A bipartisan Senate report has accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of direct responsibility for the abuse and torture of US prisoners in foreign jails. The report says, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.” Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican John McCain of the Senate Armed Forces Committee released the report, based on a nearly two-year Senate investigation.
In Iraq, at least fifty-seven people have been killed in a suicide attack near the northern town of Kirkuk. The bombing struck a packed restaurant where Kurdish and Sunni groups were meeting to discuss easing ethnic tensions. Another 100 people were wounded. It was the worst attack to hit Iraq in six months.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced plans to deploy scores of the 20,000 additional US troops set for Afghanistan as early as next spring. Speaking in the Afghan city of Kandahar Thursday, Gates said he foresees a sustained US occupation force in Afghanistan over the next four years.
In Pakistan, at least six people have been killed in the latest US air strike near the Afghan border. The victims’ identities remain unknown. The Bush administration has carried out more than thirty missile attacks in Pakistan since August.
On Capitol Hill, talks between Democratic and Republican Senators on a $14 billion auto industry bailout have collapsed. General Motors and Chrysler have warned of imminent bankruptcy unless the government steps in. The talks broke down over disagreements on the timing of wage cuts to unionized auto workers.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid: “We have worked and worked, and we can spend all night tonight, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, and we’re not going to get to the finish line. That’s just the way it is. There’s too much difference between the two sides.”
Both sides agreed wages should drop to the levels of foreign competitors, but Republicans wanted a deadline of 2009. Democrats insisted on a date of 2011, when current worker contracts expire. Alan Reuther of the United Auto Workers said, “Unfortunately, Senate Republicans insisted that workers and retirees be singled out and treated differently from all other stakeholders. This is what ultimately led to the breakdown of the negotiations.” Democratic lawmakers are now urging the White House to use some of the remaining Wall Street bailout money for the auto industry.
President-elect Barack Obama has announced his latest cabinet nominee. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will serve as secretary of Health and Human Services. He’ll also head the newly created Office of Health Reform, overseeing Obama’s pledge to reform the US healthcare system.
Bank of America has announced plans to cut up to 35,000 jobs over the next three years. The company blamed the move in part on a pending acquisition of the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch. Bank of America has received $25 billion under the taxpayer bailout of Wall Street so far. It’s the latest in a round of mass layoffs to hit the financial sector. Last month, Citigroup announced plans to lay off 50,000 workers.
The Bank of America layoffs come amidst news applications for first-time state jobless benefits are at their highest in twenty-six years. The Labor Department says filings rose 11 percent last week to 573,000.
Several key developing countries gathered at a UN environmental conference in Poland have agreed to set goals for cutting emissions of greenhouse gas. Mexico has agreed to a date of 2050 to cut carbon emissions 50 percent below 2002 levels. And Brazil has agreed to reduce emissions by up to 45 percent by cutting its annual deforestation rate by 70 percent. On Thursday, former Vice President Al Gore addressed the Poznan conference, warning global warming could create hundreds of millions of climate refugees.
Al Gore: “There could be a dramatic increase in sea level, leading to as many as 450 million climate refugees. The movement of tropical diseases into higher latitudes, the strengthening of storms, the lengthening of droughts, the worsening of floods and the other consequences that the scientists have warned us of can, for the most part, be prevented.”
Democratic Senator John Kerry also addressed the conference, vowing changes to US environmental policy under an Obama White House.
Sen. John Kerry: “It will be like the difference between night and day. For eight years, the Bush administration has avoided really taking action on climate change. President Barack Obama will take action. He will rejoin the global community. He will lead not just rhetorically or by pushing people to do something that we won’t do. He will ask the United States to engage in emissions reductions and responsible climate change policy.”
The Poznan conference is reviewing progress at the halfway mark of talks on a new global accord to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has unofficially kicked off a new campaign to win voter approval to stand for re-election. Chavez wants voters to let him run for re-election after his term expires in 2013.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “This is a revolution, a permanent revolution, a revolution inside of a revolution. And the revolution is based on the sovereignty of the people, in the power of the people’s assembly. Here, there is complete democracy. Look, this is democracy’s greatest strength, the strength of free people freely expressing their will, their love, their faith, their hope.”
Chavez narrowly lost a previous effort to abolish term limits in a referendum last year, but the proposal was lumped along with several others that critics said would have granted him too much power.
Back in the United States, charges have been officially dropped against fifteen antiwar veterans and their supporters arrested in October outside the presidential debate at New York’s Hofstra University. The so-called Hempstead 15 had been charged with “disorderly conduct” and “failure to obey a lawful order.” They were arrested as they tried to enter the debate in an effort to ask the candidates about the Iraq War, war resisters and veterans’ treatment. One of the veterans, Nick Morgan, was hospitalized after his face was trampled by a police horse. Outside the hearing Thursday, Morgan said he plans to launch a civil suit.
Nick Morgan: “There’s an investigation that’s been held up while we get the criminal cases out of the way. So I think that investigation is going to be able to be opened up. And we have a whole litany of items that the police officers were in violation of, including constitutional rights and civil rights. So if it goes to court, it will be tried in federal court, with a jury, so they’ll be able to discover evidence.”
In Texas, two white men in the town of Paris have been charged in the September dragging death of an African American man. The body of twenty-four-year-old Brandon McClelland was found mutilated and partially dismembered. The two suspects are accused of running him over and dragging him beneath their pickup truck.
Meanwhile, in New York, an Ecuadorian immigrant is on life support following an apparent hate crime. Thirty-one-year-old Jose Sucuzhanay was attacked early Sunday by unknown assailants. The attackers reportedly shouted anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs before assaulting him with a baseball bat. Sucuzhanay has been declared brain dead and is on life support.
In Louisiana, a group of Mexican guestworkers are accusing a former employer of forcing them into slave-like conditions. In a new lawsuit, the workers say the owner of Bimbo’s Best Produce illegally seized their passports and forced them to work as strawberry pickers from 2006 to 2008. The guestworkers are members of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity, part of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.
And a leading evangelical lobbyist has resigned after publicly admitting he supports same-sex marriage. The lobbyist, Reverend Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, made the comments during an interview with NPR host Terry Gross last week.