President Bush has followed through on a promise to veto a bill expanding healthcare to millions of low-income American children. On Wednesday, Bush quietly issued the fourth veto of his presidency on a measure expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP. The bill would have spent $35 billion over five years, funded by a tax increase on cigarettes. The White House said it would only accept an increase of $5 billion. White House spokesperson Dana Perino tried to portray the move as a way to protect low-income Americans. She said: “In a time when [Democrats] think that they want to increase funding for children’s health care, they’re actually wanting to pay for it with a cigarette tax. … People who smoke are usually … in the low-income bracket. And so they’re raising taxes on something to pay for a middle-class entitlement. It’s just completely irresponsible. Stop the madness on Capitol Hill.” Democrats were scathing in their criticism.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA): “Mr. President, I think that this is probably the most inexplicable veto in the history of the country. It is incomprehensible. It’s intolerable. It’s unacceptable.”
There is enough support to override the veto in the Senate but not in the House. Democrats say they’ll put off a new House vote until later this month to try to win the 20 extra votes they need.
The New York Times has revealed the Justice Department under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issued a series of secret legal opinions effectively sanctioning the use of torture. The first opinion came shortly after Gonzales arrived in February 2005. Just months earlier, the Justice Department had publicly declared torture “abhorrent.” But the secret opinion under Gonzales gave a green light to a series of harsh interrogation tactics including head slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures. At the time, outgoing Deputy Attorney General James Comey said the department would be “ashamed” when the opinion was publicly revealed. Less than one year later, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion declaring that no CIA techniques violated proposed laws banning “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment. The New York Times also reports the harshness of the approved tactics was so unprecedented that agents in secret CIA prisons overseas repeatedly asked Washington lawyers what was allowed. New details have also come out about the interrogation of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Insiders say Mohammed gave several “exaggerated or false statements” after some 100 harsh tactics were used over a two-week period.
Iran’s foreign minister has said he doesn’t think the U.S. will attack Iran because of the burden of the Iraq War. Manouchehr Mottaki spoke Wednesday at the United Nations.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki: “Our analysis is clear: U.S. is not in the position to impose another war in our region, against their taxpayers. Of course, at the same time, any country, based on its defense policies and doctrine, should be prepared. It is not for Iran; it is for other countries. We have informed two years ago the Americans that what will happen if they make such mad decision against our country, and they know very well.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have held their first meetings ahead of a planned Mideast peace conference next month.
Palestinian negotiator Saed Erekat: “They met with their negotiating teams jointly, and they instructed us to begin, as of next week, negotiations to achieve a joint document on the core issues, with the intention of submitting it to the conference, the international conference, that President Bush called — invited, next autumn.”
The Bush administration says the conference will revive its peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has drawn criticism from several Arab states for refusing to halt West Bank settlement activity ahead of the summit.
The Sudanese government has agreed to pay a $300 million compensation payment to Darfur. The deal was announced by former President Jimmy Carter, who is in Sudan on a peace mission.
Jimmy Carter: “We had a constructive meeting with President al-Bashir. He promised us, for instance, that there would be $300 million, in all, coming to the Darfur region for compensation, so-called, to help rebuild and repair the damage that has been done. He said that $100 million of it would come from the government of Sudan, and that $200 million would be a loan from the Chinese. So, that was, I think, a clear indication of his commitment to be made public.”
In Iraq, the FBI has been forced to admit that operatives with the private military firm Blackwater USA were initially scheduled to guard the very agents sent to Iraq to investigate Blackwater’s mass shooting last month in Baghdad. The New York Daily News reported on Wednesday that Blackwater would be assigned to protect the investigators upon their arrival in Iraq. The FBI now says the team will be guarded by other security personnel. Blackwater is under scrutiny for killing as many as 28 Iraqis in an unprovoked attack.
Meanwhile, the White House has announced it opposes a House measure that would extend federal jurisdiction to State Department contractors like Blackwater working abroad. The Office of Management and Budget said the bill would leave “intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations.”