On Capitol Hill, the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito enter a third day today. On Tuesday much of the Senators’ questioning focused on two issues: abortion and presidential power during wartime. On abortion Alito admitted that in 1985 he wrote that the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion but vowed to “approach the question with an open mind” if confirmed to the high court. Alito said the president was not above the law but sidestepped questions as to whether the president could skirt laws banning torture or if the president could order the National Security Agency to order spying operations inside the country without a court warrant.
In other news, USA Today is reporting less than three weeks before last week’s explosion at West Virginia’s Sago Mine, the mine’s owner International Coal Group was cited for: “combustible conditions” that showed “a high degree of negligence for the health and safety of the miners.” The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration — MSHA — cited the mine 16 times for unsafe conditions in the last year. In most cases, coal dust and other flammable material had begun caking on the mine floor and walls. The documents also show MSHA levied only $1,221 dollars in fines for the violations.
In Haiti, business leaders carried through with a planned strike to pressure the UN to crackdown on poor neighborhoods. Police say nearly 2,000 kidnappings have occurred in Haiti in the last ten months. The business community blames the abductions on supporters of Lavalas, the party of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Street vendor Jeanne Martineau told Reuters: “I think they observed the strike just because they are targets for kidnappings and not because they care for the poor masses.” Reuters is reporting there were several attacks on residents trying to get to work in an apparent attempt to persuade dissenters to observe the strike.
The calls for crackdowns come as the UN has admitted for the first time it killed several innocent people in a July raid on the poor community of Cite Soleil. This according to an internal inquiry obtained by the London Independent. At the time, Democracy Now broadcast graphic footage of the raid. Peacekeepers killed at least twenty people, including two young children. Despite its admission, the UN maintained most of the dead were actually killed by other gang members, calling the video footage a “manifest example” of disinformation. But Kevin Pina, a Haiti-based American journalist said: “I personally handed a copy of that video to [the UN special envoy, Juan] Valdes at JFK airport. He described it as propaganda and lies without even looking at it. They are predisposed to saying this. They do not want to look at the evidence.”
In Panama, Agricultural minister Laurentino Cortizo resigned Tuesday, saying the US was pushing low agricultural inspection standards that could expose his country to “catastrophic consequences of plagues and diseases.” In his letter of resignation, Cortizo wrote: “Panama should not, under any circumstance, set the precedent of not applying our health inspection laws in force because another country wants to sell its products.” His resignation comes as US and Panamanian officials are in Washington negotiating a trade agreement.
This news from Iran — the Iranian government has removed U.N. seals on its uranium enrichment equipment and resumed nuclear research, sparking an outcry from the United States and Europe. Western leaders are threatening to bring Iran before the UN Security Council to help force it to abide by a two-year freeze on nuclear research. Iran insists it removed the seals to resume research activities, and has no plans for uranium enrichment.
In Ukraine, the national parliament voted to dissolve the government Tuesday over an energy deal the country made with Russia last week. Under the deal, Ukraine agreed to buy natural gas from both Russia and Turkmenistan at a rate opponents charge is overpriced.
In this country, a federal appeals court has reinstated a $54 million dollar verdict against two retired Salvadoran generals accused of torture in their home country two decades ago. Last February, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed an earlier decision against Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia. In 2002, the two were found liable under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act in a lawsuit brought by a church worker, doctor and professor who fled to the United States after being brutalized by Salvadoran soldiers.
This news on the Bush administration’s domestic spy program — the website RawStory.com has obtained government documents showing the National Security Agency spied on the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a Quaker-linked peace group. The documents indicate the group was extensively monitored, with detailed records of their travel movements, driving routes — and even the helium balloons they used in a protest. On one day, the group’s movements were reported every 15 minutes. And at a protest during “Keep Space for Peace Week”, the NSA planned to conduct ariel surveillance and have a Weapons of Mass Destruction Rapid Response Team nearby.
Meanwhile, ABC News is reporting the National Security Agency has denied the request of whistleblower Russell Tice to testify before Congress. Tice, a former intelligence agent at the NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency who has spoken out against the domestic spy program, was told he is not free to testify because staff members on Capitol Hill do not have high enough security clearance to hear the secrets he has to tell. Tice first spoke out on record on Democracy Now last week.
And House Democrats have scheduled an informal hearing on the NSA spy program. Michigan Congressmember John Conyers announced Tuesday the hearing will be held on January 20th. Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said House Republicans had ignored calls for a formal hearing.
In making the announcement, Conyers also released a letter from prominent Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe. Commenting on the Bush administration’s argument its program was legally sound, Tribe writes: “The technical legal term for that, I believe, is poppycock.”
In other news, a national taxpayer advocate has revealed the Internal Revenue Service froze the tax refunds of 120,000 mostly low-income workers without notifying them or giving them a chance to respond. Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who works under the IRS, arrived at the figure after a review of a sample of taxpayers who complained they hadn’t received their refunds. Olson’s study found 66 percent of them were found to be due the full sum of their refunds or even more than they thought they were entitled to. On average, the median income of those who committed no fraud was just over $13,330. The median return they were initially denied was nearly $3700 dollars — a significant portion of their income. In her report, Olson wrote: “At a minimum, this procedure constitutes an extraordinary violation of fundamental taxpayer rights and fairness. In our view, it may also constitute a violation of due process of law.”
This news on Iraq — In an article published in the Army magazine Military Review, a senior British officer has written a scathing review of the US military performance in Iraq. This according to the Washington Post. British Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who was deputy commander of a program to train the Iraqi military, said American officers in Iraq showed “cultural insensitivity” to such a degree that it “arguably amounted to institutional racism” and “exacerbated the task it now faces by alienating significant sections of the population.”
And in Washington Tuesday, the public action group the Bush Crimes Commission delivered a set of 5 indictments to the White House. The indictments allege the Bush administration has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The indictments were drafted at the first International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, held in New York City in October. The second commission of inquiry will be held at Columbia University beginning on January 20th.