Senate Panel Considers Hearing on Rumsfeld

Armed Services Chairman John Warner may have retired generals testify on the defense secretary.
Armed Services Chairman John Warner may have retired generals testify on the defense secretary. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, underscoring lawmakers' concerns about the Iraq war's progress, said yesterday that he may invite testimony from retired generals who have called for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said he will confer with colleagues before deciding whether to schedule a hearing that would feature defenders of Rumsfeld as well as retired officers who have stirred debate in recent days by saying the secretary should step down. "I commit to making a decision on this request in the near future," Warner said in a statement, adding that the panel has a busy schedule.

Concerned about the mounting criticism and a possible hearing, more than a dozen Republican senators rallied to Rumsfeld's defense yesterday. They treated him to a breakfast in the Capitol and praised him throughout the day.

"There were a lot of expressions of support for him," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), who organized the breakfast. Attendees included Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), who later told reporters he has "100 percent confidence" in Rumsfeld's leadership.

Sessions said a hearing involving the retired generals "would send the wrong message" about the nation's commitment to the war in Iraq. But he said he "wouldn't be surprised" if such an event took place because "the Democrats love to have these hearings."

A Democrat -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) -- asked Warner last week to let the retired officers testify, saying, "It is critical that we learn from our experiences in the planning and conduct of our presence in Iraq." But Republicans control Congress and its committees, so they decide the topics and speakers for hearings.

Those who have sharply criticized Rumsfeld's handling of the war, and urged that he be replaced, include retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq; retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper; retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2000 to 2002; and retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi soldiers in 2003 and 2004.

Many other high-ranking retired and active officers have defended Rumsfeld, as has President Bush. Still, military historians say, the level of wartime criticism is notable, and a Senate panel hearing would give the retired officers a new platform for their arguments.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for Rumsfeld's resignation two years ago. GOP lawmakers have generally fallen into two camps: those who openly praise him, and those who say little or nothing. Warner, a former Navy secretary, is in the second group. He did not attend yesterday's breakfast, which included several of his committee colleagues, and he has said it is the president's prerogative to decide whether Rumsfeld is fit to serve.

"The current debate over our national security by a series of retired generals -- some critical, some supportive of the present leadership in the Department of Defense -- is an important exercise of the right to freedom of speech," he said. "Another valued tenet is the right of the president to select the members of his own Cabinet."

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