Senate Expected To Vote On Immigration Bill

The Senate has agreed to end debate on a controversial immigration bill, setting the stage for a vote likely to come today. The bill would heighten enforcement measures, establish a temporary guest worker program, punish employers who hire undocumented immigrants and open a route to citizenship for at least some undocumented immigrants. If passed, the Senate bill would have to be reconciled with the Sensenbrenner bill passed by the House in December. That bill focuses strictly on enforcement and would consider undocumented immigrants to be felons. It would also make it a crime for priests, nuns, health care workers and other social workers to offer help to undocumented immigrants.

Iraq VP Calls For Withdrawal Timetable Ahead of Bush-Blair Meeting

In Iraq, a top leader has renewed calls for President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair to set a timetable for the withdrawal of occupying troops.

  • Iraqi Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi: "Two days ago we spoke with Tony Blair about this issue and the fact that it is necessary that the U.S. and British administration should put a timetable for its troops withdrawal from Iraq. We have discussed this thoroughly and I convinced him of the necessity of announcing a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupying troops and told him frankly that Iraqis have a right to know when the last British or American soldier will leave Iraq."

Bush and Blair have long rejected setting withdrawal timetables and vowed to withdraw troops at their own discretion. The two leaders will meet today in Washington with Iraq expected to top the agenda.

Somalia Clashes Claim 38 Lives

In Somalia, an ongoing battle between rival militias has claimed the lives of at least 38 people in the last two days. The US government has been accused of fueling civil war in Mogadishu through its support of warlords fighting Islamic militants.

Australian Troops Land in East Timor

In East Timor, the government is appealing for foreign intervention to help contain more than three weeks of fighting between the military and a group of dismissed former soldiers. The fighting has killed at least 11 people and displaced thousands of others. Australian troops began arriving earlier today, with Portugal and New Zealand expected to follow by the end of this week.

Abbas-Linked Palestinian Security Commander Killed in Gaza

In the Occupied Territories, clashes are increasing between armed members of the traditional ruling party Fatah and the recently elected Hamas. On Wednesday, Nabil Hodhod, a security force commander linked to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, was killed in an attack in the Gaza Strip. Tensions between the two dominant Palestinian groups have led to deaths of at least 10 people this month alone.

Olmert: Iran Nuclear Standoff "Test Of Our Time"

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Washington on Wednesday for his first visit since taking office two months ago. In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Olmert addressed the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities.

  • Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die: the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is The Test of Our Time, is one the West cannot afford to fail."

Weiner: UN Palestinians "Should Start Packing Little Palestinian Terrorist Bags"

Meanwhile, a New York Congressmember is claiming victory in his attempt to force the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations to leave the United States. Congressmember Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, successfully added his amendment to the bill banning aid to the Palestinian Authority passed earlier this week. Referring to the delegation, Weiner said: "They should start packing their little Palestinian terrorist bags."

Nation-Wide Protests Target Telecom Giants

Telecom spying and media control were the focus of a day of protest around the country Wednesday. Activists in several US cities held rallies outside the headquarters of telecom companies that have become implicated in the NSA spy scandal and that have lobbied against net neutrality. Here in New York, Democracy Now caught up with a protest outside the offices of telecom giant Verizon.

  • Betty Yu of Manhattan Neighborhood Network: "This COPE Act, if it were to be passed in Congress, would potentially dismantle Public, Educational, and Governmental TV, known as Public Access Television. So it would dismantle the public access television stations in all the five boroughs here in New York City, and in the 3,000 access centers across the country. This would be damaging for our free speech, our media democracy, and many local communities that depend on public access, again, to have their voices heard. These telecom companies do not want to pay the local franchise fees that the cable companies do now, they want to reap all the profits, and they don’t want to be accountable to the public interest, or to local communities."

Cheney May Testify In Plame Case

The special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak case has suggested he may be calling a new key witness: Vice President Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicated Cheney could face questioning over his conversations with indicted chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Justice Department Denies Report of Hastert Investigation

The Justice Department is denying a news report it is investigating Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. On Wednesday, ABC News cited "federal officials" in reporting Hastert was under investigation as part of the corruption probe centered around jailed Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Hastert denied the allegations and demanded a retraction.

Trial Begins For Abramoff-Linked Ex-Bush Admin. Official

Meanwhile, the trial of former Bush administration official David Safavian is underway in Washington. Safavian, the White House’s former chief procurement official, is charged with making false statements and obstructing investigations into Jack Abramoff’s activities. Safavian’s case is the first to go to trial in connection with the Abramoff bribery scandal.

Sameeh Hammoudeh Released, Deported To Ramallah

And Sameeh Hammoudeh has been released from jail. Hammoudeh, a Palestinian living in Florida, was charged as a co-conspirator in the government’s terrorism case against jailed Palestinian professor and activist Sami al-Arian. Hammoudeh remained in prison for months despite having been found not guilty of all charges against him. Hammoudeh was immediately escorted to the Miami airport for deportation to his family’s home in Ramallah, in the Occupied Territories. His deportation came just two days before a court-ordered deadline that would have forced authorities to explain why they were keeping him in detention. Hammoudeh spoke to Democracy Now from his prison cell earlier this month.

  • Sameeh Hammoudeh: "Everything was fabrication. Everything was a mere lie, sad lies. This is what they did, and this is what they are insisting on doing to me and to continue my ordeal, only because I am a stateless Palestinian, that nobody is going to care about me, nobody is going to talk about my case. I am not a Christian. I am not a Jew. I am not a citizen of a powerful country that can ask about my destiny, about why the American government is abusing my rights. And I am very upset. I am very frustrated, and I think the American government now is taking the United States into a very dangerous situation, where they are violating everything that belongs to human dignity and to human rights. They are violating all the traditions of the United States. They are violating everything human in this life."

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