QANDAHAR

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Chapter 11

10:11 a.m. EST. March 12, 2009

White House Situation Room

“Mr. Connors,” said the President, “I want to interrupt you. We can get back to Mr. Rahman shortly. With the Attorney General and my Defense Secretary nominee here now, I have some questions about Guantanamo.”

“As you wish, ma’am,” said Connors, taking a seat next to former President Wheeler.

“About Guantanamo, Mr. Gardner, is there torture of prisoners going on there now?” Forster leaned forward in her seat, her elbows on the edge of the table.

“Military authorities at the base,” Gardner said, moving forward in his chair, “have assured me, as they had President Templeton, that any and all information obtained through interrogation was done so without harsh torture.”

“Harsh torture? Is that different from your plain-old, ordinary torture?” Forster pushed back her chair and stood up. She crossed her arms and glared at Gardner. “What’s the difference? Or does it really matter anymore?”

“Madam –– ”

“Mr. Gardner,” the President said, cutting off the Attorney General. “I don’t like any kind of torture. So don’t cover up for the military and what they’re doing down there.” She turned away from Gardner and eyed Wheeler. “Jefferson, you know anything about what’s going on at that God-awful place or inside our secret CIA jails, the so-called black sites?”

“On an unofficial basis, of course,” said Wheeler, “I’ve talked to some of the generals and

admirals I knew back when I was in office. They were just colonels and captains then. But all of them confirmed for me there’s regular torture goin’ on down at Gitmo. About those CIA black sites, I’m not even sure where in the hell they all are.”

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“Stand up, Mr. Gardner,” said the President. She raised her right hand and pointed at him. “If you want to keep your job, and I suspect you do, you call down there to Cuba when you get back to your office and you tell that prison commander his job’s on the line, too.” The tall, lanky Attorney General swallowed hard after taking a deep breath. The former counselor to the National Democratic Committee was Senate Majority Leader Campbell’s top choice for the Attorney General’s post. Gardner easily had won Senate confirmation in early February.

“I want all prisoners in solitary confinement to be released into the general population. I want no more punishing of those prisoners. The torture must stop immediately. If any U.S. military personnel at that base even touches any those prisoners I want them arrested and charged for disobeying my orders. Is that clear? And, Mr. Gardner, I want the attorneys for all those prisoners ...

oh, how many are down there now anyway?”

“About three hundred and seventy-five, ma’am,” said Gardner, who remained standing.

“Yes, Mr. Gardner, contact all their attorneys. Tell them that as of today they will have free access to their clients. Their trips down there will be paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. And you tell those generals, Mr. Gardner, you tell all those Judge Advocate officers down there to either charge those men or set them free, send them back to their home countries or to wherever they were arrested. Those who are charged will be arraigned in U.S. federal courts.”

“But, ma’am, you can’t do that,” said Gardner. “We have military commissions to handle those cases. It’s the law.”

“You mean kangaroo courts, Mr. Gardner,” said the President. “And I don’t care about the law. The law violates all civilized moral codes. I’m writing an executive order when I get back to the Oval Office to disband those commissions. Guantanamo prisoners who are charged WILL have their day in a U.S. court. And Mr. Gardner, if the ball isn’t rolling on this by later this afternoon, you’re fired. I’ll make one big spectacle out of you when I do. I promise you that. Do you understand, sir?”

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Gardner picked up a thin folder of papers he’d brought with him. His free hand trembled. As he turned to leave, the President said again in a louder voice: “Do you understand, sir? You’re not leaving here until you tell me yes or no.” He spun around and faced the President.

“It’s perfectly clear to me, ma’am, what your plans are for the Guantanamo Bay facility.” The Attorney General, paused a moment, clenched his teeth. Then he slowly turned to leave.

“One more thing, Mr. Attorney General,” Forster said as Gardner twisted around with an intense scowl on his face. “Guantanamo will be closed no later than September 1st of this year, sir.”

“Madam President, you can’t do that without congressional authorization.”

“He’s right,” said Wheeler. “Congress appropriated the funds to build, operate and house there so-called terrorists picked up anywhere in the world. Morris signed the legislation.”

“But that congressional action with Morris’ signature was wrong, morally wrong to set up that God-forsaken place. It’s a U.S. military installation, and right now I’m the Commander-in-Chief. Now, not a word of my action here today. My executive order, when it’s published, will speak for itself in spelling out a timetable for shutting down that Guantanamo hellhole.

“Mr. Gardner, if I were you, I wouldn’t start any argument with me over Guantanamo’s closing. You got that?”

“Yes ma’am,” said Gardner, his hand still trembling as he reached for the handle on the exit door.

After Gardner left, Forster called Simon Walker, the Director of National Intelligence. She ordered Walker to close down nine remaining CIA black sites in Africa, Asia and two former Soviet Republics. Prisoners either were to be charged and tried in U.S. federal courts, or released and returned to their home countries or to the countries where they originally were detained.

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2:20 pm EST. March 12, 2009

U.S. Senate Chamber

Senate President Pro-Tem Jaspar Pickett tapped the gavel twice. The Senate clerk read the confirmation vote tally for Defense Secretary nominee Jefferson Mark Wheeler. “The ayes are 68, the nays 28. Mr. Wheeler is confirmed as the next Secretary of Defense.” Pickett slammed down the gavel when he noticed a group of Senators, all Republicans, leaving their desks and making their way toward the exit.

“Senators,” he shouted. “Y’all get back in here and sit down. We’re not quite finished yet.” The fifteen or so Republicans turned around and glared at Pickett. The Senate’s Minority Leader, among the group, stepped into the well and addressed Pickett.

“Mr. President,” said Ray Barton of Texas, “I wanna meet with my boys to make sure our votes are in order. An’ we wanna make sure we got all our speakers in line before we take the next vote. I hope that’s all right with the President.”

“Make it quick,” said Pickett. “You got two minutes.”

“Mr. President, Senator Pickett, if you please.” Senate Majority Leader Hughes stood up beside his desk. “We’ll begin the debate now on the matter of President Forster’s nomination of Representative Constance Stowe for Vice President.”

Three Democrats spoke against the appointment. They cited Stowe’s lack of experience in foreign affairs: chair of the House Intelligence Committee for only one session of Congress. No Democrat who spoke mentioned her gender or race. Hughes and two other Democrats spoke in favor of Stowe becoming the next Vice President. Three Senators from the American Independent Party, all women, also voiced strong support for Stowe.

The Senate’s Minority Whip was the next to speak.

“There’s too many cooks in the White House kitchen,” said Senator Clyde Lawson of Kentucky. “And there aren’t enough bottle washers. You wonder which one over there is gonna do the floors and wash the windows. This country can ill afford having a chief executive and her assistant runnin’ that kitchen operation over there. Neither of ’em has many skills or experience in

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runnin’ a kitchen under such close scrutiny by world observers. Americans won’t be able to stomach any food comin’ from that kitchen, despite what some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle here say. We hope the chief cook and that bottle washer over there come to their senses and offer this august body a real choice for assistant to the chef.

“That’s what it’s come to. We don’t need two namby-pambies spoon feeding us liberal hogwash, like pulling us out of I-raq, giving up on Afghanystan and letting terrorists take advantage of Americans so sick of the food comin’ from that kitchen that they come back over here and give us a bigger whippin’ than they did on 9/11.

“I call for an immediate vote on this Illinois pot scrubber. We have to send a message to the chief cook over there that enough is enough. Give us someone of distinction and merit and experience. America can’t suffer for nearly four more years the pain of ptomaine poisoning.”

“Mr. President,” Senator Thomas Jackson Young said as he stood up. “When Richard Templeton beat me last year, I hated the feeling. That said, though, I always had a great respect for

the late President and my former Senate colleague. Let me continue on here,” said Young, turning to face his fellow Republican Senators.

“This country has President Forster now. Yes, she’s a woman. She may have been, according to some, a professor in an ivory tower, but she was a historian keen to observe the consequences of history and how those consequences kept repeating themselves. There was Vietnam, where I served. And now we have Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Right now I’ve come around to, so to say, her accidental presidency. Who else do we have? Speaker Dodge? He’s unstable and trapped in the ’50s and sees a communist behind every tree and bush. So yes, President Forster has nominated a black woman for vice president, but we have bigger problems in this country than worrying about this. I support Representative Stowe’s nomination and will vote for her,” said Young, turning to face the Senate’s Minority Whip.

“Senator Lawson, your comments concerning President Forster and Representative Stowe were uncalled for. The Republican Party must not and should not be one labelled as racist, sexist or

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misogynist. So, Senator Lawson, please apologize to this body.” Senator Young sat down.

Lawson immediately stood up and shouted: “Hell no. Ain’t gonna happen. Never.”

Senator Hughes decided today was not the day the confirmation vote would take place on Representative Constance Stowe’s nomination for the vice presidency. He had received a scribbled note from his party’s Senate whip, who had done a quick head count. All twenty Independents would vote for Representative Stowe, but only twenty-four Democrats planned to, including himself. Among Republicans, only Senator Young would vote for her confirmation. Hughes quickly stepped to the well.

“As Senate Majority Leader, I call for a delay in the confirmation vote on Representative Stowe until next week, at the earliest. Session adjourned.” Pickett banged the gavel three times.

World Press International Bulletin:

WASHINGTON (WPI) – Speaker of the House Thomas Dodge was hospitalized at George Washington University Hospital earlier today. A spokesperson at the Speaker’s office said the Oklahoma Democrat was admitted after complaining of “minor chest pains” while working at his office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

A hospital spokesman said Dodge, 77, is in stable condition and resting comfortably after experiencing dizziness and shortness of breath. “All his vital signs look good,” said the hospital’s chief of cardiology, Dr. Dalton Bates. “But, Mr. Dodge will be under strict doctor’s orders to rest several more days while we run some minor tests. He should be fine, though, in a few days, and then he’ll be free to go home.”

Speaker Dodge was admitted to the hospital at 7:49 a.m. today, hospital sources said. That was approximately 10 hours before his office issued a statement saying the Speaker had been hospitalized.

The Speaker’s Office posted on its official website at about 4 p.m. today a brief statement on

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President Lorraine Forster’s choice for Vice President, U.S. Rep. Constance Stowe of Illinois.

“The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will not schedule a vote in the House on the President’s V-P nominee until the U.S. Senate has acted to confirm, or not, the nomination,” according to the web announcement.

A spokesperson at the Speaker’s office refused further comment.

Meanwhile, 69 of the 70 American Independent Party House members staged a demonstration on the steps of the Capitol Building late this afternoon. They were joined by at least 12 Democratic Party House members. The members of Congress were protesting the Speaker’s delay in calling for a vote on Rep. Stowe’s nomination for Vice President. Rep. Stowe did not attend the protest demonstration.

U.S. Rep. Melanie Knott (I-Ohio) told reporters the American Independent Party members of the House also were calling for Speaker Dodge to resign.

“We hope some of our brothers and sisters from the Democratic Party join us in urging Speaker Dodge to step down,” said Knott. “He has become over the last few years a national embarrassment. He should join former Senate Majority Leader Allen Campbell in a well-deserved retirement.”

-- 6:42 p.m. EST. 3/12/09.

World Press International Special Bulletin:

WASHINGTON (WPI) – U.S. House Majority Leader Bradley Jenkins announced tonight he has scheduled for next week a confirmation vote on President Lorraine V. Forster’s nominee for Vice President, U.S. Rep. Constance Stowe of Illinois.

“With Speaker Dodge being hospitalized,” the Maryland Democrat said, “it’s incumbent on my office to have a vote on this matter as soon as possible. The people’s national legislative body has the responsibility, and the duty, to deal with this vote before it is taken up again in the U.S. Senate.”

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The House vote is scheduled for 10 a.m. EST on Tuesday, March 17th . A spokeswoman at

Senate Majority Leader Brian Hughes’ office said another vote in the U.S. Senate on Stowe’s nomination is now set for Wednesday morning, March 18th.

President Forster is scheduled to begin a three-day trip to Jordan and Iraq beginning Saturday, March 21st. She is to stop first in Aqaba, Jordan, where she is expected to meet with Saudi, Jordanian, Egyptian and Israeli leaders. On late Sunday night March 22nd she’s to fly to Baghdad, where the President is to meet briefly with Iraqi and U.S. military and government officials. While there, she is expected to address U.S. troops from the Third Marine Division, the day before lead elements of the division depart Iraq for their home base at Camp Pendleton, California. The President is scheduled to leave Baghdad the morning of Monday March 23rd for London, where she’ll meet with British Prime Minister Michael Day, French President Jean-Pierre Grenier and German Chancellor Rosa Pfriender.

-- 8:10 p.m. EST. 3/12/09

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