The Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency have launched a joint probe into the CIA’s destruction of at least two videotapes documenting prisoner interrogations at a secret CIA prison. One of the tapes may have shown CIA agents waterboarding the al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. CIA director Michael Hayden said the videos were made in 2002 but destroyed in 2005 because they posed a security risk. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch questioned the CIA’s motives.
Jennifer Daskal: “We know that these were tapes taken during a time where the CIA was using techniques like waterboarding, a technique that several Republican senators, among many others, have now declared illegal. It seems as if the CIA was engaged in destruction of evidence of a crime scene, and that’s very concerning.”
CBS Evening News is reporting that a “well-informed source” informed the network that the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos to “avoid criminal prosecution.”
New questions are being raised about the role of senior lawmakers in backing the alleged torture. The Washington Post reports the CIA has regularly briefed senior members of the House and Senate intelligence committees on its secret overseas prisons and the interrogation techniques used there since 2002. The lawmakers include four Democrats: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congress member Jane Harman, and Senators Bob Graham and John Rockefeller. Republicans briefed included then-Congressman Porter Goss and Senator Pat Roberts. According to the Washington Post, none of the lawmakers raised objections, and at least two of them asked the CIA to push harder. CIA officials say the controversial practice of waterboarding was among the techniques on display.
Former Vice President Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo today for their work to help combat global warming. At a press conference ahead of the awards ceremony, Gore said the survival of our civilization is at risk.
Al Gore: “One of the Nobel laureates, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said twenty years ago and more, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. In the same way, CO2 increases anywhere are a threat to the future of civilization everywhere.”
While Al Gore and the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, negotiators continue to meet in Bali at the UN climate talks. The Guardian newspaper reports the negotiations hit a potential problem today when the United States said it was unwilling to approve a draft agreement setting firm targets for cuts to carbon pollution. The Bush administration said a proposal for developed nations to reduce emissions by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 was “totally unrealistic” and “unhelpful.” The 25-40 percent figure is based on the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Harlan Watson, the senior climate negotiator for the US said the IPCC calculation was based on “many uncertainties.”
Meanwhile, a new report by the climate research group Germanwatch has ranked the United States the second-worst industrial nation in the world when it comes to combating climate change. Of the fifty-six nations ranked, the United States came in second to last, ahead of only Saudi Arabia.
Sweden ranked first on the list. The ranking is based on energy use and carbon dioxide emissions data and on an evaluation of the climate change policies in place in each country.
In campaign news, a new survey by Newsweek shows former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has taken a commanding lead in Iowa in the Republican race for the White House. Thirty-nine percent of likely Republican caucus goers say they plan to vote for Huckabee. Mitt Romney came in second with 17 percent. Huckabee’s popularity has surged in recent months. A Newsweek poll in late September showed Huckabee having just six percent of the vote in Iowa. Meanwhile, more details about Huckabee’s record are emerging. The Associated Press has revealed that the ordained Southern Baptist minister once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public and opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure to AIDS. Huckabee made the statements to the AP in 1992 when he was running for US Senate. Huckabee wrote, “If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague.” Huckabee also wrote at the time, “I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.”
In other campaign news, talk show host Oprah Winfrey campaigned with Senator Barack Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend. On Sunday, nearly 30,000 people gathered to hear Winfrey and Obama speak in Columbia, South Carolina in what the Obama campaign described as the largest campaign event on the 2008 race. A day earlier, 18,000 people gathered in Iowa to see Senator Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah Winfrey: “Obama has fought for disability pay for veterans. He worked to boost the nonproliferation of deadly weapons. He advocated the use of alternative fuels to cure our national addiction to oil. He has spoken out against our government’s indifference to the poor and to political incompetence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And he has rallied against genocide in Darfur. And long before it was the popular thing to do, he stood with clarity and conviction against this war in Iraq.”
The United States was accused this weekend of being hypocritical for supporting Israel’s right to have nuclear weapons while trying to force Iran to stop uranium enrichment. During a conference in the Gulf nation of Bahrain, the Bahraini Labor Minister Majeed Al Alawi questioned Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Israel.
Majeed Al Alawi: “Secretary of Defense, thank you very much for the excellent speech. I was wondering whether you think the Israeli nuclear weapon is a threat to regional security or not?”
Robert Gates: “No, I do not.”
The statement by Gates was greeted by laughter from a room filled with government officials from Middle Eastern countries. Gates said there are significant differences in terms of both the history and the behavior of the Iranian and Israeli governments.
Robert Gates: “I think that Israel is not training terrorists for — to subvert its neighbors. It is not — it has not shipped weapons into a place like Iraq to kill thousands of innocent civilians covertly. It has not carried out a number — it has not threatened to destroy any of its neighbors. It is not trying to destabilize the government of Lebanon.”
In news from Iraq, the police chief of the province of Babil was killed on Sunday in a roadside bomb. The attack occurred just hours after US commanders praised Qais al-Mamouri for his commitment to bringing stability to Iraq.
In the Iraqi city of Basra, police officials are reporting religious vigilantes have killed at least forty women this year because of how they dress. Basra’s police chief Jalil Khalaf told the Associated Press, “The women of Basra are being horrifically murdered and then dumped in the garbage with notes saying they were killed for un-Islamic behavior.” He said women are regularly accosted for not wearing traditional dress and head scarves.
In other Iraq news, a criminal hearing was held on Sunday in Baghdad in the case of imprisoned Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held by the US military without charge for nearly twenty months. The hearing marked the first time that Hussein or his attorneys have seen any evidence in the case. No formal charges have been lodged yet against Hussein, who was part of a team of AP photographers who won a Pulitzer Prize. Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists said Hussein is one of at least 127 journalists behind bars worldwide. China is currently jailing twenty-nine journalists, more than any other country. The United States is jailing two journalists without charge: Bilal Hussein in Iraq and Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for the past five years.
The city of Chicago has agreed to pay nearly $20 million to four former death row prisoners who gave false confessions after being tortured by Chicago police. The four men are all African American. They sued former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and more than twenty officers who worked with him, alleging that they were coerced into falsely confessing to murder. In 2006, special prosecutors released a long-awaited report stating there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Burge and four other former officers abused suspects to extract confessions in the 1980s. Charges have never been filed against Jon Burge, who oversaw the torture. He was fired in 1993 but is still receiving a $30,000 a year police pension from the city.
Meanwhile, in other news from Chicago, the investigative reporter who was most responsible for uncovering the police torture story has been laid off. John Conroy was one of four reporters at the Chicago Reader dismissed last week in a cost-saving measure by the paper’s parent company Creative Loafing. Conroy had been covering the torture story since 1990.
And in Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is to be sworn in today as the country’s first elected female president, succeeding her husband, Nestor Kirchner.