Democratic and Republican senators have reached a compromise on a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop escalation in Iraq. The measure is based on wording drafted by Republican Senator John Warner. The resolution drops language saying the troop surge is against American interests. But it also excludes an earlier Republican provision that left open support for sending additional troops. In another nod to Republicans, the measure clearly opposes cutting funding for the war. Democrats say they agreed to the changes to attract the most possible support. A similar measure is expected in the House next week.
The Bush administration is staying mostly quiet so far on a German court’s arrest warrants for 13 CIA operatives involved in the kidnapping of Khalid El-Masri. Masri was seized along the Serbian-Macedonian border and flown to Afghanistan where he was tortured inside a secret prison. The CIA is declining comment. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack says the warrants will be reviewed.
State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack: “But I would just reiterate, just very simply, what the secretary has said many times over on issues of this type. And that is that we respect the sovereignty of our friends and allies. We have a very good relationship with Germany. We have a very good relationship with Germany, working on counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations.”
Masri tried to sue the CIA in federal court, but his case was dismissed on grounds it would reveal state secrets. In Germany, El-Masri’s lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, called for accountability.
Manfred Gnjidic: “Mr. El-Masri needs three things. The first thing is that the American government has to confirm what they have done to him. The second thing he is interested in is that they explain why this happened to him. And the third thing is — because we know now that he is innocent — that they apologize to him.”
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has been granted authority to rule by decree ahead of plans to carry out a broad nationalization program. Venezuelan lawmakers approved the measure in a public ceremony in downtown Caracas.
Congressional Representative Luis Tascon: “What we want is to transfer power to the people and have it so that the people are the owners of that power. They can administer it better than from the formal state.”
Critics immediately condemned the move as a step toward authoritarian rule. A headline in one of Venezuela’s major newspapers read: “Heil Hugo.” Chavez has enjoyed popular support for his plans to nationalize telephone and electric companies, and increase government control over major oil projects.
The European Union is calling on the Bush administration to set limits on its secret monitoring of international financial transactions. The records have been obtained through SWIFT, which directs trillions of dollars in international bank transfers each day. European Council Commissioner Franco Frattini said the limits are needed in light of findings the program broke privacy laws.
European Council Commissioner Franco Frattini: “The temporary agreement concluded in October with the U.S.A. will expire by the end of July. There is the need to negotiate a very solid and stable legal framework in order to exchange PNR data in full respect of data protection and privacy rights.”
Back in the United States, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has backed down on his refusal to disclose secret documents on the government’s monitoring of U.S. citizens. On Wednesday, Gonzales released the information to Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Arlen Specter of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The documents include the warrant requests the administration is now filing and the judges’ orders in approving or denying them. Gonzales had initially claimed he would block the documents’ release. But he came under intense pressure after the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said she had no objection to disclosure.
More waste and fraud — that’s the conclusion of the latest audit of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq. On Wednesday, Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen released a report saying up to 15 percent of spending has been lost to corruption and misuse. In one case, the contractor DynCorp was paid more than $40 million to build a training camp for police in Baghdad. Four million dollars was spent on an Olympic-size swimming pool and several VIP trailers. The camp has stood empty for months.
Here in New York, a father who lost his son in Iraq has brought his antiwar memorial to the U.S. Army recruiting center in Times Square. Carlos Arredondo’s son Alexander was killed in Najaf in August 2004. Carlos has driven across the country for more than a year with an empty coffin and a picture of his son’s open casket and funeral.
Carlos Arredondo: “This is a memorial. Some people call it a protest. I call it a memorial. From this memorial, they can take anything they need, they can process it in their own brains later on, and they can figure out what is the tremendous situation with the war.”
In election news, Senator Joseph Biden entered the presidential race Wednesday with an announcement he’ll seek the Democratic nomination in ’08. But Biden drew more attention for comments he made about fellow senator and presidential contender Barack Obama.
Sen. Joseph Biden: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
Biden was speaking to a reporter from The New York Observer. Obama says he doesn’t take Biden’s comments personally, but called them “historically inaccurate.” He said: “African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate,” he said. Meanwhile, Jackson and Sharpton rejected Biden’s insistence they would know what he meant. In an interview with The New York Times, Jackson pointed out he lasted longer and received more votes than Biden when both ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. This isn’t the first time Biden has made racially charged remarks. He was criticized last June when these comments about Indian Americans were broadcast on C-SPAN.
Sen. Joseph Biden: “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”
And immigrant rights advocates are blasting a new Bush administration decision to impose a major increase in immigration fees. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now charge $905 to apply for a green card or change residency status — nearly triple the current cost. Immigrants with green cards will have to pay an extra $265 to become naturalized citizens. Kevin Appleby, director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: “This increase reflects a disturbing trend which places the benefits of citizenship on the open market, with only those of a certain economic level able to access it.”
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