The US has barred journalists and lawyers from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. A group of visiting reporters was forced off the island Wednesday under a directive from the Pentagon. A Pentagon spokesperson said the removal was ordered following complaints from other media outlets who had complained they were being denied equal access. But questions are being raised over whether the removals were motivated by the reporters’ coverage of the aftermath of Saturday’s three detainee suicides. Their articles included interviews with the detainees’ attorneys who criticized their clients’ treatment. The reporters work for the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer. A Pentagon spokesperson said the revoking of the permissions came not from Guantanamo commanders but from the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Meanwhile, lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees have also been barred from visiting their clients at the prison. A lawyer representing a group of detainees said she was told the ban will be lifted on Monday. In a statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented scores of detainees, said: "At a time when the administration must be transparent about the deaths at Guantanamo, they are pulling down a wall of secrecy and avoiding public accountability. This crackdown on the free press makes everyone ask what else they are hiding down there… The Bush Administration is afraid of American reporters, afraid of American attorneys and afraid of American laws."
Meanwhile, lawyers for the detainees who committed suicide have criticized the U.S. military for taking nearly three days to inform them of their clients’ deaths. The military initially claimed none of the men had legal representation but later realized their mistake. The news comes as the Pentagon has rejected calls from Amnesty International for an independent inquiry into the suicides.
Amidst the latest controversy, President Bush addressed Guantanamo at a press conference yesterday at the White House.
In other news from Guantanamo, the US has announced it will soon extradite all 96 Afghan detainees currently held at the prison. The group includes several suspected Taliban officials. The detainees will be returned to Afghanistan where they will either be released or face trial.
In Sri Lanka, 62 people were killed when their passenger bus ran over a land mine. Government forces blamed the rebel group Tamil Tigers and began bombing Tiger-held areas. The Tigers strongly denied responsibility.
In Britain, four men who claimed they were tortured during lengthy detentions in Saudi Arabian prisons have lost the right to sue their former captors. On Wednesday, the House of Lords ruled Saudi Arabian officials are protected by state immunity laws and cannot be brought to trial on British soil. The men were arrested in 2001 and accused of carrying out a series of bombing attacks. While in jail they say they were tortured–including being beaten, raped and deprived of sleep. One of the men, William Sampson, spoke to Democracy Now! last November [ listen/read/watch interview].
In Lebanon, the army is claiming a suspected assassin has confessed to murdering senior Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrillas on behalf of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. According to the Lebanese military officials, the suspect, Mahmoud Rafeh, said he was a leading member of a cell behind at least three other major assassinations in Lebanon. Rafeh was arrested last week in connection with the recent murder of two members of Islamic Jihad. Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad have long accused Israel of being behind a string of attacks that have killed their members. Hezbollah has battled Israeli forces in Southern Lebanon since the Israeli invasion of 1982.
Here in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has announced more than 2,000 undocumented immigrants have been arrested in a massive crackdown that began last month. Government officials said close to half of those arrested have criminal records. Just over 800 people have already been deported.
The Bush administration is being accused of undermining an environmental regulation at the request of energy and oil companies. According to the Los Angeles Times, the White House pressured the Environmental Protection Agency to loosen rules that would have forced companies to keep groundwater clean near oil drilling sites and other construction zones. The intervention was made after complaints by energy companies and a direct appeal from a Texas oil executive to White House senior advisor Karl Rove. In 2002, the executive, Ernest Angelo, wrote Rove the proposed regulations were causing many in the oil industry to doubt supporting Republicans "when we wind up with this type of stupidity." Rove forwarded the letter to top presidential environmental advisors and instructed them to respond. The EPA later modified the rules even after Congress had agreed on a detailed compromise. The new regulations went into effect this week. Sharon Buccino, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s land program called the rule change: "yet another example of the Bush administration rewarding their friends in the oil and gas industry at the expense of the environment and the public’s health."
On Capitol Hill, the House will debate a resolution on the Iraq war today. Critics say the wording of the resolution will preclude any meaningful debate. The text of the resolution declares: "that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror [and] the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary." House rules will prevent Congress members from proposing amendments or alternative resolutions. At a press conference Wednesday, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers stood with yellow rope tied around their hands to symbolize what they called the lack of debate. Hawaiian Democrat Neil Abercrombie explained: "Our hands are tied literally on the floor of the people’s house — the one place that the American people should be able to expect a full and honest and open debate."
Today’s debate comes as major splits continue to emerge within both parties over the war. On Tuesday, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry told a gathering of liberal voters at the "Take Back America" conference in Washington that the Iraq war was a mistake and he was wrong to vote for it. Kerry announced he is introducing a resolution for a withdrawal of troops by the end of the year. Kerry attacked the war’s architects as "armchair warriors whose front line is an air-conditioned conference room." In an interview with the Boston Globe, Kerry later added: "It is both a right and an obligation for Americans to… end a war in Iraq that weakens the nation each and every day we are in it." Kerry’s proposal would keep some troops in Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers.
Kerry’s comments at the "Take Back America" conference came shortly after an address from New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton was booed when she said she opposed a firm date for a troop withdrawal. As she left the stage following her speech, a group of audience members chanted: "Bring home the troops."
In California, a jury has ordered three chemical manufacturers to pay the city of ?Modesto damages for their role in manufacturing dry-cleaning products that contaminated ?water with suspected carcinogens. Two companies — Vulcan Material and Dow Chemical — ?were assigned to pay the bulk of the $178 million-dollar penalty. Company executives said ?they planned to appeal.
And a US marine has apologized for a widely-viewed video that shows him singing a song about killing Iraqi civilians. The marine, Corporal Joshua Belile, is seen performing the song to applauding troops. In a statement Wednesday, Belile said the song was intended as a joke and bore no connection to the killing of Iraqi civilians by US Marines in Haditha.