ABC News is reporting senior Bush administration officials personally discussed and approved how top al-Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA. The group agreed on controversial interrogation techniques including physical assault, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. The officials were all members of the Principals Committee on the National Security Council. They included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft. It’s the first time senior White House officials have been linked to an explicit group authorization of the CIA interrogation program. One top official recounted Ashcroft was the lone cabinet member to raise doubts. The official quoted Ashcroft as saying, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” In the summer of 2004, amidst the controversy over the Abu Ghraib photos and the withdrawal of a controversial memo approving harsh interrogations, the Principals Committee again approved new techniques on a CIA prisoner captured in Asia. Condoleezza Rice is said to have provided decisive support, reportedly telling CIA officials, “This is your baby. Go do it.”
In Iraq, at least four people have been killed and another six wounded in the latest US attacks on Baghdad’s Shia stronghold of Sadr City. The dead included three members of a family eating breakfast when a US mortar round hit their home. Close to seventy people have been killed in Sadr City clashes between Shia fighters and US-Iraqi forces since Sunday.
Much of Baghdad was under curfew Wednesday as Iraqis quietly marked the fifth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein to US troops.
Baghdad resident: "The curfew will have a bad effect on people. In the curfew, we cannot go outside to buy food. We cannot use our cars, and we cannot take patients to hospitals. So it has a very bad effect on people. It will also
have a bad effect on those who have jobs."
The curfew was imposed ahead of a planned anti-occupation march by supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The march was called off amid fears of violence against demonstrators. A Baghdad resident said five years after US occupation, life in Iraq is no better than under Saddam.
Baghdad resident: "Five years after the fall (of Saddam’s regime), nothing has been changed. The situation is the same, the same suffering. We were living in darkness, and now we are living in more darkness. The situation is not good, no services, no gasoline, no petrol and nothing. The situation is bad."
In other Iraq news, an Iraqi judicial committee has called for the release of the imprisoned Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein from a US military jail. Hussein has been jailed without charge for nearly two years. This week, a four-judge panel ruled Hussein falls under an amnesty law and should be released without delay. The US military has not responded to the order. The US has also detained without charge the Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, held at Guantanamo Bay for the past five years.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats say they plan to indefinitely delay a vote on a controversial trade agreement with Colombia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers need more time to consider the deal.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "We would hope that some of those initiatives would be acceptable to the President, funded and signed into law, and then we can consider the merits of a — and only then could we consider the merits of a Colombia Free Trade Agreement. We have concerns about the job loss in our country. We have concerns about the treatment of workers and their organizers in Colombia. But we stand ready to have those conversations as long as the President wants to put American workers and their families first."
The Bush administration has been lobbying feverishly for the trade deal. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a delay would undermine US standing in Latin America.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "If this strong friend of America, who has done all the right things to try to bring his country to stability, democracy, and prosperity, and has done so as an avowed friend of America, fighting terrorists on one side, trying to demobilize paramilitaries on another, and standing strong against very hostile anti-American states and forces in Latin America, what will it say if the United States turns its back now on Colombia?"
Labor unions and human rights organizations have been pushing Congress to reject the treaty, in part because Colombia has the highest rate of killings of trade unionists in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, seventeen trade unionists have been killed in Colombia in the first three months of this year.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, deadly raids killed civilians on both sides of the Gaza border on Wednesday. Two Israeli civilians were killed when Palestinian militants attacked a border crossing. Hours later, two Palestinian civilians, including a boy, died when Israeli tanks attacked a terminal in Gaza City. Three militants also died in Israeli attacks. Palestinian Resistance Committees spokesperson Abu Bila said Palestinian attacks were aimed to break the Israeli siege of Gaza.
Palestinian Resistance Committees spokesperson Abu Bila: "This heroic operation is one of the first emergency calls among a chain of operations that the resistance will execute to break the choking siege and lifting it of our suffering Palestinian people. And we assure that the anger of the resistance will target the Zionist enemy, only and we do not have an interest in targeting anyone else besides them."
Meanwhile, former president Jimmy Carter is planning on meeting Hamas’s exiled political leader, Khaled Meshal, in Syria next week. Last week, Meshal reiterated his previous statement that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with Israel. Carter’s plans immediately came under criticism from all three leading presidential candidates. Senator John McCain called on Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton to condemn the meeting. In statements, both Clinton and Obama said they disagree with Carter’s plans. The meeting comes as Israeli public support is growing for talks with Hamas. A poll in February found that 64 percent of Israelis support Hamas’s call for a ceasefire.
In Haiti, protests over the rising cost of food have entered their second week. On Wednesday, UN forces fired teargas and rubber bullets on crowds outside the national palace. Prices of staples, including rice, beans and fruit, have increased 50 percent over the past year.
Protester: "We can’t live. A kilo of rice is selling at $30 Haitian. We can’t afford to feed our children."
At least five people have been killed and more than forty wounded during a week of protests. The food-price protests in Haiti are one of several to hit countries around the world in recent weeks. On Wednesday, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warned the unrest could spread even further unless the international community intervenes to reverse the rising costs. Several factors have contributed, including droughts and a rising demand for biofuels such as ethanol, which drives up food prices by making food crops more scarce.
The International Monetary Fund is warning the US is headed towards a recession. In a new report, the IMF says the US mortgage crisis has become “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression.” IMF Research Director Simon Johnson says the US downturn would slow a pattern of economic growth worldwide.
Simon Johnson: "US output is projected to decline by 0.7 percent in 2008. We also expect a gradual recovery back towards potential beginning in 2009. Growth in the Euro area also slowed at the end of last year, and for 2008 we project growth to moderate to 1.4 percent. Activity is slowing partly through weaker external demand due to the US downturn and a stronger Euro, as well as from continued financial market strains and rising energy costs."
On the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Clinton’s ties to the retail giant Wal-Mart are coming under new scrutiny today following the release of videotape during her time as a company board member. Clinton sat on Wal-Mart’s board between 1986 and 1992. In a videotape released by the Center for Public Integrity from February 1991, Clinton heaps praise on Wal-Mart at a ceremony marking the reopening of its original store in Arkansas.
Hillary Clinton: “I’m so proud of this company and everything that it represents. You know, anytime I travel and I tell people I’m from Arkansas, and now finally they’re raising some real positive things about us, no matter where I go. And Wal-Mart’s on top of the list, and everybody wants me to tell them about Wal-Mart and Sam Walton and Helen Walton and all of the Wal-Mart associates. And it just makes me feel real good about what we’re able to do and what we can show and the kind of leadership we’re given.”
Clinton has sought to distance herself from Wal-Mart during her presidential run. Her campaign biography makes no mention of her time there. The videotape also shows Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton praising Clinton as the “best board member” the company has ever had.
Sam Walton: “In my opinion, you are one of the finest lawyers, legal persons, that I’ve ever met or ever known. And without any question, you’ve added more to our board than about anybody we’ve ever had on that board. For the Wal-Mart board, you’ve done a tremendous job.”
The Clinton tapes were one of 15,000 made available by a small Kansas production company hired to film Wal-Mart events for nearly three decades. The company, Flagler Productions, says it’s now looking to sell its tapes to parties including unions, plaintiff lawyers and documentary filmmakers. Wal-Mart says it’s reviewing its legal options over the potential footage sales.
And lawmakers are calling for an independent probe of whether top US immigration officials violated federal laws following the publication of controversial photos taken at an office Halloween party last year. One photograph shows Immigration and Customs Enforcement head 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.” Lawmakers want to investigate whether Myers was trying to conceal her actions when she ordered the destruction of the photographs and relocated the worker from ICE’s Washington headquarters.