President Bush has launched what could be called a major defensive against the growing movement demanding that he announce a clear timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. On Wednesday, as Bush faced the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, he delivered a major address in which he said clearly that he is not considering pulling out.
As Bush spoke, reports began to emerge that some 1,500 more troops are now being sent to Iraq ahead of two major votes in the country. To make his address, he went to territory no doubt considered safe by his handlers—Idaho, where Bush received more than 2/3 of the vote in the last election. The venue was a large hall filled with members of the National Guard and selected military families. In his speech, Bush made a point of talking about military families he has met with and who he says support him.
Bush’s remarks came as Cindy Sheehan arrived back in Crawford, Texas to rejoin the now internationally known vigil she began two weeks ago. She was picked up at the airport by fellow protesters, some of whom served in the military. As she arrived, Sheehan said "This is where I belong, until August 31, like I told the president." After folksinger Joan Baez performed last night, Sheehan addressed her supporters.
Sheehan spent the past 6 days in Los Angeles where she was with her sick mother. Meanwhile, pro-war activists and military families were en route to Crawford from California on a tour called "You don’t speak for me, Cindy!" They plan to hold a pro-Bush rally in town Saturday.
With the stage set for a possible show down in Crawford this weekend, more prominent figures are lending their support to Sheehan. In recent days, musicians Joan Baez and Steve Earle have performed at Camp Casey. Veteran civil rights activists and many veterans of the Iraq war are camped out there. On Wednesday, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson issued a statement saying "The Bush White House and its right-wing allies are responding to Cindy Sheehan and the military families’ vigil in central Texas in the same way that they always respond to bad news — by unleashing personal attacks and smears against her."
Meanwhile, the White House is denying that President Bush is on vacation. Administration spokesperson David Almacy said the reason that Bush is in Crawford, Texas, is due to the renovation of the West Wing of the White House. Almacy said "He’s operating on a full schedule; he’s just doing it from the ranch instead of from the White House." He continued, "The only week he had officially off was this last week.’
Just hours after it said it had completed its withdrawal operations from Gaza and the West Bank, Israel issued orders to seize Palestinian land to build a massive weaponized separation barrier in a plan that would essentially annex the West Bank’s largest Jewish settlement to Jerusalem. The US State Department said it opposed the plan, while Palestinians charged that Israel issued the confiscation orders in the West Bank while world attention was still focused on the forcible removal of Jewish settlers and demolition of their homes by Israeli bulldozers. The massive barrier would cut some Palestinians off from areas of Jerusalem.
A day after calling for the assassination of Venezuela’s Democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez, rightwing Christian extremist Pat Robertson has apologized. He said "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him," Robertson said. But incredibly, before Robertson issued that apology, he went on national television Wednesday and denied he had ever made the remark. Robertson issued his denial during an interview with former ambassador-at-large to Venezuela and outspoken Chavez critic Thor Halvorssen on The 700 Club:
: Now, I think that it’s very important to also note your comments were about assassination. The person — I think that alternative is lowering to his level.
Wait a minute, I didn’t say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should "take him out," and "take him out" can be a number of things including kidnapping. There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time.
What is interesting about that statement is the fact that it’s not true. Robertson’s comments calling for Chavez’ assassination were actually broadcast on his own program, the 700 Club on Tuesday.
The White House has resisted calls for President Bush to repudiate Robertson, who has been a major supporter of President Bush and the Republican Party, even running as a candidate for president in 1988.
The organization the American Legion has voted at its national convention to target peace activists and the antiwar movement. The group boasts nearly 3 million members. The group’s national commander called for an end to all "public protests" and what he called "media events" against the war, even though they are protected by the Bill of Rights. Thomas Cadmus told the convention "The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples. The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."
As the American Legion declares war on peace activists, President Bush and his allies continue to find support among some in the media for what many see as a smear campaign against Cindy Sheehan and other antiwar military families. On Monday’s edition of MSNBC’s Hardball, White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell labeled anti-war demonstrators at Bush’s property in Crawford "anti-war extremists." The comments came in an exchange with FBI whistleblower turned Congressional candidate Colleen Rowley:
: You’re a Democrat running for Congress. It was reported that Republican leaders in your state were just thrilled that you had decided to align yourself with anti-war extremists. Do you think that this could affect your race for Congress?
: Well, I will quickly correct the record that they are not anti-war extremists. The majority of the people I saw down in Crawford were actually veterans groups. There were military families and —
: But, Colleen, they do oppose the war in Iraq, do they not?
: Yes, they do. But that does not make, I guess the term extremists. They’re really, I think, reflective of mainstream America in many ways."
FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley responding to MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell. Thanks to MediaMatters.org for posting that clip.
It has emerged that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been issuing tombstones to soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan that some say amount to promotional material for the so-called war on terror. Families of fallen soldiers have received government-furnished headstones engraved with "Operation Enduring Freedom" or "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The government says the engravings are optional but families have begun coming forward to say they had no choice in the matter. Former Sen. Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam and headed the Veterans Administration under President Carter, called the practice "a little bit of glorified advertising."
The Bush administration is reportedly replacing the director of the Justice Department’s Statistics Bureau, after he complained that senior political officials at the department were seeking to cover-up newly compiled data on racial profiling of Black and Latino drivers. The official, Lawrence Greenfeld, was named by President Bush to his post in 2001. The case has stirred anger among many Justice Department statisticians, who say their independence in analyzing important law enforcement data has been compromised. According to the New York Times, Greenfeld told his staff several weeks ago that he had been asked to move on after 23 years at the agency. According to the Times, Greenfeld was told to remove certain findings on racial profiling from Justice Department Press releases and refused to do so. The study examined what happens when drivers of various races are stopped by police. It found that Latino drivers were searched or had their vehicles searched by the police more than 11 percent of the time, African Americans 10 percent of the time, where whites were only searched 3.5 percent of the time. Blacks and Hispanics were also subjected to force or the threat of force more often than whites, and the police were much more likely to issue tickets to Latinos rather than simply giving them a warning, the study found. The government-approved press release that Greenfeld objected to said only that the rate at which whites, blacks and Latinos were stopped was "about the same."