In Pakistan, more than 130 people have been killed in an apparent suicide bombing targeting the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto’s convoy was attacked just hours after she returned from eight years in exile. It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan’s history. Hundreds of thousands of people had lined the streets of Karachi to celebrate Bhutto’s return. Bhutto has vowed to restore democracy to Pakistan yet is returning as a likely ally of President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup. Earlier in the day, Bhutto denied deal making behind the scenes.
Benazir Bhutto: “Many people have said that my talks with General Musharraf is based on a power-sharing deal. There is no power-sharing deal. My discussions with General Musharraf have been on how to move the country towards civilian leadership and towards a restoration of democracy, towards national reconciliation. And while there has been some small progress, there’s a lot more yet that needs to be done.”
The second and final day of confirmation hearings for attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey were held Thursday. Mukasey drew criticism from Senate Judiciary Committee members for testifying he believes President Bush could ignore rules mandating that a special surveillance court approve all secret wiretaps. Mukasey also refused to say if he believes the controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding amounts to torture.
Leading Democratic and Republican congressmembers are calling on the Bush administration to apologize to Maher Arar for his wrongful imprisonment and torture. Arar is the Canadian citizen seized by U.S. officials during a stopover flight in New York in 2002. He was secretly sent to Syria as part of the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. In Syria, Arar was held for almost a year in a grave-like cell and repeatedly tortured. He was released without ever being charged with a crime. On Thursday, Arar testified to the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee by video conference because he remains barred from entering the United States. The Bush administration maintains that Arar poses a national security threat. Democratic Congressmember Jerrold Nadler of New York said he reviewed Arar’s confidential file and found the government has no evidence against him. Nadler said: “This was a kidnapping. … There is nothing there to justify the continuation of this campaign of vilification against you or to deny you entry into this country.” Republican Congressmember Dana Rohrabacher, a backer of the administration’s rendition program, added: “I join in offering an apology, and I wish our government could join me in doing this officially.”
The House has failed to override President Bush’s veto of a bill expanding health insurance to millions of children from low-income families. Supporters needed a two-thirds majority to overcome the veto. But not a single Republican who initially voted against the measure switched sides. The bill would have expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP, by $35 billion over five years. Democratic leaders say they will reintroduce the measure with minor changes next month. Meanwhile, Democratic Congressmember Pete Stark has set off a furious Republican reaction with his comments on the House floor. Stark said: “You don’t have money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.” Stark has refused to apologize.
In other news from Washington, a measure recognizing the Armenian genocide appears headed for failure. The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the resolution last week. But dozens of lawmakers have withdrawn support following an outcry by the Turkish government.
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): “I must have had 25, 30 members, Democrats, come to me yesterday and say — you know, very agitated about this coming to the floor right now. They have gotten the message. So I would say, if it were to run today, it wouldn’t pass.”
The Bush administration has lobbied against the bill, saying it would harm relations with an important Mideast ally.
In Iraq, three civilians have been wounded in a shooting from a British private security firm. Guards with Erinys International are said to have opened fire on a crowded taxi. It was the third known shooting of Iraqi civilians by a private company in the past month, beginning with Blackwater’s killing of 17 people in Baghdad.
In Burma, the U.N. World Food Programme is warning an estimated five million people are lacking enough food. Burma’s food crisis has worsened during the military junta’s crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising. But World Food Programme Asia regional director Tony Banbury said a shortfall in international funding is also to blame.
Tony Banbury: “Humanitarian assistance from WFP and other aid organizations can only be a band-aid. And the sad thing is, or one of the many sad things is, that right now the world’s not even willing to pay for that band-aid.”
In Argentina, a landmark trial has opened into human rights abuses at the military dictatorship’s main prison during the so-called “dirty war.” Thousands of dissidents were tortured at the Navy School of Mechanics, known as ESMA, for seven years beginning in 1976. Victims will give closed-door testimony against former Navy officer Héctor Febres, who is being tried for torture. Former prisoner Enrique Fuchman said the trial has raised mixed emotions.
Enrique Fuchman: “They are not even going to try him for kidnapping the people he tortured. So it’s a mix of saying, well, we’ve taken another step forward, but we’re really angry.”
In Britain, a parliamentary committee is investigating long-held allegations the CIA has maintained a secret prison on the island of Diego Garcia. The Guantánamo Bay prisoners’ legal defense group Reprieve says Diego Garcia has hosted one of a number of so-called “black sites” for U.S. prisoners overseas. The U.S. has operated a military base there since British forces expelled native islanders in the early 1970s.
An American professor who won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the structure of DNA is drawing criticism for claiming black people are less intelligent than whites. Dr. James Watson was set to deliver a speech at the London Science Museum in Britain. But the appearance was canceled after Watson’s response to a question on Africa’s long-term future was published in a British newspaper. Watson said: “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.” Watson’s research lab, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, has suspended him over his comments.
China has summoned its U.S. ambassador in protest of a congressional award to the Dalai Lama. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was given the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, at a ceremony this week.
In campaign news, new figures show Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton has emerged as the candidate most favored by the nation’s leading weapons companies. Clinton has received more than $52,000 from arms industry employees. That’s more than half the amount given to all Democratic candidates and 60 percent of the total that has gone to Republicans.
And the photographer Ernest Withers has died. Withers was one of the most prominent photographers to come out of the civil rights era. He photographed Dr. Martin Luther King at several marches and was the only photographer to cover the entire trial of those accused in the murder of the black teenager Emmett Till. Last January, Democracy Now! interviewed Ernest Withers at his studio in Memphis, Tennessee. He talked about one of his most famous pictures — a mass of striking sanitation workers holding signs reading “I am a man,” at what would turn out to be the last march led by Dr. King.
Ernest Withers: “The last march of his, of Martin King, they were lined up there at [inaudible] and Hernando outside of Cleveland Temple Church, and they were there with all those ’I’m a Man’ signs. And I thought it was dramatic and historic in what it was, but I didn’t know it was ending up to be as popular. But it was the last march of Martin King.”
Ernest Withers died this week at the age of 85.