President Bush has vetoed a congressional measure that would have banned the CIA from using interrogation practices seen by many as forms of torture. The bill forced the CIA to abide by interrogation rules in the Army Field Manual. The manual specifically bans waterboarding, mock executions, electric shocks, beatings, forcing sexual acts and deprivation of food, water or medical care. In his weekly radio address, Bush said a ban on these practices would harm national security.
President Bush: “The fact that we have not been attacked over the past six-and-a-half years is not a matter of chance. It is the result of good policies and the determined efforts of individuals carrying them out. We owe these individuals our thanks, and we owe them the authorities they need to do their jobs effectively. We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks. And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe.”
Democrats and human rights groups roundly criticized the veto. House Democrats say they’ll try to override it with a new vote next week.
On the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the Wyoming caucuses Saturday. Obama’s campaign says the win adds two delegates to his slight delegate lead. Obama is leading polls in Mississippi, which holds its primary tomorrow.
Meanwhile, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama has resigned after she was quoted calling Hillary Clinton “a monster.” The adviser, Samantha Power, was speaking to The Scotsman newspaper. Power called Clinton a “monster” who “is stooping to anything” to win the campaign. In a statement, Power apologized and said her comments were inexcusable. She had widely been seen as a pick for a senior position in an Obama White House. Power also caused controversy last week when she appeared to downplay Obama’s stated commitment to a timeline for pulling troops from Iraq. In an interview with the BBC, Power called Obama’s withdrawal plan a “best case scenario” that could change if conditions on the ground were different by the time he took office.
A Republican Congress member is coming under criticism for saying al-Qaeda would “dance in the streets” if Obama won the White House. Steve King of Iowa made the comment in a taped interview.
Rep. Steve King: “I will tell you that if he is elected president, then the — the radical Islamists, the al-Qaeda and the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11… I don’t want to disparage anyone because of their — their race, their ethnicity, their name, whatever their religion of their father — father might have been. I’ll just say this, that when you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected president of the United States — and I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world?”
In Illinois, Democratic challenger Bill Foster has won a special election for the congressional seat vacated by former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Foster defeated dairy company executive James Oderweis with 53 percent of the vote. Foster’s win comes in a traditionally Republican district. Hastert was the longest-serving Republican speaker in history before stepping down in 2006 after twenty-one years in office.
One of the key architects of the Iraq war has revealed new information on the run-up to the invasion. In a new book defending the war and his own role in planning it, former Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith quotes President Bush as telling a National Security Council meeting in December 2002 that “war is inevitable.” The statement came weeks before UN weapons inspectors reported their findings in Iraq and months before Bush delivered his ultimatum that Saddam Hussein leave the country or face invasion. Feith also criticizes former Secretary of State Colin Powell for publicly cultivating an image as a war skeptic without ever expressing any private opposition. The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release a long-awaited report this week on the Bush administration’s intelligence claims in the run-up to invading Iraq.
Britain has admitted it plans on using funding earmarked for weapons disposal and land mine removal to pay for flying military jets in Iraq. The British newspaper The Guardian first unveiled the plans. A government memo cited by The Guardian proposes “defensive news briefs” to counter anticipated public criticism.
The private military firm Blackwater Worldwide is abandoning plans for a massive training compound near San Diego following a groundswell of local opposition. Last December, residents of the town of Potrero voted out all five members of the local planning group who backed the Blackwater training camp in their area. The proposed “Blackwater West” included multiple firing ranges, training towers, an armory, a helipad, an urban simulation training area and a driving track. Blackwater says it’s withdrawing its bid because of local noise regulations, not its unpopularity. Local residents say they plan to celebrate.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has announced the construction of hundreds of new homes in a Jewish-only settlement in the West Bank. It’s the third time Israel has openly announced new settlement-building since renewing US-backed peace talks with Palestinian leaders last November. Israel agreed to freeze settlement construction under the US-backed road map. But it now says the freeze only applies to those settlements it doesn’t want to keep.
Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador have resolved their dispute over a Colombian military attack inside Ecuador that killed at least twenty-four FARC rebels last week. At a regional summit in the Dominican Republic, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe apologized and said his government will respect other countries’ borders. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa accepted the apology but said he will still push for an investigation.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa: “I’m going to turn it over to the judicial system and political opposition. And with that, as a country, this grave incident that has caused so much damage to our country will be behind us.”
Nicaragua had joined Ecuador and Venezuela in cutting off their diplomatic ties with Colombia. Uribe, in turn, accused Ecuador and Venezuela of supporting the FARC rebels. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denied the claim but said he refuses to adopt the Colombian and US stance.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “They call them terrorists; we don’t. Just the United States, the European Union and Colombia. So when you keep holding that in my face about the fight against terrorism, what are we talking about? You want to obligate me, push me. Let’s respect each other. For us, they are not terrorists, but insurgent forces, guerrilla forces. First, you have to recognize that and then look for a path to peace.”
The UN’s top human rights official has announced she’s stepping down. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has been openly critical of the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror during her four-year term. Arbour says she wasn’t pressured to resign but wants to spend more time with her family. In Geneva, Doru Costea of the UN Human Rights Council praised Arbour’s tenure.
Doru Costea: “Your tireless efforts as head of the most important executive body in the UN system in the field of human rights and your able leadership have made a difference. Your relentless endeavor and personal commitment have been addressed and geared primarily towards those in need, wherever in the world this may be. I thank you for giving a voice to the voiceless.”
During her run, Arbour has angered leaders of countries including the US, Israel, China, Russia and Zimbabwe for her criticism of their policies.
Back in the United States, the Department of Labor has announced the US economy lost 63,000 jobs last month — the most in five years. On Friday, President Bush said he thinks the US economy is in a downturn but not a recession.
Federal investigators have opened a criminal probe into the mortgage giant Countrywide Financial. Countrywide holds one-in-six home loans in the United States. The Justice Department says it’s looking into whether Countrywide gave misleading information on its financial condition in the company’s security filings. Bank of America announced the purchase of Countrywide last month, pending regulatory approval.
The Federal Aviation Administration is being accused of ignoring safety violations and improper conduct to protect Southwest Airlines. According to USA Today, former FAA inspectors say aviation officials leaked Southwest sensitive information and allowed the company to skip critical inspections. Two inspectors were reportedly intimidated to drop their investigations of Southwest’s practices.
A top UN expert has criticized the US for its policy on immigration. In a new report, UN investigator Jorge Bustamante says US immigration jails are overused and suffer from poor living conditions and substandard means of appeal. The immigrant jail population has tripled over the past nine years to 230,000. Bustamante says the US should focus on alternative measures to mandatory incarceration and improve detainees’ legal rights and living conditions.
And in Texas, a federal judge has ruled Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff violated federal law in his efforts to build a massive wall along the US border with Mexico. The ruling says Chertoff failed to adequately negotiate with homeowners before he filed suit to condemn their land and allow building efforts to begin.