Israel has seized thousands of acres of Palestinian farmland deep inside the West Bank as it continues to build a massive wall through the area. The New York Times reports the latest land seizure marks Israel’s deepest penetration yet into the West Bank. In other news from the area, Israeli forces assassinated two Palestinians in the West Bank refugee camp of Balata including a local leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
The Pentagon has revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office was consulted before Halliburton was given a contract in 2002 to develop secret plans to restore Iraq’s oil facilities after the U.S. invasion. The revelation raises new questions if Cheney, who formerly headed Halliburton, lied to the press when he said he knew nothing in advance of Halliburton receiving lucrative contracts in Iraq. Meanwhile a new Pentagon audit has determined Halliburton has severely mismanaged its billions of dollars of government contracts in Iraq and Kuwait, leading to “significant” overcharges. The Pentagon found examples of subcontractors charging $100 to clean a 15-pound bag of laundry and examples of $85,000 trucks being abandoned because they had a flat tire.
The New York Times is reporting that during the first month of the Iraq invasion, the U.S. launched 50 air strikes in attempts to assassinate top Iraqi leaders. The strikes killed none of the wanted targets but Human Rights Watch said it “likely resulted in the largest number of civilian deaths from the air war.” In other Iraq news, Iraqis officials have announced that Saddam Hussein will be handed over to the newly formed appointed government on June 30.
And Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, the U.S. General who was in charge of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, has told the BBC she was being made a scapegoat for the abuse of detainees. She said her successor, Major-General Geoffrey Miller once said that prisoners should be treated “like dogs.” Miller went on to say “if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you’ve lost control of them.” Miller is also the general who recommended the use of dogs during interrogations at Abu Ghraib.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced yesterday that a Somali man has been indicted for allegedly being part of an Al Qaida plot to blow up a mall in Ohio. All of the nation’s major papers downplay the indictment. Law enforcement officials told the New York Times it appears the plan never advanced beyond the discussion stage and officials expressed doubt that the indicted man had the financial, organizational or technical skills to carry out an attack. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman notes today that Ashcroft’s announcement came just hours after the Washington Post released the text of a Justice Department memo that concluded torture 'May Be Justified.” Last week Ashcroft refused to release the text of the memo to Congress. In his column, Krugman describes Ashcroft as the country's worst attorney general ever.
Ashcroft’s announcement also came just days after the Justice Department was a dealt a major defeat in Idaho where a jury found a Saudi graduate student innocent on a number of terrorism charges. The student, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, worked as a webmaster for several Islamic websites including some that advocated suicide bombings in Israel and Chechnya. His lawyer said his client does not hold those views and should not be held criminally liable for what others wrote. He was charged under the Patriot Act with providing '’expert guidance or assistance'’ to groups deemed terrorist. Washington civil liberties attorney David Cole said the provision of the Patriot Act is so vague that somebody who fixes a fax machine that is owned by a group that may advocate terrorism could be charged with a crime. In the year before Al-Hussayen was arrested the government closely tracked him by intercepting 29,000 emails and phone calls. Then he was arrested and thrown in solitary confinement. He remains detained on immigration charges.
The 9/11 Commission opens its final two days of hearings tomorrow. The Washington Post reports that the commission will reveal the 9/11 hijackers had considered carrying out the attacks as early as May or June but postponed the operation several months because of organizational problems. The 9/11 commission will discuss the Al Qaeda plot on Wednesday and the U.S. response on the day of the attacks on Thursday.
Meanwhile in Washington yesterday, Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator who was hired after Sept. 11, joined with Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers, to call on federal workers to come forward with information regarding the Sept. 11 attacks. Edmonds said that based on documents she saw as a translator, the government had information in the months leading up to 9/11 that an attack by hijackers using planes was imminent.
On Capitol Hill, a Democratic congressman from Texas plans to file a wide-ranging ethics complaint today against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay accusing him of soliciting campaign contributions in return for legislative favors; laundering illegal campaign contributions through a Texas political action committee; and improperly involving a federal agency in a Texas partisan matter. The complaint by Rep. Chris Bell is unusual in that it breaks a seven-year-old unwritten truce between the two parties against filing ethics complaints against each other.
The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to rid the words “Under God” from the Pledge of the Allegiance.