On Capitol Hill, the Senate Intelligence Committee has voted down a proposal to investigate the Bush administration’s domestic spy program. The vote came after the White House and Republican Senators agreed to new guidelines for the practice of government eavesdropping without court-approved warrants. According to the New York Times, the deal asks the Bush administration to request court warrants only “whenever possible.” The Bush administration would be given a 45 day grace period to spy without court warrants if they felt requesting them would compromise national security. After the 45-day period, the warrantless eavesdropping could then be extended if the attorney general certifies the administration’s stance. In addition, a handful of extra members of Congress would also be briefed on the program’s activities. Democrats lashed out at the deal. West Virginia Senator John Rockefeller, who serves as vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee said: “The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House.”
In other Congressional news, the House voted Tuesday night to renew the USA Patriot Act. The measure was approved by a vote of 280-138 — just two more votes than needed under rules requiring a two-thirds majority. Under the new legislation, the government investigators would still be allowed to obtain library and bookstore records. President Bush is expected to sign the bill before the law’s current provisions expire on Friday.
While the spy program and Patriot Act votes were seen as major Republican victories, the Bush administration has failed to stave off a challenge to a deal granting a Dubai-owned company management of six US ports. On Tuesday, Republican leaders agreed to hold a vote next week that could cancel the deal. The vote will be attached to legislation funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush has vowed to veto any bill that blocks the port deal.
In New York, a battle is brewing at Columbia University over a lecture by DePaul University Professor Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein, who appeared on Democracy Now last month, is an outspoken proponent of Palestinian rights. His latest book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” attracted controversy when Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz attempted to prevent its publication. Demand has been so high for the event the university changed the location to a venue accommodating 1500 people. But some student groups, including the College Conservatives and Lion-PAC, a group that advocates Israeli government policies, are mobilizing against Finkelstein’s lecture. University administrators are reportedly considering several proposals to restrict access to the event. Finkelstein’s lecture will take place tonight.
More than six months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, two more bodies have been found in New Orleans. The bodies were found in the badly-damaged areas of the Ninth Ward and in New Orleans East. President Bush is expected to visit the city today.
Meanwhile, home demolitions have resumed in the Ninth Ward. On Monday, demolition crews began tearing down the first of close to 120 homes in three low-income districts. In December, local residents had won a temporary order to stop the bulldozing and grant homeowners the right to be notified of pending demolitions.
In Houston Tuesday, the government’s star witness in the prosecution of two former top Enron executives testified against his former employers. Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former Chief Financial Officer, said former CEO Jeffery Skilling directly told him to inflate company earnings. Fastow also implicated former Enron chair Ken Lay. Both Lay and Skilling are facing multi-year sentences on multiple fraud charges.
In Kenya, thousands of people marched in the capitol of Nairobi to protest the government’s recent crackdown on media groups. The march comes days after government forces raided the headquarters of a local television network and burned thousands of copies of a newspaper published by the same company.
In the Occupied Territories, a senior Palestinian aide has accused Hamas of attempting a “coup” against Palestinian Authority Chair Mahmoud Abbas. The statement followed a measure approved by the new Hamas-controlled legislature to cancel a recent decision to grant Abbas wider powers. The aide, Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, said: “We see this as a coup attempt to change the regime and they have to seriously reconsider their decisions.” But a Hamas spokesperson insisted the new measure was within the bounds of the law.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has accused two prominent human rights groups of undermining the state. In a submission to a Jerusalem court, a state prosecutor said the groups HaMoked and B’Tselem “undermine the existence” of the State of Israel and “cause it damage in the world.” The statement came in a lawsuit brought by a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem against the Israeli government for alleged harassment and abuse. The man’s lawsuit included a statement from a representative of the group Hamoked, which, along with B’Tselem, documents human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories. In response to the prosecutor’s comments, HaMoked director Dalia Kerstein wrote: “The prosecution document contains unbridled attacks on our organization, on B’Tselem and on the very notion of defending the human rights of Palestinians. Attacks by the state on human rights organizations active in it and on the sheer legitimacy of their existence pose a serious threat to democratic rule.”
In Uzbekistan, the government has sentenced a leading human rights activist and two prominent opposition figures to lengthy prison terms. Mukhtabar Tojibaeva, a well-known activist who has led criticism of the Andijan massacre of May 2005, was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday. Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “We view [the] conviction as part of a pattern of persecution against independent voices and critics within civil society since the Andijan massacre. The ferocity of this pattern is unprecedented, even when judged against Uzbekistan’s 14-year history of repression since independence from the Soviet Union.” Also Monday, opposition leader Sanjar Umarov of the Sunshine Coalition of Uzbekistan was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Last week, the group’s coordinator, Nodira Khidoiatova,, was sentenced to a ten-year term.
In Texas, indicted Congressmember Tom Delay won his district’s Republican nomination to the House Tuesday, escaping a primary challenge from three other candidates. The Houston Chronicle reported Delay spent the eve of the primary at a fundraiser hosted by two Washington lobbyists. Delay was forced out of his job as House Majority leader last year amid corruption and campaign finance scandals.
This update on the case of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff — a federal judge has rejected a request to delay his sentencing because imprionsonment could derail his cooperation in several ongoing criminal investigations. Abramoff was ordered to return for sentencing on March 29th. Abbe Lowell, Abramoff’s attorney warned the court he may reveal details of the government’s investigations at his client’s sentencing. Lowell said: “We will name names. We will provide the public with evidence of what is going on out there. It seems to me that is not in the interest of law enforcement.”
In other news, civil rights advocate Anne Braden has died at the age of 81. Braden was one of the founding members of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice. She was the first person to receive the American Civil Liberties Union’s Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty. In the 1950s, Braden and her husband made national headlines when they bought a home for a black family in an all-white area of Kentucky. Last year, Braden traveled to Washington DC to protest the war in Iraq. She moved alongside thousands of protesters in her wheelchair.
And Gordon Parks, the legendary photographer who became one of Hollywood’s first prominent African-American directors, has died at the age of 93. His films included “The Learning Tree” and the 1970s hit “Shaft.” His photography is best known for its portrayals of poverty at home and abroad and the struggles of the civil rights movement.