More details have been revealed on high-level Bush administration involvement in authorizing torture. According to a timeline in the newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top White House officials approved torture methods, including waterboarding, as early as 2002. Attorney General Eric Holder has described waterboarding as illegal, while President Obama now says he won’t rule out prosecuting top Bush officials who approved illegal acts. Rice’s backing came in July 2002, when she gave a green light for the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. One year later, the list of officials voicing approval grew to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger.
The news comes as lawmakers have begun debating calls for an investigation into Bush-era officials for potential prosecution. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed an investigation and said witnesses shouldn’t receive immunity for testifying. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting President Obama personally nixed a proposal to create a 9/11 Commission-style panel as an alternative to releasing the memos. Obama made the decision following weeks of administration debate. A White House official summarized Obama’s reponse as: "I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don’t need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this."
The Obama administration has claimed it’s closed Bush-era secret prisons. But the investigative website ProPublica is reporting more than three dozen CIA prisoners are still missing. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said, "The Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody. If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend it’s closed the door on the CIA program."
A federal judge has rejected a government motion to dismiss or delay a challenge to the jailing of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamed Jawad. Jawad was arrested in Afghanistan when he was sixteen or seventeen years old on allegations of wounding US soldiers with a grenade. He’s claimed he was drugged and threatened with death by Afghan interrogators unless he admitted to the charges. His case was one of five that led Guantanamo military prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld to resign last year. On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle rejected the government’s attempts to deny Jawad habeas corpus. Attorney Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union said, "While the Justice Department chose to continue Bush administration policies that sought to evade scrutiny of Mr. Jawad’s unlawful detention, today’s order emphasizes the importance of independent judicial review for prisoners who have been held for years with no legal recourse."
President Obama visited Iowa Wednesday to mark International Earth Day. Speaking at a wind plant, Obama vowed to change US inaction on combating global warming.
President Obama: "If we’ve got problems with climate change and the temperature rising all around the world, that knows no boundaries. The decisions of any nation will affect every nation. So, next week I will be gathering leaders of major economies from all around the world to talk about how we can work together to address this energy crisis and this climate crisis. Truth is, the United States has been slow to participate in this kind of a process, working with other nations. But those days are over now."
Despite Obama’s comments, the White House is so far refusing to endorse the nation’s first-ever bill to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. As lawmakers opened hearings on Wednesday, top Obama environment officials said they are still studying the measure and have yet to make a decision. Energy industry lobbyists are vocally opposing the bill. It calls for reducing emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and reducing them by 83 percent by 2050. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a new timeline for passing legislation, saying it would take more than a year. Her comments came one day after vowing to pass legislation this year.
As debate on the emissions bill began in Washington, the UN opened the year’s first ministerial-level meeting in talks toward reaching a new global climate deal at the Copenhagen summit later this year. The UN’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said US involvement in agreeing to emissions cuts is essential.
Yvo de Boer: "Trying to come to a long-term response on climate change without the United States makes no sense. In other words, US engagement is essential. And what is very encouraging is that President Obama is committed to this issue, is committed to taking action in the United States."
The International Monetary Fund is forecasting the global economy will decline this year for the first time since the Second World War. On Wednesday, the IMF said the global economy would see a 1.3 percent decline in what it called "by far the deepest global recession since the Great Depression." Speaking in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the US bears significant responsibility for the global decline.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: "We bear in the United States a substantial responsibility, a substantial share of the responsibility for what has happened. But the factors that have made this crisis so acute and so difficult to contain lie in a broader set of global forces that built up in the years before the start of the present downturn. Never before has so much of the world been simultaneously hit by a confluence of economic and financial turmoil."
The chief financial officer of the troubled government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac has been found dead in an apparent suicide. Police say the body of forty-one-year-old David Kellermann was found hanging in his Virginia home. Kellermann was named Freddie Mac’s acting chief financial officer in September after sixteen years at the company. He came under scrutiny earlier this month after it was revealed he and other top Freddie Mac executives stood to receive some $210 million in bonuses over the next two years.
In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross is warning scores of civilians have been killed or wounded in the latest military attacks on the remaining Tamil Tiger stronghold. Tens of thousands remain trapped between the crossfire. In a statement, the Red Cross said it couldn’t precisely identify the number of civilian casualties but said they are in the "hundreds."
In Pakistan, Taliban militants have seized control of a new area just seventy miles from the capital Islamabad. The Buner district has a population of more than one million people.
The Israeli military says it’s concluded an investigation absolving its forces of committing any crimes during the three-week assault on the Gaza Strip beginning late last year. Israeli military deputy chief of staff General Dan Harel said Israel’s lone mistakes came down to intelligence and operational errors.
General Dan Harel: "We found out that the IDF operated under the international law and according to a very high standard of professionalism and moral standards. Saying that, we found out several mistakes, intelligence and operational mistakes we made, and we are dealing with them."
Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians during the Gaza attack, most of them women and children. It bombed crowded civilian areas, ambulances, aid compounds, UN facilities, mosques and several schools. Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha dismissed the Israeli investigation as a sham.
Ayman Taha: "This is a mockery of all the crimes that have been committed against our people. And the reason that the Israeli army cannot consider what has happened in the Gaza Strip as criminal is because the criminal himself cannot also be the judge. Therefore, these findings of Israeli army innocence are unreliable. The crimes that have been committed are crystal clear."
The Israeli probe comes ahead of a UN investigation headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone. Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch called the IDF move a preliminary reaction to the UN’s anticipated findings.
Bill Van Esveld: "This appears to be a whitewash investigation that is happening just before the Goldstone investigation mandated by the United Nations. And it seems to prove the point that Human Rights Watch has been making all along, which is that there needs to be an independent and impartial United Nations investigation into these allegations of laws of war violations, because the IDF has not lived up to the job."
In other news from Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has defied US warnings and demolished another Palestinian home in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration’s few mild criticisms of Israel have centered around destroying homes on Palestinian land. The home belonged to the Hudidon family, which includes seven children.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed US vows to boycott the Palestinian government unless Hamas meets US-Israeli demands. Clinton testified Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority. And that is our policy, and that is exactly what is guiding us, but we want to leave open the door that that can happen."
The policy of opening the door to Hamas’s acceptance marks a slight rhetorical deviation from Bush administration policy, which unequivocally rejected any dealings with Hamas. But it continues the Bush policy of imposing conditions on Palestinians not imposed on Israel. Israel has long refused to renounce violence, recognize Palestine or agree to uphold prior agreements. In response to Clinton’s comments, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said, "Hillary Clinton must understand that there is a Palestinian democracy and there [were] Palestinian elections and someone won those elections."
Meanwhile, Clinton was also asked about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments the Obama administration’s rollback of Bush torture policies is endangering the nation.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Well, it won’t surprise you, I don’t consider him a particularly reliable source."
This week, Cheney called for the release of documents that could prove what he called the "success" of the Bush administration’s torture methods in gaining new intelligence.
In Colombia, a new report says the number of internally displaced people continued to rise last year. Jorge Rojas of Colombia’s Human Rights and Displacement Council attributed most of the displacements to right-wing Colombian paramilitaries.
Jorge Rojas: "It is an unfortunate figure for us, because it shows an increasing tendency. It shows that the number of displaced people in Colombian is still growing due to the armed conflict, human rights violations and infractions against human rights. Last year, we registered the displacement of about 380,000 people. This shows a 24 percent increase compared to the year before."
Colombia has the world’s second-largest internally displaced population after Sudan. Most of the refugees are indigenous, peasant workers or Afro-Colombians.
Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed the UN General Assembly Wednesday. In a speech marking international Earth Day, Morales criticized former President George W. Bush for supporting a failed coup plot against him last year. He also addressed the controversy surrounding last week’s Bolivian police killing of three people in an alleged assassination plot against him. Morales also discussed the World Bank, which he said is no longer trying to impose privatization as a condition for loans.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "Before, the World Bank used to impose conditions on Bolivia in order for us to have access to loans. In the first year of my government, some World Bank representatives came to Bolivia and tried to blackmail me. And I said, 'OK, if it's unconditional help, fine, but if it’s conditioned on the privatization of basic services, on the privatization of our natural resources, then no.’"
Morales went on to call for adding new text to the UN resolution establishing Earth Day, saying it should affirm the right of ecosystems, plants or animals to exist without threat of irresponsible human acts.
A Venezuelan opposition leader is seeking asylum in Peru over what he calls political persecution at home. Manuel Rosales is in the Peruvian capital of Lima, where government officials say they’re examining his asylum request. On Wednesday, a Venezuelan judge ordered Rosales’s arrest on corruption charges.
In South Africa, tens of millions of people voted Wednesday in national elections. The ruling African National Congress is leading initial returns. ANC leader Jacob Zuma is poised to become president, overcoming recent controversies that have included allegations of rape and corruption.
And back in the United States, the auto giant General Motors is reportedly planning on closing most of its US factories for up to nine weeks this summer. GM faces a June 1st deadline to qualify for additional government loans on top of the more than $13 billion it’s already received.