In an unprecedented prime time address, President Bush announced last night that he has chosen a conservative, young judge, John Roberts, as his first appointee to the US Supreme Court. Roberts is a solidly conservative Republican who served in the administrations of George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan. Roberts is 50 years old and would likely serve on the court for many decades. His nomination drew almost immediate criticism from women’s rights groups and Senate Democrats who say he has been unwilling to answer questions about his views on key issues. Roberts has argued more than three dozen cases before the Supreme Court. He wrote the government’s brief in a 1991 case in which the Supreme Court held that government could prohibit doctors and clinics that receive federal funds from discussing abortion with their patients. In his brief, Roberts wrote: “We continue to believe that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled.” He also stated that the 1973 Court decision finds “no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution.” In other cases, Roberts has argued that the Supreme Court should invalidate a federal affirmative action program; that the Constitution permits religious ceremonies at public high school graduations; and that environmental groups lacked the right to sue under the Endangered Species Act. He was part of a three-judge panel that handed Bush an important victory last week when it ruled that the military tribunals of prisoners held at Guantanamo were legal.
This news from Iraq. Reuters is reporting a suicide bombing at an airfield in Baghdad killed as many as 10 and wounded 20 early Wednesday morning, when a man strapped with explosives blew himself up in the midst of a crowd of Iraqi army recruits.
Meanwhile, three Sunni Arab members of the committee drafting the country’s new constitution were gunned down as they left a Baghdad restaurant on Tuesday. The Sunnis on the committee were seen as central figures in the U.S.-organized constitutional process. Fifteen Sunni members joined it last month, making it the first nationwide political body to include significant Sunni representation since the new government took power in April. Resistance groups have sworn to kill any Sunnis that took part. As we went to air, there were reports that the Sunni members were pulling out of the committee.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that a draft of Iraq’s new constitution would greatly curtail women’s rights, imposing the Sharia or Koranic law in personal matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance. It also would limit their representation in parliament. The draft would guarantee legal rights for women, as long as they do not “violate Sharia,” meaning that Shiite women could not marry without their family’s permission and that husbands could divorce them simply by saying so out loud three times. The draft would also drop or phase out a measure included in the interim constitution requiring that women make up at least 25 percent of the parliament. The constitution is set to be finalized by mid-August.
A new independent report released Tuesday puts the number of Iraqi civilians who died violent deaths in the two years since the US-led invasion began at more than 24,000. The study found that US and coalition military forces were responsible for 37% of the deaths, with anti-occupation forces and the resistance responsible for 9%. A further 36% were blamed on criminal violence. Figures obtained last week from the Iraqi interior ministry put the average civilian and police officer death toll in insurgent attacks from August 2004 to March 2005 at 800 a month. The report was done by Iraq Body Count and the Oxford Research Group.
While much focus is put on the Supreme Court, the scandal over the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame continues. And a new report in the American Prospect by veteran investigative journalist Murray Waas charges that Karl Rove may have hidden information from FBI investigators early on in the scandal. Waas writes that Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed CIA officer Valerie Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper during Rove’s first interview with the FBI. Waas cites sources close to the investigation as saying that the omission by Rove created doubt for federal investigators as to whether Rove was withholding crucial information from them, and perhaps even misleading or lying to them.
Meanwhile, a government watch group in Washington DC is escalating its calls for Vice president Dick Cheney to be investigated for his alleged confirmation of leaked classified information. The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, charges that in a Jan. 9, 2004 interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Cheney referred to a story that appeared in right-wing Weekly Standard that discussed a Defense Department memo that included a list of CIA, NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency raw reports regarding possible links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. In the interview, Cheney called the Standard’s story “the best information out there.” Those comments conflicted with the Pentagon’s press release on the Weekly Standard story, issued months before the Cheney interview, stating that news reports that characterized the contents of the memo were “inaccurate” and excoriated the leak as “deplorable and maybe illegal.” The Pentagon also stated that leaking such information does “serious harm to national security.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan says it has detained more than 200 people in a crackdown launched in response to the London bombings, twice the number given earlier. Many of them were arrested in raids on religious schools. Most of the arrests were made in the country’s most populous Punjab province.
A lawyer for Jose Padilla, a US citizen accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,'’ went before a federal appeals court Tuesday and demanded the U.S. government either charge his client with a crime or set him free. But a Bush administration lawyer told the court that the president must have authority to indefinitely detain terror suspects. President Bush declared Padilla an “enemy combatant,'’ a designation that allows the military to hold someone indefinitely without charges. Padilla is in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., and has been held for the past three years. The appeals court received the case after a South Carolina judge ruled that the government must charge Padilla with a crime or release him.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon this week named a new chief defense lawyer for its trials at Guantanamo. He is Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dwight Sullivan, a reservist who worked for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Maryland branch for six years. In other developments, the Pentagon said it was unlikely the death penalty would be imposed in the first 12 cases at the prison camp. The trials of Guantanamo prisoners had been frozen for eight months until a federal appeals panel on Friday reversed a lower-court ruling that these so-called “military commission” proceedings were unlawful. The Pentagon says that hearings could begin in as early as a month.
Three British soldiers have been charged with war crimes for the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees in the first case of its kind in Britain. The British Attorney General’s office said the men were the first British soldiers to be charged under the International Criminal Court Act 2001. But, a spokesperson for the attorney general said the three soldiers charged with war crimes would be tried in Britain, not before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Eight other British soldiers, including a former colonel, face military tribunals in connection with the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees. But they were charged under British law.
This news from Israel. Hundreds of militant Israeli settlers that have set up a protest camp in southern Israel to oppose the country’s alleged withdrawal from Gaza are heading into day 3 of their demonstration. This comes after a day that saw 16 arrests and several clashes with Israeli security forces. Israeli Prime Minister General Ariel Sharon has billed the withdrawal as “disengagement” from conflict with the Palestinians. The settlers say that Israel is giving up a biblical birthright and rewarding a Palestinian uprising. Sharon said he would begin evacuating 21 settlements in Gaza and a pocket of the West Bank next month.
International aid organizations are accusing Western governments including the US of failing to deliver on aid promises as famine in Niger is putting the lives of more than 2.5 million people, including 800,000 children, at risk. The UN says the world’s second least developed country was suffering what it called “an acute humanitarian crisis” and called on governments to fulfill their pledges of aid and financial support.