The New Orleans City Council has unanimously voted to continue the demolition of 4,500 units of public housing. Under the plan, the city’s four largest public housing developments will be taken down and replaced with mixed-income homes. On Thursday, hundreds of people were turned away from the City Council meeting. Some of the protesters were shot with pepper spray and tasers. Inside the City Council chambers, the scene turned chaotic when police arrested fifteen people. New Orleans police also tasered protesters inside the New Orleans City Council chambers.
The House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed the former head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service to testify about his role in the destruction of tapes documenting the interrogation of two prisoners. Jose Rodriguez has been named as the official who directed that the tapes be destroyed. Rodriguez has been called to appear in January at what would be the first public hearing into the CIA tape scandal. At the White House on Thursday, President Bush declined to tell reporters whether he agreed with the tapes’ destruction. He also said he did not learn about the matter until the New York Times broke the story last week. The New York Times reported this week four top White House lawyers took part in talks on destroying the tapes beginning in 2003.
In Pakistan, at least fifty people have been killed in a suicide attack targeting a former senior government minister. Dozens more were wounded.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least four Palestinians were killed Thursday in an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. Several others were wounded, including a seven-year-old boy and a journalist working with Reuters television. The journalist’s colleague, Abed Shana, said Israeli troops shot without provocation.
Abed Shana: “I entered because they said there are martyrs and the ambulance was going to get them, so we entered with the rest of the journalists. They shot at us. Nihad got wounded, and heavy gunfire continued. We were wearing our flak-jackets, and there were children in the area, and some young men. There was nothing going on, the direction in which I was heading. There were children, and there was nothing going on.”
Palestinian militants, meanwhile, shot three rockets at a nearby Israeli town. One rocket landed close to a school, but no one was hurt. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have issued a new response to a truce offer from Hamas. A government official says Israel would consider a deal only if Hamas agrees to stop smuggling arms and open talks for the release of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas leader Ismael Haniya said this week he would prevent rocket fire if Israel stopped the killing of Palestinians and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip. President Bush is planning on visiting the region next month for the first time during his presidency. On Thursday, Bush said he was looking forward to a “great trip.”
President Bush: “I’m looking forward to going to the Middle East. I’ve got a couple of objectives. One is to advance the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Secondly is to continue to work with our Arab friends on reconciliation with Israel and finally is to assure people in the Middle East that we understand or will show a strong commitment to the security of the region and a commitment to the security of our friends. And it’s going to be a great trip.”
The Bush administration is pushing its own version of a peace deal after rejecting an Arab League offer for peace with Israel in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
In Britain, three newly freed Guantánamo Bay prisoners have been reunited with their families, although two face the threat of deportation. Abdennour Samuer was released Thursday without charge. The other two, Jamil el-Banna and Omar Deghayes, were arrested on charges of belonging to an al-Qaeda cell in Spain. The actor Vanessa Redgrave paid $80,000 toward their bail. Their attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, says the deportation attempts are baseless.
Clive Stafford Smith: “When the Spanish wake up and smell the coffee, they will realize what’s going to happen to him. What they’re trying to do is just terrible. And I’d be very surprised if Jamil el-Banna ever goes to Spain, because we’ve investigated all of this, the Americans have investigated it, they’ve cleared Jamil. And for them to put him through more of this torture, after years in US custody, is just reprehensible.”
Spain has come under criticism for requesting the extradition only after the prisoners’ release. Jamil el-Banna left the court to see his children for the first time in five years. He had never met his youngest daughter, who was born during his imprisonment.
Jamil el-Banna: “Thank you very much, everybody, everybody. My solicitor, British people and the British government, everybody, MPs for Parliament, everybody, thank you very much for your help. I am tired. I want to go to home. I see my children. Thank you very much.”
Meanwhile, the family of Omar Deghayes waited anxiously before he was allowed to leave the courtroom.
Relative: “I am so stressed, and last night I didn’t sleep until morning. I can’t sleep.”
Interviewer: “Do you have faith in the British justice system for your son?”
Relative: “I hope. I still — I have hope with English system. I still, but I don’t know in the end what the play will be.”
In Iraq, the top official overseeing construction of the US embassy has resigned. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Williams is the third senior State Department official to step down amidst ongoing diplomatic and contracting woes in Iraq. The State Department’s inspector general and head of diplomatic security also have resigned. Williams had promised Congress the massive US embassy would open last September, but construction is ongoing amidst allegations of shoddy work and unlawful contracting.
At the White House, President Bush has signed into law a measure waiving taxes on some homeowners facing foreclosure.
President Bush: “The bill I sign today will help this effort by ensuring that refinancing a mortgage does not result in a higher tax bill. Under current law, if the value of your house declines and your bank or lender forgives a portion of your mortgage, the tax code treats the amount forgiven as money that can be taxed. And of course, this makes a difficult situation even worse. When you’re worried about making your payments, higher taxes are the last
thing you need to worry about.”
The President’s housing plan has come under criticism because it covers only a small number of subprime borrowers — just seven percent, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. A subprime loan offers borrowers a mortgage, but at a disproportionately high rate they often can’t afford. The subprime market has fueled a record one million foreclosures this year, with an estimated two million expected in 2008. California has the second-highest rate of foreclosures in the country. In Ontario, California, a “tent city” housing the homeless has grown to 200 residents since opening in July. Homeless activist Jane Mercer says she expects the camp to grow amidst the subprime crunch.
Jane Mercer: “We are seeing a lot of families who are hitting the streets. We had a family just come in this morning — three children, you know, eight, ten, twelve years old — and they just lost their home.”
Nationally, foreclosure filings are up nearly 100 percent over one year ago.
A district judge has ruled the Bush administration did not violate the Constitution when it denied the visa of one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe. Tariq Ramadan was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Ohio in 2004. The Bush administration barred his entry without explanation. Following a court order, the White House later claimed it barred Ramadan because he once gave money to a French-based Palestinian charity. The charity is legal in France. On Thursday, US District Judge Paul Crotty ruled the administration has shown legitimate reasons for barring Ramadan. The American Civil Liberties Union says it will appeal. Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU’s National Security Project said, “Professor Ramadan is being excluded not because of his actions, but because of his ideas. The result is that foreign scholars will continue to be barred from the country simply because they have said things that the Bush administration disagrees with.”
In campaign news, Congress member Tom Tancredo has dropped out of the Republican presidential race. Tancredo has based his platform on harsh measures to restrict undocumented immigrants. On Thursday, Tancredo said he had succeeded in injecting the immigration issue into the campaign and endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the Republican bid.
And Perry Kucinich, the youngest brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, has died. In a statement, Dennis Kucinich said his brother was a talented artist who had struggled with mental illness.