The White House is joining Senate Democratic leaders in rejecting calls for a special commission to investigate the Bush administration’s torture of foreign prisoners. At a meeting with top Democrats, President Obama said he opposes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for establishing a torture panel. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid endorsed Obama’s view, saying a commission would distract from top legislative priorities. Some progressive critics have argued a panel wouldn’t go far enough in seeking justice and have called for immediate indictments of the Bush officials who approved torture.
A Tunisian national who was jailed at CIA secret prisons in Afghanistan as well as at Guantanamo Bay has filed a lawsuit accusing the US of torture. The suit by Rafiq Alhami is believed to be the first alleging torture well before the Justice Department issued a secret memo authorizing waterboarding and other methods in August 2002. Alhami was arrested in November 2001 and says his torture began one month later. He was allegedly stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in painful positions for hours and beaten. Alhami also says interrogators sprayed pepper spray on his hemorrhoids, causing harsh pain.
In Iraq, at least thirty people were killed in a double suicide attack in Baghdad earlier today. Another 100 people were wounded. The bombing targeted a Shiite shrine where worshippers had gathered for Friday prayers. The attack comes one day after more than seventy people were killed and 100 wounded in a pair of suicide attacks also targeting Shiite areas. The first attack hit a restaurant filled with Iranian pilgrims in Diyala province. Shortly after, the second attack targeted a group of displaced Iraqis who had lined up to receive food in Baghdad.
A newly disclosed Iraqi government tally, meanwhile, shows at least 87,000 Iraqis have been killed in violent attacks since 2005. An Iraqi government official provided the figure to the Associated Press. Studies have estimated anywhere between 500,000 to one million Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion in 2003.
Sri Lanka is rejecting UN calls for aid worker access to civilians trapped in the fighting between Sri Lankan forces and Tamil Tiger rebels. An estimated 100,000 people have fled the last remaining Tamil stronghold since Sri Lanka intensified its military assault earlier this week. On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all sides to stop fighting.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "I would like to take this opportunity to strongly urge all the parties concerned to respect the call of the Security Council made yesterday in full and without further delay. Too many lives are at stake. The United Nations stands ready to do whatever it can to provide emergency humanitarian assistance and to protect the civilian population. I would again strongly urge LTTE to lay down their arms and to do whatever to protect the civilian population. So many lives have been sacrificed. There is no time to lose."
The UN is now estimating some 6,500 civilians have been killed and another 14,000 wounded in the last three months of clashes.
The New York Times is reporting the Treasury Department is finalizing plans for the troubled auto giant Chrysler to file for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy as early as next week. The Treasury has reportedly reached a deal with the United Auto Workers that would protect pensions and retiree health benefits. Chrysler is facing a government deadline next week to restructure some $6.9 billion in company debt.
President Obama hosted a group of top credit card executives at the White House Thursday. Obama said he told the gathering he intends to back congressional proposals for cracking down on deceptive and predatory industry practices.
President Obama: "So we want to preserve the credit card market. But we also want to do so in a way that eliminates some of the abuses and some of the problems that a lot of people are familiar with, you know, people finding themselves starting off with a low rate and the next thing they know their interest rates have doubled, fees that they didn’t know about but are suddenly tacked onto their bills, a whole lack of clarity and transparency in terms of the terms and conditions of their credit cards."
The meeting came as the House Financial Services Committee approved a Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights. The measure would limit practices including arbitrary interest rate hikes, premature late fees, and charging interest on paid-off debt.
Earlier in the day, Obama visited Capitol Hill for an annual ceremony marking the Nazi Holocaust.
President Obama: "We have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy, to recognize ourselves in each other, to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take, whether confronting those who tell lies about history or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda, those taking place in Darfur. That is my commitment as president. I hope that is yours as well."
Other speakers at the event were accused of exploiting the Nazi Holocaust to urge the US to attack Iran. Israeli Ambassador Sallai Merridor appeared to compare Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, saying, "Honoring the dead must not be the sole purpose of remembrance…When a regime is again...terrorizing its neighbors, threatening to destroy the Jewish people, how will we meet this challenge before it’s too late?" The Israeli government and its supporters have accused Ahmadinejad of inciting genocide over a mistranslated 2005 speech.
A Pakistani American has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison for broadcasting the Lebanese group Hezbollah’s television station in the United States. Javed Iqbal pleaded guilty in the case last year. He was accused of providing aid to a terrorist organization by using a satellite dish in his home to let customers receive free broadcasts of Al Manar. Iqbal has lived in the US for twenty years and is the father of five children.
In environmental news, the New York Times is reporting an influential energy industry coalition went ahead with an aggressive lobbying campaign to refute the idea that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming in direct contradiction to the conclusion of its own scientists. In an internal 1995 report, scientists at the so-called Global Climate Coalition write the link between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming is "well established and cannot be denied." Financed by large corporations and trade groups representing oil, coal and auto interests, the "coalition" spent millions of dollars trying to refute that very idea over the next several years.
In Canada, a federal court has ruled the Canadian government must immediately seek the return of the Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr. Khadr was fifteen years old when US troops imprisoned him in Afghanistan in 2002. On Thursday, the Federal Court of Canada ruled the government had violated Khadr’s rights by not seeking his return.
And in Alaska, hundreds of activists are wrapping up the week-long Indigenous People’s Global Summit on Climate Change today. The gathering focused on assessing the impact of global warming on native communities and organizing responses.