New details have been released on the Bush administration’s attempts to sanction abusive treatment of prisoners in the so-called war on terror. A declassified memo shows the Justice Department told the Pentagon in 2003 that presidential authority overrode numerous laws banning torture or cruel treatment of prisoners in US custody. The memo endorsed assault, maiming and even administering mind-altering drugs on prisoners. The document also suggests US interrogators would be immune from prosecution for any crime because of President Bush’s wartime authority. Then-Justice Department Deputy John Yoo wrote, “If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.” The Justice Department ultimately withdrew the instructions nine months later, as it had done with an earlier interrogation memo also written by Yoo.
The Bush administration has announced it will wave more than thirty federal laws to finish building a wall along the Mexican border by the end of this year. The Washington Post calls the move the most sweeping use of the administration’s waiver authority during the wall’s construction. The waiver allows the Bush administration to bypass mandatory reviews on how the wall will affect ecological areas in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. House Homeland Security Committee chair Bennie Thompson called the waiver “an extreme abuse of authority.” Environmental groups have filed petitions challenging the waivers before the Supreme Court.
On Capitol Hill, Senate lawmakers say they’re close to a deal on assistance for the millions of Americans faced with home foreclosure in the nation’s housing crisis. Senate leaders say they could introduce the bill later today. The legislation would follow widespread criticism of last month’s federal bailout of the investment bank Bear Stearns at a time when more than four million homes are facing foreclosure.
On the campaign trail, new figures show traditionally Republican business interests are now donating far more money to the two Democratic candidates. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Senator John McCain has raised just over $13 million from seven major industries that usually favor Republicans. By contrast, Senator Hillary Clinton has raised $27 million, while Senator Barack Obama has raised $22.5 million. The firms surveyed include companies involved in financial services, pharmaceuticals, military contracts, energy and agribusiness. Both Democrats campaigned in Pennsylvania Tuesday. In Philadelphia, Clinton compared her candidacy to challenges faced by the fictional movie character Rocky Balboa.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “Sen. Obama says he’s getting tired of the campaign. His supporters say they want it to end. Well, could you imagine if Rocky Balboa had gotten halfway up those Art Museum stairs and said, ‘Well, I guess that’s about far enough?’ That’s not the way it works. Let me tell you something, when it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up.”
Senator Barack Obama, meanwhile, set his sights on Republican candidate John McCain.
Sen. Barack Obama: “A few weeks ago, he said that — and I’m quoting here — 'The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should.’ And that’s clear, since all he’s offering is four more years of the same George W. Bush policies that have gotten us into this pickle that we’re in right now.”
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, McCain is coming under new scrutiny today for having economic advisers linked to aggressive corporate behavior and financial deregulation. McCain adviser and former Senator Phil Gramm is a vice-chair of the UBS investment bank. On Tuesday, UBS announced losses of billions of dollars because of investments tied to the US subprime mortgage crisis. In the 1990s, Gramm chaired the Senate Banking Committee, where he led efforts to deregulate the financial industry. His efforts culminated in the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall law separating regulation of commercial and investment banks. Another key McCain adviser, Carly Fiorina, is the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She was ousted three years ago and linked to spying efforts to uncover the source of a boardroom leak.
The British government is delaying the withdrawal of up to 1,500 troops from Iraq. British Defense Secretary Des Brown made the announcement Tuesday before the British Parliament.
British Defense Secretary Des Brown: “In the light of the last week’s events, however, it is prudent that we pause any further reductions while the current situation is unfolding. It’s absolutely right that military commanders review plans when the conditions on the ground change. I’m sure, Mr. Speaker, that honorable members would not expect us to do anything else. So, at this stage we intend to keep our forces at their current levels of around 4,000, as we work with our coalition partners and with the Iraqis to assess future requirements.”
The announcement comes as new Iraqi government figures show civilian deaths are at their highest level in six months. At least 923 civilians were killed in March, up 31 percent from February. Around 500 people have been killed in the past week’s US-Iraqi government offensive against Shia forces loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. On Tuesday, an Iraqi Red Crescent official said the US is still blocking aid convoys to the Sadr City area of Baghdad.
Uday Abou Tebekh: “Until now, we did not get an approval from the Multi National Forces to enter (Sadr City). We are working hard and wait to get the approval of the MNF to enter the city and distribute aid to our sons and brothers in the Sadr City.”
A top Pakistani security minister is calling for an end to US air strikes in Pakistan. Speaking just hours after taking office Tuesday, North West Frontier Province chief minister Amir Haider Hoti said the Pakistani government should negotiate directly with militant groups and stop US missile attacks against suspected al-Qaeda targets. Hoti continued, “To some extent, the interests of Pakistan have been sacrificed to the war on terror. We’ve suffered a lot.” His comments come days after a visit from two top US officials — Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher. Critics saw the trip as a US attempt to pressure Pakistan’s incoming government to maintain the close US ties of President General Pervez Musharraf.
The widow of a victim of the 1998 US embassy bombing in Kenya is calling for trying an alleged participant in civilian court rather than by military commission at Guantanamo Bay. Susan Hirsch, a professor at George Mason University, was waiting outside the embassy for her husband, Abdurahman Abdalla, when the bombers struck. Guantanamo prisoner Ahmad Ghailani was accused this week of gathering the parts used for the bomb. Hirsch says she wants to see Ghailani tried in civilian court. She said, “These commissions have been fraught with challenges…from coerced evidence to secret evidence.”
The trial of three New York police officers for the killing of Sean Bell continued Tuesday with emotional testimony from one of the survivors. Joseph Guzman, hit sixteen times in the shooting that killed the unarmed Bell on his wedding night, described Bell’s last words as he lay bleeding from the nineteen wounds caused by police bullets. Guzman says Bell told him he loved him before drawing his last breath. For their final witness, prosecutors today are expected to question the doctor who operated on Guzman after he was shot.
And finally a correction: on Tuesday we reported on the closing of a Marine recruiting center in Berkeley, California, following a wave of protests. The information was based on a press release sent out by the group Code Pink. It turns out the press release was an April Fools’ Day hoax by the antiwar group. The Marines have no plans to leave Berkeley.