Leaders of Hamas are calling on the international community not to follow through with threats to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority following Hamas victory in last week’s election. The group pledged that all international aid would be used for social relief and not for violence. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke to reporters earlier today. “With the trust that was given to us by the Palestinian people, through a democratic, honest (election) process witnessed by hundreds of foreign observers and thousands of local ones, we call on you and the liberal world to respect the results of democracy and to respect the Palestinian will in accordance with the ballot boxes and to deal with the Palestinian people accordingly,” Haniyeh said. Haniyeh’s comment come as western leaders are meeting in London. The United States, Israel and the European Union have all threatened to cut off ties and funding to the Palestinian government if Hamas forms the new government. On Sunday the newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU will not fund the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas agrees to recognize the right of Israel to exist. However former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said the international community must find a way to continue supporting the Palestinian people. He said “Regardless of the government, I would hope that potential donors find alternative means to be generous to the Palestinian people [even] if the donor decides to bypass the Palestinian government completely.”
On Capitol Hill, support for Senate Democrats to block the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice nominee Samuel Alito is growing. Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy first announced their support for a filibuster last week. Since then Hillary Rodham Clinton, Diane Feinstein, Russ Feingold, Dick Durbin, Barack Obama and others have expressed support for the filibuster even though Obama predicted that the effort would fail. At least four Democrats have indicated they will vote to confirm Alito — Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.
In Iraq, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman — Doug Vogt — were seriously injured in a bomb attack on Sunday. Four weeks ago Woodruff became co-host of ABC’s World News Tonight.
A new video has been broadcast showing the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Team who were kidnapped two months ago in Iraq. Their abductors threatened to kill them if Iraqi prisoners were not released from U.S. and Iraqi run prisons. The peace activists — Briton Norman Kember, American Tom Fox and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden–were kidnapped on November 26.
Meanwhile a new judge has taken over the trial of Saddam Hussein. The courtroom turned into a near madhouse on Sunday when the judge got into an argument with one of Hussein’s co-defendants, Barzan Ibrahim who was dragged out of the courtroom kicking and screaming. Hussein and his entire defense team then walked out.
In news from Haiti, one of the country’s best known political prisoners–the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste has been temporarily released from jail in order to be treated for leukemia and pneumonia. Jean-Juste was first taken to a hospital in Port-Au-Prince where he briefly spoke with reporters. He was then flown to Miami where he will be treated. The interim Haitian government has been widely criticized for jailing the 59-year-old priest. Hundreds of religious, political and human rights leaders and 50 members of the U.S. Congress had called on the Haitian government to release him. Amnesty International had labeled Jean-Juste a “prisoner of conscience.” While Jean-Juste has been temporarily freed, hundreds of other supporters of the ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide–including the well-known singer So Ann–remain in jail.
In Ohio, a 35-year-old veteran of the Iraq war was buried on Saturday–a week after he committed suicide. Army Reservist Douglas Barber was a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and had publicly spoken out about the psychological toll war takes on veterans. A month before he died he appeared on Doug Basham’s radio show. Barber reportedly spent two years fighting the military to get counseling and for the VA to recognize his disability. Just days before he shot himself, Douglas Barber wrote QUOTE, “We cannot stand the memories and [we] decide death is better. We kill ourselves because we are haunted by seeing children killed and families wiped out.” Meanwhile a new report from UPI is estimating 19,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress since 2002. Overall 40,000 veterans from the two wars have exhibited some signs of mental health disorders.
In other military news, Reuters is reporting the U.S. Army has now forced about 50,000 soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints ended under a controversial policy called “stop-loss.”
In environmental news, the top climate scientist at NASA has accused the Bush administration of trying to stop him from speaking out about the links between greenhouse gases and global warming. The scientist, James Hansen, told the New York Times that NASA officials have ordered the public affairs staff to review all of his upcoming lectures, papers, writings and requests for interviews from journalists.
In business news, the trial of former Enron Chairman Ken Lay and President Jeffrey Skilling begins today in Houston. Lay faces seven charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud. Skilling faces 31 charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, lying to auditors and insider trading. Four years ago Enron filed for bankruptcy after years of defrauding its own employees and investors. The bankruptcy put over 4,000 people out of work. Thousands of Enron employees lost their lifesavings. The trial could become a political liability for President Bush because he was closely linked to the Texas-based firm. Ken Lay and other Enron employees gave Bush some $600,000 in political donations. According to the Center for Public Integrity this made Enron Bush’s top career donor–a distinction the company maintained until last year.
In other business news, Halliburton has reported it made a company-record $2.4 billion last year–making 2005 the company’s most profitable year in its 86 year history. The company–which was once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney–has seen its stock value double over the past year. Last week Halliburton subsidiary KBR won a $385 million contract to build and operate new detention facilities in case of a “emergency influx of immigrants” into the country.
A newly declassified Pentagon document shows Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has personally approved wide-ranging plans for the military to increase its ability to fight an electronic information war. The document recommends that the United States should seek the ability to “provide maximum control of the entire electromagnetic spectrum”. It states that US forces should be able to “disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems”.
According to the BBC, this means the US military is seeking the capability to knock out any telephone, networked computer, or radar system on the planet. The same document also raises new questions about the U.S. military’s use of propaganda overseas. By law, the military is barred from directing propaganda toward American audiences. But the Pentagon acknowledges in the report that the U.S. public is increasingly exposed to propaganda disseminated overseas in psychological operations.
In a update to a story we have been following–peace activist Teresa Grady was sentenced Friday for four months in prisons for spilling her own human blood at a military recruiting station in upstate New York to protest the Iraq war. Grady and her three co-defendants, known as the St. Patricks Four, received prison sentences totaling 20 months. They were all sentenced during the same week that a military jury in Colorado decided not to jail an Army interrogator even though he was found guilty of negligent homicide in the torturing and killing of an Iraqi detainee.
The case of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has taken a surprising turn. The chief prosecutor investigating the lobbying scandal has been forced to step down because President Bush has nominated him for a federal judgeship. The prosecutor–Noel Hillman–is being removed just at time that the probe is expanding into what could turn out to be one of the largest Congressional scandals in a century. Already Abramoff has admitted to bribing members of Congress and defrauding Native American clients.
The scandal is also making news in South Africa. That’s because in the mid-1980s Jack Abramoff helped launch the pro-aparthed International Freedom Foundation. According to the South African Mail & Guardian, the IFF was promoted as an independent think tank but it was actually part of an elaborate South African military intelligence operation set up to combat sanctions and undermine Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. While Abramoff headed the IFF in Washington, in South Africa it was run in part by Craig Williamson, a notorious military intelligence officer known for carrying out a series of bombings and assassinations. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted Williamson amnesty for his role in the 1982 bombing of the ANC’s office in London and for ordering the assassination of at least two anti-apartheid campaigners. Abramoff first visited South Africa in 1983 at a time when he was head of the College Republicans National Committee. Two years later Abramoff helped organize an international conference of right wing groups uniting the U.S.-backed Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, leaders of the Afghan mujahedin, Nicaraguan contras and Laotian guerrillas. As part of Abramoff’s work with South Africa, he also made the film Red Scorpion that was filmed in occupied Namibia and reportedly funded by the South African military.
The New York Times has revealed new details of the US role in the overthrow of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. In a lengthy expose published Sunday, former US ambassador Brian Dean Curran says the White House and State Department actively ignored his complaints over the Haiti activities of the International Republican Institute — a government-funded group with close ties to the Bush administration. Over Curran’s objection, the IRI convened training sessions for anti-Aristide groups at a Santo Domingo hotel. These meetings were financed by the US government. On one occasion, two key leaders of the armed rebellion that eventually toppled Aristide — Guy Phillipe and Paul Accelin — were staying at the same hotel where the meetings took place. Curran was removed from his post in July 2003 — six months before his term was set to expire. Otto Reich, who served as Assistant Secretary of State during President George W. Bush’s first term, said Curran was replaced because QUOTE “we did not think the ambassador was carrying out the new policy in the way we wanted it carried out.” Aristide was deposed just months later, on February 29th 2004, in what he called a modern-day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States.
And in El Salvador the former head of the FMLN, Schafik Handal, was buried on Sunday. About 100,000 attended the funeral in the country’s largest public gathering in over a decade. He died on Tuesday at the age of 75.