Osama bin Laden’s former driver has been convicted on two charges of material support for terrorism but acquitted of the most serious charges. Salim Hamdan is the first Guantanamo prisoner to be tried in a case that also marks the first war crimes tribunal since World War II. Hamdan has been in custody since November 2001. Human rights groups have condemned the military tribunal system, in part because it allows the military to use secret evidence and evidence obtained through torture. Hamdan attorney Mike Berrigan criticized the verdict.
Mike Berrigan: “The real travesty of all of this is, is that the offenses for which Mr. Hamdan was found not guilty today were the only offenses that he was charged with initially back in 2004. He was acquitted of all those. The only specifications he was convicted of are offenses that were added after the fact by the Military Commissions Act in 2006, long after he was confined here at Guantanamo Bay.”
The FBI says it’s close to ending its investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings, after concluding the main suspect, Dr. Bruce Ivins, acted alone. Ivins killed himself last week after learning he faced charges in the anthrax letter attack that killed five people. On Wednesday, government officials released documents showing Ivins had a near-perfect match of anthrax spores around the time of the mailings and had also spent hours working late nights in his lab before the anthrax was mailed. Ivins was also found to have sent emails with language similar to the threats found in the letters. FBI official Joe Pershini said Ivins was acting alone.
Joe Pershini: “Painstaking investigation led us to the conclusion that Dr. Bruce E. Ivins was responsible for the death, sickness and fear brought to our country by the 2001 anthrax mailing and that it appears, based on the evidence, that he was acting alone.”
The government’s case against Ivins has come under wide criticism. The evidence remains entirely circumstantial, and investigators have been unable to connect Ivins to being in New Jersey, where the letters were mailed.
President Bush has leveled his most pointed criticism to date of China’s record on human rights. Speaking in Thailand earlier today, Bush said the US is in “firm opposition” to some Chinese policies.
President Bush: “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists. We speak out for a free press and freedom of assembly and labor rights, not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”
Bush spoke shortly before leaving Bangkok for Beijing, where he will take part in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. His comments come hours after several Americans staged protests in Beijing to criticize the Chinese government. Three protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square.
Protester: “Freedom cannot be silenced. We have come here to say end the brutality, end the brutality. Thousands of students were killed in Tiananmen Square. We come in peace to say end tyranny and oppression.”
Earlier in the day, two Americans were arrested near the Olympic Games stadium for unfurling banners calling for Tibetan independence.
In Mauritania, military leaders have overthrown the elected government in a bloodless coup. The coup leaders say they’re removing President Sidi Abdellah because of government corruption and ineptitude in handling rising food prices. State Department spokesperson Gonzo Gallegos condemned the coup.
Gonzo Gallegos: “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the Mauritanians’ military’s overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mauritania. We oppose any attempts by military elements to change governments through extraconstitutional means. We call on the military to release the president and the prime minister and to restore the legitimate, constitutional, democratically elected government immediately.”
The coup leaders replace Mauritania’s first elected government in nearly twenty years.
In Argentina, four military leaders have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms for human rights abuses during the Argentine military dictatorship. Lieutenant Colonel Julio Rafael Barreiro was given life imprisonment, while the other three were ordered jailed for between eighteen to twenty-five years. A relative of a junta victim said the verdict is about justice, not revenge.
Relative of junta victim: “Over the course of thirty years there hasn’t been one act of revenge on the part of or on behalf of any victim. That has always been how we have conducted ourselves, and it is exactly how we behaved in the courtroom today.”
It was the latest in a series of trials targeting military leaders of Argentina’s 1976 to 1983 junta.
In Bolivia, voters head to the polls this weekend for a referendum to recall Bolivian President Evo Morales. Morales has faced opposition from oil-rich provinces that have tried to declare autonomy. Wealthy landowners in the provinces have opposed Morales’ attempts to distribute Bolivia’s oil wealth more equally. On Wednesday, Morales marked Bolivia’s 183rd anniversary of independence with a call to his supporters.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Some small groups talk of independence. They talk of separation and autonomy. Brothers and sisters, the historic fight of our people is for self-determination, for the liberation of our people. We cannot think of separation nor division.”
Polls show Morales is expected to win the recall vote.
The International Red Cross says the Colombian government violated the Geneva Conventions by falsely using the Red Cross symbol in the rescue of fifteen hostages of the rebel group FARC last month. The Red Cross says it has new evidence contradicting a Colombian government claim the symbol was only a last-minute addition. It was the second controversy to surround the rescue mission. Colombian officials have denied initial reports FARC leaders were paid $20 million for the hostages’ release.
In campaign news, Senator Barack Obama has accepted the resignation of his Muslim outreach coordinator after an inquiry about his links to several Islamic groups. Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing. He stepped down, nonetheless, after inquires by the Wall Street Journal about a brief stint on an Islamic charity fund’s board that also included a fundamentalist imam.
In media news, a new survey shows a growing rate of media outlets granting favorable news coverage in return for purchases of advertisements. According to PRWeek, one-in-five of more than 250 marketing executives surveyed said they had bought ads in return for a news story this year. Eight percent of respondents said they had directly paid or provided gifts to editors or producers in return for a favorable news story.
In Pennsylvania, the FBI’s civil rights office has opened an investigation into the death of an African American man tasered by police in town of Swissvale. Police say thirty-seven-year-old Andre Thomas was arrested after he was found disturbing a residential block. But witnesses dispute the police account and say they saw police taser Thomas before brutally kicking him in the head as he lay on the ground.
And in environmental news, the Bush administration is coming under criticism for closing a program that worked to boost poor countries’ capability to deal with droughts, floods and other climate-related threats. Officials say the Center for Capacity Building was closed because of shrinking budgets for federal science research.
In Los Angeles, three major hospitals are being accused of using homeless people to defraud millions of dollars from government programs. On Wednesday, FBI agents raided the hospitals and arrested two suspects, including the CEO of City of Angels Hospital. Prosecutors contended the hospitals submitted phony Medicare bills for hundreds of homeless patients recruited from downtown LA’s Skid Row.