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Annan Warns of a "Race Against Time" in Tsunami Disaster

World leaders met today in Indonesia for an international summit on the Asian Tsunami. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that the world is in what he called "a race against time" to prevent another sharp rise in the death toll, which is now more than 155,000. Annan warned that the number of fatalities could double due to the spread of disease and hunger if aid did not reach survivors soon. While nearly $4 billion has been pledged worldwide, the United Nations has warned some of the promises might not be honored as in previous disasters. More than a year ago donors promised Iran more than $1bn to assist with the Bam earthquake disaster. Iran complains that only $17.5m ever arrived. The leaders also proposed that some money be given to the devastated countries as loans. Canada was the only donor to declare a unilateral moratorium on debt repayments, but Japan says it is willing to do so and other countries indicate they would support the idea.

As the conference ended, the world leaders issued a declaration pledging to work together to help the shattered region recover and set up a tsunami warning system to ensure that next time such a wave is generated coastal communities will have time to flee to higher ground.

Gitmo Prisoner Alleges He Was Sent to Egypt for Torture

An Australian man being held at Guantanamo has filed a lawsuit saying that in 2001 the U.S. transferred him to Egypt for 6 months, where he was electrocuted, beaten and nearly drowned. His lawyers say they are trying to stop what they say are plans to send him to Egypt again. Egyptian-born Mamdouh Habib, who was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 as a suspected al Qaeda trainer, alleges that while under Egyptian detention he was hung by his arms from hooks, repeatedly shocked, nearly drowned and brutally beaten, and he contends that U.S. and international law prohibits sending him back. Habib’s case is only the second to describe a secret practice called "rendition," under which the CIA has sent suspected terrorists to be interrogated in countries where torture has been well documented. It is unclear which U.S. agency transferred Habib to Egypt. His is the first case to challenge the legality of the practice and could have implications for U.S. plans to send large numbers of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other countries with poor human rights records. Three since released Guantanamo detainees said that when Hamdi first came back to Guantanamo, he was missing his fingernails and medics didn’t treat him though he was bleeding from his nose, mouth and ears.

The Justice Department refused to comment on Habib’s allegations, which were filed in November but made public only yesterday after a judge ruled that his petition contained no classified information. The department has not addressed the allegation that he was sent to Egypt. The authority under which renditions and other forcible transfers may be legally performed is reportedly summarized in a March 13, 2002, memo titled "The President’s Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captive Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations." Knowledgeable U.S. officials said White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales participated in its production.

The administration has refused a congressional request to make it public. But it is referred to in an August 2002 Justice Department opinion — which Gonzales asked for and helped draft — defining torture in a narrow way and concluding that the president could legally permit torture in fighting terrorism. The August memo is expected to figure prominently in today’s confirmation hearing for Gonzales, Bush’s nominee to run the Justice Department as attorney general. We"ll have more on this in a few minutes.

Medical Journal: US Army Doctors Violated Geneva Conventions

Meanwhile, the New England Journal of Medicine says that U.S. Army doctors violated the Geneva Conventions by helping intelligence officers carry out abusive interrogations at military detention centers, perhaps participating in torture. According to the Journal, medical personnel helped tailor interrogations to the physical and mental conditions of individual detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It says that medical workers gave interrogators access to patient medical files, and that psychiatrists and other physicians collaborated with interrogators and guards who, in turn, deprived detainees of sleep, restricted them to diets of bread and water and exposed them to extreme heat and cold. The Washington Post reported in June that military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had been given access to the medical records of individual prisoners despite repeated objections from the Red Cross, a breach of patient confidentiality that ethicists said violated international medical standards. The article in the New England Journal of Medicine says that interrogators in Iraq also had access to prisoners’ medical files.

Ken Blackwell Boasts of "Delivering" Ohio to Bush

Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell boasted of helping to "deliver" Ohio for President Bush and said he was "truly pleased" to announce Bush had won Ohio even before all of the state’s votes had been counted in his own fundraising letter, written on his official letterhead. The letter, which was received by a Butler County resident Dec. 31, is a plea to support Blackwell’s campaign for governor. The resident has asked to remain anonymous.

In apparent disregard for his nonpartisan role as Ohio’s chief election official, the Republican Secretary and chairman of Bush’s Ohio reelection campaign slammed Senator Kerry as a "disaster" who would have reaped "terrible" and "horrible" results on both Ohio and the United States.

Further, Blackwell’s use of the word "deliver" finds striking resonance with another controversial fundraising letter sent by the CEO of voting machine manufacturer Diebold Walden O’Dell in the summer of 2003 when he said he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

Democrats Contest Electoral Vote Count

A handful of House Democrats plan a long-shot effort to snarl President Bush’s formal re-election by preventing Congress from counting Ohio’s pivotal votes when lawmakers tally the electoral vote Today. In order to force Congress to act on a challenge to the election’s legitimacy, the Representatives would need one Senator to endorse the complaint. Rep. John Conyers has sent letters to senators seeking their support for his plan to object to the counting of Ohio’s 20 electoral votes, which gave Bush his November victory over Kerry. The House Democrats’ chief hope of finding a supportive senator may be Sen. Barbara Boxer. Her spokesman said Tuesday that she has been asked to sign the complaint and "she is considering it." John Kerry wrote a letter to supporters yesterday saying he would not object to the certification of the vote. Should a senator and House member formally challenge a state’s results, the two chambers must meet separately and consider the objection. That scenario would still ensure Bush’s re-election because both bodies are controlled by Republicans.

Big Business to Support Conservative Bush Appointees

The LA Times is reporting that a powerful business lobby is preparing a multimillion-dollar campaign to aid the White House in its quest to win approval for conservative judges. The new effort on behalf of some of the nation’s biggest manufacturers will increase the cost, visibility and intensity of an already divisive confirmation process, one that has been dominated by social issues.

The shift puts the business lobby on the same side as social conservatives. The man behind the campaign is former Michigan Governor John Engler, a longtime friend of President Bush who recently took the helm of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Engler said in an interview Wednesday that his organization would make confirmation of judicial nominees a top priority for the first time–providing money and a recently honed ability to stir grass-roots action nationwide. The group plans to spend millions of dollars on the campaign, but the exact amount has not been decided. The Manufacturers Association represents such large, blue-chip firms as General Motors, Boeing and Caterpillar as well as 10,000 small and medium-sized manufacturers. Analysts say the campaign will increase pressure on moderate senators whose votes helped block confirmation for 10 of the 34 Bush nominees to federal appeals courts in the past two years. Several of those senators face reelection in 2006 and are already facing threats from religious conservative leaders if they try to block conservative jurists.

WorldComm Directors to Pay Millions

Ten former directors of WorldCom, the telecommunications company whose bankruptcy was the largest in history, have agreed to pay $18 million of their own money to settle a class-action lawsuit by investors who lost hundreds of millions of dollars when the company collapsed in July 2002. The directors in the settlement neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. They were directors of WorldCom from 1999 to 2002.

Calling Mr. Bush: Will Iraq Have Elections

As resistance attacks increase in Iraq, the US appointed government continues its struggle to organize the planned election on January 30. In recent weeks, several senior Iraqi officials have indicated the vote may not happen. But the unelected Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Wednesday he is committed to holding the elections on time. Meanwhile, President Bush tried to quash any momentum toward delaying the election by calling Iraq’s interim president, Ghazi al-Yawar, who had expressed his own misgivings about the elections on Tuesday, characterizing the decision to hold them on time as a "tough call." Allawi made his comments yesterday inside the heavily fortified Green Zone. He spoke two days after what some officials have described as an anguished phone call with President Bush, in which the prime minister expressed worries that the Iraqi resistance was undermining the likelihood of a peaceful and legitimate vote. Analysts say the fact that Bush felt the need to discuss the matter with Iraq’s leaders twice within 48 hours suggested a new level of concern in the White House that the movement for delay within the Iraqi cabinet must be cut off. The U.S. military announced Wednesday that more than 35,000 American troops will be deployed on the streets of Baghdad on January 30, the date of the elections. We"ll have more on this later in the program.

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