Member of a House Judiciary subcommittee have voted to authorize subpoenas to require Karl Rove and four other senior Bush administration officials to testify under oath in the inquiry into the dismissals of eight federal prosecutors. President Bush has vowed to fight the subpoenas if they are issued. White House Counsel Fred Fielding has said Rove and others can meet with lawmakers but only it is done behind closed doors and not under oath. This is House Judiciary Chair John Conyers.
Rep. John Conyers: "What Fred Fielding said to us yesterday was so disconcerting and so off the mark that obviously anyone who comes before the committee would have to be under oath. we don’t do anything off the record."
Earlier this week, the Justice Department released 3,000 pages of documents related to the firings, but it has been revealed that there is a 16-day gap in the emails. The documents include almost no correspondence between November 15 and December 2, right before the attorneys were asked for their resignations.
Meanwhile, the White House is also being questioned about its claims that it has the executive privilege to bar presidential advisers from testifying before Congress. Nearly 10 years ago White House Press Secretary Tony Snow publicly criticized President Clinton for resisting efforts to have his aides testify about Monica Lewinsky. At the time, Snow wrote: "Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up."
In related news, The Washington Post reports that a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies has admitted that political appointees in the Justice Department repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government’s case. Sharon Eubanks said she was ordered to drop a recommendation that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. The Justice Department also urged Eubanks to seek less money from the tobacco companies. The government originally sought a $130 billion settlement, but at the last moment the request was dropped to just $10 billion. Eubanks said, "When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general’s office, politics is the primary consideration. ... The rule of law goes out the window."
Former Vice President Al Gore testified before Congress on Wednesday and warned that global warming is a crisis that threatens the survival of civilization and is the most dangerous crisis in American history.
Al Gore: "The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If your doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the baby is flame-retardant. You take action. The planet has a fever."
Al Gore called for national freeze on new emissions of carbon dioxide, new taxes on polluters, a ban on incandescent light bulbs, an increase of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and a new global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Al Gore: "There have been times in the past when our nation has been called upon to rise above partisanship, above political calculations, above the pressures which have always been present for two-and-a-quarter centuries from special interests of this, that or the other kind and reach across the aisle and do what history is calling upon all of us Americans to do. America is the natural leader of the world, and our world faces a true planetary emergency."
A nine-year-old Canadian boy has been released along with his parents from an immigration jail in Texas where they were detained for six weeks. Kevin Yourdkhani and his Iranian-born parents arrived in Toronto last night. They had been held in a controversial privately owned jail in Texas where the U.S. government is holding up to 200 immigrant children. They were detained after their flight to Canada was forced to make an emergency landing in Puerto Rico. The family was fleeing political repression in Iran and were trying to seek refugee status in Canada where their son had been born. Four weeks ago, Kevin Yourdkhani spoke to Democracy Now! in his first broadcast interview.
Kevin Yourdkhani: "I want to be free. I want to go outside, and I want to go to school. I want to be in my homeland: Canada."
Following that interview, public outcry intensified in Canada. Two weeks ago the Canadian government agreed to give Kevin’s parents a temporary residency permit. Human rights groups are now calling for the U.S. government to stop jailing immigrant children and for the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor, Texas, to be shut down. We’ll have more on the story in a few minutes.
The Boston Globe is reporting the State Department and the Pentagon are quietly seeking congressional approval for significant new military sales to U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region. The move is seen as part of a broader U.S. strategy to contain Iranian influence by strengthening Iran’s neighbors. The arms sales could spark concerns that further military buildup in the region would bring Washington closer to a confrontation with Iran. The Bush administration is reportedly considering sales of sophisticated air and missile defense systems, advanced early warning radar aircraft that could detect low-flying missiles, and light coastal combat ships that could sweep the Gulf for mines and help gather underwater intelligence. All of the nations that might receive the new arms are Sunni-ruled countries. They include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman.
In news on Iraq, a U.S. soldier has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for his role in the raping of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killing her family. Private Bryan Howard was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and being an accessory after the fact. At a hearing in Iraq last year, testimony indicated Howard did not participate in the crime itself but lied to investigators in an attempt to cover up the crime. Earlier this week a U.S. staff sergeant was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in killing three Iraqi detainees.
The Pentagon has announced that reports of sexual assaults involving members of the U.S. military increased by 24 percent over the last year. There were nearly 3,000 reports of alleged sexual assault cases involving members of the armed forces. 2006 marked the first year that victims were allowed to report assaults confidentially.
In Somalia, at least 20 people died on Wednesday in some of the heaviest fighting in Mogadishu since U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia three months ago. Somali militants dragged the bodies of five soldiers through the streets and set them on fire. Much of the fighting has been between militant backers of the Islamic Courts Union and Ethiopian troops. There are now near daily mortar attacks and shootouts in Mogadishu. Refugee groups say tens of thousands of Somalis have fled the country in recent months. On Wednesday, the Bush administration insisted progress was being made in Somalia. This is Michael Ranneberger, U.S. ambassador to Kenya:
Michael Ranneberger: "We are trying to assist the transitional government to establish security on the ground and that reflect to both the day-to-day security as well as obviously ensuring that terrorists cannot exploit, cannot use Somalia as safe heaven. We are helping the transitional government at the same time. Part of that is obviously is to establish its authority on the ground as the legitimate government of Somalia."
The Pakistani military has announced it has successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable cruise missile with the capability to avoid radar detection. The missile reportedly has a range of over 400 miles.
Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper reports the Bush administration has been providing the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, with sophisticated new spy technology to trace mobile phones, bug houses and telephone calls, and monitor large volumes of email traffic. The Guardian reports the Bush administration gave Pakistan the technology to help track members of al-Qaeda, but the government has also used the technology to track political dissidents. Since 9/11, hundreds of Pakistanis with no ties to al-Qaeda have disappeared after being seized by the ISI. One former CIA official said the Pakistani government now has the ability to drive vans down streets and monitor phone conversations taking place in every house they pass.
In other news from Pakistan, fighting between Pakistani forces and al-Qaeda militants has reportedly left over 100 people dead, including dozens of foreign fighters from Uzbekistan.
The chair of the House Armed Services Committee said the U.S government should consider stopping sending billions of dollars in aid to Colombia as part of the so-called war on drugs. Democrat Representative Ike Skelton said Plan Colombia has failed to keep illegal drugs off the streets of the United States. Skelton also raised concerns about ties between the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and right-wing paramilitary groups.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati-based fruit company Chiquita is defending its decision to fund a Colombian right-wing paramilitary group that is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. This is Chiquita Senior Vice President James Thompson.
James Thompson: "The payments made by the company at all times were motivated by the company’s good-faith desire and concern for the safety of all of its employees. Nevertheless, we recognize the obligation to disclose the facts and circumstances of this admittedly difficult situation to the United States government and the Department of Justice."
Chiquita has agreed to pay the U.S. government a fine of $25 million for helping to fund a terrorist organization.
Back in this country, the House is preparing to vote on Friday to grant the District of Columbia a full seat in the House of Representatives. Last week, two House committees approved the measure. However, the White House is threatening to veto the bill if it reaches the president. The 580,000 residents of the District of Columbia do not have voting representation in the U.S. House or the Senate. Ilir Zherka of the group D.C. Vote criticized the president’s stance. He said, "Our supporters are disappointed in this White House where you have a president who talks so much about voting rights abroad but can’t do it two blocks from the White House." Thousands of supporters of D.C.’s right to vote are preparing to march to the Capitol on April 16 in what is being billed as the largest demonstration ever for D.C. voting rights.
A coalition of prominent conservative writers and former government officials have launched a new campaign to restore checks and balances and to protect civil liberties. Founding members of the American Freedom Agenda include former Republican Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, who led the effort to impeach President Clinton, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, and the writer and conservative direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie. They are also calling for Congress to restore habeas corpus, end torture and extraordinary rendition, narrow the president’s authority to designate "enemy combatants," prevent unconstitutional domestic spying and protect journalists from prosecution under the Espionage Act.
In Vermont, six peace activists were arrested on Wednesday after occupying the office of Vermont Congressman Peter Welch. The activists were urging Welch to vote against the House bill authorizing $100 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And in Japan, about 1,500 protesters marched in Tokyo on Wednesday calling for an end to the Iraq War. The protests occurred as U.S. General Peter Pace met with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.
And in political news, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth have scheduled a news conference for today where they are expected to discuss new developments about her health. Elizabeth Edwards underwent treatment for breast cancer after the 2004 campaign. On Tuesday, John Edwards cut short the rest of his schedule in Iowa to be with her.