House Minority Leader Pelosi addresses pro-Israel lobby conference in Washington
Jonathan Ernst  /  Reuters file
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a commission to investigate treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 6/21/2005 7:04:32 PM ET 2005-06-21T23:04:32

The rhetoric in Congress this week has grown more impassioned over U.S. policy in Iraq and the treatment of the detainees captured in the global war against Islamic terrorism.

But when it comes to actions, Congress continues to overwhelmingly support the war.

Whatever misgivings some members of Congress may have, they voted in lopsided numbers Monday night to pay for the war and for the detention centers at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The House voted 398 to 19 to pass a $363 billion Defense Department spending bill for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. Both Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voted for the bill. Of the 19 members who voted against it, 17 were Democrats.

When a reporter asked Pelosi Tuesday whether the House would some day get to a point where it would vote to cut off funding for military operations in Iraq, she replied, “The public will get there first. Their approval of this war is down to 37 percent in today’s poll; in March, it was 47 percent to 47 percent."

Pelosi called the new polling data "a drastic change. The more people who die, the less worth it I think the American people will deem it.”

Pelosi predicts Bush will withdraw troops
Later she added, “I think the president is going to bring them home. Thirty-seven percent approval in this country for our troops fighting a war? The president is going to bring them home. We want to know the standards that he is using, so that when they come home, our country is safer. What is going to be left there (in Iraq)?”

Pelosi last week called Bush's Iraq policy “a grotesque mistake” and she reaffirmed that comment Tuesday.

“How can they defend this war?” she asked. “With every single day, the number of dead increases. ... No wonder the Republicans want to divert attention away from their failures in that regard.”

But she added, “We have to pay for it. What’s the alternative? Our troops are there, and this administration sent them into harm’s way without the proper equipment. The fact is they’re there; we will support them as long as they’re there, but we have to question the policy that keeps them there without a plan to get the job done and bring them home safely.”

Pelosi was one of 126 House Democrats who voted against the Oct. 10, 2002, resolution authorizing the use of U.S. armed forces against Iraq.

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Commission to probe detainee treatment?
Pelosi made her comments on Iraq just after a Tuesday afternoon news conference at which she and other House Democratic leaders urged the creation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate allegations of abuse and torture of detainees at Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities.

The Bush administration rejected that idea, saying the Defense Department was already conducting investigations of alleged abuse.

When asked whether she agreed with the Bush administration’s view that those held at Guantanamo are enemy combatants who can not be released until the end of the war with al-Qaida, Pelosi said, “Most of the detainees at Guantanamo are from Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is over. ... Most of them arrived there (at Guantanamo) in October of 2001. The time is long overdue for the administration to establish a policy for how to differentiate these people,” continuing to hold those who “may pose a very serious threat to America,” and letting others go.

A reporter told Pelosi that the war against al-Qaida may last for 10, 20 or 30 years, and that the administration still maintains it is necessary to hold detainees for the duration of the conflict.

Pelosi asked, “So are you proposing that those people should be there 10, 20 or 30 years? There should be a policy used to differentiate who really needs to be there. And why are we taking this taint on our reputation for the treatment of these people and the fact of their detention, if it isn’t necessary.”

Durbin apologizes for Nazi comparison
The Guantanamo debate was the backdrop for a formal apology Tuesday night by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, who went to the Senate floor to express remorse for saying on the floor last week that U.S. treatment of 520 detainees held at the Guantanamo resembled the treatment meted out by "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings."

Republicans had pummeled Durbin since he made that comparison last Tuesday.

Durbin will not lose his job as second-ranking Senate Democrat over the furor, but the controversy might diminish his usefulness as a campaigner in next year’s elections for conservative Democratic candidates such as Sen. Ben Nelson in Nebraska.

While Pelosi and Delay both voted for the Pentagon spending bill, they hold sharply different views of what is going on in Iraq.

DeLay's view
Is the Bush strategy in Iraq working? “Of course it’s working and not only is it working, it’s working on an incredibly fast schedule,” said DeLay Tuesday. “We have stood up an entire nation that is moving toward democracy in a very short period of time. And nobody gives anybody credit for that.”

For ordinary Iraqis, he said “The quality of life is improving every day; their economy is improving every day.”

The GOP leader acknowledged, “Yes, people are dying, and people do die for freedom.”

As for declining opinion poll support for the U.S. effort in Iraq, DeLay said, “We don’t go to war by polls, we don’t get out of war by polls and we don’t run war by polls. People that do that are highly irresponsible and put our troops at risk.”

Pelosi’s Senate counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, told reporters a few hours after Pelosi spoke that all 45 Democratic senators would meet in a caucus Wednesday afternoon to discuss Iraq policy.

“I don’t think anyone should expect that we are going to march out of that caucus with a plan to supersede what the president is doing”  Reid said.

“We know that public support” for Bush Iraq policy “has dropped precipitously,” he said. “But it’s an issue that, in my opinion, takes more than simply saying, ‘Let’s get out by a time certain.”

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