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Democracy Now! has learned the private military firm Blackwater USA is being sued in U.S. courts today over last month’s shooting of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad. The Center for Constitutional Rights is filing a lawsuit under the Alien Tort Claims Act on behalf of the families of three of the Iraqis killed as well as another Iraqi who was injured.
In other Blackwater news, the State Department is considering a plan to phase out the use of private security companies in Iraq. The option is one of several under review in the wake of last month’s shooting. Iraqi officials have vowed to pass laws lifting contractors’ immunity from prosecution.
Meanwhile in Iraq, mourners buried two Iraqi women killed Tuesday by guards with another private military firm. The victims were driving home from work when their vehicle came under fire by guards with the Australia-based Unity Resources Group.
Unidentified relative: "They called me to Basra and told me that the security firms have shot them dead. She is a housewife."
This week’s killings have further inflamed Iraqi anger at private security companies in Iraq.
Iraqi citizen: "These security firms are acting like the Mafia. They are not the firms that can provide the people and citizens with security. The Iraqi government cannot impose its control on them."
A federal judge has rejected a key Bush administration effort to crack down on undocumented workers. On Wednesday, Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco ordered an indefinite delay to a White House rule that would have forced employers to fire workers if their Social Security numbers could not be verified within three months.
A congressional standoff over domestic spying is intensifying. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees approved measures increasing judicial oversight of the Bush administration’s warrantless spy program. Democratic lawmakers also refused to include a provision granting retroactive immunity to major telecommunication companies involved. Hours before the vote, President Bush said he would not sign the legislation without the immunity clause included. Civil liberties groups say the Democratic measure still grants too much authority to the White House. The bill would still give blanket authority for group spying rather than requiring individual warrants.
In other news from Washington, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has defied White House pressure and approved a measure recognizing the Armenian genocide. The passage moves the bill to the House floor for a vote next month. The Bush administration has lobbied against the bill out of fear of harming relations with Turkey. Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and hosts military bases vital for the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Hours before the vote, President Bush made an unusual appeal to lawmakers to nix the measure.
President Bush: "I urge members to oppose the Armenian genocide resolution now being considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915. But this resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror."
Bush’s comments appear to contradict a pledge he made during his first run for president. In a letter to the Armenian National Committee in 2000, Bush wrote: "The Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign that defies comprehension and commands all decent people to remember and acknowledge the facts and lessons of an awful crime. ... If elected President, I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people." The final vote was 27 to 21.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY): "I believe that Turkey should acknowledge this and move on, as well. I don’t support reparations or land claims or anything that might grow out of this resolution. But I do support the fact that genocide is genocide and there is no way of sugar-coating it or cleaning it up or pretending it isn’t there."
In Burma, an opposition party member has been reportedly killed under interrogation by security forces of the military junta. A Thailand-based exile group says family members of National League for Democracy member Win Shwe were told he was dead and his body cremated.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced he’s open to a land swap with Israel rather than a full return of all land occupied in 1967. In an interview Wednesday, Abbas said he would be willing to give up parts of the Occupied Territories if Israel handed over an equal amount of land within its internationally recognized borders.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "All we want is for the state to be on the 1967 borders, meaning the size of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is [2,396 square miles]. We want it as it is, [2,396 square miles]. This is what the international community has given us. This is what President Bush declared. This is what the U.N. resolutions have decided. And therefore we are demanding that state."
Abbas’ comments come ahead of a U.S.-brokered Mideast peace conference next month. Israel recently ordered the seizure of vast new swaths of Palestinian land to expand its largest settlement on the West Bank.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has announced he will end Bolivian military training at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. Located at Fort Benning, Georgia, the school has a long history of training repressive U.S.-backed military forces in Latin America. Bolivia is the fifth Latin American country to withdraw from training there, following Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In other news from Bolivia, more than 130 indigenous leaders are gathering for a major summit of native communities. The conference follows last month’s landmark U.N. vote recognizing indigenous rights.
Guatemalan indigenous leader and Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú: "We should feel happy because we are not ending a struggle but starting a new process. With this declaration, we want the east to understand us and not impose anything on us."
The U.N. declaration capped nearly two decades of talks. The U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand were the lone countries opposed.
Back in the United States, the United Auto Workers has reached a tentative deal with the car giant Chrysler following a six-hour worker strike. Some 45,000 workers briefly walked off the job Wednesday after negotiations passed a deadline. The deal is expected to mirror the UAW’s agreement with General Motors last month. GM workers were given better job guarantees in return for a union-run health plan.
In Cleveland, a 14-year-old high school student shot and wounded four people Wednesday before taking his own life. The shooter had reportedly been suspended from school.
And here in New York, hundreds of students rallied at Columbia University Wednesday following the discovery of a noose hanging from the office door of an African-American professor. The professor, Madonna Constantine, specializes in race and multiculturalism studies. Police say the hate crimes unit is investigating.