The Justice Department has launched a formal criminal investigation into the destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogation of two prisoners held at secret jails. On Wednesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed veteran federal prosecutor John Durham to oversee the probe. The move immediately came under criticism from Democrats who want an independent investigation from a special counsel. In a statement, House Judiciary Chair John Conyers said the probe should expand its scope to include other destroyed evidence and the nature of the interrogations that the videotapes captured.
California has sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for blocking its new rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. California and sixteen other states are trying to impose a 30 percent cut in dioxide emissions by 2016. The EPA announced its decision less than two months after Vice President Dick Cheney and White House staff members held a series of meetings with executives from the auto industry, including the CEOs of Ford and Chrysler. During the meetings, auto executives made clear that they were concerned about California’s proposal for stricter emissions standards.
In Kenya, police fired bullets, tear gas and water cannons today at a rally against last month’s disputed reelection of President Mwai Kibaki. More than 300 people have been killed and 75,000 displaced in what has been described as Kenya’s worst violence since 1982. Kibaki beat out main challenger Raila Odinga despite initial results showing Odinga well ahead. William Ruto of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movemenent accused the Kenyan president of deliberate attacks on the opposition.
William Ruto: "The popular rejection of the fraudulent results by the people of Kenya has been met with extreme brutality by the police, with over a thousand people shot by the police. The mayhem has deteriorated into anarchy, destruction of property, wanton and unnecessary killings bordering on genocide. The government has in the meantime taken a wait-and-see attitude."
The Kenyan government has in turn accused Odinga’s party of causing the unrest. Kenyan Land Minister Kuvutha Kibwana said government opponents are promoting genocide.
Kuvutha Kibwana: "The alleged irregularities in the presidential elections cannot under any circumstances be used to justify these crimes against humanity. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that these well-organized acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing were well planned, financed and rehearsed by ODM leaders prior to the general elections. The post-election impasse is just an excuse for unleashing these criminal pogroms on our country."
The top United Nations official for refugees has blasted the world’s richest nations for failing to addresses the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Millions of people have died in internal fighting over the past several years. In an interview with the Financial Times, UN High Commissioner António Guterres said the international community has done little while allowing its multinational corporations to profit from the Congo’s resources. Guterres said, “The international community has systematically looted [the Democratic Republic of Congo] and we should not forget that.”
In Mexico, farm activists have ended a thirty-six-hour blockade of the U.S.-Mexico border to protest the lifting of the last of its protective tariffs on northern goods. A Mexican tax on basic crops, including corn, beans and sugar, from Canada and the U.S. ended January 1st under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Critics say NAFTA has devastated Mexican farmers by forcing them to compete with government-subsidized American and Canadian goods.
Uruguay has become the first Latin American country to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples nationwide. Under the law, gay, lesbian and straight couples will be able to form civil unions after living together for five years. Uruguayan Senator Margarita Percovich called the law an historic measure.
Uruguayan Senator Margarita Percovich: "This is a breakthrough for other rights that should exist. I firmly believe that homosexual couples, as well as heterosexual couples, have the right to get married."
The Bush administration is coming under criticism for approving a nearly $500 million sale of eighteen Lockheed Martin fighter jets to Pakistan. The Pentagon quietly announced the deal this week, just days after the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. In a statement, Democratic Senator and presidential hopeful Joe Biden said, “This is the time we should be putting the pressure on the [Pakistani] government and military to fully investigate the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and to hold free and fair elections — not let them off the hook.”
In Iran, two women’s rights activists have reportedly been released from prison after more than a month behind bars. Maryam Hosseinkhah and Jelveh Javaheri were jailed for publicly criticizing Iranian laws discriminating against women.
Back in the United States, Iowans head to the polls today in the first caucus of the primary season. The latest polls show Democratic frontrunners Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards in a statistical three-way tie. Clinton addressed supporters Wednesday at a campaign stop in Indianola, Iowa.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: "Now everyone running for your support is talking about change. Some people think you bring about change by demanding it. Some people think you bring about change by hoping for it. I think you make change by working really, really hard for it every single day.”
Meanwhile, Barack Obama has picked up an endorsement from another Democratic challenger, Dennis Kucinich. In a statement, Kucinich urged his supporters to back Obama if Kucinich fails to meet the required 15 percent threshold. Voters are allowed to realign with another candidate if their first choice fails to attract enough votes. Kucinich says his endorsement for Obama is limited to Iowa, and he still hopes to compete nationwide. Meanwhile, the publication Politico reports consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader has "expressed his strong support" for John Edwards. Nader says he supports Edwards’s promise to challenge corporate interests. On Wednesday, Edwards said he would withdraw virtually all U.S. troops from Iraq within ten months of being elected. More on the Iowa vote after headlines.
And in Louisiana, the jailed Jena Six defendant, Mychal Bell, has been transferred from a juvenile prison to a foster home. Bell is serving an eighteen-month sentence. The prosecutor and judge in the case have been accused of leading an overzealous campaign against Bell and five other black teens involved in a schoolyard fight that left a white student injured. The fight occurred several months after white students hung nooses from a tree under which black students had sat. The Congressional Black Caucus is calling on Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to issue a full pardon to the Jena Six. Blanco leaves office later this month.