Saturday, December 29, 2007

President Bush protects Iraq rather than the "troops"

President Bush vetos Defense Bill to protect Iraq from former American POWs lawsuits for pain and suffering that awarded them close to a billion dollars and the Bush administration had previously had the courts dismiss

Bush Vetoes U.S. Defense Measure Over Iraqi Lawsuits (Update1)

By Lorraine Woellert and Roger Runningen

Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush vetoed a measure giving pay increases to U.S. troops because of a provision he said would expose the Iraqi government to lawsuits for crimes committed under Saddam Hussein.

The provision ``would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at a crucial juncture in that nation's reconstruction efforts'' and undermine U.S. foreign policy and commercial interests, Bush said in a veto message to Congress.

While the White House had objected to an earlier version of the bill, the veto decision was made now because ``its full impact on Iraq and on our relationship with Iraq has become apparent only in recent days,'' Bush said. He said he wanted to ``fix this flawed provision'' quickly when Congress returns.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada condemned Bush's decision to block the $696 billion defense policy measure. The Democratic leaders noted that the bill includes ``urgent national security priorities,'' a 3.5 percent pay raise for U.S. troops and improved veterans' health care.

``It is unfortunate that the president will not sign this critical legislation,'' they said in a statement.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said 3 percent of the 3.5 percent military pay increase is already authorized and will take effect Jan. 1. When Congress passes a new defense measure, he said, Bush will seek to make the remainder of the increase retroactive to Jan. 1.

Separate Spending Measure

The measure authorizes $189.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but doesn't provide the funds until they are approved in a separate money bill.

Bush used a so-called pocket veto, which occurs when a president fails to sign a bill within the 10 days allotted by the Constitution. Congress must be in adjournment in order for a pocket veto to take effect.

The White House said the defense measure would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that governs how foreign countries can be sued in U.S. courts.

The change, drafted by Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, would make it easier for American victims to sue countries that support terrorists by making it easier to freeze their assets. Victims could sue for big punitive damages and for pain and suffering, including retroactively for cases that have been dismissed by the courts.

Not Targeting Iraq

Lautenberg said today the provision isn't aimed specifically at Iraq and noted that Iran has been targeted in lawsuits, including one seeking damages for the 1983 bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 servicemen.

``My language allows American victims of terror to hold perpetrators accountable, pure and simple,'' he said.

The measure ``would imperil Iraqi assets held in the United States, including reconstruction and central bank funds,'' Stanzel said. ``The new democratic government of Iraq, during this crucial period of reconstruction, cannot afford to have its funds entangled in such lawsuits.''

The White House estimated that between $20 billion to $30 billion in Iraq assets could be at stake along with funds held by U.S. companies in joint ventures with the Iraqi government.

Seeking Compromise

Stanzel said Bush wants to negotiate a change ``as soon as possible'' when Congress returns in January. ``We don't want to change anything else in the bill other than this provision,'' he said.

Bush's veto could be overridden judging by Congress's overwhelming approval of the defense measure this month. The Senate voted 90-3 and the House 370-49 to pass the bill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan said today he is dismayed that administration officials waited until now to raise their concerns.

``I am deeply disappointed that our troops and veterans may have to pay for their mistake and for the confusion and uncertainty caused by their snafu,'' Levin said.

It is the first veto of a defense authorization bill in 12 years, according to Senate statistics. President Bill Clinton vetoed a defense policy bill in December 1995 and it was sustained in the House a month later.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lorraine Woellert in Crawford, Texas at .

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