Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has been indicted on seven felony charges for receiving payments and gifts from the now-defunct oil services company VECO. Stevens is the longest-serving Republican senator in US history and is the former chair of the Appropriations Committee. He is the first sitting senator to face criminal charges in fifteen years.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich: “According to the indictment, the total amount of gifts that Senator Stevens is alleged to have received over the duration of the offense is greater than $250,000. Also, according to the indictment, these items were not disclosed on Senator Stevens’ financial disclosure forms, which he filed under penalties of perjury, either his gifts or his liabilities.”
The indictment said the oil company VECO bribed Stevens by paying for extensive home renovations and giving him a new Land Rover and other gifts. VECO has been at the center of a major political corruption scandal in Alaska that has already resulted in the convictions of three Alaskan state lawmakers. Last year the CEO of VECO, Bill Allen, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribing public officials. Stevens is up for re-election this fall. He is in a tight race with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
Talks to expand the World Trade Organization have collapsed after a week of negotiations. The United States and other industrial nations have been trying unsuccessfully to expand the WTO since 2001, after a trade meeting in Doha. The chief of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, admitted yesterday the talks had failed.
Pascal Lamy: “I think it’s no use beating around the bush. This meeting has collapsed.”
Lori Wallach of Public Citizen said the US and other nations now need to move on to a new agenda fixing the existing WTO rules. Wallach said, “Thank God no deal was reached, because the proposal under consideration would have exacerbated the serious economic, food security and social problems now rocking numerous countries.” The WTO talks failed in part because India and other developing nations demanded the right to protect their farming sectors against sudden surges in cheap food imports. The Bush administration was attempting to push through rule changes that would have given US corporations greater access to markets in India, China and other nations.
In Iraq, the US Air Force has begun flying missions with a new unmanned fighter drone known as the Reaper that is designed to carry out so-called hunter-killer missions. The remote-controlled Reaper is a larger and more lethal version of the Predator drone. It carries a mix of 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles as well as high-tech video surveillance equipment. The US has reportedly more than doubled the number of unmanned hunter-killer drones operating in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past year.
The Wall Street Journal reports one of the most prominent advocates of the invasion of Iraq is now exploring investing in Iraqi oil fields. Former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle is reportedly part of a team discussing a possible oil deal with officials of the Kurdistan regional government. Perle was chair of the Defense Policy Board in the lead-up to the Iraq war. He is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
In other Iraq news, the British government has announced there will be no prosecutions over the death of journalist Terry Lloyd, despite an investigation that blamed US troops. Terry Lloyd was shot dead in Iraq in March 2003 along with a French cameraman and an Iraqi interpreter. Two years ago, a British coroner ruled that US troops should be prosecuted for the unlawful killing of Lloyd, who was a well-known foreign correspondent for the British television network ITN. The coroner ruled that Lloyd was shot in the back by Iraqi soldiers. Then, as he was being driven to a hospital in a civilian minivan, Lloyd was shot in the head by US troops.
China is being accused of censoring the internet ahead of the opening of the Olympic Games. Journalists working at the main press facility in Beijing have been blocked from accessing the websites of several organizations critical of China, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders as well as the religious organization Falun Gong. Earlier this week, Amnesty accused China of failing to honor its human rights pledges by jailing several high-profile dissidents and attorneys. Amnesty’s Mark Allison singled out China’s treatment of human rights activist Hu Jia, who was recently sentenced to over three years in jail.
Mark Allison: “Now, Hu Jia has been in prison, too, on similar charges of subversion. His trial was politically motivated, completely unfair, and he should be released immediately and unconditionally. His wife is also a human rights activist. She is being harassed by the police, who are standing outside her home, monitoring her movements. She has a newborn baby, born at the end of last year. Meanwhile, her husband is in prison, and he should be released.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a new warning about the growing network of fusion centers, where federal, state and local law enforcement officers collect and analyze information about potential threats. The ACLU warned that many local and state police agencies are expanding their intelligence gathering with little oversight. Many of these fusion centers collect reports not just on crimes but suspicious activity. Earlier this month, it was revealed the state police in Maryland had spied on peaceful antiwar protesters and critics of the death penalty even though the activists were committing no crimes. About fifty-eight fusion centers are currently operating in cities across the country.
Jay Stanley, of the ACLU: “Fusion centers are part of a much larger trend here: a trend of our nation’s movement towards a surveillance society where our every move and our every transaction, our every communication, is scanned and scrutinized for signs of, quote-unquote, 'suspicious behavior' and that that kind of vision for how to do law enforcement, how to stop terrorism, becomes a justification for really keeping tabs on all of us in our everyday lives.”
Israeli troops shot dead a ten-year-old Palestinian boy on Tuesday during a protest against Israel’s construction of a wall through the West Bank. Witnesses said the boy, Ahmad Moussa, died instantly after being shot in the forehead. The shooting took place in the village of Nilin, the site of another controversial shooting earlier this month. On July 7th, an Israeli soldier was captured on film shooting a rubber bullet at a handcuffed Palestinian man.
In science news, a large chunk of Arctic ice measuring eight square miles has broken free of the northern Canadian coast. The block of ice is believed to be largest piece of ice shed in the region in three years.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, four members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have called for the resignation of Stephen Johnson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Senators accused Johnson of misleading Congress about why the EPA decided to deny California a waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Barbara Boxer of California said Johnson had “become a secretive and dangerous ally of polluters.”
In other news from Capitol Hill, the House has apologized to black Americans, more than 140 years after slavery was abolished. The House passed a resolution that apologized for the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow” segregation.
An Army recruiter in Texas has been suspended after he threatened a potential Army recruit who was having second thoughts about joining the military. The recruiter, Sgt. Glenn Marquette, warned the young man, Irving Gonzalez, that he would be sent to jail if he decided to go to college instead of joining the military, even though the teenager had signed a non-binding contract that left him free to change his mind before basic training. This is part of what Marquette told Gonzalez.
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: “As soon as you get pulled over for a speeding ticket, they’re gonna see that you’re a deserter. Then they’re going to apprehend you, take you to jail. So guess what. All that lovey-dovey 'I want to go to college' and all this? Guess what? You just threw it out the window, because you just screwed your life.”
After the Texas station KHOU broke the story, Republican Congressman Ted Poe hinted Congress may have to investigate Army recruiters. Poe said, “Our country cannot deceive its citizens. Since the Army hasn’t taken the initiative, now Congress may have to get involved.”
And a New York City police officer has been stripped of his badge after he was videotaped body-checking a bicyclist during last week’s Critical Mass ride. A video was posted on YouTube showing the officer, Patrick Pogan, violently knocking a cyclist off his bike. The officer then arrested the cyclist and charged him with attempted assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The police have said the charges against the cyclist will likely be dropped.