On Capitol Hill, the Senate is preparing to vote on rewriting the nation’s surveillance laws and giving immunity to phone companies involved in President Bush’s secret domestic surveillance program. On Friday, the Democratic-controlled House approved the measure by a vote of 293-129. The American Civil Liberties Union warned the bill would allow for the mass, untargeted and unwarranted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States.
President Bush thanked Congress for moving forward on the legislation.
President Bush: “My Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General tells me that this is a good bill. It will help our intelligence professionals learn our enemies’ plans for new attacks. It ensures that those companies whose assistance is necessary to protect the country will themselves be protected from liability for past or future cooperation with the government.”
Senator Barack Obama said he supports the so-called compromise bill, but he vowed to work in the Senate to remove the telecom immunity provision. In a statement, Obama said, “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise…” Last year Obama had vowed to support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.
In Zimbabwe, the country’s main opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, has dropped out of this week’s run-off against Robert Mugabe, following weeks of violence directed at members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change. At least eighty-six supporters of the opposition have been killed, and thousands more have been injured. Tsvangirai announced his withdrawal on Sunday.
Morgan Tsvangirai: “The conditions prevailing as of today do not permit the holding of a credible poll. The militia, the war veterans, even Mugabe himself, have made it clear that anyone that votes for me in the forthcoming election faces the very real possibility of being murdered or killed.”
Election officials in Zimbabwe have said the June 27th run-off presidential vote will go ahead despite the withdrawal of Tsvangirai.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei is threatening to resign if Iran is attacked militarily.
Mohamad ElBaradei: “If there ended up being a military action against Iran at this time, then I will be unable to continue my work.”
ElBaradei said Iran does not present a grave and urgent danger and that an attack on Iran would turn the region into a fireball. ElBaradei’s comments came just days after the New York Times revealed Israel had carried out a major military exercise that US officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. At the United Nations, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin warned against an Israeli attack.
Vitaly Churkin: “I don’t know whether the story is true or not, to begin with, but as a matter of principle, of course we believe that any effort or attempt to use force in this situation will be extremely counterproductive. What we have now is, for the first time in a while, we have something of a diplomatic momentum on the heels of Mr. Salana’s trip to Tehran and the new expanded and enlarged package which was proposed by the six to Tehran, its counter-response, and I would believe that there are some hopeful diplomatic signs.”
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad threatened Iran by saying more measures will be taken if Iran defies the international community.
Zalmay Khalilzad: “Iran has to — the government has to recognize that the international community takes this issue very seriously and that there will have to be further measures, if they continue to be in defiance of an international community.”
The New York Times is reporting the CIA operated a secret black site prison in Poland, where they held the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other prisoners. While being held at the secret prison, Mohammed was waterboarded 100 times during a two-week period. Overseeing Mohammed’s interrogation was Deuce Martinez, a longtime narcotics agent who had no formal interrogation skills and didn’t speak Arabic. Martinez has since left the CIA. He now works for the company Mitchell Jessen & Associates, run by two former military psychologists who advised the CIA on interrogations. Martinez also interrogated Abu Zubaydah, who was held at a secret prison in Thailand.
Tension is escalating on the Afghan-Pakistan border. On Sunday, NATO forces in Afghanistan shelled guerrillas in Pakistan, reportedly in retaliation for rocket and artillery attacks. Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to send troops across the border to attack militants inside Pakistan. Earlier this month, an American airstrike on a Pakistani border post killed eleven Pakistani soldiers.
In news from Iraq, residents of Haditha are reported to be outraged at the US military for freeing almost all of the Marines involved in the 2005 massacre that killed twenty-four Iraqi civilians in Haditha. Eight Marines were originally charged in the case, but criminal charges have been dismissed against six. A seventh Marine was acquitted. Yousef Aid Ahmed told the McClatchy newspapers, “We put our hopes in the law and in the courts, and one after another they are found innocent. This is an organized crime.”
The actress and activist Mia Farrow is urging the private military contractor Blackwater to send forces to Darfur. Farrow told the Financial Times that she has approached Blackwater to discuss its possible role in Sudan.
Farrow works with the human rights group Dream for Darfur. Farrow acknowledged that many people might have reservations about Blackwater being in Sudan, but she said the threat of violence to refugees meant all options must be explored. Meanwhile, the US-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government has hired the private French military company Secopex to patrol Somalia’s coast.
In other news from Somalia, the head of the United Nations refugee agency in Mogadishu, has been abducted. Meanwhile, a peace activist who headed Somalia’s Center for Research and Dialogue was shot dead outside his home on Sunday.
In the Philippines, officials say over 1,300 people are dead or missing after a typhoon hit the country on Saturday. A ferry carrying 800 people sank. So far, only thirty-two survivors have been found.
Nicaragua has given asylum to three Colombian women who survived a Colombian army attack on a FARC camp inside Ecuador in March that killed over twenty people. Lucia Moret said she wants to see Colombian President Alvaro Uribe put on trial.
Lucia Moret: “Wherever we go, we’ll denounce him, but our lives are at risk. Uribe is scared, should we talk, because we can be witnesses of charges in a trial that will be opened against him, because one day he will sit in the bench of the accused for everything that he did and for the massacre of March 1.”
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused Uribe of carrying out state terrorism.
Daniel Ortega: “He says that he’s fighting against terrorism, and the terrorist is him, because he not only commits terrorism against the Colombian people, but also against neighboring countries, and in this case Ecuador, where they nearly murdered these three women and murdered other colleagues, and they took the bodies to Bogota.”
The Bush administration is refusing to turn over subpoenaed documents connected to the EPA’s decision to deny California permission to implement its own vehicle emission standards. Citing executive privilege, the Bush administration has announced it will not turn over thousands of pages requested by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee’s chair, Henry Waxman, said, “I don’t think we’ve had a situation like this since Richard Nixon was president.”
The City of New York is requesting an activist media organization to turn over hundreds of hours of videotape shot of protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention. The city has issued two subpoenas to the group I-Witness Video for all videotapes relating to protests, demonstrations or arrests during the week of the convention. Lawyers for I-Witness have asked a federal judge to quash the subpoena request.
In news from California, the famed Berkeley bookstore Cody’s Books has closed its doors after fifty-two years. The bookstore was founded in 1956.
Pamela Forrester has died at the age of sixty-five. She was one of three Nevada women awarded $58 million in damages earlier this year, after a jury determined the drug Prempro caused their breast cancer. The drug manufacturer Wyeth is facing about 5,300 other lawsuits over Prempro.
And the famed comedian George Carlin has died at the age of seventy-one.
George Carlin: “There are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is: 399,993-to-seven. They must really be bad.”
In 1973, Pacifica Radio station WBAI aired an unedited version of Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue. The broadcast would become the genesis for one of the most important recent Supreme Court decisions on free speech. The legal controversy brought about the FCC rule permitting a ban on certain material when children are most likely to be in the audience. George Carlin was selected last week by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to receive this year’s Mark Twain Prize, a lifetime achievement award presented to an outstanding comedian.