In Iraq, at least thirty-six people died Wednesday after a bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque in Hillah. Over one hundred worshipers were injured. The blast went off as Shiites were gathering for prayers on the first day of Ramadan.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has voted to define and limit the types of interrogation techniques used against detainees at U.S.-run prison camps. The bill aims to prevent "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons under custody or control of the United States government." 46 Republicans joined with Democrats to include the language in a $440 billion dollar military spending bill. The White House has threatened to veto the whole bill if the anti-torture language was included.
A top Pentagon analyst has pleaded guilty to handing over highly classified intelligence to members of the pro-Israeli lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The official, Larry Franklin, also admitted for the first time that he handed over top secret information on Iran directly to an Israeli government official in Washington. Franklin said he personally met with an official from the Israeli Embassy in Washington eight times. The Washington Post reports that Franklin’s guilty plea casts doubt on long-standing claims by Israeli officials that they no longer engage in any intelligence activities inside the United States. In 1987, U.S. Navy intelligence officer Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life in prison after he admitted to spying for Israel. As part of a plea agreement Franklin pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and a third charge of possessing classified documents. He faces up to 25 years in prison. As part of the plea agreement, he has agreed to testify against the two former AIPAC officials, who are facing trial.
Meanwhile another possible espionage story is developing in Washington. The Justice Department is investigating whether a U.S. Marine working in Dick Cheney’s office gave classified documents about the Philippines to opposition figures in Manila. The employee was caught last year and arrested a month ago.
In Washington, a federal grand jury has indicted the Bush administration’s former chief procurement official for making false statements and obstructing investigations into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The official–David Safavian–is facing five felony counts.
In medical news, President Bush is warning that the country could face another avian flu epidemic and that the military might be needed to enforce quarantines and other emergency measures. He discussed this during Tuesday’s press conference. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has said preparing for such an outbreak is the most important health preparedness issue facing the country. The last such outbreak was in 1968. The deadliest occurred in 1918 when as many as 50 million people died around the world including over 600,000 in the United States. Meanwhile scientists have just announced they have reconstructed the 1918 Spanish flu virus and found that it was a bird flu that jumped directly to humans.
In other news from Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans are proposing to slash food stamp programs by nearly $600 million. The Associated Press estimates 300,000 people would become ineligible to receive food stamps. The Senators are also considering slashing subsidies to farmers by over $1.1 billion dollars over five years.
The media advocacy groups, Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy, are calling on Congress and the Justice Department to prosecute government officials who used tax payer money to buy favorable news coverage for the president’s policies. Last week the Government Accountability Office ruled that the Bush administration illegally paid commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. The GAO said the government had spent taxpayer money to disseminate "covert propaganda."
In other media news the radio giant Clear Channel is asking Congress to ease media ownership laws to allow it to purchase more stations. Clear Channel is the country’s largest radio-station operator with over 1200 stations around the country. Clear Channel wants Congress to rewrite the rules to allow a single company to own up to 12 different stations in a single market.
The Progressive Magazine is reporting that the Secret Service recently entered a North Carolina high school to remove a student’s project that was made for an assignment on the Bill of Rights. Students in a senior civics and economics class at Currituck County High School were told to take photographs to illustrate their rights in the Bill of Rights. One student photographed a picture of President Bush with a red thumb tack through his head. He then took the photo to Wal-Mart to be developed. An employee at Wal-Mart called the Kitty Hawk police and then the matter was passed onto the Secret Service. Late last month the Secret Service sent officers to the school to question the principal and teacher. They also entered the classroom to remove the photograph.
And finally this update on the FBI killing of Filiberto Ojeda Rios–the Puerto Rican nationalist leader who was shot dead two weeks ago. In a column I wrote in today’s Daily News, a former naval intelligence officer told me that he knows for a fact that Ojeda didn’t have to die. The officer says he knows this because he told FBI agents a year ago where they could find Ojeda, who was a wanted fugitve. The informant, who asked not to be identified, has given his account to the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office, which opened an independent review of the shooting last week. But the FBI did not seek to go after Ojeda until Sept 23–the anniversary of El Grito de Lares. The holiday marks Puerto Rico’s failed 1868 independence revolt against Spanish colonialism. It is a date commemorated each year by the independence movement with a march to the town of Lares. The FBI informant told me, "I’m a statehooder, but I see the FBI was trying to humiliate all Puerto Ricans by going after him on El Grito de Lares. I feel I was used. I wanted him arrested, not killed."