Zacarias Moussaoui — the only person charged in this country in connection with the 9/11 attacks — has been sentenced to life in jail without parole. Moussaoui had already been found guilty on a series of charges but jurors were weighing whether or not he should be executed. The verdict marked a major blow for the Bush administration. Government prosecutors had attempted to convince the 12-person jury that Moussauoi deserved to die for his connection to the Sept. 11th attacks even though he was already in jail at the time of the hijackings. The government failed to convince the jury even though Moussauoi proudly admitted he was a member of Al Qaeda and that he defended the Sept. 11th attacks. Three jurors concluded Moussaoui had only limited knowledge of the plot, and three described his role in the attacks as minor, if he had any role at all. We’ll have more after headlines.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives passed a controversial lobbying reform bill Wednesday by a narrow vote of 217 to 213. The bill is coming under heavy criticism for failing to impose restrictions on lobby-funded gifts, meals, and discount flights on corporate jets. Lawmakers also struck amendments that would have created an independent ethics office and doubled the waiting period for lawmakers to become lobbyists. In an editorial, the Washington Post called the bill: “an insult to voters who the GOP apparently believes are dumb enough to be snookered by this feint.”
In West Virginia, a public hearing is underway into the Sago mine tragedy that killed 12 miners in January. On Wednesday, a state mining inspector testified he may inadvertently set off the false initial rumor the miners had been found alive. On the hearings opening day Tuesday, several of the miners’ relatives urged the government to impose tougher safety laws. John Groves, whose brother Jerry died in the blast, told mine safety officials: “We’re not going to let this rest. If another accident happens without safety changes, you are responsible.”
In the South Pacific, a tsunami warning was temporarily issued for the island country of Tonga Wednesday when a massive earthquake struck 95 miles off its south coast. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale. The tsunami warning was lifted hours later.
In Iraq today, 10 people were killed and dozens injured when a suicide bomber struck a crowd outside a court building in Baghdad.
In Mexico, President Vicente Fox has backed off signing a drug decriminalization bill just one day after he said he would approve it. The bill would have eliminated criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of certain drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Fox’s reversal is fueling suspicion he was pressured by US officials. Just hours before Fox’s announcement, the US embassy urged the Mexican government to reconsider the legislation.
Meanwhile, two people were killed and several injured Wednesday when police clashed with peasants in a farming town outside Mexico City. The town, Texcoco, has a history of tensions with state police. The clashes broke out after authorities attempted to shut down a temporary market set up by several locals to sell their products. Video footage showed protesters beating a police officer as he lay visibly unconscious.
In South Korea, scores of demonstrators suffered injuries today when police confronted a thousand-strong demonstration attempting to blockade the clearing of two rural areas for a new US military base. The protesters included hundreds of farmers who have refused to be removed from their land. More than 10,000 riot police were dispatched to the area. The military base is part of a plan to set up several new U.S. bases around the country.
Back in the United States, Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter has announced he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush’s claim to the right to bypass more than 750 laws since he took office. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Specter said: ’’What’s the point of having a statute if … the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn’t like?” Specter said he intends to call on both Bush administration officials and constitutional scholars to testify.
In Massachusetts, nearly 100 Boston College professors have added their names to a letter protesting their university’s decision to award Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice an honorary degree. Rice has been announced as a commencement speaker for graduation ceremonies later this month. The letters’ authors, including theology department chair Rev. Kenneth Himes, wrote: “On the levels of both moral principle and practical moral judgment, Secretary Rice’s approach to international affairs is in fundamental conflict with Boston College’s commitment to the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions and is inconsistent with the humanistic values that inspire the university’s work.”
In media news, Reporters Without Borders is reporting at least 63 journalists were killed in 2005, making it the deadliest year for journalists in ten years.
And in Texas, private investigators have concluded faulty evidence in separate arson cases led to the wrongful death sentences of two men, one of whom was later executed. In a report prepared for the legal advocacy group the Innocence Project, the investigators said negligence and misconduct by prosecutors and fire marshals undermined not just the two cases in question but possibly several others where similar investigative methods were used. The executed man Cameron Willingham, was convicted in 1992 of a fire to his home that killed his three daughters. He was put to death in February 2004. The other man, Ernest Willis, had his sentence overturned that same year after spending nearly 18 years in prison.