In Iraq, at least 30 people have died so far today in a pair of major attacks carried out by the Iraqi resistance in Baghdad. Four suicide bombers drove a minibus loaded with explosives into a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers killing themselves and 14 worshippers. Meanwhile as many 16 police officers died when gunmen fired mortars at an Iraqi police station.
President Bush is expected to nominate former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik today to become the nation’s new Homeland Security director replacing Tom Ridge. One presidential adviser told the Washington Post that Kerik “brings 9/11 symbolism into the Cabinet.” Kerik was serving as commissioner at the time of the attacks. More recently he has spent time in Iraq helping to rebuild Iraq’s police force and he has worked as a consultant for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s firm Giuliani Partners. Prior to becoming a New York police officer, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia overseeing security for the royal family. In one of his first moves after learning of his new job, Kerik had to sell off $5 million worth of stock in Taser, the stun gun manufacturer. Kerik, who has no experience working in Washington, will oversee the massive department that includes 22 former agencies and offices.
President Bush has also nominated Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns to head the Agriculture Department. Johanns, who was a Democrat up until 1988, has come under criticism for promoting conservative Christian beliefs while governor. In May 1999 he signed a proclamation declaring a March for Jesus Day. He later endorsed a Back to the Bible Day in honor of a fundamentalist Christian group in Nebraska.
In related news, John Danforth has resigned as UN ambassador and Tommy Thompson is expected to resign soon as secretary of health and human services.
A nine-month-long BBC investigation has revealed that the city of New York has been forcing HIV positive children under its supervision to be used as human guinea pigs in tests for experimental HIV drug trials, in some cases against their will. All of the children in the program are under the legal guidance of the city’s child welfare department, the Administration for Children’s Services. Most were living either in foster care or independent homes run on behalf of the local authorities, Almost all the children are believed to be African-American or Latino. One New York social worker told the BBC she had never been informed that the drugs she was administering to children were experimental and highly toxic. Jacklyn Hoerger said, “We were told that if they were vomiting, if they lost their ability to walk, if they were having diarrhea, if they were dying, then all of this was because of their HIV infection.” In fact it was the drugs that were causing many of the problems. The BBC identified pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline as one of the companies that provided drugs for the tests.
In election news, Congressman John Conyers and nine other members of COngress have asked Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to answer a series of questions about irregularities and complaints in last month’s presidential election.
The Diocese of Orange County in Southern California has agreed to pay out more than $85 million to 87 victims of clergy sexual abuse in what is expected to be the largest settlement in the history of the Catholic Church.
The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a nationwide effort to expose how the FBI has resumed spying on environmental, anti-war, political and religious groups. The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act requests in 10 states and the District of Columbia in an effort to force the FBI to hand over files on targeted groups and individuals. The ACLU said it has evidence that the government has infiltrated student peace activists; gathered files on Americans Friends Service Committee anti-war events; interrogated animal rights activists in their homes; sent undercover agents to National Lawyers Guild meetings; and aggressively questioned Muslims and Arabs on the basis of religion or national origin rather than suspicion of wrongdoing.
Under questioning by a federal judge, the government claimed this week that the military could hold foreigners indefinitely as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay for aiding a terrorist organization, even if they did so unintentionally. A judge asked whether the government could detain a “little old lady in Switzerland” who donated money to an Afghan orphanage if unbeknownst to her some of the money went to Al Qaeda. A government attorney responded “She could. Someone’s intention is clearly not a factor that would disable detention.” Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle went on to claim the US military can pick up and detain any foreigner who provides support to terrorists. And once at Guantanamo, Boyle said detainees “have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court.” In response an attorney for some of the Guantanamo detainees said, “That’s really shocking. People throughout the world will fear the United States is asserting the power to pick up little old ladies and men who made a mistake.”
Also at the court proceeding, the government claimed it has the right to use evidence gained by torture in deciding whether to detain people at Guantanamo Bay. Statements produced under torture have been inadmissible in U.S. courts for about 70 years
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has upheld Peru’s jailing of Lori Berenson. The New Yorker has been held in Peru since 1995 when she was convicted by hooded military judges of collaborating with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. She was originally sentenced to life in jail. Later her sentence was reduced to 20 years. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was seen as Berenson’s last avenue of appeal.
In Alabama, Republican state legislator Gerald Allen has introduced a bill that would ban all novels with gay characters from public libraries, including universities. If the bill passes, Allen said books containing gay characters will have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed. One book that would have to be destroyed is “Sisters” a 1981 lesbian romance novel written by Lynne Cheney, the wife of DIck Cheney.
And 20 years ago today the city of Bhopal India suffered one of the worst industrial disasters in history. Tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory. 7,000 people lost their lives within days. 15,000 more died in the following years. 100,000 others are still suffering chronic and debilitating illnesses. For years activists have called on Union Carbine and its parent company Dow Chemical to take full responsibility for the disaster and to clean up the contaminated site. And for a little while today it appeared Dow Chemical had done just that. A Dow spokesperson named Jude Finisterra told the BBC QUOTE “Today I am very, very happy to announce that today, for the first time Dow is accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe. This is a momentous occasion.” Finisterra went on to say QUOTE “We have a 12 billion dollar plan to finally at long last fully compensate the victims including the 120,000 who may need medical care for their entire lives and to fully and swiftly remediate the Bhopal plant site.” But it turns out the interview was a hoax. No Jude Finisterra works at Dow. The company has not taken full responsibility for the disaster. And no $12 billion fund has been set up.