At her confirmation hearing Tuesday, Secretary of State nominee Condolezza Rice defended President Bush’s Iraq war plan and refused to lay out a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. She called for what she described as "transformational diplomacy." California Senator Barbara Boxer chastised Rice for stating Saddam Hussein was close to developing nuclear weapons during the lead-up to the Iraq war. Boxer said, "Your loyalty to the mission ... overwhelmed your respect for the truth."
Senators Boxer, Christopher Dodd and Russell Feingold all questioned Rice on the use of torture at Abu Ghraib. Rice refused to describe what occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison as torture. She also claimed the Geneva Conventions do not apply to individuals associated with Al Qaeda. And she defended her recent letter urging Congress to remove anti-torture language from last year’s intelligence reform bill. In response to her comments, Feingold said "It is simply not OK to equivocate on torture."
Rice also singled out Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez charging that his rule was "very deeply troubling." She also described Cuba, Burma, Belarus, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Iran as "outposts of tyranny."
Meanwhile Senator Boxer accused Rice of being insensitive about last month’s tsunami that killed over 175,000 in the Indian Ocean area. Boxer’s statement came after Rice said "the tsunami was a wonderful opportunity to show not just the US government, but the heart of the American people, and I think it has paid great dividends for us."
The hearings, which went on for 9 and a half hours, continue today. Rice is expected to be approved by the Senate as early as today. We’ll have more on the hearings in a few minutes.
In news from Iraq, at least 26 people have died after a string of bombings today in Baghdad. The BBC reports five blasts went off within a span of 90 minutes during the morning rush hour. Targeted in one of the bombings was the Australian embassy. The attacks occurred on the eve of the major Muslim holiday Eid and they come a week and a half before the Jan. 30 elections.
On Thursday gunmen in southern Iraq killed three candidates running for the political coalition of interim prime minister Iyad Allawi.
Meanwhile in Britain, photos have emerged showing the apparent torture of Iraqi detainees by British soldiers in the city of Basra. The photos were shown at a court martial hearing in Germany for three British soldiers. The images show British troops forcing Iraqis to strip bare and simulate oral and anal sex. Another photo shows a grimacing Iraqi who had been strung up in a cargo net made from thick rope which had been hung from a forklift truck. Another photo showed a soldier, wearing just shorts and flip flops, standing on an Iraqi man who was crouched in a fetal position on the ground. The Guardian of London describes the scandal as "Britain’s Abu Ghraib." All of the photos were taken by the soldiers themselves.
The New Yorker magazine has run a major profile of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in which it adds new proof to a report from last year that Allawi personally shot dead six Iraqi prisoners a week before he took office. The reporter Jon Lee Anderson said he spoke with a well-known former government minister in Jordan who confirmed the killings took place. Anderson also sat in on an interview with a man who claimed to have witnessed the executions. The story was first reported by The Sydney Morning Herald but received little attention in this country. The witness to the killing reported that Allawi said before the executions "This is how we must deal with the terrorists."
The U.S. Editor and Publisher magazine is reporting that all soldiers deployed to Iraq must now take part in mandatory media training to help soldiers communicate the military’s official line on the war effort. Talking point cards are given to military personnel. One of the current talking points reads: "We are a values-based, people-focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all." Another talking point simply reads: "We are not an occupying force."
While the Condolezza Rice confirmation hearings will continue today to be the big story on Capitol Hill, the Senate will also hold confirmation hearings for two other key cabinet posts. Beginning at 2 p.m. the Senate Finance Committee will hold hearings for Michael Leavitt, President Bush’s nominee to become the secretary of health and human services. Then at 2:30 p.m. the Senate Energy Committee will open hearings for Energy Secretary Nominee Sam Bodman.
Michael Leavitt is currently serving as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency chief. As secretary of Health and Human Services, he would oversee Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Indian Health Service. Leavitt, who is Mormon, is seen as an opponent of abortion rights as well as federal funding of stem-cell research. Upon Leavitt’s nomination Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey described him as "extremely anti-choice". Before coming to Washington, Leavitt served as governor of Utah.
Meanwhile Energy Secretary Nominee Sam Bodman has been working for the Bush administration since 2001, first as deputy commerce secretary then deputy treasury secretary. The Sierra Club criticized his hands-off position on global warming when he oversaw the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. Upon his nomination Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said, "He was literally in charge of watching the polar ice caps melt." Prior to coming to Washington Bodman headed the chemical company Cabot. The Knight Ridder news agency reports that during Bodman’s tenure at Cabot, the government twice fined the company for failing to report hazardous spills and not complying with federal cleanup orders.
In South Carolina, some 75 residents are still being blocked from returning home two weeks after a Jan. 6 train crash released a deadly plume of chlorine gas. The chlorine leak killed eight people including six people working at a nearby textile mill. The train engineer also died from injuries in the crash. Another 250 people were left sick. Some 5,400 people were forced to be evacuated from their homes. The fatal accident has raised new questions about how safely hazardous chemicals can be transported by train.
In Washigton, the four days of celebrations around President Bush’s inauguration have begun. At an event Tuesday night titled "Saluting Those Who Serve" Bush told troops that "much more will be asked of you" in Iraq and elsewhere
A massive security operation has already begun to take over the capital for the most heavily guarded inauguration in history. The military has deployed anti-aircraft missiles inside the city. D.C. police plan to erect roadblocks and screen pedestrians around an area covering more than 100 square blocks in the center of Washington. On Tuesday several downtown blocks had to be evacuated after a man threatened to blow up his van parked near the White House. The matter ended peacefully after a four hour standoff.
Meanwhile ahead of Bush’s inauguration, the BBC released a new poll that shows more than half the people surveyed by the BBC believe that Bush’s reelection has made the world more dangerous. In only three of the 21 countries surveyed–India, Poland and the Philippines–did the population feel Bush made the world safe. The majority of people in Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina and others all said Bush made the would less safe.
In Tulia Texas a jury has recommended that a former police officer who set up dozens of African-Americans in a drug sting should be sentenced to 10 years probation for perjury. The officer Tom Coleman fabricated evidence to arrest 46 people on drug charges. More than 10 percent of the town’s African-American population was rounded up in the sting. The arrested people ended up being sentenced to up to 300 years in prison based on Coleman’s faked evidence. All of the arrested have since been pardoned but not before some spent four years in prison.
And in California, a confessed murderer who lawyers said was suffering from brain damage was executed earlier today. Donald Beardsley became the first person executed in California in three years. 300 opponents of the death penalty held a vigil outside the San Quentin Prison. The execution occurred after California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to grant clemency to Beardsley.