The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush has been sentenced to three years in prison. A reporter for Al-Baghdadiya Television, Muntadhar al-Zaidi drew worldwide attention when he hurled his shoes at Bush during a news conference in December. Zaidi was convicted of assaulting a foreign leader. His attorney and family have claimed prison guards have abused Zaidi since his jailing. Earlier today, Zaidi’s brother, Uday al-Zaidi, rejected the verdict.
Uday al-Zaidi: "They told us of the verdict when we entered the court. Unfortunately, the court is politicized."
Reporter: "Will you appeal the verdict?"
Uday al-Zaidi: "We have already appealed the verdict, but the verdict was taken before session. Iraqi justice is not independent, and it is not honest, and I scorn those who say Iraqi justice is independent. Iraqi justice is not independent, and it is politicized. This court was set up according to Paul Bremer decisions, and the verdict of the court was issued according to Bush decisions."
In other Iraq news, two top officials under the Saddam Hussein regime have been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Former foreign minister Tariq Aziz and presidential adviser Ali Hassan al-Majid were convicted of a crime against humanity for their alleged roles in the 1992 killings of forty-two merchants. Fluent in English, Aziz was known as the international face of Hussein’s government prior to the US invasion. He is widely believed to have wielded little influence in Hussein’s government.
The death toll from Tuesday’s suicide bombing west of Baghdad has risen to thirty-three people. The dead included two Iraqi journalists with the Cairo-based Baghdadiya TV. Another television reporter was also critically injured.
In Pakistan, hundreds of activists have been jailed ahead of today’s massive protest march by opponents of President Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistani government has also banned public gatherings in two key provinces. The march was initially organized to demand the reinstatement of the deposed Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Obama administration has announced it will withdraw its entire $900 million aid pledge if the pending Palestinian unity government doesn’t recognize Israel’s "right to exist." The warning was reportedly delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week. Clinton told Abbas the US Congress won’t approve Palestinian aid unless the Palestinian government also renounces violence. No such conditions have been imposed on Israel. The Israeli government refuses to renounce violence and has never recognized the right of Palestine to exist. Palestinians have also criticized the demand they recognize Israel’s "right to exist" because it forces them to go beyond recognizing Israel within secure borders, but in fact affirm the legitimacy of their dispossession and ongoing occupation.
The Obama administration says it will ask Congress for a $100 billion commitment to the International Monetary Fund to aid struggling nations hit by the economic crisis. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said poorer countries need assistance for the downturn to reverse.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: "It’s time now for us to move together and to begin to act to put in place a stronger framework of reforms. A lot of good work has happened, but we need to now bring this together so that we’re together as a world economy working together. Everything we do in the United States will be more effective if we have the world moving with us."
It’s unclear what kind of conditions recipient nations would face for accepting the new IMF aid. President Obama said Geithner will push for greater international commitments at an upcoming summit of G20 finance ministers.
President Obama: "We’ve got two goals in the G20. The first is to make sure that there is concerted action around the globe to jumpstart the economy. The second goal is to make sure that we are moving forward on a regulatory reform agenda that ensures that we don’t see these same kinds of systemic risks and the potential for this kind of crisis again in the future."
The investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed the Bush administration ran an "executive assassination ring" that reported directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Hersh says US operatives have secretly gone into countries and executed suspects on a target list. The operation was apparently run under the extra-legal Joint Special Operations Command, overseen only by the White House. Hersh made the disclosure while speaking Tuesday at the University of Minnesota.
Italy’s top court has dealt prosecutors a major setback in the trial over the CIA kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. Twenty-six Americans are being tried in absentia along with several former Italian intelligence officials. On Wednesday, Italy’s Constitutional Court threw out most of the evidence in the case on the grounds prosecutors have violated so-called "state secrecy." Omar was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to US bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt. He says he was tortured there during a four-year imprisonment.
President Obama has signed into law the $410 billion omnibus spending bill funding the federal government for much of this year. The bill includes a measure that will force companies to provide more information on chemicals they release into the environment. The provision reverses a 2006 Bush administration regulation that eased requirements on reporting chemicals.
With his signature on the spending bill also came Obama’s first signing statement, a presidential declaration freeing him from following some of the bill’s contents. Obama took issue with five provisions, including one relating to negotiations with foreign governments and international organizations.
Newly released figures show the number of homes threatened by foreclosures rose 30 percent in February over the same period last year. According to RealtyTrac, nearly 291,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice last month, up six percent from January.
A federal judge has paved the way to throwing out charges against the Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian. In a new ruling, Judge Leonie Brinkema says Al-Arian may have been duped into thinking his plea bargain protected him from future prosecutions. Brinkema has given Al-Arian’s lawyers ten days to ask for the case’s dismissal. Al-Arian was released in September after over five years in prison but still faces charges for refusing to testify before a grand jury about a cluster of Muslim organizations in northern Virginia. He was initially accused of being involved in the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but a Florida jury failed to return a single guilty verdict on any of the seventeen charges against him. Still, Al-Arian chose jail time rather than undergo a second trial after prosecutors refiled charges. Al-Arian’s defense lawyers argue prosecutors have violated his plea deal by subsequently charging him for refusing to testify in cases that have nothing to do with him.
In Washington, D.C., a small group of demonstrators rallied for single-payer healthcare outside the national meeting of the American Health Insurance Plans on Wednesday. A handful of protesters burned their health insurance bills as an act of protest. The rally was called by a new group called Single Payer Action that is advocating direct action to demand a single-payer health insurance system in the United States.
Many US colleges go on spring break tomorrow. One group of students will be using their time off to rally against what it calls "illegal occupations and the use of torture by the United States government." The group, Our Spring Break, says it will join a march organized by Witness Against Torture. The group’s website is OurSpringBreak.org.
The Obama administration has nominated Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to be the nation’s new drug czar. The White House announced the pick as it also unveiled a new plan to emphasize treatment over jailing in drug-related cases. Under the policy, the Obama administration will order greater use of alternative drug courts that allow offenders to seek treatment rather than serve jail time. Kerlikowske said efforts should focus on reducing demand.
Gil Kerlikowske: "The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them, and that starts with our youth. Our nation’s drug problem is one of human suffering. And as a police officer, but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects that drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities."
Kerlikowske says his step-son has struggled with addiction. Appearing with Kerlikowske, Vice President Joe Biden said the US will also focus on the drug wars in Mexico.
Vice President Joe Biden: "Since the beginning of last year, there have been nearly 7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico. If we had said that years ago, we would have looked at each other like we were crazy. But 7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico. Violent drug trafficking organizations are threatening both the United States and Mexican communities."
Kerlikowske’s nomination comes as the US takes part in a UN conference in Vienna on setting a global drugs strategy for the next decade. A new European Commission report says the previous decade’s strategy has been a failure. The US has been widely criticized for its longtime resistance to decriminalization and supporting treatment-based alternatives.
Bolivian President Evo Morales is among those attending the conference. On Wednesday, Morales chewed on a coca leaf and called on President Obama to stop massive eradication programs against it.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "We know that a part of the coca leaf is diverted towards an illegal program: cocaine. We are very responsible. We’re not defending cocaine, and we are never going to defend it. We’re not the cocaine culture. So, with the new president, Obama, we want to improve relations and have common plans."
Back in the United States, President Obama has signed an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. The Obama administration says the council will "provide a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls" and ensure government agencies consider how their policies impact women and families. Senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett will serve as the council’s chair.
At the State Department, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored eight women from around the world at the third annual Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage. The women are chosen based on nominations from US embassies.
The eight women come from Guatemala, Afghanistan, Iraq, Malaysia, Niger, Russia, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
After months of growing scrutiny, the Justice Department has launched a civil rights probe of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio has been accused of overseeing a discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws. He recently made headlines for parading a group of chained undocumented prisoners through the streets of Phoenix before transferring them to the infamous Tent City jail. Last year, a group of Latino activists in Arizona filed a lawsuit accusing Arpaio of racial profiling. The Arpaio investigation is believed to be the Justice Department’s first related to immigration enforcement.
At the time of this broadcast, the indicted financier Bernie Madoff has arrived at a New York federal courthouse. He’s accused of operating one of the biggest frauds in Wall Street history. Madoff is expected to plead guilty to all eleven felony charges against him. He faces a prison sentence of 150 years.