Defense Secretary Robert Gates has confirmed that U.S. military activity is increasing in the Persian Gulf in an attempt to send a message to Iran. President Bush announced last week that a second aircraft carrier had been sent to the Gulf and that new Patriot missile battalions would be set up in the region. Robert Gates spoke on Monday in Brussels during a visit to NATO headquarters.
Robert Gates: "The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they are in a position to press us in many ways. They’re doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point. … We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time."
Meanwhile in Iraq, the U.S. continues to hold five Iranian diplomats seized last week in a raid on the Iranian Consulate in the Iraqi city of Erbil.
The United Nations is estimating more than 34,000 civilians were violently killed in Iraq last year — the figure is nearly three times higher than figures provided by the Iraqi government. The U.N. estimates another 36,000 civilians were injured.
A group of active-duty servicemembers are heading to Capitol Hill today to call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The soldiers will be presenting a petition known as an appeal for redress. It has been signed by over 1,000 troops — mostly enlisted servicemembers. The act marks the most public rejection of the war by active-duty soldiers since the U.S. invasion.
The Iraqi government is coming under increasing criticism following the execution of two former aides of Saddam Hussein. Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Hamed al-Bandar were hanged on Monday. Barzan, who was Hussein’s half-brother, was decapitated by the noose. Iraqi officials said the beheading occurred accidentally because officials made a mistake when they calculated how high the drop had to be in order to snap the prisoner’s neck.
A peace activist who was fined by the U.S. government for bringing humanitarian aid to Iraq is petitioning the Supreme Court to take up his case. In 1997 Bert Sacks brought medicine to Iraqi civilians in defiance of the U.S. sanctions. The U.S. government fined him $10,000, but Sacks has refused to pay. He has argued that the actual crime was not his humanitarian efforts but the U.S. sanctions. It has been estimated that the sanctions led to the death of 500,000 Iraqi children.
The top Pentagon official handling detainee affairs has called on U.S. corporations to boycott law firms whose attorneys represent detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In a radio interview, Charles Stimson listed over a dozen prestigious law firms whose attorneys have volunteered to represent detainees.
Charles Stimson: "I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out."
Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, spoke on Federal News Radio. The American Bar Association said his remarks were deeply offensive to the legal profession and all Americans. During the same interview, Stimson, who is a Navy lawyer, described Guantanamo as "the most transparent and open location in the world."
There is an update in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, the anti-Castro Cuban militant connected to the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73. The former CIA operative has been indicted in the United States — but not for carrying out acts of terrorism. He was indicted on one count of naturalization fraud and six counts of making false statements. He snuck into the United States in 2005 and then lied about how he entered the country. The Bush administration has refused to extradite him to Venezuela or Cuba to stand trial for the airline bombing.
On Monday, memorials were held across the country to mark Martin Luther King Day. A number of protests also took place. In New Orleans, activists with a housing rights advocacy group occupied a number of buildings in a public housing project slated for demolition. The Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to demolish over 5,000 units of public housing in New Orleans despite the overwhelming need of affordable housing in the city following Hurricane Katrina. The building takeover occurred at the St. Bernard housing project.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, hundreds of workers at the world’s largest pork processing plant refused to go to work on Monday because the plant"s owner, Smithfield Packing, refuses to give the workers a paid day off on Martin Luther King Day. Union officials said as many as 800 employees stayed home.
In other news, jury selection begins today in the trial of Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby.
In Somalia, the government has ordered four major media outlets, including Al Jazeera, to be shut down. The move came just days after the government declared a three-month state of emergency.
And the Spanish newspaper El Pais is reporting Cuba’s Fidel Castro is in very serious condition following three failed operations. Castro first had surgery in July and hasn’t been seen in public since then.