The Washington Post is reporting new details of the covert CIA program enacted shortly after 9/11 by the Bush administration. The Post says the program, known by its initials GST, marks the largest CIA covert initiative since the height of the Cold War. It includes a range of controversial programs that have been recently uncovered or subjected to public scrutiny — including the kidnapping of terror suspects abroad, the maintenance of secret prisons in at least eight foreign countries, the use of interrogation techniques considered illegal under international law, and the operation of a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe.
Powers authorized by President Bush include permitting the CIA to create paramilitary teams to hunt and kill designated individuals anywhere in the world. The Post reports the CIA is working to establish procedures that would allow for the quick cremation of a detainee’s body in the event the detainee dies in custody.
A government official who has been briefed on the program said: "Everything is done in the name of self-defense, so they can do anything because nothing is forbidden in the war powers act. It’s an amazing legal justification that allows them to do anything."
This news on New York’s recent public transit labor dispute — the New York Times is reporting analysts widely agree the Transport Workers Union has won most of the goals that led to its three-day strike last week. Under the tentative deal approved by union leadership this week, workers would receive close to an 11% pay raise, maternity leave, improvements in disability and retiree health plans, and the adoption of Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a paid holiday. Steven Malanga, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization that has been harshly critical of the union said: "It’s a good contract for the union in that it does keep in place, for the most part, benefits that are extremely favorable to them. For them, you can say this is a great deal."
This news from Guantanamo Bay — a five-month hunger strike at the US military prison now involves at least 84 detainees. The US military said 46 detainees joined the strike last Sunday, on Christmas Day. Only nine of over 500 detainees at the prison have been charged with any crime.
The New York Times is reporting several church, social service and immigrant groups are rallying against a provision in the recently passed House border-security bill that would make it a federal crime to offer services or assistance to illegal immigrants. The measure would leave people who assist or shield illegal immigrants subject to a sentence of up to five years in prison. Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of the Conference of Catholic Bishops said the measure would put almost anyone who assists illegal immigrants at risk. Barnes said: "Current legislation does not require humanitarian groups to ascertain the legal status of an individual prior to providing assistance. The legislation would place parish, diocesan and social service program staff at risk of criminal prosecution simply for performing their jobs."
In New Orleans, residents of the low-income 9th Ward have won a temporary restraining order against the planned bulldozing and demolition of their community. The order was won on behalf of a coalition of groups including the Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood and the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. The residents launched legal action following the city’s announcement 2500 homes would be demolished with 3,000 more to soon follow. The residents said city officials did not consult with them in making the decision nor even inform them once it was made. A full hearing is scheduled for January 6th.
This news from Haiti — a US medical doctor has confirmed a colleage’s initial diagnosis that imprisoned Haitian priest Gerard Jean-Juste has cancer. Based on an examination and blood sample he drew from Jean Juste last week, prominent Harvard physician Paul Farmer says Jean-Juste has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He says the disease is not immediately fatal but can but can develop into a more virulent strain of cancer. Farmer told the Miami Herald: ``Father Gerry’s in serious trouble if he isn’t released from jail for proper work-up in the States.’’
Jean-Juste was imprisoned in July on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Haitian journalist Jaques Roches — a murder that occurred while Jean-Juste was in Miami. He has not been formally charged. Before his arrest, Jean-Juste was considered to be the leading candidate to run for the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Family Lavalas party in Haiti’s upcoming elections. Amnesty International has called him a "prisoner of conscience." Haiti’s interim government has insisted Jean-Juste is in fine condition.
This news from Britain — in a strong defiance of the British government, Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has published confidential documents that show the Foreign Office knowingly obtained information from the Uzbek security forces that was extracted by torture. Murray served as ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. He was forced out after he openly criticized the British and US governments for supporting human rights abuses under the Uzbek regime.
The documents contain a record of several telegrams Murray sent to his superiors in London during his two years in Uzbekistan. In the telegrams, Murray repeatedly warned that the Uzbek security services were passing on information extracted by torture.
Murray also reveals a legal opinion written by the Foreign Office, which said the British government’s reception and possession of information brought about by torture: "does not contain any offence."
In Iraq, controversy over the country’s recent national elections had led to the appointment of a multination team to investigate complaints of voter fraud. Electoral officials have received over 1,000 complaints since elections were held December 15th.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting the US military is planning to increase the number of personnel advising and monitoring Iraqi police units. Military officials called the initiative an effort to curb abuse among Iraqi police units accused of mistreating Sunni Arabs. Groups of about 40 American soldiers are currently attached to several Iraqi police brigades. Under the new plan, all the Iraqi units would get American advisers, and the advisers’ total number would be increased by several hundred. In one case, the Times reports an entire US battalion, on average numbering more than 500 soldiers, will be attached to a particular Iraqi brigade.
In other Iraq news, insurgent attacks continue to derail the US-led reconstruction effort. The Washington Post is reporting attacks have shut down Iraq’s largest oil refinery for over one week. The news comes amid reports news gas prices in the country have recently increased fivefold. The increase is attributed to a debt-forgiveness deal signed with the International Monetary Fund that requires the interim Iraqi government to cut fuel subsidies. Meanwhile, the US military says December has been a record month for attacks on Iraqi contractors working on reconstruction.
In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians are demonstrating for the release of British human rights activist Kate Burton and her parents, who were kidnapped Thursday by masked militants in Rafah.
And in news from Indonesia — the Associated Press is reporting the Indonesian military has acknowledged that an American gold company had been providing direct "support" to army units accused of human rights abuses in the remote province of Papua. The army says New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold has provided it with "vehicles, fuel and meals directly to the units in the field." On Tuesday, the New York Times reported Freeport has paid at least $20 million to Indonesian military commanders to protect the company’s facilities in Papua.