In Pakistan, more than 700 members of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s party were reportedly detained overnight. The arrests came hours after Bhutto announced plans to hold a huge rally against General Pervez Musharraf’s decision to declare martial law.
Benazir Bhutto: “Today we are going ahead with a protest, a peaceful protest. And we are going ahead with another protest on the 9th. But if the government — and if the government wants a political solution, we ask the government then, we ask General Musharraf then, to come on television and announce that he is reviving the Constitution, he will keep his commitment to retire as chief of army staff, and that elections will be held as scheduled, and committed to us, on or before November 15th, to be completed by January 15.”
Benazir Bhutto said Friday’s protest will proceed despite the overnight arrests which took place hours after President Bush personally spoke with General Pervez Musharraf for the first time since emergency rule was declared on Saturday.
President Bush: “We believe strongly in elections and that you ought to have elections soon and you need to take off your uniform. You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time.”
U.S. officials have been in close contact with the Pakistani government for days. Admiral William Fallon, commander of the U.S. Central Command, met with Musharraf just before martial law was declared. On Capitol Hill Wednesday, John Negroponte urged Congress not to cut off aid to Pakistan, which he described as an “indispensable” ally in the war on terrorism. Earlier today, state television in Pakistan quoted General Musharraf as saying that Pakistan will hold elections before Feb. 15.
Meanwhile, the Asia Times reports the Taliban has launched a coup of their own in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan. The Taliban has seized control of several villages and towns in the Swat Valley, which is only a four-hour drive from Islamabad. The Taliban was able to seize the towns without a single bullet being fired; fearful Pakistani security forces simply surrendered their weapons.
President Bush is defending his recent comments suggesting Iran’s nuclear ambitions might trigger a world war. He was asked in an interview on German TV if he was serious about his World War III remarks.
President Bush: “Absolutely serious. I said, if you want to avoid World War III; I didn’t say I’m for World War III. … And the reason I said that is because this is a country that has defied the IAEA — in other words, didn’t tell, disclose all their program — have said they want to destroy Israel. If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. And so I said, now is the time to move.”
On Wednesday, President Bush discussed the Iran situation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the White House. After the meeting, Sarkozy held a joint news conference with President Bush. Sarkozy repeatedly praised the Bush administration and vowed to take a hardline stance on Iran.
Nicolas Sarkozy: “It is unacceptable that Iran should have at any point a nuclear weapon. But Iran is entitled to the energy of the future, which is civilian nuclear energy. I believe in the effectiveness of sanctions. I believe even in the need to toughen the sanctions.”
Former AT&T technician Mark Klein traveled to Washington Wednesday to urge lawmakers not to give AT&T, Verizon and other telecom companies immunity from lawsuits over their role in the government’s domestic spying operations. Last year Klein leaked internal AT&T documents that revealed AT&T had set up a secret room in its San Francisco office to give the National Security Agency access to its fiber optic Internet cables.
Mark Klein: “They were copying everything flowing across the Internet cables and the major Internet links between AT&T’s network and other company’s networks. And it struck me at the time that this is a massively unconstitutional, illegal operation. It affects not only AT&T’s customers, but everybody, because these links went to places like Sprint, Qwest, a whole bunch of other companies, and so they’re basically tapping into the entire Internet.”
In other news from Capitol Hill, backers of a bill to impeach Vice President Cheney say the effort is still alive. On Tuesday, congressman and presidential contender Dennis Kucinich nearly forced the full House to vote on the impeachment measure, but the Democratic leadership fought off the vote and sent the impeachment issue to the House Judiciary Committee. Democratic Congressman Stephen Cohen, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said, “I get that impression. The issue is still alive.” Fourteen Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, including the chair, Congressman John Conyers, initially voted with Kucinich on the impeachment bill.
Meanwhile, the House has approved a bill to ban employment discrimination against gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. Supporters of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act have praised the bill as the most important civil rights legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The bill was passed by a 235-to-184 vote. Senator Edward Kennedy said he would introduce a similar measure in the Senate.
More questions are being raised about the actions of the private military company Blackwater in Iraq. The Washington Post is reporting Blackwater forces shot dead three guards working for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network last February. Forces from Blackwater opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry. An Iraqi police report described the shootings as a “act of terrorism.” The police concluded that Blackwater opened fire without any provocation. But the U.S. government concluded that the actions of the Blackwater guards fell within approved rules governing the use of force. The Iraqi Media Network sought to sue Blackwater in an Iraqi court, but an Iraqi judge rejected the petition, citing a 2004 law signed by L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the U.S. occupation.
Congressional Quarterly is reporting that the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian agents in the region. The program was the brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism officials Phil Mudd and Willie Hulon. The data-mining operation was eventually stopped after FBI officials determined it was possibly illegal to place someone on a terrorist list because of what they ate.
A Canadian citizen who has been held at Guantánamo since he was 15 years old will appear before a military commission hearing today. Omar Khadr is the first prisoner at Guantánamo to be arraigned since a military appeals court found they had the right to assign the label “unlawful enemy combatants” to detainees last June. Khadr’s attorneys say he has been repeatedly tortured, threatened with rape and tied up for hours in painful positions. Khadr told his attorneys that U.S. military guards once used him as a human mop to clean urine on the floor.
USA Today is reporting the number of hate crimes prosecuted by the Justice Department has plummeted in recent years. Last year, the department charged 22 people with hate crimes. That was down 71 percent from 76 in 1997. On Saturday, protesters marched in Charleston, West Virginia, to criticize the Justice Department for not filing hate crime charges in the case of Megan Williams, the African-American woman who was tortured and held hostage by six white suspects earlier this year.
In campaign news, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson has backed former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to be president. Robertson’s endorsement surprised some analysts. Days after the 9/11 attacks, Robertson publicly said he agreed with Jerry Falwell’s assessment that liberal groups, feminists and homosexuals were partly responsible for the attacks. On Wednesday, Giuliani said he and Robertson became close after an airplane ride from the Middle East. Giuliani said, “We had a lot of time coming back from Israel to talk about our understanding of how important Israel is to the United States, how important they are in this whole vast effort that we’re involved in in this terrorist war against us.”
In other campaign news, The New York Times is reporting federal prosecutors will ask a grand jury today to indict one of Giuliani’s close friends and business partners, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. Charges include tax fraud, corruption and conspiracy counts.
The United Nations has issued a grave warning about the humanitarian situation in Somalia — over 10 months after the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion.
Eric Larouche, U.N. humanitarian coordinator: “The humanitarian crisis is very bad. It’s the worst humanitarian crisis that we have had in the last 15 years. It reminds us of the beginning of the '90s, so it's not very good news. We had a few months ago only — I mean, we had already 400,000 people that were displaced because of the conflict and because of the natural disaster. Today, we have 850,000 people, so we have more than doubled the number of people that are displaced in Somalia.”
Nearly 90,000 people have fled the capital Mogadishu since violence increased last week. Ethiopian troops continue to pour into the country to combat Islamist militants.
In business news, the highly popular Aqua Dots toy has been pulled from U.S. and Australian shelves after scientists discovered the toy contains a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when ingested. When eaten, the chemical can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death. Aqua Dots has been one of the most popular toys in the country. Wal-Mart recently named it as a top toy pick this holiday season. In Australia, it was named toy of the year. The toys were made in China and distributed by the Canadian company Spin Master.
And the City Council of Oakland, California, has unanimously passed a resolution urging the United States not to attack Iran.