In his first full press conference in four months, President Bush vowed the U.S. would stay in Iraq despite the increasing resistance to the U.S. occupation. When he was asked if the number of U.S. troops would be reduced over the next year, he refused to answer saying it was a "trick question."
He also claimed yesterday that: "The world is more peaceful and more free under my leadership." He repeatedly characterized the resistance within Iraq as orchestrated by terrorists. This despite public opinion polls in Iraq that there is widespread opposition to the U.S. occupation. He said the recent string of bombings in Baghdad represent "the same mentality... that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001."
He was also forced to defend his May 1 appearance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln where he said "the battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror" while he stood in front of a banner that read "Mission Accomplished." Yesterday he claimed the ship’s large banner that read "Mission Accomplished" was only meant to indicate the mission of the members of the returning ship had been accomplished, not the U.S. military. He said the sign was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln. After the press conference White House press secretary Scott McClellan admitted that the White House produced the sign but he said it had been requested by members of the ship.
Yesterday’s press conference was only Bush’s 10th of his term. No president in the last 50 years has held fewer press conferences during their first 2 and a half years in office.
Meanwhile it has been revealed that the White House has manipulated its web site to prevent Internet search engines including Google from archiving portions of the White House website related to Iraq. Over the past few months the White House has come under criticism for altering archived pages as the situation in Iraq worsens. In the most widely noted case the White House altered the headline for its coverage of his speech aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. The web page originally read " President Bush announces combat operations in Iraq have ended." But several months later the text "combat operations" was changed to "major combat operations" as it became evident that the fighting in Iraq had not ended.
In news from Iraq, two more U.S. soldiers have died after their tank was hit by an explosive. The New York Times reports that the attack marked the first time an M1 Abrams battle tank was destroyed by Iraqi resistance fighters since major combat operations ended.
In Baghdad, the U.S. military announced that the U.S.-appointed deputy mayor Faris Abdul Razzaq Assam of Baghdad had been assassinated on Sunday. He had been repeatedly warned that his life was in danger if he continued to collaborate with the U.S. occupying forces.
The Washington Post reports that U.S. commanders who are monitoring the 300 mile-long Iraqi-Syrian border say there is no evidence that a significant number of foreign fighters are illegally crossing into Iraq. U.S. officials in Washington have repeatedly suggested that foreign fighters, possibly with links to al Qaeda are leading the resistance in Iraq.
A new report by the Massachusetts-based Project on Defense Alternatives estimates that up 15,000 Iraqis were killed in the opening days of the U.S. invasion. Nearly one third of those killed were civilians. In what is considered to be the most comprehensive report on Iraqi casualties, researchers drew on hospital records, official US military statistics, news reports, and survey methodology to arrive at their figures.
Justice Department records show Saudi Arabia has spent nearly $18 million on public relations, advertising and lobbying since the Sept. 11 attacks. Some of the money went to the Washington lobby firm headed by former Congressman Thomas Loeffler who is a major fundraiser for President Bush. The Saudis hired the services of two well-known Washington law firms Patton Boggs and Dutton and Dutton to lobby on Capitol Hill. The Saudi government also hired the Virginia public relations firm Qorvis Communication to manage a massive ad campaign and to help arrange media appearances for Saudi officials on U.S. news programs.
The private U.S. prison company Wackenhut is publicly denying charges that it is working with Venezuelan dissidents to overthrow the government of Hugo Chavez. Last week Chavez supporters released a video that purported to show CIA agents advising Venezuelans on how to stage a coup. The U.S. embassy responded by saying the men shown in the video were not CIA agents but employees of a private U.S. security company. In an advertisement taken out in a Venezuelan newspaper, Wackenhut admitted that the video was shot on its property in Venezuela but claimed it was a video of an ordinary meeting of company officials meeting with a client.
In his column in the Daily News, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez has revealed that a top federal scientist issued a memo on Sept. 12 2001 warning against the quick reoccupation of buildings in lower Manhattan. Despite this warning the EPA issued a press release the next day stating that testing had been "very reassuring." Then on Sept. 17, six days after the Twin Towers collapsed, federal and city officials allowed people to return to their homes and workplaces.
In related news, at House of Representatives subcommittee meeting yesterday in New York doctors reported that one third of the nearly 7,000 Ground Zero workers who have taken part in a screening still report health problems related to their work at the site.
In Afghanistan, two Americans working for the CIA have been killed in an ambush. Both were former Special Forces officers who were working as contract employees for the secretive Directorate of Operations which carries out undercover missions.
The Senate yesterday voted 87-8 to approve the nomination of Utah governor Michael Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The vote came after a handful of Democrats dropped their efforts to block his nomination. None of the three Democratic Senators running for president, John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and John Edwards were present for the nomination vote.
In other environmental news, an EPA biologist has resigned from the agency to protest the EPA’s acceptance of a developer-financed study that concluded wetlands give off more pollutants than they absorb. The study suggested replacing natural wetlands with golf courses and other developments may be better for the environment.
NYC to Pay $1.6M of Harlem Woman Who Died in NYPD Raid
The city of New York has agreed to pay $1.6 million to the estate of Alberta Spruill, the 57-year-old African-American woman from Harlem who died in May during a police raid on her apartment. Police broke down her apartment door, detonated a flash grenade and handcuffed her. By the time police realized they had raided the wrong apartment the longtime city employee was suffering from cardiac arrest and died on the way to the hospital.
And the political hip-hop group Dead Prez have announced they are filing a suit today against the New York Police Department in response to their Sept. 29 arrest which took place during a film shoot in Brooklyn. Police reportedly beat members of the group and detained them for 36 hours. At a press conference today, Dead Prez plan to announce a People’s Self Defense Campaign to monitor police brutality in urban communities and to end the targeting of hip hop artists by police.