In a case observers are calling a major blow the Bush administration, a prominent Palestinian-American professor has been acquitted of several terrorism charges. Sami Al-Arian was accused of helping finance and direct the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian was found not guilty on eight charges. Jurors deadlocked on nine others, leading the judge to declare a mistrial. Three other co-defendants were also cleared of most of the charges against them. We’ll have more on the Al-Arian case in a few minutes.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit in federal court on behalf of a German citizen who says American agents kidnapped and rendered him to Afghanistan, where he was held captive and tortured. Five months after his December 2003 arrest, Khalid El-Masri was returned to Europe when the CIA realized they had the wrong man. After a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday in Berlin, German chancellor Angela Merkel said Rice had admitted the mistake. But a senior U.S. official traveling with Rice told the Financial Times this was not the case. Referring to Chancellor Merkel, the official said: “We are not quite sure what was in her head.”
From Germany, Rice went to Romania, where she announced a deal to open U.S. military bases in the country. The deal includes an airfield that Human Rights Watch has identified as one of the possible locations of a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe.
In Iran, over 110 people are dead following a plane crash in a densely populated area of the capital Tehran. Officials said most of the dead passengers are journalists with the state media. The plane suffered an engine failure and crashed into a residential block that also houses a gas depot. Referring to the plane, an air force officer told Agence France-Presse: “Our C-130s are in a bad state because of the US sanctions: we can’t get spare parts.”
In Iraq, a US security consultant has been kidnapped, making him the seventh Westerner to be abducted in just over ten days. Video aired by the Arabic television network Al Jazeera identified the man as Ronald Shulz. His captors are threatening to kill him unless US forces free all Iraqi prisoners and pay compensation to Iraqis affected by US-led offensives in the Anbar province. The captors identified themselves as members of the Islamic Army in Iraq. Last year, the group killed Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni after Italy refused its demand to withdraw its forces from Iraq.
Meanwhile, US forces are continuing with a major offensive in the Anbar city of Ramadi. Aid agencies say more than 400 families have fled the city since US forces invaded Friday.
In other Iraq news, the trial of Saddam Hussein continued today without him in attendance. Hussein vowed he would not appear following a day of graphic testimony about human rights abuses under his regime. Witnesses testified behind a curtain with their voices modulated to protect their identity. Near the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, Hussein reacted to one witnesses’ testimony by complaining about his own prison conditions, alleging mistreatment.
In this country, the war in Iraq is threatening to open up a serious divide within the Democratic Party. On Monday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told a San Antonio radio station: “the idea that we’re going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong.” Dean’s remarks came after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last week endorsed Congressman John Murtha’s call for withdraw US troops from Iraq within six months. Several Democrats rebuked Dean on Tuesday. Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman said: “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he’ll be commander in chief for three more years. We undermine the president’s credibility at our nation’s peril.”
At the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal, the US has rejected a broad Canadian proposal that called on countries to begin talks on a global framework for further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration says it opposes the proposal because it falls under the rubric of the 1992 Kyoto protocol. Kyoto, which mandates countries to meet specific targets in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, went into effect in February without the participation of the US and Australia. The US, which emits 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, says regulating emissions standards should be left up to individual nations.
And the Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that challenges military recruiting on campus. A coalition of over 160 law schools is contesting the 1996 Solomon Amendment, which allows the government to deny financial support to any university that does not give military recruiters the same access to students it gives to other employers. The law schools are arguing they should only have to grant the military equal access when the military allows equal access to openly-gay recruits. The Supreme Court is widely expected to rule in favor of the Solomon amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to defend it during the proceedings, saying: “It says that if you want our money, you have to let our recruiters on campus.”