President Bush has nominated Paul Wolfowitz — the chief architect of the Iraq invasion — to head the World Bank. Wolfowitz has served in the Pentagon as Deputy Defense Secretary for the past four years. He is the former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. The selection sent shock waves through the international aid community. Greenpeace, Oxfam, ActionAid all criticized the selection. The World Development Movement described Bush’s decision as QUOTE “terrifying.” If Wolfowitz gets the post he will become the second U.S. official to go from overseeing a major war to heading the World Bank. Robert McNamara served as Defense Secretary from 1961 to 1968 and overseeing the initial stages of the Vietnam War. In 1968 he left the Pentagon to head the World Bank. We’ll have more on the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz in a few minutes.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate agreed Wednesday to allow oil companies to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The measure passed by a 51-49 vote. The 1.5 million acres of land have been under federal protection for 45 years. Environmentalists describe the area as an ecological treasure. The Republican leadership managed to get the measure passed by including it in a budget bill which made it immune from a Democratic filibuster. Environmentalists are now planning on new ways to block the oil drilling. In order for the refuge development to get final approval, Congress must still pass a final budget with the Senate provision included. This was something Congress was unable to do last year. Karen Wayland of the Natural Resources Defense Council said “This was really a vote for Big Oil, not for the solid majority of Americans who oppose turning America’s last great wilderness into a vast, polluted oil field.”
On Wednesday, President Bush named Kevin Martin to replace Michael Powell as the head of the Federal Communications Commission. Martin is a telecommunications attorney who has served as an FCC Commissioner since 2001. The religious right praised the selection. Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council described Martin as a “stalwart leader on the issue of indecency.” Martin has advocated for the FCC to expand fines for broadcasters who air material viewed as in-decent. Martin has also pushed for the greater consolidation of media corporations. He served as deputy general counsel for President Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and later as an economic advisor to Bush.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Finance Committee has opened an investigation into allegations that lobbyist Jack Abramoff used nonprofit organizations to pay for a variety of improper activities, including overseas trips for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. This according to a report in the Washington Post. The Finance Committee also asked Abramoff about contributions from Indian tribes and whether they were used to influence lawmakers.
In Afghanistan today, five people died in simultaneous bomb blasts in the southern city of Kandahar. Another 31 people were injured. The attack came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Kabul meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. After their meeting, Karzai announced the upcoming Afghan parliamentary elections would be pushed back from May to September.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to approve spending $82 billion to cover the increasing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 162 Democrats joined Republicans in passing the measure by a 388 to 143 vote.
In Iraq, the watchdog group Transparency International is warning the country’s post-war reconstruction is in danger of becoming “the biggest corruption scandal in history.”
Meanwhile President Bush publicly defended the practice of extraordinary rendition for the first time on Wednesday. Extraordinary rendition is the name of a little-discussed practice by which prisoners in U.S. custody are sent for interrogation in foreign countries that practice torture. Until this past month the government had never publicly admitted such a practice existed. But news reports have shown that over 100 individuals have been rendered to foreign countries including Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan. President Bush was asked about rendition at a press conference Wednesday.
Question: Mr. President, can you explain why you’ve approved of and expanded the practice of what’s called rendition, of transferring individuals out of U.S. custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people under custody?
President Bush: The post-9/11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. That was the charge we have been given. And one way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won’t be tortured. That’s the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture. We do believe in protecting ourselves. We don’t believe in torture
The Washington Post is reporting that three European nations — Italy, Sweden and Germany — are all conducting investigations into renditions carried out by CIA agents in their countries.
In Italy, the CIA is suspected of seizing Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from the streets of Milan in 2003. He was last seen walking on a sidewalk near a mosque in Milan. He was then grabbed by two men, sprayed in the face with chemicals. He hasn’t been seen since. Italian officials suspect he was the target of a CIA-sponsored rendition.
And in news from Africa, the United Nations is warning that the eastern portion of Congo is now suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Jan Egeland, the top relief official of the United Nations, said, '’It is beyond belief that the world is not paying more attention.'’ Egeland said thousands are dying in Congo every month and have been for years. He said the death toll amounted to ’’one tsunami every six months, year in and year out, for the last six years.”