A top United Nations human rights official has said the US military tribunals at Guantánamo are flawed and fall short of international standards for fair trials. Philip Alston, a special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, also called on the US to open its files on the five prisoners who died in custody at Guantánamo. Four prisoners are said to have committed suicide, but their autopsies have never been released.
President Bush has signed into law a $162 billion war funding bill passed by the Democratic-led Congress. The bill provides enough funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to last well into 2009.
President Bush: “I appreciate that Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreed to provide these vital funds without tying the hands of our commanders and without an artificial timetable of withdrawal from Iraq.”
The law also includes increased educational benefits for veterans.
The Pentagon has announced it will send six additional combat units, totaling some 33,000 soldiers and Marines, to Iraq in early 2009. Officials said the units would replace troops currently serving in Iraq. This will allow the US to keep over 140,000 US troops in Iraq until the end of President Bush’s term.
In other Iraq news, the US military has confirmed it carried out a deadly raid in Janaja, the hometown of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. One of Maliki’s cousins was killed in the raid. The man, Ali Abdulhussein al Maliki, served as a bodyguard for the Prime Minister’s sister. The US raid occurred in Karbala province, one of nine provinces ostensibly under full Iraqi control. But Iraqi authorities told McClatchy Newspapers the raid was conducted without their knowledge or coordination.
Iraq threw open the world’s third-largest oil reserves to foreign firms on Monday, putting US and British companies in a position to return to Iraq for the first time since Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq’s oil over three decades ago. Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani listed eight oil and gas field areas open to foreign firms for long-term development contracts.
Hussain al-Shahristani: “Through these initial offers, we hope to increase production of these oilfields to about 1.5 million barrels per day, in addition to current production which is 2.5 million barrels per day. The ministry is seeking to increase production from now until contracts are put into effect, until it reaches 4.5 million barrels per day in the next five years.”
The Iraqi government has already pre-qualified forty-one foreign firms to bid for the contracts. Iraq postponed the announcement of a series of no-bid contracts that are expected to be given to ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, BP and Chevron to service Iraq’s largest oil fields.
Four Iraqi men are suing US military contractors who they say tortured them while they were detained in Abu Ghraib prison. The companies named in the lawsuit are CACI and L-3 Services, as well three individual contractors. One of the plaintiffs, an Iraqi farmer, said he was caged, beaten, threatened with dogs, and given electric shocks during more than four years in US detention. The Iraqi farmer was released in March without being charged and without any judicial process.
In other news, a federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Maher Arar, the Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was seized by US officials at Kennedy Airport in New York and rendered to Syria, where he was tortured, interrogated and detained in a tiny underground cell for nearly a year. The appeals court ruled that Arar was never technically inside the United States so his claims could not be heard in federal courts. Judge Robert Sack issued a scathing dissent and said the argument that Arar was never in the United States was a “legal fiction.” In a statement, Arar described the court’s decision as outrageous. He said, “It basically legitimizes what was done to me, and permits the government to use immigration law as a disguise to send people to torture without regard for due process.”
A former CIA operative has accused the CIA of deliberately suppressing evidence that showed Iran had suspended work on developing nuclear weapons. In a motion filed in federal court, the one-time undercover agent asked the government to declassify documents related to Iran’s nuclear program. Before his firing in 2004, the former operative says he was repeatedly ordered to either falsify his reporting on WMDs in the Middle East or not to file his reports at all.
For the second month in a row, more international troops have died in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Forty-four US and allied troops died in June in Afghanistan, fourteen more than died in Iraq.
In campaign news, a new report is estimating Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s proposed tax plan will produce a windfall for corporate America. The Center for American Progress estimates McCain’s plan would save corporations $175 billion per year. The country’s largest 200 corporations alone would save $45 billion.
More information has been revealed about Denver’s plans to control protesters during the Democratic National Convention in August. Local and federal officials are setting up a so-called public demonstration zone that they plan to fence off with chicken wire or chain link. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the plan comparing it to the setup in Boston during the DNC in 2004, when the protest zone was inside a cage.
In environmental news, thirteen activists were arrested Monday as they blockaded the offices of Dominion Power in Richmond, Virginia, to protest the company’s decision to build a new coal-fired power plant in Virginia. The group Blue Ridge Earth First said it would continue to protest at Dominion until the company cancels plans to build the coal plant and stops burning coal mined through mountaintop removal.
In news from California, a state commission says California’s administration of the death penalty is dysfunctional and close to collapse. The panel concluded that the state could save more than $100 million a year if the state replaced the death penalty with sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole.
And in Maryland, the state’s medical examiner’s office has concluded a nineteen-year-old man was strangled to death while in solitary confinement in a Prince George’s County jail. A preliminary autopsy concluded Ronnie White died of asphyxiation. Two small bones were broken in his neck. White died two days after he was arrested and charged with murdering a police officer. The FBI has begun a civil rights probe.