OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: White House dumps Benghazi emails

The emails — circulated in the days following the attacks from Sept. 14-16 — show that CIA deputy director Mike Morrell asked that references to al Qaeda and one other terrorist group be taken out of the talking points, which would be used by administration officials. 

Republicans have argued that officials knew almost immediately the attack was terrorism, and one State Department official stationed in Tripoli at the time of the attacks told a House panel last week that he was stunned when he heard Rice’s remarks.

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Senior administration officials said the emails that the information was preliminary and that Rice couldn't have known exactly what had happened because information was still being gathered.

Members of the Senate intelligence panel in March asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper what lessons had the White House learned from Benghazi, Clapper responded coyly: "Don't do talking points on classified talking points."

Senate wants changes to rules of war on terror: As the war in Afghanistan grinds to a close, a growing number of lawmakers say it's time to re-write or scrap the controversial, decade-old law that has guided the U.S. war on terror.

Members of the Senate, led by Defense Committee chief Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), will begin tackling the issue on Thursday, looking specifically at what changes need to be made to the law, known as the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF). 

"I just don’t want to prejudge the outcome of this thing. I just want to go through the process," Levin told The Hill on the decision to call hearings on the topic. 

Passed in the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks, the AUMF gave military and intelligence agencies wide legal leeway to pursue al Qaeda. 

From the U.S. terror detainee program to armed drone strikes, the rules under AUMF have allowed American forces to kill most of the terror group's top tier leaders, including al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. 

But more than a decade after the law was approved, the war against al Qaeda and other Islamic militant factions across the globe has evolved far beyond what lawmakers say they intended.

The authority justifying Obama administration's aggressive use of armed drone strikes against suspected terror targets in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere "is certainly a liberal interpretation of AUMF," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). 

"It’s clear it’s time we had a careful examination [of the law] ... and what changes need to be made,” McCain added. “And changes need to be made."

To that end, McCain said he is strongly considering introducing amendments to change the counterterrorism law as part of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill. "It’s something whose time has come," he said.

Outrage over new sexual assault scandal: Lawmakers said Wednesday that it’s clear they need to act after the latest incident where a service member in charge of sexual assault prevention was accused of sexual assault.

The newest incident involved a sergeant at Fort Hood accused of sexual abuse, which came a week after the Air Force chief of sexual assault prevention was charged with sexual battery.

“We have to change the law,” Levin told reporters Wednesday. “It cannot simply be addressed in the current system.”

There’s still plenty of debate over what steps Congress should take to address the military’s judicial code. Levin said that he is still examining proposals that would remove cases from the military’s chain of command, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.), while he supports removing the authority to change verdicts in a post-trial review.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been the most vocal opponent of making any changes to the judicial code, and on Wednesday said he was “adamantly” opposed to Gillibrand’s measure.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has introduced legislation that would create an independent agency to investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases, took aim at Congress on Wednesday for not tackling the problem.

“Congress has been an enabler of sexual assault by not demanding that these cases be taken out of the chain of command,” she said in a statement.

Senate panel voting to arm Syrian rebels: A Senate panel is taking the first vote in Congress next week to arm the Syrian opposition, in a sign of growing impatience with the Obama administration’s approach to the two-year civil war.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will mark up a bill introduced Wednesday by the committee’s Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and ranking member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Menendez modified the bill that he introduced last week in order to get Corker on board.

The legislation would create a $250 million transition fund to assist the civilian opposition and would sanctions sales of weapons and oil to the Syrian regime.

“It’s largely along the line of what I originally introduced," Menendez told The Hill in a hallway interview, "but with a little bit of expansion, and we’re together on it now, and we’ve refined all the language.” 


In Case You Missed It:

—  Commander dismisses Afghan torture claims

— Speier: Congress ‘enabler’ of military sexual assault

— Lawmakers angry over CIA Karzai payments

— Lawmakers: Hagel ‘misguided’ on DOD furloughs

— Panel passes $73.3B military construction, VA bill


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