Senate Democrats fell short late this afternoon in what was seen as their best chance to shift the course of the war in Iraq, in a vote on a measure to require that troops get as much time at home as they spend overseas before being redeployed.
The vote on the measure, offered by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, was 56 to 44 in favor — four less than the supporters needed to prevent a filibuster. The outcome was almost the same as that in a vote on the measure in July, when 56 senators voted in favor and 41 against.
Senator Webb and Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, made an aggressive last-ditch push today for the proposal, but to no avail.
“War is hell, but politicians shouldn’t make it any worse,” Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said in urging support for the Webb measure.
In explaining his decision, Mr. Warner said he had been persuaded, at a meeting earlier in the day with senior military officials, that the Webb plan could not be carried out without causing havoc for the armed forces, potentially lengthening soldiers’ tours in Iraq.
Fifty-six senators voted to cut off debate, and move forward to a vote on the bill itself, a step known as cloture. But under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture. [...]
“The truth is that casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, a co-sponsor of the measure with Senators Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. Mr. Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Mr. Specter the committee’s senior Republican; both are former prosecutors.
The legal concept of habeas corpus (“You have the body” in Latin) dates back to medieval England, and is meant to protect people from being locked up indefinitely without a court review. Last year, Congress passed and President Bush signed an act eliminating the right of habeas corpus for non-Americans who are labeled “enemy combatants” in the continuing campaign against terrorism.