The New York Times has revealed at least four top White House lawyers took part in talks about whether to destroy videotapes showing the interrogation of two prisoners held in secret jails. The CIA says it destroyed the tapes to protect the interrogators, but questions remain over whether it was part of a cover-up to mask evidence of torture. The White House has claimed it advised against the CIA’s move. But a former intelligence official says top White House officials expressed “vigorous sentiment” in favor of destroying the tapes. The tapes were destroyed in November 2005 — over a year into the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The officials taking part included then-White House counsel and later Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, then counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and now his chief of staff; John Bellinger, then a senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet Miers, then President Bush’s deputy chief of staff and later White House counsel.
The disclosure comes as a federal judge has ordered a new hearing into whether the tapes’ destruction violated his order in to preserve evidence. US District Judge Henry Kennedy made the initial ruling in a lawsuit brought by sixteen Guantanamo Bay prisoners in June 2005. The tapes were destroyed just five months later. Judge Kennedy’s call for a new hearing defies Bush administration pleas for him to stay out of the case pending a Justice Department probe. Lawyers for Guantanamo prisoners say the tapes could contain proof that evidence against them was obtained through torture.
In a major victory for media conglomerates, the Federal Communications Commissions has approved a measure undoing a key barrier to media consolidation. On Tuesday, the FCC voted three to two to ease the rules for companies seeking to own both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city. FCC Chair Kevin Martin pushed the vote despite widespread opposition from lawmakers and the general public. The vote will have repercussions here in New York, where News Corp. chair Rupert Murdoch would be able to own a television station along with the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. Dissenting Commissioner Michael Copps called the vote a gift to corporations.
Michael Copps: “In the final analysis, the real winners today are businesses that are in many cases quite healthy, and the real losers are going to be all of us who depend on the news media to learn what’s happening in our communities and keeping an eye on local government. Despite all the talk you may hear today about the threat to newspapers from the internet and new technologies, today’s order actually deals with something quite old-fashioned. Powerful companies are using political muscle to sneak through rule changes that let them profit at the expense of the public interest. They are seeking to improve their economic prospects by capturing a larger percentage of the news business in communities across the United States.”
The new FCC rules are likely to undergo judicial review. They could also be overturned by a congressional vote.
In other news from Washington, the Democratic-led Senate has approved a $555 billion omnibus spending bill that includes another $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, senators voted 71 to 24 against an amendment from Democratic Senator Russ Feingold to link the war funding to a time line for withdrawing troops. None of the Democratic senators running for president returned to Washington for the vote. The vote comes just days after the Senate authorized another $189 billion in war funding. That vote was 90 to 3. The spending bill has also come under criticism for a series of earmarks, including more than $22 billion in subsidies to the nuclear industry.
Meanwhile, the House has approved an energy bill that includes the first increase in fuel-economy standards in thirty-two years. Under the new rules, cars will have to average thirty miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase. The bill omits financial incentives for renewable energy production sought by Democrats. Democrats were also forced to drop billions of dollars in taxes on major energy companies. The final vote was 314-100.
The Federal Reserve has ruled out helping vulnerable homeowners in its plan to address the nation’s mortgage crisis. On Tuesday, the Fed unveiled restrictions that would force lenders to prove borrowers can afford their loans. But the plan is not retroactive and would leave subprime borrowers without assistance. Foreclosures have skyrocketed under the boom of subprime loans, where lenders are charged above-market rates they often can’t afford. Mortgage companies have come under widespread scrutiny for aggressively pushing the loans with little regard for whether they can be repaid.
The Bush administration is denying allegations it backed Turkey’s latest attack on Kurdish areas in northern Iraq. The Washington Post revealed Tuesday the US military had been sharing intelligence with Turkey gathered from aircraft and unmanned drones. Hundreds of Turkish ground troops are said to be in northern Iraq following air raids on Iraqi villages. On a visit to Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US had not approved Turkey’s actions.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “This was a Turkish decision, and we have made clear to the Turkish government that we continue to be concerned about anything that could lead to innocent civilian casualties or to a destabilization of the north.”
Rice was due to meet with top Kurdish officials. But Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani refused the meeting, saying the Turkish raid could not have happened without US backing.
Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani: “As I explained to you, the United States supervises (Iraq’s) air space, so it is not possible that a violation of this air space occurs without the knowledge or approval of the Americans. The United States is holding the responsibility of these attacks that harmed innocent civilians. We hope that such things will not be repeated again, because the result will not be good.”
In Colombia, a rebel group has announced it will release three of more than a dozen hostages to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez had been involved in mediation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia until Colombian President Alvaro Uribe stopped the talks last month. Uribe’s move opened a new feud with Chavez and angered the hostages’ relatives.
Meanwhile, Chavez was in Uruguay Tuesday for a meeting of the Latin American trade bloc Mercosur. The group brings together Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Bolivian President Evo Morales also attended. Chavez called the pact a step towards further regional unity.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “Venezuela wants to join Mercosur to help more than anything. That is what motivates us: to help, to modestly help. We want to join ourselves, add ourselves and our modest powers to the great power of the southern union. I believe that on the destiny of Mercosur depends the destiny of South America.”
The United Nations General Assembly has approved a measure to abolish the death penalty. The final vote was 104 to 54. Mexican UN envoy Claude Heller said the vote should encourage a global moratorium on state executions.
Claude Heller: “The purpose of this resolution is not to interfere in or impose our views on others. Our intention is to promote and to strengthen the growing trend toward the elimination of the death penalty.”
And back here in the United States, the campaign for Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee has responded to allegations he equated homosexuality with necrophilia. In a 1998 children’s book that also equated environmentalism with pornography, Huckabee wrote, “It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations — from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia.” Asked about the comments, Huckabee campaign research director Joe Carter said, “No way is he saying that homosexuality is like having sex with dead people. That’s not it at all.”