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Former defense secretary backs oversight of drone strikes

Robert Gates, a former defense secretary and spymaster, is backing lawmakers’ proposal to form a special court to review President Barack Obama’s deadly drone strikes against Americans linked to al-Qaida. Gates, who led the Pentagon for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama and previously served as the Central Intelligence Agency’s director, said Obama’s use of the unmanned drones follows tight rules. But he shares lawmakers’ wariness over using the unmanned aircraft to target al-Qaida operatives and allies. “I think that the rules and the practices that the Obama administration has followed are quite stringent and are not being abused. But
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Gun victims’ relatives take center stage as advocates

Bill Sherlach just said “no.” Washington officials fighting over gun control invited him to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night in the House chamber. Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, was killed in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, declined. He said that rather than be the nationally televised face of tragedy, he prefers working within a group that wants the gun issue addressed as part of a comprehensive effort to reduce violence. He wants to work with Sandy Hook Promise, a group that deals with more than just gun control. Mary Sherlach was
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Senate Dems to GOP: Forget your stupid games on Hagel

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Friday he will press ahead with a vote on Chuck Hagel‘s nomination to be defense secretary, rejecting Republicans demands for more financial information from President Barack Obama’s choice as setting an unprecedented standard. In a letter, Sen. Carl Levin provided a point-by-point rebuttal to the GOP requests for data on Hagel’s paid speeches and foreign donors to private entities he’s been affiliated with, arguing that the requirements exceed the committee’s rules and what has been asked of previous defense secretaries, Republican and Democrat. “The committee cannot have two different sets of
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Panetta bids farewell, gets salute from Obama

Calling it “the honor of my life,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said farewell to the U.S. military Friday, capping a venerated public service career that spanned four decades and included stints as a lawmaker, a top White House official and the spy chief who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama, honoring his first-term Pentagon chief at a ceremony at a military base outside Washington, said Panetta would be remembered for welcoming more Americans into the military by opening combat roles to women and overseeing the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly — “In short,
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Disturbing questions about U.S. use of drone strikes

CIA Director-designate John Brennan‘s vigorous defense of drone strikes to kill terror suspects — even American citizens — overseas is causing key lawmakers to consider lifting secrecy from what has become an important weapon in the fight against al-Qaida. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterror adviser, was grilled for more than three hours Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the drone program he leads, as well as on the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques during the Bush administration, which he denounced, and on leaks of classified information to the media, which Brennan vehemently denied being a part of. Despite Brennan’s
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Panetta: America could become ‘second rate’ power

The United States is at risk of becoming a second-rate power if automatic budget cuts go into effect, plunging the U.S. armed forces into the most significant readiness crisis they’ve faced in more than a decade, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Thursday. Panetta, who is retiring soon from his post, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the reductions are allowed to stand he would have to throw the country’s national defense strategy “out the window.” But Panetta also assured lawmakers the Pentagon would take the steps necessary to deal with possible threats in the Persian Gulf region after
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Senators seek compromise on gun purchase background checks

A bipartisan quartet of senators, including two National Rifle Association members and two with “F” ratings from the potent firearms lobby, are quietly trying to find a compromise on expanding the requirement for gun-sale background checks. A deal, given a good chance by several participants and lobbyists, could add formidable political momentum to one of the key elements of President Barack Obama’s gun control plan. Currently, background checks are required only for sales by the nation’s 55,000 federally licensed gun dealers, but not for gun show, person-to-person sales or other private transactions. The senators’ talks have included discussions about ways
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Pentagon admits backing plan to arm Syrian rebels

Pentagon leaders told Congress on Thursday that they had supported a recommendation to arm Syrian rebels promoted by the State Department and CIA but which President Barack Obama ultimately decided against. Obama’s government has limited its support to non-lethal aid for the rebels who, despite receiving weapons from countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are poorly armed compared to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army and loyalist militias. Syria’s 22-month-long conflict has killed an estimated 60,000 people. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, has championed greater U.S. involvement and chided the Obama administration at a hearing, asking Pentagon leaders: “How
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Use of drones to target Americans raises questions in Congress

President Barack Obama’s choice to head the CIA faces a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing just hours after lawmakers are expected to receive a classified report providing the rationale for drone strikes targeting Americans working with al-Qaida overseas. John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief and Obama’s nominee to run the nation’s spy agency, helped manage the drone program. The confirmation hearing Thursday sets the stage for a public airing of some of the most controversial programs in the covert war on al-Qaida, from the deadly drone strikes to the CIA’s use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding during President George
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Republicans come up with plans to cut the budget

A group of GOP lawmakers from House and Senate on Wednesday offered a plan to cut the federal workforce and use the savings to replace some $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs. The legislation reprises a plan offered last year that failed to advance. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., leads the group, which agrees with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that a looming 8 percent cut to this year’s Pentagon budget would recklessly harm the nation’s military. McKeon said the Pentagon faces “dire straits.” The plan would generate replacement savings by
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