Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor continued Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Sotomayor deflected Republican attempts to force her to disclose personal stances on issues such as gun control and abortion. Republican Senator John Cornyn asked Sotomayor if she had been vetted by the White House for her views on abortion.
Sen. John Cornyn: "The White House Press Secretary said the President did not ask Sotomayor specifically about abortion rights during their interview. Is that correct?"
Judge Sonia Sotomayor: "Yes, it is absolutely correct. I was asked no question by anyone, including the President, about my views on any specific legal issue."
Sotomayor returns for a third and final day of questioning today. A full Senate vote on her nomination is expected early next month.
In Honduras, the installed Honduran president Roberto Micheletti has announced he would step down if the ousted president Manuel Zelaya never returns. Micheletti spoke Wednesday from the presidential palace.
Roberto Micheletti: "I state that if at any given moment there is a decision for peace and calm in the country, and on the condition that ex-President Zelaya does not return, I am willing to step down."
Micheletti’s comments come one day after Zelaya called for a "popular insurrection" to restore his democratically elected government. Speaking from Guatemala, Zelaya urged his supporters to continue protests and civil disobedience calling for his return. On Wednesday, Zelaya supporters continued daily marches in the capital Tegucigalpa.
Protester: "We are firm in that he will return. He should have faith in the Honduran people, who are waiting for him with open arms and with all our will to receive him and bring him to the presidential house again."
A new poll, meanwhile, shows Zelaya remains more popular than his installed replacement. According to Gallup, 46 percent of Hondurans hold a favorable opinion of Zelaya, compared to 30 percent for Micheletti.
In Iraq, at least eleven people were killed Wednesday in bombings in Baghdad and Ramadi. The Baghdad attack struck the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City, while in Ramadi a suicide bomber hit a police convoy.
In Afghanistan, the death toll for foreign troops this month has equaled its highest of any month since the US-led invasion of 2001. One American and two Turkish soldiers died on Wednesday, bringing July’s foreign troop toll to forty-six so far.
In other news from Afghanistan, prisoners at the US-run Bagram military jail have been staging a mass protest over the past two weeks against their indefinite captivity. According to family members and attorneys, dozens of prisoners have refused to leave their cells since July 1st. News of the protest comes one day after it was revealed a group of Guantanamo Bay prisoners staged a two-week sit-in last month.
The Obama administration will no longer rely on statements obtained through torture in the case of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamed Jawad. The American Civil Liberties Union is currently challenging Jawad’s indefinite jailing. The administration has fought the case, but on Wednesday said it won’t challenge a defense motion to rule out Jawad’s coerced statements. The ACLU says Jawad was abused, threatened, and deprived of sleep in US custody. His case has received further scrutiny because it’s believed he was jailed when he was twelve years old. ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz said, "We commend the government for halting its reliance on evidence obtained through torture…. Now it is time to send Jawad home to Afghanistan because there is no credible evidence against him."
The Obama administration is opposing a measure in a Pentagon spending bill that would ban private contractors from military interrogations. The provision calls interrogations an "inherently governmental function" that "cannot be transferred to contractor personnel." Obama has also threatened to veto the bill if it includes a $1.75 billion provision for the purchase of additional F-22 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin. Obama wants to cap the number of F-22s at 187, but several lawmakers are pushing for funding construction of another seven planes.
A group of around 100 US peace activists have arrived in the Gaza Strip carrying humanitarian aid. The activists are part of the group Viva Palestina, which conducted another aid mission from Europe earlier this year. On Wednesday, the group entered Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. The convoy includes the former Democratic Congress member Cynthia McKinney. McKinney’s entry comes just over a week after her deportation from Israel for trying to reach Gaza by sea. She was one of twenty-one activists kidnapped by the Israeli military in international waters as they tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Meanwhile in Israel, a group of twenty-six soldiers who took part in the three-week Israeli assault on Gaza have come forward with testimony on the disregard for Palestinian civilian life during the attack. The testimony was gathered by the Israeli peace group "Breaking the Silence," which says soldiers were instructed to "shoot first and worry later." Soldiers described witnessing several war crimes, including the use of Palestinians as human shields. One Israeli soldier identified as Amir said Israeli soldiers opened fire in Gaza at will.
"Amir": "At any obstacle, any problem, we open fire and don’t ask questions. Even if it’s firing in the dark, aimed at unknown target, firing when we don’t see, deterrent fire, no problem with that, etc. A vehicle that’s in the way, crush it; a building in the way, shell it. This was the spirit of things that was repeated throughout the training."
Meanwhile in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has banned the satellite network Al Jazeera for airing what it calls false statements about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This week, Al Jazeera quoted a Palestinian official as saying Abbas conspired with Israel to assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2003. Arafat died the next year. The PA has accused Al Jazeera of spreading "sedition and false reports." Conny Mus of the Foreign Press Association criticized the ban.
Conny Mus: "We urge them to reconsider this decision, because the Palestinian Authority themselves are in favor, and stated that clearly in their institutions, for the freedom of the press, and this is a clear violation. And we really hope that they will stop these practices immediately."
In Sri Lanka, the Times of London is reporting an estimated 1,400 people are dying each week at an internment camp for Tamil refugees. Some 300,000 displaced Tamils are living in the camps following the clashes that led Tamil Tiger rebels to end their twenty-six-year struggle in May. Sri Lanka has been accused of trying to prevent refugees from leaving the camps in the hopes of drastically altering the ethnic balance of the region.
In Chechnya, a prominent human rights activist has been found dead. Natalya Estemirova’s body was discovered Wednesday, just hours after she was kidnapped from her home. Estemirova was considered a leading voice for victims of Russian and Chechen forces.
Back in the United States, the Senate’s health committee has approved a measure that calls for making health insurance available to all Americans. The vote was split along party lines, with thirteen Democrats in favor and ten Republicans opposed. The measure is the first approved by a congressional panel in the current debate over healthcare reform.
And the Obama administration has given an opening for foreign women victimized by domestic and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States. The New York Times reports the White House has provided narrow guidelines under which women could now be granted asylum in abuse cases. The administration outlined its new position in a court filing in the immigration case of a Mexican woman who had been raped and held hostage by her husband. The new policy follows a more than decade-long legal battle over granting asylum to abused women.