Eight U.S. marines have been charged in connection with the killing of 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha last year. Marine Colonel Stewart Navarre announced the charges Thursday at Camp Pendleton in California.
Col. Stewart Navarre: "Based on the findings of the investigations, various charges have been preferred against four marines, relating to the deaths of the Iraqi civilians on 19 November 2005. Also, charges have been preferred against four marines for failure to properly report and/or investigate the deaths of the Iraqi civilians. These charges include murder, dereliction of duty, false official statement and obstruction of justice."
The victims were asleep the night of November 20, 2005, when marines burst into their homes and shot them dead. The military initially claimed 15 civilians died in a roadside blast caused by insurgents. In announcing the charges Thursday, the Marines acknowledged that claim was false.
In Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates continued his inaugural visit Thursday with meetings with Iraq’s prime minister and other top officials. Gates’ visit has coincided with increasing reports the Bush administration is gearing to send more troops to Iraq. Gates denied getting into specifics with his Iraqi counterparts.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "I can say that no numbers of additional troops were discussed. The focus was mainly on an overall approach and including the possibility of some additional assistance. But as I said, he really didn’t discuss any numbers we were really talking in broader terms."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later said he has no opinion on an influx of U.S. troops and that U.S. military leaders should decide.
In other Iraq news, four U.S. troops were killed in Anbar province Thursday. At least 70 U.S. servicemembers have died this month — now on pace to become one of the deadliest of the Iraq War.
Meanwhile, Iraq is the world’s deadliest country for journalists for the fourth consecutive year. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than half of 55 murders of journalists worldwide took place in Iraq.
The New York Times has published a controversial White House-censored article critical of U.S. policy toward Iran. The Bush administration had blocked the piece on the grounds it contains classified information. The op-ed is co-authored by former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett. The New York Times did not defy the White House censorship and published the piece in redacted form. Leverett has argued the White House demanded the removal of sections detailing publicly known information about how Iran cooperated after the 9/11 attacks and offered to negotiate a diplomatic settlement three years ago. In an accompanying statement, Leverett writes he will continue to campaign for the article’s publication without White House censorship.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the Security Council is preparing to vote on a new resolution threatening sanctions if Iran fails to halt uranium enrichment. On Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice predicted tough consequences for Iranian defiance.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "I am quite satisfied and quite certain that the resolution that would be adopted will be one that both says to Iran you cannot defy the international community and imposes penalties on Iran for that defiance. I just want to underscore that a Chapter 7 resolution puts Iran in some very unwelcome company in terms of the international community, in terms of the decisions that people will make about Iran as a partner in the international economy, and that, more than anything, is the importance of this resolution."
In Somalia, thousands of people have fled their homes today amid escalating fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces and the Somalia Islamic Courts Council. The Islamic Courts control much of Somalia and are now fighting to expel Ethiopian troops from the last remaining government stronghold north of the capital Mogadishu. On Thursday, the Islamic Courts’ leader said Somalia is now in a state of war.
In Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazov died Thursday from a heart attack. Observers are widely expecting a power struggle over who will control the gas-rich country. Niyazov was known as an authoritarian who jailed opponents and constructed lavish tributes to his rule.
In economic news, an external audit has concluded the World Bank has downplayed or ignored its own evidence when promoting policies favorable to neoliberal globalization. According to Financial Times, the audit says the World Bank has often used research without taking a balanced view of the evidence.
And in other international news, the rescue that wasn’t. Thirty-one years after the murder of five Australian journalists in East Timor by Indonesian troops, the Australian government has revealed a special forces rescue mission was called off just three days before their deaths. The journalists were killed on the orders of Indonesian generals. Government sources say the special forces were waiting at Australia’s Darwin airport for approval to sneak into East Timor and carry out the rescue. But the mission was called off after high-level government officials failed to approve it. Approximately two days later, Australian television correspondent Greg Shackleton and his crew filed what would be their last report.
Greg Shackleton: "’Why,’ they ask, 'are the Indonesians invading us?' 'Why,' they ask, 'if Indonesians believe that Fretilin is communist, do they not send a delegation to Dili to find out?' 'Why,' they ask, 'are the Australians not helping us? When the Japanese invaded, they did help us.' 'Why,' they ask, 'are the Portuguese not helping us? We're still a Portuguese colony.’ 'Who,' they ask, 'will pay for the terrible damage to our homes?'
"My main answer was that Australia would not send forces here. That’s impossible. However, I said, we could ask that Australia raise this fighting at the United Nations. That was possible. At that, the second in charge rose to his feet. He exclaimed, 'Camerado journalist!' shook my hand. The rest shook my hand. And we were applauded, because we are Australians. That’s all they want, for the United Nations to care about what is happening here."
One day after Shackleton filed this report, Indonesian forces killed him and his crew.
Back in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has admitted for the first time a stalled program to monitor domestic air passengers violated federal privacy law. The program, called Secure Flight, has been used to screen passengers against terrorism watch lists. A review by the Homeland Security Privacy Office found the program broke the law because it failed to disclose passenger information was gathered from commercial brokers.
And in New Jersey, Governor Jon Corzine signed legislation Thursday granting gay couples the right to civil unions. New Jersey will become the third state to offer gay civil unions when the law goes into effect in February.