In Haiti, Rene Preval has been declared the country’s new president — winning last week’s election, the first since the ouster of Jean Bertrand Aristide two years ago. Preval is a former ally of Aristide and received much of his support from Aristide supporters including the prominent priest Gerard Jean-Juste. Like Aristide, Preval is seen as a champion of the poor. He has pledged to create jobs, improve education and battle social inequalities in Haiti. Preval’s victory was announced early this morning after an agreement was reached between the interim government and electoral council. It had looked like Haiti was headed for a political crisis. With nearly all of the votes counted, Preval had fallen just shy of the 50 percent margin needed to avoid a runoff. However Preval had called for an investigation into possible election fraud after it was discovered that 85,000 blank ballots were cast. Up to thousands of burnt ballots were also discovered in a state garbage dump. Under the agreement some of the blank ballots were subtracted from the total number of votes counted, giving Preval a majority.
In other news, United Nations investigators have called on the Bush administration to immediately close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. The UN report urges the US government to “refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The report goes on to state “In the case of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, the U.S. executive operates as judge, as prosecutor, and as defense council: this constitutes serious violations of various guarantees of the right to a fair trial before an independent tribunal.” About 500 men are being held at the site. Charges have never been filed against most of them. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed the report. He said the U.N. information was based on “hearsay.”
In Iraq, the publication of new photographs showing Iraqi detainees being tortured inside the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison is being met by outrage. The Australian broadcaster SBS first aired the photographs on Wednesday and many of the images have been reprinted in Iraqi newspapers and aired on television. One Iraqi citizen, Abd Al-Awadh, says the photos proved the United States was acting in violation of international law. “We feel sorry about the photos we saw yesterday. We saw humiliation to the Iraqis and we saw that there is no respect to the dignity of the Iraqi people in this country, the country where we were masters we are now slaves and the masters come from abroad. In addition to Abu Ghraib abuse photos, we saw Iraqis being beaten in Basra by the British forces. This is a violation of international laws, which they used as a pretext to invade Iraq,” said Abd Al-Awadh. “We feel sorry that such acts are being repeated on a daily basis at the Iraqi streets. There is unjustified killings by the U.S. force. The public opinion is misled and regrettably enough the Iraqi prisoner was treated in a barbaric and savage way at the hands of the American forces.”
One photograph showed a man lying dead in the dirt with blood coming out of his head. Another showed a naked man hanging from a bed by his knees. Another prisoner is shown covered in feces. Naked men are also shown in sexually humiliating positions. Prisoners were photographed wearing hoods. Men were also photographed showing what appears to be burn and torture marks. And the outcry over the photos may only intensify. Earlier today Salon.com published even more photographs from Abu Ghraib. The online publication obtained files and other electronic documents from an internal Army investigation. The material includes more than 1,000 photographs, videos and supporting documents. According to Salon.com some of the documents refer to CIA personnel as interrogators of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. To date, no CIA officers have been prosecuted for any crimes that occurred within the prison, despite the death of at least one Iraqi during a CIA interrogation there. On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and other groups called for a truly independent investigation to look at all levels of the military chain of command, as well as involvement from other government agencies like the CIA and private military contractors who have been implicated in abuses.
Meanwhile the U.S. government is criticizing publication of the new photographs. Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman said the release of the images “could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world and would endanger our military men and women that are serving in places around the world.” State Department legal adviser John Bellinger also criticized the release of the photos. “These additional photographs that are now out are disgusting and shows once again just the reprehensible conduct that was going on in Abu Ghraib,” Bellinger said. “It’s unfortunate though that the photographs are continuing to come out, because I think it simply fans the flames at a time that sentiments on these issues are raw around the world.” Meanwhile, Mike Carey the executive producer of the Australian program Dateline defended the broadcast of the images. “Well, we thought this was new examples of abuse, criminal abuse potentially, lots of corpses with no explanation why they were there. We thought we had a responsibility to broadcast those to show the real horror of what happened in Abu Ghraib,” Carey said. “We actually did not broadcast some of the photographs because we thought they were too extreme. We got lots more photographs with the DVD’s—particularly some show sex acts between the guards at Abu Ghraib, apparently dressed in fatigues, probably occurring in Abu Ghraib. Lots of stuff like that we could have shown, we didn’t.”
In other Iraq news, the human rights group Global Exchange and anti-war group CodePink are criticizing the Bush administration for refusing to allow two Iraqi women into the United States. The women had been scheduled to take part in a speaking tour and to participate in the March 8th Women Say No to War march in Washington Both women are widows whose husbands and children were killed by U.S. troops. According to the groups the State Department rejected the visas because the women didn’t have enough family in Iraq to prove that they’ll return to the country and not emigrate to the United States. Organizer Medea Benjamin said “It’s appalling that the US military killed these women’s families and then the US government rejects their visas on the grounds that they have no family to return to in Iraq.”
And in domestic news, Vice President Dick Cheney has spoken publicly for the first time about how he accidentally shot his hunting partner on Saturday. The prominent Texan attorney Harry Whittington remains hospitalized. Cheney shot the 78-year-old man in the face, neck, shoulder and chest. Earlier this week Whittington suffered a minor heart attack. Cheney has come under increasing criticism for withholding information from the press about the shooting for nearly a day and then waiting three more days to make a public statement. On Wednesday the Vice President spoke with Fox News’ Brit Hume. “Well, ultimately, I’m the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. And you can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that’s the bottom line,” Cheney said. “And there’s no — it was not Harry’s fault. You can’t blame anybody else. I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend.” During the interview Cheney also defended his decision not to report the shooting to the national press. The story leaked out on Sunday after first appearing on the website of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, a paper in South Texas. Questions have also been raised about whether alcohol played a factor in the shooting. Up until Wednesday the owner of the ranch, Katharine Armstrong, had said no one was drinking alcohol before the shooting and that Dr. Pepper had been served at lunch. However Cheney admitted yesterday he had a beer during lunch several hours before the shooting but the Vice President denied that anyone was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. The “Shooting Safety Rules” of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department warn, “Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs before or while handling firearms or bow and arrows.”