The Obama administration has released four Bush administration memos that gave CIA interrogators the legal basis for torture at Guantanamo Bay and other foreign jails. The techniques described include waterboarding, holding prisoners in small dark boxes, bashing their heads against walls, subjecting them to insects, forced nudity, shackling and sleep deprivation. The memos also include extensive legal arguments as to why these tactics do not amount to torture under US and international law. In an accompanying statement, President Obama said CIA interrogators would not be prosecuted for following the memos’ guidelines. More on this story after headlines.
Another Guantanamo Bay prisoner has come forward to back accounts of worsening torture since President Obama took office. In a letter to his attorney, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif said, “I have seen death so many times. Everything is over. Life is going to hell in my situation. America, what has happened to you?” A Yemeni national, Abdul Latif has been imprisoned since 2001.
A new study says the vast majority of identifiable Iraqi victims of US-led air strikes have been women and children. According to the group Iraq Body Count, Iraqi women and children amounted to 85 percent of victims of known gender or age. The study covered a sample of more than 60,000 deaths over a five-year period since the 2003 invasion.
In other Iraq news, at least sixteen people were killed in a suicide bombing on an Iraqi military base in Anbar province. Another fifty were wounded.
President Obama visited Mexico on Thursday for the first time since taking office. Appearing with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama vowed US cooperation in cracking down on drug cartels along the US-Mexico border.
President Obama: “At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders, it is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue, both through initiatives like the Merida Initiative but also on our side of the border in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south.”
Despite the talk of cooperation, Obama rejected Calderon’s key demand to push for reimposing the congressional assault weapons ban. Calderon says violence has significantly increased since the ban expired in 2004.
As Obama arrived in Mexico City, hundreds of people rallied outside the US embassy to call for humane immigration reform in the United States. Leading the protest was Elvira Arellano, who was deported to Mexico in August 2007 following a year of refuge inside a Chicago church. Arellano called on Obama to impose a moratorium on immigration raids.
Elvira Arellano: “We are in solidarity with all those children who are living in fear of being deported together with their parents after raids. Raids continue to occur day after day at 2:00, 3:00 or 5:00 in the morning. There are raids, deportations, and we are asking President Obama to sign an executive order to stop raids and deportations.”
President Obama heads to the island of Trinidad today for the Summit of Americas. He’s expected to face calls to lift the US embargo of Cuba. Appearing alongside visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haitian President Rene Preval summed up the stance of most summit participants in calling for a lifting of the blockade.
Haitian President Rene Preval: “We have a wish, which is that of the United Nations. And that is that the embargo against Cuba be lifted so that they can take part in this important dialogue. Cuba is a friend of Haiti’s.”
Cuba is not invited to the Americas summit. Speaking in Venezuela Thursday, Cuban President Raul Castro repeated his call for direct talks with the United States.
In Bolivia, three foreign nationals were killed and two arrested in what the Bolivian government called a thwarted assassination plot on President Evo Morales. Bolivian officials said a shootout broke out after police tried to arrest the suspects at a hotel in Santa Cruz.
Russia has announced a formal end to military operations in Chechnya. On Thursday, the Russian government said it would remove the last of security restrictions that have been in place since its military invaded Chechnya ten years ago. Russia will still maintain a force of some 20,000 troops and police officers.
The Israeli government is rebuffing mild US calls for peace talks with Palestinians toward reaching a two-state settlement. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a precondition for future talks. Palestinians have called the demand a non-starter, because it would mean not just acknowledging but legitimizing Israel’s takeover of their land and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to live there. Netanyahu announced the demand after meeting US envoy George Mitchell. Mitchell said the US will insist on pursuing a two-state solution.
George Mitchell: “It is in the United States’ national interest that there will be a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East that should include settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution involving a Palestinian state living side by side alongside the Jewish state of Israel in peace, and hopefully stability and prosperity. And we’re going to do all we can during the rest of this visit and over the coming weeks and months to move toward that objective.”
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth is reporting, meanwhile, the Obama administration is prepared to force the Israeli government to accept a two-state peace deal. An unidentified Jewish leader quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as saying, “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.” The Obama administration has yet to outline whether the two-state solution it favors would meet minimal Palestinian rights. Previous US-backed proposals would have still left Israel in control of the large West Bank settlement blocs on Palestinian land.
The Israeli government has informed the UN it will refuse to cooperate with an investigation into whether it committed war crimes during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Earlier this year, the UN Human Rights Council named former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to head the probe.
Meanwhile, an Israeli air strike destroyed a home in the Gaza Strip on Thursday. It was the first Israeli air strike on Gaza in over a month.
In other news from Gaza, journalists from around the world gathered in Gaza City to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Reuters camera operator Fadel Shana. The twenty-four-year-old Shana died on April 16, 2008, after an Israeli tank shelled his vehicle that was clearly marked “press.” Shana’s final piece of footage shows the tank firing a shell before his camera goes black. The attack also killed eight Palestinian youths aged between twelve and twenty years old. Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald was among those to speak at Shana’s memorial.
Alastair Macdonald: “The grief and anguish that greeted the killing of Fadel last April the 16th at the age of just twenty-four was a mark not only of the affection in which he was held by his family and friends but of the reputation he enjoyed as an independent journalist determined, through his work with Reuters, to inform the wider world about life and the conflict here in the Gaza Strip.”
No member of the Israeli military has been prosecuted for the attack that killed Shana and the eight Palestinian youths.
CBS News is reporting the lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain last week will be brought to New York to face charges in a US court. The pirate, nineteen-year-old Abdulwali Muse, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat.
Back in the United States, President Obama has announced a $13 billion plan to invest in a national mass transit rail system. Obama unveiled the proposal shortly before leaving for Mexico.
President Obama: “There’s no reason why we can’t do this. This is America. There is no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system. And everybody stands to benefit.”
Eight billion dollars will come out of the federal stimulus package, while Obama says he will request another $5 billion over five years.
In Georgia, a federal appeals court has rejected an appeal seeking a new trial for the death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. And three witnesses claim another man later admitted to the killing. Despite rejecting Davis’s appeal Thursday, the court said it would extend Davis’s stay of execution pending a final appeal before the Supreme Court.
In New York, Governor David Paterson has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. State Republicans defeated an identical bill in 2007, but today Democrats now also control New York’s State Senate.
And in Colorado, a murder trial has opened that’s believed to be the first-ever hate-crime case for the killing of a transgendered person. Allen Andrade is accused of murdering eighteen-year-old Justin “Angie” Zapata after arranging a meeting online. The case has boosted calls for the inclusion of transgendered people in hate-crimes statutes on the state and federal level. Eleven states and the District of Columbia currently recognize transgendered people in hate crime laws.