New evidence has emerged linking Vice President Dick Cheney to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Investigative journalist Murray Waas has revealed testimony from Lewis “Scooter” Libby — Cheney’s indicted former chief of staff — before a federal grand jury. Libby testified he had been “authorized” by Cheney and other White House “superiors” to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case to invade Iraq. Larry Johnson, a former intelligence official and colleague of Plame’s said: “This was not some rogue operation, but was directed at the highest levels, and specifically by Dick Cheney. Libby was definitely a man with a mission, but a man who was given a mission.”
Meanwhile, the CIA’s former national intelligence officer for the Middle East has accused the Bush administration of “cherry-picking” intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion. In a new article in Foreign Affairs, Paul Pillar writes: “It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions. Intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made…and the intelligence community’s own work was politicized.”
In Haiti, early returns from Tuesday’s presidential elections show frontrunner Rene Preval is leading with over 60% of the vote. Preval, a former Haitian President and close protege of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide, can avoid a run-off if he captures over half of the vote. International observers have certified the elections as free and fair. While several candidates have indicated they’re prepared to concede defeat, the campaign for Charles-Henry Baker has announced it is preparing fraud charges to try to prevent Preval from taking office. Baker, a wealthy factory owner and the lone white presidential candidate, is a leader of the Group of 184, which backed the overthrow of Aristide nearly two years ago.
As Haitians gear up to return to democratic rule, a group of Haitian citizens have filed a landmark petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the United States, the Dominican Republic and members of the installed government that replaced Aristide. Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said: “The Petition documents the systematic attack on Haiti’s democracy by the three governments which included undermining the constitutional government through illegal embargoes on development assistance and police supplies, supporting both unarmed and armed groups in the overthrow of the government and kidnapping the democratically-elected President on February 29, 2004.”
In Washington, President Bush discussed a purported attack on the United States that the White House has claimed it helped prevent. President Bush said: “We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks, had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We believe the intended target was Liberty Tower in Los Angeles, California. Rather than use Arab hijackers as he had on September 11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed sought out young men from Southeast Asia whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion.”
White House aides later corrected the President, saying the intended target was not the Liberty Tower but the Library Tower. It has since been renamed the US Bank Tower.
President Bush’s comments add new details to the purported attack, which the White House first discussed last fall. The claim was met with skepticism from several members of the intelligence community. At the time, one official told the Washington Post: “It’s safe to say that most of the [intelligence] community doesn’t think it’s worth very much.” Today, the Post reports there remains “deep disagreement” over whether the plot was “ever much more than talk.” A US counterterrorism official interviewed by Los Angeles Times dismissed the plot, telling the newspaper: “It didn’t go. It didn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says President Bush’s announcement has taken him by complete surprise, and that communication with the White House has been “nonexistent.” Villaraigosa continued: “I’m amazed that the president would make this (announcement) on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels. I don’t expect a call from the president, but somebody.”
In Israel, Palestinian groups have launched a legal battle to prevent the removal of several graves from an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. The Israeli government has been excavating the site to make way for the construction of a $150 million dollar “museum of tolerance” built for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre. According to its mission statement, the museum seeks the promotion of “unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths.” The cemetery is at least 1,000 years old. The excavations are proceeding despite a temporary court ban. Durragham Saif, a lawyer for three Palestinian families challenging the project said: “It’s unbelievable, it’s immoral. You cannot build a museum of tolerance on the graves of other people.”
Meanwhile, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service is drawing headlines for comments made during a secretly-recorded speech at a West Bank settlement last week. Addressing the Iraq war and the ouster of Saddam Hussein, Yuval Diskin said: “When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos. You get what happened in Iraq. I’m not sure we won’t miss Saddam.” Diskin also said he believes Israel’s judicial system treats Arab and Jewish suspects differently, saying: “I do not see equality in the way the system handles them when they are guilty of the same type of offence,” he said.
Back in the United States, the New York Times is reporting the White House was told Hurricane Katrina had overrun a levee in New Orleans almost twelve hours earlier than the Bush administration has claimed. The White House has maintained it was first informed of the levee breaches the morning of Tuesday, August 30th 2005. But documents show the Bush administration was first informed at midnight the night before.
The disclosure comes as former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown has indicated he’s prepared to reveal his full correspondence with the Bush administration unless the White House forbids him to do so and offers legal support. Brown’s attorneys say the White House has not responded to the demand, which had a deadline of Wednesday night. Brown is expected to testify today before a Senate inquiry into the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
In Colombia, two staff members of the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders have been kidnapped. Geoff Prescott, the group’s general director, called for their release, saying: “As an independent humanitarian organization we expect that all parties respect our neutrality and impartiality.”
And in Iraq, a new video has been broadcast showing kidnapped freelance journalist Jill Carroll. The video, aired on the Kuwaiti television network Ali Rai, was the third to show Caroll since she was kidnapped in Baghdad over one month ago. Wearing a headscarf, Carroll said: “I am here. I am fine. Please just do whatever they want, give them whatever they want as quickly as possible. There is very short time.” Caroll’s captors have demanded the release of all female Iraqi prisoners held in Iraq. On Thursday, Iraq’s deputy justice minister said about 450 male Iraqi detainees will be released next week — but not the four of five Iraqi women believed to be imprisoned.