their sexual orientation.
Former Kellogg Co. chief executive Carlos M. Gutierrez took the oath of office as Commerce Department secretary, taking over an agency with assignments ranging from monitoring the weather to enforcing trade laws. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. administered the oath to Gutierrez, 51, who inherits an agenda that includes helping manufacturers by cutting government regulations, reducing taxes and managing the end of global trade restrictions on textiles.
-- From News Services