Jamie Rose/Getty Images
Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) testifies about Iraq policy before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Jan. 23, 2007 in Washington, D.C.
Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) testifies about Iraq policy before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Jan. 23, 2007 in Washington, D.C. Jamie Rose/Getty Images
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), chairman of a key House subcommittee, opposes plans to increase troop strength in Iraq and intends to work toward closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He speaks with Renee Montagne.
If a non-binding resolution on U.S. involvement in Iraq is the first step in ending the war, what is the next step?
I think the next step is a supplemental appropriation. And what we're looking at is making sure that the troops have the equipment they need, make sure they have the training they need, make sure they're home at least a year before they're redeployed.
The Army guidelines are two years at home before they're deployed for the second time; Marine Corps guidelines are seven months and 14 months at home. So, we want to limit sending troops back before they've had the appropriate training and equipment.
The second thing we want to do is stop these extensions of troops. They're overseas for an extended period of time, they're ready to come home, and all at once they get orders they're going to be extended.
The reason I say this, in talking to the mental health people, there's tremendous pressure on these troops with the IEDs (improvised explosive devices, bombs used against U.S. troops) and going out into the intense combat they're involved in. So, we're going to limit both those things, or at least I'm going to recommend that to the committee.
The other thing we're looking at is closing down Guantanamo, which I think has become a stain on the American credibility, and also, no permanent bases in Iraq. Those are the kind of things that we think are important to change the dynamics, to increase our credibility, to return ourselves to the great country that we've been.
Would your proposals on troop training and equipment rules effectively draw down the troops, or check the president's powers as commander-in-chief?
It depends on how you look at it. For instance, why didn't they deploy 20,000 troops all at once? Any principal of war tells you we should deploy 20,000 at one time at the area where we have the most problem. Why didn't we do that? Because they didn't have the equipment, because they didn't have the training.
So they're sending them in piecemeal. That's the least effective way to send troops into a combat area. So they didn't have the time at home, they didn't have the equipment.
We have no strategic reserve in this country. And this is part of the problem that we have. We have taken all the equipment we have in the United States and sent it back. And some of the troops are training on old equipment, which puts them in jeopardy when they go overseas.
What I'm saying is, if you're going to sustain this deployment, if you're going to continue this deployment, which I disagree with, you have to make sure the troops are protected, you have to make sure that the troops have what they need. And I think the majority of members will agree with me.
Would this effectively stop the deployment?
From what we see in the hearings we've had, we've had 10 hearings this year, which is more than the defense subcommittee had all of last year, we find that the readiness is in bad shape.
They won't be able to deploy troops unless they extend troops overseas. And if we limit the extension, then it'll be very difficult for them to continue this surge, which the American people are against, and the Iraqis don't want. The Iraqis have said, originally, "we'll do this ourselves."
I don't think we can solve this militarily. I think it has to be solved diplomatically, with other countries, internationally. And it has to be solved, also, with the Iraqis.
Do you have the authority or the means to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay?
Well sure, we'll just limit the money. We pay for it. The Congress can do almost anything with legislation.
I sent Congressman [James P.] Moran (D-VA) down there about a month ago to look at the prison, to get an idea of what we need to do. He says there's a certain number of prisoners, a very small number, that we should keep incarcerated. But the rest of them, he felt, in talking to the people who are working at Guantanamo, they could be sent back to their countries.
Now we're looking at the schedule, a reasonable schedule to close it down in stages. And certainly we can limit the funds for it, and that would shut it down.