President Bush called on Iran to "come clean" about its nuclear activities on Wednesday, two days after the release of a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
President Bush: "It is clear from the latest NIE that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions, especially the covert nuclear weapons program pursued into the fall of 2003, which the Iranian regime has yet to acknowledge."
The Bush administration has vowed to keep pushing for stiffer sanctions against Iran even though its own intelligence agencies say Iran has no nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said the findings of the US intelligence agencies is consistent with what the IAEA has found.
Mohamed ElBaradei: "It is consistent with what the agency and I have been saying for a number of years. That is, while we still have some important questions about Iran’s past activities, about Iran’s current program, we have not seen any undeclared weapon — ongoing weapon program, we have not seen any undeclared nuclear material that could be used in weapons."
El Baradei said he hopes the findings of the NIE would allow some space to pursue a diplomatic solution.
Mohamed ElBaradei: "I see, frankly, this report as a window of opportunity. It’s a window of opportunity because it gives diplomacy a renewed chance, and there is not the sense of urgency that people have been talking about, that Iran is about to develop a nuclear weapon tomorrow."
In Washington, John Bolton and other Republican hawks are openly questioning the findings of the NIE. Bolton claimed there is a risk that members of the intelligence community politicized the intelligence on Iran because they had an agenda that was contrary to President Bush’s.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case challenging the Bush administration’s jailing of hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners without charge or trial. Lawyers for the Center for the Constitutional Rights argued the prisoners have been unconstitutionally denied the writ of habeas corpus, the right to challenge their imprisonment before a judge. Speaking outside the Court, Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner said every prisoner deserves a day in court or a fair tribunal.
Michael Ratner: "The right to present evidence before a neutral tribunal and in which they can see the charges against them, that’s what we want. We’re very hopeful and optimistic by the argument today that this is what the people we represent at Guantanamo will get."
Protesters, including law school students, gathered outside the Supreme Court.
Sally Newman, student at New York University Law School: "I’ve been watching the news and seeing that in Pakistan lately the lawyers have really been the ones to step forward and defend their constitution. And the attack on our Constitution is a little more subtle, it’s a little more nuanced, but it’s still there. And as a law student, if I want a future where I can operate in a just system, I feel like I have to be out here defending it."
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has voted to cut US greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants, manufacturing and transportation by 70 percent by 2050. The Associated Press reports it is the first bill calling for mandatory US limits on greenhouse gases to be taken up in Congress since global warming emerged as an environmental issue more than two decades ago. Meanwhile, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, US negotiators are refusing to support calls for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions even though the United States is the world’s top carbon emitter. Earlier today, more than 200 scientists in Bali issued a petition saying climate-warming emissions must be cut by at least 50 percent by 2050. US climatologist Richard Somerville was one of the signatories of the declaration.
Richard Somerville: "In the opinion of these scientists, the prime goal of this new regime must be to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius, that is, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the pre-industrial temperature. That, by the way, is the limit that has already been formally adopted by the European Union and some other countries."
In campaign news, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is coming under increasing scrutiny for his role in the release of a convicted rapist while he was governor of Arkansas. Investigative journalist Murray Waas has revealed that Huckabee aggressively pushed for the early release of Wayne Dumond in 1999, despite being warned by numerous women that Dumond had sexually assaulted them or their family members and would likely strike again. After Dumond was released, he went on to rape and murder at least one other woman. Huckabee has claimed that he supported the release of Dumond because, at the time, he had no good reason to believe that the man represented a further threat to the public. Earlier this week, the Huffington Post posted letters sent to Huckabee that directly contradict this claim.
In other campaign news, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has won an online straw poll of members of the group Progressive Democrats for America. Kucinich won 41 percent of the more than 15,000 votes cast. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards came in second with 26 percent.
President Bush has reportedly reached an agreement with major mortgage firms to freeze interest rates for five years for some homeowners facing foreclosure. The plan would apply to qualified homeowners who got adjustable-rate subprime mortgages between January 1, 2005 and July 31 of this year. The New York Times reports the deal contains numerous limitations that would exclude many, if not most, subprime borrowers. Any homeowner who is behind in mortgage payments will not be eligible for the deal. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Mario Cuomo has sent subpoenas to Wall Street firms seeking information about their role in the subprime mortgage crisis. The subpoenaed firms include Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns and Deutsche Bank.
In North Carolina, seven activists were sentenced to jail on Wednesday for protesting outside the headquarters of the private military company Blackwater. The Virginian Pilot reported six of the protesters were tried, convicted and sentenced behind close doors after the judge took the rare step of clearing the courtroom. The protesters said they will appeal the verdicts, partly on the grounds that they were denied their constitutional right to a public trial. The seven received jail terms ranging from ten to forty-five days and were fined $100 each. The seven were arrested in October when they reenacted what happened in Baghdad on September 16, when Blackwater forces opened fire and shot dead seventeen Iraqi civilians. As part of the demonstration, protesters drove a small station wagon, covered with simulated bullet holes and smeared with red paint, onto Blackwater’s property.
New statistics from the Justice Department show that nearly 2.4 million people were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at the end of last year. Another five million people were on parole or probation. This means about one in every thirty-one adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or on supervised release at the end of last year. According to an analysis of the data by the Sentencing Project, the data reflects deep racial disparities in the nation’s correctional institutions. A record 905,000 African Americans are now being held in prison. In several states, incarceration rates for blacks were more than ten times the rate of whites.
And the former US Ambassador to Romania has resigned from the State Department to protest the Bush administration’s discriminatory policies towards gay and lesbian employees. In 2001, Michael Guest became the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the Senate to serve as a US ambassador. At his retirement ceremony, Guest accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of doing nothing to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. He said that gay partners, unlike heterosexual spouses, are not entitled to many benefits including State Department-provided security training, free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, and transportation to overseas posts.