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The no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales narrowly failed the necessary 60 votes needed for cloture in the Senate today, with a mere seven Republicans voting in favor of the resolution (see below). The final tally was 53-38, with 1 vote of "present." Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) voted against.

The Republicans voting in favor were:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)

Update: A statement out from the Justice Department:

“The Attorney General remains focused on the important issues that the American people expect him to address: securing our country from terrorism, protecting our neighborhoods from gangs and drugs, shielding our children from predators and pedophiles, and protecting the public trust by prosecuting public corruption. With so many pressing issues facing our country such as the threat of terrorism and the danger posed by gangs and violent criminals, we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to identify appropriate solutions to address these issues.”

As the vote draws near, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) made it simple this afternoon: Republicans have no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but they're not going to vote that way, because that would hand a victory to Democrats. For his part, Specter is a reluctant supporter of the resolution, he said -- but don't expect others to follow him.

The vote is scheduled to commence shortly.

From Sen. Specter's remarks:

The thrust of the resolution, if it really seeks his ouster, is going to be a boomerang and is going to be counterproductive. My own sense is that there is no confidence in the attorney general on this side of the aisle, but that the views will not be expressed in this format. Already some who have called for his resignation on the Republican side of the aisle have said they will not vote for this resolution. Others have declined to comment about his capacity but have said that this is not the proper way to proceed, that our form of government does not have a no-confidence vote. Is the principle reason for this resolution to help the Department of Defense (sic) or to embarrass Republicans? I think, clear cut, it is designed to embarrass Republicans. It’s designed to embarrass Republicans if the Senate says they have no confidence in the Attorney General…

Many on this side of the aisle, most, if not almost all, will vote against cloture here because there are ample reasons to vote against cloture. But as a I look at this matter as which is the more weighty, the more compelling, the more important – candidly stating that I have no confidence in Attorney General Gonzales or rejecting the outright political chicanery which is involved in this resolution offered by the Democrats, I come down on the side that the interests of the country and moving for improvements in the Department of Justice is to make a candid statement that I have no confidence in the Attorney General – which I have said repeatedly, it’s no surprise – and I am going to deal with this resolution on the merits and vote to invoke cloture.

Earmarking is still alive despite reforms from the new Democratic majority the practice of anonymously slipping pet projects into legislation became a symbol of the GOP's time in the majority. Now, the new Republican minority is rolling up its sleeves and planning to block future earmarks by using parliamentary procedure. (McClatchy Newspapers, The Hill)

Just in time for the Senate’s no-confidence vote, the Washington Post reports that half of the immigration judges appointed since 2004 had no experience in immigration law, while one third of the appointees were Republicans or insiders with the current administration.

Via Think Progress: Former Justice official Daniel Metcalfe speaks about his resignation this past January, claiming Gonzales treated the Department as a “political arm of the White House.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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A majority of Democrats in the Senate are ready to cast a symbolic vote of no confidence against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today, the Associated Press reports.

So far Republicans are offering meager support for the resolution and it's unclear whether backers of the unusual manuever will even find the 60 votes needed to close debate on the resolution and bring it up for a vote.

No one is predicting that a symbolic resolution expressing no confidence in Gonzales will survive even the test vote Monday. Most Republicans are likely to vote no, dismissing the whole exercise as a ploy to embarrass President Bush.

But would a vote even embarrass the president?

"They can have their votes of no-confidence but it's not going to make the determination about who serves in my government," Bush said Monday. "This process has been drug out a long time. ... It's political."

Whether successful or not, such a vote will at least bring discussion of Gonzales to the Senate floor after five months of Congressional inquiry into the Department of Justice and the firing of at least nine US attorneys.

The vote could be a final effort for Senate Democrats to oust Gonzales and show their commitment to the ongoing investigation.

"If all senators who have actually lost confidence in Attorney General Gonzales voted their conscience, this vote would be unanimous," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who authored the resolution with Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif. "We will soon see where people's loyalties lie."

Is the U.S.-allied Sunni tribal alliance against al-Qaeda in Iraq fracturing?

One of the bright spots in Iraq has been the recent tribal shift in Anbar Province against al-Qaeda. Started after al-Qaeda declared an "Islamic State of Iraq" -- alternative translations put it as the "Islamic Emirate of the Land of the Two Rivers," implying that statehood is a religiously illegitimate concept -- last fall, over 25 tribes decided that al-Qaeda's severe vision for Anbar threatened their interests more than the U.S. occupation does. As a result, tribal leaders created the Anbar Salvation Council, a political alliance that worked with the U.S. against al-Qaeda; and ever since, the U.S. military has reported increasing numbers of killed or captured al-Qaeda affiliates. The tribes have also sent their young men to join the Iraqi army and police, but they also retain a military wing that the U.S. has equipped and worked with, leading some analysts -- and military officers -- to worry about the creation of yet another militia.

Recently, however, strains have been on display in the Anbar Salvation Council. A key figure in its creation, Sheikh Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, has been alienating some of the other tribes through his enthusiastic cooperation with the U.S. and his heavy-handed graft. al-Rishawi denies any such rift, but the Washington Post reports:

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The Council of Europe report provides the first-ever glimpse of what took place inside the CIA's secret detention facilities in Poland and Romania. It's not a complete account -- the report attributes its information to "current and former detainees, human rights advocates, or people who have worked in the establishment or operations of CIA secret prisons" -- but it's by far the most complete account available. Here's a selection of what conditions in the so-called "black sites" were like:

Clothes were cut up and torn off; many detainees were then kept naked for several weeks. ...

At one point in 2004, eight persons were being kept together at one CIA facility in Europe, but were administered according to a strict regime of isolation. Contact between them through sight or sound was forbidden... and prevented unless it was expressly decided to create limited conditions where they could see or come into contact with one another because it would serve (the CIA's) intelligence-gathering objectives to allow it. ...

The air in many cells emanated from a ventilation hole in the ceiling, which was often controlled to produce extremes of temperature: sometimes so hot that one would gasp for breath, sometimes freezing cold.

Many detainees described air conditioning for deliberate discomfort.

Detainees were exposed at times to over-heating in the cell; at other times drafts of freezing breeze.

Detainees never experienced natural light or natural darkness, although most were blindfolded many times so they could see nothing....

There was a shackling ring in the wall of the cell, about half a metre up off the floor. Detainees' hands and feet were clamped in handcuffs and leg irons. Bodies were regularly forced into contorted shapes and chained to this ring for long, painful periods.

All italics in the original.

According to the Council of Europe's report into the secret CIA prisons, Romania jumped at the chance to host U.S. detention facilities. A week after 9/11, the Romanian parliament approved a measure granting "basing and overflight permissions for all U.S. and coalition partners," which investigator Dick Marty, citing a Romanian source, describes as "deliberately designed to cover aircraft operated by or on behalf of the CIA." Within a month, it expanded its troop garrisoning accord with the U.S. -- known as a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA -- to include "anyone declared by the American authorities to be part of the U.S. armed forces, and can present a travel order signed by the U.S. military." In 2005, Romania went even further in accommodating U.S. military and intelligence personnel, signing yet another agreement.

The result, Marty writes, is that anyone "operating under the banner of the United States military have in practice operated on Romanian territory with complete freedom from scrutiny or interference by their (Romanian) counterparts ever since":

In terms of permissions, all U.S. government and aircraft and vehicles are "free from inspection." In addition, an apparently blanket authorization to "over-fly, conduct aerial refueling, land and takeoff on the territory of Romania" is granted to both U.S. Government aircraft and "civil aircraft... operating exclusively under contract to the United States Department of Defense." Indeed, an equally permissive approach is taken by almost every aspect of the agreement, from the "construction activities" undertaken by U.S. forces to the apparently unquestioning acceptance as "valid" of "all professional licenses."

An excellent stance for not knowing what took place at the "black sites."

Meet Peter Kirsanow. He is a commissioner at the US Commission on Civil Rights, a government commission charged with monitoring violations of civil rights with a special emphasis on voting rights.

The body acts as a “clearinghouse” for charges of voting rights and civil rights violations by holding hearings and keeping track of related information. Although it does not have enforcement powers, it sends reports to Congress and the White House.

Kirsanow has been at the civil rights commission since 2001 and became a controversial figure after President Bush appointed him to the National Labor Relations Board during a Senate recess in January 2006. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and other Democratic senators were outraged at Kirsanow’s appointment at the time. Kennedy called Kirsanow and “ardent foe of basic worker protections.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard Kirsanow testify yesterday on a bill under consideration that would make voter intimidation a federal crime. His suggestion: start focusing on falsified registrations rather than instances of intimidation and disenfranchisement.

Kirsanow’s testimony echoes changes seen in the Department of Justice under the Bush administration. While historically the Justice Department’s voting rights work has been aimed at preventing the disenfranchisement of minority voters, the emphasis has now shifted to preventing duplicate or illegitimate voting. A 2006 bipartisan report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found little evidence of such fraud at the polls.

An example of this came up earlier in the week when former interim US Attorney Bradley Schlozman testified before the same Senate committee on how he pushed through criminal voter fraud charges in Missouri right before the 2006 midterm election. The charges were brought against four organizers who had falsified voter registration forms. The organizers worked for a grass-roots group called ACORN, which had cooperated with law enforcement. The charges were highly controversial because they broke from Justice Department's policy of not bringing voter-fraud cases right before an election. The rationale being that such cases can intimidate voters and affect the outcome of the election. Schlozman defended his actions saying he got approval from a respected career lawyer and head of the elections crime branch of the agency, Craig Donsanto. That testimony has been questioned.

Here is video from yesterday’s hearing of Kirsanow making his point:

Bloomberg is reporting that Bradley Schlozman may revise some of the testimony he gave to a Senate Judiciary Committee panel this week.

Schlozman testified that he brought voter-fraud charges in Missouri on the eve of the 2006 midterm election under the direction of the Justice Department's Office of Public Integrity:

The explanation, which Schlozman repeated at least nine times during the June 5 hearing, infuriated public integrity lawyers, who say it implied the section ordered him to prosecute, said two Justice Department officials. Public integrity attorneys handle sensitive cases involving politicians and judges and pride themselves on staying out of political disputes.

A clarification of Schlozman's testimony would stress that he consulted with the section and was given guidance, not direction, said the officials, who asked to remain anonymous because the matter is being deliberated internally. The clarification wouldn't say that Schlozman's Senate testimony was inaccurate, the officials added.

Schlozman's testimony angered Democratic senators during questioning. He eventually said named Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch at the agency as the official who gave him permission, despite Justice Department policy not to bring voter fraud cases right before an election. Donsanto literally wrote the manual outlining the policy, which has some people questioning Schlozman's account.

First Admiral William J. Fallon took over as head of U.S. Central Command, even though it's the Army and Marines that are most engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now Admiral Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, has been nominated to become the next head of the joint chiefs of staff. If approved, that means a Naval officer will helm the joint chiefs, Central Command, Southern Command, Pacific Command (an understandably typical position for an admiral) and Special Operations Command. What's up with the Navy's commanding position?

One factor is obvious, says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute: The Navy "has not been tarred by the failure in Iraq." In other words, it's precisely because the Navy doesn't have the degree of skin in the game that the ground services have that admirals are making for attractive nominees for vacancies at key commands. That certainly tracks with Defense Secretary Gates's worry that General Peter Pace's prospective renomination hearing would have become a rancorous reexamination of the Iraq war. And it's doubly surprising, given how the Navy was the service most comfortable with ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man most closely associated with Iraq other than President Bush. "The irony is that the Navy culture was always able to get along with Rumsfeld, but otherwise rolled rather quickly with the Rumsfeld reversal" underway thanks to Defense Secretary Gates. No one can say the Navy is anything but buoyant. "The Navy has an intellectual tradition stronger than that of the other services," Thompson adds, referencing the overrepresentation of Naval officers on the Joint Staff.

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