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In Iraq, a suicide car bomber has killed at least 21 people after he rammed his car into a convoy of police vehicles in Baghdad. This comes a day after 150 people died in one of the bloodiest days of the Iraq war. In the deadliest incident on Wednesday up to 114 Shiite day laborers were killed after they were lured to a car packed with explosives. Over a dozen other attacks were reported in Iraq on Wednesday injuring as many as 600 people.
Meanwhile a taped recording purportedly from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claims the series of attacks were staged as revenge for the U.S.-led assault on the Iraqi city of Tal Afar. Since Saturday U.S. and Kurdish forces have been waging a massive attack on the northern city in the largest U.S. offensive since the siege of Fallujah.
The U.S. is also coming under criticism in Iraq by the country’s Minister of Justice, Abdul Husain Shandal. In an interview with Reuters he condemned the US military for arresting Iraqis without a warrant and for holding thousands of them without charges. The Justice Minister also said he wants to strip immunity from foreign troops.
The state of Texas has executed Frances Newton. She was killed by lethal injection shortly after 6 o’clock last night despite widespread calls for a stay of her execution. She is the first African-American woman to be executed in Texas since Reconstruction. Her supporters included Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the Austin American Statesman and the head of the American Bar Association. Numerous questions were raised about whether Newton received a fair trial when she was convicted of killing her husband and two children 18 years ago. Her state-appointed attorney, Ron Mock, did not interview a single witness in preparation for her trial. He has since been barred from handling capital cases due to incompetence. Hours before her execution, the Supreme Court denied a petition to stop her execution.
On Capitol Hill, today is the fourth day of confirmation hearings for John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States. On Wednesday Democrats repeatedly accused him of not answering questions about his personal beliefs. Senator Joseph Biden said Roberts was acting "as if the public doesn’t have a right to know what you think about fundamental issues facing them." We’ll have more on the hearings in a few minutes.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans have blocked several efforts by Democrats to seek investigations or information on Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq war and the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. In the Senate, Republicans killed a proposal by Hillary Clinton for an independent investigation of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Her proposal was rejected on a party line vote of 54 to 44. A new CNN/USA Today Gallup poll shows that 70 percent of the country supports an independent investigation. In the House, Republicans rejected attempts by Democrats to force the Bush administration to surrender documents on pre-war intelligence about Iraq connected to the Downing Street Memo. The memo revealed the minutes of a July 2002 meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisors that indicate the United States was already committed to attacking Iraq almost a year before the war officially began. The memo also says that the Bush White House "fixed" intelligence data to justify the invasion. Also on Wednesday, Republicans on the Judiciary and International Relations Committees rejected attempts by Democrats to compel the Bush administration to turn over information and records related to the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
In other news on Hurricane Katrina, the Knight Ridder news agency is reporting that it was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff who was ultimately empowered to mobilize the federal response to Hurricane Katrina–not Michael Brown, the former head of FEMA who resigned earlier this week. Internal records show that Chertoff didn’t shift power to Brown until 36 hours after Katrina hit. According to Knight Ridder, Chertoff — even before the storm struck — could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. According to the National Response Plan, it was Chertoff–not Brown–who was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster. Knight Ridder is also reporting that it has obtained an internal memo that suggests that Chertoff may have been confused himself about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.
In Israel, the country’s highest court has ordered the government to tear down part of the 400-mile separation wall in the West Bank because it imprisons thousands of Palestinian residents. The court ruled the wall as a whole was a justified security measure but it ordered the dismantling of a small section in the Northern West Bank. Last year the international Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that parts of the wall were illegal and should be torn down. "The part of the Israeli High Court resolution of moving the wall into the green line near Qalqilya area is welcomed from the Palestinian side because we hope Israel will move all the wall to the green line and stop building the wall inside the Palestinian territories," said Ghassan Khatib, Palestinian Minister of Labor.
Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, may have violated internal rules by hiring a consultant to assess the political leanings of public-television shows. This according to Kenneth Konz, the inspector general of the CPB. Konz is in the process of investigating a series of complaints against Tomlinson including his secret hiring of Frederick Mann to monitor programs including NOW with Bill Moyers. Konz told the Bloomberg news agency, "Clearly there are indications of possible violations. There are situations where the board doesn’t know what’s going on and the chairman needs to operate in a more accountable fashion." Bloomberg reports that Konz may recommend that Tomlinson be barred from serving as director of the CPB.
At Guantanamo, three more hunger-striking detainees have been hospitalized. 21 detainees are now in the hospital after refusing to eat for over a month. Lawyers for the detainees say as many as 200 detainees are taking part in the hunger strike. The Pentagon has put the total at 128. There are about 500 detainees at the prison camp.
In Haiti, the country’s electoral council is attempting to block jailed priest Gérard Jean-Juste from running for president in Haiti’s first elections since the coup that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The council is refusing to enroll Jean-Juste as a candidate claiming that he has to enter his candidacy in person, not from prison. Jean-Juste is the candidate of choice for the Lavalas Party–the same party of Aristide. Jean-Juste has been in jail since July but he has not yet been charged with any crimes. Amnesty International has classified him as a prisoner of conscience.
An American peace activist has been deported from Australia after he was accused of being a threat to national security. On Saturday Scott Parkin was detained by six federal police and immigration officials as he sat at a cafe in Melbourne where he was teaching workshops on peaceful protest. He is best known for organizing protests around the military contractor Halliburton in this country and in Australia. The Australian government said he was deported earlier today. On Wednesday Parkin issued a statement saying "To this date, the only information that I have received is that I have been assessed as ’a direct or indirect risk to Australian national security."
In labor news, the union Unite Here has officially withdrawn from the AFL-CIO joining three other dissident unions: the Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers. With the defections the size of the AFL-CIO’s membership has dropped from 13 to 9 million.