General Michael Hayden appeared before Senate Thursday for the first day of his confirmation hearings to become the new head of the CIA. The former director of the National Security Agency repeatedly defended the legality of the NSA’s secret warrant-less domestic eavesdropping program that he helped design.
General Hayden refused to answer questions during the public portion of the hearing on a number of issues including interrogation methods, secret CIA prisons and the true extent of the government’s surveillance program.
In Italy, new Prime Minister Romano Prodi marked the opening days of his new government by pledging to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Prodi was greeted with boos by parliamentary supporters of his predecessor, Sylvio Berlusconi.
The Pentagon has concluded its investigation into the shooting deaths of civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha at the hands of US Marines. On Wednesday, Democratic Congressmember John Murtha of Pennsylvania said the probe will show that Marines: “killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” Iraqis say 15 villagers were killed after US troops shot them in their homes. The dead included three children. The Pentagon initially claimed the civilians had died in a roadside bombing. But Murtha said: “There was no firefight. There was no improvised explosive device that killed those innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell.”
This news from Colombia — the Miami Herald is reporting new evidence has emerged backing allegations that vote fraud favored President Alvaro Uribe in 2002 elections. Electoral judges from the town of El Dificil told the Herald right-wing paramilitary fighters forced them to fill in uncast votes for Uribe and discard votes for his main rival. The judges’ comments support recent accusations made by Rafael Garcia, a former senior official at Colombia’s executive intelligence agency, the DAS. Last month, Garcia said the paramilitaries helped Uribe win an extra 300,000 fraudulent votes.
In other news from Colombia, indigenous groups continue to stage a massive blockade against a pending trade agreement with the US government. The blockade has drawn at least 7,000 people since Tuesday. Demonstrators have accused police of using excessive force to break up the protest. At least one demonstrator has been killed, and scores of people arrested, including four journalists.
In Nepal, lawmakers approved a series of measures Thursday that remove some of the most sweeping powers of King Gyanendra. The King will no longer control the army, and lose his title as supreme commander-in-chief. The government will no longer be called “His Majesty’s Government” but just Nepal government. The resolution was met with victory rallies across the country.
Back in the United States, President Bush was in Arizona Thursday to promote his immigration policies.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said his country will protest Bush’s plans to build a massive fence and deploy National Guard at the border.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate voted Thursday to make English the “national language” of the United States. The measure affirms that that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except those already guaranteed by law. Immigrant-rights activists called the vote a major defeat.
Meanwhile, the border between San Diego and Tijuana was closed for over nine hours Thursday when border guards shot and killed the driver of a car headed for Mexico. The car was followed after custom agents saw it pick up passengers near the US side of the border crossing. Agents said they shot the driver when he tried to speed off.
A senior official in President Bush’s re-election campaign has been sentenced to 10 months in prison. James Tobin was convicted for his involvement in a phone-jamming scheme intended to block a Democratic get-out-the-vote campaign during mid-term elections in New Hampshire in November 2002. Democrats say the scheme may have gone higher than Tobin. According to phone records, Tobin made two dozen calls to the White House during the three-day period in question. Tobin served as the New England chair of President Bush’s re-election campaign at the time.
The UN has called on the US government to close its prison at Guantanamo Bay. In its final report on US compliance with international torture conventions, the U.N. Committee Against Torture said the US should close all down the Cuba prison and avoid using secret prisons in other parts of the world. The committee also said the US should outlaw the use of several of its known interrogation techniques, including sexual humiliation, mock drownings and the use of dogs to induce fear.
And a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a German citizen who says U.S. agents mistakenly kidnapped him and sent him to a secret prison in Afghanistan. The man, Khalid El-Masri, alleges he was first detained while on vacation in Macedonia. Once in CIA custody he says he was repeatedly beaten, roughly interrogated by masked men, detained in squalid conditions and denied access to an attorney or his family. He was only released after the CIA realized they had detained the wrong man, and left him alone on an abandoned road in Albania. On Thursday, the judge ruled proceeding with El-Masri’s case would harm national security. Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing al-Masri, said he will file an appeal. Wizner said: “[The ruling] confers a blank check on the CIA to shield even the most outrageous conduct from judicial review.”