Democrats Let Gates Slide

I wish I could say that the Democratic takeover of Congress gives me hope for an end to the war in Iraq. But it doesn’t. Since winning an overwhelming victory at the polls this November, the Democrats have done nothing to engender optimism in the peace camp.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has ruled out any attempt to cut funding for the war. In the confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense designate Robert Gates this week, the Democrats failed to ask a single tough question.

No Senator, for example, asked Robert Gates about Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, habeas corpus, torture, military tribunals, extraordinary rendition (sending prisoners without charge to third countries like Syria and Jordan to be tortured). No one asked him why the US military continues to hold an estimated 15,000 prisoners without charge in Iraq. No one asked him about a Red Cross report saying 90 percent of those held are innocent.

No Senator asked Robert Gates about civilian casualties in Iraq. No one asked him about the Lancet report out this fall showing 655,000 Iraqis have died since the US invasion and that one of the leading causes of death, according to the report, was US air-strikes.

No Senator asked Robert Gates about a plan he wrote for President Reagan for an invasion of Lybia to “redraw the map of Northern Africa.” No one asked him about his record of falsifying intelligence during the Cold War and his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.

No Senator asked Robert Gates about his claim, in written testimony given before his public hearing, that he believes in the doctrine of preemptive strikes on other countries, the policy position that got us in the mess in Iraq.

No Senator asked Robert Gates about his claim, in written testimony given before his public hearing, that he believes Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction and that he still – even in hindsight – thought the invasion was a good thing. What evidence did he have to support that?

No Senator asked Robert Gates about conflicts of interest stemming from his service on the corporate boards of defense companies, including San Diego-based SAIC which has a won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts connected to the US occupation in Iraq, including a major contract to train the Iraqi police and military and another contract to set up a new Iraqi state TV network after the fall of Saddam. Gates has also served on the board of Parker Drilling of Houston, Texas which works in partnership with Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton. No one asked him about that.

No Senator asked Robert Gates to respond to reports from inside the Pentagon that show at least 152,669 veterans have filed disability claims after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the more than 100,000 claims granted, Veterans Administration records show at least 1,502 veterans have been compensated as 100 percent disabled. No Senator asked Gates about reports from inside the Pentagon that veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are not getting the care they need.

These are just a few, very obvious, questions that Senators could have asked Robert Gates before confirming him. The fact that they didn’t ask even one of them, but instead talked ad nauseam about “bipartisanship” should be a wake-up call to antiwar voters that they’ll need to hold the Democrats’ feet to the fire if they want to accomplish anything in the coming years.

The vote to confirm Robert Gates was 95-2. The only Senators to vote “no” were Republicans Rick Santorum (who said Gates was too soft on "Islamic fascism”) and Jim Bunning (because he opposes any negotiations with Syria and Iran).

Not a single Democrat voted against Robert Gates for Secretary of Defense. Not a single one asked him a tough question.