Hurricane Katrina has left at least 55 people dead after slamming into Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday with 145-mile-per hour winds. The headlines in this morning’s New Orleans’ Times-Picayune newspaper reads "Catastrophic" and "Katrina: The Storm We’ve Always Feared." The death toll is expected to rise once rescue units reach the worst hit areas. One million people are without power. The number left homeless is unknown. The true extent of the damage may not be fully comprehended for days. The American Red Cross is describing Katrina as "the largest recovery operation the Red Cross has ever attempted." However the destruction could have been far worse. The storm had been on target to directly hit downtown New Orleans but it veered to the east. Still some 40,000 homes are underwater in New Orleans. And high winds tore off part of the roof of the Louisiana Superdome stadium.
The hardest hit city appears to be Gulfport Mississippi. Three of the city’s five hospitals were left without emergency rooms. Eight schools that were being used as emergency shelters lost their roofs. The city’s fire chief estimates 75 percent of the buildings in Gulfport have major roof damage or no roof left at all. We’ll have more on the hurricane in a few minutes.
The Air Force’s top general said Monday that U.S. warplanes will have to remain in Iraq indefinitely even well after U.S. ground troops withdraw from the country. Gen. John Jumper said, "We will continue with a rotational presence of some type in that area more or less indefinitely. We have interests in that part of the world and an interest in staying in touch with the militaries over there.
In Iraq, a funeral was held Monday for Waleed Khaled, the sound technician working for the Reuters news agency who was shot dead by U.S. forces on Sunday. The 35-year-old Khaled, was shot in the face and took at least four bullets to the chest. According to Reuters, U.S. soldiers were heard joking around when Waleed Khaled’s family came to the scene of the shooting. As his tearful relatives inspected his corpse, a U.S. soldier said "Don’t bother. It’s not worth it." A few other soldiers joked among themselves just a few feet from the body. According to Reporters Without Borders Khaled is the 66th journalist to be killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. In comparison, a total of 63 journalists were killed in the Vietnam War.
Waleed Khaled’s colleague — Reuters cameraman Haider Kadhem — remains in U.S. detention. He too was shot by an American sniper and was the only eyewitness to the killing of Khaled. Reuters is calling for his immediate release. Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger said, "We fail to understand what reason there can be for his continued detention more than a day after he was the innocent victim of an incident in which his colleague was killed." The Committee to Protect Journalists also called for Khadem’s immediate release. Meanwhile a third Iraqi journalist working for Reuters has now been held incommunicado in the Abu Ghraib prison for three weeks without facing charges.
In other news from Iraq — thousands of Sunni demonstrators rallied in Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit yesterday to denounce Iraq’s proposed constitution.
This news from Africa: a senior United Nations official has accused President Bush of "doing damage to Africa" by cutting funding for condoms, a move which may jeopardize the successful fight against HIV/Aids in Uganda. Stephen Lewis — the UN secretary general’s special envoy for HIV/Aids in Africa — said US cuts in funding for condoms and an emphasis on promoting abstinence had contributed to a shortage of condoms in Uganda. Uganda has been one of the few African countries which has succeeded in reducing its HIV infection rate.
The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained internal government documents that show the FBI designated two Michigan activist groups as potentially being "involved in terrorist activities." One of the groups is the anti-war organization Direct Action. The second group is called By Any Means Necessary–it is a national organization dedicated to defending affirmative action, integration, and other gains of the civil rights movement. ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner said "When the FBI and local law enforcement identify affirmative action advocates as potential terrorists, every American has cause for concern." The ACLU has been conducting an investigation into whether the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces has been engaged in political surveillance. As part of this investigation the ACLU has learned that the FBI has collected thousands of pages of documents related to other activist groups including Greenpeace, United for Peace and Justice, Code Pink, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
In Chicago, victims of police abuse are asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate their claims that the Chicago police routinely beat and tortured African Americans to get confessions. Nearly 140 different victims have alleged abuse and torture at the hands of the Chicago police over the past few decades. Attorneys for the victims have complained that a special prosecutor has taken too long to launch any criminal prosecutions into the torture claims. The Attorneys are asking the international commission to hear evidence during its October session. The commission is mandated by the Organization of American States and the American Convention on Human Rights to investigate human rights violations across the world.
On Capitol Hill, three congressional Democrats have asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to investigate the demotion of a senior civilian Army official who publicly criticized the awarding of a no-bid contract to Halliburton Co. for oil-related work in Iraq. The official — Bunnatine Greenhouse — had worked at the Pentagon for 20 years. Since 1998 she has served as the chief overseer of contracts at the Army Corps of Engineers. Last year Greenhouse went public to criticize the contracts involving Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root.
In Los Angeles, a new coalition announced plans for a national campaign to fight military recruitment of students of color in the nation’s schools. Members of the coalition include Latinos for Peace and the Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools. The groups made the announcement at Salazar Park on the 35th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, when 20,000 protesters took to the streets of Los Angeles to protest the disproportionate number of Latinos being killed in the Vietnam War. Salazar Park is named after journalist Ruben Salazar who was shot dead by police after covering the Moratorium. The coalition is calling on students to sign forms that would block the military from receiving personal information about them as well as not to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
In El Paso Texas, a US judge has begun hearing the deportation case of Luis Posada Carriles–the Cuban exile who is wanted in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner killing 73 people. Posada recently snuck into the United States and is now seeking asylum. Posada is a CIA-trained operative who has been connected to several attacks on Fidel Castro and other Cuban interests. On Monday the chief of the Organization of American States — Jose Miguel Insulza — said that the U.S. should extradite Posada if there is evidence of links to the 1976 bombing. Meanwhile the presiding judge warned Posada that he would seek deportation to Venezuela if he had entered the United States illegally.