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In Iraq, 50 employees from a Sunni-led private security firm have been kidnapped in Baghdad. The men were abducted during a daytime raid by gunmen wearing police commando uniforms issued by the Interior Ministry. The Shiite-led Interior Ministry has publicly denied it OK’d the raid but the Los Angeles Times reports that sources in the ministry confirmed the gunmen were "commandos with the ministry’s major crimes division." The mass kidnapping occurred less than a day after police found 18 bodies in a minibus in a Sunni area of Baghdad. All of the men had been shot or strangled.
Meanwhile the Washington Post is reporting the leading Shiite party in Iraq’s governing coalition has directed the Health Ministry to stop tabulating execution-style shootings in order to minimize the number of casualties caused by Shiite militias and death squads. According to the paper, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, ordered government hospitals and morgues to continue cataloging deaths caused by bombings or clashes with insurgents, but not by execution-style shootings.
Meanwhile the State Department has criticized the U.S.-backed Iraqi government in its annual report on the state of human rights around the world. Iraqi police units were accused of carrying out "threats, intimidation, beatings, and suspension by the arms or legs, as well as the reported use of electric drills and cords and the application of electric shocks." The report also strongly criticizes the state of human rights in Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, China and Cuba among other countries. The State Department report, however, is coming under criticism itself by human rights groups. William Schulz of Amnesty International said, "This report by the U.S. government provides a thorough review of today’s human rights practices around the globe, except for one glaring omission–its own record." Schulz went on to say "The United States government considers itself a moral leader on human rights issues, but its record of indefinite and arbitrary detentions, secret 'black sites' and outsourced torture in the 'war on terror' turns it from leader to human rights violator."
In other news from Iraq, the top U.S. general in Iraq has publicly said the U.S. military will continue to plant stories in the Iraqi press. Late last year it was revealed the U.S. had paid a little-known private contractor called The Lincoln Group millions to plant hundreds of pro-U.S. articles in the Iraqi press. When the secret propaganda program was first revealed even the White House admitted it was "very concerned" about the practice. But the top Pentagon brass is now insisting it will go on. General George Casey said an internal review of the program had "found that we were operating within our authorities and responsibilities," The Los Angeles Times reports the internal report could pave the way for the Pentagon to replicate the practice in other parts of the world.
In New Orleans, President Bush visited the devastated Lower Ninth Ward on Wednesday where he was met by some protesters. Two young women held up a sign for his motorcade that said, "Where’s my government?" Another man waved a flattened cardboard box on which he had written, "Pres. cut the red tape and help us." Meanwhile a new report by Center for Public Integrity has found that only 12 states have asked for money from a $2 billion federal fund to help low-income hurricane evacuees. To date only $25 million of the $2 billion fund has been spent. Any state that took in Katrina evacuees could tap into the money to offer cash to those who had at least one child and met certain income guidelines qualifying them as poor.
In Vermont, five towns have approved measures calling for the impeachment of President Bush. The votes come at a time when the talk of impeachment is increasing. On Monday the Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy article pointing out how polls show there is greater support among the public for the impeachment of President Bush than there ever was for President Clinton. In 1998, polls showed 27 percent of the country backed the impeachment of Clinton if he lied about having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Meanwhile a recent Zogby poll showed 51 percent of the country said Congress should consider impeaching Bush if he didn’t tell truth about the reasons for the Iraq war.
In South Dakota, pro-choice activists are planning a rally at noon today outside the Federal Courthouse in Sioux Falls to protest the state’s new law outlawing most abortions. Solidarity protests are also being organized around the country. The new law makes it a felony for health providers to perform abortions–even in cases of rape or incest–unless a women’s life is in jeopardy.
In Washington, over 20,000 rallied outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to protest a proposed new anti-immigration law that would make it a crime for social service workers to help undocumented immigrants. The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a law that classify social workers who feed and house undocumented workers as human traffickers. The American Civil Liberties has criticized the bill saying it gives extraordinary powers to detain non-citizens indefinitely without meaningful review. This will potentially place many non-citizens in a legal black hole that subjects them to a life sentence after having served a criminal sentence, or, in some cases, without ever having been convicted of a crime.
In other news on Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee has voted overwhelmingly to block a Dubai company from taking control of operations of at least six U.S. ports. The 66-2 vote sets up a potential showdown with the White House over the deal. President Bush has threatened to veto any bill that blocks the deal from going forward.
In science news, over 5,700 biologists have signed a joint letter urging the Senate not to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
In labor news, Ford Motor Company has announced plans to cut pensions for 42,000 workers. The plan will affect all salaried employees hired in the past five years or about 90% of the company’s U.S. workforce.
In Jamaica, four people have been arrested in connection with last year’s killing of the Lenford Harvey, a prominent gay AIDS activist. The 30-year-old Harvey was shot to dead in Kingston last November.