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The head of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council was killed this morning in a massive car bomb explosion near the U.S. occupation headquarters in Baghdad. The Washington Post reports 10 others died in the blast. Ezzedine Salim, became the second member of the Governing Council to have been killed over the past year. Salim was a Shiite leader as well as a writer, philosopher and political activist. The attack comes six weeks before the U.S. is scheduled to hand over limited sovereignty to a still-to-be-determined form of an Iraqi government on June 30th. News reports say it is unclear if the bombing was a targeted assassination. Salim was in a car waiting to enter the heavily fortified green zone when the bomb exploded.
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker is reporting that the prison abuse scandal in Iraq is the result of a top-secret black operations program OKd by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that called for the use of physical coercion and sexual humiliation during the interrogation of high-value suspects in the war on terror. Hersh reports the secret program began with Al Qaida operatives but was expanded in Iraq last year as the resistance against the U.S. occupation increased. We’ll be speaking to Seymour Hersh in a few minutes.
Newsweek is also reporting that President Bush had decided by January of 2002 that the Geneva Conventions would not apply to members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Newsweek obtained a memo to the president from White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales that read "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. The nature of the new war places a -high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
And South Korea’s foreign ministry has announced the U.S. is planning to move 4,000 U.S. troops now stationed in South Korea to Iraq for combat duty.
Thousands of Palestinians are fleeing the Rafah refugee camp today in southern Gaza fearing a massive Israel strike and more home demolitions. Israel has announced plans to cut off Rafah, which sits on the Egyptian border, from the rest of Gaza and demolish hundreds of more Palestinian homes. On Friday, the United Nations reported 88 homes in Rafah were leveled leaving more than 1,000 Palestinians homeless. 2,200 Palestinians have now been left homeless this month alone in Gaza. The demolitions stopped for a brief time this weekend as the Israeli Supreme Court heard an appeal from Palestinians but the court ruled the army could legally go ahead with the demolitions which have been widely criticized by the international community. Amnesty International is expected to release a report later this week charging that the house demolitions are a form of international war crimes. And On Saturday U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell said "we oppose the destruction of homes, we don’t think that it is productive."
On Saturday, up to 150,000 Israelis rallied in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv calling for Israel to pull out of Gaza. It was the largest peace protest since the 1980s during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Polls now show that at least 70 percent of Israelis favor pulling settlements out of Gaza but so far Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party has his blocked plans for a pullout. Also over the weekend Israel carried out nightly bombing raids on Gaza City as it attempted to assassinate the top officials of Islamic Jihad. Israeli warships also attacked offices connected to Hamas and Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction.
50 years ago today the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that the doctrine of "separate but equal" had no place in the U.S. public schools. The ruling would help spark the civil rights movement and was supposed to lead to the end of government-sanctioned segregation in the country. But many researchers say the ruling has not fully lived up to its promise. The Harvard Civil Rights Project has found school integration–which peaked in 1988 — is now at the same level as it was in 1969. A recent report of theirs concluded, "We are celebrating a victory over segregation at a time when schools across the nation are becoming increasingly segregated." According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project one in eight southern African-American students attend a school that is 99 percent black. About a third attend schools that are at least 90 percent minority. In the Northeast, more than half of African-Americans attend such schools.
Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples are beginning to file for marriage licenses today across Massachusetts which has become the first state in the union to recognize same sex marriages. On Friday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an eleventh-hour effort by conservative and religious groups to block the state from giving out marriage licenses. In Cambridge, the city hall opened its doors just after midnight this morning as 250 couples waited in line to apply for licenses. Susan Shepherd and her partner Marcia Hams were the first to apply. Outside the City Hall, 10,000 supporters gathered to mark the historic event. In November, the state supreme court upheld the constitutionality of gay marriage. This came after seven same-sex couples sued the state for the right to marry.