The Senate has agreed to give President Bush extraordinary power to detain and try prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The legislation strips detainees of the right to file habeas corpus petitions to challenge their own detention or treatment. It gives the president the power to indefinitely detain anyone it deems to have provided material support to anti-U.S. hostilities. Secret and coerced evidence could be used to try detainees held in U.S. military prisons. The bill also immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for torturing detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. The Senate passed the measure sixty five to thirty four. Twelve Democrats joined the Republican majority. The House passed virtually the same legislation on Wednesday. Legal groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, are already preparing to challenge the constitutionality of the law in court.
In other news from Capitol Hill, the House has voted to re-write the country’s domestic wiretap laws to accommodate the Bush administration’s warrantless spying. The bill would change current law requiring a court order for the monitoring of incoming or outgoing communications in the United States. Court orders would be required only if a phone call or e-mail occurred within the US. Critics say that will lead to increased surveillance of citizens without court approval. A competing bill awaits a Senate vote.
Meanwhile, The Bush administration’s secret monitoring of international financial transactions has been dealt a major setback in Europe. On Thursday, the Belgian government said the program is illegal and will have to be changed. Belgium is home to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT. The organization helps direct trillions of dollars in international bank transfers each day. The decision comes on the heels of a major report from Belgium’s Privacy Commission that says SWIFT improperly gave data on millions of transactions to US officials.
Venezuela is pleading for international help in its bid to extradite a former CIA operative wanted for the killing dozens of people. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said his government has asked the UN Security Council to intervene in the case of Luis Posada Carriles. Carriles is wanted for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger flight that killed seventy three people. He’s been detained in the United States after illegally entering last year. Carriles could soon be freed but the Bush administration says it won’t send him back to Cuba or Venezuela. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister also says his government is facing new resistance from the US over its attempt to join the UN Security Council.
The Bush administration says it’s suspending military aid to Thailand in the aftermath of last week’s coup. The new regime has banned political parties from staging rallies or conducting any other activity and imposed new curbs on the media.
In Canada, the head of the national police has apologized to Maher Arar. Arar is the Canadian citizen who the U.S. abducted and sent to a Syrian prison where he was tortured. Last week, the Canadian government exonerated Arar and criticized both Canadian and US officials for his ordeal. In a statement Thursday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Giulano Zaccardelli said his force had made major mistakes and caused "terrible injustices" to Arar.
The Guardian of London reports senior military officials are increasing calls for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. The officials say the Iraq War is unwinnable and want efforts focused on Afghanistan where there is still a chance. Senior leaders have also reportedly become alarmed over opinion polls showing the dwindling support for the war and how that is impacting troop morale and recruitment. A newly-leaked memo from the Defence Department, a military think-tank, says: "British armed forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq… we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts."
A new account of the White House’s handling of Iraq and the war on terror says President Bush ignored an urgent warning on the growing Iraqi insurgency in the months after the invasion. In a new book, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, President Bush told top advisor: "I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet." That instruction came in November 2003, when there were more than seven hundred attacks on US troops. Woodward also reports former CIA Director George Tenet believed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was hindering the development of a coherent strategy to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
In California, a four-day trial examining the legality of lethal injection heard testimony Thursday that prisoners may have remained conscious when administered a drug that induces suffocation. Mark Heath, a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical School, said state records show some executed prisoners were still breathing several minutes after they were given a paralytic agent used in California and three dozen other states.
A congressional report has revealed new details on the ties between the White House and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The House Government Committee says Abramoff and his associates had more than four hundred contacts with White House officials over a three-year period. The number includes nine direct contacts with chief White House strategist Karl Rove. Abramoff also secured a sixteen million dollar federal contract for one of his clients after reminding then-White House political director Ken Mehlman of his client’s donations to the Republican Party.
And finally in Los Angeles, close to three hundred people were arrested Thursday in a street blockade supporting a unionization drive for hotel workers. Organizers are trying to unionize thousands of mostly immigrant workers at a dozen hotels around the Los Angeles International Airport.