Muslims are continuing to protest around the world over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. Muslims say the images are blasphemous and contrary to Islamic tradition prohibiting depictions of the prophet. In Lebanon and Syria, protesters set ablaze the Danish embassies. Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya have all recalled ambassadors from Denmark. In Jordan, two newspaper editors have been arrested for reprinting the cartoons. In Afghanistan, one person died after police opened fire on protesters. In Iraq, over 1,000 Sunni Muslims protested in Ramadi calling for Iraq to end political, diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with any European country where the cartoons were reprinted. Protests were also held in Indonesia, Thailand, the West Bank and New Zealand. Earlier today Denmark issued a list of 14 Muslim countries which Danish travelers should avoid.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has reiterated that the U.S. will consider attacking Iran to stop its nuclear program. In an interview with a German newspaper Rumsfeld said, “All options including the military one are on the table.” Over the weekend the conflict between the western powers and Iran intensified as Iran pledged to stop voluntarily complying with orders of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran said it will no longer allow surprise inspections and that it will resume its uranium enrichment. However Iran also said it is willing to consider moving its uranium enrichment activities onto Russian soil in an effort to end international suspicions over its nuclear activity. Iran maintains it is operating a nuclear program for purely peaceful means but the U.S. and other nations claims Iran is secretly building a nuclear weapons program.
The pioneering feminist activist and writer Betty Friedan has died at the age of 85. Her 1963 manifesto The Feminine Mystique was credited with launching the modern feminist movement. Friedan helped form the National Organization for Women and served as NOW’s first president. At the time she staked out positions that seemed extreme on such issues as abortion, sex-neutral help-wanted ads, equal pay, promotion opportunities and maternity leave. Betty Friedan also helped found NARAL–which was originally known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. In 1971 she helped launch the National Women”s Political Caucus. This is her speaking at the event. She died on Saturday on her 85th birthday.
On Capitol Hill, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is testifying today before the Senate over the Bush administration’s domestic spying program. While Gonzales is expected to claim the Bush administration can legally carry out the warrantless spying, Senate Judiciary Committee Arlen Specter has admitted the administration’s legal reasoning does not hold up. He appeared on Tim Russert’s program Meet the Press on Sunday. Meanwhile a new article in the Washington Post raises questions over the effectiveness of the domestic spy program.. Intelligence officers who took part in the eavesdropping on thousands of Americans say they dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat. According to the Post, fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls.
A major spy scandal has also erupted in Greece where it has been uncovered that the mobile phones of the country’s entire political and military elite were tapped ahead of the Olympic Games in Athens two years ago. Among those targeted were the Foreign, Defense and Public Order Ministers, as well as the Prime Minister and the leadership of the armed forces. Others included civil rights activists, the head of the 'stop the war' coalition, journalists and Arabs based in Athens. The Greek government says it is unclear who carried out the eavesdropping. According to the Observer of London, hi-tech software was put in place at the telephone company Vodafone that enabled phone conversations to be diverted to a set of 14 'shadow' mobile phones which then relayed them to a recording system. Officials say the calls were intercepted on mobile phones picked up by antennae in an area close to the US embassy. The Greek government has launched a judicial investigation but has denied U.S. agents were behind the plot. Vodafone reported the eavesdropping to the Greek government last March but before doing so the company had shut down the system making it impossible for investigators to determine who was carrying out the spying.
A federal judge has scheduled the trial of Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby to begin in January of next year–just after the November mid-term elections. He faces five counts of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice in the outting of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Meanwhile new developments in the case have come to light because of recent court filings. According to the Washington Post, court records show that Libby denied to a grand jury that he ever mentioned Plame or her CIA job to then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer or then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller. The records also suggest that Libby did not disclose to investigators that he first spoke to Miller about Plame in June 2003, and that prosecutors learned of the nature of the conversation only when Miller finally testified late in the fall of 2005.
In other news from Washington, the Capitol Police, Secret Service and FBI have launched an investigation into why a U.S. citizen of Indian descent was detained for over an hour after he attended the State of the Union as a guest of a member of Congress. Police said the man resembled someone on Secret Service photo watch list. After Bush’s address ended, 10 law enforcement officers surrounded the man as he exited the chamber of the House. They whisked him away to a room where they questioned him for close to an hour. After the incident the man told his Congressman, Alcee Hastings, that the experience was “maybe just the price of being brown in America.” At the same event anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested and removed for wearing a t-shirt that read “2,245 Dead. How Many More?” in reference to US troops killed in Iraq. The charges were later dropped.
In California, a maximum security prison outside of Los Angeles remains in lockdown after a prisoner died on Saturday during a prison-wide fight. Officials say more than 100 prisoners were injured. At least 20 prisoners were hospitalized. The Los Angeles Times reported a long line of ambulances and paramedic units lined up outside the jail, and rows of tarps were laid out for the injured. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has long warned about the conditions of the jail. The ACLU’s Jody Kent said “There isn’t enough opportunity for the inmates to do productive things, and that allows for the tensions to rise. As a result of that, fights will often break out.” Sheriff Lee Baca blamed the violence in part on overcrowding and understaffing due to budget cuts. He said in some instances prisoners outnumber deputies 100 to one. In an ideal situation the sheriff said the ratio would be six to one. On a typical Saturday night 77 deputies are on duty to watch 4,000 prisoners. Baca said “The more you crowd a facility, the more difficult it is to prevent violence.” The fighting reportedly broke out between African-American and Latino prisoners.
In Egypt, officials are estimating 1,000 people are dead or missing from last week’s ferry accident. Survivors and relatives are blaming the ferry operator for ignoring a fire that eventually brought down the ship. Questions are also being raised about why it took the Egyptian government seven hours to begin search and rescue operations. So far over 400 people have been rescued but doctors do not expect many more survivors.
Here in New York, actor and activist Al Lewis has died at the age of 82. In the acting world, he was best known for playing Grandpa on the Munsters. He was also a lifelong activist. In 2000 he ran for New York Governor on the Green Party ticket and was a longtime radio host on Pacifica station WBAI. We’ll have more on Grandpa Al Lewis in a few minutes.
In Georgia, over 40,000 mourners paid their respects to civil rights pioneer Coretta Scott King by filing past her open casket in the state Capitol’s rotunda. She became the first woman and the first African-American person to lie in honor there. She died last Monday at the age of 78. Today’s Coretta Scott King’s body will lie in honor at the original Ebenezer Baptist Church where her late husband, Martin Luther King, once preached.
And today marks the 30th anniversary of the imprisonment of Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Rallies are being held across the country to call for his release. He was convicted of killing of killing two FBI agents during a shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. But Peltier has long maintained his innocence. This is from an interview in 2000 I did with him from jail. We will post an MP3 of the full interview on our website democracynow.org. In a recent statement to supporters, Peltier said “We are all geared up to file more appeals on new information my legal team has found while reviewing withheld documents. I want you to know that we will continue to fight for my freedom.”