A European diplomat on a visit to Tehran says he’s making progress in talks over Iran’s nuclear activities. The diplomat, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, is in Iran with a package of economic and political incentives to persuade Iran to give up its domestic uranium enrichment program. He spoke Tuesday after meeting with lead Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
The incentive package was drawn up last week by the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. In Texas, President Bush was asked about the offer to Iran.
In Iraq, almost 600 prisoners were released from jails across the country today. The Iraqi government says a total of 2500 people will be released as a gesture of national reconciliation. An estimated 28,000 people remain imprisoned in Iraqi jails. Just over half are believed to be detained by US troops.
In Britain, a military court has found three British soldiers not guilty in the drowning death of a 15-year old Iraqi teen. The soldiers were accused of forcing four Iraqis to swim across a canal by threatening to shoot them. The 15-year old, Ahmed Jabber Kareem, did not know how to swim. In a statement, the British Defense Ministry said the soldiers have the army’s full support to continue their military careers.
Meanwhile, a US army officer has announced he’s refusing his deployment to Iraq slated for later this month. The officer, First Lt. Ehren Watada, says he first asked for permission to resign his position in January. He says he wrote: “I am whole-heartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this war, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership.” Lt. Watada is believed to be the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq since the invasion. Simultaneous news conferences by his supporters are expected to be held today in his home state of Hawaii and in Olympia, Washington. Military officials told Watada he cannot attend the news conference because he is barred from speaking publicly about his case while on duty at the base.
USA Today is reporting the Pentagon is resisting efforts by military doctors to track the number of concussions suffered by combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The doctors say thousands of troops are risking permanent brain damage by returning to combat with undiagnosed concussions. An estimated 20% of troops in front-line infantry units have suffered from the concussions. According to USA Today, the Brain Injury Center wants the Pentagon to use a screening procedure to identify possibly dangerous concussions. But the Pentagon has declined. Angela Drake, a neuropsychologist with the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, said: “I think they’re afraid. The sheer numbers are overwhelming. This is a worrisome thing. It’s like opening a can of worms.”
In Canada, fifteen of the 17 terror suspects nabbed in a sting operation last week appeared in court for a bail hearing Tuesday. The suspects are accused of plotting attacks inside Canada. The alleged plots included a raid on the Canadian parliament and beheading government officials, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Prosecutors said the suspects planned the attacks to call for the release of Muslim prisoners. A lawyer for one of the suspects denied the allegations his client planned to carry out the beheadings. The Toronto Star is reporting one of the suspects is a former Canadian soldier who received more than four years of military training. Lawyers for other suspects complained Tuesday they’re being denied access to their clients. Canadian officials say more arrests are likely.
Here in the United States, eight states held primaries on Tuesday. In one of the day’s most watched races, Republican Brian Bilbray narrowly won the seat vacated by jailed former Congressmember Randy “Duke” Cunningham in San Diego. California State treasurer Phil Angelides won the Democratic primary to take on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in November. And in a race we covered yesterday on Democracy Now, incumbent Congressmember Jane Harman beat out anti-war candidate Marcy Winograd in the Democratic primary in California’s 36th district. Winograd defied expectations and captured nearly 38% of the vote.
Europe’s leading human rights watchdog has determined that 14 European countries have been involved in or complicit in secret CIA operations since the Sept. 11th attacks. Dick Marty, chairman of the Council of Europe’s committee on legal affairs and human rights, accused the Bush administration of adopting a legal approach which is “utterly alien to the European tradition.” Marty’s investigation focused on the U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition where CIA officials kidnap individuals and then transport them to other countries for interrogation. According to the report, Spain, Turkey, Germany and Cyprus provided staging posts for rendition operations. Italy, Sweden, Bosnia, and Macedonia all allowed the rendition of residents from their soil. Britain, Ireland, Portugal, and Greece all provided airports used by the CIA. And Romania and Poland allowed the CIA to operate secret prisons on their soil.
In Brazil, more than 1,000 landless rural workers stormed the country’s lower house of Congress and temporarily took over part of the building. The workers were demanding more funds and legislative reform to accelerate agrarian reform. Officials said 20 people were hurt as protesters fought with security forces and destroyed government property.
On Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Arlen Specter has announced he will not subpoena phone company executives to talk about their roles in the National Security Agency’s domestic spy program. Specter is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, he said he agreed to put off the subpoenas after the White House offered to cooperate with his legislation that would seek a federal review of the surveillance program. Specter said he couldn’t make the executives talk because a company lawyer and Vice President Dick Cheney said they could not discuss classified information. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy responded: “Why don’t we just recess for the rest of the year? Vice President Cheney will just tell the nation what laws we’ll have.”
A top Justice Department official testified on Tuesday before Congress that the federal government has the authority to prosecute and jail journalists who disclose classified information. Matthew Friedrich, who heads the criminal division of the Justice Department, reiterated a statement made recently by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Friedrich claimed that reporters are not exempt from the Espionage Act of 1917. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter questioned the Justice Department’s claim and said: “It’s highly doubtful in my mind that that was ever the intent of Congress.” Friedrich was called to testify on why the FBI was trying to review the papers of the late investigative journalist Jack Anderson. But Friedrich refused to comment on the case. At one point Senator Patrick Leahy asked “Are there any questions you guys are allowed to answer other than your title and time of day?”
In Louisiana, Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco has announced she will sign a bill to ban nearly all abortions in the state — even in cases of rape or incest. The bill, however, would go into effect only if the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion. Under the law, any person who performed or aided in an abortion could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
In Vermont, two peace activists were arrested on Monday for disrupting a commencement address given by National Intelligence Director John Negroponte at St Johnsbury Academy. Moments after Negroponte began his address, a protester stood up and yelled: “In the name of democracy I object to this man speaking. He has blood on his hands from his work in Central America and Iraq. He shouldn’t be at the podium, he should be in jail. He is a war criminal.” As the protester was being escorted away, Negroponte said “Now it’s my turn.” But before he could continue, another protester stood up and accused Negroponte of overseeing torture, killings and rape in Honduras, where he served as ambassador in the 1980s.
In other news from Capitol Hill, the Senate is scheduled to vote today on an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. President Bush is lobbying Congress to support the measure. Analysts expect the amendment to fail to attract enough support to clear the Senate floor.
In a story we’ve been following here in New York, Manhattan District Robert Morgenthau has subpoenaed records of the Pinnacle Group LLC — a huge Manhattan landlord Democracy Now co-host Juan Gonzales has been investigating in the New York Daily News. His reports show the Pinnacle Group has driven out hundreds of tenants and systematically abused tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods and illegal driving up rents.
And newly released CIA documents have provided fresh details of the US government’s lax and at times cooperative attitude towards Nazis after the Second World War. According to the New York Times, the CIA learned the pseudonym and whereabouts of the fugitive Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann in 1958 — but took no action. Eichmann helped implement the policy of extermination that killed millions of people, mostly Jews. Two years after the CIA found out he was in Argentina, Eichmann was kidnapped by Israeli agents. He was tried and executed in Jerusalem in 1962. The documents also reveal the CIA successfully lobbied Life Magazine to delete a reference to a former Nazi government official who went on to serve in the West German government. The reference appeared in Eichmann’s memoirs, which Life magazine published in 1960. The CIA made the request on behalf of the Western German government, which did not want the official’s role to become publicly known.