The Washington Post reports the new intelligence bill approved by Congress includes a number of little-noticed provisions that would greatly expand the government’s policing power and in effect broaden the USA Patriot Act. Several of the provisions were first proposed two years and described at the time as Patriot Act 2. But Congress never moved forward on the proposals in part because of deep opposition from civil liberties groups. The Post reports that the new intelligence bill–which President Bush is expected to sign within days — loosens standards for FBI surveillance warrants and allows the Justice Department to more easily detain people without bail. The bill will allow the FBI to obtain secret surveillance and search warrants of individuals even if the individual has no connection with a foreign government or established terrorist group. Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin said he voted for the bill even though he opposed the expansion of law enforcement power. Feingold said “I am troubled by some provisions that were added in conference that have nothing to do with reforming our intelligence network.” Feingold was the only Senator to oppose the original Patriot Act.
The International Rescue Committee is estimating over 1,000 people are still dying each day in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of the ongoing war that began in 1998. The group estimates a total of 3.8 million people have now died over the past six years–making it the bloodiest war since World War II.
ABC News is reporting that rising costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan will force Bush administration to seek from Congress tens of millions of dollars more than anticipated just months ago. The administration had estimated it would seek between $60 and $75 billion from Congress. But now Congressional sources say the request may be as high as $100 billion.
The New England Journal of Medicine article is reporting that the US is facing a “severe shortage of surgeons in Iraq” to treat wounded soldiers. It is now estimated that more soldiers have been injured in Iraq than during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, or the first five years of the Vietnam conflict.
Army officials at Fort Carson in Colorado temporarily banned reporters from the Denver Post from all access the base earlier this week. The ban was put in place after the paper ran a critical article of base operations. On Sunday the paper reported that mentally and physically ill National Guard and Army Reserve members have accused the military of denying them access to quality care and are being shoved out of the military without disability pay. The press ban was lifted on Thursday.
In Britain the country’s most senior military officer has blamed the media in part for recent attacks on British troops in Iraq. Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker said critical reports on the deployment of the British Black Watch troops may have prompted attacks by Iraqi fighters.
In other media news, Rhode Island television journalist, Jim Taricani, was sentenced Thursday to six months under house arrest because he refused to reveal to the government who leaked him an FBI surveillance tape. Reporters Without Borders said in response “The role of the press in providing checks and balances is under fire this time, and the US courts must understand that, if the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is not guaranteed, no one will go to them with sensitive information. Journalists are media professionals, not federal investigators.”
A new article in the journal Foreign Affairs has accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear program in a similar fashion to its use of weapons of mass destruction to justify the war on Iraq. The author, Selig Harrison, writes “Relying on sketchy data, the Bush administration presented a worst-case scenario as an incontrovertible truth and distorted its intelligence on North Korea, seriously exaggerating the danger that Pyongyang is secretly making uranium-based nuclear weapons.” Harrison chairs the Task Force on Korean Policy, a grouping of former senior US military officials, diplomats and Korean specialists. Agence France Press reports that the Task Force issued a report today calling on the US immediately to back down on its insistence that North Korea come clean on its alleged uranium program.
Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal has raised questions over the recent sale of $4.4 million in Taser stock by Bernard Kerik, Bush’s pick to head the Department of Homeland security. Kerik who serves on the board of the stun gun manufacturer sold off his stock in the company on Nov. 11–more than three weeks before he was nominated for the homeland security post. But the sale also came just two weeks before a Nov. 26th article in the New York Times that questioned whether recent government reports had actually proven the safety of the stun guns. In the weeks before the article was published the entire Taser board, including Kerik, as well as several executives, sold off more than $90 million in the company’s stock. The Journal estimates Kerik made a profit of $4.4 million on his stock sale. After the Times article was published, the company’s stock plunged 7 percent.
In news from Canada, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled the government can legalise same sex marriage without violating the constitution.
And in Oslo, Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai has received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004. She is the first African woman and first environmentalist to receive the prestigious award. Maathai was honored for her campaign to save Africa’s forests and for standing at the “front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa.”