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The Central Intelligence Agency is refusing to release a series of key documents about its secret prison and torture program. The announcement came in response to a court-imposed deadline in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The CIA says releasing information on its so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" would jeopardize national security by exposing classified intelligence sources and methods. The refusal comes one week after the Justice Department released a previously classified CIA report on torture at overseas prisons and launched a probe into the conduct of CIA interrogators. The investigation has been criticized for focusing on low-level operatives and not the Bush administration officials who authorized the practices the operatives carried out. The documents that the CIA wants kept under wraps could provide a wealth of information on the Bush administration’s role. The documents include President George W. Bush’s September 2001 authorization for jailing CIA prisoners abroad, cables between CIA officials in the secret prisons and their superiors in Washington, and memos by CIA lawyers on the operations’ legality. Alex Abdo of ACLU’s National Security Project said, "The Obama administration must…release all crucial documents that would shed further light on the origins and scope of the Bush administration’s torture program. The American public has a right to know the full truth about the torture that was committed in its name."
In Afghanistan, at least twenty-three people have been killed in a suicide attack on a mosque near Kabul. The Afghan deputy chief of intelligence and at least two other government officials were among the dead. The intelligence chief, Abdullah Laghmani, was the bomber’s apparent target.
The private military firm hired to guard the US embassy in Kabul is being accused of gross negligence and inappropriate behavior in carrying out its duties. According to the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, more than a dozen embassy guards have come forward with allegations against colleagues employed by ArmorGroup North America. ArmorGroup protects the US embassy under a $189 million annual contract. The firm’s deal was renewed in July despite a critical State Department review of its work. The whistleblowers say ArmorGroup guards have conducted unauthorized, armed, nighttime operations in Kabul. Violating contract rules, the guards dressed in traditional Afghan garb and hid in abandoned buildings. The guards were also said to have filmed and photographed themselves carrying out lewd behavior that included urinating on each other at alcohol-fueled parties. On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the new allegations will be investigated.
Ian Kelly: "Secretary Clinton has been apprised of the allegations in these documents and has directed the department and the Office of the Inspector General to take appropriate action. And let me just say that the secretary and the department have made it clear that we will have zero tolerance for the type of conduct that is alleged in these documents."
The allegations come as a new congressional study shows the US is relying on contractors in Afghanistan at an unprecedented rate. A Pentagon census last month revealed contractors account for 56 percent of the Pentagon’s force in Afghanistan, outnumbering US troops 74,000 to 58,000 by the end of June. The Congressional Research Service, or CRS, says that figure moves up to 65 percent if averaged over the past two years. The CRS says 16 percent of contractors in Afghanistan were performing "security" duties as of March, before President Obama’s deployment of 21,000 additional troops had begun.
The figures come amidst news the Obama administration is planning to vastly increase its reliance on contractors in Afghanistan in order to minimize the size of a new troop deployment. The Los Angeles Times reports the Pentagon has drawn up plans to add as many 14,000 combat troops in Afghanistan by having them replace support units engaged in non-combat duties. Under the plan, the US would avoid a major troop increase by replacing the non-combat soldiers with contractors. The "outsourcing" wouldn’t completely offset an expected troop increase but could reduce its size. A recent CNN poll, meanwhile, shows 57 percent of Americans now oppose the Afghan war, an eleven-point increase from the end of last year.
ABC News, meanwhile, is reporting the Obama administration has extended the private military firm Blackwater’s contract in Iraq. The State Department will reportedly continue to use Blackwater to transport embassy officials around Iraqi areas. The contract was due to expire this month. Its extension is said to be indefinite until another deal with the military firm DynCorp is enacted. The news comes just two weeks before the second anniversary of the Baghdad killings of seventeen innocent Iraqis by Blackwater guards.
In other Iraq news, new figures show violent deaths have reached a thirteen-month high. According to the Iraqi government, 456 Iraqis were killed last month, including 393 civilians. It was Iraq’s deadliest month since July 2008 and the highest civilian toll since April of this year.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, two Hamas fighters have been killed in an alleged Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. They were apparently trying to plant land mines near Gaza’s border with Israel. The deaths come hours after a Palestinian teenager was killed in an Israeli military shooting in the occupied West Bank. The victim, Muhammad Riad Nayef, was fifteen years old. Another three youths and an ambulance driver were also reportedly wounded.
The ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is in Washington, where he will meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday. On Tuesday, Zelaya criticized the Honduran coup regime for blocking his return and going ahead with an election campaign.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: "Democracy has been violated in the country by a military coup supported by business interests, not all, but certain sectors that manage the economy of the country. In an effort to hold on to their privileges, they don’t care about the development of the nation. I ask the international community: are you alright with the elections like those being held in Afghanistan, where every day people were killed by assassinations and bombs? Is that what we want for the Americas? Elections of blood and fire at gunpoint?"
Zelaya’s meeting with Clinton comes days after a State Department review advised that his ouster be officially declared a "military coup." The move would force the Obama administration to cut off as much as $150 million in funding to Honduras. Clinton has yet to issue a decision.
In Chile, a judge has ordered the arrests of 129 former security officials for human rights abuses under the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. The move marks the largest-ever mass arrests in cases investigating crimes committed during Pinochet’s seventeen-year rule ending in 1990. The suspects all worked for the DINA, a secret Chilean police agency linked to scores of political murders and disappearances.
Meanwhile, in Guatemala a former top military official has become the first person to be convicted of committing disappearances under the Guatemalan junta. Former military commissioner Felipe Cusanero was found guilty of the forced disappearances of six peasant farmers in the early 1980s. Cusanero was convicted before a packed courtroom filled with Mayan villagers and relatives of the disappeared. Hundreds of thousands of people died under the junta, with most of the killings committed by the Guatemalan army.
In Ecuador, a lawsuit against the oil giant Chevron for environmental damage in the Amazon jungle is being threatened by allegations of judicial corruption. Chevron has been sued for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into Ecuador’s rain forest. An independent court-appointed expert has recommended Chevron pay up to $27 billion in damages. But now Chevron has released video it says shows the judge in the case, Judge Juan Nunez, meeting with an alleged representative of Ecuador’s governing political party and two contractors. Chevron says the video shows the judge discussing ruling against Chevron as well as a $3 million bribe for contracts involving another company. Chevron spokesperson Jim Craig called on Ecuador to investigate Judge Nunez.
Jim Craig: "We call on the Ecuadorean authorities to carry out a thorough, independent and transparent investigation into this bribery plot, not only focusing on the conduct of Judge Nunez, but also into the serious indications of political interference in the case. The results of this investigation should be made public."
Judge Nunez has denied Chevron’s allegations and said the videos were manipulated. He had been expected to issue a final ruling in the Chevron lawsuit before the end of the year. The original suit was brought sixteen years ago. Julio Prieto, a lawyer for the Amazon residents, said Chevron is continuing its pattern of delaying the case.
Julio Prieto: "This seems to me to be a last-minute strategy, a smokescreen to distract public attention and to gain time. Why are they going to gain time? Because with how bad this looks, the judge is surely going to be removed from the case, and the new judge will have to start everything from zero again, and it would take any human being a considerable amount of time to do that. Now that we are so close to hearing the sentence, I would say that this is a dirty strategy to win them one more year."
The Ecuadorian government has denied interference in the case and said it’s investigating Chevron’s allegations.
Back in the United States, a new study says low-wage workers have been routinely denied proper overtime compensation and often paid less than the minimum wage. The joint study from the Ford, Joyce, Haynes and Russell Sage Foundations marks the most authoritative look at wage violations in more than a decade. Sixty-eight percent of workers surveyed experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous week. Seventy-six percent hadn’t been paid overtime, while 26 percent weren’t paid the minimum wage. The average worker surveyed lost $51 in wage violations the previous week, or 15 percent of that week’s pay. Just eight percent of those who suffered serious work-related injuries filed for medical compensation and missed days of work.
Another study, meanwhile, shows top executives at the nation’s leading financial firms have benefited from stock options that were awarded when share prices were low. The Institute for Policy Studies says the top five executives at ten financial firms have seen their stock options increase in value by nearly $90 million. A large amount soared in value as financial markets rebounded from the economic meltdown. But while many executives have seen a windfall, some 160,000 employees have been laid off from the top twenty bailed-out financial firms.
A coalition of labor and environmental groups has launched a new campaign against the retail giant Wal-Mart. The American Values Agenda for Change at Walmart is seeking to pressure the company on improving wages, healthcare benefits, as well as its environmental and labor policies. The group’s website WakeUpWalMart.com says it’s issued a challenge to Wal-Mart to agree to a series of new standards to mark Labor Day next week.
In other economic news, newly released figures show the manufacturing sector grew last month for the first time in over a year and a half. The Institute for Supply Management says its August index also reached its highest level in two years. At the White House, President Obama welcomed the news.
President Obama: "There’s no doubt that we have a long way to go, and I and the other members of this administration will not let up until those Americans who are looking for jobs can find them. But this is another important sign that we’re heading in the right direction and that the steps we’ve taken to bring our economy back from the brink are working."
Later in the day, Obama hosted a group of US Muslims for a dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
President Obama: "Together, we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. And that’s one of my fundamental commitments as president, both at home and abroad. That is central to the new beginning that I’ve sought between the United States and Muslims around the world. And that is a commitment that we can renew once again during this holy season."
And the Environmental Protection Agency has announced plans to soon declare carbon dioxide a dangerous pollutant. The pending formal "endangerment finding" would require the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. The move follows an EPA ruling in April that said greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. Meanwhile, Senate negotiators have delayed introduction of a landmark climate bill cutting greenhouse gas emissions until later this month. The House narrowly passed its version of the bill in June.