Patrick Murphy: From Iraq War to Congress

Democrat Patrick Murphy served in Iraq as a paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne Division. Now he's headed for Congress, where he plans to call for all U.S. troops to be removed from Iraq by the end of 2007. Murphy and Jacki Lyden discuss his campaign and his political future.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. Debbie Elliott is on assignment.

On this Veteran's Day, the nation is poised to chart a new course for the war in Iraq. With Democrats taking both houses of Congress this week, the Bush administration is now reviewing the policies that have left U.S. forces bogged down in an ever more deadly conflict.

Today in his weekly radio address, President Bush addressed the war and reached out across the partisan divide.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I look forward to listening to ideas from the new leaders of Congress on the best way to support our troops on the front lines and win the war on terror.

I also look forward to hearing recommendations on the way forward in Iraq from my bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.

LYDEN: The president meets with the Baker-Hamilton group on Monday. Also Monday, the Pentagon will conduct its own major policy review. Here's how General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described it on the CBS Early Show.

General PETER PACE (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): We need to give ourselves a good honest scrub about what is working and what is not working, what are the impediments to progress and what should we change about the way we're doing it to ensure that we get to the objective that we've set for ourselves.

LYDEN: This week's election prompted one immediate change: the replacement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the appointment of former CIA chief Robert Gates to replace him.

There was also a shakeup in the 8th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, Bucks County. The long-serving Republican incumbent there lost in an extremely close vote to Democrat Patrick Murphy.

Patrick Murphy has a very personal insight into the Iraq war on this Veteran's Day. He served in Iraq as a U.S. Army Captain from 2003 to 2004 and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service. Earlier, he also served in Bosnia.

Congressman-Elect Murphy ran on his opposition to the way the war in Iraq is being conducted, and he joins me now to talk about what course the Bush administration might pursue together with the new Democratic-controlled Congress.

Thanks very much for joining us today, Mr. Murphy.

Representative-Elect PATRICK MURPHY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Well, thank you so much and it's a beautiful day here in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It's Veteran's Day and we've already had a few ceremonies that I've attended, and I have a few more today. And it's just a great day for our country.

LYDEN: Mr. Murphy, you won an extremely close race. And the war in Iraq is likely the issue that tipped the scales in your favor. You're 32. First time in Congress. What do you think your constituents will be expecting you to do with regard to the war?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: Well, they expect me to now put the partisan politics aside and really move our country forward in a new direction. And I'm not just a congressman for Democrats. I'm a congressman for Democrats, Republicans and independents.

LYDEN: I read that in the year 2000 you actually were registered as an independent and voted for President Bush, but that was before you went to war in Iraq. What changed your thinking after your deployment?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: Well, you know, I served in Baghdad, Iraq, and the district's called al-Rashid Baghdad, with 1.5 million Iraqis. That's the same size as the city of Philadelphia, with 1.5 million Philadelphians.

Well, my father had served as a Philadelphia police officer with 7,000 police officers, yet there was only 3500 of us for the same size population. Half as many law enforcement in a combat zone where we didn't speak the same language. So I became a witness to our foreign policy and I saw with my own eyes that we needed a change in Iraq and we also needed a change here at home as well.

LYDEN: You write a little bit on your Web site about that. Maybe you could take us back there. You were with the 82nd Airborne Division. What did you see when you went into Iraq?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: Well, I saw a place in Iraq where the people were grateful that, you know, Saddam Hussein wasn't in power anymore. But they were also, you know, asking, you know, when is it that we're going to have electricity? When is it that we're going to have more oil production?

You know, and you know, part of that is, you know, we need to be very clear with them that we are not going to be there forever. That it's up to them to grab hold of their new country and they fight for the democracy.

We're there now three and a half years later and it's still the Americans that are - and the coalition forces that are providing the primary law enforcement. And it's now time for the Iraqis to stand - come off of the sidelines and stand up and fight for their country. And I have called for a 12 month timeline in Iraq because I believe, you know, that until we give them a timeline, it's going to be human nature for them to sit on the sidelines, because it's dangerous work.

And we had a timeline in Iraq for their elections. We had a timeline for them to pass their constitution. And Iraqis answered the call. And I believe to win the war on terror, which we need to do, we need to bring our troops home from Iraq to do that. And that means securing our home front and also going after more aggressively Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

LYDEN: Can the U.S. disengage now, Congressman-Elect, without a terrible loss to U.S. credibility and prestige?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: I believe so, because, you know, when you look at the other countries - we went in there and - to do two things. One, to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and two, to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction. And our troops did job number one. And job number two is easy. There weren't any weapons of mass destruction. Now there's no clear mission.

And now we're violating our own Colin Powell doctrine. Where the Powell doctrine states, you know, you have a clear mission, you use overwhelming force to accomplish the mission, and then you have a clear exit strategy.

LYDEN: You have taught constitutional law at West Point, and I would like to ask you to weight in on a story we've been following here on this program. The Military Commissions Act that Congress passed just a few weeks ago - we'll remind our listeners that the law creates military commissions for unlawful enemy combatants and allows for suspending the writ of habeas corpus in the cases of non-citizens.

Mr. Murphy, would you have voted for this bill had you been in the current Congress?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: I think, you know, there's five things with the Military Commissions Act. There's three good things and two things that are not so good - that are not good at all, in fact.

The first thing that is good is that there actually are going to be military commissions. The fact that the hundreds of people that are in Guantanamo Bay are going to have a right to trial, to a military commission, which is allowed and which is the vehicle under international law and the Geneva Conventions. So the fact of the right to trial is a good thing.

Two, the fact that they're going to have a right to see an attorney, a good thing. And again, promulgated under law.

Three, a right to see the evidence. Again, that's a good thing. I mean, and I understand that the top secret evidence is an executive summary. That's a fair compromise and also follows international law.

The two things that I have a serious problem with are the fact that they're trying to take away the right of habeas corpus. Even though it says it in the Military Commissions Act they take it away, they can't just take that away. They can't take away that right. So I'm against that, and I've actively spoken out against that.

And the fifth and final thing that, again, is not a good thing is that although they were clear that American armed forces cannot conduct nor condone torture, it wasn't as clear how it applied to our own CIA and our black operations. We need to be very clear that we don't conduct or condone torture. And you look at it both as a moral perspective, which makes it wrong, but also strategically.

When you look back at our nation's history, when you look back even as early as the early 1990s when we were in Desert Storm, on the first few days of combat against the Iraqis when we were in Kuwait and we were trying to expel them out of Kuwait, thousands - tens of thousands - of Iraqis raised their hands and flew up a white flag surrendering, because they knew that the American forces would treat them with dignity and respect, that they would not be tortured.

And we can't go back on that promise. We can't go back on what makes America the great country that it is.

LYDEN: So can I surmise that with respect to the Military Commissions Act, you would have voted against it and you might work to undo it in the next Congress?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: Right. I believe that we need to amend it.

LYDEN: How can freshman congressmen like you exert influence on national policy?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: Well, I've been very blessed in that, you know, I'm someone that grew up in a rural home in far northeast Philadelphia, part of the district where it's a very blue collar neighborhood. I was the son of a Philadelphia police officer. And I started out at community college and worked my way through college and law school and the Army. And when our country was attacked on 9/11, you know, I deployed twice for our country. I bring a different perspective. And the reality of it is, although there are 435 members of Congress, you know, I'm the only Iraq War veteran. So I will be able to speak with somewhat more authority than other members. And I believe that we need agents of change that are going to go down to Washington. They're going to say this is what's not going so well and this is what we can be doing better. And I plan on doing that once I take office.

LYDEN: You are in the Army Reserves right now. Have you been in touch with soldiers from your district who are still in Iraq?

Representative-Elect MURPHY: I get e-mails almost every single day from - that are from Iraq and Afghanistan, from either former students of mine at West Point who are now commanders over there, who I may have known growing up, or who I've gone through, you know, received my commission as an officer with. They have been extremely supportive.

And you know, it's interesting. I just got a voicemail, literally five minutes before this interview, from a buddy of mine who was also a paratrooper and Army ranger down at 82nd Airborne Division. He's from Georgia. He is as Republican as they could be. And he says to me, he said, Murph, I'm so proud of you. Thank goodness one of our own is going to be down there, because now when you look at Congress, there's only a quarter of the congressmen and women have military experience, where 40 years ago it was three-quarters of them that had military experience.

So that fresh perspective that, you know, that perspective that I bring to the table on the first day of the job I think is much needed in the halls of Congress.

LYDEN: Patrick Murphy is a Democratic congressman-elect from Pennsylvania's Eighth District.

Thank you very much for being with us today, Mr. Murphy.

Representative-Elect MURPHY: Thank you so much and have a great day. And happy Veterans Day to all the veterans out there.

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