United States News Digest
Democrats Hold Up Gonzales Nomination
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee put a "hold" on the nomination of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to become U.S. Attorney General, forcing a one-week delay on the Committee vote. News reports do not indicate who put the "hold" on, but EIR was told on Jan. 18 that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) was intending to do so.
Kennedy said that Gonzales had failed to answer critical questions, and that he had failed to search his files. "These are very important questions and issues on torture. I do not think our Committee would be satisfied with the answers given," Kennedy said. "These are very arrogant answers." Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa) reportedly said that he would consider asking Gonzales to supplement his answers.
According to Bloomberg, Specter said that he hopes to avoid a party-line votean astounding statement in that, up until now, it has been assumed that almost all Senate Democrats would reluctantly vote for Gonzales's confirmation.
Judge: Gitmo Prisoners Can't Challenge Their Detention
Almost seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo must have access to the Federal courts to challenge their detentions, a Federal judge in Washington, D.C. refused to grant seven prisoners' applications for writs of habeas corpus that would allow them to do just that.
Judge Richard Leon, appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2002, retained one case involving seven detaineessix Algerians and one Frenchmanalthough all other cases from around the country were consolidated under one other judge in Washington after last June's Supreme Court decision. Leon's action in keeping control of this case, was viewed by observers as a way of ensuring that there would be at least one pro-Administration ruling. Judge Joyce Hens Green, who has the other cases involving 54 prisoners, is viewed as more skeptical of the government's "don't-give-an-inch" stonewalling.
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, noted the paradox of Judge Leon's ruling: that "the Supreme Court said you can come in the courthouse door, but you don't have any rights once you're inside.... It's clear these detainees have some substantive rights, besides entering the courthouse and dropping some papers on the clerk's desk."
Bizarre Alliance Meddling in Choice of New DNC Chair
According to the Jan. 20 edition of the L.A. Weekly, the candidacy of former Indiana Congressman Tim Roemer for Democratic National Committee chair has been torpedoed by a bizarre alliance: women's groups, who oppose him because of his soft stance on abortion rights; and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has circulated a list of what it claims are 22 "anti-Israel" Congressional votes by Roemer. Not even AIPAC's embroilment in accusations that it is at the center of a spy ring within the Pentagon has kept the organization from running a slash-and-burn lobby against Roemer, with the threat that Jewish donations to the Democratic Party will be shut down if he is elected chair.
The L.A. Weekly repeats the report now being heavily pushed in the media, that former Vermont Governor Howard Dean will emerge as the front-runner for DNC chair if Roemer's candidacy is sunk. Former Texas Congressman Martin Frost is considered the choice that the party's leadership is rallying around to stop Dean. The DNC will meet in Washington Feb. 10-12 to choose the new chair.
Torture Still Taking Place at Guantanamo
Two attorneys who have just returned from Guantanamo, where they were finally able to visit their clients12 Kuwaiti citizensafter having represented them for almost three years, on Jan. 19 described the horrendous conditions under which prisoners are held at the U.S. base in Cuba. Speaking at a press conference sponsored by the Kuwaiti Family Committee and the National Press Club, attorney Thomas Wilner said that all of his clients have been physically abused. No matter how you define torture, "the treatment of these men has crossed the line," Wilner said. "These men have been tortured, make no mistake about it."
Wilner said that there are two types of abuse: (1) physical abuse, "which we call torture," and (2) psychological abuse. Wilner said, "I believe there is still some physical abuse occurring. I think it is probably more intermittent and less systemic than before. I have no doubt that initially, it was systemic and a matter of policy. I think there is still some going on." Describing the conditions under which detainees live, Wilner said that he had visited convicted murderers in U.S. prisons, "and they live in palaces compared to this." And of course, the Guantanamo detainees have not been convicted of anything.
Kristin Huskey, another attorney from Wilner's firm (the D.C. office of the Wall Street law firm of Shearman & Sterling), said that all the detainees are "startlingly thin," and have complained of poor medical care, but their biggest complaint is the "disgracing of Islam" by interrogators and military personnel, including the throwing of a Koran into a toilet. They all said that torture is occurring, Huskey said.
Wilner was a lead attorney in the case decided by the Supreme Court in June, which held that Guantanamo detainees must have access to the courts. Yet it took them six months to be able to see their clients, and even now, their notes of their discussions with their clients are classified. And the government strategy is still to stall and delay, to prevent the detainees from getting their day in court.
Bush's Proposed Immigration Reforms DOA
In a number of recent interviews, President Bush promised he would get his "guest worker" reform through Congress as a priority this year, but no oneespecially Republicansbelieves any such thing will happen. "No issue, not one, threatens to do more damage to the Republican coalition than immigration," in the view of former White House speech writer David Frum. Republican Senators Larry Craig of Idaho and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska told the Jan. 18 Los Angeles Times that the Congressional plate is "just too full" already, and, as Hagel said, immigration reform "is a very bloody issue within the Republican Party."
Outgoing Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel, when they met Jan. 18, that the Bush plan faces strong opposition. He pressed Creel on the idea of joint Mexican-U.S. enforcement along their border against illegals, to which Creel reportedly responded, in effect, that Mexico might consider such a moveif a temporary migrant worker plan is adopted.
Will U.S. Have Enough Flu Vaccine Next Year?
Doubts are rising as to whether the U.S. will have enough flu vaccine next year, after Chiron CEO Howard Pien told the press that British health regulators extended the license suspension of Chiron's Liverpool, England plant until April 2005. Chiron was the vaccine manufacturer which, because of bacterial contamination, lost nearly half of the total U.S. influenza vaccine expected for the 2004-05 flu season. The Emeryville, Calif.-based company said vaccine production must begin in March for fall delivery, but Pien said an April start-up might be early enough for the 2005-06 season.
Pien, who was interviewed at a hotel where he had addressed investors at the JP Morgan Health Care Conference last week, said there was no way to forecast how much vaccine Chiron could produce, and he didn't rule out the possibility of future problems in the plant. Pien said 70 experts were implementing a "remedial plan" at the plant, involving new construction, employee training, overhaul of manufacturing systems and changes in safety testing. He noted that companies in similar situations "have taken years" to bring factories up to snuff. Hopefully, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Health and Human Service agencies, which knew and ignored Chiron's problemsdespite warnings of an impending influenza pandemicwill act faster this time to locate other vaccine suppliers.
Rumsfeld, Army in Brawl Over Special Ops Reorg
As part of his effort to turn the military's Special Forces into hunter-killer teams, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in a "bureaucratic brawl" with the Army, over Rumsfeld's plan to shift thousands of Civil Affairs specialists out of the Special Operations Command, into the regular Army. Civil Affairs has been a key component of Special Warfare since the late 1950s, and represents the "soft" side of counterinsurgencywhat is now often called "nation-building."
The Jan. 16 Washington Post account of this, notes that this reflects Rumsfeld's overall push for Special Forces troops to concentrate on aggressive actions against terrorists. Some Special Operations officers think that short-term "direct action" missions to capture or kill terrorist suspects, are being overemphasized, to the detriment of more important long-term missions such as training foreign militaries, and winning hearts and minds with aid projects.
The Army strongly opposes Rumsfeld's plan to move Civil Affairs, saving: "Any reassignment of forces will undermine the systems and relationships carefully developed between the Army and the United States Special Operations Command since the mid-1980s. This would not be wise, given our involvement in current operations and the global war on terrorism."
Higher-Ups May Stand Trial for Abu Ghraib Atrocities
During the trial of Specialist Charles A. Graner, Jr. several witnesses testified that Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and the highest-ranking military intelligence officer at Abu Graib, and Lt. Col. Steven Jordon, senior Military Intelligence Officer and the head of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at the prison, had either known about or specifically encouraged torture. Graner himself named these two, as well as Capt. Donald J. Reese, Capt. Christopher Brinson, and 1st Lt. Lewis Raeder, as having given orders to mistreat prisoners, especially those described as "intelligence holds."
Paul Bergrin, a Newark, N.J. lawyer representing Sgt. Javal Davis, whose trial begins on Feb. 2, said that when he asked a military judge to allow testimony by Colonels Pappas, Jordon, and others at Davis's court-martial, he was told they could not testify, because the prosecutors planned to charge them. It was reported in the Army Times Jan. 17 that Bergrin's witness list did include Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was then in charge of Abu Ghraib.
Pentagon Awards New Contracts to CACI, Titan
The Department of Defense has awarded juicy new contracts to CACI International and Titan, companies implicated in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. One CACI employee and two Titan employees are being sued over allegations of abuse at the Iraqi prison, including such crimes as using dogs to scare prisoners, placing detainees in unauthorized "stress positions," and encouraging soldiers to abuse prisoners. Army Private Charles Graner has just been sentenced to ten years in prison for similar crimes. But the Pentagon has awarded CACI a $16-million renewal of its contract, while Titan has been awarded a new contract for $164 million.
CACI employee Steven Stefanowicz was charged with giving orders that "equated to physical abuse." Titan employees John Israel and Adel Nakhla were charged with lying under oath and raping an Iraqi boy.