Week in Review: Miers, Plame Leak, Saddam, Syria

A review of the week's news focuses on the battle over Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court; a probe into the leak of a CIA operative's name; Saddam Hussein's trial; and Syrian connections to the death of Lebanon's former prime minister.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): It was only two weeks and two days ago that Ms. Miers' name was sent to the Senate. It seems like a year and a half ago for all that has happened.

SIMON: Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter speaking alongside Senator Patrick Leahy at a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday. Confirmation hearings for Harriet Miers are scheduled to begin on November 7th. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Dan, hello.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And Chief Justice John Roberts was confirmed last month. With looking back on a great dispatch, what has made the Miers nomination so much more eventful, if I might put it that way?

SCHORR: Eventful is the word. Well, she's a different person with different background and not much of which has to do with constitutional law, and she simply comes off rather differently from him. For example, they gave her a questionnaire to fill out, came back and they had to agree--that is both Democrats and Republicans had to agree that it was inadequate and sent it back to her to do it over again. Then she had a separate meeting with Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the committee, and usually after these individual meetings, the senator summarizes what was said. And so Senator Specter said, `We discussed the Griswold decision,' which happened to have been one of the fundamental cases of the abortion decision, `as well.' She then said, no, that isn't what she said at all. And that, of course, doesn't sit well with the chairman, who was accused of having misquoted her. So Specter called the situation at the moment with regard to her `chaotic,' and apparently he feels that way.

SIMON: Is this the kind of thing she could turn around with a very effective appearance when her hearings begin November 7th?

SCHORR: Well, certainly the public hearings on television, seen all over the country, will have an effect. If she does well, she can improve her fortunes, but there are a lot of people who are saying they don't expect her to do terribly well. In any event, she's working very hard at getting ready. She's got teams of people at the White House subjecting her to all kinds of questions to prepare her for what she may face. So stay tuned.

SIMON: Well, speaking of teams of people at the White House, the Miers nomination has almost put really in the background a story that seems to be building. That's the ongoing investigation by independent counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into who leaked the identity of a CIA officer. The grand jury is scheduled to adjourn on October 28th which makes next week obviously very significant. Grand jury proceedings are secret. On the other hand, you have been reading tea leaves a long time. What indications do you see?

SCHORR: Well, my tea leaves, which I share with a great many reporters here inside the Beltway, go something like this. It is not very likely that the original accusation against them, that they deliberately leaked the identity of a CIA agent in order to embarrass her husband who had given some very unhappy testimony as far as they were concerned, and now they seem to be, so it is said by the great mentioners who mention these things, it's more in the direction of perjury or obstruction of justice. In other words, when they were asked in this two-year-old investigation about this, it is alleged now that they didn't give full, frank or necessarily complete answers. And so if there is trouble, it's not going to be on the original front of having leaked the name of a CIA agent but more the way they handled themselves in the long investigation.

SIMON: So not the crime but the cover-up.

SCHORR: Exactly. That's the famous Nixon quote.

SIMON: `Not the alleged crime but the alleged cover-up,' I suppose I should say.

SCHORR: It's not the act; it's the cover-up that's gets you. Yes. Here we have President Nixon again.

SIMON: Trial of Saddam Hussein began this week in Baghdad. He and seven others are being charged for their role in the torture and killing of 148 men and boys in 1982. Saddam Hussein refused even to give his name, although I must say there is little confusion about his identity, denounced the legitimacy of the proceeding. And then security concerns in Baghdad were brought to the forefront when a defense counsel working with another defendant was abducted and killed. The trial has been delayed again until November 28th. What do you make of what we briefly saw at the trial process?

SCHORR: Well, what you saw at the trial is typical of the way war criminals of that sort behave. The first thing they do is to deny that the court has any jurisdiction. The second is simply to say they won't answer any questions of any kind. And that goes on for a while as it did with our Serbian friends who have been in The Hague for all these years. The problem is that if you extend rights to a person like that, he's going to use them to the full. Then there's also the fact there was the assassination of one of the lawyers who defended one of the other defendants and now they're keeping secret the judges, everybody connected with it anonymous, under protection. This is very, very tense.

SIMON: When we were on the air last Saturday, Iraqis were going to the polls to vote on a new constitution, and there seemed to be very little violence on voting day. The turnout was reported to be around 63 percent. With the vantage of seven days' passage of time, how do you assess that vote that we saw?

SCHORR: Well, apparently they have to--it appears, so it is said, that they have, in fact, ratified their constitution. In order to have defeated the constitution, they would have had to have a two-thirds vote in at least three of the 18 Iraqi provinces. And it's believed that that mark has not been reached, but they're taking their time about it. Nobody seems to think there's anything wrong with their taking their time. There were sandstorms which delayed some of the ballots from reaching Baghdad, and on the whole, you keep your fingers crossed but it looks as though it's working all right.

SIMON: An UN inquiry into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was released this week and that report found that Syria was linked to his killing and also obstructed the investigation. There's now--there was talk on Friday of the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Syria. What do you think might happen? What sort of chain of events might be in store?

SCHORR: Well, I do think that in this case they may be able to get support from Russia if not from China on sanctions against Syria, but that apparently is not enough. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that they're looking for regime change in Damascus. That's sort of interesting because several years ago a Democratic woman, secretary of State, talked about regime change in Iraq. So, lo, we've had it. And apparently the next one to stand up for democratization and face the music there will be Syria and I don't think there's going to be an invasion of Syria but I do think that there's going to be a lot of pressure put on that regime.

SIMON: A strong report was issued this week commissioned by the group Refugees International which said that the UN has not been doing enough to stop the exploitation and rape of local women by UN peacekeeping units.

SCHORR: Well, you know, it isn't easy to get people to fill those jobs. They're not on the whole very pleasant jobs and you may not get the best kind of soldiers to do it. On the other hand, it is possible to maintain some kind of surveillance over these peacekeeping forces, and as Refugee International suggested, it will happen, but you shouldn't let them get away with it and you shouldn't act as though it doesn't matter. It matters.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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