The Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj has been released from Guantanamo Bay. Arrested in Pakistan in December 2001, al-Hajj has spent nearly six-and-a-half years at Guantanamo without charge or trial. He had been on a more than a year-long hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. Earlier today, al-Hajj landed in his hometown of Khartoum, Sudan, where he was immediately rushed to a hospital. After a tearful reunion with his family, al-Hajj said he worried for the prisoners he left behind at Guantanamo.
Sami al-Hajj: “I’m very happy to be in Sudan, but I’m very sad because of the situation of our brothers who remain in Guantanamo. Conditions in Guantanamo are very, very bad, and they get worse by the day. Our human condition, our human dignity was violated, and the American administration went beyond all human values, all moral values, all religious values. In Guantanamo, you have animals that are called iguanas, rats that are treated with more humanity.”
Sami al-Hajj was flown into Sudan on a US military aircraft along with two other Guantanamo prisoners. They told Al Jazeera they were blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to their seats during the flight home. According to Al Jazeera Director General Wadah Khanfar, the US military tried to coerce al-Hajj into spying on his employers at the network.
In Iraq, at least thirty-six people were killed Thursday in a double suicide bombing on a wedding ceremony in Baghdad. Another sixty-five people were wounded. It was one of the worst single attacks Iraq has seen in several weeks. Elsewhere in Baghdad, twelve people were wounded in overnight clashes between US forces and Shia fighters in Sadr City.
Violence is also flaring in Northern Iraq, where Turkish warplanes have resumed bombing raids on Kurdish rebel areas. There have been no reports of any casualties so far.
Meanwhile, in Washington, hundreds of peace activists gathered outside the White House Thursday to mark the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech. On May 1, 2003, Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Jeremy Funk of Americans United for Change said the death toll since makes it a tragic anniversary.
Jeremy Funk: “Well, we’re here to note a very tragic anniversary. Five years ago today, President Bush arrogantly boarded the USS Abraham Lincoln, strutted across the deck and declared mission accomplished and all major combat operations were over. Well, here we are five years later, and since that day nearly 4,000 more American troops have died, nearly 30,000 more have been wounded.”
A group of Congress members also marked the anniversary. Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg said the “mission accomplished” speech underscores President Bush’s incompetence.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg: “Five years ago today, President Bush made an outrageous claim, a claim that has become the symbol of his incompetence and the failure in Iraq. After landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln like a conquering hero, he even put on the dress. He stood out under a banner reading 'Mission Accomplished' and declared, quote, 'Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.' Like almost everything the President has done on Iraq, his claim was flat-out wrong.”
Tens of thousands of people marched across the nation Thursday in what has become an annual May Day protest for immigrant rights. Although smaller than previous years, large marches were held in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. This year’s protests focused on the recent spike in deportations, which rose 44 percent last year to 280,000.
May Day also saw a major antiwar action at the nation’s ports. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union says more than 25,000 dockworkers stayed off the job Thursday in protest of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Twenty-nine West Coast ports were affected. The action came despite an arbitration ruling ordering the dockworkers to report to work.
A top federal environmental regulator says the Bush administration has forced her to step down over her attempts to regulate pollution caused by the industrial giant Dow Chemical. Mary Gade was the Environmental Protection Agency’s top official in the Midwest until she resigned on Thursday. Last year, Gade used emergency powers to force Dow to clean up four areas contaminated with the cancer-causing Dioxin chemical near Dow’s Michigan headquarters. One of the areas had one of the largest amounts of Dioxin ever recorded in the United States. Gade says she resigned after she was stripped of her powers and told to quit or be fired by June 1st. Democratic Congressmember Rahm Emanuel of Illinois said, “I’m surprised if anybody is surprised by this. This administration, from day one, has always chosen polluters over the environment.”
At the White House, President Bush unveiled a new proposal Thursday to spend an additional $770 million in emergency food aid.
President Bush: “I think more needs to be done. And so, today I’m asking Congress to provide an additional $770 million to support food aid and development programs. Together, this amounts to nearly $1 billion in new funds to bolster global food security.”
Congressional Democrats criticized the plan, because the aid money wouldn’t be released until next October.
Another huge quarterly profit for the oil giant Exxon Mobil is sparking calls for increased congressional regulation of the energy industry. On Thursday, Exxon reported first quarter earnings of $10.89 billion, up 17 percent from last year. In a statement, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said, “Oil companies are racking up obscene profits left and right while American families are stretched to the limit by skyrocketing gas prices. It’s high time for Big Oil to pay its fair share.”
In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega is accusing the Bush administration of financing opponents in an attempt to overthrow his government. On Thursday, Ortega said the US embassy is helping organize protests to bring Nicaragua to a standstill.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega: “At some point, we will name those members of the Yankee embassy who are putting forward millions in financing for false union leaders and fake political leaders to organize protests against the revolutionary government. They are worried, because the country will not go to the streets against the revolutionary government. They want to do the same that they did to Salvador Allende.”
Ortega was elected in 2006 in defiance of US threats to impose economic sanctions and withdraw aid if he won. Ortega headed the Sandinista government in the 1980s that was a repeated target of Reagan administration subversion and economic warfare.