Newly declassified documents released by the FBI have revealed detainees at Guantanamo Bay began complaining that the Koran was being desecrated by U.S. interrogators at the jail as early as 2002. The documents were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and include numerous summaries of FBI interviews with prisoners. One detainee interviewed in August of that year, accused guards of flushing the Koran down the toilet. Others reported the Koran being kicked, withheld as punishment and thrown on the floor. The news comes on the heels of controversy over a Newsweek article by journalist Michael Isikoff saying that government investigators had corroborated an almost identical incident. Newsweek ultimately retracted its story under intense government pressure. We’ll have more on this in a few minutes.
Meanwhile — in its annual report on human rights — Amnesty International has attacked the Bush administration for its mistreatment of detainees around world. Amnesty’s Secretary General Irene Khan described Guantanamo Bay as the "Gulag of our time" — a reference to forced labor camps run by the former Soviet Union. Amnesty also criticized the Bush administration for failing to carry out a full and independent investigation of the torture at Abu Ghraib and for failing to hold any senior officials accountable. Khan went on to say "The USA — as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power — sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity.'’ The Wall Street Journal's editorial page responded by saying Amnesty’s accusations amounts "to pro-al Qaeda propaganda."
In other sections of its annual report, Amnesty said that Sudan has seen the worst human rights abuses over the past year. This is Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan. In 2004 the most publicized case of inaction was Darfur. The government of Sudan betrayed the rights of its own people by launching a campaign of rape, killings, destruction and displacement. But the UN also betrayed them by doing too little, too late. The people of Darfur were held hostage to China’s oil interest, to Russia’s arms trade and to the U.S.’s aversion to the international criminal court."
In Iraq, the country’s new defense minister has announced plans to deploy 40,000 Iraqi soldiers as part of a massive operation in Baghdad to fight the Iraqi resistance. It is expected to be by far the largest offensive waged against the resistance in Baghdad to date. The Iraqi government announced it plans to build a concrete blockade around the entire city in order to make it harder for resistance fighters to enter.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives has rejected a measure calling for President Bush to devise a plan to withdraw from Iraq. One hundred twenty eight members of the House supported the measure but it was overwhelmingly defeated. It marked the first time that Congress officially voted on withdrawing from Iraq. The motion was proposed by California Democrat Lynn Woolsey. She said "It’s time to give Iraq back to its own people."
The Knight Ridder news agency is reporting the U.S. military and Iraqi government are considering releasing up to twenty members of Saddam Hussein’s former Baathist government. Included on the proposed list are three officials that once appeared on the Pentagon’s fifty-five most wanted list. Two of the most prominent officials being considered for release are former Oil Minister Amer Rasheed and his wife, the scientist Rehab Taha. She is best known in this country by the nickname Dr. Germ for her experiments with bacterial-biological programs.
Meanwhile Al Qaeda has named a new acting chief in Iraq to temporarily replace Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was reported to have been wounded in a recent attack. According to a statement posted on the Internet, Al Qaeda has named Abu Hafs al-Qarni as its new leader in Iraq. U.S. officials have yet to confirm reports that Zarqawi was injured over the weekend after being shot in Ramadi.
In Haiti, the country’s ousted Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has appeared before a judge in connection to accusations that he oversaw political killings last year. Neptune has been held for nearly a year without charge. He has been on a hunger strike for over a month to protest his imprisonment. The hearing was held behind closed doors and it is not clear whether Neptune was accompanied by a lawyer.
A 1,000-mile oil pipeline that connects the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean opened on Wednesday. The Independent of London described it as the costliest and most significant pipeline ever built because it reshapes the geopolitical map of the Caspian region. The pipeline — which was built by a consortium led by BP — starts in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan, passes through Georgia and ends in Turkey right near the massive U.S. airbase at Incirlik. The Asia Times reports the United States has been heavily involved in the planning of the pipeline over the past decade in an effort to secure a new source of oil outside the Persian Gulf and free of Russian influence. The newspaper points out that the most effective route of the pipeline would have been south through Iran or north through Russia but instead it was designed to only go through nations with strong U.S. support. At a ceremony on Wednesday, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman stood alongside the heads of state from Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Bodman said ’We view this as a significant step forward in the energy security of that region." The U.S. has spent millions to help protect the underground pipeline. $64 million was sent to Georgia to train troops in antiterrorism tactics and the Bush administration plans to spend another $100 million to train and equip the Caspian Guard — a network of special operations and police units that will protect oil facilities and key assets in the region. Meanwhile as the world focused on the new pipeline, the U.S.-backed government of Azerbaijan last week temporarily banned opposition parties from holding protest rallies demanding fair elections and free speech.
In Egypt, anti-government protesters were beaten Wednesday during demonstrations calling for greater political reforms. The Los Angeles Times reported that plainclothes and uniformed security officers helped and sometimes appeared to direct the attacks. The Washington Post reported that riot police create corridors for stick-wielding men to freely charge the demonstrators. Women were specifically targeted. They were reportedly groped and had their clothes torn. Some demonstrators were thrown down flights of concrete stairs, dragged by their hair and kicked by swarms of young men. The attack on the protesters came just days after First Lady Laura Bush visited Egypt where she praised Mubarak for what she described as very bold and wise moves toward reform.
And on Capitol Hill, the full Senate has opened debate on John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. During the most dramatic moment of the debate Republican George Voinovich choked back tears as he plead with his colleagues not to vote for Bolton. Voinovich said "I don’t want to take the risk. I came back here and ran for a second term because I’m worried about my kids and my grandchildren. And I just hope my colleagues will take the time and... do some serious thinking about whether or not we should send John Bolton to the United Nations."