In Lebanon, over 150,000 mourners have filled the streets of Beirut to mark the funeral of Rafik Hariri. The former prime minister was assassinated on Monday along with five bodyguards and eight others in a massive car bombing. Tension between the US and Syria is rising since the bombing even though it has not been determined who carried out the attack. On Tuesday the U.S. State Department recalled Margaret Scobey, its ambassador to Syria, to protest what it sees as Syria’s link to the bombing. Before departing, Scobey delivered a message to the Syrian government to express "deep concern as well as our profound outrage over this heinous act of terrorism.
In news from Iraq, the Shiite Muslim coalition that won Iraq’s election has chosen Ibrahim Jaafari as its prime ministerial candidate. He is currently serving as the country’s interim vice president and is the head of the Dawa party, a leading Shiite political party. Jaafari lived in exile for most of the past 25 years including 10 years in Iran. In previous interviews he has said that Islam should be the official religion of Iraq and that Islam should served as one of the main sources for Iraqi law. Jaafari has also spoken of increasing ties to Iran. He has said, "I personally look at Iran as part of the geographical entourage of Iraq and a friendly state which stood by Iraq’s side in time of crisis."
In other news from Iraq, the Associated Press has obtained a videotape of kidnapped Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena pleading for her life. On the tape Sgrena is seen sobbing and clasping her hands. She says, '’You must end the occupation, it's the only way we can get out of this situation."
Here in the United States, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the government can send two prominent reporters to prison if they refuse to disclose their confidential sources. The ruling comes in a case centered on the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. A grand jury has been attempting to force Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine to disclose who they privately talked to while researching the story. Reporters Without Borders harshly criticized the court ruling. It said in a statement "The role of the press in providing checks and balances is under fire this time, and the US courts must understand that, if the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is not guaranteed, no one will go to them with sensitive information." The organization went on to say "By protecting the identity of their sources, journalists are safeguarding society’s right to monitor public affairs."
Meanwhile in other journalism news, a federal judge has ruled the governor of Maryland can legally prohibit state employees from speaking with certain reporters from the Baltimore Sun. The judge ruled "The right to publish news is expansive. However, the right does not carry with it the unrestrained right to gather information." Baltimore Sun editor Tim Franklin described the ruling as "scary." Franklin said "Essentially, what the court is saying is that it’s OK for a politician to create an enemies list."
In news from Capitol Hill, the Senate voted 98 to zero Tuesday to approve Michael Chertoff as the new head of the Department of Homeland Security.
Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union has called on newly sworn in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a special counsel to investigate the torture of detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. The ACLU claimed an independent counsel was needed because of Gonzales’ "unavoidable conflict of interest in fully investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by civilians in this matter."
An Australian microbiologist involved in the US search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has come forward to publicly accuse the CIA of censoring his reporting so that it suggested the weapons existed. Rod Barton also accused the head of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee of wanting to make the report "sexier."
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has cast new doubts on the Bush administration’s claim that Iran is building nuclear weapons. Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency said there have been no discoveries in the last six months to substantiate claims that Iran is secretly working toward building a nuclear bomb. ElBaradei also praised France, Britain and Germany for negotiating with Iran that have led to the suspension of its nuclear activities.
In military news, for the second time in two months a major test of the proposed national missile defense system has failed.
In Brazil, thousands gathered Tuesday for the funeral of Dorothy Stang, the American nun and environmentalist who was murdered Saturday. She had struggled for decades to protect the Amazon rain forest and to support the landless movement in Brazil. Many have accused logging interests of being behind the killing. Development, logging and farming have destroyed as much as 20 percent of the Amazon’s 1.6 million square miles. A fellow nun from Brazil said "They wanted to shut her up because she was messing up their plans." Dorothy Stang is seen as the most prominent activist to be murdered in the Amazon since Chico Mendez in 1988.
Civil Rights Commission Purges Reports Critical of Bush
This news from Washington: in one of its first official acts, the newly reconfigured US Commission on Civil Rights has removed 20 recent public reports from its website. Many of the reports were critical of the Bush administration. One of the purged reports was titled "Redefining Rights in America: The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration." In December Bush replaced the top two officials on the commission including longtime chair Mary Frances Berry. Bush then named a long time critic of affirmative action named Gerald Reynolds to head the Commission. In 1997 Reynolds criticized affirmative action as a "corrupt system of preferences, set-asides and quotas."
Meanwhile a federal health agency is coming under criticism after it forced the organizers of an upcoming federally funded conference on suicide prevention to remove from the program the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender." The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration made the request after it learned that an upcoming conference in Portland Oregon was to include a talked titled "Suicide Prevention Among Gay /Lesbian/ Bisexual/ Transgender Individuals." Under pressure, the organizers were forced to change the name of the talk to "Suicide Prevention in Vulnerable Populations." Studies have found that the suicide risk among people in these groups is two to three times higher than the average risk.
Meanwhile the daughter of former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes has come out as a gay activist. In her first public statement, Maya Marcel-Keyes recalled that when her parents learned she was a lesbian they threw her out of the house, stopped speaking to her and refused to pay for her college education. Last summer Alan Keyes called homosexuality "selfish hedonism." He also described Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary as a sinner for being a lesbian. Cheney’s other daughter, Elizabeth, is also in the news. On Tuesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Elizabeth Cheney to become the new deputy assistant secretary of state for the Near East. She will become the second- highest ranking U.S. diplomat for the Middle East.
And finally, two British newspapers have agreed to pay the singer Cat Stevens a substantial sum to settle a libel suit. Last year U.S. immigration officials blocked the singer from entering the country. After the incident the Sunday Times and the Sun ran articles suggested he had ties to terrorists. The singer, who is now known as Yusuf Islam, said, "It seems to me the easiest thing in the world these days to make scurrilous accusations against Muslims... The harm done is often difficult to repair."
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