The Bush administration has responded to the latest in the domestic spy scandal with near silence. At the White House, President Bush declined to address Thursday’s report the National Security Agency was creating a database of phone call records with the help of three of the country’s largest telecom companies. The President said only that the spy program was lawful — but did not cite any constitutional or legal authority to back up his claim. At another press conference, CIA Director nominee Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA at the time the spy program was implemented, said he would not discuss any specifics. Hayden made the comments after he unexpectedly cancelled meetings with Senators to discuss his nomination. On Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter announced he would call officials from the three telecom companies — AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth — accused of helping the government spy on US citizens. Congressmember Maurice Hinchey repeated his calls for a full investigation.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says he’s confident the standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities can be resolved diplomatically. Mohamed ElBaradei spoke in Amsterdam Thursday.
Meanwhile, on a visit to Lebanon, MIT professor Noam Chomsky was asked about the Bush administration’s row with Iran.
In Iraq, four US soldiers were killed earlier today when their tank plunged into a canal in the town of Karmah. Their deaths bring to 12 the number of US service members to lose their lives in the past week.
In the Chagos Archipelago of the Indian Ocean, natives of the island of Diego Garcia have won a long-term battle to return home. British forces expelled the islanders nearly 40 years ago to make way for a US military base. Recent attempts to return were blocked on the grounds the US needed the islands to carry out the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Some 2,000 US troops remain on Diego Garcia.
In Egypt, police staged a massive crackdown Thursday on protests organized in support of two indicted judges that have led a campaign for judicial independence. Thousands of officers were deployed to block protests outside the courtroom and around Cairo. Scores of people were beaten and detained, including at least 20 journalists.
In Nigeria, a US oil executive was killed Wednesday in the Niger Delta. Ricky Wiginton, an operations manager with Texas-based Baker Hughes was killed after a gunman shot him from a passing motorcycle. Police believe Wiginton was deliberately targeted.
In Indonesia, the government has announced it will drop corruption charges against former dictator Suharto. Political figures have called for a full pardon due to his declining health. Suharto rose to power in the mid-1960s in a US-backed coup that killed hundreds of thousands of people. He was forced out of power in 1998 and later charged with embezzling more than $600 million dollars.
Back in the United States, a group of European lawmakers are in this country as part of their investigation into the CIA’s secret prison facilities and renditions of suspects throughout their continent. But after a meeting with the State Department, Carlos Coelho, the delegation’s Portuguese chair, said US officials had given very little information.
The Associated Press is reporting the Pentagon is examining ways to use the military to patrol the United States border with Mexico. Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland security, has asked aides to draw up plans for the deployment of military resources and troops, including the National Guard. The news comes on the heels of a meeting this week between White House political strategist Karl Rove and several Republican lawmakers where the issue was discussed. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill Thursday, lawmakers approved a measure that would allow limited deployments of military personnel to assist border officials.
In Kentucky, Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher was indicted Thursday on charges he illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs. Fletcher was charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and violating laws against political discrimination.
And President Bush’s approval rating has hit another new low. According to a poll by Harris Interactive, just 29% of Americans believe the President is doing a good job. Another poll tracking views on the President and the outlook for the United States led the New York Times to conclude: “Americans have a bleaker view of the country’s direction than at any time in more than two decades.”