A successful anti-satellite test by China is raising fears of a renewed arms race in space. The test was carried out last week — the first known attempt in two decades. Chinese missiles targeted a weather satellite just over 500 miles from Earth, creating a cloud of debris that will take years to clear. Some experts believe China conducted the test to pressure the Bush administration into negotiating a weapons ban. The White House has rejected calls from Russia and China for an arms control treaty.
Domestic spying was a top issue on Capitol Hill Thursday — one day after the Bush administration announced it would finally seek court warrants for spying on U.S. citizens. The reversal came more than five years after the Bush administration began the warrantless eavesdropping and a little over a year after the program was first publicly disclosed. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain the delay. He was questioned by Republican Senator Arlen Specter.
Sen. Arlen Specter: “I believe that the United States and the administration have paid a heavy price for not acting sooner to bring the terrorist surveillance program under judicial review. That’s the traditional way — before there was a wiretap, or search and seizure — to have probable cause established and to have the court approval.”
Critics have argued the Bush administration reversed its stance on domestic spying just as the Democrat-controlled Congress was to bring new scrutiny. But Gonzales said the administration had good reason for the delay.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: “I must take issue with Senator Specter. This is a very complicated application. In many ways, it’s innovative in terms of the orders granted by the judge. It’s not the kind of thing you just pull off the shelf. We’ve worked on it a long time.”
Gonzales also said he will likely block the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from disclosing details of the new orders authorizing the government spying. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly says she has no objection to releasing the material to Congress but that the Justice Department holds final say.
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold: “It is an important moment in the history of our Constitution that this program has now been terminated and is now within the FISA statute, and I do hope that we notice the importance of the moment in terms of our constitutional history.”
Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats completed their “100 Hours” agenda in the House Thursday with a measure repealing nearly $14 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies.
Meanwhile, the Senate overwhelmingly approved an ethics bill aimed at curbing the role of lobbyists. The measure would ban lobby-funded gifts, meals and travel, and force lawmakers to attach their names to special earmarks they insert into bills.
In Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested a top aide to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The move comes ahead of a planned crackdown expected to target Baghdad’s armed Shiite groups.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has renewed accusations the Bush administration is under-equipping the Iraqi military. On Thursday, Maliki said there would be far less need for U.S. troops if the administration carried through on promises to equip Iraqi forces. Maliki appeared to be responding to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent public warning his government is living on “borrowed time.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was in Damascus Thursday for a landmark meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Talabani said Syria is taking steps to block foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. Talabani was also asked about the Bush administration’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani: “I do not know how they (the U.S. government) are thinking. It’s up to them to decide. We did not ask for more troops, but if they send more troops, they are welcomed.”
Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq said he’s received assurances five Iranians captured in a U.S. raid last week will be released. The five work in Iran’s consular office in the Iraqi city of Erbil.
In other Iraq news, a U.S. soldier has agreed to plead guilty in the rape of an Iraqi teenager and the murder of her and her family by U.S. troops in the town of Mahmudiyah. The soldier, Sergeant Paul Cortez, will avoid the death sentence. He’s agreed to testify against three other soldiers accused in the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and the killing of her two parents and five-year-old sister last March.
In the Occupied Territories, dozens of Israeli peace activists were prevented from reaching the West Bank town of Hebron Thursday in a protest against Israeli settlements there. Yossi Beilin, head of the Israeli party Meretz, was among the protesters.
Yossi Beilin: “I think that we, Israelis who believe in peace, who believe in two-state solution, cannot tolerate anymore the situation in Hebron, which is the worst in the (occupied) territories. I think that the world should know and the Israelis should know that not every Israeli is an Israeli Hebronite, not every Zionist believes that what we have to do is prevent the Palestinians from living peaceful life and that the settlement in Hebron should end. Jews should not live there.”
Back in the United States, the Justice Department is close to authorizing a plan that would add the DNA of tens of thousands of people to a crime-fighting database maintained by the FBI. These include immigration violators, detainees in the so-called war on terror and others accused but not convicted of crimes. The American Civil Liberties Union is warning the plan is so broad it could apply to passengers screened at airports or hikers stopped in public parks.
In Texas, DNA testing has exonerated a man convicted of child rape more than 25 years ago. The man, James Waller, is the 12th person to have a conviction overturned by DNA testing in the Dallas area since 2001.
The Pentagon has drafted new rules for upcoming trials of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay that would allow convictions based on hearsay evidence and coerced testimony. The rules are part of a new manual drafted out of the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress last year.
And the columnist Art Buchwald has died at the age of 81. Buchwald wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columns for more than 50 years.