The U.S. death toll in Iraq has reached 2,000. On Tuesday the Pentagon announced Staff Sgt. George Alexander Jr. died at a Texas military hospital Saturday from wounds sustained in Iraq earlier this month. He was 34 years old. Over 500 protests, vigils and rallies are planned across the country today to mark the 2,000th death.
The military has attempted to downplay the significance of the 2000th death. Military spokesperson Lt. Col. Steve Boylan called the 2,000 figure an "artificial mark on the wall… set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives." In an e-mail to reporters, Boylan wrote: "The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone."
Criminal indictments are expected as early as today in the case surrounding the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame is the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who publicly challenged White House claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake from Niger. Prosecutors have stepped up their focus on President Bush’s chief of staff Karl Rove. Investigators with the office of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met with associates of Rove yesterday. Meanwhile, the Bush administration sidestepped questions about the role played by Vice President Dick Cheney. On Tuesday the New York Times reported that Cheney had revealed Plame’s name to his chief of staff Scooter Libby.
In related news, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has revealed new information on the background behind the forged documents that indicated Iraq was trying purchase uranium from Niger. According to the paper President Bush’s then Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley met with Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari in September 2002. This came just weeks before the Bush administration began claiming Italian intelligence had obtained documents proving Iraqi attempts to buy the uranium from Niger. The claim played a key role in the White House’s massive effort to convince the public of the need for war on Iraq. The documents turned out to be fakes. The paper notes further the meeting took place three days before a story in a weekly owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, claimed Iraq had purchased 500 tons of uranium from Nigeria. A month later, the forged documents used by the Bush administration–also first obtained by the same paper–made the same claim, but about Niger.
The United States, France and Britain submitted a resolution at the UN Security Council yesterday that demands Syria arrest top officials suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. A UN report released last week accused top Syrian and Lebanese officials of involvement in Hariri’s death, which killed 20 others in a February truck bombing in Beirut. Syria has rejected the report’s findings. The draft resolution also asks that Syria allow witnesses and suspects to be interviewed outside the country, and threatens "further measures", including sanctions, for non-compliance.
The Associated Press is reporting the Bush administration has halted research into controversial "bunker buster" nuclear weaponry. Republican senator Pete Domenici said a budget request for the weapons research has been dropped. The idea fueled concerns it would spread nuclear proliferation. Administration officials say they will instead pursue a non-nuclear bunker buster. Stephen Young, a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, praised the decision, saying: "The proposed weapon, more than 70 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, would have caused unparalleled collateral damage."
In Florida, over 3 million people are without electricity as the recovery effort begins in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. State officials are saying it could take weeks for the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach area to return to normal. Damage is estimated to be at over $10 billion dollars.
An internal Wal Mart memo obtained by the New York Times proposes the company curtail spending on employee benefits while minimizing damage to its public image. The Times reports the recommendations include hiring more part-time workers, reducing retirement contributions and discouraging unhealthy people from applying for positions. To discourage unhealthy applicants, the memo proposes Wal-Mart arrange for: "all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart-gathering)." The memo also acknowledged the company is already in a delicate position because 46 percent of the children of 1.3 million employees are uninsured on or Medicaid.
And former Congressman Edward Roybal has died in Los Angeles at the age of 89. He was a pioneering Mexican-American politician who served in Congress for 30 years. He started his political career in 1949 when be became the first Latino to sit on the Los Angeles City Council since 1881. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said QUOTE "A champion for civil rights and social justice like him does not come around every day."