The Army general who first investigated the abuse at Abu Ghraib has accused the Bush administration of committing war crimes. Retired Major General Antonio Taguba made the comment in a new report about US torture practices. Taguba wrote, "The commander in chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture." Taguba went on to say, "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
The New York Times reports four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations on contracts that will return them to Iraq for the first time in thirty-six years. Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — are among the corporations in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest oil fields. The Times reports it is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts. Americans continue to serve as advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.
A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip went into effect earlier this morning. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Hamas today that the ceasefire was the group’s last chance to avoid a major Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian-proposed ceasefire is expected to ease the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Under the agreement, Israel has pledged not to engage in offensive action in Gaza, and Hamas has pledged to stop all Palestinian militant groups in Gaza from attacking Israel. Residents of Gaza expressed hope that living conditions would improve during the ceasefire.
Salma Abu Hassan: "We hope that it will continue and for them not to betray us, like every time they say OK to a truce, and then they hit us, and the assassinations and shelling and the killing of the people follow. Isn’t it a shame for the young and old and the women? Isn’t it unfair?"
Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev said Israel supports the ceasefire in order to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel.
Mark Regev: "Israel has decided to accept the Egyptian proposals, and it is our sincere hope that from tomorrow our civilian population in the south will no longer be the victim of these continued barrages of rockets and mortar shells from terrorists in the Gaza Strip, and we’ll have a new period of peace and quiet."
In Afghanistan, NATO forces are leading a large-scale offensive against the Taliban outside of Kandahar. At least twenty Taliban fighters were killed earlier today. Earlier in the week, the Taliban seized seven towns near Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city.
Meanwhile, a new report from the Government Accountability Office has concluded the US has no comprehensive plan to build Afghanistan’s army and police, which remain poorly equipped and significantly unprepared to operate without help. The GAO said only two of 105 Afghan army units are considered fully capable.
Federal officials are predicting as many as thirty levees could overflow this week as flooding continues along the Mississippi River in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. The Army Corps of Engineers says twenty levees have already been topped by floodwaters. President Bush is scheduled to visit Iowa today.
On Wednesday, President Bush urged Congress to lift a federal ban on offshore oil drilling and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
President Bush: "So this morning I asked Democratic congressional leaders to move forward with four steps to expand American oil and gasoline production. First, we should expand American oil production by increasing access to the Outer Continental Shelf, or OCS. Experts believe that the OCS could produce about 18 billion barrels of oil. That would be enough to match America’s current oil production for almost ten years."
Bush’s comments came just days after Republican presidential candidate John McCain said the lifting of the ban on offshore oil drilling is needed to combat rising gas prices. Since McCain’s original statement, his own advisers have begun acknowledging that lifting the ban would have no immediate effect on supplies or prices. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has opposed offshore oil drilling. On Wednesday, Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois says the Democratic leadership will fight efforts to lift the ban.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel: "We will not scare the American people into doing something that they should not do at this point, given the oil industry holds leases today, fourteen years worth of energy supply that would — ability of us to literally wean off of foreign dependence. And so, we would have a very sensible, commonsense, but strategically thought through approach that includes both supply and demand as it relates to conservation and efficiency."
Meanwhile, as the price of gas continues to rise, several Wall Street investment banks are lobbying Congress to hold off on passing new bills to regulate energy trading. The Washington Post reports representatives of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are trying to convince lawmakers that no new regulation on oil speculation is needed.
In other energy news, John McCain has called for the United States to build forty-five new nuclear reactors by 2030. McCain said his ultimate goal is 100 new nuclear plants. No nuclear plant has been built in the United States since the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979. Barack Obama also supports the expanded use of nuclear power but has not laid out a detailed plan on building new plants.
In other campaign news, Barack Obama has announced the formation of his Senior Working Group on National Security. The group features several former cabinet officials from the Clinton administration, including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, former National Security Adviser Tony Lake, and Clinton’s Defense Secretary William Perry. Other members of Obama’s advisory board include two members of the 9/11 Commission: Lee Hamilton and Tim Roemer.
Barack Obama’s campaign has apologized to two Muslim women who were barred from sitting behind Obama during his rally on Monday in Detroit. Obama campaign volunteers prevented Hebba Aref and Shimaa Abdelfadeel from sitting behind the podium because they were wearing traditional Muslim headscarves. A campaign volunteer told one of the women that because of the political climate it was not good for her to be seen on television or associated with Obama.
The Bush administration’s prosecution of undocumented immigrants has reached a new high. Over 9,000 immigrants were prosecuted in the month of March. Immigration cases now account for more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions.
Meanwhile, European Union lawmakers have agreed that undocumented immigrants can be detained for up to eighteen months and face a re-entry ban of up to five years. Amnesty International’s Nicolas Beger said human rights groups had serious concerns over the rules.
Nicolas Beger: "This is a particularly grave concern that Amnesty International has. I mean, Amnesty International principally is against the detention of minors, but this direction, while not prohibiting detention, doesn’t even specify that minors cannot be detained in prisons. We might be seeing twelve-year-olds being detained in adult male prisons without any protection in terms of their status."
A sister company of the private military contractor Blackwater has asked a federal court to decide a case against the company using the Islamic law of Sharia. Blackwater’s request was made in a lawsuit brought by the widows of three American soldiers who died on one of its planes in Afghanistan. The News and Observer reports that if the judge agrees with Blackwater, it would essentially end the lawsuit, because Sharia law does not hold a company responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their work.
Protests are being held across the country today calling for a single-payer healthcare system. Demonstrations will target the headquarters of several health insurance companies, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, Humana and United Health Group, as well as the annual convention of the insurance industry lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans in San Francisco. Malinda Markowitz of the California Nurses Association said, “We are calling a national protest against these insurance companies, because they profit by denying care to our patients — not by providing it."
Here in New York, a protest was held yesterday in the Bronx calling for the release of two members of the political hip-hop group Rebel Diaz. The musicians say they were arrested and beaten when they tried to videotape the police confronting a street vendor selling fruit. Another member of Rebel Diaz said, “They asked for the badge information from the police officer, and basically the police just started beating them up."
And finally, the state of the nation’s media has a new, and perhaps unexpected, critic: Lara Logan, chief foreign correspondent of CBS News. Logan recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Jon Stewart: “Do you watch the news that we’re watching in the United States?"
Lara Logan: "No. No."
Jon Stewart: "Do you see what we’re hearing about the war? Do you —”
Lara Logan: “No."
Jon Stewart: "So we might actually know everything."
Lara Logan: "If I were to watch the news that you’re hearing in the United States, I’d just blow my brains out, because it would drive me nuts.”