In Iraq, the trial of Saddam Hussein has resumed amid heavy security inside the Green Zone. On Sunday Iraqi police arrested 10 Sunni men who were allegedly plotting to assassinate the best-known judge trying Hussein. Today’s proceedings marked Saddam Hussein’s first court appearance since two lawyers on his defense team were shot dead.
Meanwhile former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has joined Hussein’s defense team in Baghdad. On Sunday he questioned whether Hussein can get a fair trial in Iraq. "A court can not be a court unless it’s absolutely independent," Clark said. "International law, and all private and public law in every country requires independence of the judiciary and of the judges, whoever they are; four we don’t know, we haven’t seen their faces, we do not know their names, would they be impartial?"
In other news from Iraq four humanitarian aid workers from the United States, Canada and Britain have been kidnapped in Baghdad. Only one of the four has been identified so far — British peace activist and retired professor Norman Kember.
Iraq’s former prime minister Iyad Allawi is claming that the human rights abuses occurring today in Iraq are as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein. In an interview with the Observer newspaper of London Allawai said "We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated. A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations."
The British Foreign Office is investigating allegations that private contractors with the defense company Aegis have randomly shot at Iraqi cars. According to the Telegraph newspaper, a video recently appeared on a site affiliated with Aegis that contained four clips of an unidentified gunman shooting at cars in Iraq. In one clip a Mercedes is fired on at a distance of several hundred yards before it crashes in to a civilian taxi. One Iraqi Interior Ministry officials confirmed such shootings occur. He said: "When the security companies kill people they just drive away and nothing is done... I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind."
The director-general of the Arabic tv network Al-Jazeera has demanded Washington respond to reports that President Bush wanted to bomb the network’s headquarters in Doha. Last week the Daily Mirror cited a secret British memo revealing that Bush told Tony Blair last year of his desire to bomb the news outlet. The Bush administration has described the Daily Mirror’s report as "outlandish." Officials at Al Jazeera are now questioning whether the U.S. might have been targeting the network when it bombed its bureaus in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Baghdad in April 2003. The attack in Iraq killed Al Jazeera’s correspondent Tariq Ayub. Ayub’s widow, Dima, said she is now considering suing the U.S. government for her husband’s death. She said "America always claimed it was an accident. But I believe the new revelations prove that claim was false or at least not trustworthy." Meanwhile in Britain a ban remains in place on all media outlets from disclosing the contents of the secret memo. But a member of parliament–Boris Johnson–has vowed to publish the memo and risk jail time if anyone leaks him the document.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has admitted its troops burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters last month. After the troops burned the bodies, a U.S. Army psy-ops unit was caught on tape broadcasting news of the burning to local residents. U.S. Major General Jason Kamiya said "Our investigation found there was no intent to desecrate the remains, but only to dispose them for hygienic reasons." The Army said the soldiers involved will be reprimanded but no charges will be filed.
One of the world’s largest conferences ever on global warming opens today in Montreal but the world’s worst polluter–the United States–has decided not to take part. Some 10,000 delegates from around the world are scheduled to attend the UN-sponsored conference to decide the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty signed by 156 nations to curb greenhouse gases. The Bush administration has opposed the Kyoto Protocol and said individual nations should be able to pursue their own ways to curb emissions. The conference opens just a week after scientists revealed the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now higher than at any time in the past 650,000 years. Scientists are also warning about the impact of the melting icecaps. "Because as the Arctic ice melts, glaciers and the ice pack of Greenland, it will cause sea level to rise. We expect upwards of a metre of sea level rise to occur during this coming 100 years," said Bob Correll, of the American Meteorological Society. "Where you and I are standing, the beach would be here just from sea level rise or maybe even on the berm behind us. These processes have profound implications on the entire planet. It is not just the loss of polar bear or Inuits losing their lifestyle but it is profoundly important to the planet at large."
The climate conference is opening in Montreal at a time of political upheaval in Canada. The House of Commons is expected to vote today to topple Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority government forcing national elections in January.
The Washington Post is reporting the Pentagon has expanded its ability to spy on citizens within the United States. According to the Post, the Bush administration is considering allowing a little known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity to investigate certain crimes domestically . The Pentagon is also pushing legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exemption to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies. Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies, said such an exemption would remove one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said "We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing."
USA Today is reporting over 6,600 people are still reported missing following Hurricane Katrina. Nearly 1,000 of the unaccounted are children. The head of the National Center for Missing Adults says many people are listed as missing because government record-keeping efforts haven’t caught up with them in their new locations. But fears are growing that the final death toll could increase significantly from the current toll of 1,300.
Meanwhile the former director of FEMA, Michael Brown, has announced plans to become a government emergency preparedness consultant. Brown was widely criticized for the agency’s failure to help the people of the Gulf Region following the hurricane 12 weeks ago.
Backers of California death row prisoner Stanley Tookie Williams have submitted the signatures of 32,000 people supporting his petition for clemency. Williams is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 13. Williams is a co-founder of the Crips street gang. Since his imprisonment he has become a leading advocate against gang violence and has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to review Williams’ case next week.
Meanwhile, the United States is about to execute its 1,000th prisoner since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. On average a prisoner has been executed every 10 days since 1976. 3,400 prisoners remain on death row.
In China, at least 68 people have died in a coal mining accident. Another 79 are missing.
Meanwhile China is still recovering from a massive chemical spill that forced the government to shut off all water to a city of nearly 4 million people. About 100 tons of the highly toxic chemical benzene leaked into the Songhua River earlier this month following an explosion at a chemical factory. Over the past two weeks, the chemical leak has spread over 50 miles reaching the city of Harbin. The spill is now threatening Russian cities further downstream.
In Burma, the country’s military government has ordered pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to be held under house arrest for another year. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has spent 10 of the past 15 years under house arrest.
The Senegalese government has announced the former president of Chad — Hissene Habre–can stay in the country until the African Union decides his fate. Habre is wanted in Belgium for human rights abuses committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990.
Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has been put under house arrest for tax fraud and human rights abuses. Pinochet was arrested one day before his 90th birthday. He was accused of overseeing the disappearances of seven people in 1974.
In labor news–the New York Times is reporting union organizers are a step closer to its most successful organizing drive in the South in decades. The Service Employees International Union has helped 5,000 private-sector janitors sign petitions supporting unionizing. The janitors are nearly all immigrants and earn on average just over $100 a week working part-time.
And anti-war protests returned to Crawford Texas last week where President Bush was celebrating Thanksgiving. On Wednesday about a dozen protesters–including Daniel Ellsberg–were arrested. They were charged with violating new rules put in place after thousands gathered for a month-long vigil in August organized by Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq. "We’re here to say that the killing has to stop. That we’re not going to justify any more killing on our losses. And we will, we’re not going away," said Sheehan. "We don’t hate anybody. We just want people to be held accountable. And just because someone is the president of the United States it doesn’t guarantee them immunity from accountability." That was Cindy Sheehan whose son Casey died in Iraq