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In Washington, Lewis Libby entered a plea of not guilty in U.S. federal court Thursday. Libby resigned last week as Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff after being indicted in the case surrounding the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Libby is charged with obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI and committing perjury before a federal grand jury. The Associated Press reports Libby is represented by two attorneys known for winning acquittals in white-collar criminal cases. Ted Wells has won acquittals for several corporate executives and former cabinet members. William Jeffress is a partner in the law firm Baker Botts, where former Secretary of State James Baker is a senior partner. The New York Times reports Libby was greeted at by several hecklers as he entered the courthouse. One admonished him for “taking the country to war on a pack of lies.”
Meanwhile, the Italian government says it warned the Bush administration documents purporting to show an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger were fakes. Italian Senator Massimo Brutti said the warning was issued around the same time President Bush made the claim in his State of the Union speech of January 2003. Brutti later called the Associated Press to retract the statement. The claim played a key part in the Bush administration’s attempts to justify the war on Iraq. CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity was leaked after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, questioned the Iraq-Niger connection.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has called for access to detainees held in secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. The unidentified facilities were revealed in Wednesday’s Washington Post. Meanwhile, the European Union announced it would be looking into allegations made by Human Rights Watch that Poland and Romania are the likely sites of the prisons. Both countries have denied the allegations.
In France, clashes intensified as rioting in several Paris suburbs entered its eight day. The violence started October 27 following the deaths of two teenagers in the poor area of Clichy-sous-Bois. The two teens were electrocuted in a power grid while fleeing from police. One of the child’s parents has filed a complaint with local authorities. The suburbs are home to a large North African community and plagued by chronic unemployment and poverty. Unrest has now spread to at least 20 towns. Police say they’ve made over 140 arrests. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has drawn criticism for calling the suburban youths “scum,” and pledging a “war without mercy” on them.
In Africa, the UN is warning tensions along the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea could lead to the outbreak of war. Forces from both countries are moving troops and military supplies closer to the shared buffer zone. 200,000 troops are on the Eritrean side alone. Close to 70,000 people were killed when the two countries fought over a border dispute in 1998. Meanwhile, anti-government protests continued in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Residents said police fired on demonstrators and arrested several human rights activists. Doctors say at least three people were killed in the clashes, bringing the week’s death toll to at least 11.
This news from Haiti — the U.S.-installed interim government has filed a lawsuit against ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide in U.S. federal court. The suit alleges Aristide and several accomplices engaged in drug trafficking and stole “millions of dollars” in public funds. Aristide was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup in February 2004. He currently lives in exile in South Africa. Aristide attorney Ira Kurzban called the charges “baseless”, saying : “The lawsuit is based on a fraudulent report issued by the unelected officials who are temporarily running the Haitian government, and has no credibility.”
In other Haiti news, an estimated crowd of 10,000 people marched through Port-au-Prince Thursday in support of the election campaign of former President Rene Preval. Preval was a close Aristide ally when he succeeded him in the country’s first ever democratic transition in 1996. Aristide’s political party Lavalas has split over whether to take part in the elections. Hundreds of political prisoners are in jail and many elected Lavalas officials remain in forced exile.
In media news, Kenneth Tomlinson has resigned from the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson issued his resignation one day after the submission of an inspector general’s report critical of his tenure. Tomlinson, a staunch conservative, was head of the board until stepping down in September. He drew controversy for hiring a Republican operative to monitor the political leanings of shows hosted by Bill Moyers, Tavis Smiley and Diane Rehm, and for hiring Republican lobbyists to defeat bills that would have modified rules on board membership.
On Capitol Hill, separate measures in both Houses of Congress approved cuts in health care and food stamp programs Thursday. The US Senate passed a bill that will trim $10 billion dollars by restructuring Medicare and Medicaid health programs. The Associated Press notes the bill’s $36 billion in overall savings would be dwarfed by the $13.8 trillion expected to be spent under a Republican budget plan approved in April. The approved bill also enables a controversial plan to allow oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee approved a $844 million dollar cut in food stamp and child welfare programs.
This news on the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito — the Washington Post has revealed Alito co-authored a 1986 Justice Department opinion that said employers should be able to legally fire HIV-positive employees. The opinion stated “fear of contagion, whether reasonable or not,” was a sufficient reason for firing an HIV-positive worker. Alito later said : “We certainly did not want to encourage irrational discrimination, but we had to interpret the law as it stands.” Meanwhile the Senate Judiciary Committee announced confirmation hearings for Alito will begin January 9th. President Bush had pushed for a confirmation vote by year’s end.
And newly-released e-mails continue to call into question the job performance of former FEMA head Michael Brown. On the morning Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Brown wrote to a colleague: “Can I quit now? Can I come home?” A few days later, he wrote to an acquaintance: “I’m trapped now, please rescue me.” In other e-mails written during the days leading up to and during the storm, Brown discussed searching for a dog-sitter and mused on his wardrobe. Three days before Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, Brown wrote to his press secretary Sharon Worthy: “Tie or not for tonight? Button-down blue shirt?” Days later, Worthy advised Brown: “Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt, all shirts. Even the president rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this [crisis] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working.” On August 29, the day the storm hit New Orleans, Brown received an e-mail from deputy director of FEMA public affairs Cindy Taylor. Taylor wrote: “You look fabulous — And I’m not talking about the makeup!” Brown replied: “I got it at Nordstroms… Are you proud of me?” Brown wrote in another e-mail one hour later: “If you’ll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you’ll really vomit. I am a fashion god.” Two days later, Brown received an e-mail from Marty Bahamonde, one of the only FEMA employees on the ground in New Orleans. Bahamonde told Brown “the situation is past critical” at the Louisiana Superdome. Brown responded: “Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?” Brown resigned as FEMA director September 12th. He continues to collect a $148,000 dollar annual salary.