Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied Monday that the U.S. is engaging in torture and defended how the Bush administration’s waging of the so-called war on terror. Rice’s comments came ahead of a trip to Europe where she is expected to be questioned about the existence of secret CIA prisons and about the CIA’s practice of kidnapping wanted individuals overseas. Rice did not deny the U.S. has secretly picked up detainees overseas and flying them to other countries but she denied this is being done “for the purpose of being tortured.” “The United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances. Moreover, in accordance with the policy of this administration, the United States has respected and will continue to respect the sovereignty of other countries,” Rice said. “The U.S. does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of being tortured. The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured.”
Officials from Human Rights Watch accused Rice of failing to acknowledge that the United States has transported detainees to countries such as Egypt and Syria where it knows torture is used. The group said Rice also failed to address the existence of secret CIA prisons inside Europe.
ABC News is reporting that just last month the U.S. moved 11 al-Qaida suspects from a secret site in Europe to somewhere in North Africa.
Meanwhile the Washington Post has uncovered new information about one of the best-known cases of extraordinary rendition–the CIA’s kidnapping of the Islamic cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. According to the Post, the CIA purposely mislead the Italian government about his disappearance by claiming he had fled to the Balkans. In fact, he disappeared after a team of CIA agents abducted him from the streets of Milan and secretly flew him to Egypt where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured. An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of over 20 CIA agents involved in the kidnapping.
In Iraq, at least 27 people have died after two female suicide bombers blew themselves up earlier today inside Baghdad’s police academy. Iraqi police said the women were likely students at the police academy who were able to enter the building without being searched.
The bombings come just a day after Iraq’s Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer publicly disputed comments made last week by President Bush about the improved state of the Iraqi security forces. Al-Yawer said the training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big “setback” in recent months because the army and other forces have been increasingly used to settle personal and political scores. In addition al-Yawer warned that armed Shiite militias in the south might be trying to incite a civil war in Iraq.
In other news from Iraq, a prominent Muslim anti-war activist from Britain has arrived in Iraq in order to help secure the release of the four kidnapped peace activists with the Christian Peacemaker Team. Anas Altikriti said “The objective of the mission is simple and clear that is to issue an appeal to the captors to release the four hostages and to tell them that these are friends of Iraq and the Iraqi people and in particular the British national, Norman Kember who is aged 74 and who is a retired professor who have dedicated their lives in combating terrorism and violence and call for peace.”Anas
The former members of the 9/11 Commission warned Monday that the U.S. is dangerously unprepared for another domestic attack. “Are we safe? The answer is, of course, that we are safer but we are not safe. Four years after 9/11 we are not as safe as we could be and that is simply unacceptable. Look at this report card, there are far too many C’s D’s and F’s in this report card the we are going to issue today,” said Thomas Kean, the president of the now-disbanded 9/11 Commission. “There are many things, as I went around the country and talked to people, there are many things that people think have been done that simply haven’t been done. Our leadership has been distracted in this country. Some of the failures are shocking.” The commissioners gave the government a grade of C D or “F” in about half of the categories including Fs for its efforts to focus homeland security money on cities most at risk, on improving radio communications for emergency workers and on prescreening airline passengers.
Republican Congressman Tom Delay suffered a setback Monday after a Texas judge refused to throw out money laundering charges against him. The judge however did throw out conspiracy charges against Delay, the former House Majority Leader. Delay is accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to 2002 Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature. Money laundering is punishable by five years to life. Despite the indictment the Bush administration remains close to Delay. Last night Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to Houston to headline a fundraiser for the Texan Congressman.
In other political news, New York Senator Hillary Clinton is about to face a challenge in her re-election bid from within her own party. Jonathan Tasini — the former president of the National Writers Union — has announced plans to run against Clinton. His campaign will focus on opposing the Iraq war, renegotiating so-called free trade deals and extending Medicare to all Americans. The Nation Magazine described Tasini as “one of the most outspoken progressive activists in the U.S. labor movement.” Meanwhile a former Green Party candidate named Steve Greenfield has also announced plans to run on the Democratic ticket against Clinton. Greenfield says the centerpiece of his campaign will be the rapid withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq.
In news from New Orleans–telephone giant BellSouth has withdrawn an offer to allow the city to house its new police headquarters in one of the company’s damaged buildings. BellSouth withdrew the offer after the city announced plans to offer free high-speed internet to homes and businesses in the city as an incentive for residents and companies to return. Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively opposed plans for cities to launch community wireless networks.