Alberto Gonzales has become the nation’s first Latino Attorney General after being confirmed by the Senate in a 60 to 36 vote Thursday. All but six Democrats opposed Gonzales largely for his role in setting the legal groundwork that led to the abandonment of the Geneva Conventions and the torturing of detainees in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan. Senator John Kerry voted against Gonzales saying “It’s a mistake to choose as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer someone who called [the Geneva Conventions] 'quaint' and opened a Pandora’s Box that has tarred America’s image in the world and placed our troops at even greater risk.”
The six Democrats who backed Gonzales were Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ken Salazar of Colorado and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Some analysts say the vote could be seen as the Senate’s endorsement of torture. Robert Collier writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, “the Bush administration is likely to claim that Congress has given a firm mandate for its interrogation policies, just as President Bush said his re-election victory in November was a new mandate for his policies on Iraq.”
After Gonzales was confirmed, the American Civil Liberties Union called on Gonzales to immediately appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any criminal acts by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees by the U.S. government.
On her first trip overseas as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice harshly criticized Iran but said attacking Iran is “not on the agenda at this point.” Rice said “I don’t think anybody thinks that the unelected mullahs who run that regime are a good thing for the Iranian people and for the region.” She also condemned Iran for having a “abysmal human rights record”. During his State of the Union Wednesday President Bush described Iran as “the world’s primary sponsor of terror.”
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has ordered the former head of the oil for food program in Iraq to be disciplined following the publication of a report that harshly criticized the official, Benon Sevan. The independent report determined that Sevan has secretly made a deal with Iraqi officials under Saddam Hussein to sell oil at below market rates to a company owned by a personal friend. The author of the UN report Paul Volcker said “In making such solicitations, Mr Sevan created a grave and continuing conflict of interest. His conduct was ethically improper and seriously undermined the integrity of the United Nations.” The oil for food program was set up in 1996 to allow Iraq to sell oil to buy food and medicine to ease the effects of international sanctions.
Meanwhile CNN is reporting that it has obtained documents that show the United States knew about, and even condoned, embargo-breaking oil sales by Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was reportedly done to shore up alliances with Iraq’s neighbors. CNN reports the oil trade with countries such as Turkey and Jordan appears to have been an open secret inside the U.S. government and the United Nations for years.
In other Iraq news, preliminary vote tallies show the main Shiite coalition have a commanding lead in Sunday’s elections. The coalition which is backed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has received 73 percent of the votes counted so far. The U.S.-backed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is coming in second with about 18 percent of the vote. Meanwhile the death toll from fighting Thursday in iraq has jumped to 29 making it the deadliest day since the elections. Another 36 Iraqis are missing following an ambush.
And Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has announced the military plans to reduce its presence in Iraq from 150,000 troops to the pre-election level of 135,000.
The U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia said Thursday that he is looking forward to the United States and Indonesia restoring their military ties. Congress cut off ties with the Indonesian military in 1999 because of human rights abuses. Ambassador Lynn Pascoe said Thursday “We look forward to having much better relations with the military in the weeks and months to come, and we will certainly be working on that with them.” Last month Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also called for the U.S. military to strengthen its ties to the Indonesian military. Wolfowitz–the former US ambassador to Indonesia–was visiting the area shortly after the devastating tsunami.
This news from Fargo North Dakota, the local newspaper the Fargo Forum is reporting that 40 area residents including a city commissioner were barred from attending President Bush speech on Thursday. A list of persons to be denied entry included two high school students, a librarian, a deputy Democratic campaign manager and a number of university professors. Several of the individuals had written letters to the editor in the local paper criticizing Bush’s policies. City commissioner Linda Coates said, “I thought that was democracy.” She said the list “is very revealing as to what this administration is all about.” The White House claimed it was not behind the list.
Meanwhile in Nashville Tennessee, a public high school has barred Veterans for Peace and a Quaker group from distributing information on the school campus that could be considered “anti-American” or “antimilitary.” Quaker and veteran Hector Black said the school’s principal cited as inappropriate a pamphlet that contained a quote from President Dwight Eisenhower. It read “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed. Those who are cold and are not clothed … ” The peace activists have complained that military recruiters are not placed under the same restrictions that apply to anti-war groups.
In Los Angeles, the District Attorney announced Thursday that he would not file charges against a police officer who was videotaped pummeling a suspected car theif with a metal flashlight. The videotaped incident reminded many of the 1991 beating of Rodney King. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and a group of African-American activists condemned the decision not to press charges against the officer. Mayor Hahn said “Let me be clear: I do not agree with that. I saw what I saw.” John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League said the decision reflects a “double standard of justice: The deck is stacked in favor of police.”
And this news from New Hampshire, the state’s best known great-grandmother activist has been hospitalized. Doris Haddock, who is better known as Granny D, underwent surgery on her windpipe Thursday. Last year she ran for US Senate and received 34 percent of the vote. She is best known for once walking over 3,000 miles from California to Washington in support of campaign finance reform.
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