The Democratic-led Senate has narrowly confirmed Michael Mukasey to be attorney general even though he refused to classify waterboarding as a form of torture. The former federal judge was confirmed by a 53-to-40 vote. It was the lowest number of yes votes for any attorney general in over 50 years. Six Democratic senators crossed party lines to support Mukasey. They were Dianne Feinstein of California, Charles Schumer of New York, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. The vote came hours after Malcolm Nance, a former Navy interrogation instructor, testified before a House Committee that the practice of waterboarding is torture and should be banned. Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch was also supposed to testify at the hearing, but he was prevented from doing so by the Pentagon.
In Pakistan, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been placed under house arrest and served with a 30-day detention order. Her arrest came hours before she was scheduled to hold a major rally to oppose General Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of martial law. On Thursday, Bhutto criticized Musharraf for announcing that parliamentary elections won’t be held for another three months and for refusing to say when emergency rule would end.
Benazir Bhutto: “I haven’t seen the speech, but it’s a little vague to say it will be held by February. That’s not an election schedule. That’s not an election date. We want an election date. We want a date for retirement. It’s yet another vague. It’s like in 2004, he said, ’I’ll take my uniform off,’ and he never did. He told me, ’I’ll take my uniform off before I seek re-election as president of Pakistan.’ He never did.”
Musharraf’s government has detained some 5,000 members of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. On Thursday, four Pakistani activists were charged with treason for making anti-Musharraf speeches. They could be sentenced to the death penalty if convicted.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives has approved a new trade deal with Peru. 109 Democrats joined Republicans in backing President Bush’s deal despite opposition from labor and environmental groups. Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon was one of the Democrats who voted against the deal.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR): “This agreement is by, for and about Wall Street, plain and simple. It doesn’t address our current economic crisis. It’s not in the best interest of American workers, the U.S. economy or our national security.”
Amazon Watch says the trade deal grants new rights for oil companies to drill in the Peruvian Amazon, benefiting U.S. corporations including Hunt Oil, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum and Newmont Mining.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke predicted Thursday that economic growth will slow noticeably in coming months. Bernanke testified before the Joint Economic Committee.
Ben Bernanke: “Incoming information on the performance of mortgage-related assets has intensified investors’ concerns about credit market developments and the implications of the downturn in the housing market for economic growth. In addition, further sharp increases in crude oil prices have put renewed upward pressure on inflation, and it may impose further restraint on economic activity.”
The price of a barrel of oil is now approaching a record $100. Meanwhile, the national debt has hit $9 trillion for the first time. The dollar has also hit a fresh record low against the euro and a new 26-year low against the pound.
Interpress News Service is reporting that a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has been held up for more than a year. It is reportedly part of an effort by Vice President Dick Cheney to pressure intelligence analysts to remove any dissenting judgments about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Cheney was also accused of pressuring intelligence analysts prior to the invasion of Iraq.
This comes as the U.S. has released nine of the 20 Iranian citizens it has detained in Iraq. The men were released after the U.S. military concluded they posed no security risk.
A federal grand jury in New York has reportedly voted to indict former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on corruption charges. Kerik is a close friend and business partner with Republican presidential contender Rudolph Giuliani. Less than three years ago, President Bush nominated Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. But Kerik withdrew from the confirmation process amid several scandals. Kerik is expected to surrender to authorities today to be arraigned.
The inspector general of the Department of Education has announced plans to investigate whether federal money has been inappropriately used to buy educational products from a company owned by President Bush’s brother, Neil Bush. His educational software company Ignite has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds under the No Child Left Behind Act, the president’s signature education bill.
In news from Burma, detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been allowed to meet with supporters from her political party for the first time in more than three years. The meeting occurred a day after Suu Kyi said she was willing to hold talks with the military junta. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years. On Thursday, U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari read a written statement from Suu Kyi to the press.
Ibrahim Gambari: “I am committed to pursue the path of dialogue constructively and invite the Government and all relevant parties to join me in this spirit. I believe that a stable, prosperous and democratic Myanmar, living at peace with itself and with full respect for human rights, offers the best prospect for my country to fully contribute to the development and stability of the region.”
At Guantánamo, the U.S. military arraigned the Canadian citizen Omar Khadr on war crimes charges Thursday. Khadr has been in U.S. custody since he was 15 years old. His military attorney, Lt. Commander William Kuebler, said the military commission is unfairly set up against prisoners.
Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler: “This is a process that is not designed to be fair; it is designed to produce convictions, and it is designed around a specific set of cases for the government to convict people based on evidence that it couldn’t use to convict them in any other court. That’s why we have military commissions. And so I don’t expect a fair trial for Omar Khadr.”
During Thursday’s hearing, it was revealed there is a secret government witness who might be able to help Khadr’s defense. Khadr’s military attorney criticized the United States for holding a child at Guantánamo.
Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler: “Omar Khadr was 15 years old when he allegedly engaged in these events. If he were anybody else, we’d call him a child soldier, and we’d assume that if he did everything that he did, that he is deserving of recognition as a child soldier — rehabilitation, sympathy, compassion. We would try to reintegrate him in to society. Because he is Ahmed Khadr’s son and because the United States government viewed him as an intelligence asset to be exploited, he did not receive that treatment.”
No trial date has been set for Omar Khadr.
In election news, more problems with electronic voting machines have emerged. On Tuesday, machines made by Election Systems & Software malfunctioned in Lawrence County, Ohio. Every vote cast went to the wrong candidate. One local official said: “It was a programming error and that race got recorded exactly opposite. I don’t know what happened.” Officials realized the problem at the end of the day when the voting machine printed out one set of results and a tabulation machine at the country’s headquarters flipped the numbers.
In business news, the pharmaceutical company Merck has agreed to pay nearly $5 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits over its drug Vioxx. Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in 2004 after a study showed the drug raised heart-attack risks.
A new study has found that one in four homeless people in the country are veterans. The National Alliance to End Homelessness said this total includes 400 soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In other military news, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out have been barred from marching in Saturday’s Veterans Day Parade in Long Beach, California. Parade coordinators said the applications were rejected because of the groups’ political views.
Meanwhile, the parents of a marine who was killed in Iraq have reported their son’s gravestone has been defaced. Lance Corporal Alexander Scott Arredondo died in Iraq three years ago. Since then, his parents Carlos and Mélida Arredondo have been vocal critics of the war.
There has been a development in the case of Ehren Watada, the first Army officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq. A federal judge has ruled the Army cannot hold a second court-martial for the Iraq war resister until the court resolves Watada’s claim that it would violate his right against double jeopardy. Watada’s first court-martial ended in a mistrial.
In news from Latin America, Bolivia has become the first country to approve the U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights. The U.N. General Assembly passed the sweeping declaration of rights for indigenous peoples last month, granting native peoples the “right to self-determination.” This is Bolivian President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader.
Evo Morales: “We are the first country to turn this declaration into a law, and that is important, brothers and sisters. We recognize and salute the work of our representatives. But if we were to remember the indigenous fight clearly, many of us who are sensitive would end up crying in remembering the discrimination, the scorn.”
The U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights was approved last month with an overwhelming 143 votes in favor. Only the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand voted against the declaration.
In Washington, the press secretary of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has resigned — two weeks after he helped orchestrate a fake news conference for FEMA about the California wild fires. Aaron Walker secretly coached FEMA staffers to act like reporters during the fake news conference. Walker has defended his actions. He told The Washington Post, “There was no effort to misinform, to put on a charade. It was simply a poor choice across the board of a method to get some information out.”
In Louisiana, a judge has rejected a motion to dismiss juvenile charges against Mychal Bell, one of the Jena Six. Meanwhile, another one of the Jena Six, Bryant Purvis, has pleaded not guilty to charges of battery and conspiracy. Purvis was the last of the Jena Six to be arraigned. He faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, the FBI is investigating allegations that a Public Works Department supervisor displayed two nooses in his city office as well as a bullwhip and a dart board with a black man as the bull’s-eye.
The Federal Communications Commission will hold its last of six hearings today in Seattle on its plans to relax the nation’s media ownership rules. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan and Republican Trent Lott announced plans to introduce legislation that would halt the FCC’s rush to allow for greater media consolidation.
And in campaign news, 18 antiwar activists were arrested in Iowa on Thursday at the campaign offices for Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The activists occupied both offices for a few hours and demanded the candidates promise to withdraw all troops from Iraq if elected. The arrests mark the start of the Presidential Occupation Project organized by the Voices for Creative Nonviolence.