Violence continues to rock Iraq. 23 people were killed and 58 wounded in a car bombing today in Baghdad. Over 80 people have died since Tuesday. According to the Washington Post, at least 1300 people have died in violence since last week’s bombing of a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra.
In other news, tens of thousands of people gathered in New Delhi today to protest a visit by President Bush to India. A police spokesperson said the crowd exceeded 100,000 people. Abdul Hussain, a spokesperson for one of the protest organizers, said: "Welcoming a person like him is like welcoming a murderer and he has become a militant and a war monger... he is a war president. So welcoming a person like him does not make any sense or meaning in a country like India. And welcoming him in the country of the Mahatma will desecrate our land."
Dozens of protests have been planned ahead of President Bush’s three-day visit. During his stay, Bush is expected to sign a controversial deal to sell India nuclear fuel from the US.
On his way to India, President Bush stopped in Afghanistan for a surprise visit earlier today. During his five-hour stopover, the President addressed US troops and met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Associated Press is reporting a helicopter traveling in the President’s air convoy to the presidential palace fired at an unspecified target on the ground. It was the President’s first visit to Afghanistan.
Hours before the President landed, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said the growing insurgency in Afghanistan poses a greater threat "than at any point" since the US invasion in 2001. In testimony before Congress, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples said attacks within Afghanistan were up 20 percent last year. The increase included a fourfold rise in suicide bombings and a doubling of the use of makeshift bombs.
Meanwhile in neighboring Pakistan, the government says it killed three dozen people in an assault on a militant training camp near the Afghan border.
In the Occupied Territories, the top military commander of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad was killed in an Israeli airstrike earlier today. Khaled Dahdouh was assassinated as he traveled in his car through a busy street in Gaza City. At least two other people were wounded in the attack. An Islamic Jihad spokesperson vowed revenge.
A new poll from Zogby International shows nearly three-quarters of US troops in Iraq believe the US should pull out within one year. One-quarter of those surveyed believe the US should leave now. And only one in five US troops want to heed President Bush’s pledge that US forces stay "as long as they are needed." The poll also found an overwhelming majority of US troops believe the widely discredited theory that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. 90% said the Iraq war was a retaliation for Saddam Hussein’s supposed role in 9/11.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting an Army study has found that more than one in three US troops who served in Iraq later sought help for mental health problems. According to the report, soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq reported more distress than those returning from Afghanistan and other countries. More than half of all service members returning from Iraq reported that they had "felt in great danger of being killed" there, and over 2,400 reported having suicidal thoughts. Steve Robinson, head of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said: "In Vietnam, there were safe areas where people could go to rest and recuperate. That doesn’t happen in Iraq; every place is a war zone."
In other news, Knight Ridder is reporting the White House repeatedly ignored early intelligence warnings that the armed insurgency in Iraq was almost entirely local and growing in size. A National Intelligence Estimate as early as October 2003 said the insurgency was fueled mostly by local conditions, such as the presence of US troops in Iraq. It also said outside forces were playing almost no role in the insurgency. Robert Hutchings, the former chair of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005 said: "Frankly, senior officials simply weren’t ready to pay attention to analysis that didn’t conform to their own optimistic scenarios." Another former high-ranking intelligence official said: "This was stuff the White House and the Pentagon did not want to hear. They were constantly grumbling that the people who were writing these kind of downbeat assessments `needed to get on the team,’ `were not team players’ and were `sitting up there (at CIA headquarters) in Langley sucking their thumbs.’"
This news from Japan — a new study has found that scores of survivors of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 are still suffering health problems. The Radiation Effects Research Foundation found that those survivors who were youngest and most exposed to radiation at the time face the highest risk of illness today. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Over 200,000 people were killed in the bombings in August 1945.
In Washington, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left open the possibility Wednesday that the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic spy program is more extensive than has been acknowledged. In a letter to senators reported in the Washington Post, Gonzales attempted to clarify testimony he gave before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. During that testimony, Gonzales said that the program was all that had been authorized by President Bush. But in Tuesday’s letter, Gonzales, wrote: "I did not and could not address . . . any other classified intelligence activities. I was confining my remarks to the Terrorist Surveillance Program as described by the President." Bruce Fein, a former government lawyer who served under three Presidents, said: "It seems to me he is conceding that there are other NSA surveillance programs ongoing that the president hasn’t told anyone about."
Meanwhile, the USA Patriot Act moved a step closer to re-approval Tuesday. The Senate voted to end debate on proposed changes to the act, setting the stage for a final vote that could come as early as today. Renewal had stalled in Congress amid bi-partisan concerns the new measure lacked adequate safeguards for civil liberties. The proposed legislation still includes several provisions that have riled civil liberties groups. Among them, the renewed Patriot Act would still allow the FBI to obtain internet and email records from library computers.
And a coalition representing over 15 million people has started a campaign to oppose internet service provider AOL’s plans to implement a so-called "e-mail tax." Under AOL’s new proposal, mass-emailers would be allowed to pay a fee to bypass filters blocking unsolicited e-mail. Smaller groups would have no guarantees their messages would get out to their recipients without paying the fee. Tim Karr of the media reform organization Free Press said: "We have large email providers, including AOL, that want to turn email communication into a privileged realm for those who can afford to pay a corporate tax. AOL’s pay-to-send scheme threatens the free and open internet as we know it. It needs to remain a level playing field for all." The website for the campaign is DearAOL.com.