In Lebanon, a massive car bomb has killed a prominent anti-Syrian politician and three others. The blast targeted Gibran Tueni–a Christian member of parliament who also edits the top selling An-Nahar newspaper. Tueni had only returned to Lebanon on Sunday from Paris, where he has been staying most of the past few months out of fear for his safety. Fellow MP Walid Jumblatt immediately blamed Syria for the bombing. He cited the similarities to the car bomb blast that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February. Today’s attack came just a day after a United Nations investigator delivered a report to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the murder of Hariri.
In California the state Supreme Court has unanimously denied an emergency request by lawyers of death row prisoner Stanley Tookie Williams to halt his execution. Williams’ life now largely rests in the hands of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. If he is not granted clemency, Williams is scheduled to be executed a minute past midnight tonight pacific time. Williams is a co-founder of the Crips street gang who became an advocate against gang violence while on death row. We’ll have more on Williams’ case in a few minutes.
In Iraq, a second secret Iraqi-run prison has been uncovered where prisoners are being severely tortured. Last week Iraqi officials visited a Baghdad prison run by the Interior Ministry and found 13 prisoners abused so badly that they required immediate medical treatment. Iraqi officials said the prisoners were subjected to electric shock, breaking of bones, extraction of fingernails and cigarette burns to the neck and back. This is the second Interior Ministry prison uncovered in the past month where Sunni Arab prisoners were being tortured. Sunni political leaders claim that torture is also occurring at other Interior Ministry prisons.
Meanwhile a former Iraqi general told Agence France Press that he witnessed horrific scenes of torture while he worked in Iraqi-run prisons. He showed the news agency videotapes recorded inside the prison. Men were seen with whip marks and acid burns. One prisoner had lost an eye. Another prisoner had nails driven into his body. The general — Muntazar al-Samarrai–said at least three people died as a result of torture at the prison, The general–who is a Sunni now living in Jordan–said the abuse is being carried out at nine secret prisons run by pro-Iranian Shiite militias who work for the Interior Ministry.
Iraqi officials said Sunday they had no word on the fate of four Christian peace activists kidnapped two weeks ago in Baghdad. Their kidnappers had threatened to kill them by Saturday if Iraq and U.S. didn’t release all prisoners in Iraq. Ehab Lotayef, of the Canadian Islamic Association, recently traveled to Iraq to help secure their release.
In news from Europe — the president of Poland has vowed to conduct an investigation into reports that the CIA operated a secret prison there up until last month.
Meanwhile the Bush administration admitted it would not give the International Red Cross access to a group of prisoners being held at secret locations around the world. The White House maintains the men being detained are not prisoners of war and thus not guaranteed any rights under the Geneva Conventions. The International Red Cross criticized the decision.
The Chinese government is being accused of covering up the killing of up to 20 rural demonstrators last week in the southern town of Dongzhoukeng. If the death toll is confirmed it would be the deadliest known use of force by Chinese security forces since the Tinanmen Square massacre in 1989. The killings occurred on Tuesday when thousands of villagers gathered to protest plans to build a wind power plant on seized farming land. The police are reportedly refusing to return the dead to their families and dozens of people are said to still be missing. The Associated Press reports thousands of armed troops are now patrolling the perimeter of the town and blocking residents from leaving. On Sunday the Chinese government announced the commander of the paramilitary group that conducted the killings would be arrested. In recent years tens of thousands of protests have occurred in the Chinese countryside stemming from the country’s rapid industrialization. The government has come under criticism in rural areas for seizing farmland to build power plants, factories and shopping malls.
In Hong Kong, around 10,000 protesters are gathering to demonstrate outside this week’s World Trade Organization ministerial talks which begin Tuesday. Oxfam has delivered a petition with nearly 18 million signatures calling on WTO member states to remove global trade barriers that adversely affect poor and developing nations.
In Chile, a woman who was once jailed under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet has moved closer to becoming the country’s first female president. On Sunday, Michelle Bachelet won the first round of voting and will likely face billionaire Sebastian Pinera in a run-off next month. Bachelet is the daughter of an air force general loyal to Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by Pinochet in 1973. Her father was arrested and tortured. He died in prison. She too was imprisoned by Pinochet’s regime before fleeing into exile. Since her return to Chile, Bachelet has served as health minister and defense minister.
In news from the Middle East–the Times of London is reporting Israel’s armed forces have been ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran. Israel has denied the report.
Meanwhile a group of Palestinians have filed a class action lawsuit against the former head of the Israeli Shin Bet, Avi Dichter. He is being accused of war crimes for his role in a 2002 air strike that killed 15 civilians including eight children in a residential area of Gaza City. Dichter was served papers in the lawsuit last week.
On Saturday–as the world marked International Human Rights Day–the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency.
In Britain, firefighters are battling a massive blaze at an oil facility co-owned by Texaco and the oil company Total. It is believed to be the largest industrial fire ever in peacetime Europe. Flames burned as high 200 feet in the sky. Firefighters are pumping 7,000 gallons of water a minute to stop the blaze which is expected to continue burning for a week. Police said it was miraculous that no one died in the fire. 43 people were injured.
In other news on the Iraq war–a San Diego family whose son died in Iraq has complained to the Pentagon after it learned that the military transported their son’s body to California as freight on a commercial airline. The coffin of Matthew Holley who died in Iraq last month was reportedly stuffed in the belly of a plane along with suitcases and other cargo.
In other military news–an investigation by the Daily Press of Virginia has revealed that 20,000 soldiers have been hospitalized in recent years after receiving an anthrax vaccine. The paper accused the Pentagon of publicly low-balling the number of troops that required hospitalization in order to persuade Congress and the public that the vaccine was safe. The Daily Press also revealed that at least three soldiers developed the fatal Lou Gehrig’s disease after receiving the vaccine.
Former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy died Saturday at the age of 89. In 1968 McCarthy challenged President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination running on a campaign opposing the Vietnam War.
And the groundbreaking comedian Richard Pryor has died at the age of 65. We’ll have more on his life later in the show and air highlights from his stand-up routine dealing with slavery and police brutality.