Week in Review: Iraq, High Court, DeLay, Miller

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An analytical look at the week's news events. Topics include the readiness of Iraqi security forces; a new Supreme Court session with a new chief justice; Tom DeLay's indictment and reporter Judith Miller's grand jury testimony.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is on assignment. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

General GEORGE CASEY (US Commander in Iraq): We fully recognize that Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time because they don't have the institutional base to support them. And so level one, as you'll recall from the slide, that's what's got one battalion. And it's going to be...

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): It used to be three. Now we've gone from three to one?

Gen. CASEY: Pardon me?

Sen. McCAIN: It was three before. Previous...

Gen. CASEY: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: was that you had three battalions. Now we're down to one battalion.

WERTHEIMER: General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, answering a question from Senate Armed Services Committee member Senator John McCain of Arizona. That happened on Thursday here in Washington.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins me to talk about this and other news of the week.

Dan, hello.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Linda, and welcome back.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you, thank you. This has been a week of terrible violence in Iraq. Car bombs and suicide bombings have killed hundreds of people just in the past few days. General Casey's testimony indicates that the training of Iraqi troops is not progressing as quickly as planned.

SCHORR: That's right. Well, the--has problems such as that the training program has run into infiltration by insurgents. But the larger problem is that the violence has taken on some of the aspect of a civil war--Sunni against Shiite. There are a couple of Shiite towns that have been invaded by the Sunnis. Doesn't argue well for the creation of an allied, unified government. The administration needs that if it wants to talk about taking American troops out, but we're not there yet.

WERTHEIMER: Many people have suggested that the surge in violence has something to do with the upcoming October 15th vote to ratify the Iraqi constitution. Are there any early indications of what kind of support there is in Iraq for this document, especially among Sunnis?

SCHORR: Well, the indications are that the Sunnis as a whole do not like the document and for fairly obvious reasons, that it is the result of a text under the influence of a Shiite majority; the Sunnis, who are a minority, but are accustomed to ruling; are not accustomed to being ruled. So you're getting a certain amount of violent resistance. Maybe it's limited only to a few, but it looks as though it may increase between now and October 15th, the date of that referendum.

WERTHEIMER: So, Dan, back here at home John Roberts, the new chief justice of the United States, has been sworn in. All 55 Republican senators and 22 Democratic senators...


WERTHEIMER: ...that's half of the Democrats--voted to confirm Judge Roberts. He'll take that center seat on Monday when the Supreme Court begins its session. And Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will also be there.

SCHORR: That's right. Well, I think that the new Chief Justice Roberts will be getting his baptism of fire quite early. In the first few days of the new court term, they'll be hearing arguments about physician-assisted suicides, about campaign finance, about death row claims of innocence, and regulation of abortion. So he'll have his plate full very, very soon.

Justice O'Connor will be there, she says, until her successor is confirmed. Now that could take up to two months the way things go in the Senate, and it could be controversial, depending on whom the president decides to nominate. If he picks sort of a hard-liner to please his right-wing base, as they call it, that will cause a protracted fight in the Senate. If he picks somebody more moderate who would appeal to minorities in the Senate, then he displeases that base. His nomination is expected to come quickly. So sort of stay tuned for the next argument.

WERTHEIMER: OK. Tom DeLay has stepped down from his position as House majority leader after a Texas grand jury indicted him on a conspiracy charge.

SCHORR: Right.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. DeLay is accused of illegally channeling corporate donations to Republican candidates to state office in Texas in 2002. Has this indictment given pause to the Republican Party, to the White House?

SCHORR: Well, it is not very pleasant when your leader in the House is under indictment and your leader in the Senate, William Frist, is under investigation for possible insider trading and selling off stock in the family business, the Hospital Corporation of America, shortly before the stock took a dive. This is on the whole not a very happy time for Republicans. The president's approval ratings are at record-low levels, although they have improved somewhat on--in one poll he went from 40 to 45 percent approval. The improvement, however, came after Hurricane Rita. He has made eight visits to flood regions. That may not be the way to conserve fuel, which the president asked them to do, but they certainly give him a leg up with citizens.

WERTHEIMER: Let's talk about Katrina and Rita. A House committee investigating what went wrong in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina heard from the former FEMA director, Michael Brown, and then from Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco this week.

SCHORR: Right.

WERTHEIMER: Did we learn anything new, do you think?

SCHORR: Well, we've learned that Mr. Michael Brown, the former management director--who, incidentally, remained on the FEMA payroll for a while even though he left the job--we learned that he can certainly give as good as he gets. Here was this committee, largely Republicans, and they criticized him, and he said that all the trouble was a Democratic mayor of New Orleans, a Democratic governor of Louisiana, and they were dysfunctional. `Dysfunctional' is a word, curiously enough, which had been used for him. But now a lot of people who think that the former Arabian horse show operator maybe was dysfunctional will know he can talk back, too.

WERTHEIMER: Hmm! Now a friend of both of ours, New York Times reporter Judy Miller, is out of prison after finally breaking her silence and revealing the name of one of her sources.


WERTHEIMER: Judy Miller was jailed for contempt more than three months ago after she refused to testify before a grand jury investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name. Now on Friday she agreed to testify, with the permission of her source, she said.

SCHORR: Yes, and she did testify, and she appeared for several hours before the grand jury. And it is simply very interesting. She says that she only did it because her source--who was Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was Vice President Cheney's chief of staff--had told her it was OK, that he released her from this pledge of confidentiality. But the curious thing is that he did that a year ago. And Judge Thomas Hogan told her that she was released by that, and she didn't take--she says, well, she had to be really sure that he wasn't doing it under some kind of coercion. And I'm not sure I understand all of that. But in any event, this investigation is one of the strangest ones I've ever seen. It's now gone on much longer than Watergate, some two years or so. But I have a feeling that it's not going to produce anything like Watergate in the end.

WERTHEIMER: Judy Miller's case was being very closely watched by journalists especially. In your estimation, will what happened to Judy Miller affect reporters in the future?

SCHORR: Well, I think so. In the first place, it'll affect potential sources. People I think more--some people will be afraid to talk to reporters and tell them things on a background basis. They'll fear that they'll be--they won't want to go to jail and they will in the end give it up. But I think more important is the fact that, as we have seen in this case--that the American public on a whole doesn't love us reporters anymore. And if you don't have the support of the public when you get into a situation like that, you may as well give up. Very sad.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Dan.

SCHORR: Sure, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's new analyst Daniel Schorr.

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