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The Bush administration and dissident Republican Senators have resolved their dispute on the interrogation and trial of prisoners in US custody. Both sides say President Bush has dropped his insistence on being allowed to re-interpret the Geneva Conventions. But in a major victory for the White House, the President will not have to follow the conventions themselves but only how they are interpreted under the congressional War Crimes Act. President Bush will also be allowed to interpret the Geneva conventions for practices the Washington Post says fall “between cruelty and minor abuse.” White House counselor Dan Bartlett explained: “We proposed a more direct approach to bringing clarification. This one is more of the scenic route, but it gets us there.” In another victory for the Bush administration, prisoners tried by military courts will only have limited access to the evidence used against them. The prisoners will be allowed to see summaries of the evidence. But even those will be subject to major redaction from prosecutors. The agreement also bars defendants from invoking the Geneva Conventions in any habeas or civil action involving government officials. The so-called compromise is already coming under criticism. In an editorial today, the Washington Post writes: “[T]he agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress’s tacit assent.” The agreement is expected to go before Congress next week.
The deal comes as the Financial Times reports the Bush administration was forced to empty its secret prisons last month in part because interrogators refused to carry out further interrogations and continue running the facilities. The Bush administration had claimed it was transferring prisoners to Guantanamo Bay because of the recent Supreme Court ruling affirming the Geneva Conventions.
Meanwhile in Geneva, a panel of UN human rights experts repeated calls Thursday for the closure of the Guantanamo prison.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday his government does not need a nuclear weapon and is open to negotiations on suspending nuclear activities. But Ahmadinejad said the talks would have to come under what he called “fair conditions.”
Ahmadinejad spoke as he wrapped up his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly. The Bush administration agreed this week to extend Iran’s deadline to halt uranium enrichment to early next month.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Thursday his government is doubling the amount of discounted heating oil it provides to poor Americans. The state-owned company, Citgo, will provide up to one hundred million gallons to low-income communities in eighteen states this winter. Chavez made the announcement at a Church ceremony in Harlem. He was introduced by actor and activist Danny Glover.” During his remarks, Chavez also called President Bush an “alcoholic” and a “sick man.” His comments come one day after he referred to President Bush as “the devil” while addressing the UN General Assembly.
The United Nations’ leading campaigner against torture has issued a grim assessment of Iraq under US occupation. Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, says more Iraqis are being tortured today than when Saddam Hussein was in power. His comments come one day after the UN said more than sixty-six hundred Iraqi civilians were killed in July and August.
In the Occupied Territories, Hamas has rejected a pledge from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that a new Palestinian unity government would recognize Israel. Abbas made the announcement speaking before the UN General Assembly on Thursday. Hamas says it will not recognize Israel but has repeated its offer for a long-term truce.
In China, a Tiananmen Square protester has been released after seventeen years in jail. Zhang Maosheng was twenty-one years old when he was sentenced for setting fire to a military vehicle during the protests. At least two hundred other protesters remain behind bars.
Pakistan’s president is claiming the White House threatened him in the days following the 9/11 attacks. On Thursday, General Perez Musharraf said he was relayed a message from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage over the consequences of not cooperating with the Bush administration. Armitage reportedly said: “Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.” The disclosure comes one day after President Bush said he would not hesitate to launch an invasion inside Pakistan if he received intelligence Osama bin Laden was hiding there.
Back here in the United States, two separate decisions Thursday increased the power of government officials to conduct warrantless searches. In San Diego, a district court upheld a program that allows home searches of welfare recipients without court-approved warrants. Under the program, welfare recipients face the loss of benefits if they do not agree to have their homes searched. Meanwhile on Capital Hill, the House approved a bill that would give teachers and school officials broad authority to search students. The Student Teacher Safety Act would require any school receiving federal funding to approve the new search authority.
And finally, in an update on stories we’ve been following closely, three journalists in San Francisco are facing new jail time for refusing to turn over information to authorities. Josh Wolf — a 24-year-old freelance journalist and video blogger — faces a new deadline to hand over video he shot at a protest last year in San Francisco. Police say they’ll send him back to jail if he doesn’t hand over the tape today. Wolf has already spent thirty days behind bars. Meanwhile on Thursday, two reporters with the San Francisco Chronicle were sentenced to up to eighteen months in prison. The reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, have refused to reveal who leaked them grand jury testimony that revealed Barry Bonds and other baseball players had used performance-enhancing drugs. The reporters are appealing their sentencing.