The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas ordering the Bush administration to turn over key documents on the National Security Agency program of spying on Americans without court warrants. On Wednesday, subpoenas were delivered to the offices of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the national security adviser and the Justice Department. The Judiciary Committee is seeking internal discussions on the program’s legality and the text of agreements with telecommunications companies that have aided the spying.
Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy: "We’ve had a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection. In some ways, it would have been better if they just ignored it. Instead, they’ve evaded, and they’ve tried misdirection. It’s unacceptable. It is stonewalling of the worse kind, and I think the reaction is spreading to both parties in the Senate."
The subpoenas could set off a new legal showdown with the White House, which has until July 18 to comply.
In Iraq, at least 20 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a car bombing in Baghdad. The blast tore through crowds of people waiting to ride buses during the morning rush hour. Meanwhile, at least 20 headless bodies have been found near the Tigris River around Baghdad. And residents of the Iraqi village of Khalis are calling for an apology and compensation for a U.S. attack that killed 11 people and injured eight others last week. The Pentagon says the victims were al-Qaeda members, but villagers say they were local guards.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the toll from Israel’s attack on Gaza Wednesday has reached 13 dead, with another 45 people wounded. The dead included a 12-year-old boy. Israeli tanks backed by warplanes pushed at least a mile into the Gaza Strip in the largest operation since Hamas seized full control earlier this month. The attacks came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the disbanding of all Palestinian armed groups. Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Israeli attack will guarantee Palestinian militants reject Abbas’ order to put down their arms. Hamas has offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But Israeli Parliament member Ephraim Sneh said the attacks will continue until Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s "right to exist."
Ephraim Sneh: "We don’t need to look for a reason to confront. Hamas is there to attack Israel, and it is our right, if not our duty, to carry out preventive measures to forestall the measure and to pre-empt it. And this is what we are doing, and we will keep on doing it as long as Gaza is a base for terror organizations."
In other news from Israel, at least 150 people have been left homeless after Israeli forces destroyed at least 20 homes belonging to Bedouin-Arab villagers this week. The residents had been living in the desert Bedouin villages of Atir and Um Heiran for more than 50 years. Israeli officials say they’ve been trespassing on state property that will be turned into towns for Israeli citizens.
Meanwhile, the quartet of the U.S., Russia, European Union and the U.N. has formally named Tony Blair as their new Middle East envoy. The Bush administration immediately announced Blair will be limited to narrow, technical issues around reforming Palestinian institutions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will continue to handle all matters relating to a final-status peace agreement.
State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack: "Well, Mr. Blair’s focus will be on building those Palestinian institutions which will form the basis of a Palestinian state. And I would say that without those institutions and without those institutions being developed, you’re not going to have a Palestinian state. So the idea of the political negotiations and the building of the institutions within the Palestinian state are really of almost equal importance, because you are not going to have a Palestinian state in the absence of either one of those, success in one of those two areas."
Blair’s role is already drawing criticism. Aaron David Miller, a former senior State Department adviser on Arab-Israeli peace talks, said: "Unless he has the authority to deal with the Israelis on the issue of movement and lifting of barriers, he’s not going to get very far. … Without the authority to help change the situation on the ground, this isn’t going to work." While Israeli leaders praised Blair’s appointment, Palestinians offered criticism.
Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad: "We expect that Tony Blair will not be a good man in this position, because according to our experience at the time he was the prime minister of Britain, that he was not honest and was not helpful in solving the conflict in the Middle East, and all the time he adopts the American and the Israeli position, so we don’t expect good news from putting Blair in such a position."
The announcement of Blair’s appointment came after he delivered his final address to the British Parliament.
Tony Blair: "If it is on occasions the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes, and I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that. The end."
In South Africa, trade unions have called off a four-week strike that shut down much of the country’s schools and hospitals. The Congress of South African Trade Unions — COSATU — has accepted the government offer of a 7.5 percent pay raise. The strike was also called to draw attention to the ruling African National Congress’ economic policies that have favored privatization over social programs. South African President Thabo Mbeki said those polices would come under review at an ANC meeting this week.
South African President Thabo Mbeki: "Necessarily, therefore, the policy conference will have to assess the policy positions that have informed our activities since 1994, focused on the growth and development of our economy, the more equitable sharing of the national wealth, the reduction of the inherited and persisting racial, gender and class disparities in the distribution of income and wealth, employment creation and poverty eradication."
Europe’s top human rights body has approved a report concluding the CIA ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania from 2003 to 2005. On Wednesday, lawmakers at the Council of Europe voted to back investigator Dick Marty’s findings that prisoners were detained with the full cooperation of leaders of the countries involved. The lawmakers also called for compensation to the victims of the secret imprisonment.
Back in the United States, one of the nine U.S. attorneys fired in a wave of administration-backed ousters last year is accusing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of overzealously pursuing the death penalty in several cases across the country. On Wednesday, former Phoenix U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton said Gonzales had ordered him to seek capital punishment in a case in which no body had been found. Charlton said Gonzales has often disregarded both the evidence and the local prosecutor’s opinion.
The nation’s body of city mayors has called on the Bush administration to begin planning for a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a measure passed this week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors says: "[The Iraq War] is reducing federal funds ... for needed domestic investments in education, health care, public safety, homeland security and more." The resolution was passed by a vote of 51 to 47.
New figures show the U.S. prison population has seen its biggest rise since the year 2000. On Wednesday, the Justice Department reported the number of prisoners increased by more than 62,000 last year. There are now more than 2.2 million people behind bars in the United States.
In Georgia, a judge has denied bond for a young African-American man who has been serving a 10-year prison sentence for having consensual oral sex with another teenager. The ruling could keep Genarlow Wilson behind bars for several more months. Genarlow Wilson was 17 years old, and the girl was 15 years old, when the sexual encounter took place. Wilson was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation. He has already spent two years behind bars. Since Wilson was convicted, Georgia changed its law on teenage sex. Wilson was initially ordered released earlier this month, but the ruling was overturned after a surprising appeal from the state attorney general. Several civil rights groups have rallied behind the case. Dr. Francys Johnson of the NAACP said: "[We are] convinced that justice has taken a summer vacation in Georgia."
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