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A federal judge has ruled the Pentagon can proceed with the first military trial at Guantanamo Bay. Attorneys for Salim Hamdan had sought to delay Monday’s trial so they could further challenge his imprisonment in federal court. Hamdan served as Osama bin Laden’s driver in Afghanistan. His attorneys have alleged he’s suffered torture at Guantanamo, including sleep deprivation and physical abuse.
The ruling came as former Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before lawmakers Thursday for questioning on the Justice Department’s approval of controversial interrogation methods that could amount to torture. Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee, Ashcroft was asked about a recent report that said he raised objections in high-level White House discussions on CIA methods to interrogate prisoners. According to ABC News, Ashcroft said, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” Pressed by lawmakers, Ashcroft refused to confirm or deny the account of his remarks.
Federal investigators have found a culture of systemic abuse and neglect at one of Chicago’s most notorious prisons. In a new report, prosecutors found numerous cases of physical violence against prisoners by jail guards at Cook County Jail. Last year, a prisoner was handcuffed and beaten after he exposed himself to a female guard. In 2006, a prisoner’s leg was amputated after his infection went untreated. Prosecutors say they’ll take legal action unless conditions at Cook County Jail are drastically improved.
A Senate investigation has found sub-par electrical work by private contractors on US military bases in Iraq has been more widespread and dangerous than the Pentagon has disclosed. The New York Times reports many more US soldiers have reported being electrocuted in Iraq than the thirteen acknowledged by the Pentagon. At one building in Baghdad, US soldiers reported being electrocuted in their living quarters almost daily. In one six-month period beginning in August 2006, at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged US military facilities. The shocks have led to at least one death and dozens of serious injuries. The Pentagon has ordered a review of all buildings maintained by the military contractor KBR in Iraq.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have quietly dropped a criminal probe of the top official overseeing corruption and abuse in the US-led reconstruction of Iraq. Inspector General Stuart Bowen was accused of a series of improprieties, including tampering with employee emails. But critics have said he may have been targeted for political reasons. Bowen’s investigations have indicted several American officials on corruption charges, documented wasteful and inept work by large contractors, and found the Pentagon did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons given to Iraqi troops. The Bush administration tried to close down his office in 2006 but backed off following congressional opposition.
The advocacy group Refugees International is warning US aid to Africa is becoming increasingly militarized at the expense of humanitarian needs. In a new report, Refugees International says the Pentagon is exerting increasing control over aid traditionally run by the State Department and US aid agencies. The Pentagon now controls 22 percent of US aid money, up from three percent a decade ago.
Former Vice President Al Gore is calling for a dramatic shift in US energy policy. On Thursday, Gore called on the next US president to abandon fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy to produce electricity within the next ten years. Gore issued the challenge at a speech in Washington, D.C.
Al Gore: "So, today, I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within ten years. This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans, in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers and to every citizen."
Gore continued, “We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.”
On the campaign trail, Senator John McCain is claiming he can’t recall making a joke about women enjoying being raped. A 1986 article in the Tucson Citizen reported McCain joked about a woman being “beaten senseless” and “raped repeatedly” before being “left to die” by a gorilla. According to the article, McCain goes on to say the woman asks her doctor, after regaining consciousness, “Where is that marvelous ape?” A spokesperson says McCain doesn’t remember making the joke. The spokesperson went on to dismiss other criticism of McCain’s humor, calling it “a good example of McCain being McCain.”
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Senator Barack Obama leaves today on his first foreign trip as the presumptive Democratic nominee. Obama’s itinerary includes stops in Iraq, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Germany, France and England.
In Minnesota, a US district court judge has upheld restrictions on an antiwar march set to take place during the Republican National Convention. St. Paul officials have barred protesters from circling or marching on any route directly linked to the convention area.
The White House is threatening to veto a new measure that would bar CIA contractors from interrogating suspects in the so-called war on terror. The provision came as part of a bill funding intelligence activities for the 2009 fiscal year. A similar bill awaits voting in the Senate.
And the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela turns ninety years old today. On Thursday, tributes poured in from across South Africa.
Unidentified Woman: "My wish would be that you could live forever and that future leaders could be just like you. Well done. And keep fit, and keep healthy, and keep
smiling, and keep us all motivated. You’re a great person, a great president, and we love you."
Unidentified Woman: "Happy birthday to Mr. Madiba."
Unidentified Woman: "Happy birthday, Daddy."
Unidentified Woman: "We love you."
Unidentified Woman: "Happy birthday, Mandela. We love you."
Douglas Gwili: "The message that I’m sending is: happy birthday, Mandela. Grow old, but bend back."
Ashief: "Happy birthday, Tata. I hope you see a hundred years. It would be nice for this country. And we wish to thank you for what you did for this country."
Mpho Simelane: "I’m who I am today because of Madiba. Thank you."
Barbara: "He must enjoy his birthday and have many more years, OK."
Gail: "Well, I’d just like to wish him all the luck and happiness and hope he lives another ten years, twenty years. He’s a great man. That’s all I can say, really."
Mandela is celebrating with a private party in his home village of Qunu.