We begin in Iraq, where at least 21 people were killed and more than 70 wounded yesterday in another wave of resistance attacks. In the past 24 hours alone, at least five US soldiers have been killed and more than a dozen injured. Four of those soldiers were killed near the Syrian border where US troops have encountered stiff resistance since launching an offensive there a week ago. Several car bombs exploded in Baghdad, with the worst killing 17 people in the east of the capital.
Meanwhile, the United Nations released a report saying that from the beginning of the US invasion to Spring of 2004, some 24,000 Iraqis died what the world body called war-related deaths. The study went to to say that currently half of the Iraqi population has no access to clean drinking water and that infant mortality remains among the highest in the world, at 40 per 1,000 live births.
This comes as the Guardian newspaper is reporting that the number of suicide attacks in Iraq has reached a record high, with more than 67 resistance fighters blowing themselves up in the month of April alone. Citing figures from diplomatic and Iraqi security sources, The Guardian says that of the 135 car bombings in April, more than half were suicide missions. That’s double the number in March. Meanwhile, a US military spokesperson in Iraq said the resistance was averaging 70 attacks a day this month, up from 30 to 40 in February and March.
Now to the dire situation of ousted Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune who is on day 25 of a hunger strike in a Haitian jail. The Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM, has officially called on the provisional Haitian government to release Neptune immediately. It is the group’s second such call in 3 months. CARICOM also called for the release of other officials of the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Among them is former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, who recently started a hunger strike himself. CARICOM also urged the interim government to release several Lavalas activists. Neptune is now reported to be very near death with a top UN official saying Neptune can barely walk or talk and is in and out of consciousness.
Back in this country. In a rare move, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has sent John Bolton’s name to the full Senate for an up or down vote without recommending his confirmation as the next US ambassador to the UN. While the move is embarrassing to Bolton, it does not mean that his quest to become UN ambassador is dead. Republicans control 55 of the Senate’s 100 seats and only a simple majority is needed. The lack of a committee endorsement came after Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, said he would vote against the nomination because the United States "can do better." Voinovich called Bolton "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." The committee chairman, Indiana Republican Richard Lugar had predicted a 10-to-8 vote endorsing Bolton. After Voinovich’s dissent, Lugar was forced to broker a deal where the committee’s Republicans agreed to send Bolton’s name to the full Senate with no recommendation. The panel’s eight Democrats remained united in opposing his nomination. It was the first time in 12 years the committee has passed along a non-endorsement. We’ll have more on this in a moment.
Now to the evacuation of the Capitol and White Hose earlier this week after a small cesna plane veered off course. The White House admitted yesterday that while Vice-President Dick Cheney was spirited out of the White House in a convoy of black armoured vehicles and sped to a "secure location", President Bush was oblivious and riding his bike around a Wildlife Research Centre in Maryland. Armed F16 fighter jets roared over Washington, circling a Cessna 150 that appeared to be headed to the White House, and fired warning flares to warn the pilot to turn around. It prompted panic as workers, including members of Congress abandoned buildings and ran out on to the street. The U.S. Customs service also scrambled Black Hawk helicopters during the red alert. At one point, national security officials considered shooting down the plane. The White House characterized the alert as the most serious since Sept. 11. But it did not interrupt Bush’s bicycle ride until 40 minutes after the "all-clear" was given.
In San Diego, Iraq War resister Navy sailor Pablo Paredes has been sentenced to three months of hard labor for refusing deployment to the Persian Gulf. He was also demoted to the lowest rank in the Navy. The 23-year-old New Yorker said "If there is anything I could be guilty of, it is my beliefs. I am guilty of believing the war is illegal." Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Paredes to nine months of confinement and a bad conduct discharge. Paredes’ lawyer, Jeremy Warren, called the judge’s lesser sentence "a stunning blow to the prosecution," saying "This is an affirmation of every sailor’s and military person’s right to speak out and follow their conscience."
Meanwhile, new charges have been filed against another soldier who refused to fight in Iraq. Army prosecutors added two counts of larceny against Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who is also charged with desertion and missing movement after refusing to ship out in January. Prosecutors allege that Benderman continued to collect combat pay while he remained in the U.S. Benderman had already served in Iraq and said he could no longer participate in a war he was against.
Antiwar British politician George Galloway says he is prepared to come to the United States and face questioning from US Senators who this week accused him of taking kickbacks from the government of Saddam Hussein. This week, the Senate subcommittee investigating the so-called Oil-for-Food scandal released a report naming Galloway and an antiwar French politician. Republican Senator Norm Coleman, who is heading up the investigation, said "The evidence is clear. It is incontrovertible that George Galloway received allocations from Saddam Hussein, that he financially benefited from that, that he did it over a period of time." Galloway says the accusations are totally baseless, saying, "To be damned in this way by people calling themselves an investigative committee but who never asked me a single question, that is justice American style." The investigative committee invited Galloway to appear at its May 17 hearing, entitled Oil For Influence: How Saddam Used Oil to Reward Politicians and Terrorist Entities Under the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program. Galloway said, "Yes, I will be there, but I am not happy with the process. Who would be? Even in Kafka there was a trial of sorts."
Connecticut carried out its first execution in 45 years early today, killing Michael Bruce Ross through lethal injection. Ross was a convicted serial killer who abandoned his appeals after 18 years on death row.
The Justice Department said yesterday that FBI agents posing as cocaine traffickers in Arizona caught 16 current and former U.S. soldiers and law enforcement personnel who took about $220,000 in bribes to help move the drugs through checkpoints. Those charged include a former Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector, a former Army sergeant, a former federal prison guard, current and former members of the Arizona Army National Guard and the state corrections department, and a local police officer. All 16 have agreed to plead guilty to being part of a bribery and extortion conspiracy. The Justice Department says the operation took 3 1/2-years. Officials say more arrests are anticipated.
A federal judge Thursday struck down Nebraska’s ban on gay marriage, saying the measure interferes not only with the rights of gay couples but also with foster parents, adopted children and people in a host of other living arrangements.
The Council on American Islamic Relations has just released a report saying that incidents of anti-Muslim bias including hate crimes, discrimination, and harassment rose sharply in the United States last year. CAIR said it received more than 140 reports of actual or planned violence against Muslims or mosques nationwide. That’s a 50 percent increase since 2002. In all, the report documented more than 1,500 credible complaints.
And, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said yesterday that the world is on the brink of an energy crisis because the demand for oil continues to grow, while OPEC production is already at its maximum. Chavez heads the world’s fifth largest crude oil exporter. He charged that the US has "built a way of life based on the wasteful consumption of oil, which is non-renewable." Chavez’s remarks came at the end of the Latin American-Arab summit in Brazil.