W A S H I N G T O N, May 24 — The House approved $29 billion early today for the fight against terrorism overseas and at home as the two parties grappled in a bitter election-year spat over war and the growing national debt. Democrats and Republicans alike strongly backed the money the package would provide. Billions would be showered on the military, on Afghanistan and other U.S. allies, on rebuilding New York, and on the Coast Guard, explosive detection devices for airports, and other anti-terror initiatives. Even so, the measure's 280-138 passage came only after bleary-eyed lawmakers had battled until nearly 3 a.m. ET over issues that could resound in this fall's campaigns for congressional control. The overnight session highlighted a GOP resolve to not start lawmakers' Memorial Day recess without passage of a counterterrorism bill they could tell voters about. Over three days of unusually acerbic debate, Democrats accused Republicans of sneaking a borrowing increase into the bill while the GOP said Democrats were hindering money sorely needed by American troops abroad. "They retreated from our responsibility to put politics aside when the time comes to strengthen our country," taunted House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas. That prompted Democrats to accuse Republicans of smearing them by questioning their patriotism, as all pretenses that the war against terror should not become a political issue seemed to fade away. "We don't want those soldiers used for your agenda," said Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I. The Senate's anti-terror legislation was facing its own contentious path. The appropriations committee passed a $31 billion version of the bill on Wednesday. But Republicans, eager to trim it closer to the $27.1 billion President Bush proposed in March, blocked debate until Congress returns next month. More than half the House's Democrats ended up voting against the bill. Their chief objection was that majority Republicans had forced language into it that would pave the way for raising the current $5.95 trillion cap on federal borrowing. The Bush administration wants a $750 billion boost in that limit enacted by late June, saying an unprecedented federal default otherwise awaits. It will be the first since 1997, when annual deficits turned to surpluses under President Clinton. Democrats concede a borrowing increase is inevitable, but say it was forced by last year's GOP-written tax cut. They say that means Social Security surpluses will have to be diverted to pay for other programs — which while true will not affect the program's benefits or solvency, but gives them a political issue to raise. The money is for the remaining months of fiscal 2002, which ends Oct. 1. It is the second installment of anti-terrorism spending since the Sept. 11 attacks, following $40 billion lawmakers approved late last year. The military would get the lion's share of the money: $14 billion in the Bush and Senate proposals, $15.8 billion under the Senate bill. Those funds would go for everything from bomb guidance systems to the Reserves and National Guard. New York would get $5.5 billion under all three plans to rebuild from the Sept. 11 attacks on lower Manhattan. Most of the rest is for domestic security programs like staffing the new Transportation Security Administration, modernizing FBI computers and buttressing security at Energy Department nuclear weapons facilities. The House bill would temporarily freeze the $10 billion loan guarantee program that Congress created late last year to help airlines whose business was eroded by the terrorist strikes. US Airways officials have lobbied unsuccessfully so far to remove the provision, which lawmakers supporting them said could mean the airline will go out of business this summer. GOP leaders say the carrier should be able to get loans to carry it over until the fall, when the federal loans will be available again. The Senate bill trims the loan program to $429 million this fiscal year and to $4 billion permanently.
— The Associated Press
Terrorist Chief’s Interrogation Leads to More Threat Warnings
W A S H I N G T O N, May 24 — The words of Abu Zubaydah have set counterterrorism officials into motion again, even as they wonder if the captured al Qaeda field commander is lying just to create panic. Law enforcement and other U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Abu Zubaydah's claims led to this week's warnings of potential terrorist attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. He did not provide a date or method of attack, and officials called his statements uncorroborated. But they canceled a 119th birthday celebration for the bridge anyway. The level of the U.S. response to the warnings is a testament to Abu Zubaydah's seniority within al Qaeda, officials say. He is the highest-ranking terrorist leader to come into U.S. custody since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Officials have been able to verify at least some of his statements to CIA and FBI interrogators. "He has told us things we didn't know before that we subsequently were able to confirm," said one senior official. "Not everything he says is bogus." On the other hand, officials say some of his statements are certainly lies or boasting, intended to promote al Qaeda's ends by confusing investigators and scaring Americans. Abu Zubaydah speaks English. Other threats from Abu Zubaydah have reached the public's ears: He was the key source for last month's threat to banks in the northeastern United States, and he also claimed al Qaeda was building a radiological weapon, a so-called dirty bomb that spreads harmful radioactive substances but does not ignite a nuclear detonation. Officials have said threats linked to Abu Zubaydah are only publicized when they match other information. He also recently told his interrogators that United Airlines Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 after its passengers fought back, was aimed at the White House. Officials had previously assumed the White House was its likely destination but said the U.S. Capitol and CIA headquarters were other potential targets. Intelligence officials say al Qaeda typically keeps going after the same target until it conducts a successful strike, noting the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center as well as the January 2000 attempt to bomb a U.S. destroyer in Yemen — months before the successful bombing of the USS Cole. Officials describe Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi-born Palestinian, as a link between bin Laden and many of al Qaeda's operational cells. Abu Zubaydah ran the Khalden camp in Afghanistan, where U.S. investigators believe many of the Sept. 11 hijackers trained. He also had telephone contacts with at least one student at U.S. flight schools, according to a July 10, 2001, memo from a Phoenix FBI agent. Earlier, he is believed to have masterminded the failed millennium bombing plots in Los Angeles and Jordan, and he has been linked to failed plots on the U.S. embassies in Paris and Sarajevo. U.S. and Pakistani authorities captured and wounded Abu Zubaydah in a raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March. They also found his notebook, which officials say may contain a more accurate account of his plans. His location remains undisclosed but he is thought to be away from U.S. soil. He shouldn't know the furor his statements are causing, if his interrogators are using standard techniques that would keep him uninformed. This would allow them to tell him only what they want about events in the outside world.
— The Associated Press