Fox News' Bret Baier misrepresented the reasons that Republican senators cited for opposing an amendment that would urge President Bush to communicate strong disapproval of an amnesty for insurgents in Iraq who attacked U.S. troops. Baier falsely suggested that the Republicans said only that they opposed the amendment because Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie had supposedly made the controversy moot when he disavowed such a proposal.
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On the June 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Pentagon correspondent Bret Baier misrepresented Republicans' stated reasons for opposing a Democratic amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 condemning a possible amnesty for insurgents in Iraq who had attacked American soldiers. Baier suggested that Republicans cited only a statement by Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie disavowing such an amnesty proposal, when in fact some Republican senators made clear that they opposed the Democratic amendment because they actually supported the reported amnesty proposal.
The debate was sparked by a June 15 Washington Post report that a "limited amnesty" included in Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's "national reconciliation" package was, according to a top Maliki adviser (paraphrased by the Post), "likely to include pardons for those who had attacked only U.S. troops," as opposed to those who had also attacked Iraqis. On that day's edition of CNN's Live Today, Rubaie denied this was the case: "What the prime minister is going to give amnesty to are those who have not committed the crimes, whether they're against Iraqis or coalition." Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) then quoted that statement at the beginning of debate on Sen. Bill Nelson's (D-FL) amendment opposing any Iraqi plan that would grant amnesty to insurgents who have attacked U.S. soldiers. Baier's report quoted a similar comment from his telephone interview with Rubaie.
Baier reported that "Republicans made the decision" to "effectively kill" Nelson's amendment, asserting that Rubaie's statement made the issue moot. In fact, during the Senate debate, some Republican senators stated that they opposed the amendment because they supported the Iraqi government's then-reported plan to grant amnesty to insurgents who had attacked American soldiers:
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK): I wonder seriously about what the senator from Florida is doing by telling this new fledgling democracy that they cannot go through the process of cleansing, go through the process of trying to get people who were misguided, who were part of coalitions that they now are willing to recant, if they are, to come forward and support this new democracy. What are we doing anyway on the floor of the Senate trying to tell the new democracy what they can and can't do? I didn't like that story when I read it in the paper this morning, but I was happy to see the new statement from the security people that clarified what they intend to do.
But the time will come, if that democracy is going to succeed, when they are going to have to fold into their population those who are willing now to give up terrorism, those who are willing to put aside the activities of the past which led them to attack Americans as well as any other -- there are 34 other nations over there. Are we saying just those who did kill Americans, they can't get amnesty, but the rest of them can?
What are we doing on the floor of the Senate trying to debate an issue as to how this country is going to come back together again? I am sort of appalled at it, really. I don't know if anyone else is. But it seems to me that we ought to do everything we can to encourage them to bring their people together, to forget the sins of the past, to forget the terrorists of the past, and to pledge themselves to a new future of democracy and have people come forward and say: I am willing to support this new democracy. And if they do, and demonstrate that they do after a period of time, shouldn't they be recognized as being loyal citizens of the new democracy?
This is a debate that disturbs me. It disturbs me to think we are willing to just seize the moment and make a political point -- seize the moment and make a point -- and not think.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): But the larger issue here is, I believe, that our goal is to bring an end to the conflict as quickly as possible in Iraq. If that means, in return for laying down their arms, that some are allowed an amnesty or allowed to re-enter the society of Iraq, in a peaceful manner, in a productive manner, as has happened in South Africa, El Salvador -- and is happening in Colombia -- and many other insurgencies throughout history, then I think we should welcome it. And as we place our confidence in the new government of Iraq, perhaps we should give them some latitude.
I would also like to add, by the way, that that quote in the press may not have been exactly right as to who might be eligible for amnesty and who might not. At least that should be cleared up. But it doesn't obscure the fact that the freely elected government, that we support, of the country of Iraq is now reaching out to attempt to end the fighting and the conflict. I do not think we should be micro-managing that from the floor of the U.S. Senate.
I am sure that the enemies we faced in World War II -- who the distinguished chairman of the committee fought against in that great war -- that there was a time where we had reconciliation with our enemies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now, were people who were guilty of specific war crimes brought to trial? Absolutely, and punished, in some cases, to the point of execution. But those who fought against us are clearly now our friends.
A follow-up article in the June 16 Washington Post stated that a former Maliki aide quoted in the original story, Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, stood behind his version of the amnesty proposal. The Post also quoted another anonymous Maliki aide who "said Maliki had been 'clear, saying those whose hands weren't stained with Iraqi blood' may be eligible for any amnesty."
From the June 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
BAIER: The Washington Post cited a top aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki saying that as part of a national reconciliation program, even people who killed or wounded U.S. troops would be granted amnesty, prompting a quick and forceful response on Capitol Hill.
[begin video clip]
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): President Bush should immediately notify the government of Iraq that the United States government opposes granting amnesty in the strongest possible terms.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): It is totally unacceptable that amnesty or pardon be offered to people who killed Americans or who attacked American troops.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D-FL): You will not stand by and have amnesty offered by the Iraqi government to the people that have killed American boys and girls.
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I was outraged when I read this story.
BAIER: The problem is, according to Iraqi leaders, the story was wrong. Fox spoke with Iraq's national security adviser by phone from Baghdad.
RUBAIE: That was a misquotation and a misunderstanding on behalf of the media to what the prime minister had said. Iraq has no intention to grant amnesty to those who have killed Iraqis, Iraqi security forces, civilians, or coalition forces. We have absolutely no intention to do that.
BAIER: Rubaie said the prime minister and his cabinet have a detailed national reconciliation program to reach out to mostly Sunni communities. And part of that includes amnesty. But Rubaie insisted it will only be for people who have not committed crimes against Iraqis or coalition troops.
RUBAIE: If they lay down their arms and we look will into their records and they have not committed any crimes against Iraqi people or American people, American troops, then they are most welcome to come to join the process.
[end video clip]
BAIER: Senators spent much of the afternoon debating a resolution introduced by Florida Democrat Bill Nelson that would call on the president to make clear to the Iraqi government it should not grant amnesty to people who attacked, killed, or wounded U.S. troops.
Republicans made the decision not to vote on that resolution, and one senior Republican aide said that move should effectively kill it. Here at the White House, officials were comforted by Dr. Rubaie's comments, but they conceded it will take Iraqis some time to work through the details of this reconciliation program. Brit.