President Bush wrapped up his four-day trip to South Asia in Pakistan this weekend. The President ruled out a nuclear agreement with Pakistan, but praised Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf for his commitment to “freedom and democracy.” The Washington Post is reporting the Pakistani government cracked down on a planned rally against Bush’s visit just hours before his arrival. Twenty members of a small political group were beaten and arrested. A dozen of the party’s leaders were also detained before the protest could grow in size. According to the Post, U.S. officials said President Bush is more concerned about Musharraf’s help in the so-called war on terror than he is about Pakistan’s record on democracy.
In other news, Amnesty International has condemned what it calls the “arbitrary” detention of tens of thousands of people in Iraq. In a new report, the human rights group says the US-run prison system has become “a recipe for abuse.” Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: “As long as U.S. and U.K. forces hold prisoners in secret detention conditions, torture is much more likely to occur, to go undetected and to go unpunished.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting a new study has found more than 90 percent of Baghdad residents suffer from psychological disorders such as insomnia, depression and post-traumatic stress. According to the study, violent incidents have nearly doubled during the three years since the invasion than in the preceding 14 years. A mass-exodus of educated professionals since the US invasion has left the country with only 75 psychiatrists — and no child psychiatrists at all.
In Kenya, the UN is warning of a massive food crisis. The World Food Programme says its received just a tenth of the funding it needs to feed some 3.5 million people. A prolonged drought has had devastating effects. The agency says it is short nearly $200 million in food aid, and has only enough supplies to last until the end of April.
This news on Iran — UN ambassador John Bolton has warned Iran of “painful consequences” if it continues to carry out nuclear activities. The International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to meet today on Iran. On Sunday, Iran repeated its threat to begin large-scale nuclear enrichment if it is referred to the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting Iran’s nuclear ambitions are being hindered by numerous technical problems. Citing interviews with several of the world’s leading nuclear experts, The Times says obstacles remain “at virtually every step on the atomic road.” US intelligence officials say it will take 5 to 10 years for Iran to manufacture the fuel for its first atomic bomb.
In Thailand, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bangkok Sunday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Close to 5,000 police officers were placed at the rally, with another 5,000 on standby. Organizers have vowed to continue their protests until the Prime Minister agrees to step down.
In Chechnya, the leader of a pro-Kremlin militant group has been appointed Prime Minister. Ramzan Kadyrov, who has served as first deputy prime minister, has been linked to several human rights abuses in the government’s fight against separatist rebels. Kadyrov will officially take office in October, when he turns 30 years old. Kadyrov is the son of former Chechen President Akhmat Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004.
Back in the United States, the Washington Post is reporting the Bush administration has launched a new campaign to target government sources and the journalists they speak to. According to the Post, the campaign includes several FBI investigations, polygraph testing inside the CIA and a warning to prosecute reporters under espionage laws. The investigations have reportedly affected dozens of employees in different government intelligence agencies. In one media case, FBI agents and a federal prosecutor questioned a reporter at the Sacramento Bee newspaper. The reporter had cited sealed court information in articles about terror suspects. The Bush administration launched the campaign after leaks led to the publication of reports detailing the CIA’s secret prison network and the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic spy program. New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said: “There’s a tone of gleeful relish in the way they talk about dragging reporters before grand juries, their appetite for withholding information, and the hints that reporters who look too hard into the public’s business risk being branded traitors.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has revealed one of its reporters gave the FBI back a secret document he obtained from a group who said it contained proof they were targets of the government’s spy program. The reporter, David Ottaway, received the document from Saudi Arabia’s al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in 2004. The document had been mistakenly handed over to the group by the federal government. The Post finally broke the group’s story last week, when its Oregon affiliate filed a lawsuit against the government. The group says government records show the National Security Agency intercepted several of the group’s conversations in the spring of 2004. Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie said the government’s surveillance program was not known at the time Ottaway received the document, and thus contained no “useful information.”
In other news, a federal court order has forced the release of thousands of pages of documents containing the names and details of more than 300 current and former detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The documents have been posted on the Pentagon’s website. They contain the most detailed look yet at the Guantanamo prison population. In many cases, the charges against the detainees are being disclosed for the first time. The documents were released following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Associated Press against the Pentagon. In the documents, scores of detainees pledge their innocence and allege abuse at the hands of US prison guards.
In business news, telecom giant AT&T has reached a near $70 billion dollar deal to purchase BellSouth. Some analysts said the deal, if approved, would be the fifth-largest merger in US history. The Wall Street Journal is reporting analysts expect around 8,000 layoffs as a result.
In other news, former Congressmember Randy “Duke” Cunningham has been sentenced to eight years and four months in prison. Cunningham pleaded guilty last year to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors. The eight-term California Republican also admitted to evading more than $1 million in taxes and committing mail and wire fraud. In addition to his jail term, Cunningham was ordered to pay $1.8 million in restitution. Cunningham’s corruption was so extensive he even maintained a “bribe menu” listing his kickback prices. The sentence is the longest ever handed to a member of Congress in a federal corruption case. Cunningham served on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense and was chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism/human intelligence, analysis and counterintelligence. The Cunningham case has led to an investigation of one of the CIA’s top officials. CIA Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, the third in command at the agency, is being investigated following reports he had close ties to a contractor who won Pentagon bids through his links to Cunningham.
And convicted civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart has disclosed she is battling breast cancer. Stewart was diagnosed in November, and had a tumor removed earlier this year. Stewart was convicted last year of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism by releasing a statement by her imprisoned client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. She has always maintained her innocence. She is facing a maximum of thirty years in prison. Stewart is scheduled to be sentenced next week. Her lawyers have requested sentencing be postponed until the end of July so she can pursue treatment.