Government officials have revealed that the Blackwater forces involved in last month’s deadly shooting in Baghdad have been secretly given immunity by the State Department. Officials said the immunity deal has undermined efforts to prosecute anyone from Blackwater for the deaths of the 17 Iraqi civilians killed on Sept. 16. The immunity deal has also delayed a criminal inquiry into the shootings. The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security gave immunity to all of the Blackwater guards involved in the killings, even though they did not have the authority to do so. The director of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Richard Griffin, resigned last week. The New York Times reports prosecutors at the Justice Department had no advance knowledge of the immunity deal.
Meanwhile, the British private military company Erinys has been sued in Texas over the death of a U.S. soldier who died after being hit by one of the company’s convoys in Iraq. The lawsuit was filed by Perry Monroe, father of Christopher Monroe, who died in southern Iraq two years ago. The lawsuit accuses the Erinys convoy of ignoring warnings and traveling at excessive speed after dark without lights fully on. At the time of the incident, the British company was working under a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Scottish newspaper The Herald is reporting the U.S. is secretly upgrading special stealth bomber hangars on the British island protectorate of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for possible strikes on Iran. The U.S. has used Diego Garcia during the first Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In Washington, the Bush administration has requested $88 million to fit bunker-busting bombs to B-2 stealth bombers. Some Democratic lawmakers have questioned if the proposal is linked to an attack on Iran. Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia said, "My assumption is that it is Iran, because you wouldn’t use them in Iraq, and I don’t know where you would use them in Afghanistan."
This comes as the U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei is being criticized by some for publicly saying there is no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons.
French Defense Minister Hervé Morin: "Everyone has their view. Our information, and it is backed up by other countries, is contrary to IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei’s comments."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack brushed aside ElBaradei’s comments and urged him to not to speak about diplomatic issues. McCormack said, "He will say what he will. He is the head of a technical agency. I think we can handle diplomacy on this one."
Another country in the Middle East has announced plans to move ahead with a nuclear power program. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made the announcement in a nationally televised address.
Hosni Mubarak: "And I am speaking to you today in light of these studies and discussions, and I declare in front of you Egypt’s decision to begin a program to build a number of nuclear power plants to produce electricity."
The Bush administration said the U.S. would not object to Egypt’s nuclear program as long as Cairo adhered to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines.
Opposition is growing to attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey. On Monday, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd publicly announced he would vote against Mukasey. Hours later, Senators Joseph Biden and Barack Obama announced they too might oppose his nomination. All three senators are running for president. Dodd criticized Mukasey for claiming that the president of the United States could stand above constitutional statutes. Dodd said, "That is about as basic as it gets. You must obey the law. Everyone must." Dodd, Biden and Obama all criticized Mukasey for refusing to say whether waterboarding was a form of torture. Obama told the New York Sun: "No nominee for attorney general should need a second chance to oppose torture and the unnecessary violation of civil liberties."
In Pakistan, a suicide attack near the army headquarters of President Pervez Musharraf has killed at least six people. Musharraf was less than two miles away at the time of the blast. The attack occurred near the residence of the head of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff.
In Iraq, concern is growing that the country’s largest dam could collapse and leave the city of Mosul 65 feet under water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet of water. U.S. officials believe a catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam could lead to as many as 500,000 deaths. A new report by the Army Corps of Engineers concludes it is the most dangerous dam in the world.
The McClatchy newspapers reports the disgraced Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi has found a new role in the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. Chalabi is serving as the new head of the services committee, charged with bringing electricity, health and other services to Baghdad. The committee has been described as the heart of the U.S. military’s surge plan. A spokesperson for General David Petraeus said Chalabi is "an important part of the process." In the run-up to the U.S. invasion, Chalabi headed the Iraqi National Congress, which provided White House and Pentagon officials and journalists with a stream of bogus or exaggerated intelligence about Iraq’s weapons programs and ties to terrorism.
Another Iraqi journalist has been murdered. Twenty-seven-year-old Shehab Mohammad al-Hiti disappeared on Sunday in Baghdad, and his body was found later in the day. He was the editor of a weekly newspaper in Baghdad that began publishing only three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, a U.S. brigadier general was wounded in a roadside bombing Monday in northern Baghdad. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Dorko is the highest-ranking American officer to be hurt since the U.S. invaded Iraq. Dorko is commanding general of the Gulf Region Division.
Israel is coming under intense pressure to reverse its decision to cut fuel supplies to Gaza. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said such punitive measures are unacceptable. The European Union warned Israel against imposing "collective punishment" on the 1.5 million Palestinians who rely on Israel for all of their fuel and more than half of their electricity. Ten human rights organizations have also filed a petition with the Israeli supreme court demanding an injunction against the Israeli government. The organizations said such action would worsen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel has defended the cutbacks, saying they are needed to pressure Hamas to stop rocket attacks against Israeli towns.
The fallout continues from last week’s fake news conference held by FEMA during the California wildfires. One of the FEMA officials who posed as a reporter during the fake press conference has been denied a scheduled promotion. John Philbin was supposed to leave FEMA last week for a new job as the director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But a DNI spokesperson announced on Monday Philbin would not be taking the new post after all.
In news from Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives has passed the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act by a 404-to-six vote. The bill creates a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence. Some critics have criticized the broad language used in the bill to describe homegrown terrorism. Under the bill, any person that uses or plans to use force to advance political or social objectives would be considered a terrorist. One prominent critic of the bill has been the academic and author Ward Churchill.
Ward Churchill: "H.R. 1955, as I understand it, provides a basis for subjective interpretation of dissident speech that allows those in power to criminally penalize anything they consider to be particularly effective in terms of galvanizing an opposition that might conceivably, in some sense, disrupt or destabilize the status quo, so it’s to keep everything in that nice sanitized arena that I was just talking about where you’re actually a collateral functionary of the state by participating."
The state of Mississippi is scheduled to execute a prisoner named Earl Berry tonight by lethal injection. However, the Supreme Court might order a stay to the execution. Five weeks ago, the high court agreed to examine how courts should evaluate the constitutionality of lethal injection. Since then, the court has allowed one execution to proceed and granted stays in two others. Meanwhile, the American Bar Association officially announced its call for a moratorium on all executions. Stephen Hanlon of the ABA said the decision was made after a three-year study of death penalty cases.
Stephen Hanlon: "The American Bar Association has no confidence that fairness and accuracy are being provided in our death penalty systems. It is in that sense that the death penalty has become a cancer on the American justice system."
The Department of Homeland Security detained Britain’s international development minister on Sunday at Washington’s Dulles Airport. Shahid Malik was held for 40 minutes, and his was luggage analyzed for traces of explosives. He was in Washington for high-level talks on tackling terrorism. Malik said he was also singled out and detained at New York’s JFK Airport by the Department of Homeland Security last November. Malik is the first Muslim to serve as a governmental minister in Britain.
Meanwhile, the National Lawyers Guild is criticizing the Bush administration for refusing to allow a prominent Cuban attorney into the country. The guild had invited Guillermo Ferriol Molina to speak at the group’s 70th anniversary convention this week, but he was apparently denied a visa. Molina is the vice president of the Labor Law Society of the Cuban Bar Association and a member of the board of directors of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.