President Bush has acknowledged for the first time the CIA has been operating a secret network of overseas prisons. Bush made the admission Wednesday as he ordered 14 prisoners previously held by the CIA to be transferred to Guantanamo Bay where they could be tried by a military tribunal.
The transferred prisoners include alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Muhammad. Bush said the CIA is no longer holding any detainees but that the secret prisons may be re-opened. He denied the U.S. ever uses torture but admitted the CIA has used what he described as alternative procedures to force some prisoners to talk. Bush also urged Congress to authorize his administration’s revised rules for military tribunals and to amend the War Crimes Act. The president said the new laws are needed because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June the administration’s military commissions to try detainees were illegal. Commenting on the proposed changes, John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who helped develop the tribunals, told the Wall Street Journal: “It does not look like the procedures for these commissions differ in any significant way from the rules already in place before… The only difference is that [the president] is seeking Congress’s explicit support.”
Bush’s comments come as the Pentagon announced Wednesday it is adopting international legal standards for the treatment of detainees. The new Defense Department Field Manual now explicitly outlaws such practices as forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and waterboarding. The Washington Post reports the changes mark the first time there has been a uniform standard for both enemy prisoners of war and so-called unlawful combatants. But the new policies will still not apply to those prisoners captured by the CIA and held in non-military facilities.
In news from Capitol Hill, the Senate has rejected a move to ban the use of cluster bombs near civilian areas. The Democrat-proposed amendment would also have barred arm sales to countries not respecting the same rules. The measure was defeated by 70 to 30 votes. Relief and human rights groups have alleged Israel used American-made cluster bombs in its attack on Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans also blocked a Democratic attempt Wednesday to hold a vote on a resolution calling for the dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In other news from the Senate, members of a committee looking into the Bush administration’s use of pre-war intelligence said Wednesday their long-awaited report will not be released until after November’s mid-term elections. The committee is comparing the administration’s pre-war intelligence on Iraq with the allegations it made publicly about Saddam Hussein. The report was ordered more than two years ago and is said to be nowhere near completion.
Israel has announced an end to its nearly two-month old air and sea blockade of Lebanon. The move comes after weeks of protest the blockade has hampered Lebanon’s recovery and further crippled its economy. Israel says it will lift the blockade today, but warns its troops will remain inside south Lebanon until the deployment of a larger international force.
Meanwhile dozens of Israelis rallied Wednesday against their government’s ongoing offensive in the Gaza Strip. The demonstrators marched on Israel’s border with Gaza.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, two hundred and forty Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. One in five of the dead were children.
In South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki’s government is facing increased criticism over its policy on AIDS. A group of more than eighty international scientists and academics have sent Mbeki a letter calling his government’s stance “immoral” and “ineffective” and calling for the firing of his Health Minister. The signatories include Robert Gallo, who helped discover the HIV virus and develop the first HIV blood test. An estimated five and a half million South Africans are HIV-positive, with an average of more than 900 people dying from AIDS each day.
In the Ivory Coast, the country’s governing cabinet has resigned following a toxic waste dump that left three people dead and more than fifteen hundred seriously injured. The waste dump was near the capital of Abidjan, leading to massive street protests around the city.
In Sudan, a newspaper editor has been found beheaded one day after he was kidnapped. Mohamed Taha was seized from his home in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday. He was arrested last year and his newspaper was shut down after he published articles questioning the roots of the prophet Muhammad.
In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing a growing revolt within his own party over when he will leave office. Eight junior members of his government resigned Wednesday as calls increase for Blair to set a timetable for his departure or to immediately step down. Earlier today, a spokesperson announced Blair would resign within one year.
Back in the United States, a new poll shows public opposition to the Bush administration’s “war on terror” is at its highest point to date. According to the annual Transatlantic Trends poll, 58% percent of Americans disapprove of President Bush’s handling of foreign policy. It’s the first time in the poll’s history more Americans disapprove than approve of the administration’s international policies. In Europe, the level of opposition is at seventy-seven percent — also the highest so far.
In media news, the broadcasting giant Clear Channel has asked the Federal Communications Commission to raise the limits on radio ownership in the United States. Under current laws, companies are allowed to own no more than eight radio stations in large markets. Clear Channel wants the laws changed so it can purchase more stations. The company current owns more than 1200 radio stations across the country.
And in Illinois, former Governor George Ryan was sentenced Wednesday to six and a half years in prison. Ryan was convicted in April of racketeering, conspiracy, fraud and other offenses for taking payoffs in exchange for granting state licenses and contracts. Ryan drew international attention six years ago when he imposed a state-wide moratorium on death row executions. In 2003, he granted clemency to all of Illinois’ death row prisoners shortly before leaving office.