One of the world’s largest humanitarian organization, CARE International, has suspended its operations in Iraq following the kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, its head of Iraq operations. The 60-year-old Hassan is one of Iraq’s best known humanitarian workers. Born in Ireland, she has spent the last 30 years in Iraq including the past decade with CARE. She is an Iraqi citizen and is married to an Iraqi. She was a vocal critic of the U.S. sanctions and last year’s U.S. invasion. Yesterday she was kidnapped by masked gunmen. Later in the day Al Jazeera aired a silent video that showed her in captivity — sitting on the corner of a sofa, appearing alarmed. As an organization CARE has said little about the abduction. A spokesperson told the Washington Post, "We’re not saying anything further because we don’t know who she was abducted by, or why, so we don’t know what might be harmful to her." Yesterday British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called for the release of Hassan.
The Selective Service has been updating its contingency plans for a military draft of doctors, nurses and other health care workers in case of a national emergency. This according to the New York Times. The Times has obtained a secret report written this summer that described how such a draft might work, how to secure compliance and how to mold public opinion and communicate with health care professionals. While the Secret Service is updating its plans for a specialized draft, the Bush administration continues to say there is no chance the draft will be reinstated. A Pentagon spokesperson said, "A return to the draft is unthinkable. There will be no draft." A recent article in The Wisconsin Medical Journal, published by the state medical society, quoted a senior physician in the Army National Guard, who said "It appears that a general draft is not likely to occur. A physician draft is the most likely conscription into the military in the near future."
And there continue to be new indications that the U.S. military is stretched too thin as it conducts major military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while it continues to operate 725 military bases in more than 130 foreign countries. The New Jersey Star Ledger is reporting the U.S. has deployed some 4,200 soldiers over the age of 50 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least 10 soldiers over the age of 50 have died so far in the two conflicts. The total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq has now topped 1,100.
The New York Times is reporting the CIA was so convinced Iraqis would warmly greet US troops that it proposed smuggling hundreds of small American flags into Iraq ahead of the 2003 invasion, to give them something to wave at the soldiers. The New York Times cited unnamed intelligence officials as saying the CIA was planning to capture the event on film and beam it throughout the Arab world, taking credit for what it called the "ultimate information operation." The plan was killed by Lieutenant General David McKiernan, the commander of allied ground forces, because he was concerned about the Americans being perceived as an occupying army.
On Capitol Hill the ranking members of the House Intelligence Committee have asked the CIA to turn over an internal report on whether agency employees should be held accountable for intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. This according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The CIA has yet to respond to the request. Some Democratic lawmakers have questioned whether the report is being withheld to avoid embarrassment for the Bush administration in the final weeks before the presidential election. So far no agency employee has been fired or faced other disciplinary measures in connection with Sept. 11. Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, the chief Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said "We believe that the CIA has been told not to distribute the report. We are very concerned."
The Sinclair Broadcasting Group yesterday announced that it would not air a documentary slamming John Kerry’s Vietnam War record in its entirety. The conservative chain of TV stations said it would only air portions of the film as part of an hour-long special scheduled for Friday. Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the nonprofit Media Access Project, called the Sinclair move "a surprising cave-in" and said the company "clearly felt a lot of pressure and this is an attempt to find a face-saving way out." Sinclair had been threatened with lawsuits and economic boycotts for considering airing a one-sided documentary so close to the election. Sinclair’s stock price has dropped 15 percent over the past two weeks. Sinclair has ordered 40 of its stations to air a one-hour program on Friday called "A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media," using footage from "Stolen Honor" and other political documentaries while examining allegations of media bias. The film Stolen Honor is extremely harsh on Kerry. According to the New York Times the film charges Kerry single-handedly prolonged the Vietnam War and caused the deaths of countless U.S. soldiers due to his antiwar activism 30 years ago. The film also claims Kerry’s activism worsened the torture of U.S. POWs in Vietnam. Sinclair’s chief executive David Smith and his three brothers have been major financial supporters of the Bush campaign.
On the election front, the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday issued a report predicting millions of eligible voters will be prevented from casting votes due to non-existent or flawed procedures used by state election officials to purge felons from voter rolls.
In Nevada, a state judge has rejected a request by the Democratic Party to reopen voter registration for voters who had their registration forms destroyed by a Republican-funded organization. Last week it was revealed that the GOP-funded company Voters Outreach of America had thrown out many registration forms signed by Democrats. The judge claimed agreeing to the Democrats request would open the floodgates to allow people not affected by the illegal action to register to vote.
And in Pennsylvania, Republican operatives attempted to confuse voters in Democratic-leaning areas of Philadelphia by submitting last-minute requests to the city to relocate 63 polling places. 53 of the cited polling places are located in areas predominently populated by African-Americans and Latinos. The city denied the requests.
And the annual survey of the College Board has determined the price of tuition at the nation’s public universities rose last year by 10.5 percent — the second highest increase in more than a decade. The cost of private universities increased by 6 percent.