The White House-congressional dispute over testimony on the firing of U.S. attorneys and the warrantless domestic spy program has intensified. Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee want a special prosecutor to investigate whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales committed perjury in testimony this week. Gonzales told the Senate panel Tuesday there was no internal White House dissension over the spy program’s legality. He also denied trying to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to sign off on the program as he lay recovering from major surgery in his hospital bed. Gonzales said their meeting dealt with other intelligence activities.
But his comments were directly contradicted by FBI Director Robert Mueller. Testifying before Congress Thursday, Mueller said the spy program was indeed discussed in Ashcroft’s hospital room and that Mueller himself had expressed serious reservations about the warrantless spying.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed senior White House adviser Karl Rove and presidential aide J. Scott Jennings for testimony about the dismissal of federal prosecutors.
In Iraq, at least 60 people were killed in violence around the country Thursday. Twenty-five people were killed and 75 wounded in a massive car bombing in central Baghdad. Eight U.S. soldiers were killed, including four in Diyala where tens of thousands of troops are launching attacks.
More allegations have emerged of physical abuse and poor conditions of workers building the massive U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. On Thursday, two American civilian contractors told the House Oversight Committee foreign workers were tricked into coming to Iraq and then barred from leaving after contractors took their passports. The Kuwaiti firm First Kuwaiti is overseeing the $600 million project. It’s slated to be the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world. American contractor John Owens said he found the working and living conditions for the workers “deplorable.” Owens says the workers lived in tightly packed trailers and were denied basics including shoes and gloves. They worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, for as little as $240 a month. Owens says workers were verbally and physically abused and docked pay for minor infractions.
The parents of a U.S. soldier who killed himself after returning home from military duty in Iraq have sued the U.S. government for negligence. Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the U.S. military ignored his depression. In late May 2004, Jeffrey was involuntarily committed to a military veterans hospital after he ignored his family’s pleas to seek help. The hospital discharged him after a few days. He killed himself three weeks later. His father came home to find his son had hung himself with a hose in the cellar of their house. The dog tags of two Iraqi prisoners he said he was forced to shoot unarmed lay on his bed. The Lucey suit follows another case in which two veterans’ rights groups say the Department of Veterans Affairs delayed and denied veterans help for disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
In Afghanistan, negotiations are continuing between tribal elders and Taliban kidnappers holding 22 South Korean church workers hostage. One of the hostages was killed Wednesday after a deadline passed. The Taliban wants to exchange the workers for the release of rebel prisoners. Meanwhile in South Korea, activists gathered in Seoul to call for the hostages’ safe return and the withdrawal of South Korean troops from Afghanistan.
Activist Park Jeo-eun: “The U.S. occupied Afghanistan and continued waging a war, then South Korean troops joined them in the name of an anti-terrorism war. That’s the main reason why the hostage situation happened. And the Taliban should immediately free the 22 South Korean hostages promptly and safely.”
In the Occupied Territories, a longtime Fatah insider has resigned his post as the chief Palestinian security official. Mohammed Dahlan says he is resigning on medical grounds. But critics say his departure is linked to his failure to prevent the Hamas takeover of Gaza last month. Dahlan has also faced accusations of corruption and human rights abuses during his time in the Palestinian government.
In Australia, an Indian doctor detained over the failed car bombings in Britain has been freed after prosecutors admitted his arrest was a mistake. Prosecutors have withdrawn all charges against Muhamed Haneef after finding he had no connection to the case.
In Cuba, more than 100,000 people gathered in the central city of Camaguey to mark the 54th anniversary of the attacks that ignited the Cuban Revolution. Acting Cuban leader Raul Castro said Cuba had suffered major setbacks since his brother Fidel Castro handed off power last year. Raul Castro also said Cuba would negotiate with the U.S. — once the Bush administration leaves office.
Raul Castro: “For that date, a year from now, we will be better prepared to resist and overcome on all fronts, including the defensive. Also, by then, there will have been elections in the United States, and the term of the current president of that country will have ended, as well as his dangerous administration, characterized by backward and fundamentalist thoughts, which do not allow for rational analysis of the world.”
This year’s event also marked one year since Fidel Castro’s last public appearance.
Pakistan has rebuked the Bush administration for recent comments asserting the U.S. would attack areas inside Pakistan if deemed necessary to fight al-Qaeda militants.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri: “Such statements are irresponsible, and they should not be made. In fact, they are counterproductive to the sort of effort and cooperation that Pakistan and the United States are making jointly. And this may be election season in the United States, but it should not be at our expense.”
In Burma, human rights activist Ko Myint Naing has been sentenced to eight years in prison. The military-led Myanmar regime accused him of inciting unrest in an incident that saw him and other activists attacked by a pro-government mob. Myint Naing was on his way to a human rights training session. The Mynamar government has been accused of scores of human rights abuses and arbitrary detentions since taking power.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting the U.S. has opted to take a hands-off approach to a Saudi bank U.S. intelligence has linked to the financing of militant Islamic extremists. The Al-Rajhi Bank is among vast holdings belonging to the Saudi billionaire Sulaiman Al-Rajhi. The bank’s activities reportedly set off an intense debate within the Bush administration on how to take action. But confidential reports show the administration has ultimately chosen to quietly lobby Saudi monarchs rather than take punitive steps. U.S. intelligence says Al-Rahji Bank has held accounts and accepted donations for charities formally designated as fronts for al-Qaeda or other militant groups. The CIA concluded the Al-Rahji family was knowingly involved. Al-Rajhi Bank and the Al-Rajhi family have denied any link to financing militants.
The disclosure comes as the Bush administration is facing criticism for prosecuting the largest Islamic charity in the U.S. In a trial that began this week, prosecutors accuse the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development of providing millions of dollars in funding to militant activities by Hamas. The charity says the money has gone to Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks and closures in the Occupied Territories. The case is the largest of its kind in U.S. history. Prosecutors have faced scrutiny for heavily relying on secret evidence supplied by the Israeli government. Khalil Meek of the Muslim Legal Fund of America said: “The Bush administration is arguing that providing medical and nutritional assistance to sick and starving Palestinian children amounts to supporting terrorism.”
In economic news, the Justice Department has launched an investigation into several alleged cases of discriminatory practices in mortgage lending. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition recently found that African Americans were twice as likely as white applicants to receive loans with expensive, above-market rates. The investigation follows a class action lawsuit from the NAACP accusing subprime mortgage lenders of institutionalized, systematic racism. Lenders named in the suit include Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Washington Mutual.
And in immigration news, a federal judge has struck down a series of controversial anti-immigrant laws in the Pennsylvania town of Hazleton. Over the last year the town has adopted ordinances aimed at barring undocumented immigrants from working or renting homes there. Judge James Munley ruled the measures subverted federal immigration laws and violated due process rights of employers, landlords and undocumented immigrants. Observers say the ruling could have a strong effect in barring other towns from passing similar anti-immigrant measures.