The CIA has admitted it destroyed at least two tapes documenting the interrogations of two prisoners held at a secret CIA prison. The American Civil Liberties Union accused the CIA of deliberately destroying evidence that could have been used to hold CIA agents accountable for the torture of prisoners. One of the tapes is believed to have shown CIA agents waterboarding the al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. CIA Director Michael Hayden said the tapes were destroyed because they posed a "serious security risk." He said that if they were to become public they would have exposed CIA officials and their families to "retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.” Human rights groups say the videotapes could have led to criminal prosecution of the CIA agents involved for torture and abuse. The CIA had previously refused to provide the recordings to members of the Sept. 11 Commission or a federal judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. The former general counsel for the 9/11 Commission, Daniel Marcus, said the destruction of the tapes could amount to obstruction to withhold evidence being sought in a criminal or fact-finding investigation.
President Bush’s plan to freeze interest rates for five years for some homeowners facing foreclosure is coming under criticism because the plan won’t help most homeowners who have subprime mortgages. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates the plan will only help about seven percent of subprime borrowers, or about 145,000 families. Experts say up to two million homes face possible foreclosure in 2008. President Bush said one beneficiary of the freeze should be investors.
bq.President Bush: "The rise in foreclosures would have negative consequences for our economy. Lenders and investors would face enormous losses. So they have an interest in supporting mortgage counseling and working with homeowners to prevent foreclosure. The government has a role to play, as well. We should not bail out lenders, real estate speculators, or those who made the reckless decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford. Yet there are some responsible homeowners who could avoid foreclosure with some assistance."
The freezing of interest rates would only apply to qualified homeowners who got adjustable-rate subprime mortgages between January 1, 2005 and July 31 of this year. Any homeowner who is behind in mortgage payments will not be eligible for the deal. President Bush unveiled the plan on the same day that the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that home foreclosures surged to an all-time high between July and September.
In campaign news, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a major address Thursday about religion, in an attempt to answer questions about his Mormon faith. At a speech at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, Romney declared that religion is central to his life but that he will not be a spokesperson for Mormonism.
Mitt Romney: "If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
Romney used the word Mormon only once in his speech. Romney said, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." The Americans United for Separation of Church and State criticized Romney’s speech. The group’s director Barry Lynn said, "I was particularly outraged that Romney thinks that the Constitution is somehow based on faith and that judges should rule accordingly. That’s a gross misunderstanding of the framework of our constitutional system."
UPI is reporting Iraq’s oil ministry is preparing to sign deals for the country’s largest oil fields even though the Iraqi government has failed to pass an Iraq oil law. BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and other oil companies are all attempting to win contracts in Iraq. Executives from BP and Shell are expected to be meeting soon with Iraq’s oil minister. Under Iraqi law, the oil ministry can sign service contract deals on its own. But any production-sharing contracts would need parliamentary approval.
President Bush is threatening to veto an energy bill that would raise auto fuel efficiency standards for the first time in thirty-two years. On Thursday, the House approved the energy bill by a 235-to-181 vote. The bill would raise the corporate average fuel economy level for cars and light trucks to thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020. The legislation also revokes $21 billion in tax breaks to oil companies and will require utilities to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. The bill now goes to the Senate. Republicans criticized the bill because it would increases taxes on oil companies and not boost production of oil, natural gas or coal.
In other news from Capitol Hill, the House has dropped legislation that would have expanded federal civil rights protections to individuals targeted for hate crimes based on their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. The bill was stripped from a military spending bill after Democrats decided they didn’t have enough votes to get it passed.
An Israeli government minister has canceled a trip to Britain after he was warned that he risked arrest on war crimes charges. The Guardian newspaper reports Avi Dichter was scheduled to speak next month at a conference on security at King’s College London. Dichter is Israel’s public security minister and a former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency. Dichter was the head of Shin Bet in July 2002 when Israel bombed a house in Gaza that killed Hamas military commander Salah Shehadeh, his bodyguard and thirteen civilians, including children. The strike drew strong international criticism, including from then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who warned Israel to comply with international law.
More information has been revealed about the teenage gunman who shot dead eight people at a shopping mall Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska. State officials say nineteen-year-old Robert Hawkins spent four years in a series of treatment centers, group homes and foster care after he threatened to kill his stepmother five years ago. Hawkins was released from state care in 2006. Officials say court records do not show why Hawkins was released.
In New Orleans, opposition continues to intensify over plans to demolish more than 4,600 public housing units. On Thursday, protesters gathered at a city council meeting to demand the city to intervene to stop the demolition. The city council president stopped the meeting after protesters began chanting and shouting. Police then arrested civil rights attorney Bill Quigley, who has been leading the legal fight against the demolitions. A sheriff’s deputy grabbed Quigley and shoved him up against the wall. He was handcuffed and charged with disturbing the peace. The Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the public housing demolitions even though New Orleans faces an acute housing shortage following Hurricane Katrina. But many officials have supported the demolitions. Shortly after Katrina devastated the city, Republican Congressman Richard Baker was overheard telling lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did." The demolitions could begin as soon as December 15.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has called for a referendum to decide whether he should stay in office as a way to resolve a deepening political crisis over a proposed rewriting of Bolivia’s constitution. Morales said the referendum would also decide whether nine regional governors should remain in their posts.
bq.Evo Morales: "Let the people say if they are for change or if they are against change. Let the people say if they are for the neoliberal model, for privatizations, for auctioning off our natural resources and business, or not. There is no reason to fear the people."
As the UN Climate Change Conference continues in Bali, a new study by the World Wide Fund for Nature said the impact of climate change plus deforestation could wipe out or severely damage nearly 60 percent of the Amazon forest by 2030. The group says this would make it impossible to keep global temperatures from reaching catastrophic levels.
And in Pakistan, hundreds of lawyers protested across the country on Thursday against General Pervez Musharraf’s purge of the judiciary. Lawyers have spearheaded protests against Musharraf since he tried to sack the Chief Justice in March and then imposed emergency rule in November.
Members of the Islamabad Bar Association announced they were cutting their work day in half indefinitely until Musharraf reinstates a host of judges he deposed to fend off challenges to his reelection. Meanwhile, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was prevented by police from meeting deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is under house arrest in Islamabad. Sharif told his supporters that the entire nation would stand behind the judges.