GOPers: Bank Spy Reports Hurt National Security

The Bush administration and leading Republicans are lashing out at the New York Times and other media outlets for their reports on the government’s secret monitoring of international bank transactions without court-approval.

  • US Treasury Secretary John Snow: "This is a great disappointment, I’ve got to say that, this is regrettable. We try to dissuade people from running these stories, as you know. What the disclosures do is fundamentally degrade, undermine and degrade an important source of information, make that information less useful, and again let me say that the only beneficiaries of that are the terrorists; it only helps the terrorists, so it’s very regrettable."

Rep. King: Prosecute NYT Under Espionage Act

Meanwhile, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee is calling for the prosecution of all New York Times staff members who were involved in exposing the financial spying. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, New York Republican Congressmember Peter King said the New York Times should be prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act.

Critics: Financial Spying Echoes NSA Wiretapping

Critics meanwhile say the financial spying echoes the Bush administration’s wiretapping of Americans without court warrants.

  • Democratic Congressmember Edward Markey of Massachusetts: "Like the domestic surveillance program exposed last December, the Bush government’s efforts to tap into the financial records of thousands of Americans appears to rely on justifications concocted without regard to current law or constitutional protection."

4 Russian Hostages Killed in Iraq

In Iraq, an insurgent group has released video footage showing the killing of three kidnapped Russian embassy workers. Two of the hostages are beheaded in the video while a third is shot. A fourth Russian hostage is also believed to have been killed. The workers were abducted in Baghdad earlier this month.

Report: 50,000 Iraqi Civilians Dead Since Iraq Invasion

An investigation carried out by the Los Angeles Times has concluded at 50,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the Iraq war. The number is equivalent to the killing of some 570,000 Americans over the same period. Other studies have put the toll at far higher. In 2004, a John Hopkins study published in the British medical journal the Lancet estimated the Iraqi civilian death toll at over 100,000. That number was considered conservative because it excluded the toll in Fallujah — one of the hardest hit cities of the invasion. The Los Angeles Times’ estimate was based on statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies. Their figure is at least 20,000 more than the Bush administration has publicly acknowledged.

350 Iraqi Civilians Killed at US Checkpoints in ‘05

Meanwhile, the US military has announced 350 innocent Iraqis were killed at US checkpoints last year — an average of at least six killings per week. A senior intelligence official told Reuters that out of a total 4,000 incidents in which US troops responded to a perceived threat — less than two percent were later found to have posed an actual threat.

Two National Guard Charged In Killing of Unarmed Iraqi

In other Iraq news, two National Guard members have been charged in connection with the February shooting of an unarmed Iraqi near the town of Ramadi. The guard members are currently being held in Baghdad where they will face pre-trial hearings.

Iraq Makes Amnesty Offer To Insurgents

And also in Iraq, the government has announced an offer to grant amnesty to insurgent groups. The amnesty would not apply to those who have killed Iraqis or US troops. The proposal is part of a national reconciliation plan drafted with close consultation with US political and military leaders. Despite prior speculation, the plan does not include a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Palestinian Incursion Kills 2 Israeli Soldiers, Kidnaps 1

In Israel, the government is promising a harsh response to a Palestinian incursion that killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third. The militants spent weeks digging a tunnel from the Gaza Strip into Israel before launching the attack. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri called the raid a response to recent Israeli strikes that have killed Palestinian civilians and leaders in the Gaza Strip.

  • Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri: "This heroic operation that took place early this morning north of Gaza Strip represents a normal retaliation on the continuos targeting of Palestinian civilians, amid the cries of the child Huda Ghaliah and in front of the killing of the two leaders Al-Kuka and Abu Samhadana. Under the continuos escalations the resistance and its operations will continue to defend our Palestinian people."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Hamas operation, saying it would lead to further Israeli attacks. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he holds Abbas directly responsible.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "We, the state of Israel, sees the Palestinian Authority headed by Chairman Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and the Palestinian government responsible for the incident, with everything that implies."

East Timor PM Resigns

In East Timor, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri announced today he is ready to step down. Alkatiri has been blamed for weeks of unrest following his decision to dismiss hundreds of troops from the military. Alkatiri said he is resigning to avoid the departure of President Xanana Gusmao. Gusmao had threatened to quit unless Alkatiri left office.

Suicide Bombing Kills Sri Lankan General

In Sri Lanka, a suicide bombing killed a top military general and three others earlier today. The government immediately blamed the rebel Tamil Tigers. The slain general was Sri Lanka’s third-highest ranking military officer.

Swedish Camera Operator Dies in Somalia Shooting

In Somalia, a Swedish video journalist was killed Friday while covering a rally in Mogadishu. The journalist, Martin Adler, had won awards for his work in countries including Iraq and China. His death marked at least the tenth slaying of a foreign journalist in Somalia in the last fifteen years. The Islamic Courts Union, which now controls Mogadishu, blamed the killing on an opposition warlord.

Media, Human Rights Groups Call For Inquiry Into Khan Slaying

In Pakistan, media and human rights groups are calling for an independent inquiry into the abduction and killing of journalist Hayatullah Khan. Khan’s body was discovered earlier this month, six months after he was abducted in Waziristan. He was found handcuffed and with gunshot wounds in his back. Khan’s family has blamed Pakistan’s intelligence service for his disappearance. In December, Khan unearthed evidence that a wanted militant had been killed by a CIA missile — contradicting the government’s claim the militant accidentally blew himself up with explosives. Khan was kidnapped shortly after he published his findings.

Sudan Suspends UN Mission in Darfur

In other news, the Sudanese government has suspended the United Nations mission in Darfur. The suspension will apply to all UN agencies except UNICEF and the World Food Programme. The Sudanese government says it acted after learning a UN helicopter had transported a Darfurian rebel leader who rejects a recently signed peace agreement.

FBI: Miami Terror Suspects “More Aspirational Than Operational”

Back in the United States, an FBI official announced Friday that the alleged plot by seven Miami terror suspects was: "more aspirational than operational," and posed "no immediate threat." The suspects were apprehended last week without any weapons or explosives. The government maintains they were planning to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago and FBI buildings around the country

E-Mails Link Reed, Norquist To Abramoff Scheme

New details have emerged from the investigation into the activities of indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. According to a Senate report released last week, a group headed by prominent right-wing activist Grover Norquist was one of several tax-exempt organizations that funneled money on Abramoff’s behalf. The groups — including Norquist’s Americans for Tax for Reform (ATR) received a cut in return. The funneled money was used to support a series of lobbying efforts. At least $4 million was delivered to campaigns waged by Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed. Reed is currently running for Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor. In one e-mail, Abramoff told a colleague that Norquist would be willing to fight a tax proposal if the client would become "a major player" with Norquist’s ATR. Abramoff wrote: "What is most important however is that this matter is kept discreet. We do not want the opponents to think that we are trying to buy the taxpayer movement."

Norquist Secured White House Meeting For Abramoff Client

Meanwhile, the e-mails also reveal Norquist was able to arrange a newly disclosed meeting between President Bush and Abramoff’s tribal clients in 2002. Previous documents have already shown Bush met an Abramoff client the year before. In the newly disclosed e-mail, Norquist asks Abramoff if his clients could contribute $100,000 to fund a Washington trip of state legislators and tribal leaders who had passed resolutions backed by the White House. Norquist wrote: "When I have funding, I will ask Karl Rove for a date with the president. Karl has already said 'yes' in principle and knows you organized this last time and hope to this year." Norquist delivered on his promise. Abramoff’s clients met President Bush for the second time; and the clients subsequently donated to Norquist’s ATR.

Employee Kills 1, Wounds 5 At Safeway Warehouse

In Denver, one person was killed and another five were wounded Sunday when a Safeway employee opened fire inside a company warehouse. The assailant was later killed in a shootout with police.

Buffet Announces Record $37B Charitable Donation

And investment mogul Warren Buffet has announced what is believed to be the largest charitable donation in U.S. history. Buffet says he will give 85% of his estimated $44 billion fortune. $31 billion will go to the Gates foundation — the charity run by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. However, there is uncertainty over whether the donation will reach the announced total. The money will be given to the Gates Foundation in small annual sums, and will require the active involvement of at least one of the Gateses in order to continue.


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