An Italian judge has convicted twenty-three Americans, mostly CIA operatives, for kidnapping a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan in 2003. The Americans were all tried in absentia after the United States refused to hand them over. The convictions turn the CIA agents into international fugitives who risk arrest abroad. The case marks the first time any American has been convicted for taking part in a so-called “extraordinary rendition.” It centers around the Egyptian cleric Abu Omar, who was taken to US bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment.
The Obama administration is expected to seek additional war funding on top of the $130 billion Congress authorized last month. On Wednesday, the nation’s top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said he expects the Pentagon to request emergency funding for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months. President Obama has previously pledged to end the Bush administration policy of funding wars with supplementals outside the normal Pentagon budget. The new request will reportedly seek around $50 billion.
The Obama administration is downplaying hopes for reaching a global climate change treaty at the world summit in Copenhagen next month. On Wednesday, State Department climate change envoy Todd Stern said nations are unlikely to reach a deal in Copenhagen and should aim for an agreement in the following months. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned against delaying a climate treaty, citing the urgent need to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions to avoid environmental catastrophe. Climate negotiators are currently meeting in Spain in advance of the Copenhagen talks. On Tuesday, delegates from the African bloc walked out of the negotiations, saying their concerns have gone ignored. The African countries said they would refuse to participate until richer nations agreed to consider making larger emissions cuts.
The United Nations General Assembly is expected to endorse a UN inquiry that found Israel committed war crimes in its assault on the Gaza Strip. Headed by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, the inquiry also accused Hamas of war crimes and urged both sides to investigate the charges or face international prosecution. On Wednesday, the General Assembly opened debate on a non-binding measure to endorse the report. The Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said the General Assembly’s endorsement would help bring justice to Palestinian victims of the Israeli attack on Gaza.
Riyad Mansour: “There is no doubt that the Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the Goldstone report and its recommendations constitute a significant step towards ending the insidious culture of impunity that has for so long prevailed and towards ensuring accountability for the perpetration of crimes and ensuring justice for the Palestinian people, who have for too long suffered the grave injustice inflicted upon them.”
The General Assembly debate came one day after the House passed a non-binding measure condemning the Goldstone report and urging the Obama administration to oppose it in any international setting. The New York Times reports the measure is likely to face opposition at the Security Council not just from the United States, but from other permanent members concerned with establishing its findings as a precedent for conduct in occupied areas, including China in Tibet and Russia in Chechnya.
Meanwhile, in Israel and the Occupied Territories, the continued Israeli takeover of West Bank land is leading the US-backed Palestinian Authority to begin openly questioning the viability of a two-state solution. On Wednesday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel’s insistence on retaining large swaths of the West Bank would make a separate Palestinian state impossible.
Saeb Erekat: “Then maybe it’s the moment of truth for the Palestinian leadership, for Abu Mazen, who has done nothing in his life but to pursue the two-state solution, to come his moment of truth and tell his people the truth: that with the continuation of settlement activities, the two-state solution is no longer an option. Palestinians should refocus their attention to the one-state solution, where Muslims, Jews and Christians can live as equals. This is very serious. This is the moment of truth for us.”
As Erekat spoke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued a Mideast tour in Egypt. Clinton has faced widespread criticism from Arab countries over the Obama administration’s refusal to insist Israel halt settlement expansion as a precondition for negotiations with Palestinians. Speaking in Cairo, Clinton defended the administration’s approach.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We do not accept the legitimacy of settlement activity, and we have a very firm belief that ending all settlement activity, current and future, would be preferable. And that is what we have put forth, and that is what we have continued to support. What we have received from the Israelis, to halt all new settlement activity — and I’ll repeat that again, too — to halt all new settlement activity, and to end expropriation of land and to issue no permits or approvals, is unprecedented. It is not what we would prefer, because we would like to see everything ended, forever, but it is something that I think shows at least a positive movement toward the final status issues being addressed.”
In Iraq, the oil giants Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell have been awarded a contract to develop a southern Iraqi oil field. It’s first major deal for an American-led bid since the US invasion of 2003 and the latest in a series of deals awarded by the Iraqi government.
In Honduras, the ousted President Manuel Zelaya is asking the Obama administration to clarify its position on his reinstatement in advance of elections scheduled for the end of the month. Zelaya’s request came after Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said the US would recognize the elections even if Honduran lawmakers reject last week’s deal to restore Zelaya to office.
Back in the United States, prosecutors have dropped charges against two New York-based activists arrested for using the social networking site Twitter to spread information about police actions during the September G-20 protests in Pittsburgh. Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger were arrested in their Pittsburgh hotel room, and FBI agents later raided Madison’s home in Queens. The two are believed to be the first activists to be charged criminally for sending information electronically to protesters about the police in the United States. Although the case has been dropped, prosecutors say they’re awaiting the outcome of “further investigative activities” that could result in new charges. You can go to our website democracynow.org for our interview with Elliot Madison days after his arrest.
New Jersey is facing a looming battle over gay marriage. The outgoing governor, Jon Corzine, has said he would sign a gay marriage bill. But the Governor-elect, Republican Chris Christie, has pledged to veto it. Christie defeated Corzine in Tuesday’s election. Gay marriage advocates are urging state lawmakers to approve a bill before Christie takes office. Christie says he would support a state constitutional amendment to overturn gay marriage if that were to occur.
President Obama is expected to host a gathering of leaders of the nation’s 564 federally recognized tribes later today. The White House Tribal Nations Conference will be the first such meeting in fifteen years. Six cabinet secretaries are also expected to attend.
And a correction to a headline from Tuesday’s broadcast on five peace activists arrested for entering a naval base as part of a Plowshares action. The base — Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor — is in Bangor, Washington, not Bangor, Maine.