In Afghanistan the New York Times is reporting the U.S. military is now indefinitely holding 500 detainees in wire cages at the Bagram air base in primitive conditions described as worse than at Guantanamo. The U.S. has been expanding the jail at Bagram at a time that international pressure is growing to close Guantanamo. Unlike detainees at Guantánamo, individuals held at the site in Afghanistan have no access to lawyers and no right to hear the allegations against them. The U.S. military has barred any outside visitors except for the International Red Cross. The prison may not even be photographed. Comparing the prison with Guantánamo, one Pentagon official said, “Anyone who has been to Bagram would tell you it’s worse.”
Meanwhile four people have died inside another Afghan jail after prisoners connected to the Taliban and al Qaeda took control of part of the jail. Police said at least 1,500 prisoners have barricaded themselves inside the prison.
In Iraq, at least 29 people died on Sunday even though security forces had imposed a rare daytime curfew barring all vehicular traffic in Baghdad and its suburbs. In the deadliest attack, a Shiite neighborhood came under mortar fire in Southwest Baghdad. 16 people died and another 53 were injured. Over 200 people have been killed since Wednesday’s bombing at a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra. On Saturday gunmen broke into the home of a Shiite family northeast of Baghdad and killed 13 people. Three people also died on Saturday during the funeral of the Atwar Bahjat–the well-known Al-Arabiya journalist who was killed last week.
Meanwhile there has been no word on the status of kidnapped U.S. journalist Jill Carroll. Her captors had threatened to kill her by Sunday unless the U.S. released all Iraqi female prisoners. Carroll, who was freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor, was kidnapped on January 7th.
In other news from Iraq — the Independent of London is reporting the United Nations has determined that hundreds of Iraqis are being tortured to death or summarily executed every month in Baghdad by Shiite death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior. According to John Pace, the outgoing United Nations human rights chief in Iraq, up to three-quarters of the corpses stacked in the Baghdad mortuary show evidence of gunshot wounds to the head or injuries caused by drill-bits or burning cigarettes. Pace said figures show that last July the morgue alone received 1,100 bodies, about 900 of which bore evidence of torture or summary execution.
In news on Hurricane Katrina, a federal judge has ruled against a request for the state of Louisiana to create out-of-state satellite polling places for evacuees temporarily living outside of Louisiana. New Orleans is scheduled to hold a primary election on April 22. The Washington-based Advancement Project called the ruling a blow for Katrina survivors. In a statement the group said “The effect of this adverse ruling means that more than 100,000 people, predominantly people of color, will have to use absentee ballots… With evacuees being forced to move from location to location the likelihood that an absentee ballot will even reach them is dramatically reduced.”
In other Katrina news, officials in Texas are reporting the state is facing a health crisis because nearly half of the 50,000 evacuees living in Houston have no health insurance. Most of the evacuees had been covered by a special Medicaid waiver but that waiver expired at the end of January.
In political news, a defense contractor admitted on Friday that he paid former Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California more than one million dollars in bribes. Michael Wade, the former president of the defense contractor MZM, also admitted to making a total of $80,000 in illegal donations to other members of Congress. Press accounts have identified the two as Republicans, Katherine Harris of Florida and Virgil Goode of Virginia. Wade faces up to 20 years in prison.
In Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil processing plant came under attack on Friday when three suicide car bombers attempted to blast their way into the facility. Al Qaeda took responsibility for the plot which marked the first time the group tried to stage direct strikes on Saudi oil targets. A successful attack on the plant would have had a devastating effect on the world’s economy. The Abqaiq plant accounts for 10 percent of the world’s daily oil output and nearly two-thirds of Saudi Arabia’s oil flows through the facility. Earlier today Saudi security forces in Riyadh announced they had killed five men believed to be linked to the attack.
The New York Times is reporting the Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.4 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq. Auditors had recommended the Army withhold $263 million from Kellogg Brown and Root, but the Army decided to withhold just $10 million. California Congressman Henry Waxman said “Halliburton gouged the taxpayer, government auditors caught the company red-handed, yet the Pentagon ignored the auditors and paid Halliburton hundreds of millions of dollars and a huge bonus.”
In Uganda, members of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change party are alleging massive voting fraud marred last week’s national election–the country’s first multi-party poll since 1980. On Saturday the country’s Electoral Commission announced Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had won the election. Museveni has ruled Uganda since coming to power in a 1986 coup.
Meanwhile in other news from Africa, Reuters is reporting thousands of civilians have taken refuge on floating islands in the lakes of Congo’s Katanga province to escape rape and murder by government and militia fighters. Some 120,000 people have fled their homes in the remote Mitwaba area, where hundreds of women have been raped during fighting between the army and former pro-government militiamen.
In news from the Caribbean, Jamaica is set to have its first female prime minister. Portia Simpson Miller has been elected head of the governing People’s National Party and will replace PJ Patterson after he steps down in the coming weeks. Patterson has led Jamaica for the past 14 years.
And science fiction writer Octavia Butler has died at the age of 58. She died on Friday night after a fall outside her home in Washington state. Her best-known work included “Parable of the Talents” and “Kindred.” Butler was considered to be one of the first African-American women to break into the world of science fiction. Jane Jewell, of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, said “She is a world-class science fiction writer in her own right. She was one of the first and one of the best to discuss gender and race in science fiction.” Butler joined us four months ago on Democracy Now:
OCTAVIA BUTLER: “I’m going to read a verse or two. And keep in mind these were written early in the 1990s. But I think they apply forever, actually. This first one, I have a character in the books who is, well, someone who is taking the country fascist and who manages to get elected President and, who oddly enough, comes from Texas. And here is one of the things that my character is inspired to write about, this sort of situation. She says:
“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”