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Clinton: Draft generals for Iraq hearings

Panel chairman reacts coolly to request for 'prodigious task'

By Ted Barrett
CNN

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Donald Rumsfeld said last week: "The president knows that I serve at his pleasure, and that's that."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton wants administration officials and retired generals -- including those who recently urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign -- to testify before Congress about the handling of the Iraq war.

The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, reacted coolly Tuesday to Clinton's request and said he will make a decision on the request soon.

Clinton, a New York Democrat, asked Warner in a letter Friday to call for the hearing. She also requested that other retired generals and administration officials who support Rumsfeld testify about war planning, execution and "lessons learned."

Warner responded Tuesday by saying such a hearing "would require considerable preparation, a large number of witnesses in order for members to receive a balance of viewpoints, and at least one full day -- morning and afternoon -- to provide the witnesses a full and fair opportunity to express their views."

Such an effort would be "a prodigious task," he said in a statement.

Though he said he supported the generals' right to free speech, he noted that "President Bush has, unequivocally, expressed his continuing support for Secretary Rumsfeld and exercised his right to retain him in the Cabinet.

"As I have consistently stated, I support the president's right to make this decision," he said.

Warner concluded: "Given the committee's workload that must be completed in the coming weeks, I cannot superimpose hearings on this schedule.

"Our nation's debate on national security always must be given the highest priority; therefore I commit to making a decision on this request in the near future."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the Armed Services Committee, called such a hearing "not helpful" and said there's no reason "to go back and second-guess" war planners.

Bush sharply defended Rumsfeld last week, saying the embattled Pentagon chief is doing a "fine job" despite the criticism from retired generals. (Full story)

Sessions, an Alabama Republican, said Rumsfeld is "a proven leader," and such a hearing "would send the wrong message" about the country's commitment to the war.

To show his support for the embattled defense chief, Sessions on Tuesday held a Capitol Hill breakfast for Rumsfeld with about 15 Republican members of the Senate.

The senators included Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and members of the Armed Services Committee.

Rumsfeld used the occasion to push for quick approval of billions of dollars in supplemental war funding. He expressed concern that it will get bogged down in a fight over non-emergency spending included in the bill.

The White House vowed Tuesday to veto the bill, which would fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and help repair Hurricane Katrina damage, unless the cost is scaled back from $106.5 billion to no more than $92.2 billion, The Associated Press reported.

Recently, six retired generals -- including former commanders of two Army divisions that saw combat in Iraq -- have called for Rumsfeld to resign.

They accuse him of ignoring advice from senior officers about how to prosecute the war and sending too few troops into Iraq to manage the occupation after the March 2003 invasion.

A nationwide poll released Tuesday found Americans divided on whether Rumsfeld should resign, with 43 percent saying yes, 35 percent saying no and 22 percent saying they had no opinion.

In the poll, 55 percent of Americans said the United States erred in sending troops to Iraq, indicating that recent White House efforts to rally support for the war have not been successful. (Full story)

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