On Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to recommend the confirmation of Samuel Alito as a Supreme Court justice. As expected, the vote was split along party lines, with 10 Republicans in favor and 8 Democrats opposed. The Democratic opposition included three Senators who voted for John Roberts in September. On Tuesday, another five Republicans announced they would support Alito in the overall Senate, giving him over 50 votes in the 100-member chamber. The final Senate debate on Alito’s nomination begins today.
The Supreme Court has issued a last-minute stay of execution in the case of a Florida death row prisoner who claims he is mentally retarded. Lawyers for Clarence Hill, who had been scheduled to be executed at Florida State Prison Tuesday night, are also challenging the state on what kinds of drugs would be used for his execution. Hill was convicted for the 1982 shooting of a police officer.
In other news, a UN commission has submitted the final report of its inquiry into the 24-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor. The report concludes Indonesian forces caused the deaths of over 180,000 East Timorese. It says 90% of these deaths were caused by forced starvation, and that Indonesian forces a used napalm and chemical weapons to poison food and water. The report calls for East Timor to be paid substantial reparations not just from Indonesia, but also the countries that supported its military occupation, including Australia and the US. The Indonesian government has denied the reports’ main conclusions. Last week, Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said: “This is a war of numbers and data about things that never happened.”
In the Occupied Territories, Palestinians are voting today in their first parliamentary elections in 10 years. Recent polls put Fatah, the ruling party that governs the Palestinian Authority, in a dead heat with Hamas. All of the major Palestinian factions are taking part in the elections, with the exception of Islamic Jihad. The US has been accused of meddling in the elections amid revelations it clandestinely funneled $2 million dollars into public service projects in an effort to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority.
Meanwhile, Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving in place of the ailing Ariel Sharon, outlined his diplomatic platform Tuesday. In a keynote address, Olmert pledged to continue with Sharon’s plan to retain Israeli control over the main settlement blocs and “security zones” in the occupied West Bank. Jerusalem would also remain Israel’s undivided capital. Olmert did not rule out the expansion of existing Israeli settlements, saying only settlement construction would be limited.
In Haiti, residents of the poor neighborhood of Cite Soleil marched Tuesday in opposition to a low number of available polling stations in their community. Only six polling stations will be available for the neighborhood’s 200,000 residents. Critics say the UN mission and the interim government is attempting to disenfranchise voters in neighborhoods known to support Lavalas, the movement of ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Haiti’s elections will be held February 7th.
The Swiss politician heading a European investigation into allegations the CIA operated secret prisons in Europe accused the Bush administration Tuesday of QUOTE “gangster style methods.” In an interim report, Dick Marty, a Swiss Senator, wrote QUOTE: “Individuals have been abducted, deprived of their liberty and all rights, and transported to different destinations in Europe, to be handed over to countries in which they have suffered degrading treatment and torture.” Marty added there is credible evidence that points to the operation of the secret CIA prisons, but did not provide any details.
The leading internet search company Google has announced it will launch a China-based version of its website that will censor search results in accordance with demands of the Chinese government. Google says it will mitigate the censorship by informing users when search results are censored. But topics such as democratic reform, Taiwanese independence or the banned Falun Gong movement will be off-limits. The news comes amid revelations other major online firms have gone even further in meeting government censorship demands. Last year, Microsoft launched a Chinese portal that bars the use of words such as “freedom” and “democracy” in the names of web logs. Meanwhile, Yahoo has admitted it aided authorities in the prosecution of a Chinese journalist by disclosing information about his e-mail account.
Back in the United States, a new Pentagon study says US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has drastically overstretched the Army to the point it has become a “thin Green line.” The report says the Army is “in a race against time” to avert “a catastrophic decline.” Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report, told the Associated Press: “You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue.”
Meanwhile, the US military has made what it calls a major revision to its rules covering military executions. The new rules would allow for executions at prisons aside from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. That prison is currently the lone authorized site. Meanwhile, the military is denying a spokesperson’s initial claims that the rule changes could apply to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
In other news, the senators leading a congressional investigation into the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina are accusing the Bush administration of thwarting their inquiry. Senators Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, co-chairs of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Tuesday the White House is barring administration officials from answering questions and is failing to hand over documents. The Senators also singled out officials at the Homeland Security, Justice and Health and Human Services departments for ignoring their document requests. Collins, a Republican, called the White House’s stance QUOTE “completely inappropriate.”
This news from El Salvador: former guerrilla commander and ex-presidential candidate Schafik Handal has died of a heart attack. He was 75. Handal was a senior member of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Formed in 1980, the group waged an armed struggle against successive US-backed right-wing governments, which were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Salvadrons. In 2004, Handal lost a bid for the country’s presidency in an election critics charged was unfairly influenced by the Bush administration.
And Rose Bouziane Nader has died. A native of Lebanon she was the matriarch of the family of consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Nader moved to the US in the 1920s where she became a celebrated teacher, civic advocate and author. She would have been 100 years old next month.