A U.S. federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Canadian citizen against the U.S. government for detaining him and sending him to Syria where he was jailed and tortured. Maher Arar was the first person to mount a civil suit challenging the U.S. government policy known as extraordinary rendition. In October 2002, he was detained at JFK airport while on a stopover in New York. He was then jailed and secretly deported to Syria. He was held for almost a year without charge in an underground cell not much larger than a grave. Charges were never filed against him. The federal judge, David Trager, said he could not interfere in the case because it involves crucial national security and foreign relations issues. In Canada, Arar called the decision “very disappointing [and] emotionally very hard to digest.” Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights said the law group would still try to proceed with the case. She said “How can this Administration argue before a Federal Court Judge that its practice of outsourcing for interrogation under torture constitutes a state secret? This is a dark day indeed.”
The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan is urging the United States to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp “as soon as is possible.” His comments came in response to a new report by UN investigators calling for U.S. to close the camp. Kofi Annan said the Bush administration could not hold hundreds of prisoners in jail without charges in perpetuity. “Charges have to be brought against them, and (they) be given a chance to explain themselves, and prosecuted, charged, or released, I think is something that is, common under any legal system,” Annan said. “And I think sooner or later, there will be a need to close the Guantanamo and I think, it will be up to the government to decide, hopefully to do it as soon as is possible.” White House spokesperson Scott McClellan dismissed the new UN report. “The United Nations should be making serious investigations across the world, and there are many instances when they do, when it comes to human rights. This was not one of them,” said McClellan. “And I think it’s a discredit to the U.N. when a team like this goes about rushing to report something when they haven’t even looked into the facts. All they have done is look at the allegations.”
This update on the controversy over President Bush’s warrant-less domestic spying program–on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans have blocked a proposed investigation into the operation. On Thursday, Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chair of the Intelligence Committee said, his panel decided not to conduct an investigation. Roberts said he reached an agreement with the White House to consider legislation and provide more information to Congress on the eavesdropping program. The ranking Democrat on the committee — Sen. John Rockefeller — said “Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee once again abdicated its responsibility to oversee the intelligence activities of the United States.”
Meanwhile, a federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to release documents about the NSA program within 20 days. The order comes in response to a Freedom Of Information request filed by EPIC–the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
In other news from Capitol Hill, the Senate is moving closer to renewing the Patriot Act. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is leading the effort to block renewal but he is receiving little support even from fellow Democrats. Feingold wants to set a four-year expiration date on provisions within the Act that allows government agents to force banks, libraries, Internet providers and others to hand over private records without a warrant. On Thursday, the Senate voted 96 to 3 to reject Feingold’s efforts to stall the legislation. Only independent Senator Jim Jeffords and Democrat Robert Byrd backed Feingold.
Scientists announced Thursday that Greenland’s glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed. The shocking discovery has rendered obsolete predictions about how quickly the Earth’s oceans will rise over the next century. The researchers found that in 2005, the glaciers discharged more than twice as much ice as they did in 1996.
In news on Iran, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Tehran the “central banker” for global terrorism and accused it of working with Syria to destabilize the Middle East. Her comments came just a day after she announced the Bush administration is seeking $75 million from Congress to step up its propaganda campaign against the Iranian government. Part of the funds will pay for the U.S. to begin around-the-clock broadcasts of Farsi-language television and radio programs inside Iran. Meanwhile France directly accused Iran on Thursday of developing a secret nuclear military program. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful means.
In Washington, several members of Congress are calling for an investigation into recent raids conducted by the FBI targeting pro-independence activists in Puerto Rico. Last week hundreds of members of the FBI’s counterterrorism unit conducted six simultaneous raids targeting members of the pro-independence group known as the Macheteros. The FBI claimed it was attempting to thwart a possible domestic terrorism attack. At one of the raids, FBI agents beat and pepper sprayed journalists who attempted to conduct interviews. The raids come less than six months after the FBI shot dead Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios.
And in Texas, authorities have closed the investigation into Vice President Dick Cheney’s shooting accident without bringing any charges. On Saturday Cheney accidentally shot his hunting partner Harry Whittington. The 78-year-old Whittington remains hospitalized. He was hit by shotgun pellets in the face, neck and chest. Cheney and the White House have come under intense scrutiny for how it handled the shooting in part because the press wasn’t notified for nearly a day. Cheney didn’t make any public comment until Wednesday when he sat down for an interview with Fox News. On Thursday President Bush discussed the shooting publicly for the first time. “I thought the Vice President (Cheney) handled the issue just fine. And I thought his explanation yesterday was a powerful explanation,” Bush said. “This is a man who likes the outdoors and he likes to hunt and ..uh..he heard a bird flush and he turned and he pulled a trigger and saw his friend wounded. It was a deeply traumatic moment for him and obviously for Harry Whittington. And so I though his explanation yesterday was a very strong and a very powerful explanation and I am satisfied with the explanation he gave.”
And in the Philippines, many are feared dead after a major landslide buried an entire village in the central part of the country. 16 people have been confirmed dead so far. But the Red Cross and military said between 1,500 and 2,500 villagers might be buried in the mud.