On Capital Hill Thursday, the Senate voted to take away Guantanamo Bay prisoners’ right to challenge their detentions in United States courts. The measure, put forward by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, would override a Supreme Court decision last year. The New York Times reports the amendment would nullify legal challenges currently filed by nearly 200 of the 500 detainees currently held at Guantanamo. Five Democrats joined 44 Republicans to pass the measure by a vote of 49 to 42. However the New York Times reports the victory may be short-lived as nine senators were absent, and are pushing for a second vote as early as Monday.
In Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has claimed victory in a run-off vote for the country’s Presidency. Electoral officials said Johnson-Sirleaf had won 59 percent of the vote. Her opponent, former soccer star George Weah, is claiming electoral fraud. Weah won the first round of voting last month. Election observers from the UN, European Union, and the Carter Center say the election was largely free and fair. If confirmed, the Harvard-educated Johnson-Sirleaf, who’s served stints with the World Bank, the United Nations and Citibank, would become the first woman elected to lead an African country. Likely Presidential winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, speaking Thursday.
In Jordan, thousands of people rallied in the capital of Amman to denounce the hotel bombings that killed at least 57 people. Al-Qaida in Iraq has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attacks. Jordanian police announced Friday they’ve arrested 120 people, mainly Iraqis and Jordanians, in connection to the bombings.
In Israel, union leader Amir Peretz has defeated veteran statesman Shimon Peres for leadership of the country’s Labour Party. Results were announced Thursday. Peretz immediately announced Labour would leave the governing coalition, setting the stage for new elections within months. Under Shimon Peres, Labour joined with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud government to shore up support for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. New Labour leader Peretz says the party will withdraw in opposition to Sharon’s economic policies, which he says have hurt Israel’s poor and working-class.
Meanwhile, Palestinians are commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of Yassir Arafat. In Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas led a ceremony attended by Palestinian and foreign leaders at Arafat’s old compound. Arafat died one year ago today at the age of 75.
In this country, Republicans suffered a series of setbacks on Capitol Hill Thursday. Republican House leaders were forced to pull a $54 billion budget-cutting bill that would have cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps, and several other programs. It had also included a provision to open oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee failed to approve a tax package that would have extended President Bush’s 2003 tax cut on dividends and capital gains.
Also Thursday, the Senate passed an amendment to a defense bill that mandates Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to inform Congress on US-run secret prison facilities in foreign countries.
Christian televangelist Pat Robertson is again drawing controversy for a statement made on his program “The 700 Club.” On Thursday, Robertson was asked to comment on a vote in the Pennsylvania town of Dover that removed school board members who advocated “intelligent design”. Robertson said: “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there.” In August, Robertson was forced to apologize after he called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Another broadcaster is drawing controversy for on-air comments made this week. On his radio program Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly reacted to a measure passed by San Francisco voters that bans military recruiting on public high school and college campuses. O’Reilly said: “Hey, you know, if you want to ban military recruiting, fine, but I’m not going to give you another nickel of federal money. You know, if I’m the president of the United States, I walk right into Union Square, I set up my little presidential podium, and I say, “Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you’re not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead.” And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we’re not going to do anything about it. We’re going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.” Coit Tower is a San Francisco landmark dedicated in 1933.
And remembrances were held around the world Thursday on the ten-year anniversary of the execution of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa led the movement against Shell Corporation’s oil practices in the Ogoni region. In 1994, he was imprisoned and accused of incitement to murder. Despite widespread international protests, Saro-Wiwa was hanged after a sham trial along with eight other Ogoni rights activists. In Saro-Wima’s native Ogoni region, over 1,000 people held an overnight candlelight vigil. The vigil was followed by a march through the city of Bori to protest the Nigerian government’s treatment of the Ogoni people. One banner read: “You can kill the messenger, but not the message. Ogoni must survive.”