President Bush has signed into law one of the most controversial acts of his time in the White House. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 strips detainees of the right to file habeas corpus petitions to challenge their own detention or treatment. It expands the definition of an enemy combatant and gives the president the power to detain them indefinitely — including US citizens. Secret and coerced evidence could be used to try detainees held in U.S. military prisons. The bill also immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for torturing detainees captured before the end of last year. On Tuesday, President Bush held a signing ceremony at the White House.
President Bush: “This bill spells out specific, recognizable offences that would be considered crimes in the handling of detainees so that our men and women who question captured terrorists can perform their duties to the fullest extent of the law. And this bill complies with both the spirit and the letter of our international obligations. As I’ve said before, the United States does not torture. It’s against our laws and it’s against our values.”
Outside the White House, several demonstrators were arrested at a protest that drew more than one hundred people. The activists wore orange jumpsuits and brandished dog leashes to represent the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.
Unidentified protester: “We reject that the act repudiates a half-century of international precedent by allowing the President to decide secretly and unilaterally what abusive interrogation methods he considers permissible.”
The administration wasted no time in putting the law into action. The Los Angeles Times reports that within two hours of the signing ceremony, the Justice Department moved to dismiss dozens of lawsuits filed by detainees challenging their imprisonment.
Meanwhile, lawyers for detainees and rights groups say they’ll press ahead with challenging the law in court.
Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center For Constitutional Rights: “There are no guarantees and there are no safeguards for people who are being charged with terrorist activities to see the evidence against. And if you can’t see the evidence against you, you can’t fight the evidence against you. This is not about finding out the truth.”
In other news, the Bush administration has issued the first full revision of US space policy in a decade. The Washington Post reports the new National Space Policy rejects future arms-control agreements and asserts the right to deny access to anyone “hostile to U.S. interests.” The new policy is increasing concerns the US is seeking to revive plans to introduce space-weaponry. Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, said: “The Clinton policy opened the door to developing space weapons, but that administration never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further.”
In Iraq, the US military is approaching its highest monthly death toll in nearly two years. Ten US troops have been killed in the last day. All but one were killed in attacks around Baghdad. The killings bring to sixty-seven the number of US troops killed this month. The deaths were announced just hours after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon the US military is too strong to lose the war in Iraq.
In other Iraq news, the Iraqi government announced Tuesday the dismissal of its two senior police commanders. The two officials led Iraq’s special police commandos and its public order brigade. The units have come under scrutiny over allegations they’ve been heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias. The firings come as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is facing intense pressure from US officials. The White House has disclosed Maliki even asked President Bush during a conversation Monday if the administration is planning to replace him. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says Bush assured Maliki of his support.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times is reporting the Bush administration has revived its campaign to pressure the Iraqi government to issue a broad amnesty to insurgent groups. American and Iraqi officials initially floated the idea in June but backtracked amid Congressional opposition to granting amnesty to those responsible for the deaths of US troops.
In other news from Iraq, new figures show the Iraqi standard of living continues to decline. The Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs says one in five Iraqis now live below the poverty line. The number of people living in “absolute and desperate deteriorated conditions” has surpassed two million. That figure marks a thirty-five percent increase over before the US-led invasion. The unemployment rate has reached an estimated sixty percent, while food prices are on the rise.
In Bolivia, hundreds of people rallied outside the US Embassy in La Paz Tuesday to call for the extradition of former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and two of his former ministers. The three are wanted to stand trial in Bolivia in connection with a massacre three years ago that led to the deaths of sixty-seven people and left more than four hundred wounded. More than sixty US citizens took part in Tuesday’s protest, including Maggie Fogarty.
US protester Maggie Fogarty: “I’m here today as an US citizen, who lives here in Bolivia, joining other US citizens today and citizens of other countries who are honoring this international day of solidarity with Bolivia by protesting in front of US embassies, in public plazas, and city halls demanding that the US government stop obstructing justice for the Bolivian people.”
The protest came one day after thousands of Bolivians held a rally marking the three-year anniversary of de Lozada’s resignation. Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed the crowd.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “The government of the United States say they fight against terrorism, against corruption, that they defend human rights. If they truly defend human rights, if they truly fight against terrorism, if this is true, then–my friends–to defend democracy from an assassin, a criminal, the mafia of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Sanchez Berzain, the United States must expel them as soon as possible.”
At the UN, the race for Latin America’s open seat on the Security Council continues today. On Tuesday, the General Assembly failed to choose between Venezuela and Guatemala for a second straight day. The Venezuelan government says the Bush administration has been pressuring vulnerable countries into voting for Guatemala. On Tuesday, UN Ambassador John Bolton denied the charge.
UN Ambassador John Bolton: “That’s all that we’ve ever asked people to do. We have given the reasons why with think Venezuela’s candidacy is problematic, and why Guatemala’s candidacy has a lot of merit to it, and countries are making up their own minds.”
Meanwhile, Venezuelan UN Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas called on member states to stand up to the US.
Venezuelan UN Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas:”We want this to change for the good, so we understand each other on equal terms, so that the will of the strong is not imposed on the weak. We have to profoundly thank this nucleus of countries that maintains itself and does not fall under this pressure. More people are in agreement that everything be resolved [democratically].”
In Lebanon, UN peacekeepers have reportedly warned Israel they may open fire if Israeli warplanes continue flights over Lebanese airspace. The warning was disclosed by Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz during testimony before the Israeli Knesset this week. Peretz says Israel will ignore the warnings and continue the flights.
Back in Washington, former Food and Drug Administration head Lester Crawford pleaded guilty Tuesday to conflict of interest and false reporting of ownership of stock. Crawford stepped down as President Bush’s FDA Commissioner just over a year ago. Prosecutors say he lied about stock in several companies regulated by the agency. Two of the companies — PepsiCo and Sysco — were directly involved in hearings that Crawford oversaw. Crawford faces a maximum two years in prison and a $200,000 fine.
In California, state investigators are looking into a letter that has been circulating among Latino communities that falsely claims it’s a crime for immigrants to vote. The letter is written in Spanish and warns immigrants of jail or deportation if they vote next month.
Here in New York, a judge has okayed a case that’s seeking health damages for emergency workers involved in the cleanup after the 9/11 attacks. More than three thousand workers have filed suit against city officials and contractors for failing to provide proper breathing equipment.
And finally in Houston, a federal court has expunged the fraud and conspiracy conviction of former Enron founder Kenneth Lay. Lay died in July facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in jail over his role in one of the largest corporate frauds in US history. Lay’s conviction was wiped out under the standard legal practice for defendants who die before exercising their right to appeal. Analysts say the ruling will severely complicate legal efforts by former Enron workers and investors to recover some of their money. The ruling may also close the book on the government’s attempt to seize more than forty million dollars from Lay’s estate.