Amid mounting Democratic criticism of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have made their strongest responses yet to accusations they misled the country into war. At a press conference in South Korea, Bush said: "I expect there to be criticism, but when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that’s irresponsible." Meanwhile, Cheney told a Washington gathering of the Frontiers of Freedom Institute: "The suggestion that’s been made by some US senators that the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city. What we’re hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war." In response, last year’s Democratic presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry said it was difficult to name a government official "with less credibility on Iraq than Vice President Cheney." Weekly Standard editor and Bush administration insider William Kristol commented: "If the American people really come to a settled belief that Bush lied us into war, his presidency will be over."
Meanwhile, President Bush has rebuffed a North Korean demand it be supplied a light-water nuclear reactor before it disarms. In talks held in September, North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for energy assistance and security recognition, but reversed the decision a day later. Bush is in South Korea for the APEC summit, which begins Friday.
On Capitol Hill, House and Senate negotiators have reached a tentative agreement towards the renewal of the USA Patriot Act. Under the agreement, the federal government would retain several controversial powers, including the right to access library and bookstore records. The Washington Post observes the agreement "sides with a stronger government hand when terrorism investigations clash with civil liberties concerns." Fourteen provisions set to expire at year’s end will be made permanent. Another three measures, including the one allowing access to library and bookstore records — will be extended for seven years.
Outcry is growing in several European and North African countries over the use of local airports for renditions of CIA detainees. Government officials and newspapers in countries including Norway, Sweden, Morroco, and Spain have raised concerns over specific incidents of CIA flights in their respective territory. The Spanish newspaper El Pais cited a civil guard report saying CIA planes made at least 10 secret stopoffs in the Balearic Islands last year. Meanwhile, an Italian prosecutor demanded Friday the extradition of 23 CIA agents believed to have been involved in the abduction of Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr. Nasr was kidnapped by CIA agents in Milan and brought to Egypt for interrogation in February 2003.
USA Today is reporting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are encountering the fiercest fighting they’ve seen since the launch of the U.S. invasion in 2001. 87 troops have been killed this year so far, nearly half the total killed since the war began. The fighting is calling into question plans to phase out the 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan with NATO-led forces. On Wednesday, Afghanistan’s Defense Minister told the Associated Press insurgent attacks have begun to resemble tactics seen in Iraq. Three suicide bombings hit the capital of Kabul this week, killing 10 people, including a U.S. soldier.
The New York Times is reporting an American businessman has been charged with paying bribes and kickbacks to American occupation authorities in return for reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Phillip Bloom, who received up to $3.5 million in contracts, has been charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and transportation of stolen property. The indictment also includes two officials with the Coalition Provisional Authority, the US-controlled body that ruled the country until June 2004. Indictments are expected in several other investigations of US officials and contractors. A spokesperson for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said: "This is the first case, but it won’t be the last."
In Haiti, the interim government has postponed presidential and legislative elections for a third time. Voting had most recently been scheduled for the week of December 11. The government now says elections will be held on December 27. Critics blasted the new date for falling two days after Christmas, when many Haitians will be visiting family away from their voting districts. The interim regime is under intense pressure from the US and French governments to have a new government in place by February 7, the date specified by the country’s constitution. Haiti is holding its first elections since the overthrow of democratically-elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
The Federal Election Commision will investigate a conservative organization’s complaint against hip-hop mogul Sean Combs, also known as Diddy. The National Legal Policy Center alleges Combs violated federal electoral and revenue laws by using a voter registration drive to promote the election of John Kerry in last year’s Presidential elections. Combs helped found the group "Citizen Change", which held a widely-publicized campaign to enlist young voters. The group cited instances where speakers made anti-Bush comments at Citizen Change events.
Internal documents show the chemical company DuPont hid studies documenting the risks of a Teflon-related chemical used in the manufacture of hundreds of different types of food containers. The studies said the chemical Zonyl can rub off packaging and contaminate food with a potentially carcinogenic compound know as PFOA. A former DuPont chemical engineer backed the claim the company hid the studies. Referring to the chemicals, Glenn Evers told reporters: "They are toxic. They get into human blood. And they are also in every one of you. Your loved ones, your fellow citizens." DuPont denied the allegations. The Environmental Protection Agency has been investigating whether DuPont has withheld information on potentially dangerous chemicals.
The FBI has reached a settlement with an environmental activist wrongly jailed for committing arson attacks against SUV dealerships in California’s San Gabriel Valley. Josh Connole spent four nights in jail for the attacks, which destroyed over 125 vehicles. He’ll receive $100,000 dollars in compensation. Connole told the Associated Press Monday he hopes his victory will show that "you can’t throw people’s civil rights out the window in the name of fighting terrorism."
In media news, Tribune Company has announced it will cut jobs at five of its newspapers. The cuts include the elimination of 85 newsroom employees at the Los Angeles Times — about 8 percent of its editorial staff. Earlier this week, the Times announced a re-shuffling of its op-ed pages that included the dismissal of long-time progressive columnist Robert Scheer. Tribune has already announced job cuts at several other newspapers, including the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News, and Newsday.
And newly-released documents from the National Archives provide fresh insight into the Nixon administration’s efforts to deceive the public over its 1970 attack on Cambodia. The over 50,000 pages of declassified material include records of then-President Richard Nixon meeting with aides at a time Americans were told US forces in Cambodia were there to support South Vietnamese. Nixon told aides: "That is what we will say publicly. But now, let’s talk about what we will actually do." Nixon instructed staff to continue the bombing of Cambodia and Vietnam. He also ordered them to extend the attacks to Laos, which had remained neutral. Nixon said: "I want you to put the air in there and not spare the horses. Do not withdraw for domestic reasons but only for military reasons."
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