The Obama administration is preparing to announce an overhaul of immigration-related jailings. The changes include an end to the imprisonment of families at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas and a freeze on plans for three additional family detention jails. Federal monitors will be appointed to the nation’s twenty-three largest immigration jails, including those run by private companies. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Vanita Gupta welcomed the news on the Hutto jail, calling it "long overdue." But she said, "Without independently enforceable standards, a reduction in beds, or basic due process before people are locked up, it is hard to see how the government’s proposed overhaul…is anything other than a reorganization or renaming of what was in place before."
The White House has assured the drug industry it will oppose a House proposal that would let the government negotiate drug prices and extract additional drug company savings. The move came after drug industry lobbyists demanded the White House publicly affirm its commitment to a secret deal to reduce drug costs under healthcare reform. The drug industry agreed to produce savings of $80 billion. The White House disclosure marks the first acknowledgment of the assurances the drug industry received in return. In response, the co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, said the deal raises the question of whether "industry groups [will] be the ones at the table who get the first big piece of the pie, and we just fight over the crust."
The Obama administration appears to be backing off its opposition to the Honduran coup regime just as internal resistance is growing in the Honduran streets. On Wednesday, riot police used tear gas and water cannons on a crowd of hundreds of supporters of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya in the capital Tegucigalpa. At least four people were arrested. Meanwhile, some 15,000 nurses and other hospital workers have gone on strike in support of Zelaya’s return. They join Honduran public school teachers, who have been striking for weeks. Zelaya supporters are expected to pour into the capital from across Honduras ahead of a major rally planned for Monday. Speaking from Mexico, Zelaya called on the US to use its trade leverage over Honduras to pressure the coup regime.
President Manuel Zelaya: "Honduras depends on the United States for 70 percent of its economy, commercial activity, immigration, and military treaties. With just one hand, or in five minutes, the United States could reverse this coup. I have been giving the benefit of the doubt to President Obama, because I believe his statements and his demonstrations and those of his ambassador, Secretary Clinton. But logically, the measures that have been taken so far are lukewarm. They don’t solve the problem."
Zelaya’s call came as the Obama administration showed signs of retracting its stated support for his return. In a letter to Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the State Department said US policy in Honduras "is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual. Rather, it is based on finding a resolution that best serves the Honduran people and their democratic aspirations." The letter also criticizes Zelaya for taking "provocative" actions that "led" to his removal. It also says the US has still yet to determine whether Zelaya’s ouster constituted a military coup.
A plan to expand the US military presence inside Colombia is coming under increased criticism in Latin America. Colombia has agreed to grant US forces the use of three military bases for anti-drug operations while also allowing hundreds of troops and private military contractors inside its borders. On a visit to Colombia, the head of the US Southern Command, General Douglas Fraser, tried to downplay fears over the US military presence.
Gen. Douglas Fraser: "It’s important to understand that Colombia is the one who decides what kind of capability resides within Colombia. We will coordinate with Colombia, but it is Colombia, because it is Colombian bases, that determines the activity and the capabilities that we do. But all our activity will be focused in the way that I said: focused on illicit trafficking, focused on counterterrorism, focused on building partnerships to address the regional security issues we face."
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is touring several Latin American countries trying to build support for the plan. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continued his criticism Wednesday, saying the bases could spark a South American war.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: "We are concerned with these bases, because they could be the start of a war in South America. We’re talking about the Yankees, the most aggressive nation in human history."
Bolivian President Evo Morales also criticized the Colombia deal, saying he would seek a regional display of opposition.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "Yesterday I told President Uribe that I’m going to present a resolution to UNASUR to make a cooperative decision to not accept any US military base in any South American nation, or even better, any Latin American nation for the unity of Latin America, because I’ve been a victim of the North American officials and armed soldiers in uniform in El Chapare."
The Pentagon has announced the head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan will not be requesting more troops in his long-awaited strategy review. But the military says General Stanley McChrystal could still ask for a troop increase through separate channels. McChrystal has come under recent pressure from pro-war lawmakers to double the size of the Afghan security forces.
A US soldier who refused to deploy to Afghanistan after serving in Iraq has been demoted and sentenced to one month in jail. After serving thirteen months in Iraq, US Army Specialist Victor Agosto became a victim of the stop-loss program that has extended the tours of more than 140,000 troops beyond their contracts. Agosto was sentenced Wednesday at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. After the hearing, he tore off a patch displaying his specialist rank from his uniform before he was taken to prison. You can go to our website, democracynow.org, for our interview with Agosto from yesterday’s broadcast, just hours before he was sentenced.
The two American journalists freed from North Korea have returned to the United States. On Wednesday, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV landed in California. They were accompanied by former President Bill Clinton, who had traveled to North Korea to win their release. Ling reflected on her more than four months in North Korea.
Laura Ling: "We were taken to a location, and when we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton. We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end."
Clinton’s mission to North Korea was privately funded, with the bulk of the cost paid for by Hollywood producer Stephen Bing as well as the CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris.
And today marks the sixty-fourth anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima. An estimated 140,000 people were killed instantly or died within a few months after the bombing. Three days later, another US airplane dropped a plutonium bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing about 80,000 people.