The Obama administration has formally requested the censorship of hundreds of photos of torture committed at US prisons overseas. On Thursday, the administration asked a federal appeals court to block the photos on the grounds they would incite violence against US troops. The administration’s court filing cited two secret statements from top US generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, who have both lobbied for blocking the photos’ release.
The move came one day after the head of the Abu Ghraib inquiry, Major General Antonio Taguba, said the photos include images of the rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied the claim.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: "I think the Pentagon has been very clear in a statement saying that the story is not true. I want to speak generally about some reports I’ve witnessed over the past few years in the British media, and in some ways I’m surprised it filtered down."
Meanwhile, here in New York, anti-torture activists with the group World Can’t Wait held a protest at Grand Central Station calling for the photos’ release. Protesters donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods similar to those worn by Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Samantha Goldman of World Can’t Wait rejected the Obama administration’s argument for censoring the photos.
Samantha Goldman: "What inflames anti-American sentiment is US military bases around the world. What inflames anti-US sentiment is torture, is what we’re actually going over there to do. That’s what inflames anti-American sentiment. Prosecuting the criminals, which, to do that, you need the photos to be released, to actually prosecute Bush-era criminals, you would need to have the photos as evidence."
The investigative website ProPublica is reporting a team of doctors may have been involved in monitoring the torture of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in August 2002. Secret CIA cables contain several "medical updates" on Zubaydah’s interrogation, where he was waterboarded at least eighty-three times. The updates contain detailed information that suggests doctors actively monitored the waterboarding in what would be a violation of medical ethics.
President Obama hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House Thursday for their first formal talks. Obama criticized the Israeli government for rejecting his call to stop expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, but also expressed tacit support for the Palestinian Authority’s repression of opposition groups in the West Bank through its US-trained security forces.
President Obama: "On the Israeli side, those obligations include stopping settlements. They include making sure that there is a viable potential Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side, it’s going to be important and necessary to continue to take the security steps on the West Bank that President Abbas has already begun to take, working with General Dayton. We’ve seen great progress in terms of security in the West Bank."
The Israeli government has put itself at odds with Obama over its refusal to end settlement growth and accept the principle of Palestinian statehood. Abbas said the key to peace lies in Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "Mr. President, I believe that the entire Arab world and the Islamic world, they are all committed to peace. We’ve seen that through the Arab League Peace Initiative, that simply talks about land for peace as a principle. I believe that if the Israelis would withdraw from all occupied Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land, the Arab world will be ready to have normal relationships with the state of Israel."
The Times of London is reporting more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the final days of Sri Lanka’s attack on Tamil Tiger rebels — three times the official figure. Citing what it says are secret UN documents, the Times says around 1,000 people were killed every day from late April until the conflict ended ten days ago. The Sri Lankan military was accused of indiscriminately shelling no-fire zones, including two attacks on a major hospital. Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of using civilians as human shields. The Times says the evidence strongly supports allegations most of the civilians were killed by Sri Lankan military attacks. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an independent probe of war crimes during the conflict.
In Pakistan, thirteen people were killed Thursday in militant attacks targeting police officers. It was the second straight day of gun-and-bomb attacks from militant groups. The strikes are believed to be retaliation for the anti-Taliban offensive that has displaced more than two million people in the northwestern Swat Valley. On Thursday, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes called Pakistan’s internal refugee crisis "unprecedented" in recent years.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: "This is a plan, as I’ll mention in a minute, for I think $543 million to deal with the current very severe and dramatic humanitarian situation that has arisen there. The scale and the speed of the displacement we’ve seen over the last few weeks are really unprecedented, and certainly in Pakistan but also, I think, in recent memory anywhere."
The Iraqi government says it plans to arrest more than 1,000 officials in a massive corruption scandal that has forced its trade minister to resign. Trade Ministry workers are accused of profiting from Iraq’s importing of food supplies for programs that feed 60 percent of Iraqis. Video has also surfaced of trade officials at a party drinking alcohol and insulting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
In Mexico, Amnesty International says Mexican soldiers and police officers were involved in an increasing number of human rights abuses last year. Amnesty International’s Arturo Herrera criticized what he called growing impunity in Mexico.
Arturo Herrera: "Due to impunity, generally where authorities have not been on top of circumstances, not only with regards to human rights abuses, but also in a situation of insecurity, which prevails in this country without appropriate response from the government."
Amnesty says the abuses have grown with the expansion of Mexico’s crackdown on drug cartel violence. Earlier this week, ten mayors of Mexican towns were arrested for allegedly collaborating with the cartels.
Back in the United States, the New York Times is reporting the Pentagon is planning a new military command focusing on cyberspace. The command would direct the military’s computer-based attacks. The news comes as President Obama is expected to announce a civilian office run by a "cyber-czar" tasked with overseeing the protection of the nation’s computer networks later today.
New figures show a record 12 percent of Americans are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure. The Mortgage Banker Association says the first quarter results mark a four percent rise from the same period last year. Subprime loans accounted for more than 43 percent of delinquent mortgages.
In business news, the media giant Time Warner has announced it will spin off internet stalwart AOL into a separate company. The two corporations merged nine years ago.
A new study says recent hikes to the US minimum wage are acting as a "stealth stimulus" to the economy. The Economic Policy Institute says increases to the minimum wage will boost consumer spending by $4.9 billion.
Creditors of the auto giant General Motors have approved a deal that would see the US government take at least 70 percent control of the company to save it from collapse. The Canadian government and the United Auto Workers union would also take up smaller ownership shares. On Thursday, a majority of UAW members also approved the ownership deal in return for major concessions on wages and benefits.
A new study says the average family with health insurance paid a hidden premium of more than $1,000 to cover the medical costs of the uninsured. The group Families USA says $42 billion, mostly in emergency room fees, was passed on to insurance companies by uninsured patients. The insurers in turn made up for the costs by imposing higher premiums on their customers.
A coalition of advocacy groups, meanwhile, is holding a national day of action Saturday for the establishment of a single-payer healthcare system. Events in more than fifty cities are set to include town hall meetings, rallies, vigils and protests outside insurance companies that profit from the medical system. The day of action is being organized by the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care.
The consumer advocate Ralph Nader is accusing former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe of trying to bribe him to stay off the presidential ballot in 2004. Nader says McAuliffe offered his campaign an unspecified amount of money if he withdrew in nineteen battleground states. McAuliffe is currently running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
And here in New York, an off-duty African American police officer has been killed by a fellow officer who mistook him for a criminal. The slain officer, twenty-five-year-old Omar Edwards, had come across a man breaking into his vehicle. He chased the man with his gun drawn when three police officers came upon him and opened fire. Edwards was recently married and the father of two children.