The US Sentencing Commission has voted to give federal prisoners jailed on crack cocaine offenses a chance to reduce their sentences. The decision comes a day after the Supreme Court ruled federal judges can sentence individuals below the guideline recommendations in crack cocaine cases. The Sentencing Commission’s decision to apply that ruling retroactively means that more than 19,000 prisoners will be eligible for early release.
The nation’s secret intelligence court has ruled it will not make public documents or orders relating to the Bush administration’s warrantless spy program. The American Civil Liberties Union had petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to disclose its rulings, including one that reportedly declared parts of the spy program illegal. It was the court’s third public ruling in thirty years. Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said, “The Bush administration is seeking expanded surveillance powers from Congress because of the rulings issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court earlier this year. Under this decision, those rulings may remain secret forever.”
On Capitol Hill, CIA Director Michael Hayden appeared in closed session before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday to answer questions on the destruction of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations at secret CIA prisons. After the hearing, Hayden distanced himself from the tape controversy, saying, “There are other people at the agency who know about this far better than I.” Hayden became CIA director in May 2006, six months after the tapes were reportedly destroyed. Meanwhile, a federal appeals court in Washington has ordered the government not to destroy any evidence of torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay prisoner Majid Khan had filed the request, claiming they believe that evidence of his torture still exists.
The top legal adviser overseeing military trials at Guantanamo has refused to rule out the use of evidence obtained through waterboarding. Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann made the comments Tuesday in testimony before a Senate judiciary subcommittee. Hartmann also declined to say whether he thinks waterboarding would be illegal if used by a foreign country on US forces.
In Algeria, as many as sixty-seven people are dead following a bombing attack on a government building and UN compound. The toll includes eleven UN employees. It’s believed to be Algeria’s worst attack since winning independence from France in 1962. The group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “I am really surprised and shocked at this terrorist attack against the United Nations headquarters as well as the United Nations people. I have instructed our people in New York to further investigate the exact extent of sacrifice, as well as damage. And this is just unacceptable.”
In Iraq, an estimated forty people were killed and more than 150 wounded in a triple car bombing earlier today in Amarah. It was one of the worst attacks southern Iraq has seen in months.
Meanwhile, a high-ranking Iraqi official has issued the government’s strongest rejection to date of permanent US military bases in Iraq. In an interview with Al Arabiya television, national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said Iraq needs the US, but added, “Permanent forces or bases in Iraq for any foreign forces is a red line that cannot be accepted by any nationalist Iraqi.”
In Lebanon, a Lebanese army general was among four people killed today in a bombing in Beirut. General Francois al-Hajj was expected to become Lebanon’s next army chief. Dozens were also injured in the attack.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is renewing calls for conciliation with the US. On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad praised last week’s US intelligence report concluding Iran has abandoned a nuclear weapons program. Ahmadinejad called the report a vindication and a step toward dialogue.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “We evaluate this as a positive step and a step forward, and if they take one or two more steps, the situation will be totally different, and the problems will lose their intricacy, and the road will be paved for resolving regional and international issues and bilateral cooperation.”
The Bush administration is preparing a campaign for a new round of sanctions against Iran for early next year. At the White House, President Bush called Iran “dangerous” following a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
President Bush: “Iran has an obligation to explain to the IAEA why they hid this program from them. Iran is dangerous, and they will be even more dangerous if they learn how to enrich uranium.”
In Argentina, a former navy officer on trial for torturing political prisoners has died just four days before his verdict was to be announced. Hector Febres was the first to be prosecuted for crimes committed at the military dictatorship’s main prison, ESMA, beginning in 1976. Prosecutor Pedro Dinani said Febres’s death hurts efforts to uncover information on thousands of the disappeared and their children.
Pedro Dinani: “This witness takes with him a lot of information on the whereabouts of the children, and the resting place of hundreds and hundreds of the disappeared from ESMA remains unknown.”
In Mexico City, dozens of farmers gathered outside the US Embassy Tuesday to call for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The farmers want Mexican lawmakers to amend NAFTA to bar bean and corn imports from the United States. Critics say NAFTA has devastated Mexican farmers unable to compete with US government-subsidized agriculture. Demonstrator Victor Suarez said NAFTA is undermining Mexican sovereignty.
Victor Suarez: “We have come to this embassy after the federal government has ignored our demands. Most agricultural organizations and social organizations of this country demand the alteration of the NAFTA agriculture clause, the exclusion of bean and corn from that agreement, and a new policy in favor of consumers and national sovereignty.”
Protesters are also calling for a ban on genetically modified corn in Mexico. Today marks the third day of a Mexican farmer hunger strike for “agricultural independence.”
In campaign news, the founder of the anti-immigrant group the Minuteman Project has endorsed Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee. On Tuesday, Minuteman head Jim Gilchrist appeared with Huckabee at a press conference in Iowa. Gilchrist’s endorsement comes as immigration continues to play a dominant role in the campaign. In a new ad, Republican hopeful Mitt Romney claims he’s taken a harsher line than Huckabee on undocumented workers.
And in environmental news, US negotiators at the global climate talks in Bali have declared they won’t accept any binding goals for cutting gas emissions before President Bush leaves office. The announcement means a US commitment to reduce emissions wouldn’t come until at least 2009. The Bush administration has rejected several proposals as negotiators work out a consensus agreement. One measure would have called for a halt to worldwide emissions within the next fifteen years. The US also rejected language in a preliminary draft statement calling for sufficient financial support to poor nations affected by climate change. The administration is also blocking a proposal asking the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for an updated report before the next round of talks in 2009. The move came one day after the UN’s grouping of scientists was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with former vice president Al Gore.