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U.S. Congress Schedules Hearings, Classified Briefing on Libya

Both houses of Congress plan public hearings on the military intervention in Libya by the U.S. and allies, and top Obama administration officials will brief lawmakers next week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other officials will meet with House members in closed session on March 30, according to a notice sent to members.

The classified briefing on the situation in Libya and an appearance by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing the following day are part of the administration’s efforts to respond to lawmakers’ complaints that they weren’t adequately consulted before the March 19 start of the allied air assault on Libya’s anti-aircraft defenses. The military action was authorized by the United Nations to curb Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s capability to target civilians supporting the revolt against his regime.

“We think that it is important to consult with members of Congress” and “we think the questions that have been asked have been legitimate,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Washington yesterday. The administration “will continue to consult” with lawmakers, he said.

The briefing with administration officials was requested by House Speaker John Boehner, who also wrote to President Barack Obama earlier this week seeking an explanation of the purposes and strategic rationale for the military operation.

Several Hearings

Carney listed 10 congressional hearings since Feb. 28 where administration officials had discussed the options for action in Libya. He also cited a March 18 briefing that Obama conducted for Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and key members of the Senate and House committees dealing with defense, foreign affairs and intelligence.

That session took place a day after most lawmakers left Washington for a weeklong recess. Some participants met with Obama in the Situation Room at the White House and others joined in by telephone, lawmakers said.

Carney said Obama couldn’t wait to act until Congress returned from its recess because “leadership requires him to take action when action will save lives, and delaying action will cost lives.” When the military action began, troops loyal to Qaddafi were massed on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.

“Had we waited for Congress to get back,” Carney said, Qaddafi’s forces “would control Benghazi, and there would have been a great deal of people killed in the process.”

In addition to Clinton and Gates, House members will also hear from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, at the March 30 briefing, according to the notice sent to members.

Libya’s Importance

At the House Foreign Affairs hearing the next day, Steinberg will be questioned about Libya’s importance to U.S. security, according to a notice on the committee’s website.

A spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement that a hearing on Libya would be held in the “near future.”

The panel’s chairman, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, “has been traveling in the region” during this week’s recess “to get information firsthand from our allies,” Frederick Jones said in the statement.

“Senator Kerry understands the importance and complexity of our role in protecting the people of Libya and the committee will hold public hearings in the near future,” Jones said.

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, sent a letter to Kerry on March 23 requesting hearings on Libya.

“The administration has not adequately defined the U.S. strategic interest in Libya or adequately articulated how the conflict ends,” he wrote.

Jones said that the Libyan situation “was explored in depth” during a March 17 committee hearing when Under Secretary of State William Burns testified about citizen uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.

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