The Bush administration is dismissing a new medical study that says as many as 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the US-led invasion. The study was conducted by American and Iraqi researchers and published in the British medical journal The Lancet. President Bush was asked about the findings Wednesday at the White House.
President Bush: "No, I don’t consider it a credible report. Neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do — I do know that a lot of innocent people have died, and that troubles me. And it grieves me."
Bush went on to say he stands by the figure of 30,000 dead Iraqis that he cited last year. The President also said Iraqis are willing to "tolerate" the country’s ongoing violence because they yearn to be free.
At the Pentagon, General George Casey, the top US military leader in Iraq, was also asked about the Lancet study.
Gen. George Casey: "I have not seen the study. That 650,000 number seems way, way beyond any number that I have seen. I’ve not seen a number higher than 50,000. And so I don’t give that much credibility at all."
Gen. Casey: "I don’t remember, but I’ve seen it over time."
Reporter: "Is that the U.S. military estimate?"
Gen. Casey: "I don’t remember where I saw that. It’s either from the Iraqi government or from us, but I don’t remember precisely."
Meanwhile, one of the nation’s leading pollsters is backing the study’s findings. In an interview with CNN, John Zogby of Zogby International said he believes the researchers’ methodology is sound and their conclusions accurate.
In other Iraq news, the Pentagon has announced it will maintain its current troop level in Iraq for at least another four years. Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker said Wednesday at least 120,000 US soldiers will stay in Iraq through the year 2010.
In developments on the ground today, at least eleven people are dead after masked gunmen attacked an Iraqi television network in Baghdad. The network, Shaabiya, went on the air earlier this year. The raid marks one of the largest single attacks on Iraqi journalists on record.
In other Iraq news, the Committee to Protect Journalists is calling on the Iraq government to release a female journalist who has been detained for three weeks. Kalshan al-Bayati, an Iraqi correspondent for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, was detained in Tikrit when she went to retrieve a personal computer that had been seized during a police raid on her home. She has not been charged with a crime.
The Bush administration is facing growing calls to engage in direct talks with North Korea. The issue has received heightened attention following North Korea’s announcement Monday it’s carried out a successful nuclear test. At the United Nations Wednesday, Secretary General Kofi Annan called for more US engagement.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: "I believe that we should, U.S. and North Korea should talk, they did talk in the past and obviously we have the six party talks and everyone is urging them to go back to the six party talks and negotiate very seriously and I hope that the six party talks can resume. And so, the talks are necessary, whether it’s done in the context of the six party talks or separately, one must talk."
In the nation’s capital, President Bush said his administration would continue with six-party talks but rejected direct negotiations.
President Bush: "I can remember the time when it was said that the Bush administration goes it alone too often in the world, which I always thought was a bogus claim to begin with. And now all of a sudden people are saying, the Bush administration ought to be going alone with North Korea. But it didn’t work in the past is my point. The strategy did not work. I learned a lesson from that and decided that the best way to convince Kim Jong-Il to change his mind on a nuclear weapons program is to have others send the same message."
This news from the Occupied Territories — at least five Palestinians are dead following an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip earlier today. The victims included a thirteen-year old bystander.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military is facing accusations its used an experimental weapon during recent attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. The Italian television station RAI reports the weapons have led to abnormally serious physical injuries, including amputated limbs and severe burns. The report was produced by the same journalists that exposed the US used phosphorous as an offensive weapon during attacks on Fallujah. The weapon is believed to be similar to the US-made Dense Inert Metal Explosive, or DIME. In addition to inflicting major shrapnel wounds, the weapon is believed to be highly carcinogenic and harmful to the environment.
Meanwhile in the West Bank, a UN aid agency is reporting Israeli military checkpoints around Palestinian towns have grown by nearly forty percent over the past year. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says there are now more than five hundred and twenty checkpoints and obstacles around the West Bank, causing severe disruption to Palestinian life. The news comes on the heels of recent developments showing Israel is also expanding its settlements. Last month, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorized the construction of nearly 700 new homes in settlements on the West Bank.
Here in the United States, a California-born man has become the first American charged with treason since the Second World War. Adam Gadahn, a fugitive believed to be in Pakistan, was charged over his appearance in five al-Qaeda videos over the last two years.
Gadahn’s charges carry a maximum sentence of the death penalty. Justice Department officials are denying accusations the case has been timed to deflect attention from the Mark Foley scandal ahead of the November elections.
In Florida, the former enemy combatant Jose Padilla is accusing military jailers of torturing and drugging him. Padilla was arrested four years ago amid accusations he plotted to set off a dirty bomb. He was kept in jail without charge for more than three years and finally charged with several lesser offenses. In a motion filed last week, Padilla’s attorneys allege military officials threatened to kill him, cut him with a knife and pour alcohol on his wounds. They also allege Padilla was administered drugs against his will, including some form of both LSD and PCP.
On Capital Hill, hundreds of the nation’s leading economists are urging Congress to increase the minimum wage. In a statement released by the Economic Policy Institute, the economists call for an increase of up to two dollars and fifty cents per hour. The minimum wage has remained at five dollars and fifteen cents for a decade.
In electoral news, a new poll says African Americans are expressing record levels of concern their votes won’t be counted in next month’s mid-term elections. According to the Pew Research Center/Associated Press survey, just thirty percent of African Americans say they’re very confident their votes will be counted, down from almost fifty percent two years ago.
The Bush administration has announced a new task force to tighten enforcement of the embargo on Cuba. The Cuban Sanctions Enforcement Task Force will be based out of the US attorney’s office in Miami. It will include units with the FBI and the Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce departments. Critics of the task force say relations with Cuba are already so criminalized that new measures are unnecessary and amount to political posturing.
And in business news, the Justice Department has approved telecom giant AT&T’s purchase of BellSouth. The seventy-eight billion dollar deal would create the nation’s largest provider of phone and internet services. The merger awaits a vote by the Federal Communications Commission before it can go into effect. Critics say the merger echoes the telecom monopolies that were broken up two decades ago. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington, said: "Big Brother just blessed Big Telecom Oligopoly… [The Bush administration] has surrendered the rights of the public to have a competitive and democratic broadband media system."