In Washington, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and defended the Bush administration’s decision to carry out warrant-less domestic eavesdropping. Gonzales insisted the program was legal and necessary and that mostly only Americans calling associates of Al Qaeda have been affected. But Republican and Democratic Senators raised numerous concerns over the surveillance. When asked why the president never went to Congress, Gonzales said “The short answer is that we didn’t think we needed to, quite frankly.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham responded by saying “In all honesty, Mr. Attorney General the argument that you’re making is very dangerous.” This is Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy: “The president and the Justice Department have a constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws. They do not write the laws. They do not pass the laws. They do not have unchecked powers to decide what laws to follow. And they certainly don’t have the power to decide what laws to ignore. They cannot violate the laws and the rights of ordinary Americans. Mr. Attorney General, in America, our America, nobody is above the law, not even the president of the United States.”
A new critic of the domestic spying program has emerged — former President Jimmy Carter. He described the Bush administration’s decision to go ahead with the warrantless spying as “disgraceful and illegal.” Carter said, “No one knows how many innocent Americans have had their privacy violated under this secret act.” Carter made the statement in Nevada at an event where his son, Jack, announced he is running for U.S. Senate.
Meanwhile USA Today is reporting that the National Security Agency has secured the cooperation of AT&T, MCI and Sprint and other large telecommunications companies, to eavesdrop without warrants on international calls. Last week the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued AT&T for its suspected involvement.
In Haiti, voters are heading to the polls today in the first presidential election since the U.S.-backed ouster of Jean Bertrand Aristide nearly two years ago. The election is taking place after being postponed four times. An ally of Aristide named Rene Preval is expected to win today’s election but fall short of enough votes to prevent a run-off. Preval served as Aristide’s first prime minister and succeeded Aristide as president in 1996. Aristide once famously called Preval his “marassa” or twin. However Preval never joined Aristide’s political party Lavalas. He has said he would not prevent Aristide’s return to Haiti. On Monday, one of the most influential supporters of Aristide — the Catholic priest Gerard Jean-Juste — threw his support behind Preval. Polls show no critic of Aristide will more gain much more than 10 percent of the vote. A factory owner named Charles Henri Baker is polling second. He was a leader of the anti-Aristide Group of 184 and is the only white candidate in the race. He has been accused of running sweatshops.
Muslims across the globe are continuing to stage protests over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. In Iran, demonstrators stormed the Danish embassy in Tehran. In Afghanistan protesters attacked the offices of Norwegian NATO troops. In Chechnya, the government has banned Danish humanitarian organizations from working in the region. We’ll have more on the protests later in the show.
On the military front, the budget also calls for $27 million to help jumpstart the country’s first new nuclear weapons program in 20 years. The money will be used to fund a competition between the Los Alamos and the Lawrence Livermore laboratories to find and design a new generation of nuclear bombs to replace the country’s entire nuclear arsenal. Last week the nation’s top nuclear weapons executive, Linton Brooks, said “We are on the verge of an exciting time.”
Parts of the budget have not been well received in the Gulf Coast region affected by Hurricane Katrina. Mississippi Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson criticized President Bush for proposing to make cuts to a grant program that helps state and local authorities deal with evacuations, mass casualties, and managing catastrophes. Meanwhile in New Orleans, the city’s mayor, Ray Nagin, has publicly admitted he may begin seeking international aid to help rebuild the city because the federal government has been so slow in funding the reconstruction. On Friday, Nagin met with a French delegation and said, “I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we’re getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap.” King Abdullah of Jordan also visited New Orleans on Friday.
In business news, the Japanese company Toshiba has bought nuclear power plant manufacturer Westinghouse for $5.4 billion — a pricetag three times higher than expected. The high price reflects a renewed interest by Asian governments and the Bush administration to build a new generation of nuclear power plants. One energy analyst said, “We are seeing an indication of a nuclear power renaissance globally and in particular in the U.S.” China plans to build 27 new nuclear reactors over the next 15 years. And here in the U.S. President Bush has proposed spending $250 million next year on a new nuclear fuel reprocessing initiative to encourage the construction of the first new plants in a generation.
In news from Washington, President Bush has announced he will nominate a telecommunications lobbyist to fill a vacancy on the Federal Communications Commission. The lobbyist, Robert McDowell, has been working for a trade organization called CompTel that represents phone carriers that compete with the regional Bell companies. According to the publication Communications Daily, McDowell has strong Republican ties and worked with FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin on the 2000 Florida vote recount. McDowell is also close to the Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. Once confirmed, McDowell will give Republicans a majority on the FCC at which time Chairman Kevin Martin is expected to try again to rewrite the nation’s media ownership laws.
And in Cuba, 138 huge black flags have been placed in front of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. The Cuban government said the flags pay honor to what they describe as Cuban victims of U.S.-backed terrorism. The flags will also block the U.S. government from operating an electronic news ticker from its window. On Monday protesters also held up 138 photographs of the 73 victims of a 1976 plane explosion. Cuba has been calling on the U.S. to extradite the alleged mastermind of the attack, Luis Posada Carriles, to stand trial in Venezuela.