On Capitol Hill the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved an immigration bill that would allow the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country a chance to work here legally and eventually become U.S. citizens. Under Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican John McCain’s bill undocumented immigrants living in the United States would be given a chance to earn green cards and eventually obtain citizenship. In order to do this the immigrants would have to agree to spend six years as temporary workers; pay $2,000 in fines and all back taxes; undergo criminal background checks, and show proficiency in English and civics. The committee’s vote sets up a potential clash between the House and Senate over how to proceed with immigration reform. The House has already approved a different bill that has been criticized as the most repressive immigration legislation in 70 years. It would make every undocumented immigrant a felon and make it a crime for priests, nuns, health care workers and other social workers to offer help to undocumented immigrants.
The Senate Judiciary committee vote came two days after upwards of one million people protested in Los Angeles against the anti-immigrant House bill. On Monday protests continued across the country. In Los Angeles, as many as 40,000 students walked out of classes. Student walk outs were also reported in Dallas and Phoenix. In Detroit, thousands of protesters marched through the city. And in Washington hundreds of religious leaders and activists held their own protest. Many wore handcuffs to protest a proposal in House Bill 4437 that would make it a crime for religious and charitable groups to aid undocumented workers.
Iraqi officials are accusing the U.S. military of massacring at least 16 Shiite worshippers during a raid on a Shiite mosque Sunday night. The Guardian newspaper reports the killings have opened the biggest rift yet between the United States and Iraqi Shiites. Shiite leaders have suspended talks over forming a new Iraqi government. Iraq’s Interior Minister called the U.S. raid unjustified and horrible. The leading Shiite governing alliance is urging the U.S. to return full control of security to Iraqis. The Baghdad provincial governor has suspended all cooperation with U.S. forces. “The occupiers should be bought to account for this despicable crime,” said Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Shwaili. “It is committed by the occupiers against unarmed worshippers and we urge the Iraqi government to take an honest and positive stand towards this vicious attack against Islam and the worshippers Despite the political outcry, the U.S. military defended the raid on Monday. One official described it as a “hugely successful” operation against an insurgent hideout. The U.S. has denied its troops killed any Iraqis and said the massacre was staged.
Overall Monday saw the deaths of at least 80 Iraqis across the country. 40 died in a suicide car bombing at a joint U.S.-Iraqi military base near Mosul and Tal Afar. Writing in the Independent of London, journalist Patrick Cockburn says that there is a “growing sense among many U.S. soldiers that all Iraqis are their enemies.”
Meanwhile the U.S. ambassador to Iraq is trying to block Ibrahim al-Jaafari from serving a second term as prime minister. According to Reuters, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has asked one of Iraq’s most prominent Shiite politicians to seek the withdrawal of al-Jaafari’s nomination for a second term. One lawmaker closed to Al Jaafari said the U.S. turned against him because they want a prime minister under their control.
Arlington Virginia, Zacarias Moussaoui claimed yesterday during his sentencing trial that he was supposed to have been part of the Sept. 11, 2001 plot and that he was training to fly a fifth hijacked plane into the White House on that day. Moussaoui’s testimony came before a jury which will decide whether to give him a death sentence. Moussaoui said Osama Bin Laden had ordered him to head a five-man crew that included Richard Reid — the British man who was later arrested for trying to set off a shoe bomb aboard a flight. Moussaoui was arrested weeks before the 9/11 attacks. On Monday he admitted that he said he lied to the FBI after his arrest to allow the Sept. 11 attacks to go forward. However major questions remain over the accuracy of Moussaoui’s statements. Until now neither U.S. intelligence officers nor the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khald Sheik Mohammed directly linked Moussaoui or Reid to be the 9/11 plot.
In Washington the White House is denying reports that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed in January 2003 to attack Iraq regardless of whether diplomatic efforts at the United Nations succeeded or whether inspectors found weapons of mass destruction. According to the contents of a once-secret British memo, Bush penciled in the start date of the invasion to be March 10. The contents of the memo first became public almost two months ago in the book “Lawless World” by British international law professor Philippe Sands. But the memo received little attention by mainstream media in this country until Monday when the New York Times ran a front-page article. Earlier this month, however, attorney Phillipe Sands appeared on Democracy Now in one of his first U.S. interviews to discuss the importance of the memo: “[I]t confirms the absence of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Why would the British prime minister and the American president be talking about the possibility of provoking a material breach if they had clear and compelling evidence? But more importantly, it also confirms, as some have thought and some have said, that the road to a second resolution was a sham. The decision had already been taken that already, by the end of January, a start date for the war was penciled in and the decision was set in stone and that both Bush and Blair had agreed.”
In Israel, voters are heading to the polls in what is seen as one of the country’s most significant national elections ever. Ehud Olmert, the head of the new Kadima party, is expected to become Israel’s next prime minister. Kadima is the new party that was formed by Ariel Sharon last year just months before he suffered a massive brain haemorrhage.
In Afghanistan, authorities have released a man who had been facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity. The man, Abdul Rahman, is now trying to get asylum in another country but the latest reports out of Afghanistan indicate Rahman has now vanished apparently out of fear for his life. Rahman was arrested two weeks ago. Under Afghanistan’s laws no one has the right to contravene Islam.
In news from Africa, the Nigerian government has announced that former Liberian president Charles Taylor has gone missing from his villa. Taylor is wanted in Liberia to stand trial for war crimes. On Saturday Nigeria’s president Olusegun Obasanjo said he would allow Liberia to take custody of Taylor who has lived in Nigeria since 2003. Obasanjo is traveling to Washington today and is expected to meet with President Bush.
In New Orleans, a federal judge has refused to delay the city’s April 22nd mayoral election despite concerns from the NAACP and other groups that many Hurricane Katrina evacuees will be disenfranchised. Tens of thousands of Katrina evacuees will only be able to vote by absentee ballot. Efforts to set up satelittle polling stations in areas with large evacuee populations such as Houston have been blocked. The Associated Press recently reported there are more registered New Orleans voters currently living in Houston than actually living in New Orleans.
In other news, Amnesty International is renewing its calls for a ban on Taser stun guns. The group estimates more than 150 people have now died in the United States over the past five years after being shot by police armed with Tasers.
In Supreme Court news, a group of retired U.S. generals and admirals has asked Justice Antonin Scalia to recuse himself from a case that will decide whether the Bush administration can use military tribunals to try detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Oral arguments in the case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, are scheduled for today. The generals are seeking Scalia’s recusal because he recently gave a speech in Switzerland, where he dismissed the idea that the detainees have rights under the U.S. Constitution or international conventions. During the speech Scalia said he was “astounded” at the “hypocritical” reaction in Europe to Guantanamo. Supreme Court Chief justice John Roberts has already recused himself from the case because he heard the case before when he was a federal judge.
And today is the 27th anniversary of the meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was the most severe nuclear accident in U.S. history. In the pre-dawn hours of March 28, 1979, the cooling system of the plant’s reactor malfunctioned, causing temperatures inside to skyrocket sparking a meltdown that resulted in the release of radioactivity.
And in France hundreds of thousands of students and workers are taking part in a nationwide general strike over a new law that make it easier for employees to fire young workers. Much of the country’s railroad, bus and air networks have been shut down. In the southern city of Marseille, some 250,000 people took to the streets. Tens of thousands protested elsewhere.