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The Senate has approved a ban on several CIA interrogation tactics including waterboarding. The 51-45 vote sets the stage for a clash with the White House following a veto threat from President Bush. The House passed a similar measure late last year. Among the senators voting against the waterboarding ban was Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. McCain has previously criticized waterboarding and is widely known as a leading congressional opponent of torture.
In other news from Washington, the House has rejected an effort from Democratic leaders to extend the current surveillance law by another three weeks. The extension would have allowed more time for debate on whether to provide immunity for telecommunication companies that took part in government spying without court warrants. The Senate version of the surveillance bill includes the immunity provision, while the House measure leaves it out. On Wednesday, President Bush said the House should follow the Senate’s lead before the law expires this week.
President Bush: "The time for debate is over. I will not accept any temporary extension. House members have had plenty of time to pass a good bill. They have already been given a two-week extension beyond the deadline they set for themselves. If Republicans and Democrats in the Senate can come together on a good piece of legislation, there is no reason why Republicans and Democrats in the House cannot pass the Senate bill immediately."
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats may let the temporary law expire rather than holding a new vote.
A U.S. district court has dismissed a lawsuit accusing a Boeing subsidiary of helping the CIA secretly transport prisoners to overseas torture chambers. The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. The lawsuit accused Jeppesen of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Bush administration sought the case’s dismissal on the ground it would risk exposing “state secrets.” On Wednesday, U.S. district judge James Ware agreed, ruling the suit could harm national security. The ACLU plans to appeal.
In Iraq, lawmakers have approved a batch of new laws including an amnesty bill that could free thousands of prisoners from jail. The amnesty measure would only apply to prisoners in Iraqi custody. As the law was passed, the New York Times reports U.S. officials said tens of thousands of new prison beds will be needed to accommodate some 26,000 people jailed across Iraq.
Venezuela’s dispute with the oil giant ExxonMobil is intensifying. On Wednesday, a U.S. federal judge upheld a court ruling freezing the Venezuelan state oil company’s foreign assets and bank accounts. ExxonMobil won the order as part of an attempt to recoup an investment in a nationalized Venezuelan oil project. More than $12 billion in Venezuelan assets were frozen, even though Exxon’s investment was valued at between two to four billion. The order came hours after the State Department voiced its support for ExxonMobil in the standoff. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, demonstrators marched on the British embassy in protest of ExxonMobil. Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez accused the company of undermining Venezuelan sovereignty.
Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez: "The transnational company, ExxonMobil, is not happy with our government. We care very little what ExxonMobil thinks of our government. Our government answers to the Venezuelan people, its workers and its institutions."
Venezuela suspended oil sales to ExxonMobil earlier this week.
A delegation of American labor leaders are in Colombia this week to call for a crackdown on rightwing militias behind the murders of hundreds of Colombian union members. The visit comes amidst the ongoing U.S. congressional standoff over a pending Colombian trade deal. United Steel Workers attorney Dan Kovalik said the agreement shouldn’t be approved without addressing Colombian human rights concerns.
Dan Kovalik: "First of all, let me make clear that we oppose this FTA now, this year and in the future, to the extent that if there is any other trade agreement it is going to have to be renegotiated and it is going to have to be
renegotiated with the Democratic president of the United States and with the participation of unions and farmers in both Colombia and the United States."
Colombian union members are killed at a rate of almost one per week.
Doctors say East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta is continuing to progress in his recovery from an assassination attempt. Ramos-Horta is being treated in an Australian hospital after being shot by rebel soldiers. Surgeon Phil Carson said he is optimistic for a full recovery.
Dr. Phil Carson: "He’s had two surgeries here, the last one this morning, and all the wounds are looking very healthy, and they all look like they should go on to untroubled healing. He is currently being watched carefully in the intensive care unit. Everything is well-monitored, and everything is stable, and everything is looking very, very good."
Meanwhile, members of the Timorese governing party FRETILIN are denying any involvement in the attempt on Ramos-Horta’s life. FRETILIN Secretary General Mari Alkatiri called for political reconciliation.
Mari Alkatiri: "We need a normal political life in this country. Winning or not, the election is a different thing. We cannot really keep the situation of legitimacy and illegitimacy — to keep it forever, until 2012."
In Australia, Aboriginal leaders are calling for a new commission on resolving indigenous issues following Wednesday’s historic apology from the Australian government. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized for the historic mistreatment of Aborigines in a speech before parliament.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd: "We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect, in particular, on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations, this blemished chapter in our national history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page, a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future… On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry."
The apology had been the first item of business for Rudd’s new government. As many as one in three aboriginal children were taken from their families between 1910 and 1970.
Health officials have announced they’ll recommend moving 100,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees after confirming dangerous levels of formaldehyde gas in their trailers. The move follows last year’s disclosure the Federal Emergency Management Agency routinely suppressed internal warnings showing the gas levels threatened the evacuees’ health and safety. Internal emails show FEMA officials were only concerned with avoiding any legal liability for the evacuees’ potential health problems.
In Florida, calls are growing for criminal charges against four police officers suspended for tipping a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair. Surveillance footage shows the officers threw Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair after he was brought to jail over a traffic violation. Sterner says the officers grew angry at him after he told them he could not obey their orders to stand up. His attorney, John Trevena, called for prosecution.
John Travena: "That detention deputy should be charged criminally for abuse and battery on a disabled person."
And on the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama has picked up an endorsement from a former key insider in the Clinton camp, David Wilhelm. Wilhelm was the campaign manager for Bill Clinton’s successful run for president in 1992.