Headlines: Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis; Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

Democracy Now Headlines: Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis; Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iran’s Guardian Council Admits to Vote Irregularities

Iranian authorities have acknowledged some irregularities have been found in Iran’s presidential election results. The influential Guardian Council admitted the number of votes collected in 50 cities surpassed the number of people eligible to cast ballot in those areas. Authorities said the discrepancies could affect as many as three million votes. According to the official results of the disputed election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat Mir Hossein Mousavi by about 11 million votes.

Mousavi Calls For More Street Protests

Meanwhile Mousavi and former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami have defied Iran”s Supreme Leader and urged protesters to continue street demonstrations calling for a new election. Iranian state media reports that between 10 and 19 people were killed during protests on Saturday. Iranian police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters. Iranian state radio reported 457 protesters were arrested. On Sunday Iranian police briefly detained five relatives of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close ally of Mousavi Reporters Without Borders says Iran is now jailing 30 journalists and cyber-dissidents including Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari who has been held since Sunday.

Iran’s Web Spying Aided By European Firms Siemens and Nokia

The Wall Street Journal reports European telecommunications companies have helped the Iranian government develop one of the world”s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet. The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of the German-based Siemens AG and Nokia, the Finnish cellphone company. Using the technology, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes.

Israel To Allocate $250 Million For West Bank Settlements

In other news, Israeli army radio is reporting Israel plans to allocate 250 million dollars over the next two years for settlements in the occupied West Bank despite pressure to halt settlement activity from the Obama administration. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week and rejected calls for a freeze on the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Avigdor Liberman: “I think and I say again settlements are not an obstacle to achieve peace. We know that even before ’67, before we even established one settlement, the situation was the same.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki challenged Lieberman’s claim.

Riyad Al-Malki: “With the continuation of the settlement activities, it will be impossible to create a viable, contiguous Palestinian state on the ’67 borders. Nobody shares with Israeli Foreign Minister (Avigdor) Lieberman this view that the construction of settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories has no connection to the peace process or has no influence to the achieving a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Shiite Mosque Attacked in Iraq, 73 Die

In Iraq, at least 73 people died Saturday when a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque near Kirkuk. It was the deadliest attack in Iraq in more than a year. Another 15 people died today in a series of bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Two U.S. Soldiers Die in Rocket Attack On Bagram Air Base

In Afghanistan two US troops were killed Sunday when Bagram Air Base came under a rocket attack. Six other people were injured.

U.S. Admits Afghan Air Strike Killed At least 26 Civilians

Meanwhile, an internal U.S. military investigation into a U.S. airstrike on May 4th has confirmed that U.S. forces killed at least 26 Afghan civilians and possibly as many as 86. The military released the internal report on Friday but withheld making public a video from the attack despite an earlier promise from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

Kidnapped NYT Reporter Escapes From Taliban

In other news from Afghanistan, a New York Times reporter has escaped from the Taliban after being held hostage for seven months. David Rohde was abducted on Nov. 10 but his kidnapping had been kept a secret by the Times and other western media outlets.

Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis

The United Nations has launched an urgent appeal for funds to help the UN respond to the massive humanitarian crisis facing Pakistan. Over 3 million Pakistanis have been displaced in recent weeks due to the Pakistani military”s offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Last week the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said the Pakistan displacement crisis is probably the world”s biggest since events in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo in the 90s. Last month the UN appealed for about $540 million from the international community, but only about 35 percent of the funding has been received. The humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is expected to soon worsen as the Pakistani military prepares to expand its offensive against militants by attacking South Waziristan.

Report: One Billion People Go Hungry Every Day

World hunger is projected to reach a record high this year with more than a billion people going hungry every day. This is an increase of some 100 million people over the past year.

Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

The Obama administration has proposed offering federal money to colleges and universities to help train students to become spies for the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The Washington Post reports the intelligence officer training program would function much like ROTC, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps run by the military with the government subsidizing the cost of school in return for future service. However, unlike ROTC, the students’ participation in the spy training program would likely be kept secret.

ACLU Files Suit Over Communication Management Units

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons challenging the legality of the government”s use of secretive prison units known as Communication Management Units or CMUs. The units are designed to severely restrict prisoner communication with family members, the media and the outside world. Most of the prisoners held in the CMUs have been Muslim men but the units have also held political activists including the environmental activist Daniel McGowan who is being held at a CMU in Marion, Illinois. Daniel McGowan’s attorney Lauren Regan appeared on Democracy Now in April.

Lauren Regan: “The inmates there do call Marion, Illinois, ‘Little Guantanamo.’ Part of the reason that they call it that is because it is a secret facility. They do feel as if they are being hidden, not only from society at large, but from other inmates in the federal system.”

Federal Authorities Approve Gun Sales to People On Terrorist Watch List

The National Rifle Association is opposing a proposed bill that would block gun sales to people on the government”s terrorist watch list. Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey plans to introduce the bill today. A new government study found people on the government’s terrorist watch list have tried to buy guns nearly 1,000 times in the last five years. Federal authorities cleared the purchases 90 percent of the time because they had no legal way to stop them. Under current federal law, people named on the terrorist watch list can be barred from boarding an airplane or getting a visa, but they cannot be stopped from buying a gun.

Poll: 72% Of Americans back Creation of Public Healthcare Plan

A new poll by the New York Times and CBS News has found that 72 percent of Americans support the government creating a public healthcare plan, similar to Medicare, which would compete with private insurance plans. The poll also found the majority of Americans now believe the government would do a better job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage.

Nestle Recalls Cookie Dough Products Due to E.Coli Scare

The food giant Nestle has recalled all Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products because of e.coli contamination. The Food and Drug Administration said there has been 66 reports of illness across 28 states since March from the contaminated cookie dough.

Bermuda Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote

In Bermuda, Prime Minister Ewart Brown has survived a vote of no-confidence. Brown had been criticized for agreeing in secret with the Obama administration to accept former Guantanamo prisoners.

Obama Jokes About Plight of Uighurs

Bermuda and the Pacific island nation of Palau have both accepted a group of Uighur prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo for seven years even though U.S. officials admitted they were wrongly detained. The Uighers are Chinse Muslims who could not be returned to China out of fear that they would be imprisoned and tortured. Over the weekend President Obama joked about the plight of the Uighurs during the Radio TV Correspondent’s Dinner.

President Obama: “Nick At Nite has a new take on an old classic: ‘Leave It To Uighurs.’ [laughter] I thought was pretty good.”

Obama also joked about the refusal of other countries from accepting prisoners held at Guantanamo.

President Obama: “I have to say as I have travelled to all of these countries, I found firsthand how much people truly have in common with one another, because no matter where I went there is one thing that I heard over and over again from every world leader: no thanks, but have you considered Palau?”

Welsh Activist Denied Entry To U.S.

The Welsh folk singer and language activist Arfon Gwilym has been forced to cancel an appearance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington after he was denied a visa by U.S. officials. Gwilym is a prominent campaigner for the preservation of the Welsh language. He was denied the visa because he has been arrested several times while campaigning for bilingual road signs in Wales and for a Welsh-language television channel.

Indian Musician Ali Akbar Khan, 87, Dies

And the master Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan has died at the age of 87. Khan played a pivotal role in introducing western audiences to Indian music.

Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Torture Truth Commission

Democracy Now Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Iran; Seven Killed

In Iran, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Tehran Monday to protest last week’s disputed presidential election. Defying an official ban on protests, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi joined the massive crowd, which has been described as the largest anti-government demonstration in Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The protests turned bloody last night when seven people were reportedly killed. Meanwhile, Iran’s powerful Guardian Council says it will order a recount of votes in contested areas of Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in Friday’s poll with 63 percent, compared with 34 percent for Mousavi. On Monday, President Obama said he was “deeply troubled” by the violence but would continue to pursue “tough direct diplomacy” with Iran. Supporters of Mousavi have also been holding protests in Paris, New York, Washington and other cities. Babak Talebi took part in a demonstration Monday in Washington.

Babak Talebi: “We are here to show our solidarity with the people inside Iran who are out on the streets demanding that their voice be heard. And they’re demanding a new election, and we’re demanding that the previous one on Friday not be legitimized through recognition in the mainstream media and international entities. We want to make sure that we all stand with the people in Iran and what their demands are.”

Report: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured

A new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that Senator Edward Kennedy’s plan to expand healthcare coverage would cost about $1 trillion over the next ten years and fall far short of providing universal healthcare coverage. According to the CBO, the plan would reduce the number of uninsured by 16 million people, but even if the bill became law, 36 million people would remain uninsured in 2017.

Supreme Court Won’t Review Cuban Five Case

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by five jailed Cuban nationals known as the Cuban Five. The five men were convicted in 2001 for spying on the US military and Cuban exiles in southern Florida. All five are serving time in federal prisons across the country. The men say they weren’t spying on the US, but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups that have organized attacks on Cuba. The Cuban Five trial was the only judicial proceeding in US history condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission. Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s Parliament, criticized the Supreme Court for refusing to hear the appeal.

Ricardo Alarcon: “Today is a day of shame and of anger. It is a day of shame for those who believe in justice in the North American system. It is a day of anger for many people in all the world that have called upon the US Supreme Court to do something very simple, which is to review the case of the Cuban Five.”

Attorneys for the Cuban Five have argued their trial should have been moved from Miami, the heart of the Cuban American community, because of a biased jury pool.

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Border Wall Case

The Supreme Court has also refused to accept a case seeking to stop construction of a wall along the the US-Mexico border. Several Texas border communities had sued the federal government after former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff waived thirty-six federal laws protecting water, air quality, endangered animals and Native American sites in order to build the border wall.

Pelosi Pressures Antiwar Democrats to Back War Funding Bill

On Capitol Hill, the Democratic House leadership is pressuring antiwar Democrats to support a $106 billion supplemental war funding bill. In May, fifty-one antiwar Democrats opposed an earlier version of the bill. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to pressure some of those Democrats to switch their votes to help pass a new version of the bill that also includes increased funding for the International Monetary Fund. California Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey says the White House has threatened to pull support from freshman antiwar Democrats who vote no on the bill. In order to block passage, thirty-nine House Democrats need to join with Republicans opposing the bill.

Pakistan to Expand Offensive Against Taliban

Pakistan is preparing to expand its war against the Taliban by launching a new offensive in South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader. This will mark the second front in Pakistan’s war against militants. Over the past six weeks, Pakistan, with US backing, has waged a major attack on the Swat Valley. The fighting has displaced more than two million civilians.

Al Jazeera Employees Detained in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, two Al Jazeera employees have been detained after being told by officials to report to the country’s intelligence headquarters. Meanwhile, General Stanley McChrystal has taken over as the top US commander in Afghanistan.

UK to Conduct Private Inquiry into Iraq War

The British government has announced it will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the country’s role in the Iraq war. But antiwar campaigners are criticizing the government’s decision to conduct the inquiry in private.

Report: CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed he initially supported the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. Panetta told The New Yorker magazine, quote, “I could see that it would make some sense, frankly, to appoint a high-level commission, with somebody like Sandra Day O’Connor, Lee Hamilton–people like that.” Panetta dropped his support for the Truth Commission after President Obama essentially vetoed the idea in late April.

CIA Officer in El-Masri Rendition Promoted Twice

The New Yorker magazine has also revealed that the CIA has twice promoted an officer responsible for the rendition and detention of an innocent German citizen named Khaled El-Masri. CIA agents kidnapped El-Masri in Macedonia and flew him to Afghanistan, where he was held in a dungeon and tortured. He was jailed for 149 days without charge. The CIA officer refused to release El-Masri even after it was clear that he was not a terror suspect. The officer was never reprimanded.

KSM Says He Gave False Info After Being Tortured

Newly declassified documents reveal that the CIA’s use of torture may have produced false information. Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told US military officials that he made up stories about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts after being tortured.

Carter: Netanyahu Blocking Peace With Palestinians

Former President Jimmy Carter has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of setting up new obstacles to peace with the Palestinians. On Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution, but only if the new Palestinian state had no army and no control of its airspace and borders. Jimmy Carter spoke during a stop in Jerusalem.

Jimmy Carter: “My opinion is he raised many new obstacles to peace that had not existed under previous prime ministers. He still apparently insists on expansion of existing settlements, he demands that the Palestinians and the Arabs recognize Israel as a Jewish state although 20 percent of the citizens here are not Jews. This is a new demand, President Obama in his speech called for two states and am glad Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted that concept.”

Earlier today Jimmy Carter visited Gaza for the first time since the Israeli invasion.

Jimmy Carter: “It’s very distressing to me, I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been racked against your people. I come here to the American school which was educating your children, supported by my own country and I see that this been deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16 made in my country and delivered to the Israelis.”

Jimmy Carter is scheduled to meet Hamas leader Ismail Haniya later today.

Campaigners Urge Caterpillar To Halt Bulldozer Sales to Israel

Shareholders of the company Caterpillar have rejected an effort by human rights activists to stop the firm from selling bulldozers to Israel to be used to demolish homes in Gaza and the West Bank. At the company’s annual meeting last week dissident shareholders submitted a resolution calling for a review of Caterpillar sales to militaries with poor human rights records, including Israel. The Israeli activist Matan Cohen of the group Anarchists Against the Wall attended the shareholders meeting.

Matan Cohen: “Caterpillar has been arguing for years that they are not responsible for what their clients are doing with their products and we made a very simple case. As a recent ruling in the United States court, in the state of New York said, if you are willfully blind to what your clients are doing with your products, you are as legally culpable as they are, hence we demanded Caterpillar stopped providing Israel its services, and stop giving them D-9 bull dozers with which Israel has been demolishing, homes constructing the seperation wall, and uprooting olive groves on a day-to-day basis.”

Environmental Justice Attorney Luke Cole, 46, Dies

And the pioneering environmental justice attorney Luke Cole has died at the age of 46. He was the co-founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment. Over the years Cole battled toxic waste facilities, mega-dairies, mining companies and other pollution threats in poor and minority communities in California and Alaska. Cole died last week after a car accident in Uganda.

Headlines: Afghanistan Vet Says War Is “Big Mistake”; CIA Never Studied Whether Torture Was Effective or Necessary

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

US Declares Public Health Emergency over Swine Flu Fears

The United States declared a “public health emergency” Sunday after twenty cases of swine flu were confirmed in the country, including eight in New York City. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the emergency declaration sounds more severe than it really is. She said, “It’s like declaring one for a hurricane. It means we can release funds and take other measures. The hurricane may not actually hit.” Civilian and military stockpiles of antiviral drugs are being prepared for rapid distribution in the event that transmission of swine flu virus accelerates. All of the reported cases in the United States have been relatively mild. In Mexico, officials have confirmed just twenty-two cases of swine flu, but the flu is suspected of killing as many 103 people and infecting more than 1,600. The World Health Organization urged increased surveillance for influenza worldwide. There have been no confirmed cases outside of North America, but there are growing fears that the world may be entering a global pandemic.

Influenza Specialist Dr. John McCauley: “That’s how a pandemic will start: a new virus emerging in humans, spreading easily from humans to humans, and, with modern travel, being able to spread around the world really very quickly.”

Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization said the world is prepared for dealing with this situation.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda: “In the past five years, the world has spent a huge amount of effort, countries have worked very hard, to assess the threat of avian influenza. They have worked very hard on pandemic preparedness planning, and we have new tools, such as the international health regulations in place. We also have new defenses in place. We have better surveillance. We have stockpiles of anti-viral drugs that have been prepared at regions, as well as by internationally, in case of a pandemic situation.”

Clinton: US Troops May Stay in Iraqi Cities After July 1

In a surprise visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US may put off plans to withdraw its troops from urban areas by July 1st if renewed violence continues to worsen. Troops will now likely remain in Mosul and Baghdad after the deadline. Over 155 Iraqis have died in recent days in a series of suicide attacks.

Al-Maliki Threatens to Prosecute US Troops Involved in Deadly House Raid

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is threatening to prosecute US troops involved in a pre-dawn house raid on Sunday that killed two Iraqis in the town of Kut. The incident marks the first time Iraq’s government has called for the prosecution of US soldiers. Under the new US-Iraqi security pact, US troops in Iraq are no longer allowed to conduct military operations without Iraqi approval and coordination. The wife of one of the Iraqis killed denounced the US raid.

Wife of Iraqi Man Killed: “His brain was scattered on the ground, and I tried to collect it. The woman killed in the raid was still alive, and I tried to help her, but they killed her. They did not call a doctor to treat her. They killed her.”

Afghanistan Vet Says War Is “Big Mistake”; Warns Against Troop Surge

A former Marine corporal who fought in Afghanistan testified last week on Capitol Hill and urged lawmakers to oppose President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Rick Reyes said the war has turned into a “big mistake.”

Rick Reyes: “In some respects, this entire occupation has become counterproductive. As a Marine, I was willing to give my life for my country and still am. But invading and occupying Afghanistan, sending more troops to solve what is a political problem, is not the answer. I urge these senators to rethink Afghanistan, while there is still time. I can almost guarantee that sending more troops will mean more civilian and US troop casualties, not for war, but for occupation. Sending more troops will not make the US safer; it will only build more opposition against us. I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer.”

Former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes also said the US occupation has unjustly targeted innocent Afghan civilians.

Rick Reyes: “Because our mission was to capture suspected Taliban and had no successful way of being able to distinguish them, we had no other choice but to suspect the entire civilian population, innocent or not. One day we stopped at gunpoint, detained and beating and nearly killing an innocent man only to find out he was just traveling down the road to deliver milk to his children. Because of that day, those kids went without a father. There were hundreds of incidents like this one. Almost 100 percent of the time, we would find that suspected terrorists turned out to be innocent civilians. It began to feel we were chasing ghosts.”

At the same hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Retired US Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich said an escalation of troops will worsen the situation in Afghanistan.

Andrew Bacevich: “We may not believe that we are invading and occupying countries, but the people on the other end viewed, view themselves as being invaded and occupied. So, to some degree, to some measurable degree, in places like Afghanistan, increasing the US presence actually increases the dimensions of the problem.”

Sri Lanka Dismisses Tamil Tiger Ceasefire Offer

The Sri Lankan government has dismissed a unilateral ceasefire declared by the Tamil Tigers. Pro-Tamil websites say the Sri Lankan military is continuing to attack an area where at least 50,000 civilians remain trapped. But the Sri Lankan military claims it has stopped using heavy weapons in the region. The UN is estimating as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed so far this year in Sri Lanka. Another 14,000 have been wounded.

Report: US Considering Deploying National Guard Troops to Mexico Border

The Washington Post reports the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department are developing contingency plans to send National Guard troops to the US-Mexican border under a $350 million initiative that would expand the US military’s role in the drug war. Last week, the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas sent a joint letter to Congress requesting additional troops for the four Southwestern border states under the National Guard Counterdrug Program.

2002 Military Memo Warned Torture Produces “Unreliable Information”

The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for prisoners referred to the application of extreme duress as “torture” in a July 2002 document and warned that it would produce “unreliable information.” This according to the Washington Post. In an unsigned memo, the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency said, “The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel.”

CIA Never Studied Whether Torture Was Effective or Necessary

The Los Angeles Times reports the CIA never sought a rigorous assessment of whether its use of torture during interrogations was effective or necessary. In 2003, the agency’s inspector general circulated drafts of a report that raised deep concerns about waterboarding and other methods, but the CIA ignored his recommendation to conduct a study by outside experts on whether the interrogation tactics worked.

Majority of Americans Favor Probe of Bush Administration over Torture

A new ABC/Washington Post poll has found 51 percent of Americans support an investigation of whether Bush administration officials broke the law. But on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested President Obama opposes the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture.

Robert Gibbs: “Well, I think the President had great fears that the debate that you’ve seen happen in this town on each side of this issue, at the extremes, has–that’s taken place, would be what would envelop any commission that looked backward. That’s why his focus, David, the whole time is how we look forward in this country.”

Leftists Win Election in Iceleand

A coalition of leftist parties has won control of Iceland’s government for the first time in the country’s history. The coalition between the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement took thirty-four seats in the sixty-three-member parliament. The previous government in Iceland fell after the country’s economy collapsed. The IMF is predicting Iceland’s economy will shrink by about ten percent this year.

Report: Obama Wants Aid to Go to PA Even If Hamas Joins Gov’t

The Los Angeles Times is reporting the Obama administration has asked Congress for minor changes in US law that would permit aid to continue flowing to Palestinians in the event Hamas-backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government. Under the existing law, any US aid would require that the Palestinian government meet three longstanding criteria: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to follow past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Iranian Arms Ship Bound for Gaza Reportedly Destroyed Off Sudan

The Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa is reporting an Iranian vessel laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area. Anonymous sources in Khartoum told the newspaper that an unidentified warship bombed the Iranian vessel as it prepared to dock in Sudan.

Gore Accuses Corporate Polluters of Fraud Larger than Madoff’s

Former Vice President Al Gore has accused the largest corporate carbon polluters in the country of committing a massive fraud. On Friday, the New York Times revealed an influential energy industry coalition went ahead in 1995 with an aggressive lobbying campaign to refute the idea that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming in direct contradiction to the conclusion of its own scientists. Al Gore testified on Friday on Capitol Hill.

Al Gore: “These large polluters committed a massive fraud far larger than Bernie Madoff’s fraud. They are the Bernie Madoffs of global warming. They ordered the censoring and removal of the scientific review that they themselves conducted. And like Bernie Madoff, they lied to the people who trusted them in order to make money.”

US May Hold Informal Talks with Cuba

The New York Times reports informal meetings are being planned between State Department and Cuban diplomats in the United States in order to determine whether the two governments could open formal talks on a variety of issues. The Obama administration is also reportedly looking for ways to open channels for more cultural and academic exchanges between Cuba and the United States.

Rafael Correa Re-Elected in Ecuador

In other news from Latin America, voters in Ecuador have re-elected President Rafael Correa by a large margin. Preliminary results show Correa won 51 percent of the vote. His closest challenger won 29 percent.

Flight Carrying Journalist on US No-Fly List Diverted

And an Air France flight from Paris to Mexico was barred from flying over the United States last week because one of the plane’s passengers was a prominent reporter whose name appears on the US no-fly list. The plane was forced to divert to the French Caribbean island of Martinique before continuing its journey. The reporter, Hernando Calvo Ospina, is a Colombian-born journalist who writes for the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. He has frequently written articles denouncing the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the role of the United States in Latin America.

Hoekstra Still Supporting Torture


Unfortunately, it isn’t exactly news that Representative–and candidate for governor–Pete Hoekstra supports torture. He’s been a strong proponent of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” program and has said it was successful in preventing terrorist attacks.

However, Hoekstra has recently backed off a bit, still arguing that the interrogations produced useful intelligence, but speaking very carefully about his own support for the program.

In the Wall Street Journal, Hoekstra criticized President Obama’s release of government memos on torture and said their release makes it harder for intelligence agencies to function. He also said that their release was unnecessary, as Congressional support for the tactics was well known:

It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Of Hoekstra’s current view on torture, The Grand Rapids Press reported:

In an interview Friday, Hoekstra stopped short of endorsing the interrogation technique, in which a person is made to experience the sensation of drowning.

“I didn’t go through the decision-making process back in 2003 when the president and the leadership decided it was an appropriate way to go,” Hoekstra said.

“I don’t know whether I would reach the same decision today.”

However, he added, “I think in total the process we used — enhanced interrogation techniques — kept America safer, prevented attacks and there are Americans alive today because of it.”

Clearly, Hoekstra believes the program worked–he’s just hoping to minimize it as an issue for both himself and Republicans. Hoekstra says he wasn’t aware of waterboarding being used when it happened, but he has supported its use. In the past, Hoekstra has voted against banning tactics including waterboarding, electric shock, beatings and mock executions and has said that those do not constitute torture because they do not inflict physical injury.

Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Rice, Ashcroft Approved Torture in July 2002

More details have been revealed on high-level Bush administration involvement in authorizing torture. According to a timeline in the newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top White House officials approved torture methods, including waterboarding, as early as 2002. Attorney General Eric Holder has described waterboarding as illegal, while President Obama now says he won’t rule out prosecuting top Bush officials who approved illegal acts. Rice’s backing came in July 2002, when she gave a green light for the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. One year later, the list of officials voicing approval grew to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger.

Report: Obama Rejected Investigative Commission on Torture

The news comes as lawmakers have begun debating calls for an investigation into Bush-era officials for potential prosecution. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed an investigation and said witnesses shouldn’t receive immunity for testifying. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting President Obama personally nixed a proposal to create a 9/11 Commission-style panel as an alternative to releasing the memos. Obama made the decision following weeks of administration debate. A White House official summarized Obama’s reponse as: “I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don’t need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this.”

Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing

The Obama administration has claimed it’s closed Bush-era secret prisons. But the investigative website ProPublica is reporting more than three dozen CIA prisoners are still missing. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said, “The Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody. If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend it’s closed the door on the CIA program.”

Judge Upholds Habeus Corpus for Gitmo Prisoner

A federal judge has rejected a government motion to dismiss or delay a challenge to the jailing of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamed Jawad. Jawad was arrested in Afghanistan when he was sixteen or seventeen years old on allegations of wounding US soldiers with a grenade. He’s claimed he was drugged and threatened with death by Afghan interrogators unless he admitted to the charges. His case was one of five that led Guantanamo military prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld to resign last year. On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle rejected the government’s attempts to deny Jawad habeas corpus. Attorney Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “While the Justice Department chose to continue Bush administration policies that sought to evade scrutiny of Mr. Jawad’s unlawful detention, today’s order emphasizes the importance of independent judicial review for prisoners who have been held for years with no legal recourse.”

Obama: Days of US Inaction on Energy Crisis “Now Over”

President Obama visited Iowa Wednesday to mark International Earth Day. Speaking at a wind plant, Obama vowed to change US inaction on combating global warming.

President Obama: “If we’ve got problems with climate change and the temperature rising all around the world, that knows no boundaries. The decisions of any nation will affect every nation. So, next week I will be gathering leaders of major economies from all around the world to talk about how we can work together to address this energy crisis and this climate crisis. Truth is, the United States has been slow to participate in this kind of a process, working with other nations. But those days are over now.”

White House Withholds Endorsement on Bill Capping Emissions

Despite Obama’s comments, the White House is so far refusing to endorse the nation’s first-ever bill to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. As lawmakers opened hearings on Wednesday, top Obama environment officials said they are still studying the measure and have yet to make a decision. Energy industry lobbyists are vocally opposing the bill. It calls for reducing emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and reducing them by 83 percent by 2050. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a new timeline for passing legislation, saying it would take more than a year. Her comments came one day after vowing to pass legislation this year.

UN Holds Climate Talks Ahead of Copenhagen Summit

As debate on the emissions bill began in Washington, the UN opened the year’s first ministerial-level meeting in talks toward reaching a new global climate deal at the Copenhagen summit later this year. The UN’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said US involvement in agreeing to emissions cuts is essential.

Yvo de Boer: “Trying to come to a long-term response on climate change without the United States makes no sense. In other words, US engagement is essential. And what is very encouraging is that President Obama is committed to this issue, is committed to taking action in the United States.”

IMF: Global Economy to Shrink 1.3%

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting the global economy will decline this year for the first time since the Second World War. On Wednesday, the IMF said the global economy would see a 1.3 percent decline in what it called “by far the deepest global recession since the Great Depression.” Speaking in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the US bears significant responsibility for the global decline.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “We bear in the United States a substantial responsibility, a substantial share of the responsibility for what has happened. But the factors that have made this crisis so acute and so difficult to contain lie in a broader set of global forces that built up in the years before the start of the present downturn. Never before has so much of the world been simultaneously hit by a confluence of economic and financial turmoil.”

Freddie Mac CFO Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

The chief financial officer of the troubled government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac has been found dead in an apparent suicide. Police say the body of forty-one-year-old David Kellermann was found hanging in his Virginia home. Kellermann was named Freddie Mac’s acting chief financial officer in September after sixteen years at the company. He came under scrutiny earlier this month after it was revealed he and other top Freddie Mac executives stood to receive some $210 million in bonuses over the next two years.

Red Cross: “Hundreds” Killed or Wounded in Sri Lanka Fighting

In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross is warning scores of civilians have been killed or wounded in the latest military attacks on the remaining Tamil Tiger stronghold. Tens of thousands remain trapped between the crossfire. In a statement, the Red Cross said it couldn’t precisely identify the number of civilian casualties but said they are in the “hundreds.”

Taliban Fighters Seize Control of Pakistani District

In Pakistan, Taliban militants have seized control of a new area just seventy miles from the capital Islamabad. The Buner district has a population of more than one million people.

Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

The Israeli military says it’s concluded an investigation absolving its forces of committing any crimes during the three-week assault on the Gaza Strip beginning late last year. Israeli military deputy chief of staff General Dan Harel said Israel’s lone mistakes came down to intelligence and operational errors.

General Dan Harel: “We found out that the IDF operated under the international law and according to a very high standard of professionalism and moral standards. Saying that, we found out several mistakes-intelligence and operations mistakes we made, and we are dealing with them.”

Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians during the Gaza attack, most of them women and children. It bombed crowded civilian areas, ambulances, aid compounds, UN facilities, mosques and several schools. Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha dismissed the Israeli investigation as a sham.

Ayman Taha: “This is a mockery of all the crimes that have been committed against our people. And the reason that the Israeli army cannot consider what has happened in the Gaza Strip as criminal is because the criminal himself cannot also be the judge. Therefore, these findings of Israeli army innocence are unreliable. The crimes that have been committed are crystal clear.”

The Israeli probe comes ahead of a UN investigation headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone. Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch called the IDF move a preliminary reaction to the UN’s anticipated findings.

Bill Van Esveld: “This appears to be a whitewash investigation that is happening just before the Goldstone investigation mandated by the United Nations. And it seems to prove the point that Human Rights Watch has been making all along, which is that there needs to be an independent and impartial United Nations investigation into these allegations of laws of war violations, because the IDF has not lived up to the job.”

Israel Demolishes Palestinian Home in East Jerusalem

In other news from Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has defied U.S. warnings and demolished another Palestinian home in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration’s few mild criticisms of Israel have centered around destroying homes on Palestinian land. The home belonged to the Hudidon family, which includes seven children.

Clinton Vows Continued U.S. Boycott of Palestinians

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed U.S. vows to boycott the Palestinian government unless Hamas meets U.S.-Israeli demands. Clinton testified Wednesday before the House foreign affairs committee.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority. And that is our policy and that is exactly what is guiding us, but we want to leave open the door that that can happen.”

The policy of opening the door to Hamas’ acceptance marks a slight rhetorical deviation from Bush administration policy, which unequivocally rejected any dealings with Hamas. But it continues the Bush policy of imposing conditions on Palestinians not imposed on Israel. Israel has long refused to renounce violence, recognize Palestine or agree to uphold prior agreements. In response to Clinton’s comments, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said: “Hillary Clinton must understand that there is a Palestinian democracy and there [were] Palestinian elections and someone won those elections.” Meanwhile, Clinton was also asked about former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s comments the Obama administration’s rollback of Bush torture policies is endangering the nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Well it won’t surprise you I don’t consider him a particularly reliable source.”

This week Cheney called for the release of documents that could prove what he called the “success” of the Bush administration’s torture methods in gaining new intelligence.

Internal Displacements Rise in Colombia

In Colombia, a new report says the number of internally displaced people continued to rise last year. Jorge Rojas of Colombia’s Human Rights and Displacement Council attributed most of the displacements to right-wing Colombian paramilitaries.

Jorge Rojas: “It is an unfortunate figure for us because it shows an increasing tendency. It shows that the number of displaced people in Colombian is still growing due to the armed conflict, human rights violations and infractions against the human rights. Last year, we registered the displacement of about 380,000 people. This shows a 24 percent increase compared to the year before.”

Colombia has the world’s second-largest internally displaced population after Sudan. Most of the refugees are indigenous, peasant workers or Afro-Colombians.

Morales Addresses UN in Earth Day Speech

Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed the UN General Assembly Wednesday. In a speech marking international Earth Day, Morales criticized former President George W. Bush for supporting a failed coup plot against him last year. He also addressed the controversy surrounding last week’s Bolivian police killing of three people in an alleged assassination plot against him. Morales also discussed the World Bank, which he said is no longer trying to impose privatization as a condition for loans.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Before it used to impose conditions on Bolivia in order for us to have access to loans. In the first year of my government, some World Bank representatives came to Bolivia and they tried to blackmail me, and I said, ‘OK, if it’s unconditional help, fine, but if it’s conditioned to privatization of basic services, privatization of natural resources, then no.'”

Morales went on to call for adding new text to the UN resolution establishing Earth Day, saying it should affirm the right of ecosystems, plants or animals to exist without threat of irresponsible human acts.

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Seeks Peru Asylum

A Venezuelan opposition leader is seeking asylum in Peru over what he calls political persecution at home. Manuel Rosales is in the Peruvian capital of Lima where government officials say they’re examining his asylum request. On Wednesday, a Venezuelan judge ordered Rosales’ arrest on corruption charges.

ANC Leads Returns in South African Elections

In South Africa, tens of millions of people voted Wednesday in national elections. The ruling African National Congress is leading initial returns. ANC leader Jacob Zuma is poised to become president, overcoming recent controversies that have included allegations of rape and corruption.

Reports: GM to Close U.S. Plants for 9 Weeks

And back in the United States, the auto giant General Motors is reportedly planning on closing most of its U.S. factories for up to nine weeks this summer. GM faces a June 1st deadline to qualify for additional government loans on top of the more than $13 billion dollars it’s already received.