The New York Times is reporting defense lawyers for several Muslim men detained for alleged ties to Al Qaeda plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the government used illegal wiretaps against them. Two weeks ago, the Times revealed the Bush administration has authorized eavesdropping on Americans and foreign nationals within the United States without court orders.
The challenges would affect some of the biggest terrorism cases in the country. Several lawyers said they intend to press the government on whether prosecutors misled the courts about the origins of their investigations and whether the government may have withheld wiretaps that could prove their clients’ innocence. Meanwhile, Justice Department prosecutors told the Times they were concerned the wiretaps could create problems for past and future terrorism cases. One prosecutor said: “If I’m a defense attorney, the first thing I’m going to say in court is, 'This was an illegal wiretap.' ”
Meanwhile, the Muslim Public Affairs Council has called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller to meet with Muslim American leaders in response to reports the federal government has been secretly monitoring radiation levels at Muslim sites in cities across the country.
In Aceh, rebel leaders announced the disarmament of their military wing Tuesday, completing the latest stage of a peace agreement reached with the Indonesian government.
Under the peace agreement, close to 25,000 Indonesian soldiers and police will remain in the province, located on the northern tip of the Sumatra island. Over 170,000 people were killed or went missing in Aceh in the tsunami of one year ago.
In Iraq, more than 10,000 people marched through Baghdad Tuesday to protest alleged fraud in the country’s recent national elections. The marchers called for a national unity government to overcome country’s sectarian divisions, with chants of: “No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for national unity.” Early results indicate the religious Shiite coalition the United Iraqi Alliance has won a vast majority of the National Assembly. But leaders from both Sunni and smaller, secular Shiite parties say the vote was marred with fraud.
In other news from Iraq, the Los Angeles Times is reporting gas prices in the country have increased fivefold since national elections two weeks ago. The increase is attributed to a debt-forgiveness deal signed with the International Monetary Fund that requires the interim Iraqi government to cut fuel subsidies. Gas is selling for a reported 65 cents a gallon, up from 5 cents over the summer. Robert Mabro, former chairman of the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, said: “The subsidies may be big, but the situation in Iraq is such a mess. If there is a price increase, if they remove some of the subsidies, it will cause a lot of hardship.”
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel has launched its deepest attack into Lebanese territory in over a year. Late Tuesday, Israeli warplanes struck a training base for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in southern Lebanon. The attack followed a rocket attack that damaged some property in the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shemona. Border clashes have continued since Israel ended twenty-two years of occupation of southern Lebanon in the year 2000.
In New York, the Transport Workers Union has announced a tentative agreement with state officials on a new contract. A bitter labor dispute shut down the city’s buses and subways over three days last week. Under the tentative deal, workers would receive close to an 11% pay raise over three years. State officials have dropped demands that would have raised both the retirement age and the pension contributions of new employees. Workers would now contribute a portion of their salaries to health care, which had previously been provided without charge. The union’s 33,000 members will now vote on whether to approve the agreement.
In Colombia, 28 soldiers were killed Tuesday in what authorities called the deadliest rebel assault this year. The attack, carried out by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, occurred in Vista Hermosa, south of Bogota. The soldiers had been carrying out a coca eradication operation. The Colombian government has waged a US-backed military offensive against the FARC in the region where the attack occured.
Meanwhile, the Organization of American States said Tuesday that right-wing paramilitary groups were responsible for a massacre that left at least eight people dead in the northern Curumani region earlier this month. The OAS says the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, took hostage and killed at least eight people after clashes with leftist guerrillas. The AUC had previously agreed to a ceasefire with the government. Critics say the ceasefire has done little to prevent the AUC from carrying out drug smuggling and other criminal activities.
In the Philippines, prosecutors have charged four U.S. marines with the rape of a 22-year old Filipina woman. The alleged incident took place near a former US Navy base last month. The charged soldiers are Lt. Corporal Daniel Smith, Staff Sergeant Chad Carpenter, Lt. Corporal Dominic Duplantis and Lt. Corporal Keith Silkwood and Timotheo Soriano. The U.S. embassy has not responded to a request to hand them over to local authorities.
In this country, the Washington Post is reporting nearly 50 people have been charged for taking part in a scheme to defraud a Red Cross program of hundreds of thousands dollars intended for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Seventeen of the accused worked at a Red Cross claim center in California. The rest were relatives and friends of the workers. The claim center was responsible for taking calls from Katrina victims and authorizing cash payments to them.
In other news, the former chief accountant for the scandal-plagued energy corporation Enron has reached a plea deal that will see him testify against two of the company’s top former executives. Richard Causey will appear in a Houston court today to plead guilty to at least one of the dozens of criminal charges against him. In return for leniency, Causey will testify against Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling. Causey is the 16th former Enron executive to reach a plea bargain. He was expected to stand trial alongside Lay and Skilling next month. Enron’s collapse in 2001 ended the jobs of more than 5,000 workers and decimated the retirement savings of millions of investors.
And in Austria, anger over the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams has led to the removal of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name from the stadium in his hometown of Graz. Williams, a former gang leader turned peace advocate and children’s author, was put to death December 13th after Schwarzenegger refused his bid for clemency. The execution caused outrage in the US and around the world. The decision was bitterly condemned in Graz, whose slogan is the “City of Human Rights.”