In Iraq, resistance fighters killed two Marines with guns and rocket-propelled grenades in western Iraq. The attack was followed by a massive US attack in the area, with US warplanes pounding the area with high-tech bombs. The Marine deaths brought the number of U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq this week to 10. In Baghdad, meanwhile, a car bomb exploded near a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol.
The Irish Republican Army formally ended its 30-year armed campaign against British rule in the north of Ireland on Thursday. But while the leadership ordered its members to stand-down militarily, the group did not say it was disbanding. The IRA said it would work with an independent arms decommissioning body to verify it had put its massive arsenal of guns and explosives beyond use, but gave no date for completion. We’ll have more on this later in the program.
The Israeli army revealed yesterday that it is increasing its military and security system near the Gaza Strip in anticipation of next month’s so-called withdrawal. The army describes a high-tech complex to ring the coastal strip with what Israel hopes will be the world’s most impenetrable barrier. The barrier system will surround Gaza with fences, electronic sensors; watchtowers mounted with remote-control machine guns, and hundreds of video and night vision cameras. The Israeli military says that the plan includes new army bases and 22-foot concrete walls around nearby Israeli settlements. Watchtowers armed with remote-controlled machine guns are to be built every 1.2 miles and within a year, remote-controlled, unmanned vehicles will begin patrolling the area. The barrier will run about 35 miles and will cost about $220 million. Israel says it will be completed by mid-2006.
A US Army mechanic who refused to go to Iraq while he sought conscientious objector status was acquitted yesterday of desertion but found guilty of a lesser charge during his court-martial. Sgt. Kevin Benderman was sentenced to 15 months in prison on the charge of missing movement. He also was given a dishonorable discharge from the military and a reduction in rank to private. If he had been found guilty of desertion, he could have faced five years in prison. Still, his sentence appears to be the harshest yet given to an Iraq war resister.
In Brazil, almost all of the 6,000 residents of Gonzaga turned out to pay their respects to the young Brazilian emigrant killed by British police after the failed London bombings earlier this month. The body of Jean Charles de Menezes arrived Thursday in Brazil, six days after he was shot dead in the head in a London subway. Many people in the funeral crowd wore black armbands and waved Brazilian flags, taken up as a protest symbol in Brazil since the killing.
Meanwhile, Menezes’s relatives are challenging the official version of the story. They say he was not wearing a heavy jacket that might have concealed a bomb, and did not jump the ticket barrier when challenged by armed plainclothes police. Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with the Metropolitan police, the man’s cousin, Vivien Figueiredo condemned the shoot-to-kill policy that had led to her cousin’s death and vowed that what she called the "crime" would not go unpunished. She said, "Although we are living in circumstances similar to a war, we should not be exterminating people unjustly." She spoke at a news conference with the family’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, and antiwar activist Bianca Jagger.
The New York Times is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is breaking with President Bush on the issue of stem cell research. The paper says Frist will support a bill to expand federal financing for embryonic stem cell research. Frist’s support could push the bill closer to passage and force a confrontation with the White House, which is threatening to veto the measure. The Times obtained a copy of Frist’s speech, which he delivers today. In it Frist says "While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitations put in place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases." Frist continues, "I believe the president’s policy should be modified." The stem cell bill has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate. The move could also have implications for Frist’s political future. The senator is widely considered a potential candidate for the presidency in 2008.
A new report by the Government Accountability Office released yesterday shows that millions of dollars designated for reconstruction and humanitarian projects in Iraq are being diverted for so-called security operations, draining money from efforts to rebuild water, electricity and health networks. In many cases, security accounts for more than a third of the budget for individual projects and the US is paying individual security contractors up to $33,000 a month. That’s nearly $400,000 a year per individual guard. In some cases, humanitarian projects were cancelled to free up funds for security operations elsewhere.
The State Department admitted yesterday that President Bush’s nominee for UN ambassador, John Bolton, inaccurately told Congress he had not been interviewed or testified in any investigation over the past five years. Bolton was interviewed by the State Department inspector general as part of a joint investigation with the Central Intelligence Agency related to alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger. When Bolton filled out a Senate questionnaire in connection with his nomination, Bolton said he didn’t recall being interviewed. The response came after Sen. Joseph Biden wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserting Bolton had been interviewed and suggesting he had not been truthful in his questionnaire. For weeks, there has been speculation that president Bush may try to appoint Bolton after the Senate goes into recess today, thus avoiding his nomination being defeated.
This week, a US District Court Judge in Seattle sentenced Algerian Ahmed Ressam to 22 years in prison. Ressam was convicted of bringing bomb making materials across the Canadian border in December 1999 in an alleged plot to attack the Los Angeles International Airport. The Judge, John Coughenour, who was a Reagan appointee, used Ressam’s sentencing as an opportunity to speak out against Bush administration policies. The Judge said, "We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant or deny the defendant the right to counsel." He continued, "The message to the world from today’s sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart." He added that September 11th made Americans realize they are vulnerable to terrorism and that some believe "this threat renders our Constitution obsolete ... If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won," the judge said.
Lawyers for imprisoned former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein say he has asked to meet former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, who is a member of his defense team. They say that they have received no response. Saddam’s lawyers allege that they are being systematically prevented from meeting with their client and preparing his defense.