President Bush has tapped Pentagon General Douglas Lute to be the administration’s first war czar. If confirmed by the Senate, Lute will be responsible for overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lute was selected after several retired generals refused to take the job. The selection of Lute has surprised some because he has repeatedly questioned the size of the U.S. force in Iraq and has criticized the so-called surge.
In news from Iraq, Iraqi police are now enforcing a ban on photographers and TV camera operators from filming the aftermath of deadly bombings. On Tuesday, police fired warning shots in the air after journalists attempted to report on a bombing in Baghdad that killed seven people and wounded 17. Reporters Without Borders said the growing restrictions on the media could end in a total news blackout on what’s happening in Iraq.
A former top Justice Department official has revealed that former Attorney General John Ashcroft had grave concerns over the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program and once threatened to resign over it. Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told Congress on Tuesday that Ashcroft refused to sign off on the spying campaign because he believed it was unconstitutional. Comey’s comments mark the first public acknowledgment that the Justice Department found the original surveillance program illegal. Comey also revealed new details about how then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card tried to coerce Ashcroft into re-authorizing the program as he lay in a hospital bed seriously ill with pancreatitis in March 2004. At the time, Comey was acting attorney general because of Ashcroft’s illness. Comey said that after he refused to sign off on the program, Gonzales and Card raced to the hospital in an attempt to get Ashcroft to sign off on it from his hospital bed. Once Comey learned of Gonzales’s plan, he too had to race to the hospital to support Ashcroft.
In the Occupied Territories, 41 Palestinians have died over the past four days in intense fighting between members of the rival factions Hamas and Fatah. The newspaper Ha’aretz is reporting the Israeli government appears to be aiding members of Fatah in the internal fighting. On Tuesday, Israel briefly opened the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow 450 fighter from Fatah to enter Gaza. The border was immediately closed after the fighters entered.
For the second time in a week, a United Nations human rights official has been barred from visiting a U.S. immigration jail. The official, Jorge Bustamante, is conducting a three-week investigation into how immigrants are treated in the United States. Bustamante had planned on visiting detained immigrants jailed at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in New Jersey, but he was refused entry. Last week he was blocked from visiting the Hutto facility in Taylor, Texas, where the U.S. is jailing up to 200 immigrant children and their families.
The Christian evangelical leader Jerry Falwell has died at the age of 73. He was the founder of the Moral Majority and a pioneering figure in the religious right. He led campaigns against abortion, gay rights, pornography and bans on school prayer. During the 1960s Falwell condemned the Rev. Martin Luther King and what he described as the civil wrongs movement. In the 1980s Falwell praised South Africa’s apartheid government as a “bulwark for Christian civilization” and campaigned against economic sanctions. Falwell once described Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a phony. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Falwell appeared on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and blamed liberal groups in the United States for the attacks.
Jerry Falwell: “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, and the ACLU and People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'”
On Tuesday, several of the leading Republican presidential candidates praised Falwell. Senator John McCain described him as “a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country.”
In political news, the 10 Republican presidential candidates held their second debate last night in South Carolina. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney called for Guantanamo to be doubled in size. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Congressman Tom Tancredo suggested they support the use of torture, including the technique known as waterboarding, where prisoners are made to feel like they are about to drown.
Federal prosecutors in Oregon said yesterday that a group of 10 environmental and animal rights activists should be considered terrorists for their involvement in a series of politically motivated arsons. One attorney for the Bush administration likened the activists to the Ku Klux Klan. Attorneys for the activists condemned the government’s move.
Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center: “The government in this case is seeking to apply the terrorist enhancement to individuals who are accused of environmentally motivated property crimes alone. This is the first time in the history of our country that the government is seeking this enhancement for crimes did not involve the murder or the attempted murder of humans. The reason is obviously political.”
Sentencing for the activists is scheduled to begin next week. If the judge determines the activists to be terrorists, it could add 20 years to their prison sentences.
The Bush administration is urging Ethiopia not to withdraw its forces from Somalia, nearly six months after U.S.-backed troops invaded Somalia and toppled the Union of Islamic Court. Over 1,400 Somalis have died in the country’s worst fighting since the early 1990s. The fighting has also displaced up to 400,000 Somalis. The U.N. estimates that more than 60 percent of the displaced peoples are not receiving any help. Meanwhile, the United Nations has announced it will investigate human rights violations during the recent fighting in Mogadishu.
And in Brazil, a rancher has been sentenced to 30 years in jail for ordering the assassination of the American nun Dorothy Stang. Stang had dedicated her life to defending the people of the Amazon rainforest. Her brother David praised the ruling.
David Stang: “We, the Stang family, came to Brazil, to Belem, to find justice for our sister who was brutally murdered. Today, we found justice, and we are very happy.”