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House war ‘We have become the catalyst for violence’

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The storm finally hit the US House of Representatives on Nov. 17, interrupting months of sleepwalking through the explosive issues of war, torture and detention by the members as their more august colleagues in the Senate joined the painful fight.

The House fracas began when Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran from Pennsylvania, retired Marine colonel and the ranking Democrat on the Defense Committee, called for military withdrawal from Iraq. The Republican majority brought a simplified version to the floor for vote the next day, which all but three opponents of the war rejected as ‘“a political stunt and an outrageous politicization of a serious proposal,’” in the words of Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee.

Despite the parliamentary maneuvering, the gambit at least opened the debate.

Murtha’s anguished speech on the House floor as the eleventh-hour vote approached was particularly riveting, as he outlined a litany of demoralizing experiences for members of the US military: ‘“Going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace, the devastation caused by IEDs, being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes, being under second and third deployment and leaving their families behind without a network of support.’”

He confronted his fellow legislators with an unpleasant reality that those who wish to stay the course would rather not acknowledge.

‘“Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency,’” he said. ‘“They are united against US forces. We have become the catalyst for violence.’”

Unlike their Senate colleagues, the House has regretfully failed to grapple with issues of torture and detention that comprise the train of the war, possibly because the Republican House leadership has demonstrated less independence from President Bush than the more rebellious Republicans in the Senate.

Guilford County is carved up into three congressional districts, and all three representatives ‘— Republican Howard Coble and Democrats Brad Miller and Mel Watt, the latter of whom chairs the Congressional Black Caucus ‘— can be described as on-record opponents of the war.

The most active elected leader on the issue of war and human rights might be Miller, a Raleigh lawyer, who introduced legislation in October with Triangle-area Democrat David Price that directs the president to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq and to transfer all military bases to Iraqi security forces. The Price-Miller resolution has languished in the House International Relations Committee since late October.

Reached in Washington on Nov. 18, Miller noted that he is a co-sponsor of a bill introduced by California Democrat Henry Waxman to establish an independent commission to investigate abuses of detainees. Watt’s name is also on the legislation.

‘“The conduct at those facilities should be subjectto scrutiny,’” Miller said. ‘“We should examine how the treatment of prisoners is handled. We should detain and interrogate prisoners, but we should do it within moral limits.’”

Coble spokesman Ed McDonald said his boss wouldn’t comment on recent reports about secret detention facilities because they were based on leaked classified documents. But he said a recent Senate vote calling for significant military withdrawal from Iraq in 2006 is consistent with what Coble has been saying since January.

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