A showdown is set between Congress and the White House over a congressional probe into the recent firing of eight U.S. attorneys. On Tuesday, President Bush defended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and vowed to fight congressional efforts to subpoena presidential adviser Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and other White House officials. Congress is attempting to investigate whether the firing of the U.S. attorneys was actually a political purge. President Bush has offered to allow Rove and other officials to meet with Congress but under extraordinary conditions — behind closed doors, not under oath, and transcripts of their testimony would not be permitted. President Bush defended the offer last night.
President Bush: “We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants. The initial response by Democrats unfortunately shows some appear more interested in scoring political points than in learning the facts. It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials.”
The chairs of both the Senate and House judiciary committees rejected the White House offer. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said, “Testimony should be on the record, and under oath. That’s the formula for true accountability.” The House committees will vote today on whether to subpoena Karl Rove and others. The Senate committee will vote tomorrow. The Senate has also voted 94 to two to cancel a provision of the PATRIOT Act that allowed the attorney general to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service has just published a study examining the tenure of every U.S. attorney confirmed between 1981 and 2006. The study found the recent firings is unprecedented. During the 25-year period studied, the Senate confirmed 468 U.S. attorneys. Only 10 left office involuntarily for reasons other than a change in administration prior to the firings that took place in December. This means the Bush administration pushed out almost as many U.S. attorneys in December as had been let go over the past 25 years.
On Capitol Hill, the House Democratic leadership is intensely pressuring antiwar lawmakers to approve a controversial bill to give President Bush $100 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also establishes tough new readiness standards for deploying combat forces and sets an Aug. 31, 2008, deadline to bring the troops home. A vote is scheduled for Thursday. As of last night, it appeared the House leadership did not have enough votes to get the bill passed, in part because of opposition led by the leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey. The House leadership has tried a number of hardball tactics to secure the needed votes. The website Politico reports one Democratic congressman on the fence was warned that new funding requests for his district would be blocked if he didn’t support the war funding. In addition, Democratic leaders have added $21 billion to fund projects unrelated to wartime spending in a bid to gain more votes. Some of the money would go to help spinach growers, to build peanut storage facilities in Georgia, to help Atlantic fishermen and to fight wildfires. The House leadership has also gained the support of the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey criticized MoveOn’s decision. Woolsey said, “For people who are undecided and looking for a reason to vote for the supplemental, MoveOn is going to make a difference, providing instant cover for these members.”
The McClatchy Newspapers is reporting military spending in the United States has reached the highest level since World War II. If Congress approves an additional $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will bring this year’s total amount spent on the military to $630 billion. The U.S. now has 300,000 troops deployed around the world in 78 countries. Roughly half of the troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In news from Iraq, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has said the Iraqi government should engage Sunni militants in peace talks. Al-Hashimi, who is Sunni, told the BBC that the government should talk to everybody but al-Qaeda.
Residents in Baghdad marked the fourth anniversary of the war by criticizing U.S. efforts in Iraq. This is Emad Abdullah of Baghdad.
Emad Abdullah: “After the fall of (Saddam’s) statue, we did not see any change. There were many promises, but none of them were fulfilled. They promised us democracy, travel, freedom and reconstruction. The country needs reconstruction, needs services and electricity. We did not find any change. What we found is deterioration. We turned to an abyss, more killings, destruction and kidnappings.”
Two more Iraqi journalists have been killed. The body of TV producer Hamid al-Duleimi was found yesterday in the Baghdad morgue. He had been abducted two days earlier. Autopsy reports revealed that the journalist had been tortured. The editor of the daily newspaper al-Safir, Hussein al-Jaburi, died last week from his injuries suffered after being ambushed outside his Baghdad home. According to the International News Safety Institute, 187 journalists and support staff have died since the war began four years ago.
The United Nations refugee agency says there has been an “abject denial” around the world of the humanitarian impact of the war in Iraq. Over two million Iraqis have fled the country, and another 1.9 million Iraqis are internally displaced. The U.N. says many of the refugees need considerable support, and about a quarter of them are children.
Back in this country, seven peace activists were arrested in Wisconsin on Monday for refusing to leave the Milwaukee office of Democratic Congressman Ron Kind. The protesters were demanding Congressman Kind vote to cut off funds for the Iraq War.
In New York, a group of multimedia artists engaged in an antiwar action last night near Ground Zero. The Glass Bead Collective set up a massive light projector and beamed 200-foot-tall projections of peace images on the side of the Verizon building. The projection could be seen throughout Lower Manhattan.
Former Vice President Al Gore is heading to Capitol Hill today to testify before a pair of House and Senate committees about global warming.
Grassroots groups across the country are taking up the issue of global warming. In Washington, hundreds of environmentalists rallied in front of the Capitol on Tuesday for the first-ever Climate Crisis Action Day. In Massachusetts, activists are walking across the state this week to raise awareness about global warming. In New Hampshire, over 134 cities and towns have passed resolutions asking the federal government to address climate change and to develop research initiatives to create innovative energy technologies. And planning is underway for the first National Day of Climate Action on April 14. Nine hundred fifty events and rallies are already scheduled. Organizers are predicting April 14 will be the country’s largest grassroots environmental protest since Earth Day 1970.
In news from Latin America, Colombia’s chief federal prosecutor has announced plans to demand the extradition of eight employees from the fruit company Chiquita who were allegedly involved in funding right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia. On Monday, Chiquita admitted it had paid off the group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Chiquita has agreed to pay the U.S. government a fine of $25 million on the condition that it doesn’t have to reveal the names of the executives involved. The Colombian prosecutor also accused Chiquita of providing arms to the right-wing paramilitary groups that were then used to push leftist rebels out of an area in northern Colombia where Chiquita had its banana plantations.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government has also announced it has launched a criminal investigation into the Alabama-based coal company Drummond. The company has been accused of paying right-wing paramilitaries to murder three trade union leaders working at its coal mining operations in Colombia. Later today Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting in Washington with Colombia’s new foreign minister.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has revealed the FBI may have violated the law or government policies as many as 3,000 times over the past four years as agents secretly collected the telephone, bank and credit card records of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals residing here. Inspector General Glenn Fine criticized how the FBI had used national security letters to force telephone companies, banks and credit institutions to produce the private records of citizens. In response, House Democrats and Republicans warned that it might strip the FBI of its power to demand that companies turn over customer records if the agency did not swiftly correct abuses in the system.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, dozens of organizations are calling today on the state’s governor to investigate the actions of Aero Contractors, the shadowy North Carolina company hired by the CIA to carry out extraordinary renditions. Flight records show Aero Contractors has flown persons kidnapped by the CIA to secret locations in other countries. Grassroots organizers in North Carolina want the state to stop allowing Aero Contractors to use state-funded airports. The groups say it is unconscionable that North Carolina taxpayers are asked to continue to host a company that operates torture flights.
One of the most prominent judges in Spain has publicly said President Bush and his Iraq War allies should face war crimes charges for their actions in Iraq. Baltasar Garzon called the war in Iraq one of the most sordid and unjustifiable episodes in recent human history. Garzon said, “We should look more deeply into the possible criminal responsibility of the people who are, or were, responsible for this war and see whether there is sufficient evidence to make them answer for it.” Garzon is the investigating judge for Spain’s National Court. Garzon became famous in 1999 when he tried to extradite former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet from Britain and try him for crimes against humanity.
In business news, Federal investigators have strongly criticized the oil giant BP and the U.S. agency charged with worker safety over the conditions of a Texas oil refinery where 15 workers were killed in a fire two years ago. This is Carolyn Merritt, chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
Carolyn Merritt: “In our formal recommendations, we are calling on the company to make substantial safety improvements. In addition, we found regulatory oversight of refinery workers by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, needs to be improved.”
Carolyn Merritt said OSHA had not done any planned comprehensive inspection of process safety at any U.S. oil refinery between 1995 and March 2005.
And six human rights activists are heading to prison today for engaging in civil disobedience outside the military training facility once known as the School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Georgia. Last November, 22,000 people gathered outside the base calling for the closure of the school, which has been used to train many Latin American and Caribbean military officials accused of abusing human rights. A total of 16 activists were arrested for crossing the fence and illegally entering the base. Heading to prison today are Melissa Helman, Cathy Webster, Alice Gerard, Philip Gates, Joshua Harris and Graymon Ward. They received sentences ranging from one to six months in federal prison.