The Senate Armed Services Committee has unanimously approved the nomination of Robert Gates as the next Secretary of Defense. In a stark contrast to his four-month confirmation hearings to become CIA Director in 1991, Gates’s hearing lasted just one day.
In the session’s most controversial moment, Gates was questioned by incoming Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin.
Senator Carl Levin: "Mr. Gates, do you believe we are currently winning in Iraq?"
Robert Gates: "No Sir."
Gates later clarified his remarks and said the US was neither winning or losing the Iraq war. The hearing came on a day when more than sixty people were killed in shootings and car bomb attacks in Iraq. Gates’s nomination now goes to the full Senate for a confirmation vote as early as today. He is widely expected to win approval.
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group releases its long-awaited report today. In a new development, the Washington Post reports the panel will recommend President Bush threaten the Iraqi government with a reduction of economic and military support if it fails to meet specific goals on improving security. The Washington Post also reports many of the Iraq Study Group’s advisors have concluded the war in Iraq is already lost. In July, a draft report said: "there is even doubt that any level of resources could achieve the administration’s stated goals." That wording has been removed. While the Iraq Study report is being hailed as the dawn of a change of course, Iraqis are voicing skepticism.
Iraqi citizen Ali Al-Duleimi: "The study that James Baker submitted is doomed to fail because he is a Republican and he participated in the blockade of Iraq that lasted for 12 years. He is also the one that participated in the 1990 attack that damaged Iraq. He is now aiming at establishing basics that will support the Iraqi army, on the contrary he is damaging the Iraqi army and we are demanding the pullout of the US forces from Iraq."
Meanwhile, the incoming House Intelligence Committee chair —- Democratic Congressmember Silvestre Reyes -—- says he will call for sending more troops to Iraq. Reyes initially opposed the invasion. His appointment this week was seen as a sign Democrats plan on challenging the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. But in an interview with Newsweek, Reyes says he wants to see an increase of up to 30,000 troops to dismantle Iraq’s militias.
In other Iraq news, the New York Times is reporting at least five Marines are expected to be charged in the killing of twenty-four Iraqis in the town of Haditha last year. The Marines initially claimed fifteen civilians died in a roadside blast caused by insurgents. Months later, reports emerged the civilians were killed when marines burst into their homes and shot them dead in their nightclothes. Charges could come as early as today.
In Afghanistan, five Afghans and two Americans were killed today in a suicide bombing in Kandahar. The bombing hit the offices of a private American security firm.
In Mexico, leaders of the popular uprising in the state of Oaxaca are vowing to continue their struggle in the face of the arrest of Flavio Sosa. Sosa was arrested Monday in Mexico City after announcing the Popular Assembly of the Oaxacan People — APPO — planned to hold negotiations with the government of Felipe Calderon. He is now being held in a maximum-security prison.
APPO lawyer Israel Ochoa Lara: "This stage we are living is the moment of government oppression against everything this movement represents. This doesn’t mean the movement is over or has been taken down. What’s happening is that the government has gone on the offensive with the intent of disarming the movement and that’s why the most visible activists have been persecuted."
The Mexican government has yet to explain why Sosa was arrested just hours before he was to meet state officials.
In other Oaxaca news, the release of two suspects linked to the killing of American journalist Brad Will is coming under international criticism. One of the suspects is a municipal official with close ties to Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruiz. In a statement, the group Reporters Without Borders said: "Everything suggests the Oaxaca state judicial authorities are now trying to cover up for [the Governor’s] aides. This is an insult to the victim and a spur to impunity."
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez read a congratulatory note from Cuban President Fidel Castro Tuesday on Chavez’s win in the Venezuelan elections.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: "Your victory was like something seen on few occasions, overwhelming and without parallels in the history of our America. The oppressed people of the world will always appreciate the strategy and courage that you used to win this difficult battle of ideas. Your political achievement and the people of Venezuela have moved the world. The Cubans are happy. A big hug. Fidel Castro’ Gracias Fidel."
Chavez won with sixty-three percent of the vote. It was his highest victory share to date and the most in any Latin American election over the past year.
In Fiji, the top Fijian military commander has declared a state of emergency and installed a new prime minister. The move comes one day after the overthrow of Fiji’s elected government —-— Fiji’s fourth coup in twenty years. The coup is drawing international condemnation and sanctions.
Chief United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric: "The Secretary-General strongly deplores the seizure of power in the Republic of Fiji by the military leadership. The Secretary-General calls for the immediate reinstatement of the legitimate authority in Fiji and its return to constitutional rule through peaceful means and inclusive dialogue."
Here in New York, the two survivors of the police shooting that killed the unarmed bridegroom Sean Bell are disputing the police version of events. In an interview with the television station New York One, Trent Benefield denied police assertions a fourth man was inside Sean Bell’s car. Benfefield spoke Tuesday after his release from the hospital. He was treated for three gunshot wounds in his legs. Benefield said: "My friend’s dead. I’m shot up. We need justice.’’ Meanwhile, the other survivor, Joseph Guzman, says police failed to identify themselves before they opened fire. Guzman says he was shot sixteen times.
The Council on American Islamic Relations is calling on the Bush administration to remove a right-wing talk show host from a taxpayer-funded council on Holocaust awareness. The broadcaster, Dennis Prager, has drawn controversy for stating Congressmember Keith Ellison should be sworn into Congress using a Christian Bible instead of the Quran. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress. Prager said using the Quran would: "undermine American civilization" and be like using a copy of Hitler’s "Mein Kampf." The Bush administration recently appointed Prager to a five-year term on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
And finally in health news, New York City has become the first in the country to ban trans fats from most restaurants and fast food chains.
New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden: "Trans fats increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and death and they don’t have to be there, so it’s important that we eliminate them and we’ve made tremendous progress in doing that. I think, just from having this debate we’ve seen a number of national chains removing trans fat, have much more information about it and I’m confident that most items sold by July of next year will not have trans fat and that’s going to mean that New Yorkers live longer and healthier lives."
Fast food chains including McDonald’s and Burger King that have yet to eliminate trans fats will have until July of next year before facing penalties. The ban was passed after several fast food companies failed to meet voluntary benchmarks to reduce trans fats.