Spain has entered a day of mourning to mark the one-year anniversary of the March 11th train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800. Earlier today at 7:37 local time, bells from Madrid’s 650 churches began ringing for five minutes to mark the first of the ten blasts that hit a year ago. We’ll go to Madrid for a report later in the show.
In Iraq, the main Shiite and Kurdish coalitions have struck a deal to form a new government when the National Assembly convenes next week. The agreement will allow Jalal Talabani to become Iraq’s first-ever Kurdish president and for discussions to begin on allowing 100,000 Kurds to return to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Under the power-sharing agreement, the country’s Sunni Arab minority will be given one ministerial post.
In other Iraq news, 50 people died Thursday after a suicide bomber attacked a funeral in Mosul of a respected Shiite professor. The suicide bomber reportedly walked into a large crowd at the funeral and detonated his explosive belt. The death toll may rise even higher. Several children who were attending the funeral are reported to be missing.
President Bush has named Zalmay Khalilzad to become the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad is currently serving as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. He will take the post from John Negroponte who has been nominated to become the country’s first director of national intelligence.
The New York Times is reporting the Pentagon is considering transferring hundreds of detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay to foreign prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen. The proposal comes as the Bush administration is reconsidering its use of the military base in Cuba that has been criticized by the Supreme Court and human rights groups. The White House originally embraced using Guantánamo in part because the base was seen as beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. law. But last year the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners there could challenge their detentions in federal courts. In part because of that ruling, the Pentagon has not transferred any new prisoner to Guantanamo in six months. The prison currently holds about 540 men.
Senate Democrats are criticizing a new Pentagon investigation for concluding that that the abuses committed by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were not the result of high-level policy decisions. Democrats accused the report’s author — Vice Admiral Albert Church — of not investigating the role played by top Pentagon officials. According to the Washington Post, Church did not interview Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or any other top official Sen. Carl Levin also criticized Church for failing to examine the role played by the CIA. The CIA hid detainees from the Red Cross and carried out the secret renditions of wanted individuals to countries with records of torture. Republican James Talent of Missouri praised the report. He said he did not “need an investigation to tell me that there was no comprehensive or systematic use of inhumane tactics by the American military, because those guys and gals just wouldn’t do it.” But Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch said “This report strains credibility. Unfortunately, the United States continues to do what every dictatorship and banana republic does when its abuses are discovered: Cover up and shift blame downwards.” The American Civil Liberties Union repeated its call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the widespread reports of abuse.
In news on Capitol Hill, the Senate approved an overhaul of the nation’s bankruptcy laws in move that will make it harder for Americans to rid themselves of debt by filing for bankruptcy. The law changes had been sought by the banking and credit card industries for the past decade. The House is expected to approve the measure next month and President Bush has vowed to sign the bill. Democrats unsuccessfully sought to soften the bill’s impact on single parents, the unemployed and individuals facing large medical bills
This news on Syria: A United Nations envoy is being sent to Damascas tomorrow to warn President Bashar Assad that Syria will face political and economic isolation if he does not completely and quickly withdraw from Lebanon. According to the Washington Post, the U.S., Europe and the Arab League have all supported the move. The envoy is expected to tell Assad he must honor the independent sovereignty of Lebanon and provide a complete timeline for a full pullout of troops and intelligence agents in Lebanon.
In New York, a federal judge has dismissed a class action lawsuit concerning the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. A group of Vietnamese citizens had accused U.S. chemical companies including Dow and Monsanto of committing war crimes by supplying the military with the chemical agent. During the war the U.S. military sprayed over 3,000 Vietnamese villages with Agent Orange affecting between two and five million people.
In other legal news, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington will hear arguments today in a case against Henry Kissinger. The former Secretary of State has been accused of conspiring with military officials in Chile to assassinate a Chilean General named Rene Schneider in 1970. Schneider’s death paved the way for the 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. Schneider’s sons brought the suit against Kissinger claiming that declassified government documents show Kissinger’s complicity in their father’s death. Last year a lower court threw out the case but the appeals court will hear arguments today on whether the civil suit should go forward.
In Nashville Tennessee, 30 Muslims from Somalia have been fired from their jobs at a plant run by Dell Computer. The Muslims had insisted they be allowed to take a break from work at sunset to say their daily prayers. Since the time of sunset changes daily, the workers wanted the flexibility to take breaks at different times. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called on Dell to rehire the workers.
In news from Capitol Hill, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are withholding their party membership dues in protest. According to the newspaper The Hill, the decision was the culmination of several years of frustration with what they view as the Democratic Party’s failure to reach out to Latinos and include them in the decision-making process.
In other news from Capitol Hill, lawmakers led by independent Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders and Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee have re-introduced the “Freedom To Read Protection Act.” The legislation would exempt libraries and booksellers from provisions of the USA Patriot Act that allow the federal government to access library or bookstore records without having to get a traditional search warrant. Over 100 members of Congress have co-sponsored the bill.
And two retired New York City police detectives have been arrested for taking part in eight murders of behalf of the Mafia. Prosecutors say that while the two men were working as NYPD detectives, the men were also on the Mafia payroll and routinely funneled secret information about criminal investigations to other members of organized crime. Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were arrested Thursday in Las Vegas. In one case, in 19 90, prosecutors said the detectives, driving an unmarked police car, pulled over a Mafia captain in Brooklyn and shot him to death for a rival mob figure. In another, in 1986, they flashed their badges and kidnapped a mobster, threw him in the trunk of their car and delivered him to a rival, who tortured and killed him.