The former “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla has been convicted in one of the most closely watched trials since the Sept. 11 attacks. On Thursday, a Miami jury found Padilla and two co-defendants guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya and providing material support toward that goal. Padilla originally made international headlines in 2002 when President Bush declared him an enemy combatant for allegedly plotting to set off a radioactive dirty bomb inside the United States. He was stripped of all rights, transferred to a Navy brig in South Carolina and held in extreme isolation for 43 months. The Bush administration denied him access to an attorney for two years. Faced with a Supreme Court challenge, President Bush finally announced criminal charges far less serious than the public allegations made at the time of Padilla’s capture. Defense attorneys argued that Padilla was unfit to stand trial and that the indictment should be dismissed because of outrageous government conduct. Forensic psychiatrist Angela Hegarty told Democracy Now yesterday the effects of the extreme isolation on Padilla are consistent with brain damage. After the verdict, Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford said justice had been served.
Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford: “It’s very important to emphasize that cases like this one are central to the United States government’s efforts to neutralize the threat posed by terrorists and those who support them. I also want to mention that this particular case has long demonstrated the importance of integrating intelligence and traditional law enforcement tools in order to protect and preserve national security, and I think it stands as a great example of what can be accomplished when those things are combined.”
In Iraq, the coalition death toll has now topped 4,000. The vast majority are American, with 3,702 U.S. troops killed. Forty-four U.S. servicemembers have died this month.
A former Marine sergeant has been charged with manslaughter in the killing of two Iraqi prisoners in Fallujah. The charges against José Nazario come as part of a wider investigation into the alleged shootings of unarmed prisoners during the U.S. attacks on Fallujah in 2004.
The Bush administration has made official a massive increase in military aid to Israel. On Thursday, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns signed an agreement to provide more than $30 billion in weapons over 10 years.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns: “To say how pleased we are that the United States can make this long-term investment in Israel’s security of a $30 billion figure of defense assistance over 10 years, that’s a major contribution of American assistance, and we do it first and foremost because the United States has an abiding interest in the security of Israel.”
The deal increases annual U.S. military aid to Israel by 25 percent, or $600 million per year. The boost is part of a multi-billion-dollar military aid package to U.S. allies in the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In Gaza, Hamas leader Sami Abu-Zuhri said the military deals were a blow to peace prospects in the Middle East.
Sami Abu-Zuhri: “This is an expression of the U.S. support of the Israeli occupation, and this shows the U.S. policy in the region. It gives big support to Israel, but on the other hand it gives nonsense promises to our Palestinian, Arab and Islamic nations.”
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has proposed several constitutional changes including an end to limits on presidential terms. He unveiled his proposals in front of the Venezuelan Congress.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “The presidential term is six years, and the president of the republic can only be re-elected once for a new term. I propose to my people to modify Article 230 by having presidential terms of seven years, which was my original plan, but the Assembly took it back to six. And that president can be re-elected for a new term. Just that simple.”
Chavez has also proposed reducing the maximum Venezuelan workday to six hours from eight hours. The proposals would have to pass through Congress followed by a national referendum.
More evidence has emerged contradicting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ account of his March 2004 meeting in then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room. Newly released notes show FBI Director Robert Mueller described Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate” and “stressed” before Gonzales tried to persuade Ashcroft to sign off on the Bush administration’s warantless spy program. Gonzales has denied he tried to pressure Aschroft and said Ashcroft was lucid and did most of the talking during their conversation. Mueller’s notes also show an Ashcroft aide was so concerned about Gonzales’ pressure tactics that he asked that only Ashcroft’s relatives be allowed to enter the room. The notes also show Aschroft complained to Gonzales about White House rules that barred him from seeking the input of his deputies at the Justice Department.
The U.S. coal company Drummond has been acquitted of liability for the murder of three union leaders at its northern Colombian mine. An Alabama jury rejected allegations the company’s financial support for right-wing paramilitaries made it liable for the killings. The victims’ families maintain Drummond hired the masked gunmen that killed Valmore Locarno and Victor Orcasita in March 2001 and Gustavo Soler seven months later. The jury did not reject those claims but ruled only that Drummond wasn’t liable. The families have criticized the Colombian government for delaying the deposition of a key witness. Rafael Garcia, a former senior official at Colombia’s executive intelligence agency, claims he witnessed Drummond’s top official in Colombia hand over a suitcase full of money to pay for the assassinations. The International Labor Fund and the United Steelworkers union filed the suit on behalf of the families. They say they plan to appeal the verdict.
A veteran U.S. diplomat has announced he’s stepping down one day after his indictment for allegedly making racist and threatening comments about Arab Americans. Patrick Syring faces charges for a series of emails and phone calls to employees of the Washington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute. One phone message was left for Arab American Institute President James Zogby during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon last year. Syring is reported to have said: “The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese. The only good Arab is a dead Arab. Long live the [Israel Defense Forces]. Death to Lebanon and death to the Arabs.” Syring is also said to have used the F-word in referring to Zogby and what he called “his wicked Hezbollah brothers.” Syring’s 20 years at the State Department included stints in the Middle East.
In prison news, new figures show U.S. prison guards were responsible for more than half of reported cases of rape, sexual harassment and violence in U.S. jails last year. More than 6,500 cases of sexual violence were reported overall, a 20 percent increase over two years.
Meanwhile, Edwards has joined rival Barack Obama in vowing to hold talks with Iran if elected to office. In an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Edwards says talks with Iran would come as part of an overall push for diplomacy. But Edwards also says he would not rule out a military strike on Iran, saying no option should be “off the table.”
Also writing in Foreign Affairs, Republican candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani has come out against the creation of a Palestinian state. Giuliani writes the U.S. should oppose Palestinian statehood because it would inevitably encourage terrorism. Giuliani also says he would consider talks with Iran but left open the threat of weakening Iran’s economy and destroying its nuclear facilities.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has disclosed his personal fortune could top more than a quarter of a billion dollars. Romney and his wife Ann are said to hold assets worth between $190 and $250 million — more than all other presidential candidates combined. Romney has already spent $9 million of his own money so far this year. Nearly half his fortune is tied up in undisclosed investments through a trust in his sons’ names.
And in Utah, the search for six missing miners is on hold after a cave-in killed three rescue workers and injured at least six others trying to reach them. The six miners have now been missing for 11 days. It’s unknown if they’re still alive.