"Grave and deteriorating" —–that’s the assessment of the Iraq Study Group on the situation in Iraq. In its final report submitted to the White House, the bi-partisan panel said the Bush administration’s policies have failed across the board. The panel called for a possible withdrawal of combat troops by 2008 but recommended tens of thousands remain for years to advise and train the Iraqi army.
Iraq Study Group co-chair and former Secretary of State James Baker: "We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable. While we do recommend a five-fold increase in U.S. forces training Iraqi troops, from let’s say from a high of 4,000 to a high of 20,000, we do not recommend increasing U.S. forces by in excess of 100,000 troops, as some have suggested."
The Iraq Study Group report included many other notable facts and recommendations: the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has only six fluent Arabic speakers out of a staff of one thousand, and the overall cost of the war could top one trillion dollars. The panel also found the U.S. government has significantly underreported the level of violence in Iraq. In one case, U.S. officials reported ninety-three cases of violence for one day in July when in fact there were more than one thousand.
At the White House, President Bush welcomed the report and said it would be taken seriously.
President Bush: "I told the members that this report, called "The Way Forward," will be taken very seriously by this administration. This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion. "
Despite the President’s statement, the recommendations are already getting a cool reception from the White House. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official said President Bush told Jordan’s King Abdullah just last week he is against talks with Syria. Senior officials also said major changes are unlikely because President Bush believes the US can achieve its goals and the White House has a short window to continue its policies before the 2008 presidential election cycle intensifies. Meanwhile in Israel, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports sources inside the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Israeli government does not expect the Bush administration to pressure it to make peace.
The report drew a mixed response in this country and around the world.
Democratic Senator Carl Levin: "The report represents another blow at the policy of stay the course that this administration has followed. Hopefully this will be the end of that stay the course policy. The elections in November were the first major blow of that policy. The American people rose up against staying the course in Iraq because the coarse is not working."
As the Iraq Study Group issued its report on Wednesday, grim news continued to emerge from Iraq. At least eighty-four Iraqis died in violence around Iraq. And eleven US troops were killed in what marked one of the highest single-day tolls for US forces since the Iraq invasion.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate voted Wednesday to approve Robert Gates as the next Secretary of Defense. The vote came one day after Gates’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The final vote was ninety five to two. Republican Senators Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania cast the dissenting votes.
In the House, Congressmembers rejected a Republican-authored measure Wednesday that would have required abortion providers to inform pregnant women abortions cause pain to the fetus. Under the proposal, a twenty-week-old fetus would have been defined as a "pain-capable unborn child."
At the UN, US Ambassador John Bolton appeared Wednesday for the first time since announcing he was stepping down. Bolton was asked when he would end his term.
UN Ambassador John Bolton: "I will continue to serve until my appointment ends. Because I have not resigned, I have simply indicated that I’ll leave federal service when the recess appointment ends."
Here in New York, an estimated two thousand people gathered near police headquarters Tuesday to protest the killing of the unarmed bridegroom Sean Bell. New York City Council Member Charles Barron addressed the crowd.
New York City Council Member Charles Barron: "We were cool when there were 41 bullets for [Amadou] Diallo. We were cool when they murdered [Eleanor] Bumpus. We were cool when they murdered [Patrick] Dorismond. We were cool when they murdered [Malcom] Ferguson. we were cool when they murdered [Timothy] Stansbury. It is time for us to get hot."
Community leaders have planned a major rally down 5th Ave for December 16th.
The Bush administration has announced it will challenge a court ruling that says it must resume housing payments to thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Last week, a federal judge ruled Katrina victims have been illegally denied housing payments and subjected to a convoluted application process to get those payments to resume.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila was sworn in Wednesday as the first democratically-elected president in more than forty years. Kabila’s opponent — vice president and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba — lost a court case challenging the election results last month. Bemba says he will drop his challenge and lead the political opposition to Kabila’s government.
A federal grand jury has indicted the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor on torture charges. Charles McArthur Emmanuel — also known as Charles Taylor Jr. — is accused of torturing an opponent of his father’s government during an interrogation in July 2002. Assistant Attorney Alice Fisher announced the charges Wednesday in Washington, DC.
Alice Fisher: "As alleged in the indictment, during this interrogation Charles Taylor Junior and his co-conspirator committed torture by repeatedly burning the victim with a hot iron on various parts of his body, causing burning and scarring; by pouring scalding hot water on to the victim; by holding a gun pointed at the victim while forcing the victim to hold scalding water in his hands; by repeatedly electrically shocking the victim’s genital area and other parts of his body, and then by rubbing salt in the victim’s wounds. These crimes are heinous, and they are torture as alleged in the indictment today."
The case against Charles Taylor Jr. marks the first use of the twelve year-old anti-torture law that allows prosecution for abuses committed overseas. The Bush administration has been criticized for not invoking the law in cases of torture of prisoners in US custody. In a statement, Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch praised Taylor’s indictment and added: "Enforcement of federal laws on torture committed abroad is long overdue. The question is now whether the federal authorities are willing to apply the law against others."
And on this day in world history — in 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor; in 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour; and in 1928, Noam Chomsky was born.