Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh is reporting the Pentagon has secretly sent troops inside Iran to identify possible military targets. U.S. forces have reportedly entered into eastern Iran from Afghanistan. According to Hersh’s piece in the New Yorker, the president has authorized the Pentagon to send secret commando forces into as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia. The secret forces could potentially carry out combat operations or even terrorist acts. Unlike secret CIA missions, the Pentagon can operate completely off the books without Congressional oversight.
On Monday the Pentagon criticized Seymour Hersh’s article but President Bush told NBC News that he would not rule out taking military action against Iran.
On Capitol Hill today, the Senate will begin holding confirmation hearings for Secretary of State nominee Condoleeza Rice. The White House is hoping to have her approved by Thursday’s presidential inauguration. As President Bush’s National Security Adviser Rice was a chief backer of the US invasion and even warned Iraq may use nuclear weapons. In September 2002 Rice said "We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Meanwhile in Iraq, dozens of people have died in recent days as opponents of the US occupation stepped up attacks ahead of the Jan. 30 election. In Mosul, gunmen kidnapped one of the country’s most prominent Christian leaders, Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul. The bishop was released earlier today.
Pre-election attacks have also spread to the south, an area that had been peaceful.
With less than two weeks before the votes, most candidates have still not publicly announcing their candidacy out of safety concerns. Candidates are not campaigning. The locations of polling places are secret. And it is now unclear how many people will be able get to the polls. Iraq’s election commission is considering banning all vehicular traffic on election day. In addition, officials announced that Iraq would close all its borders for three days ahead of the election.
Journalist Robert Fisk who just returned to Baghdad describes it as a ’city of fear" filled with Fearful Iraqis, fearful militiamen, fearful American soldiers, fearful journalists." Today a car bomb exploded outside the Baghdad office of the leading Shiite political party. At least two people died. Also today, Iraqi militants released a video showing that they had captured 8 Chinese hostages. They threatened to kill them in 48 hours unless China clarified its role in Iraq.
Meanwhile President Bush has told the Washington Post that because of his election victory, there is no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the deadly aftermath in Iraq. Bush described the elections as a " accountability moment." He said "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."
However a new Washington Post/ABC News polls has found that 58 percent of the country now disapprove of how Bush has handled the Iraq situation.
In other Iraq news, Army reservist Charles Graner was sentenced Friday to 10 years in military prison for his role in torturing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison. Graner was accused of stacking naked prisoners in a human pyramid and later ordering them to masturbate while other soldiers took photographs. He also allegedly punched one man in the head hard enough to knock him out, and struck an injured prisoner with a collapsible metal stick. Graner told jurors that he was ordered to abuse the detainees. So far none of Graner’s superiors have been charged with any crimes.
The Observer newspaper of London reports that the two US military contractors most connected to the torture at Abu Ghraib continue to receive millions in Pentagon contracts. CACI International has been awarded a $16 million renewal of its contract. And the company Titan has been awarded a new contract worth $164 million. Human rights groups have called for the firms to be barred from receiving new contracts in Iraq.
A former Haitian death squad leader who is now living in New York City has been sued by three Haitian women. They accused Emmanuel "Toto" Constant of torture, crimes against humanity and the systematic use of violence against women to terrorize the Haitian population in the early 1990s. Constant served as the leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti or FRAPH. Human rights group estimate that between 1991 and 1994, FRAPH killed thousands of supporters of Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Constant has since admitted that at the time he was on the payroll of the CIA. Since 1996 he has lived in Queens New York.
In election news, while appearing at a celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King in Boston, Senator John Kerry criticized in his harshest words yet the presidential vote in Ohio. He charged that in Ohio "thousands of people were suppressed in the effort to vote." Until now Kerry has largely been silent on the controversial Ohio vote. Two weeks ago he declined to join California Senator Barbara Boxer to protest the counting of Ohio’s electoral vote.
In education news, Harvard University president Lawrence Summers is coming under criticism for claiming that men outperform women in math and sciences not because of discriminatory educational practices but because of biological reasons. Summers also claimed that discrimination is no longer a career barrier for female academics. At Harvard, however, women continue to face a greater challenge getting tenured positions. During Summers’ presidency, the number of tenured jobs offered to women has fallen from 36% to 13%. Last year, only four of 32 tenured job openings were offered to women.
The Israeli government is threatening to launch a large-scale attack in Gaza if newly elected Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas fails to stop Palestinian militants from carrying out attacks. On Friday Ariel Sharon cut off ties to the new Palestinian government, just a day before Abbas was sworn in. On Saturday Israeli forces killed eight Palestinians in Gaza. On Thursday Palestinian militants attacked a border crossing killing six Israelis.
In China, former prime minister Zhao Ziyang has died at the age of 86. He had lived the last 15 years under house arrest after being purged from the government for opposing the use of military force to crush the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Award winning prison journalist Wilbert Rideau has been freed from jail after 44 years. After he was jailed in 1961 for killing a bank teller, Rideau learned to read and write. He eventually started his own publication called "The Lifer" and became editor of the Angolite. In 1977 the Angolite became the first prison publication ever nominated for the National Magazine Awards. He also wrote and narrated an award-winning National Public radio documentary and directed the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Farm." In 1999 Rideau said "I didn’t want a criminal act to be the final definition of me. I picked up a pen and tried to do something good. It allowed me to weave meaning into what would have been a meaningless existence. It also gave me a chance to try to make amends."
And in California, lawyers are calling on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency to their client, Donald Beardslee, because they have uncovered new evidence that he is suffering from brain damage. He is scheduled to die from lethal injection just after midnight on Wednesday. He would become the first person executed in California in three years.