The New York Times is reporting today that after 9/11 the CIA secretly began using harsh new interrogation techniques of some detainees connected to Al Qaeda and found ways to skirt US regulations barring the use of torture. The CIA’s methods are so extreme, the FBI has directed its agents not to take part in the questioning because the techniques are prohibited in criminal cases. In the case of suspected Al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the CIA used a technique known as “water boarding.” Officials strapped him down, forcibly pushed him under water and made him believe he was about to drown. Some detainees have been hooded, soaked with water, roughed up and deprived of food, light and medication. Other detainees have been sent to other countries where they are convinced they are going to be executed.
In addition the New York Times reports the CIA has been operating a system of secret detention centers around the world that has been justified by a series of classified legal opinions by the agency and the Justice Department. It is not known how many detainees are in this secret system or the locations of the detention centers. Some of the prisoners held have never been identified publicly by the government. One former intelligence official told the Times “There was a debate after 9/11 about how to make people disappear.” One of the secret legal opinions advised the CIA that it could skirt US law prohibiting torture by technically handing over custody of the detainees to another country.
A day after appearing again on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took a secret trip to Baghdad today to meet with senior US military officials. He said he wanted to be ensure that detainees were being treated properly. On Wednesday Rumsfeld admitted that the prison abuse scandal could deliver a “body blow” to U.S. efforts in Iraq. Meanwhile Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that Rumsfeld and President Bush were both fully informed of the concerns of the International Committee of the Red Cross about the conditions in Iraqi prisons. This according to the Baltimore Sun. Powell’s statement contradicts Rumsfeld’s own deputy Steven Cambone who said the reports never made it to Rumsfeld.
Meanwhile Human Rights Watch charged today that prisoners in US custody in Afghanistan suffer systemic mistreatment. The group called for the US to open the secretive jails to outside groups. And Knight Ridder is reporting that the International Committee of the Red Cross has given the US government a new report criticizing treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
In Iraq, a new poll commissioned by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority has found that 80 percent of Iraqis distrust the occupying government and 82 percent want the U.S. and its allies to leave Iraq.
Here in the US a new CBS poll has found President Bush’s job approval rating has dropped to a new low, 44%.
Israeli missile attacks into a refugee camp in southern Gaza today have killed at least 10 Palestinians. At least 24 Palestinians have been killed and 180 injured since Tuesday when Israeli forces attacked Gaza City. On Wednesday, for the second day in a row, Palestinians blew up an Israeli tank. Five soldiers died while they are on mission near the Egyptian border searching for the remains of the six Israeli soldiers who were killed on Tuesday. The attacks have been the worst suffered by the Israeli military since at least November 2002 when nine soldiers and three settlers were killed in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Israeli forces reportedly pulled out of Gaza City today leaving behind a swath of destruction. According to the Associated Press one high-rise building was demolished, two others rendered uninhabitable, hundreds of trees were uprooted, Gaza’s main road rendered impassable for two miles. The attack on Gaza City was the most severe in years.
>nr> The Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is planning to resign today as his BJP party is headed toward defeat in the national elections. With one-third of the votes in, the opposition Congress Party is projected to beat the BJP alliance.
The Washington Post is reporting a dozen members of Congress are calling for the resignation of the two Food and Drug Administration officials most responsible for last week’s decision to block the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B from being sold over the counter. The FDA’s decision came just months after its own scientific panel voted 23-4 to allow the morning-after-pill to be sold without a prescription. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York accused the FDA of allowing politics to trump science and said it proves the FDA’s leadership “would rather pander to conservative interests than protect women’s health and well-being.” Last Friday 41 members of Congress wrote the FDA asking for the Plan B decision to be reviewed and overturned.
The parents of the American businessman beheaded in Iraq and the U.S. government are in dispute over what happened to their son in the weeks before he was killed. A video showing the man, Nicholas Berg, being beheaded apparently by Islamic militants appeared on the Internet Tuesday. His parents have blamed the U.S. government in part for his death because their son was unable to return home as scheduled in late March because he was picked up by Iraqi officials and detained. His parents claim he was handed over to the US and detained for nearly two weeks. The US denies the charge but admits FBI agents visited Berg three times while he was in custody. It is still not known why he was detained, why he was questioned, and when he was abducted and killed. The Washington Post interviewed friends of Berg who said he may have been detained because he had an Israeli stamp on his passport and was suspected of being an Israeli spy. The U.S. is now saying it offered Berg a chance to leave the country but he declined.
The Reform Party endorsed Ralph Nader for president on Wednesday in a move that will help the independent candidate get on the ballot in several contested states including Florida, Michigan and Colorado.
And Venezuela has asked U.S. military “advisors” to vacate their offices on Venezuelan military bases.