Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has pleaded innocent during the first day of his war crimes trial in Baghdad. He refused to identify himself and questioned the validity of the proceedings. He told the judges: “I preserve my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq. I do not recognize the body that has authorized you and I don”t recognize this aggression. What is based on injustice is unjust … I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect.” The proceedings have been criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for failing to meet international standards. Hussein is facing charges that he rounded up and executed 143 men in the Shiite village of Dujail in 1982. Almost of all the charges brought against Hussein cover a period when he was a favored client of the United States. The current trial concerns the Dujail massacre of July 1982, where Saddam is accused of ordering killings of nearly 150 Shiite villagers following an attempt on his life. Less than a year and a half later, the former Iraqi dictator met Reagan-envoy Donald Rumsfeld in Baghdad.
In other Iraq news, results from Saturday’s vote on a draft constitution have been delayed until at least Friday. Election officials announced an audit Monday after an unusually high number of “yes” votes in the returns prompted speculation of electoral fraud. The allegations come after over 50 election employees were dismissed in Afghanistan earlier this week for suspected fraud during last month’s legislative elections.
In other news from Iraq — the top U.S. auditor monitoring Iraq’s reconstruction says rebuilding projects will be dropped as security and maintenance costs continue to soar. The auditor, Stuart Bowen, said money needed for Iraq’s health, water, oil and electrical infrastructure and current rebuilding projects “will outstrip the available revenue.” Bowen said up to 26 percent of U.S. reconstruction money has gone to security costs.
This update in the investigation of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame: Rumors spread through the Capitol Tuesday that Vice President Dick Cheney might possibly resign over the leak scandal. Speculation is running high on whether Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will indict anyone in the investigation. The Washington Post reported Tuesday Fitzgerald is focusing in on the role of Cheney’s office. The New York Times reported today that Fitzgerald does not plan to issue a report on the findings of the grand jury. This leaves Fitzgerald with two options: issue indictments or close the investigation with no public disclosure of his findings.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller received a First Amendment prize from the Society of Professional Journalists. She recently spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify before the grand jury. She told the crowd Tuesday, she went to jail to protect press freedom. She also responded to criticism that had been raised about how she has dealt with the story and her close relationship to the White House.
This news on Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers: A document submitted to the Senate yesterday shows Miers previously expressed support for banning abortion. In 1989, when Miers was running for Dallas city council, she filled out a questionnaire that shows she advocated banning abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother. Miers also said she would support legislation to ban abortions if the Supreme Court ruled states could do so, and would participate in “pro-life rallies and special events.” The questionnaire was written by the group Texans United for Life. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein responded to the revelation by saying: “The answers clearly reflect that Harriet Miers is opposed to Roe v. Wade.”
Regional officials in Pakistan have updated the death toll from last week’s earthquake to 79,000. The new figure comes as the World Food Programme is warning over half a million survivors have yet to receive any aid. The group said time is running out to save thousands of lives because of the approaching winter season. Hypothermia is a major risk to scores of survivors sheltered only by plastic sheeting in sub-zero temperatures. Meanwhile aftershocks have rocked parts of northern Pakistan triggering landslides that may further hamper the relief effort. Aid officials responsible for the upper Neelum valley say many survivors were already weeks away from being reached. U.N. disaster coordinator Rob Holden said: “Many people out there, we are not going to get to in time. Some people who have injuries don’t have a chance of survival.”
Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff is promising to immediately deport all undocumented immigrants caught in the United States. Chertoff vowed to end the so-called “catch and release” policy that has reportedly allowed 10,000 undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Chertoff said : “If they think that they can come across the border and get released, they’re going to keep coming… Return every single illegal entrant–no exceptions.” Chertoff made the announcement shortly before President Bush signed the $32 billion homeland security bill. The Associated Press reports the bill includes a large increase in border patrol funding but less money for local emergency first responders and a freeze in transit security funding.
For the second time in as many weeks, the credibility of an intelligence threat that led to a terror scare in a major metropolitan city in the United States is being questioned. Two major car tunnels were closed in Baltimore Tuesday following information gleaned from an informant in FBI custody. But intelligence officials now say the informant’s warning appears to have been an attempt to exact revenge on a Maryland resident he named as one of eight suspects for being involved with his girlfriend. All eight suspects were Egyptian-born Maryland residents. Last week, a terror scare led to a heightened alert and increased security presence on New York City’s subways. Officials later conceded the intelligence that led to the threat warning was a hoax.
Mudslides triggered by Hurricane Wilma have killed up to 10 people in Haiti. More than 5,000 people have been evacuated from eastern Cuba, where heavy rainfall caused flooding and mudslides. In Honduras, emergency preparations were in place to evacuate 10,000 people from coastal areas. The hurricane has already developed into a Category 5 storm and is projected to hit southern Florida on Saturday. Islands in the Florida Keys prepared to order visitors to leave on Thursday and evacuate 80,000 residents on Friday.
Meanwhile a new study warns extreme weather is likely to become more common because of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers at Purdue University say the United States will see harsher instances of heat waves, floods and drought over the next one hundred years. The study projects temperatures of up to 18 degrees warmer on the coldest days of the year, and says warmest temperatures currently experienced in just over a half a month today will eventually endure for up to two months.