The head of the British military says foreign occupation is worsening the situation in Iraq and should come to an end. In an interview with the British newspaper the Daily Mail, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said: "I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them." He added: "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren’t invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time." Dannat’s statement made front-page headlines around Britain. Many reports suggested his comments signify a major split between the military and Prime Minister Tony Blair. But Dannat later denied this was the case.
General Sir Richard Dannatt: "That comment just needs to be put in context. There are certain places where we are that we are attacked because we are there. There are other places in Basra and an operation going on at the present moment called Operation Salamanca where we are deliberately going to districts to make things better for people. We are doing reconstruction tasks and development tasks and they appreciate that. But in other places because we are there we constitute a target and we are attacked and it is in that sense that our presence exacerbates the problem."
The British general’s comments come amid reports the Congressional commission established to assess the Iraq war has ruled out the prospect of a US victory. According to the New York Sun, the two main strategies considered by the Iraq Study Group both contradict President Bush’s rhetorical vow to establish a democracy in Iraq. In another rebuke to the administration’s policies, both strategies would encourage the US to hold talks with Syria and Iran. The commission’s findings will not be released until after mid-term elections next month.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the Iraqi parliament has passed a law that would allow the creation of separate autonomous regions. The vote passed over the objection of Sunnis who say it will lead to the break-up of Iraq. In a concession to Sunni concerns, the law says the regions cannot be formed for at least eighteen months.
A former top British official has admitted he advised Prime Minister Tony Blair to bomb the Arabic television network Al Jazeera during the opening months of the Iraq war. In an interview with Britain’s Channel Four, former Home Secretary David Blunkett says he told Blair to strike Al Jazeera’s transmitting equipment because it was broadcasting "propaganda". Blunkett explained: "There wasn’t a worry from me because I believed that this was a war and in a war you wouldn’t allow the broadcast to continue taking place." Two weeks after Blunkett recommended the attack, the US military bombed Al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad, killing correspondent Tareq Ayoub. On Thursday, Al Jazeera editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Sheikh said: "This adds to the growing number of evidence that will one day prove that the attack on Aljazeera was premeditated... at the highest levels. Aljazeera was being targeted at the time because the people who were waging war on Iraq didn’t like what it was showing. We talk about terrorism, this is pure terrorism," he said.
In other news, the US military has released seventeen new prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The prisoners — sixteen Afghans and one Iranian — all arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday. At a news conference in Kabul, the newly-freed Dr. Khan Jan described his ordeal.
Dr. Khan Jan: "They were treating us like animals, they were not treating us as human beings, they were too cruel, their behavior was not imaginable, they were punishing us very badly like animals."
Another prisoner, twenty-year old Habib Rahman, said he was tortured as recently as four months ago. He said: "They were kicking us all the time, beating us with their hands." On one occasion, Rahman said he was interrogated for thirty-eight hours without sleep. Also speaking Thursday was freed prisoner Mohammad Nasim.
Mohammad Nasim: "Their (American) Behavior was against Islam, against our Koran, three Arab prisoner died during prosecution and searching, the life conditions were very bad."
The freed prisoners’ comments come as a US Marine Sergeant has come forward with new allegations of abuse at Guantanamo Bay. In an interview with ABC News, Marine Corps Sergeant Heather Cerveny said she was told of the abuse over drinks with several of the soldiers who carried it out. Sgt. Cerveny said one sailor recounted taking a prisoner by the head and smashing him into a cell door. Another said he punched a prisoner in the face because the prisoner irritated him. Sgt. Cerveny said the soldiers laughed when she asked them about the consequences of the abuse.The Pentagon says it’s investigating.
Meanwhile, Britain is continuing to push for the closure of the Guantanamo prison. On Thursday, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the indefinite detention of Guantanano prisoners is "unacceptable" and "ineffective in terms of counter-terrorism."
At the United Nations, the Security Council appears close to agreeing on a response to North Korea’s announced nuclear test. The Bush administration has reportedly dropped language threatening wide-ranging sanctions and the possibility of military force. A vote is expected by Saturday.
In the Occupied Territories, the United Nations Children’s Fund — UNICEF — says the number of Palestinian children killed this year is nearly double the number for all of 2005. Thirtreen-year-old Suhaib Kadiah became the 92nd Palestinian child this year Thursday when she was shot during an Israeli attack on Gaza. Overall, Israel has killed more than eight hundred Palestinian children since the beginning of the second intifada six years ago.
In Russia, the newspaper of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya has published the unfinished article she was writing at the time of her murder. Politkovskaya was killed Saturday as she returned home to her apartment. She was one of Russia’s leading journalist and human rights advocates. The unfinished article is a detailed account of brutal torture committed by Russian-backed Chechen officials. Many believe Politkovskaya was killed because of her outspoken criticism of President Vladimir Putin, the Chechen war — and possibly the unfinished article itself.
In Britain, a London resident has pleaded guilty to plotting terrorist attacks on Britain and the United States. Thirty-four year old Dhiren Barot said he planned to use a radioactive dirty bomb in Britain. He also admitted to planning attacks on the Washington headquarters of the IMF and World Bank, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Prudential buildings in Newark, New Jersey. Prosecutors say the plot never reached an advanced stage and that Barot had no funding or bomb-making equipment.
In France, lawmakers have passed a bill that criminalizes denial of the Armenian holocaust. The bill was passed over the fierce lobbying of the Turkish government. Turkey continues to deny it killed some 1.5 million Armenians during the First World War.
Here in New York, a twenty-nine year old gay man is clinging to life following an apparent hate crime that started on the internet. The victim, Michael Sandy, was chatting online with two men who convinced him to meet them for sex at a Brooklyn parking lot. Police say Sandy, an African-American, was met by four white males who robbed and beat him. The men chased Sandy onto a nearby street where he was hit by a passing car. The men beat him again as he lay on the road. Sandy has suffered extensive brain damage and is on life support.
In Albany, New York, two Muslim immigrants have been convicted on terrorism charges in a case that raised major questions over the conduct of government officials. The men, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, were convicted of aiding a government informant in a fake plot to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat. The men’s attorneys say their clients had no violent history and are the victims of government entrapment. Earlier this year, defense lawyers failed to have the case dismissed on the grounds it came out of the Bush administration’s warrantless spy program.
In Pennsylvania, the retail giant Wal-Mart has lost a class action lawsuit that says it violated a series of state labor laws. On Thursday, a jury ruled Wal Mart illegally forced employees to work through rest breaks and during time not counted on the clock. Lawyers are seeking at least $62 million dollars for close to one hundred and ninety thousand current and former employees. The jury is expected to decide on damages later today. Analysts say the case could have a major impact on several similar lawsuits against Wal Mart across the United States.
In an update on a story we’ve been following, Iraq war resister Sgt. Ricky Clousing has been sentenced to three months of confinement for going absent without leave. Sgt. Clousing went AWOL after returning from Iraq in April 2005.
And finally, the Nobel Peace Prize was announced earlier today.
Ole Danbolt Mjøs: "The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006, divided into two equal parts, to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means."
Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank’s pioneering of micro-credit loans to the poor beat out a list of close to two hundred candidates, including the US peace activist Cindy Sheehan and the Israeli nuclear whistle blower Mordechai Vanunu.