The New York Times is reporting that investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are examining more than $14,000 in payments made under contract to a man who compiled reports on the political views and backgrounds of guests appearing on the PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers. The paper says that the corporation’s Republican chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, took the unusual step of signing the contracts personally. The inspector general is looking at the contracts signed by Tomlinson with a man named Fred Mann to monitor the political leanings of "Now." Mann was listed in the contracts as living in Indianapolis and officials at the corporation said they knew nothing about him. The inquiry was requested by two Democrats, Representatives John Dingell of Michigan and David Obey of Wisconsin, after they learned about the monitoring. The Inspector General is also investigating $15,000 in payments to two Republican lobbyists last year that were not disclosed to the corporation’s board. The Times says that one of the lobbyists was retained at the direction of Tomlinson and the other at the suggestion of his Republican predecessor, who remains on the board.
Today on Capitol Hill, Representative John Conyers is convening a public hearing on the Downing Street Minutes and other recently released British documents he says confirm that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence and facts to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Among those testifying are former US ambassador to Iraq Joe Wilson and longtime CIA analyst Ray McGovern. Conyers says that every major news network is sending cameras except FOX News. Immediately following the hearing, there will be a mass rally across the street from the White House and Conyers will deliver a petition signed by more than half a million people calling on President Bush to answer questions on the documents.
Amid growing calls for the Guantanamo prison camp to be shut down, the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended yesterday that Congress intervene to resolve the fate of the more than 500 prisoners. In a heated hearing on Wednesday, lawmakers sparred with each other and Justice Department officials who asserted that Washington could hold prisoners for the rest of their lives if it wished. Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions argued that some of the prisoners "need to be executed," while Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont called the prison a "international embarrassment."
"Let’s get real. These people have been locked up for three years— no end in sight and no process to lead us out of there. Guantanamo Bay is causing immeasurable damage to our reputation as a defender of Democracy and a beacon of human rights around the world. I’m proud of what our nation has accomplished. I want us to be that beacon of human rights. But we’re not being it with Guantanamo."
Durban Defends Guantanamo 'Nazi' Comments
Meanwhile, Dick Durbin, the number 2 Democrat in the Senate is under fire for comments he made earlier this week on the Senate floor blasting the conduct of US forces at Guantanamo. Durbin quoted from an FBI agent’s report describing prisoners being chained to the floor without food or water in extreme temperatures. He said "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings." Republicans have called on Durbin to apologize for the comments but last night Durbin released a statement saying "This administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions and authorizing torture techniques that put our troops at risk and make Americans less secure."
ABC News is reporting that the interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo in 2002 triggered concerns among senior Pentagon officials that they could face criminal prosecution under U.S. anti-torture laws. ABC obtained notes from a series of meetings at the Pentagon in early 2003 showing that Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the Navy, warned his superiors that they might be breaking the law. During a January 2003 meeting involving top Pentagon lawyer William Haynes and other officials, the memo shows that Mora warned that the "use of coercive techniques ... has military, legal, and political implication ... has international implication ... and exposes us to liability and criminal prosecution." Mora’s concerns about interrogations at Guantanamo have been known, but not his warning that top officials could go to prison. In another meeting held March 8, 2003, the group of top Pentagon lawyers concluded "we need a presidential letter approving the use of the controversial interrogation to cover those who may be called upon to use them." No such letter was issued.
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to block the Justice Department and the FBI from using the USA Patriot Act to obtain library records and bookstore sales slips. The vote reversed a narrow loss last year. It still would allow the government to continue to seek out records of Internet use at libraries. Thirty-eight Republicans joined with Democrats in the vote. President Bush has threatened to veto any bill that bars the government from going after library and bookstore records. Many librarians have defied the government by disposing of records quickly in an effort to protect people’s privacy.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced yesterday that Washington had agreed to delay plans requiring 27 countries to place computer chips in their passports as a prerequisite for allowing their citizens into the US without a visa. Washington had said that all European Union passports issued after Oct. 26 must have biometric security elements — fingerprints and iris scan — included on a microchip or passport holders will require a visa to enter the U.S. Gonzales made the announcement in Europe where he is attending the G8 meeting of ministers. He did not say how much extra time countries would be given.
The Venezuelan government has formally requested the extradition of Cuban-born militant Luis Posada Carriles for his alleged role in a 1976 airliner bombing that killed 73 people. Posada was arrested in Miami last month and has been held in a U.S. detention center in El Paso, Texas, since then. He faces charges of illegal migration. At a hearing Monday in El Paso, Texas, where Posada is being held, his lawyer asked that the immigration case be moved to Florida. The Venezuelan request asks that the extradition request take precedence over the immigration charges. We’ll have more on this in a moment.
Reuters news agency is reporting that Haiti’s undemocratically-appointed Justice Minister, Bernard Gousse, will submit his resignation this week, amid growing outrage over the continued imprisonment of the country’s democratically-elected Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune. He has been in jail for nearly a year.
The New York Times is reporting that the NAACP is preparing to appoint a retired executive from Verizon as the new head of the organization. It is the first time in decades that the nation’s largest civil rights organization is not tapping a politician or minister. Bruce Gordon is to succeed Kweisi Mfume as president and chief executive. The official announcement is set for later this month.
The presidents of five major national labor unions representing about a third of U.S. union members formed a new coalition in a move widely seen as the first step toward breaking with the powerful AFL-CIO. Four of the five union leaders have openly discussed leaving the larger body. The group includes some of labor’s most successful unions and represents 5 million workers.
The House of Representatives voted down an amendment yesterday that would have placed a one-year moratorium on federal raids against medical marijuana patients. Even though the measure was defeated, supporters of medical marijuana pointed out that a record 161 Congressmembers voted to stop arresting medical marijuana patients. The medical marijuana issue reached a head last week when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the federal government has the constitutional authority to arrest medical marijuana patients, even in states that permit medical use.
Television Week is reporting that Fox News Channel has signed Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, CNN contributor and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, as a military and foreign affairs analyst. Clark oversaw the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 where, among other actions, he ordered the bombing of Serb television killing 16 media workers.