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The distributor for Chiquita Bananas has been slapped with a $7.6-billion lawsuit by victims of Colombia's Civil War. The suit alleges that Chiquita Brands International made payments to a paramilitary group. The plaintiffs include relatives of close to 400 people believed to have been killed by the right-wing group known by its Spanish initials AUC. The group is responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia's long-running conflict and was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.
Chiquita has acknowledged that its former subsidiary, Banadex, made a $1.7-million payment to the AUC between 1997 and 2004. The company pled guilty this year to violating U.S. counterterrorism laws and agreed to pay a $25-million fine.
But Chiquita has repeatedly insisted it had no choice but to pay protection money to groups that had threatened to turn death squads loose on its banana plantations and employees. A spokesman for the Cincinnati-based company said it would fight the civil lawsuit.
And the clock is ticking for Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf. Today marks the end of his presidential mandate and the end of the current parliament's five-year term. Musharraf is scrambling to put together a caretaker government. Meanwhile, he has extended his own mandate through the emergency powers he seized almost a week ago.
Yesterday, Musharraf said he expects to quit as chief of the army by the end of November so he can rule as a civilian leader. But he's rejected pressure from Western allies to quickly end the emergency rule. The caretaker government will be in charge of making sure parliamentary elections go ahead on January 9th. Opposition leaders and U.S. officials say the elections won't be free or fair unless Musharraf immediately lifts what many call martial law. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is expected in Islamabad tomorrow.
Over to Washington now where it's official.
Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS (United States): I, Michael B. Mukasey, do solemnly swear…
Attorney General MICHAEL MUKASEY (U.S. Department of Justice): I, Michael B. Mukasey, do solemnly swear…
Chief Justice ROBERTS: …that I will support and defend…
MARTIN: Retired New York Judge Michael Mukasey was publicly sworn in as the 81st U.S. attorney general. Yesterday, he took a ceremonial oath of office led by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. He inherits a Justice Department that has suffered amid scandals involving political firings and the government's domestic spying program.
Mukasey has said privately he aims to restore that loss of credibility. Although Mukasey has already been on the job since last week when he was officially sworn in during a private ceremony, yesterday, he said it was important to make a public pledge.
Atty. Gen. MUKASEY: And that is to use all of the strength of mind and body that I have to help you to continue to protect the freedom and the security of the people of this country, and their civil rights and liberties through the neutral and even-handed application of the Constitution and the laws enacted under it, to ask myself in every decision that I make, whether it helps you to do that, to take the counsel not only of my own insights but also of yours, and to pray that I can help give you the leadership that you deserve. I thank you for welcoming me. It's great to be back.
MARTIN: As he mentioned it's a homecoming of sorts, Mukasey worked for the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan back in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, the man who preceded Mukasey is getting a little help from his friends to fight mounting legal bills. The Washington Post is reporting that supporters of Alberto Gonzales have created a trust fund to help pay legal fees aimed at staving off possible criminal charges. The Justice Department is investigating whether or not Gonzales committed perjury or improperly tampered with the congressional witness related to last year's firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
That's the news, and it's always online at npr.org.
WOLFF: This is NPR.
MARTIN: Luke and Alison.
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