The Bush administration has publicly admitted that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction has ended in Iraq. After a nearly two-year search, no stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, biological weapons were found. The search actually ended before Christmas but the Bush administration was silent on the issue until Wednesday following the publication of a front-page report in the Washington Post. The Bush administration repeatedly cited Saddam Hussein’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction as the main reason to go to war. Two days before the March 2003 invasion, Bush told the nation “the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Pressed by reporters on Wednesday, the White House maintained the invasion of Iraq was justified even though no such weapons were ever found.
In other news from Iraq, the Washington Post is reporting that the Bush administration is considerably lowering its expectations for both the turnout and the results of the Jan. 30 election in Iraq. Officials are now claiming that high voter turnout is not even significant. A senior administration official said, “I would … really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don’t have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections.” The comment came during an official White House briefing. But reporters were barred from citing what official conducted the briefing. Also Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan admitted, “The election is not going to be perfect,” Earlier this week interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Earlier said for the first time that elections would not be held in all parts of Iraq.
An aide to the top country’s top Shiite cleric was assassinated along with four bodyguards and his son. The sheikh was the official representative of the Ayatollah Ali Sistani in the town of Salman Pak. Meanwhile gunmen killed six people outside a Baghdad hotel. A Turkish businessman was also abducted. And in Mosul, twin car bomings have killed two Iraqi soldiers.
The New York Times is reporting the White House urged Republican lawmakers last month to scrap a legislative measure that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by CIA officers. The Senate had approved the new restrictions, by a 96-to-2 vote, as part of the intelligence reform legislation. But in closed-door negotiations, Congressional officials deleted the restrictions from the final bill after the White House expressed opposition. One Congressional Democrat told the Times that the White House stance had left the impression “that the administration wanted an escape hatch to preserve the option of using torture” against prisoners held by the C.I.A.
In a pair of decisions, the Supreme Court has ruled that federal sentencing guidelines put in place two decades ago were unconstitutional because they violated a defendant’s right to be tried by a jury. The court ruled judges cannot increase sentences beyond the maximum that the jury’s findings alone would support. Although tens of thousands of federal prisoners are serving time now based on the now unconstitutional guidelines, the court ruled the decision is not retroactive. With the sentencing guidelines thrown out, judges will — for now — have more discretion in sentencing. But the Wall Street Journal reports that the end result may be harsher prison sentences. The Republican-led Congress is expected to now seek to reassert legislative control by pushing through aggressive mandatory sentences. The Department of Justice has already begun discussing how to set such rules without violating the Constitution. In other Supreme Court news, justices ruled that the government can deport people without getting the permission for the country of destination.
In Bolivia, massive protests in the city of El Alto has forced the government to announce it will cancel a contract with a French utility company that provides water to the city. The protesters accused the French company of charging excessive rates. The water protests comes almost exactly five years after similar protests began in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. In that city, the popular revolt led to the ouster of Bechtel as the provider of the city’s water utilities. As the water protests have been taking place in El Alto, hundreds of thousands of Bolivians elsewhere in the country have taken to the streets to protest a government plan to raise gasoline prices.
In other news from Latin America, Colombia’s defense minister acknowledged Wednesday that the government had paid a bounty hunter to seize a member of FARC while he was in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has described the Dec. 13 as a kidnapping that violated his country’s sovereignty. Until now the Colombian government had claimed the man, Rodrigo Granda, was captured inside Colombia, along the Venezuelan border.
In business news, the stock value of stun gun manufacturer Taser has plunged over 40 percent this month in part because the Securities and Exchange Commission had announced it is investigating the safety of the guns. Tasers are marketed as a non-lethal weapon, but at least 80 people have died in the U.S. after being Tasered. The SEC is also investigating possible insider training by company executives.
In news from Haiti, evidence is emerging that the country’s interim Justice Minister is forcing judges to resign who have ordered the release of supporters of Jean Bertrand Aristide from prison. Since Aristide was overthrown in a coup in February, hundreds of supporters have been jailed. One of the most prominent jailed supporters was the Catholic priest Gerard Jean-Juste who was released in November. On Monday the judge who ordered his release resigned citing government interference.
Meanwhile the Caribbean Community bloc CARICOM reiterated Wednesday that it will not recognize the acting government of Haiti until elections are held and democracy is restored to the country. Aristide was the country’s first democratically elected president.
In news from Capitol Hill, Senator Edward Kennedy called on the Democratic Party to adopt a more progressive agenda. He said “We cannot become Republican clones. If we do, we will lose again, and deserve to lose.” He called on Medicare to be gradually expanded to cover all citizens and for greater federal support for college costs. Kennedy also accused President Bush of exaggerating the problems of Social Security in a similar way as he did the threat posed by Iraq.
The son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher plead guilty today in court for his role in trying to overthrow the government of the west African nation of Equatorial Guinea. Sir Mark Thatcher helped finance a helicopter used in the failed coup attempt. He maintains however that he had no foreknowledge of the coup. He has been fined $500,000 and received a four-year suspended jail sentence.
In Britain, a photograph has been published of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party held last week. Harry is the youngest son of Prince Charles. The 20-year-old apologized last night saying it was a poor choice of costume. The Guardian reports the episode served to stir ugly memories of the royal family’s links with the Nazi regime. King Edward VIII, Harry’s great-great uncle, was a Nazi sympathiser, while Princess Michael of Kent’s father was a Nazi party member. The scandal comes just two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where more than a million Jews were murdered.
And finally, the widow of musical legend Bob Marley announced Wednesday she is planning to exhume his remains in Jamaica and rebury them in Ethiopia. Rita Marley described Ethiopia as his “spiritual resting place.” The announcement comes just weeks before what would have been Bob Marley’s 60th birthday. He was born on Feb. 6 1945 in St. Ann Jamaica. He died in 1981 at the age of 36.