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Other News: House Approves Additional War Funding

May 14, 2009 at 6:05 PM EST
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In other news, the House approved another $97 billion in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan through September, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi again denied she knew about terror suspects being waterboarded amid mounting criticism.
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, the House approved another $97 billion in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan through September. The bill largely followed the president’s request, but it also included cargo planes the administration did not ask for, plus more mine-resistant vehicles.

There was broad bipartisan support, including California Democrat Jane Harman.

REP. JANE HARMAN, D-Calif.: I believe the bill is needed and the policies it funds reflect a change in direction from failed Bush administration strategies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the West Bank, all locations I have visited on several trips this past year.

We are ending the combat mission in Iraq, a policy I strongly support. We are also embracing a strategy for Afghanistan which makes governance and not projection of military force the top priority.

JIM LEHRER: But there was also opposition from some Republicans and Democrats. The bill pushes the total cost of the two wars well above $900 billion. And for Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, that was too much money and not enough detail.

REP. JAMES MCGOVERN, D-Mass.: Everyone I know, including President Obama, keeps telling me that there is no military solution in Afghanistan, only a political solution. And I believe this, too. So I am very concerned when we put billions of dollars into building up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan without a clear mission and without an exit strategy.

JIM LEHRER: The House bill does not include money the president wants to pay for closing Guantanamo Bay prison. The funds are in the Senate version, which is still pending.

As the war funding debate proceeded, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, confronted new criticism. She again denied she knew about terror suspects being waterboarded and went along with it during the Bush years.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: The speaker faced a barrage of questions about what she knew and when. She insisted again she was briefed only once, in September 2002, when she was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the House: I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, by then, the CIA had used waterboarding, or controlled drowning, on Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking al-Qaida operative.

But Pelosi insisted today she was not told that. She said she only learned of it later from a staffer in early 2003. As for the CIA, she said, “They mislead us all the time.”

JOURNALIST: But, Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you’re accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States. I’m telling you that they talked about interrogations that they had done and said, “We want to use enhanced techniques, and we have legal opinions that say that they are OK. We are not using waterboarding.” That’s the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were.

KWAME HOLMAN: A CIA chart of the briefing says Pelosi was given a “description of the particular techniques that had been employed,” but it offers no details.

In a statement today, a CIA spokesman neither accepted nor denied Pelosi’s claim. Instead, he cited a letter to Congress from Director Leon Panetta. In it, Panetta said records of the briefings represent “the best recollections of those individuals.”

Republicans have seized on the issue in recent weeks. Minority Leader John Boehner reiterated today some Democrats knew about harsh interrogations for years and never protested.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, House minority leader: And when you look at the number of briefings that the speaker was in and other Democrat members of the House and Senate, it’s pretty clear that they were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were, they were well aware that they had been used, and it seems to me that they want to have it both ways. You can’t have it both ways.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pelosi rejected the criticism, and she said there was little she could have done to stop the interrogations.

JOURNALIST: Do you wish now that you had done more?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: No letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they’re going to do. My job was to change the majority in Congress and to change — to fight to have a new president, because what was happening was not consistent with our values, certainly not true, and something that had to be changed. We did that. We have a new president. He says he’s going to ban torture.

KWAME HOLMAN: The speaker also called again for a truth commission to investigate the Bush-era interrogations. But so far, President Obama has been cool to that idea.

JIM LEHRER: The Obama administration will expand a program designed to help homeowners avoid foreclosures. The new measures aim to make it easier to sell a home that’s worth less than the mortgage. They would also streamline the process of transferring ownership to a lender. Treasury officials said they hope the program will help up to 4 million people.

The country’s jobs picture took a new turn for the worse this week. The Labor Department reported today first-time claims for unemployment benefits hit 637,000. That was well above expectations. The total number of unemployed Americans now tops 6.5 million.

Still, Wall Street managed small gains. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 46 points to close at 8,331. The Nasdaq rose 25 points to close at 1,689.

The government of Myanmar has brought new charges against the leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi. She’s been under house arrest in the former Burma for 13 years. Now she’s accused of violating the terms of her detention.

We have a report narrated by Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN MILLER: Today, the woman who won Burma’s 1990 election by a landslide is in Rangoon’s Insein Jail, thanks to an intruder who, in dead of night on the 3rd of May, swam a mile across Inle Lake to her home and stayed, despite her begging him not to. It’s illegal for foreigners to stay with Burmese people, and no one stays uninvited with Aung San Suu Kyi.

ZOYA PHAN, Burma Campaign U.K.: I think it’s ridiculous. Burma is the only country where someone could go to jail because having visitors without invitation.

JONATHAN MILLER: Now, John William Yettaw, night-swimmer, is in way out of his depth. He’d photographed himself pre-departure. He’d even snapped his weird homemade flippers. This morning, he was snapped again, being visited in detention by the American consul.

On page 10 of today’s state-controlled newspaper, they ran a bio box which says he’s 5-feet-10, he’s from Missouri, and has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

Apart from these details, we also know that the 53-year-old father of seven is a Vietnam War veteran and a Mormon who’s reportedly writing a faith-based book on heroism.

It’s not the first time he’s done this bizarrely. He’d reportedly swum to the compound late last year, too. Aung San Suu Kyi reported this to the police, but no action was taken.

One of the Nobel Laureate’s staff described him as a “nutty fellow.” In the United States, a neighbor said he wasn’t very outgoing and was a man with his own agenda.

But there’s widespread suspicion that Mr. Yettaw may not have been serving his own agenda. She was two weeks short of release. Now she’s back in jail facing three to five years.

JIM LEHRER: In Washington, Secretary of State Clinton demanded Suu Kyi’s release, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also voiced grave concern.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu urged the pope today to condemn Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction. The two men met in Nazareth, as Benedict XVI spent his fourth day in the Middle East. Netanyahu said he asked the pontiff to make his voice heard.

Earlier at mass, the pope urged Christians and Muslims to overcome divisions and reject hatred and prejudice. The population of Nazareth is two-thirds Muslim, one-third Christian.

Parts of the American Midwest spent this day recovering from a night of violent storms. At least three people were killed in northern Missouri. The town of Kirksville was especially hard-hit. A tornado about a half-mile wide destroyed at least 60 buildings there. Storms also brought heavy flooding in Indiana.