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After months of calls for his departure, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has finally stepped down. Gonzales made the announcement Monday but didn’t give a reason for his resignation.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "Let me say that it’s been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice. I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who work here. I have made a point as attorney general to personally meet as many of them as possible, and today I want to again thank them for their service to our nation. It is through their continued work that our country and our communities remain safe, that the rights and civil liberties of our citizens are protected, and the hopes and dreams of all of our children are secured."
The resignation comes just two weeks after the departure of one of Gonzales’ chief White House backers, Karl Rove. Gonzales had been at the center of numerous congressional investigations including the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, the overall politicization of the Justice Dept. and the Bush administration’s secret warrantless domestic surveillance operation. Besides serving as attorney general, Gonzales was one of Bush’s closest allies in Washington. Bush has been his only boss for the past 13 years. Speaking from Waco, Texas, President Bush defended the outgoing Gonzales and assailed his critics.
President Bush: "After months of unfair treatment, that has created harmful — a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position, and I accept his decision. It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeding from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."
President Bush has named Solicitor General Paul Clement interim U.S. attorney general. Clement has worked for former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Justice Antonin Scalia and is a former member of the Federalist Society. As the announcement was made, protesters gathered outside the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., to applaud Gonzales’ departure.
Protester: "Today you are resigning, Mr. Alberto Gonzales. You should go back to Texas today and get some mental help and read the Constitution, sir."
In Afghanistan, the U.S. military is being accused of killing at least 12 civilians in a weekend airstrike on Helmand province. Afghan elders say U.S. warplanes killed 12 people, including six children and two women. Another 12 were reportedly wounded. The Pentagon is denying the claim and says Taliban fighters were responsible. More than 300 Afghan civilians have died in NATO airstrikes this year, more than have been killed in Taliban attacks.
In other news from Afghanistan, the U.N. released a report Monday showing opium production has reached record levels.
U.N. Drug Chief Antonio Maria Costa: "The opium situation in Afghanistan is disastrous. As recorded in our survey 2007, just released, the extent of the cultivation has increased by 17 percent to 193,000 hectares. There is no other country in the world which produces so much. I would say more than that. Afghanistan is producing more illicit drugs than all Andean countries combined—Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, of course."
A senior U.S. officer close to top Iraq commander General David Petraeus is among dozens of people under investigation for illicit activity in the sale and delivery of billions of dollars in weapons in Iraq. The New York Times reports the widening probe has already led to several indictments. The multi-agency investigation includes the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Department of Justice, the FBI and others. The senior officer, Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, worked closely with General Petraeus to set up logistics services for Iraqi forces.
In other Iraq news, France’s foreign minister has apologized for backing the replacement of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bernard Kouchner made the call in an interview with Newsweek magazine last week. On Monday, Kouchner said he had apologized directly to Maliki.
Bernard Kouchner: "Because he was miffed, and basically it’s not the role of the French foreign minister to decide who will be prime minister or not in another country. There are criticisms of those Iraqis themselves that I wanted to pass on. And I clumsily, just once, in English, with a little video, forgot to say exactly what it was I had understood."
Maliki has also demanded an apology from Senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin for calling for his removal from office.
In Greece, a devastating forest fire has now claimed the lives of at least 63 people. The government’s handling of the disaster is turning into a political showdown. On Monday, hundreds marched through Athens accusing the government of poorly responding to the crisis and failing to catch the arsonists.
Panos Garganas of the Greek social justice group Enantia: "The scale of the tragedy is huge. People are very angry. This is the third time this summer that we’ve got this outbreak of fires. Many people have died, so people want to react. That was the message coming from all around."
Protesters say developers have committed several arsons to build on the land largely unprotected under Greek law.
In Russia, a Chechen crime boss is being accused of organizing the murder of the journalist and human rights advocate Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was shot dead outside her home last October. She was a fierce critic of Russia President Vladimir Putin and the Chechen war. On Monday, chief Russian prosecutor Yury Chaika said Russian police and security officers were also involved in her killing.
Yury Chaika: "We have made serious progress in the Politkovskaya murder investigation. Ten people have been arrested in connection with this case, and literally, in the very near future, they will be charged with carrying out this grave crime."
Back in this country, public outcry is increasing as the execution date of a Texas man known to not have committed a crime draws near. Kenneth Foster is scheduled to be executed Thursday under a controversial Texan law known as the law of parties. The law imposes the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred. Eleven years ago, Foster was driving a car with three passengers. One of the passengers left the car, got into an altercation and shot a man dead. Here in New York, a delegation of death penalty abolitionists held a press conference Monday to draw attention to Foster’s case. This is exonerated former murder convict Jeff Deskovic.
Jeff Deskovic: "It is unconscionable that nobody disputes that Mr. Foster did not commit a murder, and yet he is scheduled to be executed within 72 hours. I make a moral appeal for the people of Texas and people all across our country to stand up against the death penalty, in general, and also, in particular, in the case of Kenneth Foster."
Monday’s press conference comes one day after protesters demonstrated outside the church of Texas Governor Rick Perry to call for clemency. Amnesty International has also rallied behind Foster’s case. In a statement, Amnesty USA Director Larry Cox said: "Kenneth Foster has been sentenced to death for leaving his crystal ball at home. ... Allowing his life to be taken is a shocking perversion of the law."
The American Civil Liberties Union has reached a settlement that it says will greatly improve conditions for children at the nation’s main immigration prison for families. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of 26 immigrant children held at the privately run T. Don Hutto immigration prison in Taylor, Texas. Under the agreement, the government pledges to improve child education, recreation and nutrition; hire a full-time pediatrician; implement regular inspections; and install privacy curtains around toilets. The deal was reached just as the case was set to begin trial. All 26 children named in the suit have been released since it was filed. Andrea Restrepo, a 12-year-old from Colombia, said: "I am trying to forget everything about Hutto. I feel free. It was a nightmare."
Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has confirmed a report he pleaded guilty this month to disorderly conduct following his arrest in a men’s bathroom. According to police, Craig was detained after he made a series of sexual advances to an undercover male officer. Last year Craig denied a gay activist’s claim he had heard accounts of sexual encounters with the senator in men’s bathrooms. Craig has been criticized for opposing legislation on gay rights. He’s voted against same-sex marriage and spoken out against homosexuals serving in the military. Craig says his actions were misinterpreted and that he shouldn’t have pleaded guilty.
The star football quarterback Michael Vick has pleaded guilty to operating an illegal dogfighting and betting ring based in southeastern Virginia. Two of his co-defendants said Vick participated in the killing of at least eight dogs, some by hanging and drowning. On Monday, Vick publicly apologized after entering his plea.
Michael Vick: "I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts. And, you know, what I did was — what I did was very immature, so that means I need to grow up."
The National Football League has suspended Vick indefinitely. He faces up to five years in prison.
And an American group is suing the Internet giant Yahoo for allegedly aiding human rights abuses and torture in China. The World Organization for Human Rights says Chinese writers and dissidents have been arrested and abused out of Yahoo’s sharing of information with the Chinese government. The journalist Shi Tao was jailed for 10 years after Yahoo passed on his email and Internet protocol address to Chinese officials.