Senate hearings begin today for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito — President Bush’s pick to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. For the past 15 years Alito has served on the federal appeals court. During the 1980s he worked as an attorney in the Reagan and Bush administrations. Bush originally tapped his personal attorney — White House Counsel Harriet Miers — to replace O’Connor but Miers withdrew her nomination after coming under intense attack from the religious right. The questioning of Alito is expected to focus largely on his views on abortion, presidential power and civil rights.
In Iraq, at least 17 Americans died this weekend, culminating in what the New York Times calls one of the military’s deadliest four-day stretches since the fall of Baghdad. On Saturday, 12 people were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Northern Iraq. Meanwhile, five marines were killed in separate incidents in western Iraq. The weekend’s death toll comes on top of 11 US troops killed last Thursday.
Violence continues to flare around the country. Earlier today, at least 14 Iraqis were killed in a suicide bombing on a government complex in Baghdad. Another 20 people were wounded.
Meanwhile, witnesses in the western city of Ramadi say a US air strike killed six teenagers Saturday. The teenagers were reportedly gathered near their homes when their neighborhood was shelled by US military planes.
Unidentified Ramadi resident: "They were children, only 16 and 17 years old. They were playing here and cleaning the sewage near their houses. The planes hit them with rockets, we did find their bodies but flesh and blood."
Elsewhere in Iraq, US troops have raided the offices of prominent Sunni group the Muslim Scholars Association. Military officials said they had received intelligence reporting terrorist-related activity at the MSA’s headquarters. In a statement, the association said it was targeted because of its vocal opposition to the US occupation of Iraq.
And in other Iraq news, the New York Times has revealed a secret Pentagon study has concluded that up to 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from upper-body wounds could have survived had they been given extra body armor. Until recently, the Pentagon had ignored troops’ calls for the extra armor — even though it has been available for over two years. Over 520 marines have been killed in Iraq, out of a death toll of more 1,700 US troops.
This news from Capitol Hill — indicted Texas Republican Tom Delay has announced he will abandon his bid to re-claim his job as House majority leader. Delay stepped down in September after being indicted on campaign finance charges. Several Republicans reportedly urged Delay to abandon his bid to reclaim his post following this week’s indictment of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ambramoff, who has close ties to Delay and several top Republicans, admitted to fraud charges in a plea deal that could see him testify against many of his Republican allies.
In other news, funeral services began Sunday for the 12 miners killed in West Virginia last week. Over the weekend, family members of dead miner Jim Bennet released a note he wrote while he was trapped deep below ground. The note indicated the miners remained alive for at least ten hours following last Monday’s blast. Meanwhile, Randal McCloy, the lone miner to survive the incident, remains comatose but is reportedly showing significant signs of improvement.
In Haiti, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping force has died of an apparent suicide. Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar was found Saturday on the balcony of his hotel room with a gunshot wound to the head. Lt. Bacellar’s death comes amid growing pressure from Haiti’s business sector and the international community to take on armed groups in Haiti’s poorest slums. On Friday — one day before Lt. Bacellar’s death — U.N. mission head Juan Gabriel Valdes announced the UN would invade the poor slum of Cite Soleil, a stronghold for supporters of Lavalas, the party of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Several UN officials told Reuters Lt. Bacellar had opposed the plan.
Meanwhile, the news service Haiti Information Project is reporting Lt. Bacellar held a tense meeting with Haiti’s business leaders the night before his death. The president of Haiti’s Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos, had already announced a nationwide general strike set for today aimed at pressuring the UN to crack down on neighborhoods like Cité Soleil.
In place of Lt. Bacellar, Chilean Gen. Eduardo Aldunate Herman has been named interim head of the UN force. The organization School of the Americas Watch reports Gen. Herman was one of 11 former high-ranking Chilean military officials under former dictator Augusto Pinochet who trained at the US-run School of Americas.
This news on the Bush administration’s domestic spy program — The non-partisan Congressional Research Service has concluded President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program is likely illegal. President Bush has argued broad presidential powers approved by Congress shortly after 9/11 grant him the authority to conduct surveillances without seeking warrants from a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But in a new report released Friday, the CRS writes that the Bush administration’s legal argument QUOTE: ’’does not seem to be . . . well-grounded… It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the [National Security Agency] electronic surveillance operations here."
In other news, the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick is reporting the US questioned over 20 Iraqi and Afghan detainees at a military base in Romania. The paper says the information was gleaned from Egyptian foreign ministry documents obtained by Swiss intelligence agents. Romania has been named as one of the possible sites of a US-run secret prison in Eastern Europe. According to Swiss officials, Egypt also believed there are similar bases in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria. On a visit to Romania last month, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement to establish permanent military bases in the country, the first ever in a former Warsaw Pact nation.
In other news, activists with the environmentalist group Greenpeace say their ship has been targeted by a whaling fleet of Japan’s Fisheries Agency that they’ve been following on the seas of the Southern Ocean.
On Friday, the activists caught footage of one of the whaling ships harpooning a minke whale and killing it as it tried to escape.
Japan agreed to an international moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 but resumed what it called a research program one year later. Greenpeace alleges the research program has been a guise for continued commercial whaling.
This news from Mexico — the Los Angles Times is reporting an estimated 95% of weapons confiscated from suspected criminals in Mexico were first sold legally in the United States. Mexican officials interviewed by the Times blamed the US’ lax gun laws, which are a stark contrast to Mexico’s. There are fewer than 2,500 registered gun owners in Mexico, yet police say they confiscate more than 250 weapons a day.
And Hugh Thompson, the former Army helicopter pilot who helped rescue Vietnamese civilians from fellow US troops during the My Lai massacre, has died cancer. He was 62 years old. On March 16, 1968, Thompson and two others landed their helicopter in front of US troops firing on Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai. They pointed their guns at their fellow service members to prevent more killings, and helped evacuate the villagers. After many years of being ignored and even vilified, Thompson and his crew members were honored in 1998 with the Soldier’s Medal, the highest military award for bravery not involving conflict with an enemy.