In a strong rebuke of military prosecutors, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Hamdan, has been given a lenient sentence at his war crimes trial. On Thursday, Hamdan was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison, including the five he has already spent at Guantanamo Bay. The ruling would make him eligible for release in just five months. Military prosecutors had sought a thirty-year sentence. The move came one day after Hamdan was convicted on two charges of material support for terrorism but acquitted of the most serious charges. Hamdan is the first Guantanamo prisoner to be tried in a case that also marks the first war crimes tribunal since World War II. It’s unclear whether the Pentagon will actually release Hamdan when his term expires. The Bush administration says it retains the right to hold anyone indefinitely if they’re deemed to pose a threat. At the sentencing hearing, military judge Captain Keith Allred said he hopes Hamdan will be allowed to return to his family in Yemen. Hamdan replied “Inshallah,” Arabic for “God willing.” Captain Allred replied back, “Inshallah.”
Iraqi officials say they’ve reached a tentative agreement on the withdrawal of US troops. Iraqi and US negotiators are said to have agreed on a plan that would remove US troops from Iraqi cities by next July and combat troops by 2011. US troops would still remain on the hundreds of American military bases around Iraq after leaving the cities and would remain immune from prosecution. The deal would face approval from the Iraqi cabinet and parliament. The Bush administration refused to discuss a timetable for withdrawal until last month. But it appears the deal could provide vague language that sees the timetables as “goals” and “horizons” rather than firm commitments.
The summer Olympic Games open in China today amidst ongoing protests over the Chinese government’s record on human rights. On Thursday, more than forty Olympic athletes signed an open letter calling on the Chinese government to protect freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of opinion in China as well as in Tibet. Protests and vigils were held in cities around the world to call attention to issues including the plight of Tibetans and Chinese dissidents. On Thursday, dozens of people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Taiwan.
Tsai Ya-Ju: “We call on China, at the same time that they host the Olympics, to improve on news freedom, speech freedom and political repression. Internationally, we wish they use their veto power at the UN Security Council and stop supporting brutality in Tibet, Myanmar and Darfur.”
The US has admitted a nuclear-powered submarine has leaked small amounts of radiation at three Japanese ports, as well as Guam and Pearl Harbor. The leak on the USS Houston was discovered last month after two years. One of the Japanese ports was just thirty miles southwest of Tokyo. The Pentagon says the leak was too small to cause any harm. The disclosure comes amidst controversy over US plans to deploy another nuclear-powered warship in Japan, the USS George Washington. And it comes just as Japan marked the sixty-third anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Japan is the only country to have ever suffered a nuclear attack.
In Pakistan, lawmakers with the ruling political coalition have announced plans to impeach President Pervez Musharraf. Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party said parliament would begin impeachment proceedings this month.
Asif Ali Zardari: “The coalition believes, leadership believes, that it has become imperative to move for impeachment under the Article 47 against General Musharraf.”
Following the announcement, Musharraf canceled a trip to China for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Opponents fear Musharraf will dissolve the parliament in an attempt to fight his removal.
Here in the United States, a Houston lawmaker is calling on the Pentagon to explain why a military recruiter was given a promotion despite being found to have illegally threatened a teenage boy with jail time if he decided to go to college instead of joining the military. The recruiter, Sgt. Thomas Kelt, was eventually promoted to head a different recruiting station. Democratic Congress member Gene Green sent the letter questioning Kelt’s new job after his Wednesday appearance on Democracy Now! During that broadcast, military recruiting command spokesperson Douglas Smith defended Kelt’s promotion.
Douglas Smith: “All I can tell you is that an administrative action was taken against Sergeant Kelt, and that administration — that administrative action was a negative action. However, the finding was that he had an otherwise stellar career as a soldier and as a recruiter, and he was given additional responsibilities as a recruiting station commander, which he continues to do so today. Just because someone has done something wrong doesn’t mean that they get the death penalty.”
Amy Goodman: “Well, there’s a difference between the death penalty and a promotion. He was actually promoted after this and came to be the commander of another recruiting station.”
Douglas Smith: “Yes.”
Amy Goodman: “What was the negative penalty, if he was promoted?”
Douglas Smith: “I’m not allowed to tell you. I’m sorry. That’s covered under Army regulations and Department of Defense regulations, so I cannot discuss administrative actions taken against a recruiter.”
Green has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates demanding answers and is calling for a congressional probe.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed a known supporter of the Bush administration’s torture policies as his chief of staff. Brian Benczkowski has previously argued that US interrogators aren’t practicing torture if they are solely acting to prevent an attack and not intending to humiliate or cause harm. In a previously undisclosed letter, Benczkowski writes: “The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act.”
More details have been revealed about Bruce Ivins, the government scientist who committed suicide last week after learning he would be charged in the 2001 Anthrax mailings. FBI documents show Ivins was a strong supporter of the anti-gay rights group American Family Association. Ivins gave the AFA eleven donations over a three-year period.
Texas has executed a Honduran man convicted of killing his former boss and wounding a co-worker. Heliberto Chi is the second foreign national put to death in Texas this week. Mexican national José Medellín was put to death on Tuesday on a conviction of raping and murdering two teenage girls. Both Mexico and Honduras argued the two were denied the protections of the Vienna Convention, which calls for people arrested to have access to their home country’s consular officials. The executions came despite a World Court ruling calling on the US to grant foreign nationals new hearings in US courts.
A federal judge has upheld 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 they plan to fence off with chicken wire or chain link. Demonstrators had sought closer access to the convention site for demonstrations and parades. But the court said the plans don’t violate their First Amendment rights.
In lobbying news, the Financial Times reports former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is in talks to become an adviser to the Renewable Fuels Association — the top lobbying group for the ethanol industry. Daschle is also a leading supporter of Senator Obama’s candidacy. Obama has backed criticism ethanol has driven up global food prices. But ethanol proponents say Daschle’s involvement could signify Obama fundamentally supports the ethanol industry. Daschle said, “Barack…recognizes the importance of ethanol and of biofuels generally.”
The seventeenth International AIDS Conference concludes today in Mexico. On Thursday, Oxfam President Mary Robinson said ending criminalization of HIV is key to stemming the pandemic.
Mary Robinson: “We need to avoid criminalizing those who are HIV. I was glad that this was raised. The model AIDS laws are criminalizing HIV people themselves, mothers who may infect their children. This is the wrong approach. This is not the human rights approach. And we need to take stock and move in a different direction.”
A federal judge has ruled the US government owes a group of Native Americans more than $400 million for unpaid royalties on drilling for oil and gas. The $455 million judgment is a fraction of the $47 billion the Natives are seeking. The case marks largest-ever class-action lawsuit against the US government. The suit seeks to force the government to account for all royalties due individual Native Americans since 1887 on seized lands. Plaintiffs say they are considering an appeal.
The Washington Post is reporting military guards at Guantanamo Bay continued to practice sleep deprivation on prisoners even after the technique was banned. Newly disclosed documents say sleep deprivation continued after its ban in March 2004 and was more widespread than previously known. At least seventeen prisoners were removed repeatedly from cell to cell to break down their will before being interrogated.
And today marks the twentieth anniversary of the “8-8-88” military junta crackdown on a democracy uprising in Burma. An estimated 3,000 people were killed in the uprising that began on August 8, 1988. Vigils and marches were held today in Manila and Thailand.