President Bush has admitted that he secretly ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without ever seeking constitutionally required court approved warrants. The president initially refused to answer any questions about the secret program but on Saturday he spoke openly about it and defended the practice
The admission came just days after NBC News reported the Pentagon has vastly expanded its domestic surveillance operations including the monitoring of peaceful anti-war protesters.
Many legal experts have accused the President of breaking the law by ordering the wiretappings without a court warrant as required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The New York Times broke the story on the domestic spying on Friday after holding it for a year at the request of the White House. Hours after the story appeared in the paper, the Senate handed Bush a major legislative defeat by failing to renew portions of the USA Patriot Act. The Senate fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to end a Democratic-led filibuster. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said the Times story highlighted why the powers of the government must be curtailed under the Patriot Act.
Meanwhile in Massachusetts, questions over the extent of the government’s domestic surveillance apparatus have arisen after federal agents recently visited and questioned a student at Umass Dartmouth after he requested a book through the school’s interlibrary loan program. Two agents from the Department of Homeland Security reportedly visited the house of the student’s parents and said the book–Mao’s “The Little Red Book” —-— was on a “watch list.” One of the student’s professors said it appears that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans.
In Bolivia, union leader Evo Morales has claimed a stunning victory in Sunday’s presidential elections. Exit polls show Morales won just over 50 percent of the vote–giving him the greatest political mandate that any Bolivian president has had in decades. Morales will become the country’s first indigenous head of state. He gave a victory speech Sunday night in Cochabamba.
In news on the Iraq war–President Bush delivered a 17-minute prime-time televised address Sunday in defense of the war. Bush appealed to Americans to be patient in a “difficult, noble and necessary cause” and not be swayed by “defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right”. While he vowed the U.S. was winning the war, he admitted not all was going as planned.
Earlier in the day Vice President Dick Cheney made his first visit to Iraq since the war began.
During his visit to Iraq, Cheney met with a group of U.S. soldiers who expressed reservations about the war. One Marine Corporal said “From our perspective, we don’t see much as far as gains” Another asked “Sir, what are the benefits of doing all this work to get Iraq on its feet?”
In other Iraq news–German aid worker archeologist Susanne Osthoff has been released after being held hostage for nearly three weeks. She was kidnapped along with her Iraqi driver on Nov. 25. News reports indicate the driver has also been released. There is still no word on the fate of the four activists with the Christian Peacemaker Team kidnapped in Iraq.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting U.S. military officials in Iraq were fully aware that a Pentagon contractor regularly paid Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories about the war. Several current and former employees of the Lincoln Group, said the information campaign waged over the last year was designed to cloak any connection to the U.S. military.
In Hong Kong, the World Trade Organization wrapped up its six-day ministerial meeting on Sunday with a partial trade agreement. The deal calls for the elimination of subsidies for all agricultural exports by 2013 and allows the world’s 50 poorest countries to ship more goods into developed nations without tariffs and quotas. No agreement was reached on lowering farm tariffs which was considered to be a crucial issue by many. European Union’s trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said “It is not enough to make this meeting a true success. But it is enough to save it from failure.” On Saturday police arrested 900 protesters during widespread protests on the streets of Hong Kong led by farmers, peasants and union members. 70 protesters were hospitalized after they tried to break through police lines outside the WTO meeting. The Asian Human Rights Commission accused the Hong Kong police of abuse for firing pepper spray, tear gas and the water cannons at mostly peaceful protesters. We’ll go to Hong Kong for a report later in the show.
Here in the United States human rights attorneys are criticizing the Senate for voting Friday to strip detainees at Guatanamo Bay of basic legal rights and to allow the government to use evidence in court that has been obtained through abuse at Guantanamo. According to Human Rights Watch this marks the first time in U.S. history that Congress has effectively permitted the use of evidence obtained through torture. The legislation known as the Graham-Levin amendment was approved just a day after the Senate approved a different amendment put forward by Senator John McCain which was supposed to ban the use of torture.
In news from Afghanistan–Human Rights Watch has accused the U.S. of operating a secret prison in Kabul where detainees were tortured and chained to the walls. The jail, which was in operation up until last year, was known as the “Dark Prison” because detainees were kept in total darkness for days. They were also deprived of food and drinking water. Loud music and other sounds blared for weeks at a time. Human Rights Watch based its report on descriptions of the jail given by men who were held there and are now being held at Guantanamo Bay. One detainee said “The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hospitalized Sunday after suffering what doctors described as a minor stroke. The 77-year-old remains hospitalized but is reportedly fully alert and can walk around unattended.
In media news, Business Week has revealed that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid two conservative columnists to write favorable articles about some of his clients. Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute was suspended Friday by the Copley News Service. He admitted to being paid to write up to two dozen columns. Peter Ferrara, of the Institute for Policy Innovation, was also paid off. He defended taking the money saying “I do that all the time … I’ve done that in the past, and I’ll do it in the future.”
In other media news, Robert Novak has left CNN and joined Fox News. Novak was a regular on Crossfire up until the political show’s cancelationearlier this year. Novak hadn’t been on air since he walked off a live set in August during a debate. In July 2003 Novak outted Valerie Plame in a newspaper column as an undercover CIA operative leading to a scandal that has so far forced one top administration official–Lewis Scooter Libby–to resign. Novak has never publicly revealed his source of the leak but last week said he was “confident the president knows who the source is.”
And the muckraking journalist Jack Anderson has died at the age of 83. He was credited with breaking countless stories, including the Iran-Contra scandal and the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Castro. The Washington Post wrote “President Richard Nixon tried to smear him as a homosexual, the CIA was ordered to spy on him, and a Nixon aide ordered two cohorts to try to kill the journalist by poisoning.”