Attorney General Michael Mukasey is refusing to open a criminal investigation into the CIA’s use of waterboarding even though the interrogation practice is widely considered a form of torture. Mukasey was questioned Thursday by John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
John Conyers: "Well, are you ready to start a criminal investigation into whether this confirmed use of waterboarding by United States agents was illegal?"
Michael Mukasey: "That’s a direct question, and I will give a direct answer. No, I am not, for this reason: Whatever was done as part of a CIA program at the time that it was done was the subject of a Department of Justice opinion through the Office of Legal Counsel and was found to be permissible under the law as it existed then."
Earlier this week, CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed the CIA had waterboarded three prisoners in 2002 and 2003. On Thursday, Hayden admitted waterboarding may be illegal under current law. He also revealed that private contractors might have been involved in the waterboarding of prisoners. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is meeting in closed session today to hear evidence that suggests a former high school student from Baltimore was subjected to systematic torture in secret CIA prisons. Attorneys for Majid Khan, who is now being held at Guantanamo, say the CIA also videotaped the interrogations of their client.
On Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney defended the CIA’s interrogation practices and claimed the US does not torture.
Dick Cheney: "The President has made the right decisions for the right reasons, and he always reflected the values of the American people. Would I support those same decisions today? You’re damn right I would."
In campaign news, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney suspended his presidential campaign in a move that is expected to seal the nomination for Senator John McCain. During his farewell speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference, Romney claimed he had no doubts that the United States would be attacked if the Democrats win in November.
Mitt Romney: "Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat and declare defeat. And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on
America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt."
Romney spent over $90 million on the campaign, including at least $35 million of his own money.
In other news on the Republican race, one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders, James Dobson, has endorsed Mike Huckabee and vowed to never vote for John McCain, even if he wins the Republican nomination.
On Thursday, McCain attempted to reach out to conservative voters at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but he was booed when he brought up the issue of immigration.
John McCain: "Surely, I have held other positions that have not met with widespread agreement from conservatives. I won’t pretend otherwise, nor would you permit me to forget it. On — on the issue of illegal immigration, a position which" —
Crowd: Boo! Boo!
Congress has approved a $168 billion stimulus package that will result in the government sending checks to most of the nation’s households and grant tax incentives for business investments. Most taxpayers who earn less than $75,000 will receive a check for $600 plus $300 for each child under the age of seventeen. The new version of the stimulus plan — approved on Thursday — also give checks to 20 million senior citizens and 250,000 disabled veterans.
In news from Iraq, the oil giant Exxon Mobil has publicly revealed it is interested in helping to develop Iraq’s huge oil reserves. A company spokesperson told the Reuters news agency, "If the Iraqi government decides it wants international oil companies to partner with them in developing their resources, Exxon Mobil would be interested in participating." Iraq has given companies until February 18 to submit documents that will qualify them to compete for service contracts to help develop its oil infrastructure. Last week, Exxon Mobil announced it had made a record $40 billion in profits in 2007 — that is nearly $1,300 per second.
The Progressive magazine is reporting that more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The business leaders form a group known as InfraGard that receives warnings of terrorist threats directly from the FBI before the public does. According to one whistleblower, the FBI has given members of InfraGard permission to shoot to kill in the event of martial law.
The Bush administration and Britain is pushing its NATO allies to quickly send more troops to Afghanistan to fight al-Qaeda. Canada has already threatened to pull its troops from Afghanistan next year unless other allies send reinforcements. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a call for more international troops during a NATO meeting in Lithuania.
Robert Gates: "I think it would certainly be a set back if Canada left, and in a way Canada has kind of caused the alliance to face up to this differential between those who like Canada and Australia, Britain, the Dutch, the Danes, who are fighting and who have taken casualties, as opposed to some of those who are in less violent areas."
In other news from Afghanistan, the United Nations reports opium growth is increasing at an alarming rate in south and southwest Afghanistan.
In news from Capitol Hill, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has revealed the Energy Department is subsidizing two Russian nuclear institutes that are building important parts of the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran. The Bush administration has accused Iran of using the Bushehr reactor as a cover for a nuclear weapons program. According to House Democrats, the Energy Department has sent $4 million to the Russian institutes as part of a program set up to prevent nuclear proliferation.
Congressman John Dingell of Michigan said, "It is troubling that DOE would subsidize or otherwise support Russian institutes providing technology and services to the Iranian nuclear program."
A new report from the Veterans Affairs Department has found that recently discharged veterans are having a hard time finding civilian jobs. The veterans are also more likely to earn lower wages for years, due partly to employer concerns about their mental health and overall skills. The still-unpublished report was obtained by the Associated Press.
In news from Pakistan, investigators from Scotland Yard say former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in December by the force of a suicide bomb, not by an assassin’s bullet. The report backs up the claim of the Pakistani government that Bhutto died after she hit her head against the sunroof in the car she was traveling in.
The British investigators did not look into who was behind Bhutto’s assassination.
The New York Times reports that it is unclear how the Scotland Yard investigators reached such conclusive findings without autopsy results or other potentially important evidence that was washed away by cleanup crews in the immediate aftermath of the blast.
The head of ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is coming under renewed criticism stemming from newly published photos taken at an office Halloween party last year. Photos obtained by CNN show Julie Myers standing next to a white employee who was dressed up like a prisoner. He wore prison stripes, dreadlocks and dark makeup that made him look African American or Latino. Myers was one of three judges who gave the worker the prize for "most original costume."
Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii said, "The perception of racial insensitivity is a serious threat to the credibility of ICE. These pictures raise serious concerns about whether ICE purposely withheld the pictures requested by Congress."
And in media news, eleven newspaper cartoonists are planning to stage a protest Sunday to demand cartoonists of color be given a greater presence in newspapers.
The creators of "Candorville," "Watch Your Head" and nine other cartoons are planning to essentially draw the same comic strip for Sunday’s newspapers to highlight how many papers view all cartoons drawn by people of color as interchangeable.