LETTER FROM WASHINGTON | DANA WILKIE
'Tis the season

November 28, 2005

No, not for turkey. For pre-election mudslinging.

Those living in Rep. Duncan Hunter's congressional district may have seen a new TV ad over the holiday weekend, though we can't say it was brimming with holiday cheer.

It was the ad that pictured a family bowed in prayer around a Thanksgiving dinner table that prominently featured an empty seat. A woman at the gathering is weeping.

In the 30-second spot, an announcer intones that 150,000 troops are "stuck in Iraq," presumably because "their president misled America to send them in and has no plan to get them out." The announcer says Democrats are leading the charge to bring soldiers home, then asks, "Where are the Republicans?"

As one might expect, Hunter is a hot target for MoveOn.org, the Democratic-leaning group that opposes the war and that paid for the TV ads. The El Cajon Republican is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a staunch supporter of Bush's policies in Iraq. MoveOn.org aired the ads in the districts of at least seven other congressional Republicans across the country over the weekend.

Responds Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper: "Congressman Hunter . . . believes that we must continue our efforts to ensure the Iraqi military and police forces are capable of providing their own security and protecting their citizenry. . . . To say a strategy is not in place is misguided and irresponsible."

Oh well, so much for holiday spirit. But you know, the congressional primaries are a mere 188 days away. Who has time for the holidays?

MORE ON THE WAR

Hunter has had just about enough of the American media. And can you blame him?

Hunter is tired of reading news reports that state or imply that torturing prisoners is allowed under U.S. law. His office points to news stories that discuss the Senate's recent passage of a defense bill that includes a ban on cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners.

The ban was written by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was tortured while a prisoner of war in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Bush insists the United States does not torture prisoners, yet he objects to McCain's amendment, saying it would restrict his ability to conduct the war on terror. Bush has threatened to veto the defense bill if McCain's provision stays in.

The United States Code – Title 18, Sections 2340 and 2340A – states that "whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life."

That doesn't mean torture of detainees doesn't happen. Or that there isn't a need to codify such restrictions elsewhere in military or other codes.

"Congressman Hunter's primary concern is that we are sending a message to our adversaries that America advocates the use of torture as an interrogation tactic," Hunter spokesman Kasper says. "The use of torture is strictly prohibited."

IT GOES BOTH WAYS

Democrats aren't the only ones using the war for political advantage: The National Republican Senatorial Committee recently bestowed on Sen. Dianne Feinstein its "Politician Award."

The senator's transgression?

"History revision," the committee says.

Feinstein, a California Democrat, is part of a six-member panel reviewing the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee as it examines whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence in public statements before the Iraq war.

In January, Feinstein insisted on the Senate floor that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not responsible for intelligence failures.

"Should Dr. Rice be blamed for wrong and bad intelligence?" Feinstein asked her colleagues. "I think not."

Yet the GOP Senate committee would like to point out that during a recent appearance on CNN, Feinstein was far more equivocal when asked about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's remark that administration officials had made "mistakes." Actually, Rumsfeld called them "honest mistakes."

Were there mistakes? the CNN host asked.

"I can't say at this time," Feinstein replied.

No one mentioned names here, but the Republican committee no doubt prefers the ringing endorsement of Rice that Feinstein provided months earlier.

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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