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NATO is being accused of committing the worst single killing of Afghan civilians since the US-led invasion of 2001. Government officials told the Associated Press between sixty and eight-five civilians died in NATO attacks in Kandahar province earlier this week. NATO maintains the dead were militants but says it’s investigating. The news comes less than a week after NATO killed nine Afghan civilians in another air strike on Kandahar.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is denying the Bush administration’s claim he’s agreed to several benchmarks aimed at bringing stability and security. Maliki says no timetable has been reached and that he would not accept one on his sovereign government. His comments come one day after US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Iraq had accepted a timeline on meeting several goals, including dealing with militia groups and solving disputes over the constitution. But in an apparent reference to the Republicans’ woes ahead of next month’s mid-term elections, Maliki said Khalilzad’s statement is the result: "of elections taking place right now that do not involve us." Maliki also criticized a US raid on the Sadr City district of Baghdad that left at least six dead and more than twenty wounded. Maliki says he had no prior knowledge of the attack and is demanding an explanation.
Just hours after Maliki spoke, President Bush addressed the situation in Iraq at a news conference at the White House.
President Bush: "We’re pressing Iraq’s leaders to take bold measure to save their country. We’re making it clear that America’s patience is not unlimited. Yet we also understand the difficult challenges Iraq’s leaders face, and we will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear. The way to succeed in Iraq is to help Iraq’s government grow in strength, and assume more control over its country as quickly as possible."
President Bush also addressed the mounting opposition to the war. The President suggested calls for withdrawal have been influenced by what he called "enemy propaganda."
President Bush: "We cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment about our purpose in this war. We must not look at every success of the enemy, as a mistake on our part. Calls for an investigation, or a reason to call our troops to call home–we must not fall prey to the sophisticated propaganda by the enemy."
Meanwhile in Iraq today, the US military has announced the deaths of five US troops. This month’s US death toll is now at 96 — the highest total this year, and the fourth-highest since the war began.
Here in the United States, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has ruled gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights as married heterosexuals. The ruling could make New Jersey the second state in the nation to allow gay marriage. Lawmakers will have six months to decide whether state law should allow same-sex couples the right to marriage or the right to civil unions. The ruling was approved by a vote of four to three. The dissenters say they voted against the ruling because they believe it doesn’t go far enough. The three judges say the ruling should have asserted gay couples’ fundamental right to marriage rather than leaving it to lawmakers.
Vice President Dick Cheney has apparently confirmed US interrogators engage in water-boarding — an outlawed practice that creates the sensation of drowning. The admission came during an interview on a right-wing North Dakota radio program on Tuesday. Cheney said he agreed with a listener’s comment that terrorists should be dunked under water if it could save American lives. Cheney added: "that’s been a very important tool that we’ve had to be able to secure the nation." A spokesperson denied Cheney had endorsed waterboarding and said he was referring to broad interrogation procedures. Water-boarding is barred under international treaties that prohibit torture.
In Germany, the magazine Stern is reporting German intelligence officials witnessed the torture of detainees at a secret US detention center in Bosnia just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The development is the latest to contradict the German government’s assertion it only heard of the secret prisons after the story was exposed last year. A leaked intelligence report says the German agents watched an American interrogator beat a seventy-year old prisoner with repeated rifle butts to his head. The interrogator appeared proud of his actions. One of the Germans agents reported he felt as if he had witnessed a war crime, saying: "The Serbs ended up before the international court in The Hague for this kind of thing."
In other news from Germany, the military is reeling from the publication of photographs showing German soldiers in mocking and sexually explicit poses in front of human remains in Afghanistan. The images were published Wednesday on the front page of the German newspaper Bild. One photograph shows a soldier holding a human skull next to his exposed penis. The publication comes as the German military is also facing allegations members of a special forces unit assaulted a German prisoner while he was being held by US troops in Afghanistan. The prisoner, Murat Kurnaz, was released from Guantanamo last month.
At the United Nations, the foreign ministers of Venezuela and Guatemala are expected to meet today in attempts to resolve the stalemate in their race to assume Latin America’s open seat on the Security Council. Guatemala leads Venezuela after forty-one rounds of voting but has yet to attract a two-thirds majority. Guatemala has reportedly dismissed Venezuela’s proposal to choose Bolivia as a compromise candidate. A meeting Wednesday between the countries’ ambassadors to the UN failed to reach a solution. On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his government was open to another candidate so long as it was independent of the United States.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: "They suspended the vote for a few days, until today. They called a meeting, and someone said the two candidates will have to be withdrawn to find a consensus candidate. They proposed another country, that I am not going to name, but another country whose government will do what the U.S. government tell them. No — We will not accept that."
In other news from the UN, the Bush administration voted Wednesday against a General Assembly resolution to prevent an arms race in outer space. The US was alone in its opposition. 166 countries voted to support the measure, while Israel abstained. The vote comes on the heels of this month’s release of the administration’s new National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements and asserts the right to deny access to anyone "hostile to U.S. interests."
In Argentina, prosecutors have asked a federal court to issue an arrest warrant for former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani for the bombing of a Jewish cultural centre that killed dozens of people twelve years ago. Prosecutors say the attack was planned by Iran and carried out by members of Hezbollah. Iran’s government has long denied any involvement.
In Nigeria, a group of villagers in the Niger Delta have seized three platforms owned by the oil giant Shell. The villagers have shut down three pumping stations in protest of Shell’s practices in the region.
The development comes as a new report from a group of conservation, environmental and government experts warns the Niger Delta is now one of the five most polluted areas on the planet. The report says up to 1.5 million tons of oil has been spilt into the Niger Delta over the last fifty years. The spill amounts to fifty times the pollution caused by the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska.
And finally, another prominent Muslim has been barred from entering the United States. Adam Habib, executive director of the Democracy and Governance Research Program for South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council, flew into New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport last weekend. He says he was detained for several hours and questioned about his views on terrorism. US border agents eventually cancelled his visa and put him on a return flight to Johannesburg. Habib was part of a South African delegation that came for meetings with the World Bank, the National Institutes of Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Habib is at least the third known prominent Muslim to be barred entry in the last week, following Fazlur Rahman Azmi of South Africa and Kamal Helbawy of Britain.