Former CIA Director Robert Gates has been sworn in as the country’s new secretary of defense, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. On Monday, Gates issued a grim warning about Iraq.
Robert Gates: "All of us want to find a way to bring America’s sons and daughters home again. But, as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come."
As Robert Gates was being sworn in, a new Pentagon report revealed that attacks against American and Iraqi targets are at their highest level ever. Between August and November, American and Iraqi targets were attacked an average of 660 times a week. But experts say even that figure may even be a gross underestimate. The Iraq Study Group report concluded that the government is significantly underreporting violence in Iraq. The panel complained that most attacks that fail to hurt U.S. troops are simply left out of the Pentagon’s calculations. The Iraq Study Group found that on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are unanimously opposing a White House plan to send up to 30,000 more troops to Iraq. According to The Washington Post, top Pentagon officials have warned President Bush that a short-term troop increase could give a boost to virtually all the armed factions in Iraq, without strengthening the position of the U.S. military or Iraq’s security forces in the long term.
The top Democrat in the Senate has said he would support President Bush’s call for sending thousands of more troops to Iraq. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke on ABC’s This Week.
Sen. Harry Reid: "If it’s for a surge, that is, for two or three months, and it’s part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I’ll go along with it."
Meanwhile, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell has said he opposes the idea of sending any more troops to Iraq. He also admitted the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq.
Colin Powell: "So, it’s grave and deteriorating, and we’re not winning. We are losing. We haven’t lost. And this is the time now to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around."
The Iraqi equivalent of the Red Cross has halted its operations in Baghdad following the kidnapping of dozens of people from its office. Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms stormed the Iraqi Red Crescent building on Sunday. Sixteen workers from the aid group are still being held. A day before the mass kidnapping occurred, a senior official at the Red Crescent said that harassment from U.S. forces is the greatest threat to the organization’s work.
In other Iraq news, leaders of Iraq’s labor movement have criticized government plans to privatize the country’s oil production. The Iraqi government has drafted a law that would allow multinational oil companies to develop Iraq’s oil reserves for the first time ever.
In the Palestinian territories, at least three people have died in renewed fighting between members of Hamas and Fatah. Dozens more have been wounded in a series of gun battles. The fighting has been escalating since Saturday, when Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for new elections. The Hamas government rejected the proposal, accusing Abbas of trying to stage a coup.
A former Bush administration official is accusing the White House of trying to silence him from criticizing the president’s policy on Iran. Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett recently drafted an op-ed intended for The New York Times on Iran. The CIA cleared the article, but then the White House blocked its publication. According to Leverett, the White House is demanding that he removes entire paragraphs that detail publicly known information about how Iran cooperated with the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and how Iran offered to negotiate a comprehensive "grand bargain" with the United States three years ago. Leverett accused White House officials of using fraudulent charges of revealing classified information to keep critical views from being heard. Leverett said, "Their conduct in this matter is despicable and un-American in the profoundest sense of that term." Leverett is the former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and a former senior analyst at the CIA.
In death penalty news, Florida has suspended all executions, and California has temporarily stopped using lethal injections to execute death row prisoners. In California, a federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional to kill prisoners in a manner that inflicted unacceptable levels of pain. Florida made its decision following the recent botched execution of Angel Diaz. He remained alive for 34 minutes after the execution began. He died only after prison officials gave him a second dose of lethal chemicals. Meanwhile, a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center has found that a total of 53 prisoners have been executed so far this year — it marks the lowest total in a decade.
Ten members of Congress visited Havana this weekend and called on the Bush administration to lift the economic embargo of Cuba. The visit marked the largest U.S. legislative mission to travel to Havana since the Cuban revolution. Republican Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona urged the Bush administration to hold talks with Raul Castro.
Rep. Jeff Flake: "At a time when Cuba is changing and the opportunity to advance our interests and values are not known, we unanimously believe, the 10 of us, that the United States should respond positively to the proposal made by Raul Castro in a speech on December 2nd."
The lawmakers were also told that Fidel Castro does not have cancer and that he is not dying.
In Mexico, the government has released 42 protesters who were rounded up following a large demonstration in Oaxaca two weeks ago. Scores of other protesters remain in jail, including Flavio Sosa, a leader of APPO, Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca. A schoolteacher named Aurelia Juarez was among the protesters released. She said the protesters were beaten in jail. They were pulled by their hair, hit and kicked in their stomachs. She said they were lucky to be out of the prison. Meanwhile, the federal police have begun withdrawing from the center of Oaxaca. They were sent there seven weeks ago to crush the popular uprising led by striking teachers and APPO.
The Financial Times is reporting that the U.S. Army is considering measures to force striking workers back to their jobs at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Kansas. Seventeen thousand members of the United Steelworkers have been on strike at 16 Goodyear plants since October 5. They are seeking greater job security and continued healthcare after they retire. The military relies on a plant in Kansas to make tires for Humvee trucks and other equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Duncan Hunter, outgoing chair of the House Armed Services Committee, the strike has cut output of Humvee tires by about 35 percent. On Saturday, solidarity actions were held in support of the striking workers in over 100 cities around the country and in Canada.
The Independent of London is reporting the British government’s case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Britain’s key negotiator at the U.N. testified privately that Blair knew Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction. The official, Carne Ross, told an official inquiry that at no time did the British government believe that Iraq’s WMD capability actually posed a threat to British interests and that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained." The British Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the testimony of Ross from being made public.
Researchers at Harvard University are accusing the United States of using its foreign aid budget to bribe countries which have a vote in the United Nations Security Council. A detailed analysis of 50 years of data has revealed that the U.S. gives nations nearly 60 percent more cash in years when they have a seat. Much of the money is channeled through the U.N.'s children's fund UNICEF, which the U.S. has traditionally controlled. The current head of UNICEF is Ann Veneman — President Bush’s former agriculture secretary.
The U.S. military has subpoenaed an independent journalist and demanded that she testify in the trial of First Lt. Ehren Watada, who has refused to serve in Iraq. The journalist, Sarah Olson of Oakland, interviewed Watada in May. She was subpoenaed on Thursday. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail, Truthout editor Marc Ash and a reporter with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin have also been approached by the military. Watada has been charged with refusing to deploy, "contempt toward officials" and "conduct unbecoming of an officer." His court-martial is set to take place in February.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to protest the police killing of Sean Bell. The Rev. Al Sharpton led the Shopping for Justice march, which went through the heart of the city’s shopping district. Sean Bell’s father called for a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation and for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to resign. Marchers included Harry Belafonte, Congressman Charles Rangel and police brutality victim Abner Louima, as well as family members of the shooting victims. Saturday marked the fourth birthday of Sean Bell’s daughter Jada. Sean Bell was killed on his wedding day when police fired 50 shots at a car carrying him and two of his friends. All three men were unarmed. At Saturday’s protest, Democracy Now! caught up with two young students with the Schomburg Center’s Junior Scholars Program, student journalists Ben Thomas and Trent Stewart. They were both interviewing participants in the march for the Radio Schomburg program.
Ben Thomas: "I’m really happy to see a lot of younger people out here, instead of just the older ones, protesting about the rally."
Trent Stewart: "I think—I’m happy that the people are out here to help Sean Bell. Even though he’s dead, we’re all chanting for him. If he was back alive, we would be chantinng, even though if he’s alive. So I’m thankful for that and what he’s doing."
Ben Thomas: "And if this had happened to us, I bet Sean Bell would be out here right now protesting."