In a shocking result, unofficial tallies from the Palestinian parliamentary elections indicate an overwhelming victory for Hamas. The unconfirmed results show Hamas has captured nearly all 16 districts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The vote marked the Palestinians’ first parliamentary elections in a decade.
In other news, President Bush made a rare visit to the headquarters of the National Security Agency at Forte Meade, Maryland Wednesday. The visit was part of his continued public relations offensive to defend the secret monitoring of U.S. citizens without court warrants.
This news on the case of detained Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles — the US government has announced it will delay a decision on his extradition until April. In September, a U.S. immigration judge ruled Carriles won’t be deported to Cuba or Venezuela, where he is wanted for his role in blowing up a Cuban jetliner in 1976 killing 73 people. A US immigration spokesperson said the government has not ruled out deporting Carriles to a third country. Meanwhile, in Cuba Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of Cubans held a rally outside the US interests section in Havana to protest Carriles’ possible release. Venezuela is threatening to cut ties with the United States over its refusal to hand over Carriles.
In other news, the Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has called for the release of imprisoned Haitian priest Gerard Jean Juste. In a letter to interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, Republican Senator Richard Lugar wrote: “I am very concerned that Roman Catholic priest father Gerard Jean-Juste, who is imprisoned in Haiti, is seriously ill… Medical experts are saying that if Father Jean-Juste contracts an infection, then the effects could be fatal. Without appropriate treatment, which is unavailable locally in Haiti, his life could be in jeopardy.” Jean-Juste was jailed in July for a murder that occurred while he was out of the country. He’s vehemently denied the charges. The Haitian government has failed to provide any evidence. This week, the Haitian government announced it was dropping those charges but keeping Jean Juste on two new charges of illegal weapons possession and criminal conspiracy. Supporters of Jean-Juste have argued the priest is a political prisoner being detained because of his close ties to the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Amnesty International has declared him a prisoner of conscience.
Meanwhile, the Haitian government has announced it will not be putting any voting stations inside Haiti’s largest poor community, Cite Soleil. The announcement comes just one day after hundreds of Cite Soleil residents took to the streets to demand polling stations. Between 250,000 and 600,000 people live in Cite Soleil. It is widely known as a stronghold for the Lavalas movement of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Haitian officials said the neighborhood is too dangerous for voting. But a UN official told Reuters voting is feasible in Cite Soleil, pointing out thousands of voters have been registered without incident. Rene Lundi, a local community leader, said: “It is clear they want to prevent us from voting, because they know our vote won’t go their way.”
In Sri Lanka, negotiators with both the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels have agreed to hold talks on a temporary ceasefire. The talks will take place in Switzerland.
In other news, the US space agency NASA says the year 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded. Unusually hot temperatures were experienced in the Arctic. All five of the world’s hottest years have occurred in the last decade since modern record-keeping began over 100 years ago.
Last week, a new study from the University of Amsterdam found global warming is threatening to destroy plankton — the microscopic plants that maintain all life in the oceans. The study found the plants can be starved of vital nutrients as the world’s ocean temperatures get warmer. It warned the disappearance of the plankton’s nutrients threatened to lead to an increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is normally removed by the ocean.
The Boston Globe is reporting that Bush administration has apparently argued it is free to continue with the broad investigative powers granted by the USA Patriot Act — even if Congress does not extend the act. The Globe says the argument comes in a footnote in Attorney Alberto Gonzales’ 42-page legal memo defending the NSA spy program. According to the Globe, Gonzales wrote Congress already gave President Bush the broad investigative authority when it authorized him to use force against Al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks. Despite its apparent position, the White House has lobbied intensively for Congress to re-authorize the Patriot Act.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for one of two US Muslims jailed on terrorism charges has filed a motion to dismiss the entire case on the grounds their prosecution originated in the Bush administration’s domestic spy program. In August 2004, Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Muhhiddin Aref were arrested in a sting operation on their mosque in Albany, New York. The case may set the stage for a constitutional challenge to the NSA program as part of the case.
In other news, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tariq Ramadan — the Muslim scholar barred from the US under the USA Patriot Act. In 2004, Ramadan, a Swiss professor known for his work on Islamic theology and the place of Muslims in the modern world, was appointed to teach Islamic philosophy and ethics at the University of Notre Dame. But just days before he was set to travel, his visa was revoked without explanation at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security. Ramadan was barred under a section of the Patriot Act, which bars entry to foreigners who have used a “position of prominence … to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.” The ACLU is seeking to strike down that clause.
Meanwhile, four Muslims who were deported after being held for months without charge following 9/11 have returned to the US to take part in a lawsuit against the US government over their detentions. The four were among over 1200 Muslim and South Asian men rounded up in the months following 9/11. One of the four, Yasser Ebrahim, says he was held for eight months — despite being cleared of links to terror groups less than two months into his detention. The men say they suffered severe beatings, verbal abuse and a total blackout on communications with their families and attorneys. The US government has allowed them to return to the US on the condition they remain in their hotels when not in court and refrain from speaking to anybody outside the case.
In Iraq, the US has announced it will release five Iraqi women detainees. The women’s release is raising hopes for the freedom of kidnapped reporter Jill Carroll. Carroll’s abductors have called for the release of all women prisoners held in Iraq. A deadline for their demand passed last Friday.
And anti-war British MP George Galloway continues to make news. On Wednesday, a British court upheld Galloway’s winning judgment in a libel suit he brought against the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. In 2003, the Telegraph ran an article claiming Galloway received payments from the government of Saddam Hussein. The Telegraph has been ordered to pay Galloway’s legal costs and more than a quarter of a million dollars in damages.
Hours after the verdict, the British Sun released a video from 1998 apparently showing Galloway smiling and shaking hands with Uday Hussein, the late of son of Saddam Hussein. And last night, Galloway learned he had been voted off of the British reality television program Big Brother. Galloway had drawn criticism for his participation in the show. During his three-week run, millions of viewers watched Galloway take part in such activities as dressing in a red leotard and lapping imaginary milk from a saucer like a cat. Galloway said he had appeared on the program to spread his anti-war message.