The Democrat-led Congress handed President Bush a major legislative victory this weekend when it voted to broadly expand the government’s authority to eavesdrop without warrant on the international telephone calls and email messages of American citizens. After weeks of pressure from President Bush, both the House and Senate approved rewriting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The legislation was rushed through Congress in the last days before the August recess. On Friday, the Senate passed the bill by a 60-to-28 vote. Sixteen Democrats voted in favor of the measure. Then on Saturday 41 Democrats joined Republicans to pass the bill in the House. The new legislation moves the power to approve international surveillance from a special intelligence court to the attorney general and the director of national intelligence. Critics say the bill also gives the Bush administration the power to order the nation’s telecommunication providers to create permanent spying outposts for the federal government. Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies said Congress has more or less legalized the National Security Agency’s warrantless spying program.
Investigative reporter Jane Mayer has published a major expose in The New Yorker on the CIA’s black sites — the U.S. network of secret overseas prisons. Mayer reports the International Committee of the Red Cross has concluded the CIA’s detention and interrogation methods is tantamount to torture. Sources told Mayer that the confidential Red Cross report also warned that U.S. officials responsible for the abusive treatment may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act. The Red Cross issued the confidential report to the Bush administration last year, but, according to Mayer, only a handful of people inside the administration have even seen the report. Detainees almost universally told the Red Cross that they made up stories to get the harsh interrogations to stop. Mayer also reveals new details about the CIA’s interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mohammed reportedly told the Red Cross that he was held naked in his cell, questioned by female interrogators to humiliate him, attached to a dog leash and made to run into walls, and put in painful positions while chained to the floor. Mohammed also said he was “waterboarded” in addition to being held in suffocating heat and painfully cold conditions.
In Iraq, at least 25 people have been killed in a suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar. The blast wounded 22 others and destroyed 10 homes.
A new congressional report has revealed that the Pentagon has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces. It is unclear how many of the weapons fell into the hands of insurgents fighting U.S. forces. The Government Accountability Office says U.S. military officials do not know what happened to 30 percent of the weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces since 2004. Defense analyst Rachel Stohl noted that the Bush administration frequently complains that Iran and Syria are arming insurgents but has paid little attention to whether the U.S. military has inadvertently played a role.
A U.S. soldier has been sentenced to 110 years in prison for raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and slaying her family. On Friday, a court-martial found Private First Class Jesse Spielman guilty of rape, conspiracy to commit rape, housebreaking with the intent to commit rape and four counts of felony murder. Spielman is the fourth soldier to be sentenced in the case.
On Capitol Hill, the House has approved a record $460 billion budget for the Pentagon. The massive military budget represents a nearly $40 billion increase over current levels. The measure does not include President Bush’s 2008 funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush is soon expected to ask Congress to approve an additional $147 billion for the Iraq War.
Newsweek is reporting the FBI has used a secret warrant to raid the home of a former Justice Department lawyer named Thomas Tamm. During the raid, FBI agents seized three computers and personal files. According to Newsweek the FBI is trying to determine who leaked details of the government’s secret warrantless eavesdropping program to the news media. Tamm left the department last year. He had worked in the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, a unit that oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage targets.
President Bush is meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today at Camp David. On Sunday, Karzai admitted the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated over the past two years and that the hunt for Osama bin Laden has not improved in years.
The Karzai-Bush meeting comes as the Taliban continues to hold 21 Korean hostages. The Korean aid workers were seized on July 19. Since then, the Taliban has shot two of them dead and have threatened to kill more if the Afghan government doesn’t agree to free jailed members of the Taliban. On Sunday, one of the hostages reportedly made a phone call to a journalist from Voice of America and pleaded for help from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take action to secure their release.
Lim Hyun-joo: “Please save us. We really want to go home. We are all innocent people. We came here to help these people, but now we are all sick. I don’t know how long we can survive. Also, please no war. If there is going to be a war, we are going to be really in danger.”
In other news from Afghanistan, Al Jazeera is reporting as many as 200 people were killed or wounded in NATO-led air strikes last week. A U.S. spokesperson said the bombing targeted a meeting of Taliban commanders, but local officials said most of the victims were civilians.
California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has imposed broad restrictions on electronic voting machines and decertified voting machines used in 39 counties. Bowen said the measures are needed because the machines are susceptible to hacking. Some counties in California are now considering returning to paper ballots for February’s presidential primary.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hiroshima this morning to mark the 62nd anniversary of the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. An estimated 140,000 people were killed instantly or died within a few months after the bombing. Three days later, another U.S. airplane dropped a plutonium bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing about 80,000 people. At 8:15 this morning, bells rang through the city to mark the moment when the U.S. B-29 warplane Enola Gay dropped the bomb. Residents throughout the city observed a minute’s silence in memory of those who perished. Earlier today, Hiroshima Mayor Tadayoshi Akiba spoke at the rally and criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s backing of President Bush’s foreign policy.
Tadayoshi Akiba: “We should adhere strictly to our Peace Constitution, which we should be proud of, and say clearly 'no' to the U.S.’s outdated and mistaken policies in the world.”
In other news from Japan, the International Atomic Energy Agency is inspecting the country’s largest nuclear plant today, two weeks after an earthquake forced the plant to shut down. Following the 6.8-magnitude earthquake, radioactive water leaked into the Sea of Japan, and radioactive particles blew out of an exhaust pipe filter. Japanese officials have claimed the radiation leaks had no environmental impact.
In Oakland, a 19-year-old handyman has reportedly confessed to last week’s murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey. Bailey was shot to death in downtown Oakland. Police have arrested seven men in the case and raided a local bakery. An attorney for the Oakland Post said Bailey might have been targeted because he had been working on an article about possible links between the Your Black Muslim Bakery and several killings in the area.
In Venezuela, actor Sean Penn appeared with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday. Penn said he visited Venezuela as a journalist to report on the country.
Sean Penn: “I came here looking for a great country. I found a great country. I found great hospitality. I would be more specific about all of this, but I’m also here as a journalist, and so I owe it to that medium to wait until I’ve digested, fact-checked and finished my journey here. But thank you for a great trip in Venezuela, and in particular President Chavez, thank you.”
President Chavez praised Penn for visiting Venezuela.
President Chavez: “Thank you, Sean, Sean Penn. He’s from the United States and a man critical of his government and of imperialism. This man went to Baghdad to ask (U.S. President George W.) Bush to take out the troops, to stop the war. And now he wanted to come here. Well, I didn’t know him or anything, but he wanted to come here to see the truth.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on his first trip to the United States since his election, but he has refused to say whether he will meet with President Bush. Sarkozy is vacationing with his family in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, about 50 miles from Kennebunkport, Maine, where the Bush family owns an oceanfront estate. On Sunday, Sarkozy attempted to prevent two photographers from taking pictures while he was boating with his family. According to press accounts, Sarkozy lost his temper, jumped onto the boat of the photographers, scolded them in French and briefly grabbed one of their cameras.
Here in New York, city officials have abandoned a proposal that would have forced many photographers and filmmakers to obtain permits and insurance in order to take pictures and shoot video in the city. The city backed down after over 31,000 people signed an online petition organized by the group Picture New York. The city says it will soon issue a revised set of rules.
And the civil rights attorney Oliver Hill has died at the age of 100. He was a classmate of Thurgood Marshall at Howard University Law School and was the lead attorney on a Virginia case that later incorporated into Brown v. Board of Education. Hill was an instrumental member of an NAACP-affiliated legal team that persistently attacked segregation.